The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey

>> Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, was recommended on one of the lists I belong to. Since I remember being fascinated by Elizabeth Peters' The Murders of Richard III when I first read it years ago (it inspired much searching about for more info), I immediately ordered a copy.

In Daughter of Time, Tey focuses on the legend of Richard III, the evil hunchback of British history accused of murdering his young nephews. While at a London hospital recuperating from a fall, Inspector Alan Grant becomes fascinated by a portrait of King Richard. A student of human faces, Grant cannot believe that the man in the picture would kill his own nephews. With an American researcher's help, Grant delves into his country's history to discover just what kind of man Richard Plantagenet was and who really killed the little princes.
Yet again, I was fascinated, frustrated, angry and sad about what I read, just as if I had never known the story. This is a book in which nothing much really happens physically in the narration: the action all takes place in Inspector Alan Grant's hospital room. People come in, bring him books and have conversations with him, and he reads the books he's brought and shares with us readers what he read. That's it. And yet the book is anything but boring.

In fact, by the end of the book, it didn't feel at all like I hadn't moved from Grant's room. It felt like I'd visited in the 15th century and had a fresh look at things I thought I knew.

What's most brilliant about the book is the method Tey uses to tell us about what she thinks really happened. Grant applies his skills as a detective to find out the truth, basing himself on the methods he uses in investigating a crime in real life. For instance, what did Richard do, objectively, when he received news of his brother's death? The result is very, very convincing.

Negatives? Hmm, actually, a couple. The first is that I get the feeling Tey's a little bit too on the side of Richard III. It's not that I actually know anything about the subject, but the case for Richard seems too clear-cut. I can't help but wonder if there are no arguments against him at all. Then again, what do I know? Maybe there aren't.

The second negative is probably just me. For a long while at the beginning of the book I kept getting the feeling that the story was told in first person, and when I saw that it wasn't, that it was third person POV, I kind of thought it might have worked even better in first person.

Still, excellent book. My grade: an A-, and I'm off to reread The Murders of Richard III. That one's from 1974, over 20 years after The Daughter of Time was published, so maybe there's something new there that I have forgotten.


When He Was Wicked, by Julia Quinn

>> Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Julia Quinn remains one of my very, very few auto-buy authors. With most other favourite authors, I'll at least check out what their next book is about before deciding, but with Quinn, I don't care, I know I'll want to read it.

Luckily, I was able to get a copy of When He Was Wicked pretty quickly. I asked about it at one of the lists I belong it, and Mad was kind enough to send it to me :-)

In every life there is a turning point.

A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one's life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London's most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca's surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer -- the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.

But that was then…Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love…until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms, and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets…
From what I've seen on-line, quite a few Julia Quinn fans are a bit unenthusiastic about WHWW. Me, I loved it. Plain loved it, even though there were a couple of little things that could have been improved. My grade: an A-.

I got this on a Thursday, and it took all my self-control to be able to save it until the weekend. I wanted to be able to sit and read, and read, and read. So, Saturday morning I sat down on my favourite chair, made some coffee and dived in.

Maybe one of the reasons I was so crazy about this book was the fact that one of my favourite romance plots is a man loving a woman for years from afar, most especially when she's married to someone the hero likes. There's the potential for lots of emotional intensity there, and even the guilt, when it's done well, can be good.

As WHWW starts, Francesca is married to Michael's cousin, John. I really liked how Frannie really did love John and I especially appreciated that he was deserving of her love. 99% of the times, first husbands in romance novels are either evil or boring and bland and the heroine doesn't love them. Those first scenes, with Michael being forced to witness first hand how happy these two are, were truly poignant.

It was very interesting (and also quite fresh: I don't think I've seen it before) that we were there when Francesca was widowed, that we saw and felt her grief and Michael's first hand. I thought this made the interval between Francesca being widowed and the start of the main action feel more natural. What I mean is, after reading the first scenes, the 4-year-long interval and Michael's running away to India, which I might have thought a bit too long and unnecessary otherwise, felt the right thing to happen, even necessary. Even not seeing what actually happened in those 4 years, when we got back into the action, things felt right. I thought Francesca's progression from bereaved young widow to a woman ready to marry again felt (there's that word again) natural. Except for the intense desire for a baby part, but that's something I never get, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of doubt.

Once Michael and Francesca meet again, the scene is set up for a romance with plenty of the stomach-clenching emotion I love so much, and Quinn makes excellent use of it. It was wonderful, both Michael's torment at seeing that Frannie is now theoretically within reach, and that he might have to see her yet again with another man, and Frannie's newfound awareness of Michael as a man.

And here came one of the little possible improvements. The pacing's not perfect. In this section in London, right after Michael's arrived from India, there's a bit too much running around in which basically nothing happens for pages and pages, just both Michael and Francesca going around London being pursued by legions of elegible partners and Michael torturing himself with guilt. It might have been better if this section had been tightened a little bit, and the final part of the book, once Michael and Francesca are in Scotland, lengthened a bit. That part felt a little bit too short.

Still, once the action moves to Scotland, all my "come on, already!" mood was dispelled. I thought it was really good that once Michael decides it's all right that he loves Francesca, he goes all out in trying to win her, even being willing to seduce her into marrying her. I find that single-mindedness much sexier than "oh, no, we shouldn't, but I can't help it".

And wow, the book was hotter and more sensual than I expected from this author, something I always enjoy, when done right. And Quinn got it right. The love scenes are well done and full of feeling and emotions, which meant that I actually read them, and not skimmed them, which is what I do when I come across a love scene which focuses on what's happening (tab A into slot B) and not on what the characters are feeling as it happens. The only thing which could have improved this element would have been having more of Michael's POV once they've made love for the first time. I guess I was expecting massive emotional pay-off when Michael finally, finally made love with the woman he'd been desperately in love for so many years, but I just didn't get quite as much as I was hoping for.

On a final note, I've seen this book criticised for not being enough of a "Bridgerton" book. Now, I like the Bridgertons, but not having them overpower the book was, to me, a relief. My least favourite moment in To Sir Phillip With Love was when Eloise's brothers chase her to Phillip's house and interfere (the scene with them snickering over a barmaid's tits made me shudder). Here, though we did see the family, Francesca had her own life, and I enjoyed the fact that she was a bit more distant to her family than the others. Again, not that the closeness of the others was wrong, or that I disapproved of it... far from it, what I enjoyed was that Francesca was not just yet another Bridgerton, exact to all the others.

All in all, an excellent book. And now, to wait again until my next Quinn :-(


Heart of Deception, by Taylor Chase

>> Monday, July 26, 2004

I've heard a lot about Heart of Deception (excerpt), by Taylor Chase online, all of it sounding very well (especially what was said about the heroine), so I bought the book.

Amid intrigue and assassination, Rafe Fletcher fights to save his family from charges of treason. Playing thief, he loses his heart to Vivian Swift, Queen of the Underworld. Must he betray the woman he loves to save life of the Queen Elizabeth? And will Vivian demand payment for such deadly deception in heart’s blood?
It was all I was hoping for and more! An A.

The most truly amazing thing about this book was the heroine, Vivian. Vivian and her brother Nick control the underworld of a certain area in London. Tell me the truth, what do you imagine when you read this? Maybe that she's a hair-tossing, feisty little girl, who thought it would be fun to dabble in illegal activities, à la Kit Cranmer, from Laurens' Captain Jack's Woman? Or maybe that her role is to mother all the little pickpockets, and that this book will be a version of Oliver Twist?

If you thought this, you'd be wrong. Vivian is no ninny and she's no earth mother type, either. She's an intelligent, capable, ruthless woman, who's well versed on the machinations needed to control her territory and is capable of being brutal when needed. She takes no pleasure from killing, but she doesn't hesitate to do so when necessary. She's not promiscuous, but she likes sex and has affairs with men when she feels like it. She can be kind, but she can also get enraged enough that she breaks things. In short, she's a strong, complicated woman, who does what needs to be done and if she enjoys it in the process, so what?

I also enjoyed the portrayal of the Elizabethan England underworld, Vivian's domain. This is no sanitized version of it. Vivian and Nick do protect their people, but they also do things like make shopkeepers pay for protection (very mafia-like, that). Their world is violent, and this shows in Chase's very colourful portrayal of it.

I loved to see her with Rafe, who's a darling, even if his whole purpose when he decides to infiltrate Vivian's domain is to betray her. Of course, soon after he meets her he becomes so fascinated by Vivian that he talks himself into believing it would be a good idea to become her lover, and he soon starts having doubts about whether a woman such as Vivian would do such a thing as plot treason.

I must say, the man really drives himself crazy about what to do. He's truly between a rock and a hard place. The mental torture he puts himself through goes a long way in helping me forgive him for betraying Viv.

The relationship between these two people was fascinating. Vivian's impulse is to treat Rafe as a toy, almost, I guess as a reaction against the feelings he engenders in her. I really liked Rafe's reactions to this: he doesn't allow for her to dominate him, but neither does he try to dominate her himself. He loves her the way she is, strong and ruthless. His upbringing with a grandfather who drilled virtue into him makes him not be comfortable with the fact that she makes her living off crime, but he doesn't judge what she's had to do to survive.

The plot was really good, too, though I wasn't too happy about a certain intrusion on this very nitty-gritty reality of a supernatural element, near the end, and which is crucial to our protagonists' finding out exactly what's going on. Too much deus ex machina to me, that.

One last thing: was it just me, or did anyone else detect a kind of undertone in Rafe and Gabriel's relationship that might suggest they might have been a teeny bit more than friends? A kind of... tenderness, I would call it. Maybe it was just my imagination, who knows...

The only sad part about having read this book is discovering, at Mrs. Giggles', that Taylor Chase doesn't have a contract to publish more books. Well, at least I can look for her backlist!


Dancing on the Wind, by Mary Jo Putney

>> Friday, July 23, 2004

Dancing on the Wind, by Mary Jo Putney, is the second book in the Fallen Angels series, one of my all time favourites.

Like his namesake, Lucifer, Lord Strathmore is known for unearthly beauty and diabolical cleverness. A tragic past has driven him to use his formidable talents to protect his country from secret enemies, and it is a job he does superlatively well—until he meets a mysterious woman whose skill at deception equals his own. By turns glamorous and subdued, reckless yet vulnerable, his enchanting adversary baffles his mind even as she captures his heart.

A perilous mission has forced Kit Travers into a deadly game of everchanging identities and needful lies, where a single misstep might cost her her life. But her disguises are easily penetrated by the Earl of Strathmore. Unwilling to trust, yet unable to part, they join forces to search the dangerous underside of London society. Yet even two master deceivers cannot escape from passion's sensual web—or from an impossible love more precious than life itself...
This one's not my favourite of the series, but it's still excellent. A B+.

The Fallen Angels series and Dancing on the Wind in particular have many features that have become clichéd. There's the group of friends from school, with the suitably dark name, there's the hero with a nickname like Lucifer, there's the now ubiquitous spy... and yet, it feels fresh here. It makes all the difference that this was very definitely not clichéd at that time. I believe, actually, that this series was part of the inspiration for some of these elements to become so common.

The book has two very distinct parts. The first part, which features Lucien's cat and mouse pursuit of a mysterious woman who is seemingly present in every ocasion when he's trying to spy on the Hellfire club members. I loved this section, which lasts over half the book, when Lucien still doesn't know, or isn't sure of who Kit is, and this is driving him mad.

The second part, once Kit tells Lucien everything about her sister's disappearance and he decides to help her, is still good, but not as excellent. It will sound shallow, but I think that part of it is that by that time they've already made love, so the yummy sexual tension which made the first part so amazing, has dispelled quite a bit. Sure, they're still crazy about each other, but it was less interesting.

I especially liked Lucien. He's always kind and corteous to Kit , even when frustrated lust gets him angry enough that he demands Kit have sex with him. I always find it especially appealing when the hero has been discriminating in his past sexual experiences, and I enjoyed this about Lucien. He experiences a kind of depression after any meaningless sexual experience, so this means he's lately been almost monkish, having sex only when he can't stand it any more. Something else that I liked was that even though he's had some traumatic experiences in his past, he's remarkably stable and untortured. He's pretty low-key, no drama queen here!

Kit I also liked very much. She's competent. She knows what she's doing and can take care of herself (mostly), and her plans do make sense. She has to work with certain limitations, granted, which Lucien doesn't have, but she does the best she can to find out the truth about what has happened to her sister. Oh, and she can lie quite well without batting an eyelid and without torturing herself about it. This ties in with what I said about her being competent. She's decided to embark on a plan which requires her to lie, so she does what she needs to do. Period. She does get a little tedious near the end of the book, with her insistence on illogically doubting Lucien, but I chalk it up to some twin thing I don't get as a non-twin.

I thought the suspense element in the book was good. It set up the scenario for Lucien and Kit's romance nicely, and it was interesting in it's own right, especially the ending, with its very exciting final confrontation. Remember this comes from a reader who usually regards suspense subplots as something to be endured, not enjoyed, so this is quite an exception.


Cooking Up a Storm, by Emma Holly

>> Thursday, July 22, 2004

Cooking Up a Storm (excerpt), by Emma Holly was my first successful erotica read. I'd previoiusly tried a couple of Blue Moon titles I'd found cheap here in Montevideo, but I found them distasteful (lots of emphasis on spanking and disciplining, which I find not only not my cup of tea, but a real turn-off).

The Coates Inn is about to go belly up when beleaguered owner Abby Coates jumps at a stranger's offer to help - both in her kitchen and in her bed. This handsome fellow claims to have a secret weapon, an all-aphrodisiac menu that her customers won't be able to resist. But can this playboy-chef really save the day when Abby's body means more to him than her heart, and when stealing her restaurant out from under her means the most of all?
Well, my first Black Lace read was an excellent experience. I'd actually rate it a B+.

I went into the book reminding myself "It's erotica, not romance; remember, it's erotica, not romance". I found what I was expecting for well-written erotica, but I also got a believable romance at the heart of it, which was a surprise.

The erotica part of it was really good. There's a great variety in the sex, so I had a variety of reactions to different scenes. Some things elicited a "Hmm, I really should try that"; others were erotic to read, but not something I'd be interested in participating in, while yet other things I just didn't "get". But all of them were beautifully written, with a style that wasn't at all purple but also far from clinical.

As I said, I was surprised by how, though there isn't much of a plot, there actually is some character growth, and by the end of the book, I believed Storm and Abbie really loved each other. I mean, it was obvious that they wouldn't have a traditional HEA. Their sexual adventures will continue, and it's a testament to Holly's good writing that, even though my personal fantasy HEA has monogamy as a basic part of it, I'm happy for these two and believe their way is the right way for them, and more power to them!


Ten Little Indians, by Agatha Christie

>> Wednesday, July 21, 2004

When I think back on the books I read as a young teen, Ten Little Indians, by Agatha Christie, is one of the first that come to mind. I actually remember reading it. I was at my uncle's wating room (he's a doctor), wating for my mom, and I can see in my mind everything about the waiting room itself, from the layout to the furniture :-)

Considered the best mystery novel ever written by many readers, Ten Little Indians (also pubbed as And Then There Were None) is the story of 10 strangers, each lured to Indian Island by a mysterious host. Once his guests have arrived, the host accuses each person of murder. Unable to leave the island, the guests begin to share their darkest secrets--until they begin to die.
This is a hell of a book. Tight, ingenious, elegantly constructed, thrilling and suspenseful. And scary, very scary.

Christie's not supposed to be very good at characterization, but I was awed by the way she managed to make all 10 people stranded in the island very distinct individuals. Usually, when there is a large cast fo characters, I have to go back to remember who is who, at least until I've got into the book and got to know the characters. Here, I never needed to do that. From the first time we met each of the characters, they became individuals in my mind, and I never got one confused with the other. Very well done, that.

I'm rating it a B+, but that's only because I'm rating for my enjoyment of the book, not as an "objective" rating of the book's quality (I'd rate it in the A's if I were). The problem was that this is a book to be read not knowing what happens. I remembered way too much about it, from who- and how- and why-dunnit and what the culmination of the book would be, to who died how and in which order. Still, this was fun!


The Rake's Retreat, by Nancy Butler

>> Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I'd been meaning to try Nancy Butler for some time, so when I found out a friend had one of her books, The Rake's Retreat, I borrowed it.

Dangerous Haven

One fragrant June afternoon, Lady Jemima Vale took her canvas stool and sketchbook to the sunny countryside with the intention of drawing a pleasant view of some aspens. But what she saw made her heart lurch. From across the plain came a ruggedly handsome rider...and a girl in distress!

Jemima was aghast to discover that the man was Mr. Beecham Bryce. Bryce had cut a swath through the ton since before she had made her comeout, and his name was a byword for all that was licentious and low. Now, he was escorting a traumatized young girl who had just witnessed a shocking murder! Jemima felt obligated to accompany the two to Bryce's estate- the poor child should not be unchaperoned in the company of such a rogue. ...

There, at his baronial manor, they were safe from the killer. But as the scandalous incident brought Jemima closer to Bryce, she found that it was her heart that was in danger...from her own desire.
Though the first part promised more than the last part delivered, I'm glad I tried Butler and will look for her backlist. My grade for this book was a B-.

The first part of the book was delightful. Even though I'm posting this some time later, I actually read The Rake's Retreat right after that disgusting skank-fest, Total Surrender, and a light, frothy, wholesome Regency was exactly what I needed to cleanse my palate.

I found the set-up fascinating, especially the way Butler used to get them all sequestered in Bryce's house, and I thought I was getting an intriguing mystery on top of the sweet romance. The first interactions of the characters were wonderful, both how Bryce and Jemima start theirs, with a lot of very witty, funny sparring, and how these two relate to Lovelace, the young lady in distress who had just witnessed the murder.

Unfortunately, it all unraveled a bit near the end. I think I can pinpoint exactly where it was: it all went downhill when Troy's friends arrived. That was when we started having all the spies running around and at that point I thought Butler lost the reins on her characters, and Bryce and Jemima's circling each other became a bit tedious and it became hard to understand what exactly the problem was that they couldn't just be together. Also, I thought a certain, very traumatic event in Jemima's past was dealt with to carelessly, almost discounted, and there was no exploration of what the effect on Jemima must have been.

The book served its purpose, but it could have been better.


Fantasy, an anthology

I decided to read Fantasy solely based on the review of Emma Holly's story, because even if the reviewer didn't seem to like it much, it really sounded like something I'd enjoy. The other stories... well, I'm not at all fond of Christine Feehan, the one Elda Minger novella I read was nothing too phone home about and as for Sabrina Jeffries, well, I like her books, but the plot of this novella sounded preposterous.

Surprisingly enough, though the Holly story was my favourite, a couple of the others weren't a complete loss.

The first story was The Widow Auction, by Sabrina Jeffries:

In an exclusive gentlemen's club in Victorian London, adventurous ladies are available to the highest bidder. Yet how far will a modest widow go to fulfill her fantasy of being auctioned off as a rake's midnight plaything?
As I said above, my first reaction on reading what the story was about and on reading the first couple of pages of the story itself, was not good. On first meeting the heroine, Isobel Lamberton, Lady Kingsley, I thought she was a bit of a ninny and the hero, Justin, Lord Warbrooke, sounded like an arrogant idiot. Well, I should have trusted Jeffries. She's never let me down before, and she didn't here, either!

Yes, the idea of respectable widows being auctioned off, masked of course, to preserve their reputation, in a gentlemen's club was as doubtful as ever, but Jeffries succeeded in creating characters whose reactions to all this were believable and appealing, and characters who rose above two dimensions and became real people to me. The story was wonderfully erotic, and by the end of it, I believed they were really in love. Also, bonus points for making the story length seem exactly right.

My grade: a B+.

Emma Holly's story, Luisa's Desire, was next, and I loved it!

From the depths of the dark unknown, a child of midnight has arrived in a spiritual Tibetan refuge to rid herself of wicked desires. Here this ageless beauty meets the one man who can save her.... or damn her soul forever.
In this story, Holly succeeds in setting out a mythology I'd never read about before (the upyrs, which are kind of vampires) and in telling a believable love story from scratch. By that I mean that usually, successful novellas are those which concentrate on only a part of a love story, because stories that go from the moment the two lovers meet to when they fall in love tend to feel too short and hurried. However, Holly does just that here, and the story still feels whole and unhurried.

The basic plot is that Luisa, a(n) upyr, goes to a Tibetan lamasery because she wants to learn to live without feeding on people, and she meets a "wannabe" monk there and they fall in love. Simple, and it made for a beautiful story. I loved the very experienced Luisa, and I adored the much more innocent Martin. I liked that their relationship was devoid of little games, and the supernatural or spiritual elements enhanced the story.

And I very much enjoyed the fresh and original setting. Tibet in the 1600s is not a place you read about every day!

My grade: an A.

The third story was Mr. Speedy, by Elda Minger.

In a private, all-male school of seduction, she might just graduate with honors. If she can only maintain her disguise long enough to teach the man of her dreams a few lessons.
The blurb of this one is a bit misleading. The story is about journalist Miranda Ward, who wants to do an article about these seminars which are taking LA by storm, promising men they'll teach them to seduce a woman in 24 hours flat. Since women are "the other", the enemy, to the guy who runs them, Miranda dresses up as a man and signs up for them. The hero is her roomate for the seminar, another journalist, also wanting to get a story out of the experience.

Well, I liked the setup better than I thought I would, and there were some funny touches there (and the obligatory "oh, no, I'm lusting after a man" moment on Jake's part was kept thankfully short). However, this story did feel rushed. While I thought Miranda and Jake's relationship got off to a good start, with all the talking about their deepest fears and desires, these two were nowhere near ready to get married. Also, I just didn't sense any chemistry.

My grade would be a C+.

The final story was also the one I liked least, The Awakening, by Christine Feehan.

Under the blazing heat of the Borneo sun, a beautiful naturalist's dream comes true- to live among the feral jungle creatures. But an untamed, irresistible beast of another sort forces her to explore her own wild side.
I've read only one Feehan, but considering what I read and what I've heard about her novels, this seems to be her typical fare.If you're into arrogant alphas who go on and on about how the heroine "is mine" and into innocent, naive heroines, who love to submit to said arrogant alphas, you'll probably like this. I detested it.

The setup of the story I found a bit ridiculous, a race of shapeshifters (they change into leopards) who live in the jungles of Borneo, and who are, of course, Anglo. Boring, at least to me.

My grade: a D+.

It was a pretty uneven anthology, with an excellent story, a very good one, a mediocre one and a bad one. My final grade for the anthology: a B.


Again The Magic, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Monday, July 19, 2004

Some comments in the July 1st, 2004 ATBF at AAR made me want to read a book that had previously not caught my fancy: Again The Magic, by Lisa Kleypas.

She gave him her innocence . . .Lady Aline Marsden was brought up for one reason: to make an advantageous marriage to a member of her own class. Instead, she willingly gave her innocence to John McKenna, a servant on her father's estate. Their passionate transgression was unforgivable -- John was sent away, and Aline was left to live in the countryside . . . an exile from London society . . .and he took her love.

Now McKenna has made his fortune, and he has returned -- more boldly handsome and more mesmerizing than before. His ruthless plan is to take revenge on the woman who shattered his dreams of love. But the magic between them burns as bright as ever. And now he must decide whether to let vengeance take its toll . . . or risk everything for his first, and only, love.
Very readable, but also a bit frustrating. I'd give it a B.

Well, this is a Big Secret book. For a Big Secret plot to succeed with me, I need that the secret be really "Big", that is, important enough that it be reasonable that the character with the secret be so worried that it may come out. Also, I need that it be kept secret only long enought as it's reasonable that the character does so.

Did Again The Magic fulfill those criteria? Well, it's complicated. Ok, this is not really a spoiler, as we know about it early on, but if you don't want to know, stop right here:


the reason Aline doesn't feel she can have a relationship with McKenna is that she had an accident not long after he was sent away and her legs got burned and are now a mass of scar tissue and so on. She doesn't want him to see them, because she fears he'll either be repulsed or sorry for her.

Another secret is the reasons why Aline told McKenna to leave in such a merciless way: she knew he wouldn't stay away unless he thought she really wanted him to, and she feared for his safety unless he left. This secret was ok to me, because, actually, she didn't reveal it only because it made it easier for her to keep it secret, in the sense that McKenna was less likely to pressure her into having a relationship if he thought he was a bitch who had played with his feelings all those years ago (the reason she didn't want him to love her being, of course, the other secret). Hope this all makes sense!

Ok, then, the secret about her legs. On one hand, this is the type of thing people actually do feel very insecure about, so it didn't exactly stretch my credulity that Aline would be so bound and determined to keep it a secret. A single instance of trying to put herself into McKenna's position (how would *I* feel if his legs were scarred all over) would have been enough, I guess, but I understand how she could have been a little irrational about it all. So far so good.

However, on the other hand, I got the feeling that Aline was a bit too determined to be a martyr about her legs. Also, all her insistence, near the end of the book, not to reveal her secret was about preserving her pride, no matter how much this made her and McKenna (the man she supposedly loved) suffer. This was much less palatable to me, and meant that the Big Secret plot didn't completely succeed with me.

What I did like, and a lot, was McKenna's attitude towards Aline. Yes, his plan is to get revenge on her, but it's terribly obvious that he still loves her too much to follow through with his plans. He just cannot be cruel to her. And the scene near the end, when he tells her it doesn't matter if she doesn't love him, he has more than enough love for both... awww. It really exacerbated my frustration with Aline, unfortunately.

I also enjoyed the secondary romance, between Aline's "ruined" sister and McKenna's alcoholic American partner. I especially liked the resolution, it felt much more realistic that those alcoholics magically cured from one day to another by the love of a good woman.

I liked the plot very much, the complete focus on the relationships and the lack of an extraneous suspense subplot. A couple of things felt a bit anachronistic, though, like the ease with which both Aline and Livia would go around making out and even having sex with their lovers all over the place, right under their brother's nose, seemingly unworried that someone would notice.That stretched even my credulity, and I'm not much of a stickler for historical accuracy.

All in all, a very enjoyable book.


Dreaming of You, by Lisa Kleypas

Dreaming of You seems to be most readers' favourite Lisa Kleypas book. The first time I read it, years ago, it simply didn't make much of an impression, so I decided to give it another try.

In the shelter of her country cottage, Sara Fielding puts pen to paper to create dreams. But curiosity has enticed the prim, well-bred gentlewoman out of her safe haven -- and into Derek Craven's dangerous world.

A handsome, tough and tenacious Cockney, he rose from poverty to become lord of London's most exclusive gambling house -- a struggle that has left Derek Craven fabulously wealthy, but hardened and suspicious. And now duty demands he allow Sara Fielding into his world -- with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But here, in a perilous shadow-realm of ever-shifting fortunes, even a proper "mouse" can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress -- and a world-weary gambler can be shaken to his cynical core by the power of passion...and the promise of love.
This is good, really, really good, but "only" a B+ for me.

I think that where I differ from those who find this book the greatest romance novel ever is in my reaction to Derek. I feel sorry for his past and I admire his ability to rise above it, I even find him sexy and sweet, but I didn't completely fall in love with him, as those who adored this book seem to have done. I kind of felt at a distance to him as a character. I don't know how to explain it, really, and it frustrates me that I can't, so I'll leave it at that.

Surprisingly, I actually liked Sara quite a bit, probably because in spite of appearances, she was far from the typical naive, martyr heroines who populate historicals. She knows what she wants, she isn't afraid to ask for it, and she actually saves herself when in danger. I thought she showed great courage in throwing in her lot with Derek, because there was quite a big possibility that he wouldn't be able to feel the love she needed.

Kleypas creates really, really great chemistry between Sara and Derek, and this made for an extremely sexy and hot book. The best thing was that the love scenes were terribly emotional, for both of them, so to me, this added a lot of heat to them. The book also has some heartwrenching scenes that I loved, like near the end, when Derek thinks Sara has been killed.

I didn't really like the subplot about the crazy Lady Joyce, a former lover of Derek's who's obsessed with him, but luckily, she came into the picture only for little whiles, during the book and near the end, and so, the book wasn't about Derek and Sara trying to survive her machinations but about them falling in love and building a relationship, with this nutcase adding a couple more difficulties and actually creating circumstances that helped move their relationship forward.

So, even if I didn't think this was the best book ever, it was pretty damn good!


Miss Wonderful, by Loretta Chase

>> Friday, July 16, 2004

Loretta Chase's classic Lord of Scoundrels is a particular favourite of mine, so when she released Miss Wonderful, her first book in some time, I pretty much auto-bought it.

Alistair Carsington really, really wishes he didn't love women quite so much. To escape his worst impulses, he sets out for a place far from civilization: Derbyshire--in winter!--where he hopes to kill two birds with one stone: avoid all temptation, and repay the friend who saved his life on the fields of Waterloo. But this noble aim drops him straight into opposition with Miss Mirabel Oldridge, a woman every bit as intelligent, obstinate, and devious as he—and maddeningly irresistible.

Mirabel Oldridge already has her hands full keeping her brilliant and aggravatingly eccentric father out of trouble. The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart--not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.

Could the situation be any worse? And why does something that seems so wrong feel so very wonderful?
Miss Wonderful was not quite as wonderful as LOS, but it was still a delightful book. A B+.

The book is a perfect blend of comedy with more serious issues, and it works wonderfully. I just adored the characters, both of them. Alistair, with his almost "silly ass" façade and his dandy-ism, trying to hide his hurts that way, was a dear. He was a war hero with real problems, not just the odd nightmare, and tried to hide the consequences with levity and his very distinctive sense of humour. Mirabel, too, was wonderful: sensible and warm, also with a lovely sense of humour. And I actually thought it was refreshing to have a heroine who would resort to somewhat underhanded tactics to get what she wants.

The development of their relationship was beautiful, and really romantic, too. I especially liked the way their conflict about the canal was given the exact right importance in their interactions... important enough that they were at odds, but both were perfectly aware that it wasn't the end of the world.

Miss Wonderful was a keeper until the last part, where a suspense subplot kicked in, out of the blue, and took over much of the story. Not only wasn't this needed to provide conflict, because there was more than enough tension between Alistair and Mirabel due to the canal, it didn't fit in well with the tone of the rest of the story.

Still, with two engaging characters and a wonderfully witty writing style, this book was a winner.


The Legend of Banzai Maguire, by Susan Grant

The Legend of Banzai Maguire (excerpt), by Susan Grant is the first in a new futuristic series Dorchester will publish. I'm so happy futuristics are hot again!

The year: 2006. The mission: routine. Or so U.S.A.F. pilot Bree "Banzai" Maguire thinks. Then she's shot down over enemy airspace, captured and put in bio-stasis. When she wakes, everything's changed. It's one hundred and seventy years later.

2176: the world is in crisis, and Banzai's a hotly contested prize. Once, her job was to protect democracy; now a mysterious voice claims she must bring it back.

Two men vie for her heart. Kyber, her captor, the rich, ruthless Emperor Prince of Asia, has all a man could desire. Then there's U.C.E. SEAL commander and would-be rescuer Ty Armstrong. He has all the right moves. With two such choices, Banzai regrets she has but one heart to give for her country.
An intriguing start to the series, I'd grade it a B+.

The main strength of this book was the worldbuilding, which was really fascinating and fresh. Grant did a good job in setting it up, giving us just enough that the action here was understandable but still giving us some tantalizing hints of other things that will be explored in the next books. It definitely sounds complicated enough that it'll take all 5 books to explore. This is what I want in a futuristic! And BTW, the reviews of the next books sound really good, and I know that book 4 is by Patti O'Shea, an author whose only book so far I enjoyed very much.

The romance part of it all was ok, though not amazingly good. I liked Bree very much. She's a really kickass heroine and a very sympathetic one. Ty was less interesting, he was basically your garden variety SEAL hero, though he did have some interesting edges, like his ambiguity about the country he was defending. There's actually not a lot of focus on the romance, and that would be one of the very few negatives I found.

I did found that in certain ways this is very much destined to US readers (duh!) ;-) What I mean is, there are some patriotic rah-rah-rah things there, not about what the US is then (or rather, what the US became then), but about what it is and supposedly simbolizes now. I guess the intention was to make the reader feel proud and stir her patriotism, but well, not being American, my reaction was more in the line of snorting and muttering "Yeah, right". This is not too heavy-handed, though, so I was well able to ignore it.

Anyway, I'm really pumped about the series and am eagerly awaiting the next one (I know it's out already, I'm waiting for it to get here).


For The Thrill of It!, by Patricia Ryan

>> Thursday, July 15, 2004

For The Thrill of It!, by Patricia Ryan is one of those books I've no idea why I bought. I usually avoid pregnancy plots like the plague!

Clay Granger thrived on life in the fast lane. He wasn't afraid to take on his friend Izzy's "problem." Besides, a temporary wife was just what he needed; matchmakers were making his life miserable.

Izzy Fabrioni was pregnant and alone, except for her best friend, Clay, who just happened to be the most eligible bachelor in the world. The most eligible and the riskiest. He'd do just about anything just for the thrill of it--including marrying her!
It was a nice book. Nothing too remarkably good, nothing too remarkably bad. A nice enough way to spend a couple of hours. I'd rate it a B-.

On the positive side, it was a friends-falling-in-love story, which I always enjoy, and it featured a yummy guy falling hard for an intelligent, good-looking but not model-like heroine, which is always a nice fantasy.

On the negative side, as much as the author really tried to make it all feel as natural as possible, there's no escaping the fact that this was an "only in romance novels" situation. I kind of bought into their decision to marry (even if the "hero deciding to marry to get away from matchmakers" is so contrived it hurts), but the contortions to try to keep the rest of the family from finding out the truth about the marriage were beyond what I was able to accept.

Still, cute book.


Kill and Tell, by Linda Howard

I recently reread Kill and Tell, a book I remembered as one of my favourite Linda Howards.

Still reeling from her mother's recent death, Karen Whitlaw is stunned when she receives a package containing a mysterious notebook from the father she has barely seen since his return from the Vietnam War over twenty years ago. Unwilling to deal with her overwhelming emotions, Karen packs the notebook away, putting it—and her father—out of her mind, until she receives a shocking phone call. Her father has been murdered on the gritty streets of New Orleans.

Homicide dectective Marc Chastain considers the murder nothing more than street violence against a homeless man, and Karen accepts his judgement—at firt. But she changes her mind when her home is burglarized and accidents begin to happen. All at once, she faces a chilling realization: whoever killed her father is now after her. Desperate for answers, Karen retrieves the only think that links her to her father—the notebook he had sent months before. Inside its worn pages, she makes an unsettling discovery: her father had been a sniper in Vietnam and the notebook contains a detailed account of each one of his kills.

Now running for her life, Karen entrusts the book and its secrets to Marc Chastain. Together they unravel a disturbing story of politics, power, and murder—and face a killer who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the kill book.
I still very much enjoyed the romance in it, but it wasn't exactly as good as I remembered. A B.

The problem was that Kill and Tell has a lot more emphasis on the suspense subplot than I remembered. I'd say about a third of the book is devoted to scenes showing the plotting and machinations of the villains, and I'm afraid that bored me out of my head. Luckily, I remembered the bare bones of it, so I could just skim over those sections and zero in on the romance.

Not only were these parts very uninteresting, I must say that certain things in them made me very uncomfortable, like when they talk about John Medina's father, Rick, and his work as a sniper in Vietnam, the author portraying as a "righteous kill" an "execution, not a murder" the torture of two Vietnamese done with the purpose of teaching a lesson. As Howard herself puts it: "after that, the young American soldiers had enjoyed a bit more safety when carousing in the Saigon bars and whorehouses". That makes me want to gag.

Completely ignoring all this, the romance was pretty good. It should be creepy, how Marc focuses on Karen on an instant and coolly decides he wants to have a relationship with her and starts deciding which steps he needs to take to manipulate her into agreeing fast, before she needs to leave. However, even if intellectually I recognized how creepy it is, I still found it all very satisfying.

So, basically, my grade for the romance would be a B+ verging on an A-, but the rest of the book lowered it quite a bit.


Total Surrender, by Cheryl Holt

>> Wednesday, July 14, 2004

On Sunday, I started Total Surrender (excerpt), by new-to-me author Cheryl Holt.

He was a master in seduction...

With the last of her family's possessions gambled away by her dissolute brother, Lady Sarah Compton has traveled to a country house gala for one last moment of grace and beauty. But she is unaware that the occasion is actually a notorious trysting event, where members of the aristrocracy can indulge their every sensual fantasy and erotic whim. Nor does she realize that the striking man who has stolen into her bedroom is none other than Michael Stevens—a rake who gives and takes his pleasures boldly...

She was a pupil, willing to learn...

The bastard son of an earl, Michael Stevens relishes his reputation as London's most notorious seducer. But he has no idea what to make of the auburn-haired beauty he'd nearly mistaken for a new conquest or how such an innocent could possibly have been invited to a gathering where London's bored elite caters to each other's carnal desires. When the lady refuses to heed Michaels' warning—to leave the house for her own protection—a powerful attraction grows, and soon, he longs to tutor the very proper Lady Sarah Compton in the art of passion...
I'm now on page 150 and cannot bear to go on. This is awful, absolutely awful, and I refuse to continue to put myself through the aggravation of trying to read it. It may be unfair of me, since I haven't finished it, but I rate Total Surrender an F.

The opening of the book is terrible. First of all, the hero comes across as the most hypocritical, judgemental whiner I've ever read. He absolutely despises all those rich amoral women, who screw around, and yet he's the one they screw around with. He tries to justify it with some nonesense about how it's partly to punish their husbands, because they're just as debauched and amoral, but as far as I'm concerned, this makes him look even more hypocritical. Um, honey, who appointed you God?

Then, the first scene, when Michael is invited by Sarah's cousin to come to Sarah's room, is laughable. Of course, he assumes she's one of "those" women he despises so much, and is simply playacting when she says no. This could have been a provocative opening, in the hands of a good author, but it felt very awkward, with Sarah reacting like a total ninny, and then, when she managed to get the message across that she wasn't willing, for some reason she starts questioning the guy who almost raped her about what exactly sex entails. WTF? Paraphrasing: "If we'd continued in this vein you would have taken my virginity?" "And what would that have entailed?". Oh, please!

After that, Sarah discovers her room has a peephole into a secret room. She can't resist the temptation to look, and sees Michael having sex with various women, throughout three nights. Apparently, this is a kind of game they play in this orgiastic party. He'll be there, and any woman in the party who wants to be serviced by him simply needs to enter the room and state what she wants.

I almost chucked the room in the first scene this happened, and I'm sorry I didn't. It wasn't just the fact that, as a rule, I dislike seeing the hero having sex with another woman. My main problem was the almost cruel way he used these annonymous women. He was terribly contemptuous and didn't even care enough to give most of them pleasure, just simply had them suck him off. That's what I couldn't accept about him. Not the fact that he'd had a not very discriminating sex life, but that he would have sex with women he despised. If he'd simply been promiscuous but had had some fondness for his partners, or got some joy out of the sex, ok, I wouldn't have been crazy about this, but it would have been tolerable. But no, he tries to "denigrate" the women he screws (and yes, he actually does think that he intends to denigrate them), and this is such a sick, sick attitude that I can't accept this guy as the hero.

I guess these scenes are supposed to be erotic, but they felt so tawdry and skanky that I simply didn't find them erotic or titillating, simply distasteful. And the fact that Sarah finds herself getting excited about watching him there... yuck!

I didn't like the writing style, either. I don't usually even notice writing style, unless it's remarkably good or remarkably bad, and Holt's unfortunately falls into the latter category. It's horribly, horribly purple. It's as if Holt's idea of something that sounds "historical" is to grab a thesaurus and change as many words as possible for their more complicated-sounding synonyms. It didn't work, the writing just felt bloated and unnatural and it was very distracting, because she'd often pick a synonym that had different connotations than the word she was obviously trying to substitute, so she'd end up with some really puzzling choices.

I really hate not to finish books, but I've got far too many promising novels in my TBR shelf to waste more of my time with this. Unfortunately, I have another of Holt's books there, Absolute Pleasure. I won't be reading it any time soon.


The Prince of Midnight, by Laura Kinsale

I've been on a bit of a Laura Kinsale phase lately, so even though I hadn't heard much about The Prince of Midnight, I borrowed it from a friend as soon as I heard she had it.

He was once a legendary highwayman. Now he's a recluse, living out his life in a ruined hideaway. When Lady Leigh Strachan comes looking for a man who can teach her how to wreak revenge on her enemy, she's disgusted and disillusioned to find that the famed Prince of Midnight can hardly stand steady on his own two feet. S.T. Maitland wants nothing to do with his former criminal career, or with this fierce, beautiful, unhappy woman, until the old thrill of living on the cutting edge of danger begins to rise in his blood again.
This didn't make it into my favourite Kinsale list, but it was still quite good. A B+.

What I liked best was how fresh The Prince of Midnight felt, and not just because it paired a totally romantic and idealistic hero with a very tortured heroine, which is something you definitely do not see every day. It also had settings and situations which haven't been done to death, and that's always good.

I enjoyed the romance. Leigh could have been a little hard to warm up to, with her almost gratuitous coldness towards S.T., but there were always enough hints of her past that I could understand her. My own opinion was that she was still in shock, and trying very hard to remain in that condition, so as not to feel anything. I guess she thought that if she allowed herself to feel something, even the smallest warmness towards S.T. (or Nemo, or the horses, for that matter), all her defenses would have come down and she'd feel so much grief and anger and sadness that she wouldn't be able to function well enough to do what she had to do.

It was interesting to see this experienced, tortured heroine, who seems perfectly capable to separate sex from love paired up with a hero who's so romantic and idealistic and so NOT able to separate sex and love. I really liked the romance.

On the negative side is that it all felt a little overcrowded by the many, many things that were happening, which meant that certain aspects, like the religious cult which had taken over Leigh's hometown were a little underused, I thought. Their fight against this was anticlimatic... too easy, I guess, considering that this was what they'd been working up towards during most of the book. Still, this wasn't too bad.

On the whole, a worthy way of spending some hours. So far, every Kinsale I've read has been very different, both from each other and from the usual romance fare, and this is what I especially appreciate about this author.

Oh, but before I forget! God, what a horrible, horrible cover! I had to cover the book in brown paper to resist the sick compulsion to just stare at that cheesy Fabio. I refuse to put this horror on my blog, so just click here if you'd like to see it.


Daughter of the Game, by Tracy Grant

>> Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Daughter of the Game, by Tracy Grant spent quite a few months in my TBR. I wish I'd read it earlier!

A London night in November 1819. Outside, a mist hovers over the cobblestones and yellow pools of lamplight glow with murky radiance. And inside the glittering mansions of society's finest families lushly dressed ladies dance the night away with coolly elegant gentlemen...and the latest gossip is exchanged with a tilt of a fan. Surely in a world of such supreme confidence, no evil could touch those charmed lives.

On this cloud-shrouded evening the unthinkable comes to pass: six-year-old Colin Fraser vanishes from the cocoon of his family's Berkeley Square home. His disappearance plunges his socially -- and politically -- prominent parents, Charles and Mélanie Fraser, into a maze of intrigue, one that stretches back to the Napoleonic Wars.

Charles is a former intelligence agent and the grandson of a duke who is now a member of Parliament. He possesses a cool intellect and a burning sense of justice. Driven by the devastation he saw during the war and by his own family's sordid history, he is a man who will not rest until he discovers the truth. Mélanie is a war refugee who charms London's beau monde at routs and receptions, all the while writing pamphlets on child labor and women's education. In a world where marriage is a matter of convenience and love is a game, their union is a model of constancy.

As Colin's ransom, his captors demand a ring...not just any ring, but the legendary Carevalo Ring. Many people, it seems, are enticed by the gold and ruby ornament, but are they lured by its beauty or by the promise of power that surrounds it? And there are those, perhaps even elements in the British government, who would kill to possess it.

Charles and Mélanie's race against time to recover the ring and save their son becomes a dark and perilous game, where plot plays upon counterplot. Their hunt takes them to the Drury Lane Theatre and the debtors' prison in the Marshalsea, a London gaming hell and a Brighton racing stable, a gin-soaked brothel and a Thames-side villa. They uncover a chilling labyrinth of secrets, both personal and political, that binds them together in unexpected ways and threatens to destroy them.
Ok, wow! Just, wow! This is only my second A+ book this year.

I'll try to not give to much away in my comments, but if you prefer absolutely no spoilers (and this is a book in which it would be a good idea to go in not knowing anything), you might want to stop reading.

Like the other book I gave an A+ grade, Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, Daughter of the Game is not a "romance novel", but a mystery with a strong romance element.

While both books were completely different, both in the type of mystery and in the circumstances of the characters' romance, I actually saw a bit of the Peter - Harriet relationship in the total equality of Charles and Mélanie's, the way they respected one another's capabilities and understood that each person, in the end, belongs only to him or herself. This was especially clear in the end, in the respect shown by the fact that Charles was able to accept and understand that, as the author puts it, Mélanie wasn't only his wife, but a woman with her own goals and loyalties and honour before she met him, and that he would have done the same thing.

I know Mélanie will be a character difficult to accept for many readers, but I greatly admired her. She did what she had to do to defend the ideals she believed in. I can find nothing reprehensible in her behaviour. And I especially respected her for still believing in these ideals and for never making excuses, just accepting the consequences of her behaviour.

Charles I also admired, for having the broadness of mind to consider other viewpoints than the generally accepted. Actually, I enjoyed the fact that both his and Mélanie's worldviews kind of meshed with mine. I guess it's fashionable right now to be very black and white about good and evil, and very despective of moral relativism, but that's what I believe in. I find absolute certainty very unattractive.

In this vein, I also liked that we are not fed the same old, same old English good - French bad you see everywhere. That has always made me uncomfortable, because knowing what I knew about what had happened politically after Waterloo, I always felt more than a little sympathy for the French's cause. Grant really delves into this, and I especially loved what she did with Charles. I also find blind patriotism unattractive....

The plot was interesting, basically gathering all the pieces of a puzzle, slowly, piece by piece. It was a bit repetitious at times, because most of the steps they took played out similarly, but I guess this makes sense. I did guess that final twist, but only because I started thinking "if I were the author.... " It's almost an obligation to add a final twist in the end, and it felt a little too straighforward to have the only villain be exactly who we had known it to be from the beginning. There was only another possibility, so that had to be it.

Still, without Charles and Mélanie and their backstory, this would have been just an ok mystery. These two were wonderful together, they worked perfectly both as "detectives" and as a couple. It's true that we don't really see much of their functioning as a couple throughout the book, but when the book was over, I knew that however hard it would be to accept and process all the revelations of the previous days, these two loved each other enough to do this and were generous enough to not end up throwing certain things in the other's face.


Golden Fires, by Colleen Shannon

>> Monday, July 12, 2004

I know I read Golden Fires, by Colleen Shannon some 10 years ago, but I didn't remember a thing about it. However, after reading the wonderful Heart of Fire, I was up for another jungle adventure romance.

AN ADVENTUROUS WOMAN: Lina Collier knew the archaeological expedition would be a grand adventure -- and a great success. She was sure there was gold to be found -- but she didn't realize she would discover another treasure, as well...

A RUGGED MAN: Expedition guide Jeremy Mayhew was sure the journey to Mexico would be a disaster -- but he was swayed by the arguments of the seductive, headstrong girl ... and by her charms.
Golden Fires had some elements I enjoyed, but on the whole, it wasn't a very good book. A C.

It wasn't a bad book either, not at all. For every thing that bothered me about the characters, or the plot, or the storytelling, there were others I enjoyed. The way I felt about the characters illustrates this perfectly.

Lina, for instance, had quite a few things to her that I liked. She was very much a feminist, and I liked and admired the way she was so determined to be an archeologist, and I really understood her frustration at the men around her seeing her just as a pretty ornament and not recognizing that she, too, could feel the need to explore the world. So far, so good.

The problem was that she combined this basic character that I enjoyed with episodes of extreme stupidity. From disregarding Jeremy's advice in the jungle, even though she knows he has lots of experience there (her father and the other guy in the expedition, Baxter, did the same, to be fair) to pulling such TSTL stunts as getting so distracted by an insect that she chases it right over the edge of the boat (forcing Jeremy to dive in after her and wrestle a crocodile to save her), or diving into the jungle alone at night to rescue a jaguar cub (just what's the message there? That a real woman's should have such overdeveloped maternal instincts that she should be ready to rush into danger to rescue anything that's small and/or cuddly?).

And then, after all these idiocies, she proves to be an extremely competent archeologist and capable of saving herself and others during fights, and she even refuses to cave in to Jeremy's demands that she give up everything for him! Who was this woman, feisty, TSTL spoilt little girl or cool, competent feminist archeologist? Her characterization often didn't make much sense.

And then there's Jeremy. He's got the potential to be an interesting character, but I got the feeling that most of his character development had been done in the book this one's the sequel to The Tender Devil. Shannon has him recount his past to Lina, but it never really came alive to me, so I didn't come to understand him. Lina keeps thinking about how he's such a lonely man, so hurt by his past, with so many issues... and I just don't see it.

Another negative was that at certain points, the story becomes pretty repetitious, so much that I sometimes felt as if it was caught in a loop. I lost count of how many times Lina and Jeremy were about to make love, and were interrupted by Lina's father, who upbraided her like a naughty girl. And the scene in which Lina feels close to Jeremy, only to feel soooo hurt when at the least danger, he wants her out of the way? I saw that one even more times.

On the positive side, I really enjoyed the settings, from the quick glimpse of Monaco in the 1880s we got in the beginning, to life on Jeremy's ship, to Mexico and its cities and jungle. This was very well done, as was the actual plot about what happened during the excavation.

So, in the end, a story which was very promising and had a lot going for it ended up being hard to read. Very unfortunate.


Heart of Fire, by Linda Howard

>> Friday, July 09, 2004

I have enjoyed many of Linda Howard's books, which is why I don't understand why I never felt the need to read Heart of Fire before. Unlike some of her books, which I don't think I'll ever read, like All That Glitters or Sarah's Child, people seem to like it, and what I'dheard of it sounded tempting. And yet, I never did grab it until last weekend.

A fabulous lost Amazon city once inhabited by women warriors and containing a rare red diamond: it sounded like myth, but archeologist Jillian Sherwood believed it was real, and she was willing to put up with anything to find it -- even Ben Lewis. Ruffian, knock-about, and number one river guide in Brazil, Ben was all man -- over six feet of rock-hard muscles that rippled under his khakis, with lazy blue eyes that taunted her from his tanned face. Jillian watched him come to a fast boil when she refused to reveal their exact destination upriver in the uncharted rain forests -- and resolved to stand her ground. Neither of them could foresee what the days ahead promised: an odyssey into the fiery heart of passion and betrayal, and a danger that would force them to cast their fates together, immersed in the eternal, unsolved mysteries of love....
It was a wonderful read, which kept me riveted to my seat for the hours it took me to read it. An A-.

I'm not usually crazy about jungle adventure books, but in this one, even the adventure side of it caught my fancy. I was fascinated by the archeological side of the thing, and thought Howard managed the pacing of the book (usually too fast for my taste in adventure romance) really well. The best thing, though, and what made the book so good, were the protagonists and their relationship.

Ben. Oh, Ben! *sigh* I'm not an alpha kind of girl, but Linda Howard can create some that are absolutely yummy. Some of her heroes cross the line into alpha jerks, but Ben is firmly on the right side of that line. When he got possessive and protective, I didn't get irritated, I melted. The difference was that he explicitly recognized that Jillian was more than able to take care of herself and respected and admired her for this.

LH is a master at creating sexual tension between her characters, and I actually enjoyed Ben's continuous and almost obssessive mental lusting. And when they finally got in the sack, wow! I needed a glass of ice water to cool down. Most important of all, by the time the book was over, I was firmly convinced that Ben and Jillian were in love and that they would deal very well with each other in the future.

Jillian was great, too. She didn't let herself be intimidated by Ben and could more than handle him sexually. They were so much fun together. She also wasn't at all a damsel in distress and was more than ready for what their expedition required of her in regards to physical strenght and mental preparedness.

As a South American myself, and having visited Brazil a few times (if not the Amazon) I was especially interested in how true the setting rang. The verdict: pretty good. There were some whoppers right at the beginning, though, which scared me a little, like Jillian "smuggling in" birth control pills into Brazil. Huh? What the hell does LH think we Latin Americans do for birth control? Pretty much the same they do in the rest of the world. And, I forgot, it's not that the issue is that she couldn't bring in medications into Brazil, which could be possible, because she disguised the pills as antihistamines to bring them in. That really baffled me.

So, there are things like that, but then she has, for instance, a character named Bolivar, which makes it obvious that there was some research there, because no way she could have made that up, or the final scene, in which Ben is watching a football game on TV, and it's the "soccer" kind of football, and he's watching the Brazilian National Team.

On a different note, and this is something that, while inspired by something in the book, isn't about it, I got thinking about the double standards so common in romance novels and got a bit frustrated. There's a character named Therese at the beginning of the book who is a waitress with whom Ben has occasional sex. Now, LH's portrayal of her is quite positive, actually. She's someone who likes to have a lot of sex and isn't too discriminating about who she has it with, but LH doesn't really portray her as a slut, or pit her against Jillian to emphasize that Jillian is more innocent and thus, more worthy of Ben. Also, at one point Ben even gets offended when someone labels her a slut, because, as he thinks, she's not a slut, she's just a fun-loving woman who likes sex.

The thing is, what got me angry was thinking that Ben was very much like Theresa, both in his past and his attitude towards sex and yet, while Ben can be a romance hero and no one will bat an eyelid, there's no way a woman like Theresa could be accepted as a viable romance heroine in today's market. Just depressing.


A Deal With The Devil, by Liz Carlyle

>> Wednesday, July 07, 2004

So, with A Deal With The Devil (excerpt), I finally get to my last Liz Carlyle and have no more of hers to read. A real shame. I've enjoyed my reread of her backlist very much.

Aubrey Montford claims to be a widowed housekeeper. Desperate to keep her new post - and her secrets - she transforms desolate Castle Cardow into a profitable estate. Yet soon after her employer, Lord Walrafen, returns from long years of absences, Aubrey is suspected of murder. Sparks and tempers ignite whenever she and the smoldering earl meet, but he may be her only hope.

Walrafen returns reluctantly to the childhood home he loathes. Cardow is said to be haunted - by more than the earl’s sad memories - but it was no ghost that murdered his uncle. Is the castle’s beautiful chatelaine a murderess? At the very least, she’s a liar - he has proof. Yet the truth of his soul is that he’s drawn to her with a fierce passion he’s never known...
My first impulse is to say that this one was thisclose to being an A-range book, but compared to other of Carlyle's, it just didn't deliver as much emotional punch. However, when I compare it to other books in the market and having let a couple of weeks go by, which has allowed me to "mature" my impressions of the book, so to speak, I feel I need to give this an A-.

Like the way it explores the fine line existing between a romance between boss and employee and a story about sexual harassment. I like that Carlyle didn't shy away from showing that even having Giles not blackmail Aubrey into giving in to his requests isn't enough, because Aubrey fills in the blanks herself. She doubts whether he can trust his assurances that he wants her to be willing, and he can never be sure that she understands that she won't be fired for refusing him. Both are very aware of this, and the best parts of the book are when they are dancing around this issue. It gives the book a piquancy, an element of the forbidden that I liked and an angst and sexual tension that I really enjoyed.

In the last part of the book, once things are more settled between them, this source of tension mostly disappears, and the emotional power of the book diminishes a bit, but it was still very satisfying.

Also, very fortunately, Carlyle continues the tendency she started in The Devil You Know and moves away from the heavier and heavier suspense subplots present in her previous books. The emphasis here was wholly on Giles and Aubrey, not on the suspense subplot. And what there was of it, was actually enjoyable, giving us a chance to catch up with some characters from previous books. This was really enjoyable, because the appearances by these characters weren't pointless, as they often are in other books. They had roles that made perfect sense in this story. And at last! A hero and heroine who are happy to leave the investigation of a crime to the experts!

I was actually a sad to finish this one. Now I can only wait for The Devil To Pay next year...


Mistress, by Amanda Quick

>> Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I did a reread of Amanda Quick's Mistress this weekend. The last time I'd reread it had been in January 2003, over a year and a half ago. Here's my post from that date. I gave an A that time.

Here's the blurb I posted there:

After a year of grand adventures touring the classical ruins of Italy and Greece, Iphiginia Bright returned to England to discover that the real excitement was at home. It seems that her Aunt Zoe has fallen victim to a sinister blackmailer and only Iphiginia can hope to stop the culprit before he can do more harm. Her plan is inspired: Imitating history's most legendary beauties--Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Aphrodite--the former schoolmistress will remake herself, and descend upon London Society as the dazzling mistress of Marcus Valerius Cloud, the infamous Earl of Masters. Rumors hint that the Earl has disappeared at the blackmailer's hands, and by posing as his unknown mistress, Iphiginia is convinced she can ferret out the villain.

Overnight, Iphiginia is transformed into a vision with a host of eager admirers, including one she does not expect -- the Earl of Masters himself, who strides into a shimmering ballroom one evening to cooly reclaim his "mistress". He is everything they say he is... arrogant, attractive, devastatingly seductive, and Iphiginia can't help but be enthralled. But when Marcus agrees to play along with her charade, she doesn't know that the determined earl has plans of his own: to tease and tempt her, until the beautiful deceiver becomes more than his mistress in name only.
Reading what I wrote then, I don't have much more to add. I liked exactly what I liked then, and disliked the same, namely the suspense subplot. I'd give it an A- this time, though. It all depends on one's mood, right?


Heaven and Earth, by Nora Roberts

Heaven and Earth is the second in Nora Roberts' Three Sisters Island trilogy, coming after Dance Upon the Air and before Face The Fire.

Ripley Todd just wants to live a quiet, peaceful kind of life. Her job as a sheriff's deputy keeps her busy and happy, and she has no trouble finding men when she wants them-which, lately, isn't all that often. She's perfectly content, except for one thing: she has special powers that both frighten and confuse her-and though she tries hard to hide them, she can't get them under control....

Distraction soon arrives in the handsome form of MacAllister Booke-a researcher who's come to investigate the rumors of witchcraft that haunt Three Sisters Island. Right from the start, he knows there's something extraordinary about Ripley Todd. It's not just her blazing green eyes and her sultry smile. There's something else. Something he can detect, but she'll never admit. Fascinated by her struggle with her amazing abilities, he becomes determined to help her accept who she is-and find the courage to open her heart.

But before Ripley and Mac can dream of what lies in the future, they must confront the pain of the past. For Three Sisters shelters centuries of secrets-and a legacy of danger that plagues them still....
I'm probably alone here, but this one's my favourite in the trilogy. a B+.

Most people will agree with me that Mac is a really yummy hero. He's a genuinely nice guy, highly intelligent, with a touch of the nerd in him, but also built and confident and strong.

Ripley I'm sure is much more problematic. I liked her very much myself, but I'm sure her crankiness and insistence on denying her powers will have turned off many people. It didn't really bother me. I mean, she's rude and quick to become angry, but she's rarely cruel or mean. I very much enjoyed her sparring with Mac, and I loved the way both were so baffled by the chemistry between them. I also liked her attitude towards sex. When reading the first book in the trilogy I wondered if Roberts was really going to write a character who was... not promiscuous, really, but a bit more casual than usual towards sex. I was afraid she'd tone it down; not make her a secret virgin, because I know Roberts' books enough to know she wouldn't do that (I hope!), but more uptight than she seemed. She didn't. Ripley is just as promised, and I liked it.

The best part of the book was the development of the romance. Mac was, of course, the one to fall first, and he was so endearing when he did. I loved that guy!

The subplot about the evil forces attacking the island and the playing out in the present of the 16th century legend about the three witches wasn't as good, though I did like it much more than I expected. I actually enjoyed the way all of them, Ripley and Mac, together with Mia, Nell and Zach, worked together.

All in all, a really enjoyable book.


Irresistible Forces, an anthology

>> Thursday, July 01, 2004

I've been eagerly anticipating reading the anthology Irresistible Forces since I first read the review. I really like sci-fi romance, and this one seemed to be something different from the cheesy barbarian / virgin healer variety.

The anthology starts on a high note with Lois McMaster Bujold's story, Winterfair Gifts. The story takes place during the preparations for Miles Vorksigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson's wedding. I've read only one Bujold so far, Shards of Honor, which the first book about Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, parents of Miles, and I read this one about a year ago.This means that much of the background here was lost on me. I have a vague knowledge what's what in this universe, and absolutely none about Miles and his friends. So, all the stuff about all the guests coming and going, which I suppose was designed to make long-time followers of the series catch up with old friends, was lost on me. Some names were vaguely familiar, like Bothari, but I don't really know who they were.

However, it was possible to ignore these distractions and the story narrated here was really engaging. The romance between the shy, provincial palace guard and the gigantic, bioengineered bodyguard with the intimidating fanged smile (this last was the female, btw), was lovely, and the story was a good blend of plot and character development. I'd give it a B+. I really have to get the rest of the books in the series...

The second story was The Alchemical Marriage, by long time favourite author Mary Jo Putney. I still adore her historicals, especially her Fallen Angels series, but I didn't think she did very well in her contemps. The new direction she seems to be taking, with paranormal historicals, sounds like a step in the right direction.

In "The Alchemical Marriage," the hero, Sir Adam Macrae, is a stubborn Scottish weather magician who is imprisoned in the Tower of London because of his intemperate remarks after Queen Elizabeth executed Mary, Queen of Scots. Expecting death, he is shocked when he receives two visitors to his cell. One is John Dee, the Queen's own sorcerer (a real historical figure), and the other is Isabel de Cortes—descendant of Spanish Marranos, and a gifted mage who is not of the Guardian families.

Dee makes a startling offer: Adam can win his life and freedom if he uses his weather mastery to fend off the Spanish Armada. But can a loyal Scot use his power to help England? Isabel de Cortes will be his assistant, and she is a woman like no other. Perhaps they belong together—if they can survive the dangerous magical work required to save Britain.
This was a fun story.The idea that the storm that defeated the Great Spanish Armada was actually created by a British weather mage tickled my fancy. The romance itself...hmmm. Not that good. Not enough development, basically, and I really found the "magic sex" cheesy. Maybe a B-?

The next story was Stained Glass Heart, by Catherine Asaro. Here's the blurb from the review at Escape to Romance:

Prince Havryl Torcellei, Vyrl, has fallen in love with a farmer's daughter, Lilly. He plans a life with Lilly, only to find that his parents have betrothed him to the older, offworlder Devon Majda. They seek an alliance between the house of Majda and Vyrl's own family, the Ruby Dynasty.
I loved the worldbuilding. I'm guessing this was part of her Skolian Empire series, which I haven't read yet, but I never felt lost here. And Asaro paints such a beautiful picture of this world! However, the romance was a failure, to me.

First of all, these two, Vyrl and Lily were much too young! I mean, they were what, 14 when they got married? In the epilogue Vyrl is 19 and they have a 4-year-old. The worst part is that they not only are 14 or 15, they act their age, so I had a hard time buying into them being "in love" enough to get married.

Also, got the impression that if Vyrl had only sat down with his parents and had a serious talk with them, they would have listened and not forced him to marry Devon Majda. The way their relationship to their son was depicted would indicate that they wouldn't have forced him to do something like marry against his will. The whole elopment was, to me, mostly about a young boy's love of a dramatic gesture, more than about any real love he felt for Lily. Also, what are they, rabbits? Everyone seems to have 10 kids here! *shudder*

I found General Majda much more interesting, and I'd have prefered a story about her and her clerk. This was a C+ for me.

The fourth story was definitely my least favourite. Skin Deep was written by a new-to-me author, Deb Stover.

Shapeshifting, angelic mission, divine intervention, or insanity? All Nick Riley knows for sure is that he's no Dolly Levi, and being sent back to Earth to find the right man for his own widow is cruel and unusual punishment of the most bizarre kind imaginable....
I actually wasn't too enamoured of the premise, because it reminded me to much of certain movies, like What Women Want, comedies with humour which doesn't work for me. And since the story felt very like this type of movie, it didn't work, either. I wasn't charmed by Nick and his reactions at being in a woman's body simply didn't ring true. As for Margo and Jared, well, I never knew anything about Jared and I took an instant dislike to Margo on seeing her reactions in the first scene, at the strip club. The plot of the story was boring, the humour was unfunny and the characters unlikeable. Result? A D- story.

The very next story, The Trouble With Heroes, by Jo Beverley, was my favourite. The blurb I'm going to post is pretty long, but it's worth it.

The people of Earth have learned to travel to the stars, though they have found no other highly developed neighbors. Earth-like planets are adapted for colonization with, in theory, due respect for any life forms already there.

When the planet now known as Gaia was discovered, it was the prize; an idyll almost perfect for humans and their chosen animals yet without any large creatures. There was one problem. A force, a something, that appeared to consume animals down to ash, but it was rare and hard to understand, and everything else was so perfect. So, despite the Hostile Amorphous Native Entities, Gaia was settled and has prospered, helped by the fact that over the generations, some Gaians developed an ability to sense and destroy HANES -- or as they are more commonly called, Hellbanes. This ability has a useful side effect. These people can fix almost anything.

Gaia was settled on the Earth Community Plan, which means that colonists set up communities according to their Earth nations and customs, and this story takes place in the English community, Anglia. Jenny Hart is an ordinary citizen leading an ordinary life until the Hellbanes begin to rise, fear drifts on the air, and everyone, but especially her childhood friend, Dan Fixer, begins to change.
I never would have thought of Jo Beverley as a sci-fi romance writer, but she's VERY good at this. She creates a fascinating world here, and gives us a melancholy story, one set during a war and exploring its effects on regular people and especially on the heroes. It does suffer a bit from its length, because this is a story where such huge things are happening that it might be better suited to a novel, especially because the romance simply doesn't have enough space to develop.

Still, this was so fascinating that I'd give the story an A-. I hope Beverley has plans to write a full-length sci-fi romance novel at some point in the future.

The last story, Shadows in the Wood, by Jennifer Roberson I also liked very much, which was a surprise, because a priori I wasn't too interested in reading about Robin Hood and Marian going on a mission with Merlin. I've never been too intrigued neither by the Robin Hood nor by the Arthurian legend, but this melding of the two definitely captured my attention the minute I started it. It's very short, but it gives me a nice look at what this author has done with the Robin Hood legend. She has a couple of novels about it, according to the short bio at the back, and having read this, I'm tempted to look for them, especially because Marian seems to be a really kick-ass heroine in Roberson's telling. This story was a B.

So, there was a bit of everything here. Some of the stories have a sci-fi feel, some are just paranormal historicals, some are more fantasy. All in all, it's an interesting collection, and I'd give it a B.


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