>> Friday, May 30, 2003

Over 30.000 tickets have already been sold for the Nacional - Peñarol derby this Sunday (I'm talking about football here, BTW!). Luckily, I've already bought mine... tickets for the "popular" stands behind the goal, which is where I go, are almost sold out.

For a long time I used to go only to the stands near the official's seats. These are the most expensive, but also the safest (and when I say the most expensive, it's actually very cheap by international standards: my ticket for this, one of the most important games in the season, was about US$ 2).

The popular stands, named Amsterdam and Colombes after the cities in which the Uruguayan National Team won their 2 olympic gold medals in football, are considered a bit dangerous. This is where the barras bravas (hard-core fans) sit, and also where most fights start. Not that this happens often. In the 6 years I've been going to the Amsterdam, I've only seen one "riot". That was in the last Nacional - Peñarol last year. It was a good 50m from where I was sitting, and absolutely nothing happened to me. My sister, though, had her arm splattered with blood from a guy who'd scraped his elbow running away from the fight. I ended up pouring half my beer on her arm to help "sterilize" it!

At work, we're all Nacional fans and we've been preparing ourselves. The office "DJ" spent the whole day playing Nacional fan songs :-)


The Crying Child, by Barbara Michaels

After quite a few years, I reread a book by Barbara Michaels, one of my favourite authors. It was The Crying Child, a contemporary gothic / ghost story.

From the moment she arrived on King's Island, Joanne McMullen knew that her sister's grief over losing her child had driven her dangerously close to madness. Mary just had a third miscarriage, and the loss of her baby is affecting her mentally - she's clinging to the idea of a child out in the woods, who is crying for her and begging for her help But when Joanne heard the same child's voice that her sister had heard wailing in the woods, she knew something terrible was happening!

Jo teams up with her brother in law Ran, and the handsome (but woman-wary) doctor Will Graham, to find out what the crying is. But when the ghostly apparition of a beautiful, sad woman appears, Jo begins to dig into the past of Ran's family, and discovers a web of lies, murder, and terror centering on a lost child...

Wonderful! I'd grade it an A-. Like Wait For What Will Come, I really don't know why it didn't make more of an impression on me when I first read it. I barely remembered it, and some of the things I remembered were actually wrong (for instance, I was convinced that at one point they actually found a real child, crying in the middle of the forest. This never happens. I can't think where I'm taking that scene from).

Geek that I am, I'm always trying to classify authors' books in my mind. Michaels has her "custom dramas", her straight suspense (which have only a suspicion of the supernatural) and finally, a category which I simply call "the ones I like best". In this final category, the characters (usually at least 4) see enough manifestations of the ghost, or whatever supernatural element, that they are persuaded that however unlikely, it is real. The ghost is some kind of reflection of a past event, and the characters have to make an effort to find out what it was that happened... lots of research, in libraries, collections of family papers, etc. TCC belongs in this category, together with other favourites as Ammie Come Home, The Walker in Shadows and House of Many Shadows.

I think what I love best about these books is seeing the diverse group of people working all together against the unknow. Another book that I felt struck a similar chord was a Nora Roberts: Face the Fire. Probably the reason why I liked it more than most people.

As for TCC itself, it was particularly successful in being chilling and a great gothic. I especially liked the final spine-tingling, climactic scene. The solution was a complete surprise to me, and made a lot of sense. The atmosphere, with a fog-bound island and the old house, definitely helped. Jo, the protagonist, was a very likeable character: sensible, smart and compassionate. Some of the other characters could have been better drawn (like Will, her romantic interest) but most were very well done.


Second Wife, by Stephanie James (aka Jayne Ann Krentz)

This weekend I read the next to last new Jayne Ann Krentz in my to-be-read pile. I hope my box gets here soon, or I'll get desperate! This one was Second Wife, written as Stephanie James, a 1986 category from the Born in the USA Harlequin series. The series has 50 books, each set in a different US state, and SW was the Arizona entry. For some reason, this particular gimmick really appeals to me.

Heather Devaney was devastated when Flynn Rammage callously rejected her offer of love. She quit her job at his company and moved without leaving her new address. Eight months later, Flynn has exorcised the demons that had been driving him at the time, and realizes exactly what he threw away. He's changed his mind, and he's decided he wants to take Heather up on her offer. However, when he finds her and proposes, Heather can't be sure if he's not really in the market for just a wife to take care of his young son.
It was ok, but nothing special. I'd grade it a B. The only remarkable thing about it was a hero who grovels like mad, an element I really like. He was a bit too alpha, but he did have to work for Heather to forgive him, so that's fine.

Flynn's four-year-old son is a biggish part of the story, and he was ok-done. Children in romance novels are usually terribly annoying to me, but JAK does kids pretty well.

And I should mention the external conflict. In a word: lame. It played zero part in the story and only provided a small, tense moment near the end. What for? Absolutely nothing. It's like the author had already written the book and her editor had said "Oh, but in this particular line we need a suspense subplot!". It feels that tacked-on. However, what saved it was that it was so irrelevant. It simply wasn't long enough to annoy me.


The Heart's Desire, by Gayle Wilson

>> Wednesday, May 28, 2003

After I mentioned I'd enjoyed Gayle Wilson's short story in the Bride By Arrangement anthology, my friend lent me another book of hers, which she said had a similar wounded tortured hero: The Heart's Desire (published with a Heather Graham novel which didn't tempt me at all).

Emily is a mere soldier's widow, a soldier's daughter. What could she possibly offer the Duke of Avon, a man with who's disfigurement isn't the leg that doesn't work properly, but the soul that's been so terribly hurt? Dominic Maitland knows the true worth of Emily isn't in a title or wealth, but in a heart that's his heart's desire.
This book was boring. It was torture to go through it, and I finally had to resort to skimming the last 30 pages in order to finish it. This was a 300 page book, but it took me almost a week to read it.

It was extremely frustrating, full of little misunderstandings, those where a character will say one thing and the other will think she means something else and get offended, again, and again, and again. It's a valid device, and when used sparingly, it's not something that will make me dislike a book, but here it was ridiculous. The author relied to much on this.

I also didn't like how there was an almost soap-operaish feeling to the story. Conflict after conflict... you think they're settled ("I love you" - "Me too") and off they go again, thinking the other pities them of married them for duty. Very tiresome.

It didn't help that I wasn't too enamoured of the characters, either. Emily ended up being a watering pot and a ninny, nothing like the brave soldier she was supposed to be, and Dominic felt unnecessarily tortured and wounded, determined to be a martyr. And he spent half of the book on his back, beaten up and/or wounded.

There were also certain details, like how he kept visiting his mistress when he was already crazy about Emily (to be fair, they weren't really involved at the time), which I didn't like. There was a particular scene which was a huge turn-off: he goes to his mistress' house with the express intention of breaking things off with her, but he has sex with her before he tells her. That was yucky in so many ways!!

To conclude, I've liked some of Gayle Wilson's books, but this one didn't work at all for me. Even elements I've liked in other books of hers, like the wounded war hero, felt overwrought here. A D+.


Seducing Mr. Heywood, by Jo Manning

>> Tuesday, May 27, 2003

I read my first e-book last week. I'm not too sure if I could technically call it an "e-book", since it was just a .pdf file and I had to read it on my computer, but well, it was a non-paper book, so it counts. It was a pretty good experience. I still prefer regular books as a format, but I think I'd probably adapt very quickly to some kind of portable e-book reader. I'll have to start saving!

The book was Seducing Mr. Heywood, by Jo Manning. I was a bit doubtful about reading it, since I thought the author behaved very badly online at one point, but luckily, I think I was able to simply forget that and appreciate the book on its own merits.
The thrice-widowed Lady Sophia Rowley arrives in Yorkshire after the death of her last husband, the Baron Rowley, to claim her two young sons only to find that the local vicar, Charles Heywood, has been named the children's legal guardian. The first meeting between Charles and Sophia turns out to be quite memorable for both parties when, stunned by Sophia's beauty, Charles trips and falls; splashes his glass of sherry all over Sophia; and tears her gown, exposing one of Sophia's finest attributes.

Once her initial anger at Charles fades, Sophia, who is still smarting from the conge given to her by her latest London lover, decides to seduce the extremely handsome Charles as a means of whiling away the time while she is stuck in the country, but the more time Sophia spends with Charles, the harder it is to determine who exactly is seducing whom.

When I saw that the heroine in this book was a woman who'd had lovers and cheated on her husband, who'd abandoned her children... a real, honest-to-god imperfect woman, I was elated. I was ready to love the book to pieces.

Authors always cop out, and the supposed "bad girl" heroines end up being virgins, who've done whatever "bad thing" they've done only to save their fathers / siblings / orphaned nephews or some such rot. Not Sophia. She had been victimized by her fathir at first, yes, but she'd really spent the last 10 years apart from her children, enjoying herself by taking lovers.. and she did enjoy herself. It was very refreshing.

I loved to see her paired with Charles; she was the rake, he the almost virgin who got seduced. And Charles was so nice and good and non-judgemental that even being an agnostic and anti-clericalist, I was perfectly ok with having a vicar as a hero.

So far so good, likeable hero and heroine, beautiful, exciting potential conflict, a pretty setting... but no, the author couldn't leave good enough alone and had to start throwing external conflicts at them. First her horribly evil father with his friend in tow, and a plot to kill her children, then a putrid sore throat epidemic, followed by Charles quest to find Sophia's old governess... they kept piling on. Maybe one of all these distractions would have been ok, but with all this going on we practically didn't have space to see Sophia and Charles interact. Their potentially interesting relationship ended up in the background most of the time.

Plus, I wasn't completely happy with the author's style. I don't know how to explain it very well, but it felt a bit amateurish at times.

The actual story would be a C for me, but I'll grade the book a B, simply because of how much I enjoyed the novelty of a heroine who really did deserve her bad rep.


>> Friday, May 23, 2003

Did anyone watch ER's first episode of the season? The one where Romano's arm gets chopped off by a helicopter? I think it was broadcast last September in the US, but we only saw it here last week. Luckily, I knew it was coming (having been spoiled online), but it was really Ewww!

Then last night they showed it again in the following episode... you know, in the "Previously on ER" part at the beginning. The minute I saw the helicopter I covered my eyes, so I just had to endure the horrible sound. My idiot sister, though, who had been caught by surprise last episode and had been really grossed out, watched it all again.

I think we might have to choose something a bit less gruesome for a sister-sister activity. She usually ends up with tears in her eyes.


The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Wednesday, May 21, 2003

I sometimes miss high school just because I had access to an excellent library then. One of the authors I discovered there was Dorothy L. Sayers. I read everything they had by her and loved it. Earlier this year I decided to reread her, so I ordered copies of her books. The first one arrived last week: The Documents in the Case, written in collaboration with Robert Eustace.

The grotesquely grinning corpse in the Devonshire shack was a man who died horribly -- with a dish of mushrooms at his side.His body contained enough death-dealing muscarine to kill 30 people. Why would an expert on fungi feast on a large quantity of this particularly poisonous species? A clue to the brilliant murderer, who had baffled the best minds in London, was hidden in a series of letters and documents that no one seemed to care about, except the dead man's son.
After having just read a column which discussed gimmicks, TDITC was interesting to read. The gimmick here was that the book consisted entirely of a collection of documents, mostly letters, but also a few "statements", newspaper articles, depositions, etc., recounting what was going on both before and after the murder.

The reason this worked was because the book wasn't just the gimmick; the murder mystery told was interesting and engaging (if a bit too easy to solve, but that wasn't the point, I think). Plus, having everything in first person POV allowed for many different voices, something I enjoyed.

Together with more trivial happenings, there was an awful lot of metaphysical speculation... the nature of life, theological questions, etc. This was fascinating most of the times, but it sometimes ended up being a bit too much, too complicated, especially some of the more scientific stuff near the end. This was a bit unnecessarily involved. Still, I loved to see a bit of what was worrying people in the late 1920s. Some of it feels pretty contemporary and actually, I identified a bit with Munting and his preoccupation with all those subjects. The main reason why I disliked the dead man and his son was their ridicule of "all that metaphysical twaddle".

A final note, and this is something completely outside the book, and for which I didn't grade down: the back blurb is one of the worst examples of false advertising I've seen lately:
"... [the documents] concealed a clue to the brilliant murderer who baffled the best minds in London, and might have outfoxed LORD PETER WIMSEY as well."
The capital letters are sic, BTW. Ok, fine, all well and good, except that this is not a Lord Wimsey mystery; he doesn't show up at all here. Grr, yes, it doesn't say explicitly that it is, but it strongly sugests it. The publisher obviously wanted people reading the back cover to think it's a Wimsey and to buy the book because of it. I'd write Avon about it, except that this is a 1968 edition, so whoever's responsible is probably long gone!


Going Overboard, by Vicki Lewis Thompson

>> Tuesday, May 20, 2003

One of the books received in the box I mentioned was Going Overboard, by Vicki Lewis Thompson, from Harlequin's Love and Laughter line.

When her pregnant sister invites Andi Lombard to join her husband and her on a houseboat vacations, she doesn't know that her workaholic brother-in-law Chance is invited too.
I'm always a bit distrustful of the Love and Laughter line. Good comedy isn't easy to do, and books in this line often feel like they're trying too hard. They try to base their humour on contrived situations and on making people (usually the heroine, grrrr) look stupid, and this is painful to me, not funny. To be fair though, there have been some gems, like Jennifer Crusie's wonderful Anyone But You.

Going Overboard wasn't up to the level of Anyone But You, but it was good. No making the heroine look stupid here, just to get a few cheap laughs. It was light-hearted in tone, but I don't think it was trying for outright laughs. I ended it with a smile on my face, and this is a good thing. My grade for it: a B.

It had the author's trademark (I've only read 3 of her books, so I'm guilty of inductive reasoning here!) breezy, colloquial writing style and modern characters, which is something I very much like of hers. It's also a romance between a free spirit heroine (who, I repeat, is not portrayed as a stupid klutz) and a stuffed-shirt hero, which is a storyline that works very well for me when done right.

Add to this a nice and original setting (a houseboat on a Nevada lake), a lovely relationship between the hero and his brother and the heroine and her sister, and a very satisfactory resolution for the fact that Andi and Chance lived in separate cities, and we've got a very nice, enjoyable book.

It did, of course, have a couple of problems. First, Andi and Chance's relationship wasn't terribly well developed, probably because of the book's length. At 187 pages it was almost short-story long. A few more pages developing their relationship would have been nice.

Second, the love scenes. The foreplay was steamy, and so have been the author's love scenes in her Blaze books, but here all we got was a light summary of the actual act... almost "waves crashing on the surf" quality. Doesn't work for me.


Last week I received part of the contents of an M-Bag full of books from the US. The other part? Since one of the boxes inside it got banged up and "burst at the seam", according to my friend who'd sent it, it went back to her and had to be sent again. Argghhh!!

I'm really starting to think that the Uruguayan mail is better than its US counterpart. I notice that when I trade books with someone there (my Trade Pages here, in case someone's interested), and we both send it the cheapest way available, I pay less postage and my books get there much, much sooner. Basically, the cheapest shipping here is Reduced Priority Air, and it's cheaper than sending something using surface mail from the US. So, when I trade with Americans, they usually get their books before 2 weeks, while I have to wait up to 3 months.


>> Monday, May 19, 2003

On the personal news' front, I've had a sort-of job change. I'm still working for the same organization, but I'm temporarily filling in for someone who's on leave at the department where I used to work. I love my present job, so I can't say I'm too ecstatic about the change, but since it's only for a little while, I'll be ok. At least, I hope it is for a little while. My new boss (who used to be my ex-boss ;-) mentioned today, while talking of a completely different subject, that "There's nothing as permanent as what's supposed to be temporary". I hope there was no hidden meaning there!

There are some better news, too. My contract was supposed to be over at the end of May, but it now appears very probable that it'll be renewed. I had good hopes that it would be, but it's a relief to hear that it's "99% certain". There's always that other 1% though... It would be pretty terrible to become unemployed. I might have mentioned this already, but the unemployment rate in Uruguay for women up to 25 years of age (like yours truly), is hovering near 50%.


Midnight is a Lonely Place, by Barbara Erskine

And the last one was another supposed Barbara Michaels read-alike: Midnight is a Lonely Place, by Barbara Erskine.

Following a breakup with her boyfriend, poet Jon Bevan, Kate Kennedy leaves London for the solitude of a seaside cottage in Essex. The cottage belongs to the Lindsey family: Roger, Diana, and their children--Greg, who is a painter, and teenagers Patrick and Allison. Greg resents vacating the cottage for Kate and when, soon after her arrival, Kate notices strange phenomena in the cottage, she blames him.

Gradually, however, she connects the strange events with Allison's digging around what seems to be an archaeological site in the dunes. This is an ancient grave, the site where a Roman named Marcus was responsible for the deaths of his wife, Claudia, and her lover, Nion, a Druid prince. Allison has unleashed all the energies of love, hate, obsession, and rage among these three. Violence ensues. Meanwhile, mirroring the fatal love triangle of ancient times, Kate must cope with her growing feelings of attraction toward Greg.

This time, the rec wasn't exactly right. This one was much bloodier and gory, more like a horror movie than the modern gothic I was looking for.

I did like most of it, and my grade for it is a B. The atmosphere and setting were outstanding, the characters extremely well-drawn and the plot intriguing.

There were some repetitive elements though. Kate senses someone... a woman! Turns around and she's alone. Or she suddenly smells wet earth and finds patches of it around the house, swarming with maggots. Or she's at her computer and for some reason she automatically writes a curse. Each of these happens a few times, and it all felt too drawn-out. Still, it was all very chilling and creepy, which I assume was the effect the author was looking for.

The "action" scenes were probably among the best I've ever read. One of them, for instance, was some 70 pages long, and it never lost me for a second. It takes some talented writing to keep a reader on the edge of the seat for so long and never lose momentum! When action scenes aren't very well written, I tend to skim and miss most of what's going on. Here, however, I read every word. It might have been a bit too long, though, since I felt pretty drained by the time it was over. It was such a relief when everyone was finally safe (?) inside the house.

Unfortunately, the author dropped the ball and ruined everything with the ending, which was pretty awful. First, it was way too abrupt (my reaction: "That's it? THAT'S IT?? After all she's put me through, this is supposed to be a satisfying resolution??"). Second, it was lame. Very lame. *ponderous tone*: True love triumphs over evil! Oh, give me a break!

Even if I were willing to accept this as a good ending, the problem was that I didn't feel that Claudia and Nion (the Roman wife and her druid lover) had such a great and pure love. She was cheating on her husband, a husband who loved her, and this wasn't the first time either (it is mentioned that one of the reasons they'd left Rome had been because there had been other men there). I really didn't feel that much antipathy for Marcus, the wronged husband. Well, I didn't until he started murdering and possessing people in the present-day story!

Finally, when the contemporary triangle had its final confrontation, I had more or less the same feelings, and...


...I hated that Kate finally stayed with the neurotic wimp!


Test of Time, by Jayne Ann Krentz

I am determined to finish posting about my vacation reads today. Only 2 to go, so it's feasible!

Next-to-last, yet another Jayne Ann Krentz: Test of Time.

Experiencing nagging doubts during her wedding ceremony to Garrett, Katy is heartbroken when she learns that the man of her dreams is less interested in love than he is in mutual compatibility and escaping his unhappy past.
So-so; a B-. The book started out very irritating, especially Katy. What was she thinking, not talking to Garrett before they'd got married, to make sure both were looking for the same things in their marriage? She came off as a real idiot, because she'd really acted as if she wanted the same things he did.

Garrett, on the other hand, was much too complacent, and it was good to see him lose some of that patronizing self-assurance. Still, the poor guy really only assumed stuff Katy had made him believe, so I don't think we could blame him all that much.

The book improved, however, about the time when Katy became sensibe again. It ended up being quite nice. The suspense subplot was pretty dumb and perfunctory, but the rest was ok. Nothing special.

One thing that bothered me were the horse analogies and similes. "She was like a shy filly", "He [whatever] like a stallion", and all that. Many authors use them, but for some reason, they always make me uncomfortable. I find them very distasteful. It's strange, but I don't mind when they use other animal imagery, but horses seem to be a turn-off. Just me, I guess *shrugs*.


Death in Zanzibar, by MM Kaye

>> Friday, May 16, 2003

Another vacation book was Death in Zanzibar, by MM Kaye.

What would you do if your passport was stolen and a murder weapon was hidden in your hotel room when you were on a much-anticipated trip to Zanzibar? Would you go to the police and postpone your vacation? or would you do what Dany Ashton did, which was to panic, and take a seemingly easier route out in impersonating a drunken man's secretary, 'borrowing' her passport, and raveling yourself more deeply in the web of the murderer?

To Dany Ashton it seems like the offer of the holiday of a lifetime when her stepfather invites her to stay on the strange and beautiful "Isle of Cloves". But even before her plane takes off, Dany's delight has faded as she finds herself at the centre of a frightening mystery. On her arrival at Kivulimi, the 'House of Shade', her unease turns to terror when she realizes that among the house-guests is a dangerous and ruthless murderer. Dany doesn't know who to trust . . .

This one was a C+. It was definitely my least favourite of Kaye's Death Abroad books. Some elements were really excellent, but there were some which were very problematic to me.

The setting and atmosphere were the best part of the book. Kaye is great at this, making you breath the same air her characters are breathing. My favourite thing was probably the description of the long plane trip from London to Zanzibar, with its half-dozen layovers and its ambience of almost - camaraderie between the passengers.

The mystery itself was also interesting and engaging, though again, not her best. And the solution, as in Death in Cyprus, was almost-cheating, but not quite.

What bothered me here was something that is present in the other books in the series, but in a much lesser degree: the old-fashioned, politically incorrect for today, colonialist, patronizing world-view. Female characters were foolish and grating, and males were very condescending to them. And Dany, our heroine, was so wishy-washy! And sorry, she was pretty stupid, I'm afraid. The natives (except for Sayyid Omar) were dismissed as stupid and less advanced, and there were even quite a few barbs directed at an Italian character, simply for being Italian (as someone of dual citizenship, both Uruguayan and Italian, this was truly beyond the pale!)

And all the stuff about the "Reds"... it was a valid concern in 1959, when this book was written, but it hasn't aged well. It was all done too heavy-handedly, as in the final scene, where the villain is confessing all, after being administered a truth serum (BTW, the day I read this I'd just read this article (link in Spanish), discussing whether using truth serums counts as torture, and since my opinion is that it does, this bothered me greatly). In this final scene, at one point, the villain explains that they need an island to start exporting revolution, or something like that: "... but the snag is going to be the Zanzibaris. They're too damned easygoing. They'll have to be educated... taught to kill. And to hate. That's the important thing. Hate... to hate... to hate." Sorry, but that sounds like stupid, simplistic propaganda to me.


Corporate Affair, by Jayne Ann Krentz

I've got only 4 more books to post about from my summer vacation, and I'm trying to finish with this. First: Corporate Affair, by Jayne Ann Krentz. This one's a 1982 series romance, book # 1in the Silhouette Desire line. Have I already mentioned that JAK is the only author I trust enough to read her early 80s books without knowing anything about them?

Businesswoman Kalinda Brady, arrives at a small skying Colorado town intending to get her revenge on her former fiancé, by leading him on and then rejecting him. Before she can do that, she meets Rand Alistair, who owns a small gallery in town, and seems to be just a laid-back small business owner. He manages to convince her to forgo her petty revenge, and they have what Kalinda considers a one-night-stand.

She returns to Denver and to her business the following morning, and is surprised to hear that her ex intends to force a hostile takeover of her company. She's even more surprised when Rand, who isn't at all what he seemed, comes to the rescue.
Even though this was very much a blast from the past, it was a good one: my grade is a B+.

Why a "blast from the past"? Simple, it was full of the corporate sharks and hostile takeovers fashionable at the time, and man, the protagonists dressed accordingly! At one point Rand even wears a light-colored suit with a satin bow tie!

This was obviously a very early JAK, and it showed in the writing style, especially in the dialogue tags (there were practically no "he said"s. It was all "he rasped", "he grated", "he intoned". It was almost funny). It was also pretty obvious in the sheer amount of exclamation marks used!! She's certainly polished her writing since then, believe me. Anyway, though all this made me smile, it didn't really bother me much :-)

The book also showed its age in that we didn't get the hero's POV. This didn't bother me much either, because Rand was such an easygoing, good-humoured, nice hero. I didn't really need to see his POV to forgive him stuff, like it sometimes happens with very alpha heros. With Rand, he behaved so well there was nothing to forgive.

Rand and Kalinda (I hated that name!) had a lovely relationship, though Kalinda sometimes was a bit too much of a damsel in distress. I loved how they mostly worked together and how Rand respected her business abilities and didn't insist in dominating her, but in cooperating.

As hard as it may sound to believe, I've found older series books much more daring than newer ones. Heroines didn't have to be virgins back then, and they could even have real careers.. I like that very much.


Heaven, Texas, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

After reading It Had To Be You, all the reservations I had about reading Susan Elizabeth Phillips' next entry in that series, Heaven Texas, practically vanished. I knew I'd hate everyone and everything in it for the first 100 pages, and only then would I start just loving it. Ergo, I'd grit my teeth for a couple of hours and then be able to start enjoying myself. I was pretty right!

Come heck or high water, Gracie Snow is determined to track down the legendary ex-jock Bobby Tom Denton and drag him back home to Heaven, Texas, to begin shooting his first motion picture. But taming an egotistical cowboy in a '57 T-Bird might be more than this prim Ohio wallflower can handle.

Despite his dazzling good looks and killer charm, Bobby Tom has reservations about being movie star -- and no plans to cooperate with the bossy little virgins whom he can't get off his mind or out of his life. Instead, the hellraising playboy decides to make her over from plain Janet Texas wildcat.

But nothing's more dangerous than a wildcat with an angel's heart in a town too small for a bad boy to hide. And all hell breaks loose when two unforgettable people discover love, laughter, passion -- and a match that can be made only in Heaven.

Throughout the first part of the book, I was driven crazy by Bobby Tom, and how he was being so unreasonable, determined to indulge his every whim even if this meant Gracie would lose her job. I also hated how everything was tacky, tacky, and how BT treated women so condescendingly. And my first thought when we met Gracie was: "God, no! Not another 30-year-old virgin!"

Only after they got settled in Telarosa did I really start having fun. And I did, very much. SEP even made excellent use of Gracie's virginity, making it a bit o f a running joke. However, some things were a bit icky to me, like when BT tells Gracie that since he's the expert in their relationship, the way to go is for her to accept that her body is his.

I couldn't believe how much I ended up liking BT, in spite of his arrogance. I loved that he realized how lucky he was and that he was determined to share with other people. It was awful to see how everyone took advantage of him, but I understood why he didn't send them all to hell. My favourite part of the book was the ending, when he realizes he loves Gracie and goes crazy trying to prevent her from leaving him. I so like a good grovel! ;-)

The secondary storyline was great, but it could have used a bit more development. That's one of the few things that didn't completely work. The other was that SEP didn't succeed in making me like the town of Telarosa and its people (something I'm guessing she was trying for, since BT and Gracie decide to live there, in the end). I found the townspeople small-minded, judgemental and much too ready to use BT without giiving him anything in return. And the way they'd all ostracized Way Sawyer's mother! That was so awful!

My final grade for this is a B+. It's almost an A-, but the townspeople and the way "women" in general are portrayed, mostly gold-diggers desparate to get married to BT, keep it from being a real keeper.


The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Based on a very intriguing review, I decided to read Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," Milo laments. "[T]here's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." This bored, bored young protagonist who can't see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the sudden and curious appearance of a tollbooth in his bedroom. Since Milo has absolutely nothing better to do, he dusts off his toy car, pays the toll, and drives through. What ensues is a journey of mythic proportions, during which Milo encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull.

As Milo heads toward Dictionopolis he meets with the Whether Man ("for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be"), passes through The Doldrums (populated by Lethargarians), and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). The brilliant satire and double entendre intensifies in the Word Market, where after a brief scuffle with Officer Short Shrift, Milo and Tock set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Anyone with an appreciation for language, irony, or Alice in Wonderland-style adventure will adore this book for years on end.
I found it to be a delightful book, one I think I could reread many times and always find new things to enjoy. I especially loved the wordplay, the strange characters Milo meets and the wonderful drawings.

Even though the story was actually a kind of quest, I was never compelled to keep reading just to find out what was going to happen. It's more a book you savour, chapter by chapter. My grade is an A-.


After The Kiss, by Karen Ranney

A February read: After the Kiss (excerpt), by Karen Ranney.

It all began innocently enough.

Margaret is a proper widow, living penuriously and quietly in the Downs until she is forced to sell one of three scandalous books she discovered. Michael is the Earl of Moncrief, forced by circumstances and a profligate family to marry for money. When the two meet, the attraction is mutual and alarming for both of them.

Add a mystery involving the lurid Journals of Augustin X, a meddling mother, three sisters looking for husbands, a starchy, disapproving butler, and the plot is complete. Except, of course, for the bargain that Michael proposes, After the Kiss.

This was a B. An interesting book, but it had some sylistic problems that made me enjoy it less. The main problem was similar to the one I had with Jamie Denton's Sleeping With The Enemy: dialogues too drawn out, with too much internal monologue and description in between, which made it impossible to easily follow who said what and in response to what.

Another stylistic problem was that, to change POV in the middle of a scene, the author would insert a break (leave a little blank space, which IMO usually indicates a change of scene or of location). Maybe that's more "correct" than headhopping, but I much prefer the latter. Every time I ran into a break I'd mentally prepare myself for another scene, and had to bring myself back when I realized we were in the same place, just inside someone else's head.

I felt the book had way too many love scenes, and that they were too long (never thought I'd complain of that!) They were quite sensuous, but I ended up skimming them.

Apart from all that, I liked the story and the characters. I especially enjoyed how Michael finally decided to put his mother in her place and stop her from spending the money she didn't have. I usually don't get it when people in romance novels decide they have to marry a wealthy man / heiress, just so that their relatives can continue living in opulent luxury (not just comfortably, mind you. These people need to live in a huge mansion, with 248 servants and buy 68 ball gowns per season, so the heroine / hero has to sacrifice so that they can). Anyway, the road Michael took would be much more sensible. Just learn to live within your means!!


Undercover Princess, by Suzanne Brockmann

Undercover Princess, by Suzanne Brockmann.


With those words, Princess Katherine Wyndham went from sensible sister to secret agent. Her mission: to locate her brother -- the long-lost crown prince. Her cover: nanny for handsome tycoon Trey Sutherland.

Caring for Trey’s kids came more naturally than any royal duty. And falling for the brooding widower was effortless. But Katherine had always been the plain-Jane princess. Was it too much to hope that he could want a happily-ever-after with her... especially once he discovered who she really was?

This, incredibly enough, was a B+. I don't like royalty romances, I don't like supermom nanny heroines and I don't like those gimmicky continuity series Harlequin is so fond of, but I enjoyed this one. But then, I like Brockmann's writing so much that I'd probably enjoy reading her version of a phone book.

The gimmick about the princesses trying to find their abducted brother didn't interest me in the least (so I'll not be buying the rest of the series, thank you very much), but thankfully, it was given minimum space, just a reason for the (very contrived, I'm afraid) setup and a small conflict near the end. The suspense subplot was just as perfunctory.

This meant most of the book was devoted to Kathy and Trey and the development of their relationship and the one between them and Trey's kids. This is what Brockmann does best, and what made me like this book. I almost had tears in my eyes when Dougie finally started talking to his dad, and I was pretty fond of Stacy.

There was a lot of chemistry between Kathy and Trey, and their love scenes were wonderfully steamy.

As much as I like Brockmann's latest books, I wish she'd get rid of the SEALs and go back to writing straight romance.


>> Thursday, May 15, 2003

Today I received a card from this girl who went to school with me, thanking me for the wedding present I'd sent her. The card was from her (who we'll call María Rodríguez) and her new husband (say, Juan Pérez?), and they signed:

Juan Pérez
María Rodríguez de Pérez

This is a custom that makes me really mad. "de" means "of", as in "belonging to". It used to be very common for married women here to sign like that, but lately I've been seeing that people my age have stopped doing it. Most of my married girlfriends have kept their own names, and their husbands have thought it the most natural thing in the world.


Crystal Flame, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Another of my February vacation reads: Crystal Flame, by Jayne Anne Krentz. This is one of her futuristic / alternate reality books, some of which I've very much enjoyed (see for instance Sweet Starfire, Amaryllis or Orchid).

Kalena has been trained as a assassin. Her mission is to kill the man behind the destruction of her family's House, the House of the Harvest Ice. She can not be free of her familial obligations until she kills him.

The first step is to enter into a marriage contract with a man called Fire Whip. Neither one knows that their lives are in danger from the people who are closest to them.

This one was a C+, like The Ties That Bind. BTW, these two are my lowest-graded JAK books so far.

I didn't much enjoy it, but it wasn't bad, so it gets a passing grade. The problem was that it was all about males vs. females, and though in the end the verdict was that neither is more powerful or more important than the other, I didn't much like the whole power-play process through which we got to that answer.

Plus, unlike JAK's other futuristics, this one felt cheesy and the philosophical stuff sounded like mumbo-jumbo. Usually, it makes more sense ;-)


Phantom Waltz, by Catherine Anderson

During my vacation I read Phantom Waltz (excerpt), by Catherine Anderson. I'd read Annie's Song and it had been a so-so read for me, but I was willing to see if her style felt less manipulative and preachy in a contemp.

One glance. That's all it takes. Wealthy rancher Ryan Kendrick falls hard—and fast—for lovely Bethany Coulter. A beguiling mix of sass and shyness, naiveté and maturity, she shares his passion for horses, has a great sense of humor, and can light up a room with her beautiful smile. She's absolutely perfect—in every way but one....

A long-ago barrel-racing accident has left Bethany confined to a wheelchair. In the years since, she has known both betrayal and heartbreak—and vowed never to open her heart to a man again. She has even accepted the possibility that she'll never be able to enjoy a healthy intimate relationship—or have children of her own. But there's something about handsome Ryan Kendrick. Something that makes her believe she can overcome every obstacle. Something that makes her believe in lifelong, lasting love....

This was a B-. A very sweet book, too sweet for me, actually. IMO, it verged on saccharine.

I like nice heroes and I'm not a big fan of the cruel alpha mule, but Ryan was too much, too perfect! Kind, handsome, sexy, a millionaire, plus he instantly decides he loves Bethany and is ready to commit to her. No conflicting feelings, no doubts about whether he'll be able to handle it, nothing. And always so reasonable and tolerant: I couldn't believe he didn't get angry when that little twit Bethan insisted on sharing their sexual problems (after 1 time, mind you) with people she barely knew, instead of talking to him.

Thing is, I like a little conflict, and there wasn't muc here. At over 400 pages, the book was much too long. Luckily, there wasn't much "I'm not good enough for you" on Bethany's part, but there were long stretches where nothing much was going on. For instance, that long part where their feelings were settled, they had decided to get married already and it was all about Bethany getting used to life on the ranch. Bo-ring!

Another thing that bothered me was what seemed to be the underlying attitude in this book. I don't know how to explain, but it was an old-fashioned "We protect our womenfolk here" kind of thing. Not that I don't like somewhat protective heroes, but here it was almost a sexist thing. As I said, it felt old fashioned and preachy, and I'm not really into that.

I've only criticized so far, so it looks like I hated this, when I didn't. I enjoyed the book for the most part, so I'd say it was ok, even if I almost went into diabetic shock reading it.


Christmas Revels, by Mary Jo Putney

I've just finished an Anthology which includes 5 short stories by Mary Jo Putney. The title is Christmas Revels, and it includes a new contemporary short story and the reissues of 4 historical stories. All of them are Christmas-themed stories. It might seem strange that I'm reading them at this time of the year, but remember that I'm in the southern hemisphere, so the weather's pretty cold right now!

Jenny Lyme and Greg Marino were minor characters in The Spiral Path, and we didn't see them interact with each other. In this novella, we discover that they had been lovers more than ten years earlier when working on a movie, but their lives had gone in separate directions. Now Jenny needs Greg's help to save her village's community centre, and so he flies to England to spend Christmas with her. The attraction between them is as strong as ever, and they are unable to stay out of each other's arms. This time, though, is it just another holiday fling, or can they make a future together?
This one was a B. On the plus side, I found the info about the mummers' play they were putting on absolutely fascinating, and the setting was charming. I also liked both characters, both realistic modern people with interesting careers, and both so heart-breakingly lonely! On the minus side, though, their romance felt rushed. I know, they were supposed to have half-fallen in love already all those years ago, so this wasn't supposed to be so quick, but, what can I say? I didn't completely buy it.

Major Jack Howard has returned from the wars because he has unexpectedly inherited an earldom. Unwilling to comply with his great-aunt the countess's dictates as to how an earl should dress and behave, especially since he knows very well that she resents the fact that he has inherited the title, he jumps on the first stagecoach out of London. En route to its destination, he gets drunk and is mistakenly left behind at a stop... where he is found by a young woman expecting her brother's friend Captain Jack Howard. Meg had high hopes that Captain Jack would fall in love with her sister Phoebe, but finds herself falling in love with Major Jack instead. The mistaken identity ensues since Jack is too drunk to realise that Meg has the wrong Jack Howard, and soon he is in the welcoming warmth of a loving family for the first time in his life.
A B- story, and another one that felt a bit rushed in the romance department. It was sweet, and the idea of Meg taking home the wrong guy was nice, but it ended up being just a slightly above-average story.

This is a sequel to The Rake. Ally's former fiancé, and the man who broke her heart and sent her running away from her family, was left lonely and devastated at the end of the book, for he really had loved Ally and he had to live not only with the knowledge that he had lost her through his own fault, but also the guilt of knowing that it was his careless words which had sent her fleeing from her home and into hiding. Miserable and unable to bear the joy of Christmas all around him, Lord Randolph travels to Italy. There, he meets Elizabeth Walker, an unfashionable woman old enough at thirty-something to be considered unmarriageable. Yet she interests him in a way that no-one else has ever before. Can these two lonely people overcome the differences between them to find a future together?
This one was my favourite of the bunch: an A. The timeline was just as short as in the previous stories, but somehow, here it was completely believable that these two would fall in love. I especially loved Randolph, and found him very endearing. He was so lonely... *sigh* Plus, the setting (Napoli) was wonderful.

Nicole, a French émigrée of good family working as a seamstress is falsely accused of theft by her employer. She is fired, without references, and all her money confiscated. As she contemplates the very few options open to her, she is mistaken for a prostitute by two gentlemen, who buy her as a present for their friend Sir Philip Selbourne. Can Nicole sell herself to survive? Would Philip want a barely-willing sacrifice in any case? What will Nicole do, alone and penniless at Christmas?
A C+. Nice, sweet story, but again, it felt much too short and the love story was very, very rushed. Even more than the other stories, actually. Even though it had the potential to be a terribly poignant story, it didn't succeed.

James, Lord Falconer, is very ugly. He knows, because his father always told him so, and an accident when he was a child made him even more so. Now that he is an adult and inherited his father's estates, he always wears a hooded cape so that no-one can see him. His neighbour is a gambler and in debt to James. When James hears that Gardsley is about to sell his beautiful daughter to a pox-ridden old man, he offers to take Ariel in cancellation of Gardsley's debt to him. But he cannot bear to allow a young woman as lovely as Ariel to see his ugly face, so he hides himself from her... until Ariel decides that she wants to get to know her husband. Can she get past his scars, mental as well as physical, to make this a marriage of love as well as expediency?
My second favourite here: a B+. This is obviously a Beauty and the Beast story, and it's a lovely one. You can really feel James' pain, and Ariel is nice, if too perfect. I especially enjoyed that she married him for her own sake, resisting her father's manipulations. Only bad thing was that the ending was a bit of an easy way out.

The average grade for these stories would be a B, but I'll give it a B+, simply because the stories were so consistent in terms of quality.


Witchcraft, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Witchcraft, by Jayne Anne Krentz.

Mystery writer Kimberly Sawyer received a single blood-red rose with a needle thrust into its heart -- and she was terrified. Then, just as she remembered Darius Cavenaugh's promise to help her anytime, anywhere, he appeared at her door. How had he known she needed him? Was it the deep, intuitive intimacy of a soul mate . . . or witchcraft?
This was a B-, definitely not one of JAK's best efforts.

I liked the fact that it was the heroine who had commitment issues here. I really understood where Kim was coming from, why she didn't want to need anyone, and I felt she changed too quickly and easily. Also, I thought Darius was out of line with what he did aboug her grandparents. I liked that until the end she tells him that what he did was wrong, even though she forgives him.

Darius was a bit too high-handed and arrogant for me. I didn't like him much, actually, and I enjoyed seeing him grovel. And a nit: I've no idea how to pronounce his last name ,Cavenaugh, which is what Kim called him all the time. It felt weird.

The witchcraft thing was a bit lame, IMO. JAK apparently wasn't much good with suspense subplots in her first books.


>> Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Cute headline!

Microsoft admits iLoo was a load of crap
May 13 2003 at 06:03PM
Seattle, Washington - Microsoft admitted on Tuesday last week's unveiling of a toilet with high-speed Internet access was a hoax concocted by its British division.


Scandal, by Amanda Quick

Scandal, by Amanda Quick

From a stately country house in Hampshire to the dazzling drawing rooms of London Society, comes an exquisite tale of an elfin beauty, a vengeful lord, and a sweet love that is sheer poetry.

With her reputation forever tarnished by a youthful indiscretion, lovely Emily Faringdon is resigned to a life of spinsterhood, until she embarks on an unusual correspondence and finds herself falling head over heals in love. Sensitive, intelligent, and high-minded, her noble pen-pal seems to embody everything Emily has ever dreamed of in a man. But the mysterious Earl of Blade is not at all what he seems.

Driven by dark, smoldering passions and a tragic secret buried deep within his soul, Blade has all of London cowering at his feet, but not Emily... never Emily. For even as she surrenders to his seductive charms, she knows the real reason for his amorous wit. And she knows that she must reach the heart of his golden-eyed dragon before the avenging demons of their entwined pasts destroy the only love she has ever known...

This was the other AQ that I'd read in 1993. It's excellent too, a B+.

What I liked best here was how Quick dealt with having Emily in love with Simon the entire time and him knowing it. I don't usually like this, but it was excellently done in this case.

Emily was great, not really as naive and oblivious (especially in regards to her family and how they used her) as she appeared to be at the beginning. I loved how she was so sensible about Simon's intentions, and many situations which seemed ripe for a Big Misunderstanding. As for Simon, it was great to see how he softened and became so much more reasonable about his revenge. As it was, only those who really did deserve it were punished, and very fittingly at that.


Ghost of a Chance, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Since I haven't been reading much lately, I'll post about some of the books I read during my vacation (I still have loads of them I haven't posted about yet). First: Ghost of a Chance , by Jayne Ann Krentz

Anne Silver’s journalist brother Michael has been investigating a theft ring whose members pose as ghostbusters. He’s been attacked and hospitalised, and Ann wants to carry on, but needs help. She turns to Julian Aries, a mysterious government agent she’d met briefly, six months before. Sparks had flown, but Julian had left on his final mission. He swore he’d be back for her. He never came. Instead, he’s retreated to a remote mountain shack, where Anne finds him recovering from wounds and fever after the mission went belly up.
This was a B+. Beautiful. The whole story of Julian and Anne, and all the supernatural stuff just came together perfectly. This is a goodie from 1984.

Anne was quite a strong heroine and I just loved Julian. At first he seemed a little too domineering, but he definitely softened throughout the book. All that bluster was to try to cover his vulnerabilities and insecurities. He just craved Anne's love and tenderness, but didn't know how to go about asking her for it, without, he thought, making her pity him. Poor guy, but this is just the type of conflict I love.

Even though the suspense plot was interesting and enjoyable, some elements of the villains' reasoning were a bit illogical. Wouldn't it have been more intelligent, if they knew from the very beginning who Anne was, and that she was trying to investigate them, to simply do the deghosting and then don't do anything? To deflect suspicion?


There was an interesting study (link in Spanish) published today in El Pais. It presents the results of a poll done by the state University analyzing Uruguayans' cultural tastes.

What shocked me the most was the fact that 43% of Uruguayans say they "never read" (books, that is). Only 30% say they read "a few" ("varios") books a year and 27% say they read "alguno", which is similar to "varios", but implies fewer (like 1 or 2 a year). Actually, I'm not shocked, exactly, since I know many people who'd be included in that 43% (one particular friend, even, once said to me proudly that not counting the ones he'd been assigned in school, the last book he'd ever read had been in 3rd year of elementary school). I'm saddened. I can't imagine not reading... I start feeling out of sorts when I'm studying and don't have much time to read for pleasure.

Other interesting tidbits:

*** 68% of Uruguayans (78% in Montevideo) have direct family and friends living abroad (I'm not surprised. There's been a huge wave of emmigration in the last couple of years. My own best friend moved to Paraguay late last year.)

*** 15% have gone to see dancing (like ballet, that is, not gone dancing) and 8% have gone to poetry readings in the last year. (that's interesting. I'd never have guessed about the poetry, especially.)

*** 41% say they like listening to "folklore" music (I'm not Uruguayan in this!)

*** 33% log on to the Internet at least once a month (I thought it would be less.)

*** 74% would prefer to see fewer Argentinian TV shows on open TV (these are the same people who don't miss Intrusos every afternoon, LOL!)


Red, Red Rose, by Marjorie Farrell

>> Monday, May 12, 2003

Earlier today I finished a book by Marjorie Farrell, Red, Red Rose.

He came out of nowhere to save Elspeth Gordon from a band of Portuguese brigands. Although Lieutenant Valentine Aston thought only to save the lady from an unspeakable fate, the handsome soldier is surprised to find himself not only still alive but a hero to boot. Certainly Elspeth, daughter of one of Wellington’s officers, is intrigued by her brooding rescuer.

Ever conscious of his illegitimate birth, this bastard son of an English earl is convinced that there can never be a relationship between them. Indeed, he is determined not to fall in love with her. But the fortunes of war and a gallant heroine will prove him wrong—if he has the courage to seize love when he finds it.

In spite of a nice start and ending, this one was only a C+ for me. Two reasons: the problem of the sagging middle and the dialogue.

As to the sagging middle, I'm sure some people would enjoy it much more than I did. This part concentrates mostly on the spy subplot and on describing what was happening at that time in the Peninsular war, with Wellington trying to drive the French out of Portugal. We spend the whole middle of the book in the army camp, with our protagonist observing the French camp and trying to ferret out a spy who's passing on information to them. I found the setting and the details Farrell inserts fascinating, but I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it. That's a problem I have, I hate books set during a war. I'd much prefer learning about it by reading a history book than by reading a story set there. As I said, I'm sure there are many people who'd like this much better than me.

The dialogue was the main problem I had with the book. It often felt stilted and artificial, and Farrell had her characters addressing each other by their first name almost in every sentence. Paraphrasing:

-VAL: Hello, Charlie. How are you?
-CHARLIE: Very well, Val. And you?
-VAL: I'm fine, Charlie. Thank you.

Seriously, this was terribly irritating. Plus, these were English school friends, and I can't help but think about a post by a British reader on one of the AAR message boards, discussing how it would be more likely in circumstances like this that the characters would call each other either by a nickname or by their last names.

I liked both Val and Elspeth very much, but unfortunately, their romance was a bit blah. There's not much of it in the sagging middle, that's the main problem. And what there is isn't very exciting.

Another thing I should mention is that almost from the beginning, I just knew one of the important characters was going to die tragically. It's that kind of book, if you know what I mean.


It Had To Be You, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Last week I finished It Had To Be You, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

The windy city isn't quite ready for Phoebe Somerville—the trendy, outrageous and curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not prepared for the Stars' head coach Dan Celbow — an Alabama-born former gridiron legend and blond barbarian.

Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors — a sexist, jock tacskmaster with a one-track mind. The beautiful new boss is everything Dan despises — a meddling bimbo whos doesn't know pigskin from a pitcher's mound, So why is he drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does Dan's good ol'boy charm leave cosmpolitan Pheobe feeling awkward, tongue-tied and frightened to death?

Ok, I hated this book at the beginning. I hate "good old boys" like her father, and Dan seemed to be one. I don't like American football (part of it is the sheer outrage that they call it just "football", when the real football is the beautiful game my Nacional plays, not this one ;-), and, unlike This Heart of Mine, which took place mainly off-season, this one seemed like it was going to be pretty much all american football. I hated that Phoebe was so obviously a faux whore, and that she seemed to become stupid whenever Dan was in front of her, and that she'd let herself be manipulated by her father's will. And I hated that Dan was looking for a kind of baby-making machine while still lusting after Phoebe and having sex with his ex (BTW, the scene where the ex dresses up like a schoolgirl seriously creeped me out).

Quite a list of grievances, huh? But somehow, SEP managed to change my mind completely and just love this book. In fact, it ended up being an A read. It was a LOL book, and the best kind of comedy, since its idea of humour didn't involve making Phoebe look stupid. In fact, I had the most fun when she was being very smart taking advantage of men. The scene where she and Ron con Dan into rehiring Ron as general manager was great, and the best was when she renegotiates the stadium contract. I was ready to stand up and applaud when she was done with them!

And I adored how Dan reacted to all this. Most of the times he took it with humour and actually enjoyed the fact that she'd been able to manipulate everyone. This was a guy who was alpha, but who wasn't an idiot and was perfectly capable of admitting his mistakes and apologizing for them. He completely won me over during their first love scene, with the way he was willing to indulge Phoebe.

The secondary characters were especially wonderful. I'm very much looking forward to reading Bobby Tom's story. I've had it in my TBR pile for ages, and it didn't tempt me much, but those days are over!


I've started posting using w.bloggar, which allows me to compose posts off-line, without needing to go to the Blogger page. It also allows me to automatically do things I had to use html for in the Blogger page, like changing font and font colour, inserting images and striking and underlining words. Plus, it has a "Save" feature, so I'll never lose a post ever again, and I won't need to keep using my Notepad to save stuff.

Thanks a lot to Hermione for recommending this!


>> Sunday, May 11, 2003

I'm in awe at people's ingenuity! Earlier today I watched an interview with Frank Abagnale Jr. (the guy on whom the Catch Me If You Can movie was based) on BBC World. He was asked what was the best scam he had heard of lately, and what he described was absolutely incredible. I didn't catch all the details, but the gist of it was this:

A couple of kids place an add offering "the best" 10 porn movies for a very low price, say $11.95. They also state that they'll accept only cheques, no credit cards or money orders. When the cheques start flooding in, they deposit them in a business account, all legal and aboveboard.

They then send each of their clients a letter explaining that due to unexpectedly high demand, they won't be able to fill their order. They apologize for the inconvenience, and enclose a cheque for, say, $15, to cover what was paid and the mailing costs the client incurred. This cheque is from this business account where the kids had deposited all the money, and there's more than enough money there to cover it.

So, what's the kick? Printed on the left hand corner of each cheque, in fire-engine red, is the name of the company: "Child Pornography Ltd.". Needless to say, none of the clients cashed theirs!

Best part, the scammers don't seem to have done anything illegal!


Wonderful, wonderful news! After over a month and a half of silence, Salam Pax is back posting! Since his last post, I'd been checking at least every 2 or 3 days to see if he was there, and earlier today, wham! new posts!

For those of you who haven't heard of him, he's a blogger posting from Baghdad. Here's and old article with more info, and here a recent article about his reappearance. If you haven't yet, I urge you to go read his posts. The ones from February onwards are the most relevant if you want to read his account of the run-up to the war and of the war itself, but the months before that are worth reading too. The guy has a sense of humour that really appeals to me... great sense of the absurd. Anyway, welcome back!


>> Friday, May 09, 2003

I suspect Hermione might have been involved in this:

Man charged over stolen Harry Potter chapters
Friday, May 9, 2003

An employee of a company that is printing the new Harry Potter book and three other people have been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to steal advanced copies of eagerly awaited novel.
BTW, have you made any plans as to how to get an English copy of Phoenix when it comes out?


A Thrill To Remember, by Lori Wilde

I read book number 4 in Lori Wilde's Bachelors of Bear Creek series that started with A Touch of Silk. I haven't read the two books in the middle of this quartet, and I don't think I will, but only because their storylines don't appeal to me. I very much liked # 4: A Thrill To Remember (read excerpt).

It's time to live a little, Meggie Scofield decides at the town's masquerade party. Have a red-hot fling. Do the wild thing. And the masked stranger she meets that hot and steamy night is the perfect way to begin. This guy is sex-on-legs ---- and Meggie's determined to go out on a limb!

As the last bachelor up for grabs in chilly Bear Creek, Alaska, Caleb Greenleaf has been fending off women for months. But this gorgeous masked one is different, he senses. She sends his temperature---and his libido---soaring out of control. It's a night he'll never forget. A thrilling experience he definitely wants to repeat.

But Caleb's delight soon turns to shock when he discovers she's none other then his nemesis---and sexy neighbor---Meggie Scofield. And she has no idea.

This was fun! The whole Don Juan thing might be silly, but it was very entertaining to read, and that's what I'm after when I read a Blaze.

Plus, I love the friends-falling-in-love plot, and Caleb was a very endearing hero. A B.


Bride by Arrangement, an anthology

I borrowed an anthology from Marí?a Inés, Bride by Arrangement. I've been reading more anthologies lately than I used to. I tended to think that romance didn't really work in such a short format, but since then I've read a couple of good ones. Sure, I still find some that are too short and undeveloped, but it's worth it to slog through those (and hey! at least they're short!) to find the good ones, which when you get them, are real gems..

In this anthology:



A young, wealthy American with a title-hungry mother and a young, impoverished duke eventually turn their arranged marriage into a love match.
This was a C+. I liked many things about it, but I didn't care for the main conflict. Basically, Sunny, having been told by her mother that sex is painful and humilliating, and that men don't respect women who enjoy them (i.e. they think they're whores) and Justin misinterpreting her coolness in bed as she not wanting him.

This element would have been ok as a tiny, humorous part of the story, but as the basic thing separating Justin and Sunny... no way. Plus, the ending was horrid. Sunny: "My mother told me this and this". Justin: "Your mother's understanding in that area is limited". Ok, the end. Huh?

Apart from that, I liked both characters and liked the fact that Justin fell in love with Sunny almost immediately. Also, MJP has a beautiful style, very easy to read, and this one felt fairy-tale-ish.


MISMATCHED HEARTS, by Merline Lovelace.

A willful noblewoman and an honor-bound baron fight their attraction, hoping beyond hope that their previous bethrothals can be unarranged in time to tie the right knot.
This was a C. A nice story, but absolutely average. Much too short. The characters were well-drawn for 80 pages, but the bare-bones story didn't do them justice.


MY DARLING ECHO, by Gayle Wilson.

A blind earl and a widowed mother find that a marriage of convenience doesn't have to remain that way. Theirs was an unconventional union. Where he was the wealthy Earl of Huntingdon, she had merely been in his employ. Arabella Simmons was under no illusion -- this proud and war-scarred man was desirous of a marriage in name only.
This one was one of the gems I mentioned: A. What a sweet, beautiful story! I'm pretty sure I was manipulated (come on! the scene with the little boy climbing onto the blind hero's lap, afraid of storms...), but I didn't care. Even if I was, it was so beautifully done that it moved me.

Just perfect, even the novella length felt just right: otherwise their reluctance to make any move towards the other would have become tedious.


The final grade for the whole thing is a B.


Lady's Choice, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Thursday, May 08, 2003

I also read an old category Jayne Ann Krentz, and I'm now running low until my next shipment from my friend gets here. Panic attack! The title of this one was Lady's Choice, and it was a 1989 book.

As part of his plan to seek revenge, Travis Sawyer seduces Juliana Grant only to inadvertently fall in love with her, unaware that Juliana is capable of playing his game better than he can.
This one was a B, nothing special, but very definitely classic JAK. A very satisfying comfort read. I thought Juliana was stupid naive in the first scene (assuming that just because they've slept together they're getting married), but as soon as I understood the way she was, I just loved her. I want to be like her when I grow up, so self-assured, so ready to go after what I want and fight for it.

Travis was less original, more of a typical JAK hero, down to the lone wolf element. Perfect for Juliana, though.


Wait For What Will Come, by Barbara Michaels

Continuing with my reread of every single one of Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels books, I read Wait For What Will Come, written under the latter pseudonym.

Carla Tregellas, a modern, sophisticated American woman, inherits the family mansion in Cornwall. The house--reminiscent of something in a Jane Austen novel--overlooks the craggy seacoast and is filled with hidden stairways and abandoned gardens. The unsolved disappearance of a resident two centuries earlier adds a Gothic touch, and Carla, intrigued, stays to investigate what could only be an ancestral curse. Along the way, she meets an assortment of characters who welcome her inquiries, although they seem to be warning her off the property at the same time.
A B+. I'd forgotten how chilly and atmospherica WFWWC was. Could this one be defined as a gothic? At times it feels like it's making fun of the genre, but in the end, it's all quite serious. I'd say yes, it's a gothic, but it's got more of a sense of humour than the classics.

Carla, our protagonist, seemed to be a bit too cynical and rigid at the beginning, but I soon warmed up to her when she started showing some romantic, impractical streaks. Oh, she was sensible and smart till the end, but her decision to stay longer at the house and her fascination with her roots made her a bit more human.

Her relationship with... I sholdn't say who, since Carla has quite a sample of men from which to choose. Anyone who's read a couple of BMs or EPs will guess who Carla will fall for as soon as he's introduced, but still... Anyway, their relationship could have stood to be better developed. Even a couple more pages at the end would probably do it. Still, I enjoyed their "courtship".

The paranormal aspect of the plot was wonderful. It ended up being quite well explained (though a bit over-complicated), but there was enough left unexplained by men's actions for it to be a satisfying paranormal.

Fun book, even if it was a bit hard to fall asleep the night after reading it, since I was alone in the house at the time. BTW, I also adored the setting: Cornwall.


Forbidden Garden, by Tracy Fobes

>> Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Forbidden Garden (links to the excellent AAR review), by Tracy Fobes

Anne Sherwood has made her life into a safe, orderly garden. She draws the plants of London's famous Kew Gardens, an entirely suitable occupation for a widowed lady in Queen Victoria's England. Then a compelling invitation takes her to Ireland, to sketch a recently discovered tree...a golden sapling with unusual qualities and even more mysterious origins. Determined to learn more, Anne finds herself confronting Michael McEvoy, an enigmatic figure who prefers the loneliness of the wild to society and its entrapments.

Michael's heart beats to the rhythm of the land. The ebb and flow of the seasons and the cadence of nature are his calender and clock. When the prim Englishwoman arrives, he is stunned to discover her conventional exterior hides a kindred spirit, one as sensitive as he to growing things...his perfect mate. But, as much as he longs to make her his, they must first expose the origins of the sapling and the dangerous corruption of nature it represents...
This was a B for me. I loved many things about this book. For one thing, it was very fresh and original. The AAR reviewer compares it to one of those 50s "giant irradiated insect" movies, and yes, that's exactly what it reminded me of... one of those movies set in Victorian times. It doesn't sound like it'd work, but it does, beautifully.

Not only does it work, it doesn't feel at all silly, and I found it very relevant. Again, the AAR reviewer makes a very insightful point I couldn't agree more with: the giant insect movies reflected a valid concern about the effects of radiation, and this book brings to mind the fears many people have about the effects of genetically modified crops. I think I could guess what Fobes thinks about this subject!

That part of the plot was wonderfully developed. The way the protagonists gradually began to suspect there was something wrong and how their fears started to grow, were very well-done. It was pretty clear to the reader what was going on, and one could even make a good guess about what Connock had been trying to do, but we're looking at this from a 21st century perspective. Anne and Michael's reactions felt appropriate for people of their time.

What wasn't so strong was the romance. That is, I thought the balance between the romance and the sci-fi plot was perfect... with books with strong paranormal or sci-fi plots, I often feel that the space allotted to the romance is insufficient, but not here. The problem was that for me, Anne and Michael didn't really gel as a couple. Their whole physical relationship felt like too much, too soon, and I never sensed any real intimacy between tham, for all the steamy love scenes they had.

I wasn't very satisfied by the ending, either. Connock does something there, in the end, that feels completely out of character, and everything is tied up too neat and easy. And fast, everything felt rushed, too.

However, I very much enjoyed this book. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to try something fresh.


Truly, Madly, Deeply, by Vicki Lewis Thompson

I also read a Vicki Lewis Thompson's Truly, Madly, Deeply. It was a B+.

Ten years ago, Dustin Ramsey and Erica Mann shared their first sexual experience in the back seat of Dustin's red Mustang. And the interlude was...a complete disaster. Now Dustin is facing a huge challenge -- taking over the family business. But before he does, he has to get past his one and only failure. His plan: to find -- and seduce -- Erica again. Only, this time he's got to do it right...

Erica is amazed when Dustin shows up on her doorstep. True, he has a business proposition for her, but the look in his eye tells her what kind of proposition he's really offering.... Erica has come a long way in ten years. Her newsletter, Dateline: Dallas, has gained her a reputation as the Dr. Ruth of the Dallas area. So if Dustin thinks he can just walk in and seduce her senseless, he'd better think again. Because Erica intends to seduce him first....

It was excellent. As I said of LT's other Blaze that I've read, Acting on Impulse, this is exactly what I wished the line would be like when I heard about it... not just regular Harlequins with longer love scenes (or with more ridiculous "provocative" plot contrivances, as many turned out to be), but books with a more modern, less conservative outlook.

I liked Erica, and actually identified with her, to a point. Anyway, she could easily be one of my friends, which is what I meant when I said this book felt modern. Often, when reading Harlequins, the 20something heroines seem to be more a middle-aged author's idea of what today's young singles are like than what I know in real life. And remember I live in a Latin American country, which surely has to be more conservative than urban USA! Well, Erica didn't feel unreal, she was a perfect young city girl, down to her worries about the environment and her attitude towards virginity.

Dustin was swwt, just the kind of hero I like. I loved that he was no infallible business tycoon, and that he was a bit insecure about whether he would be able to run his company successfully. I more or less agreed with Erica when she thought they probably wouldn't suit, not having much in common, but the way the author solved this, by having them realize how much they actually did have in common through an e-mail correspondence, was great. It did convince me that they were right for each other.

The love scenes were really steamy (I especially liked the very fun scene in his truck!), but I also liked the actual plot of the book. This did not feel like just scenes strung together. The Dateline: Dallas newsletter Erica published sounded fun, and having Dustin floundering a bit about his business was refreshing.

The only thing that I didn't like here was the ending. Too much focus on babies, and how they immediately wanted to have kids, basically. This, incidentally, was the same thing that bothered me about Acting on Impulse. Also, I didn't care for the very obvious setup of the next story in the series (which is by another author). It felt tacky.


My Brother Michael, by Mary Stewart

Some weekend reads...

I've been hearing about Mary Stewart for ages, but I was never really motivated to read one of her books. Finally, a few weeks ago, after hearing her books compared to MM Kaye's and reading the AAR review of Named of the Dragon, where the reviewer states that Kearsley reminds her of Stewart, I made up my mind and bought one of her books to try, My Brother Michael.

Camilla Haven is on holiday in Greece, trying to put a broken relationship behind her. An accident of mistaken identity leaves her in possession of a hired car with instructions to deliver it to Delphi. Her decision to drive it there and save the coach fare leads her into a mystery of a murder set against the background of the ancient Oracle. Camilla discovers that the past is never far behind as she helps to reveal the secrets behind the murder of a British agent in war-time Greece.
Loved it, it was a B+. It was wonderfully atmospheric, just like Kaye's and Kearsley's, and I was fascinated by both the characters and the plot.

I must mention this was a 1959 book, but it didn't feel like a dated contemp, but like a historical, which is exactly what it is, really. What I noticed especially was how much these people smoked! Chain-smokers, the lot of them!

In spite of this being set in the 50s, I found the mindset less consevative than that in many comtemporary romance novels. The heroine was human and fallible, but she was also pretty self-sufficient, and the hero didn't go all overprotective, "we should protect our womenfolk". He respected her abilities and understood that she needed to feel she was acting, not reacting. OTOH, though, the promiscuous girl is demonized, so it wasn't that liberal ;-)

Simon was great, a nice beta schoolteacher, with hidden depths, always courteous to the heroine. I would have liked for the romance to be more developed, but I accept that's just the way these books go.

To summarize, a lovely book. I'll definitely be looking for the rest of Stewart's backlist.


>> Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I'm following the minute-by-minute blogging of the Real Madrid - Juventus game at The Guardian. They are 1-1 so far. I'm really POd, because I thought this game was tomorrow, so I made plans to come to work early, so I could be home to watch the game early afternoon. Oh, well. I'll just have to watch the Inter - Milan game instead!


>> Monday, May 05, 2003

Fashion news flash!! My friend just got back from a trip to Paris and she tells me that le dérnier cri de la mode (latest fashion, if I remember my high-school French correctly) are pants that are baggy at the hip and tight at the calves. The "Gauchito" look, as she calls it. Sounds pretty ugly, but at least they would hide my big butt.


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