Megan's Mate, by Nora Roberts (Calhouns # 5)

>> Sunday, January 30, 2005

Megan's Mate, by Nora Roberts is an addition to the author's Calhouns quartet.

The Calhous had given sister-in-law Megan O'Riley and her young son a new life. All she wanted now was to put her shameful past behind her -so she buried her passions beneath businesslike eficiency and buttoned-up reserve and vowed never, ever, to let her heart lead her astray again.

Rugged family friend Nathaniel Fury se this course for MEgan the day they first met -and all her resistance could not divert him. But how on hearth was he to get past her formidable defenses and teach her to love again?
Megan's Mate was a pleasant close to the series, but nothing too special, except for some nice family scenes. I'd rate it a B-.

Both Megan and Nathaniel were nice, likeable characters, and I enjoyed their romance, even if I didn't find it particularly exciting. The best parts of the book came when Roberts was showing Megan interacting with the Calhouns, slowly becoming an integral part of the family and a real friend to all the women, even Suzannah, which couldn't have been easy, considering the fact that Megan's son was also son of Suzannah's first husband and conceived when Suzannah and Baxter were already engaged.

The bastard Baxter didn't have much space here, and I liked that Megan didn't allow him to bully her. He just intervened enough to cause a scene I liked very much between Nathaniel and Megan's son Kevin.

Anyway, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.


Three Weddings and a Kiss, an anthology

I bought Three Weddings and a Kiss for the second and third stories and I was right, those were the best of the bunch, though one wasn't too good.

The anthology started badly, with Fancy Free, by Catherine Anderson, a western. Rachel Constantine wants to get revenge on Matt Rafferty for embarrassing her little sister, who had a crush on him, so she plans on drugging him and leave him without his pants in church, for the townspeople to find in the morning. But short-sighted Rachel makes a mistake and gets Matt's brother Clint instead. Plus, she gets knocked on her head, so they are found together and forced to marry by her father.

First of all, I must say I couldn't bear to finish this one. I read half of it, about 60 pages, and I couldn't go on. I got up to Rachel getting to the Rafferty ranch, and realizing that although she was "titillated" by the fact that Clint isn't really bothered by having had to marry her, because he wants her for her housekeeping and cooking skills, oh, what a dilemma, she has none of those skills. I just couldn't stand to read the whole fun as Clint expects her to kill a chicken and she can't handle it, and so on. Yuck. I can't think of anything less romantic to me than getting stuck in a ranch with a ready-made family composed of 8 uncouth men who expect me to labour after them all day. Plus, Rachel is completely bird-witted, totally and completely brainless.

It's possible that the story might have improved in the second half, but sorry, I read for enjoyment, and this promised to be painful. My grade for what I did read was a D.

The second story, The Mad Earl's Bride, by Loretta Chase, was by far the best of them all, a story which left me wishing for more and I thought might work well as a full-length novel.

Dorian is convinced he's losing his mind, just as his mother did before she died. He believes he's started on his final decline, and that he'll be dead before long. Gwen, who's had training as a doctor, agrees to marry him both because she's interested in his case and because she'll get her own hospital in the bargain.

The first half of the novella was wonderful. Gwen was simply delightful. She reminded me a bit of Jessica Trent, the heroine from Lord of Scoundrels. She was smart, sensible and matter of fact, and she basically kept Dorian completely off-balance since the very moment she met him.

The second half was all right, but not as good as the first one, because I felt Chase lost a bit of focus there and the romance suffered for it. Still, it was a very good story, and I'd give it a B+

Promises, by Lisa Kleypas was a disappointment. Lidian Acland fell in love with a man who soon left on a Grand Tour, asking her to wait for him. A year later, she's still waiting, still in love, even if she's had no news. But she meets Eric De Gray, who makes her want to forget about her old love.

The main problem with this one was that Lidian comes across as someone as brain-free as the heroine in the Catherine Anderson story. Her beloved is so obviously an utter dog, that she looks idiotic, and she's fond of running off alone into the night. Also, there was no chemistry at all between Lidian and Eric, and I just couldn't understand what he saw in her.

Oh, and another problem was that the writing felt weird, kind of self-consciously Regency, which is something I haven't encountered in other Kleypas books. She's an author I usually like, but my grade for this one would be a C-.

The last story was the absolute worst. The Kiss, by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, was barely 30 pages long, but I felt as though it would never end. I never read The Flame and the Flower, so I didn't know the hero, and the author didn't even try to develop him in the least. He and the heroine were like two stick figures without any discernible motivations, and the plot was laughable. Basically, Jeff Birmingham runs into a young woman who's fleeing from her uncle, who wants to sell her to a man she doesn't like. So, Jeff buys her. Since Jeff is handsome, she doesn't really mind being bought by him, and for some reason, they marry. And that's it, except for a couple of appearances by the protagonists of The Flame and the Flower, which contribute nothing to the story. Add to this a writing style I thought was abominable, and you get a story which I'd grade an F.

My grade for the entire anthology would be a C-. The only story worth reading was the one by Loretta Chase.


Truly, Madly Yours, by Rachel Gibson

>> Wednesday, January 26, 2005

With the release of Rachel Gibson's new book, The Trouble With Valentine's Day, I've been hearing a lot about how, oh, good, she's going back to Truly, Idaho!!!! I hadn't read Truly, Madly, Yours (excerpt), the other book set there, for some time, but I really don't remember liking the town very much. So, well, I had to reread the book, didn't I? ;-)


When pretty hairdresser Delaney Shaw returned home to Truly, Idaho, for the reading of her stepfather's will, she planned on paying her respects and getting out of town. But it seems the will has some unexpected stipulations-like the one that says if Delaney wants her inheritance she needs to stay put and have nothing to do with sexy Nick Allegrezza. . .for an entire year!


Ten years ago, Nick had swept Delaney off her feet and onto his Harley, and that's when she really let her down her Hair! Back then, he was a love-'em-and-leave-'em man, and Delaney learned the hard way that she was just a fling. But Nick is as irresistible as ever. And when the ladies at Tuesday night Bingo see Nick and Delaney making after-hours whoopee through the window of a local beauty parlor, Delaney knows it's time to decide if Nick I truly, madly the man of her heart.
Well, it wasn't awful, and I liked the heroine, but Truly, Madly Yours just didn't work for me as a romance. My grade would be a C.

My main problem was with the hero. I did not like him at all. I his first scene, we see him basically banging this woman he doesn't like at all and then treating her like shit. Sure, the woman sounded like a real bitch, but I really don't like a man who's such a slut that he'll sleep with anyone, whether he likes her or not. I'd prefer that he at least have some respect for his bed partners. I came to like him only a slightly bit more as the book progressed. I'm just not fond of the "I had a hard childhood, so I screw every female I can and treat them like dirt" whiny hero.

Delaney I liked very much, though. I liked the way she had rebelled against Henry and that she didn't cave in, even when she went back to Truly. Just the fact that she quickly moved out of her mother's house was enough to make her different from all the other heroines who go back to their small towns. I especially liked the description of her life once she'd gone on her own, it felt very realistic, in that her rebellion took her to the other extreme of the life Henry had wanted her to have. Some things rang very true, like her thought of "It's a wonder I didn't end up dead in a ditch", and yet she grew up just fine... it's something I've thought myself when thinking of my teenage years. Anyway, the great thing about Delaney is that she did feel like a woman my age. I really don't share many things with her (her fashion choices, for instance... tacky!), but I did identify with her in many ways.

Unfortunately, much as I liked Delaney, the romance failed for me, and not just because of my dislike for Nick. I thought that Delaney and Nick had good chemistry between them, but I just didn't perceive any deeper connection between them. In fact, by the end of the book, I hadn't seen any meaningful conversations between them. I don't think they knew each other beyond the superficial, so I didn't completely buy the whole "I'm in love" thing. Plus, the ending, it irked me that they end up giving Henry exactly what he wanted. Sure, he's dead, and I'm not asking them to cut off their noses to spite their faces, but still, it left a bad taste in my mouth that Henry's manipulation had been basically validated.

I thought the Basque angle was interesting, but Nick's last name really puzzled me. Allegrezza? That sounds more Italian than Basque to me, and I do know about Basque names, there's a huge community in Uruguay. I don't know, I might be wrong, or maybe Gibson did mention something about Benita's first husband being Italian, but it felt wrong.

As for the town of Truly, Idaho, the comments about which sent me on this reread... well, I just do not see the attraction. It wasn't as bad as some other small towns I've read about in romance novels (people living there did have lives of their own, for instance), but I don't understand why anyone would freak about having another book set there. I so much prefered the more urban setting of See Jane Score, my favourite Gibson.


Tainted Trail, by Wen Spencer (Ukiah Oregon # 2)

>> Monday, January 24, 2005

Right after finishing my reread of Wen Spencer's Alien Taste, book # 1 of the Ukiah Oregon series, I started on # 2, Tainted Trail.

The sequel to Alien Taste (2001) sends Ukiah Oregon off on the trail of Alicia Kraynak, the niece of his partner Max's best friend. What appears to be an ordinary disappearance quickly turns out to involve alien invaders, the Ontongard (somewhat like the Borg of Star Trek: The Next Generation), and one of Ukiah's earlier selves, the feral Wild Boy of the Oregon wilderness.
While during the first half of the book it looked as if this one was going to be an even better book than Alien Taste (no small feat, that!), some problems with the middle section lowered my grade to a very respectable B+.

I admit, I had my doubts when I finished Alien Taste as to how the hell Spencer was going to continue Ukiah's story when it felt like things with the Ontongard were pretty much settled already. Or was the story going to go in a completely different direction and become about Ukiah solving purely human mysteries? Well, it certainly shows that I haven't been reading this genre for a while, because if I had, I might have noticed the many, many spaces that were left in which whole stories could be comfortably fitted.

Much of Tainted Trail is about identity, what makes us who we are and the fear of losing this and the power of memories. I found the way Spencer explored this theme enlightening and especially creative.

The whole first half, which comprised the intial tracking of Alicia and Ukiah's approach of his possible family, the Kicking Deers and his research on what might have happened to the 1933 Wolf Boy, was just excellent. As I said, even better than Alien Taste. However, after the fifth time Ukiah got killed by the bad guys (in increasingly creative ways), I realized the book had got into a bit of a rut that way. It recovered from it, though, and the ending was quite satisfying.

I'm not sure of where Spencer is going to take the series now, but this time, I do see certain possibilities, and they're all pretty intriguing. I'm definitely picking up the next two titles in the series as soon as I can.


Alien Taste, by Wen Spencer

I was starting to read Tainted Trail, the second in Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon series when I realized that I really remembered very, very little about the first one, Alien Taste. I'd read it a couple of years before, and though I remembered the basics and liking it very much, I didn't recall many details. So, of course, I reread it.

Living with wolves as a child gave tracker Ukiah Oregon a heightened sense of smell and taste. Or so he thought-until he crossed paths with a criminal gang known as the Pack. Now, Ukiah is about to discover just how much he has in common with the Pack: a bond of blood, brotherhood...and destiny.
I loved this book. I loved it as much as I did the first time I read it. My grade for it would be an A-.

I especially liked the hero, Ukiah. He's a truly kind person, with an innocent streak that doesn't make him naive, the best of both worlds. At one point, one of the characters says that it shows that he was raised by two women, and I think that hits the nail right on the head. He's just so completely free of macho posturing and that kind of bullshit. I guess the best word to describe him is "good", and Spencer did an excellent job in creating a person who is good and kind to everyone and yet doesn't come across as irritatingly perfect, holier-than-thou or uninteresting.

Accompanying Ukiah is a cast of characters which was excellently drawn, too. Actually, the reason the book works is because of the way the characters react to what's going on, which is something very, very fantastic.

In a way, something about the way the plot evolves reminded me a bit of that movie, The Forgotten, how it all starts out relatively normal (though here we see from the start that Ukiah is very different from the usual, definitely not a regular guy), and then becomes more and more fantastic. The difference is that in Alien Taste, it works, whereas the movie I thought was just weird. What Ukiah really is and what is going on is amazingly imaginative and truly fascinating, and the whole backstory is intrincately yet clearly plotted. There are no holes here, as there were in the movie.

Things kept moving in directions I wasn't expecting, even in this reread. Even the way the characters acted faced with the different twists, felt fresh and not at all obvious. Faced with their reality becoming more and more weird, I expected Ukiah and Max to become secretive and paranoid, to distrust the police and everyone, really, but in this world, people are good, which was refreshing. Ukiah tells people about what's going on, as much as he thinks they can handle, and people do their best to help him.

There is a serious amount of violence here, but though it isn't sanitized, it was also, for some reason, less bothersome to me than a similar level was in other books, like Bitten, for instance.

In addition to likeable, well-written characters and a fascinating plot, the book also contains a sweet romance, definitely not the focus of the book, but really, really nice. How could I not love Alien Taste? ;-)

PS - Spencer has some interesting notes in her website about the origin of the series


This Time Love, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Friday, January 21, 2005

Elizabeth Lowell's This Time Love is a reworking of Sequel, a SIM published in 1986. This Time Love was published in 2002, expanding and adapting the original.

Joy Anderson was innocent, young, and trusting when she met Gabe Venture. An aspiring journalist with worlds to conquer, Gabe came to New Mexico to explore the natural wonders of Lost River Cave, with Joy acting as his guide. Surrounded by staggering beauty, they both surrendered to a passion too powerful to deny-and Joy gave herself freely to the most extraordinary man she had ever known. But Gabe was destined for great things, and even the intensity of their shared feelings could not bind him to this place or this romance. And so he left Joy with memories, a broken heart . . . and, months later, a cherished, if painful, reminder of their lost love: a daughter.

Seven years have passed, and Joy -- now a respected professor -- has put what once was behind her, though the memory will always remain alive in the light that shines in the eyes of her beautiful child.

Now Gabe, at the pinnacle of his profession, having tasted the fame and adventure that lured him away, has returned. The opportunity to revisit the endangered Lost River Cave -- and a second chance at the young love he so heedlessly tossed away -- is something he cannot let slip by. But the Joy awaiting him is not the same naive and eager innocent he once left behind. Worldly and independent, she has nursed her wounds and moved on. And he has arrived far too late, she tells him, to be welcomed back into her heart. But is it ever too late for love?
Well, what resulted from Lowell's adaptation was a good read, though the basic structure did feel a bit dated. Still, it was pretty satisfying and avoided most of the pitfalls a novel which is based on a Big Misunderstanding could suffer. My grade would be a B.

What I liked here was that even if the Big Mis wasn't really all that plausible (depended a lot on people miscommunicating in pretty contrived ways), it did mean that the secret baby angle was tolerable. The whole story was revealed pretty early on, plus, both had acted honourably in the past, given what they thought had happened, and their reactions in the present rang true. I wasn't crazy about all the harping on Joy's supposed abortion, but I liked that Gabriel was able to put himself in her shoes and admit the possibility that if she had had one, she might have had her reasons. I hate it when the woman is just demonized, in these cases, and I've read waaaay too many book in which this happens.

In the present part of the story, Gabe and Joy did have chemistry, and I liked that even when they both realised what happened, the obstacles that still remained to their relationship were very real. The past had been very traumatic for Joy, and it was understandable that she would have been reluctant to expose herself to pain again, once she had succeeded in getting over her original hurt. Gabriel's reactions when he realized exactly how traumatic it had all been for Joy were wonderful, and I really liked that part of the book.

There was a lot of info about caving... an info dump, really, which is something Lowell often does. Unfortunately, unlike in other books where this has happened, like the Donovan series, the caving thing wasn't particularly interesting to me, and that detracted a bit from my read.

All throughout my read, I found myself speculating on what exactly had been changed from the first one (does anyone know?). There were some obvious details, like the technology used, for instance, and maybe some of the language, which wouldn't have been there on a series title. Some things felt a little outdated, like the hero being completely out of touch in the Orinoco basin for an entire year in the mid-90s (that would have worked much better in the late 70s, when it would have happened in the original book), but the book as a whole felt pretty good.


Behind Closed Doors, by Shannon McKenna

>> Thursday, January 20, 2005

Behind Closed Doors (excerpt), was my first book by author Shannon McKenna.

Surveillance expert Seth Mackey knows everything about the women that his millionaire boss toys with--and tosses aside. Raine Cameron is something different. Night after night, Seth watches her on a dozen different video screens. Her vulnerable beauty haunts him and her fresh innocence stirs a white-hot passion that he can barely control. Raine is pure temptation, but Seth has something more important to take care of first. He's convinced that his boss, Victor Lazar, is responsible for his half-brother's murder. He cannot put his secret investigation at risk, but he can't stop wanting her--craving her--and soon he knows he can't let Victor have her. For Raine may be Victor's next victim . . .

Raine knows she's being watched--but no one can see the secrets in her heart. She has reasons of her own to seek revenge on Victor Lazar, and she will, despite her fear--and the distracting presence of Seth Mackey. Though Raine has little experience with men, Seth's fiercely masculine good looks and animal sensuality stir her most erotic fantasies when she's alone . . .and lead her to a bold plan. Offering her body to him, surrending totally to his ruthless desire might well push her beyond all emotional limits--and beyond fear itself.
Well, I liked this, and I'm actually very surprised that I did. The hero's a jerk most of the time, and the heroine is often TSTL, and yet... I enjoyed myself. Hmm, part of it must have been the love scenes! I'd give Behind Closed Doors a B+.

The book starts with a scene that evoked reactions in me that precisely predicted how I would feel about the entire book. Seth, on a mission to avenge his brother's murder, has bugged the home of Victor Lazar's mistress, because he believes Lazar played a part in the killing and he wants to know as much as possible about the man. Raine, on a similar mission (Lazar's actually her uncle and she believes he might have killed her father), has got a job in his company under an assumed identity and is now living in the bugged house. So, the first scenes have Seth basically spying on Raine, and getting all hot and bothered. They should have been creepy and uncomfortable, and they should have bothered me, especially when Seth refuses to stop looking at certain moments, but instead, came across as exciting and steamy. I was "bothered" all right, just not in an indignant kind of way! ;-)

And so it went on, from a first meeting in which they have sex because Seth believes Victor has offered him the sexual services of Raine, his employee, to a sweltering hot encounter in Seth's SUV. As for the scenes themselves, oh, wow! They made it by far the hottest book I've read lately. And McKenna managed to make the numerous and lengthy love scenes part of the plot. They didn't feel at all gratuitous: each furthered the plot or the development of the characters. Plus, they were wonderfully well written. The language was frank, even crude at times, with not one flowery euphemism in sight, and this worked perfectly, because it fit the characters, especially Seth, so well. I don't think I skipped even one line in these scenes, and that's something that doesn't happen too often.

Seth was a hard character to like. He was just so basic and crude and socially inept, so good at always saying the wrong thing, or the right thing in a wrong way, that I would have understood perfectly if Raine had ran screaming in the other direction. What I liked about him was the way he slowly became more and more fond of Raine, more protective and tender, all the while being sexually obsessed with her. There was just something about the way his entire focus was on her, that made the whole situation more of a turn-on that I would have thought possible. However, he was a bit too distrustful of Raine, right until the end, and that made the last part of the book not as good as it could have been.

At first, I thought Raine was going to be too much of a doormat, weak, snivelling coward, but though she really was a bit of a weakling at first, and really didn't know what the hell she was doing, she showed some satisfying growth throughout the story. The first few times she meets Seth, she is utterly and completely overwhelmed by him, and I thought: "Oh, no!" But by the end of the book, she's perfectly able to stand up to him and rip him a new one, if needed (though she does have much more tolerance for high-handed behaviour than I would have).

The plot was interesting, even if sometimes when McKenna starting going on and on about high-tech surveillance devices I felt like she was talking in Chinese. But seriously, she created an interesting, three-dimensional villain in Victor Lazar, and gave him and the suspense subplot just the right amount of space so that it didn't overwhelm the romance or, on the other end of the spectrum, feel like a perfunctory excuse. The only part of it that I didn't like was how McKenna threads some paranormal elements there. They just felt out of place.

So, a steamy romance and absorbing suspense... I'm so definitely going to get the next book in the series!


Shadows at Sunset, by Anne Stuart

>> Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I just love Anne Stuart's unpredictability. Shadows at Sunset, one of her single titles, was unlike anything I've ever read by her.

House of Shadows

The house on Sunset Boulevard has witnessed everything: from the infamous murder-suicide of a '50s starlet and her lover, to the drug-fueled commune in the '60s, to the anguish of its present owner, Jilly Meyer, who is struggling to preserve the house and what's left of her wounded family.

Man of Shadows

Coltrane is a liar, a con man and a threat to everything Jilly holds dear. He is also her hated father's right-hand man, a gorgeous, loathsome snake who doesn't care whom he uses to get what he wants. And he's made it clear he wants Jilly. But the question is, what does he want her for?

Shadows at Sunset

Somehow Jilly has to stop Coltrane from destroying everything she cherishes. Including her own vulnerable heart. And the only way to do that is to uncover what Coltrane is really up to, and that could mean upsetting the explosive secrets of the past.
Shadows at Sunset was a tremendously enjoyable story, with a to-die-for anti-hero. My grade would be a B+.

The best thing about the book is Coltrane, the hero. Stuart's dark anti-heroes don't always work for me (see Moonrise), but Coltrane was perfect. He's convinced he's a snake, of course, and he's done some bad things in his life, but there was very obviously something good still alive inside him. It was lovely to see the way his tender feelings for Jilly and for Rachel-Ann caught him by surprise, in spite of all his efforts to fight them and convince himself he's still a mean son of a bitch.

Jilly I wasn't that nuts about. Codependent is right, she's definitely that. However, having the author (and Jilly herself) perfectly aware of Jilly's spinelessness, instead of trying to convince me that it just means that she's gooooood, makes it much more tolerable, and I was able to enjoy the book without wishing for a different heroine.

Even though the book doesn't really have many love scenes, or particularly graphic ones, I thought it was very steamy. Stuart manages to write excellent sexual tension, and even an "incomplete" scene had me reaching for some ice water.

Like most of Stuart's single titles, Shadows at Sunset has a well-developed secondary romance which is a bit of a role reversal of the main one. This one concerns Rachel-Ann, Jilly's recovering drug-addict sister, and is just wonderful. Rachel-Ann sounds like a spoilt witch at first, but little by little, more depths became apparent, and she became for likeable.

There was also a ghost story here, and though that storyline didn't play that much of a role on the main one, it added a certain ambience that I appreciated.

The book had only two negatives, as far as I'm concerned. First of all there was the villain, Jackson, Jilly's father and Coltrane's boss, who's really a bit over-the-top and one-dimensional. Second, the ending. There's a long separation there which didn't really work for me, and the final resolution was too abrupt. But these were small problems, and on the whole, I had an excellent time reading this.


Fire and Ice, by Tori Carrington

>> Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I really hated the first Tori Carrington book that I read, A Stranger's Touch, but before reading it I had already ordered a couple more by these authors, including Fire and Ice.

She's on fire…

Bad girl criminal defense attorney, Jena McCade, has finally found her bad boy sexual equal. Professional hockey player, Tommy "Wild Man" Brodie is everything she's ever wanted in a man. He's gorgeous, he's incredibly talented…and he's temporary! Still, when Tommy shows up on her doorstep after being injured, Jena can't resist offering him some very physical therapy…

…and he can work wonders with ice!

Tommy wants out of the rat race--almost as badly as he wants Jena! Since their one-night stand, she's been on his mind and in his dreams. And now he finally has the sexy D.A. right where he wants her-- in his bed, exciting him, delighting him. The problem? Jena considers their relationship a fling…nothing more. But even Tommy knows that possession is nine-tenths of the law. And once he's stolen Jena's heart, she's not getting it back…
Well, this one was much, much better! A B-.

In spite of some early doubts, I found that I really liked Jena. Why the doubts, when I'm so often vocal in asking for more experienced heroines and Jena was a "bad girl"? Simple: bad girls in Harlequin novels are usually fake (sometimes even virgins), and if they're not, they feel kind of... forced. The type who'll start an explicit conversation about sex with a stranger as the author's way of showing us how "bad" she is. Not Jena. She was simply a woman dedicated to her job and who considered sex in much the way so many heros do, as a diversion.

Tommy was just yummy, pretty much too good to be true. I've been a sucker for hockey-player heros since I read See Jane Score, and my only regret is that we don't see Tommy on the ice at all. A star athlete who's also a doctor, kind, considerate, caring, sweet... perfect!

Jena and Tommy had beautiful chemistry together, and I liked how they dealt with each other as equals. The only negative was that I was not 100% convinced by the end of the book that they were really "in love". There was this tiny something missing there, I can't really identify what exactly, but it just made me not buy it completely.

The only thing I really disliked about the book was the resolution of the suspense subplot. Jena did something I thought was unethical in the end, and I really didn't see the need for her to do this. Oh, and I wasn't too crazy about the space spent setting up the next book in the series and promoting the first one.

Pretty good, all in all. I might buy something else by these authors yet.


Wagered Weekend, by Jayne Castle (aka Jayne Ann Krentz)

After reading Shield's Lady for my group read, I think I might have started on another Jayne Ann Krentz glom.... ;-)

Wagered Weekend was published in 1981, under JAK's Jayne Castle pseudonym. I'm always a bit wary about reading those early books, because early JAK heroes are often way too arrogant and overbearing for me. So why do I keep reading? Well, simply because for every wall-banger from that time, she has a winner, like Fabulous Beast, from 1984, or the 1985 Wizard.

Lucky at cards, unlucky at love? That's what Savannah Emery had always been--and she knew she should have stopped while she was ahead. That night at the party the wine and her winning streak had gone to her head. She had bid too high and lost... and the stakes were a weekend with Cord Harding.
Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those gems. The hero was truly unbearable, and I'd give this one a C-.

The book starts during an engagement party, as Savannah Emery does her best to pretend she doesn't care that the groom was the man she had thought she would marry. She's playing cards and beating everyone. When their boss, Cord Harding, comes in and high-handedly corners her for a one-on-one game of twenty-one, she is glad to be able to beat him, too, and take her anger at the situation out on someone who deserves it.

However, it turns out her winning streak is suddenly at an end, and having drunk a bit too much, Savannah ends up wagering (and losing) first a dinner, then a kiss and, finally, an entire weekend with Cord.

Savannah definitely doesn't intend to pay this bet, beyond the dinner and (possibly) the kiss, and she does run out on Cord that night, but Cord soon turns out at the little inn in Carmel where Savannah has gone to spend her vacation, and he insists she give him the weekend he has coming.

I must say, the book had potential. The whole set-up was intriguing and I started out liking the heroine. She was an almost 6-feet-tall amazon who was perfectly comfortable in her feminity. She was good at her job, self-assured and perfectly willing to stand up to Cord.

However, Cord really tried my patience. He doesn't really do anything to Savannah beyond pestering her to give in. He doesn't force her or manhandle her and makes it clear that when she says "no", he'll stop, but he's so horribly arrogant and overbearing, that I kept wanting to slap him! He has lots of irritating lines about how Savannah "has been allowed to run wild for too long", or how it's only "her foolish femenine pride" that doesn't allow her to surrender to him, and stuff like that. Maybe it doesn't sound so bad here, but believe me, after pages and pages of this, I was ready to scream.

Maybe if we had seen at least a few scenes from Cord's point of view (maybe his real feelings for Savannah, or why he was doing this) he would have come across a bit more sympathetic, but books back then just didn't "do" the hero's POV... one of the reasons why I prefer to read later books. As it is, the impression I got of Cord wasn't "romantic hero" but "scary psycho".

By the time the veeery clichéd evil other woman appeared, ready to snag our hero, I was already out of patience, so that was really the last push needed for me to shake my head at the lost opportunity for a good story.


Blue Dahlia, by Nora Roberts (In The Garden # 1)

>> Monday, January 17, 2005

Given how much I enjoyed reading Nora Roberts' Key Trilogy all in a row, I was planning to do the same with her new In The Garden trilogy, even though the last book won't come out until November. Thing is, I'm weak. I just couldn't resist the temptation, and so I read Blue Dahlia.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts comes the first novel in the new In the Garden trilogy. Against the backdrop of a house steeped in history and a thriving new gardening business, three women unearth the memories of the past and uncover a dangerous secret-finding in each other the courage to take chances and embrace the future.

Stella has a passion for planning that keeps her from taking too many risks. But when she opens her heart to a new love, she discovers that she will fight to the death to protect what's hers.

Trying to escape the ghosts of the past, young widow Stella Rothchild, along with her two energetic little boys, has moved back to her roots in southern Tennessee-and into her new life at Harper House and In the Garden nursery. She isn't intimidated by the house-nor its mistress, local legend Roz Harper. Despite a reputation for being difficult, Roz has been nothing but kind to Stella, offering her a comfortable new place to live and a challenging new job as manager of the flourishing nursery. As Stella settles comfortably into her new life, she finds a nurturing friendship with Roz and with expectant mother Hayley. And she discovers a fierce attraction with ruggedly handsome landscaper Logan Kitridge

But someone isn't happy about the budding romance...the Harper Bride. As the women dig into the history of Harper House, they discover that grief and rage have kept the Bride's spirit alive long past her death. And now, she will do anything to destroy the passion that Logan and Stella share...
Now I'm really, really sorry I read this one. Not because it was a bad read, not at all! In fact, it was excellent, a B+ read. The only problem is that now I'm totally fired up to read the next two books, especially the third one, and I'll have to wait! Oh, if only I had gone with my intuition!

Like the Key trilogy, this one is more interconnected than her previous ones. There's the same feeling that what's being told is the stories of these three couples at the same time, each book focusing on one of them, but not really neglecting the others. It was a bit more so with the Key trilogy, yes, but it was the same feeling here that you have to read the three books to get the whole story. That usually pisses me off, but in this case, since I kind of already knew that and planned to get the entire trilogy anyway, I was fine with it.

Something else I found interesting was that though the romance was important here, it shared almost equal space with the relationship between Stella, Roz and Hayley. Again, not something that I usually welcome when reading a romance novel, but the thing is, I was equally interested in both, and in the ghost story. I think I'm pretty sure of what's up with the Harper ghost, but I'm looking forward to finding out for certain.

The story itself and the characters? Really nice. I enjoyed both Stella and Logan, and had fun watching them butt heads and manage to find a way to blend their differences. And Stella's boys were well written and realistic and I liked that Stella had really loved her first husband. Roz was also fascinating, and I'm looking forward to reading a romance starring a 45-year-old woman. I'm pretty sure she'll be paired up with Mitchell Carnegie, and that should have an interesting "scientist ghostbuster" vibe. I'm most interested in Hayley and Harper. Hayley might have been a bit bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for me, but the way Harper went all gooby for her was endearing. :-) And I want to know what she's going to do about the father of her baby, if she'll end up telling him about Lily or not... Oh, and was it just me, or will we be having a gay secondary romance in one of these books, á la Brockmann's Hot Target, or Dallas Schulze's The Substitute Wife? If I had to guess, I'd look at Dr. Carnegie's son Josh, for some reason, but I might be completely on the wrong track, I don't know....

All I know is I can't wait till June!!!


Ring of Fire, by Cinnamon Burke

>> Friday, January 14, 2005

I liked Cinnamon Burke's Rapture's Mist so much, that I got myself a couple more books from her backlist. One of them was Ring of Fire.

He was quite possibly the definitive athlete of his time. Arctic Warrior Ian St. Ives racked up more medals than anyone could count. Now, however, he earns his living by using his talents just as adeptly in the service of the Alado corporation as its top super secret spy and troubleshooter. So when miners start disappearing from a company asteroid, he is the natural agent of choice to be dispatched to clear the matter up.

What no one expects, himself included, is his wild attraction to gorgeous Haven Wray, leader of a women's Rocketball team that recently arrived on the asteroid to play in the championship tournament. The flames of passion burn at their very first encounter.

But someone does not want Ian to find out just what is going on in the mining colony, and the two are first kidnapped and then abandoned within a mysterious maze from which it will take all their strength and ingenuity to escape.
Unfortunately, while the setting was even more interesting, the romance didn't live up to the one in Rapture's Mist. My grade for this one would be a C+.

My main problem with Ring of Fire was that the characters never managed to rise above the two-dimensional. Ian and Haven were pretty flat, probably because Burke relied mostly on telling, not showing, so I never did get too involved in their romance. Add to this that Haven kept whining and whining and bursting into tears, and I just didn't care about this two people.

I still mostly had fun reading this, because I simply adored the setting and the idea of the book. Plus, it was all so campy. The whole thing put me in mind of some kind of 80s glam aesthetic, only in space.


The Love Talker, by Elizabeth Peters

>> Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Love Talker, by Elizabeth Peters is one of the few books by this author that hasn't really stuck in my mind from the first time I read it.

Laurie has finally returned to Idlewood, the beloved family home deep in the Maryland woods where she found comfort and peace as a lonely young girl. But things are very different now. There is no peace in Idlewood. The haunting sound of a distant piping breaks the stillness of a snowy winter's evening. Seemingly random events have begun to take on a sinister shape. And dotty old Great Aunt Lizzie is convinced that there are fairies about -- and she has photographs to prove it. For Laurie, one fact is becoming disturbingly clear: there is definitely something out there in the woods -- something fiendishly, cunningly, malevolently human -- and the lives of her aging loved ones, as well as Laurie's own, are suddenly at serious risk.
The Love Talker is not one of Peters' best efforts, but it was very entertaining and had most of the things that I love about her books. My grade would be a B.

Laurie is a wonderful heroine, like all of Peters'. She's strong and sensible and delights in not behaving according to stereotypes of how a heroine should act. The supporting cast is great, too, lovingly and subtly drawn most of them, with the more one-dimensional characters (like Hermann, or Rachel and Mary Ella's father) providing some hilarious comic relief.

The book reads a bit like a historical, because it's very much stuck in the time when it was written, 25 years ago, so many things are quite dated. It's funny, because Peters' attitudes themselves are not at all old-fashioned (even then, she was very progressive about things like a woman's role, for instance), so instead of being irritated, I could enjoy the very strong, modern heroine, and have fun with the little details in which the book showed its age. I especially enjoyed Doug's defense of the science-fiction and fantasy books he liked to read... he sounded a lot like we romance readers sound today!

The plot was interesting, with a touch of paranormal, but ultimately, the resolution lacked a certain oomph. Still, it was a good way to spend an afternoon.


Angie and the Ghostbuster, by Theresa Gladden

>> Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I like ghost books, and the hero in Angie and the Ghostbuster, by Theresa Gladden sounded like a winner!

Drawn to the old house by an intriguing letter and a shockingly vivid dream, Dr. Gabriel Richards came in search of a tormetnted ghost -but instead found a sassy blonde with dreamer's eyes who awakened old pain of his own. Ange Parker was two parts angel to one part vixen, a sexy skeptical single mom who suspected a con -but couldn't deny the chemistry between them, or disguise her burning need.

Determined to court the irrepresible flirt who'd gotten under his skin, Gabriel pursued her with tender fierceness, wooing the sweet tigress who protected all those she loved, but who'd never known how it felt to be cherished. Together, they struggled to believe the impossible, to free the anguished spirit that shadowed their happiness. Could a century-old mystery reveal the powerful magic of love?
While the hero was lovely, Angie and the Ghostbuster simply didn't engage me. My grade would be a C.

I really liked Gabriel. I'm a sucker for nerdy, scientist, nice-guy heroes, and Gabriel was just adorable. Angie was an interesting character, too. Her backstory was original (her late husband was much, much older than her, and they had a wonderful marriage), and her having no ambitions outside the home was refreshing, even if it made Angie a character I understood intellectually, but couldn't really emotionally get a feel for.

However, for all that I liked both characters, I found Gladden's handling of their relationship wooden and chemistry-free. I couldn't manage to raise any interest in the romance... I just felt kind of distant, even bored with it all. What's strange about this is that the characteristics of Gabriel and Angie's relationship should have made it a hit for me. I liked the way they dealt with their past together, acknowledging it but accepting that they are now adults and completely over it. I liked how they got to know each other by talking (and listening) and how Gabriel immediately falls for Angie and basically courts her (and yes, he uses that word!). And yet... the way Gladden coloured in between these basic lines didn't work for me.

As for the ghost story, it could have been a really interesting plot, but Gladden managed to make it as boring as the love story. Plus, the resolution was much too rushed.

It's too bad, but the only strong feeling the book evoked was a kind of incredulous horror, when the author described some of Angie's outfits ::shudder::.


The Saint, by Madeline Hunter

>> Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Saint (excerpt), is the second book in Madeline Hunter's Regency-set quintet. I've already read the first one (The Seducer) and the fifth one (The Romantic... I couldn't wait for that one!), and both were excellent.

The world thinks he is a paragon. A saint, by Zeus. If only they knew!

Vergil Duclairc is a man used to getting his way. As the newly appointed guardian and trustee of Miss Bianca Kenwood, he is determined to find her and bring her back to live with his family. The last thing he expects is to find his errant ward scandalously costumed and employed as a theatrical singer. He is even less prepared for the relentless attraction he feels for her, a desire that he cannot pursue lest it unmask secrets that he must hide, and unravel plans laid long ago.

Bianca has no interest in giving up her independence, but there is something compelling about this handsome and brooding viscount who seems to assume he owns her and her inheritance. She soon learns that Vergil is a man of secrets and sensuality, and that she is not immune to his power. Suddenly, in a moment that would change everything, their desire ignites and throws them into a scandalous passion, and into a world of dangerous intrigue.
Well, this one was excellent, too. I'd give it a B+.

I had a similar reaction to The Saint as to The Seducer. That is, at first, I detested the hero for being a controlling bastard, but once he started to lose his control a bit because of what the heroine made him feel, I really warmed up to him. I just hated Vergil for planning Bianca's future so cavalierly, for simply decreeing that she'd have to give up her dreams and for planning, all the while, to marry her off to his brother Dante, who will obviously make her miserable. But once he started giving in to his attraction to Bianca, he became much more human, and a wonderfully romantic hero, too.

I really liked Bianca, too. She's a very strong heroine, especially because she recognizes the limitations of her position and doesn't bother to stomp her feet and toss her hair in defiance, but simply does her best to work around them. She makes sound plans to get what she wants, and would have got her way, too. Except for a few stupid moments near the end, when she did certain things which I guess were needed to further the plot, she was a very nice heroine.

I enjoyed the resolution to the internal conflict, too. I very much respected Bianca for not giving up her dream of singing, and Vergil for understanding why she felt that way, and truly felt that the solution they arrived to was the best one possible. Both gave up a little bit and got a lot :-)

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the series, even Dante's book. And I say "even" Dante's, because the little idiot drove me nuts here. He's the worst kind of rake: a complete hypocrite. He's the type of man who expects to keep mistresses when he gets married and yet gets all judgemental and priggish about his potential bride's virtue. Creep. He worked fine as a character here because he contrasted with Vergil, whose disapproval was a much more tolerant one. Vergil actually is quite a saint, and yet he's not nearly as judgemental as Dante. Anyway, given Hunter's talent, though, I'd be interested in reading Dante's book, because I strongly suspect he'll be made to pay for his sins, lol!


Shield's Lady, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, January 10, 2005

We're having an Jayne Ann Krentz / Amanda Quick / many other aka's month at one of the groups I belong to. We each choose one (or more) books of hers to read and post about them. The book I chose was one I first read a couple of years ago, and very much enjoyed. In fact, it sparked a massive reread of JAK's backlist. It's a futuristic, Shield's Lady, which was written as Amanda Glass, a pseudonym JAK used only this time.

The book is set in the planet of Windarra, where many years before, a couple of ships full of colonists from Earth were stranded after they run into trouble while trying to land. The whole mission was a kind of experiment by Earth social philosophers, who were trying to create some kind of system of rigid social classes. Anyway, one of the ships was carrying the more artistic, creative types, while the other was full of extremely rational business-people.

After the very violent landing, the ships ended up separated, each not knowing what had happened to the other and without the technology needed to make contact. So, two very different societies evolved in distant parts of Windarra, and the story takes place a few years after these societies manage to find each other again, thanks to some inventions which make distant travel possible.

Sariana, the heroine, was born and raised in the East, in the colonies which evolved from the occupants of the "business-like" ship. This is a serious, rational society, which prizes these characteristics, as well as people fitting in exactly the right slots. Sariana's problems there started when she flunked entrance to the business school, because her test scores showed a bit too much creativity and openness to experimentation. Her fiancé (an arranged betrothal, of course, since love isn't important in the courting process in the east) dumped her like a hot potato, because her whole future was compromised by this and her whole life seemed to be a failure.

Sariana's solution was to emigrate to the wild, wild western colonies, evolved from the "artistic" ship. Her plan was to apply her business skills there, be hugely successful, and use this as leverage to manage to take the tests again and get into the business school, thus taking her rightful place in the East. The book starts as she's working to solve the financial problems of a Western jeweller's clan. She's solved the purely financial problems, but the remaining problem seems to be the disappearance of an unique tool that used to belong to the clan, a prisma-cutter, the only way prisma (a hugely expensive crystal native of Windarra) can be manipulated.

Sariana decides to hire a Shield, a member of a clan of mysterious, dangerous warriors in the Western provinces, and the book starts as she accidentally has Gryph, the hero, knocked out with a mild hypnotic, which she intended only to put him in a good mood, since he has been ignoring all her written overtures.

Gryph immediately recognizes Sariana as a potential Shieldmate... that is, a woman who is capable of a special bond with him. In short order, he's tricked her into marriage and bonding with him and they're off into the wild frontier, in search of the prisma cutter, which seems to have been stolen by another Shield.

I'm usually not much into "destined lovers" stories. I like to see why the hero and heroine fall in love with each other, and "because we're fated to be together" simply doesn't cut it. It was different here. Being Shieldmates is a very deep bond, but doesn't necessarily imply love, so I could see Sariana and Gryph falling in love not only because or through their bond, though the intense sexual connection it created helped. I guess what worked was that I was able to see them being drawn to each other even if the Shieldmate thing hadn't even existed.

One of the things I like about JAK's books is the sense of intimacy she creates between her characters, and the way they just crave each other. Her heroes, especially, don't just want the heroines, they need them, they are incomplete without them. It's this which is missing in many of her latest releases, and it's what makes earlier books such as this one so tremendously satisfying.

Gryph is a bit too arrongant, and Sariana is sometimes a little too feisty, but on the whole, I really enjoyed them. The way their relationship was written was just wonderful

Also, a big part of my enjoyment was the very imaginative setting. It wasn't perfect... I mean, the very rigid distinctions between the East and West provinces were a bit too simplistic (it's just not believable that everyone in a society is artistic and creative just because their ancestors were, for instance), but I was enjoying myself so much that I was able to overlook these flaws. I just love futuristics (or sci-fiction / fantasy books) where the focus isn't on court intrigue and whether the world as they know it will survive, but on people just living "normal" lives in a fantastic, different world.

I highly recommend this one, even if futuristics aren't usually your thing. My grade would be an A-.


She Went All the Way, by Meggin Cabot

It seems I read books set in Alaska (not the most common setting, at all) in twos. A couple of years ago it was first I do, I do, I do, by Maggie Osborne and then Lori Wilde's A Touch of Silk. This time I first read Northern Lights, by Nora Roberts and immediately started She Went All the Way (excerpt), by Meggin Cabot.

Success hasn't spoiled screenwriter Lou Calabrese -- it's just given her a taste for luxury. And it's put her in some bizarre situations -- like in a helicopter en route to the wilds of Alaska, sharing too-close quarters with the last man she wants to be with: Jack Townsend! Once a sexy nobody whom Lou helped make a somebody, Jack's just been dumped by a high-profile Hollywood airhead -- who's eloped with Lou's longtime love! So what else could go wrong?

Their pilot could try to shoot the most adored man in America. They could crash land in the icy, mountainous middle of nowhere. And at the worst possible moment, when survival should be their only consideration, Jack could start wondering if maybe he wasn't a wee bit too hasty for not giving this sexy screenwriter a second look -- while Lou could start noticing how superstar Jack is kind of hot after all ...
Like the first Cabot book that I read, Boy Meets Girl, this was lots of fun, and not lacking in heart, either. My grade is a B+.

I should mention, before anything else, that unlike Boy Meets Girl, She Went All the Way isn't narrated through emails and such. It's proof that Cabot's humour is not dependent on gimmicks. She's just as funny writing traditional contemporary romance.

Plus, the romance is the focus here, and it's a seriously satisfying one. There's just something about a commitment-phobe like Jack being the one to start immediately pressuring Lou to move in with him, get a beach house together, get a dog together... Even if I was a bit doubtful about him after we know of his extremely sluttish sexual past, I did believe he really was in love with Lou and that their relationship would work out. And I loved Lou! I loved how she was completely unimpressed with Jack's huge movie star status, and how her very intelligence and common sense was what Jack was crazy about (plus, he found her extremely sexy, of course!). She's not a girly girl and can take care of herself (even being the one who shoots the villains), but she's perfectly comfortable with being female.

The only weak point here is the suspense subplot, which didn't really make much sense. Also, Jack's insistence that he didn't need police protection, when they got back to civilization in, just reeked of romance novel stupid conventions.

As for the setting, well, this was a very different Alaska from the one in Northern Lights, and it suffered in the comparison. It was a bit more "generic forest in the snow" here, but the "tone" of the setting jibed with the tone of the book, which was more comedy than drama, so that was ok.

I'm very glad I discovered Cabot. I've already got myself much of her backlist, and I'll do my best to ration it and not just read them all in a gulp!


True Colors, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Friday, January 07, 2005

True Colors was one of the books in Jayne Ann Krentz's backlist that I most enjoyed reading, once I started collecting them.

After his sister gets bilked by an apparently respectable businessman, Cade Santerre offers to help the authorities catch him. He does this by posing as a wealthy playboy and becoming friendly with him and his family. Jamie Garland is working as assistant to the con man's sister, and she and Cade fall in love.

All hell breaks loose, however, when the authorities move in to arrest the man, exposing the deception the morning after Jamie and Cade's first night together, and before he can tell her the truth. Cade doesn't think this has anything to do with their relationship, but Jamie feels used and has other ideas.
I adored True Colors when I first read it (see my comments here), but I wasn't that crazy about it this time. Yes, the grovelling is good, and Jamie does put Cade through the wringer, but I saw her as a bit too sweet and innocent this time. I think I would change the A- grade that I gave it back then for a B.


Northern Lights, by Nora Roberts

I don't usually read hardbacks. I tend to wait until they're published in paperback, and I seldom make exceptions. I made one for Northern Lights, by Nora Roberts, though I managed to save on the shipping to Uruguay because I had it sent to the house of a friend of a friend who was coming to Uruguay in mid-December. Desperate, me? ;-)

So anyway, I had this book in my TBR for two weeks and all the while I was dying to read it, could barely resist it, but I didn't want to start it until I had turned in my economics paper. Northern Lights was to be my prize for finishing that, and I finally was able to start it bright and early Saturday morning.

Lunacy was Nate Burke's last chance. As a Baltimore cop, he'd watched his partner die on the street-and the guilt still haunts him. With nowhere else to go, he accepts the job as Chief of Police in this tiny, remote Alaskan town. Aside from sorting out a run-in between a couple of motor vehicles and a moose, he finds his first weeks on the job are relatively quiet. But just as he wonders whether this has been all a big mistake, an unexpected kiss on New Year's Eve under the brilliant Northern Lights of the Alaska sky lifts his spirit and convinces him to stay just a little longer.

Meg Galloway, born and raised in Lunacy, is used to being alone. She was a young girl when her father disappeared, and she has learned to be independent, flying her small plane, living on the outskirts of town with just her huskies for company. After her New Year's kiss with the Chief of Police, she allows herself to give in to passion-while remaining determined to keep things as simple as possible. But there's something about Nate's sad eyes that gets under her skin and warms her frozen heart.

And now, things in Lunacy are heating up. Years ago, on one of the majestic mountains shadowing the town, a crime occurred that is unsolved to this day-and Nate suspects that a killer still walks the snowy streets. His investigation will unearth the secrets and suspicions that lurk beneath the placid surface, as well as bring out the big-city survival instincts that made him a cop in the first place. And his discovery will threaten the new life-and the new love-that he has finally found for himself.
After all the anticipation, I was half-afraid Northern Lights was going to turn out to be a bit of a disappointment, but it lived up to its billing and it was an A- for me.

The book is very much Nate's story. The romance is an important part of the story, and it's definitely not underwritten, but the main point of the story is Nate and how he builds a new life in Alaska, how he changes from a broken man, fighting to escape depression, to a man with a life he loves. It works wonderfully, because Nate is a great character. Yes, he is a cop suffering from guilt for the death of his partner, but he's so much more than that stereotype. We spend a lot of time in his mind, and this makes him really come alive.

As I said, the romance was an important part of the book, and it was wonderful. I simply adored Meg. I know other readers didn't like her because she was "mannish" and too abrupt, or because they thought she was loose, but I thought she was a wonderful heroine, myself. I didn't think she was selfish and boorish at all! It's as she says, why is it selfish to want to live the life she likes? And if she doesn't suffer fools gladly... well, good for her! As for her past sex life, I see nothing wrong with a heroine who's been around the block a few times. I mean, her past life would probably have been considered restrained for a romance novel hero! So she enjoys her sexuality... again, good for her! I thought her no-nonsense manner was perfect for Nate, exactly what he was needing at the time.

I enjoyed the cast of secondary characters, all subtly and compassionately written. It was especially interesting, because these weren't the typical small town dwellers in romance novels. They were more colourful... or rather, colourful in a different way than usual, and I liked how they were all very much a community.

Alaska was a character in its own right. The setting is very, very vivid. Of course, I've never been to Alaska (or anywhere where it even snowed, for that matter) or so I wouldn't know how accurate it all was, but if felt right, which was more than enough for me. I loved reading about the tremendously cold winter... it felt cozy, in a way, especially because I was reading the book while sitting by the pool in a temperature of 30ºC! ;-)

The suspense subplot was very engaging, too. While I pretty much zeroed in on the culprit immediatey, Nora planted enough little red herrings that I got to wondering whether it mightn't be someone else.

This is a book I'm probably going to reread and reread in the future, so I'm glad I went through the trouble of getting a hardcover copy!


To Love and To Cherish, by Joan Elliott Pickart

>> Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Years and years ago, before I could order books online and get exactly what I wanted, not what my bookstore thought I should want, I'd torture myself by reading the promos for other books that were printed on the last pages of whatever I was reading. I didn't have a hope of finding any of those, since the odds that they'd turn up in in any of the bookstores here were slim to none, but I enjoyed daydreaming about being able to actually send in those order forms and receive the books I was wanting to read.

The worst torture by far was reading the promos in Loveswept books. There just was something about those descriptions that made them sound so good! Plus, I'm still convinced Loveswepts were, as a rule, much better than other series books, and even better than much of what I was reading in single title (Catherine Coulter et al).

So anyway, I was clearing out some of my bookshelves a while ago and found some Loveswepts. I immediately leafed through the last pages, and one of the descriptions was one I remember really, really wanting to read all those years ago: To Love and to Cherish, by Joan Elliott Pickart. So what the hell, I just went and ordered it. It gave me such a pleasure to be able to do that!

In the foggy cocoon of night, Alida Hunter bared her soul to a mysterious stranger on a shadowy beach, then surrendered her body and her heart- but ran away without ever learning his name! The rugged man with summer-sky eyes had made her feel alive again after months of grieving over a love betrayed, but she knew he was a fantasy, a magical gift that she could never keep.

Paul-Anthony Payton viwed to find the lady whose yearning spirit had filled him with hope and made him believe in happiness, but once he'd traced her, he never expected she'd deny what they'd shared..or that she'd hide the truth that could bind them for always. Alida felt bewitched by the spell of Paul-Anthony's passion, but she feared that loving meant losing- and she was terrified to risk the sorrow that ecstasy seemed to promise. Paul-Anthony had shared her secrets and understood her pain, but could Alida escape the ghosts of memory and trust in his forever love
Well, I quite liked this book. I can't really pinpoint why, since there were so many things I disliked about it, but it would be a B-.

My main problem was with the heroine. She was one stupid woman, with her hard-headed insistence on the idea that everyone deserved and would find love, except for her. Hmm, I'm not really expressing this well... I've read and enjoyed loads of books which had main characters who, deep inside, didn't believe they'd be able to find true love. Alida, on the other hand, was unreasonably matter of fact about it, kind of as though she'd looked into a crystal ball and seen her future. Her idiotic inductive reasoning reminded me of those dreaded "heroes" who had bitch mothers and were once betrayed by the woman they loved, so now they are 100% sure that all women are manipulative whores. Plus, Alida hung on to this way too long.

And then there was the way she dealt with "the truth that could bind them for always" mentioned in the blurb, which refers to -you guessed it- an unplanned pregnancy from that first night. I just cannot respect a heroine who refuses to tell the guy that she's pregnant. I'm sorry, but if you've decided to carry the pregnancy to term and you know where to find the man (and Alida did) and he's a decent guy (and Alida knew Paul-Anthony was), there is no excuse for remaining silent. None. You don't need to marry him or anything, but he deserves to know and to be part of the child's life. Luckily, this wasn't a huge issue in the book, because Paul-Anthony found out about it pretty quickly, and his reaction was perfect, but it was one more strike against Alida.

I did like some things about the way she was written, though, like the way she was actually shown working and being good and professional at it. And I applauded her for her defence of her desire to keep her job and be a working mother.

What else did I like? Well, Paul-Anthony (weird, hyphenated name and all) was pretty wonderful. He was very much the pursuer here, but while persistent, he was never obnoxious and domineering. I just liked the plot very much, however trite it might seem. And I also kind of liked the very light suspense subplot, dealing with Alida's work.

On the whole, this was a pleasant reading experience, even when I was wanting to bang Alida's head against the wall!


Crazy Like a Fox, by Anne Stuart

>> Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I'm back! Hope you all had a good end to 2004 and have started 2005 even better. My end of the year was good, personally (on December 30th I finally managed to hand in a paper I've been meaning to write for the last couple of years, the final thing I needed to do to get my degree), though what with the tsunamis in Asia and the fire at the disco in Buenos Aires, I couldn't really summon much enthusiasm to celebrate.

I have started reading a lot again, though. During most of December, I was so busy with that #@%€ paper that I wasn't able to read much, and when I did, I felt hugely guilty because I thought I really should have been sitting at my computer and working. Actually, to a lesser extent I'd been feeling that way for some months. It will take a while for it to finally sink in, that I can just sit and read with a clear conscience!

Ok then, the first book I read once I was free was an Anne Stuart. As you'll see if you read the January 1st At The Back Fence column at All About Romance (the second part of the column), Anne Stuart writes all over the place, practically every type of book. I love opening one of her books, because, though not all of them have been successful with me, I like not knowing what I'm going to find. My latest read was Crazy Like a Fox.

A Family Affair...

Delacroix Landing was more of a prison than a mansion, but Margaret Jaffrey had no choice but to move in with her dead husband's eccentric Southern family so her nine-year-old daughter would have a better life.

Before long, Margaret found herself seduced by the atmosphere, the slower pace... and Peter Andrew Jaffrey, who excerted a powerful fascination on her -his cousin's widow.

She'd been warned about Peter, but his sad smile and compelling green eyes were driving her crazy with desire. Was it reckless fantasy or love's intuition that drew her to him?
It's funny, actually, how the blurb seems to be trying to hide what the book is about. I guess the publishers think most readers will shy away from reading about the heroine falling in love with the lunatic murderer locked in the attic, LOL! I know an accurate blurb would have had me buying the book immediately, even without knowing the author. I would have been right to buy it, too, because it was an excellent book. My grade would be a B+.

What this is is a modern gothic, with some of the elements of the old ones, but with more sex mixed in, among other things. Our heroine, Margaret, arrives at the house and is almost immediately intrigued by Peter, who she soon finds out has been convicted of murdering his wife and has been diagnosed as insane and allowed to be placed under house arrest. The man can't be near an open flame because he'll set fire to the entire house, and listening to country music will send him into fits. And yet Margaret feels drawn to him, even if she can't be sure of his sanity.

Of course, even in an Anne Stuart book, we readers know that the hero can't be a murderer and he can't be really crazy, but Margaret doesn't. I did like how Stuart managed to keep her from looking like a gullible idiot for believing in him. At first, she doesn't (believe in him, that is). She completely buys his craziness -which isn't strange, because he's really good at his little games- and it's only little by little that she starts seeing small details that manage to convince her.

Margaret is quite a strong heroine, always a plus. She stands up for herself, and doesn't allow anyone to bully her, not Peter and not the overbearing family matriarch. And I liked that she was not above a little bitchiness when dealing with her husband's spoiled female cousin who lived in the house.

Peter was also an excellent character. He's very reluctant to start something with Margaret, but he can't help himself. I really enjoyed the scenes in New Orleans, where he takes a huge risk in order to go to Margaret in disguise during Mardi Gras. Stuart wrote his increasing desperation to get out of his rison very well.

The only negative was that the suspense subplot was a bit weak, basically because it was so obvious and it made Peter look like a bit of a boob for not realizing what was happening earlier.Other than that, it's all good!


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