Bliss, by Judy Cuevas

>> Tuesday, May 31, 2005

While I read Dance, by Judy Cuevas a few years ago, it took me a while to get a copy of the book that came before that, Bliss.

I can't find a summary anywhere online and I can't copy the blurb either, since the first thing I did when I finished Bliss was to make a friend read it, too, so here's one of the amazon reviews:

Bold, brave and charmingly naive, Hannah Van Evan longed for nothing more than to leave her old life behind and run away to Paris. She finds her chance in the form of Madame Amelia Besom. A grumpy, yet kind old woman, Mrs Besom needs a secretary/companion to accompany her to an old French chateau. There, the two women would work to recover any valuable art that could be sold at auction.

Nardi de Saint Valliers life was a mess - it was no longer his own. A recovering ether-drinker, Nardi is under lock and key in an old cottage on the grounds of the family chateau. Here, he is watched by his older brother - Much depends on Nardis recovery. Too numb to stand up and fight for himself and his freedom, Nardi willingly(though broodingly)gives in to his familys manipulations....until the unexpected arrival of Hannah. When she comes into his life, Nardi is shocked and pleased to discover that she has brought feeling back to him...and once Nardi accepts Hannahs love and offers his in return, he is unwilling to give her up for anyone or anything - not even his own disapproving family.
The best thing about Bliss? It's a toss-up between the characters and the actual writing. Whatever, it's an A, and not counting rereads of favourites, this is only the second book I've given such a high grade this year. The other one was Kinsale's Shadowheart, and so far, there have been no A+.

Nardi. Oh, Nardi! ::sigh:: An addict is probably the least likely guy who could make a dreamy hero for me, but Nardi manages it. He's just so f. charming!

As for his addiction, the main reason reading about this was bearable was that he wasn't at all in denial. He knows he's an addict, but he simply doesn't see it as a problem, because he doesn't care what happens. As the book starts, he seems to be in a state where he doesn't really have a physical need for his drug of choice any more. He just doesn't want to be sober, he doesn't find any enjoyment in life and so wants the ether so that he can sleep and sleep. His charm at the beginning of the book is that of the addict who is trying to manipulate people, actually.

With Hannah, he starts really coming back to life. He starts finding pleasure again in life, both in the sexual realm and outside of it, and reading these sections is really powerful stuff!

What I liked about Hannah is that Cuevas has created in her a character who isn't perfect. She likes pretty things, she craves them, in fact. And her head is turned by a handsome, charming man. A character who easily refuses to marry a rich man because she doesn't love him, or gives up everything for love and isn't even tempted, well, that's a bit boring. In Hannah's case, she might make those same choices, but she IS tempted. And she's even has enough self-awareness that she forces herself to burn her bridges to make sure she won't give in to that temptation. She does get mad that she isn't getting the sexy guy and all that wonderful money, at the unfairness of it all, even as she knows that well, that's life and there are no guarantees.

There aren't all that many extra important characters here. It's not a very crowded book. The two most important secondaries, Nardi's brother Sébastien and Hannah's boss, Mrs. Besom, are beautifully written, in shades of gray. I wouldn't call Sébastien the villain of the piece, he's more an antagonist. He IS trying to keep Nardi and Hannah apart, but he's not doing this out of purely selfish reasons. He truly does believe he's doing the best for Nardi. And the portrayal of Mrs. Besom as torn between her liking for Hannah and her very strict notions of what she should do is excellent.

And the writing! Just as wonderful as I've come to expect from this author. She doesn't just paint a picture for us, reading this book is an experience that involves all five senses. In my mind, I saw the chateau, I smelled Nardi's ether, I felt his alpaca coat, I tasted the pastry Hannah brought Nardi but ended up eating herself, I heard the scarlet canopy set up for the auction fluttering in the wind.

The only thing that kept this book from getting an A+ grade was that I thought the ending was a bit too rushed and abrupt. This has happened to me with this author's books a few times before. The worst I can remember was in Beast, where it almost ruined the book for me. Bliss' ending wasn't that bad, but it wasn't the wonderful ending that would be fitting for such an amazing book.


Crescendo, by Adrienne Staff & Sally Goldenbaum

>> Monday, May 30, 2005

On Friday afternoon I'd finished the book I was reading and didn't want to start Slightly Dangerous, which I'd been saving to start Saturday morning. I needed something short and quick, something I wouldn't mind putting aside in favour of SD if I hadn't finished it by the next morning. So I just grabbed a random Loveswept from my pile, the one which sounded best: Crescendo, by Adrienne Staff & Sally Goldenbaum.

Ellen Farrell screamed as she raced her little car down the highway -it felt terrific to let off all that steam! Then she noticed she had company: an utterly gorgeous driver was keeping pace with her, and giving her the most devastating smile she'd ever seen! Conductor Armand Dante was no ordinary pick-up: he was dazzling -and the romantic hero of Ellen's secret dreams. When he sent her flowers on her nightshifts at the hospital and embraced her as the sun rose over the Potomac, she just had to fall in love. But could she cope with society column gossip and the hordes of adoring fans who wanted to share the man she'd chosen for her own?
It wasn't awful and the hero was yummy, but it was nowhere as interesting as it sounded. A C-.

The story went like this:

Armand: "I love her and adore her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her".

Ellie: "I love him and adore him. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. But our worlds are too different -never mind that he seems to fit well in my world and I in his. And those gossip columns are mean!".

That's it, that's the conflict between them. Ellen came off as a twit devoid of all self esteem. Also, I found her worries about the gossips a bit foolish. Ok, as a dashing bachelor, it's possible that Armand would get that much attention. But if they got married and settled into a quiet-ish life, I find it hard to believe that he'd be that hounded by them! My problems with this were similar to the ones I had with The Sexiest Dead Man Alive.

The whole thing about Ellen's past at a convent felt a bit pointless. I guess it was a big issue in a previous book, the one about her friend Laurie (Banjo Man, I suppose), so the authors felt they had to keep mentioning it here, but they never did do much with it, so all the references to this were a waste of time, as it added nothing to Ellen's character.

This book also had one of the worst boo-boos I've ever seen. Ellen tells Armand his name sounds familiar, and he says that perhaps she's thinking of the poet who wrote Paradise Lost. Right. I really, really hope it was written as a joke, but it truly didn't sound like a joke in the context. I can't believe something like this could get past two authors and assorted editors!


Charlie All Night, by Jennifer Crusie

>> Friday, May 27, 2005

I've been meaning to reread Jennifer Crusie's old categories for a while. I started with one of my faves, Charlie All Night.

Dumped by her boyfriend and demoted from WBBB's prime-time spot, radio producer Allie McGuffey has nowhere to go but up. She plans to make her comeback by turning temporary DJ Charlie Tenniel into a household name. And if he's willing to help her cure her breakup blues with a rebound fling, that's an added bonus.
Charlie just wants to kick back, play good tunes and eat Chinese food. He's not interested in becoming famous. But he is interested in Allie. And after all, what harm in a little chemistry between friends?

But suddenly their one-night stand has become a four-week addiction. Night after night on the airwaves, his voice seduces her. . .and all the other women in town. He's a hit. It looks as if Charlie's solved all Allie's problems. . .except one. What is she going to do when he leaves?
It was just as much fun as I remembered. A B+.

This is a 1996 book, but Crusie's voice was just as individual then as it is now. It's a category without gimmicks or only-in-a-romance-novel plot contrivances; just two likeable protagonists, a fun, well rounded cast of secondary characters, an interesting setting and great humour, but with a more serious core.

The romance was lovely. Plenty of heat, and Crusie managed not to loose any sexual tension even when she had Allie and Charlie fall into bed right off the bat. But what I loved best was the development of their relationship out of bed, the way they bantered their way into real intimacy.

The only moment when they lost me a bit was with their bet about who could stay away from the other the longest. I thought that was the only place in which Crusie came close to a contrivance... it just didn't ring true to me, it didn't feel like something these people would do, even if it did work as a way for them to see if they had a relationship away from sex.

The cast of secondary characters was relatively plentiful for such a short book, but it never made the story feel crowded. And they were all very individual, not at all stereotypical, even those that were drawn with only a few words.

I really liked the story's setting, a small town radio station. I have no idea of how a real one would work, so I don't really know how accurate this is, but I do know it was fun :-)

The book ends with something surprisingly serious, something that I wouldn't have guess could work so well in such a funny book. But it does, and it gives this very light story a bit of weight. Still, in the end, this was a feel-good book, one of those you end with a smile on your face.


Kiss Me While I Sleep, by Linda Howard

>> Thursday, May 26, 2005

I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Linda Howard's Kiss Me While I Sleep. I thought I'd have to wait months and months before mine got here, but the sister of a friend of mine brought it back from a trip to the US.

CIA contract agent Lily Mansfield has been a ruthless, professional assassin for nearly 20 of her 37 years, but her work takes a personal turn after the young girl she rescued off the street as a baby, and the friends that were raising her, are killed. Lily turns renegade and avenges their deaths with a brilliantly executed murder, but she soon finds herself hunted by an evil family, embroiled in a plot that threatens the safety of the world, and chased by handsome CIA agent Lucas Swain, who has been charged with bringing Lily back by any means necessary.
Linda Howard is one of those authors whose switch to more Suspense-y books I don't mind at all. She has managed to strengthen the suspense side of her stories while still keeping a strong romance, which is more than what can be said about the authors I've abandoned. Her latest romantic suspense, KMWIS was very good, a B+.

When I first heard what it was about, I did not begin jumping around in joy. Assassins are quite a bit outside my comfort zone, but this is Linda Howard, after all, the author who had me for the protagonists of Cry No More to engage in vigilantism, so I knew I'd read it anyway.

And I was a bit ambivalent about Lily's profession, and, to a certain extent, Lucas'. On one hand, I never got to the point in which I could forget that I have lots of problems with assassinating someone instead of going through proper channels to get them. It took a lot of suspension of disbelief (or rather, forgetting my political views) for me to be able to see Lily and Lucas as viable heroine and hero. Lily thinks at one point: "Perhaps it was naive of her, but she trusted her government not to send her after any of the good guys." Right, I don't trust the CIA to do that. And when it was mentioned that Lucas had spent the last few years being a field agent here in South America, my first thought was that I don't even want to *think* about what exactly he was doing.

On the other hand, I liked that Lily wasn't one of those supposedly highly-trained secret agents who cry at the drop of a hat and freeze if they actually have to hurt someone. She was an assassin and she acted like an assassin. She wasn't a regular girl who just happened to kill baddies for a living. Howard didn't sanitize the psichological effects this life would have on a person, and I liked how she dealt with Lily getting ready to go back into society. It wasn't just "ok, I'll stop being an assassin now", it took time and effort to make her ready.

I also liked that Lily was such an immensely capable person. She did what she needed to do, calculated risks and took the ones she had to and accurately evaluated her weaknesses and took steps to compensate for them. I was a bit surprised by how easily she put her trust in Lucas, but I guess that falls within the "taking calculated risks" and "evaluating her weaknesses" categories. She didn't have much choice if she wanted to complete her mission.

Lucas was a fun character. Good-natured and laid-back, he's the perfect hero for a heroine as wounded as Lily is in the beginning of the book. It's wonderful to see how she evolves under Lucas' influence, becoming less brittle and gradually coming back to life from a point in which she pretty much didn't mind if she died.

Anyway, Lucas. There's a line in the book that describes him perfectly. He and Lily are talking about how sometimes you do want to do something but are scared and anxious about doing it, and he immediately likens it to the sensation when you are about to go on a rollercoaster. Lily is amused and thinks: "Even his anxieties were fun-related". Exactly.

Their relationship is hot from the very beginning, and it becomes surprisingly tender very fast. I loved the way their personal relationship evolved together with their professional one: the way they worked together to put together their mission. They each respected the other's abilities and talents, and Lucas, especially, never became overprotective, which I appreciated.

The suspense plot was fascinating. It was truly terrifying, and terrifyingly plausible, too. The only thing that didn't ring true was that they both knew so little about that particular threat. Ok, so as an assassin, Lily had no reason to keep up with stuff like that, but Lucas is a CIA field agent! And "he's spent the past few years in South America" isn't a good justification, as I've been here for the last 27 years and I still knew pretty much everything they had to call Lucas' expert friend to know.

The plan they put together was really, really good plotting on Howard's part. It was wonderfully elegant and ingenious, and I enjoyed seeing it unfold. That little twist in the end didn't really come as a complete surprise to me (though Howard had me doubting myself after the meeting by the fountain), but it was still a great twist, and one that didn't feel contrived but made things finally make complete sense.

I also adored the setting. You just don't see too many contemps set in Continental Europe, which is a real shame.

KMWIS was a real page-turner, and I can't wait to see what Howard comes up with next.


Affaire Royale, by Nora Roberts (Cordina #1)

>> Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I tend to avoid categories with the "royalty" theme that seems to be so popular. It's never been a fantasy of mine, but what's more, the couple I did try, just to give see what was what, I didn't like. But well, when Nora Roberts does it, there's a good chance it'll be ok, so I thought I'd give her Cordina series a try. The first book is Affaire Royale.

Recently kidnapped Princess Gabriella has amnesia, but in the arms of bodyguard Reeve MacGee she finds a passion that's unforgettable.
Ugh. Irritating and boring at the same time. It has some nice moments, but on the whole, this is at best a C-.

This one's probably the single most clichéd and contrived Nora Roberts book I've ever read. She really went overboard with the hooks. In fact, a better title for Affaire Royale would be The Bodyguard's Amnesiac, Virgin, Royal Bride. There's even a pretend engagement to protect Brie's reputation (and that's an extra irritant, that name. I took to calling her Camembert in my mind).

The woman was tedious. She was kidnapped not one week before, she remembers nothing, her kidnappers are at large and bound to try for her again, and she refuses protection? I know it's almost a convention in romance to have the heroine not want to give up her privacy or something by having a bodyguard, but it doesn't make it any less stupid. What makes it worse is that there's every indication that it's a precaution to be taken only for a while, a few weeks, until the investigation is complete. It's not as if she'll have someone accompanying her to the loo for the rest of her life!

Reeve was completely indistinct as a hero. I never got any kind of sign of an individual personality from him, and I couldn't stand him at times. When he and that other patronizing idiot, Brie's father Armand got together and discussed her situation without her, "protecting" the poor fragile heroine by not telling her anything, I wanted to bang their heads together.

The kidnapping plot was obvious from the beginning, as were the two villains, right from the minute they were introduced. There just wasn't anyone else around who could have done it!

And the head-hopping! It's not something that usually bothers me, not even in other Noras, but it was out of control here. As long as the POV doesn't change every other paragraph and I can immediately know in whose head I am, I'm fine, but the shifts were too many and too abrupt here.

The good news is that I somehow get the feeling the next two books in the series, about Brie's two brothers, might be better... less contrived, at least. We'll see.



Uh-oh, I've been tagged by Beverly! :-D

Total Number of Books I Own:

I'm not completely sure, as I'm not home right now, but I'd say about 4 or 5 thousand. Yep, the study in my appartment has every single wall covered by bookshelves, in which papebacks are packed two-deep, and there are assorted shelves all around the rest of the house.

Last Book I Bought::

I haven't really been buying many books lately. I think the last must have been Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh, which I purchased about three weeks ago. It arrived yesterday, and I can't wait to read it. Or rather, I can wait, but only until this Saturday, so I can just sit and read and not worry about being interrupted by pesky distractions such as work.

Last Book I Read:

Two of them, which I finished at more or less the same time:
- Kiss Me While I Sleep, by Linda Howard, which I loved
- Affaire Royale, by Nora Roberts (first in the Cordina series), which was pretty boring.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

- "La Ciudad y los Perros" (The City and the Dogs), by Mario Vargas Llosa - I first read it high school and it made a huge impression on me. It's one of the most powerful novels I've ever read and the first one in which the weirdness in style so common in Latin American novels finally worked for me.

- "La Casa de los Espíritus" (The House of the Spirits), by Isabel Allende - Another novel I first read in high school. I loved every single part of it, but it was the last parts that affected me the most. The military dictatorship in the 70s and early 80s was milder in Uruguay than it was in Chile, and my family didn't suffer, but I totally identified with Allende's characters. Those sections killed me.

- Shining Through, by Susan Isaacs - My most reread book. I first read it translated to Spanish and found it forgettable. A couple of years later, I bought it in English, not realizing "Un Destello en la Oscuridad" ("A Glimmer in the Dark") was the same as Shining Through. It's got it all, romance, adventure, a truly heroic heroine and a fascinating setting. It's also wonderfully written. It's a book I can (and often do) open at random and just read a few pages, only to "hear" Isaacs' voice.

- Paradise, by Judith McNaught - The book that really got me into reading romance novels. I'd read a few bodice-rippers before it, but while I was thirsty to read books focusing on love relationships, I truly HATED the bodice-ripping elements. Paradise was the book that made me realize romance didn't necessarily equal ripped bodices and alpha jerks.

I bought it during a trip to the US when I was 14. I actually bought it stripped, from a guy on the street. It wasn't until years later I found out what exactly a book without a cover meant, and I immediately bought myself a new copy to assuage my conscience (plus, the pages were falling out from the original book).

- Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase - This is the book I think is the perfect romance. I wouldn't change one word of it, it's completely unimprovable.

Tag Five People To Do This:

Ok, I give up, everyone's done it!


Slightly Sinful, by Mary Balogh (Bedwyns #5)

>> Monday, May 23, 2005

Slightly Sinful is the next to last book in Mary Balogh's Bedwyn series, or, as I thought of it more than once, only one book until I can read Slightly Dangerous!

When the four lady residents of a brothel in Brussels lose their life savings to a confidence man, their friend Rachel York, who introduced him to them, feels responsible even though all her money has been stolen too. She vows to help them recover their savings, but in order to do that she needs to get her hands on the jewels she will inherit at the age of twenty-five. And in order to do that, she needs to acquire a husband--fast.

Enter Lord Alleyne Bedwyn, who is recuperating at the brothel from wounds sustained at the Battle of Waterloo. Alleyne may have lost his memory, but he has not lost any of the dash and devilry that had always characterized him as the youngest Bedwyn brother. Although he needs to go off in search of his identity, he cannot resist embroiling himself in intrigue with Rachel first--especially when doing so seems ever so slightly sinful...
My experience with this book is one I've seldom had before. I should have enjoyed Slightly Sinful much more than I did. In fact, I would have, if a little something that happened right at the beginning hadn't spoiled it all. I regret to say I can only bring myself to give this a C+.

That little incident that bothered me the rest of the book was Alleyne's decision to join Rachel and her friends in their charade instead of trying to find out who he was. I can understand his fears about entering the world without knowing who he was, his fear that even if he did find out his identity, he wouldn't remember and even his shame about not remembering, but I still can't understand why anyone would do what he did.

Even if he couldn't remember, it's so obvious that most people have someone who at the very least cares for them, probably even someone (or several someones) who loves them, someone they themselves care about. How could he decide to just go off on a lark, leaving these people (who he should have known existed, even if he didn't remember them) to believe him dead and to suffer through this?

I lost a lot of respect for him for not even considering this. Maybe it's because I've just finished reading Slightly Tempted so I'm very aware of the suffering caused by Alleyne's supposed death. Realizing that much of this suffering was his fault, at least partly, didn't endear the man to me.

I mean, he even thought at one point that if he contacted the Embassy, they'd probably be able to help him get identified, so it wasn't as if he wasn't able to do anything, or didn't know how to go about it!

I thought I'd be able to work past this issue and enjoy the rest of the story, and objectively, it would have been a great story, apart from this issue. The sections which take place in England, at Rachel's uncle's estates should have been a lot of fun. It was by far the most lighthearted entry so far in the series (of the ones I've read, at least, and from what I've heard of the first two books, I'd guess it's more lighthearted than those, too). It's strange, because I never would have thought a story that starts with such horror as this one did could become such a farce.

And I really liked the secondary characters, most especially Rachel's four prostitute friends and the one-eyed Sergeant Strickland. They are just so... optimistic and positive, even when dealing with the very hard hands that have been dealt them. Of course this aspect is very sanitized and romanticized, but it worked well here.

However, I was unfortunately not able to work past Alleyne's original choices and relax into the rest of the story. Always at the back of my mind was a little voice grousing about how horrible it was that he was off having fun while any reasonable person would know his loved ones would be mourning him. Too bad, really.


Starting From Square Two, by Caren Lissner

>> Thursday, May 19, 2005

A big thank you to Jennifer for sending me Starting From Square Two, by Caren Lissner.

Gert Healy thought she was finished with dating. She thought she'd never again have to worry about what to wear and what to say and whether she was pretty enough. She thought that she'd be picking out strollers and booties for the children she and her husband were planning to have. Instead, she's mourning his loss and coming to terms with being a widow at twenty-nine.

It's been over a year now, and her friends -- with the best of intentions, really -- have convinced her it's time to get back into the swing of things (even though looking for love is the last thing she wants to do). Although they've developed many a dating rule between them, now that Gert's a part of their single-girl crew, she's beginning to realize they don't know the first thing about men. Of course, Gert doesn't know the first thing about dating, since she married her college sweetheart, so maybe joining forces will work out after all. But does Gert have it in her to fight her way through the leather-jacketed and miniskirted crowds in search of a second miracle?

It's back to square one on everything. Well, actually she's done it all before. Square two, then.
This was an interesting book. I did enjoy reading it quite a bit, even if it never completely engaged my emotions. A B-.

SFST is chick-lit, but it's different from anything else in the genre I've read. It's sadder and more thoughtful. I don't mean that it's depressing, not at all, and there are many funny bits, but the tone is almost melancolic at times. Which, of course, is logical since the main focus is Gert and her grief at her husbands death about a year and a half before.

What I liked best about the book is the genuineness of the the emotions and the relationships in it. Gert's feelings about her husband's death and about being alone again, after believing for years that she was pretty much set relationshipwise, her friendship with Hallie and Erika, the slow rebuilding of her romantic life, her relationship with her (former?) in-laws... Nothing is simplified or glossed over, everything is thoughtfully (there's that word again) explored.

There are a couple of negatives, though. The most important one is that Gert just wasn't a particularly interesting character. She's nice, she's intelligent, she's likeable, but she's a bit bland. And the third person POV felt like it kept a distance between reader and protagonist.

Also, I had a few qualms about Gert's romance. It was pretty nice, and Todd was really sweet, but I felt a little resentful at how Gert gets into a great relationship with no effort on her part. First time she goes out after Marc's death, first bar she goes into, first guy she talks to. It felt especially weird because one of Gert's revelations, which makes her friendship with Hallie and Erika much healthier, is that she has been thinking that it's single girls' fault that they're single, that she's been blaming them for not doing things right.

Oh, something interesting was the inclusion of 9/11 in the story. It's especially interesting to me because of comments I read about Nora Roberts' Blue Dahlia, in which the heroine's husband had died in September 2001 but nothing is made of this. Here, Marc died on September 7th 2001 and this features in the story. Gert thinks about how it was not her world alone that exploded that September, simply that hers exploded 4 days earlier than everyone else's. She notes that a few years before, there would have been almost no young widows with whom to form a support group like hers, but 9/11 changed that.

It was an interesting read. I'm planning to search for Carrie Pillby, by this author. It sounds like it has a more interesting narrator, so if it also has the same strengths, it will be a winner.


Justiss, Julia - Wicked Wager

>> Wednesday, May 18, 2005

From what I've been able to find out Julia Justiss' Wicked Wager is a spin-off of an online serial she wrote for E-Harlequin.

Wealthy Jenna Fairchild’s brave husband died at Waterloo, while Anthony Nelthorpe, the scoundrel she rescued from the battlefield, lives on. Now Tony issues a shocking challenge to the woman he once tried to coerce into marriage and has never forgotten: in honor of all the heroes who fell, let Jenna try to reform the character of the rogue she saved...before he can seduce her.
I mostly liked this, but in the end, it was a bit lackluster. It was verging on a C+, but I'll give it a B- just because I really liked the hero.

The setup was very similar to the one in the only other Justiss book that I've read, My Lady's Pleasure. It was one I liked then and I liked it quite well here, too, because it's just so unusual. Romance heroes are not usually destitute. If there's a difference in economic position, it's usually the hero who's well-off and rescues the heroine from a life of penury. And even in those cases when the hero needs to marry a heiress, it's because he needs loads and loads of cash to rescue his ancestral lands, or something like that.

The finances of a romance hero absolutely can NOT be in such a state that he has trouble living day by day, that he really does need to marry for money. Justiss took things a bit further with Teagan (from My Lady's Pleasure), since Anthony soon manages to palliate his financial troubles a bit with the help of a friend, but the whole situation caused a reversal I found interesting in the balance of power of Jenna and Anthony's relationship.

As I said, I liked Tony very much. What I liked best was that his past as a rake really did come back to bite him in the ass. This is not a case where the hero's a bit of a rake because he's done some womanizing, and the heroine is sooooo attracted by this. That is, Jenna is attracted by Tony's irreverence and mildly outrageous behaviour, but his past really does make her distrust him and almost cause her to refuse to have anything to do with him.

I also appreciated that he didn't change for Jenna. He changed because he grew up, for himself, and I thought this was much more believable. No reforming the rake fantasy for me, no sir!

Jenna I liked quite a bit less. There's a duality in her character that didn't work for me. On one hand, she's very much the army wife, sensible and pragmatic, caring nothing for society's idiotic dictates and foolish rules and determined to live her life as she sees fit. On the other, however, while she thinks all this and resents her late husband's family's and other meddling members of society's interference, she never does put her foot down and ends up doing quite a few things she doesn't want to do. This just didn't jive with the person the author was telling us Jenna was.

I didn't think the romance worked that well, either. There's chemistry between them, but I guess I just didn't see romance. The love scenes are nice, though they're strangely similar to each other. In both, Jenna's very much the aggressor, the one who initiates the lovemaking and actually even carries it through, climbing on Tony and having her way with him *g*. It's not that I didn't like this... on the contrary, I thought them very erotic and I liked that Jenna was a widow who had enjoyed sex so much that she was comfortable doing this. It's just that they both read so much the same that it felt like the same scene, only in a different setting. The feeling of deja vu distracted me.

And my final problem was that the suspense subplot was very, very blah and obvious. The villain was so evident from the first time that person appeared, that the author might as well have put a sign over his/her head reading "murderous intentions here". Plus, this was a short book, and way too much time was spent on the suspense that should have been spent developing the romance.


This Is All I Ask, by Lynn Kurland

>> Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In one of my Yahoo groups, we have started an "author of the month" read. We take turns choosing an author, and the one chosen this month was Lynn Kurland. I had her pegged as a time-travel author, which is one of the very few genres I don't like at all, so I'd never tried her before. However, one of my friends mentioned that she also has some regular Medievals and let me borrow one, This Is All I Ask.

Gillian of Warewick knows no other treatment than the terrible physical and mental abuse issued by her father. When he arranges a match for Gillian with Christopher of Blackmour, she is fearful: Blackmour is rumored to be an evil sorcerer. When Gillian meets him, he proves to be far more of a man than her father is, yet he is unwilling to be a lover to Gillian. She finds that Blackmour has as many psychological scars to heal as she has physical scars.
Unfortunately, my first experience with Kurland wasn't a good one at all. In fact, I thought this was so bad that it will probably also be my last experience. My grade: a D+.

Things started out pretty promising. Gillian has spent years as her father's punching bag, both physically and verbally. The story starts as she's sent to Christopher of Blackmour's estate, forced by her father to marry him. Christopher is reputed to dabble in the Black Arts and has a horrible reputation, even being known as "The Scourge of England", so Gillian is terrified. The truth is, however, that Christopher is hiding the fact that he's become blind behind this reputation, and Gillian soon starts discovering his real nature.

So far so good, right? I thought the story had potential. If only the characters had been better! Ok, after all those years with that beast of a father, of course Gillian is going to have some problems, so I was fine with her fear of everything, with her lack of self-esteem, at least at first. But what I couldn't stand was the way she crossed the line from innocent and pure to emotionally immature and dumb as a post, with many, many episodes of TSTL behaviour. Christopher kept refering to her as a "child-woman" and she definitely was that, even at the end of the book. Some parts of her character were better suited to a 12 year old girl, not a woman, and, though she did become a bit more self-assured, the growth she experienced was nowhere near enough.

Christopher was a bit better, but he shared with Gillian some traits that drove me nuts. They were both too determined not to be happy. I understood why circumstances in their past had made them believe they had little to offer to another person, but it was all too over-the-top and lasted much too long. They kept reaching conclusions that no one in their right mind would reach, building fantastical theories in their minds and believing them completely.

This made me almost toss the book out quite a few times. The only reason I didn't was that I wanted to give it a fair chance and read until the end (and that the book wasn't mine, too!). Just as an example, the first time was around page 100. Gillian has decided that, since she's ugly, useless, etc, Christopher has no reason to allow her to remain at Blackmour. So she decides she needs to get pregnant (I almost wrote "get with child". This is how much this book's affected my mind).

Christopher immediately finds out her intentions, when he hears she's gone to talk to the castle's whore to ask for advice on how "to please her lord". Ok, so far it's trite, but inoffensive. But the idiot man immediately flies into a rage, because it's obvious that the reason she's doing this is because her soul is black as hell, she's as evil as his first wife, who told him he was undesirable, and that the only thing a woman will ever want of him is "his seed".

He is 100% sure that Gillian wants to get pregnant only to then leave him and take refuge in another of his estates, because with his child, she'll be sure of funds forever. Never mind that all he knows about Gillian seems to contradict this. He's so sure, in fact, that instead of talking to her reasonably, he just screams at her to leave and go back to her father's, a place where he knows perfectly well she'll be abused. Stupid bastard.

And situations like this one were a dime a dozen in the book. I lost count of the times I flung the book down and went "Oh, please!" (or rather, I went more like "Ay, por favor" and "Libro de porquería, me tenés harta!"). And not only at the protagonists, none of the other characters worked for me. Especially Gillian's father, who did horrible things for no reason, just because he was mean and evil.

Oh, and there wasn't even decent sexual tension. No tension and pretty much no sex. Or rather, there is sex, but we just don't see it, which I detest. Hmm, actually, now that I think of it, I don't know if that wasn't a blessing in disguise, because with Gillian sounding so much like a 12-year-old, it might have been creepy.

In the comments below Wendy mentions she thought the book should have been 100 pages shorter. I'd say more like 200. I'm a big fan of romances which have little external action, but if the characters' internal issues aren't written well and aren't compelling enough, they can become boring, as this one did. 420 pages of nothing much happening just magnified the characters' flaws in my mind.

Also, I didn't like the language at all. It was very heavily faux medieval, all 'tis and 'twas and rend in twain. Very affected, very self-conscious. And if I'd read the words "serving wenches" one more time, I would have screamed!

I'd been having a very good reading month this May, but this has killed my winning streak.


Gabriel's Ghost, by Megan Sybil Baker

>> Monday, May 16, 2005

I've hear some very good things about Megan Sybil Baker (aka Linnea Sinclair), so I've been meaning to try her for some time. My first book by her was Gabriel's Ghost (excerpt).

Nothing to fear...or is there?

Imperial patrolship captain Chasidah Bergren has more trouble than she needs. Stripped of command in a sham court-martial and sent to the harsh prison world of Moabar, her life can't possibly get any worse.

Until she's rescued by smuggler Gabriel Ross Sullivan, her former nemesis and almost lover. A dead man with a mission. He offers her freedom in exchange for her help in stopping an illegal genetics experiment that's already claimed far too many lives. And could place the Empire on the brink of civil war.

But Chaz doesn't know that Sully's a ghost with a deadly, dark secret. A secret she was trained to hate and fear; one she may have to risk her life and her heart to protect.
A thoroughly enjoyable book, a B+.

This is exactly the type of futuristic I love to read (my love for Jayne Ann Krentz's notwithstanding). No innocent, virginal, healer heroines, no barbarian heroes, no Medieval-like societies, not even magical sex to save the world! It also wasn't one in which the protagonists were royalty or emperors or other kinds of rulers of their worlds, fighting to remake their entire societies. I've been known to enjoy books like that, but I confess to preferring those in which the characters are regular-ish people who simply live in their world, even if, like in Gabriel's Ghost, the mission they undertake has pretty big implications.

The story is told in first-person by Chasidah, and this works perfectly because she's quite a wonderful character. She's a tough, no-nonsense Fleet officer, who always acts very much like a tough, no-nonsense Fleet officer. She doesn't lack any femininity, but Baker doesn't try to make her "female" by making her do stupid stuff like going to pieces and becoming inept under pressure, cry a lot or become a hyper-nurturer of any single fuzzy creature she comes along.

Gabriel is a to-die-for hero. He's a guy who has quite a few secrets, and he has a very hard time revealing all of them. He tells Chasidah stuff very slowly, tiny bit by tiny bit, only when he has no choice but to do so. This would have made me want to slap him in most cases (how dare he demand Chaz's complete trust when he refuses to even answer questions about what he is?), but here, I found it understandable. His secrets are pretty huge, and he's absolutely right in his prediction of how their revelation will be taken by everyone, even by Chaz.

In fact, the way Chaz reacted to every successive revelation was very well-done. She wasn't blindly accepting of everything. Her first reactions were often shock and, at times, even fear. It took some reassuring (which she mostly did herself, but sometimes took other people to do it) for her to wholly accept Gabriel again, but she always did it and she really did wholly accept him, without any reservations. Given the nature of the things Gabriel could do, this was no small matter.

I simply adored Gabriel and Chaz's relationship. There's a lot that should have felt like corniness there, and I guess it would feel like that to most people, but it melted me into a puddle. Stuff like Gabriel calling Chaz "Chasidah. Angel.", or the scenes in which he accesses the inner man (Gabriel, as opposed to Sully) and refers to himself in the third-person... I had the feeling I should be retching, but I thought it was sooo romantic. Even more romantic was their backstory, the way Chaz gradually starts realizing that what she had always thought was a very adversarial relationship wasn't so much adversarial as a kind of foreplay, how Gabriel hadn't thought of her as an "interfering bitch", but was actually crazy about her all that time.

There's a lot of action, but having them spend quite a bit of time in transit in their ship gives the romance more than enough time to develop. Both it and the actual action and worldbuilding were great. And speaking of the world-building, it was definitely much more rigorous than I'm used to in futuristic romance. That's excellent, though I confess I was sometimes a bit lost with the terminology, something I suspect I would have been perfectly fine with if I had more experience with "hard" SF.

Apart from her protagonists, Baker creates a varied and well-written cast of secondary characters. It took me a while to sort them out (that Ren was a storloth while Verno was a taka, that Brother Sudral was actually Gabriel's Englarian name, and so on and so forth), but I soon got used to it. I especially liked Chaz's instant bond with Ren.

I'm going to do a bit of research and see if there's any sequel to this. While Chaz and Gabriel get their HEA, and they do succeed in their mission, it's a partial success. Not every string is tied in a big bow and it's made clear that the struggle will continue.


Glory Bound, by Billie Green

>> Friday, May 13, 2005

I'm having an extremely hard time wading through the apparently much beloved This Is All I Ask. In fact, the only reason I'm still at it is that I'm supposed to read it for one of my groups. Last night I just couldn't bear to read one more page of stupid characters behaving stupidly, and needed a quick break, so I grabbed the shortest thing I could find in my TBR, one of the pile of old Loveswepts I picked up at random at the UBS. It was Glory Bound, by Billie Green, an author completely unknown to me.

Alan Spencer knew his blind date with an important client's eligible daughter would be a disaster - weren't all such arranged encounters? But from the moment he met Glory Wainwright and looked into her sapphire-blue eyes, he began to believe again in romantic miracles.

Glory did her best to discourage the attentions of the impossibly good-looking executive whose fierce interest threatened her very secret other life -the one her father knew nothing about. But Alan never took no for an answer -not in business, and not in love. He vowed to track down the fascinating and elusive lady whose gaze bound him to her in a raging fire as old as time... and to unravel the sensual web she'd wrapped around his heart...
Glory Bound was a very welcome breath of fresh air. Not a particularly wonderful story, but one that was fun and pleasant, with some nice touches. A B-.

She creates some very interesting characters. I especially liked Glory, whose double life was necessary and pretty heroic, and Alan reminded me why I was so fond of the Loveswept line, with its lack of overbearing, macho heroes. This is a 1986 book, and there really weren't so many genuinely kind, funny, beta guys like Alan back then.

I really liked the plot, especially the first half, with Alan becoming increasingly attracted by Glory with every meeting, while she keeps running from him. These two had very real chemistry, even if the whole pretty much otherworldly experience whenever they kissed was a bit much. The last part of the book wasn't as good, and I lost quite a bit of interest in their romance, but it wasn't that bad.

Green has a sense of humour that really clicked with me. It is a quirky, but gentle and understated brand of humour, and it had me smiling the entire book. The first scene, in which Alan is besotted by his client's daughter and she does her best to discourage his interest, was priceless, and there were quite a few things like that in the book. Green never overworks a joke, never goes over the top. She just sets the situation just right and trusts her readers to get it. Glory's roomates would probably have been turned into cartoons by most authors, but Green just makes them weird but very, very human.

Next time I'm near that UBS I'm definitely going to be going through the shelves and searching for more by this author.


The Veil of Night, by Lydia Joyce

>> Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Veil of Night (excerpt) first came to my attention because I've "known" the author, Lydia Joyce, for ages, through her posts in a couple of the Yahoo groups I belong to. But that alone isn't enough to get me to buy a book. I got it simply because it sounded like something I'd enjoy.

In darkness, he awaits her...

Byron Stratford, Duke of Raeburn, walks in shadow. Spoken of only in whispers, he lives alone in his crumbling manor, a cold, enigmatic recluse. Rarely appearing by the light of day, he moves as a wraith in the night, answering to no man. He cares little for those who dwell outside and does not abide the intrusion of others, lest they discover his secret shame...

The Duke of Raeburn is the sinister man Lady Victoria Wakefield must confront if she is to save herself from her family's ruin. Little does she suspect that she will emerge from her journey into that night as his shining sun--or that the passion radiating between them will be their only defense against the true darkness threatening to destroy them both...
A very strong debut. My grade: a B+.

The Veil of Night is one of those increasingly rare books, one that is absolutely and completely character-driven. There are no dastardly villains (not even non-dastardly villains), no spy plots, no missing jewelry, no kidnapped relatives, no mysteries to be solved other than the characters internal issues. There's just two very well-drawn and fresh characters interacting, slowly peeling back layers and getting to know one another in depth.

Being so focused on the characters, the only way this would work is if the characters are good, and they were. This is probably the first book with this type of plot (heroine bartering herself in exchange for lenience for her brother's bets) in which I didn't get even a little bit irritated by her martyr tendencies. Why? Because she had none. It was so refreshing that she pretty much thought that her idiotic brother deserved whatever he got, but she just didn't want her family's reputation (and hers, especially), tainted by the scandal. Plus, Victoria was perfectly aware that the main reason she was agreeing to Byron's deal was that she wanted, needed, even, the adventure. She's... different.

And Byron was pretty fascinating, too. Both Victoria and he have secrets, but his is the most important. I thought Joyce's timing with this was flawless. At first it's a secret from both the reader and Victoria, but we readers soon start getting little bits and pieces of information. Slowly, slowly, until we have the whole picture. And this particular secret was such that it made perfect sense that Byron wouldn't want to tell Victoria, that even when he knew he should, when his mind told him he could, he would be afraid to actually do so.

It's a very luscious love story, with wonderful love scenes and one that is very romantic. I thought the ending was a bit too rushed, but up until that point, I think the romance was flawless.

The ambience was outstanding, too. It's a very claustrophobic book, mostly taking place inside a dark manor, with only a couple of characters other than the protagonists, and the author's writing style was key in creating this feel. In another book, it might have been a little overwrought, but here, the sentence structure, the often old-fashioned word choices, they all fit the story very well.

I also liked that Joyce included quite a few details that made me conscious that I was reading about people who were different from me... who felt different about issues like class, who ate different things, who dressed different. I don't think I've ever been as conscious of the fact that the heroine is wearing a crinoline. When she walks in the wind, it bangs against her legs, when Byron presses her against the wall, it flattens against her at the back and goes up in front. It was details like that that I enjoyed.

I've been checking out Joyce's site and it looks like her next book, coming out later this year, takes place in Victorian Venice. I'm so there!


Slightly Tempted (Bedwyns # 4)

>> Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Slightly Scandalous, my introduction to Mary Balogh's Bedwyn sextet, was so great that I just couldn't wait to start the other one I had. Slightly Tempted (excerpt is the very next in the series, book 4.

Lady Morgan Bedwyn is in Brussels soon after making her come-out in London. She is staying with friends in the busy, exciting, tension-filled days before the Battle of Waterloo. Half the fashionable world is there too as well as the massed armies. And Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn, has come there from Vienna after nine years of exile from Britain following a nasty scandal involving a woman who accused him of ravishing her, and a stolen heirloom.

Gervase's tastes do not usually run to very young women. But Lady Morgan, whom he first sees at a ball, is extraordinarily beautiful and holds his admiring attention for a minute or two. But it would have been only for a minute or two--if, that is, the friend with whom he has come to the ball had not mentioned her name. Bedwyn--it is like the proverbial red flag to the bull. It is a name Gervase has hated for nine long years, for he blames Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, for all his woes.

Now he is in the same room as the young sister of the Duke of Bewcastle, and he feels the distinct stirrings of a slight temptation to use her in order to wreak his revenge at long last on the icy, heartless duke.

Morgan, of course, is both young and innocent. But she is a Bedwyn to the very core, and in the course of the tumultuous relationship that develops between her and the Earl of Rosthorn, she soon makes it very clear that she is nobody's pawn.

Far from it!

As soon as she understands his intentions, she sets about turning the tables on the cynical, calculating earl. Two can play at the game of revenge--and Morgan has always played to win.
Slightly Tempted was just as good. A B+.

This book had me enjoying a few things I don't generally like. For starters, I prefer books in which there isn't a great age difference between the hero and heroine, and if there is, I tend to prefer that at least the heroine is in her mid-twenties. The fact that I didn't mind the age difference in this book, with Morgan being 18 and Gervase 30, only goes to show that the problem isn't the plot device so much as what the author does with it.

Balogh made the age difference an issue. Morgan's age wasn't just an unimportant detail, one I could ignore and simply imagine her as being 5 years older, as I often do whenever I come across a situation like this one. So why did this work anyway? Basically because it wasn't used to bang the reader on the head with how pure and innocent and virginal Morgan was, and how Gervase finds himself so attracted to this. Quite the opposite. Gervase is attracted to Morgan in spite of her young age. In fact, her being so young would have prevented him from even approaching her at first, if there hadn't been his past history with the Bedwyns to consider. He's attracted to the mature, intelligent woman that Morgan is in spite of her age.

And then there's the revenge plot. Heroes who'll happily hurt an innocent only to get back at someone they bear a grudge against are not, IMO, all that heroic. And Gervase definitely intended to use Morgan to hurt her brother Wulfric, even if this meant Morgan got hurt, too. He feels badly about this almost from the beginning, as soon as he realizes the kind of person Morgan is, but he holds on to this revenge plot for a long time.

Or does he? I liked this because after a while, Gervase's motivations become ambiguous. Is he still approaching Morgan to get revenge or because he wants her for himself? Even he isn't completely sure if he's not using the former as an excuse to be able to do the latter.

Slightly Tempted has two very distinct halfs, and I enjoyed each just as well. The first takes place in Brussels, in the days of the battle of Waterloo. We get a fascinating glimpse of the life behind the front lines. Gervase isn't a military man, so he's not involved in the actual battle (neither is Morgan, of course!), but both are in Brussels during the battle and right afterwards, so you get a clear picture of what was going on, and it's something I haven't seen before in a romance novel.

Then, a few days after the battle is over both Gervase and Morgan return to England, and this part has a very different feel from the first. The setting's more familiar, but the actual story is not... not the tug of war with Wulfric, who refuses to even consider the possibility of allowing his sister to have any contact with Gervase, not Morgan's reaction when she finds out why Gervase sought her out... I lapped it all up.

I am immediately starting Slightly Sinful, in preparation for the arrival of Slightly Dangerous!


The Language of Passion, by Mario Vargas Llosa

>> Monday, May 09, 2005

One of my reading goals this year is to read more books in Spanish. I mean, sure, I live in Spanish, speak it and hear it spoken all day, every day, but nothing can replace reading a good book to make you enjoy a language, so I'll try to make a point of picking up more stuff by Spanish-speaking authors. It's not as if it's going to be a hardship!

El Lenguaje de la Pasión (The Language of Passion), is a collection of columns by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of my favourite authors. These columns were originally published in Spanish newspaper El Pais throughout the 90s and were picked up by other newspapers around the world. I vaguely remember reading some of them in Uruguayan weekly Busqueda.

I thought this book was going to last me at least a week. I imagined reading only a couple of essays every day, maybe three or four, at most, but I pretty much read it in a couple of seatings. The problem is I'd finish one, then look at the next one to see what it was about and by the time I'd scanned the first couple of paragraphs I was hooked and had to keep on reading. Some of the columns interested more than others, of course, and there were even a couple I was tempted to skim, but on the whole, the collection was very even.

Maybe one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much was that most of Vargas Llosa's opinions so reflect mine. There's a great pleasure in reading something that expresses exactly what you feel (the column on the legalization of abortion comes to mind), and which does a much better job than you ever could in explaining why.

And then there's the actual writing. The way this man can put a sentence together is a pleasure. Even the columns I wanted to skim, I ended up not doing so, just because I didn't want to risk missing another gem.

The last of these columns was from 1999, so I hope it's time for another collection! My grade: an A-.


Three Fates, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, May 05, 2005

Three Fates, is probably the only Nora Roberts book released in the past few years that I hadn't read. If I'm not mistaken, it and Midnight Bayou came out right after a string of ho-hum romantic suspense, culminating in The Villa, so at the time I'd decided to give up on Nora's single titles and just read her trilogies and her J.D. Robb books.

I've since gone back to her single titles and I really adore what she's writing now (Northern Lights, Birthright), and I've read some of what I'd skipped, like Midnight Bayou, and it was great. So I decided to get Three Fates, too, hoping I'd been wrong about skipping it, too.

When the Lusitania sank, more than one thousand people died. One passenger, however, survived to become a changed man, giving up his life as a petty thief but keeping a small silver statue that would become a family heirloom to future generations.

Now, nearly a century later, that heirloom, one of a priceless, long-separated set of three, has been snatched away from the Sullivans. And Malachi, Gideon, and Rebecca Sullivan are determined to recover their great-great- grandfather's treasure, reunite the Three Fates, and make their fortune.

The quest will take them from their home in Ireland to Helsinki, Prague, and New York and introduce them to a formidable female professor whose knowledge of Greek mythology will aid them in their quest; to a daring exotic dancer who sees the Fates as her chance at a new life; and to a seductive security expert who knows how to play high- tech cat-and-mouse. And it will pit them in a suspenseful fight against an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates.
The romances weren't as compelling as they could have been, and I had some problems with the villain, but all in all, Three Fates was a good, absorbing read. A B.

Like Montana Sky, this was basically a 3-in-1 deal, three couples, all getting equal space and interacting together. I have no problem with this per se, and it makes for a quick, entertaining read, with barely a slow moment.

Still, I did feel that none of the romances were as developed as I know Nora can make them, and while I liked all three couples, I didn't find them equally interesting, so I sometimes wasn't too happy when the focus changed. In particular, I wasn't particularly engaged by the Rebecca / Jack romance, especially because I never got a very clear feeling of who Rebecca was, and Jack felt a little derivative.

Malachi and Tia were sweet, and initially, there was great conflict there. I loved how Tia seemed to have hardened herself against him, but then I thought she lowered every defence a bit too quickly. Their storyline lost a lot of its sense of excitement in the middle section of the book, but did recoup some of it near the end.

Gideon and Cleo were my favourite couple, though I did feel there was a bit in the middle where their romance was somewhat neglected. Still, I loved seeing the adventurous, pragmatic Cleo with the serious-minded Gideon.

Where the book was best was, like with many other books by this author, in showing these six people interacting. They started out with only the three Sullivans trusting each other, but by the end of the book, they'd all become a family together.

The whole adventure of their search for all three Fates was a lot of fun. I loved the way they plotted and planned and worked to outwit Anita, and it was a great plan. The only thing I wasn't too crazy about was the fact that I just didn't completely buy Anita's motivation. There's really no reason for her to run the risks she did other than she was a sociopath and had become obsessed with getting these statues. I don't know, I guess making the villain do the bad stuff because she's nuts feels like an easy way out to me, easier than making her sane and giving her a believable motivation.

Still, for all my problems with the book, it was one I had a lot of fun with. I think I'll be giving it to my mother next, it's just the type of book she enjoys.


Strange Attractions, by Emma Holly

>> Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Smart Bitch Candy's post about Emma Holly's Strange Attractions (excerpt) had me digging it out of my TBR and putting it in my next-up pile.

Determined not to repeat her mother's mistakes, high school dropout and unrepentant heartbreaker Charity Wills jumps at the chance to attend college for free. There's just one little catch...

She must travel to the estate of reclusive physicist B.G. Grantham, who likes to play sex games as exotic as the particles he studies-and is obsessed with the thrill of being refused the one thing he craves. But Charity is more than up to the challenge-especially when Eric Berne, her sexy "keeper," lends a hand.

Behind the locked doors of Grantham's isolated mansion, the games begin. So does the education of Charity Wills-who's about to discover that the possibilities for sensual indulgence are beyond anything her wildest dreams ever allowed...
No one writes erotica like Emma Holly! So much of what passes for erotica these days (those dominating men, those captive fantasies...) leaves me cold, but I can always count on Holly to write something that is hot and romantic. A B+.

A priori, the whole scenario of the heroine being basically paid to become a guy's sexual plaything sounds really distasteful. But somehow, Holly makes it fun and sexy, especially because I got the feeling that Charity's motivation was as much her excitement at the idea of doing this, the fact that she thought she'd enjoy it, as the money she'd get for it. And enjoy it she did. I think if she'd been at all uncomfortable with what was going on, the book might have crossed the line into icky, but Charity loved every single minute of her time at B.G.'s.

The sex scenes alone were worth the price of admission. Charity with Eric, Charity with B.G., B.G. with Eric, all three together, not only were they steamy (especially the latter, I confess it!), Holly manages to put emotion in every one of her sex scenes, so they are much, much more than a couple (or trio) of bodies writhing around.

As with her Ménage, this was very much a romance, even if the relationship was between three people instead of two. By the end of the book, I was perfectly convinced that these people were in love, each with the other two, and that they were going to be very, very happy (and tired) together.

The quantum physics stuff and the suspense subplot... eh. I really didn't pay them much mind. I just wasn't interested, and didn't think they added much to the story.


Tempting Adam, by Dorie Graham

>> Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Tempting Adam (excerpt) is a Harlequin Blaze by , by Dorie Graham, an author who was, until now, a complete unknown to me.

Seducing your best friend

It starts when Lauren Bryant receives an erotic cookbook from a secret admirer. Her admirer can only be her best friend, Adam Morely—especially when his comments suggest his interest. Suddenly, she’s looking at him in an entirely new way—as a sexy, irresistible man. She values his friendship, but the gift speaks for itself. And their new sensual encounters are so incredibly hot, she’s powerless to resist. Too bad Adam’s vision of their future gives Lauren cold feet.

When Lauren propositions him, Adam is sure his fantasies have come to life. While he’s always wanted to sleep with his beautiful best friend, he’s not her secret admirer. Now he has to tempt her into a commitment before she discovers the truth…
There were many things I liked here, and the only reason I didn't wholeheartedly love this book was that I didn't believe in the resolution 100%. Still, I'd grade it a B-.

What I liked best about this friends-turned-to-lovers story (a favourite theme of mine, BTW), was the fact that it explored the issue of what happens when a man who wants to marry an old-fashioned, woman, who'll be ready to give up her career for her family and be a cookie-baking stay-at-home mom, and a woman who loves her career and isn't sure she even wants to have children, ever, fall in love and try to build a relationship.

I'll come right out and admit that the reason I liked it was that while they compromised, it was Adam who did most of the adapting. Considering the position he'd started from, anything else would have offended my feminist sensibilities and made the book a wallbanger to me. At the end of the book, Lauren hasn't decided to quit her job and begin the cookie-baking and breeding immediately. She has realized she's got to make more room for a personal life and keep her work in perspective, she's accepted that she might want to have children someday, but she hasn't magically turned into the home-cooking broodmare Adam had said he wanted at the beginning.

The reason I say I didn't completely buy the resolution was that I had a bit of trouble swallowing Adam's complete turnabout. I mean, I believe he believes he's ok with what Lauren wants, but this is a guy who, up until the age of 30, hadn't even considered that a married woman could actually want to work outside the home, not because the family needs the money but because it gves her satisfaction. I found it hard to buy that a guy like this could completely abandon these long-held beliefs, and a part of me tends to think that before long, he'll start resenting the time Lauren spends on her company, or pressuring her to start a baby right now, even though he said he'd wait as long as she needed...

Oh, well, even if this is so, Lauren was a strong enough character that I'd bet all my money on her not allowing herself to me mowed over :-)

Tempting Adam was a fast, steamy read. There were maybe a couple of love scenes too many, though, scenes that didn't really add much to the story and took up pages that could have been better used to further develop the very interesting things that were going on outside the bedroom (or kitchen, or lake-side, or pretty much anywhere). I liked all the secondary characters and enjoyed Lauren's interactions with them, especially with her mother, who had an interesting, if underwritten, little storyline of her own. I'm definitely going to be keeping Graham's name in mind and see if I can pick up some of her backlist, as this was a good read.

Oh, and extra points for not making Lauren's secret admirer a deranged stalker!


Slightly Scandalous, by Mary Balogh (Bedwyns #3)

>> Monday, May 02, 2005

Slightly Scandalous (excerpt) is third in the six-book Bedwyn series, by Mary Balogh. The series comes right after One Night For Love and A Summer To Remember, and this one in particular is especially related to the latter, as the heroine, Freyja, is the woman the hero of ASTR avoided getting engaged to by arriving with Lauren when he went home.

Growing up with four powerful brothers has made Lady Freyja Bedwyn far bolder than most society ladies. From feisty manner to long, tumbling hair, Freyja is pure fire, a woman who seeks both adventure and freedom.

Adventure soon finds her on the way to Bath, when a handsome stranger bursts into her inn room in the middle of the night and entreats her to hide him. He is Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere, a man with a hell-raising reputation of his own.

They meet again in Bath, where sparks fly as two strong wills clash and each tries to best the other. But when Joshua needs sudden rescue from the matchmaking schemes of his aunt, it is Freyja to whom he turns because he knows that only she is reckless enough to engage in a fake betrothal with him for the sheer fun of it.

And fun it is until the Duke of Bewcastle, Freyja's eldest brother, learns of the betrothal. And until passion blindsides them both. And until a danger more deadly than marriage threatens Joshua. While he tries desperately to preserve his freedom--in more ways than one--Freyja tries just as determinedly not to lose her heart--again.

But there is no doubt about the fact that it admirably suits both Freyja and Joshua to be caught up together in something very slightly scandalous...
I meant to read the entire series in order, but the first couple of books are taking a little too long to get here, so I just grabbed the first among the ones I do have here, and I don't feel like I enjoyed it any less for not having read the previous two. Slightly Scandalous stands alone perfectly well and was a wonderful introduction to the series. It only lacked a teeny little extra zing to make it an A book. I'd grade it a B+.

As many other readers, I didn't particularly like Freyja in A Summer to Remember. She wasn't at her most attractive in those circumstances (as she herself acknowledges in Slightly Scandalous), and I liked the idea of the demure, ladylike heroine beating the spirited hoyden for a change.

But I had no difficulty liking her here. Seeing things from her POV, I even started disliking Lauren and Kit for a while! Yet she's still very much the same person she was in her introduction: unconventional, arrogant, very aware of her position as a duke's siter, often rude and intolerant of idiots.

The back cover calls her "feisty", but to me, that word implies a certain stupidity, and if there's something Freyja's not it's stupid. She can be impulsive, but she's usually aware of the consequences when she decides to ignore society's rules and she's perfectly capable of bearing those consequences. It's true she got in a bit over her head when getting into a fake engagement with Josh, but when it comes to possible consequences, that's hardly on a par with stuff like stowing away on a pirate ship or starting your own smuggling ring while dressing up as a man!

Josh was lovely, the perfect guy for someone like Freyja, with his refusal to take her seriously and the way he rejoiced in the very things others perceived as faults. And I really liked that he was very attracted to her even when others perceived her as ugly. Josh's levity reminded me a bit of Kit, from ASTR, but while there was definite depth hiding under that facade, I wouldn't characterize Josh as a tortured character.

Slightly Scandalous was very much straight romance, with only the merest external suspense-ish subplot coming up in the second half. The "villainess" of the piece is great, because she was much, much more believable than those eeeeevil, moustache-twirling insane villains, the ones whose only motivation is that they're nuts. She's just scarily manipulative and domineering. Still, the focus is squarely on the romance, and the pacing of the book doesn't suffer for it.

Oh, and there is a lot of focus on the the whole Bedwyn family, too. Maybe a bit too much, actually, at least when it came to some of its members. I could have done with less rehashing of the first two books, but I liked what I saw of Morgan and Alleyne. And it's embarrassing, but I have to confess it: loved Wulfric.

I feel like a chump for allowing myself to be taken in by this whole Wulf craze. I mean, every one of his appearances is so obviously sequel baiting, designed to make the reader intrigued by the man, wanting to read his book. But in this case, forewarened was not forearmed, and I fell like a ton of bricks anyway. In fact, I have an ebook version of Slightly Dangerous already, but I'm going to buy a print copy, too (a used copy, but still!), and instead of having it sent via M-Bag, I'm going to pay for the shipping directly here. Yes, I want to read it that much!


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