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>> Thursday, December 08, 2011

Back in January :-D


Sugar Daddy, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Monday, December 05, 2011

TITLE: Sugar Daddy
AUTHOR: Lisa Kleypas

PAGES: 432
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Women's Fiction
SERIES: Followed by Blue-Eyed Devil

Liberty Jones has dreams and determination that will take her far away from Welcome, Texas—if she can keep her wild heart from ruling her mind. Hardy Cates sees Liberty as completely off-limits. His own ambitions are bigger than Welcome, and Liberty is a complication he doesn’t need. But something magical and potent draws them to each other, in a dangerous attraction that is stronger than both of them.

When Hardy leaves town to pursue his plans, Liberty finds herself alone with a young sister to raise. Soon Liberty is under the spell of a billionaire tycoon—a Sugar Daddy, one might say. But the relationship goes deeper than people think, and Liberty begins to discover secrets about her own family’s past.
Yep, it's taken me this long to get to this book. Much as I like Lisa Kleypas' historicals, she's not one of the very select group of authors I'd automatically follow in whichever new direction they take. I have nothing against the idea of her writing a contemporary, but the descriptions I heard of the book didn't really appeal. It was basically the fact that the book followed Liberty Jones' life since childhood in a trailer park to Houston high society which gave me pause. It made me think of the really crap glitz and glamour books I used to read growing up, such as Judith Krantz.

I'm glad I did pick this up in the end, though, because although there's a little dollop of Krantz here, this is something different, and much, much better.

We meet Liberty Jones at 11, when she and her mother move into a Texas trailer park. Liberty's dad, who was of Mexican origin, died when she was very young, and she barely remembers him. As the book progresses, we follow Liberty's life as she grows up to womanhood: her friendship with other people in the trailer park, her relationship with her mother and the little sister born when Liberty's in her teens, and most of all, her friendship with Hardy Cates.

Hardy, a couple of years older than Liberty, is the sexy wild boy of the trailer park, but always treats Liberty kindly. As they both grow up, though, those friendly feelings turn into something else. Liberty is ready to take things to the next stage, but Hardy, although he returns her feelings, refuses to. He is a very ambitious young man, determined not to follow his family's steps and get out of town as soon as he possibly can. Loving Liberty would make it impossible to leave, so he just keeps her at arms' length and goes away as soon as he can.

Not soon after that, things take a turn to the worse in Liberty's life, but she's a fighter, and a few years later, beauty degree in hand, she moves to Houston where she manages to get a job in one of the city's best salons. That's where she meets Churchill Travis, a wealthy older man, who becomes her friend. All the other girls in the salon mistakenly believe Churchill is Liberty's sugar daddy, especially when he offers her a job as a live-in assistant, and at first, so does Churchill's sexy oldest son, Gage.

And that is where I'm going to leave the description. In fact, I've probably gone into a bit too much detail already.

I knew going in, from the comments I'd read (which actually led me to pick up the book in the end), that there was a very strong romance here, and that rare beast in romance novels, a very well done love triangle. I liked all that very much, as expected. Liberty's relationship with Gage is very satisfying, and when Hardy shows up after many years (what? No spoiler, it's quite obvious from the start that he'll come back at some point!), Kleypas deals with it in a way I've not ever seen in romance, one which generates some lovely angst.

What I didn't expect is that I'd like Liberty's coming of age story quite as well as I did. I feared I might see it as an obstacle, something to get through before I got to the romance, but I was completely absorbed. Sugar Daddy is narrated by Liberty in the first person, and she's someone I enjoyed spending time with. She's strong and down-to-earth, comfortable in herself but not without some insecurities. She's not perfect: I found her a bit too blithely accepting about some things, like the very conservative nature of the world she moves into, but on the whole, I liked her.

Just as Liberty is not perfect, neither is the book as a whole. The big problem I had with it was that when Liberty moves to Houston and starts having contact with the city's high society, first through her work in the city's top salon and then through her friendship with Churchill, there is a bit too much breathless gushing about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It's the little dollop of Krantz I mentioned earlier.

Liberty doesn't really change, she doesn't become someone who aspires to that lifestyle, so it felt very weird when the narrator goes into raptures about the Chihuly candelabra in someone's new mansion, and how Liberty spoke to movie producers, or about the luxurious accessories in Gage's private jet. I guess it might have read better when the book first came out, in 2007, but in late 2011, I couldn't hold back the sneers.

I also didn't appreciate a revelation near the end, which I thought took something away from Liberty's success, after struggling with her very difficult circumstances. I would have much preferred it if she'd attained success all on her own, rather than because of those lucky breaks which end up not being down to luck at all. Oh, well.



Lover Avenged, by JR Ward

>> Saturday, December 03, 2011

TITLE: Lover Avenged

PAGES: 544

SETTING: Alternate version of present-day USA
TYPE: Paranormal fiction / romance
SERIES: Book 7 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood

J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood novels have introduced readers to a "different, creative, dark, violent, and flat-out amazing" world. Now, as the vampire warriors defend their race against their slayers, one male's loyalty to the Brotherhood will be tested-and his dangerous mixed blood revealed...

Caldwell, New York, has long been the battleground for the vampires and their enemies, the Lessening Society. It's also where Rehvenge has staked out his turf as a drug lord and owner of a notorious night club that caters to the rich and heavily armed. His shadowy reputation is exactly why he's approached to kill Wrath, the Blind King and leader of the Brotherhood.

Rehvenge has always kept his distance from the Brotherhood-even though his sister is married to a member, for he harbors a deadly secret that could make him a huge liability in their war against the lessers. As plots within and outside of the Brotherhood threaten to reveal the truth about Rehvenge, he turns to the only source of light in his darkening world, Ehlena, a vampire untouched by the corruption that has its hold on him-and the only thing standing between him and eternal destruction.
Much was said when this book was released about how this, the first in the series to be published in hardcover, marked a move into urban fiction, rather than romance. I don't know if this was the exact point, as the series had been long moving in the direction of emphasising the other storylines and making the romance one less prominent. I don't even know if it's urban fiction we're talking about. To me, this is more like a soap opera, with lots of storylines going on at the same time and one (the romance) becoming slightly more prominent than the rest in each book.

And I must say, I quite like this, at least in Ward's books. It then doesn't matter so much if the main romance isn't that good, because there's always something else to look forward to. This was exactly the case in Lover Avenged.

I'm not even going to try to explain who all the characters are here, there's no point. Their stories have been developing over several books, so if you haven't read Ward before, you really shouldn't be starting here, anyway.

The main romance in this book features Rehvenge, which wasn't really much of a draw to me. I've never found him a particularly intriguing character, partly because the idea of sympaths never drew much of a reaction from me other than "meh". Also, a drug dealer and pimp? I find that repulsive, not exciting.

The basic plot is that Rehv is being blackmailed by his half-sister, who unlike him, is all sympath and all evil. She demands not only money, but some very skin-crawling and violent sex. This all takes a toll on Rehv's body (he is also, of course, doped to the gills to tamp down on his sympath tendencies), and that's where he meets Ehlena, a nurse at Havers' clinic.

Ehlena is all that is good an pure to Rehv, and he feels he's not good enough. Ehlena, despite herself, is attracted to him as well. But there's his big, dark secret to deal with.

On the plus side, despite my fears that Ehlena would be a blank canvas whose only characteristic is purity and goodness, she turned out to be pretty cool and strong in her own right. The romance didn't really capture my interest, though, and I never came to care about Rehv all that much.

And that's exactly why I really appreciated having the main romance be only a small part of the whole. I only had to read about Rehv and Ehlena every now and then. Most of the book was taken up by other storylines. Some of them were even really good, and I enjoyed them.

As far as I'm concerned, the one that takes the prize is the John Matthew / Xhex storyline. I hated a certain development (there's this promiscuousness=manliness message I'm getting that I don't like), but I'm hugely interested in them and really care about what happens (especially given that ending!). Also, I was afraid that Ward would start defanging Xhex, making her less threatening in time for her book, but she did nothing of the sort. If anything, she's scarier than ever here.

I also quite liked the developements in the lesser camp. They'd become a bit boring in previous books, lacking any real threat, but a certain hated character from previous books enters the picture, and things change massively. It's all really gory and violent (which I didn't particularly enjoy reading), but it creates interesting possibilities.

And there were plenty of other plot threads floating about. Wrath experiences some disturbing changes, and has some interesting experiences on the other side, meeting someone whose books I'm really interested in reading when the time comes. There's also Tohr starting to recover, and a pretty puzzling character called Lassiter. I've no idea what to make of him. And finally, there's quite a bit of Blay & Qhuinn, which I liked, especially the hints that another guy called Sexton might come into the picture and create a bit of conflict.

So, a book I enjoyed well enough, even feeling quite cool about the main romance. I have very high hopes for the next one, as in addition to John and Xhex, I get the feeling we're going to get a lot more of Blay and Qhuinn.



Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen

>> Thursday, December 01, 2011

TITLE: Garden Spells
AUTHOR: Sarah Addison Allen

PAGES: 291
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Women's Fiction

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.
Sidney Waverley got out of the tiny Southern town of Bascom as soon as she possibly could. She felt suffocated, both by the town and by her family's position in it. Bascom, you see, is a town where there are rigid expectations about what the members of a particular family will do and be like. It's a bit more quirky than what you would imagine (the rules are not of the "All Waverley women marry young and produce children" type, but more along the lines of "all the X women are amazing in bed and hold their husbands in thrall"), but that doesn't mean that it's any less strict and smothering.

After a few years of insecurity and a very bad relationship, however, Sidney decides to return to the family home, her young daughter in tow. Her sister, Claire, is not particularly happy to see her. Claire is older than Sidney, and to her, the structure that Bascom provided has always been a comfort. That's because her mother, much like Sidney, had ran away really young and Claire's first few years were spent living with no security at all. Claire has stayed at home and continued the family business, becoming a caterer.

Garden Spells contains two romances, one for each sister, and very nice they are, too. However, the meat of the book is really the relationship between the two women. There's a lot of pain and resentment, there, but there's also much love still, and it was really nice to see it rekindle.

The book is also about the life of the town itself, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it as well. Bascom is a place full of magic, but one where no one even blinks at it. Claire can change people's emotions with her cooking, by using particular ingredients, while a cousin has a talent for inexplicably giving people objects which inevitably come extremely useful a while later. Everyone accepts this, it's the way things are. The tone of the whole thing reminded me of the Latin American magical realism novels I grew up reading.

It's a charming book, heart-warming in a good way, and I'll definitely be reading more from this author.



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