Immortal in Death, by JD Robb (In Death #3)

>> Tuesday, December 30, 2003

I've continued reading the early books in the In Death series, by JD Robb. The latest I've read is book # 3, Immortal in Death.

When a ruthless model is brutally murdered, police lieutenant Eve Dallas puts her career on the line in order to clear her best friend of suspicion, an endeavor that leads her into the world of high fashion and underworld drugs.
As I said when talking about the previous installment in the series, these first few books are incredible, and Eve and Roarke's relationship is very exciting in them. They don't know all the details in each other's pasts yet, and the scene where we see Roarke's reactions when Eve tells him about a horrific incident in her past were really poignant. For this, and for the interesting mystery, my grade is an A-.

I also enjoyed the way the character of Eve's best friend Mavis was much more developed. She's the person who becomes a suspect in this investigation, and both her reactions to this and Eve's tell us a lot about these two women and their friendship.

About the mystery... I'm not usually fond of drug subplots, since they usually end up being "international crime ring" type of novels, but this particular one was more intimate than that, so it worked for me. Also, I found the peek into the fashion models' world really interesting, not all that different from what it is now, from what I've heard. ;-)

Oh, and I just loved the way Eve kept having to make little detours to finalize wedding preparations. LOL, she really hated it! The fact that she made time for them and did her best spoke volumes about her love for Roarke. And BTW, these "extracurricular" activites were welcome break from the gritty murder investigation, and very funny, too.


The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

>> Monday, December 29, 2003

I've been reading The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson on and off lately. I don't like to read his books in one gulp; I much prefer to savour them.

Bryson, a freelance journalist, succumbed to nostalgia upon returning home to Iowa after living for 20 years in England: he decided to relive the dreary vacation car trips of his American childhood. Starting out at his mother's house in Des Moines, he motors through 38 states over the course of two months, looking for the quintessential American small town--something he never encountered as a boy, and certainly doesn't discover now, as he tours superhighways, motels, shopping malls, fast-food joints and tourist traps. And, like a bored, bemused minor tagging along after adults, he trashes almost everything he sees, including the Smithsonian Museum and the trees in Sequoia National Park. Some of Bryson's comments are hilarious--if you enjoy the nonstop whining wisecracks of a 36-year-old kid.
Loved much of this. Bryson is great, cranky, childish and irreverent, and I just adore his dry, self-deprecating humour. This book isn't about the trip itself, but about his reactions to what he's seeing, and this only works because he's such a delightful narrator.

The only thing that wasn't too good was that I thought he resorted a bit too much to stereotypes, which is why I didn't give this that high a grade.

Oh, BTW, halfway through I realized I might enjoy reading this with a map of the US states for reference, so I spent a couple of days lugging a huge atlas around with me ;-) It gave me some reference as to where exactly Bryson was (I would have been able to enjoy the book anyway, but this was an added bonus), plus I learnt all kinds of things. For instance, my idea of where exactly Ohio is situated was very wrong!

My grade: a B.


Lord Peter Views the Body, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Saturday, December 27, 2003

While I wait for the next Lord Peter novel to arrive, so that I can read the books in the correct order, I read one of Dorothy L. Sayers's anthologies: Lord Peter Views the Body.

This one has 12 short stories starring Lord Peter. He doesn't exactly "view the body" in all of them, since not all of them are murder mysteries, but they are all entertaining, all the same. My grade for the whole thing: B+.

I'm too lazy to provide summaries of all of them, but some amazon readers have, so just go there if you're interested. Ok, so what exactly are these stories?

Some are gruesome: The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers, The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag. I liked the first one very much, it had a "horror story to tell beside the fire" feel. The second was less striking, almost "eh".

Quite a few are "find the will / inheritance" stories, which I like, since they often involve following clues á la treasure hunt: The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will, The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention, The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head, The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach. Of these, the weakest was Bone of Contention, which was also the longest story in the book. The others were all really good, and each had certain elements that I loved: crosswords in Uncle Meleager's Will, Lord Peter's relationship with his nephew in Dragon's Head and the gruesomeness of the Stolen Stomach, which would actually make it fit well in my "gruesome" category.

The anthology does contain a couple of more classic murder mysteries (The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran, The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face), but I thought these weren't really very good. I guess the lengths (most of these were around 20 pages or so) doesn't lend itself well to a clasic whodunnit format, since there's not enough space for good development and alternate explanations.

There were also 4 more stories, which I can't really categorize: The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question (interesting, showed me my French is still pretty good, even after years without practising it, since I did catch the clue), The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker (boring story), The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba (the plot itself was not too good, but I loved the description of the meeting of the secret society) and The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste (very enjoyable, in which Lord Peter, while on a secret mission, has to prove his identity through a wine tasting).

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy mystery short stories. I'll have to get some more!


Glory in Death, by J.D. Robb (In Death #2)

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I've started rereading the early books in J.D. Robb's In Death series. Since I read book #1 not all that long ago, I started with #2, Glory in Death.

Writing under the name J.D. Robb, bestselling author Nora Roberts uses a futuristic setting to unfold a story that mixes touches of romance with darkness and violence. When Prosecuting Attorney Cecily Towers is found dead on a rainy night in New York City, Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas first follows a trail to her own lover, then finds herself in pursuit of a serial killer. As the death toll mounts, she sets herself up as bait to snare the culprit.
This one's excellent, an A+.

Ok, I love later In Death books, where Eve and Roarke are a more "settled" marriage couple, but I must say their relationship was much more exciting to read about in early books such as this. Here they are not yet completely sure of the other, and this makes for some great tension and some genuinely stomach-clenching moments. The tension is one I always love. It comes from Eve being wary of accepting her feelings for Roarke, and of accepting Roarke's all-consuming love for her. There's a wonderful scene when they reconcile after a fight about this, which makes it very clear how crazy they are about each other and how they each need the other. Ahhh.

Something else that is more evident here in the early books and that I like is the world-building. I later books the world is already well described, so there is less detail, but here we have things I especially enjoy, like little throw-away details which don't serve to further the plot, but just to give us a little bit of colour. For instance, at one point Eve goes to a certain part of the city and there is a little paragraph mentioning how the NY brownstone buildings had all suddenly fallen to pieces in the early 21st century, so they had had to be condemned and razed.

I really liked seeing for the first time characters that would either become important (like Peabody) or would appear at least a couple of times more (like Crack). It was fun, like watching an obscure old movie and spotting an actor that would later become a huge star.

I was very interested in the suspense subplot here. It wasn't particularly hard to guess who the murderer was, but it was all fascinating anyway. Plus, I appreciated the fact that this was a case which Eve investigated pretty much on her own, without having Roarke take over. She got to a solution simply by relying on good detective work, not on illegal electronics or Roarke's connections.

An excellent book, where every aspect is perfect and they all work together flawlessly.


Wildest Hearts, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, December 22, 2003

I spent my Saturday morning reading an old favourite, Wildest Hearts, by Jayne Ann Krentz.

Annie Lyncroft knew her scheme was outrageous. She'd come to the elegant penthouse to meet Oliver Rain, the richest and possibly the most dangerous man in the Pacific Northwest. Annie needed this sensual, secretive corporate maverick for what she was about to propose. Marriage!

With her brother Danny missing after a mysterious plane crash, Annie is struggling to protect his hot electronics company from the sharks who think he's not coming back. But fanciful, ethical Annie -- who usually runs a bizarre bric-a-brac shop knows Danny's alive, and she's determined to keep his company safe by putting his biggest investor at the helm.

When Oliver actually says yes to the marriage of convenience, Annie dreamily envisions a few platonic weeks of helping him become a sensitive New Age guy. Oliver has a different plan; his cold, gorgeous eyes have been watching Annie, and he sees his chance to seduce the beautiful schemer. Love is the wild card destined to teach these two strong-willed opposites a lesson: icy control might run the business world, but all hell is about to break loose in the passionate territory of the heart.
Nice, comfortable read. Very JAK. A B+.

These characters were definitely familiar, but I enjoyed them very much. Oliver was the typical JAK "ascetic monk" hero, dangerous, seemingly cold, a loner; in fact, Annie actually describes him much like this at one point. As always, it was lovely seeing him thaw a bit with the woman he fast started to love.

Annie, too, was a trademark JAK heroine, the kind who completely refuses to believe the bent on revenge hero will do anything but the right thing. Always perky, always optimistic, and still not a shallow, frivolous character.

Their relationship was wonderful to read about, full of the witty banter and sense of emotion and intimacy that JAK does so well, and did especially well in the books she wrote around the same time she wrote this one. I loved the love scenes, btw, especially Annie's efforts to make Oliver lose a bit of that iron control over himself.

I actually liked the marriage of convenience plot, usually not a favourite in contemporaries. What made it work was that it made sense that it would help save Annie's brother's business, and also, that both of them went into it knowing that they were very attracted to the other.

Unusually for a JAK book, I actually found the suspense subplot interesting, though I wasn't exactly disappointed that it was kept very much in the background.

Read more... questions of the week

>> Friday, December 19, 2003

1. List your five favorite beverages.

- Plain tap water
- Red wine (especially Don Pascual Tannat Merlot)
- Jack Daniels Bourbon
- Champagne (extra brut, whatever nice brand)
- Green tea with mint

2. List your five favorite websites.

Not counting blogs, these are the websites I visit most often:
- All About Romance (romance novel)
- Mrs. Giggles (romance novels)
- Google (searchs, especially the "news" section)
- Citrus Moon(especially the "tile-a-day" section)
- Radio El Espectador

3. List your five favorite snack foods.

Hmm, I don't know if these count:
- Totopos with red sauce
- Hummus on pita bread
- Potato chips and chesse, with mushroom sauce
- Rabas
- "Mediterranean" potato chips

4. List your five favorite board and/or card games.

- By far, my favourite is Trivial Pursuit.
- Uruguayan Truco. A card game played in Uruguay and Argentina, though each country plays a different version
- Pictionary
- Scrabble
- Poker

5. List your five favorite computer and/or game system games.

- Pandora's Box
- Scrabble
- Bejeweled
- King's Quest
- Tetris


A Stranger's Touch, by Tori Carrington

>> Thursday, December 18, 2003

Tori Carrington is another new-to-me author, many of whose books I've thought looked tempting at first sight. I ordered a few of them, and the first to get here was A Stranger's Touch (excerpt).

Dulcy Ferris has always had an active fantasy life…but fantasy has never come close to reality until she finds herself alone in an elevator with oh-so-sexy Quinn Landis. There’s just one problem: Dulcy’s engaged to marry somebody else. But before she commits herself to a passionless marriage, she can’t resist indulging in her most secret fantasy just once…

Quinn Landis can’t believe his luck. Home for the wedding of his best friend, he’s delighted when a gorgeous woman falls into his lap…and then jumps into his bed! But the next morning brings a few surprises. His friend, Brad, has disappeared….and Quinn’s just slept with Brad’s bride-to-be! Worse, he wants to again…and again! But first Quinn has to find Brad. Only then can he prove to Dulcy that he’s the best man--in every sense….
An awful mess. A D.

As I said, this book sounded attractive. I really liked the premise, and thought it would be exciting, but unfortunately, it didn't feel exciting and piquant, but just plain tawdry. These two had the self-control of cats in heat. I mean, I tend to have a weakness for good sexual tension and for protagonists who find each other irresistible, but this was ridiculous. One minute they thought they really should stay away from each other, and the next they were tearing their clothes off.

As for the characters themselves, well, I guess Quinn was a likeable character, but I simply couldn't stand Dulcy. I really hate how inept she was, how every time she was with Quinn she went completely stupid and turned into a bumbling klutz, noticeably nervours. Her eyes bulged, she shivered... This is something many authors do, I've no idea why, and I hate it.

I found the romance absolutely unbelievable. They were in lust, yes, but hardly in love after a few days of non-stop shagging. And the suspense subplot, the search for Dulcy's missing fiancé, which was kind of interesting at the beginning, ended up being boring and being resolved in a very stupid way.

To make it even worse, I had some trouble with the dialogue, which was a bit hard to follow, with a little too much exposition in the middle. I tended to lose the thread of what was being said.

Oh, and one last comment. This book would have been a D+, but the + was taken away for Quinn's disgusting housekeeper, a suposedly sympathetic character who barges in while Dulcy's in the shower, inspects her like one would a horse and declares "good breeding stock". Instead of killing her, Dulcy, the twit, feels flattered, and Quinn feels it important that this creepy woman approves of the woman he loves.

After reading this, I really do hope the other books by this author that I've ordered are a huge improvement, otherwise my Trade List will be getting larger!


The Frost Fair, by Elizabeth Mansfield

>> Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Last week I read a book by new-to-me author Elizabeth Mansfield (interview with the author), The Frost Fair. I'd never heard anything about it, but I once bought another Mansfield book online and the seller included this one as a bonus in the package.

Lady Margaret Underwood enjoys her single status--yet if she isn't married in five months, she'll lose her entire fortune. The man she chooses is determined to remain a bachelor, but Meg has never backed down from a challenge before and she's not about to start now!
I'm not usually into Trad Regencies, but once in a while, reading one feels refreshing. They'll never be my favourite genre, and I should probably never try to read even two in a row, but I was in the perfect mood for The Frost Fair, and I enjoyed it. A B.

At first both protagonists were not completely likeable, but both learn throughout the book to grow and become better people. But even the faults they had weren't too bad, and I liked them from the first.

Sir Geoffrey was irritating when he kept making stupid mysoginistic comments and it got real old real fast, but, however, I must admit he had some reasons to want to keep away from women, considering the fact that the poor guy was locked up in the country with his idiotic sisters and mother.

As for Meg, yeah, she came across as a bit snobbish and arrogant in the beginning of the book, but she had such joie de vivre and was such a sensible woman, that I couldn't help but like her. I especially enjoyed her attitude towards a will stipulation that forced her to marry before she turned 26 or risk losing most of her money. She didn't fall back on one of those old "Oh, boo-hoo, I'll have to marry, otherwise my brothers / orphans / assorted relatives won't have the life they deserve" spiels. No, she very sensibly decided that since she liked her life as it was, and had no desire to live in genteel poverty, she'd have to marry, and she decided to find someone she'd find agreeable. Good for her.

Oh, and about the will stipulation I mentioned, I'm glad to report that it didn't play any part in Meg and Geoffrey's relationship. It was simply a plot device to put the story in motion.

The love story itself wasn't perfect, but it was sweet and I found Meg and Geoffrey likeable together. I'm not too crazy about separations, but I thought the one here worked.

The secondary characters were a little over-the-top at first, but by the end they showed signs of being more complex than simple caricatures.

Finally, I really liked how the weather played an important role in the book. That's something I tend to enjoy, like the hurricane in A Dark and Stormy Night, or the snowstorm here, and then the Thames freezing and a fair springing up there. Would this be the same winter described in The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown?


A Dark and Stormy Night, by Anne Stuart

>> Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I've started glomming Anne Stuart's backlist. There are a couple of titles I know I must avoid, since I hated Moonrise (Ritual Sins and Nightfall), but the rest are fair game. I love not knowing what I'm going to get. The last title I read was A Dark and Stormy Night.

Blindsided by a hurricane, Katie Flynn was seeking shelter from the storm -- but all she found was a moody, broody recluse named O'Neal. Trapped with him in his house on a windswept cliff overlooking the wildly tossed sea, Katie tried to fight the feelings O'Neal awakened in her -- both of sensuality and fear. She began to suspect that something haunted the tall, gray-eyed man's domain, something more than the wicked servants or family ghosts... something strange that only O'Neal himself could reveal.
Well, I must say that with this one I kind of had some idea of what I was getting. A book titled A Dark and Stormy Night just has to be a gothic, right? Turns out it was, and a pretty good one, at that. A B+.

My favourite thing about this book was probably the amazing atmosphere. The characters are trapped in a huge, dark house in the middle of nowhere by an approaching hurricane, and it turns out 2 of the characters are murderous villains (and no, this isn't a spoiler).

Speaking of the villains, man, these two were genuinely chilling. There was Willie, the "simple" son of the housekeeper, who liked to hurt things and really gave me the creeps, and then there was the housekeeper herself, all cheer and sunshine, whose underlying evil was made all the more spine-chilling because of her apparent goodness. I'm afraid the book was a bit too short to fully exploit these characters, but I thought what there was of them was very well done.

The love story was ok, although it was lightning quick, which always cuts down on the credibility level. Oh, and I thought the heroine was unnecessarily virginal, really. Still, I just loved the way O'Neal was completely obsessed with her, in spite of himself. He recognized she wasn't exactly beautiful, but found himself crazy about her.

There was a strong paranormal element here. Not only was the hero a shape-shifter (he turned into a seal... is "selkie" the word for this?), Katie could see and have conversations with his dead family. I was a bit doubtful at first (I mean, a seal??), but I thought this element worked quite well.

In fact, all the elements worked fine together, making this a very enjoyable book.


The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

>> Monday, December 15, 2003

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown was one of the books that generated the most buzz online this year, at least at the places I usually visit. From the comments I heard, I was anxious to read it, but no way I can afford to buy a hardcover and bring it to Uruguay. Luckily, this kind of books are translated quickly to Spanish, and my mom bought a copy as soon as it came out... and promptly lent it to me.

While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci -- clues visible for all to see -- yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion -- an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who seems to anticipate their every move. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's ancient secret -- and an explosive historical truth -- will be lost forever.
People keep calling this a thriller, and I'm really not sure it is. Maybe it's because I'm not usually fond of thrillers, because they tire me before long and all I want if for it to finish quickly, while I loved every minute of The Da Vinci Code and found myself fascinated, but this one just doesn't feel like the thrillers I used to read. It's an enormous, intelligent treasure hunt, ,. An A.

Ok, so none of the material discussed here is new, and a lot of it I already knew, but this doesn't make the book less interesting. And yes, strictly speaking, there was a lot of info dump, but since I found it all fascinating, I didn't mind. I've always been interested in the subject.

The pacing was quick but didn't feel rushed, and the places described really came alive. Also, the clues were good, not easy enough that they could be guessed easily, but also pretty evident once one knew the answer.

I also liked how the characters weren't really portrayed in black and white. Even the villains weren't all bad, and I actually shared some of their objectives, if not their methods. Both leads were also likeable, and I appreciated the fact that there wasn't a forced romance between them, something that would have been clearly too fast. There is just a certain attraction and a promise of something, someday, and I thought that was the right way to go.

I just wish I could have read it in English. There are quite a few plays with words, puzzles which have to be solved, and though I'm sure the translator did his best, it's just not the same. The best solution would have been to translate everything the way he did, but also add some notes at the back with the originals.

Oh, and I just LOVED the puzzle, in the website. Just the kind of thing I adore. There's one in English here, but I did the one in Spanish, right here.


Holding the Dream, by Nora Roberts (Templetons #2)

>> Friday, December 12, 2003

Holding the Dream, by Nora Roberts is the second in a trilogy about three friends, who all grew up in the Templeton house in Monterey, California. The first one, Daring To Dream, was the story about Josh, the Templeton's son, and Margo the housekeeper's daughter, who was brought up with the children of the house. This second one is about Kate, daughter of a cousin of the Templetons, who was adopted by them as a child when her parents died.

With Nora's trilogies, I usually like to read all 3 books in order, but this one's the exception. I didn't find the first book very rereadable, and I didn't much like the heroine in the third one, so I only read this one, which stands alone pretty well.

Raised together, Kate, Margo, and Laura are as close as real sisters, and when in need they return to Templeton House, their home and sanctuary. Kate finds herself running there when she is accused of embezzlement. That is not the only trial Kate faces; she suffers silently with a family secret she recently discovered. Practical to a fault, she intends to handle things her own way and in her own time, even if her stubbornness makes her ill. Hotelier Byron De Witt, however, has other ideas.
Holding the Dream is a really excellent book, an A-.

It's greatest strength is that, while the romance doesn't get short-changed at all, it's not the sole focus of the story. Kate has friends and a complete life outside Byron, and I liked that she incorporates him into her life, instead of him becoming her whole life, which is what happens in many romances, where the heroine is always completely alone in the world.

The romance was really good. Neither of them was looking for it and, in fact, they were both surprised to be falling for someone so very different from their usual type. Byron especially, and I really enjoyed seeing him fall so herd. The guy was wonderful, almost too good to be true.

Kate was a good character, too, with more flaws and problems. Actually, at first she got a bit on my nerves with her absolute refusal to take care of herself, but I kind of liked her even then. I understood her issues and identified with her to some extent. I really hated to see what happened to her when she got acused of embezzlement. It was heartbreaking, and I completely understood her reaction.

Another wonderful thing about this book was the portrayal of the friendship between Kate and Margo and Laura. I love those dynamics, and they rang very true.

The part about Seraphina's treasure, the overarching thread in the trilogy, is very low-key in this one. There's almost nothing about it here, and I liked it fine that way.


House of Many Shadows, by Barbara Michaels

>> Thursday, December 11, 2003

I've recently finished House of Many Shadows, by Barbara Michaels, one of my comfort reads.

While recuperating from head injuries, Meg Rittenhouse begins to experience terrifying visions in the old house inherited by her cousin, visions that become even more terrifying when the Andy Brenner, the caretaker, begins to see them too.
This one's one of my favourite Barbara Michaels books, basically because it's one of the ones with a type of plot I love, which is the protagonists seeing manifestations of an event which took place in the past, and having to reasearch it to find out what happened then. An A-.

The romance is subtle, as always with the author, but I liked what there was of it. It had some wonderfully funny touches, like the fact that every time these two would-be lovers touched, the visions started. Kind of threw a wrench in the works, that ;-)

I loved reading about the big house and about the process of Meg classifying the old furniture. I'm nuts, but I even liked the descriptions of Meg embroidering a sample. I'm probably the least homey person I know, and I still love to read about people doing things like cooking, and cleaning, and restoring furniture. Wonder what that says about me?

The events in the past which Meg and Andy were investingating were also fascinating. I won't say much about them, so as not to spoil anything, but it was a little snippet of history that was at once spine-chilling, inevitable and interesting. And that final revelation at the end, wow! Everything came together perfectly, with not one thread dropped.

I wonder if I'd enjoy this one even more if I were reading it for the first time, without knowing exactly what Meg and Andy are going to discover at each point? What would I make of the little clues? Oh, I should stop kidding myself, I'd probably be completely baffled ;-) Still, I enjoyed the voyage very much, even though I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't known the destination.


Call it Destiny, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Call it Destiny, by Jayne Ann Krentz, was a disappointment.

Her perfect arrangement left out love

Beautiful impetuous Heather Strand had big plans for running the family's Tucson resort. And one in particular was quite unorthodox. She wanted a marriage of convenience with devilishly handsome Jake Lavender, her father's right-hand man!

A prenuptial contract spelled out all the details--or so Heather thought. But it didn't cover passion, something she felt when Jake's hot velvet mouth descended on hers. Nor did it mention desire, which is what coursed through her body as they hungrily made love ....
This was not a good JAK. In fact, this was not a good book. A C.

I really liked the beginning of the book. Heather very clear-headedly did her best to have both partners enter into a marriage of convenience that benefited both of them. She protected her interests with the pre-nup, and was flexible enough to negotiate with Jake the clause that bothered him.

However, while she was trying to be honest and straighforward, Jake was sneakily trying to manipulate her into going into an arrangement that contemplated none of her interests and all of his. He even convinced her father to lie to her so that he could do it, and I found that especially reprehensible. God, her father is the worst kind of hateful bastard. What was he thinking?? How could he even consider doing what he did? He was very much like one of those fathers in historicals who feel their daughters are too strong and need a man who can dominate them, and I really hated him.

Anyway, when Heather discovered what had happened, she ran. I thought she did well to leave the bastard, and I cheered at the way she did it. Served him right! What he and Heather's father were trying to do, the way they were manipulating her, was unforgivable. I probably would have enjoyed the "strangers married, trying to deal with their attraction to each other" story I was expecting, much more than this one.

I just couldn't stand how sexist Jake was. The double standards implied in what he did were truly horrible. Ok, so Jake didn't like the situation Heather proposed, there was a power imbalance and he felt it wasn't right that one of the partners in the marriage would be so much more powerful than the other. Fine, that sounds good, I'm a firm believer in a couple being equal partners. The problem is, he didn't mind the power imbalance itself, what he wasn't able to accept was that he would be the less powerful one. He tried to underhandedly create the exact same situation, only with him in a position of power. He never thought that Heather would probably feel the same way about it as he did, or if he did think of it, he didn't care, presumably because she was a woman, and a woman is supposed to accept the role gratefully. Jerk!

And then there was the way he kept trying to make Heather feel guilty because she had a family and he didn't. This was another of those JAK heroes who never thought he'd be loved, yadda, yadda. I usually like this type, but in this case, it felt like he used this to lay a guilt trip on Heather and on us readers. I didn't find him a vulnerable, tortured hero, I found him a whiny jerk.

The worst part is he didn't even realize he was wrong to do what he did. He didn't even apologize. If ever a book needed a good grovel to redeem the hero this was it. As it is, the ending was awful. Heather was forced to surrender completely, give up all her pride, all this pushed by Jake. When she's done that, Jake, who hasn't made any sacrifices for her, magnanimously condescends to tell her he loves her. I mean, he'd made her go through hell because she wanted him to tell her he loved her, so when she finally gives up and humiliates herself to him, then he says the "I love you". Well, I wanted to tell him to take his half-assed declarations and shove them where the sun don't shine!

While reading JAK's backlist I've found many gems. Call it Destiny isn't one of them.


A Secret Love, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #5)

>> Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Of Stephanie Laurens's Bar Cynster series the only one I liked the first time I read them was the 5th, A Secret Love. At that time, I had given it an A+.

She was desperate for his help...
When a mysterious lady, her face hidden by a black veil, begs Gabriel Cynster for his help, he cannot refuse her plea. For despite her disguise, Gabriel finds the woman alluring and he is powerless to deny her. But he exacts payment as only a Cynster would demand: with each piece of information he uncovers, she must pay him - in the form of a kiss.

He was powerless to resist...
Lady Alathea Morwellan knows Gabriel is intrigued, but despite the sparks that fly between them, they have never passed a civil moment together. Yet as the stakes get higher, so does Gabriel's desire for payment. And with each overpowering kiss, each passionate embrace, Alathea knows that she will not be able to resist his ultimate seduction...but what will happen when she reveals the truth?
This time I liked it, but not quite that much. Still, an A- is nothing to sneeze at.

The book had two distinct parts, and I enjoyed both of them, albeit for different reasons, and one more than the other.

The first part of the book involved Alathea posing as the countess to try to get Gabriel's help in saving her family from a group of unscrupulous men who fleece their investors. The setup was a bit irritating, actually. I hate the character of the stupid, absent-minded, useless father, who can't be bothered with mundane stuff, so he leaves such things to his daughter, who sacrifices her life to do this for her family. Of course, the guy nevertheless dabbles a bit in business only to create big trouble. And the heroine, instead of killing him, as she should, or at least insisting that he asume responsability, just cossets him and solves the trouble.

Oh, well. I did my best to ignore the genesis of the problem and enjoy the results, which I did. I had lots of fun with the encounters between Gabriel and the countess, and with his reactions when he runs into Alathea before he finds out the truth. Maybe it wasn't a very realistic situation, but the piquancy of it all got me. The sexual tension in this part is thick enough to cut with a knife. Gabriel doesn't only want the mysterious countess sexually, he has more tender feelings, too. I loved that guy.

Another good point in this first part was the suspense subplot. I usually like Laurens' suspense subplots. Except for the one in Devil's Bride, the other ones I've felt were intriguing and really added to the love story: the ghost in A Rake's Vow, the stuff about the Lady of the Vale in Scandal's Bride, the race-fixing syndicate in A Rogue's Proposal and here we had the convolutions about proving that the Central East Africa Gold Company was a fraud, which I found enjoyable.

Anyway, this first part was perfect.

Then we had the second part, after Gabriel discovers the countess' identity. I liked this part for his pursuit of Alathea, but many of the details that I'd enjoyed in the first part didn't continue to be as good.

First, the sexual tension. The second half has much less of Gabriel's POV, and I wanted more of it. Maybe even a little more of that mental lusting everyone hates? ;-) I loved how he was obsessed with the countess, and I missed that obsession when he discovered the truth. It didn't help that for a long while he decided they should solve the problem with the East Africa company before they resolved their relationship, so during that section of the book the suspense subplot took center stage, and though it was an interesting subplot, it wasn't what I wanted to read.

Also, about the subplot, it soured in the end. I liked it during most of the book, but unfortunately, the resolution was awful. We had Alathea getting a fit of TSTLness, and then we had the pleasure of being introduced to a villain of the cartoonish, moustache-twirling variety. It had been more of an intellectual mystery, previously, so this ending didn't fit well with the tone of the rest of the story.

As I said, I liked Gabriel pursuing Alathea, especially because it was a pursuit that was firm, yet not dictatorial. I also loved how they dealt with each other as equals. They are friends, and they respect each other.

However, some details in the love story bothered me. As in all of the Cynsters' books, the heroine doesn't want to marry the hero, but Alathea's motives were not very solid. Also, there's a particular scene, an interlude in a parlour at a party they'd gone to, where Alathea ends up stark naked for hours, in the middle of the party!! Ok, there wasn't a lot of traffic there, but still, I would have thought, in cases like that, being able to fix your clothes in a hurry would have been of paramount consideration! I mean, of course, there are many things that felt kind of wrong, like the way Alathea just went around on her own at night. You'd think she'd be a bit less free to leave the house at night and go wherever she pleased, even if she was in her late 20s and considered a spinster. But I didn't really mind that, while that love scene in the party drove me nuts.

A perfect first half and a quite good second half would average an A-. Excellent!


Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I finally got the book I was expecting, the following one in Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series (this one's # 3). The title is, Unnatural Death, and it was published in the US as The Dawson Pedigree.


The wealthy old woman was dead -- a trifle sooner than expected. The intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour--staged by Lord Peter Wimsey, naturally.
Ingenious, intriguing, intrincate and very well put-together. A B+.

Unnatural Death isn't really a whodunnit, but a why- and how-dunnit. We strongly suspect who the culprit is from the very first, so the real fun comes from finding out why this person would do it, and when this becomes obvious, how it was done and the reason for the many things that started happening once Lord Peter started the investigation.

This one is one of the Sayers books I read when I was in high school, almost 10 years ago. The reason I remember is a weird coincidence. A couple of weeks before I read it then, I had to turn in an essay for my English class. Our teacher had had us read a little section of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, and we were supposed to take it from there and do what we wanted with it. Being obsessed with murder mysteries at the time, I turned it into one, and the way I used to murder the guy was one I'd never seen before. I even called my doctor uncle to do some research and see if it was possible. I was pretty surprised when I read Unnatural Death a couple of weeks later and saw it there, too. In a way, it ruined the surprise :-(

Anyway, even with that part of the plot not a mystery anymore, this was more than enjoyable enough.


After the Night, by Linda Howard

>> Monday, December 08, 2003

No, I'm not dead. The reason I haven't been posting is that on Friday Nov 28th, as I was leaving for Punta del Este for the weekend I received a phone call from my boss, who asked me if I could spend the following week in Colonia del Sacramento. We'd received an invitation for a week-long course on Local Development that would take place there. Of course, I said yes, so on Monday morning, no sooner had I arrived back in Montevideo that I took the bus and went off to Colonia.

The subject matter of the course was fascinating and I had plenty of time to explore the Historic Quarter of Colonia, a town founded by the Portuguese in 1680 and which is very well conserved. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the weekend, because I had a wedding Saturday afternoon and had to vote on Sunday (the option I voted for lost, BTW).

So, here I am, ready to get up to date with my reviews. Some of the books I'll post about I read ages ago! The first is After the Night, by Linda Howard

Faith Devlin grew up knowing that Gray Rouillard thought she was trash because his rich father ran away with her pretty, sexy mother. She almost hates him for it, but she can't, because every time he looks at her she wants him more. Gray controls the tiny Louisiana town, but he finds can't control Faith -- until he gets close to her. And underneath the passion, there's a mystery to be solved.
I had many, many doubts about how to grade this one. I did enjoy it a lot, in spite of huge reservations, so it gets a B+.

I think After the Night perfectly fits the definition of a guilty pleasure for me. There were almost too many elements I hated here, and yet I found myself enjoying the rest of the book. Some of the things that bothered me:

*** Extreme ickiness: This starts during the first pages, when we have the pleasure of seeing 11 (and later 13) year old Faith panting after 19-year-old Gray, even following him and watching him have sex with his girlfriend. Creepy. And then, the parts about Monica, Gray's sister, having sex with the guy who pretends she's her mother. Yuck. I hated this, it didn't add anything to the story and just grossed me out.

*** Double standards, of mammoth proportions: Much is made of the injustice of Faith being treated like a whore just because that's what her mom and sister are. She's not, she's a good girl! Excuse me? The bigger injustice is that Renée and Jodie are despised at all! They are whores, while the men and boys who they do the "whoring" with are just boys and men, nothing wrong whatsoever about their behaviour, noone condemns what they're doing. Gray's father, Guy, runs away with Renée, so she's a disgusting slut who destroyed the family. Meanwhile, Guy is just a fine guy, very charming and likeable, portrayed as a great friend and a good father.

The worst part is that Howard seems to share that opinion. This is what she actually seems to be saying, not simply what a random character thinks. Even our hero, Gray, comes across as a judgemental bastard, when he looks at 13-year-old Jodie (Faith's sister) with contempt, because she's such a slut. Come on, she's 13!

*** Faith: She drove me crazy. She seemed to be an intelligent, independent, hard-working woman, and yet she did things that were so extremely stupid! I mean, why, why would she move to Prescott again? This is a place where she was reviled all her life, where everyone despised her, where she had no friends. "To find out what happened to Guy Rouillard" is much too contrived as a reason.I really didn't get why she would care so much about this, enough to endanger her life, for what? A chance to gain the respect of people who always despised her? Stupid, just idiotic.

And then there's her lifelong fascination with Gray. I don't tend to like stories where the heroine has idolized the hero since forever and that seems to be the only basis for the "love" she has for him now. This seems to be the case here. Gray treats her so shabbily through most of the book, threatening her, insulting her, even actually running her off the premises of his motel, that I really couldn't find a reason why she would think she loved him. He'd been nothing but a bastard to her, up until that moment, and I thought less of her for not detesting him.

This sounds like a D review, doesn't it? After all this, why a B+? Well, even while I mentally railed at the book for all this, I was enjoying it. For some reason, it delivered that gut-wrenching qualilty that is the reason I read romance.

It helped that this one is probably the hottest book I've ever read. I can remember every single love scene, their first, against a column, the one in the public lavatory, the tender one, at her place, when he explains that he can't think straight enough to speak French to her during love-making... I loved all of them.

Gray ended up being less of a bastard than I thought, at least he had a sense of humour, and it really showed in the last part of the book. He was also nicely protective without being dominating.

Guilty pleasure, period.


White Lies, by Linda Howard

>> Friday, November 28, 2003

I'm in a Linda Howard mood these days. White Lies was the only Howard left in my TBR pile.

Nothing could have prepared Jay Granger for the arrival of two FBI agents at her door -- or for the news they brought. Her ex-husband, Steve, had been in a terrible accident that had left him gravely injured. The FBI needed Jay to confirm his identity.

The man Jay finds lying in the hospital bed is almost unrecognizable. Almost. Exhausted and afraid, Jay tentatively declares that he is Steve Crossfield. But the man who awakens from the coma is not at all as Jay remembers her husband. And he remembers nothing of their life together. Suddenly nothing is familiar. Not his appearance, not the intensity of his nature, not the desire that flashes between them. Who is this man? And will the discovery of his identity shatter the passion they share?
Quite, quite good. A B+.

I should note this is the last in a quartet, of which I've read the second one, Diamond Bay. White Lies reads perfectly well as a single title, though, so no need to read any of the others beforehand.

This was a quick read. I loved that it had an interesting conflict, but nevertheless, it was completely focused on the romance. The suspense subplot was resolved off-scene, and this is something I like very much. I know many people feel cheated when this happens, but what can I say? I'm weird that way.

The romance is pretty good. Really, what chemistry! I might have certain problems with Linda Howard's heros, but nobody does sexual tension like her. And I especially liked the way Jay and Steve (that's what I'm going to call him, to avoid spoilers) actually fell for each other without having any idea of what the other looked like (or would look like after the bandages were lifted, in Jay's case). I really bought these two were really in love and not only lust.

As for the characters I found Steve a little too arrogant, too stereotypical possessive, all powerful macho man, though having him helpless throughout most of the book tempered him a bit. Jay I liked very much, though Howard's portrayal of her at the beginning seemed to imply that all career women have to be hard ball-breakers, otherwise they cannot do well. I found this attitude old-fashioned, and very suggestive of an anti-feminist attitude on her part. Still, Jay is no doormat heroine. She allowed herself to be convinced to stay with her ex husband, but my impression was that this happened only because of the point in her life where she was, just fired from her job, a bit depressed and completely stressed out. There really was no reason why she should have said no when approached by the FBI.

She more than held her own with Steve, not letting him run roughshod over her. And I really liked that she actually ended up protecting him just as much as he protected her.

Finally, about the plot itself, it was well constructed, if a little farfetched. I don't usually find myself enjoying an amnesia story!


FridayFive questions of the week

1. Do you like to shop? Why or why not?

Well, I love shopping for books, but for other things... not really. I mean, if I see something I like, I suppose I enjoy purchasing it, but the whole process of "going shopping", spending hours looking at store windows and trying on things, that's not something I like much.

2. What was the last thing you purchased?

I don't know the word in English, it's a bottle for cooking oil, with a spout that releases the oil drop by drop. I'd been looking for a nice glass one for some time, and the other day I was waiting for a friend outside her office, which is right on a square where there was a flea market that day. The stall nearest to me had the exact thing I was looking for, so I bought it.

3. Do you prefer shopping online or at an actual store? Why?

Depends for what product. Online you usually have a much wider selection and you don't have to move from your house, while in an actual store you can touch the product and try it on if necessary, plus you don't have to wait for delivery.

So, for things like books, I prefer shopping online, especially because bookstores here carry a very narrow selection of English-language romance novels. With having things like the "Look inside" feature, the only thing that is better in a physical bookstore is the smell of books, but oh well.

For other things, I think I prefer physical stores, but well I can't really compare because customs officials here have made it almost impossible for one to buy anything but books from abroad, and there are very few local stores that sell online. In fact, the only one I buy from is the supermarket I've always used.

4. Did you get an allowance as a child? How much was it?

Not really, it's not something usually done here. I used to get a certain fixed amount of money every day for school (to buy lunch, bus fare, etc), but for other things I just asked my parents.

5. What was the last thing you regret purchasing?

A book, actually, because it turns out it was one I already owned. I hate those generic, impossible to remember, romance titles!


Fantasy Lover, by Sherrilyn Kenyon

>> Thursday, November 27, 2003

Fantasy Lover (excerpt), by Sherrilyn Kenyon really didn't sound like my cup of tea. I mean, I must have thought the review sounded intriguing enough to buy the book, but by the time it got here I'd long forgotten anything on the review, so I didn't feel at all tempted to read something that sounded so... cheesy, I guess.

Being cursed into a book as a love-slave for eternity, Julian of Macedon has been pleasuring women for over 2,000 years. Over this time, he has honed his sexual skills, learning every which way to please a woman and fulfill her deepest fantasies. But in spite of the intense sexual pleasure Julian is able to provide for others, deep within his own heart lies a fantasy of true love that has remained unfulfilled.

When Julian is summoned to be be Grace's lover for a month, he soon finds in her the potential to help him fulfill his own fantasies of meaningful love as well. Grace's love for Julian might fill the hole deep in his heart, but can it break a 2,000 year old curse?
I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this. It was a B+.

Imaginative, very funny at times, steamy and even poignant, Fantasy Lover was really good. And it didn't hurt that Julian was one of the yummiest heros I've read in a long time. His "tragic past" was almost overkill and at times bordered on cartoonesque, but even so, I felt for him, I really did. Imagine being motionless, trapped inside a book for 2000 years. And being summoned solely to be used as a sex object. Poor baby. What I found wonderful was that all this didn't sour him on people, he was a really good-natured guy, not a brooding sour-face. Oh, and he didn't take it out on Grace at all. A poor opinion about women might have been excused in his case, but I didn't see that at all in him.

As for Grace... eh, well. I have to ask, what the hell is so funny about a frigid sex therapist? I'm sorry, but I just don't see absolutely any humour in that. Plus, there are way too many of them in recent contemporaries and I'm just sick of them. She was strictly a place-holder for the reader, nothing much more than that. It was a bit funny, but her issues rang a bit false. Imagine that, I bought Julian's anguish at having been cursed by a Greek god more easily than Grace's at having been used for sex as a result of a bet!

However, their relationship worked very well, and I ended up seeing (kind of!) why Julian was so crazy about Grace. I did get the feeling his love for her was more because of what had happened to him and the difference in her actions to those of all those other women, not because of anything intrinsic to Grace, but I wanted so much for Julian to be happy, that well, whatever worked for him I wanted him to get ;-)

About the plot itself, it was Fun, with a capital F, especially the mythology. All those gods and goddesses lurking around every corner could have been too much, but it worked. Same thing with the irreverent way they were dealt with. Greek gods did have that element of childishness, that penchant for intruding, with tragic results, into the lives of mortals, so the treatment given to their stories by Kenyon didn't feel awkward.

Anyway, I really liked this. I don't think I'll be getting the next books in the series (even though Kyrian sounds nice), because from the reviews I've read they seem to be more "struggle for humanity", while this one is more "intimate", I guess one could say. I'll be looking for the books she's written as Kinley MacGregor, though.


Night of the Magician, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Wednesday, November 26, 2003

This one looked pretty good from the back blurb: Night of the Magician, by Jayne Ann Krentz (writing as Stephanie James).

If there was one thing Ariana Warfield understood, it was money. As a financial planner in charge of her family's accounts, she'd known immediately that her Aunt Philomena was being swindled by a charlatan psychic. Lucian Hawk, devastating magician, was the perfect choice to unmask the fraud. But from the moment they met, Ariana realized that his dangerous spells threatened to shatter her well-planned life. Suddenly she discovered real magic in his arms, and enthralling passion that drove the woman who didn't take chances to risk everything on love.
Very satisfying. Not the very best of Krentz, but it fulfilled my needs very nicely. A B+.

I very much liked the heroine, Arianna. She reminded me a bit of Cassie, from Nightwalker, in that she was financially successful in her own right and proud of it, a sensible, independent woman.

Lucian, meanwhile, was more typical romance hero (except for his moonlighting as a magician), but he was ok, if a little too dominating at times. I would have liked maybe a little more of his POV, but for an early 80s book what there was was quite a lot.

Already here, in such an early book, the banter between the protagonists is one of the best things in the book, even though I admit JAK's style has improved infinitely since then. Some things about her writing style here were actually pretty funny. For starters, there was the excess of exclamation marks, then the abundance of awkward dialogue tags: the characters didn't often just "say" things, they "grated" them, and so on. I noticed exactly the same thing in Krentz's Corporate Affair, published at about the same time.

And then there was that little touch of the 80s, Lucian constantly addressed Ariana as "Magic Lady". I'm not kidding. "Come here, Magic Lady". And Ariana responded with "magician". "What do you want from me, magician?" Very bizarre, and very distracting. Shades of Elizabeth Lowell, and that book where the hero called the heroine nothing but "Fancy Lady". Ack!!

I loved the resolution of the romantic conflict, how Lucian realized the rightness of Ariana's doubts and made himself vulnerable accordingly. But before that, it was fun to see him try so hard to convince Ariana to allow him to do her the favour of marrying her, and his increasing desperation when Ariana kept telling him that she'd changed her mind, that she didn't feel the need to get married anymore. Don't worry, it's ok, we can just have the affair you said you wanted. Ha!

The suspense subplot was one of the best I've read in a JAK book. As always, very unobtrusive, but I found what there was of it pretty intriguing.


A Rogue's Proposal, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #4)

>> Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I couldn't stop myself and so I read book 4 in Stephanie Laurens's Bar Cynster series: A Rogue's Proposal (excerpt).

Demon Cynster has seen love bring his brethren to their knees, and he's vowed that he will not share their fate...until he spies Felicity Parteger sneaking about his racing stable. Demon remembers Felicity as a mere chit of a girl, but now she stands before him - begging for his help - all lush curves, sparkling eyes...and so temptingly worthy of the love he's vowed never to surrender to any woman.

Felicity knew Demon was one of the ton's most eligible bachelors and a rogue of the worst sort, but he was the only one capable of getting her friend out of trouble. Her fascination with Demon had nothing to do with the power lurking just beneath his devil-may-care facade - or with the desire that flares when he takes her in his arms. Felicity knows Demon will never yield her the love she desperately seeks, but could a marriage of passion alone - even with a man like Demon - be enough?
With the first 3, each had been better than the previous one, with Scandal's Bride being nearly perfect. A Rogue's Proposal couldn't maintain the level, and while it was entertaining, it was definitely not as good as the others. A B.

At first, it was good, even though the whole beginning, with Demon running away to hide from even the possibility of getting married, was a bit idiotic, in my opinion. I know this is a running thread in the series, the remaining bachelors lamenting that their numbers are dwindling, at the end of each book, and the fear that they must be next, but it's something that to me doesn't add much to the books, especially because this usually lasts a couple of pages at most, once they've met the heroine.

Anyway, I liked how the conflict and their relationship were set up. The girl-in-disguise-as-a-boy works here, unlike in many other books, when it feels like idiocy on the part of the heroine. I liked that Demon doesn't have a knee-jerk reaction of disapproval, just because she's a girl. When he's told what's going on, he actually agrees that Felicity's plan is a good one.

What wasn't so good was the actual romance, at least during the first half of the book. I was completely creeped out by the way Demon continuously obsessed about Flick's "innocence", even thinking that that was the reason for most of his fascination with her. The worst part is that he went on and on about this, how he was going to teach her about passion, etc. etc.

However, after the first half, it improved a lot. There was much less obsessing on Harry's part about Flick's innocence and more of him being shocked about how not innocent she was (that is, yes, she was inexperienced and a virgin, but she learned fast ;-) Oh, and I liked that there were a lot of undesired (on his part) consequences of trying to manipulate and manage her with his greater experience. That was much more fun.

There were lots of things in the romance that I did like. I loved it when Harry compromised Flick and then was so irritated when she didn't allow him to "sacrifice" by marrying her. And I didn't think that Flick's reasons for not accepting him at once were stupid or flimsy; I thought she did right in holding out until she was sure this was going to be a love match. Good for her!

Something else I liked was how willing Demon was to allow Flick to be an active party in discovering the race-fixing syndicate. He doesn't exactly like it, but he knows there's nothing he can do, and is graceful about accepting it.

I liked the setting very much. I've never been too interested in the world of horse racing, but lately having read Nora Roberts' True Betrayals, which describes the present-day scene, and having watched Seabiscuit, I find myself fascinated by it. A Rogue's Proposal has an interesting look at what this world was like in 19th century England. I've no idea how accurate it is, but it's fascinating. The suspense subplot, related to this world, was interesting in itself and I felt enhanced the romance. A good balance.

All in all, an entertaining book.


A Novena For Murder, by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

>> Monday, November 24, 2003

On Friday I finished A Novena For Murder, by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie. This is the first book in the Sister Mary Helen series, one I usually enjoy.

Heaven knows nobody expected a homicide at Mount St. Francis College for Women in San Francisco. Sister Mary Helen, at seventy-five, had resisted retiring there for fear she'd find only prayer, peace, and a little pinochle. But she'd barely arrived when she was greeted by an earthquake, a hysterical secretary, and a fatally bludgeoned history professor.

The police professionals, homicide inspectors Kate Murphy and Dennis Gallagher, promptly made a very human error: They arrested an innocent. As one sister invoked divine aid with a novena to St. Dismas, patron saint of murderers, Sister Mary Helen turned her own talent for investigation into a hunt for the guilty ... and found that nothing is sacred when it comes to catching a killer with a habit for murder.
The book works as an introduction to most of the players in the series, Sister Mary Helen herself, the other nuns, the police detectives, etc, but the mystery itself was almost a complete loss. A C+.

I had 2 main problems with the mystery.The first was that the whole situation didn't ring true at all. It's not much of a spoiler to mention that what's at front centre is kind of immigrant-smuggling ring. Well, not exactly smuggling, but something like that. What surprised me was that the immigrants here were Portuguese. One expects this kind of plot with immigrants from a third-world country, desperate not to be deported because they'd either starve or be persecuted by a dictatorship at home. What would be so awful about having to go back to Portugal??

Yes, this book was written 20 years ago, so I suppose the circumstances might have been different then, but still! I don't know, maybe it's because I myself am from a country where people would love to be able to go work in a place like Portugal!

The second problem was that all this didn't fit in with the cozy atmosphere. These books work much better with another kind of mystery, a more "domestic" crime, if you will. I felt poor Mary Helen was very much out of her league, here!


Cinderman, by Anne Stuart

>> Thursday, November 20, 2003

Another good Anne Stuart, this time one of her series titles, Cinderman. I was right to keep reading her after the first two bad reads.


Suzanna Molloy was trailing top-secret Dr. Daniel Crompton-a man reputed to be as hot as his experiments with chemical fusion. But even Suzanna didn't expect their meeting to be so explosive!


A suspect lab accident gave Daniel fantastical powers-and threw Suzanna right into his arms. Now she was on the run with a man whose fiery gaze could reduce objects--and her resistance--to cinders.


With his newfound power of invisibility, Daniel kept catching--and kissing--Suzanna unawares. She'd found her fantasy man, but the only way to keep him was to keep him alive!
Reading Night Shadow gave me a taste for superhero romance, and I remembered I had this one in my TBR. This one takes a more campy stance than Night Shadow, but it works just as well. A B+.

With the backdrop of the adventure, the romance works very well. I really liked Suzanna, she was independent and strong, determined not to be a damsel in distress and to earn what she has. The T-Shirts with the combative feminist slogans were a nice touch, they were very much her. I especially appreciated the fact that she was described as having the typical body, 10 pounds overweight. And in spite of this, Daniel was mad with desire for her.

As for Daniel, he was one of those scientists with 0 social skills. I'd probably want to murder him in real life, but in fiction, I loved him. I think at one point he says something "exquisitely rude", and that describes him well ;-) I loved the way he was so baffled by the way he was starting to feel around Suzanna. Previously he'd been so removed from the worldly pleasures, from sex to eating. Hhe just had sex as a physical function and eat only to fuel up, not even bothering to chew, but drinking a nutritious liquid thing. Being with Suzanna changed all that.

The whole plot about a corporation out to dominate the world was the reason I was glad this wasn't taken too seriously. This kind of thing works if it's used for fun, but taken all seriously, it gets very tedious. At least for me.

There's also a lot of fun to be had with the superpowers here. Quite a bit of exploration of them, too the kind of thing one imagines one would do in their place.

Stuart obviously had fun writing this and it shows. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good compliment.


Scandal's Bride, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #3)

>> Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Surprisingly, Stephanie Laurens' Bar Cynster series just keeps getting better. Scandal's Bride (excerpt) is the best so far. It will be hard for Laurens to top this book in the next one!

When Catriona Hennessy, honorable Scottish Lady of the Vale, received this prediction, she was exceedingly aghast. How could she unite with a rake like Richard Cynster--a masterful man with a scandalous reputation? More shocking still was her guardian's will that decreed she and Richard be wed within a week! Though charmed by his commanding presence, and wooed by his heated kisses, she would not--could not--give up her independence.

So she formed a plan to get the heir she needed without taking wedding vows.Richard was just as stunned by the will's command. Marriage had not previously been on his agenda, but lately he'd been feeling rather...restless. Perhaps taming the lady was just the challenge he needed. But can he have the rights of the marriage bed without making any revealing promises of love?
Beautiful. Just beautiful. An A+. How could I ever have disliked this book?

How many times have I read and hated books where the heroine for some reason needs to have a child, so she finds some way to sleep with the hero (drugs him, or goes to him in disguise, or something) to conceive? I've very seldom enjoyed books like this, because these situations seem to me contrived and unbelievable, but here it was different. I found it intriguing and exciting, and I couldn't wait to see what would happen and how Catriona and Richard would react to the other's moves.

I jost loved this first part of the book, even though it wasn't perfect. The problem was basically that, though Laurens is very good with love scenes, they are a trifle too long and too many in the first half. There was a point when I wanted them to get on with the plot. Later on, while the lovemaking is still abundant, there's a bit less of it and it's better. Still, even when it seemed like they were going at it like rabbits every other page, I never even thought of skimming. The love scenes were very much an important part of the book, and a lot of the relationship's development happened in them. This is not one of those books where you could cut out the love scenes and still have an almost intact story. Much better this way.

Ok. After this part, they finally marry and leave for the Vale. At this point, I worried. I actually left the book aside for a while because I was so sure there was no way it would continue to be as good as it had been until that point, and I guess I just wanted to savour the first part, unruined by an unsatisfying ending, for a little while. You see, Richard promised right at the outset not to interfere with Catriona's duties as Lady of the Vale in any way, but... I suspected he would. He would see her making what he thinks is a mistake and he wouldn't resist offering his opinion, and she would refuse to listen, and so he would feel that he needs to "enforce his authority" or something. He would of course be right, and I'd get pissed off. Because, of course, a romance hero has to dominate. A guy willing to defer to his wife is not a real man, or so most romance writers seem to think.

Well, Stephanie Laurens isn't one of them. Richard respected Catriona and understood why he must be her consort, not her lord and the lovely man did it. I adored this guy. And I felt the same way about Catriona. She was strong and independent and sensible. Never stupid. No false pride; she was perfectly willing to let Richard help her shoulder the burdens, if only after a bit of miscommunication.

These two people together as a couple were incredible, I really did believe they were in love and understood why. I liked how Richard was so crazy about Catriona and how he really needed her. And she was crazy about him right back. In fact, they each needed the other's love, they really weren't complete without it. They needed each other's trust to be happy, and I understand that.

This is yet another book without a suspense subplot, just like the previous one in the series, A Rake's Vow. There is a little thing about Catriona's neighbours harassing her a bit, but it was veeeery slight. The conflict that was front and centre was internal, just Richard and Catriona learning to live with each other.

I'm not usually fond of those seemingly obligatory appearances by all the other characters in the series, but in this case I really enjoyed myself when the Cynsters descended en masse on the Vale. I loved the sense of happiness that reigned while they were there, on the last third or so of the book. It really worked to show Catriona learning about family.

Finally, all the mystical mumbo-jumbo about the Lady, and all that... hmmm. I wasn't sure I'd like it, but I did. What was explained about the Lady's doctrines and philosophy made sense and I liked it, and I liked that Catriona really believed. It wasn't just lip service. I thought the paranormal element didn't overwhelm the story, but added to it and enhanced it.

In summary, one of the best books I've read this year. I hope this series keeps getting better, but I won't hold my breath, because it's hard to see how it could!


Be Buried in the Rain, by Barbara Michaels

>> Tuesday, November 18, 2003

How I wish that Barbara Michaels was still writing! I mean, I do like the Amelia Peabody books she's now exclusively writing as Elizabeth Peters, but I miss the gothic fiction she specialized as under the Michaels name. With no new books, all I can do is either find read-alike authors (I've found some winners that way, like Susanna Kearsley), or reread the Michaels books I've got, and I've got them all.

Earlier this week I decided to reread Be Buried in the Rain.

There are secrets buried at Maidenwood--dark secrets that span generations. Medical student Julie Newcomb, who once spent four miserable childhood years at this rundown Virginia plantation, would rather not resurrect ancient memories, or face her own fear.

Yet Julie cannot refuse her relatives' plea that she spend her summer caring for the bedridden--but still malevolent--family patriarch. Reluctantly, Julie agrees, praying that life at Maidenwood will not be as bleak as before. From the first, though, Julie finds Maidenwood a haunted place, not merely echoing with grim reminders, but filled with dark secrets that will become part of her life even today.

A fully clothed skeleton found on a country road, a cantankerous old woman crippled by stroke, a somewhat chauvinistic yet charming politician, religious fanatics, a mythical ancestor, practitioners of "psychic" archeology, long-suppressed memories, and a single-minded man from her past: these are the elements that confront her.
Exactly what I was needing. A fascinating book, and it gets an A-.

This was by far the creepiest book I've read in a long time, especially the ending. The bare hint of a supernatural element was scarier than many full-blown ghosts in other stories. There's even one particular line from the end that's still echoing in my mind, days after having finished it! And the atmosphere helped a lot. I felt the stifling heat, and I could see the big, dark house perfectly. Modern gothic all the way.

Michaels is really good at characterization. The main characters, Julie, Martha, Matt (except in a way for Alan, who felt curiously underwritten) I felt I knew inside out, and even the secondary characters were excellently done. I understood characters I saw in only a couple of scenes, like the judge!

The story itself was really interesting. This time I had some ideas of what was going on (the last time I read it wasn't too long ago), but I distinctly remembered being shocked when I first read it. Still, even without the element of surprise, it was fascinating. I loved the combination of the archeological elements with the more modern intrigue.


Suzanna's Surrender, by Nora Roberts (The Calhouns #4)

>> Friday, November 14, 2003

Right after book 3 in the series, I continued with number 4, Suzanna's Surrender, las in Nora Roberts' The Calhoun Women series.

Suzanna Calhoun and her sisters simply HAD to find the priceless emeralds hidden somewhere in their ancestral home. The jewels were the key to the deadly mystery that had threatened them for so long. And for Suzanna they were something more - her link to a man whose past was tangled with hers in ways she was only beginning to understand.

Holt Bradford had loved Suzanna for more years than he cared to remember, loved the laughing girl she'd been and the gentle, fragile woman she'd become. He'd never once told her what was in his heart, but now he had no choice...He had to protect her from the shadows swirling around her, and he had to make her his at last….
I thought I was not going to like it much, but ultimately I did. A B.

Suzanna's Surrender was originally the last the series, but later on, Roberts wrote another book about a related character. Still, I get the impression that book was just an afterthought, because this one very much closes the series. No plot threads left hanging at all here.

Suzanna was likeable, but I had a few little problems with her, basically, that I couldn't stand the way she behaved with her husband. Or rather, I was just mildly bothered by what I saw here, but very bothered by what had happened in the past. And I'll admit the self-martyring mommy is not a fave character of mine.

I liked Holt better, much better. He started out as a jerk (every time he called Suzanna "babe" it was like hearing nails screeching on a blackboard), but he fell in love quickly, and became a sweetie. I loved the scene where he tries to stage a romantic proposal and then gets all frustrated because it doesn't go exactly as planned!

Still, about the falling in love quickly, as in the first one in this series, Courting Catherine, the realization they are in love feels much too sudden and pretty baseless. Other than that, their relationship is nice. I like stories where the protagonists used to be the bad boy and good girl of the town. They noticed each other all those years ago, and now they do something about it...

In the previous books the actual love story between Bianca, the Calhouns' ancestress and her lover had been a distraction. I'd enjoyed the present-day search for the emeralds, but not the flashbacks themselves. Here, they enhanced the story, because of the strong parallels between Suzanna and Bianca. This was very well done.

All in all, the whole quartet was stronger than the individual components, which were pretty good in themselves.


A Rake's Vow, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #2)

>> Thursday, November 13, 2003

Continuing with my reading / rereading of Stephanie Laurens' Bar Cynster series, I read A Rake's Vow (excerpt), which I hadn't read before. This is the 2nd book in the series.

He vowed he'd never marry:
Vane Cynster always knew which way the wind was blowing, and it was headed in a marrying direction. The other Cynster men might not mind stepping up to the altar, but Vane never wanted to be leg-shackled to any woman, no matter how comely. Bellamy Hall seemed like the perfect place to temporarily hide from London's husband hunters. But when he encountered irresistilbe Patience Debbington, Vane realized he'd met his match and soon he had more than seduction on his mind.

She vowed no man would catch her:
Patience wasn't about to succumb to Vane's sensuous propositions. Yes, his kisses left her dizzy; his caresses made her melt; but he was arrogant, presumptuous...and, despite his protests, bound to be unfaithful, just like every other man. Patience had promised herself that she'd never become vulnerable to a broken heart. But was this one vow that was meant to be broken?
This was wonderful, even better than Devil's Bride. An A-.

Ok, first of all, the back blurb makes much emphasis on the "escaping the marriage wind blowing his way" theme, but I just didn't see that in the book. That is, yes, at the beginning Vane's not looking to marry, but neither is he one of those stereotypical romance heroes who for some (often trivial) reason, have vowed never to marry.

It didn't look all that good at first. I am sick of those judgemental heroines who hostilely disapprove of the hero before they even meet him. They are fond of making baseless blanket judgments, and really, they come across as idiots. So your dad was an "elegant gentleman" and he wasn't a very nice person. Thinking that every guy who dresses elegantly will therefore be a bastard is not an understandable conclusion, it's proof that your mind doesn't work very well! Luckily, Patience soon learns her lesson and becomes more tolerable as a result.

Vane I liked much better. At first, I found him a little too cool and controlled when he's with Patience, but he soon looses it, and can barely control himself when he's with her. That was fun ;-)

But the best thing is his behaviour once he proposes and Patience refuses him. Contrasting with Devil's behaviour, in Devil's Bride, Vane doesn't try to dictate to Patience, but to convince her to marry him. He doesn't even think of trying to force her or manipulate her or blackmail her. He realizes she must have some reason for her behaviour, plans to find out what it is and to somehow solve it. He even considers the possibility that he might fail, and that Patience won't change her mind, and he never contemplates forcing her even then. That shows respect for her, to my way of thinking, and I liked it.

Vane actually follows his strategy and wins Patience that way. He finds out her reasons, finds validity in them and takes action so that they aren't a concern any more. This isn't a situation where you have a winner and a loser (the latter in this kind of cases is usually the heroine, unfortunately), but one where both win.

As for Patience's actual reasons for not wanting to marry... well, they were valid, but it was a bit iffy that she wouldn't simply come clean with Vane and tell him what was going on. Even so, this was a romance I enjoyed.

The book was enhanced by a neat, intriguing little mystery, which captured my imagination almost as much as the romance itself. Romance novels usually have suspense subplots these days, not mysteries, and I much prefer the latter.


For the Love of Lilah, by Nora Roberts (The Calhouns #3)

>> Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I had excellent memories of this book in Nora Roberts' The Calhoun Women series, For the Love of Lilah.

Mystery and danger still swirled around Lilah Calhoun's ancestral home. The fabled lost emeralds continued to attract treasure hunters--and at least one dangerous criminal. And they had brought a man unlike any Lilah had ever known.

Maxwell Quartermain was a reserved college professor, more at home in the past than in the present. But from the moment Lilah dragged him from the Atlantic, she found he could make her melt with merest glance--and that troubled her deeply. For Lilah wasn't used to needing anyone as much as she needed Maxwell Quartermain...
I think this one will be my favourite in the series. An A-.

Ahh, Max... So sweet and endearing. Shy and strong, bookish and sexy, he's my favourite kind of hero. I loved how he got so flustered by Lilah, and how he was immediately crazy about her. I enjoyed Lilah, too. I liked her personality, how she was the opposite of hyper, but energetic enough when need be. Oh, and comfortable with her own sexuality, and with using it, though she wasn't cruel with it. Their relationship was sweet, and I mean this in a good way.

I confess, though, that I was a bit uncomfortable with the way the men keep "taking charge" and trying to keep "their women" in the dark. I didn't really see the need to give this characteristic to Max. It's as if it was done in order to show he was a strong guy, but for me, sexism isn't a sign of strenght, but of insecurity.

Oh, and I realize that I don't really enjoy the "past" sections, the little flashbacks from Bianca and Christian's journals. I do enjoy the present-day plot about finding the emeralds (except for the fact that it's a bit too much that the villain is a guy who's obsessed with the necklace. I mean, huh? It's the easy way out, no need to provide a plausible motivation, just make the guy obsessed and insane and presto, instant motivation).

Sounds like I disliked more than I liked, right? But no, the actual love story was so incredible that it compensated for those little niggles.


The Private Eye, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Another Jayne Ann Krentz this weekend: The Private Eye

Josh January--A burned-out, beat-up rogue of a private eye. His last case had nearly killed him ....

Maggie Gladstone--The vibrant, sexy innkeeper who'd read too many detective novels . . . and wanted badly to believe in heroes.

Shrewdly. Josh agreed to investigate the strange goings-on at Maggie's charming bed and breakfast. The case would be a cinch--no heroics necessary. Josh could concentrate on important things like rest, recovery... and seducing tawny-haired Maggie.

He was dead wrong--about the case and about sweet Maggie. If Josh didn't start playing the hero, he'd pay a very high price.
The Private Eye is a 1991 release, from the time when JAK was writing most of my favourite single titles. This one's nice and enjoyable, but nothing all that special. A B.

It's a bit of a cozy mystery, this one, with a world-weary detective who is experiencing burn-out and who finds what he desperately needs when he goes to the inn to investigate what's going on: Maggie and a family. *sigh* I've no idea why I'm such a sucker for this storyline ;-)

I liked both main characters, especially Josh, who was one of those lonely, needy JAK heroes I like so much. Maggie was JAK's trademark cheerful, perky heroines, nothing I haven't read from this author before. They were nice together.

I also enjoyed the secondary characters, the people who were living permanently at the inn and were Maggie's surrogate family. They made for some moments of good comedy.

As for the suspense subplot, it was more a mystery than anything else, and it was itneresting. The villain was much too obvious, but oh, well.


A Man for Amanda (The Calhouns #2)

>> Monday, November 10, 2003

Just as an experiment, I'm going to read all this series in a short period (not quite in a row, that would just be too much). Book #2 is A Man for Amanda.

Amanda Calhoun already has way too much on her plate. She's balancing her work as assistant manager at the Bay Watch hotel with the search for the Calhoun emeralds and with planning her sister C.C.'s wedding. She really has no place in her life for easygoing Harvard-educated cowboy Sloan O' Riley, who's in charge of the renovations necessary to turn her home, The Towers, into a luxury hotel. But love waits for no master plan.
This series is getting better. A Man for Amanda was an improvement over Courting Catherine, basically because I liked the love story much better. A B+.

The relationship between Sloan and Amanda really captured my attention, and as an added bonus, there were plenty of lovely scenes which gave me that nice stomach-clenching sensation. There's one when Sloan gets all jealous and makes a scene because Amanda is going out with someone else that had me sighing, and I'm definitely not someone who finds irrational jealousy attractive.

This story introduces a suspense subplot to the series, and in this case it adds to the story. It's not very distracting, and even though there are a couple of guns floating around, I never really got any sense of danger.


FridayFive questions of the week

>> Friday, November 07, 2003

1. What food do you like that most people hate?

Brussels sprouts. Love them with a little mayonaise.

2. What food do you hate that most people love?

Two biggies: red meat and oranges.

Just to make it clear, I don't like the way red meat tastes; my not eating it has nothing to do with health or ethical reasons, which is what most people think when I mention I don't like the stuff.

3. What famous person, whom many people may find attractive, is most unappealing to you?

Fabio, hands down. I mean, I haven't actually met any people who find him attractive, but for him to get on the covers of so many romance novels many people must have loved him, right?

Oh, and Renee Zellweger. Between the breathy, affected way of speaking and the continuous facial contortions, she irritates the hell out of me.

4. What famous person, whom many people may find unappealing, do you find

He's not internationally famous (yet!), but I really like Nacional football player Angbwa Benoit. I haven't found anyone who finds him even mildly attractive yet.

5. What popular trend baffles you?

Shoes which are almost impossible to walk in, some reality TV shows, the most extreme forms of body modification... and so many others!


The Wizard's Daughter, by Barbara Michaels

The Wizard's Daughter, by Barbara Michaels is the last of this author's historicals that I haven't read lately. After reading Greygallows, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I've had mixed results with these books. Fortunately, The Wizard's Daughter was one of the good ones.

Marianne Ransom, orphaned daughter of a country squire, is rescued from a questionable living on the back streets of London by a mysterious attorney. Adopted by a wealthy duchess, she's told she isn't who she thinks she is and that she has powers she never knew existed. She's told her real father is a renowned magician with great powers, which she's inherited, and several demonstrations seem to bear this out...
Yep, I liked it. I think I definitely prefer Michaels as a contemporary author, but this one was enjoyable. A B.

It had a lot of the sarcastic, witty humour that I thought was missing from Greygallows. I especially enjoyed how the author used the omniscient POV (is that the right term?) to poke fun at Marianne when she's being silly or melodramatic. And Marianne was a much more likeable character than Lucy, too. She had many of the conventionalisms of the time on the surface, but underneath that she was extremely pragmatic.

I thought the book was not very easy to get into, because the first 80 pages or so were much too slow. This was the part where Marianne's circumstances were set up, until the moment she was "rescued" by the duchess. Parts of it were entertaining, but IMO the book would have been better if this section had been tightened.

The action itself was very intriguing, and had me reading late into the night to find out just what had been going on. Looking back, with 20/20 hindsight, yeah, it was pretty obvious who, but I don't think I could ever have guessed the why.

Oh, and a special mention should be made of the vicar. I had my suspicions that he was a spoof of Jane Eyre's St. John, and this was confirmed when he proposed to Marianne, just as romatically as the original St. John :-)


Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Thursday, November 06, 2003

Clouds of Witness is the second book in Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series.

Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt--until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket, and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be--a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt ... a grieving fiancee with suitcase in hand ... and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.
I liked this one better than the first book, Whose Body?. The mystery was better, and it didn't have all politically incorrect stuff that I didn't like about that one.

Clouds of Witness is fascinating as a historical, showing a time when aristocracy still had some importance, but it was quickly fading. The 1920s are (unfortunately) not a really well-explored period in the books I tend to read, so I found many interesting tidbits here, like the way the trials were conducted (some of this I had seen in Agatha Christie books), or the "revolutionary" scene in London.

Lord Peter is very likeable here. He feels more mature, less light-hearted and blithe about what's going on (thought I did like that aspect of his personality elsewhere). This is logical, of course, given that he's fighting for his brother's life.

As for the mystery itself, it was very well done, even if the end result is a little frustrating. I enjoyed the final trial scene, though some of it was a little reiterative, like the long summing-up by the defence of what exactly happened. Most of that we'd already covered a couple of times already, so it only slowed down the book.

I found it strange that the suspense about the Duke's fate is resolved so early. About halfway through the book, Parker and Lord Peter have an alibi for the him. They'd rather not use it unless it's absolutely necessary, so they'll do their best to find the real culprit instead, but the end result is that there's no much doubt that the Duke will be acquitted, one way or another.This takes away much of the urgency of the book, and I would have thought this was something the author would have wanted to keep.

The characterization of the rest of the cast was very good. I enjoyed getting to know Lord Peter's family better, and a couple of the guests at Riddlesdale were priceless! Oh, and something I liked here was how the "other woman" wasn't demonized, but portrayed positively and actively rewarded in the end.

A little interesting detail was how Sayers mostly sees no need to translate the little snippets ( sometimes important snippets!) in French. The assumption seems to be that of course a reader of her books will know at least some rudimentary French! Luckily, I do speak the language, but I thought it was funny.

Now I have a problem, since I'm missing the next couple of books in the series and I don't know when they are getting here. Should I skip them or wait?


Blog template by

Back to TOP