In The Teeth Of The Evidence, by Dorothy L. Sayers

>> Friday, May 28, 2004

In The Teeth Of The Evidence is a collection of short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers. It contains 3 types of story:

First, 2 Lord Peter Wimsey stories. Pretty unremarkable, both of them. The second one, Absolutely Elsewhere, which shows Lord Peter destroying what looks like a cast-iron alibi, is ingenious, but that's it.

After those, come the Montague Egg stories, 5 of them. Also mostly unremarkable, with the added problem that in a couple, the solution rested on a minute knowledge of abtruse subjects, like the inner working of grandfather clocks. Maybe at the time of writing it was common-ish knowledge, but now...

Anyway, I thought the best of these 5 was Bitter Almonds (about Montague investigating the death of a client who died after drinking one of his (Monty's) spirits), that in that one, too, the solution was unguessable. I also quite enjoyed The Professor's Manuscript. The clues there that suggest all is not as it seems are clearer.

And then comes the good part of the book, 10 short stories, none of them detective stories, and these were something else. I quite enjoyed these.

---> The Milk-Bottles was a cute story about newspaper journalists making much ado about the mystery of a house in the tenements where the milk bottles started to accumulate at the door and an awful smell started emanating from within. Nice!

---> Then Dilemma, a story I loved, which recounted an evening at the pub discussing "ethical problems" such as... "if you had the choice between rescuing from a fire a diseased tramp and the Codex Sinaiticus, which would you save?" I loved the conclusion!

---> An Arrow O'er the House was entertaining, with an author trying to attract a publisher's notice by starting a marketing campaing... sending the publisher ominous anonymous notes. I thought it was going to go in a very obvious direction, but there was a nice twist in the end.

---> Scrawns was pretty good and creepy. I liked the atmosphere in the house where the young protagonist arrives to take a parlourmaid job.

---> Nebuchadnezzar was one of my favourites. It narrates an evening playing a game called Nebuchadnezzar, a version of charades and the effect it has on a young man whose wife has recently died. This was excellent, especially the way it showed the increasingly weird state of mind of the man from whose POV this its' narrated.

The only thing I wish is that I knew more about those bible stories used to act out the charades. I'm shockingly ignorant in that aspect.

---> The Inspiration of Mr. Budd is a fun story. Mr. Budd is a hairdresser whose shop is doing badly. He needs capital, and when he recognizes a client as a wanted murderer, he sees a chance to get the reward. The only problem is, Mr. Budd has no chance against a big, strong man like this guy. His solution had me laughing, wonderful man!

---> I didn't much like Blood Sacrifice. It's about a playwright whose play was bought by a famous actor-manager and adapted in a way the writer feels is nauseatingly sentimental, and is ruining his reputation as a "serious" playwright. Alas, the play is having a great success, so he can't do anything. Unless, of course, something should happen to the actor-manager...

---> Suspicion was pretty good, if depressing. Mr. Mummery has recently hired a new cook, and has, also recently, started to have gastrointestinal trouble. It just so happens that a poisoner, a middle aged woman, is at large and presumed in the neighbourhood... Mr. Mummery puts two and two together and starts feeling uneasy.

---> The Leopard Lady wasn't too good. It's about a guy who's having money trouble, and could do with the money his nephew and ward has inherited. What if someone offered him to remove him with no risk? I found this just depressing.

---> Finally, The Cyprian Cat. I didn't completely "get" this one. This is told in the first person, as the narrator tells his defense attorney what happened, why he shot a cat making noise and is now to be tried for murdering his friend's wife.

With no clunkers and quite a few little gems, this anthology deserves a B+.


Ashes to Ashes, by Lillian Stewart Carl

I'm always looking for authors similar to those written by one of my favourites authors, Barbara Michaels. In the past, I've been recommended books by Susannah Kearsley and Barbara Erskine. The latest rec was for Lillian Stewart Carl. To give me a taste of her writing, I orderedAshes to Ashes, the first in a series of 3 related books.

Historian Rebecca Reid comes from Missouri to a replica of a Scottish castle located outside a small town in Ohio. She's cataloging a collection of historical artifacts, among them, supposedly, a scandalous letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots. But her co-worker, Scottish historian Michael Campbell, has his own plans. And the ghosts of the past, not to mention a very contemporary antagonist, want them both gone.

LSC: This book was inspired by the actual castle in Scotland, Craigievar. When I visited there again, right before the book was published, I found a young Oklahoman named Rebecca acting as tour guide. She's probably wondering to this day why I kept staring at her.
Ashes to Ashes barely escaped getting a C-range grade from me. I was generous and gave it a B-.

It was actually a bit weird. Both the plot and the characters were very enjoyable to me, but my problem was that actually reading the book was hard going. I've no idea why. I mean, I can't identify any problems with the writing style that might have slowed me down, but there must have been something! It took me about 4 days to finish this, and one and a half of these days were a weekend!

What I liked best here was the plot, the way it was soon obvious to Rebecca and Mike that there's supernatural stuff going on in the castle and how they accept it and start investigating. But even this wasn't perfect. Maybe Barbara Michaels has spoilt me, with her characters who take an almost scientific approach to the supernatural, but I thought these two jumped to conclusions much too quickly. Ghostly footsteps? Oh, that must be James. No other possibilities are explored. They immediately decide it's James, and proceed accordingly. Michaels' characters would have had a long discussion about how they can't assume anything, and they agree to a working hypothesis that it is James ;-)

Anyway, apart from these niggles, it was ok, and the solution was nicely intrincate. Complicated enough to make it interesting, but not so much as to make it incomprehensible.

The characters were nicely drawn, too, and I especially appreciated that the heroine was allowed to feel sexual desire for someone other than the guy who ended up being the hero. Most of the secondary cast was well done, especially Dorothy, one of the characters who've repulsed me the most lately. Just rubbed me the wrong way, I guess.

So, not too good, but promising. I'll be ordering the next 2 books in the series.


Beauty Like the Night, by Liz Carlyle

>> Thursday, May 27, 2004

I love Liz Carlyle! Since the last I'd read, No True Gentleman, had been a little disappointing, I didn't remember exactly how good her early books were until I started to reread them.

Beauty Like the Night is the third book the author published and, unlike many of the books that followed, it's not related to the previous ones.

The daughter of London’s wickedest widow, Helene de Severs has learned to govern her own reckless emotions. Renowned within Europe’s emerging field of psychiatric medicine, Helene has a gift for healing children. When fate sends her back to the village she once left in disgrace, Helene is confident she can govern her own reckless emotions, too.

The Earl of Treyhern has dragged his family back from the brink of ruin. But a disastrous marriage has left him with a traumatized child, and his rebellious brother Bentley is just one step ahead of the bailiffs. When his father drops dead while debauching the governess, Treyhern’s famous self-control almost snaps. Desperately in need of a good governess, Treyhern hires the very best. And when Helene steps down from his carriage, his resolve is truly tested—by a rush of desire he’d long thought dead.
Amazing, an A-.

I just love the way Carlyle writes. Her writing style is sumptuous, opulent, lyrical, lush, even, but NOT purple... quite a feat! I've no idea if her research is accurate or not, but the period comes alive through her writing.

Add to that the fact that she's a wonderful storyteller and that she's created fascinating characters, too, and you see why I loved this so much.

The story itself was great, very sensual and moody, and I liked that it's mostly character driven. There's a suspense subplot that is latent throughout but only comes to the forefront near the end, for the dénouement, luckily, because it's not really too interesting and much too obvious.

Cam and Helena, on the other hand, are interesting and are not at all obvious. Cam is a man who has reacted to his father's womanizing and debauchery by trying to become his exact opposite. He's sober and serious, and about to marry for duty, and he really doesn't know what hits him when Helene, the young woman he fell in love with as a teenager, shows up. He just can't stop lusting after her and she evokes feelings he has no idea how to deal with. He keeps trying not to be like his father, but being near Helene makes him a little crazy. I loved it!

Helena was a wonderful character, too. She's sophisticated and knowledgeable, and doesn't make it easy for him. My only disappointment is that the author makes her a virgin, thus in a way making this like those clichéd stories about a women falling in love as teens and pining chastely after the guys for years, while those same guys have their fun all over the place. Still, at least she wasn't a naive twit.

And those two together were steamy hot. Carlyle really does know her way around a love scene ;-) Oh, and those flashbacks to their original relationship were wonderfully sexy, too, with the 18 and 17 year-old kids crazy about each other. Is it sick of me that I love reading about those very sexual teenage crushes... Brockmann's Unsung Hero, Laura Moore's Night Swimming, for instance?


His Bride, by Gayle Callen

>> Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I read my first Gayle Callen, His Scandal, last summer. That was the second book in a trilogy, and the one I read last week, His Bride (read an excerpt), is the third.

Gwyneth Hall has heard the dark rumors about Sir Edmund Blackwell, the man she is betrothed to but has never seen. To save her penniless
family from ruin, however, she would wed the devil himself. And this gorgeous, moody "devil" sends a tremor of excitement racing through her when they first meet--sparking the young bride's determination to turn a marriage of mere convenience into much more.

Edmund dares never love again. Already wicked tongues falsely blame him for a crime he didn't commit. And while his exquisite new bride fills him with intense desire, their union is simply a means for him to retain his hard-won lands. Gwyneth is, after all, related to his despised enemy and therefore not to be trusted. But how long can Edmund resist the temptation of her luscious lips...or her warm sensuous touch?
There were many things I liked here, but I did have a few problems. Still, what was good was good enough for me to give this a B- grade.

The best thing was how there were no distractions from the hero and heroine and their relationship. The focus was completely on them, because what passed for a suspense subplot was so slight as to be insubstantial.

I also enjoyed the hero and the setting. Edmund was a nice guy, a man who wasn't refined and felt a little insecure about whether he'd appeal to the heroine. He'd had a horrid first wife, and, given the very typical "my first wife was a whore, so now I despise all women" idiots which about in romance, I'll give
Edmund extra points for not taking this attitud and always being nice to Gwyneth.

As for the setting, this took place in a country estate, far from London, in Elizabethan England. Made for a nice change!

And now for what didn't work so well. First of all, I wasn't too crazy about Gwyneth. A bit too perky and gratingly innocent and naive. And I was utterly creeped out by all the emphasis on her tinyness and the contrast to Edmund's hugeness.

Also, what there was of a suspense subplot didn't make any sense. I still don't understand what the villains were trying to do!


Twist of Fate, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I really thought I had all Jayne Ann Krentz's single titles and that all I had left to buy were old categories, so I was surprised when my copy of Twist of Fate arrived and I saw it was about 400 pages long.


Cloistered as a faculty member at a small college, beautiful Hannah Jessett could almost forget her family heritage. Few knew she was the niece of the legendary Elizabeth Nord, the brilliant anthropologist who stunned the world with her revolutionary work.

When her aunt died, leaving Hannah in sole possession of her priceless unpublished journals, Hannah was too concerned with other matters to pay much attention. Her brother's company was about to be destroyed by Gideon Cage, the wealthy entrepreneur with a notorious reputation in the boardroom...and the bedroom.

But when she confronted Gideon, all she saw was a powerful man with a fast smile and soft eyes. Before she could catch her breath and really understand this puzzle of a man, her whole world was suddenly threatened: her brother, her aunt's legacy, her heart - and her life!
I'm afraid I wasn't really too crazy about this one, mostly because I thought it was a little schizophrenic. A B.

I thought the first part of the book, and the type of conflict set up there was pretty good. Gideon (strange that JAK seems to like that name so much!) was a familiar character. JAK used a very graphic description: he's like an unbeatable gunslinger who's getting old and knows that sooner or later a younger, quicker guy is going to come along, and still, even though he knows it's just a matter of time before he experiences defeat, he can't figure out a way to stop fighting.

So, it seemed that the book was going to be mostly about this, about a guy trapped in a lifestyle he's actually never enjoyed but felt compelled to keep living, and how he falls in love with a woman who makes him see this.

However, about halfway through the book the focus shifts to Hannah, and I'm sorry to say she was a much less interesting character, at least to me. Plus, her conflict became boooring after a time, and to me, it was just much ado about nothing. I didn't understand how Hannah had become so convinced that, for instance, being a strong, independent woman meant being alone in life and not being able to care about anyone. Way too much introspection, too.

Good grade for an interesting first half, lowered for a disappointing ending.


Vanish With The Rose, by Barbara Michaels

>> Monday, May 24, 2004

I hadn't reread Vanish With The Rose, by Barbara Michaels in ages.

There's something fishy about Diana Reed, the old-rose expert hired by a pair of former professors who've bought an 18th-century mansion in the Virginia countryside: she seems to know nothing about plants. Not that the trusting and house-obsessed Nicholsons notice; in fact, after a couple of days tramping the grounds with her newest employee, Emily Nicholson takes her husband off on a cross-country rose-hunting trip, conveniently freeing Diana from her watchful presence for the remainder of the book.

For Diana, this situation is perfect: in real life a successful young attorney, she's come to the mansion to search for her missing brother (last seen working as a handyman for the estate's previous owner). Left alone in the house with Andy, Emily's dilettante son; Walt, a rugged-but-compassionate contractor; and Mary Jo, overworked housekeeper and ex-battered wife, Diana must sort out whether her increasingly frequent visions are a centuries-old psychic legacy or her brother's attempt to communicate from beyond the grave.
I remembered very little about Vanish With The Rose (unfortunately, one of the few things I did remember was exactly what had happened to Diana's brother. Oh, well). I had the impression that it had no supernatural element, but it did, one that was less "important" than the one in favourites like Ammie Come Home, or The Walker in Shadows, but which was, nonetheless, interesting. A B+.

The "ghost plot" was pretty good. I was actually very surprised when we finally got all the info, because Michaels had been very good at distracting us and pointing us at in a completely different direction. And yet, looking back, we had all the clues to figure out what was going on.

I also enjoyed the characters and their dynamics, especially once Diana's story is out in the open and she's sharing the house with Andy, Walt and Mary Jo. The love story was a bit too subtle, though. I mean, if I hadn't read all of Michaels' books before, I'd never have guessed that there was anything between Diana and her love interest!

I suppose Vanish With The Rose could be a little too meandering for some people, but the pacing really worked for me. An excellent comfort read.


Heart Duel, by Robin D. Owens

>> Friday, May 21, 2004

Since the world in Robin D. Owens' Heart Thief was so very complex, I thought it would be a good idea to not let too much time lapse before reading the following one, Heart Duel. This one's the third in the series.

Healer Lark Collinson hates the street duelling that is a way of life among the noble families on Celta -- it was just such a skirmish that killerd her Healer husband and left her a grieving widow. The last thing she wants is to lov a man to whom fighting is a way of life -- a man like the brashly confident Holm Holly.

All it takes is one brief touch for Holm to know that Lark is his HeartMate, though wooing her will be his greatest challenge. For not only does she despise everything he represents, but the long-standing feud between their families has exploded into even greater violence. Their destiny has been revealed...but at what cost to their own hearts?
Pretty good. Again, as in Heart Thief, there are some things the author needs to polish, but even between these two I could see an improvement. My grade? B.

Still comparing with Heart Thief... the setting was still the most fascinating part of the book (and it helped a lot that I'd already read one and that I'd done so shortly before), but the romance was actually stronger this time

We have a "destined lovers" plot here, a kind of story that I tend not to like much because usually you really don't see exactly the process through which the characters fall in love and why they do, they simply are in love because fate / an ancient spell / whatever decrees that they must be. Right at the beginning of the book, Holm realizes Lark is his HeartMate, and begins wooing her. There is a catch, though, is that he's not allowed to tell her that they are HeartMates, so as not to pressure her. This was a nice touch, because it allowed for a real courtship, and this pretty much took care of my problems with this type of plot. Even with Holm, who knows they are meant to be together, we actually see him falling in love.

Apart from this, much of the conflict comes from the feud going on between Holm and Lark's families. This I thought was well done, because both Holm and Lark were not doormats with their families and stood up to them.

I also actually enjoyed how not everything was worked out at the end. Yes, there is a happy ending, but the author doesn't feel the need to tie everything up neatly, and this prevented a too saccharine ending.

Oh, and before I forget, this time, I loved the Fams. There are two main ones, this time, twin kittens, one given to Holm and the other to Lark, and they were lots of fun. Not as precious as the one in Heart Thief, and that's a good thing, and they had personalities which reminded me of my cats in some ways. This cat-lover was charmed ;-)


The Fortune Hunter, by Diane Farr

>> Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I've read a couple of Diane Farr books already and I've found them pretty nice, almost too fluffy. Then I read The Fortune Hunter.

Lady Olivia Fairfax has it all. She's rich, she answers to no one, and she has a rewarding life running the orphanage she founded. She certainly has no desire for marriage, having no intention of destroying her immensely pleasing life. Meanwhile, George Carstairs is at the end of his rope. His estate became impoverished a generation or two ago, and he's spent most of his life gambling to finance his very existence. Now in his thirties, living in a small room with no valet or servants, hiding his acute penury from the ton, he decides to bite the bullet and find a rich wife. His heart's desire is to bring his estate back to life, so he makes a list, checks it twice, and sets out to pursue the heiress at the top and work his way down.
Wow! Now, this is what I thought was missing in the author's other books. The Fortune Hunter was written in the same light style and had the same more "intimate" conflicts, but this one definitely had a heart. A B+.

First of all, I loved the fresh twist on the old plot of the guy who needs to marry an heiress. The book starts as George and Olivia meet when he comes to call on a friend he's been cultivating in order to gain an introduction to the very reclusive heiress Olivia Fairfax. Thinking she's somebody else, George foolishly blurts out his plans, and this sets up the conflict. So, from the beginning, Olivia knows that George is a fortune hunter, and George's "mission" is to get her to marry him in spite of this.

The way he does exactly that is a delightful journey. George is a yummy hero, charming, funny and outrageous, and I loved the man. Olivia was a nice match for him, even if I am a bit tired of all those Regency heroines so devoted to charity. I liked the way she treated George, even knowing why he was courting her, very pragmatic of her :-)

The Fortune Hunter would have got an A-range grade from me for the development of the romance relationship (actually, the only thing I would have changed of that aspect of the story is that I would have liked a little more heat. Other than that... perfect!). Unfortunately, certain things were not so good and made me lower the grade slightly.

First, there was a subplot about Olivia's sister-in-law escaping from her wife-beater husband and finding refuge with Olivia, and that subplot was pretty boring and jarred with the rest of the book. Plus, it really didn't add much to the story.

And second, the ending... and here are some spoilers...








I felt it was almost too pat. Olivia's solicitor makes she and George believe she's broke, in order to save her from marrying a fortune hunter. Then, when he sees they actually love each other and are planning to marry anyway, he reveals all.

I would have been willing to follow these two into, well, not poverty, but just a commonplace existence, which is what they would have had. They would have been able to live a nice, dignified life. To me, that's HEA enough, I didn't need the cop-out ending. It felt a bit like those books where the low-born hero is revealed in the last page to actually be the long lost son of a duke.

But well, that's actually a small complaint, this book was so wonderful that this is actually pretty unimportant.


Wild and Willing, by Joanne Rock

>> Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I think I need to stop buying Blaze titles unless someone whose taste I like has given me a great recommendation for one. The latest I tried blind was Wild and Willing (read an excerpt here), by Joanne Rock, a new-to-me author.

She was wild...

Mia Quentin has found the sensual adventure she's been waiting for. Seth Chandler-a gorgeous corporate shark in pirate's clothing-is the perfect candidate for the sexy fling she has in mind. She'll act out a few naughty suggestions and indulge her senses...all before the sun goes down. Now, if she can only convince her pirate to drop the noble streak and stop talking about commitment!

...and willing!

Seth refuses to settle for a brief fling, but he can't resist the too-tempting Mia. So he has to lure her into a longer erotic that involves days, weeks of sizzling caresses. And if that means using all the seductive powers he has, so be it. Because he's not about to let this ravishing woman get away.
It was simply no good. However, it didn't have any particularly bad or offensive elements either, so it rates a C-.

The plot was very typical Blaze... the heroine is looking for adventure, and chooses a guy who decides he wants something more with her. So far so good, this story might have been done a 1.000 times already, but well, what can I say, it's one I like.

The problem was that I just couldn't get interested in this story. Part of it was a problem with the way the author wrote. It felt like she was trying very hard to write sexy and provocative, but all that achieved was sounding forced and giving me the impression she was trying too hard. This meant, too, that most of the things that happened and many of the things the characters did simply didn't feel like they flowed naturally in the story, but like the author was twisting and turning them to get a story that was adventurous and sexy.

The end result, of course, was that the story ended up not being sexy or adventurous at all. My main reaction was bewilderment, because I just didn't understand why these people were doing what they were doing. Very disappointing, considering I have already ordered a couple more of this author's books...


Mesmerized, by Candace Camp

>> Monday, May 17, 2004

I only rediscovered Candace Camp last year, after reading Secrets of the Heart. Before that, I'd read a couple which were basically bodice-rippers. This was years ago, and those books were old by then, but this still predisposed me against the author, even though I'd also read a more recent book I'd quite liked, Rosewood. Secrets of the Heart made me realize Camp's style had evolved quite a bit, so when I read the review of Mesmerized, I was open to trying it.

Psychic investigator Olivia Moreland works to expose the gaggle of frauds who stream into London, feeding the public's fascination with clairvoyance. She can discern the fakes because she has the "gift" herself, though she doesn't rely on her powers.

When Stephen, Lord St. Leger, hires Olivia to investigate an alleged psychic, she discovers an overpowering dark aura at Blackhope Hall, Stephen's estate. The house is filled with tension. Stephen's brother is dead, killed by a ghost or a medium, and past anger between the brothers follows them like a dark spirit. And yet, Olivia finds herself drawn into Stephen's arms.
I found Mesmerized's plot very enjoyable, but the romance was a bit lackluster. A B.

I know objectively that this book's plot wasn't perfect, but I'm such a sucker for ghost stories like this one, that I probably enjoyed Mesmerized much more than it deserved. It wasn't just any ghost story, it was the exact type I adore, with the hero and heroine quickly accepting that all those unexplained phenomena must be the work of ghosts, because nothing else fits, and immediately setting out to investigate the historical facts surrounding this haunting. They didn't even take so long to tell each other about those dreams they were sharing! I mean, I was actually expecting to be irritated by Olivia and Stephen stubbornly refusing to acknowledge to each other that they were experiencing this, for fear the other would think them strange, but they did so pretty fast, and this pretty much won me over.

The ghost story itself was interesting, if a little undefined in the end (for instance, what exactly did those ghosts want them to do?), not to mention a final explanation that was a little bit melodramatic. I was expecting a basically cozy story, so I was pleasantly surprised by some very creepy parts in the second half of the book.

The book's main weakness was in the romance. First of all, Stephen and Olivia never quite gelled as characters. I never really got a sense of who they were, so their love story never captured my imagination. It was a shame, because their relationship was esentially quite nice. Even the very stereotypical Evil Other Woman, trying to make trouble between them by telling Olivia lies about Stephen didn't get much screen time, and her lies were exposed as lies only a few pages later.

I'll definitely keep reading this author. I hope next time both plot and romance are strong!


Fair Play, by Deirdre Martin

>> Friday, May 14, 2004

I haven't been able to post much this week, so to catch up, I think I'll just write only a few lines about my most recent reads. First up: Fair Play (read an excerpt), by Deirdre Martin, a new-to-me author and one who's actually pretty new on the whole.

This one's the sequel to Martin's first book, Body Check, which I haven't yet read. I planned to wait until after I'd read that one to start Fair Play, but I couldn't resist the temptation.

Theresa Falconetti has it all: brains, beauty, a quick wit, and her own PR business. To the Deep disappointment of her large family, she never dates Italians, men from her old Brooklyn neighborhood, or professional athletes. Especially not athletes...

Michael Dante, popular hometown hero and winger for the Stanley Cup champion New York Blades is all three—and he is head over heels for her.

For Michael, Theresa's NO HOCKEY PLAYERS rule is a check to the heart. Nothing he does seems to melt her resolve. His stubborn refusal to give up on this wisecracking brunette, who—he knows—is hiding from her roots, is driving them both nuts. And whe he hires her to publicize his family's restaurant, more than the kitchen heats up. Then Theresa finds herself an Upper East Side kind of guy and Micheal is forced to take his game to the next level.
It's been a few weeks since I last read a book that was such a page-turner, and this one didn't even have a suspense subplot, or anything like that. And still, I tried to put it down a couple of times to finish a crossword puzzle and I was unable to do so. Or rather, I'd put it down, only to give up and pick it up 5 minutes later. Excellent, an A-.

I get the feeling a lot of the setup for Fair Play took place in Body Check. I don't know if it was on- or off-stage, but when FP starts, Michael and Theresa already have a "history", in a way. I don't think my not having read BC hampered my enjoyment of their story, but this did make me even more anxious to read about their first meetings.

Fair Play had a lot of elements I always enjoy, and they were very well done. There was the beta, nice-guy hero: Michael was yummy (once I got over his being toothless, LOL!) and an honourable, kind guy, whose patience with Theresa I found endearing.

We also have a story with a hero who's nuts about the heroine and keeps pursuing and is even willing to look foolish in order to "woo" her. I loved Michael from the beginning, but when he visited his cousin for advice, he definitely had me.

I also loved the way this was very much an urban story, very much a romance, with the focus on the romance and the couple, but also with a kind of "chick-lit" feel to it.

And it's a bit of a guilty pleasure, because I almost feel guilty for enjoying it when a wonderful guy like Michael is suffering, but I always like romantic triangles when it's 2 guys and our heroine. In this case I found it especially good, because I was rooting for Theresa to defy her family in this, so the fact that she'd keep seeing this other guy even though her family was interfering and pressuring her to go out with Michael, was positive to me.

Actually, my feelings were a bit ambiguous here. On one hand, I loved Michael and despised the other guy, so of course I wanted Theresa to end up with Mike and I knew it was the right thing for her. On the other, though, I kind of resented the fact that in the end, the woman is shown not to be able to make the right decision. Shades of "Daddy knows best" and all that.

Speaking of Theresa's and Mike's Italian families, this background was enjoyable to me. Actually, I come from what would be considered an Italian family myself: my granddad emigrated to Uruguay and I even have double citizenship, Uruguayan and Italian, and hold passports from both countries. And yet, I cannot pass judgement on whether the Falconettis and the Dantes feel authentic, because Italo-American and Italo-Uruguayan, from what I've seen in books and movies, don't seem to have much in common. I can only say that I found their families sympathetic and that I was glad they weren't as overbearing and irritating as, say, the families in Millie Criswell's What To Do About Annie, where they completely ruined the book for me.

I'm glad I read this, I'm eagerly anticipating this author's next. Do I hear it's about Michael's cousin Gemma?


Heart Thief, by Robin D Owens

>> Thursday, May 13, 2004

I love futuristics, especially those set in alternate realities. But I'm not into just any futuristics, the typical healer / barbarian romance doesn't hold much appeal for me, so I don't tend to read all that much in the genre. Lately, though, there seem to be more interesting futuristics coming out... Patti O'Shea's Ravyn's Flight, a new release by Jayne Castle, After Dark, that new series starting with Susan Grant's The Legend of Banzai Maguire...

The situation's looking good. The latest I've read in the genre is Heart Thief, by Robin D. Owens. This one's the second book in a trilogy. It follows HeartMate (which I haven't read) and is followed by Heart Duel (which received a DIK review at AAR and is in my TBR shelf)

On the planet Celta, founded by adherents of a Wiccan-like religion whose followers have psionic, or psychic, talents, Ruis Elder is an outcast on trial for his life. Not only doesn't he possess psionic talent but his mere presence nullifies the powers of others. Ailim Silver Fir, a judge and a strong empath, finds peace for the first time in her life when Ruis' null field gives her respite from the chaos of all the feelings that incessantly swirl around her. Sentenced to exile, Ruis sneaks back into Druida to hide in the spaceship that first brought humans to the planet, and he endears himself to the ship's artificial intelligence. As Ailim and Ruis fall more in love, they uncover the dirty deeds that stripped him of his inheritance and rightful place.
While Heart Thief was far from perfect, but this author has great promise. A B-.

The best thing about this book was very definitely the world-building. Owens has created a world that is pretty complicated and intrincate, and mostly enjoyable. I felt a little at a disadvantage at times due to my not having read the first book in the series, but while I'm still waiting to find out certain details, like what exactly a "Passage" entails, I easily got into the spirit of things and didn't get lost. However, much as I liked this on the whole, I must say some things feel pretty juvenile, like the CapitalizedWords, or overly cute and precious, like the Fam animals.

The romance was ok. I liked both characters, and it was an interesting story, but the most important thing here was the setting and the plot, which sprang directly from the characteristics of the world of Celta. Even the romance felt determined by this, because there really wasn't much internal conflict here: Ailim and Ruis would have been together in a flash, almost from the beginning, if it hadn't been for the external problems they faced.

All in all, a very promising debut. If the next one is good, too, I'll be sure to look for book 1 and to keep an eye on this author.


The Monk Downstairs, by Tim Farrington

>> Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I never would have heard of The Monk Downstairs, by Tim Farrington, if it hadn't been for the review at AAR.

Rebecca Martin is a single mother with an apartment to rent and a sense that she has used up her illusions. I had the romantic thing with my first husband, thank you very much, she tells a hapless suitor. I'm thirty-eight years old, and I've got a daughter learning to read and a job I don't quite like. I don't need the violin music. But when the new tenant in her in-law apartment turns out to be Michael Christopher, on the lam after twenty years in a monastery and smack dab in the middle of a dark night of the soul, Rebecca begins to suspect that she is not as thoroughly disillusioned as she had thought.

Her daughter, Mary Martha, is delighted with the new arrival, as is Rebecca's mother, Phoebe, a rollicking widow making a new life for herself among the spiritual eccentrics of the coastal town of Bolinas. Even Rebecca's best friend, Bonnie, once a confirmed cynic in matters of the heart, urges Rebecca on. But none of them, Rebecca feels, understands how complicated and dangerous love actually is.

As her unlikely friendship with the ex-monk grows toward something deeper, and Michael wrestles with his despair while adjusting to a second career flipping hamburgers at McDonald's, Rebecca struggles with her own temptation to hope. But it is not until she is brought up short by the realities of life and death that she begins to glimpse the real mystery of love, and the unfathomable depths of faith.
This was a very pleasant book, not one that was "exciting", but one that was lovely to read all the same. My grade would be a B.

I might be reading the wrong "fiction" books, but The Monk Downstairs surprised me because unlike so many of those books, which seem to delight in presenting a jaded view of relationships, portraying every single one as disfunctional, this one showed an uplifting love affair. It actually read like a cross between romance and women's fiction in that way.

The romance was very low-key and pleasant (that word again!) and sweet; no larger-than-life passions to be seen here! This tone fit wonderfully, because of the kind of people Rebecca and Michael were. In the end, I ended up really believing in their relationship and that they would be ok in the future. I especially loved how near the end of the book Rebecca thinks that being with Mike makes it easier for her to be kind to people. What a beautiful thing to say, that!

Michael was a lovely hero, but almost too much of a cypher. We only see his POV in his letters to a former fellow monk, and, illuminating as those were, I would have liked to have seen more. Notwithstanding the book's title, this was mostly Rebecca's story, and though I found her a nice, interesting character, I was actually more interested in Michael and ended up slightly unsatisfied in that respect.

I adored Rebecca's relationship with her mother, Phoebe. They were very much mother and daughter, but mother and daughter once the child has grown up enough for them to appreciate each other as adults. It was nice, for once, to see a mom and daughter who actually liked the persons each were. However, speaking of Phoebe, I wasn't too crazy about the crisis near the end of the book. True, it showed Rebecca that she could depend on Michael, drove home the point that this wasn't another Rory, but Mike came across as too perfect here.

Something else I liked was the theme of faith and the contemplative life vs the active life that was explored throughout the book. I really liked how it was dealt with, with absolutely no preaching on the part of the author, just a quiet exploration.


Thrones, Dominations, by Dorothy L Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh

>> Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Thrones, Dominations, was started by Dorothy L Sayers and put aside after she wrote a rough draft of the first 6 chapters and a plot diagram (more info here). Over 60 years later, Jill Paton Walsh took over and from the material available to her finished the book.

Lord Peter Wimsey and his bride, novelist Harriet Vane, are settling into married life. But their peace is shattered when murder strikes close to home - a woman within their own social circle is the victim. Friends and relatives become suspects in this tangled web of intrigue..
Any review of Thrones, Dominations will necessarily be mostly about whether Paton Walsh did a good job in continuing Sayers' book. My impression, on the whole, was positive. True, her voice is obviously not exact to Sayers', which means that T,D does have a different flavour, though it's similar enough. There were a few instances where I detected this very clearly... a reference explained which Sayers would probably have left for the reader to decipher, a certain unsubtleness in incorporating world events into the story...

Still, in what IMO was the most important thing, Paton Walsh did well enough. Peter and Harriet were still recognizably Peter and Harriet and their relationship was still the relationship Sayers had laid the foundations for. Ok, so there were some points where the author faltered a bit and they rang slightly false, but my main fear, that this would be about two characters who only shared the same names with those I wanted to read about, wasn't realized. I'd give this book a B+.

As for the story itself, I found it pretty good. A good whodunnit? Well, I had the misfortune of accidentally reading the ending before I started. Really, it was accidental. I was checking how many pages the book had, to enter it into my list, and my eyes just settled on the first line of the next to last page "So and so was convicted....". I did my best to forget it, in the couple of months before I started the book, and I was actually successful in erasing it from my mind. And then I start reading it and the exact same thing happens!

Still, the impression I have is that the identity of the murderer mustn't have been too difficult to guess. This was more a how-dunnit kind of book, and it was interesting to read it this way.

However, as in all the books after Five Red Herrings, the mystery wasn't the point here. It was really good, though, as a way to contrast Peter and Harriet's relationship with a more typical "madly in love" couple. This is excellently done. While the Wimseys' relationship doesn't remain static in T,D, a mere copy of what it is like in Busman's Honeymoon, it's evolution is coherent with what it was like there, and it's an evolution I very much liked.

A final element I must mention is the theme of the clash between inherited responsability and the desire for marital happiness. This we see both in Harriet and Peter bearing the family's pressure to have a child and in Edward VII's situation, which has quite a bit of space in the book. This was very interesting, though it was introduced here a little less subtlely than I might have wished.

All in all, I thought Paton Walsh did a good job. I'm buying the next, Presumption of Death, as soon as the paperback comes out in August.


The Pretender, by Celeste Bradley

When I bought The Pretender, by Celeste Bradley, I almost bought the next two books in the series, too, but I was very cautious and decided I'd better try the author's style and then decide.

She had a secret she'd do anything to hide.

Agatha Cunnington, a headstrong beauty from the country, has come to London in search of her missing brother James. The only clue she has is a cryptic letter signed The Griffin. Agatha decides to disguise herself as a respectable married woman so that she can go about the city unnoticed. But for her charade to work she needs a suitable "husband," preferably someone tall, elegant, and rakish-someone like Simon Montague Rain.

He had a secret he'd do anything to hide.

Simon Montague Rain, also known as The Magician, is a member of The Liar's Club, a renegade group of rogues and thieves in the service of the Crown. When someone begins murdering members of the undercover cabal one by one, Simon is given the mission to bring in The Griffin, one of his comrades who is suspected of betraying his brothers. Simon goes undercover and infiltrates the home of "Mrs." Agatha Applequist who he believes is the Griffin's mistress. Before Simon knows what's happened, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Agatha's soft, feminine charms-and he is tempted beyond reason to break the first rule of The Liar's Club: never fall in love.
Well, now I wish I'd been a little less cautious and bought those two, because The Pretender was very, very nice. A B+.

The book's main strength were Agatha and Simon, two strong characters who were very definitely not the same old thing. Agatha, especially, was wonderful. She really was smart (very different from those TSTL heroines the authors keep insisting are intelligent): her plans were sound, she carried them out decisively, and she did what needed to be done. I can't say how glad I was to see her lie without blushing and stammering and her eyes giving her away, lol! I also felt a lot of respect for the way she handled her relationship with Simon, mostly. She took responsibility for her own actions and went after what she wanted and even with something which I didn't approve of, she was very clear in her knowledge that it was wrong.

Simon was no slouch, either. He was a self-made man, endearingly rough sometimes, and with a brand of patriotism I found attractive and which provided a very good conflict. I loved him for his reactions to Agatha, for the way he admired her intelligence and quickness of mind. Also, we have here a plot line I used to read all the time: the hero who thinks the heroine is his antagonist's mistress... right until they make love and he discovers she's actually a virgin. It was very nicely done here, basically because the misunderstanding was very plausible and most important of all, unlike sooo many of those old books, Simon didn't treat Agatha like crap when he thought she wasn't a virgin. In fact, he never judged her.

Bradley succeeded in creating excellent chemistry between her protagonists and not only that, these two also liked and enjoyed each other. They were as well suited mentally as physically.

The rest of the cast of characters was also well done. I appreciated the fact that though we are well introduced to the protagonists of the next two books, their presence wasn't simply gratuitous sequel-bait, but organic to the plot.

As for the plot, well, spies and secret societies... sound familiar? Every single single-title historical seems to have those elements. However, this particular one was well thought-out and pretty interesting, and, most important of all, the author seemed to be enjoying herself with it. I got the impression that Bradley must really like spy stories, whereas very often I get the feeling the authors are writing those stories because they are "in". There's simply no joy in them, unlike in The Pretender.

I hope The Impostor and The Spy get here soon!


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