Powers of Detection, by Dana Stabenow, ed.

>> Thursday, November 29, 2007

TITLE: Powers of Detection
AUTHORS: Donna Andrews / Simon R. Green / John Straley / Anne Bishop / Charlaine Harris / Anne Perry / Sharon Shinn / Michael Armstrong / Laura Anne Gilman / Mike Doogan / Jay Caselberg / Dana Stabenow. The latter is also the editor of the anthology.

PAGES: 304

TYPE: Fantasy Mystery
SERIES: A few of the stories are part of ongoing series. That I know of: those by Anne Bishop, Charlaine Harris and Laura Anne Gilman, but there could be more.

REASON FOR READING: I liked the idea of the premise (mysteries in fantasy settings) and I was interested in reading the stories by Sharon Shinn and Anne Perry, two favourite authors of mine.

This one-of-a-kind collection features stories from some of the biggest names in mystery and fantasy-blending the genres into a unique hybrid where PIs may wear wizard's robes and criminals may really be monsters.

Sit in on a modern-day witch's trial, visit the halls of a magical boarding school with murder on the curriculum, spend some time with Sookie Stackhouse, visit London's hidden world of the Nightside, and become spellbound with eight more tales of magical mystery.
  1. Cold Spell, by Donna Andrews: This was a cute story about a wizard apprentice helping her boss investigate a seemingly impossible murder. Neither the world nor the characters were too developed, but it was nice and yes, cute.

  2. The Nightside, Needless to Say, by Simon R. Green: I disliked it intensely. The protagonist wakes up and realizes he's dead, and has to investigate his own murder. The whole thing felt pointless and silly to me, and why use this Nightside setting if it's not going to play any part whatsoever in the story? Plus, the author's attempts at humour fell completely flat to me.

  3. Lovely, by John Straley: Quite ingenious, this one. It's narrated from the point of view of a raven, and the voice is really unique and believable. The story itself is nothing special, but it was an interesting read, anyway.

  4. The Price, by Anne Bishop: This story's part of the Black Jewels series, and it's very clear here that there's a lot of backstory to everything we see. However, Bishop succeeded in making me intrigued by it all rather than irritated by what I was missing.

  5. Fairy Dust, by Charlaine Harris: Another one that's part of an ongoing series, Sookie Stackhouse this time. Even though I haven't continued on, I have read the first book, so I knew Sookie and her powers already. Here she's asked by two faeries to help interrogate the people they suspect of murdering their sister. It's an interesting mystery, and Sookie was very smart figuring it out.

  6. The Judgment, by Anne Perry: Confession time: I think I didn't quite understand the ending. The story is about a trial for witchcraft of a woman accused of using it to murder someone. There's a twist there at the end, but I'm not sure what exactly the implications were. Man, I feel like an idiot!

  7. The Sorcerer's Assassin, by Sharon Shinn: A story about a magic school where professors start getting murdered. It's narrated by the grumpy headmistress, who investigates, and her dry, sharp humour really made the story for me. The office politics in this surreal environment were fun to read, too.

  8. The Boy Who Chased Seagulls, by Michael Armstrong: Boring. There's not much of a mystery here, just an old man telling a strange story that didn't make much sense to me.

  9. Palimpsest, by Laura Anne Gilman: I didn't even finish this one. Will she or will she not succeed in stealing whatever it was she wanted to steal? I never got why I was supposed to care. I actually meant to read Staying Dead, which is the first story in this series, but I don't think I will now.

  10. The Death of Clickclickwhistle, by Mike Doogan: I kind of liked it. This one's sci-fi (the only one in the anthology), and the spaceship setting was cool. The final twist in what happened was well done, too. But... the humour just didn't work for me. It reminded me a bit of that in the Simon R. Green story in that it felt really forced and just fell flat. Serial killer names as swear words? Oh, come on! Though it did elicit a smile when one of the characters cursed "George W Bush!"

  11. Cairene Dawn, by Jay Caselberg: Another blah one. The detective needs to find a woman's dead husband so that she and her family can bring him back to life. I'm all for atmospheric tales, but Caselberg didn't succeed in creating a compelling one for me, here, and the story itself wasn't too interesting.

  12. Justice Is a Two-Edged Sword, by Dana Stabenow: I think this was my favourite of the whole anthology. It was the best at bringing to life a whole world and mythology without bogging the reader down in the details and at the same time telling a full story. I'd be very willing to continue reading stories in this universe, if Stabenow were to write them.
MY GRADE: A C+. Just not enough good stories here to raise it much above average.


Harlequin / Mills & Boon Round-up

>> Wednesday, November 21, 2007

TITLE: Mr. Family
AUTHOR: Margot Early

PAGES: 296
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Superromance

SETTING: Contemporary Hawaii
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: I couldn't confirm it with a cursory google search, but it felt here as if Erika's brother and his wife have had their own book.

REASON FOR READING: I bought it because of the AAR review, but I've had it for years in the TBR. I dug it out after Rachel, who originally wrote that review, reposted it in her blog and reminded me of why I'd bought the book in the first place.

Kal Johnson is a still-grieving widower with a young child. He can't imagine marrying again - not for love, anyway. But it's becoming increasingly clear that his daughter needs someone besides him. A mother. Kal's solution is to place an ad in the local magazine...

Wanted: Woman to enter celibate marriage and be stepmother to four-year-old girl. Send child-rearing philosophies to Mr. Family...

Erika Blade is a woman who's afraid of love. And sex. She answers the ad, figuring she's probably the only person in the whole world to whom a "celibate marriage" would appeal. After all, she does want children but she doesn't want to acquire them in the usual way. As it turns out, Kal likes her letter - and soon discovers that he likes her. More than likes. He's attracted to her. The one thing that wasn't supposed to happen.
MY THOUGHTS: This was a pleasant, heart-warming book, a modern marriage-of-convenience story that didn't feel dated, but believable. Early made me really understand Kal and Erika and thus totally see why each would feel that a sex-free marriage is exactly what is needed in their lives (that is, I saw why they would think so, but it was so obvious that it was not, lol!).

Their romance is slow and gradual and not trouble-free. There's plenty of baggage in each of them, plus, the story doesn't take place in a vacuum. Their families play an important part, especially Kal's little daughter, Hiialo, who was very well done as a character. She's cute, but she has plenty of moments when she's a little nightmare.

Just as much as their families, the Hawaiian setting and culture play a big role in the book, and this was an element I loved.

Negatives? Well, I did have a stylistic issue: headhopping. This isn't something I usually mind, and I actually love it when it's skillfully done, but here I had to stop quite a few times to try to figure out in whose head we were.

MY GRADE: A B. It was a very enjoyable book, but I didn't love it.

TITLE: The Norman's Bride
AUTHOR: Terri Brisbin

PAGES: 289
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical Romance

SETTING: Medieval England
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: Comes after The Dumont Bride, which I read last month.

REASON FOR READING: I was very doubtful, but I wanted to see if Brisbin would succeed in redeeming the hero.


Though recalling nothing of her own identity, Isabel was certain her rescuer, Royce, had been a knight.Every fiber of his being bespoke a chivalry simple seclusion could not hide. And every sinew of his body bestirred a passion that would rouse her to her true self as Royce's heart-sworn lady!

Yet William Royce de Severin could not quell the waves of desire threatening to engulf him whenever he looked upon Isabel. Battered by life, she remained unbroken in spirit, making him yearn for the impossible-a life unfettered by his own dark secrets, with her forever by his side!
MY THOUGHTS: Those who've read The Dumont Bride will understand why I was so doubtful about Brisbin being able to redeem William de Severin. In the previous book, he did some horrible things. He was being basically blackmailed into it by Prince John, who was holding his sister's life over William's head, but still.

In this, his book, William (who now calls himself Royce) has been living incognito for a few years in the keep of the protagonists of a previous Brisbin book, The King's Mistress. Everyone thinks he's dead, and he feels this is just what he deserves. But one day he finds a woman who's been beaten up and left for dead not too far from his house, and that changes everything.

TDB was just very lukewarm. I didn't see much attraction between Royce and Isabel, and I spent most of the book feeling quite bored with it. The main problem might have been that I think I was supposed to believe Royce deserved to forgive himself and be happy, and so on, but I just wasn't completely convinced of this at all. This was not really because of his actions in the other book, because as I said, he was under duress at the time, but because of all the other things he did before that, things I thought were much worse and which were only very lightly mentioned here.

MY GRADE: Like the first book in the series, a C-.

TITLE: A Reputable Rake
AUTHOR: Diane Gaston

PAGES: 298
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical Romance

SETTING: Early 19th century London
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: Seems to be related to a couple of the author's other books.

REASON FOR READING: She was Author of the Month in my favourite yahoo discussion group.

After spending the last few years as a gambler, smuggler, and rogue, Cyprian Sloane is ready for a new life of respectability. As part of his plan to reform, Cyprian has moved into a proper new home and begun courting the eminently suitable Hannah Cowdlin. The only roadblock on Cyprian's new path is Morgana Hart, Hannah's cousin and Cyprian's new neighbor. To help out her maid's sister, Lucy, and three other young ladies who have escaped from a ruthless madam, Morgana has been secretly running a "school for courtesans." If the ton finds out, the potential scandal will ruin not only Morgana but Cyprian as well. Unless, of course, Cyprian reverts to the rake he once was to help the lovely and vexing lady with her daring and dangerous scheme.
MY THOUGHTS: I abandoned this one around the mid-point. As pleasant and readable as it was (and most of it was, quite), my suspension of disbelief was feeling too strained and I was muttering "are you fucking kidding me?" to myself a bit too frequently.

The funny thing is that it was not having the gently bred, innocent heroine found a school for courtesans that had me going. Oh, no, that was actually done in a way that it felt downright plausible. What baffled me was the hero's firm conviction that if Morgana's little school was discovered, the scandal would ruin his plans for respectability, because -wait for it!- he lived next door to her! Give. Me. A. Break.

MY GRADE: DNF for this one, although I would give this author another shot.

TITLE: The Roman's Virgin Mistress (heinous title, isn't it?)
AUTHOR: Michelle Styles

PAGES: 296
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical Romance

SETTING: Baiae, 69 BC
TYPE: Straight Romance



Silvana Junia knows what the gossips say about her - and doesn't care! Until a mysterious, dangerous stranger rescues her from the sea, and she's instantly drawn to him.


Lucius Aurelius Fortis is rich and respected. But his playboy past could come back to haunt him if he cannot resist his attraction to beautiful Silvana. And in the hot sun of Baiae their every move is watched…


Tempted beyond endurance, Silvana will become his mistress. But she has one last shocking secret…which will change everything between them!
MY THOUGHTS: You know, I've had this same problem with many of the "exotic setting" books I've bought. Great atmosphere, great research, a setting that feels and tastes real and is quite fascinating... but a blah story and characters.

Baiae was fantastic and I loved to visit there (even if at times the writing was of the "I've researched this and I'm going to cram every fact I've discovered into my story, whether it's necessary or not!" variety), but I wish I'd visited with other characters. I cannot stand the martyr heroine who sacrifices herself for her undeserving little brother who treats her like shit. I cannot stand her in a Regency setting, and I cannot stand her in ancient Rome, either. Fortis was nice enough, and Silvana did get her head out of her ass in the end, but... eh.


TITLE: The Greek's Bought Wife
AUTHOR: Helen Bianchin

PAGES: 185
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Modern

SETTING: Contemporary Australia
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: I don't think so

REASON FOR READING: An experiment. Pick one of those horribly-titled books at random and see if what's inside matches the quality of the title.

Made to marry-for her baby's sake!

Nic Leandros knows that most people want only his money. So when he finds out beautiful Tina Matheson is pregnant with his late brother's child, he's certain her price will be high...However, Tina must agree to his terms: no Leandros heir has ever been born out of wedlock; they will marry for the baby's sake...


MY THOUGHTS: There's one word for what I read of this book (about 50 pages, that is), and that's "bad". Bad, bad, bad, bad, BAD. An overbearing jerk of a hero, a doormat heroine whose character motivations had me scratching my head, awkward writing and my favourite: a crazy skank of an ex-mistress who's obsessed with the hero. I just couldn't subject myself to this, even for the sake of experimentation.

MY GRADE: A DNF, but it was heading towards low-D territory, maybe even the dreaded F.


Lord of the Fading Lands & Lady of Light and Shadow, by C.L. Wilson

>> Wednesday, November 14, 2007

TITLE: Lord of the Fading Lands & Lady of Light and Shadow
AUTHOR: C.L. Wilson

PAGES: 384 for each.

SETTING: City of Celieria
TYPE: Fantasy Romance
SERIES: Books 1 & 2 in the Tairen Soul series. From what I can see in Wilson's website, there will be four books in all, with the titles of the last two being King of Sword and Sky and Queen of Song and Souls. Those two will also be about Rain Tairen Soul and Ellysetta Baristani, and they're coming out in October and November 2008.

REASON FOR READING: Buzz, buzz, buzz, all over the place!

Long ago, in the magical holocaust known as the Mage Wars, the immortal Fey and their allies fought to defeat the grasping evil of the Elden Mages and their dark-gifted supporters. During those wars, in a fit of grief-induced madness caused by the death of his mate, Fey shapeshifter Rain Tairen Soul nearly destroyed the world in a blaze of tairen fire.

Now, a thousand years later, the fierce Fey king must fight to save his race from the brink of extinction and once again stop the evil rising in the homeland of his enemies, the Eld. The key to his success lies in the mortal city of Celieria, where the Mage Wars began, and with a young woman whose soul sings to him in ways no woman's ever has, whose presence reawakens the primal fury of the tairen within his soul, and whose vast, untapped power can either save or destroy him and his people.

Since her earliest memories, Ellysetta Baristani has feared magic, even as she has been inexorably drawn to all things Fey, especially the poetry and legends of Rain Tairen Soul. Now claimed as Rain's truemate and no longer able to deny her own magic, Ellysetta is swept into the very center of a struggle filled with the magic and darkness she has always feared. The High Mage of Eld wants to capture her. The most murderous dahl'reisen who ever lived wants her dead. And her enemies will corrupt even the people she loves most in their quest to claim her magic for themselves.
I've made two or three attempts to write a plot description of these books, and it's hopeless. I've tried to keep them simple, but I always end up going on about the Fey this and the Tairen that and the Mage Wars and the Eld and the Celierians and Rain touching the Tairen Soul and blah, blah. Someone who hasn't read the books yet will be completely lost reading such a summary, and someone who's already read them won't need it. Given this, I think it would be better if I just gave you a very, very basic idea of what the books are about, and don't get bogged down in the details.

Our hero is Rain Tairen Soul, an immortal being, part of a magical race called the Fey. His race is dying, and he finds out from a powerful magical object that the key to its survival is in the nearby mortal kingdom of Celieria.

Arriving there as head of a huge delegation, he immediately gets an inkling of what this key might be when he senses his truemate is near. Now, finding a truemate is a huge deal for the Fey, as the link between them is immensely powerful. Rain had actually already had a mate 1000 years earlier (remember, immortal being here) and went completely mad when she died, so mad that he literally scorched the world with his great powers. And this wasn't even a truemate, but a regular mate, so believe me: huge deal.

The truemate in question is tradesman's daughter Ellysetta Baristani, at first sight a regular gal. Ellysetta is initially half-terrified, half-intimidated by this legendary being who's suddenly intent on claiming her as his, but soon becomes convinced of the rightness of it. And as their courtship proceeds, facing seemingly everyone's disapproval, she'll come to see him more as a person she can actually love than as an almost-god.

As I hinted above, their courtship doesn't run smoothly. Part of it is that Ellysetta needs to trust and accept Rain completely for the bond to actually happen on her side, and this is hard for her, and not just because of her initial awe. Ellysetta isn't at all a regular gal, it turns out. There's powerful magic deep inside her, a magic she's been pressured into suppressing for years, and letting go of that fear will depend on her going against the conditioning of a lifetime -and against her family.

And in addition to this, the external opposition against them is fierce... from the plots of a scummy Celierian young man who is obsessed with having Elly (and her magic) all to himself, to Elly's mother honest fear that becoming mated with a Fey will mean Elly's moral ruin, from Celierian noblemen's distrust of the Fey, to the Eld, the Fey's longtime enemies who have a very mysterious interest in Ellysetta.

As I mentioned above, this whole big, big story will take a full four books. Ordinarily I'd say wait until all four are out, but I'll make an exception here and say go read these two. While the overarching storyline of the fate of the Fey and the battle against the evil Eld will only find closure by the end of the whole series (I asssume!), I think there's enough emotional resolution in Elly and Rain's story by the end of book 2, enough for me to not feel dissatisfied when I finished it. Just don't start reading book 1 without having book 2 close at hand, because you'll be desperate to read the latter when you finish the former!

So what did I like about these books? I think Wilson's story is probably the best balanced combination of epic fantasy and romance I've ever read. I've read excellent, strong epic fantasy with some romance and I've read excellent, strong romance with a bit of epic(-ish) fantasy mixed in, but this is the first time I've read something where the epic fantasy was so much in the forefront and yet, the book was recognizably and quintessentially a romance novel. This is a big, big story, with complex and fascinating worldbuilding and with a half-dozen different threads intertwining, and yet it's perfectly accessible and satisfying for the romance reader; perfectly balanced and integrated.

As a fantasy, it's top-notch (not that I'm exactly a connoisseur of fantasy, but as Jane pointed out when I mentioned this in a chat, what I've read of it has been the very cream of the genre), and as a romance (where I am pretty confident of my knowledgeability!) it's fantastic.

Yes, this is a "mate, mate, mine, mine, mine" story (and I'm sure quite a few of you groaned when I mentioned this in my summary), but it's done the right way. Wilson doesn't substitute the process of falling in love with a simple and immediate "we're mates, so that's it, we're in love". The truemate bond as she writes it is way more complicated than this. In fact, not only does it not immediately imply love, it actually complicates the love relationship quite a bit, as both Rain and Elly have to come to terms with how this involuntary link might affect a more willing and fragile bond like love.

Ah, I loved single-minded Rain. He's a total alpha, but the protective kind of alpha, and Elly is the perfect kind of heroine for someone like him, since she's more than strong enough in her own right. She doesn't seem so at first, but she really comes into her own during the story, and the shocking revelations about her past make complete and total sense. And it's not just the main characters who were three-dimensional and well-realized... all the different secondary characters are subtly drawn and play very real roles in the plot, giving the story a lot of depth.

MY GRADE: I can't really grade these two books separately: an A- for them, then!


Robin Hood, Stonehenge and Bath

>> Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I just realized I forgot to mention here that I've posted loads of new photos at my photoblog. There's a Robin Hood pageant (complete with videos of jousting), a visit to Stonehenge and two posts with photos of a visit to Bath (Part 1 and Part 2).


Bloodring, by Faith Hunter

>> Tuesday, November 06, 2007

TITLE: Bloodring
AUTHOR: Faith Hunter

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Post-apocalyptic Earth
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: Starts one. Followed by Seraphs and Host

REASON FOR READING: I heard about it in one of the yahoo groups I'm in, and what I heard, especially about the world it was set in, sounded interesting.

In a novel filled with lush imagery and exhilarating action, Faith Hunter creates a near-future world caught in the throes of an ambiguous apocalypse-where a woman with everything to hide finds her true destiny revealed.

As humanity struggles with religious strife and seraphs and demons fight a never-ending battle, a new species has arisen. "Neomages" are human in appearance, but able to twist left-over creation energy to their will. A threat to both humans and seraphs, they are confined in luxurious Enclaves.

Thorn St. Croix is no ordinary neomage. Nearly driven insane by her powers, she is smuggled out of an Enclave and now lives among humans, channeling her gift of stone-magery into jewelry making. But when Thaddeus Bartholomew, a dangerously attractive policeman, tells her that her ex-husband has been kidnapped, Thorn risks revealing her identity to find him. And for Thorn, the punishment for revelation is death.
THE PLOT: The summary I quote above is actually really good, so I won't bother with my own.

MY THOUGHTS: I'm afraid this book was a bit of a disappointment. On the positive side, the world Hunter created showed much promise. I thought the premise and many of the details were fascinating and fresh. I mean, the action takes place about a hundred years after Earth suffered an apocalypsis, almost right out of the Bible visions. The people in this story are the descendants of the few survivors of the catastrophes, and it's a world with a very close and immediate relationship with the formerly intangible mysteries of religion, which are now right there. In that sense, it reminded me of parts of Sharon Shinn's Samaria series. And even more intriguing, there are some hints that things might not be quite as clearly-cut Biblical as most people assume. This doesn't really go anywhere in this book, but I would imagine there will be more developments later. With this basic premise, Hunter managed to create an atmosphere I could almost taste, it felt so real.

But... I started out the book feeling like I had some catching up to do, and never managed to succeed. It's obvious that this is not a world the author is making up as she goes along. Everything here indicates that has a detailed universe in her mind and that it has its own rules and its own complex history. And that's great, that's just as it should be with fantasy. The thing is, what's probably really obvious in her mind wasn't always as obvious to me, the reader, and I spent much of the book feeling a bit lost, for all that I was reading slowly and carefully. There are things that still don't make sense to me now, like why exactly the neomages are so hated, or the exact nature of the kylen and what happened between Thorn and the seraphs all those years before. As for the ending and the final confrontation, with that seraph intervention, I'm still scratching my head over it. I can't make up my mind if this is all something I should have understood completely or if it's some kind of cliffhanger-ish ending.

In addition to this, though the characters were interesting, they all felt distant to me, including the narrator, Thorn. There was a detatched feel to her reactions; even when we were told she was terrified, I just couldn't feel it. Hunter told us this kind of thing, rather than show us. I just thought Thorn was a bit dull and never particularly cared about the whole thing with her ex-husband being kidnapped. What's more, I never truly got why she would care, either. That's the kind of thing I mean, even after reading the whole book, the narrator is still a mystery to me.

MY GRADE: I'm regretfully going to have to go with a C-. I would be interested in seeing in what direction Hunter takes her world, but actually reading this book was too frustrating for me to continue with the series.


Die For Me, by Karen Rose

>> Sunday, November 04, 2007

TITLE: Die For Me (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

PAGES: 500
PUBLISHER: Headline in the UK (the edition I read) and Warner Vision in the US

SETTING: Contemporary Philadelphia
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Linked to a couple of Rose's earlier books (she has a very helpful diagram in her website, here), but stands alone perfectly.

REASON FOR READING: I've been hearing a lot about Rose from my fellow bloggers, and the buzz has been overwhelmingly positive. I meant to try her months ago, but only got around to it now.


The first victim is found in a snow-covered Philadelphia field. Detective Vito Ciccotelli enlists the aid of archaeologist Sophie Johannsen to determine exactly what lies beneath the frozen ground. Despite years of unearthing things long buried, nothing can prepare Sophie for the matrix of graves dug with chilling precision. The victims buried there haunt her. But the empty graves terrify her – the killer isn’t done yet.


He is cold and calculating, the master of a twisted game. Even with Vito and Sophie hot on his trail, he will not stop. One more empty grave must be filled, and one last scream must be heard – the scream of an archaeologist who is too close for comfort and too near to resist…
THE PLOT: When a body is dug up from a field and it seems likely that there are others nearby, the Philadelphia police asks archeologist Sophie Johannsen for help mapping the area. When it turns out some of the bodies she helps them find went through tortures straight out of the Inquisition before they died, Sophie's knowledge of such matters really comes in handy to Det. Vito Ciccotelli and his team.

And they'll really need all the help they can get, because this is a particularly cold and dangerous killer, and one who won't allow them to distract him from his plans. As the police gets closer and closer to him, the danger to Sophie, for whom Vito has started to have some serious feelings, grows and grows.

MY THOUGHTS: Before Die For Me, I'd been going through a bit of a dry spell with romantic suspense. Except for Nora Roberts', the ones I've tried so far this year have been pretty mediocre. I think I read the last good one back in April, Gayle Wilson's Bogeyman, and even that one had a pretty weak romance, for all that I liked the suspense. Well, Karen Rose has restored my faith in the subgenre. This is what I want my romantic suspense to be... strong, interesting suspense and a romance that's just as strong and just as interesting. I want balance, I want no element to overshadow the others, and this was what I got here.

I was actually a bit scared of this book before I started it, because the suspense plot sounded like something that could give me nightmares for weeks on end. But for what it's about, it was actually surprisingly non-graphical. I mean, you do find out exactly what the villain did to his victims (and man, this guy was seriously screwed), so it's not THAT harmless, but at least there were no actual scenes of torture. I don't think I would have been able to tolerate those. As this was written, I didn't get any queasy feelings that Rose was trying to titillate her readers with the violence. Everything we saw was necessary to the story and made it stronger.

Something I loved, loved, LOVED was that the police here were smart, much smarter than the villain thought they would be, so it was fascinating to follow their progress. I get really frustrated when I'm reading a romantic suspense and the investigators just won't take the obvious steps and make the obvious deductions (what are the obvious steps and deductions? Well, anything I can think of that they should be doing, really. If I can think of it, they should, too). Here it was perfect. The investigation was smartly conducted and felt realistic, and I loved that they kept getting closer and closer.

And not just them, the villain was being circled from many directions, which was something else I enjoyed. What I see most often is this kind of thing in reverse... hero and heroine doing their thing, thinking they're safe, but danger is approaching without them knowing. Here it's the villain who's being "stalked" without his knowledge, and it works to keep the tension and suspense high, even though we're privy to the villain's intentions from the first and it becomes pretty obvious who he is about halfway through the book.

Rose doesn't just write great suspense, she writes great characters, too, and great romance. Sophie was fantastic. She was a really smart, strong woman, and I liked the way Rose wrote her involvement in the case. Initially she jumps at the chance of getting involved, but then when Vito explains that he'd prefer that her connection to the case wasn't in a way that could become public, because it might put her in danger, she actually sees his point immediately and agrees that she won't get involved in that way. And she doesn't. All her participation is in things that won't represent any danger to her and to her family, as any reasonable person would prefer.

She's just a very well-rounded, three-dimensional character, with a fully realized past and a complex relationship with her family and a just as complex attitude to her work at the museum.

Vito is also a lovely, interesting guy. His relationship with his family was as complex as Sophie's, but very different, and it gave his character great depth.

In spite of the very strong suspense plot, the romance wasn't at all eclipsed by it, and I never got the feeling I sometimes get in books like this that the very presence of a romance was inappropriate. There was real chemistry between Vito and Sophie and their relationship flowed well. I loved that it didn't feel just like danger-induced lust; there was some real tenderness there. By the end of the book, I fully believed they were in love.

MY GRADE: A strong B+. There was a little extra zing missing to push it into A territory, but I have no problem seeing another of her books making it.


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