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.


Lord of the Storm, by Justine Davis

>> Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Lord of the Storm, by Justine Davis is a very, very hard to find book. I was practically dancing around the UBS, when I found it for about $1.00! I didn't even leave it at the clerk's desk while I continued browsing, as I'd done with the other books I'd found. What if someone saw it and stole it from me? ;-)


He is Wolf, one of the few survivors from the planet Trios, conquered by the mighty intergalactic Coalition. Magnificently handsome & virile, he is a valuable sexual slave programmed to pleasure a woman beyond her wildest dreams. She is Captain Shaylah Graymist, the Coalition's beautiful & fiery ace fighter pilot, with countless battles & victories to her credit. Medals are but a part of the reward for her heroism. Another is Wolf, offered to her as a special accolade.

But Wolf, whose spirit stays free even as his flesh is pressed into service, stirs more than Shaylah's hunger. He melts her heart. And they join together as equals to battle against slavery & the evil Coalition . . . and they unite as man & woman in the forbidden feeling called love - causing a burst of passion to shake the stars & light the vastness of space . . .
One of the marks of a keeper is when you simply can't put the book down, and when you've finished it, you can't stop thinking about it, and feel the need to go right back and reread certain scenes. That's exactly what happened to me with Lord of the Storm. I started it early on Saturday and finished it before midday. And then, during lunch, I just couldn't concentrate on conversation, because my mind was still with Shaylah and Wolf. My grade for LotS is an A-.

This is the kind of futuristic I do like. No barbarians kidnapping naive virgin healers, or crap like that. In fact, no sexism at all. Shaylah is a fighter pilot, and she's strong and resourceful (though, yes, a bit too prone to cry, almost as if to make her more palatable to readers who insist on "feminine" heroines).

Davis played with my emotions as if they were guitar strings, which made for plenty of knot-in-my-throat moments. Some of these scenes I know were a little manipulative... I mean, some were transparently manufactured precisely to tug at my heartstrings, but I still fell for it every time. Moments in which one of them would misinterpret something in a way that was not really understandable, just so that certain things would happen and the reader would get weepy. Still, I repeat, it worked.

I literally almost cried a couple of times, often with anger. The first part of the book, especially, with Wolf a slave, under the control of other people, wasn't particularly pleasant to read, but things improved once he was with Shaylah and they were on the run. The plot was very well done, fast-paced and full of adventure, but, at the same time, giving the protagonists plenty of time to develop their relationship.

As I said, I did like Shaylah. I liked her at the beginning and I admired the way she became willing to question the way things were done in her world and to fight against what she perceived as injustices. Wolf was a fascinating character, too, though I would have liked to see more of his POV. As it is, I admit, we do pretty much know how he's feeling every time, though, and it's incredibly affecting.

I'm now dying to read the sequel, Skypirate, which I've already ordered. The heroine is someone who was pretty hateful in Lord of the Storm, and I'm curious to see how Davis will redeem her. I really hope she won't defang her!


The Arms of the Law, by Jenna Ryan

One of the reviewers at AAR is a fan of series romance and in the past months she has written DIK reviews for some very different ones. I've tried a few and have been very happy with them. However, it was a different story with the latest I tried: The Arms of the Law, by Jenna Ryan, an Intrigue title.

A snowstorm at a psychiatric hospital and the discovery of a frozen corpse turn life upside down for the new doctor and the handsome homicide detective investigating. But when one murder becomes more, she finds comfort in THE ARMS OF THE LAW
The Arms of the Law sounded fascinating, a mystery set in a psychiatric hospital where people started turning up murdered. I love gothics, and this one was sure to have atmosphere in spades. It did, but it was all it had going for it, I'm afraid. It's too bad, but I have to give this one a D+.

The main characters were cardboard. Vachon, especially, never came alive and his "Oh, I can't trust Niki because she's a psychologist, and a psychologist once ruined my grandmother's life" routine was just stupid. He persisted in this for ages, and it got old fast.

Nikita irritated me with way too many TSTL moments . With a multiple murderer roaming loose, one who had actually attacked her a couple of times, she never hesitated in going alone all over the darkest, spookiest corners of the hospital, and was attacked every time. If this one had been a classic gothic, she'd be the idiot who hears a noise outside and goes to check it out in her nightgown, carrying only a candle.

As for the secondary, too many were unpleasant and their actions just didn't make any sense. I especially disliked Nikita's womanizing brother Martin, who openly cheated on his wife with every woman he saw. I even started disliking Nikita when she'd make her "boys will be boys" excuses for him and got upset with his wife (who was actually her friend!), for having an affair herself.

The romance was a bust. I didn't perceive any chemistry whatsoever between the Nikita and Vachon, and their realization that they were in love came completely out of the blue.

The mystery was interesting, and the setting was really good and made the ambience suitably creepy and spooky. But the whole thing was too contrived. In order to keep everything mysterious till the bitter end, the author ended up inadvertently portraying the police, including Vachon, as inept. They were so cavalier about the murders. No one took any special precautions, they neglected obvious lines of investigation (why did it take them so long to investigate exactly what was going on with Flynn's experiments in the basement?) and never got anywhere with their inquiries.

It took me almost two weeks to read; a lot, considering I'm a fast reader and this was a short book. I kept expecting it to get better, but it never did.


Captives of the Night, by Loretta Chase

>> Tuesday, November 09, 2004

As is often the case with rereads, one inspires another, and rereading Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels made me want to reread Captives of the Night, which stars two characters featured in LoS and I practically didn't remember.

Nine years earlier, lovely Leila Beaumont's criminal father died mysteriously. And now her cruel, profligate husband has been murdered--with innocent Leila suspected of the crime. Determined to uncover the truth, no matter how unpleasant, the beautiful portrait painter turns to the enigmatic Comte d'Esmond for help--a mesmerizingly handsome stranger who carefully hides an identity that would shock her . . . and a past that inextricably intertwines with her own. And though danger unites them, it is desire that chains their hearts--as d'Esmond's virility and bold, sensuous touch enflame Leila's blood . . . and draw her into the most irresistible intrigue of all: passionate love.
The only problem with reading this so close to Lord of Scoundrels was that I was expecting something just as good, especially because I'd been so intrigued by d'Esmond and Leila. I got something excellent, yes, though not as great as I was hoping for. Still, this was a very enjoyable B+.

Both Leila and Esmond were fascinating characters. I very much enjoyed Ismal, the dangerous man with the face of an angel. There's just something so good about a hero who is usually lethal, but who would never dream of hurting one hair on the head of the woman he loves. I loved the way he was so enigmatic to everyone, but couldn't help revealing himself to Leila. There was a little bit too much backstory to him, though. Chase did a good job in recounting the events from The Lion's Daughter, but it was so much that it took me out of the story, plus, I kind of felt I never got to know the whole Ismal, that I was just reading the second half of his character development. I wish I'd read TL'sD, but I'm afraid it very hard to find.

Leila was a great character, too, no "perfect" martyr heroine, but a strong woman with a real temper and who was nobody's fool. She didn't allow Esmond to manipulate and handle her as he usually manipulated and handled everyone else.

The mystery here was interesting, and I never came close to guessing what exactly had happened. It struck a good balance with the romance, enhancing it, not overwhelming it.

All in all, an excellent book, perfect if one is looking for something a bit different from the norm.


Lady Gallant, by Suzanne Robinson

>> Monday, November 08, 2004

I just checked my records and I purchased Lady Gallant, by Suzanne Robinson on February 2002. 2 years and 8 months, it spent in my TBR shelf. It's strange, actually, because from the comments I'd heard I knew I was likely to enjoy it.

The ladies of the palace called Nora Becket "mouse". But beneath her shy, artless ways hid the heart of a lioness. A daring spy in Queen Mary's court, she risked her life to rescue the innocent from a terrible fate. Yet it was Nora who needed rescuing when cutthroats attacked her - and when Christian de Rivers, a lusty sword-wielding rogue, swept her out of harm's way...and into his arms. As magnificent and mesmerizing as a hawk, Christian both frightened and excited Nora, even as he pursued her with a single- minded passion that left her longing to be caught. Yet soon she would discover that she had reason to be frightened. For the dashing nobleman had his own secrets to keep, his own enemies to rout - and his own brand of vengeance for a wide-eyed beauty whom he loved only too well...
It was an excellent read, as good as I'd heard and more. My grade: an A-.

I loved both the characters and their romance and the excellently done setting.

Christian and Nora were not characters who felt like the same old thing. They felt fresh and they felt real. Christian was a fascinating character, brash and charming and dangerous at the same time, capable of both tenderness and cruelty. We discovered him little by little, with the author gradually showing us more and more of his facets and not falling into the temptation of over-exploiting his past, which she left a bit mysterious. I loved the way Robinson showed his increasing fascination with the woman he, at first, had seen as much too weak for him. As for Nora, wow! This was a woman who really came into her own during the book, changing from a timid mouse to a dragon.

And now to what first attracted me to the book, the grovelling. I'm a sucker for a good grovel, i.e., not one that is 2 paragraphs long coming after 400 pages of the hero treating the heroine like dirt. The one here was just about perfect. At one point, Christian believes Nora has betrayed him, and, hurt, decides to wound her as badly as she has wounded her. His actions literally kill her love, and he then has to make an almost superhuman effort to win her back. What I liked so much about it was that Nora is not trying to get revenge when she won't forgive him. No, she's been so badly hurt by him that she really has stopped caring. When she doesn't want him to touch her it's not because she fears he'll make her want him again, but because his touch takes her back and makes her hurt, so she can't tolerate it. Christian has to make her fall in love with him all over again, and the process all but kills him, and he deserved the suffering. It was all so wonderfully satisfying!

The setting was also outstanding. The final days of the reign of Queen Mary come to life. It's a colourful world, and one where violence lurks under the shiny colours. The language is also perfect. There is some political intrigue, with both Nora and Christian being supporters of Princess Elizabeth at Queen Mary's court, but the focus is on the romance.

From the reviews I've been able to read, Robinson's other books are not as good as this one. A shame, but this one was so excellent I think I'll still look for them, especially the one that's a spinoff of this one.


Devil Takes a Bride, by Gaelen Foley

>> Saturday, November 06, 2004

Devil Takes a Bride (excerpt), by Gaelen Foley, is the latest in the author's Knight Miscellany series. The characters here are not actually part of the Kight family, but the Knights do take part in the story.

In the quiet English countryside, far from the intrigues of London, Lizzie Carlisle slowly mends her broken heart, devoting herself to her new position as lady's companion to the Dowager Viscountess Strathmore---until her peaceful life is turned upside-down by a visit from "Devil" Strathmore, the old woman's untamed nephew---a dangerously handsome man whose wicked reputation hides a tortured soul.

Devlin Kimball, Lord Strathmore, has spent years adventuring on the high seas, struggling to make his peace with the tragedy that claimed the lives of his family. But now he has uncovered the dark truth about the so-called accident and swears retribution. Then, to his astonishment, his eccentric aunt's will forces him and Lizzie together, and Devlin finds his path to vengeance blocked by the stubborn but oh-so-tempting Miss Carlisle. Her passionate nature rivals his own, but disillusioned once by love, Lizzie will accept nothing less than his true devotion. . . .
Devil Takes a Bride was a bit disappointing to me.

It was especially disappointing because some things about it were really excellent. I just adored the romantic triangle, with Devlin and Alec Knight, Lizzie's first love, competing for her attention. When I'd read the previous books in the series, I feared Lizzie was actually going to end up with Alec. I was not anxious to read that story, as I couldn't see Lizzie as anything else than a kind of mother figure to Alec and I'm not interested in reading about a romantic relationship in which the guy behaves badly and the woman takes care of him. So, seeing him get his comeuppance and Lizzie getting the better man was very satisfying.

Unfortunately, I had a lot of problems with the rest of the book. First of all, pacing. Dev and Lizzie's relationship was pretty much solved long before the end of the book. They'd exchanged "I love yous", they'd decided to marry, all done. All was left to provide conflict was the plot about the killers of Devlin's family, which I just wasn't that interested in. The result was that the last 100 pages were simply not interesting to me, even if it was fast paced and included a lot of "thrilling" moments. No romance, no Alec suffering *bg*. To be honest, I wasn't too crazy about that suspense subplot at all. It was very reminiscent of the one in Lord of Fire, but that one was much better.

Another problem I had was actually with the romance. Most of it I loved, but there were certain moments which were kind of sacharine sweet, way over the top. Devlin and Lizzie raptly staring into each other's eyes for hours... stuff like that. Over the top. And Devlin's characterization was sometimes a bit too melodramatic.

My grade would be a B-. I was close to giving it a C+, but then I remembered how much I loved the triangle, and how rare it is to find a situation in which two men who are basically "hero material" competing for the heroine. If the hero has competition at all, it's usually someone who's so obviously horrid that there's never even a contest.


Key Trilogy, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, November 04, 2004

To avoid burn-out, I usually try to space out books by the same author, even if they are part of a series. I even try not to read two books in a row in the same genre! So far it's worked and I haven't really had a slump in years.

With Nora Roberts Key Trilogy, though, I decided to make an exception and read all three books together.


Three women. Three keys. Each has 28 days to find her key. If one fails, they all lose. If they all succeed, money, power, and a new destiny await.

Book 1: Key of Light:

The life of gallery manager Malory Price is stalled when she is invited to a reception at a mansion near her small Pennsylvania town. Upon her arrival, she discovers that she is one of only three guests-all of whom are feisty young women with life challenges just like her own.

Their mysterious hosts explain that centuries earlier, they allowed the souls of the three demigoddesses under their care to be stolen by a sorcerer. Legend says the demigoddesses cannot be freed until three mortal women find the keys to the glass box in which they are housed. Should they agree, Malory, Dana Steele and Zoe McCourt will each receive $25,000 to search for the keys, plus a million dollars if they succeed. They nervously accept, and Malory is the first to tackle her task, with the help of Dana's charming but commitment-phobic brother Flynn.

This second book continues the story of three contemporary female friends chosen to free the souls of ancient demigoddesses called the Daughters of Glass. This time, the heroine is Dana Steele, a librarian who is sure that the key she's seeking lies in a book.

As she begins her search, Dana renovates Indulgence, the gallery-cum-salon-cum-bookstore she is opening with her friends Malory Price and Zoe McCourt. She also spends sometimes passionate, sometimes vexing time with Jordan Hawke, the thriller writer who broke her heart years earlier when he abandoned her and their small Pennsylvania town of Pleasant Valley to seek fame in New York. Dana slowly realizes that the love they once felt for each other has not died-and that Jordan's writing is inextricably entwined with her supernatural quest. In the end, Jordan must join with Dana to fight the spells of the sorcerer Kane and fulfill the terms of her quest.

Book 3: Key of Valor:

This book concludes Roberts's Key Trilogy. The third and last woman to make the attempt is hairstylist Zoe McCourt. Like her friends Malory and Dana, Zoe has a single month and a cryptic set of clues with which to find her key. The angry sorcerer Kane fights her efforts as friends both mortal and immortal lend their support.

As she searches, Zoe is courted by Bradley Vane IV, the sexy heir to a home improvement empire. She's not sure which is more difficult: accepting that she's magically linked with Brad or trying to quell her suspicions long enough to accept his love in the here and now. When she finds the courage to do both, the souls of all three goddesses are finally released.
By the time I was half-way through Key of Light, I was very glad I was going to be able to read all three books together. Nora's trilogies are always very interconnected, to a much higher degree than those series in which the only link between books is that the protagonist is the brother of the hero of the first book, or something like that.

That said, of all her trilogies, this one's probably the one where all thre books are most of all a whole. Each book focuses on one of the three couples, but the remaining two don't fade into the background. Dana and Jordan don't politely wait until the second book to start developing their romance, and neither do Zoe and Brad. And of course, there's the plot about each woman's quest to find one of the keys and free the Daughters of Glass. That one develops equally in each of the books. In fact, I think someone who started reading books 2 or 3 would be very lost, and someone who started by reading number 1, will feel they're missing part of the story if they don't read the other books. They simply don't stand alone very well. This made reading them together even better, so I'm not complaining about it at all, but someone who's interested in reading them should take note of this fact.

I very much liked all three romances, though I didn't really find any of them tremendously outstanding. Malory and Flynn were very sweet, and I liked the way she was the one to pursue him. This made for some very funny moments, as Malory delighted in making Flynn nervous. Malory was fun, being so girly and happy with it, while Flynn was a sweetie.

I liked Dana and Jordan's romance, too, but it was a bit overshadowed by the fact that I'd read Face the Fire not one month before, and I liked it a bit better where Nora went with the reunion romance in that one. Still, I did like their story, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that both were so crazy about books. I had to laugh at Dana having a "bath book", a "bedside table book", a "breakfast book", and so on!

Zoe and Brad's storyline was probably the one I liked best, simply because I adore stories where the hero falls for the reluctant heroine fast and has to win her. I loved the moment in the first book when Brad sees Zoe for the first time and his knees go weak (see what I meant about having to read all three books to get the entire story?) and I thought Nora did very well the way he felt he couldn't seem to do things right in front of her. However, I did find Zoe a bit too prickly and ready to jump to (the worst) conclusions about Brad's actions.

The books weren't only about the three romantic relationships. The friendship between these six people was a major part of them, and one I really liked. I enjoyed reading about the increasing new friendship between the three women, and the continuing friendship of the men, who had known each other well for so many years. They felt distinctly different, as was the way they interrelated as couples. All these dynamics were wonderfully done.

I also enjoyed the plot about finding the keys. I always like quests and treasure hunts, and these were very entertaining. Each woman's process of searching for the key was interesting, and the solutions were very satisfying and appropriate for their personalities. The supernatural element here was done very well, too, much, much better than in the Three Sisters Island trilogy.

I'd grade the books maybe B separately, but as a whole, this trilogy is a B+.


The Paid Companion, by Amanda Quick

>> Monday, November 01, 2004

I'd heard The Paid Companion being compared to Amanda Quick's older books, so I just had to read it!

The Earl of St. Merryn needs a woman. His intentions are purely practical—he simply wants someone sensible and suitably lovely to pose as his betrothed for a few weeks among polite society. He has his own agenda to pursue, and a false fiancée will keep the husband-hunters at bay while he goes about his business. The simplest solution is to hire a paid companion.
Finding the right candidate proves more of a challenge than he expected. But when he encounters Miss Elenora Lodge, the fire in her golden eyes sways him to make a generous offer.

Her sorry financial circumstances—and dreams of a life of independence—convince her to accept. But St. Merryn appears to be hiding a secret or two, and things seem oddly amiss in his gloomy London home. Elenora soon discovers that this lark will be a far more dangerous adventure than she'd been led to believe. And the Earl of St. Merryn will find that the meek and mild companion he'd initially envisioned has become a partner in his quest to catch a killer—and an outspoken belle of the ball who stirs a bothersome passion in his practical heart.
Well, it does feel, in a way I can't really pin-point, more similar to earlier AQs than some of her more recent books, but I still found elements of what I haven't been liking so much about the author lately. I guess I could call it a small step forward. My grade: a B-.

The romance had a lot of potential. Arthur and Elenora are two outsiders, who find in each other the understanding they haven't been able to find anywhere else. I loved the way they immediately clicked and instinctively knew who the other was. This was what I meant when I said some things were as good as in early books, in Quick's latest I'd felt very little chemistry between her protagonists.

It could have been better, though, if more space had been devoted to it. There's still too much emphasis on the convoluted and, unfortunately, uninteresting suspense subplot, and the romance suffers for it, especially in the end.

Also, it may sound shallow, but the book needed a bit more sex, in my opinion. The mental attraction was wonderfully done, but the sexual attraction and the love scenes could have been better. Quick used to write such great love scenes, scenes which were not gratuitous in the least and served to further develop the romance.

Still, it was an entertaining book, and very much a comfort read.


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