Carolina Moon, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, April 28, 2005

Carolina Moon, isn't among my favourite Nora Roberts, but a comment (by Jorie, if I'm not mistaken) I read a couple of weeks ago in a message board, about one of the secondary characters, had me digging through my shelves and rereading it.

our heroine Tory Bodeen has returned to her hometown of Progress, South Carolina, to face the fearsome memories of her childhood friend Hope's death and rebuild her life in a town that once betrayed her.

Struggling to balance the disturbing recollections, Tory finds comfort in the arms of Hope's older brother, Cade Lavelle. Though she sets about developing relationships with old friends and establishing her own business, Tory's worst fears come true and her past catches up to her: Tory's unique role in Hope's death makes her not only the focus of the Lavelle family's hatred, but the next choice for Hope's killer, who is still at large.
It was an ok read, an atmospheric Southern Gothic romantic suspense, with a very nice secondary romance, which almost made up for a lukewarm main one. A B.

Many things about this reminded me of Linda Howard's After the Night. There's the small Southern town setting, the privileged hero and white trash heroine, who knew each other as children and stopped seeing each other when the heroines family moves from town after a traumatic event blamed on them (the hero's father supposedly running off with the heroine's mother in ATN, the hero's sister getting murdered, with his mother blaming Tory, in CM). There's the heroine who comes back to the town she has to have horrible memories of, for no good reason. There's the heros' mothers, who could have been the same woman.

The main difference is that while Carolina Moon lacks the white-hot sexual chemistry between the leads, which made After the Night such an absorbing read, it also lacked the mysoginistic attitude which made it a very, very guilty pleasure.

I liked Cade and Tory very much. Cade was very, very beta, which I loved, an environmentalist and an all around nice guy, who falls for Tory immediately and patiently perseveres in his courtship, recognizing that she has been hurt in the past and has reason to be skittish. Their relationship was pleasant, if lacking in a bit of fire.

I liked the secondary relationship, between Cade's sister, Faith, and his best friend (and Tory's cousin) Wade, much, much better. I absolutely loved Faith. Bitchy, promiscuous, lively, selfish, but with a soft streak, she's just the type that tends to become one of the serial killers' victims in so many romance novels. The fact that she gets her very happy ending here is one of the reasons I worship Nora.

I have mixed feelings about the suspense subplot, especially its resolution. On one hand, it didn't feel particularly believable to me. On the other, though, it was truly horrifying and creepy, maybe so horrifying and creepy that I have trouble accepting its plausibility.

Whatever its techical flaws, this was an interesting read.


One Good Turn, by Carla Kelly

>> Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Carla Kelly is an author I usually like but don't LOVE. Except for One Good Turn, sequel to her Libby's London Merchant.

A duke who lost the woman he loved to another gets a second chance at happiness when he offers a ride to a Spanish lady and her child.
I loved this book, for its characters, its writing, its lack of glorification of war and for the fact that, in spite of the many horrors which come to light, I felt optimistic when I turned the last page. An A-.

Even when he was at his worst behaviour in Libby, Nez was one charismatic character, and he shines in this, which is very much his story. I didn't think the romance wasn't the most important element here. I saw it more as a story about a man coming to terms with and learning to appreciate himself.

The book is mostly narrated from Nez's POV. Kelly has a very individual style, as she haves her characters talking to themselves in their minds, so we really hear Nez's voice. Liria was more of a cypher. Except for a scene in which she tells Nez what he was already suspecting, we don't see much of her thoughts and reactions. Strangely enough, seeing everything from Nez's POV made the horror of Liria's experiences even more poignant and painful to me. There's a scene which had me in tears: when he really realized what must have happened to her and ends up puking his guts out the window.

There are some graphic descriptions here, and even if they were things that had already happened, and weren't happening in real time as I was reading, they turned my stomach. Kelly very definitely doesn't portray war as dashing, handsome officers riding around, which is the impression I get from many romances. Her war had no good guys, even the ones on the hero's side are capable of atrocities, and there's a hint that Spain's best interests weren't necessarily best served by allying themselves with the British.

If there's a negative here, it's maybe a bit of a spoiler. I hated that the mere possibility of making one of Liria's rapists pay was dismissed so out of hand. "He'll deny it, it's your word against him, blah, blah, blah", but I guess I'm bloodthirsty. I wanted the guy ruined... if not legally, Nez's word would have carried quite a lot of weight, and he would at least have been shamed. Or I'm sorry to be crude, but wouldn't it have been terribly satisfying to hire someone (or rather, several someones) to ambush him somewhere and do to him exactly what he did to Liria? Yep, definitely bloodthirsty of me, and I'm not ashamed of it.

Also, the fact that Nez had been one of those commanders who set his men free to do whatever they wanted in Badajoz left a bad taste in my mouth. It did make the book even more powerful, and he definitely tortured himself about it more than enough, but I really don't know if it's something that could ever be excused.

All through this horror, however, was the conviction that these people were going to be all right, that they would be able to get through this and really be happy, that they hadn't been damaged beyond repair. So I finished the book with a smile on my face.


What Do You Say To a Naked Elf?, by Cheryl Sterling

After reading the AAR review of What Do You Say To a Naked Elf?, byCheryl Sterling, I didn't know if the humour was going to work for me, but the very idea of the book sounded so unique that it was irresistible. Luckily Jennifer saw it on my Wish List and was kind enough to send it to me, for which I owe her a huge thank you!

Plain Jane Drysdale supplements her uninteresting day job by selling sex paraphernalia at what are basically erotic Tupperware parties. One dark night as she is speeding home, she brakes to avoid running over a rabbit and crashes her car. Woozy and hurt, she is taken away by a group of men. As they walk deeper into the woods, one of her rescuers, Charlie, tires of her questions, drugs her, and slings her over his shoulder. When she awakens, Charlie shares a few choice pieces of information with her: she has gone through a portal into another world; he has half elf, half fairy, and he'll be representing her at court for the murder of Tivat, a shape-shifter who happened to be the rabbit she ran over. Jane not only adapts to her new world, she also effects miraculous changes in it as it begins to change her.
This book was Fun with a capital F. I did think the story got a bit out of control near the end of the book, but for the originality both in setting, plot and characters, and for the wonderful humour, I'd grade this book a B+.

As I said above, I had my doubts about the humour. Books that are intended to be humourous don't tend to work that well for me, and the ones that make me laugh out loud are usually the supposedly serious ones which sneak bits of humour in unexpected situations. While I didn't find WDYSTANE? (some acronym!) LOL funny, I think I spent most of the time I was reading it smiling at particularly witty and amusing tidbits... and there were many, many of them.

Something else I had my doubts about was the pop-culture references Blythe mentioned in her review. I probably know more about US popular culture than 99% of my compatriots, but well, I've lived all my life in Uruguay, so I probably wouldn't get most of them. And at first it did seem that they might get out of hand. I mean, in the first few pages, I was scratching my head. "Cough it up, Keebler", "You really need to buy a contraction or two, Vanna" Keebler? Vanna? What, who? But luckily, this didn't continue for the rest of the book. There were less references, and the ones that did show up were less obscure to me, so this ended up being a non-issue.

Back to the story itself: Sterling has a truly amazing imagination. The whole concept of the book was great, and I loved the attention paid to the little details which made this world come alive. It did feel like a fairy tale world, with very fun twists and a modern sensibility.

And I really enjoyed the protagonists. Jane was great. She reminded me a bit of MaryJanice Davidson's wise-ass heroines, only Jane knew when to lay off the one liners and was a much deeper character. And I liked most things about Charlie. I'm usually fond of stories about stuffy heroes who get loosened up by their wilder heroines, and this was very much the case here. The only thing I didn't like about Charlie was that he was a little too prone to being judgemental and he kept blaming Jane for stuff. His first reaction at anything going wrong was assuming Jane had screwed up something. Still, I had fun reading their relationship, which was surprisingly steamy. Whenever Jane touched Charlie's wings.. phew!!!!

The only reason I'm not giving this book an A is that I thought the whole storyline went out of control near the end, with huuuge coincidences galore and plots and subplots which didn't make much sense and Jane uncharacteristically becoming a born-again fatalist. I also wasn't too crazy about the excessive neatness of the big revelations about both Jane and Charlie.

Well, whatever. This is very much the "something different" I'm always wanting to read, and I'm looking forward to see what this author comes up with next. BTW, I googled her but came up empty handed, does anyone know if she has a webpage, or if anything is known of what's next for her?


Widow in Scarlet, by Nicole Byrd

>> Monday, April 25, 2005

I've been doing way too much rereading lately, and my TBR is going out of control. I'm going to do my best to start reading more from it and see if I can make at least a dent.

I picked out Widow in Scarlet (excerpt), by Nicole Byrd, pretty much at random, from the pile of books I have by new-to-me authors.

Lord of mystery...

Nicholas Ramsey, Viscount Richmond, has a well-earned reputation for seduction and scandal. What isn't so widely known is the secret mission entrusted to him by the Prince Regent--to bring to England a legendary ruby known as the "Scarlet Widow," destined to take its place among the crown jewels. But many have killed for the ruby in the past, and when Nicholas's friend is killed and the jewel taken, Nicholas vows to find both the murderer and the ruby in a search that leads him to another widow...

Widow in Scarlet

Lucy Contrain thinks Nicholas is mad when he requests to look through her late husband's belongings. Wary of the aristocrat who's supposed to have a "way with the widows," she doubts his intentions can be good. But when he accuses her dead husband of taking part in the theft of a fabulous jewel, Lucy insists on helping him with the hope of clearing her husband's name. She has no idea their search will leal them into deadly danger--or headlong into a passion that neither can resist...
Widow in Scarlet started out well, but a lack of development in the romance meant that the very likeable characters alone couldn't make the book a success. My grade: a C+.

Taken on their own, I really enjoyed both Nicholas and Lucy, but most especially the latter. I liked her courage and her resourcefulness when her husband's death left her nearly destitute, and I liked her sensible attitude when faced with Nicholas' account of the suspicions about her husband. I even liked that she refused to demonize her husband. I mean, in her place, I probably would have started hating him, after finding out about his hypocrisy and duplicity, but if Lucy preferred to remember the times when he was kind, while accepting her faults, well, whatever worked for her.

What I liked best about her, though, was her refusing to be a doormat. The couple of scenes in which she puts her meddling, spiteful, gossipping cousin and neighbour in their places were priceless!

Nicholas was nice, but felt less individual. The first scene didn't start the book well, and if I had read it before buying the book, I really don't know if I would have bought it, as first scenes showing the hero with a mistress he obviously cares nothing about are a bit of a pet peeve for me. Too often, in an effort to distinguish what he does with the heroine from what he does with these sluts and whores, the hero has a disdainful attitude, and I hate that, that he'd despise a woman he sleeps with.

Not Nicholas. Yes, he had no fondness for the woman in question and was irritated by her, but he treated her well, and I guess that is something. And after that, he came across as a really nice guy, always doing his best to help Lucy and treating her well.

The problem, though, was that after the first part of the book, in which their relationship gets started, every whiff of attraction and passion between them just vanished.

On one hand, their relationship was wonderfully free of overbearing, macho-man superiority. I really liked that they were very much partners in looking for the ruby, after only a half-hearted attempt by Nicholas to keep Lucy safe by having her stay at home while he went to dangerous areas.

On the other hand, and this is the thing, as much as they discussed and plotted and made their plans, much too much of that talking was only about their investigation. At one point Lucy wonders if he's not losing interest in her (apparently, he isn't, he just doesn't want her to think he's brought her into his house to have her handy for sex), and to be honest, I was wondering the same thing.

And then, near the end, when the authors finally focus again on the romantic relationship, there's this issue about Nicholas which just came out of the blue and became a problem between them. It didn't feel organic to the book at all, if just felt artificially grafted to create some conflict, and it didn't work at all for me.

As for the mystery, as much as I liked how Lucy and Nicholas cooperated to solve it, I had several problems with it. First of all, if it hadn't been for Lucy needing the reward money, I would have been rooting for them to fail. The whole search for the ruby was in order to keep the Prince Regent from looking like an idiot to the people. Why am I supposed to care? The Prinny in this book, at least, came across as a petulant, irresponsible, childish man, who thinks nothing of needlessly dropping a cart-load of public money to purchase a gem for his coronation. so what's so bad if the whole mission fails and he looks bad?

Then there was the absolute obviousness of where the gem must be (or rather, who should be asked about it). Lucy and Nicholas looked like absolute boobs for not doing so. Every time they talked to this person, I was going "Ask about it, ask about it!", but they never even thought about it.

Even with all this, I didn't have a bad time reading this. Still, I hope to have better luck with my next random pick from my TBR.


Visions in Death, by JD Robb

>> Friday, April 22, 2005

Not counting the two short stories, Visions in Death is book 20 in JD Robb's In Death series.

A brand-new novel in the number-one New York Times-bestselling In Death series set in 2059 New York City. As technology and humanity collide, Detective Eve Dallas searches the darkest corners of Manhattan for an elusive killer with a passion for collecting souls...

On one of the city's hottest nights, New York Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas is sent to Central Park-and into a hellish new investigation. The victim is found on the rocks, just above the still, dark water of the lake. Around her neck is a single red ribbon. Her hands are posed, as if in prayer. But it is the eyes-removed with such precision, as if done with the careful hands of a surgeon-that have Dallas most alarmed.

As more bodies turn up, each with the same defining scars, Eve is frantic for answers. Against her instincts, she accepts help from a psychic who offers one vision after another-each with shockingly accurate details of the murders. And when partner and friend Peabody is badly injured after escaping an attack, the stakes are raised. Are the eyes a symbol? A twisted religious ritual? A souvenir? With help from her husband, Roarke, Dallas must uncover the killer's motivation before another vision becomes another nightmare. . . .
20 books and I'm still not bored with this series. Sure, I don't have the passion for it that I had for the first books, when I'd preorder the books and pounce on them the minute they got here, but I still always enjoy my visit to Eve and Roarke's world . These books have now become comfort reads for me. I save them for those times when I just need to read something I know I'll like, and Visions was no exception. A solid B+.

Yes, this is another serial killer book, and I know, I know, what are the odds Eve would get that many serial killer cases assigned to her in the space of a couple of years? Slim to none, but ok, I'll ignore that. It's an interesting one, and it has Eve coming into contact with some very interesting secondary characters. Some are one-scene characters, others have a bigger role and there are even a couple of scenes with characters who hadn't appeared in the series for a while. All are fun to read.

I was especially interested in the psychic angle the title of the book refers to. There had been a mention of how paranormal stuff is treated in the books' universe in at least one of the books (I can never remember the title, it's the one in which Peabody's family comes to visit her. Loyalty in Death, maybe? Peabody's father is psychic and accidentally takes a look into Eve's mind), but we get a bit more insight here into how certain paranormal things have become accepted and even regulated by the government.

Of course, the best part of the book is, as always, the interaction between the longtime cast of characters... Eve, Roarke, Peabody, McNab, Mavis, Leonardo, Nadine, Charles, Louise... all get some time here and never in a way that makes you feel that they're just being trotted out to appease readers who demand a look at their favourites. Each and every one of them plays a part either in the police procedural part of the book or in the character development.

That said, while these interactions are lovely to read, there's nothing vital going on here, especially between Eve and Roarke. The only area where there is important development is in Eve and Peabody's relationship, with Eve finally confiding in her about certain things in her past.

Now I want to read Survivor! I just wish this series hadn't gone to hardcover! Hmmm, I wonder if a certain person I know broke down and ordered a copy I can borrow...


Heartthrob, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Thursday, April 21, 2005

Heartthrob (extras), was one of two single titles written by Suzanne Brockmann before she started writing her SEAL books.

Once voted the "Sexiest Man Alive," Jericho Beaumont had dominated the box office before his fall from grace. Now poised for a comeback, he wants the role of Laramie bad enough to sign an outrageous contract with movie producer Kate O'Laughlin -- one that gives her the authority to supervise Jericho's every move, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The last thing Kate wants to do is baby-sit her leading man, and Jericho Beaumont may be more than she can handle. A player in every sense of the word, he is an actor of incredible talent -- and a man with a darkly haunted past. Despite her better judgement, Kate's attraction flares into explosive passion, and she is falling fast. But is she being charmed by the real Jericho -- or the superstar who dazzles the world?
After reading Hot Target, with it's movie-making setting, I just had to go back and reread the other Brockmann set in that same world, one that I enjoyed the first time I read it and enjoyed just as much this time. A B+.

The whole movie thing was really entertaining to read, but what made this book were the great characters. I really liked both Jed and Kate. Jed is pure dream guy. He's what could be a typical tortured hero, bad childhood and all, but he breaks out from the generic character mold. His life went down the drain after becoming a huge movie star... alcohol, drugs, you name it. When the book starts, however, he is out of all that and trying to rebuild his career, but he still has a few things he's not over yet, and this makes for compelling reading.

Jed is to-die-for, but Kate is an interesting character in her own right. What's funny is that she's one of those characters which tend to irritate me to no end: the drop-dead gorgeous woman who is conflicted about her beauty. The difference is that Kate really has reason to be conflicted, because some of what happened to her has to have been traumatic. I liked that her response to this wasn't to try to hide herself (baggy clothes, glasses, etc... typical romance novel beauty trying to look ugly), but to use her looks to her own advantage and to manipulate those men jerkish enough to assume that because she has big boobs, she has no brains.

Jed and Kate's relationship starts out adversarial, as Kate doesn't trust Jed not to slide back into addiction, which would screw up her movie completely. So what she does is set up a situation in which she has a lot of power over him, which ended up being an intriguing and provocative set-up which helped build up some veeery thick sexual tension (the LSD scene... phew!!). I also liked that these two became friends as well as lovers, which always bodes well for a believable HEA.

This being a Brockmann book, there was (of course!) a strong secondary romance, and it was a wonderfully sweet one between two teenage actors. I liked it almost as much as I liked the one between David and Mallory in The Unsung Hero.

The only reason this isn't an A read is that near the end, I thought the conflict in the main romance lost a bit of focus. There was even a moment when I wasn't particularly sure of what the problem was, exactly, so the book lost some steam there. It was really near the end, though, and the final scenes were lovely, which made up for this flaw.

I think I've said this every time I post about a Brockmann book: I wish she'd forget her SEALs and went back to writing straight romance. I do love her latest books, but it's not because of the military angle, but despite it.


A Cold Day For Murder, by Dana Stabenow

A Cold Day For Murder, by Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series

Detective Kate Shugak became the top investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney's Office. But after getting her throat cut while apprehending a child abuser, she has retired to the Park, 20 million acres of Alaskan wilderness, snow and eccentrics--yet the children's cries keep reverberating in her head. When a park ranger--a congressman's son--disappears, as does the investigator sent after him, the FBI and Shugak's old boss ask for her help.
A Cold Day For Murder has a fascinating protagonist, lots of local colour and intriguing secondary characters. The mystery itself isn't particularly good, but the good stuff made it a worthwhile read. A B.

Being the first book in the series, ACDFM introduces us to Kate Shugak and her life, and it does an excellent job of doing it. Kate's an interesting character, and Stabenow draws her with just enough detail to make her come alive, while leaving plenty of depth unplumbed, ready to be explored in the following books. What I saw here was tantalizing, a very well done tortured character, with good reasons to be tortured. And there's even a bit of possible romance in the air, which I always like.

The other great thing about the book is how it makes Alaska (at least, the area where Kate lives) come alive, too. It's not an idyllic place and the way of life of the people who live there isn't idyllic, either, but it makes for damn good reading. Stabenow shows us the beauty of it and also the violence, darkness but also humour and characters who aren't all black or white.

The mystery was less engaging. I saw it mostly as an excuse to travel around the Park and show us who Kate is and how she relates to her community. I think the reason I wasn't as interested in the solution was that the two missing men were probably the only two secondary characters who remained flat, especially the Park ranger who was Kate's lover. I'd have expected to have him a bit more fleshed out, but by the end of the book, all we knew about him was that he had a Boston accent and Kate had shown him around the Park. Period.

Also, the solution to the mystery wasn't of the type that has you nodding because you really should have suspected it. It comes a bit out of the blue and isn't terribly believable.

Still, I was too entertained by the rest of what was going on to be too bothered by this.

A big thank you to Susan K. for sending me this one. I don't think it's a book I'd have picked up otherwise, and it was a really good read.


Isabella, by Loretta Chase

>> Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Before Isabella, I'd only read Loretta Chase's single titles. I've read most of those (except for one that's too hard to find for me) and all were wonderful, so I hoped for the best with her Regencies.

Isabella Latham has seen one too many Seasons to be considered marriageable. But when she comes to London to chaperone a come-out, it is Isabella who is sought—by more than a few eligible bachelors, including the handsome-but- wicked Basil Trevelyan and the roguish Lord Hartleigh. Little does the savvy woman know, however, of the impending scandal that will shake up the ton—and land her the perfect husband...
While there were flashes of brilliance here, ultimately, I just didn't enjoy Isabella very much. I'd grade it a C.

This was a very short book, and yet, the first half, only about 90 pages, took me days and days to read. It did pick up a bit in the second half, but it was just too little, too late. Even when Chase introduced more and more subplots (there was one which felt especially out of place, the one about the lost nobleman coming back to England), all it did was bog down the book, not make it move faster.

The main problem was that the protagonists were truly boring people, who had no chemistry whatsoever between them. Too often, they fell into the most contrived modes of behaviour possible. Isabella had such an ease at seeing through Edward's cousin Basil's lies and machinations about his feelings for her, right until he pulls the most obvious trick of all, and that she buys! And then she just becomes a wimp!

The only things in the book which felt remotely like Chase's later books were, first, the language. There were quite a few paragraphs which were so wittily written I had to go back and reread them a couple of times. Also, a couple of the secondary characters were great. The villain, Basil, was fun, and so was Isabella's mother. Their scenes were entertaining, but of course a romance in which the only scenes which work are those in which the protagonists aren't present, isn't much of a romance.


One Way Out, by Michele Albert

>> Monday, April 18, 2005

Ever since I read Getting Her Man and Off Limits, I've been eagerly anticipating Michele Albert's latest, One Way Out (excerpt).

One heated rivalry. One Dangerous Find: Sexy fossil hunter Cassie Ashton and hunky by-the-book paleontologist Alex Martinelli are sworn enemies. She thinks he's a snooty Ph.D. with a womanizing streak (and denies his dangerously rugged appeal). He thinks she's just in it for the money (and pretends he doesn't notice those legs). Their legendary sparring is the source of much gossip across the rocky canyons of Wyoming, where they compete for discoveries. Yet the chemistry between them is blistering. To their dismay, Cassie and Alex are forced to team up to protect Cassie's latest discovery -- a priceless prehistoric skeleton. For it quickly becomes clear that someone will stop at nothing to steal it. Thrown together in the face of danger, the two rivals try to fight their passionate, long-suppressed attraction. But sometimes, when you're on the run and falling in love, there's only one way out...
One Way Out was a good read, but I had some problems with it that I had never had with this author's books before. Still, what was good was great, so this is still a B.

Ms. Albert's strength is in her characters. They always feel like real, grown-up people, *modern*, grown-up people, especially her heroines. Their issues are always more believable and complex than those simplistic neuroses that so often pass for characterization. This was the case in this particular book, too.

I very much enjoyed both Cassie and Alex. I really liked Cassie's no-nonsense toughness, and Alex was great as a tortured character hiding this under a charmer facade. I especially appreciated something that's I haven't seen much in romance novels: Alex had been pretty promiscuous in the past, but instead of using this as a way of showing how sexy and virile he was, Ms. Albert had Cassie being a bit disgusted by it, teasing him about being a man-slut and not being able to keep it zipped.

The book's plot was interesting, too. I loved reading about the infant T-Rex and the whole adventure thing that developed was fun. What was nicest was that for once, the protagonists plans don't go to hell in a handbasket as soon as possible ;-)

And now for the negative. It's strange, because I haven't seen anyone complain about this in all the reviews I've read, but to me, the book felt kind of... shallow, I guess. I'm not sure how to describe it. It felt as if the book was over when it had just began to get started. Reading it felt as if I were skimming as fast as I could, even though I was reading it word by word (I started consciously doing this the minute I noticed, and it didn't improve matters). This bothered me the most in the romance, as I never really *felt* the whole falling in love process. Probably just me, but I simply didn't enjoy this one as much as I felt I could have enjoyed it.

In spite of this, I'd still recommend One Way Out and I'll keep Michele Albert in my auto-buy list. She's one of the very few authors who've never really disappointed me so far.


Please call me "Your Grace"

>> Friday, April 15, 2005

Duchess Coochester


Fever, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Thursday, April 14, 2005

Fever, is an Elizabeth Lowell oldie, from 1988. I already know I should keep away from her older books, but well, I saw a copy for $ 20 Uruguayan (not even $1 US) at a UBS that doesn't otherwise have books in English, so it was irresistible.

Rye McCall has a problem. He's got an obsessive father who's trying to ensure a dynasty, but Rye's rebellious and determined to lead his own life. And to make matters worse, he's just met a woman who may thwart both men's plans. For one brief, high-country summer, Rye manages the impossible—to keep his father's world at bay. But he's lost control of his own plans—he's fallen in love with Lisa Johansen. Now he's told too many lies for his happiness to last. He knows that. What he doesn't know is how to finally tell her the truth.
This was just so.... 80s! ::shudder:: My grade for this is a D

What did I have a problem with? Well, what didn't I have a problem with! First there's the barely 20 year old, child-woman heroine, who's never even felt sexual desire until she meets the hero. She's fragile and delicate and absurdly self-sacrificial. She lives only for her man.

Then there's the much older hero who thinks all women are greedy, materialistic hos out to trap men into marriage. Then there are the stupid, big assumptions Rye makes on the flimsiest of reasons to make him think it would be a good idea to lie to Lisa and make her think he's a lowly ranch-hand without even two coins to rub together.

I just hated that judgemental prick, Rye. I cannot stand mysoginistic heroes. Though, on the other hand, one might say he had good reasons to distrust all women, since, according to the book, every single woman he'd ever met had been after his money. Of course, if he treated every woman he met with the respect he did Lisa (practically calling her a whore when he knew nothing about her), no wonder the only women who wanted the idiot were those who were interested only in his wallet!

Anyway, so it's either Rye was a mysoginistic jerk or the book contains a mysoginistic view of women. In either case, it was offensive to me. And there wasn't even a good grovel at the end, so I didn't even have the pleasure of seeing the stupid prick squirm a little. He didn't even suffer much. He basically got everything he ever wanted without having to work at all for it, a reward for bad behaviour, actually. Ugh.

Good points? Well, Lowell's love scenes are always steamy, but I'm sorry, when I want to see a character smeared with honey and tied over an anthill, I don't particularly enjoy reading about him coming his brains out. So that's definitely a qualified positive. What I did like was some details about Lisa, who was a pretty interesting character. She's spent her entire life living among nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes all over the world, so she is just different from the usual. There were some very nice touches in her characterization, like the fact that she simply didn't perceive time in the Western way, but had what she called a "tribal" concept of time.

I think I've learned my lesson this time. No more old Lowells for Rosario, I should just stick to her nice, newer romantic suspense. Though Love Song For a Raven is supposed to be quite good....


SIPs now lists Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs), for books which offer the "search inside" option. This means:

"'s Statistically Improbable Phrases, or "SIPs", show you the interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases that occur in the text of books in Search Inside the Book. Our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to how many times it occurs across all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book."
Best one so far: from Elizabeth Lowell's Where The Heart Is....

"rosy boa"

Yes. Really. ::snicker::


Enchanted, by Nora Roberts

>> Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Enchanted, is a spin-off of Nora Roberts' Donovan trilogy, featuring a cousin we never met in the original books.

Lovely schoolteacher Rowan Murray has always done what others thought was best for her, until she decides to take a vacation at a friend's remote Oregon cabin. There she finds herself drawn to her neighbor, brooding Irish loner Liam Donovan, and to a golden-eyed black wolf who appears at her door. Rowan suspects there is more to Liam than meets the eye when he begins haunting her suddenly very steamy dreams. Together, Liam and the wolf--and the quiet majesty of the Oregon coast--influence Rowan to make her life her own and her hopes reality.
The best word for Enchanted is "blah". It's not by any means an awful book, but it's just not very interesting or compelling. It's only average: a C.

Though I usually tend to like stories about characters who are at a crossroads in their life, who want to figure out what direction they take, Rowan didn't particularly engage me. She's likeable enough, a nice woman, but just not terribly interesting. Neither was Liam, and that's just weird, because there's definitely something wrong when a hero who's an all-powerful witch comes across as a boring, self-involved little boy. His whole conflict about succeeding his father felt like much ado about nothing, and I thought the way he spent the whole book manipulating Rowan and controlling what she ought to know was distasteful.

Part of the problem of this book was the magic. It was fun in the previous books, especially the first, but here it feels unfocused. I think the problem is that while Morgana, Sebastian and Ana each had a smattering of different talents, they were focused on one of them... charms, visions or healing. Liam can do anything. He has no limits, he can shape-shift, he can see things, he can materialize things and move from a place to another with the blink of an eye, he can do mind control stuff and invade Rowan's dreams and make love to her there (that last felt almost like rape to me really, just icky).

Something else that made this an average read was the sex. I just didn't see much chemistry between Liam and Rowan, and the love scenes were a yawn. As much as I love Nora's books, I have to admit love scenes are not her forte, but these were worse than usual.

This was basically a pointless book.


Secrets of a Summer Night, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Secrets of a Summer Night (extras), is the first in Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers series, which will continue in October (according to, at least) with the release of It Happened One Autumn.

Four young ladies enter London society with one common goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband. So a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.

Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from disaster, decides to use her beauty and wit to tempt a suitable nobleman into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle's most intriguing--and persistent-- admirer, wealthy, powerful Simon Hunt, has made it clear that while he will introduce her to irresistible pleasure he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition... but it is impossible in the face of such skillful seduction.

Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon--and her own longings. But on one summer night, Annabelle succumbs to Simon's passionate embrace and tempting kisses... and she discovers that love is the most dangerous game of all.
Yay, Kleypas is back! I found her latest couple of books a bit disappointing, as I thought her efforts to write more erotic romance was making her stories less interesting, but this is back to the Kleypas I loved. I had some trouble with the last quarter or so of the book, but the rest was so good that my grade is a B+.

What I enjoyed most about reading this was Annabelle. Sometimes a book, while still being a romance and being about a relationship, still focuses a bit more on one of the characters, and this was the case here. This was very definitely Annabelle's story, and it's just fine that it was because I really enjoyed this character. I get tired of cookie-cutter martyr heroines who would prefer to just die rather than marrying for other reasons than love, so Annabell's touch of materialism was welcome. I especially liked how Annabelle wasn't perfect and had some very real flaws. She was a bit of a snob (so much more interesting than all those heroines who are best friends with their maids!) and had some moments of self-pity and unabashedly plotted on trapping a man into marriage.

And about that: she and her friends were very definitely women with a mission: catching a husband. I knew this before I started the book and, a priori, I guessed I'd be irritated by them, by their single-minded pursuit of such a goal. It offended my feminist sensibilities, I guess. But the way Kleypas wrote this, I felt sympathy for them, anger that this society would force them into circumstances in which, like for Annabelle, the only "honourable" way out is to do this, and yet, society derides her for having this goal. And these smug men, like Simon's friend Wycliffe ... argh!! Am I supposed to despise Annabelle for being willing to trap a man into marriage by arranging to be found in a compromising position? This society has made its own rules, rules which have Annabelle trapped in this position. Can't blame her for trying to use these rules for her own advantage.

Simon was ok, but his character was a bit overshadowed by Annabelle's. Probably because while she's so different from the usual, he is a type Kleypas has done a few times before, a rough, self-made man, in the vein of Derek Craven / Zachary Bronson. I felt he was less of an individual than Annabelle. Maybe it would have helped if there had been more scenes from his POV. I really liked him, though, and I enjoyed that he saw the real Annabelle and instead of judging her, he admired her for the way she fought for what she wanted.

For most of the book, I was riveted to its pages. The first three quarters or so were really compelling, with the tension of Annabelle's desperate circumstances and the way she unwillingly felt drawn to Simon and this kept distracting her a bit from her goals. They had a wonderful chemistry together, and Kleypas was able to build some very steamy sensual tension between them.

There were also some very interesting things going on outside of the Annabelle - Simon relationship. I enjoyed reading about the Wallflowers' friendship. Historicals (and contemps, for that matter) are usually lacking in female friendship, so it's always fun when the heroine has good female friends. Even if, in this case, the immediate intimacy between these girls felt a bit too quick... after a 5 minute conversation in a ballroom they are already confiding their deepest wishes and deciding they'll be best friends forever.

And I found Annabelle's mother (at least in these first 3/4 of the book) a fascinating character. It would have been so easy for the author to make her either a shrew, horrible to her daughter because of what she felt forced to do, or a perfect martyr. She was neither. She tried to make the best of things, but couldn't always keep a happy facade. And while she wasn't telling Annabelle that everything was going to be all right and she should just marry for love, or some unrealistic rot like that, neither was she trying to sell her daughter to the highest bidder. She wanted her daughter to make the best choice for herself... a sensible choice, but one she would be able to live with all her life. All in all, a very well fleshed-out secondary character.

Kleypas' take on the mood of the times was also intriguin. There's a lot here about the slow death the aristocracy seems to be experiencing, and about the barbarians at the gate, so to speak. Simon is one of those barbarians, and seeing his take on what the future would bring was interesting.

So, up until we were nearing the end, the book was very solidly in A territory for me. And then Annabelle and Simon get married and bam! the book suddenly becomes almost tedious. Up until then, I could hardly bear to put the book down and when I had to, I kept thinking about what was going to happen. After this, however, it took me over a day to finish reading. There just was very little tension and conflict left, nothing that kept me coming back. And the ending! ::sigh:: Oh, what a predictable way of making them confess their love to each other! It's also one that Kleypas has been known to use before, and I didn't like it any better then. This whole part was only slightly better than average. Luckily, the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

A little foolishness to end this post: Kleypas has a Which Wallflower Are You quiz at her website, and apparently, I'm most like...

Lillian Bowman
You are high-spirited and stubborn to a fault, but also loyal and extremely loving. You secretly long for a man whose strong will is a match for your own. People tend to tread lightly around you, to avoid provoking your infamous temper.

You would rather have a few, very close friends rather than a wide circle of lesser known acquaintances. However, you will go to any length to protect and help the ones you love. And when the right man comes along, you and he will be the most powerful pairing imaginable. Get ready for fireworks!

Best trysting place : outside in a rose-filled garden
Most flattering color: blue
Best Feature: your long, well-toned legs
Oh, yeah, long, well-toned legs indeed! The infamous temper does sound a little more like me, though ;-)


Night Shield, by Nora Roberts

>> Saturday, April 09, 2005

Night Shield, is an add-on to Nora Roberts' Night Tale series. It features Allison, the daughter of Boyd and Cilla, from Night Shift, the first in the series.

Successful businessman Jonah Blackhawk owns a string of popular nightclubs. He knows that he wouldn't have survived his childhood spent on city streets without the intervention of Boyd Fletcher, the cop who refused to give up on him. When Boyd asks for Jonah's help in solving a series of high-ticket burglaries, Jonah can't refuse. What Jonah isn't prepared for is the detective assigned to the case. Strong-willed, blond, and beautiful, Detective Allison Fletcher is Boyd's daughter--she's also the woman who just might shatter Jonah's determination to remain heart-whole and single.

Undercover at the nightclub, Allison works closely with Jonah and it isn't long before the chemistry between them explodes. Given his past and the fact that she is Boyd's daughter, Jonah is convinced that he should leave her alone. But Allison has other plans--ones that propinquity and mutual passion are likely to bring to fruition if she and Jonah can only stay alive.
This was a book I wasn't expecting very much from, just a nice, pleasant story. I got that, but I also got a bit more zing than that. A B+.

Superficially, there's a resemblance to the In Death series... the tough cop heroine, the self-made, wealthy hero, with a history of dislike for cops. But beyond that, these are very different characters. Unlike Eve, Ally comes from a very loving family and has a very healthy self-esteem. She pretty much goes after Jonah herself and has no problem allowing people to come close to her. Jonah is a bit more similar to Roarke, but having Ally's father as a father figure is one difference.

Strangely enough, Roarke was much more confident when it came to what he had to offer to a woman. In spite of Boyd's influence, some part of Jonah believes he's not good enough for Ally. Actually, it's the fact that he owes so much to Boyd that makes him resist getting involved with Ally, believing someone of his background has no business approaching someone like Ally. That tension was what made me enjoy the big scene showing what everyone from the previous books in the series was up to. Those scenes are usually a big yawn, but Jonah's nerves at facing Boyd and Boyd's reactions made it interesting.

The plot was pretty interesting, too. The thing abot the burglary ring was something a bit different from all those insane killers (though one of them ended up in there, after all), and I liked reading about Ally's undercover experiences at Jonah's club.

The Night Tales series so far is my favourite of Nora's Silhouette series, and Night Shield is a good end to it.


Hot Target, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Wednesday, April 06, 2005

After waiting almost a year between reading Suzanne Brockmann's new releases, reading Flashpoint made me crave reading the following book in the series Hot Target, even though I knew that the characters from Flashpoint who I wanted to see more from (i.e. Sophia and Decker), simply didn't play a big part in it.

Getting the hardcover would have been much too expensive for me, so I simply downloaded the e-book version. I'm not crazy about reading on the computer (I spend more than enough time in front of it as it is), but some books deserve it.

The last thing filmmaker Jane Mercedes Chadwick wants is round-the-clock personal security. But when the FBI informs her that the death threats against her may indeed be credible, she reluctantly allows the men and women of Troubleshooters Incorporated -- including scary-looking, monosyllabic Cosmo Richter -- into her life.

The last thing Navy SEAL Chief Cosmo Richter expects when he takes a temporary assignment as a bodyguard for Hollywood's "Party Girl Producer" is to find a bright, funny, down-to-earth woman beneath the high gloss attitude, micro-mini skirts, and high-heeled shoes.

But as the threat against Jane becomes very, very real, the last thing either needs is a complicated romantic entanglement. And happily ever after can end in a heartbeat for people caught in a vicious sniper's cross-hairs...
Grading this book wasn't as straightforward as it is for me in most cases. If I'd written this post the minute I finished it, I think I would have given it a B+. As the days went by, however, I realized I couldn't stop thinking about it. I kept remembering good parts and going back to reread them... and not only the parts I'd loved the most during my first read. It took me over a week to get over it. That, to me, is the mark of a keeper, so I'll give the book an A-.

Hot Target main attraction for me was Jules' story, and that was as good as I was hoping for. Jules is just a lovely guy. I loved the way he could switch from tough FBI agent to funky clubber. The story itself was good, if bittersweet. It just broke my heart that this wonderful man seems to be such a sleaze magnet. He definitely deserved better than either of the two guys who were his potential love-interests.

The way he acted through it all made me like him even better, and I liked him quite a bit before I started reading the book. Jules is no pushover. All through the other guys sleazy antics, he behaves with dignity and has too much respect for himself to get into certain circumstances which would give him less than he deserves. Saying any more would be a spoiler, but you'll know what I'm talking about if you've read the book.

Jules story aside, I was mildly surprised by how much I enjoyed the rest of the book, because those parts hadn't got particularly good reviews. I liked both Cosmo and Jane, and thought they had a lot of chemistry. I'd never really noticed Cosmo in the previous books, but he was an interesting character here. I'd never really thought about it before, but I tend to like books about heroes who have a reputation for being scary guys, but underneath it all, are really sweet. That's Cosmo to a T.

Jane was ok. That's par for the course for Brockmann.. her heroines are usually not as good as her heroes. I had a couple of little problems with her characterization (even after all the explanations, I dodn't completely buy that having a party girl image would help a producer and make her more respected), but she didn't irritate me, and I liked her determination to make her movie.

Something else I liked was the way Brockmann handled the bodyguard / client romance and the issue of unprofessionalism that arises from it. Most authors simply gloss over it, but she made it a very effective issue, even before they became involved.

The suspense part of the book was pretty good, too. I was very interested in the moviemaking parts and I really appreciate the fact that the plot kept far away from War On Terror issues. Not being American, romances that are more military-feeling tend to include at least a few things that make me grit my teeth. This one wasn't military romance at all, simply romantic suspense in which the hero happened to be a SEAL in his regular job (though I tried as hard as I could to block out any speculation about what their life would be like from then on, with long, difficult separations, and so on).

Finally, I know many readers have disliked what they called Brockmann's "preaching" in this book. Did I think there was preaching? Hmmm, well, I don't think anyone will finish this book without knowing how Brockmann feels about gay issues and about tolerance, but even if there was preaching, it didn't bother me. Probably because I'm as liberal as it gets in this area. I, for instance, fully support gay marriage and I think gay couples should be treated just as heterosexual couples when it comes to adopting a child. Someone who isn't comfortable with homosexuality might not be totally comfortable with Hot Target, and not just with the Jules storyline.


Traveler, by Melanie Jackson

Traveler, by Melanie Jackson sounded like something completely different... reason enough for me to grab it!

Much of the action in Jackson's (The Selkie) paranormal romance takes place in a city that seems just like present-day Detroit, with one difference: this Motor City is home to an underground nightmare city populated by refugee goblins expelled from Europe. Though seemingly grateful for their new world haven, the foul-smelling goblins have in fact secretly replaced the nation's leading industrialists, including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, with deodorized doubles-and the takeover trail may lead much higher. Pitted against mysterious goblin leader Horroban and his six-limbed, four-breasted rock star girlfriend are "siren fey" Io Cyphre, who's a H.U.G. (Humans Under Ground) magical agent, and charismatic cop Jonathan "Jack" Frost, who's half fairy.
It definitely was different, wonderfully different. I had a great time reading it. A B+.

The universe Jackson has created here is fascinating. It's pretty complex and nothing like anything I've read (yeah, I admit I'm not particularly well read in the fantasy genre, something I have every intention of remedying). And yet, except for feeling lost for a couple of pages at the beginning, it was perfectly easy to get into the story. There's a website,, which I haven't had the time to really explore yet, but looks interesting.

According to what I've read, this is urban fantasy mixed with romance, and it works beautifully. I liked the dark, gritty feel, and I appreciated that for all the grittiness the violence didn't get out of hand. Jackson has a good hand with her action scenes, which were just fast-paced enough to be easy to follow.

Added to the great setting, the protagonists are very well done. I loved Io, who was smart, strong and a truly kickass heroine, and I found Jack terribly sexy. For a relationship between two people who had known each other for only a few action-filled days, it was full of emotion, which made me really buy that they were in love and ready to spend the rest of their lives together.

The next in the series is Outsiders, and it sounds good!


Chesapeake Blue, by Nora Roberts

>> Monday, April 04, 2005

I'm a bit sick of spin-off series, where every single minor character gets their book, where you spend the first book reading pages and pages which have no purpose but to set the grounds for the stories of the hero's seven best friends. What Kristie J. mentioned in her last post (i.e. people constantly asking "Author A, have you ever considered writing a story about the niece of the sister-in-law of the aunt of the nephew of the hero? She made such an impression on me in that one paragraph you wrote about her that I would love to read her story"), yep, I find that extremely tedious, too. Almost as tedious as those huge threads about who would you cast as Eve and Roarke ;-)

But, speaking of Eve and Roarke, Nora Roberts's series I don't mind at all. Her series feel organic, they don't feel like the author's trying to milk it, they feel like a complete story that couldn't be told in any other way. And still, I wasn't completely convinced when I heard about Chesapeake Blue, which tells the story of Seth, from the Chesapeake Bay series. I'd heard that Nora had written it, in great part, because so many of her readers had asked her for Seth's story, and that rarely works well. So, even though the reviews were pretty fabulous, this (and something I'd heard about the plot) made me hesitate and didn't decide to read it until now.

Seth Quinn is finally home.

It's been a long journey. After a harrowing boyhood with his drug-addicted mother, he'd been taken in by the Quinn family, growing up with three older brothers who'd watched over him with love.

Now a grown man returning from Europe as a successful painter, Seth is settling down on Maryland's Eastern Shore, surrounded once again by Cam, Ethan, and Phil, their wives and children, all the blessed chaos of the extended Quinn clan. Finally, he's back in the little blue- and-white house where there's always a boat at the dock, a rocker on the porch, and a dog in the yard.

Still, a lot has changed in St. Christopher since he's been gone-and the most intriguing change of all is the presence of Dru Whitcomb Banks. A city girl who's opened a florist shop in this seaside town, she craves independence and the challenge of establishing herself without the influence of her wealthy connections. In Seth, she sees another kind of challenge-a challenge that she can't resist.

But storms are brewing that are about to put their relationship to the test. Dru's past has made her sensitive to deception-and slow to trust. And Seth's past has made him a target of blackmail-as a secret he's kept hidden for years threatens to explode, destroying his new life and his new love. . .
I'm glad to report that I liked Chesapeake Blue much better than I expected. While the plot point I had some doubts about really was annoying, the rest of the story was lovely. Seth did indeed have a story to be told. A B+.

Seth was a wonderful guy. Having only just reread the rest of the series, I remembered his characterization as a young boy very well, and it's a plus that the grown-up Seth wasn't a completely different person from the young Seth, but simply the young boy all grown up, which is a different thing. I especially enjoyed seeing how his relationship with his three brothers evolved since I last saw them.

In fact, one of the best things of the books was what I usually find boring when done by other authors: the pages of catching up with beloved characters from other books. It helped that Grace and Ethan, Philip and Sybil and, most especially, Anna and Cam, aren't boring, generic lovebirds here. Just as Seth, they are the same people they were in their respective books, only with a few more years under their belts. And these scenes were truly fun!

The romance was really nice, too. I loved the way Seth was completely overwhelmed by his attraction to Dru, and she was an interesting character herself. They did have quite a bit of chemistry, and I enjoyed both seeing them together and seeing them interact with the rest of the family.

The only thing I didn't like here was the whole thing about Seth's big secret, that Gloria has been blackmailing him all this time (no spoiler, this comes out pretty early in the book). I just couldn't buy that Seth would have let her get away with this for so long. Maybe a few years right after the end of the other books, when he was too young to know better, but not until his 30s! Knowing perfectly well that the rest of his family would have actually welcomed an opportunity to grind Gloria to dust, and that it would have been, in fact, easy to do, it didn't make sense for Seth to keep this as a secret from them. To be sincere, it made him look like a bit of an idiot.

Luckily, the rest of the story was excellent, and this part, while important, wasn't all-pervading. I had a great time reading this one.


Winter Garden, by Adele Ashworth

>> Friday, April 01, 2005

Winter Garden (excerpt), by Adele Ashworth, is right at the top of my Top 100 list (# 4, as a matter of fact), but I haven't reread it in a while... at least, not in the 2 and a half or so years since I started this blog

Though a celebrated French beauty in 1849, Madeleine DuMais's is cleverness is her greatest asset--and one she puts to good use as a spy for the British. When her expertise is needed in the south of England to break up a smuggling ring, Madeleine willing puts her life on hold to help the crown...

Arriving in the quaint resort town of Winter Garden, Madeleine meets her partner in subterfuge. Thomas Blackwood is unlike any man she has ever met. His quiet confidence and mysterious intensity send shivers of pleasure coursing through her... shivers that slowly melt into a desperate passion. As duty gives way to desire, surrender holds its own reward. And Madeleine will never recover from the touch of Thomas's hands on her body--and the touch of his heart on her soul...
I had the same reaction to rereading Winter Garden as I did to rereading the book that got the # 1 spot in my list, Lord of Scoundrels. I had great memories of it, knew I'd adored it the last time I'd read it, and I was still surprised at how incredibly wonderful it was :-) A very solid A+.

This is a book that works just as well whether you are reading for the first time or rereading it. On first read, I remember wondering at Thomas' motivations, suspecting a few things and loving it when I found out. Now, on reread, I loved knowing exactly what was going on and seeing all Thomas' thoughts and actions through this filter, understanding everything perfectly.

As most of the books at the top of my list, this one has a very, very strong heroine, which is logical, since I'm one of the seemingly few rare birds who need the heroine, not the hero, to be outstanding in order to truly love the book. Well, that definitely describes Madeleine.

I first met Madelaine when reading Stolen Charms, a book I thought was utterly forgettable and one I only keep in my collection to reread those Maddie parts. When I heard she was going to be the heroine in her own book, a woman I'd last seen basically propositioning the hero of SC, I practically cheered... and worried that she was going to turn out to be a fake skank or something (I wouldn't call her a skank at all, but you get my point).

She didn't. Maddie is a strong, competent spy without even one TSTL bone in her body. She's strong and kind and intelligent and has built for herself a life she enjoys. She's sexually experienced and while not promiscuous, she has no problem taking a lover when she feels like it. What's best is that she genuinely likes herself and respects the woman she's become, all through her own effort.

Thomas is just amazing (There will probably be spoilers in the rest of this post, so stop reading now if you prefer not to know anything else).

First, his actions: I'm aware that there are readers (one of my friends included) who feel his behaviour was a bit too stalkerish for them. For me, he didn't cross that line into creepy. I thought his actions terribly romantic, the best way he could have introduced himself to the woman he loved. He didn't manipulate her or force her into a position that would have pressured her into starting a relationship with him. He simply wanted to meet her on even ground. If the attraction had proved to be one-sided, I believe he would have gracefully withdrawn, which is why I get no stalker vibe from him.

On the other hand, I totally understand Maddie's actions once she found out exactly who Thomas was. After all, one of the basic things she was proud of about herself was that she'd been able to create this life she loved and that she was making a contribution, that her work was valuable. Of course she was going to get upset at the possibility that it had all been a farce, that there had been someone pulling the strings, manipulating events. And, too, of course she was too intelligent not to realize, once she'd cooled down, that it hadn't been like that, that she had done damned good work and that everyone knew it, whatever the reasons they had first hired her.

Back to Thomas, the man himself was wonderful, too. I loved the way he wasn't afraid to show Maddie that he wasn't perfect, that he was vulnerable and that he wasn't totally confident. This is a guy who blushes, who shows his feelings, who isn't so experienced that he doesn't have some insecurities about whether he'll be able to measure up to the men who had preceeded him in Maddie's life. And all this, he does with grace and dignity.

Also, for once, I liked a "love at first sight" meet. I think I was able to like this because, well, first of all, what happened at first sight was a very strong attraction, and the love came later, when Thomas came to know Maddie, even if this knowledge came second-hand, not through personal interaction. He fell in love with the strength of this woman, not with the beauty but with the fighter inside her.

Also, the first attraction wasn't just appearance-based. He didn't fall for a beautiful woman who entered a room, he fell for a woman who made a point of sitting down next to a physically messed-up man and talk to him, because she knew how the world judged people based on appearance and could be cruel when someone didn't measure up.

I just adored the way Maddie and Thomas were together, the way their relationship progressed. There was a deep sensuality in practically every scene, even in the ones in which they were simply talking, and I could see how step by step, they built an intimacy between themselves and started to know one another.

Winter Garden isn't a page-turner or a fast read. There really isn't much happening outside of the deepening relationship between Maddie and Thomas. The whole smuggling thing isn't much more than an excuse, just as it is for Thomas, an excuse to be with Maddie for a while. I don't mind this at all, but I suppose it could bother someone who prefers a faster pace.

Winter Garden is the reason why I will probably keep buying Ashworth's books ad infinitum, even if they are disappointing, as her latest have been. If she's capable of writing something like Winter Garden, there's always a chance, however slim, that she'll write something I love even half as much, and that is a good enough reason.


What file extension are you?

Via Alyssa...

You are .ogg Even though many people consider you cool and happening, a lot still find that you're a bit too weird to hang out with.

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