Tell Me You Love Me, by Kayla Perrin

>> Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The ATBF column about AA romance inspired me to read Tell Me You Love Me (excerpt), by Kayla Perrin, as soon as it got here.

When Sheldon Ford walked into her life, Tyanna Montgomery thought she had been carried up to Heaven on the strong wings of a sexy black angel. But when he disappeared, she came crashing down to Earth. Now he's back with some wild tale about going undercover to take down a Miami mob-boss-which means he's either big trouble or flat-out crazy, and Tyanna should let him go. But damn if the man doesn't still make her heart race and her body ache with wanting him!

Sheldon should never have returned-and now he's put his sweet woman in serious danger! But living without Tyanna's loving would not be living. Though she doesn't believe a word of his story, that doesn't make the threat less real-and he'll protect his ebony queen to his last breath. But will she still want him when she realizes that taking a chance on this love means risking a lot more than her heart?
A very good start, but TMYLM was ultimately disappointing. A C+.

Oh, I just hate it when this happens. The initial setup was just wonderful, and I got really excited and couldn't wait to keep reading. Sheldon has just come back after being gone a year, having dumped Tyanna like a hot potato just when she was becoming convinced he was the one. He comes back with a story about having had to run away after a mafia-type steroids-runner he was investigating made him. Supposedly, the guy had killed Sheldon's brother and, knowing what he was capable of, Sheldon had tried to protect Tyanna by keeping her in the dark and hiding his relationship with her.

So now he's back and he wants Tyanna back. He tells her his story and, after some investigations, Tyanna believes him. But it's not so easy to go back and pick things up where they'd left them. For starters, Tyanna doesn't know if she even wants to go back. Was her relationship with Sheldon just about sex or did they have anything else going for them? Does she want to be the homebody she'd become when she was with Sheldon, always wanting to stay at home with him? And does she want to be with a man who obviously doesn't trust her enough to share himself with her? And as for Sheldon, how does he really feel about Tyanna? Can he get over his father-induced trauma about telling a woman that he loves her?

I thought this sounded like a really good beginning, and settled in to enjoy myself. But the story got boring and irritating very quickly. First, there was the romance. Sheldon and Tyanna started going back and forth, hot and cold and back and forth again. Tyanna wants nothing to do with Sheldon. Then ok, she decides they can be friends. Then he's smothering her, so he tells him off. Then she gets pissed off because he doesn't call. She gets all offended because he wants to have sex with her. Then she gets horny and shows up at his house for sex. The following morning she blows him off again. Utterly frustrating!

And Sheldon wasn't innocent of this either, although his indecission was a bit milder. Stuff like first he's crazy about Tyanna, he's missed her like crazy for the entire year and hasn't even wanted to be with another woman in all that time, but the next minute he's freaking out because maybe they're getting too serious? Oh, give me a break! And then there's the way he makes the exact same mistake he should have learned not to make near the end, when he, yet again, goes all stupid and decides he needs to blow off Tyanna for her own protection. Ugh!

The suspense subplot wasn't good, either. It had holes you could have driven an elephant through, and it was boring. And Sheldon came off as an idiot for not taking certain steps to protect himself and Tyanna when he saw things were heating up again. Some cop he will be!

The secondary romance was sweet but underwritten, and there was a lot of stuff about Tyanna and her friend Wendy making a workout video that should have been fascinating, but was actually tedious. I ended up fighting the impulse to skim my way to the end, and that definitely isn't good!


Running Scared, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Running Scared is the second in Elizabeth Lowell's Rarities series and features characters who'd very much intrigued me in the first book, Moving Target.

In the scorching heat of the Southwestern desert, a frightened old man knows his time is quickly running out ... as the lethal secret he protects can be hidden no longer.

Risa Sheridan knows everything about gold -- its mysteries, its allure, its perils. Her boss, Shane Tannahill -- owner of the ultra-successful Las Vegas gambling mecca, the Golden Fleece -- is addicted to the stuff. Now an ancient Celtic piece is being offered to Shane for his collection, with the promise of more to come, and the casino owner is hooked. But though she shares Shane's enthusiasm, Risa is wary -- because something about this particular artifact is mysterious and troubling, something that says "stay away." It is a voice that should be heeded, because soon people are dying all around them. And whether it's an ancient curse that has taken hold of their lives or the simple, murderous greed of unscrupulous adversaries, there is suddenly no place in the surreal, blinding glitter of Vegas for Risa and Shane to hide...
I liked this one a bit less than Moving Target. The romance was up to par, but I'm afraid the suspense angle wasn't. A B-.

I first met Shane and Risa in MT and, even as not particularly important secondary characters, they generated a noticeable spark between them. That spark wasn't lost in this book. I really enjoyed the dynamics of their relationship. They start in a purely professional relationship, both wanting each other but playing by the rules and keeping their hands to themselves. But when things start getting dangerous, they get together and stay together from then on. There's pretty much no "this is just sex" games between them. From the beginning, they (and especially Shane) recognize that there is something more going on there, and not just the faint psychic perception they each have when it comes to gold.

This doesn't mean that they become two sweet little lovebirds. These two don't really banter, they clash, but in a way that was enjoyable, not tiresome. Both have extremely alpha personalities, so I didn't mind Shane's overbearing tendencies at all, because Risa was more than tough enough to handle him... and did.

However, as much as I liked Risa when she was with Shane, I couldn't stand her when it came to her old "friend" Cherelle, a small-time thief who's managed to get her hands on some very dangerous gold and has brought it (and a boat-load of trouble) to Risa. I just hated the way Risa allowed this woman to take advantage of her. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Plus, there's tolerand and grateful and there's completely blind. I could understand it if Risa had just allowed Cherelle to soak her, thinking it was the least that she owed the woman for what had happened when she was 15 and blah, blah, blah. Ok, that I would be able to understand, if not agree with. But to be so blind as to allow Cherelle access to the secure floors at the Golden Fleece? That is stupid.

My main problem with this book was related to this, actually. I did NOT like reading about such amoral human trash as Cherelle, Tim, Socks and that gaggle of crooked casino owners, and I got to spend quite a bit of time with them. At one point, it seemed like every other chapter was narrated from their point of view. And every single time I saw that the chapter I was going to read was one of those, I mentally groaned. Luckily, Lowell does very short chapters!

The stuff about gold, I loved. As always with Lowell, it runs perilously close to the line dividing well-integrated research and info-dump (and actually crosses it a few times), but I was so fascinated by the images of celtic gold that I didn't much care. Some of the objects Lowell describes sound so amazing that I wish they did exist, just so I could see images of them.

There's also quite a bit of Rarities Unlimited, which I also enjoyed, especially Dana and Niall and Lapstrake (who happens to be the protagonist of the next book in the series, Die In Plain Sight). I want more of them! Well, I'll probably get it in the next book!


Fatal Voyage, by Kathy Reichs

>> Monday, November 28, 2005

I got hold of Fatal Voyage (excerpt), by Kathy Reichs almost by accident. I'd read about the next book in the series (Grave Secrets) somewhere and I thought it sounded interesting: a forensic anthropologist working on identifying the remains in a mass grave in Guatemala.

So I bought it and sent it to my friend's house to await the departure of my latest M-Bag. When it arrived, my friend emailed me to tell me she had two more in the series she could send me if I wanted, so I thought: why not?

Oh, and BTW, this book is # 4 in the Temperance Brennan series

Temperance Brennan hears the news on her car radio. An Air TransSouth flight has gone down in the mountains of western North Carolina, taking with it eighty-eight passengers and crew. As a forensic anthropologist and a member of the regional DMORT team, Tempe rushes to the scene to assist in body recovery and identification.

Tempe joins colleagues from the FBI, the NTSB, and other agencies to search for explanations. Was the plane brought down by a bomb, an insurance plot, a political assassination, or simple mechanical failure? And what about the prisoner on the plane who was being extradited to Canada? Did someone want him silenced forever?

Even more puzzling for Tempe is a disembodied foot found near the debris field. Tempe's microscopic analysis suggests it could not have belonged to any passenger. Whose foot is it, and where is the rest of the body? And what about the disturbing evidence Tempe discovers in the soil outside a remote mountain enclave? What secrets lie hidden there, and why are certain people eager to stop Tempe's investigation? Is she learning too much? Coming too close?
I enjoyed this surprisingly well, considering the high body count and the incredibly gory gruesomeness. It's just that both Tempe Brennan's work in general and this case in particular are so fascinating! And the author obviously knows her stuff (obviously, given her bio), and every single detail rings true. A B.

Tempe is a very interesting character in her own right. While the focus here is on the case she's working on (and later, trying to solve in spite of her boss' forbidding her to work on it), we never lose sight of the fact that Tempe has a life outside of her job and that this life needs some tending, too. And a very complicated, interesting life it is. I look forward to reading more and finding out what happens with Tempe and her daughter, her estranged husband and her new love interest.

As for the case itself, it really was one big head-scratcher. It was only about half-way through the book that I began to have an inkling of what might be going on, and especially what the relationship between the plane crash and that mysterious foot might be.

I think it was my love of romance novels that gave me a very good idea of what might have been going on in that creepy cabin. There's a certain historical personage who's mentioned a couple of times, and who every reader of historical romance will recognize immediately, even while the characters here don't. Of course, in one of those mentions, it was actually a bit problematic that the character doing the mentioning didn't . I really don't want to give any spoilers here, but Tempe's friend who's telling her about this somehow visits this person's weird old castle and goes out not knowing anything about the guy, even when it's obvious that her husband, who took her there, did know. That scene was completely unbelievable.

Anyway, moving on. What I enjoyed best was seeing Tempe work, understanding exactly what it was she was doing. We get a lot of detail into the different procedures... the different steps taken when a plane goes down, the analysis that might be done on a set of remains in order to identify them, all kinds of things.

I must say, though, that sometimes it seemed that Reichs didn't know where to stop with the details. I don't mean excessive gruesomeness, which didn't bother me much (I went into the book expecting gruesomeness, and simply took care not to eat while reading it). I mean that some sections were so very heavy on the useless detail, that they became boring. For instance, I don't think that many readers will really be interested in exactly between which streets a certain building is situated, in a tiny little North Carolina city no one has ever heard of! That kind of thing, and it happened a bit too often.

Other than that, though, everything was going well, things were truly scary and creepy, and then came the resolution. It didn't ruin the book, far from it, but I'm afraid it was so over-the-top that some of those creepy feelings evaporated. It's hard to make over-the-top scary, basically because it means things have crossed the line between what might possibly have been (which makes them scarier) and "oh, give me a break"... not scary at all. Again, I don't want to write any spoilers, but things were more than horrible enough without some of those extras thrown in.

I'm definitely going to be reading the other Reichs books I have and looking for the earlier ones, but I think I'll wait a while. While I enjoyed reading this, I don't think a steady diet of it would agree with me!


The Only One, an anthology

>> Friday, November 25, 2005

I bought The Only One purely for the Susan Squires story. I'm always interested in stories which redeem former villainesses.

The first story, Christine Feehan's Dark Descent, was one I simply skipped. I've tried Feehan too many times already and I've never even mildly liked one of her stories, so there was no point in wasting my time.

The second story was much more interesting to me. I've read most of Susan Grant's Star books, and The Star Queen is a prequel.

"The Star Queen" is the "Mother of all prequels," taking place 11,000 years before the Star books begin. It's a dark and atmospheric tale of life on the decimated planet of Sienna, where Romjha B'kah and Taj Sai dream of driving out the ruthless warlords and attempt to rebuild their demolished civilization.
I very much liked the premise of the story and I loved Taj's character, but this one ended up being just ok. It's a story with a huge scope (the survival of a civilization, in fact) which is something that can work fine, as in Jo Beverly's story in the Irresistible Forces anthology. Unfortunately, in this case, that very ambitiousness resulted in a story that felt a bit unfocused. And also, I didn't appreciate that whole thing about the men going off to fight while the women wait and worry and do womanly stuff, especially after Taj and Romjha's initial characterization, which led me to expect something a bit different. I expected better after that. A B-.

Susan Squires's Sacrilege was the story I liked best.

She had committed the ultimate crime against her kind. But after struggling against her fate, she embraced her rehabilitation. Now she is exiled from the safety of Mirso Monastery into the world of the twenty-first century, where temptation abounds. She must leave behind her mentor and the unruly feelings she has for him. And neither Magda nor Pietr realize that she will asked to pay the ultimate price for the fact of his secret love. Together, they will break every rule to find a love their kind considers Sacrilege.
Sacrilege is the sequel to Sacrament. I haven't read that one, but I was never lost, even if the action here seemed to draw heavily on what had happened in the previous book. Even the mythology, which seemed very complex and had some very big differences to the usual vampire lore was easily explained... probably not fully, but more than enough for me to be able to follow the action.

This is a story that actually feels even bigger than the previous one, but one that, all the same, feels the right length. I really liked how Squires dealt with Magda and Pietr's issues, especially that of how they should deal with their blood hunger. Only the romance was a bit shortchanged. I think I would have liked more romantic interaction between Magda and Pietr. A B+.

I don't know how I should grade the anthology as a whole, given that I didn't even give Feehan's entry a chance. It's seems unfair to grade it down for that, so I'd just average the B- and B+ and get a plain B.


Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley

>> Thursday, November 24, 2005

I've been looking for a copy of Susanna Kearsley's Mariana for years, ever since I read The Shadowy Horses, my first book by this author. Actually, once I read that one, I went looking for her entire backlist. I managed to get Named of the Dragon and Season of Storms pretty easily, but the rest eluded me. A few of the very early ones I know I have very little hope of getting (The Splendour Falls, Rosehill, Undertow and The Gemini Game), but Mariana, at least, seemed attainable, and I finally got an affordable copy a couple of weeks ago.

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew at once that it was her house. Now, twenty-five years later, by some strange chance, she has just become the new owner of the sixteenth-century Wilshire farmhouse. But Julia soon begins to suspect that more than coincidence has brought her there. As if Greywethers were a porthal between worlds, she finds herself abruptly transported back in time.

Stepping into seventeenth-century England, Julia becomes Mariana, a beautiful young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love for Richard de Mornay, handsome forebear of the present squire of Crofton Hall. Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past, falling ever deeper in love with Richard...until one day she realizes Mariana's life threatens to eclipse her own--and that she must find a way to lay the past to rest, or risk losing a chance for love in her own time.
Oh, this was good! Not perfect, for reasons I'll explain further on, but very, very good, and worth the wait. A B+.

First of all, I don't know if I'd call this a time-travel. I mean, there is a certain travelling between two different times, but it's not at all a "time-travel" in the sense it's meant in the time-travel romance subgenre, at any rate. And it's definitely not a time-travel "in the tradition of Diana Gabaldon", no matter what the blurb of my edition says!!

No, not time-travel. It's more a reincarnation and past-lives story, with a heroine who arrives at her new house, one that she has felt drawn towards all her life, and suddenly starts remembering -or rather, reliving- pieces of her past life when she was Mariana, in the 17th century. This is another difference with traditional time-travels. Julia isn't Julia in the past: she becomes Mariana and sees what Mariana is seeing, feels what Mariana is feeling and does whatever it is that Mariana did in the past. She can't change what went on back then.

And, book title notwithstanding, this is Julia's story, not Mariana. The focus is on Julia's life in the present, and on the effects her new memories have on it. On one hand, it's obvious that there's some higher purpose in Julia learning about her life as Mariana, but, on the other, there's always the danger that she might be getting a bit too involved in it and neglecting the present.

As in all of Kearsley's books, the characters and atmosphere completely drew me in. It's a slow, peaceful book, one I wouldn't recommend to people who prefer high-octane adventure, but there's just something about the way Kearsley writes that works wonderfully for me. Her characters feel real, even the smallest secondary characters, and the way she describes her settings make me feel right in the middle of the action.

And of course, there's the fascination of exploring, right alongside Julia, what exactly could be going on, never knowing what we would learn about the events in the 17th century. These sections actually reminded me a bit of one of my favourite Barbara Michaels, House of Many Shadows, and I really enjoyed them.

The only thing I thought was a bit lacking in this book is the present-day romance, Julia's, that is. There's something in the resolution that I felt came out of nowhere, and... oh, no use trying to be cryptic, I have to do the spoiler thing. You know what to do, highlight to read:

[[I guessed from the very beginning that it would be Iain that Julia would end up with. I don't know why, it just was terribly obvious to me that there was no way Geoff was going to be the one... too perfect, I guess. So I read the entire book looking for clues that there was something there between Julia and Iain, and I'm afraid I didn't detect even the merest whiff of attraction on Julia's part. On Iain's part, well, possibly, the tiniest bit, but I never got the feeling Julia saw him as a man at all.

It makes sense, in a way, because the whole point was that Julia was so focused on her Geoff=Richard theory, so she didn't even LOOK at Iain, but it just made it a bit unsatisfying. Even there, at the end of the book, she wouldn't see by herself. Iain had to tell her, practically hit her on the head with the facts, before she would even notice him. And if he hadn't, I get the feeling she would probably have been chasing after Geoff forever and ever!

Ok, done. And I don't think it would be a spoiler to mention that I loved what Julia's love-interest reveals about what the past years had been like for him. That was wonderfully romantic.

Does anyone have any news at all about Kearsley? Are any books forthcoming? Is she writing at all? Oh, but I hope so!


The Devil to Pay, by Susan Napier

>> Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Undemanding mind candy, but usually with an interesting twist or two = Susan Napier to me. My latest pick from my huge pile was The Devil to Pay.

Cressida was anything but disciplined

Except when it came to her work as a wildlife photographer. Behind a camera she was utterly dedicated, meeting all her deadlines regardless of the job's difficulties.

So it wasn't surprising that despite the onset of a high fever, she left Auckland determined to reach Coromandel. But it was a disastrous idea - and when Cressy came out of her delirium she found herself at Devlin Connell's country estate.

Unfortunately, she'd interrupted a top-secret meeting and Dev wasn't about to let her loose to spill the beans....
Ok, so it's been a while since I read this book... about a month. Sure, I should have written my post earlier and not let it slide, but I just couldn't find much to say about it, so I just wrote my posts about easier books, posts which practically wrote themselves. And now, while I remember liking The Devil to Pay all right while I was reading it, I can barely remember any details. That says C+ to me!

Let's see what I can get if I concentrate... Heroine? Pretty ok, I think. I liked her profession, which was the most memorable thing about her. She was a wildlife photographer, a good one, and she'd travelled all over the world doing her thing. Other than a few vapid moments, she mostly avoided TSTL-dom.

Hero? Dominant alpha, sure, and fond of making big assumptions, but I kind of liked him. He wasn't the cruel type, and he treated Cressy mostly all right.

Plot? Hmmm, as far as I can remember, it was pretty contrived. Not throw-the-book-against-the-wall contrived, but you did see the author's hand trying to force the plot into the path she wanted it to take.

Verdict? Only for hardcore Napier fans. She has much better titles you should try first.


Crossing the Line, by Stephanie Vaughan

>> Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I discovered Stephanie Vaughan earlier this month with Jumping the Fence, which I loved. Crossing the Line is its sequel.

Jamie MacPherson knows that looks aren’t everything -- money counts for a lot, too. And that’s a good thing, since he’s got none of one and plenty of the other. Money may not buy happiness, but it’ll sure buy you the kind of misery you like best.

Ryan Van Alstyn knows that looks don’t mean a thing when your life falls apart and money can’t bring a loved one back.

When Jamie walks into Ryan’s restaurant one night, Ryan looks better than anything on the menu. Attraction leads to sex. It could be more, but Ryan can’t be bought and Jamie thinks he has nothing to offer but his money.
As I said, I loved Jumping the Fence, but I loved Crossing the Line even more, basically because it did much better in the only area JTF was not so good. A B+.

My main problem with JTF was that I hated that it completely skipped the development of the romance. By the end of the book, I thought the protagonists were all set to start a wonderful romance, but I wanted to see that process, not simply be told it had happened.

There's much more of the falling in love process here. Partly because of the length, of course, since there are a few more pages here, but also because both men in CTL are perfectly comfortable with their sexuality, so there is no need to devote any space to them grappling with their new feelings, and a lot more space can be devoted to exploring the relationship.

And what a sweet, tender relationship it is! Both of them are wonderful, but I confess I had a soft spot for Jamie, who broke my heart with his loneliness and his absolute conviction that all he had going for him was his money. When he asks his friend Claire how he could make someone care for him, I almost cried.

The love scenes were sweet and hot at the same time, and they showed the progress in their feelings perfectly. I especially adored the later ones, when Ryan is so determined to show Jamie that he is loved and that he deserves to be.

Oh, yes, this was good! So good, in fact, that it would have been an A read for me, if it weren't for certain little problems. There aren't really any big objections, just small stuff which accumulates, not to really bother me, but simply to make the book not quite perfect.

Number one: the Jamie that we get to know throughout the book bears absolutely no resemblance to the guy in the first page, who calls his ex to whine. Or to the guy we met in a bar in the first book, for that matter. This makes the book start on a weird note.

Number two was a bit more problematic. The whole "Daddy" thing seriously creeped me out. It's not something huge, and, with some effort, I was able to ignore it (pretty much), but really! Eewww!

Finally, while the length was better than in JTF, I do wish some aspects could have been better explored... Jamie's childhood with a father who seems to have been quite homophobic and possibly violent, for instance. There are some interesting hints, but nothing comes of it. Or the story behind Ryan deciding he prefered to be a waiter, rather than what he had studied so much to be. Again, some tantalising hints, but nothing concrete. Of course, part of my disgruntlement with the short length might come from the fact that I really wanted to spend more time with this people, which isn't bad at all!

A really wonderful book. If you are looking to try something different, and maybe dip your toes into gay romance, look no further than these two books.


Whispers at Midnight, by Karen Robards

>> Monday, November 21, 2005

I haven't read Karen Robards in years. I have a huge pile of her books I read years ago, both her historicals and her newer romantic suspense titles, but I kind of lost interest in her years ago, probably because, while her One Summer is still one of my favourites, her other books have been blah for me. Whispers at Midnight (excerpt) sounded interesting, though, so I thought I'd give it a chance.

Carly Linton is hell-bent on starting over. After a bruising divorce, she moves back to her tiny hometown of Benton, Georgia, to start up a bed-and-breakfast in the old house she inherited from her grandmother. The whole town remembers her as the proverbial good girl, but Carly is tired of being good-she's ready to walk on the wide side, and she knows exactly where she wants to start.

Matt Converse, the town's former bad boy, is now the local sheriff and a pillar of the community. But he hasn't forgotten his wild days, or the magical night of the senior prom he shared with Carly years ago. When Carly's dog unearths a dead body on her property, Matt is forced to spend time there, and Carly decides to use her newfound wiles to seduce him. But when someone breaks into Carly's house and tries to take her away, Matt is the only person who can protect her from a mysterious enemy who's making it all too clear that Carly should never have come back to Benton.
This book suffers from an extremely slow start, but when it finally got going, about half-way through, it was actually pretty good. A B-.

When I say the beginning was slow, I mean sloooooooooooow. It took me about two weeks to get through the first 200 or so pages, and I'm a very fast reader, usually. I just kept putting it aside and reading something else, never able to read more than 10 or 20 pages at a time. It also didn't help that I got my M-Bag in that period, so I suddenly had a boat-load of much more interesting books calling my name. Though, to be honest, I'd already been struggling with WAM for a week by then.

That first half had scenes which were much too long, considering the action they narrated. For instance, after a short, exciting first chapter, setting up the suspense subplot, came a very long, very drawn-out scene narrating nothing more than Carly and Sandy arriving at Beadle Mansion, meeting Matt and Carly surprising a burglar. That single scene took about 100 pages and about a week to read. Then 50 more pages to tell us about Carly's first night, spent at Matt's house, in which these two kiss. Ugh, it was hard work to get through. And Carly came across as more than a little shrill in those first scenes, ridiculously hung up on ancient history. I mean, Matt had behaved like a skunk 12 years earlier, but her reaction was terribly over-the-top.

But then, gradually, the action started picking up and, by the time our two protagonists finally fall into bed together, I was zipping right along. I got very involved in their relationship then. I'm not a big fan of committment-phobic heroes, but I liked how Robards dealt with this. And Matt's pity-proposal and Carly's reaction to it were priceless!

The suspense subplot also picked up some steam about then, and it was a good one, scarier than I've read lately. So scary, actually, that it felt a bit weird that Carly was able to function so normally, especially after a certain episode, which would have been right at home in a horror movie. Man, that was creepy!

So, not the best romantic suspense I've read lately, but not a bad way to spend a few hours, either, as long as you don't mind skimming a bit in the first half!


The Spy Who Loves Me, by Julie Kenner

>> Friday, November 18, 2005

I felt like reading some nice, light fun, and The Spy Who Loves Me (excerpt), by Julie Kenner sounded like it might hit the spot.


Call him Teague. Finn Teague. A jack-of-all-trades, he's been everything from ski instructor to cook, but he's always craved a job that wouldn't bore the living daylights out of him. He longs to be a shaken-not-stirred kind of guy but knows it'll never happen. Currently a lawyer, Double-Oh-No spends most of his time in his L.A. apartment, ogling his two gorgeous neighbors-a view to a thrill-and fantasizing that he's a secret agent.

Amber Robinson, an elite operative for a top-secret government agency, is tracking a suspected terrorist's mistress. Her hunky neighbor Finn seems to be doing the same and Amber suspect he's a spy-just a very, very bad one. Setting out to seduce him and crack his secret identity (yes, she has the best job ever) Amber unwittingly takes Finn on a passion-filled, high-stakes adventure that'll teach him to never say never again.
You know the mindzone you have to be in to enjoy a James Bond movie? Well, that's how you have to read this book. It is VERY James Bond... fast-paced, cheesy, shallow fun. A B.

It's villains who execute their enemies (our hero and heroine, of course) by slowly filling up a room with water, it's dastardly plots to cause World War III (with this surreal scene with the eeeevilest men in the planet bidding for a dangerous secret weapon), it's miraculous gadgets created by an eccentric genius in the agency's basement, it's reality-defying stunts (one of which, the free fall from a plane, I think I actually saw in a James Bond movie!). Good fun, but the type that works better if you don't think about it too deeply.

It's also a very nice romance between a super spy and a civilian who fantasizes about becoming a spy, with the twist of having the heroine be the super spy and the hero the spy-wannabe. I must say, I liked the romance here much better than I do in the James Bond movies, even if the characterization was pretty sketchy.

The only disappointment here was that I spent most of the first half of the book eagerly anticipating the moment when Finn would find out Amber was, in fact, a spy, but when it came, it was surprisingly anticlimactic. Other than that, this is just what it advertises: nothing too deep, but fun to read.


An Unacceptable Offer, by Mary Balogh

>> Thursday, November 17, 2005

Well, here we go. Two Mary Balogh posts in the same week. Though I must say, I did read An Unacceptable Offer a couple of weeks after A Christmas Bride. I just took a long time writing my ACB post!

Jane Matthews has no great hope of contracting a dazzling match--she is not wealthy or socially prominent or beautiful. When Viscount Fairfax unexpectedly proposes marriage to her, it seems like a dream come true. Not only is he titled, wealthy, and handsome, but also she has been half in love with him for a long time. Yet the proposal is such that she feels compelled to say no. Fairfax has to learn to make her a far more acceptable offer before either of them can find true happiness.
Ok: girl has loved boy forever, but he never even noticed her and married another girl. Boy is now widowed and back in town looking for a mother for his beloved daughters. Boy now does notice girl, thinks she's nice and sensible, and he proposes, explaning why very clearly. Girl refuses.

Boy's best friend has also noticed girl and also thinks she's nice and sensible. He also proposes, explaning why very clearly. Girl accepts. But now that girl is engaged to his best friend, boy notices she's more than just a nice, sensible mother for his daughers, and boy is falling in love with her. And girl is still in love with boy, so what to do, what to do?

Sounds like a heroine you could just shake until her teeth fell off for behaving so stupidly? But she isn't. Really! Jane's behaviour made perfect sense to me. The key thing one needs to understand is that Jane, unlike so many Regency heroines these days, does want to marry and have a family, and doesn't think romantic, passionate love needs to be a part of this. She is perfectly willing to make a marriage of convenience, just not with a man she's as crazy about as she is about Michael.

I really can't blame her. She simply doesn't want to spend the rest of her life loving a man with all her heart, while this man thinks of her as nothing more than a convenience. And nothing about Michael's proposal makes her think that the situation would be any different. So, very understandably to me, she says no.

On the other hand, when Joseph proposes, it's a different story. The choice isn't between living her life alone and living it desperately unhappy because her beloved husband doesn't love her; it's between living her life alone and living it with a man who's just as fond of her as she is of him. So, very understandably to me, she says yes.

What I loved best about this book was the way Balogh showed Michael's feelings for Jane changing, the way he gradually started seeing her as "something more". Not just sensible, not just a good potential mother, something more than that. He starts seeing her as a woman, and he starts falling in love with this woman.

It all starts when he proposes to her. Jane's wonderful speech to him, setting him straight on the fact that she is that something more, wakes him up, and he starts looking at her differently. By the time she becomes engaged to Joseph, Michael is more than half in love with her, and he falls all the way when Joseph insists on taking Jane with him to Michael's house for the holidays.

This part is just wonderful... two honourable people now in love with each other, each not sure about the other's feelings and in circumstances in which the honourable thing is to not even try to find out. And these are people who are very honourable, and to whom doing the honourable thing is important. Maybe it's the sadist in me, but I greatly enjoyed reading about this impossible situation.

The funny thing is that, for all that I loved this book, in Jane's place, I would definitely have chosen Joseph's offer over Michael's. I recognize Michael and Jane were perfectly suited to each other, though, so I thought it was a lovely story. A B+.


His Every Kiss, by Laura Lee Guhrke

>> Wednesday, November 16, 2005

His Every Kiss (excerpt, etc), by Laura Lee Guhrke sounded delightfully different. And LLG is an author I've enjoyed in the past, so...

Everyone knows about Dylan Moore—his brilliant talent and his pleasure-seeking ways—but no one knows the torment that lies beneath his reckless veneer. Only one woman gets a glimpse of the forces that drive Dylan’s soul, a woman who haunts his dreams and evokes his passions as no other woman ever has before.

Disgraced and destitute, Grace Cheval wants nothing to do with the seductive man who desires her. When Dylan offers her a position as governess to his newfound daughter, she knows his true intentions are dishonorable. Yet she finds this charismatic man hard to resist, and she returns his passionate kisses with a fire that matches his own. Can Dylan dare hope that this proud, spirited beauty will melt the ice around his heart?
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it is fresh and different, and I truly enjoyed myself while I was reading it. On the other, I never did completely warm up to the hero, and the romance ended up not really working for me. A B.

The book engaged me from the very first scene, in which recently widowed Grace Cheval comes across famous composer Dylan Moore about to shoot himself. Dylan is suffering from a condition called tinnitus (a ringing in the ears) since he fell off a horse, and hasn't been able to compose a single note ever since. Having suddenly lost what was the very cornerstone of his life, he finds no reason to keep on living.

But when he sets eyes on Grace, all of a sudden, he can hear music again. This gives him a certain hope for the future, and his determination to kill himself is forgotten.

Fast-forward 5 years, and Dylan hasn't heard any more music. He has been on the lookout for Grace all along, when he sets eye on her in a party where she's playing her violin for the orchestra. Having found her, he refuses to let the woman he's come to think of as his muse go, and makes her an offer the destitute Grace can't refuse.

Dylan has recently been confronted with the fact that he has a daughter he never knew he had (an eight-year-old daughter, no less) and who he's now responsible for. His offer to Grace kills two birds with one stone. She's to be his daughter's governess, which guarantees Dylan access to her. He feels that, as long as he can make her stay in his presence for a while, he's bound to keep hearing the music she brings with her.

And as Grace and Dylan get to know each other, while leaving in close proximity, their relationship starts to develop. The characterization is great. Both Grace and Dylan are perfectly well-drawn individuals, with issues that ring completely true. Grace, for instance, is hesitant about being drawn into a relationship with Dylan because of her experiences with her artist late husband, who considered her his muse and then blamed her when things weren't going well. And Dylan's many-layered obsession with Grace, first as a source of music and then, increasingly, as a woman, felt right.

And here comes my problem with this book. The thing is that while I liked and understood Grace, I only understood Dylan. I didn't particularly like him, which isn't really a necessity for me in order to enjoy a book, but which helps me when it comes to loving a romance. But, even more problematic, the reason I didn't like Dylan all that much was one that kept me from believing that what he was feeling for Grace was love.

See, I thought Dylan was quite a selfish man. For me, something that characterizes love is that you want the other person to be happy, their feelings become a priority for you. And I always felt that, for Dylan, it was all about what he wanted and what he was feeling. I don't think he makes even one gesture in the whole book that benefits Grace and not himself.

So this is it. I'm not sure if it makes sense, but, while I quite enjoyed the book, I didn't really enjoy it as a romance.


Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde

>> Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Something Rotten is book # 4 in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. As far as I can tell, this is the final book in this series I've enjoyed so much.

Detective Thursday Next has had her fill of her responsibilities as the Bellman in Jurisfiction, enough with Emperor Zhark’s pointlessly dramatic entrances, outbreaks of slapstick raging across pulp genres, and hacking her hair off to fill in for Joan of Arc. Packing up her son, Friday, Thursday returns to Swindon accompanied by none other than the dithering Danish prince Hamlet. Caring for both is more than a full- time job and Thursday decides it is definitely time to get her husband Landen back, if only to babysit. Luckily, those responsible for Landen’s eradication, The Goliath Corporation— formerly an oppressive multinational conglomerate, now an oppressive multinational religion— have pledged to right the wrong.

But returning to SpecOps isn’t a snap. When outlaw fictioneer Yorrick Kaine seeks to get himself elected dictator, he whips up a frenzy of anti-Danish sentiment and demands mass book burnings. The return of Swindon’s patron saint bearing divine prophecies could spell the end of the world within five years, possibly faster if the laughably terrible Swindon Mallets don’t win the Superhoop, the most important croquet tournament in the land. And if that’s not bad enough, The Merry Wives of Windsor is becoming entangled with Hamlet. Can Thursday find a Shakespeare clone to stop this hostile takeover? Can she prevent the world from plunging into war? Can she vanquish Kaine before he realizes his dream of absolute power? And, most important, will she ever find reliable child care? Find out in this totally original, action-packed romp, sure to be another escapist thrill for Jasper Fforde’s growing legion of fans.
Something Rotten is good, but not my favourite in the series. I'd rate it a B.

It's terribly ingenious and clever and funny. There are numerous different plotlines, all intertwining perfectly and unpredictably, and the resolution of each is brilliant, leaving not one single thread hanging.

We also get definition in the "Landen eradicated" saga, which was just about time. And if this resolution is a bit anticlimactic (and it is), it's also quite sweet and romantic.

But... to be completely honest, I missed the BookWorld, so prominent in the previous book, The Well Of Lost Plots. As clever as this book was, the BookWorld sections in the previous books were cleverer and quite addictive.

Probably unfair of me to feel this way, but there it is.


A Christmas Bride, by Mary Balogh

>> Monday, November 14, 2005

A Christmas Bride is one of Mary Balogh's old Regencies, a book related to both A Precious Jewel and The Famous Heroine.

To please his father, Edgar Downes, a wealthy merchant, agrees to choose a well-born bride by Christmas. He picks out a suitable young lady, but then finds himself caught up in an unconsidered passion for a widow his own age. Helena, Lady Stapleton, is hiding a deeply troubled past behind a cool, seductive, cynical exterior. Edgar takes his bride home for Christmas, but all the magic of the season is necessary to bring Helena pardon and peace and to bless their marriage.
I loved this book. An A-.

I love tortured heroines, and A Christmas Bride had a wonderful one. The thing about Helena was that she wasn't torturing herself for some idiotically inane reason. Sometimes it feels as if romance heroes can be forgiven for just about everything, while heroines must be perfect and aren't allowed to have behaved badly in their pasts. So then, when an author wants to write a tortured heroine, we get women who beat themselves up for years over things that either hurt no one or were honest mistakes on their part.

Not so with Helena. What she did was bad and caused real damage to someone she cared about. We saw that clearly in A Precious Jewel. I'm not going to mention what it was, even if anyone who's read APW will know it, but suffice it to say, she's completely justified in regretting her actions.

Through her romance with Edgar, Helena finds her salvation. If Edgar hadn't shown up in her life and started caring about her and hadn't found out why exactly she felt she was so undeserving of love, and set out to help her rectify the situation, I truly believe Helena would have continued to torture herself the rest of her life. This would usually be enough to make me throw a book against the wall, but I actually found Helena's position quite understandable. Sure, she was mistaken in thinking an apology on her part wouldn't at all help the person she'd harmed and would only serve to make her feel better, but her position was quite admirable.

I just adored the romance here. I loved to see Helena change, loved to see her start caring about the people around her that she didn't want to care about. And if I enjoyed seeing the change in Helena, I also loved to see Edgar's, especially in his feelings towards his new wife. He went from being sexually obssessed with her, but not particularly liking her, to being sexually obssessed with her and grudgingly liking her, to being sexually obssessed with her and loving her and wanting to protect her and give her peace, and his actions to make this happen were wonderfully romantic.

ACB is full of characters from Balogh's other books, but it stands alone pretty well, since all these characters have a real role to play in the action and aren't just there to reassure us that they lived happily ever after. Still, the other books are all great, so if possible, I recommend that you read them all in order!


I'm doing the happy book dance...

>> Sunday, November 13, 2005

...because my latest M-Bag has arrived, so it's like early Christmas at my house! Two huge boxes full of lovely, wonderful books. I spent hours and hours just looking at them, reading the blurbs, sorting them in different orders and generally deciding which to read first, definitely not an easy choice.

It was hard, but I'm finally going with Balogh's Simply Unforgettable. The ones that were top contenders are all in a smaller pile on my bedside table, though, so I'll have to make yet another tough choice when I finish the Balogh (pretty soon, at the rate I'm going with it!).

In that pile, so that you get an idea of what was in that box:

And you know what I noticed? I'm much more excited about the contemps, the chick-lits, the non-romances and the paranormals than about the historical romances (only one in the list above, for instance). Weird, historicals were my first love!


Twelve Across, by Barbara Delinsky

>> Friday, November 11, 2005

As a huge fan of crossword puzzles, I couldn't resist picking up Twelve Across, by Barbara Delinsky, an author I hadn't tried before.

Recluse Garrick Rodenheiser wasn't looking for love. But when the gorgeous Leah Gates arrives on his doorstep, he realizes he'd be a fool to send her away.
It was a pleasant, if unremarkable read. A C+.

The book has two pretty distinct halves. In the first, Leah and Garrick meet, get stuck in Garrick's cabin in the woods because of the mud season and fall in love. I quite liked this part. I'm a sucker for cabin romances (and this one was that, literally), and both Garrick and Leah were likeable, interesting characters, two lonely people who had got so used to living alone that they didn't even realize how lonely and hungry for some companionship and love they were. The way their romance developed was sweet, if a bit quick.

Half-way through, any conflict there was regarding the romance is completely and totally resolved, and the rest of the book deals with certain personal issues each of them (but especially Garrick) has to resolve in order to be completely happy. This part wasn't bad, really, but it just fell flat. While the first half takes place during a short period, the second encompasses months and months, and it was all random important scenes over this long period, which made it all feel unconnected and distant. Plus, Garrick's issues weren't particularly interesting to me, which meant I was faintly bored a lot of the time.

So, not an offensively bad book, or anything, but hardly worth recommending. Oh, and the crossword angle? Interesting enough, but I thought it was under-utilized. Too bad!


What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden

>> Thursday, November 10, 2005

I have a guest here today: Arielle, from 3rdWorldGirl. Arielle is a huge romance novel fan who lives in Haiti. She wanted to try her hand at writing a couple of reviews every now and then, so, since her own blog has nothing to do with romance novels, we'll be posting them here.

So, without further ado, here's her first one, a review of What a Woman Needs by debut author Caroline Linden, which she rates a B+. I haven't read this one myself, but after reading Arielle's comments, I've gone and ordered it. Expect my take on it in a few weeks!


Guest reviewer

What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden

How hard can it be to marry an heiress?

Not terribly, Stuart Drake thinks, if you're good-looking, charming, and in line for a viscount title, which, fortunately, he is. To end his penniless existence, he simply has to convince his intended bride's shrewish, wizened old guardian that he isn't a fortune hunter... which, unfortunately, he is in the extreme. Still, once he meets the old witch, how difficult could it prove to charm her?

Quite, actually. Especially when the lady in question is temptation made flesh- a gorgeous widow with a reputation for knowing a rake when she sees one, having bedded many herself. She'd rather die than let Stuart win. And with his plans thwarted, Stuart has only one option: to take revenge on his tormentor through seduction. But learning what this woman needs might only leave him hungry for more...
I bought this book because I'd read that the leads were both in their thirties. I love "older" romances because I'd like to believe the ability to love truly and deeply isn't the sole province of youth.

At first, several plot points sounded all too familiar: the widowed aunt, the fortune hunter rake, the headstrong but naive ward. Ms Linden managed to put a zesty twist that made it palatable.

I think Ms Linden, for all that she's a debut author, handled this relationship beautifully. Stuart and Charlotte are wonderfully matched in strength, wit and sensuality. You never feel one has the upper hand on the other. Well, never for too long, anyway.

I also loved that this couple learned their lessons the hard way and they were both made stronger and smarter by these experiences.They are also unsure of their feelings for each other. Charlotte, in particular, doesn't quite know what to make of Stuart: "No man had ever looked at her that way, as if she were precious and amazing and completely beyond his expectations. As if he couldn't believe he'd been lucky enough to find her. As if he might be different than every other man in her life."

There's also something to be said about an experienced heroine. The love scenes were very hot and never awkward. It's about mutual pleasure rather than a one-sided usual initiation. But what I loved the most was the chemistry between the two. It's wonderfully hot and, better yet, sustained even after they have their first love scene.

Tender and sensual scenes abound, as here, at the opera, where Stuart is watching Charlotte, seated in front of him: "Her shoulders were entirely bare, and he wondered what she would do if he leaned forward and kissed the back of her neck, right at the necklace clasp as he undid it and let the pearls slide down..."

I think I appreciated most of all their honesty. These are definitely characters who know who they are and what they've done. There is no sudden change of behavior, rather a liberation of their true selves as the story progresses. You don't find that as often in historical romances anymore.

One of the few negatives I found in this book was regarding some of the secondary characters, villain included. Some of them were distracting, almost intruding on the romance. The ending was also a little too action-packed, and some issues were resolved too sweetly for my taste.

But one character that intrigues me, and that I'm looking forward to, is the Duke of Ware. In an interesting twist, Ms Linden did *not* make him the hero of her next book, What a Gentleman Wants. Still, the very air of mystery she surrounded Stuart's friend with was enough to whet my appetite. I strongly recommend this book.



The Perfect Victim, by Linda Castillo

>> Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I loved my first Linda Castillo, The Shadow Side, so much that my first reaction was to head over to amazon and buy her backlist of romantic suspense single titles. Luckily, I already had one of them on hand, The Perfect Victim (excerpt), and I started it pretty much immediately.

Despite a happy childhood, successful entrepreneur Addison Fox has always yearned to find her birth mother. And with the unexpected death of her adopted parents comes a renewed determination to fill in the missing pieces of her life—to find her “other” family. But she’s too late.

Burnt-out from past investigations, Randall Talbot is looking for some relief while helping out at his brother’s detective agency. But when Addison Fox walks in, he can’t resist her plea for help—even though the cost is murder.

Addison is the sole survivor of her bloodline—a line that a killer is
determined to make extinct. And even if the world-weary Randall has little regard left for life, he may be the only man capable of saving hers…
This was a good read, but not quite as good and fresh and fascinating as The Shadow Side felt to me. Still, a B.

Like TSS, I was very impressed by how seamlessly Castillo blended the romance and the suspense, making each enhance the other and not allowing either to be overwhelmed. Both elements were pretty strong and engaging, even if each had its own problems which kept me from unreservedly loving them.

On the romance front, my main problem was that it felt to me that there were certain series romance touches there, touches that didn't really go well with the tone of the book. I mean things like Addison's virginity, which felt completely gratuitous and added nothing to her character.

The good news is that TPV seems to have been Castillo's first single title after starting her career with series romance, and since I didn't detect anything like that in TSS, chances are this was just a matter of an author dragging her category roots behind her for a while when moving to single titles, so I'm not expecting to have this same problem in any of the other books.

Other than this, which wasn't more than a slight annoyance, the romance was quite solidly written. The chemistry between Addison and Randall was clear to me, and they were each likeable, interesting characters. Addison did indulge in a couple of extremely TSTL moments, but they seems to have been momentary aberrations, nothing more.

As for the suspense, well, to be completely truthful, it was good, but I admit to feeling a bit let down. It's just that after the wonderfully intriguing beginning, I was really hoping for a more interesting explanation of what was going on. Those early parts were just amazing, and I couldn't wait to find out what was what, but once things started getting clearer, I wasn't completely happy.

I guess the main problem was that the villain's actions felt slightly over the top, and maybe even a bit irrational. And the guy wasn't too well-drawn, either, not like the villains in TSS, who were very impressive.

All in all, though, this was one I enjoyed.


Behind Closed Doors, by Betina Krahn

>> Monday, November 07, 2005

November Author of the Month in my Historical Romance Chat group is Betina Krahn, and, since I had one of hers I wanted to read already in my pile, I thought I'd get it in early. The book was Behind Closed Doors and it was one I'd read over 10 years ago, when it first came out. I wanted to reread it because it was one I remembered liking (but not much else) when I did my last purge of my bookshelves.


Beautiful, eager and innocent Corinna Huntington is swept up in the intrigues of the Tudor court - plunged into a world of ambition and treachery. Rampant with nefarious plots and bawdy pleasures.


Manly and magnificent Count Rugar Kalisson swears vengeance on the insulting, overbearing English who hate and scorn him for his Swedish heritage - vowing to best Elizabeth's knights in contest...and her ladies in love.


A sheltered English rose and a virile "Viking" nobleman are drawn together by rapturous and reckless passion - surrendering to the forbidden ecstasy of a bold, soul-bearing love that would inflame the wrath of a jealous Queen...and provoke a diplomatic scandal!
Well, it did NOT start well! English women are all whores, with no moral or loyalty, Rugar Kalisson says, and he means to have them all, one by one. *Groan* And just what does that make you, Rugar? I just HATE that kind of hypocritical hero. But did Rugar live up to that early (lack of) promise, or was his character something different?

He wasn't quite that bad, in the end, but he (and several other characters and plot points) were bad enough that I didn't finish this book. I got up to page 200 or so, well past the half-way point, so I can safely say I gave it a fair shake, but it got to a point where reading each extra page became a real chore, so I just gave it up.

Problems? The main thing was how "old-style" this book felt, even though it was written in 1991. It wasn't a bodice-ripper, but it was written in that style, full of larger-than-life characters I couldn't relate to and bursting with purple prose. I know there are plenty of people who miss this type of book, but I'm not one of them.

The hero was dumb as a rock (his revenge plot against Elizabeth I has to be read to be believed, it was so silly) and the heroine was the type so common 20 years ago... Corinna is spectacularly beautiful, very virginal and innocent, a talented scholar and musician and extremely boring in her feisty perfection.

I was especially looking forward to the secondary romance, because someone told me it featured one of the ladies at court who was bawdy and very sexually experienced and that she'd liked seeing a woman like that given a love story, for once, instead of being punished. But even that didn't work out very well. At the point I stopped reading, we already knew that this supposedly very sexual woman was all talk, and had slept with exactly one man after her husband died (and that was a hurried, fumbling encounter). Can you say "faux whore"? And the guy I'm pretty sure she ends up with was a judgemental dry stick. Bah!

Definitely not the book for me. And if I'd read breasts refered to as "bubbies" one more time, I'd have thrown the book so hard against the wall that I'd have left a dent!


Jumping the Fence, by Stephanie Vaughan

>> Friday, November 04, 2005

Jumping the Fence (excerpt) is a novella by Stephanie Vaughan and, yes, it is gay romance.

What do you do when the last thing you need is the only thing you want?

As much as they drove him crazy, Kevin had always done fine with women. But lately they were pushing him over the edge. They wanted it. They didn’t want it. They didn’t do it on the first date. Didn’t give head. Could they just kiss? Not with the lights on. It made his head want to implode just thinking about it. Whatever they possessed that passed for a thought process was totally alien to him.

Men, on the other hand, were simple: sex, sports, cars and occasionally food took care of it, pretty much. So when he finds himself checking out the new guy at work, Durrance, and Durrance is looking back, he wonders what it would be like, just this once, to have it the easy way. But he’s not gay or anything. Heck, no.

It’s just he can’t stop thinking about jumping the fence.
This really was a great story. The only issues I had stemmed basically from its very short length, but they were big enough that I can only justify to myself rating it a B, even though I'm itching to rate it higher, based on how much I enjoyed reading it.

Sweet, romantic, hot... Jumping the Fence is all that. Both Ben and Kevin were likeable, well-drawn characters, and their romance was wonderful. I really liked the way Vaughan handled the beginning of it, especially, the way each hesitated before going forward, Ben not knowing whether Kevin would be receptive to his advances and Kevin not knowing what the hell he was doing.

Even Kevin's idiotic freaking out about the gayness of Ben kissing him, when they'd just finished giving each other oral sex, rang true. Stupid as that is, it's not the first time I've seen it. I guess people's minds can work overtime to justify things they don't want to accept.

My main problem with this story is, as I said, that it felt much too short. And I don't just mean in a "oh, I wish there were more of this, because I enjoyed it so much I don't want to leave this universe" kind of way. That isn't really a problem, more like a sign that the story worked well.

No, what I mean is that I found too many areas that felt underdeveloped, in a "I can't believe she skipped this!" kind of way. Things like knowing more about Ben's past, especially his relationship with his family, which is only hinted at, and his relationship with Jamie, or the mental processes Kevin went through to end up accepting he was gay: that felt much too hurried.

And the ending was especially unsatisfying. One minute they're finally in bed together for the first time, the next it's a few months later and they're a couple, well accepted by Kevin's family. No, no, no! I wanted to see the relationship develop, I wanted to see them fall in love (I did see Ben, kind of, but not Kevin!), I wanted to see Ben meeting the Beltráns for the first time and finally finding an accepting family, I wanted to see so many things that would have been not only nice to see, but, to my mind, necessary for a really emotionally satisfying romance!

Ah, well, at least what was there was great. I'm definitely reading Vaughan again. I've already bought Crossing the Line, about Ben's ex, Jamie, and a BDSM story of hers Bam recommended, Cruel To Be Kind. I have high hopes for both.


The Shadow Side, by Linda Castillo

>> Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Shadow Side was my first book by author Linda Castillo. It had been hovering arount the top of my TBR for a while, and I finally started it last week.

There is a dark side to every passion . . .

Dr. Elizabeth Barnes has devoted her heart and soul to medical research…at the expense of love in her life. But now-winning an award for her latest breakthrough drug-Elizabeth is at the top of her game, and she wouldn't change a thing.

Until a detective contacts her about a recent wave of homicides.

Cases of random violence have erupted across the country-murderous acts committed by previously non-violent people. Detective Sergeant Adam Boedecker, grieving brother to one of the suicide-murderers, has discovered that all the suspects had taken Elizabeth's new anti-depressant, Valazine.

First, she dismisses it as the wild accusations of a burnt-out cop. But after another mysterious death, Elizabeth realizes that this intense, driven man may be the only one who can stop the killings…and save her from the dark side of her work, her passion, her life.
Castillo isn't a particularly well-known author, but if her other books are as good as this one, she deserves to be. A B+.

Romantic suspense isn't really my favourite subgenre, probably because it's so hard to get exactly right. What usually happens is that either the romance is good, but the suspense feels perfunctory and clumsily plotter, or the suspense is so complex and overwhelming that the romance feels tacked on and hurried. In The Shadow Side, however, the balance is perfect.

The suspense side of the book is truly fascinating and different. No clichéd serial killers or secret organizations or anything like that... it deals with the hero suspecting that an anti-depressant drug developed by the heroine's company actually turns people into homicidal maniacs.

It's interesting, because there's not really much suspense stemming from finding out what is going on, since it's pretty clear from the beginning that someone (or rather, several someones) at Roth must have interfered with the testing process. However, seeing Adam and Elizabeth looking for proof and building their case bit by little bit still makes for a tense, suspenseful read.

Also, part of the urgency came from the fact that this investigation affected both of them in a very personal way. This isn't just another case for Adam. It's part mission to avenge his brother, part a way to prove that he can still be a cop after a very difficult recovery from being shot in the head three years before. And for Elizabeth, this drug is her baby, it's been her life for 10 years and the potential villains are the people who have pretty much become her family over the years.

I especially liked how the author wrote these villains, how she made them human, only human beings who could justify unjustifiable consequences to themselves, as long as those consequences were far enough from them. And even more or less knowing who they were, the dénouement still managed to surprise me.

The romance was great, too. There is some very real chemistry between Adam and Elizabeth, and I especially liked that the way their relationship developed felt appropriate. There's no "bullets are flying overhead and the bad guys are coming closer and still we stop for sex because we're like mink that way" kind of thing going on here. The suspense plot is constructed in such a way that there are more than enough quiet moments for the romance to develop, and it's always there... it never feels as if the author forgets about it in order to concentrate on the plot.

The minute I finished TSS, I went and bought all of Castillo's romantic suspense titles. Fortunately, I already have The Perfect Victim in my TBR, so I can start it soon, but now I've also bought Fade to Red and Depth Perception. I actually remember reading the reviews of those when they came out, but I thought they sounded a bit too grim, and that maybe I should try something else by the author first. Well, now I have, and it was good enough that I trust the author enough to read them, however grim they might be!


In The Midnight Rain, by Ruth Wind

>> Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More rereads of all favourites: also last weekend: In The Midnight Rain, by Ruth Wind.

Looking For The Past...

Ellie Connor is a biographer with a special talent for piecing together fragments of the past. Her latest project, though, promises to be her most challenging--and personal. Not only is she researching the life of a blues singer who disappeared mysteriously forty years ago, but Ellie is also trying to find the truth about the parents she never knew. The love child of a restless woman who died young and an anonymous father, Ellie has little to go on but a faded postcard her mother sent from a small East Texas town--the hometown of her latest subject.

Could Mean Finding Her Future

It is there that Ellie meets Blue Reynard, a man with deep roots and wide connections who may help her find answers. With a piercing gaze and cool grin, Blue is as sultry and seductive as the Southern night air. Beneath his charming surface, however, lies a soul damaged by loss. Despite her better judgment, Ellie finds herself irresistibly drawn to Blue's passion--and his pain. But Ellie's been lured by sweet talk and hot kisses before. How can she possibly stay with blue when every instinct tells her to run.
It's not every week that I write two A+ reviews in a row! But that's the only grade that can do both this one and To Have and To Hold justice. Very different books, but each perfect in their own way.

ITMR has a wonderful heroine, a simply to-die-for hero, and a sweet, romantic and truly hot romance between them. When Ellie arrives at Pine Bend with certain investigations she wants to pursue (more about them later, as they're a huge and lovely part of the book), she wasn't expecting her email acquaintance, Dr. Laurence Reynard, could be such a young, beautiful man. And Blue was expecting something a bit different, too.

Ellie's immediately drawn to Blue. Who wouldn't! The man is that yummy... beautiful, intelligent, caring and tortured, but in a way that he doesn't take it out on the people around him. In fact, he's caring and nurturing. The way he took care of his old cat made me completely fall in love with him.

Ellie feels all that, but she just knows getting involved with Blue will not be good for her. He's just too tragic and has too much baggage for her to believe that he could heal enough, and is too gorgeous for her to believe he could be seriously interested in plain Ellie Connor. She just knows that if they do get involved, she'll fall in love and have her heart broken.

But Blue soon starts to fall for her himself, and once he starts to seriously pursue her, she doesn't stand a chance. And the romance that develops as they each fall in deeper for each other is wonderfully romantic and beautiful. But Blue's had so much loss in his life, so will he be able to dare to fall in love again and put himself in a position to risk losing someone else he cares about? You can probably guess the answer, this being a romance novel and all, but the path to getting this question answered is one of the most beautiful, evocative reads I've ever experienced.

But this book is so much more than a wonderful romance (not that "just" a wonderful romance is anything to sneeze at, of course!). Ellie arrives at Pine Bend with a two-fold mission to accomplish. First, as part of her research into singer Mabel Beauvois' life, which she intends to turn into a biography, she's trying to find out what happened to Mabel when she seemingly disappeared into thin air all those years ago, never to be seen again.

At the same time, Ellie wants to try her hand at finding out something a bit more closer to home. She never knew who her father was, and since all she knows is that her mother spent a few months at Pine Bend around the time Ellie was conceived, she suspects her father might have been from the area. This is not her priority in coming to Pine Bend, but she figures that, as long as she's there, she'll ask a few questions and see where they lead.

Both these mysteries Ellie tries to unravel are incredibly engaging and intriguing, and they weave together in some surprising ways. I loved finding out more about Mabel's life, what it could have been like for a talented, young, black woman in an area of the US where life musn't have been easy for her.

Related to this, something I especially enjoyed about ITMR was the way the issue of race was explored. There are no stereotypes here, and each person is simply him or herself, but Wind acknowledges different experiences and the effects these must have had on people's lives.

Anyway, Ellie's search for her father was fascinating, too, and I think it was my favourite of the two mysteries to be unraveled. Ellie soon hits on several possibilities, and her exploration of them brings back the summer in which a group of young men left for Vietnam, many of them never to return. These sections were just so poignant and sad and beautiful! And, I don't want to spoil any surprises, but when the resolution to the mystery is revealed, it is just perfect and brought tears to my eyes.

In fact, the entire conclusion did. And a few of them were simply because the book was over and I didn't want to leave that world yet. The true mark of a keeper, that!


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