Mistress by Agreement, by Helen Brooks

>> Monday, December 27, 2004

As you might deduce from the title, this is yet another Harlequin Presents title. I had to meet my grandma at her house and she was running a bit late, so I had an hour to kill and no book! So I just grabbed one of hers at random, a Spanish translation of a Harlequin, Mistress by Agreement (excerpt), by Helen Brooks. The title in Spanish was Sin Amor, "Without Love", which does sound intriguing and much less Presents-ish and explains why I chose it ;-)

From the moment tycoon Kingsley Ward walks into Rosie's office, she recognizes the sexual invitation in his eyes. But when they sign a business agreement and Kingsley makes it clear he wants Rosie as part of the deal, she's outraged!

Kingsley's initial purpose had been business — not pleasure. But Rosie is beautiful and, unbelievably, she seems immune to his charms! Kingsley decides he'll pursue her until he wins her as his mistress…and he's never lost a deal yet!
Well, I must say Mistress by Agreement was a pleasant surprise. While not particularly good, it was a book I was able to read without wanting to bang it against the wall and even enjoy. My grade would be a B-.

This was definitely a case in which the title had absolutely nothing to do with what the book was about. And from what I see at amazon, the book is actually: Mistress by Agreement: In Love With Her Boss. Well, Rosalie isn't Kingsley's mistress (there's even only a short, non-graphic love scene in the epilogue, unless they've cut something in my version, always a possibility), there is no agreement and though Kingsley is a client of Rosalie's architectural firm, he's hardly her boss. In fact, she is a hard-working, successful career woman, so the undertones in that "In love with her boss" thing are completely misleading.

So, this is not a gimmicky, contrived story, but a simple one about a woman who got burned in the first marriage, and so wants nothing to do with men and a man who pursues her. What I liked was that though King was persistent and arrogant, he never crossed the line into dominating and overbearing. He was actually really, really patient with Rosalie, pushing only to know more about her and to know her better.

On the negative side, I could have done with a bit more of King's POV, since the little one-paragraph snatches of his thoughts were not enough. And Rosalie wasn't a particulary easy character to warm up to.

Still, the book did the job. I even took it home with me to finish when my grandma was finally ready to go, something I wasn't expecting I was going to want to do. Oh, and I even kind of liked the cover, which had the same photo as the Presents edition: a couple having an intimate dinner with the London Bridge in the background. Nice!


Another Time, by Susan Napier

>> Friday, December 24, 2004

So much trashing Harlequin Presents in my review of The Substitute Wife and what do I pick up a few days later if not a Presents? ;-) To my defense, it was one of Susan Napier's, whose books are very different from the same old, same old books about greek billionaires and their pregnant virgin mistresses. This one was Another Time, written in 1989.

This Sleeping Beauty didn't want reawakening

Helen was horrified! She'd just met her fiancé's brother, celebrated author Alexander Knight -who'd revealed to her that, five years ago, they'd shared one searingly passionate night together. And Helen had no recollection of it watsoever!

Alexander had written a bestselling novel based on that blazing night, portraying Helen as his "angel". And now he was determined to win his luminous angel back.

But Helen refused to betray her loving fiancé, Greg, for the sake of a phantom past. Yet somethinga bout Alexander aroused disturbingly real sensations in her...
It takes an amazing author to take amnesia, a huge coincidence and a hero who is "saved" by the heroine's purity and innocence, all elements which are definitely not to my taste, and write a story I like. My grade would be a B.

It probably says something bad about me that I just love books which feature a heroine who's with the wrong brother. Yeah, it can be tawdry, and I know it's all a bit too incestuous for many readers, but when it works... wow! Here, it did work. And, incredibly enough, what helped keep the level of tawdryness down were the very romance staples which I mentioned above. Helen has a past with Alex which she doesn't remember, so it's not as if she had started something with him while involved with his brother... their "thing" came from before she even met Greg. And she didn't even meet Greg through Alex, their meeting was the huge coincidence I mentioned. Though, come to think of it, I don't know, I guess I have a high tolerance for this kind of thing. There's a scene near the end in which Alex does something that I objectively saw as a bit over-the-top in its tawdriness, and yet I loved that scene, found it really moving, that he was willing to go that far. Yep, I'm sick.

So anyway, I really enjoyed the whole situation, with Alex completely in love with Helen right from the beginning and determined that he'd win her somehow, even if he had to play a little dirty to do it. Oh, and by "play dirty" I don't mean kidnapping her or browbeating her into it, just not behaving "honourably", leaving the field to his brother. Helen's behaviour was understandable, too, including her resistance to Alex.

On the negative side, I wasn't too crazy about Alex's epiphany on the night he met Helen, when they had their one-night-stand. He'd been burnt out and practically on the point of suicide... bitter, completely disenchanted with humanity, and the whole way he completely turned his life around on that night, miraculously "cured" by Helen's magic hymen, or something, was just weird, and way too much a romance cliché. Though Alex's whole attitude towards this was sort of "yes, it's a cliché, but that's the way it was", and his acknowledgment of this made it more tolerable for me, I guess.

Some other thingsI liked... for one thing, that Napier didn't make Greg, Alex's brother, evil. His and Alex's past was complicated, and he'd done some bad things, but he's portrayed as a man who made a mistake, not as a villain. Also points for the setting, which is in New Zealand and includes some scenes in Hong Kong.

I'm very definitely going to be looking for more books in Napier's backlist, even if they're all Presents!


Whispers in the Woods, by Helen R. Myers

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I make a point to read books that sound unique, especially when it comes to series books. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but they are always interesting. Whispers in the Woods, by Helen R. Myers sounded intriguing. I'd read another Myers before, Final Stand, which hadn't been impressive, but this one seemed pretty different from that one.

Deep in the forest . . .

The deserted estate in remote northwestern Maine might have seemed foreboding, but it would be a refuge for Paloma St. John. There, she would be alone with her only friends -- the gentle animals she'd rescued from her own uncle's cruel scientific experiments.

But Paloma wasn't alone. There was a presence in the woods beyond the compound gates, a presence that reached into her mind, invaded her every thought, left her trembling with fear . . . and something more. Passion.

Was he protector -- or predator? Savage or savior? Whispers in her thoughts and dreams courted her in another realm, while the voice of her heart beckoned him forward. And so Paloma waited, with longing -- and with dread . . .
Well, while Whispers in the Wood was different, both from Final Stand and from other books, it didn't really work all that well for me, especially as a romance. My grade would be a C+, with points given for originality and daring.

This was a very unique telling of the Beauty and the Beast theme, one that I usually enjoy. What was so unique about it was that Myers took the concept of the beast much further than other authors do. I'm not going to explain exactly what I mean by this, just know that the hero is not your usual former rake with a scar on his face.

However, while I admired what Myers was trying to do, I didn't really enjoy the story very much. My main problem was the very melodramatic tone of the whole thing. Well done melodrama can be fun, but this was really bad, self-important melodrama. I also wasn't able to connect with the heroine, Paloma, who was a bit too pure and innocent for me.

Reading Whispers in the Woods was an interesting experience, but not particularly fulfilling.


Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong

>> Monday, December 20, 2004

I'd heard a lot about Kelley Armstrong's Bitten (excerpt) and was looking forward to giving it a try.

Armstrong has a very interesting site, chock-full of little extras, including 3 novellas which are prequels to Bitten. I've already read the latest, Beginnings, the last chapter of which was published only today. This one deals with Elena and Clay's early romance, right until she was bitten.

Elena Michaels slips out of bed, careful not to wake her boyfriend. He hates it when she disappears in the middle of the night, and can’t understand why any normal woman would crave the small hours of the morning, the dark unsafe downtown streets. But Elena’s skin is tingling, the pent-up energy feels like it’s about to blow her muscles apart — she can’t put it off any longer. She loves to run at the edge of the city, but she doesn’t have time to get there. She has to slink into an alley, take off her clothes and hide them carefully, and make the Change.

Elena’s trying hard to be normal. She hates her strength, and her wildness, and her hunger for food, for sex, for running in the night, for the chase and the kill. She wants a husband, children...even a mother-in-law. Or at least that’s what she tells herself.

And then the inevitable happens. The Pack needs her. The Pack she loves and hates is under siege from a bunch of disreputable and ruthless mutts who are threatening to expose them all, breaking all the rules that have kept them safe. The loyalty of her nature calls her home, and into the fight, which tests just who Elena is: the wild woman or the wistful would-be human.
I really enjoyed Bitten. It would have even been a keeper, if it were not for a couple of things which prevented me from really loving it. My grade is a B+.

I loved that it was so original. Everything felt fresh, from the mythology, to the plot, to the romantic thread, to the characters. The world building is excellently done, especially. The mythology of Armstrong's werewolves is complicated and coherent and interesting and very extensive. Sometimes so extensive, that some places are a bit weighted down by a bit too much exposition, yes, but it was all really fascinating anyway.

Armstrong's werewolves weren't the typical cuddly, loveable big dogs you usually find in romance. They have a violent side and kill when they need to and some scenes are very violent and gory. Armstrong didn't shy from portraying this aspect of them, as well as the loyalty and love between the whole Pack.

So, intellectually, I very much appreciated her not prettying up them up, but I must confess this had a flip side for me. Some scenes were way too much for me. Usually, not being able to stop thinking about scenes in a book is the mark of a keeper, but when the scene I can't seem to tear my mind from involves a moribund man with his intestines hanging out, it's not so good.

Also, it disturbed me how little value human life has to all these werewolves, how easily they will kill a human. Even the Pack... they don't kill for fun, but they feel no remorse for killing someone who threatens them in any way. And I mean any way, not just people who hate werewolves or something and want to destroy them. I mean people who are put in a position of knowing about them through no fault of their own, like a lab technician who has the misfortune of noticing something strange in a sample, for instance. I understand the self-defence aspect of this, but no one seems to feel any... not remorse, exactly, more like pity for people like this poor sod.

My favourite element of the book was Clay and Elena's relationship. It's a very, very complicated relationship, and all the nuances of their backstory and how it has affected them are revealed slowly. Elena and Clay are very complex characters, too, but Armstrong's writing made me feel I understood them. I actually identified a lot with Elena, really understood her resentment towards Clay for having bit her. I didn't for a minute think she was being too hard on him. There's a moment when she thinks how she doesn't want to talk things over with Clay because she fears they might actually patch things up, and that would mean that Clay's biting her and all the grief she put him through after it was worth it, because he ended up getting her. That very "cut off your nose to spite your face" bit of reasoning really, really resonated with me, for some reason. In a way, it made Elena even more real.

Clay I had some problems with. I admit that going only with what was in Bitten, he was just too scary for me, especially since we do not see his POV. Though I do think that the fact that he was so... inhuman, I guess, made his vulnerability when it came to his love for Elena even more poignant. Reading the Beginnings novella, seeing his POV in the run-up to "The Bite" really enriched his character for me.

The plot was interesting, even though, as I said, I was a bit icked out by some scenes in the first part of the book, when they were all at Stonehaven investigating what was goingon. My favourite part fo the book were the scenes in Toronto, when Clay and Elena go back and a neat little triangle ensues, when Elena goes back to her live-in boyfriend.

Will I continue reading this series? I sincerely don't know. As much as I enjoyed this one, I've read a couple of reviews of the next book, Stolen and everything seems to indicate that there are even more gruesome scenes there, and that there is less focus on Clay and Elena's relationship. I don't know, it might end up being like the first Anita Blake book, which I liked, but then decided not to continue the series.


Possession, by A.S. Byatt

>> Friday, December 17, 2004

When I first received my copy of A.S. Byatt's Possession and leafed through it, I must confess I found it a bit intimidating, especially because the first thing I saw when I opened the book at random was long pages of poetry. It's quite embarrassing, really, but I have huge difficulties reading poetry in English. The strange thing is, I have absolutely no problem with the most convoluted prose styles in that language, and I do just fine with poetry in Spanish, but poetry in English... it's like my brain closes down.

"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.
It took me a while to read Possession, not because it was bad, not at all, simply because I read it very, very slowly, savouring every page, never allowing myself to read more than 20 or so pages in a row. My grade would be an A-

This was a type of book I love, the story within a story, with a contemporary couple investigating a past love story while they live out their (very subtle) own. It's a romantic novel and a very fine mystery, too, especially because the whole investigation was so tremendously fascinating.

While the story was great, the best thing about the book was actually the language. Byatt is herself the "Great Ventriloquist" she calls Randolph Henry Ash, giving a different voice to each of her characters, each of whom has a very distinctive writing style.

I managed to hold off from watching the movie while I was reading, but now that I'm finished I'm running for Blockbuster! I really don't like Gwyneth Paltrow at all, but what the hell.


What Harry Potter Mary Sue cliche are you?

>> Thursday, December 16, 2004

Anyone who reads fan-fiction will love this quiz!

What Harry Potter Mary Sue cliche are you?

You are the DADA teacher.

What Harry Potter Mary Sue cliche are you?

brought to you by Quizilla
And please check out the other possible results, they're hilarious!! (I'm afraid I can't link to them directly, you'll have to take the quiz to see them, but it's worth it!)


Boy Meets Girl, by Meg Cabot

>> Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I usually act as my sister's filter and hand her only books I know she'll like. With Boy Meets Girl (excerpt), by Meg Cabot, however, she was the one to read it first. The minute I showed her this new book I'd received, narrated wholy through emails, and memos, and voice mail messages, and text messages and a couple of diary entries, she practically tore it out of my hands. And a couple of days later, she was giving it back and ordering me to read it NOW ;-)

Meet Kate Mackenzie. She:

  • works for the T.O.D. (short for Tyrannical Office Despot, also known as Amy Jenkins, Director of the Human Resources Division at the New York Journal)

  • is sleeping on the couch because her boyfriend of ten years refuses to commit

  • can't find an affordable studio apartment anywhere in New York City

  • thinks things can't get any worse.
They can. Because:

  • the T.O.D. is making her fire the most popular employee in the paper's senior staff dining room

  • that employee is now suing Kate for wrongful termination, and

  • now Kate has to give a deposition in front of Mitch Hertzog, the scion of one of Manhattan's wealthiest law families, who embraces everything Kate most despises ... but also happens to have a nice smile and a killer bod.
The last thing anybody -- least of all Kate Mackenzie -- expects to find in a legal arbitration is love. But that's the kind of thing that can happen when ... Boy Meets Girl.
I had a blast reading Boy Meets Girl. My grade: B+

I loved the format of the story. Before starting it, I wondered if it wouldn't be a bit too limiting, especially in the romance area, since all we would know about things would be what people told others, not their actual thoughts and feelings as those things happened. But it worked quite well. Of course, the romance didn't get as much development as it would in a good traditionally told romance novel, but Cabot managed to convey a lot of emotion there. Maybe it's not 100% realistic, the way everyone seems to dissect their feelings in various letters and emails to other people (I did get that feeling about Mitch's emails to his sister when he writes about his feelings for Kate, for instance), but it really was no big deal.

And anyway, this isn't really romance, but chick lit (at least, that's the way I'd categorize it, if I had to), so I took it as a given that the romance wouldn't be the main focus, just one of them. The story was about Kate's life, basically, and her relationships with several people, Mitch being one of them.. an important one, though!

I was amazed at how well Cabot was able to develop her secondary characters. There were a million little touches which were really spot-on and very revealing, like the T.O.D.'s sorority sisters' email addies, showing they were all working in their families' corporations, and so many more. And I just adored the humour. It was LOL funny.

Kate was a tremendously likeable protagonist, who always tries to do the right thing. My only quibble is that she ends up being a bit too much of a damsel in distress and has to be rescued by Mitch, without her even intervening.

Luckily, I have a couple of other books by Cabot in my TBR, including The Boy Next Door, which is written in the same format as Boy Meets Girl and is set in the same "universe". I can't wait to start it!


The Substitute Wife, by Dallas Schulze

>> Monday, December 13, 2004

I bought The Substitute Wife (excerpt), by new-to-me author Dallas Schulze due to a recommendation on a message board. I think we were talking about books which had positive portrayals of gay characters, and someone mentioned this one had a secondary romance between two guys. That was enough for me to immediately snap it up, even if the main storyline sounded a bit contrived.

What's love got to do with it?
When Luke Quintain's fiancee dumped him, Catherine Lang understood immediately that she was the perfect solution to his problem. Leggy, flame haired and wise beyond her years, she decided that he should marry her instead.

But even though Luke needed a wife by his thirty-sixth birthday or he would lose his inheritance, he had to say "No!" Well, that was what he tried to say, but somehow Cat left with a ring on her finger and a wedding date on her calendar. And Luke could only curse his grandfather's positively medieval blackmailing scheme . . . and count the seconds till the wedding night.

Cat, of course, knows her own mind -- and her own heart -- and she wants Luke. Meanwhile, Luke is wondering how long this will play out, and hoping that it might be a little longer with each passing day. The problem is, he's quite capable of doing something very stupid -- like falling for Cat. Because sometimes love just doesn't take no for an answer.
Well, I did enjoy The Substitute Wife, even though I had some reservations about the main plot. My grade would actually be a B.

The book was a strange combination between a Harlequin Presents plot and *much* more modern sensibilities. The initial set-up, complete with a marriage of convenience forced by the hero's grandfather's demands that he marry before his next birthday, a 20 year old heroine paired up with a very experienced 35-year-old hero, and the fact that our heroine is a virgin, who has had a huge crush on the hero since she first met him, reeked of the worst type of series romance plot, as did some things about the characters... Of course, Cat's motivation in marrying is NOT mercenary... all she asks for is for trust funds for her step-parents, who are typical romance-novel absent-minded professor and artist, and she even tries to negotiate down the intended divorce settlement in the pre-nup... see? she's *good*!!

But, incredibly, I found myself enjoying it all, right until the end. The characters were very pleasant, and their relationship and personalities were very far from those in most Presents books. I didn't really pick up on any pedophilic vibes rom Luke.... no lusting after Cat's tiny child-like body (she's a bit of an amazon, in fact), or her innocence, or anything like that. I really don't see why the author made Cat 20 years old, since she acted as a much more mature woman. I thought she was very likeable, actually, a mix of dreamy and sensible which I found very appealing.

I liked that the relationship between her and Luke was one between equals, not Luke being an overbearing alpha. Both the dynamics of their interactions and of their interactions with their families were pretty excellent. Actually, they reminded me a bit of some Jayne Ann Krentz books.

So, things were going great right until the end. I had a huge problem with something Luke almost did, and would have done if Cat hadn't prevented him from doing, and I thought she forgave him much too easily. It's too bad, since I really didn't see Luke as a jerk at all in the rest of the book. This very late action of his came out of the blue, and added nothing positive to his character. Still, luckily, it didn't succeed in ruining the whole thing for me.

Then, of course, there's the secondary story-line, as I said, THE reason I bought a book with a plot like this one. It features a very sweet romance between two men, one the hero's best friend and the other the heroine's. I confess that part of the reason I enjoyed this storyline so much was simply because of the sheer novelty of finding something like this in a romance novel. However, it was a wonderful love story in its own right. Both Keith and Jack were very well-drawn, and they had a lovely chemistry between them.

The secondary romance alone made this one worth a try, and the main storyline was a (mostly) nice surprise. I'm going to chek out Schulze's backlist, to see if there's anything interesting there.


The Romantic, by Madeline Hunter

>> Friday, December 10, 2004

The Romantic, by Madeline Hunter, was my early birthday present from my friend María Inés, who knew I was dying to read it. I planned to save it for when I was less busy and could just read it all in one sitting, but I couldn't resist.

A passionate new historical romance in Madeline Hunter's nationally bestselling "Seducer" series. This one features a fifth member of the London Dueling Society, the reserved, enigmatic lawyer to the Laclere family: Julian Hampton.

All his life, it seemed, Julian had been in love with Penelope, now Countess of Glasbury. And when he learned the horrors she had endured at the hands of her vicious husband, Julian was instrumental in arranging for her escape to Italy. But he has never forgotten the love of his childhood, the woman he had rescued first as a "damsel in distress" when she was a girl, and then for real once she had blossomed into woman.

When Penelope returns secretly to London, Julian is the one she turns to, even though her trust in him puts both their reputations, and ultimately their lives, in peril.
I loved this book. It features some of my favourite elements in romance and a to-die-for hero! My grade is an A-.

Julian is what makes this book so good. He is what I would imagine if I had to describe my "perfect" hero. I adore the plot of a hero who's been in love with the heroine for years and years, never thinking he's going to be able to do anything about his love, always hiding his feelings, and yet never becoming bitter about it. He's honourable, serious and very, very romantic.

Yes, he's a romantic. Too often, romance novels seem to espouse the view that what every woman wants is an alpha barbarian who hits her over the head and drags her to bed. The poetry-writing suitor is almost always portrayed as a weakling, no competition for our macho hero. Well, Julian is a poetry writer, and I don't think I've ever read anything as romantic as his letters to Pen, that he wrote since he first fell in love with her all those years ago. I just wish we could have read more of them ::sigh:: It works because his brand of romance is not the corny, teddy-bear and Hallmark card, just because he's expected to because it's Valentine Day type. He does everything he does because his soul is romantic, because it comes naturally to him, and he has an inner dignity that simply prevents him from looking even the slightest bit ridiculous.

I liked Penelope, very much, but I must admit she paled next to Julian. Outwardly, she seemed a bit like a damsel in distress, which is not my favourite type of heroine, but she definitely wasn't that. A bad decission had stuck her in a horrible situation, with a husband who was a real monster, but though she needed help to get out of it, it was she who had to summon the courage to take the initial steps, knowing that she would be the one who would have to bear the consequences of this. I thought it was a nice touch that, in the end, she had to help Julian, just as he'd helped her.

I appreciated the fact that she had had some affairs, after a fashion, since she'd left her husband. Well, the way they turned out to be "incomplete", felt like a bit of a cop-out, though she did have good reasons for it, but, what the hell, I should have expected it.

I loved Julian and Pen together, most especially seeing Julian finally starting something with the woman he's loved for so long... the way he just knew her feelings for him weren't the same as his for her, so he was so obviously going to get hurt, and yet he couldn't resist her anyway. Reading about his feelings kept setting my stomach clenching and my fingers tingling. I also liked the gradual way in which Penelope started realizing just how strongly Julian felt about her, and just how strongly she felt about him.

The suspense was integral to the story and it was perfect to drive it forward. The villain, Pen's husband, was truly scary, but he was also believable. I liked that though there really was a sense of danger, Pen didn't spend a large part of the book being helpless in Glasbury's power. That's a perfectly valid plot, of course, but it's one that gives me the creeps and doesn't make for a very pleasant reading experience for me.

I also liked the way that, though the book could stand alone, the characters from the previous entries in the series had important parts here. It never felt like Hunter was just including them gratuitously.

This was one highly anticipated book that definitely lived up to its expectations!


The Royal Treatment, by MaryJanice Davidson

>> Thursday, December 09, 2004

I've very much enjoyed what I've read by MaryJanice Davidson. She has a very distinctive voice, which I enjoy. Mad was kind enough to send me one of her latest releases, The Royal Treatment.

In a world nearly identical to ours, Ben Affleck is the sexiest man alive, Martha Stewart is a better pastry chef than insider trader, and Russia never sold Alaska to the U.S. Instead, Alaska is a rough, beautiful country ruled by a famously eccentric royal family, ostracized by the other royals, and urgently in need of a bride for the Crown Prince. In fact, anyone would do. But they have no idea what they're in for when they offer the job to a feisty commoner...a girl who's going to need...The Royal Treatment. Now, in this dazzling, delightfully wacky tale from MaryJanice Davidson, a tough commoner and a royal prince are about to discover that who they truly are...and what they desperately desire...may both be closer than they ever dreamed...
The Royal Treatment was a fast, entertaining read, with lots of funny moments. It was, however, empty calories, and some things I'd previously enjoyed about Davidson became a teeny bit too much and began to be irritating. My grade would be a C+.

The reason I felt this one was empty calories was that as entertaining as it was most of the time, I just didn't get the satisfaction I usually get from a nicely done romance (or, for that matter, from a book with a well done romantic subplot). There was very little real emotion involved here. The characters are just terribly shallow, with very little motivation. The love story came out of the blue. I never got the feeling that either of them was really in love with the other.

Christina was like practically every other MaryJanice Davidson heroine that I've read: sarcastic, no-nonsense, very much a smart-ass... you'll recognize her if you've ever read the author. I liked her very much in the beginning, but, problem was, she started to really grate on me at some point. She took absolutely nothing seriously. Ok, sure, many things people give so much importance to are just stupid and it's fine that she didn't care, but everything?

I think what tipped me over the edge was her complete lack of curiosity about the world around her. Penguins? Ugh, boring, geeky! Opening of Parliament? Yawn! She's the type of person who says proudly that she doesn't watch the news, who refuses to learn anything about what will be expected of her once she becomes princess. I'm not saying she should have bowed down and accepted a traditional role, but an intelligent person would have at least listened and then decided what she was going to do. She had absolutely no idea of what she was getting into.

As for David, well, David is basically one-dimensional. Even though we did have some scenes from his POV, I never felt I really understood why he did the things he did. And the secondary characters were just as lightly drawn. I liked them all very much, though, what little there was to them. I was especially fond of David's brother who only spoke in haiku ;-)

Reading what I've just written it seems like a review of a bad book, but it's not, of course. As I said, it was often very funny and witty, and I had a very good time reading it.


Which Classic Novel Do You Belong In?

>> Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I've spent my entire morning at Quizilla. I blame Màili, she finds such fun quizes!

Which Classic Novel Do You Belong In?


Your belonging in The Mysteries of Udolpho is quite
evident; a world of intrigue, melancholy,
sublimity and terror. You belong where there
are danger, gloomy edifices, and evil Italian
guardians. Your passion for the passion of the
Mediterranean, the divine contemplation of
nature, and for adventure stories, makes you a
prime contender for a spot in a gothic romance.

Which Classic Novel do You Belong In?
brought to you by Quizilla

Well, I do love gothics ;-)


The Spare, by Carolyn Jewel

>> Monday, December 06, 2004

My first Carolyn Jewel was Lord Ruin, which I found very disappointing. It had in it the potential to be a truly excellent book, but the execution ruined it (sorry, no pun intended!). Still, it had promise enough for me to keep an eye on her and look for her next, The Spare (excerpt), to see if she had been able to do a better job.

Captain Sebastian Alexander of His Majesty's Royal Navy is The Spare, a younger son who inherits more than a title after his brother's death. Pennhyll Castle, the family estate, comes with dark secrets, ancestral ghosts and a love that crosses the bounds of time. All Sebastian wants is to recover from a near-fatal wound and after that marry to beget an heir and rejoin the war. But first he must discover how, and why, his brother Andrew died and, along the way, learn that falling in love means completion, not sacrifice.
Unfortunately, there wasn't really much improvement... none, I dare say. My grade would be a D+.

The main characters were complicated for me to like. In the first half of the book, I really detested Sebastian, basically because of his treatment of Olivia. He was a judgemental idiot, and one who operated with horrible double standards. Sure, double standards might be historically accurate, but they diminished him in my eyes. First, the way he thought it was quite ok for his brother to be a womanizer, but condemned his wife for possibly taking a lover. And then he didn't offer any objections to his friend's determination to make Olivia his mistress, even when he thought she was an innocent and that her life would be ruined by such an episode. Very heroic, that. Her livelihood depends on her post at the school, but he makes it clear he doesn't approve of her appointment, because if she's still a virgin, which he doubts, she won't be for long because his friend is so determined to take her to bed. He owes it to the good women in town to look after their interests, he tells himself. Disgusting hypocrite.

And I hated the way he spoke to her, upbraiding her for being "insolent" and not showing him the proper respect. And he continued doing so even after finding out that all her woes had been caused by his own family. But the moment I hated him the most was when he accused her of stealing from him, stealing FOOD, which his servants gave her. The woman obviously was so poor she couldn't feed herself, thanks to his family, and here he was, refusing her something that cost him practically nothing! He did improve a bit in the second half of the book, but not enough, and I couldn't completely warm up to him. Even in the sole love scene, he makes Olivia call him "My Lord", and not playfully, either.

Olivia I liked a bit better. I especially liked her at the beginning, when she was employing her survival strategies, pretending to be a vapid maiden aunti-sh woman to disappear into the woodwork. I thought it was quite resourceful of her. However, I soon lost any warm feelings for her, basically because I simply didn't understand her... who she was, how she felt about things, why she did what she did, nothing! She's been through some pretty traumatic experiences, but I never got to understand how they had affected her.

Like in Lord Ruin, there was something about the author's writing style that made it difficult for me to both really understand her characters and even to follow what exactly was going on. Of course, it didn't help that, especially in the second half, the characters themselves weren't too sure of what was happening, either. They kept having dreams that felt very real, and by the time I was reading the fourth or fifth such episode, I had become confused as to what was what, too. Was that scene I read 10 pages ago, when they kissed in the library, reality or a dream? And when she hid in his room? I wasn't sure.

I don't know, maybe it's just me. There are a few other authors whose styles just don't click with me, authors who are well liked by other people with reading tastes which are usually similar to mine. It probably comes down to a kind of "chemistry".

Anyway, it's a shame that I couldn't enjoy this one, because the plot of The Spare was potentially very interesting, and the atmosphere was great, very gothicky, which I always like :-(


Lady Whistledown Strikes Back, an anthology

>> Friday, December 03, 2004

I had high hopes for Lady Whistledown Strikes Back, since I loved The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown last year. That one had had 2 excellent stories, an ok one, and one that I didn't like but wasn't awful. Unfortunately, this new book wasn't nearly as good.

The first story was the best, The First Kiss, by Julia Quinn.

A dashing fortune hunter is captivated by the Season's most desired debutante...and must prove he is out to steal the lady's heart, not her dowry.
I liked this one, as I've liked everything I've ever read by this author. However, it wasn't really up to her usual standards. Yes, there were some wonderful parts, mostly from Peter's POV (when his feelings were described as he realized he was falling in love with Tillie, or during their first kiss, the way he was so desperate because he just knew this was going to be their only kiss and he wanted to make it unforgettable ::sigh::). However, the rest of it was a little lackluster. Just... nice, I guess. Pleasant reading, but not nearly enough of of the magic I know Julia Quinn can write and has written in other stories. My grade: a B

Then came The Last Temptation, by Mia Ryan. Ryan's story in The Further.... had shown some promise and some sparks of originality, so I was looking forward to see if that promise had been realised.

A lovely, free-spirited servant is dazzled by the romantic attentions of a charming earl...sparking a scandalous affair that could ruin them both.
Ugh, now, this one I just couldn't get into. The situation felt silly and so did the heroine, Bella. The whole thing about wanting to be kissed before she turns 30... contrived, contrived, contrived. And then there's the way she keeps getting lost in her own thoughts and laughing out loud at them, at the most inappropriate moments. I guess this is supposed to make her "free-spirited", or something, but it makes her silly, in my eyes. And she giggles! Constantly. Enough said.

And something else which threw me out of the story at the beginning: she keeps thinking "Bugger it". "Bugger the parrot!", "Bugger Lady Neely!", she consigns everything to be buggered. I'm really hoping "bugger" didn't mean then what it means now. It's not that I mind the language, but that I get the feeling the author is not really aware of exactly what "to bugger" means and how it would be much too coarse for the character she has created. I would be perfectly delighted by a character who uses the expression with awareness of what she's saying and exactly how outrageous she's being, but Isabella... it doesn't work.

Oops, and I haven't even mentioned the hero yet. That does tell you something about him, doesn't it? Not good at all, I'd rate this story a D.

The third story was The Best of Both Worlds, by Suzanne Enoch. I had no big expectations for this one, since I didn't like her story in the first Lady Whistledown anthology, and her latest book, England's Perfect Hero, was probably my most disappointing read this year.

An innocent miss who has spent her life scrupulously avoiding scandal is suddenly -- and secretly -- courted by London's most notorious rogue.
I did not like this one. It's basically: generic rake meets generic innocent twit. They fall in love and face a little opposition from her parents, who are unreasonably worried about scandal. Result: yawn.

I never did understand just why he loved her. No idea. I thought Charlotte was just a stupid self-sacrificing ninny. Oh, even if it's what she most wants in the world, she won't marry him without her parents permission, because she won't do anything that puts a blemish on their reputations, even the blemish will be only in her parents' imagination. Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot. And he loves her partly just because she's such a proper, dutiful daughter... sorry, chit. Enoch really overuses the word "chit", which just added to my irritation with the story. My grade is a D.

I hated the last Karen Hawkins book I read, How To Treat a Lady, but since adored her story in the last Lady Whistledown, I had high hopes for this one, The Only One for Me.

A roving viscount comes home to rekindle the passionate fires of his marriage...only to discover that his beautiful, headstrong bride will not be so easily won.
On the bright side, this story was much more engaging and interesting than the two previous ones, so the book ended on a somewhat higher note. However, I just couldn't get over Max's immature behaviour, leaving his wife for 12 years (!) in a fit of pique, and then expecting to easily win her back. And I lost a lot of respect for Sophia for the way she allowed him to do pretty much whatever he wanted with her. I'm more tired every day of the heroine who has very good reasons for not wanting anything to do with the hero, and who still melts into a puddle of lust the minute he kisses her and is incapable of voicing the slightest protest. My grade for this one would be a C+.

The "extras" of the anthology didn't work as well as they had in the first one, either. The coordination between the stories wasn't as well done, and I didn't enjoy Lady Whistledown's columns as much. In fact, I actively disliked the woman at times! Things like naming people as suspects of stealing Lady Neely's bracelet, for instance, were not good.

I think I'd give the anthology as a whole a C.


An Interesting Interview

>> Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I just read a fascinating interview at Jean Brashear's website:

Who dares to break the "rules" of romance, and what happens when they do? Is there a price to be paid? Is it harder to do now than in the past?

I asked these and other questions of some of the authors who've written the books we remember, the ones that take our breath, that make us whine "But So-and-So did it, why can't I?" I also interviewed some of the editors responsible for these risky "books of the heart."
I got some very interesting recs for books to add to my wish list, too!


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