new photos!

>> Sunday, May 28, 2006

No time to write today, but I'll give you the short version. First, sumo. So much fun, I never thought I'd become so excited about sumo wrestling, but I ended up cheering and clapping with the rest of the arena.

Then, a visit to the Meiji Jingu shrine, an oasis of peace and calm and greenness in the middle of busy Tokyo, right after the place where young Japanese go to show off their most outrageous fashions.

And finally, a visit to a store where we were able to try on some kimonos. Hope you enjoy the pictures!


More photos posted

>> Monday, May 22, 2006

Hi everyone!

I've uploaded a few more photos to my picture blog, so go ahead and look. The captions are again in Spanish, so I apologize, but you should be able to get most of what's going on.

I spent Saturday in Yokohama, then went to Shinjuku for a night out (nice dinner at a lovely restaurant and then an evening of karaoke, with the Japanese friends of one of my classmates).

Sunday I spent all day in Asakusa, for the Sanja Matsuri festival, and it was wonderfully colourful. I hope the photos can convey that!

Everything was just amazing, from the portable shrines being carried around the streets, to the people in traditional clothing ambling around and the hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of snacks and sweets. I absolutely loved it, thank heavens I found out about it in time!

Anyway, I need to go to bed now (it's almost 11 here and I have class early tomorrow). Talk to you all later!


Hi from the outskirts of Tokyo!

>> Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hi everyone! At last some sign of life from me! Sorry, things have been crazy this first week. Plus, I was having trouble downloading my photos, so I had nothing to show you! :-(

Anyway, I'm staying at the JICA centre in Hachioji, a small city about an hour by train from the centre of Tokyo. During the week, I have class most of the day, plus Japanese class on the evenings, so other than taking a walk to the commercial centre of Hachioji (no mean feat, since the place we're staying is way up on really steep hills), I'm not able to explore much.

On the weekends, though, I'm free, so I'll be able to visit lots of places. This past weekend we did a Tokyo city tour on Saturday and on Sunday we went to Akihabara, which is where lots and lots of electronics stores are located... and I bought a laptop! I don't yet know what I'll do next weekend. Maybe a day trip to Yokohama, or to Shinjuku (some things, like visiting Ginza, I have to wait to do until next weekend, cause I promised one of the girls here I'd go with her and she's busy next weekend), I don't know. Nalini Singh sent me some great recs, some of which I've already followed, as you will see in the photos.

Oh, speaking of the photos! I've created a blog to upload the pictures. I tried to find a site that would let me upload them with comments underneath, but I didn't find any, so I just created another blog. It's at, and I've already uploaded a lot of pics from the first week. I'm afraid I wrote the captions in Spanish, but I'm sure you'll all be able to catch the gist of them!

Ok, bye for now! I'll post again when I upload more photos... probably next week, unless something really interesting happens this week! ;-)


Quick, drive-by post

>> Monday, May 08, 2006

Hi everyone! Just a quick post to thank you all for your good wishes. I'm at the Sakura Lounge in JFK airport right now, waiting to board my flight to Tokyo. Fortunately, I got upgraded to Business class (thank heavens for overselling... there wasn't any more space in coach). And I say fortunately because the AA flight to NY was hideously uncomfortable, and I really need to sleep! Bye for now!



>> Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bye-bye, everyone! My plane leaves for Tokyo (via Buenos Aires and New York) tomorrow at 6 PM, and I've got lots to do before I leave :-)

I'll try to post pictures whenever I can, so if you want to see them, check my blog every now and then. And for those of you who don't do RSS readers, you can click on the link below and you'll receive an email whenever I post.

Click here to receive new posts directly in your mail box

See you soon, then!


The Chilling Deception, by Jayne Castle (Guinevere Jones #2)

>> Friday, May 05, 2006

book cover
The Chilling Deception continues the Guinevere Jones series, written by Jayne Ann Krentz as Jayne Castle. This is the second book in this extremely HTF series, the first one being The Desperate Game, which I read only last week. Obviously, I couldn't wait to see in what direction JAK took this!

Cold Vengeance

Guinevere Jones - Besides being brainy, brave, and beautiful she had an uncanny way with people. From the moment she found the gold gun in the mauve-and-black marble executive washroom, she knew Mr. Vandyke was in serious trouble.

Zachariah Justis - Only the promise of a wild weekend cavorting with Guinevere in the wintry San Juan Islands convinced him to come along to provide security for Vandyke Development.

But it was business before pleasure when events brought chilling danger and a dead man determined to avenge the past.
TCD was nice, though not as much as TDG. Still, I enjoyed it enough for a B. It's a fun, quick read.

Guinevere is worried. She's been temping for a land developer involved in a huge deal, and she can tell the man is stressed out. It seems to her he's actually excessively stressed out, even for such a big deal. There's something going on, she's sure, and when she finds a gold-plated gun in his private restroom, she begins to worry he might be dangerously depressed.

So when Vandyke, her temporary boss, announces they're to spend the winter weekend at a resort on the San Juan islands (just off Seattle), to finalize the deal, Gwen manages to convince him that it might be a good idea to bring Zac with them to help him guard the briefcase with the bids.

But convincing Vandyke is easy compared to convincing Zac to go. This is very definitely not the type of business he was thinking of when he opened his security consulting company. But when he calms down he realizes that, hey, free weekend at a resort with his er, girlfriend, the same girlfriend who's been a bit hard to pin down lately. Plus, that way she won't be going there alone with all those men (Zac does have his old-fashioned moments), so he kindly decides to accept the job.

But what seems like a made-up job ends up being something very different, when it turns out Vandyke really has reason to be a bit nervous.

The good? Zac and Gwen together are fun. The chemistry's there in spades, and I loved the way they danced around each other trying to have The Talk. Both really want the same thing, but they feel they have to gently manouver the other in that direction, not realizing they're both trying to do the same. In the end, there really isn't that much progress in their relationship from the point in which we left them at the end of TDG, but what was there was satisfying.

The blah? The plot. Not bad, but not particularly compelling, either. There's always a bit of dejá vu with JAK, and it was pretty intense here.

The bad? It seems I've been beset by clumsily sequel-baiting authors lately. TCD was just another example. The last chapter is actually the first chapter of The Sinister Touch. What's wrong with having it as an excerpt?

All in all, though, it was a really fun way to spend a couple of hours.


Summer of the Dragon, by Elizabeth Peters

Summer of the Dragon is one of my favourite stand-alones by one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Peters. It was due for a reread!

A good salary and an all-expenses-paid summer spent a sprawling Arizona ranch is too good a deal for fledgling anthropologist D.J. Abbott to turn down. What does it matter that her rich new employer/benefactor, Hank Hunnicutt, is a certified oddball who is presently funding all manner of off-beat projects, from alien conspiracy studies to a hunt for dragon bones? There's even talk of treasure buried in the nearby mountains, but D.J. isn't going to allow loose speculation -- or the considerable charms of handsome professional treasure hunter Jesse Franklin -- to sidetrack her.

Until Hunnicutt suffers a mysterious accident and then vanishes, leaving the weirdos gathered at his spread to eye each other with frightened suspicion. But on a high desert search for the missing millionaire, D.J. is learning things that may not be healthy for her to know. For the game someone is playing here goes far beyond the rational universe -- and it could leave D.J. legitimately dead.
Ahhh, Peters is so, so great! A B+.

Anthropology grad student D.J. Abbott is a master procrastinator. She has left finding a summer job so late than when she sees her advisor about it, all that's left is an offer from well-known crackpot millionaire Hank Hunnicutt, who seems to believe in every weird theory floating about. Since it's an extremely generous offer, though, D.J. decides to apply for it (it doesn't hurt that Hunnicutt's Arizona ranch isn't within visiting distance from her parent's house, something very important for her).

Hunnicutt's already rejected a few applicants, but he accepts D.J., and so she heads over to Arizona. When she arrives, she finds the house full of assorted weirdos and a couple of extremely handsome men. She also meets the endearing Hank, who's very vague about the reason he wanted her at the ranch. He insists she rest and relax and enjoy the amenities until a certain gadget arrives... then he'll show her his discovery.

But soon thereafter, after a couple of suspicious accidents, Hank vanishes, and it falls to D.J. and a few allies to find out what happened to him... and which of the nuts might have had a reason to make him disappear.

Summer of the Dragon has three strengths which are the reason I love this author so much. First, there's the characters. Peters is a master at creating fascinating, three-dimensional, fresh secondary characters, and she's not bad with her protagonists, either! Each of the weirdos in residence has a distinct personality, and they are, every one of them, loads of fun. As for D.J. and her romantic interest (whose identity I won't reveal here, though anyone familiar with her books will probably deduce it the minute he shows up), they're great. I especially loved the way D.J. was a declared feminist and refused to take any shit from anyone (remember this is a 1979 book, so she's a very unique heroine that way), and the way Peters wrote her total enjoyment of food... and her guy's reaction to this!

Second, I absolutely adore Peters' writing. She's got a wonderful sense of humour, and this shows through, not only in extremely funny scenes, but also in the very way she puts things. If you want to see what I mean and haven't yet tried this author (what are you waiting for?), just go here and read the first couple of pages (there seem to be a few letter missing here and there, but you can still easily understand).

Third, Peters' plots are always enormously entertaining, and I always love her mix of adventure and archeological and historical elements. Summer of the Dragon wasn't an exception. It takes a while to get to what's going on, but once we do get there, it's fascinating, as is the setting!

An excellent book. Fortunately, it's been a while since I've reread quite a few other books by this author, so I'll probably be rereading them again soon!


Silent Storm, by Amanda Stevens

I can't even remember why I bought Silent Storm, a Harlequin Intrigue by new-to-me author Amanda Stevens.


The kind a small-town girl like Marly Jessop had rarely — if ever — seen in the flesh. Deacon Cage arrived in Mission Creek, Texas, like a specter in the night, stealthy and secretive. And his ability to stir Marly's feminine senses was like no other man's....

But she didn't have time for female fantasies. As local deputy, Marly had her hands full with a rash of suspicious suicides. Could there be a link between them and the killer Deacon came to catch? And would Marly survive her run-in with the desirable Deacon?
There seems to be an interesting idea behind this book, but I'm afraid the execution was so ho-hum that it didn't really succeed in engaging my attention. Very average book: a C.

Tiny Mission Creek, Texas has been experiencing an unusual rash of suicides, with three people killing themselves in the past couple of weeks. Marly Jessop's a rookie deputy in the sheriff's department. She's pretty sure she's not cut out for the job, and finding the fourth suicide victim doesn't help build up her confidence, considering this brings back memories of finding her grandma's body hanging from the rafters when she was a kid.

Right after leaving the victim's house and calling for back-up, Marly runs into Deacon Cage. Deacon's a newcomer in town, and he's come to investigate the suspicious suicides. See, Deacon was part of a weird experiment in his youth, an experiment which was trying to create some kind of super-soldier army, made up of people with mind-control powers, and he's pretty sure the suicides are the work of one of his co-experimentees who wasn't lucky enough to be rescued, as he was.

As I said, this had the potential to be a great scary story. The setup is fascinating, and Stevens creates an incredibly eerie, creepy atmosphere. But the story never really gells.

Part of the problem is that this is very obviously not the first story about these super-soldiers, and it shows. This very Big plot element is presented in an anticlimactic, matter-of-fact way that just doesn't work. The whole thing ends up feeling half-baked and underdeveloped.

And then there were the characters themselves, who are pancake flat. Marly was really blah, even a bit of a pushover with her father and her ex-fiancé, and while Deacon seems to be likeable enough, I never got a good sense of who he was. And his behaviour didn't always make sense... take his decision to immediately confide in Marly about his past. No way there had been enough interaction between them at that point for him to make such a momentous decision!

And that brings me to something else: we're told these two are really powerfully attracted to each other, that Deacon is incredibly hot for Marly from the beginning, and that Marly can barely resist his advances, but I never believed it for one minute. Their interactions were as flat as they were.

*Sigh*. I hate it when a book with potential wastes it like this!


Special Gifts, by Anne Stuart

Ok, a few short reviews, because I need to go pack!

Special Gifts, by Anne Stuart, was sent to me by Janet. And I was especially happy about that when I saw the review at AAR!

Elizabeth Hardy was afraid -afraid of her ability to see things she had no way of knowing, and afraid to risk her heart again. In Colonel Sam Oliver she found the one man who could give her courage -and tempt her to love once more.

Sam needed her help. A woman was missing, a woman who held the world's fate in her hands, and only Elizabeth could find out where she was. But the search would be a dangerous one, and even success might not assure Elizabeth of a future where she longed to be -in Sam's never-ending embrace.
Interesting book. Even though I've read the basic plot a thousand times (in fact, comparisons to Linda Howard's Dream Man are pretty much inevitable), Stuart took her story in a direction that felt fresh. A B.

Elizabeth Hardy is psychic. She periodically helps the police with cases, especially those relating to missing persons. One day, while in a trance, trying to find a missing woman, Mary Nelson, she sees a truck with the words "Spandau Corporation" painted over but still visible. When she mentions it to the detective in charge, a former Army guy, the man's shocked, because the Spandau Corporation is a shadowy terrorist organization Elizabeth would never have heard of, and this mention turns this supposedly "normal" case into something much more worrying.

The detective calls a former colleague in Army Intelligence, and this colleague, Colonel Sam Oliver, immediately catches a plane to see what's going on. The daughter of a highly placed government official has been kidnapped, and Sam suspects Mary Nelson's disappearance might be related to this. And as Sam and Elizabeth work together to find her, the case becomes more and more complicated.

Well, this was a category book which felt much longer than its 251 pages. Not that it was boring or slow-moving, not at all, but it felt more complex than the regular category. I especially liked the romance. At first you think this is going to be a typical psychic / skeptic relationship, but it turns out Sam isn't really such a traditional skeptic, which adds an interesting edge. He's also a bit more ruthless than the average hero (not that I'm surprised by this, given who the author is), and I enjoyed that surprisingly, Elizabeth was more than a match for him in this way.

Where this didn't work so well was in the aspect that was more traditional, which is Elizabeth's extreme sexual innocence. This is one of those dead-beneath-the-waist virgins, and though being afraid of being psychically overwhelmed by such an intimate act IS a valid reason for her virginity, I didn't like the fact that the woman was so damned naive. Oh, well, it doesn't slow her down much when they get to it!

While the romance was interesting, the suspense aspect was a bit more half-baked and had a few "give me a break!" moments. The enemy was annoyingly amorphous. They are "terrorists", but we never get a sense of what they stand for, of what their objective is, other than to generate chaos. Plus, what kind of terrorist organization paints its name on the side of its trucks? And within the US, too? Just imagine Al Qaeda terrorists driving around in cars clearly marked with an Al Qaeda logo.

The ending was mostly good. I enjoyed the interesting visit to a seedy, dangerous version of Venice, but I just wish Elizabeth hadn't shown some TSTL tendencies.

This is definitely a book to pick up if you see it in a UBS!


Tangled, by Mary Balogh

>> Thursday, May 04, 2006

Having loved Mary Balogh's Longing, I went looking for anything else she wrote around that time (1994). I came up with two Topaz books from 1993, and I was able to get one of them, Tangled, soon thereafter.

As you can see, the front cover is pretty boring and unoffensive, but open the book and ta-dah! I'm half-tempted to glue the stepback closed. David would not be so stupid as to run into battle with his coat like that!


Her beautiful eyes flashing with hate, Rebecca faced Lord David Tavistock. He had come back, wounded but still vibrantly, sensually alive, from the Crimean War. Julian Cardwell, her sweet, gentle bridegroom--and David's foster brother--had not. She blamed wild, reckless David for Julian's decision to enter the Queen's Guards, and for the devastating loss of her perfect young husband, whose memory even now broke her heart and filled her dreams.


His blue eyes shadowed by dark secrets, David had come to claim the woman he had always loved. All his life he had protected the charming Julian, hiding the truth from Rebecca about the women Julian dallied with, the child he had fathered, the scandalous way he died. Now David offered Rebecca a life of privilege and wealth--as hiswife. She wanted a marriage of convenience, but he intended to awake her deepest passions, to make her forget Julian Cardwell...and to find in hisbed all the ecstasy of a man's true love.
I'm not completely sure of how I should rate this book. In this blog, I rate books purely for my enjoyment of them, and as such, this one gets a B-. Objectively, though, I thought it was much better than that.

The story of Lord David Tavistock and Rebecca Cardwell has a lot of backstory to it. When David was a young boy, his father took in a distant relative, orphan Julian Cardwell, and the two boys grew up together. David was always a serious, responsible boy, while Julian constantly misbehaved, and his pranks weren't exactly harmless. I mean, he wasn't a little serial killer, either, but some of his mischief had a definite touch of cruelty to it.

David always felt a bit sorry for Julian, and secretly feared that his father might kick him out if he found out the things he did, so David kept taking responsibility for Julian's misbehaviour. It became a habit for him, and one that continued until adulthood.

Growing up near David and Julian was neighbour Rebecca, and both boys were attracted to her. Both her and David's father intended for David and Rebecca to marry, but the solemn, dutiful Rebecca came to despise David for the cruelty of some of his pranks, and so she feel in love with Julian and married him.

David knew perfectly well what had happened, but even this wasn't enough for him to change his behaviour and insist that Julian finally take responsibility for his actions. When barely a few weeks before Julian and Rebecca's wedding one of the neighbours turns up pregnant by Julian, rather than insist that Rebecca know about it and make a well-informed decision about whether she wants to go through with the marriage, David steps up yet again and allows it become commonly known that the child is his. David believes it was just a lapse on Julian's part, and that he will be a good and faithful husband, just as he promises.

As the book starts, however, it's clear that Julian's not a good and faithful husband. Rebecca is completely oblivious to this, but David is absolutely appalled by Julian's constant tomcatting and has come to realize that, no matter how much the man promises that it meant nothing, that it won't happen again, and blah, blah, blah, it's his promises that mean nothing.

Both David and Julian are officers in the army (Julian joined just because David did, and he couldn't allow David to one-up him!), and when the Crimean war starts, both of them are called to duty. But only David comes back, and Rebecca blames him for it. Rebecca doesn't know how right she is to blame David, as Julian didn't really die under enemy fire. He'd been having an affair with a fellow officer's wife, and when David came across him trying to kill the cuckolded husband in the middle of battle, he was forced to kill his best friend.

David obviously comes home full of guilt, and this guilt is only exacerbated when he realizes that Rebecca has been left in an untenable position by her husband's death. He proposes a marriage of convenience to her, and after her initial outrage, she accepts. David really has no hope that she might come to love him, but he loves her too much to leave her to a miserable existence. A marriage to him will at least give her life purpose, as his estate is in dire need of management, and she'll have her hands full getting the house in shape again.

What made this book so good, and at the same time so difficult for me to enjoy, was the character of Rebecca. Rebecca was a woman completely of her time, a woman who's completely taken into herself the rules under which she's been raised. She's been raised to believe a woman's entire existence should center around pleasing her husband, no matter what he wants her to do, so by god, she behaves that way. If her husband wants to make her life hell, it's his right to do so, and she will endure. In this sense, she reminded me a bit of Leda, from Kinsale's The Shadow And The Star. Wonderfully done character, but one I could intellectually understand, but not really like.

Seeing David and Rebecca together was both heartbreaking and, at the beginning, frustrating. In those sections, I almost hated Rebecca for treating David the way she did, because he was such a good guy. But really, it was his own fault for allowing Julian to use him as a scapegoat and for prefering to keep Julian's memory untouched rather than tell her the truth. I mean, given what he allowed Rebecca to think, it was justified that she would despise him. This meant that at times I just lost patience with the whole wretched situation and ended up disliking them both!

Things improved as the book went on, however, and once some time passed, I loved seeing David and Rebecca starting to build a relationship. I found it especially interesting how Balogh used what happened in the marriage bed to move their relationship forward. Rebecca's initial attitude there is of the "close your eyes and think of England" variety. She'll do her duty, no matter how unpleasant she always found it even with Julian, whom she loved. And if she finds herself feeling a certain tingle, she'll do her best to suppress it and keep completely still, because that's just so unladylike! David really has his work cut out for him to make her understand that to please him, all she needs to do is to allow him to please her, but once he manages it, it's wonderful!

Everything was going wonderfully, until David and Rebecca are called urgently to his father's house, with about a quarter of the book to go. I won't go into spoilers, but I'll just say that this part, I pretty much hated. The only thing good that comes of it is that there are revelations that make Julian's character more human, and not so much of a one-note disgusting creep. That's good, because you begin to get a glimmer of why David might have been so fond of him.

Other than that, it was a complete wash. It's really an impossible situation, and what I most disliked was that all the progress that had been made in making Rebecca understand that she had value outside of pleasing her husband, that she deserved happiness for herself, pretty much vanished. Yes, I know, it's very realistic that something as deeply ingrained as this attitude of hers wouldn't change so much with a bare year of marriage, that her behaviour was completely in character, but I didn't care. I still wanted to strangle her for being such a doormat and for being so convinced that it was more important to be ladylike than happy.

Argh, I just didn't see what David thought was so wonderful about her. He's an almost too-good-to-be-true guy, but his unexplainable fascination with the rigid Rebecca and his martyr tendencies made me want to strangle him at times!

Oh, well, whatever Balogh's books are, they're never boring! I almost never write so much about B- books!


Jingle Bell Rock, an anthology

The Jingle Bell Rock anthology is one of the books Alison Kent was kind enough to send me in her giveaway for international readers. Thank you again, Alison!

For once, it's an anthology in which none of the authors were new to me, and I've actually liked most of them before!

The first story started the anthology with a bang. While I've disliked the full-length Lori Foster books that I've tried (see my review for Unexpected, for instance), I did like the one short story I read, the one in the Hot Chocolate anthology. Her He Sees You When You're Sleeping, in this book, continues that trend.

What Booker Dean wants for Christmas isn't under the tree, it's right next door. Frances Kennedy is everything Booker desires...and the gift he has planned for her involves a lot of delicious unwrapping...
This was a truly lovely story of two best friends who've been wanting each other for months finally giving in to that attraction. For such a short length, I was surprised by how involved I got in Booker (that name was the only negative) and Frances' relationship, and by the fact that there were plenty of stomach-clenching moments. I especially loved how they each really, really liked the other, in addition to the heavy lusting. Oh, and speaking of lusting, it's HOT! ;-) A sweet, intense, happy story. My grade: B+.

Janelle Denison continues the anthology with All She Wants for Christmas. IIRC, all I've read by Denison is an early book in the Blaze line, and it was pretty ok, though not spectacular.

When sexy pediatrician Matthew Carlton plays Santa, pulling Faith Roberts onto his lap, he has no idea what's on her Christmas wish list...or how much he'll enjoy fulfilling every bit of it...
This one was eh. It's not bad, but I think the best I can do is call it "pleasant". It had this whole "Pretty Woman" vibe going on that just isn't my cup of tea. And the "all women are interested in is my money" thing bores me. Plus, I just couldn't buy that the woman Faith seems to be would be so straighforward in propositioning Matthew! A C+.

Turning Up the Heat , by Susan Donovan is next. I've really liked the last couple of Susan Donovan books I've read. She's got this really bawdy sense of humour, which I appreciate.

Being stood up on Christmas Eve is bad enough, but now Valerie's furnace is broken, too. Good thing that sexy repairman is available to raise the temperature dramatically...
This is a fun, fun story with a twist which, though not completely surprising, was really sweet. And I really don't think I should say anything else about it, other than give it a try, it's great! A B+.

Baby, It's Cold Outside, by Donna Kauffman comes next, and it's the first of two stories about reunited lovers.

It's been ten years since Susanna York left Jace Morgan. Now, as fate reunites them during a holiday snowstorm, they'll have plenty of time to discover that distance only sharperns certain hungers...
I liked this one. Kauffman made me believe Zanna and Jace were in love, even though they really didn't have time to get acquainted again after a 10 year absence, so it was more a matter of their being in love still than of their falling in love again. I liked how they were able to accept that they each had some responsibility in their parting all those years ago, and that it was basically the product of immaturity. That gave me hope they'd be fine from then on. Oh, and I liked the serious, calm-except-with-Zanna Jace very much. A B.

Alison Kent continues with A Blue Christmas.

Thomas "Blue" Miller never expected to see Jessie Buchanan on his Christmas tree farm again. But now that she's here, he's ready to show her exactly what she's been missing...
Now, this was HOT! And I loved how Kent develops their relationship in bed (er, in the kitchen, on the porch, in the sauna...), and shows them going from their original positions, with Blue completely pissed off at Jessie and Jessie only wanting to make an experiment (or each telling themselves that), to their recognizing that they had something going for them and being willing to work at it. A B.

The anthology closes with Nancy Warren's The Nutcracker Sweet. I've enjoyed her Blazes, so I was looking forward to this story.

Co-workers Daniel and Tara couldn't hate each other more. So when they end up as Secret Santa partners, it's a perfect chance for revenge and a dare that just may ignite the steamiest night of their lives...
I was a bit disappointed with this one. I didn't really feel the love or the lust here, surprisingly enough, for a story with so much sex in it. And I didn't feel Daniel "Tara Ellison is a ball-buster and needs is to get laid" Jarvis particularly attractive. A C+.

With not one bad story in the bunch and two thirds of them being very good, this was one of the most even, enjoyable anthologies I've read lately. A B.


Carrie Pilby, by Caren Lissner

I very much enjoyed Caren Lissner's second book, Starting From Square Two, so I went looking for her first, Carrie Pilby.

Carrie Pilby n. [kar-r? pil-b?] A person of high intelligence who struggles to make sense of the world as it relates to morality, relationships, sex and leaving her apartment.

"I wouldn't have such trouble adjusting to the world if the world made sense. Which it doesn't . . . Maybe the world should adjust to me."

Carrie Pilby doesn't fit in -- and she's pretty much given up trying. A year out of college and settling in to life in the big city, this nineteen-year-old genius believes everyone she meets is immoral, sex obsessed and hypocritical, and the only person she sees on a regular basis is her therapist. When he comes up with a five-point plan to help her discover the "positive aspects of social interaction," Carrie, who would rather stay home in bed, is forced to view the world in a new light.

See life through Carrie's eyes as she opens up to unusual characters, gets herself into compromising situations and casts her keen eye on the ways people interact. Filled with wry humor and insight, Carrie Pilby explores the trade-offs we all make to fit in.
This was an interesting, different book. A B.

19-year-old college graduate Carrie Pilby is a misfit. Ever since she skipped three grades in school and then ended up going to Harvard and being much younger than anyone there, Carrie has felt like she doesn't fit in with other people. Everyone she meets is either stupid, hypocritical, sex-obsessed or all three. She just doesn't see the point in even trying any more.

Carrie lives in NYC in an appartment paid for by her dad, and does pretty much nothing all day. Other than temp jobs her dad does his best to line up for her, all Carrie does is see her therapist (yep, also paid by daddy), and try to resist the temptation to stay all day sleeping in bed. One day, her therapist puts together a list of things for her to do, things he believes might help her start to relate with other people. Carrie thinks they are terribly silly, but no way she'll admit she can't do them, so she gives them a try.

If I were to compare this book to anything, I think it would be the TV show Seinfeld. They were definitely similar in the way there's really not that much going on, but you have fun anyway. All the action here is Carrie trying to do things as scintillating as going on a date, or joining a club. She answers a personal ad, she goes to a new church to investigate whether or not it might be a cult, she does some temp work doing legal proof-reading... oh, and she goes to her therapist. That's about it. And yet the book never gets boring.

The key thing is that Carrie is quite an interesting character, and I enjoyed seeing life from her perspective. To be honest, I didn't always like her (for all her intelligence, she feels much younger than 19 emotionally, and her immature black-and-white sanctimoniousness wasn't always appealing), but she was unique enough that I had fun reading about her. And Lissner was able to perfectly convey her pain in never feeling that there was a place for her.

Lissner's writing is good. I especially liked that there are plenty of witty observations about life in general, and most of them were really intriguing. Not always, (some of those supposedly "brilliant" meditations weren't as brilliant as Lissner must have intended), but most of the time she had me laughing out loud.

The ending was perfect. There were no huge change by the end of the book, but there were plenty of small ones that made me hopeful that Carrie would continue to grow up. There's even an intriguing possible romance!


The Fire Rose, by Mercedes Lackey

>> Wednesday, May 03, 2006

book coverSo I read my first Mercedes Lackey book, The Fairy Godmother, and it's incredible, really blows my mind. I ask for recs, and my fellow readers give me a great list of possible Lackey books to try next. I get them, and then what do I do? Why, wait a year to read them, of course! Stupid, stupid, stupid!

But well, at last I started them! The first series I went for is the Elemental Masters series, which starts with The Fire Rose

Rosalind Hawkins is a medieval scholar from a fine family in Chicago, unfortunately, her professor father has speculated away the family money and died, leaving young Rosalind with no fortune and no future. Desolate with grief, forced to cut her education short, she agrees to go West to take a job as a governess to a wealthy man in San Francisco.

Jason Cameron her new employer is a man with a problem: An Adept and Alchemist, Master of the Element of Fire, he had attempted the old French werewolf transformation, and got stuck in mid transformation. Trapped halfway between wolf and man, he has been slowly losing his humanity, and with it his ability to discover a cure for his condition.
Oh, wow! Wow, wow, wow! A wonderful, magical retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. An A-.

Rosalind Hawkins is a scholar in 1905 Chicago when her father dies and she's left penniless. Faced with a choice between finding a job as a shopgirl or something and accepting a mysterious offer to teach the children of a San Francisco railway baron, she chooses the latter. At least the letter from Mr. Cameron offering her the job seems to suggest the man's not a prejudiced boor!

But when she arrives at Jason Cameron's house, not far outside San Francisco, Rose discovers she's been brought there under false pretenses. There aren't any children there, and the job Mr. Cameron wants her to do is completely different from the one she was supposed to be doing. He tells her he's had an accident that prevents him from reading the books he needs for his research, so he needs someone to do it for him: someone who can also translate from ancient languages and who is willing to read to him through a speaking tube.

Rose is a bit nonplussed by this, but considering that a) she doesn't really have many choices, b) the job pays very well and Cameron's giving her the chance to continue with her own research, as well, and c) this work does sound better suited to her tastes than teaching children, she accepts.

But if she was surprised at the initial request, she's even more so when she sees the kind of books Cameron wants her to read to him. Their subject is magick, and before long, Rose begins to suspect that there might be something to them, something that explains the many strange things happening in the house.

She soon discovers (and this isn't a spoiler at all, since it's something we readers know from the beginning), that Jason is the Firemaster of the San Francisco area. That, as far as I'm able to understand, means that he's a magician who controls that element, Fire, as well as the Fire elementals, the Salamanders.

She also finds out that the reason Jason needs her services is that he suffered an accident, but not a commonplace one at all: he arrogantly tried to work an unreliable spell which was actually more suitable to another element, and trying to change into a wolf, he got stuck between wolf and man. And don't think he's just a bit more hairy, or has a few more anger-control issues.

Nope, take a look at that cover. From Lackey's description, that face might look a bit too much like a wolf, but not much. I visualized it a bit more humanized, but it's made very clear that Jason has become quite a monster. What's more, the badly done change gives him trouble focusing his eyes, his joints hurt, and those anger-control issues? He's got them, and they seem to be getting worse.

So, where should I start? There were so many things I loved about this book! The world-building was fantastic, and I while I appreciate that Lackey limited the information about how elemental magick works and what its principles are to what we needed to know for the book, so that it didn't overwhelm the story, I would have loved to read some of the books Rose had to read, because I wanted more details about how things worked. I think she hit the perfect balance between leaving her readers wanting more and giving this element enough development.

My favourite element... er, thing, about this? The elementals. I loved the salamanders, and the sylphs and all the others. They were well drawn, each with their own personality, and again, I wanted to know more. Can't wait to learn more about the undines, for instance, which were pretty much only mentioned here.

I also loved that Lackey wrote this magical world against a setting that was wonderful in its own right. Turn of the century San Francisco has a charm of its own, and Lackey makes great use of it, with vivid descriptions of places and things. Plus, there's the fact that the action starts in late 1905, and as the months pass and we get nearer and nearer April 1906, and we hear about how the Earth Master is a bit worried because his elementals are restless, that adds a tension of its own to the story. I think I'd always have recognized what was coming, but reading this book in April 2006, while I was reading all those articles in the newspapers about the centennial of the earthquake, was especially interesting. And I actually knew nothing about the book's setting when I picked it up. How's that for a coincidence?

But this book wasn't just amazing world-building. The story Lackey tells against this wonderful setting is great, too. I especially enjoyed the character of Rose. I loved how she wasn't this perfect, goody-goody, boring woman, but a woman with flaws. She's extremely practical, loves her comfort, and sees no sense in rejecting Jason's gifts just because it isn't "proper" for her to receive them. As long as her being a woman puts her in such an untenable situation once her father dies, she sees no sense in continuing to follow its nonsensical rules (not that the brilliant scholar was such a rule-follower before, anyway), especially when there's no one to see! So as long as she's not being asked to do something she considers immoral, Rose sees no problem in being as comfortable as possible. And she's also a bit greedy, too!

I quite liked Jason, too. I loved that Lackey didn't set him up as some all-powerful magician, which would have put him and Rose in too big a power imbalance. He's got his flaws, too, and some so big that have left him caught in the situation he's in. And even that hasn't really cured him of his pride. I really enjoyed seeing how he's so shocked as he begins to develop feelings for Rose, something he'd completely discounted as ridiculous.

As you may imagine from what I've written above, there is a very nice romance here. It's a very subtle and ungraphic one, as I'd expected from the fact that one of the people involved in the relationship is half-wolf (still, Lackey very delicately assures us that sexual activity between Jason and Rose would be perfectly feasible, because he's completely human from nipples to knees, except for the tail), but it's extremely romantic.

The only thing that bothered me about this book were the parts in which we follow one of the villains, Paul du Mond, Jason's secretary, as he goes about his evil business in town. His business truly is evil and horrific, and a bit too graphically described for me. They just didn't go with the rest of the tone of the book. I mean, if it weren't for this, I'd say TFR would work wonderfully as a YA book, but all this is much too explicit for YA!

And it wasn't just the graphic nature of those horrific activities that bothered me, it was also (mostly?) the fact that Jason was aware of them, and basically considered them "pecadilloes"... a sign that the man didn't have the self-possession to become an Elemental Master, but not something so outrageously evil that something needed to be done about it. That was a real shocker to me. I don't ask that Jason be a perfect saint of a man, but it was way too much that he continued to tolerate in his house a man who worked as a "breaker" at a local whorehouse. And if you're wondering what a breaker breaks, it's women: the troublesome, unwilling girls. He makes sure they stop giving their "owners" trouble. *sigh* I'm pretty sure I'm going to be skipping those sections when I reread TFR.

I've got the next two books, Serpent's Shadow and Gates of Sleep waiting, and I can't wait to find out more about this world. What did you think, those of you who've read them? Are they as good as this one?


The Manolo Matrix, by Julie Kenner

The Givenchy Code was the first Julie Kenner book I really enjoyed. While Kenner did close the action to my satisfaction in that one, there were quite a few unanswered questions there at the end, leaving the door open to more adventures in this particular world. And that's exactly what happens in The Manolo Matrix.

USA Today bestselling author of The Givenchy Code, Julie Kenner reloads for her second novel of high-heeled thrills as another woman gets pulled into a mysterious world of extreme gaming where she must play or die.

Aspiring actress Jennifer Crane knows all about games—the games girls play to get a guy; the games actresses play to land a part; and the good old game of credit-card roulette. (How else is a girl supposed to afford her shoes?) But she never expected to be playing a game with life-or-death consequences. Unable to successfully score an acting gig, she has, instead, been cast in the role of reluctant bodyguard to a real-life assassin's target—a dashing FBI agent of all people!—and must embark with him upon a scavenger hunt across Manhattan in search of the ultimate prize: survival. Before this, Jenn's definition of fighting dirty has been elbowing her way to the front of the line at a Manolo sample sale. Now, if she wants to stay alive, she's going to have to learn a few new uses for her stilettos. . . and they ain't pretty.
Though I had a few doubts at the beginning, I ended up enjoying TMM just as much as TGC. A B+

Jennifer Crane is Mel's roommate and is perfectly aware of what happened to her friend when some nut forced her to play the real-life version of the online game Play.Survive.Win. So when Jennifer receives The Message that she's now playing PSW and has the role of Protector, she doesn't beat about the bush trying to find out what the hell's going on. She immediately knows what's up, and practically flies to see the person indicated as the Target, FBI agent Devlin Brady.

Since Dev is also up to date about what happened to Mel and Stryker (he's actually been investigating the case), once Jen manages to get to him (which takes quite a bit of ingenuity on her part, it must be said), the treasure hunt is on.

So, why my initial doubts about whether I was going to like this? Well, at first glance, the heroine, Jennifer, was much more of a stereotypical chick-lit heroine than Mel was. I mean, Mel was shoe-obsessed and trendy, but she was also a bit of a geek, and a veritable genius. Not Jennifer. She's the type who's proud of the fact that she's ignorant about international events, for instance, which is something I find very hard to identify with! Not that it can't be done, of course (see Betsy Taylor, for instance), but it's hard.

And then there's the fact that there's so much emphasis on musical theatre in the clues, while the focus in TGC was more on NYC in general. And I just have no interest in musical theatre. I know very little about it, and I haven't particularly liked the musicals I've seen. The constant singing bores me (heh, if Jennifer Crane were doing a review of a book with me as the heroine, she'd probably be writing she found it hard to identify with me!).

But well, Jennifer grew on me, and I ended up liking her very much. And despite my ignorance about musicals, I had absolutely no problem following the clues. Plus, they were just so ingenious! I just loved the treasure hunt element in this story.

As in TGC, while this is a very action-packed book and the protagonists are constantly running around, there is really good character development. Jen manages to get some insight on why she hasn't been getting what she's supposed to want so much (a Broadway career), and Dev, who seems to be hell-bent on drinking himself to death at the start of the book, gets a new sense of purpose in his life. Plus, the romance is nicely done.

So, what is Kenner going to do for book 3, The Prada Paradox? We've had the heroine as Target and the hero as Protector in TGC, and in TMM the roles were reversed. Will one of them be the Assassin in TPP? Well, however it is, I can't wait to find out!


Must Have Been the Moonlight, by Melody Thomas

book coverI've had Melody Thomas' Must Have Been the Moonlight in my TBR for a while, but though it looked tempting, I didn't pick it up until I read a review of Angel in My Bed at AAR. I was going to add that one to my wish list, but then I remembered a couple of unsuccessful "glomming-without-having-read"s, and very responsibly decided I'd read MHBTM first, and then, if I liked it, I'd get AIMB and probably the rest of the series (MHBTM is book # 2 in the Donnally series, and AIMB book #4).

To want him was madness ...

Far from home was the last place Brianna Donally ever imagined she'd find the one man she'd desire above all others. When Major Michael Fallon, the dangerously seductive British officer, rescues the bold beauty from certain doom, Brianna discovers a reckless passion she is unable to resist. But a fiercely independent female photographer could never make a proper bride for the grandson of a duke. And a bitter betrayal has locked love away from Michael's heart forever.

... to deny her was impossible.

And yet ... Michael cannot disregard these sensuous stirrings. Could it be the moonlight that has bewitched him ... or the intoxicating scent and touch of this remarkable, infuriatingly "modern" woman? Scandal would be the least consequence of their consummated passion -- there would be perils as well. For Michael will never settle for anything less than a true, intense, and all-consuming love.
Well, it's lucky I was so disciplined and responsible, because after over three weeks of carrying the book around with me all the time, I couldn't get past the first 150 pages. I did my best to finish it, even taking it with me on my commute to work. And if you have a half-hour ride with only one book in your purse and you end up staring out the window instead of reading it, it can only mean the book isn't working for you. So, regretfully, I must say this one was a DNF for me.

Why do I say regretfully? Because unlike other DNFs, where the problem usually is that I'm hating them too much to keep torturing myself, I didn't hate MHBTM. In fact, I very much wanted to like it... a proto-feminist, photographer heroine, an Egyptian setting, a fascinating sounds wonderful to me!

But there was just something in Thomas' writing style that kept kicking me out of the story. I can't pinpoint what, exactly, but I don't think I was able to read more than a couple of pages without my attention wandering.

Oh, well, I'll just chalk it up to not every author's style working for every reader, but it's irritating! I've read nothing but good things about this book and this author, and no one seems to have experienced the problems I did!


Three Little Secrets, by Liz Carlyle

book coverLiz Carlyle newest trilogy started with the somewhat disappointing One Little Sin, but continued with the absolutely wonderful Two Little Lies. When the third book, Three Little Secrets, came out, I couldn't wait to see what it was going to be!

Fortunately, I was able to hold myself back and not buy it immediately, because my sister's best friend brought it back from New York as a surprise gift, a thank you for letting her borrow my books!

Wealthy real estate baron Merrick MacLachlan is the polar opposite of his polished, ever-so-charming brother. While Sir Alasdair is fair and handsome, Merrick is a true black Scot, both in looks and in temperament. With his inky hair, penetrating eyes, and badly scarred face, Merrick has always made the ton deeply uncomfortable.

Professionally, Merrick has attained a level of wealth and power which no one could have imagined when he was a brilliant but starving young architect. Privately, he has no life—which is just how he likes it. But his rigid, tightly-controlled existence is about to spin out of control. Because once upon a time, Merrick did have a life. And then, he made a terrible mistake. Her name was Madeleine. And if ever he is tempted to forget her, he has but to look at the scars she left behind...
So, was it more like OLS or like TLL? I'm happy to say it's somewhere in the middle, but tending more to the level of TLL. A B+.

Anyone who read TLL was probably intrigued by the scene in which Merrick encounters his mysterious wife while showing Quin the houses he's building. Just as an intriguing scene of TLL was first shown in OLS, and then showed from a different perspective in TLL, we see the encounter between Merrick and Madeleine again in this book.

Thirteen years earlier, Maddie and Merrick eloped to Gretna Green when it became clear that her father was determined to marry off his daughter in a way that would benefit his political career and would never allow her to marry the undistinguished younger son of a minor Scottish nobleman. But disaster struck the very morning after the wedding, when Merrick was ambushed in the stables by Maddie's father's henchmen and left half-dead after a severe beating. Not, however, before Lord Howard told him that Maddie had changed her mind and would be leaving him.

As for Maddie, her father showed her "proof" that Merrick had married her for her money, and told her he'd bribed the man to get an annulment of their marriage. The very naive Maddie (who had no idea at first of what an annulment even was) swallowed the story hook, line and sinker, even though she still longed to get Merrick back and refused to marry, wanting to wait for Merrick to come back. A few weeks later, however, when it became clear that she'd become pregnant and Merrick showed no sign of coming back (the poor man was actually still in a coma, as she will later find out), she accepted the marriage proposal from a cousin on her mother's side and left with him for Italy.

But when they meet again in London, all those lies and secrets start coming to the light, including the fact that they seem to be married still. Neither knows what they want to do about that, however, and seeing each other again only makes those doubts greater.

There are obviously certain similarities here with Two Little Lies. The passionate relationship when both were two immature and somewhat foolish kids, the resulting secret baby, the separation due to some kind of misunderstanding, the heroine who spends the next few years in Italy, and so on. Still, the books were very different in feel and in where they took the consequences of this past. I think I liked TLL better because of the heroine, basically, because Viviana was a more interesting character than Maddie, but both were very satisfying books.

As Marg says in her review of this book, this whole series is full of clichéd plot elements, and TLS is no exception, with its Secret Baby and Big Misunderstanding. And yet, this works wonderfully, because Carlyle makes excellent use of these plots.

Take the Big Mis, for instance. Sure, the actual facts can be cleared up with a 5 minute conversation, but does it make sense that they would immediately believe what the other is saying? I'd go for no. Their reactions are perfect. Maddie and Merrick do start communicating from the beginning (no idiotic "if he believes that of me, then I won't tell him/her the truth!"), but they don't really completely buy what the other is saying until after some time has passed.

Also a positive is that it's not a matter of clearing up what happened and then all is fine between them and they might as well get take up where they left. No, there's also the matter that they themselves weren't completely without responsability in the whole affair. Pride and spinelessness played a part in it all. Both were understandable, but there's still the fact that they can't lay all the blame on Maddie's father's door, and they need to forgive themselves and each other for this.

As for the secret baby, it was perfectly fine, too, basically because Maddie's decision to keep him secret was understandable and justified. Geoff was an interesting character himself, and I loved the subplot about his supposed "mental problems", not least because I liked how this tied in the story with the protagonists from Beauty Like The Night. I do wish Carlyle had tied up the ends she loosened with Geoff's disastrous pronouncement to Ariane, but it was interesting to see the Rutledges and not in a sappy, see-how-they-are-deliriously-happy way.

I have loved that this whole trilogy has lacked suspense subplots and has been completely character-driven. There's been more than enough inner conflict to drive the books. In the case of TLS, however, I confess my enjoyment was slightly lessened because I somehow became convinced that there was some kind of villain lurking about. I'm refering to Bess Bromley, one of the prostitutes with whom Merrick "associates" at the beginning of the book. She's such a shocking character, and so much is made of her cold, empty eyes, that I was convinced that Carlyle was setting things up for some kind of plot involving her, and for some rason, I was completely dreading that. As it turns out, we never see her again after the day in which she's sent away by Merrick after he meets Maddie in his office, and this felt kind of weird. Even a few hundred pages later, Maddie was still commenting on the cold, scary eyes of the woman she'd seen in Merrick's office, which made me even more convinced that she'd show up at some point and try to wreck some damage. I wonder if the woman is what remained of some kind of plot that Carlyle finally decided to edit out?

And related to this, this is probably just me being a prude, a close-minded prude who clings to "the rules" for romance novels, but I truly dislike to see the hero having sex with someone else, and at the beginning of TLS, we see Merrick having sex with TWO prostitutes: the aforementioned cold-eyed Bess and another, Kitty. I know this is supposed to show us how Maddie's desertion has made Merrick a lonely, cold man, incapable of warmness even in his most intimate relationships, but seeing those ugly sex scenes left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when I contrasted them with the really sweet, passionate scenes of their youthful romance, which I loved.

I really liked how Carlyle finished this. By the time the final scene comes, it's become pretty obvious that their relation is, indeed, going somewhere, and that both want it to, but this final big gesture on Maddie's part was the perfect way to end things in a way that didn't feel anticlimactic. It was just lovely, and it showed how much Maddie had changed from the somewhat passive young woman she used to be.

I can't wait to hear what's coming next for Carlyle. This new trilogy has definitely turned out to be good!


The Fair Isle trilogy, by Susan Carroll

>> Monday, May 01, 2006

I think I really need to look at my method for chosing books to buy, because I've recently realized I've been *almost* missing too many good books for my comfort. The latest is The Dark Queen, by Susan Carroll. I know I read the DIK AAR review of this book, but for some reason I didn't add it to my wish list. Why didn't I? What was it that turned me off? I reread the review now and I've no idea. I only got interested in the whole thing after reading a blog post about the third book in the trilogy, The Silver Rose, which sounded so good that I went back and bought the ebook of book 1.

Since this is a trilogy which works best if you read all three books together, as I was lucky enough to do (in that sense, it was probably for the best that I only noticed it once the third book was already out), it felt appropriate to do one single review of the entire thing.

Book #1: The Dark Queen

From Brittany's misty shores to the decadent splendor of Paris's royal court, one woman must fulfill her destiny–while facing the treacherous designs of Catherine de Medici, the dark queen.

She is Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle, one of the Cheney sisters, renowned for their mystical skills and for keeping the isle secure and prosperous. But this is a time when women of ability are deemed sorceresses, when Renaissance France is torn by ruthless political intrigues, and all are held in thrall to the sinister ambitions of Queen Catherine de Medici. Then a wounded stranger arrives on Faire Isle, bearing a secret the Dark Queen will do everything in her power to possess. The only person Ariane can turn to is the comte de Renard, a nobleman with fiery determination and a past as mysterious as his own unusual gifts.

Riveting, vibrant, and breathtaking, The Dark Queen follows Ariane and Renard as they risk everything to prevent the fulfillment of a dreadful prophecy–even if they must tempt fate and their own passions.

Book #2: The Courtesan

Skilled in passion, artful in deception, and driven by betrayal, she is the glittering center of the royal court-but the most desired woman of Renaissance France will draw the wrath of a dangerous adversary.

Paris, 1575. The consort of some of Europe's most influential men, Gabrielle Cheney is determined to secure her future by winning the heart of Henry, the Huguenot king of Navarre. As his mistress, Gabrielle hopes she might one day become the power behind the French throne. But her plans are jeopardized by Captain Nicolas Rémy, a devoted warrior whose love Gabrielle desires-and fears-above all. She will also incur the malevolence of the Dark Queen, Catherine de' Medici, whose spies and witch-hunters are legion, and who will summon the black arts to maintain her authority. With the lives of those she loves in peril, Gabrielle must rebel against her queen to fulfill a glorious destiny she has sacrificed everything to gain.

Alive with vivid period detail and characters as vibrant as they are memorable, The Courtesan is a sweeping historical tale of dangerous intrigues, deep treachery, and one woman's unshakable resolve to honor her heart.

Book #3: The Silver Rose

From Brittany's fog-shrouded forests to the elegant dark heart of Paris's royal court, one woman must challenge a country's destiny - and her own dangerous fate.

France, 1585. She is the youngest and most powerful of the “Sisters of Faire Isle,” women known far and wide for their extraordinary mystical abilities. Skilled in healing and able to forecast the future of those around her, Miri Cheney has returned to her ancestral home to take refuge from a land devastated by civil war - and to grieve for her family, driven to exile. But she cannot hide from the formidable new power threatening to seize control of France from the dread “Dark Queen,” Catherine de Medici - a diabolical woman known only as the Silver Rose. Miri has no choice but to turn to the one man she distrusts as much as she desires: Simon Aristide, the charismatic witch-finder who is now himself the hunted, and who has reluctantly made an unholy pact with Catherine. Miri must defy throne and family to save all that she loves most - and command a future greater than she could ever imagine.

Vibrant with stunning historical detail, alive with characters as richly passionate as they are compelling, The Silver Rose is a sweeping, exquisitely wrought tale from a mesmerizing storyteller.

Is Susan Carroll that author people would periodically ask about in message boards, wanting to know when she was going to publish another book? If so, I totally understand now why everyone would be so anxious to know. If her previous books are half as good as this trilogy, I'm not surprised the people who read them were so persistent in wanting to know if there were any more books coming up. I'd rate the trilogy an A-.

The Dark Queen, The Courtesan and The Silver Rose cover 13 years in the lives of the three Cheney sisters in late 16th century France (even though each book covers a much shorter period). It's a time of great turmoil, with the ambitious Catherine of Medici pulling strings at court and religious problems wracking the country. It's also a world in which magic is real, and Evangeline Cheney, the girls' late mother, was one of the most powerful "wise women" in the land, the lady of Faire Isle. But Catherine of Medici is just as powerful, though her magic tends to the darker side, and she is willing to go to any lengths, even using the services of the feared witch-huntes, to cement her power.

As the trilogy starts, it's 1572 and Evangeline has recently died, and the Chevalier Louis Cheney, her husband, has been gone on a voyage of exploration to the New World for a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that it's becoming more and more probable that he won't be coming back at all. With all this, the sisters are in a difficult position, especially Ariane, who doesn't feel at all ready to take on her mother's role of leadership.

I'm not going to go into details about the plots of each book, because it's really much better to discover things as the stories unfold, but I'll just say that right during the first book, we get all the protagonists in position.

There's Ariane, who's so much more capable and powerful than she knows, and who really comes into her own in her role as the new lady of Faire Isle, and who must learn that she can love without surrendering her magic.

There's the Comte de Renard, Justice Deauxville, who persistently pursues Ariane by any means, including magic rings which allow her to summon him whenever she wants (after three summons, however, she must consent to marry him), and who ultimately must decide if he really does want her to be his by any means.

There's the middle sister Gabrielle, whom a terrifying experience with a man has made determined to make her way in the world and acquire power and money however she can. And she feels that since all her worth is in her beauty, becoming a courtesan would be the most expedient path she could take, even if a certain Huguenot soldier makes her feel things she shouldn't feel.

There's Nicolas Remy, a wounded Huguenot bringing possible proof of Catherine of Medici's crimes to Ariane, to ask for her help. The serious, solemn soldier will have to reconcile his duty and loyalty to his king with his complete fascination with the beautiful Gabrielle.

There's little Miri, the fey, ethereal young girl who talks to animals and who might just be a bit too trusting and forgiving.

And there's Simon Aristide, the young witch-hunter apprentice, whose determination to get revenge against witches for the murder of his entire family makes it barely bearable for him to betray the sweet Miri, in order to achieve his purposes.

These wonderful, three-dimensional characters' stories are told against a fascinating, rich historical canvas, in which the events of the time play a very real part in their fates. Carroll writes with great assurance, and the history never, ever gets too dry.

I think The Dark Queen, book 1, was my favourite. I'd rate it an A-. I absolutely adored the romance between Ariane and Renard. She's a sensible, interesting woman, and he's the perfect type of alpha: one who's protective but, at the same time, has nothing but respect for the abilities and work of the woman he loves.

The plot, with its events leading up to a certain very important and tragic day in history (which anyone who's interested in history will probably know is coming up as soon as a certain royal wedding is mentioned), is just perfect, and I really thought the "alternate history" explanation of the events of that day made more sense than that people would actually behave that way without the influence of some very dark magic. Too bad I can't believe that.

The only real negative for me in this first book was that I just wasn't too crazy about the whole eye-reading thing. It feels much too all-powerful to me... as if there are too few rules governing it. This is an element that is present in the other stories, as well, but it was most ever-present here.

The set-up of the following two books is flawlessly done. I've read a couple of books lately in which the sequel-baiting has been way too unsubtle and clumsy. Carroll does it perfectly. There is quite a bit about Gabrielle and Remy (including a certain scene, in which they play at damsels and dragons, which is one of the most romantic I've read in ages) and about Miri and Simon, but it was relevant and felt as if it served other purposes than making us buy the following books.

Book 2, The Courtesan, I'd rate a B+. It was really good, but it did have a couple of elements that bothered me enough to make it my least favourite of the three.

The romance between Gabrielle and Remy was really sweet and romantic, and I appreciate that Carroll didn't cop out in making Gabby some kind of fake courtesan, or in making Remy her first client, or something like that. Gabrielle really was a courtesan, and she went into it with her eyes wide open. Yes, of course, it was all a product of her self-esteem problems stemming from the events in her past, but she makes her own choices. She's not blackmailed into it, she doesn't do it because she needs money for the little orphans, or any such cliché.

And I also liked how Nicolas deals with it, how Carroll acknowledges that a somewhat rigid, conservative Huguenot isn't going to take it in his stride that the woman he's put in a pedestal and adored for years turns out to be a courtesan. He does have problems with it, but he deals with them, and their relationship in the end is much more solid for that.

So what didn't I like? Well, I hated the Cass storyline, mainly because I couldn't believe the cunning Gabrielle, whose survived for years in the treacherous French court, would be so STUPID as to trust the woman the way she does!

I also disliked that as we near the end of the book, too many things seemed to happen off-stage, as if Carroll had had to cut some pages to get to the required length. The thing about the book, the rift between Renard and Ariane... all resolved off-stage, and it felt anticlimactic.

Book 3, The Silver Rose, is almost as good as The Dark Queen. I'd rate them both an A-, but I liked the former a hair better.

The best thing about this book is the hero. Simon, who did some truly unforgivable things in the first two books, has now grown up. And with maturity comes some self-doubt. He now sees the possibility (in some cases, the certainty) that he might have been wrong, and some of the things he's done, like his deeds in Faire Isle or the way he behaved with Miri, weigh heavily on his mind. This is not the zealous, close-minded boy of the earlier books, but a tired, weary man, who wants nothing more than to rest already, even if it means dying. However, a new, grave danger; the emergence of a new "sect" of dark witches, the sisterhood of the Silver Rose, which might even threaten Miri, means he needs to keep going, at least for a while, and approach this young woman whom he expects will want nothing to do with him.

The romance between these two is just amazing. They've both grown up, and while neither has lost their essence, what made them Simon and Miri, they've become more mature, interesting people.

My only problem with this book was that the ending felt a bit too rushed, and, like RenéeW, I really get the feeling there's another story coming to give us final closure. A certain, supposedly drowned body that doesn't appear and a move abroad by two characters seem to suggest this. Unfortunately, Susan Carroll doesn't seem to have a website, so I have no info whatsoever about that. While having unanswered questions at the end of the first two books didn't bother me, because I had the rest of the trilogy ready, unanswered question with no idea about whether there'll be another book (and if so, no idea of when it's coming out), are quite annoying.

That's kind of minor, though. On the whole, I can't recommend this trilogy highly enough. These are books you can really sink into, with unforgettable characters and very romantic romance.


Blog template by

Back to TOP