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 amazon.com 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?


Courting Catherine, by Nora Roberts (The Calhouns #1)

>> Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Uh-oh, I feel a Nora Roberts series reread blitz coming on! Seriously, since I had that talk with my friend I've been wanting to reread so many Nora series! I've already started the Night Tales and now I've also started the Calhoun Women series. The first book is Courting Catherine


All hard-driving executive Trenton St. James III had on his mind was business-making the final arrangements to buy a run-down old mansion on the coast of Maine. He wasn't expecting any complications. And he definitely wasn't expecting anything like Catherine "C. C." Calhoun.

This feisty, independent-minded young woman bristled at the very thought of her family's most highly prized possession ending up as part of some faceless hotel chain. And she seemed to bristle at the very sight of Trenton St. James, too. But all that was going to have to change, because Trent not only wanted her home, he wanted her, too. And he wasn't a man who took no for an answer.    
Ho-hum. I really liked this one as the setup for the series, but the romance itself didn't work all that well. A B.

It's a bit funny how you can define the pairings in the entire series with a couple of words. Here it's the tomboy (automechanic, combative, always stained with grease) matched with the suave businessman. Next are the efficient businesswoman/laid back architect - free spirit / professor and mommy / cop.

Our tomboy, Catherine (or CC, as she likes to be called) wasn't a character I liked much. She came across as very judgemental and obnoxious at first. I really didn't get her indignation at Trent's offer to buy her house to turn it into a hotel. I mean, ok, if you don't want to sell say no. Where exactly is the offense? I just don't get her attitude, and it's one common to many romance heroines. Nora herself has quite a few.

Ok, CC gets a bit nicer as the book progresses, but then wham! "I love you", she says. "huh?" And the huh wasn't only Trent speaking, it was my reaction as well. I mean, they had been bickering since they'd met. One somewhat peaceful evening, an admision of the fact they desire each other and she's telling him "I'm in love with you"? It completely threw me out of the story.

As did the fact that she was a virgin. Not that I think there's anything wrong with someone being a virgin, but give me a good reason for it!

Ah, well.... The story was saved by the fact that Trent is a pretty decent guy, and by the overarching storyline. The whole thing about the hidden emeralds, and the project to turn The Towers into a hotel, and the relationship betweent the sisters and their aunt (and between the rest of the family and Trent), all that was excellent. I have to admit, if I didn't have the entire quartet (plus the extra afterthought book) ready to read, I'd be mad that I don't get so many threads tied up, but as it is, it's a nice way to join together the series.


Nightwalker, by Jayne Ann Krentz (as Stephanie James)

>> Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I actually read Nightwalker, by Jayne Ann Krentz (writing as Stephanie James) some time ago, but after so many JAK books, it's hard to find anything original to say about a new one. I still enjoy them very much, though ;-)


Cassie was alone in the old mansion when the lights went out. Then three knocks on the heavy r front door resounded through the house. Lashed by rain, Justin Drake stood at her doorstep. A sudden bolt of lightning illuminated the dark form of the man who had come to exact the revenge he had promised--her seduction.

But soon strange events began to occur, and Cassie wondered if she had tumbled into a nightmare. Was Justin the protector he now claimed to be. . . or was she fatally drawn to the instrument of her own destruction?
I don't know, this one seemed to me a bit more original than other of hers. It did have a couple of elements she's already used, but that was it. A B+

I especially liked the heroine. Cassie's rich because she's made her money herself (a self-made heroine at last!!), and doesn't feel guilty about it. Neither does she feel the need to keep on making more and more money. No, she has enough, now it's time to enjoy life. Can I mention how much I like her attitude?

She's a bit too hung up on her sister's life for my taste, but at least when she decides to blackmail the hero into not marrying her sister (don't ask!), she thinks it through, finds his weak points and attacks. And she doesn't allow herself to be intimidated into backing off. But then she lets Justin manipulate her into not throwing him out of the house she's rented, and seeing how this contrasts with her first attitude, I'm a bit baffled.

Justin was all right, too. He tried his best to be a bastard, with his plans for revenge and his macho attitude, but Cassie soon has him behaving like a teddy bear of a guy. Nice ;-)

Oh, and these two definitely had chemistry!

I enjoyed the whole Dracula gothic thingie this book had going on. Big, decrepit mansion on top of a cliff. Apparitions popping up all over the place. A hero who might be responsible for them. Very good!

The suspense subplot itself (or rather, its solution, what actually was going on) was interesting, though pretty obvious. Luckily, as in all the books JAK wrote in those years, the actual suspense is pretty slight, and I thought what there was of it added to the story.


Devil's Bride, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #1)

>> Monday, November 03, 2003

The first time I read Stephanie Laurens' Devil's Bride I hated it. I really did. I didn't really give up on Laurens after it, and I read Scandal's Bride and A Secret Love after it. The former was not good either, but I did love the latter (unlike everyone else, apparently), so I always thought maybe at one point I'd read something else by Laurens.

Two years later, there have been too many other books I wanted to try, so I didn't buy anything else by her. However, it turns out a friend of mine has the first 6 Cynster books, so I decided to try again and start by rereading Devil's Bride.

To Have...
When Devil, the most infamous member of the Cynster family, is caught in a compromising position with plucky governess Honoria Wetherby, he astonishes the entire tom by offering his hand in marriage. No one dreamed this scandalous rake would ever take a bride. And as society mamas swooned at the loss of England's most eligible bachelor, Devil's infamous Cynster cousins began to place wagers on the wedding date.

...And To Hold

But Honoria wasn't about to bend society's demands and marry a man "just" because they'd been found together virtually unchaperoned. No, she craved adventure, and while solving the murder of a young Cynster cousin fit the bill for a while, she decided that once the crime was solved she'd go off to see the world. But the scalding heat of her unsated desire for Devil soon had Honoria craving a very different sort of excitement. Could her passion for Devil cause her to embrace the enchanting peril of a lifelong adventure of the heart?
I was very surprised by the fact that I really like it this time around. A B+.

My main objection the first time I read it was that I hated how Devil simply decreed that Honoria was to marry him and refused to respect her opinions and wishes. I've always enjoyed books with a pursuing hero, but this was too much. I thought Devil was too arrogant, too autocratic, too ready to discount Honoria's wishes, too sure of himself, even.

This time, my reaction was different. Yes, at first I found Devil horrible. I was mentally begging Honoria to run from him as fast as she could. However, then things started changing.

First of all, Devil stopped being so irritating at one point. However obnoxious and mulish he was in the beginning about Honoria having to marry him no matter what she wanted, in the end he didn't want to have her come to him pressured, but needed for her to make up her mind freely and to choose to marry him because she wanted to. I liked him much better for it. And the scenes where Honoria tries to tell him she accepts his suit but he refuses to hear her because she can't think straight (guess exactly what they were doing!!), are a hoot ;-)

Also, and what was the most responsible for my enjoyment of the book, was that Honoria was more than a match for Devil. She simply didn't allow herself to be bullied. Devil's dictates were not what made her choose to marry him. Oh, no! She made absolutely sure that it was what she wanted, and only then made her decision.

I liked her thought processes. She was perfectly aware of the fact that she couldn't allow Devil to dominate her, but she didn't run from the challenge. And she realizes that to reject him just because he's trying to pressure her into something, even though it's something she actually wants now, would be to cut off her nose to spite her face. A very sensible attitude, and I really respected her.

The main weakness of the book was the suspense subplot. It did set up the situation, and for long stretches was very unobtrusive, but I must say it was pretty nonsensical, and didn't really add all that much to things.


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