Just because...

>> Wednesday, February 27, 2008

...he's too cute not to share.

This is Benito, my friend Paula's new baby. I'm in love *g*


Off The Record, by Matthew Haldeman-Time

>> Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TITLE: Off The Record
AUTHOR: Matthew Haldeman-Time

PAGES: Calculating from the number of pages in my ebook reader, I'd say it would be equivalent to some 250 mmpb pages.
PUBLISHER: Available from Lulu.com

SETTING: Contemporary Hollywood
TYPE: Romance

REASON FOR READING: Because Stephanie Vaughan recommended it. Actually, it was stronger than that. She sent me a copy as a gift and told me I should read it *g* And hey, if the author who's written my favourite m/m romances tells me a particular m/m romance is good, I'm reading it!

Because of his infamous birth (and famous parentage), Jordan Jennings' every move made the headlines, and he soon learned that the only way to keep the media out of his life was not to have a life at all. Charged with keeping his family's secrets, as well as his own, he put aside his own desires for the sake of family pride. With the chance of love on the horizon, will Jordan have to sacrifice his family's reputation in order to have a life of his own? Patrick Wright was a fearless reporter headed straight to the top. He was a man who knew what he wanted and always went after it. With money, success, and a very healthy social life, Patrick had no idea that anything was missing until he met Jordan, someone he suddenly couldn’t do without. But when careers hang in the balance and Patrick is faced with losing everything he's worked so hard to achieve, will his love for Jordan conquer all?
THE PLOT: Jordan Jennings is Hollywood royalty, the only son of the actress famous for being America's sweetheart. The identity of his father is show-bizz's best-kept secret, and he's determined to keep it this way, as well as to uphold his family's legacy. Because of this, he's always been very reluctant to engage in a real romantic life of his own, especially because he's gay and fears the tabloid press would have a field day with it. When he meets reporter Patrick Wright, however, Jordan can't resist any longer.

MY THOUGHTS: So good! I have to thank Steph, because without her suggestion, I probably would never have found this lovely romance. It's scorching hot, but at the same time, sweet and tender.

Problems out of the way first: part of my brain kept insisting that the motivation behind Jordan having been completely chaste for so long was, at best, iffy. Legacy? What legacy? I would say his mom's sweet girl reputation was already shot to hell when became a single mom and having her son live a discreet gay lifestyle would hardly have any effect. I mean, this is Hollywood in the 21st century!

But .. as that doubtful part of my brain kept protesting, the rest of me was melting. Jordan's past made seeing him slowly (very, veeeeery slowly) coming alive sexually incredibly steamy. The sexual tension was tremendously thick, and the relationship develops slowly, almost tortuously, with each sexual milestone showing corresponding progress in the romantic relationship. Seriously, I almost had a heart attack when he and Patrick kiss for the first time. And I loved that their developing relationship is as illuminating and new to Patrick as it is to Jordan.

I did think there were a few too many love scenes in the middle-to-late section, which don't add as much to the relationship growth as the first few did, but the author really has a way with them, and he never lost my interest.

The conflict between Jordan and Patrick was really well done. A man with a secret every tabloid would pay millions to find out and an ambitious reporter: you can guess where a problem might arise. But the author dealt with it in a way that didn't feel predictable in the least, and sadistic as I am, I loved the way Patrick really had to work at regaining Jordan's trust. That last part was awesome. I especially liked how imperfect and human Patrick was; a very flawed character. He is an ambitious man, and this is something Jordan understands quite well... and he loves him anyway.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


Pug Hill, by Allison Pace

>> Monday, February 25, 2008

TITLE:Pug Hill
AUTHOR: Allison Pace

PAGES: 312

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Chick Lit

REASON FOR READING: I really liked Pace's If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend.

For Hope McNeill, pugs are love, unconditional friendship, happiness, and freedom. She doesn't have one of her own (busy life, tiny apartment), but she does have Pug Hill in Central Park, where pugs (and their owners) from all over New York convene. She also has a crush on one of her co-workers, a flailing romantic relationship, and an unspeakable fear of public speaking. Then Hope's father calls with an assignment: to make a speech at her parents' anniversary party. Frantic, she signs up for a public speaking class, but can't help wondering-will it transform her into an eloquent orator? Maybe some fears are so big that even all the pugs in the world might not be enough to assuage them.
MY THOUGHTS: This is one of those books where not much really happens, but which are still pleasant enough to read.

Hope MacNeil is in her early 30s and not particularly satisfied with her life. She's got a pretty good job as an art restorer (which I would have liked to see a lot more of), but as a whole, her life is meh. She does have a boyfriend, but she can't seem to figure out why she's still with him, as they are not really very compatible. She loves pugs, but can't have one because her apartment's too tiny. She has an irrational fear of public speaking. Just a normal young woman, nothing Earth-shattering here.

When her parents ask her to make a speech at their wedding anniversary celebration, Hope decides (after much panicking) to sign up for a public speaking class. And well, that's about all that happens. Going to this class triggers in her some insight into her life and helps her grow a bit, so by the end of the book, the outlook is hopeful.

I'm afraid my description makes the book sound a bit pointless, but that's not the feeling you get from it. Hope was a character I could relate to, maybe because of the commonness and small scale of her concerns. She's got a good voice, and her perceptive commentary on her life and the people around her is interesting.

MY GRADE: I'll go with a B-, but it's perilously close to a C+.


By British Authors

>> Sunday, February 24, 2008

I've been reading a lot of British authors lately, as obviously, it's quite easy to find their books in my local library.

TITLE: The Murder Room

I'm not exactly sure why I keep reading PD James, as lately I've been finding her voice a bit annoying and judgmental and her detective, Adam Dalgliesh, bores me. I think I might keep reading because her plots do feel fresh and interesting and intrincate, or because her rendition of contemporary Britain feels real (and completely different to that I see in chick lit).

The Murder Room of the title is in a small museum devoted to England in the interwar years of 1919 -1939, an exhibit featuring the most notorious murders of that era. The museum is in danger of closing because one the trustees is determined not to sign the new lease, and without his agreement, there's no way of continuing. When the man dies, and in exactly the same manner illustrated in one of the cases included in the Murder Room, Dalgliesh and his team are called in to investigate. But when more murders are committed, and all following the methodology of one of the Murder Room cases, they begin to fear motives are not are straightforward as they seemed.

This starts out quite well. The Dupayne museum is vintage James: a specialized, idiosyncratic and somewhat isolated professional setting, and the characters populating it are painstakingly drawn and do come alive. As for the plot, I couldn't wait to see what was going on and discover whether this was an insane serial killer or just someone with a very rational motive trying to cover up his motives.

However, by the end it had all pretty much disintegrated. The pace was slooooow, and the solution to the case was unbelievable and didn't fit very well. And there was still the matter with James' voice that I mentioned above, which is that it feels old-fashioned in some areas, and in a bad way. I don't want to give away the ending, but when she reveals the oh-so-shocking things that had been going on at the museum, I groaned. That stopped being shocking 20 years ago. Plus, all the angsty-angst in Adam's personal life? I couldn't care less.


TITLE: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
AUTHOR: Douglas Adams

When I saw THGTTU on the bookshelf, I couldn't resist a reread. I discovered it in high school, when it was assigned to us in English class, and I loved it. It was so much more entertaining than the rest of the stuff we were reading!

This time around, I enjoyed it quite a bit, but wasn't quite so wowed. I loved the imaginativeness of it all, the way so much was completely insane (my favourite part remains the moment when the secret to the universe and everything else is revealed). And it's funny. Really, really funny, in that absurd, very British way I love so much. But... this is a book that doesn't really have a "heart". The characters didn't really engage me, and I didn't particularly care about what might happen to them. When I put it down, nothing really pulled me to pick it up again NOW! to see what happened next. Plus, a very unsatisfying ending, which is something I didn't remember at all.


TITLE: A Long Way Down
AUTHOR: Nick Hornby

This is a surprisingly funny story, considering it's about four strangers who meet on the roof of a building, all preparing to jump off. After sharing their reasons for wanting to kill themselves, the urge to do it right then isn't quite so strong anymore, and they postpone their jump. They go down, and when the night is over, they find that they've somehow become a kind of group (although most of them would vigorously deny this).

The story is narrated in a way that I feared might be gimmicky: the point of view shifts among each of the wannabe jumpers, each of whom takes the story forward in first-person. It turned out to be wonderfully effective. Hornby managed to provide each character's view on things without any reiterative overlap, and each had a very characteristic and individual voice, which added to the story. These are not perfect characters, and I quite disliked them all at several points in the story (well, except for Maureen, a middle-aged woman whose whole life revolves around her disabled son. She I kept wanting to hug, for always being so decent without going all self-righteous about it). But they're interesting and engaging and I cared about them.

In the end, there are no perfect, waves-a-magic-wand-and-all-is-now-fine endings, but Hornby left me in a hopeful mood.


TITLE: Pompeii
AUTHOR: Robert Harris

Turns out Harris isn't just a British author, he's a local author: born in Nottingham. But his book, as the title indicates, is not local in the least.

It's the year AD 79 in Southern Italy, and the aquarius, aqueduct engineer Marcus Attilius Primus is scrambling to fix the increasingly strange problems in the water supply. As he finds the supposed source of the problem near Pompeii and develops ominous suspicions about what the fate of his disappeared predecessor might have been, only we readers know what is about to happen: Mount Vesubius will erupt in mere hours.

Saying this is a page-turner is an understatement. It's a long book, but I read it in a couple of days. Yes, Harris' characters aren't as three-dimensional as they might be, but his setting is. He makes the time and place come alive, providing a fascinating and well-integrated level of detail, and this makes the suspense well, suspenseful.

And if his depiction of the days before the eruption was great, his descriptions of the actual eruption were just fantastic. I did know a little bit about what happened (enough that part of me kept thinking "what does it matter, anyway, if it's all going to be destroyed?", LOL!), but I didn't know the details. I didn't know just how drawn out everything had been, and Harris makes excellent use of this.


TITLE: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian
AUTHOR: Marina Lewycka

Definitely the best title I've seen in a long, long time. I saw the book in the library shelf and couldn't resist picking it up, just to see what it was about.

Nadezhda's father, an old Ukranian immigrant, has seemingly gone ga-ga and wants to marry Valentina, a 30-something woman from the old country. It's clear to Nadezhda and her sister Vera that bombshell Valentina is out to get as much money as she can out of their father, and they're determined to save him from the consequences of his action, even if it sometimes seems that their biggest adversary is not Valentina, but their father himself.

Don't go into this one expecting a comedy. There is a lot of humour in Lewycka's narration, but I felt this book was more tragic than anything else. I don't know, maybe it was just that this one struck a bit closer to home than expected, because my late grandfather had his own Valentina, and we had to deal with many of the same issues of old-age that are found in the book. I can tell you it all rang very true to me, especially the heart-break of seeing someone you grew up seeing as strong and decisive turned into a pathetic figure, easily dominated (and even abused) by someone he would have seen through in a minute 20 years earlier.

Still, I liked the book and thought it was touching and insightful.


TITLE: The Undercover Economist
AUTHOR: Tim Harford

Being an economist myself, I'm clearly not the audience for this book. Even so, I very much enjoyed it. I freely acknowledge that none of the analysis was particularly deep, as there is a lot to cover, so if you've studied some economics it will all be familiar territory. However, if you haven't, I'm willing to bet that you'll find it illuminating. It's the perfect book for those of you who might be interested in how an economist sees the world. It's written in a clear, engaging style, full of very relevant references to things we see around us every day (although these references will probably work best for Brits).

Best chapters: those which covered issues of information economics and the fundaments of game theory. Least interesting: those on globalization and on the rise of China. There was oversimplification here, rather than the understandable and necessary simplification of the other chapters.


TITLE: The Book, the Film, the T-Shirt
AUTHOR: Matt Beaumont

I started this one with high hopes, and initially I quite liked Beaumont's unremmittingly acid humour. Narrated just like Hornby's, by alternating the points of view of several of the characters (many, many more than the four Hornby uses), the story covers the disastrous filming of a tyre ad. At first the characters' nasty antics were entertaining, but when I was about half-way through, I realized that if the author were to suddenly kill every single character in his book, I would be ecstatic. They were all so nasty/stupid/deluded that every minute spent with them was an unpleasant experience. Why continue reading such a book?

MY GRADE: This was a DNF.


Never Deceive a Duke, by Liz Carlyle

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TITLE: Never Deceive a Duke
AUTHOR: Liz Carlyle

PAGES: 397

SETTING: Victorian England
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: Second in the Neville trilogy. Follows Never Lie To A Lady.

REASON FOR READING: Carlyle's been on my autobuy list since her debut, My False Heart.

They call her the porcelain princess...

With her fragile beauty and regal bearing, the Duchess of Warneham knows how to keep her admirers at a distance. Twice wed and twice widowed, Antonia has vowed never again to marry; never again to surrender her freedom. But when her husband's death is deemed suspicious, and his long-lost heir returns to seize control of the dukedom, she finds that fate has placed her future in yet another man's hands -- but not just any man.

They call him a cold-hearted bastard...

Deep in London's docklands, Gareth Lloyd runs Neville Shipping with an iron fist. Unrecognizable as the starving orphan who was abandoned by his family and sent an ocean away from home, Gareth has put his troubled past behind him. That is, until the Duke of Warneham is murdered, and Gareth turns out to be the dynasty's last living heir. Wrenched from his solitude, Gareth neither wants nor needs the honors and obligations of nobility -- especially the Duke's all-too-tempting widow.... Or does he?
THE PLOT: Gareth Lloyd is a self-made man, a partner in a succesful shipping company. He never though he'd inherit the title from his relative, the Duke of Warneham. In fact, after the brutal way in which he was treated by him as a young boy, he would never have wanted to have anything to do with it. But Gareth's the only heir left when the old man dies, and so he needs to take up his responsibilities, both to the duchy and to the Dowager Duchess, of whom he has nothing but bad memories.

It turns out, however, that the Dowager Duchess isn't the old woman he remembers, but the Duke's latest wife, Antonia. The young and fragile Antonia was the old man's last try to keep Gareth from getting the title, by having another heir that might displace him, and Gareth is inexplicable drawn to her, even as he suspects there might be some truth to the suspicions that she might not be exactly in her right mind.

MY THOUGHTS: I did like the first full-length entry in this series, but I didn't find it as absorbing as I usually find Carlyle's books. But with NDAD, she's back. While there were certain things about Gareth and Antonia's relationship that gave me some pause, I couldn't stop reading.

This is probably Carlyle's angstiest book to date. Talk about tortured characters! It was clear from the first moment we met Gareth in the first book that this was one man with Issues, but the extent of them was surprising to me. I'm not going to reveal them here, because you get the full emotional impact by seeing them unfold throughout the book, but suffice it to say that some of the flashback scenes which open each chapter had me in tears.

Unfortunately, this is all so huge that it kind of overwhelms something else that I found fascinating: Gareth's coming to terms with his Jewish heritage. Not only does he have to deal with people's reactions to it (including servants who have a huge problem working for "someone like him"), but there was a very interesting duality in him about who he was, something exacerbated by his upbringing. Wonderful stuff, and I wish we'd got more of it.

Antonia isn't quite as well drawn as Gareth, but she gives him a run for his money in the tortured department. I'm not usually much of a fan of the vulnerable, fragile waif heroine, but I couldn't help but feel Antonia's pain, and feel happy when she found what she so clearly needed in Gareth.

And here we come to the element in their romance that caused me some qualms: the need. For these two, being together isn't just something that makes their lives better, it's what changes their lives from misery to happiness and contentment. They need each other. Antonia needs to lean on Gareth and Gareth needs Antonia to lean on him. And when I say need, I mean need. Being together keeps them sane. A bit unhealthy, you might say (and I would agree), but then, after what happened in their lives, I can't expect them to to be healthy people, especially before the age of counselling and therapy. In the end, I was just happy that they found a relationship that worked for them, and seeing them do so was immensely satisfying.



A Bit of Bryson

>> Monday, February 18, 2008

Bill Bryson's one of my favourite authors. I love his travel books, his language books, his collections of essays... everything. His sense of humour kills me, every single time. When I found a few of his books that I hadn't read in my library, I was ecstatic. Turns out they weren't exactly the best I've ever read from him, but they were enjoyable.

TITLE:The Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

This is a (hopefully!) somewhat fictionalised account of Bryson's experiences growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 60s. It's as much about himself and his family as about what middle America was like at the time, a place that seemed particularly foreign to my late 20th century Uruguayan eyes.

What makes this so great to read is that Bryson's wry, self-deprecating humour is at its best here. His commentary is perceptive and subtle, but it's also funny as hell. And the best thing was, even through his most ridiculous stories, his affection for his subject matter shines through, whether he's writing about his parents or the era itself.

Best part of the book? I just loved to see the young Stephen Katz, who would become Bryson's unforgettable companion in A Walk in the Woods :-)


TITLE: African Diary
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

This slim book chronicles Bryson's visit to several CARE projects in Kenya and is itself a charity project, as all profits from its sales go to CARE. For what it is, it's perfect. It showcases CARE's projects without sounding like a pamphlet, and is interesting to read. Also, I thought Bryson struck just the right tone here: there's plenty of his trademark humour, but it never feels as if he's treating the tragedy he's seeing lightly. All in all, an enjoyable read, although slim is an understatement.


TITLE: Troublesome Words
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

As I mention above, I love Bryson's language books. Made in America is one of my all-time favourite books, and I very much enjoyed The Mother Tongue. Troublesome Words is a bit different in format, being basically a list of potentially problematic words, expressions and grammatical issues, and it's not nearly as useful and entertaining. That is, I did find many of the grammatical explanations useful and interesting, but most of the vocabulary "problems" seemed very obvious to me. Maybe it's because most of his "difficult" words have Latin roots, and my knowledge of Spanish and French gives me a bit of a head start in that respect.

Also, it all felt a bit dry. There's some humour here, but the humour is not the point. Not a book I'd reread, unlike the rest of his backlist.



A bunch of C books

>> Thursday, February 07, 2008

I've fallen a lot behind with my reviews, so I refuse to spend a lot of time writting about C books. So here we go, a quick round-up.

TITLE:The Lightkeeper's Woman
AUTHOR: Mary Burton

This Harlequin Historical has a unique setting and the storyline intrigued me (plus that cover... ohhhh!). It's set in an isolated lighthouse off a small North Carolina fishing village in the late 19th century, and it's a reunion story.

A few years earlier Alanna, the daughter of a shipping magnate, had fallen in love with Caleb, one of her father's ship captains. Evil dad engineered a separation in such a way that each believes the other one comitted a huge betrayal. But now they meet when Alanna seeks him out in the lighthouse he's taken over, determined to give him a box left to him by her father (yeah, very flimsy reason). Isolated surroundings, forced proximity (there's a huge storm), you can guess what happens.

It could have been a nice story, but though I loved the atmospheric setting, I found it hard to remain interested in Alanna and Caleb. Part of the problem is that I didn't really see much of an obstacle to their relationship, so the time it took for them to finally get together felt more like the author trying to prolong the story than anything else.


TITLE: Hunted
AUTHOR: Amelia Elias

Hunted is the first in the author's Guardian League's series. Diego Leonides is a 1000-year-old vampire from Spain (his last name sounded more Greek than Spanish to me, but what do I know). One night he's hit by a car driven by Sian Lazuro, a former policewoman on the run from a mobster who wants to kill her for testifying at his trial. She's injured as well, and Diego (who's only slightly hurt, being a vampire) brings her to his home to recover.

Enter a meddling all-powerful vampire who does some hocus-pocus, and Diego and Sian are now bondmates, something Sian refuses to accept. Not that it's easy for Diego, but his strong attraction to Sian has him soon very happy the other vampire did his meddling. And that's it, really. It's all about Diego trying to convince Sian to accept the bond and Sian resisting and running away. There's also some evil vampires floating around, and the obligatory final confrontation.

All in all, it's a competently done book, but not one that excited me. There was nothing particularly interesting or original in the worldbuilding, and though Diego was a nice enough guy, he and Sian together didn't make a particularly compelling couple. This just struck me as yet another vampires, vampires! mates, mates! paranormal without much to distinguish it from the crowd.

Oh, and BTW, I feel like a broken record, but authors, an English-Spanish dictionary will NOT give you even passable translations. In this book I was treated to such ridiculousness as "Tú es muy hermosa" and the best, "No sé cómo viví sin tú. Te amo, mi gatita, y yo siempre voluntad". For those who feel as puzzled as I did when I read that last part, "yo siempre voluntad" is meant to mean "and I always will". Heh!


TITLE: Best Gay Love Stories 2005
AUTHOR: editor: Nick Street

This collection of short stories from Alyson Publications has a bit of everything. There's hot and there's subtle, there's sordid and there's romantic, there's happy and there's sad. However, too many of the stories didn't strike me as "love stories" at all, not even of the tragic variety. Even not taking that into account and just taking them at face value, there were only a few I enjoyed. And damn it, I returned the book to the library already and I can't find a list of the stories online, so I can't quote any particular titles or authors. All I can say is that my favourite was a very sad but ultimately sweet and hopeful one, one in which a man meets a woman on a train an reminisces about his late partner with her. In the end, they become friends and she introduces to someone else. I'll try to look for the title if I ever see the book again.


TITLE: The Rogue's Return
AUTHOR: Margaret Moore

When I wrote about Moore's The Dark Duke a few years ago, I spent half my review ranting about the horrible, horrible character of the hero's brother and how it had really bugged me that Moore seemed to be excusing his execrable behaviour. I closed with "the guy seduced a woman, got her pregnant and abandoned her to go crazy alone, while her child died (and that's just one of the very few little pecadillos we find out about), and we're supposed to feel sorry for him?? Thank god he wasn't the hero here, and hell will freeze over before I read the book in which he is!".

Well, hell has frozen over, apparently, because this is his book. My only excuse is that I didn't realize until I was halfway through it and Moore's excuses for Elliot's past rang a distant bell (obviously, The Dark Duke wasn't a particularly memorable book, either).

The plot? Basically that they meet when Grace finds Elliot unconscious at the side of the road. She lives in a gossipy small town, so bringing him home is scandalous, and she hides him. He falls in love with her innocence and realize how he's so corrupt for such an angel, and decides to reform, yadda, yadda, yadda. Nothing new (or interesting) here, and a romance which was particularly unbelievable and chemistry-free.


TITLE: Bad For Each Other
AUTHOR: Kate Hathaway

Another reunion story, complete with secret baby. Mollie and Charlie were childhood sweethearts, but they broke up when Mollie became pregnant and one of Charlie's family lied to her and told her he didn't want the baby. Some years later Mollie approaches Charlie (who's now a country music star) because their son is sick needs a bone marrow transplant. Charlie is shocked at the news that he has a son, and insists they get married. Will they be able to make this marriage of convenience real?

My main problem with the book was that, to borrow one of Mrs. Giggles terms, Mollie was the brown cow to end all brown cow heroines. Such a tedious, annoying, sanctimonious woman! Not that Charlie (or "Kick", quite a huh? nickname) was that interesting a hero, but what he saw in her I just couldn't understand. Not much chemistry in the romance, not much going on in the story otherwise.


TITLE: The Secret to Seduction
AUTHOR: Julie Anne Long

Such a disappointment! I was really looking forward to this one, both because I'd heard so many good things about the author and because her voice in her blog is charming and funny. From what I've seen now that I've looked at a few reviews again, I should have probably started with other books (maybe the ones rated keepers by Mrs. G?), because this one was an unoriginal debauched rake / innocent vicar's daughter story with nothing to really raise it above average. The only individual thing it had was the plot about Sabrina's origin, and even that felt tacked on to me, probably because I haven't read the two previous books in the series.

The hero is Rhys Gillray, nicknamed the Libertine, both because of his sexual habits and his erotic poetry (scandalous!). The heroine is Sabrina Fairleigh, a vicar's daughter who's visiting his house as a guest of one of her friends. She makes some imprudent remarks about how she pities those who are at the mercy of their passions, and Rhys reacts just as you would expect of a rake, deciding to prove to her that she isn't above being overcome by her own passions. And of course, they're discovered in a compromising position and have to get married, and Rhys tries to stay away from his wife but finds he can't, and so on.

In a word: boring. Or in two: boring and tepid. Long tells us how Rhys and Sabrina are so hot for each other, but I just didn't feel it, especially not on Rhys' part. If you're going to tell me that such an experienced guy like Rhys will be so overcome that he'll get in a situation like the one he does, you'd better make me believe that he's out of his head with desire. But nope, I never really felt that he found her more than mildly attractive. And also, Sabrina seems to be completely out of her league with Rhys. She tries to stand up for herself at certain points, but he can handle her quite easily. Poor girl.

The original bit I mentioned only rears its head nearer the end, when we discover the link between Rhys' past and Sabrina's, and the story became a bit more interesting there. It wasn't completely successful, because understanding things depended a bit too much on having read the first two books, but at least there was some real emotion here.


TITLE: Court Appointed
AUTHOR: Annmarie McKenna

This one's about Jackson Benedict, a federal judge who has started receiving threats from a stalker and Trey London, the FBI agent assigned to protect him. The two had been ogling each other for some time already, and this is the opportunity for them to do something about it. Which they do, over and over and over again. Yep, you guessed it, I thought this one had way too much sex. I liked Jackson and Trey, both individually and together, but after a while I got tired of reading sex scenes that were adding nothing to the story or their character development.

Best thing in the story: the contrast between Jackson's family, basically a father who's managed to convince himself that no son of his could possibly be gay and that this must be just a phase, and the lovingness of Trey's. I loved the scene when Trey takes Jackson to meet them.

The worst: the resolution of the suspense subplot. Oh, my, that was just ridiculous and stupid!



Demon Night, by Meljean Brook

>> Tuesday, February 05, 2008

TITLE: Demon Night (excerpt at Sybil's)
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook

COPYRIGHT: 2008 (comes out today!)
PAGES: 448

SETTING: Contemporary US West Coast.
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: # 5 in the Guardians series (you can see the reading order here).

REASON FOR READING: Ditto what I said about Nalini Singh's latest: this is one of my favourite ongoing series.

Explore the seductive corners of the dark, as a forbidden attraction tempts danger under the canopy of the demon night...

Charlie Newcomb worked hard to get her life back together. But all that is shaken when she's set upon by three vampires desperate to transform her beauty into something evil. Because Charlie is the vital link to something they want-and need. It's Charlie's flesh and blood sister, a medical scientist whose knowledge could be invaluable to the predators.

But to get to her, they must first get to Charlie, now under the intimate protection of Ethan McCabe. As her Guardian, Ethan is attracted to her vulnerabilities-as well as her strengths. The closer he gets, the more protecting her becomes not just his duty, but his desire. But will it be enough to save Charlie when the demon night falls?
THE PLOT: Well, the story is about one of the Guardians, Drifter, who's charged with protecting a woman and has to convince her to become a vampire. Sorry, sorry, just kidding! *g* It's just that the Harriet Klausner thing was too hilarious!

Ok, seriously now, a very basic outline of the setup, because the summary quoted above is really just fine: vampires have been attacking and forcefully changing the people close to the scientists working at a certain research lab. Drifter (real name: Ethan, one of the Guardians), who made a huge impression on me when he first showed up in Demon Moon (IIRC), is given the task of keeping an eye on Charlie Newcomb, sister of one of those scientists.

MY THOUGHTS: I was lucky enough to get this as an ARC, and I read it as my first book of the year. Well, 2008 really started with a bang! Demon Night clearly shows how Meljean Brook keeps growing as an author. It's got all the elements I loved in her earlier books (the complex, fully-realized characters, the heart-stopping romance, the fascinating world and plot), but this time there wasn't even one second when I was confused in the slightest about what was going on. The plotting is still intrincate, but not overintrincate, if this makes any sense. And although you do appreciate everything more if you've read the whole series, I'd even say things were clear enough here that a reader could conceivably start here and not be lost.

Ethan was a lovely hero. At the risk of having Wendy and Sybil come after me with rotten tomatos, I confess not to be the biggest fan of Westerns. Cowboys, sheriffs, outlaws... eh. Boring, and usually not attractive in the least. But for some strange reason, I actually really liked how Ethan's past and personality gave the novel an almost-Western-in-the-present-day feel. I even found his Western-flavoured way of speaking unbearably sexy.

And on a less shallow note, what I found most amazing about this character was the complexity in what he feels and needs from Charlie. It was excellent how Brook managed to convey things like first his ambivalence about getting involved with someone like Charlie (remember this is a Guardian we're talking about, so he had some insights about Charlie's internal make-up that a regular man wouldn't have had), and then his need to be needed by her, but not in a "mine, mine, mine" way.

This ties in to a very intriguing issue which is explored in their relationship, which is that of what kinds of needing and wanting are healthy and which are not. It's an issue that's given the space and attention it deserves, and the conclusions are entirely satisfying. It's not just Ethan who has to deal with this. Charlie is a woman who in the past gave in to the neediness and weakness in her and as a result, pretty much destroyed her whole life. As the book starts, things are starting to come together again for her, after a lot of hard work, both internal and external. When she and Ethan get involved, Charlie must get over her very understandable reluctance to do anything that even looks like neediness again.

Charlie's a phenomenal heroine. She's not actually my favourite MB heroine, but that's because this is the author who wrote Lilith, and no one can beat Lilith! I thought she was fantastic, and admired her enormous strength. It's quite different from the more evident brand of kickassery that, say, Lilith and Savi displayed, but once I got to really understand her, it was just as impressive. And I most loved that, that there was so much more to her than was evident at first sight, and that as a reader I had a very similar reaction to Ethan's. She was very definitely not perfect and very, very flawed, but that's what made her all the stronger.

What goes on outside of the Ethan/ Charlie romance, is fantastic, too. As I said above, the plot is interesting and easily graspable, and the secondary characters are great. Characters from previous books play important roles (these are not just drop-ins to show how deliriously and smugly happy they are, as too many romance authors are so keen on), and the new ones are great, too. I was especially interested in Charlie's sister, Jane. Their relationship was a very believable rendering of sisterly love, with no idealization. I was also intrigued by Jane's own romance. The other day I was chatting with a friend about opening lines and she mentioned one from (I think) a Marcela Serrano book which went something like this: "Aunt Clara fell in love how all intelligent women do: like an utter idiot". That would SO be Jane here. I hope we see more of her later on in the series.



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