Mine to Possess, by Nalini Singh

>> Thursday, January 31, 2008

TITLE: Mine to Possess (excerpt 1, excerpt 2)
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2008 (comes out next Tuesday, February 5th)
PAGES: 352

SETTING: Near future alternate-reality version of the US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Book 4 in the Psy/Changeling series. I'm not going to go into details about the universe set-up in my review, so if you want to know more, read the first few paragraph of my post about Slave to Sensation, the first book in the series.

REASON FOR READING: This is one of my favourite ongoing series.

Nalini Singh pulls away another dark layer of sheer desire, revealing passions unknown, in her latest novel about the world of the Psy. A ghost returns from a leopard changeling’s past, making him question everything—even his base animal instincts…

Clay Bennett is a powerful DarkRiver sentinel, but he grew up in the slums with his human mother, never knowing his changeling father. As a young boy without the bonds of Pack, he tried to stifle his animal nature. He failed...and committed the most extreme act of violence, killing a man and losing his best friend, Talin, in the bloody aftermath. Everything good in him died the day he was told that she, too, was dead.

Talin McKade barely survived a childhood drenched in bloodshed and terror. Now a new nightmare is stalking her life--the street children she works to protect are disappearing and turning up dead. Determined to keep them safe, she unlocks the darkest secret in her heart and returns to ask the help of the strongest man she knows...

Clay lost Talin once. He will not let her go again, his hunger to possess her, a clawing need born of the leopard within. As they race to save the innocent, Clay and Talin must face the violent truths of their past...or lose everything that ever mattered.
THE PLOT Clay Bennet was one of the most intriguing secondary characters in the previous books in the series, a DarkRiver leopard whose beast was very close to the surface, probably closer than anyone else's. At the beginning of MTP, Clay is shocked to discover that his childhood best friend, Tallin, is not dead, as he had been told. And he feels even more surprised -and betrayed- when he realizes it was her decision to stay away from him all these years.

It wasn't an easy decision for Tallin to abandon Clay, but she believed it was crucial for her survival. After the shattering violence of their last encounter, a violence not directed at her, but which still almost pushed her over the edge, Tallin decided to stay away. There had been more than enough fear and violence in her childhood already.

But now someone is kidnapping and killing the street children who are her responsibility, and she sees no other choice but to ask Clay for his help...

MY THOUGHTS: Ahhh! Reading Nalini Singh's books is always a treat, and this was no exception. With MTP we continue to go deeper into this world she's created and discover aspects we hadn't seen before. So far in the series we'd basically concentrated on the Psy and the changelings, but here we start to catch a glimpse of the human world and how all three races interact (and mix), especially how humans fare in a world where the other two races are so clearly more powerful than them.

But Tallin and Clay are so much more than simply a human and a changeling. What makes this story so compelling is that each of them is completely individual, while still being shaped and influenced by their nature. And the intimacy between them, that was amazing. This closeness is something that has been between them forever, since they met as children, but I never felt that Singh substituted showing us why and how these two fall in love with an easy way out. They are mates, and they were very close as children, but they still need to fall in love as adults, and we do get to see that.

Nowhere is this more clear than in what it takes for Clay to get over the betrayal of what he feels Tallin has "done to him". He needs to go a long way to see that as much as he thought he knew her completely, he didn't wholly understand her. It takes him a lot of time and insight into the character of Tallin the woman to understand why she felt staying away from him was so crucial to her survival.

To my mind, their relationship was all the stronger because there were things about the other that each had trouble accepting. For instance, Clay's beast is nearer the surface than we've seen before and Tallin's initially not at all comfortable with this. Or another one: take Tallin's sexual past. The obvious, easy way out would have been for Clay to immediately understand and nurture, but no, his first reaction is to see it as another betrayal, as Tallin having, in a sense, made his sacrifice be for nothing. The thing is, they overcome all these things, and this made their happy ending all the sweeter.

As always in the books in this series (I feel as if I'm repeating myself here!), hero and heroine fall in love before a backdrop where some very fascinating things are happening. They don't upstage the romance in the least, but they are intriguing in their own right. As I've said before, this world of Singh's is not a static one, it's clearly evolving, and we're starting to get some indications as to the direction in which things are going. The characters from the earlier books play very relevant roles (this is clearly a universe, that Singh has created), and while we get more than enough closure for this particular story, it's clear that things are nowhere near done yet!

MY GRADE: An A-. It's a pleasure to report that this series is still going strong :-)


Blue Skies, by Robyn Carr

>> Tuesday, January 29, 2008

TITLE: Blue Skies
AUTHOR: Robyn Carr

PAGES: 377

SETTING: Contemporary Las Vegas, mostly
TYPE: Straight romance

REASON FOR READING: I've been hearing good things about Carr (about her Virgin River series, mostly), and I wanted to give her a try. Blue Skies was the only one of her books that my library had.

Nikki Burgess has survived a terrible marriage and an even worse divorce. And she's just about given up hope of every finding love and happiness. But when her ex-husband suddenly dies, she gets custody of her kids again and a chance to start over and do it right.

Dixie McPherson, on the other hand, has had way too much love. She has eleven tennis bracelets, dozens of trinkets, piles of sexy lingerie and a tarnished reputation when all she ever wanted was true love, a partner and a family.

Carlisle Bartlett is loyal, generous, kindhearted and the funniest guy slinging drinks in the back of an airplane. But he has an ugly little secret. The only kind of love he's used to comes with bruises.

They are three people who could seriously use a break. A fresh start. A shot of success and a chance to shine. Maybe a little romance—the kind that sticks. And some adventure wouldn't hurt. So when they're presented with the challenge of joining a team starting a new airline in Las Vegas, they don't hesitate. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, these three friends are going in search of their own blue skies.
THE PLOT: The book follows three friends, coworkers in the airline industry, as they get a new start in Las Vegas, where a new airline is getting off the ground. Nikki is a pilot who's all but given up on being a woman. Her friend Dixie, a flight attendant, has been looking for love and marriage all her life, but all she's found is men who lie to her and quickly leave her. Her colleague, Carlisle, is in an abusive relationship with his partner. The opening of New Century Air, in Vegas, is an opportunity for them to start again.

MY THOUGHTS: In a nutshell? Interesting story, but the authorial voice was much too intrusive.

Mainly, I thought Carr was too in love with her subject matter. Her infatuation with everyone and everything related to the air travel industry brought her book into preach-fest territory. And although her subject matter is interesting, and I appreciate reading a story by an author who clearly knows her stuff, the level of unnecessary detail about EXACTLY what starting a new airline involves bogged the story down a lot. We don't really need to know the details of exactly which manuals they need to write and exactly how many meetings they need to have and exactly with whom. After a certain point, this kind of thing doesn't add to the flavour of the book, it just bores.

Also on the authorial voice front, I felt there was too much tell rather than show. Carr's got a way of including a lot of omniscient narration that kept taking me out of the story.

As for the romances, I thought I was getting three, from what I read in the back cover and from the initial set-up, but I really got two. Poor Carlisle did get his HEA ending, but he got really shortchanged in terms of the development of a romance. There was absolutely none, and I wish there had, because it could have been very interesting. Nikki's romance was pretty boring, as her love interest never really came alive. The only one I really liked was Dixie's. That was really sweet. She falls in love with this ordinary-looking, unexciting, shy, totally nice guy, who is completely in love with her, but can't believe someone so beautiful can be interested in him. Awwwww!

Even though her romance didn't much interest me, I really liked Nikki. I feared at the beginning she would be a mess of neuroses and self-esteem issues, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yeah, she's not that confident in her personal life, but it's not something exageratedly bad. And in the workplace? The woman kicks butt and takes no shit from anyone. Every time someone tried to screw with her and she just calmly and firmly set them straight, I practically cheered.

Though... I had some problems with the ethics of two things Nikki did. The first was this guy Rocky, who's a kind of running joke through the book (well, not really, he shows up only three times, but still). This guy keeps pretending to be someone impressive to pick up women, and the first time, he's sitting next to Nikki in a plane and tells her that he's there undercover as an air marshal. Well, she gets him arrested for it! Huh? Arrested? He's not seriously impersonating an air marshal, in the sense of... I don't know, strutting around the cockpit giving orders, or something. He's just being smarmy. And she thinks it's just right that he gets arrested? It wasn't very funny at all.

And then there was the thing with Bob Riddle, which might be a bit of a spoiler. Riddle is her boss at the new airline, who it soon becomes clear, is wholly incompetent. Nikki gets the goods on him near the end of the book, more than enough to get his ass fired, but rather than exposing him, she just engineers his hiring by another company. So the book ends with this guy making three times as much as Nikki and the poor people at his new airline bearing the damage. So wrong! And not least because one of the things I was looking forward towards the most in the whole book was seeing Riddle get his comeuppance, maybe by being publicly humiliated!

And speaking of Riddle, he didn't really work very well as the "villain" of the piece, which is what I suspect he was supposed to be. He was just so incredibly bumbling that there was never any sense of threat from him.



The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, Mike Ashley, ed

>> Sunday, January 27, 2008

TITLE: The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits
AUTHOR: edited by Mike Ashley

PAGES: 564

SETTING: Varies wildly. From Ancient times to 1912, and the settings range from Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa to North America. I think the only ones not represented are Latin America and Antarctica (and doesn't that say a lot about how important we are to the world?)
TYPE: Historical mysteries.
SERIES: Some of the stories are.

REASON FOR READING: I saw it in the library and it looked interesting.

MY THOUGHTS: Just as the locales and the time periods vary wildly, so does the quality of the stories.

At the beginning, I got worried because I noticed that in every single one of the stories the crime-solving seemed unbelievable and forced, especially the introduction of the detectives. Say, someone was asked to solve a crime because they were foreigners and therefore either impartial (His Master's Servant, by Philip Boast) or trained in logic (The Judgement of the Gods, by Rob Reginald). Hmmm, really? In all of these the setting was fascinating and well done, but I wasn't that impressed by the stories themselves.

Things got better when I got to Ancient Rome. I loved Cupid's Arrow, by Marilyn Todd. This story is part of an ongoing series about Claudia Seferius, a former prostitute who married a rich old man and is now herself very rich and a widow. Claudia is a fantastic character, and the references to past events, as well as a relationship with an aristocratic "policeman" (sorry, can't remember the term used for him here, but that's what he was), with whom she seems to have quite a bit of history, left me wild to read the rest of her books.

I also liked The Spiteful Shadow, by Peter Tremayne. It's set in Celtic Ireland, and features Sister Fidelma, who I understand has had quite a few other adventures. It was a neat little mystery, with a young woman who hears voices and is accused of having murdered someone because those voices told her to.

Which other stories were good? I liked The Witching Hour, by Martin Edwards, about a trial for witchcraft and a clerk determined to prove the accused's innocence. And I also enjoyed The Abolitionist, by Lynda S. Robinson, set in Virginia at the eve of the American Civil War. It's about the murder of the son of a socially prominent family, a man who's an abolitionist and insists on confronting slave owners about the evil of their ways. This was one of the very few stories in which I felt a true sense of tragedy, and the ending was fantastic.

And that was it, the rest were either bad or mediocre. For some, the setting compensated for mysteries that were not quite good enough, like The Serpent's Back, exploring the underbelly of 18th century Edinburgh, or Botanist at Bay, in Australia at the time Botany Bay was a penal colony.

A few I couldn't finish. For instance, The Dutchman and the Wrongful Heir, by Maan Meyers. In this case, the fascinating setting, in 17th century New Amsterdam (now New York), right after it passed from Dutch to English control, didn't compensate for a majorly boring story. Also Footprints, by Jeffery Farnol, which I abandoned as unreadable after a couple of pages in which I cringed every time the main character opened his mouth because the dialect was just painful to read.

Quite a lot of stories I didn't like at all, like If Serpents Envious, by Clayton Emery. This one's set in Colonial America and concerns two slaves accused of murdering their master. Every single character in the story was evil and unpleasant and horrible, except for the detective.

And there were a few bad stories right after this one, so maybe I should conclude that historical American settings don't do much for me. The Uninvited Guest, by Edward Hoch and Benjamin's Trap, by Richard Moquist were mysteries so humdrum that I felt I'd completely wasted the time I spent reading them. As for the story by Melville Davisson Post featuring Uncle Abner, I intensely disliked the judgemental bent of the detective. The Abolitionist is the only exception. I also disliked The Gentleman on the Titanic, by John Lutz, where the intrigues and counterintrigues of British and German agents become mind-numbingly boring.

Something I noticed and that I don't like at all is having real historical characters as detectives. Mary Reed and Eric Mayer use Herodotus, Cherith Baldry has Geoffrey Chaucer, Sarah Hoyt features Henry the Navigator (a Portuguese prince) and Benjamin Franklin detects in Richard Moquist's story. And in each of those stories, having this particular historical figure as the detective added absolutely nothing. It was just a gimmick, and gimmicks piss me off.

How about having a real historical figure in the story, but not as the detective? Well, I can like it or not, depends on the story and on whether it adds something. In Jean Davidson's Death in the Desert, we had the Queen of Sheba, and that was key to constructing the background of the story. In The Jester and the Mathematician, by Alan R. Gordon, OTOH, having mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci there was pointless, and it made the story feel silly.

MY GRADE: A C+, but I appreciated discovering a few authors I'll be reading again.


Never Lie to a Lady, by Liz Carlyle

>> Saturday, January 26, 2008

TITLE: Never Lie to a Lady
AUTHOR: Liz Carlyle

PAGES: 432

SETTING: Victorian England
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: First in Carlyle's latest trilogy (what is it called? The Never trilogy? The Neville trilogy?). Though there's a short story in the School for Heiresses anthology which introduces the characters.

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author.

In her dazzling new historical trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle plunges readers into the steamy underworld of nineteenth-century London. Among the swirling glitter of English high society, a scandalous rogue gets more than he bargained for in the lady of his desires.

Lord Nash is a creature of the night -- his wealth and title provide but a tenuous entrée into polite society. Notorious for his sophisticated manners and a dark, dashing elegance, rumors abound of the men he has bankrupted and the women he's left heartbroken. But when Nash leaves his lair for a rare foray into the ton, he faces a lure of temptation all his own -- an extraordinary moment of passion with a mysterious lady in the moonlight -- and an obsession that will lead him into a hellish world of smugglers, spies, and intrigue. And as for his damsel in disguise, the witty and beautiful Miss Xanthia Neville, he soon learns, is as unattainable as she is tempting. And now Nash must decide if she is also dangerous...
THE PLOT: Xanthia Neville and her brother own a very succesful shipping business, which they started when they were living in the West Indies. Xanthia has been involved in it from the beginning, and she isn't about to let those strict English rules about ladies not working keep her away. She's not particularly interested in marriage, anyway, so what does she care?

When she meets the Marquess of Nash in a ball and an unexpectedly steamy encounter takes place between them in a balcony, Xanthia is tempted, but makes herself strong and determines to keep away from him. But she'll soon have the perfect excuse to come close to him, when she's asked to help her country. She's to befriend Nash and investigate whether he's involved (on behalf of his mother's motherland) in some operations in Greece which threaten British interests in the region.

Sounds strange, but the reasoning on the part of the powers that be (which include our old friends Max Rohan and George Kemble, from many past Carlyle novels) is that as the owner of a shipping company, she can dangle the possibility of using her ships in front of him, and see if he'll take it. Makes sense, I suppose.

So anyway, now that she can tell herself she has a reason to be near Nash, Xanthia keeps close and she's quickly convinced that the man is innocent of any wrongdoing. And of course, their relationship soon turns into more than she would have expected.

MY THOUGHTS: I liked many things about NLTAL, but it just didn't have the absorbing quality Carlyle's books usually have for me. I suspect it might have been because I started reading it on the plane on the way here to England (the original flight from Uruguay... yes, it's been months since I read it and I'm only now getting to the review) and finished it while worried about my luggage, not the circumstances most conducive to being able to sink into a book. Maybe if I'd tried it again it would be better, because thinking back about particular elements of the book, none of my memories are negative.

Xanthia is a very interesting heroine... a woman for whom her business and her role in running it is intimately tied to her image of herself. This might have been hard to accept in a historical heroine, but Carlyle pulls it off, by helping us understand the way her past shaped this aspect of her personality. Now, whether it's believable or not that a woman would have been able to do this at the time, with as little trouble as Xanthia seemed to have had... doubtful. I was willing to suspend disbelief, but really, doubtful.

She's also someone who actually has a sexual past, no less! I thought her relationship with her former lover, Gareth (hero of the second book in the series) was very intriguing, and I enjoyed the kinda-triangle when Gareth first became aware of Nash's and Xanthia's involvement. Strange, really, since jealous exes usually make me groan.

I enjoyed Nash, too. What I found most interesting there was that when we first see him, he seems to be just like any other romance hero... a nobleman, a rake, etc., etc. But he's still very much an outsider, and not just because of his ancestry. This gave him much in common with Xanthia, and I thought it was a solid foundation for their relationship.

The actual suspense plot, with Xanthia's investigation and Kemble and Max running around? Meh. Not too interesting, but not bad, either. Still, this is one to read for the romance, not the plot.



Chill Factor, by Sandra Brown

>> Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TITLE: Chill Factor (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Sandra Brown

PAGES: 389
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton in the UK

SETTING: Contemporary North Carolina
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

REASON FOR READING: Because I haven't read SB in ages. She used to be among my faves back when I started reading romance, but she lost me when she started heading more into suspense and neglecting the romance. I was curious to see how I'd like her these days.

Suspense abounds in this gripping new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Sandra Brown, in which a successful magazine editor is trapped in her remote cabin with a man believed to be a serial killer.

Cleary, North Carolina, is a sleepy mountain town -- the kind of place where criminal activity is usually limited to parking violations. Not so, lately. Four women have disappeared from Cleary over the past two years. And there's always a blue ribbon left near the spot where each of the women was last seen. There are no bodies, no other clues, and no suspicion as to who their abductor might be. And now, another woman has disappeared without a trace.

It is to this backdrop that Lilly Martin returns to close the sale of her mountain cabin, marking the end of her turbulent eight-year marriage to Dutch Burton, Cleary's chief of police. Dutch's reluctance to let her go isn't Lilly's only obstacle. As she's trying to outrun a snowstorm, her car skids on the icy road and strikes a man who emerges from the woods on foot. She recognizes the injured man as Ben Tierney, whom she'd met the previous summer. They're forced to wait out the storm in the cabin, but as the hours of their confinement mount, Lilly begins to wonder if the greatest danger to her safety isn't the blizzard outside, but the mysterious man right beside her.

Is Ben Tierney the feared abductor? Or is he who he claims to be...her rescuer from harm and from the tragedy that haunts her?
THE PLOT: The summary quoted above is quite good, it really gives you a good idea of the setup and feel of the book. So if it's ok with you guys, I'll just skip doing one for this one.

MY THOUGHTS: The good: How Brown kept me second-guessing myself through a lot of the book. Is he or isn't he a serial killer? Should Lilly trust him or shouldn't she? For a long time, I just didn't know. And Lilly was a good heroine, someone whose reactions felt sensible to me. No silly "I know this man is innocent because he's got kind eyes" nonsense from our Lilly. When in the slightest doubt, she's careful, just like anyone with two braincells to rub together would, and applies the better safe than sorry rule.

The meh: The romance. I didn't feel much of a connection there. I didn't feel like I knew a great deal about the man she ends up with, so I found it hard to get excited about a relationship between them. Actually, I didn't feel I knew a great deal about Lilly, either. I knew more about certain nasty secondary characters than about her. Which brings me to...

The bad: A big (and I mean BIG) part of the book is spent with the townspeople trying to get to Lilly and Ben, and such a disgusting bunch of repulsive bigots, most of them were! I hated every paragraph I had to spend with them and even the characters which were portrayed sympathetically (like that sanctimonious FBI agent) annoyed me. This just didn't make for a book I enjoyed reading.



Death by gimmick

>> Monday, January 21, 2008

Here are my reviews of two Harlequin Blaze titles I read on my ebook reader on my way to and from Portugal. They're quite different in tone and plot, and each have their strong and weak points, but what struck me the most was how overpoweringly gimmicky they felt.

TITLE: Underneath It All
AUTHOR: Lori Borrill

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: Part of the "Million Dollar Secrets" continuity

REASON FOR READING: The review at AAR made it sound interesting.

TV producer Nicole Reavis intends to use her millions to sort out a top secret personal hiccup. In the meantime, her show must go on. And Nicole has to entice mega-rich Devon Bradshaw to appear as one of Atlanta's sexiest eligible bachelors. But will he bite?

Devon's biting if it means spending more time with beautiful blue-eyed Nicole. But when he discovers that, underneath it all, they've got more in common than six-figure finances and shocking family revelations, he's determined to find out everything about her.
MY THOUGHTS: The central plot is quite simple: Nicole and Devon meet, are very attracted to each other and start dating. Devon falls quite hard from the very beginning and instantly recognizes Nicole as the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, but she refuses to even consider something serious. She's dealing with recently finding out she's adopted, and doesn't feel it's the right time for such big decisions.

This, what was at the heart of the book, was nice enough. I love plots about the hero falling hard right from the beginning and knowing she's the one, while she thinks she's just having a fling, and Devon was quite adorable. However, I did have some problems with things like Nicole's motivation for backing off so completely when it becomes clear Devon wants much more, because her reasoning felt a bit iffy. I never really saw the how her adoption was related to her current relationship with Devon.

Also I'm usually the one who's asking for more sexually assertive heroines, but here, Nicole made me a bit uncomfortable. Hey, it's great that she's comfortable with her sexuality and goes after Devon in that sense, but I had a few "whoa there!" moments, when she does things that would probably be more believable between two people with some familiarity and comfortableness with each other.

But ok, those were minor blips. What really kept throwing me out of the book was all the external stuff that was happening around them and felt very badly integrated. As I mention above, this is part of a continuity series. Nicole and a group of coworkers have won the lottery, but they're having trouble with the woman who used to work with them and is demanding a share of the money, because she used to play the lottery with them (or something like that). There's quite a bit of space devoted to this (they meet about it and discuss whether they should settle out of court and have endless debates about it), none of which adds anything at all to this particular story. This is what I mean by gimmicky. The book even ends on a scene from the "villainess" of that subplot's point of view, a truly WTF? note.

And there's also other stuff... like Devon and Nicole first meeting when she bids on him in a bachelor auction (again, adds nothing to the story. I could practically see the author thinking "I need a sexy, provocative beginning"). The only external plot I was mildly interested in was what's going on in Devon's business with the embezzlement and his doubts about whether he should quit or not. This felt much more germane to the story , I thought.

MY GRADE: Without the gimmicks, I'd probably go for a B-/B grade, but this ended up not being a particularly satisfying reading experience, so a C+.

TITLE: Ghosts and Roses
AUTHOR: Kelley St. John

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary New Orleans
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: Second in the awfully titled "The Sexth Sense", which starts with Kiss and Dwell. You can see the rest of the titles here.

REASON FOR READING: Same as the previous one: the AAR review.

He's never touched her but he's made love to her.

He doesn't know her, but he has to find her…

Before a killer does.

Gage Vicknair has been dreaming-incredible erotic visions-about a mysterious brown-eyed beauty.

Makayla Sparks has been dreaming about a strong, sexy man who keeps her safe-- and very, very satisfied.

When a spirit from beyond tells Gage he needs to rescue a stranger named Makayla, he never expects that stranger to be the same sensuous woman he's enjoyed so thoroughly in his nightly fantasies. But Makayla is very real-and she's living a nightmare. A vengeful murderer is determined to get her. And Gage is equally determined to save her.

Because the only way he and Makayla can have the love they've dreamed of is if they're still around to live it…

MY THOUGHTS: Another gimmicky one. And hey, you could say we have two gimmicks for the price of one! We've got the family of mediums, all of whom have unbearably "unique" names, who help spirits cross over in a way that's full of absurdly elaborate rules (this on the side of the hero), and we've got the group of four friends who survived childhood abuse together (this on the side of the heroine). Although I might be being a bit unfair, because this last one wasn't so gimmicky-feeling. I suppose I was just feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Anyway, what happens here is that Gage's latest assignment, the latest ghost he needs to help cross over, is one of these four women, Lillian. She was murdered and needs to warn the other three women that they are in danger, even though they think the guy who abused them as children is safely in jail. To help Lillian cross over, Gage must make sure these women are safe, which means not just warn them, but make sure the man threatening them is captured.

Gage is very surprised when he finds the first of Lillian friends, Makayla, and realizes she's the woman he's been having erotic dreams about for some time. And it turns out she's been having the exact same dreams, the only thing she can remember, because Makayla has amnesia, a reaction to having been attacked by the villain already.

My reaction here was very similar to how I felt about Underneath It All. There's a nice romance at the center of the novel, with a sweet hero and a nice, caring relationship, but what's around it detracts from it. The worst part is that it could be interesting stuff, but it's just not very well done. My main problem was that the abuse plot and the "sexy, sexy, sexy!" plot didn't really go very well together. Each was good on its own, but the former was extremely dark and traumatic, so juxtaposing it with the other stuff "cheapened" it.

I was also very frustrated by the way they go about trying to discover what's going on and getting the villain, because it's so totally bumbling. There were some very obvious steps that no one thougth of taking, and what they did do felt fake. The author doesn't seem to be very familiar with how googling something would work, for instance. At one point they're googling to try to find out what's going on with the girls former abuser, whether he's still in jail, and they google his name and come up with only one match (even though there was a big trial all those years ago, when they sent him to jail). And the guy's name is something not particularly uncommon or strange: Wayne Romero. Yeah, right. (Quick cursory search: 481,000 matches, and 688 if I put it in quote marks). It was all so glaringly OBVIOUS, too, that these people came across as incredibly dim for not realizing the truth much sooner. And the dénouement... *groan*.

What I found most distracting, though, was all the sequel-baiting for the next books in the series and the constant references to the completely irrelevant plot of the first book. This element, plus the silly rules of the Vicknair family tradition, with their assignments popping up and written like email memos, and so on, was quite preposterous.

MY GRADE: Another C+.


Two Sara Cravens, and the difference between nostalgia and dated

>> Saturday, January 19, 2008

I can't not read, not even when I'm studying like crazy for my exams. I usually start really early in the morning and by 6 my brain can't absorb one more fact, one more mathematical proof. What it wants is to read some romance, but nothing too long or complex. So I just went to the library and grabbed some Harlequin Presents (Mills & Boon Modern Romance, here).

The first batch I grabbed included a Sara Craven (because I remembered Jane saying she'd liked her books), and I really liked it. It was exactly the kind of book I used to read as a teen, only better. Yay, I thought, I've found another HP author I like! Susan Napier isn't alone anymore! So the next time I went by the library I looked for all the Sara Cravens I could find, and that night I started the next one. And it was terrible *sigh*. It was also just like those books I read as a teen, only worse. Much, much worse.

TITLE:The Count's Blackmail Bargain
AUTHOR: Sara Craven

PAGES: 187
PUBLISHER: Mills and Boon (Modern Romance line)

SETTING: Contemporary Italy
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: No, I don't believe it is

For handsome Italian count Alessio Ramontella, seducing women comes as naturally as breathing. Alessio lives his life based on two criteria: first that success and satisfaction are guaranteed, and second that all his dealings are discreet and conducted between mutually consenting parties.

Then he meets innocent English beauty Laura Mason. She’s sweet, tempting…and off–limits. Alessio must decide: should he ruthlessly pursue Laura until she gives in?
MY THOUGHTS: Ok, so this one was the one that was a blast from the past, but in a good way. Some... hmm, I'd say between 10 and 15 years ago (man, I'm getting OLD!), before I discovered online shopping, I fed my romance craving with translated Harlequins I'd buy in a bookstore near my house. I'd go every couple of months and choose a huge pile, just by skimming the back-cover blurbs. Authors? Who cared who the author was? There were two I knew I disliked, so before paying I weeded out anything by Betty Neels and Lass Small, but other than that, it was all about plot. And my favourites were 1) secret babies (*blushes*) and 2) the very plot of The Count's Blackmail Bargain: the heroine is pretending to be some guy's girlfriend so he can make some kind of point to his family. They're horrified by her, and the head of the family, usually an older cousin or an uncle, is determined to separate the young couple. And of course, the heroine and this guy fall in love.

In this case Laura is helping out the slimy Paolo, whose mother is pressuring him to marry this young woman who's been intended for him practically since they were born. She barely knows the guy, but he's paying good money, which she wants to help her little brother (of course she's selfless, this is a HP!). The batshit crazy mother won't be thwarted, so she then blackmails her nephew, Alessio (who's head of the family business and Paolo's boss) to seduce Laura so Paolo can see what kind of woman he's with.

The beginning is pretty bad. That Zia Lucrezia is waaaay over the top, and not in a good way. Plus, I never bought that Alessio, the way he's otherwise characterized, would give in to her blackmail as he did in the first scene. Seduce this girl or I'll expose your affair with this married woman and it will be such a scandal! Ohhhhhhhh, scary! He looked like a total wimp for not telling his aunt to go to hell. I think Craven realized that, because she tried other explanations later on... he likes the woman's husband, so he was protecting him (eh? Just don't sleep with the man's wife then. Very heroic of you), etc., but none really fly.

But.... things soon improve, and quite a lot. I especially liked Alessio. Yeah, he's suitably macho and dominating, but he's alright, this guy. He has a sense of humour, for starters, and he falls for Laura straight away. And a huge difference from the older books, which made this one so much, much better, is that we get into his head quite a lot, so even when he behaves like an asshole to Laura, we kind of see why he's doing it, and that he's not, in fact, really such a cruel bastard.

Laura was pretty cool, too. Ok, so she's like no 20-something British woman I've ever met, from her attitudes to her wardrobe, but there were some glimmers of modernity there. I liked that she was nobody's doormat. When things started going weird, she very sensibly decided to get the hell out and forcefully demanded to leave.

There's some very definite chemistry there between Laura and Alessio, and I enjoyed their interactions. I even looked forward to the explosion when she found out about Alessio's deal with his aunt, and it really fulfilled all my expectations. Oh and the setting was just lovely!

Now, for the bad: the whole virginity thing raised my hackles. When Alessio first discovers Laura's a virgin (duh, of course she is, this is a HP!) he backs off at full speed. There were some very dated things said here when he was insisting he couldn't have sex with her now because he'd just realized she had been a virgin (*had been*... the moment of realization was just in the middle of things). The whole "Ah, your innocence is a precious gift which you should give your husband" (dude, you've just taken her virginity already, just get on with it.) and "I want you to be able to go with him without shame" Shame?? You sexist little hypocrite!

MY GRADE: In spite of the virginity stupidity, I liked this. A B-.

TITLE: The Forced Bride
AUTHOR: Sara Craven

PAGES: 184
PUBLISHER: Mills and Boon (Modern Romance line)

SETTING: Contemporary England, Scotland and Italy
TYPE: Series romance
SERIES: I'm not sure... there were two secondary characters there who seemed to have a story of their own (Rafaele's friend Marcello and his wife Fiona).

When Emily Blake innocently kissed formidable Italian count Rafael Di Salis, she didn’t know that she was bound by her late father’s wishes to marry him. Emily agreed to be the count’s wife until she reached twenty–one….

Count Rafael has bided his time. He’s kept his passions under iron control for two years—his bride was young and he did not want to claim her until she was woman enough to handle him. But now she has come of age, she will be his!
MY THOUGHTS: Have you read Candy's recent post at SBTB about how one should embrace one's bad taste? (If you haven't, go read it, she's so right.) I read it while I was in the middle of TFB, and one particular paragraph caught my attention:

Those old Mills and Boon novels, in which the hero (who’s usually about 35) at some point grabs the heroine (who’s usually about 19) and gives her a punishing kiss? So. Bad. They’re clumsily written, and awful in all sorts of ways—the repugnant gender politics alone made me seethe with rage, and this was back when I was 11, mind you, when all I could articulate about what I didn’t like about those books was that “they weren’t fair to the heroine and the hero got to win way too often.” You know what? I still found them compelling, and I read them by the boatload.
Indeed. TFB could be poster book for "repugnant gender politics", and it's the kind of book I didn't think was still being published.

We've got a much older hero (we don't get his age, but I'd put him in his early 30s) who lusts after a 17-year-old. But we're told it's ok, because he waits until she's 20 before he jumps her... until she's "woman enough to handle him", as the back cover so elegantly puts it.

We've got a heroine who constantly lets herself be bullied, and whose entire purpose in life is being her husband's hostess.

We've got Emily's demands for an annulment rather than a divorce, because she intends to wear white when she remarries "so that my bridegroom will know that he isn't getting damaged goods" (damaged goods, for crap's sake!!),.

We've got Raf's demands that Emily cook for him, because that's what a wife should do, and we've got her acceptance of this. She obediently goes to the kitchen and cooks for him. And cleans for him. Obediently, too.

We've got Rafe sleeping with other women all throughout the first years of their marriage, even though he claims he was in love with Emily from the start.

And the worst of all: we've got Emily's resignation to the fact that being her legal husband gives Raf the right to "take her" whenever and however he wants, even if she's screaming no. Never heard of marital rape, you little twit? What universe is this book taking place in? Because it was rape, and it made me seethe. The first scene, especially, turned my stomach. As did the fact that these constant rapes are portrayed as positive, what Emily needs to realize she loves him, and that she actually feels guilty because he's trying his best to seduce her and she's not letting him. WTF??

The word that summarizes this book is "Blergh!". "Disgusting" and "ghastly" would also do.

And you know, the only reason I didn't tear up this book and flush it down the toilet (even though it belongs to the library and I would have had to pay 3 full pounds for it), was that I couldn't decide which one of them, Emily or Rafaele, disgusted me the most. So the happy ending was a HEA after all, because these two deserved each other.

MY GRADE: A big, fat F.

Has anyone got any recs for Sara Craven books that are like the first one and nothing like the second one? I've got Mistress at a Price here with me, how about it? Any good?


Yep, I'm alive!

>> Friday, January 18, 2008

One full month without blogging. God, how I've missed it!

Right after my last post was my birthday, on December 13th. I haven't celebrated in years, but this was The Big Three-Oh, after all, so it deserved to be noticed. So... huge party the following day, Friday the 14th, at my friend Cit's place. So huge (and wild *g*) that I spent a big part of Saturday helping Cit clean up. The rest of Saturday I spent packing, because Sunday morning I left for....


I spent three days there, doing touristy stuff (and freezing my ass off; first time I've felt real cold since I got here, in fact). By the time those three days were over, I was really glad to travel to Liverpool, to catch a flight to....

Sunny, wonderful Portugal!

I went to visit the equally sunny and wonderful Ana, and I had a fantastic time. Ana took me to visit EVERYWHERE (photos coming up on my photoblog soon, now that I have time), and I spent Christmas with her and her family, who are just as lovely as she is.

I wish I could have stayed longer than the measly one week I was there, but duty was calling. Duty in the name of exams, that is. Since December 27th I've been pretty much locked up in my room studying, and I thought it would never end. But it did, earlier today (Econometric Theory, bleargh!), and I'm finally free! So coming up... book posts again!


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