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

>> Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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

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

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

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

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


The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

>> Monday, December 29, 2003

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

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

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

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

My grade: a B.


Lord Peter Views the Body, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Saturday, December 27, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wildest Hearts, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, December 22, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more... questions of the week

>> Friday, December 19, 2003

1. List your five favorite beverages.

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

2. List your five favorite websites.

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

3. List your five favorite snack foods.

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

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

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

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

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


A Stranger's Touch, by Tori Carrington

>> Thursday, December 18, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Frost Fair, by Elizabeth Mansfield

>> Wednesday, December 17, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Dark and Stormy Night, by Anne Stuart

>> Tuesday, December 16, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

>> Monday, December 15, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

>> Friday, December 12, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


House of Many Shadows, by Barbara Michaels

>> Thursday, December 11, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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


Call it Destiny, by Jayne Ann Krentz

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

Her perfect arrangement left out love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

>> Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, this first part was perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Tuesday, December 09, 2003

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


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

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

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

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


After the Night, by Linda Howard

>> Monday, December 08, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty pleasure, period.


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