Mistress by Agreement, by Helen Brooks

>> Monday, December 27, 2004

As you might deduce from the title, this is yet another Harlequin Presents title. I had to meet my grandma at her house and she was running a bit late, so I had an hour to kill and no book! So I just grabbed one of hers at random, a Spanish translation of a Harlequin, Mistress by Agreement (excerpt), by Helen Brooks. The title in Spanish was Sin Amor, "Without Love", which does sound intriguing and much less Presents-ish and explains why I chose it ;-)

From the moment tycoon Kingsley Ward walks into Rosie's office, she recognizes the sexual invitation in his eyes. But when they sign a business agreement and Kingsley makes it clear he wants Rosie as part of the deal, she's outraged!

Kingsley's initial purpose had been business — not pleasure. But Rosie is beautiful and, unbelievably, she seems immune to his charms! Kingsley decides he'll pursue her until he wins her as his mistress…and he's never lost a deal yet!
Well, I must say Mistress by Agreement was a pleasant surprise. While not particularly good, it was a book I was able to read without wanting to bang it against the wall and even enjoy. My grade would be a B-.

This was definitely a case in which the title had absolutely nothing to do with what the book was about. And from what I see at amazon, the book is actually: Mistress by Agreement: In Love With Her Boss. Well, Rosalie isn't Kingsley's mistress (there's even only a short, non-graphic love scene in the epilogue, unless they've cut something in my version, always a possibility), there is no agreement and though Kingsley is a client of Rosalie's architectural firm, he's hardly her boss. In fact, she is a hard-working, successful career woman, so the undertones in that "In love with her boss" thing are completely misleading.

So, this is not a gimmicky, contrived story, but a simple one about a woman who got burned in the first marriage, and so wants nothing to do with men and a man who pursues her. What I liked was that though King was persistent and arrogant, he never crossed the line into dominating and overbearing. He was actually really, really patient with Rosalie, pushing only to know more about her and to know her better.

On the negative side, I could have done with a bit more of King's POV, since the little one-paragraph snatches of his thoughts were not enough. And Rosalie wasn't a particulary easy character to warm up to.

Still, the book did the job. I even took it home with me to finish when my grandma was finally ready to go, something I wasn't expecting I was going to want to do. Oh, and I even kind of liked the cover, which had the same photo as the Presents edition: a couple having an intimate dinner with the London Bridge in the background. Nice!


Another Time, by Susan Napier

>> Friday, December 24, 2004

So much trashing Harlequin Presents in my review of The Substitute Wife and what do I pick up a few days later if not a Presents? ;-) To my defense, it was one of Susan Napier's, whose books are very different from the same old, same old books about greek billionaires and their pregnant virgin mistresses. This one was Another Time, written in 1989.

This Sleeping Beauty didn't want reawakening

Helen was horrified! She'd just met her fiancé's brother, celebrated author Alexander Knight -who'd revealed to her that, five years ago, they'd shared one searingly passionate night together. And Helen had no recollection of it watsoever!

Alexander had written a bestselling novel based on that blazing night, portraying Helen as his "angel". And now he was determined to win his luminous angel back.

But Helen refused to betray her loving fiancé, Greg, for the sake of a phantom past. Yet somethinga bout Alexander aroused disturbingly real sensations in her...
It takes an amazing author to take amnesia, a huge coincidence and a hero who is "saved" by the heroine's purity and innocence, all elements which are definitely not to my taste, and write a story I like. My grade would be a B.

It probably says something bad about me that I just love books which feature a heroine who's with the wrong brother. Yeah, it can be tawdry, and I know it's all a bit too incestuous for many readers, but when it works... wow! Here, it did work. And, incredibly enough, what helped keep the level of tawdryness down were the very romance staples which I mentioned above. Helen has a past with Alex which she doesn't remember, so it's not as if she had started something with him while involved with his brother... their "thing" came from before she even met Greg. And she didn't even meet Greg through Alex, their meeting was the huge coincidence I mentioned. Though, come to think of it, I don't know, I guess I have a high tolerance for this kind of thing. There's a scene near the end in which Alex does something that I objectively saw as a bit over-the-top in its tawdriness, and yet I loved that scene, found it really moving, that he was willing to go that far. Yep, I'm sick.

So anyway, I really enjoyed the whole situation, with Alex completely in love with Helen right from the beginning and determined that he'd win her somehow, even if he had to play a little dirty to do it. Oh, and by "play dirty" I don't mean kidnapping her or browbeating her into it, just not behaving "honourably", leaving the field to his brother. Helen's behaviour was understandable, too, including her resistance to Alex.

On the negative side, I wasn't too crazy about Alex's epiphany on the night he met Helen, when they had their one-night-stand. He'd been burnt out and practically on the point of suicide... bitter, completely disenchanted with humanity, and the whole way he completely turned his life around on that night, miraculously "cured" by Helen's magic hymen, or something, was just weird, and way too much a romance cliché. Though Alex's whole attitude towards this was sort of "yes, it's a cliché, but that's the way it was", and his acknowledgment of this made it more tolerable for me, I guess.

Some other thingsI liked... for one thing, that Napier didn't make Greg, Alex's brother, evil. His and Alex's past was complicated, and he'd done some bad things, but he's portrayed as a man who made a mistake, not as a villain. Also points for the setting, which is in New Zealand and includes some scenes in Hong Kong.

I'm very definitely going to be looking for more books in Napier's backlist, even if they're all Presents!


Whispers in the Woods, by Helen R. Myers

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I make a point to read books that sound unique, especially when it comes to series books. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but they are always interesting. Whispers in the Woods, by Helen R. Myers sounded intriguing. I'd read another Myers before, Final Stand, which hadn't been impressive, but this one seemed pretty different from that one.

Deep in the forest . . .

The deserted estate in remote northwestern Maine might have seemed foreboding, but it would be a refuge for Paloma St. John. There, she would be alone with her only friends -- the gentle animals she'd rescued from her own uncle's cruel scientific experiments.

But Paloma wasn't alone. There was a presence in the woods beyond the compound gates, a presence that reached into her mind, invaded her every thought, left her trembling with fear . . . and something more. Passion.

Was he protector -- or predator? Savage or savior? Whispers in her thoughts and dreams courted her in another realm, while the voice of her heart beckoned him forward. And so Paloma waited, with longing -- and with dread . . .
Well, while Whispers in the Wood was different, both from Final Stand and from other books, it didn't really work all that well for me, especially as a romance. My grade would be a C+, with points given for originality and daring.

This was a very unique telling of the Beauty and the Beast theme, one that I usually enjoy. What was so unique about it was that Myers took the concept of the beast much further than other authors do. I'm not going to explain exactly what I mean by this, just know that the hero is not your usual former rake with a scar on his face.

However, while I admired what Myers was trying to do, I didn't really enjoy the story very much. My main problem was the very melodramatic tone of the whole thing. Well done melodrama can be fun, but this was really bad, self-important melodrama. I also wasn't able to connect with the heroine, Paloma, who was a bit too pure and innocent for me.

Reading Whispers in the Woods was an interesting experience, but not particularly fulfilling.


Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong

>> Monday, December 20, 2004

I'd heard a lot about Kelley Armstrong's Bitten (excerpt) and was looking forward to giving it a try.

Armstrong has a very interesting site, chock-full of little extras, including 3 novellas which are prequels to Bitten. I've already read the latest, Beginnings, the last chapter of which was published only today. This one deals with Elena and Clay's early romance, right until she was bitten.

Elena Michaels slips out of bed, careful not to wake her boyfriend. He hates it when she disappears in the middle of the night, and can’t understand why any normal woman would crave the small hours of the morning, the dark unsafe downtown streets. But Elena’s skin is tingling, the pent-up energy feels like it’s about to blow her muscles apart — she can’t put it off any longer. She loves to run at the edge of the city, but she doesn’t have time to get there. She has to slink into an alley, take off her clothes and hide them carefully, and make the Change.

Elena’s trying hard to be normal. She hates her strength, and her wildness, and her hunger for food, for sex, for running in the night, for the chase and the kill. She wants a husband, children...even a mother-in-law. Or at least that’s what she tells herself.

And then the inevitable happens. The Pack needs her. The Pack she loves and hates is under siege from a bunch of disreputable and ruthless mutts who are threatening to expose them all, breaking all the rules that have kept them safe. The loyalty of her nature calls her home, and into the fight, which tests just who Elena is: the wild woman or the wistful would-be human.
I really enjoyed Bitten. It would have even been a keeper, if it were not for a couple of things which prevented me from really loving it. My grade is a B+.

I loved that it was so original. Everything felt fresh, from the mythology, to the plot, to the romantic thread, to the characters. The world building is excellently done, especially. The mythology of Armstrong's werewolves is complicated and coherent and interesting and very extensive. Sometimes so extensive, that some places are a bit weighted down by a bit too much exposition, yes, but it was all really fascinating anyway.

Armstrong's werewolves weren't the typical cuddly, loveable big dogs you usually find in romance. They have a violent side and kill when they need to and some scenes are very violent and gory. Armstrong didn't shy from portraying this aspect of them, as well as the loyalty and love between the whole Pack.

So, intellectually, I very much appreciated her not prettying up them up, but I must confess this had a flip side for me. Some scenes were way too much for me. Usually, not being able to stop thinking about scenes in a book is the mark of a keeper, but when the scene I can't seem to tear my mind from involves a moribund man with his intestines hanging out, it's not so good.

Also, it disturbed me how little value human life has to all these werewolves, how easily they will kill a human. Even the Pack... they don't kill for fun, but they feel no remorse for killing someone who threatens them in any way. And I mean any way, not just people who hate werewolves or something and want to destroy them. I mean people who are put in a position of knowing about them through no fault of their own, like a lab technician who has the misfortune of noticing something strange in a sample, for instance. I understand the self-defence aspect of this, but no one seems to feel any... not remorse, exactly, more like pity for people like this poor sod.

My favourite element of the book was Clay and Elena's relationship. It's a very, very complicated relationship, and all the nuances of their backstory and how it has affected them are revealed slowly. Elena and Clay are very complex characters, too, but Armstrong's writing made me feel I understood them. I actually identified a lot with Elena, really understood her resentment towards Clay for having bit her. I didn't for a minute think she was being too hard on him. There's a moment when she thinks how she doesn't want to talk things over with Clay because she fears they might actually patch things up, and that would mean that Clay's biting her and all the grief she put him through after it was worth it, because he ended up getting her. That very "cut off your nose to spite your face" bit of reasoning really, really resonated with me, for some reason. In a way, it made Elena even more real.

Clay I had some problems with. I admit that going only with what was in Bitten, he was just too scary for me, especially since we do not see his POV. Though I do think that the fact that he was so... inhuman, I guess, made his vulnerability when it came to his love for Elena even more poignant. Reading the Beginnings novella, seeing his POV in the run-up to "The Bite" really enriched his character for me.

The plot was interesting, even though, as I said, I was a bit icked out by some scenes in the first part of the book, when they were all at Stonehaven investigating what was goingon. My favourite part fo the book were the scenes in Toronto, when Clay and Elena go back and a neat little triangle ensues, when Elena goes back to her live-in boyfriend.

Will I continue reading this series? I sincerely don't know. As much as I enjoyed this one, I've read a couple of reviews of the next book, Stolen and everything seems to indicate that there are even more gruesome scenes there, and that there is less focus on Clay and Elena's relationship. I don't know, it might end up being like the first Anita Blake book, which I liked, but then decided not to continue the series.


Possession, by A.S. Byatt

>> Friday, December 17, 2004

When I first received my copy of A.S. Byatt's Possession and leafed through it, I must confess I found it a bit intimidating, especially because the first thing I saw when I opened the book at random was long pages of poetry. It's quite embarrassing, really, but I have huge difficulties reading poetry in English. The strange thing is, I have absolutely no problem with the most convoluted prose styles in that language, and I do just fine with poetry in Spanish, but poetry in English... it's like my brain closes down.

"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.
It took me a while to read Possession, not because it was bad, not at all, simply because I read it very, very slowly, savouring every page, never allowing myself to read more than 20 or so pages in a row. My grade would be an A-

This was a type of book I love, the story within a story, with a contemporary couple investigating a past love story while they live out their (very subtle) own. It's a romantic novel and a very fine mystery, too, especially because the whole investigation was so tremendously fascinating.

While the story was great, the best thing about the book was actually the language. Byatt is herself the "Great Ventriloquist" she calls Randolph Henry Ash, giving a different voice to each of her characters, each of whom has a very distinctive writing style.

I managed to hold off from watching the movie while I was reading, but now that I'm finished I'm running for Blockbuster! I really don't like Gwyneth Paltrow at all, but what the hell.


What Harry Potter Mary Sue cliche are you?

>> Thursday, December 16, 2004

Anyone who reads fan-fiction will love this quiz!

What Harry Potter Mary Sue cliche are you?

You are the DADA teacher.

What Harry Potter Mary Sue cliche are you?

brought to you by Quizilla
And please check out the other possible results, they're hilarious!! (I'm afraid I can't link to them directly, you'll have to take the quiz to see them, but it's worth it!)


Boy Meets Girl, by Meg Cabot

>> Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I usually act as my sister's filter and hand her only books I know she'll like. With Boy Meets Girl (excerpt), by Meg Cabot, however, she was the one to read it first. The minute I showed her this new book I'd received, narrated wholy through emails, and memos, and voice mail messages, and text messages and a couple of diary entries, she practically tore it out of my hands. And a couple of days later, she was giving it back and ordering me to read it NOW ;-)

Meet Kate Mackenzie. She:

  • works for the T.O.D. (short for Tyrannical Office Despot, also known as Amy Jenkins, Director of the Human Resources Division at the New York Journal)

  • is sleeping on the couch because her boyfriend of ten years refuses to commit

  • can't find an affordable studio apartment anywhere in New York City

  • thinks things can't get any worse.
They can. Because:

  • the T.O.D. is making her fire the most popular employee in the paper's senior staff dining room

  • that employee is now suing Kate for wrongful termination, and

  • now Kate has to give a deposition in front of Mitch Hertzog, the scion of one of Manhattan's wealthiest law families, who embraces everything Kate most despises ... but also happens to have a nice smile and a killer bod.
The last thing anybody -- least of all Kate Mackenzie -- expects to find in a legal arbitration is love. But that's the kind of thing that can happen when ... Boy Meets Girl.
I had a blast reading Boy Meets Girl. My grade: B+

I loved the format of the story. Before starting it, I wondered if it wouldn't be a bit too limiting, especially in the romance area, since all we would know about things would be what people told others, not their actual thoughts and feelings as those things happened. But it worked quite well. Of course, the romance didn't get as much development as it would in a good traditionally told romance novel, but Cabot managed to convey a lot of emotion there. Maybe it's not 100% realistic, the way everyone seems to dissect their feelings in various letters and emails to other people (I did get that feeling about Mitch's emails to his sister when he writes about his feelings for Kate, for instance), but it really was no big deal.

And anyway, this isn't really romance, but chick lit (at least, that's the way I'd categorize it, if I had to), so I took it as a given that the romance wouldn't be the main focus, just one of them. The story was about Kate's life, basically, and her relationships with several people, Mitch being one of them.. an important one, though!

I was amazed at how well Cabot was able to develop her secondary characters. There were a million little touches which were really spot-on and very revealing, like the T.O.D.'s sorority sisters' email addies, showing they were all working in their families' corporations, and so many more. And I just adored the humour. It was LOL funny.

Kate was a tremendously likeable protagonist, who always tries to do the right thing. My only quibble is that she ends up being a bit too much of a damsel in distress and has to be rescued by Mitch, without her even intervening.

Luckily, I have a couple of other books by Cabot in my TBR, including The Boy Next Door, which is written in the same format as Boy Meets Girl and is set in the same "universe". I can't wait to start it!


The Substitute Wife, by Dallas Schulze

>> Monday, December 13, 2004

I bought The Substitute Wife (excerpt), by new-to-me author Dallas Schulze due to a recommendation on a message board. I think we were talking about books which had positive portrayals of gay characters, and someone mentioned this one had a secondary romance between two guys. That was enough for me to immediately snap it up, even if the main storyline sounded a bit contrived.

What's love got to do with it?
When Luke Quintain's fiancee dumped him, Catherine Lang understood immediately that she was the perfect solution to his problem. Leggy, flame haired and wise beyond her years, she decided that he should marry her instead.

But even though Luke needed a wife by his thirty-sixth birthday or he would lose his inheritance, he had to say "No!" Well, that was what he tried to say, but somehow Cat left with a ring on her finger and a wedding date on her calendar. And Luke could only curse his grandfather's positively medieval blackmailing scheme . . . and count the seconds till the wedding night.

Cat, of course, knows her own mind -- and her own heart -- and she wants Luke. Meanwhile, Luke is wondering how long this will play out, and hoping that it might be a little longer with each passing day. The problem is, he's quite capable of doing something very stupid -- like falling for Cat. Because sometimes love just doesn't take no for an answer.
Well, I did enjoy The Substitute Wife, even though I had some reservations about the main plot. My grade would actually be a B.

The book was a strange combination between a Harlequin Presents plot and *much* more modern sensibilities. The initial set-up, complete with a marriage of convenience forced by the hero's grandfather's demands that he marry before his next birthday, a 20 year old heroine paired up with a very experienced 35-year-old hero, and the fact that our heroine is a virgin, who has had a huge crush on the hero since she first met him, reeked of the worst type of series romance plot, as did some things about the characters... Of course, Cat's motivation in marrying is NOT mercenary... all she asks for is for trust funds for her step-parents, who are typical romance-novel absent-minded professor and artist, and she even tries to negotiate down the intended divorce settlement in the pre-nup... see? she's *good*!!

But, incredibly, I found myself enjoying it all, right until the end. The characters were very pleasant, and their relationship and personalities were very far from those in most Presents books. I didn't really pick up on any pedophilic vibes rom Luke.... no lusting after Cat's tiny child-like body (she's a bit of an amazon, in fact), or her innocence, or anything like that. I really don't see why the author made Cat 20 years old, since she acted as a much more mature woman. I thought she was very likeable, actually, a mix of dreamy and sensible which I found very appealing.

I liked that the relationship between her and Luke was one between equals, not Luke being an overbearing alpha. Both the dynamics of their interactions and of their interactions with their families were pretty excellent. Actually, they reminded me a bit of some Jayne Ann Krentz books.

So, things were going great right until the end. I had a huge problem with something Luke almost did, and would have done if Cat hadn't prevented him from doing, and I thought she forgave him much too easily. It's too bad, since I really didn't see Luke as a jerk at all in the rest of the book. This very late action of his came out of the blue, and added nothing positive to his character. Still, luckily, it didn't succeed in ruining the whole thing for me.

Then, of course, there's the secondary story-line, as I said, THE reason I bought a book with a plot like this one. It features a very sweet romance between two men, one the hero's best friend and the other the heroine's. I confess that part of the reason I enjoyed this storyline so much was simply because of the sheer novelty of finding something like this in a romance novel. However, it was a wonderful love story in its own right. Both Keith and Jack were very well-drawn, and they had a lovely chemistry between them.

The secondary romance alone made this one worth a try, and the main storyline was a (mostly) nice surprise. I'm going to chek out Schulze's backlist, to see if there's anything interesting there.


The Romantic, by Madeline Hunter

>> Friday, December 10, 2004

The Romantic, by Madeline Hunter, was my early birthday present from my friend María Inés, who knew I was dying to read it. I planned to save it for when I was less busy and could just read it all in one sitting, but I couldn't resist.

A passionate new historical romance in Madeline Hunter's nationally bestselling "Seducer" series. This one features a fifth member of the London Dueling Society, the reserved, enigmatic lawyer to the Laclere family: Julian Hampton.

All his life, it seemed, Julian had been in love with Penelope, now Countess of Glasbury. And when he learned the horrors she had endured at the hands of her vicious husband, Julian was instrumental in arranging for her escape to Italy. But he has never forgotten the love of his childhood, the woman he had rescued first as a "damsel in distress" when she was a girl, and then for real once she had blossomed into woman.

When Penelope returns secretly to London, Julian is the one she turns to, even though her trust in him puts both their reputations, and ultimately their lives, in peril.
I loved this book. It features some of my favourite elements in romance and a to-die-for hero! My grade is an A-.

Julian is what makes this book so good. He is what I would imagine if I had to describe my "perfect" hero. I adore the plot of a hero who's been in love with the heroine for years and years, never thinking he's going to be able to do anything about his love, always hiding his feelings, and yet never becoming bitter about it. He's honourable, serious and very, very romantic.

Yes, he's a romantic. Too often, romance novels seem to espouse the view that what every woman wants is an alpha barbarian who hits her over the head and drags her to bed. The poetry-writing suitor is almost always portrayed as a weakling, no competition for our macho hero. Well, Julian is a poetry writer, and I don't think I've ever read anything as romantic as his letters to Pen, that he wrote since he first fell in love with her all those years ago. I just wish we could have read more of them ::sigh:: It works because his brand of romance is not the corny, teddy-bear and Hallmark card, just because he's expected to because it's Valentine Day type. He does everything he does because his soul is romantic, because it comes naturally to him, and he has an inner dignity that simply prevents him from looking even the slightest bit ridiculous.

I liked Penelope, very much, but I must admit she paled next to Julian. Outwardly, she seemed a bit like a damsel in distress, which is not my favourite type of heroine, but she definitely wasn't that. A bad decission had stuck her in a horrible situation, with a husband who was a real monster, but though she needed help to get out of it, it was she who had to summon the courage to take the initial steps, knowing that she would be the one who would have to bear the consequences of this. I thought it was a nice touch that, in the end, she had to help Julian, just as he'd helped her.

I appreciated the fact that she had had some affairs, after a fashion, since she'd left her husband. Well, the way they turned out to be "incomplete", felt like a bit of a cop-out, though she did have good reasons for it, but, what the hell, I should have expected it.

I loved Julian and Pen together, most especially seeing Julian finally starting something with the woman he's loved for so long... the way he just knew her feelings for him weren't the same as his for her, so he was so obviously going to get hurt, and yet he couldn't resist her anyway. Reading about his feelings kept setting my stomach clenching and my fingers tingling. I also liked the gradual way in which Penelope started realizing just how strongly Julian felt about her, and just how strongly she felt about him.

The suspense was integral to the story and it was perfect to drive it forward. The villain, Pen's husband, was truly scary, but he was also believable. I liked that though there really was a sense of danger, Pen didn't spend a large part of the book being helpless in Glasbury's power. That's a perfectly valid plot, of course, but it's one that gives me the creeps and doesn't make for a very pleasant reading experience for me.

I also liked the way that, though the book could stand alone, the characters from the previous entries in the series had important parts here. It never felt like Hunter was just including them gratuitously.

This was one highly anticipated book that definitely lived up to its expectations!


The Royal Treatment, by MaryJanice Davidson

>> Thursday, December 09, 2004

I've very much enjoyed what I've read by MaryJanice Davidson. She has a very distinctive voice, which I enjoy. Mad was kind enough to send me one of her latest releases, The Royal Treatment.

In a world nearly identical to ours, Ben Affleck is the sexiest man alive, Martha Stewart is a better pastry chef than insider trader, and Russia never sold Alaska to the U.S. Instead, Alaska is a rough, beautiful country ruled by a famously eccentric royal family, ostracized by the other royals, and urgently in need of a bride for the Crown Prince. In fact, anyone would do. But they have no idea what they're in for when they offer the job to a feisty commoner...a girl who's going to need...The Royal Treatment. Now, in this dazzling, delightfully wacky tale from MaryJanice Davidson, a tough commoner and a royal prince are about to discover that who they truly are...and what they desperately desire...may both be closer than they ever dreamed...
The Royal Treatment was a fast, entertaining read, with lots of funny moments. It was, however, empty calories, and some things I'd previously enjoyed about Davidson became a teeny bit too much and began to be irritating. My grade would be a C+.

The reason I felt this one was empty calories was that as entertaining as it was most of the time, I just didn't get the satisfaction I usually get from a nicely done romance (or, for that matter, from a book with a well done romantic subplot). There was very little real emotion involved here. The characters are just terribly shallow, with very little motivation. The love story came out of the blue. I never got the feeling that either of them was really in love with the other.

Christina was like practically every other MaryJanice Davidson heroine that I've read: sarcastic, no-nonsense, very much a smart-ass... you'll recognize her if you've ever read the author. I liked her very much in the beginning, but, problem was, she started to really grate on me at some point. She took absolutely nothing seriously. Ok, sure, many things people give so much importance to are just stupid and it's fine that she didn't care, but everything?

I think what tipped me over the edge was her complete lack of curiosity about the world around her. Penguins? Ugh, boring, geeky! Opening of Parliament? Yawn! She's the type of person who says proudly that she doesn't watch the news, who refuses to learn anything about what will be expected of her once she becomes princess. I'm not saying she should have bowed down and accepted a traditional role, but an intelligent person would have at least listened and then decided what she was going to do. She had absolutely no idea of what she was getting into.

As for David, well, David is basically one-dimensional. Even though we did have some scenes from his POV, I never felt I really understood why he did the things he did. And the secondary characters were just as lightly drawn. I liked them all very much, though, what little there was to them. I was especially fond of David's brother who only spoke in haiku ;-)

Reading what I've just written it seems like a review of a bad book, but it's not, of course. As I said, it was often very funny and witty, and I had a very good time reading it.


Which Classic Novel Do You Belong In?

>> Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I've spent my entire morning at Quizilla. I blame Màili, she finds such fun quizes!

Which Classic Novel Do You Belong In?


Your belonging in The Mysteries of Udolpho is quite
evident; a world of intrigue, melancholy,
sublimity and terror. You belong where there
are danger, gloomy edifices, and evil Italian
guardians. Your passion for the passion of the
Mediterranean, the divine contemplation of
nature, and for adventure stories, makes you a
prime contender for a spot in a gothic romance.

Which Classic Novel do You Belong In?
brought to you by Quizilla

Well, I do love gothics ;-)


The Spare, by Carolyn Jewel

>> Monday, December 06, 2004

My first Carolyn Jewel was Lord Ruin, which I found very disappointing. It had in it the potential to be a truly excellent book, but the execution ruined it (sorry, no pun intended!). Still, it had promise enough for me to keep an eye on her and look for her next, The Spare (excerpt), to see if she had been able to do a better job.

Captain Sebastian Alexander of His Majesty's Royal Navy is The Spare, a younger son who inherits more than a title after his brother's death. Pennhyll Castle, the family estate, comes with dark secrets, ancestral ghosts and a love that crosses the bounds of time. All Sebastian wants is to recover from a near-fatal wound and after that marry to beget an heir and rejoin the war. But first he must discover how, and why, his brother Andrew died and, along the way, learn that falling in love means completion, not sacrifice.
Unfortunately, there wasn't really much improvement... none, I dare say. My grade would be a D+.

The main characters were complicated for me to like. In the first half of the book, I really detested Sebastian, basically because of his treatment of Olivia. He was a judgemental idiot, and one who operated with horrible double standards. Sure, double standards might be historically accurate, but they diminished him in my eyes. First, the way he thought it was quite ok for his brother to be a womanizer, but condemned his wife for possibly taking a lover. And then he didn't offer any objections to his friend's determination to make Olivia his mistress, even when he thought she was an innocent and that her life would be ruined by such an episode. Very heroic, that. Her livelihood depends on her post at the school, but he makes it clear he doesn't approve of her appointment, because if she's still a virgin, which he doubts, she won't be for long because his friend is so determined to take her to bed. He owes it to the good women in town to look after their interests, he tells himself. Disgusting hypocrite.

And I hated the way he spoke to her, upbraiding her for being "insolent" and not showing him the proper respect. And he continued doing so even after finding out that all her woes had been caused by his own family. But the moment I hated him the most was when he accused her of stealing from him, stealing FOOD, which his servants gave her. The woman obviously was so poor she couldn't feed herself, thanks to his family, and here he was, refusing her something that cost him practically nothing! He did improve a bit in the second half of the book, but not enough, and I couldn't completely warm up to him. Even in the sole love scene, he makes Olivia call him "My Lord", and not playfully, either.

Olivia I liked a bit better. I especially liked her at the beginning, when she was employing her survival strategies, pretending to be a vapid maiden aunti-sh woman to disappear into the woodwork. I thought it was quite resourceful of her. However, I soon lost any warm feelings for her, basically because I simply didn't understand her... who she was, how she felt about things, why she did what she did, nothing! She's been through some pretty traumatic experiences, but I never got to understand how they had affected her.

Like in Lord Ruin, there was something about the author's writing style that made it difficult for me to both really understand her characters and even to follow what exactly was going on. Of course, it didn't help that, especially in the second half, the characters themselves weren't too sure of what was happening, either. They kept having dreams that felt very real, and by the time I was reading the fourth or fifth such episode, I had become confused as to what was what, too. Was that scene I read 10 pages ago, when they kissed in the library, reality or a dream? And when she hid in his room? I wasn't sure.

I don't know, maybe it's just me. There are a few other authors whose styles just don't click with me, authors who are well liked by other people with reading tastes which are usually similar to mine. It probably comes down to a kind of "chemistry".

Anyway, it's a shame that I couldn't enjoy this one, because the plot of The Spare was potentially very interesting, and the atmosphere was great, very gothicky, which I always like :-(


Lady Whistledown Strikes Back, an anthology

>> Friday, December 03, 2004

I had high hopes for Lady Whistledown Strikes Back, since I loved The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown last year. That one had had 2 excellent stories, an ok one, and one that I didn't like but wasn't awful. Unfortunately, this new book wasn't nearly as good.

The first story was the best, The First Kiss, by Julia Quinn.

A dashing fortune hunter is captivated by the Season's most desired debutante...and must prove he is out to steal the lady's heart, not her dowry.
I liked this one, as I've liked everything I've ever read by this author. However, it wasn't really up to her usual standards. Yes, there were some wonderful parts, mostly from Peter's POV (when his feelings were described as he realized he was falling in love with Tillie, or during their first kiss, the way he was so desperate because he just knew this was going to be their only kiss and he wanted to make it unforgettable ::sigh::). However, the rest of it was a little lackluster. Just... nice, I guess. Pleasant reading, but not nearly enough of of the magic I know Julia Quinn can write and has written in other stories. My grade: a B

Then came The Last Temptation, by Mia Ryan. Ryan's story in The Further.... had shown some promise and some sparks of originality, so I was looking forward to see if that promise had been realised.

A lovely, free-spirited servant is dazzled by the romantic attentions of a charming earl...sparking a scandalous affair that could ruin them both.
Ugh, now, this one I just couldn't get into. The situation felt silly and so did the heroine, Bella. The whole thing about wanting to be kissed before she turns 30... contrived, contrived, contrived. And then there's the way she keeps getting lost in her own thoughts and laughing out loud at them, at the most inappropriate moments. I guess this is supposed to make her "free-spirited", or something, but it makes her silly, in my eyes. And she giggles! Constantly. Enough said.

And something else which threw me out of the story at the beginning: she keeps thinking "Bugger it". "Bugger the parrot!", "Bugger Lady Neely!", she consigns everything to be buggered. I'm really hoping "bugger" didn't mean then what it means now. It's not that I mind the language, but that I get the feeling the author is not really aware of exactly what "to bugger" means and how it would be much too coarse for the character she has created. I would be perfectly delighted by a character who uses the expression with awareness of what she's saying and exactly how outrageous she's being, but Isabella... it doesn't work.

Oops, and I haven't even mentioned the hero yet. That does tell you something about him, doesn't it? Not good at all, I'd rate this story a D.

The third story was The Best of Both Worlds, by Suzanne Enoch. I had no big expectations for this one, since I didn't like her story in the first Lady Whistledown anthology, and her latest book, England's Perfect Hero, was probably my most disappointing read this year.

An innocent miss who has spent her life scrupulously avoiding scandal is suddenly -- and secretly -- courted by London's most notorious rogue.
I did not like this one. It's basically: generic rake meets generic innocent twit. They fall in love and face a little opposition from her parents, who are unreasonably worried about scandal. Result: yawn.

I never did understand just why he loved her. No idea. I thought Charlotte was just a stupid self-sacrificing ninny. Oh, even if it's what she most wants in the world, she won't marry him without her parents permission, because she won't do anything that puts a blemish on their reputations, even the blemish will be only in her parents' imagination. Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot. And he loves her partly just because she's such a proper, dutiful daughter... sorry, chit. Enoch really overuses the word "chit", which just added to my irritation with the story. My grade is a D.

I hated the last Karen Hawkins book I read, How To Treat a Lady, but since adored her story in the last Lady Whistledown, I had high hopes for this one, The Only One for Me.

A roving viscount comes home to rekindle the passionate fires of his marriage...only to discover that his beautiful, headstrong bride will not be so easily won.
On the bright side, this story was much more engaging and interesting than the two previous ones, so the book ended on a somewhat higher note. However, I just couldn't get over Max's immature behaviour, leaving his wife for 12 years (!) in a fit of pique, and then expecting to easily win her back. And I lost a lot of respect for Sophia for the way she allowed him to do pretty much whatever he wanted with her. I'm more tired every day of the heroine who has very good reasons for not wanting anything to do with the hero, and who still melts into a puddle of lust the minute he kisses her and is incapable of voicing the slightest protest. My grade for this one would be a C+.

The "extras" of the anthology didn't work as well as they had in the first one, either. The coordination between the stories wasn't as well done, and I didn't enjoy Lady Whistledown's columns as much. In fact, I actively disliked the woman at times! Things like naming people as suspects of stealing Lady Neely's bracelet, for instance, were not good.

I think I'd give the anthology as a whole a C.


An Interesting Interview

>> Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I just read a fascinating interview at Jean Brashear's website:

Who dares to break the "rules" of romance, and what happens when they do? Is there a price to be paid? Is it harder to do now than in the past?

I asked these and other questions of some of the authors who've written the books we remember, the ones that take our breath, that make us whine "But So-and-So did it, why can't I?" I also interviewed some of the editors responsible for these risky "books of the heart."
I got some very interesting recs for books to add to my wish list, too!


Off Limits, by Michele Albert

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I always enjoy Michele Albert's books, whether she's writing under that name or as Michelle Jerott. Come to think of it, she is rather an autobuy author for me... Anyway, the latest book of hers that I read was Off Limits (excerpt). It's related to both Getting Her Man and Absolute Trouble.

Breaking All The Rules
Sexy and smart, Emma Frey is a by-the-books cop who knows there are certain men she should avoid -- and "bad boy" detective Bobby Halloran is a prime example.

But now she's been teamed up with the legendary heartbreaker, and everyone in the station house is making bets on how long Emma will be able to resist him. With Bobby turning on the charm -- and flashing his knees-weakening, million-dollar smile -- it's going to be hard for Emma to keep her mind on the job.

Despite his reputation, Bobby's got a heart of gold to go with his lady-killer looks. And when things start to get red hot on the mean New Orleans streets, the unwavering devotion and surprising tenderness of her delectable partner soon have Emma's head spinning. She has always lived by the rules, but some rules were meant to be broken. And though it could cost them both their badges -- or worse -- Emma can't help wondering if it might be worth risking everything for one sweet taste of off-duty passion . . .
It was excellent, just what I'm used to expecting from this author. My grade is a B+.

What sets Albert apart is the way her characters feel like real modern people. There are no stupid contrived issues, her characters talk to each other and react like normal people and their attitudes to life feel refreshingly modern. Also, there are often quirky little details, like Bobby watching Cowboy Bebop here, for instance.

Unlike what the cartoonish cover suggests (a romantic comedy with a ditzy heroine, maybe?), this story is darker in tone. Both the setting and the characters' issues were no light fluff, and I liked the way Albert dealt with them. I especially liked what she did with Bobby... no "love cures every problem" philosophy here. Bobby realizes he has a problem and will have to seek professional help. Yes, Emma will be there to support him, and that will help, but it's not enough.

How long until the author's next book, again?


Real Murders, by Charlaine Harris

>> Friday, November 26, 2004

Though I did enjoy Dead Until Dark, the first Charlaine Harris book I read, it didn't inspire me to keep on reading the Southern Vampire series, mainly because I didn't have the stomach for the vampire angle.

However, I'd heard good things about the two mystery series she'd written before that, so I kept an eye out for them. I recently managed to acquire them, and I started with the first book in the Aurora Teagarden series, Real Murders.

Twenty-eight-year-old Aurora (Roe) Teagarden, professional librarian, belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes. As a meeting is to begin, Roe discovers the massacred body of a club member. She recognizes the method of slaughter as imitating the very crime she was to address that night--suddenly her life as armchair sleuth assumes an eerie reality.

The murderer continues to claim victims, each in the style of a different historical killer. Roe herself becomes a target, and also attracts two admirers, Robin Crusoe, a famed mystery writer new to Lawrenceton, and club member/detective Arthur Smith. Death seems to have infused new life into her waning social calendar, an irony not lost on this pensive character.
While this was a quick and pretty easy read, and had an interesting setup, it wasn't nearly as good as I was hoping for. My grade would be a C.

My main problem was that I felt completely disconnected from the characters, especially Roe, even though she was actually the narrator! I even felt zero interest in Roe's love life, in whether she'd end up with Robin or with Arthur. All those dates and kisses only engendered a mild wondering if the one not chosen was going to end up being the murderer, as is so often the case when a heroine has two potential love interests.

I don't know why I felt so cool, really. Harris's all-tell-and-little-show writing style might have something to do with it, but it might also simply be that Roe wasn't too interesting herself.

The murder mystery itself was interesting to me, especially because I've always had a mild sort of fascination with the classic old murder cases. However, I just didn't think we knew enough to make even an educated guess as to who was the culprit, and that's always bad in a mystery novel.

Plus, the very gruesome murders didn't really jive with the tone of the whole thing, which was pretty cozy and light. At first, Roe's reactions were appropriate to the horror of the whole thing, but once things started escalating, I felt she was being a bit too lighthearted.

I have the next one in the series,A Bone To Pick, in my TBR, and it's probably staying there for some time. I'm sure I'll get to it, but Real Murders hasn't made me too anxious to read it...


Cry No More - my sister's early impressions

>> Wednesday, November 24, 2004

My sister has recently started Cry No More, after I nagged her half to death ;-) She doesn't read any reviews or synopsis before starting a book, not even the back cover blurb, so it was interesting to hear her thoughts, her ideas about what was going on, after the first few pages.

Right now she's read about 50 pages, up to right after the scene at the Mexican cemetery, in which Milla first runs into Diaz. For some reason, she's firmly convinced that the hero of the book is Milla's first husband, David, and that it was he back there, keeping Milla from getting killed. "A-ha, only a doctor could do that carotid-arthery thingie," she says. She thinks that even though Milla thinks he's given up on Justin, he hasn't; he has kept on searching, but in secret. She can't understand how it will all work out, since David is remarried and has children with his new wife, but she doesn't even contemplate the possibility that Milla will fall in love with someone else.

I do wonder if she'll like the real story, once she sees it's so different from what she's expecting...


The Tempting, by Lisa Harris

>> Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Tempting, by Lisa Harris (aka Bethany Campbell) sounded weird but interesting, so I thought I'd give it a try.


Carol Glendower does. More than anything, she wants her husband back -alive and well and with her.

Theirs had been a storybook romance. Evan was handsome, sexy... perfect. And extremely tempting. Within one short week of meeting, they were married. But soon, too soon, Evan was gone and Carol was alone.

Then one day a mysterious black cat arrives and shows Carol how to find Evan. Is it a dream or a nightmare? Or worse, is it real?
What a weird, wonderful book! The Tempting may well be the most original category title I've ever read. It's not perfect, but I'd give it a B+.

This book was so different that, actually, I'm not really sure if I should call it romance. It's more an exploration of how far a woman is willing to go in not letting go of the love of her life. If there is a romance here, it's in the flashbacks to Carol's and her dead husband, Evan's whirlwind romance and the short months of their marriage. Harris does a very good job here in showing the huge, larger-than-life nature of their love. It really does feel as a love that could transcend death.

Whatever, romance or not romance, it was a fascinating read. I couldn't stop turning the pages, and I found Carol an excellent character. The atmosphere was also wonderfully done, suitably creepy and mysterious, even frightening sometimes.

The Tempting would have been an A book, were it not for an ending which was a little disappointing to me. I thought it was at odds with the rest of the book, that it felt a bit like a cop-out, actually. It was also the last thing I was expecting, and I do like being surprised, so it wasn't that bad, though ;-) The main thing that bothered me (and excuse me for being cryptical, but this is one book one should go into without knowing much about it), was that it felt a bit too literal, when I was expecting something more symbolical. Hope this makes sense to someone who's read the book!


For The First Time, by Kathryn Smith

>> Monday, November 22, 2004

For The First Time (excerpt), is my first book by author Kathryn Smith. It's related to her Elusive Passion, whose hero is the brother of the heroine in FTFT, and at the same time, this title is the first in a new series, about the four Ryland brothers.

Devlin Ryland returned from Waterloo a celebrated war hero, but he would rather forget the war and all the things he did in the name of duty. Blythe Christian knows all too well the things men are capable of in war -- like betraying their betrothed. While neither can deny the attraction between them, both must learn to trust again, Devlin with his secrets and Blythe with her heart. Only then will either of them know the healing power of love.
I liked many things about For The First Time, but I thought it was uneven. My grade: B-.

I thought both main characters were interesting, likeable people. In a genre in which I usually get the impression that for most readers, the blander, more idiotically self-sacrificing and more of a martyr the heroine is, the better, Blythe was refreshing. I liked that she wants things for herself. What drives her is not the typical "I need to do this and that so that my sister can have pretty clothes and live a life of leisure, as is her right", but the desire to be happy. At the same time, she doesn't go to the other extreme and she's not a selfish, inconsiderate shrew. She simply acts as a regular person would. She wants a marriage which is happy and, after her almost-fiancé spurned her, she fears a relationship in which her feelings are not reciprocated.

Devlin is great, too. He's very much a tortured hero, but he's not one who expresses his unhappiness by treating everyone around him like dirt, trying to make them as miserable as he is. He's a nice, kind, noble man who treats Blythe with nothing but respect throughout the entire book. His issues, the reasons for his being a "tortured" character, were novel and interesting. He spent all the war as a sharpshooter, killing "the other side" from a distance. However, in Waterloo he had to kill someone face to face to save one of his fellow soldiers, and that shook him. This episode changed his self-image, becoming, in his eyes, someone who kills for a living, a murderer, a killing machine. He can't understand why people see him as a hero, why they aren't disgusted at him. I ate this up. I really appreciate it when war is not glorified, when an author takes pains to show that it's not just riding around and some exciting spying, that being a soldier can change a person.

The first half was wonderful and showed these characters at their best, while they fall in love. Theirs is an attraction at first sight, which quickly turns into more, as they get to know each other better. Devlin and Blythe spend quite a bit of time together, and they truly enjoy each other's company. They also have rather wonderful chemistry. I especially enjoyed how Devlin accepts Blythe exactly as she is and actually likes the ways in which she's different from other people.

I was really, really happy with the book at about the half-way mark. Unfortunately, however, in the second half these very exciting characters became a little tedious. I started feeling I was reading the same thing again and again, and I kept putting the book down and not really feeling the need to pick it up again. So why did I get bored? Basically because the author went overboard with all the issues that I had found so interesting in the first part.

Devlin became obtuse with his guilt about the war. I understand his self-loathing and his sense of unworthiness, but things like his insistence that Blythe would leave him if she found out, were over the top. She would leave him if she found out what? That he had killed during the war? He was a soldier and she knew this, what did he think she believed he had done during the war?

I also got bored by the power-playing about who would say "I love you" first. They each hold off from saying it long after it was reasonable. Frankly, both this and Deviln's problems smelled of conflicts that had outlived their natural life.

Still, the first part was so good that I'm giving the book a good grade. It also shows what this author can do, so I'll be keeping an eye out for the next books in the series. Devlin's brothers, especially Brahm and Wyn(?) sounded intriguing.


The Temporary Wife, by Mary Balogh

>> Friday, November 19, 2004

After reading Nonnie St. George's lovely Desert Isle Keeper review of Mary Balogh's The Temporary Wife at All About Romance, I was dying to read it. It was very, very hard to find, though, so I resigned myself to wait for years, if necessary.

Imagine my surprise, then, when saw it in my last batch of books I got from the US. I'd been arranging a trade with someone and had had to choose a book as filler, so that we came out even. So I chose The Temporary Wife as filler, LOL!

The Marquess of Staunton cold-bloodedly advertises for a governess for his non-existent children, chooses the plainest and dullest applicant, and offers her marriage. His only motive is to anger his estranged father, who has chosen a different bride for him. After he has presented her to his family, he plans to establish her somewhere with a great deal of money and never see her again.

Charity Duncan agrees to the strange bargain because she is desperate for money to help support her brothers and sisters. But when she meets his family and recognizes the pain behind the estrangement, her warm heart cannot remain aloof. And when Staunton realizes that his temporary wife is in fact neither plain nor dull, his cold heart stirs to new life.
Well, it was and excellent book, but not quite as good as I was hoping for, after such a glowing review. Still, it was quite good, I can't really complain, a B.

I found Charity and Anthony's relationship fascinating, the way Balogh so gradually showed the increasing intimacy and fondness for each other. What was especially interesting was that they were physically intimate almost immediately, but real emotional intimacy took much longer to achieve. I actually enjoyed how Anthony was so reluctant to get involved with Charity, even physically, but simply couldn't help himself. It was as if he was blocking what he really wanted from his conscious brain, but these needs kept escaping the lid he had put on them.

The book was as much about Charity and Anthony as about them (especially Anthony) and his family. It was very satisfying to see the barriers between Anthony and his brothers and sisters fall. There had been some heart-breaking miscommunication there, and some very difficult conversations were needed. Balogh did the way they danced around each other wonderfully.

However, one of my problems with the book came right here in this area. While I was cheering all the way at Anthony's rapprochement with his siblings, I wasn't so happy about his father. The thing is, I just didn't find the duke worthy of forgiveness. Ok, I understand that Anthony's memories of his father's treatment of his mother were only her side of the story, and she wasn't blameless there, either. So it's fine to me that that's forgiven and forgotten.

What I can't forgive, however, was the way he treated Anthony. I may be too rooted in the 21st century to be able to judge the situation as it would have been at that time, but to me, he was an abusive father. There was simply no excuse for the way he treated Anthony, not for the way he constantly physically "disciplined" him and never showed him any love as he was growing up, not for the duke's reactions on the episode that ended with Anthony leaving for good. That final big scene left a bad taste in my mouth.

I also had a bit of a problem with Charity, who was sometimes tedious and a bit of a martyr. I applaud her for accepting Anthony's offer. She had a lot to win and little to lose there. But why the need to saddle her with a motivation which includes her sacrificing because "my brother should be able to live the life of a gentleman of leisure. He shouldn't need to work!" Er, just why exactly? I find this type of thing very tiresome. And her final stunt was TSTL.

Still, apart from these problems, I liked the rest of the book quite well.


Dying to Please, by Linda Howard

>> Thursday, November 18, 2004

After Cry No More, the other Linda Howard I had in my TBR, Dying to Please, sounded very tempting.

Loyal. Beautiful. Professional. Impeccably organized. Potentially lethal. Sarah Stevens is a woman with many distinct qualities. First and foremost a butler par excellence, skilled at running large households smoothly and efficiently, she is also a trained bodyguard and expert marksman–indispensable to her elderly employer, a courtly gentleman whom Sarah has come to respect and love as a father.

Then one night she thwarts a burglary in progress, a courageous act that rewards Sarah her requisite “fifteen minutes of fame” with the local press. But the exposure is enough to catch the attention of a tortured soul who, unbeknownst to Sarah, will stop at nothing to have her for himself.

Sarah’s perfectly ordered life is shattered when tragedy strikes: her beloved employer is brutally murdered. The detective investigating the case, assures Sarah that she is not a suspect. Until lightning strikes twice. There’s a second killing–and this time, despite a lack of evidence connecting her to the crime, Sarah cannot escape the shadow of guilt.

The only option left for Sarah is to carry on with her life. But she doesn’t realize that a deranged stalker is luring her into an elaborate trap . . . one in which she, once ensnared, might never escape. For Sarah soon finds herself at the mercy of a man who will tend to her every whim, smother her with affection, and crush her in his all-consuming embrace.
Very disappointing, I'm afraid. It was very readable, as all of Howard's books always are, neither the romance nor the suspense were up to par, here. A big let-down, after loving Cry No More so much. My grade: a C.

The first problem I detected was that I wasn't too enthused by the suspense subplot. I'm up to here with mad murderers! I suppose it's much easier for author's too use the "he's mentally disturbed" motivation than to find a realistic one for someone to kill, but it bores me. This guy being so obsessed with Sarah being HIS just wasn't interesting. Plus, given the lack of an understandable motivation, the sheer number of deaths were even more disturbing.

And then I started noticing I wasn't really warming up to the characters. I felt strangely cool towards them and I didn't really know why, until bang!, I got to a scene where they're having dinner at Cahill's house and he tunes in to Fox News for background noise. Then it hit me, the reason I wasn't liking them all that much was that they were both so very conservative. I ordinarily don't have a problem with someone being more conservative than me, but these two feel like the kind of people who'd jeer at me for being a bleeding heart liberal.

And then I started seeing conservatism all over the place, from Sarah's adoration of anything military , to everyone driving SUVs, from Howard's obvious worship for the fact that this is such a rich people's town ("the town clock is a Rolex!!!") to the killer being someone who doesn't like red meat (and a half-joking comment that considering how he'd turned out, he should beat a path to a certain hamburger place and hope he could be saved). Those details weren't really overwhelming in themselves, but the accumulation made me uncomfortable and did become overwhelming in the end.

Apart from that, the romance was had some interesting aspects. It felt more "real life" than usual, with all those little man-woman power games, for all these two prided themselves on being honest and not playing games. Problem is, I didn't particularly like this.

I did like that Sarah didn't allow her entire life to be ruled by her relationship with Cahill. She needed a new job, she found one and didn't simply continue living with him. So this made it even worse when in the end, she simply gives up her lifelong dream of travelling the world for him, doesn't even make it an issue. They'd previously talked about making a compromise about it, so I thought maybe she'd decide to travel for less time and he'd take some leave and go with her, or something, but in the end, she gives up everything (even, possibly, her career, it isn't really made clear in the epilogue) prefering instead simply to marry him.

At least this one was written before Cry No More, so I can hope her next is more like that one!


Cry No More, by Linda Howard

>> Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cry No More, by Linda Howard seemed like it could be one harrowing read, but I apparently have a compulsion to read anything by Linda Howard (though so far I've avoided reading her most infamous titles, like All That Glitters, An Independent Wife or Sarah's Child, LOL!), plus, this is a book that evokes such strong feelings that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Count your blessings; they can be snatched away in an instant. It is a sentiment Milla Edge knows too well. With an astonishing blend of savvy, instinct, and passion, Milla displays an uncanny gift for finding lost children. When all seems helpless, desperate souls from across the country come to her for hope and results. Driven by an obsessive desire to fill the void in other people’s lives, Milla throws herself into every case–all the while trying to outrun the brutal emotions stemming from a horrific tragedy in her past.

Traveling to a small village in Mexico on a reliable tip, Milla begins to uncover the dire fate of countless children who have disappeared over the years in the labyrinth of a sinister baby-smuggling ring. The key to nailing down the organization may rest with an elusive one-eyed man. To find him, Milla joins forces with James Diaz, a suspicious stranger known as the Tracker who conceals his own sinister agenda.

As the search intensifies, the mission becomes more treacherous. For the ring is part of something far larger and more dangerous, reaching the highest echelons of power and influence. Caught between growing passion and imminent peril, Milla suddenly finds herself the hunted–in the crosshairs
of an invisible, lethal assassin who aims to silence her permanently.
Well, my first reaction is: no wonder it provokes such strong reactions, this is one emotionally powerful book! It's also one I enjoyed very much, one of Howard's best, if not THE best. My grade for it is an A.

I know many people have a problem with the subject matter of the book, a mother whose child was stolen away from her and who's spent all those years just looking for him. In fact, when I recommended it to my romance-reading friend, who has two small children, and offered to lend it to her, she said she didn't think she could deal with it for now. As for me, I was able to read it all right. I was affected by all of it, very much (I DON'T cry with books, but I did with this one), but I don't have children and don't plan to have any, so I guess it just didn't touch so close to home with me. I can intellectually understand the horror of it and identify with Milla's feelings, but only to a certain extent. I suppose I can't really imagine deep inside what it must be like, to experience such a loss.

Another potentially disturbing issue is the vigilantism in the book, both Diaz's job and something Milla does. I have a huge problem with vigilantism in real life and with the way it's so often glorified in romance novels, which is why I was actually disturbed by how NOT disturbing I found this book in that way, how I was actually cheering Milla in my mind to do... what she did (don't want to spoil things for anything).

Maybe it was the fact that the situations here were so clear-cut, so black and white, but I don't know, I can't get rid of the feeling that it should have bothered me more than it did, especially because what Diaz did wasn't simply him going after the bad guys in a personal crusade. He was state-sponsored. Unofficially, yes, but state-sponsored all the same, and I'm a firm believer in that if a state begins to break its own laws in order to go after lawbreakers, it lowers itself to their level and becomes unworthy of being defended against them. Those checks and balances were designed to protect the innocent, and what if one of these black and white cases is not as black and white as it seems to be? I believe that punishing one innocent person is much worse than letting a bunch of guilty people go loose, and that is why vigilantism offends me so much. And I realize I've gone way off-topic :-) Back to the book, let's just say that I was surprised by the fact that it didn't bother me, and move on.

On to the romance. Cry No More had such a strong plot that one would think the romance would have been eclipsed by it. Not so. I thought the romance was just magnificent, as were the protagonists. I loved Diaz. He's very different from the usual Howard hero. In fact, he's different from most heroes and actually, from most people I know, but feels real all the same. He's calm, apart from the world, detatched, but he's a man who's spent his life trying to right wrongs in the world, even if he doesn't see it that way himself.

I liked the way he subtly changed when he was with Milla. He wasn't exactly "normal" when he was with her, he was still the same person, but to a certain extent, he opened up with her. I loved that he'd been so discriminating in his sex life, it really made sense for the person he was. I found that so much more attractive than the usual Linda Howard oversexed heroes.

Milla was also an amazing character and an admirable one. What I liked best about her characterization was that she wasn't a one-note robot, for all that she'd made finding Justin the focus of her life. This wasn't the extent of who she was. It wasn't that her entire personality had been taken up by a machine focused on her mission, more like this mission had changed her and her personality had had to adapt, but it was still distinct.

I know someone complained in one of the AAR boards about a line in the book "I'd give my left nut to be inside you right now" (I'm quoting from memory, so excuse me if it's not exact), but it, and the whole relationship between Milla and Diaz, hit me just right and made me melt. I loved Diaz's gentle protectiveness even though he was aware of the fact that Milla was tough and respected her for it. I loved how they so immediately got to know each other intimately, how Diaz was able to open himself up with Milla more than he had been able to do so ever before.

I thought Howard wrote the suspense subplot very well. There was no much mystery as to who the villains were, and they were really disgusting people, something that came across especially clearly because we see them behaving like very nice people in other areas of their lives, and they're behaving that way because they do care about certain other people. It's especially chilling to contrast this to their criminal activities.

I especially liked the lack of a big, climactic final confrontation, though I know this won't be to many people's taste. The final "defeat" of the baby-stealing ring takes place off-scene, done by the police, the same thing Howard did in Open Season, and I liked it very much there, too.

I liked that the book didn't stop right after the climax, once Milla finally finds the answers to the question of what happened to her child. The story kept going and took us through the repercussions of it all, and this part was really excellent, both when it dealt with Milla's actions in regards to her son and when it dealt with the romance. And I'm not usually fond of those "10 years later" epilogues, showing our protagonists happily domesticated and surrounded by a brood of kids, but in this case, I ate it up. I actually loved seeing Diaz dealing with a family, because he was very much the same person he'd been in the rest of the book.

The only negative thing about Cry No More was that I went into a funk when I finished it. It had been such a great read, that I didn't feel like reading anything, especially not romance. I spent the rest of the day (a Sunday, when I usually spend the entire afternoon reading) surfing the net, doing other stuff and generally obsessing about Milla and Diaz, and the feeling was only slightly lifted by Monday morning. I was able to read something then, but not romance, something completely different, Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes, Gabriel García Márquez's latest (beautiful writing, as always, but so-so, mostly insubstantial story). I'm all better now, though ;-)

If you think you could deal with the plot, this is one book that shouldn't be missed.


Midnight in Ruby Bayou, by Elizabeth Lowell

And finally I get to the end of Elizabeth Lowell's Donovan series, with Midnight in Ruby Bayou

Faith Donovan is famous for crafting exquisite jewelry studded with fabulous gems. But the dangerous task of acquiring the rare rubies she needs for her art has taught Faith to be wary of anyone outside her own family -- especially someone like Owen Walker, an adventurer with an intimate knowledge of the ruby trade and man's murderous greed. But now necessity has thrown the them together, as they venture into the shadowy world of the wealthy and mysterious Montegeaus in search of quality stones.

A powerful Georgia clan descended from pirates, the Montegeausare said to possess a staggering fortune in gems, hidden for generations in the legendary Blessing Chest. In the living shadows of historic Ruby Bayou. Faith and Walker are soon drawn into a terrifying web of corruption and betrayal, and haunted by the dark, unfolding secrets of the Montegeaus past and present. For there are those who would kill for the contents of the Blessing Chest. And now two outsiders who have learned too much stand in the way...
Unfortunately, Midnight in Ruby Bayou was the weakest in the series. A C+.

My biggest problems with this book came from how the hero and heroine were portrayed. I had a hard time "buying" Faith's personality. Her self-esteem problems stemming from her relationship with her abusive ex-fiancé, Tony didn't really ring true, given her family and her close relationship with her well-adjusted twin. I found her insistence that she's not good at sex especially hard to believe. It's not that she knows intellectually that it is not so and yet can't brign herself to internalize it. No, she literally believes it and doesn't know any better. I'd have bought this in a historical heroine, or even in a naive heroine in a contemp, but not in someone like Faith.

Walker I didn't particularly like. He never really rose above the level of generic tortured hero for me, except for certain things which bothered me, not endeared him to me. The main issue that made me dislike him was the way the condescending bastard refused to tell Faith anything about the danger she was facing. He and her brother Archer were guilty of this, actually. It really didn't make sense to behave that way, it would have been better to have her forewarned, but I guess these two were too dominating and high-handed to even consider it.

I was also disturbed by what Lowell tells us about Walker's past as a covert operative. It was just something mentioned in passing, but it really angered me. As a young man, Walker had apparently supported his father and brother by flying a small plane to and from Central America. To reassure us readers that he was not a bad man, Lowell makes it very clear that he didn't run drugs, oh, no, but he did ran "guns for the U.S. government or its surrogates from time to time". Riiight. So he helped cause the deaths of thousands of Latin Americans, but that doesn't matter, at least he didn't bring drugs into the US that would have fed Americans' drug habits, so we're supposed to like him anyway. Like hell! Ok, breathing deep, and moving on, trying to ignore this.

The first half of the book, when they're in Seattle and then attending the jewelry show in Savannah was ok, especially before Walker and Archer start hiding things from Faith. Those parts are interesting and very promising. But once they get to Ruby Bayou, I thought Lowell went over the top. It was all very atmospheric, yes, but the whole thing about the Montegeau family (which I kept calling Montgeneau in my mind, I've no idea why) was simply every cliché about old Southern families piled one on top of the other, including some horrifying things I thought were dealt with a bit carelessly.

The romance was so-so. I thought it took a little too long to get going, and the ending was much too abrupt. Lack of pay-off, like in many of the other books in the series.

Oh, and finally a little nitpicky thing that bothered me, Walker's beard. Maybe I'm shallow, but I hate it when heroes have facial hair. I usually do my best to block it and imagine the guy clean-shaven in my head, but Lowell kept mentioning the beard constantly, so I couldn't even do that here.


Pearl Cove, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Monday, November 15, 2004

Pearl Covewas the book I wanted to get to when I started to read Elizabeth Lowell's Donovan series. Book # 1, Amber Beach, didn't give me all that much enthusiasm to continue, but after the second one, Jade Island, which was really good, I was dying to read Pearl Cove.

Surrounded by potential enemies, Hannah McGarry faces the mystery of her husband's suspicious death, the prospect of bankruptcy...and the disappearance of the fabulous Black Trinity necklace that was to be her financial security. Desperate, she calls Archer Donovan, a silent partner in Pear Cove, her late husband's pearl farm venture. He might help her...if the price is right.

Archer Donovan would rather forget he'd ever heard of Pearl Cove...its memories of living on the dark side, the soul-numbing certainty that there was no law, no justice, no mercy; just hunters and the hunted. That life taught him to trust no one but family. But when Hannah McGarry calls in an old debt Archer is back in the game. And at his side in pursuit of the stolen fortune is a woman he shouldn't want, yet cannot resist...a woman who may know more than she's telling about her husband's death...and more than is safe to know about the dark and elusive black pearls. With deadly competitors on their tails, Archer and Hannah race through uncharted waters in search of the fabulous Black Trinity. And the closer they come to finding the coveted pearls, the closer they come to danger and death...and to each other.
While this one wasn't as engrossing as Jade Island, it did improve on the areas that kept that one from being an A read. So, I'll give both of them the same grade, a B+.

There was a lot of focus on the romance here. The suspense subplot was important, of course, but I got the feeling the main purpose of it was getting Hannah and Archer together. And they did spend quite a bit of time together :-)

I liked the way the romance was developed. Maybe I'm a little twisted, but I actually really enjoyed all that about how Archer had been so crazy about Hannah all those years she was married to his half-brother. And there was more than enough angst in this romance, with Hannah being so afraid of the darkness in Archer, afraid that he was too much like her late husband, while Archer was madly in love with her and wanted to demonstrate he couldn't be more different.

When I said above that Pearl Cove improved in certain areas over Jade Island, I was talking about the "pay-off" of the romance. In both of the previous books, while the romance was developed well, with a lot of sexual tension, Lowell seemingly lost interest in it in the end and tried to just wrap it up as quickly as possible, which was why the final stages of the romance felt perfunctory. Not in this one, not at all. Much, much better.

I also enjoyed the family dynamics. Archer and Hannah spend lots of time in the Donovan family condo, and we get to know the family better, which was fun.

The information about pearls was fascinating, as in the previous books in the series. Lowell really gives an interesting glimpse into that world, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Of course, given the amount of space devoted to it, if I hadn't been interested in the subject in the first place, it could have felt too heavy-handed. Luckily, this was not the case.

This was excellent romantic suspense, just the type I like.


Not Quite a Lady, by Margo Maguire

What attracted me to Not Quite a Lady, by new-to-me author Margo Maguire was a hero who was suffering from some very real effects of his imprisonment and torture in Sudan, very similar to what attracted me to the very disappointing England's Perfect Hero, by Suzanne Enoch.

Beautiful and mysterious Lilly Tearwater was no lady. She was a fraud! With a wager at stake, Samuel Temple planned to find a scientific explanation for the mysterious apparitions that supposedly occurred at her inn and then settle down into a quiet, scholarly life. But Sam's plans fell apart when he met the exotic beauty, because she seemed to be practicing her magic on him!

Emotionally scarred from his recent captivity in the Sudan, Sam found the very thought of human touch — let alone intimacy — repugnant. But now he found himself desiring Lilly with every fiber of his being. And somehow Sam sensed that a decidedly unladylike Lilly could offer him the adventure of a lifetime....
Though the hero's issues were dealt with somewhat better here than they were in the Enoch book, ultimately, Not Quite a Lady was also a disappointment. My grade would be a C-.

At first, Sam and Lily were interesting chararacters. Both were globe-trotters at heart, but both found themselves rooted in England against their will, Sam by the traumas stemming from his imprisonment in Sudan, Lily by her responsabilities in England (basically, having promised to her adoptive mother that she would take care of her deaf sister). Their romance ended up freeing them. I was especially interested in Sam, who had had such a bad time in captivity that he now couldn't bear to be touched. This could have been such an interesting obstacle to be overcome, but though the problem wasn't simply put aside, as it was in England's Perfect Hero, I though the author could have got so much more out of it.

Part of the reason why she didn't was that the book was so busy. The length of a Harlequin Historical is better suited for an exploration of one major issue, not two biggies, like this and Lily's magic, and even a come-out-of-nowhere little suspense subplot near the end.

Let's start with Lily's magic. Oh, boy, Lily's magic! The concept was interesting, but the execution was just hugely frustrating. The author blew it in portraying the way Lily used her powers. I don't think any real person would act as she did. The main problem was that she was so very willy-nilly about it. See, whenever she performs some magic, there is an unpredictable effect. A huge storm, a tree falling down, a strange wind, a dead plant blossoming, a window breaking, stuff like that. So, at one point she says that for fear of these effects, she tries to do magic only when she doesn't see any other way out. What we see during the book, however, is the opposite. She uses her magic for stupid, unwarranted stuff (ripen a woman's vegetables, for instance, or quickly clean a room), but not for more important things, like to fix problems in her life. It is a real shame, because it could have been interesting.

I actually found the main use she gave her magic intriguing: she conjured "ghosts" so that her inn acquired a reputation for them and this brought her more guests. But even that didn't make all that much sense. So, it was ok to do this, to help with their money problems. Then, why didn't she simply conjure up some money? Why is it all right to use her magic to get money in a roundabout way, but not to save herself the trouble and do magic only one time and create money? After all, she's risking so many more unplanned consequences by making the ghosts appear so often than she would by making herself rich one time.

So, not only did this take away precious time from the more interesting issue in the book, it wasn't even that well done.

The romance was sweet, but I couldn't really bring myself to care all that much about it. Maguire tried to do this "hot" thing, but to me, the sexual tension never really got off the ground, however much I was told about their steamy fantasies about each other.

Too bad about all this, Not Quite a Lady was a book I was really ready to like.


A Woman Scorned, by Liz Carlyle

>> Friday, November 12, 2004

I've loved everything I've ever read by Liz Carlyle (and I've read all her historicals, at least), but A Woman Scorned (excerpt) is probably the one I've reread the most times.

Jonet Rowland, the Marchioness of Mercer is lovely, rich, and—it is rumored—an unrepentant adulteress. And when her philandering husband is murdered in his own bed, it's whispered that Jonet is a femme fatale in more ways than one. It will take a dashing and honorable soldier to get Jonet out of this one.

When his scheming uncle begs Captain Cole Amherst to investigate the death of his brother, Lord Mercer, Cole flatly refuses. But it is soon apparent that treachery stalks Lady Mercer's two innocent children. A man of God and a scholar, Cole reluctantly plunges into the viper's pit that is Jonet Rowland's life, and finds that nothing could have prepared him for the lust she inspires...or the danger which surrounds them.
A Woman Scorned is very much a comfort read for me. It's the perfect book to read on a stormy night, sitting in my favourite armchair, with a glass of good wine at my elbow. My grade: an A-.

The romance and main characters were really great. There was a bit of a role reversal here, in that the tortured character was the heroine and the hero was the one who had to bring a little sweetness and light into her life.

I did like Jonet, very much, even though I'm aware of the fact that she might come across as hard and abrasive at first. She has good reason to be distrustful of Cole, considering he's supposed to be James envoy, but she's not above using common sense and realizing that she was wrong and she can relax and be a bit softer.

As for Cole, Carlyle has succeeded in creating a hero who's honourable and idealistic and yet doesn't cross the line into weak or indecissive. He's a strong beta. He has his principles, behaves the way he believes someone honourable should, and doesn't hesitate to stand up to people and not let them manipulate him. My respect for him started when he refuses his uncle's "mission" to spy on Jonet in order to prove that she's a bad mother, and instead takes the post simply to make sure things are all right and refuses to report to James. I think my favourite scene in the book is one near the end, a love scene, actually, in which Cole pretends to be this very take-charge alpha and Jonet plays along, ending in both dissolving into laughter.

The initial situation between the was a steamy lust-at-first-sight, in spite of the fact that neither thought very well of the other. This has the potential to be irritating, if handled wrong, but it was done very, very well here. I loved the way this mix of feelings developed into love, for both of them, in spite of themselves.

The supporting cast was very strong. I was very intrigued with David when I first AWS, and even after having read his book, he's still a fascinating character. The children are also very well characterized and feel quite real. As for the suspense subplot, I liked that it was just important enough to motivate the story, but unobtrusive enough to let the focus be squarely on the characters and the romance.

In spite of being very engaging, this is not a fast-paced read. None of Carlyle's are, and the fact that she can handle a leisurely pace without dragging is one of the reasons I like her books so much.

Having reread all of the author's books within the past year, I really can't wait to get her new one!


Midsummer Moon, by Laura Kinsale

Midsummer Moon, by Laura Kinsale was recommended to me some time ago, when I had only read this author's Flowers From the Storm and disliked it. Someone (wish I remembered who!), said I shouldn't give up on Kinsale, because she hadn't liked FFTS either, but had loved some of her ligher commedies, such as this one.

All the king's men could not surpass the intellect, nor all the king's ladies the beauty of Merlin Lambourne. As the infamous Napoleon's deadly army grows ever closer, Lord Ransom Falconer frantically searches for an inventor who can create a new way to defeat the advancing forces. He unexpectedly finds that only the lovely Merlin is adequate for the challenge. Drunk from her intoxicating beauty, Falconer whisks Merlin backto his home on a trail of tender kisses, oblivious to mounting whispers ofscandal. His quickly falls under the spell of her magical touch. But as Napoleon draws nearer, Falconer must use Merlin's own inventions to protect her from danger. The magic of love surrounds them as they fall under the spell of undeniable passion.
Midsummer Moon was delightful. The humour was laugh-out-loud funny, the characters were well done and original, the romance was lovely and the plot lots of fun. My grade for it is an A.

Both protagonists were wonderfully written, just perfect. I especially enjoyed Merlin and her unique way of dealing with the world. Even her extreme naiveté, how she didn't even know sex existed, didn't rub me wrong, and believe me, I would ordinarily be irritated to death by something like this. It's just that this fit who she was so perfectly, an absent-minded genius who has decided certain things, like society's rules, or relationships with other people, are too unimportant to care about and that she'll just concentrate on others, like her inventions, which she feels are more important. She puts Ransom and their relationship in the same basket as those other "trivialities". That's a hell of a fight for Ransom, who in the end, needs to convince her that their relationship is important, too, and deserves her attention.

Ransom was wonderful, too. I loved seeing this proper, straightlaced and stiff-necked duke give in to the madness that was trying to follow Merline's mental processes. The moment he accepted, and even saw the charm in Merlin calling him Mr. Duke, it was obvious he was crazy for her. His fears for her made sense, as did the way he kept insisting she stop working on her flying machine.

The reason I could tolerate him trying to run Merlin's life was that the book didn't end with Ransom convincing Merlin to give up her goals. No, he accepts her as she is and, in turn, she makes room in her life for him. He'll probably end up spending the rest of his life taking care of the mundane details for her, and loving the process. I've read a few books where the relationship develops exactly like this, but it's usually the hero who's the genius and the heroine who takes care of him, which I guess makes it more acceptable for some people.

The humour in Midsummer Moon worked beautifully for me. I'm awful at trying to pin-point just why something was funny and something wasn't, but I'll give it a try. I love humour based on the absurd, and that was what this was. I especially adored the hedgehog, I really did laugh out loud whenever he appeared. And not only was it funny, Ransom's interactions with it added more dimensions to his (Ransom's) character.

Add to all this very compelling and well done secondary characters and an interesting plot to pull it all together, and you get an A read. Midsummer Moon was one of the most charming books I've read this year.


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