The Bad Man's Bride, by Susan Kay Law

>> Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Bad Man's Bride (excerpt) was my first book so far by author Susan Kay Law.

At first glance, the lovely Easterner Anthea Bright seems woefully unsuited for her position as the new schoolmarm in Haven, Kansas. But behind that fine finishing school polish is a fiery spirit and a determination to succeed. Gabriel Jackson, however, is a different kind of challenge. The intensely passionate, devastatingly sexy man is Haven's most disreputable citizen -- and he's put Anthea's level head and her heart in a furious spin. How can theprim, pretty newcomer hope to stand firm to her principles when she feels breathless whenever Gabriel's near? And though a small voice inside tells her the "bad man's" not nearly as bad as his reputation would suggest, does she dare surrender to this dangerous stranger who is bound and determined to make Anthea his bride?
Unfortunately, this didn't really work very well for me. I'd give it a C-.

What I hated the most about the book was how horrible the setting was. Or rather, I kind of liked the "feel" of Kansas in wintertime, with the snow and the huddling in a warm bed, but I couldn't stand the people who surrounded our protagonists. Yep, Haven is one of those small towns filled with a population of which 90% is small minded, hypocritical and judgemental.

There's even a secondary subplot which tries to show the complexity of one of those people, Philip Cox, the town banker, a guy who's marriage is in trouble because his wife once slept with our hero, Gabriel, when they were 15 and now can't forget him. Philip wants his wife's love. Sounds good so far, but I actually hated it, because in spite of being a man who can love his wife, Philip is actually a horrible person. I simply didn't care about him.

The romance between Gabriel and Anthea wasn't bad, but it simply didn't engage my interest. I did know Gabriel well enough by the end of the book, but Anthea remained a mystery. I didn't understand her.

This is a book without a suspense subplot, and the "conflict" is provided by the fact that the whole town would disapprove of Anthea and Gabriel's relationship, if it were to become public. This was problematic, because it gave an excuse for even more judgemental and hypocritical behaviour on the part of the townspeople.

There is a kind of twist near the end, dealing with who is who's child, but this was extremely easy to guess and made the story even more distasteful.

Another negative is that The Bad Man's Bride is obviously the beginning of a series, and there's quite a bit here about Anthea's sisters, stuff that's irrelevant to this story and only there to tempt us into reading the following books. I hate it when authors do that.

The Bad Man's Bride was not badly written, and some parts were ok, but the flaws simply overwhelmed this.


Man From Half Moon Bay, by Iris Johansen

Man From Half Moon Bay is one of Iris Johansen's old Loveswepts, from 1988. I've read some of her single title historicals and suspense novels, but I didn't really like them all that much. Still, I've long heard about how her old category titles were really good, so I thought it might be worth a shot. I can't really remember what made me pick up this particular title. It was probably something someone posted somewhere, but I really can't remember the details.

Surpise. Panic. Then desire like an electric shock filled Sara O'Rourke when she saw Jordan Bander across the crowded room. For eighteen months she'd lived free of the man from the harsh, unforgiving Australian outback who'd swept her off her feet, then wrapped her in a seductive web of sensual pleasure that left no room for work or friends. The walls she'd built against his obsession were strong, but he'd never tried to scale them... until now.

The pain of losing her had taught Jordan that letting go was his only chance of holding on to Sara, even if he still hated to see her smile at anyone but him. But persuading her he'd changed that he needed her help, was the toughest challenge he'd ever face... especially now that her life was in danger and he'd do anything to keep her safe... even risk losing her forever. Sara finally understood that what bound them was stronger than what had driven them apart, but could she make Jordan see that his love was her only sanctuary?
It was a pretty good read. Nothing spectacular, but it did have some very nice things. A B.

I really liked how Johansen wrote Sara and Jordan's relationship. Sara left Jordan a year and a half before the action in this book starts, because she felt smothered by his possesiveness. Now Jordan has come after her, determined to change and give her the kind of relationship she wants. That in itself was really good, and quite different from what happened in many of the novels I've read with a similar plot. Jordan does understand where Sara is coming from, why she felt she had to leave him, and he seems to think her actions were justified. He's not there to browbeat her into going back into the same relationship she escaped, he really does mean to change and he's prepared to make himself vulnerable to do so. This is not a guy who's arrogantly confident that everything will go his way. He has doubts and is afraid that even with his best efforts, he won't succeed. I found both him and Sara immensely likeable.

There is a suspense subplot, about a serial killer who's focused on Sara because she was a material witness in his trial. He's after her, and once this suspense subplot kicked in, the book wasn't as good as in the first half. Near the end, there's also a change of heart on Jordan's part based on some very strange thinking, and that left me scratching my head a bit. Still, I really did like the resolution of Jordan and Sara's love story.

I get the feeling this one might be part of some series. There was a lot I felt I was supposed to know, a lot of mentions to pretty interesting things, like a certain kingdom of Sedakhan, or Jordan's Half Moon Bay in Australia, which got bare mentions, not the treatment they deserved as things which were definitely not commonplace. This wasn't really much of a problem for me, I simply found it a little odd.

All in all, a nice, solid read.


Whirlwind Courtship, by Jayne Ann Krentz (writing as Jayne Taylor)

>> Monday, August 30, 2004

Last week I read Whirlwind Courtship, by Jayne Ann Krentz, writing as Jayne Taylor.

When Phoebe Hampton arrived quite by accident on the doorstep of Hrlan Garland's mountain cabin, he was less than pleased. Convinced that she was another marriage-minded female sent by his matchmaking aunt, Harlan would gladly have thrown her out. But Phoebe was a damsel in distress, and an attractive one at that, so against Harlan's better judgment he let her stay.

As for Phoebe, she was practically engaged to be married to someone else, and Harlan was as different from Richard as two men could be. If Phoebe hadn't needed help evading some unsavory characters who were pursuing her, she never would have agreed to spend the weekend in his hideaway. Grudging host and grudging guest would just have to put up with each other for a few days until the coast was clear. After that, they'd never see each other again - or would they?
I wanted to read one from my pile of JAK's backlist, and I specifically chose Whirlwind Courtship because I wanted a relatively recent book, one in which I wouldn't have to worry about domineering heros and only having the heroine's POV. Thanks to the kind people at LoveSpell, who decided to reissue this one with a 1993 copyright, when it was first published in 1979. , that's exactly what I ended up with. It was also such a horrible book that it deserves a D-.

I started to smell something fishy when pages kept passing with no hero POV. Then I came to a scene in which Harlan physically forced Phoebe to clean a fish, something which she didn't want to do because it turned her stomach. This reminded me unpleasantly of the scenes in those old bodice rippers in which the "heros" forced the heroines to performed unpleasant / disgusting / humiliating chores just to punish them... punish them for idiotic reasons like making them want them, or for things they obviously hadn't done. Or rather, they'd make the heroines do these things as a way of showing them who was in charge. This was exactly what this "fish" scene was like. It had a "man enforcing his mastery over rebelious woman and putting her in her (submissive) place" kind of feel.Yech!

No sooner had I finished the scene, that I was running for my computer to check on the copyright, and that's when I discovered LoveSpell's perfidy.

Well, I did keep reading (though it took me quite a few days to finish), and I wish I'd just chucked it to begin with. It was truly, truly awful. There was something good buried in all the crap, the character of Phoebe, who was a good humoured, sensible sort (the only reason I'm not giving this a big fat F), but Harlan was such a disgusting jackass, that reading this book made me suffer. He spent 90% of his time with Phoebe lecturing to her, telling her she was his and ordering her around. He told her her a woman like her, who had got spoilt by having no man managing her, needed a man strong enough to keep her in line. He threw jealous fits whenever she spoke to a man and yet, when an "evil other woman" started interfering in their relationship, he refused to make any explanations beyond the fact that he and this Cindy were over.

By the end of the book, I'd lost all my original positive feelings for Phoebe and despised her for not standing up for herself and for letting Harlan dominate her and *reveling* in his domination. Disgusting.

I was reading this in the car, on our way to Punta del Este, and I very, very nearly threw the book out the window... THAT's how much I hated it!


Menage, by Emma Holly

I loved the one Black Lace book I've read by Emma Holly, the wonderful Cooking Up a Storm, and from the excerpt I read of it, Menage looked to be just as good.

When two handsome grad students move into Kate Winthrop's Philadelphia townhouse, the once-burned divorcee thrills to having two young admirers, at least until the evening she finds them in bed with each other! Sensitive Joe is mortified. Badboy Sean challenges her to join in. Aroused by their show, she accepts. The adventure that ensues is more intense than any of them expected, and more fun. But can three lovers live happily ever after . . . together?
It was even better, excellent enough for an A-.

It worked for me on every level. It had complex characters and a believable (if untraditional) love story.

The love scenes (and yes, eventually, they all are love scenes), were incredible. Erotica is fundamentally designed to arouse, and I did find it very, very erotic, but what was most amazing was how Holly used them to show us who Kate, Joe and Sean were and how the relationship between them evolved and grew. Even the elements that left me cold, like certain domination scenes, were excellent at showing us more about our protagonists.

As I said, this is a very untraditional love story, and to enjoy it as such, I had to be able to accept that their HEA might not be one that would even be a HEA for me personally, but I thought it did work very well for them.


The Iron Rose, by Marsha Canham

>> Friday, August 27, 2004

I love, love, LOVE books with strong heroines, in gender-bending roles and, from all accounts, that's what The Iron Rose (excerpt), by Marsha Canham was, so I snapped it up the minute I saw it.

After the Spanish galleon attacked the English merchant ship, Varian St. Clare was shocked to learn that the captain of the privateer who saved him was Juliet Dante, daughter of legendary Pirate Wolf...

Varian had been sent by the King to tell Juliet's father about a new peace treaty between Spain and England. Juliet agrees to bring Varian to her father-but only as her hostage. But as the attraction between Juliet and Varian builds, and as intrigue swirls, the danger of the high seas will match the danger of surrendering to desire...
I'm not into pirate romances, as a rule, but having the heroine be the pirate made all the difference, and I loved The Iron Rose. It'd be a keeper if it weren't for my feelings about the last 50 pages and a certain small niggle about the portrayal of the hero's feelings there at the end. As it is, it's a B+.

I adored Juliet. A friend on one of my online discussion groups once said that she didn't like Juliet because she was so manly that she did everything "but piss standing up". Well, my friend was pretty much right about Juliet, but I liked this, myself. I didn't feel she lacked femininity just because she could do what men did and did it. I'm often irritated by heroines who claim this, because most of the times they end up NOT being able to do what a man does, and have to be rescued by the hero after being humiliated, but Juliet was perfectly competent, a better swordswoman than even Varian, so that made all the difference. She was better than any man at pursuits like fencing and sailing her ship and leading her men, and I thought she was wonderful.

I really liked the way her sexual past was portrayed. She hadn't been particularly promiscuous, but she'd had some good sexual relationships, and she was just fine with this. She wasn't scarred by it, or anything, as some authors seem to think a proper "virtuous" heroine should feel, it's simply her life and nothing she obsesses about. She reminded me a bit of Vivian Swift, in Taylor Chase's Heart of Deception, in that. This past is soooo much less contrived than that of those heroines who've been living in milieus like the London underworld or a pirate ship and yet are still miraculously untouched and terribly naive as well.

Oh, and I thought Juliet's relationship with her family was terribly refreshing. So often, men like Juliet's father Simon, who had his own story told in Across a Moonlit Sea, end up, for all their supposed freethinking ways, the most overprotective parents when it comes to their daughters. I very much respected him and his wife Isabeau for treating Juliet just like her brothers, giving all their children the same rights and responsabilities, including the right to conduct their love lives as they see fit.

I really enjoyed Juliet's romance with Varian, who I thought was the perfect guy for her. Here's a man who actually likes her strength and feels attracted to it, and yet doesn't allow himself to be dominated. I don't think I'd call Varian a Beta, but he definitely isn't the kind of alpha who feels threatened when a woman shows better skills than him at something. When this happened in the book (quite a few times, actually ;-), Varian was actually appreciative of Juliet's actions. The only bad thing about him I can think of was his name, and that's probably just me. It just so happens that the microeconomics textbook that was my bible in university was written by Hal Varian, so I couldn't help but think of it every time our hero was mentioned.

And now for the negatives, which were the reason this book didn't get an A-range grade. My main problem was that I was completely uninterested in the last 50 pages. I think this which was a bit of a flaw in pacing. I wasn't reading the book for the sea battles and the plot about the Spanish and British ships battling it out, so once Varian and Juliet settled their relationship (I love you - Me, too - Let's be together - Yes), that was it for me, and I had a hard time slogging through 50 more pages of ambushes at sea and general swashbuckling.

Also, and this isn't really *bad*, just something which could have been improved, I really would have liked to see Varian's mind in the moment he decided he actually LOVED Juliet and that he wanted to give up his past life and stay with her. We just kind of skipped from lust and burgeoning tenderness to In love, without really seeing the process.

Still, a very strong, enjoyable read, with a heroine who goes into my "favourites" list.

Oh, and before I forget, I really liked the cover. It conveyed the Caribbean setting perfectly.

Cover of The Iron Rose


Heart of Fire, by Sharon Shinn

>> Thursday, August 26, 2004

I read Heart of Gold, by Sharon Shinn for discussion in one of the book groups I belong to. I'd never read Shinn before, but I'd heard good things about her Samaria series.

In the world of Heart of Gold, two major races vie for dominance: the matriarchal indigo and the patriarchal gulden. For centuries they have lived separate lives, but times are changing. More young indigo men attend college before marrying, more young people are moving to the city and meeting others of different races, and strict Apartheid-type laws have been lifted.

Kit is a high caste indigo woman who was raised in the gulden society by her eccentric, anthropologist father. Nolan is an indigo man who's been allowed to pursue advanced science studies and work at the esteemed Biolab for a few years. He's developed two drugs that have saved gulden lives from fatal diseases, although his accomplishments aren't appreciated by his family.

Nolan, Kit, and their companions are dragged into a flash point political situation, complicated by Kit's love for a young gulden leader who may or may not be responsible for recent terrorist acts.
This was an excellent blend of fantasy with a bit of romance. A very strong read: B+.

The best thing about the book was definitely the worldbuilding, which was truly fascinating. I loved the detail Shinn went into when setting up her different cultures and ways of life, and especially the dynamics between them. However, I wasn't too enamoured of the cultures themselves. Any society whose laws give one gender formal power over another is one I do not like and feel at least a little uncomfortable reading about.

Still, I found myself having preferences for one of them, the indigo. I had the sneaky feeling that, unlike me, Shinn had a bit more fondness for the gulden society (I know many people have problems with role reversals, maybe this was part of it). This bothered me a little bit, since to me, it was so obviously a horrible, horrible culture to live in. To me, a society that treats both genders equally would be the ideal, but lacking that, I look at how the most unfortunate are treated. The Indigo women might have power over the men, but even though they couldn't inherit, the men had freedom to make a living and live their lives independently, if they wanted to. Even if they followed tradition and married and became traditional husbands, they were treated with much more respect than gulden men treated their wives. And if you were a gulden woman whose family married her to a cruel man, you pretty much would be condemned to a hellish life.

I can't remember whose theory it was, but basically, this person proposed a method to build the perfect society, which I've always thought was brilliant. How to do this? Well, put a group of people to the task of making the rules by which this theoretical society will be governed. These people know that they will die as soon as they finish their work, and that they will be reborn immediately, but they don't know if they'll be reborn as men or women, as upper, middle, or lower class, as rural or city dwellers. They don't know what their race will be, or if they'll be ugly or good-looking, fat or thin, intelligent or dumb. The idea is that they'll try to make sure that whatever they become after they rebirth, they at least will have chances to build a happy life.

Bringing this back on topic, I remembered this theory when I was thinking about how one would evaluate whether one society is intrinsically better than another one. Maybe, by asking onselves: "if I were to die and be reborn in a random position in either culture A or culture B, which would I choose?". I have no doubts in my mind that anyone who is given this choice between indigo or gulden society, would choose the indigo.

Ok, enough of my yammering about this, back to the story itself. Characters. I found the characters quite well done. These were people who were rebelling against their very restrictive society. I thought it was good, and in keeping to some of the role-reversal themes of the story, that it was Kit who had been rebelling for a long time, who was the "bad girl", in a way, and that Nolan started out as comfortable with the ways things were and only as the book progressed, started feeling he needed to fight against the injustices he perceived.

I especially liked Nolan, who I thought was a wonderful hero. I don't know if it was particularly realistic that a man who had been as complacent as he, who had never shown any instances of possible rebellion against the system, would have broken out so suddenly and so spectacularly, but I did like seeing it ;-)

Kit was ok, too. The only thing that didn't ring true for me about her was her reactions to Jex, the way she allowed him to treat her like trash. That didn't feel like something a person strong enough to rebel against her society's way of life, simply because she thought it was wrong, would do. And given the way she reacted when she realized that it had actually been Jex who had set the bomb in the Centrifuge, I would have expected her to come to this position earlier, the minute she realized that he was capable of being ruthless enough to kill random people just to further his political ends.

The romance between these two people wasn't really the point of the book, but it was an interesting addition, spicing things up a bit, so to speak. I liked that this element was left a bit open-ended. That is, I don't really doubt what will happen, but one of those saccharine epilogues so typical of romance novels would have been out of place.

There were two very defined halfs in Heart of Gold. In the first half, we are basically introduced to the world the book is set in and to the characters and their friends and coworkers and families. These minor characters really well done, serving to illustrate both how things had always been in these worlds and how they're changing at the time of the story.

In this first half Shinn used a narration technique I was a bit ambivalent towards. She'd go back and forth in time, showing the same events from different perspectives. We'd be following either Nolan or Kit until we came to a certain climactic, or semi-climactic event (their meeting in the corridor of the complex right after Kit had been visiting Jex, Kit approaching the gulden man at the ball, the explosion in the Centrifuge), and at that point we'd go back in time, sometimes days at a time, and follow the other until we got to that same event. On one hand, it was an interesting effect, allowing us to see things from both POVs, but on the other, as I said, it was frustrating, and made the first half of the book less compelling.

The action really took off once Kit and Nolan took off on their trip, and from then on, I couldn't put the book down. The best thing was that, even in the midst of this faster pace, there were enough quiet times for Nolan and Kit to interact.

It was a good introduction to an author I'll probably be reading more from.


Married to the Viscount, by Sabrina Jeffries

>> Tuesday, August 24, 2004

After reading Sabrina Jeffries' After the Abduction, I realized that despite certain problems, this author's books have always worked very well for me. And then I read Married to the Viscount.

Abigail Mercer was breathless with anticipation at being reunited with Spencer Law, whom she met in America and later married by proxy. But now the dashing Viscount Ravenswood denies all knowledge of their union! Too many witnesses have made it impossible for the secretive Spencer to reject his "bride" without causing a scandal, but he has sworn never to marry. So he proposes a marriage in name only until they can locate his mysteriously absent younger brother Nat—who is responsible for everything!—and untangle this messy affair.

Abigail is incensed, irate . . . and irresistibly attracted to this handsome, infuriating man who hides his smoldering passion behind a proper exterior. So the lady will agree to his terms on one condition: Spencer must seal their bargain with a kiss. But when Spencer agrees, he finds that one deep, lingering, unforgettable kiss isn't nearly enough. And keeping his hands off his pretty wife is going to be much harder than he thought . . .
As I said, I'd previously liked all of SJ's books, and this one started out pretty good, so when I got about halfway through, I was really surprised by how much I was hating it. It improved a little bit near the end, but still, my grade would be a D+.

My main problem was that I truly disliked both main characters. I found Abby tedious and boring. She had absolutely no sense of humour and took herself oh so seriously. There's this one scene, in which her fichu drops to the floor during a ball and one of the dancers slips on it, bringing down the whole floor. This could have been quite a funny scene, actually, but Abby's reaction is to burst into tears and blame Spencer for the tragedy of it all, because she'll become the laughinstock of the ton. Oh, give me a break.

And I really was sick of her going on and on about how inadequate she is, and how Spencer doesn't want to be married to her because she's unworthy due to her breeding and looks. That would have been an understandable reaction at first, but Spencer's actions made it pretty clear that it wasn't the case. And yet, the dense nitwit kept on with her litany. Oh, and get a little self respect, woman! I really liked her much better in the 5 minutes she acted like she thought Spencer wasn't good enough for her, instead of going after him begging.

I disliked her preachiness, too. Things like her attitude towards servants really grated. It's anachronistic, of course, but I don't think that was really what bothered me. I guess that the behaviout she tolerated from Mrs. Graham's would have pissed me off even in a contemp.

Spencer I thought was quite a bit of an idiot, especially in regards to his reasons for not wanting to marry, ever. I mean, ok, so there's *a possibility* that he won't be able to have children due to a war injury. His conclusion: he'll never be able to marry because his wife will then hate him when she sees that she's not getting pregnant. Let's poke some holes in that logic. 1) there are women who don't want children. Really. I'm one of them 2) Why not marry a widow who already has children from her first marriage? Stupid, just stupid.

Oh, and btw. I mentioned that the doctors said there was "a possibility" that he would be sterile. Spencer becomes sure that this is a fact once years go by and there are no by-blows from his mistresses. What on Earth does this mean? That since there was a chance, *a chance*, mind you, that not taking precautions was safe, he simply didn't take them, just like that? Even more stupid. Or was he *expecting* to have bastard children with his mistresses? That doesn't speak very well of him, as far as I'm concerned.

The characters were locked in the same boring dynamic throughout most of the book. Spencer: "I want her so much, but I can't, can't, can't marry her". Abby: "He doesn't think a woman like me is good enough for him, that's why he won't marry even though he desires me". After hundreds of pages with no growth on the part of these two, I was ready to throw the book out the window.

The plot didn't help, either, since it was based on another character's attempt at meddling in Abby and Spencer's lives. I guess I just hate meddlesome, since I also detested the very irritating Lady Brumley.

Oh, and those little snippets at the beggining of each chapter, from the servant's guide were so cute they almost made me puke. Hmm, even thinking about this book makes me grumpy, I'd better stop ;-)


The Viscount Who Loved Me, by Julia Quinn

I was in a training seminar most of last week, so I've fallen really behind in my blogging. I'll try to be as brief as possible, so I can catch up.

Ok, then, first book. Continuing with my reread of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series, I read the second one, The Viscount Who Loved Me.

1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, This Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London's most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better...

--Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1814
But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn't just decided to marry--he's even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended's older sister, Kate Sheffield--the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate's the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams...

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes to not make the best husbands--and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate's determined to protect her sister--but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself...
The Viscount Who Loved Me is one of my favourite entries in the Bridgerton series so far. An A-.

What I enjoyed so much about this book was that though it was tremendously funny, this didn't prevent the romance from being very intense. And even though Kate and Anthony's relationship developed while they bantered along, there was just the right amount of angst there to make it all interesting and give me the stomach clenching feeling that is, for me, one of the marks of a great romance.

As for the humour, well, I guess Quinn's very individual sense of humour really tickles my funny bone. It's witty, intelligent humour, that doesn't rely on making a character look ridiculous. And it's all told with Quinn's very distinctive voice, which I think makes it all even funnier. Oh, and this book contains what has got to be one of the funniest scenes ever, the game of Bridgerton Pall Mall. I adore this scene. I love it so much that I grin like a fool even when I think about it. Right from the start from the scene, it's lovely. I started chuckling at the first mention of the "Mallet of Death", and didn't stop until the end.


Affair of Honor, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Thursday, August 19, 2004

I hadn't read one of my old Jayne Ann Krentz categories for some time now. I guess a couple too many bad ones in a row had put me off, but really, there are some gems in there! My latest read was Affair of Honor, a 1983 title written as Stephanie James.


Icy silver eyes held her captive until Ryder Sterne decided that his lovely prisoner wasn't a trespasser after all. But the electric encounter between the daredevil writer and beautiful philosophy profess Brenna Llewellyn had just begun. Ryder lived life in the fast lane, and Brenna had landed on the inside track. In his embrace she could almost forget the career crisis that had driven her to this mountain cabin retreat. Suddenly she faced a new challenge: a lover who demanded commitment and took absolute possession-giving her no choice but abandon all logic ... for love.
At last, an early category by Krentz that doesn't feature an extraneous suspense subplot near the end! Very refreshing, that. Add to that quite a nice story, and my grade was a B.

I think that for me, the difference between a JAK wall-banger and a JAK comfort read is the hero. Ryder is an alpha, but a different kind from the typical over-the-top bastard common in the early 80s, and which JAK has used in some books. His alphaness shows mostly in that once Brenna has made the choice to sleep with him, that's it. He sees that as a commitment and refuses to let her back out of it. None of Brenna's "We're having a summer affair" for him. As far as Ryder's concerned, their relationship is leading to living together and /or marriage, and that's it, no room for discussion.

Come to think of it, this is, to say the least, a bit weird. In real life, a guy like this would be off his head, IMO. Still, it was a little thrilling here, probably because it's soooo distant from the comittment-phobia so many men show in real life. Well, thrilling up to a point, because he irritated me at times, as much as he did Brenna.

I thought the protagonists' professions were quite interesting. Brenna was a professor of philosophy, and this was a big (and fascinating) part of her life, while Ryder wrote men's adventure novels. One of my favourite scenes of the book was when Ryder gives Brenna one of his books to read and proceeds to read a philosophy text himself, telling her that the reason to do this is so that each can discover a bit about the other.

I liked the plot of the novel very much, too. Most of the action takes place while these 2 are on vacation and have rented neighbouring houses near Lake Tahoe. This, and the lack of a suspense subplot, allow the focus to rest solely on them and their relationship, and that was a huge positive, IMO.

All in all, a nice, enjoyable read.


Beneath the Raven's Moon, by Emily LaForge

>> Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I'm very much into gothics, and Beneath the Raven's Moon (excerpt), by Emily LaForge sounded interesting, even if the review I read was unenthusiastic.

When the Raven swallows the moon, darkness descends and sometimes people die...

That's what Catherine Carmichael was told as a child growing up at Ravenswood, the forbidding mansion built by her grandfather on a remote peninsula in upstate New York. Now, twenty years after her father's sudden disappearance and her mother's spiriting young Catherine away to safety, she returns to the shadowy old manor for the reading of her eccentric uncle's will. There, amid ghostly servants and disturbing houseguests, she must confront a legacy of evil ­ and an urbane, dark-haired stranger who sparks in her the passion she needs to unlock her family's secrets and banish forever the darkness from Ravenswood and her own heart.
As I mentioned, I love gothics and I have a very, very high tolerance for them, but though I did find some pleasure in reading Beneath the Raven's Moon, its problems were too much even for me, and my grade would be a C.

The book starts out quite engaging. The setup is fascinating, an old castle in upstate New York, with a famous horror author's family and friends gathered together for the reading of his will. He sets out a game for them, requiring them to discover clues to old secrets related to them to get the money, and that's when things start getting interesting.

The things that happen are interesting, and I kept turning pages like crazy just to find out what on earth was going on here, but there's so much, and such momentous things, too, that it gets to be excessive. I quickly became a little numb. I'm guessing the book would have been chillier if the author had been a bit more moderate here.

Another problem was the narrator, who I never really warmed up to. I very much like first person POV, and in gothics, this is undoubtedly what works best, but the basic condition for 1st person to work is that the narrator is interesting. Catherine never was, she never really came alive to me, in spite of the fact that this wasn't only 1st person, but 1st person, present tense narration, which one would think would make the narrator more immediate to the reader. I found Catherine a bit boring and quite foolish in her choices. Plus, she had absolutely no sense of humour, so it all became quite dreary. There's a romance here, too, but not knowing the heroine or her love interest, I found it hard to care.

Speaking of foolish choices, that was another of my main problems with the book. LaForge set up a situation which none of the characters liked being in, and made them stay there just because. Maybe stranding them there in a huge snowstorm for the entire book would be a cliché (it would!), but it's even worse when people who don't have any reasons to be staying in the house do so in spite of finding it disturbing and it being perfectly possible for them to sleep in a motel nearby.

The worst thing about the book, though, was the ending. OVER THE TOP (yup, all caps, it deserves it), and crossing the line from gothic into horror, gorey and violent. It featured my worst kind of villain, a completely insane one, whose motives were impossible to relate to. And, like the rest of the book, horrors and horrors and more horrors, piling up one on top of the others.

What this book did, mainly, was make me hungry for a good gothic.


After the Abduction, by Sabrina Jeffries

After the Abduction, by Sabrina Jeffries, is the third book in the Swanlea Spinsters series. It's not my favourite of that series, but it was still a good addition.

After two London Seasons—and a score of resoundingly dull society suitors—lovely Juliet Laverick still longs for only one man: Morgan Pryce, the dashing scoundrel who kidnapped her two years ago. But her determination to bring him to justice hasn't waned—not even when the man she mistakes for Morgan, his twin brother Sebastian, tells her some shocking news: her mysterious paramour has disappeared.

Sebastian Blakely, the Baron Templemore, dares not admit that he's the one Juliet seeks, that it is his kiss she still yearns for. Confessing to her abduction would bring disaster and scandal upon them both. But how can he convince Juliet to forsake her pursuit of her dream lover when all he dreams of is holding her in his arms again?
Jeffries is an author whose style works very well for me. She even reminds me of Amanda Quick in certain things. Even when I recognize many flaws and things which could have been much better in her books, I still find myself liking them quite well. In the case of After the Abduction, I'd give it a B.

The best thing about it was the hero, Sebastian, a serious, responsible man, abandoned by everyone who was ever important to him. Incidentally, I thought this was an aspect of his character Jeffries could have done a lot more with. Sure, there's a danger of overkill, but she definitely could have made better use of it without going over the top. Still, Sebastian was lovely. I found it especially endearing when at first, he feels like he's competing with his more dashing incarnation as Juliet's kidnapper

Juliet I liked less. She started out pretty good, but then turned into a bit of an idiot. My favourite part of After the Abduction was the first 2/3 or so of the book. The setup was interesting, especially because this was a masquerade with a twist. Throughout a big section of the book, Sebastian was trying to keep Juliet tricked into thinking he wasn't the one who had kidnapped her before, but Juliet knew perfectly well who he was and wasn't fool. Her tricks and strategies to make him reveal himself were lots of fun to read, and very provocative, too, and she was a really likeable, intelligent character in that part of the book.

But then came the final part of the story, and that wasn't good, mostly because of Juliet's actions. She started demanding things of Sebastian that didn't make any sense. In fact, it seemed to me that the whole disagreement between them responded basically to the need of some conflict and didn't really flow naturally from who these people were. Jeffries also added a villain whose motivations were unconvincing at best, and some strange events like a rumour, complete with Juliet's full name, being printed in the paper.

Well, that's the bad. The positive side includes love scenes which were truly excellent. I wouldn't say they were particularly long or detailed or exotic, but Jeffries managed to write them extremely sensually and with lots of emotion.

This book is 3rd in a trilogy that is supposed to be read as a trilogy. That is, I don't know if it would really stand alone very much, and I found having read the first 2 books really enriched my reading experience. This one also reads almost like a continuation of book 2, A Notorious Love, and the characters from book 1, especially, have a very big role here, which was interesting. The only negative part is that Griff, the hero from A Dangerous Love becomes a shrill, perpetually grouchy twit in this book. Still, it was interesting to see this couple facing and solving their problems after the HEA in their book.

In spite of those problems I mentioned, the good outweighed the bad, and I enjoyed this.


Secrets Vol 6, an anthology

>> Thursday, August 12, 2004

I've heard a lot about the Secrets anthologies published by Red Sage Publishing, so when I saw Secrets Vol 6 available at a friend's trade site, I pounced on it!

Even though I adored one of the stories, I wasn't too happy with the anthology overall. One would get the impression here that the only female fantasy in existence is being dominated by a strong, virile man. Well, it isn't mine, I'm afraid. Only one of the authors did something that worked for me, and it helped that her heroine was the only one who chafed at her impossed helplessness.

The first story was Flint's Fuse, by Sandy Fraser, an author I'd never read before, and it opened the anthology on a very sour note.

Dana Madison's father has her "kidnapped" for her own safety. Flint, the tall, dark and dangerous mercenary, is hired for the job. But just which one is the prisoner — Dana will try anything to get away.
It was unbelievably bad. First of all, the premise was mind-numbingly stupid. Come on! Dana's father needs for her to be under protection for a month so he decides to have her kidnapped? How could he do this to his daughter? Wouldn't any sane person be terrified to be kidnapped? On the other hand, maybe it's just that he knows Dana very well, because this nitwit is very definitely off her head.

And the characters! Flimsy, stupid, cardboard, stupid, irrational, stupid and plain unlikeable. And their relationship was disgustingly icky, especially since Dana believed the whole time that Flint really had kidnapped her, and yet she got all excited at how he dominated her. "Oh, Flint, you make me feel so safe!" Blech. This was an F for me.

The next story was Love's Prisoner by MaryJanice Davidson, whose Undead and Unwed I really liked earlier this year.

Trapped in an elevator, Jeannie Lawrence experienced unwilling rapture at Michael Windham's hands. She never expected the devilishly handsome man to show back up in her life — or turn out to be a werewolf! Will she accept her destiny to be his mate?
From the pits of an F story, to the heights of one of the best short stories I've ever read. Love's Prisoner was amazing, an A.

I adored everything about it, from the smart-ass heroine, who was corageous and proud, and adapted to circumstances but didn't allow herself to be governed by them, to the hero, who really was doing his best and who really suffered because of the effect his actions he couldn't (really!) control had on the heroine. I can't believe I liked this story so much, when it starts with a scene in which, however unwillingly on his part, the hero forces himself on the heroine! But I did, and that's a testament to Davidson's talent.

As the letter grade indicates, I actually liked the story even more than I did Undead and Unwed, probably because the romance element was more important here.

It was down, then up, and then The Education of Miss Felicity Wells by Alice Gaines took me down again, though not as far as the first story did.

Felicity Wells wants to be sure she'll satisfy her soon-to-be husband but she needs a teacher. Dr. Marcus Slade, an experienced lover, agrees to take her on as a student, but can he stop short of taking her completely?
This one wasn't offensive, as the first one was, but it was basically two people I never got to know engaging in foreplay. If it's titillation I want, I can get something more exciting on the internet. I read romance (and romantica) for the relationship, and this story failed in that aspect.

Plus, it was really stupid. Felicity wants to learn how to please her future husband, but her "tutor"'s instruction seems to include only making her come over and over, without ever showing her how to keep a man satisfied. Only in the end does Marcus agree to let her do anything to him! That's idiotic! My grade: a C-.

Finally, an ok story, A Candidate for the Kiss by Angela Knight. I'd never read Knight before, but I'd heard of her and I think I have one of her books in my Wish List.

On the trail of a hot story, reporter Dana Ivory stumbles onto a more amazing one — a sexy, secret agent who happens to be a vampire. She wants her story but Gabriel Archer wants something more from her than just sex and blood.
This one was quite all right, and I mostly enjoyed it. The dominance theme (Dana's secret fantasy is bondage) didn't do much for me, but it didn't really bother me all that much, probably because Dana's fantasies didn't keep her from being a strong woman in real life.

The story was interesting, as was the hero, and my grade for the story was a B-.

My overall grade would be a B-, on the strength of how much I loved Love's Prisoner. It alone made it worth it to get this book.


Scottish Brides, an anthology

I bought the anthology Scottish Bridesmostly for the Julia Quinn story (her short stories in The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown and Where's My Hero? were among the best I've read), but the other three authors have all written at least one book I've enjoyed in the past.

The first story was by Christina Dodd, titled Under the Kilt. Dodd is probably the author I like least of the 4 in this book. I did like her That Scandalous Evening, and My Favourite Bride was ok, but I really disliked a lot of her books, including the ones I've read in her governess series and A Well Pleasured Lady. This last one, together with A Well Favored Gentleman, is related to the short story in this anthology.

Christina Dodd enthralls us with the tale of a willful Scottish beauty -kidnapped by an arrogant yet irresistible Englishman- who fights to keep from succumbing to her brazen captor's passionate, and persuasive, proposal.
Under The Kilt was a pleasant surprise, and I liked it well enough to give it a B-.

The blurb is misleading. Hadden, the hero, doesn't kidnap Andra at all. They are simply "accidentally on purpose" locked together in a tower for the night by interfering servants. Before the start of the story, they've already met, got to know each other and made love. Andra sent Hadden away when he proposed after that night, and the story begins as he decides to go back, ostensibly to ask her about a legend (he "collects" them), but really to try again to get her to marry him.

Knowind Dodd, I was bracing myself for a mean, angry, mysoginistic pig of a hero, but Hadden was quite all right. He was a bit angry, yes, but I found him tolerable. Andra I liked much less, because she was a two-dimensional, sour-faced idiot. Maybe if there had been more space to develop her fears of a relationship, it would have worked better, but as it was, it simply wasn't convincing. Plus, we miss everything but the end in this relationship, so this means I've no idea why Hadden likes Andra so much. All she does here is be peevish and reject him and then, in the very end, decide she loves him.

The second story was Rose in Bloom, by Stephanie Laurens. I really liked most of her Cynster books, but the one short story of hers that I'd read, in the anthology Secrets of a Perfect Night, had been really, really boring.

A wealthy gentleman finds his childhood nemesis has blossomed into a most desirable lass - and he's determined to do everything in his power to claim her as his own, before she is quite unsuitably wed.
This was a nice story, if not too compelling. A B, basically because the protagonists really were believable as their friendship turned into love. I was especially amused by Rose's quite successful attempts to tease Duncan.

My favourite was definitely the Julia Quinn story, Gretna Greene.

When Englishwoman Margaret Pennypacker learns that her brother has eloped to Gretna Green, she chases him all the way to Scotland, determined to prevent him from making a terrible mistake. When Scotsman Angus Greene learns that his sister has run away to London, he chases her all the way to England, determined to prevent her from making a terrible mistake. But when Margaret and Angus meet up at the border, their siblings are nowhere to be found, and this mismatched pair discovers that love often blossoms in the most unexpected places...
This story was fun! Angus and Margaret were simply wonderful together. They clicked the minute they met, and they spent the entire story bantering around as if they'd known each other forever. I think the reason I was so taken with the story was because Quinn succeeded in showing that they really liked each other. It was a good humoured, happy comedy, and my grade would be a B+.

The last story was also pretty good, The Bride of Glenlyon, by Karen Ranney, an author who's not a particular favourite of mine, but who's written some things I've enjoyed.

A legend decrees that the sexy Laird of Sinclair must marry a woman he's never met. But only sweet, passion-filled love will lead him to his true and forbidden bride.
Likeable characters and a midnight courtship that was terribly romantic. That final scene, with Lachlan showing that his love for Janet was the most important thing for him was lovely. I'd rate this one a B.

This was probably the most atmospherically Scottish story of the lot, and that was something I enjoyed. I've been on a Scottish kick for a couple of weeks now, and I've no idea why. I mean, I've never been particularly fanatical about men in kilts ;-)

Quite a good, balanced anthology here. My grade overall: a B.


The Murders of Richard III, by Elizabeth Peters

>> Wednesday, August 11, 2004

After reading Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, I was so fascinated by the controversy surrounding Richard III, that I ordered a few books about the subject. But meanwhile, I decided to reread a book I'd really liked before, by one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Peters, The Murders of Richard III.

When attractive American Jacqueline Kirby is invited to an English country mansion for a weekend costume affair, she expects only one mystery. Since the hosts and guests are all fanatic devotees of King Richard III, they hope to clear his name of the 500-year-old accusation that he killed the little princes in the Tower of London.
The Murders of Richard III is not really about Richard in itself. It's basically a mystery which takes place during a meeting of a Ricardian society. It's members have gathered to do their usual thing, plus, the leader will be presenting a recently discovered letter which would supposedly exculpate Richard from some of the worst crimes he's accused of. Even so, there's enough Ricardian tidbits thrown around that the book really hit the spot. It's also quite a fascinating mystery on its own right, with a joker running around simulating the murders Richard is accused of.

Add to that, the presence of Jacqueline Kirby as the "detective". I love Jacqueline, she's a really kickass heroine, and it was fun to have this book narrated in 3rd person but from the POV of a character who's deeply infatuated with her.

Lots of fun, and very rereadable. My grade: a B.


Where Is He Now?, by Jennifer Greene

>> Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Where Is He Now?, was my first book by Jennifer Greene. I think I might have a couple of her old categories in my TBR, but I haven't read them yet.

A 15-year high school reunion can be a fun-filled occasion, or a stark reminder of things lost or not accomplished. Jeanne Claire Cassiday and her two friends make up the reunion committee, but they are having a tough time rounding up speakers.

Voted 'Most Likely to Succeed' in school, Nate Donneli is their first choice. However, he broke Jeanne's heart and—in her mind—sidetracked her life plan. Should she use this opportunity to learn why?

Nate's life was once filled with hopes and dreams he'd share with Jeanne. But just after starting college, everything changed with the unexpected death of his father. Over the years he's managed to turn the rundown Donneli garage into the much-sought-after Donneli Motors. Life rarely offers second chances—does this reunion offer new opportunities?
I wasn't impressed by my first Greene. There wasn't anything I really, really hated here, but it was all pretty dull, dull, dull. My grade: a C-.

The book takes place during the run-up to a 15-year reunion, and features a romance between a couple of high school sweethearts who get back together, so obviously, there's a lot of high school-ey themes here, and that was the first turn-off. This universe is completely alien to me, and I was aghast at the way certain things I found incredible were taken so matter-of-factly by the characters. Is this really common, the institutionalization of popularity and labels? Voting people Most Likely to Succeed, or Best Athlete, or most popular (I guess that's more or less what a prom queen would be)? I was really turned off by how the characters would go around refering to each other by these labels "Hi there, Best Brain" - "Hey, Best Musician". Blegh! Also, it seemed like some of these people hadn't got over their high school years yet, and that felt stupid.

Luckily, this high school theme was left behind before long, and the real theme of the book came to the forefront: new dreams, how all the characters now had to reassess what they wanted from life. That was ok.

I didn't much like the characters, especially the main couple. Jeanne Claire was an irritating martyr. I just couldn't believe how she dealt with her dad and business. That's not being a good daughter, that's being stupid. I found her boring, basically. Too goody-goody and too bland. The only thing that gave her a bit of colour was her friendship with Tamara, a much more interesting character. I really liked the portrayal of their friendship.

Nate was also bland and unremarkable. I did like that he was a real bully at first, but in the end he realized what he'd been doing and stops, that was interesting at least, if not particularly nice of him. I got the feeling that he was punishing his family for the fact that he had had to sacrifice his dreams for them, and he was doing it by forcing them to go into the family business / not go into the family business (depending on the person), and sacrifice their dreams, too. Oh, and I really, really dislike the very sexual way he and his brothers would refer to those old cars. Probably the problem is I simply dislike cars...

I just couldn't bring myself to care about Nate and Jeanne Claire's relationship. They were bland and boring in themselves, and they were bland and boring as a couple. Plus, their relationship was narrated with long jumps in time between the different events, so I never got the feeling it flowed naturally.

I found the secondary relationship, between Jeanne Claire's best friend, Tamara, and Arnold, who used to be the class nerd, potentially much more interesting than the protagonists, and they got way too few scenes for my taste.

The book has a lot of references to pop culture, and these were something else I just didn't get. 90% of the songs and movies and so on that were mentioned I simply didn't recognize. That's, of course, not the author's fault, as her target audience is obviously not a Uruguayan in her mid-20s, but it contributed to my dissatisfaction with the book.

I might be open to trying one of the author's category titles, as they're supposed to be excellent, but I think I'll stay clear of her single titles.


Dust to Dust, by Lillian Stewart Carl

>> Monday, August 09, 2004

Dust to Dust (read the first chapter) is the sequel to Lillian Stewart Carl's Ashes to Ashes, which I read not long ago.

Michael Campbell and Rebecca Reid meet again at the excavation of a medieval priory in Scotland. But before they have time to smooth out the wrinkles in their relationship, Michael's former girlfriend is murdered and he's the prime suspect. Hints of buried treasure, ghostly manifestations, a historical mystery, co-workers with too many secrets (not to mention annoying habits), and a very up-to-date murderer almost succeed in breaking the young couple apart.
This book is actually quite hard to grade. On one hand, there was nothing there I hated, and in fact, lots of elements were wonderful. On the other, it was awfully hard work to read. I've no idea why, the author's writing style wasn't particularly dense, or anything, but I just didn't seem to advance. The first 100 or so pages were especially hard. I think it must have taken me 3 weeks to read that far, because I kept getting bored and leaving it aside. Once I forced myself to actually sit down and go farther than those 100 pages, the going got quicker, but still not my usual speed. It took me quite a few days to finish.

So, all that, added to certain flaws the book had, add up to a C-.

It was quite a shame that this book wasn't better, because so many things had an excellent base, like the romance between Rebecca and Michael. The main conflict between them was one I found fascinating. Rebecca comes from a family in which men are men and women are women, which turns out to mean that women are doormats who must defer to the men. Rebecca doesn't want that kind of relationship, and she fears that if she marries Michael, she'll end up in such a one.

Problem is, it's a bit of a mess, the way this is developed. I had trouble understanding why the characters (especially Rebecca, from whose POV the story was narrated) reacted as they did. Michael would say something I thought was innocuous and Rebecca would turn it into something like "he feels threatened because I have a Ph.D., too, now". My reaction was "huh?". This kept happening.

And it especially was a shame that the development was so unsatisfactory, because the resolution was so nice, with both Rebecca and Michael getting jobs in Scotland and getting married and calling themselves Dr. and Dr. Campbell-Reid. Any romance in which the heroine doesn't automatically take her husband's name when they married gets extra points from me.

The supernatural element was pretty much a mess, too. Like the romance, it could have been very good, because it had quite an interesting story, beneath it all, but the treatment it was given was a bit baffling. I never understood what was going on, and everyone took all the haunting much too for granted. I had the same problem in Ashes to Ashes: the characters jumped to conclusions about what the ghost was and what it wanted, never even exploring other possibilities. Sure, ghosts in themselves are not very scientific, but it wouldn't have killed these people to approach the supernatural a bit more scientifically!

Also on the negative side, secondary characters who often felt pretty cartoon-ish, especially Jeremy, the man in charge of the excavation, and Sheila, Michael's ex girlfriend.

The setting was actually nicely done. It felt very real, but here I had another problem, and it was the language. Now, I've no idea how Scottish people really speak, but the way Michael did, especially, felt over the top. It almost felt as if the author had a dictionary of Scottish slang (or of Scots, it's never really clear) nearby and randomly translated words with it. It just didn't feel natural.

Unlike what I would usually feel after reading a C- book, I'm still up to reading something else by this author. Or maybe it's just that I already have the next book in the series ;-)


The Wild One, by Danelle Harmon

A friend lent me The Wild One (excerpt), by Danelle Harmon. It's the first in a quartet of which I'd read the third book some time ago. That book I wasn't too crazy about, but my friend told me that this one is amazing, and that the series probably doesn't stand alone all that well, so I thought I'd give it another try. Plus, the plot of this one sounded wonderful!

Lord Gareth de Montforte is known as an irresponsible rake with a heart of gold. When he thwarts a stagecoach robbery, he is stunned to discover that the beautiful young woman he has heroically rescued, Juliet Paige, is his deceased brother's fiancée, accompanied by her infant daughter. Despite his family's refusal to acknowledge Juliet, Gareth is determined to do right by the courageous woman who crossed an ocean to give her baby the name she rightfully deserves.

As a practical American woman, Juliet is wary of marrying this black sheep aristocrat, yet she is hopelessly charmed by the dashing devil. Never has she met anyone who embraces life so thoroughly, who makes her laugh, who loves her so well. And, even when it seems the odds are against them, Juliet has absolute faith that Gareth will go beyond the call of duty to give her and her daughter a home -- and a love that will last a lifetime.
I liked this one much better than the one I read first. It's probably that the whole family plays a big part in the book, so by starting with #3, I must have felt a little bit lost. The Wild One was a B.

More than a romance, this book was the story of how immature Gareth, a man who considers himself worthless, grows up and proves himself a man who can take care of himself and who is worth just as much as any of his brothers. There's a romance, of course, and not a throwaway one, either, but Gareth's journey is the most compelling part of the book.

Gareth was an immensely likeable character, though at the beginning he definitely has to grow up quite a bit. He starts out very gallant, performing heroic feats, like saving Juliet from highwaymen. The time of truth, however, comes when he has to face up to the consequences of yet another fit of heroism. Ok, so he's offered to marry Juliet and take care of her and her child. Now what? Now he has to actually take care of them by himself, without the use of his family's money. The way he does this, with much decision and never losing his sense of humour, was endearing.

The romance was ok. It was a type of plot I always like. Gareth fell for Juliet almost immediately, but doubted very much that she could ever love him. She was in love with his brother, after all, and in the past he'd always been found wanting when compared to the very, very perfect Charles.So, on that side, I loved the romance. However, it was very hard to warm up to Juliet. This was so much Gareth's story, that I never really understood her, so many of her reactions to him I didn't get.

The whole angle about how eldest brother Lucien schemes and manipulates his brothers into a happy ending, I didn't find as good as I guess it's supposed to be. I really detest manipulative characters, no matter how well they mean or how positive the consequences of their actions are. I suppose it's because there are few things I hate more than people who think they know best about what's best for me, so this is a real hot button issue for me.

The most negative thing, though, wasn't something in the book but something that wasn't there. I would have liked very much, to see Gareth and Juliet's reaction to a certain suprising plot twist which takes place right in the epilogue. Well, surprising, that is, if one doesn't know the title of the second book, which, to be fair, one wouldn't at the time The Wild One came out. Still, their reaction to the news revealed in the epilogue would have been the test to their relationship, so I'm kind of irked that it wasn't part of their book.








It's one thing to accept that the man you loved is dead and that you love someone else. It's another thing to be faced with your first love's return. I have no doubt that Juliet is done with her feelings for Charles, of course, but Gareth! I would think that however convinced he is of Juliet's love for him, his insecurities will be resurrected with a vengeance at Charles' return.

I'm not really too interested in Charles' reaction to seeing that his former fiancée is now married to his brother. I don't know Charles, I don't care about him yet. I do know and care about Gareth, and it's how he deals with what must obviously be conflicting feelings (his happiness that Charles is alive against his fear that his being alive will rob him of Juliet's love) that really interests me. And of course, his realizing that Juliet chooses him over his perfect brother, that would be the ultimately emotional pay-off, and I feel very disappointed that this was left out of the book.


The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn

>> Thursday, August 05, 2004

Having just finished Julia Quinn's When He Was Wicked, I got a little confused by how the timing of that one fit in with both To Sir Philip With Love and Romancing Mister Bridgerton. Some events in those 3 books happened at the same time, and since Sir Philip I'd read about a year ago, and RMB a year before that, I got a little confused.

So I decided to start rereading the entire series from the beginning, starting, of course, with The Duke and I. This is one of my favourite series, and Quinn is one of my favourite authors, so it wasn't much of a hardship, really ;-)

Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town's marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn't as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry--though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon's heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that is seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever!
My memories of The Duke and I were pretty positive, but I vaguely remembered that there was something there that had kept me from completely enjoying it, something that had left a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn't remember exactly what that was (I'd read this book when it came out, in the year 2000, and hadn't reread it since). Well, now that I've finished it, I know what it was that bothered me. It still bothered me this time, but I was mostly ok with the author's treatment of it, so my grade for the book would be a B+.

So, what was it that had me so upset? Well, the main conflict of the story, once Daphne and Simon are married, is that Simon refuses to have children, to spite his father, in a way. So, he basically pulls out every time they make love. Once Daphne realizes that it's not that he can't have children, as he said to her, but that he won't have them, these two are at odds, and there is a scene in which Daphne starts making love to a sleepy, still half-drunk Simon and refuses to let him withdraw (she's on top).

That action of hers I found pretty unforgivable. It's probably just a hot button of mine, but forcing someone to have a child when he or she doesn't want to, seems to me beyond the pale. Ok, you can think maybe the person should have a child, he or she will actually like it when they do, that it's the best for them, that their reasons for not wanting a baby are stupid (and Simon's definitely are... more later), but it's their decision. The thought of having somone take away that decision from me and forcing me to become a mother and assume a responsibility I don't want, and that will be present in my life forever, is a real nightmare to me.

While (as you've probably deduced by now), that scene still hit me as hard as it did the first time, this time I was able to appreciate that there was much more to the book than that, and that the treatment given to this episode by Quinn was actually fine, so even this scene worked for me this time.

Now that I've got that out of the way, on to the book.

My favourite part of the book was the first one, when Daphne and Simon are conducting their unorthodox faux courtship under the nervous supervision of Daphne's brothers. I loved their chemistry and even their interactions with the meddling Bridgertons, which were often LOL funny. It was so, so obvious to anyone, that this fake engagement scheme was going to end in exactly the way that it ended. And I think, deep down, both Simon and Daphne knew it.

Simon was a darling and I especially liked the way he treated Daphne from the beginning. However, his "issues" felt a bit idiotic to me. I mean, yes, he had more than enough reasons to hate his father, and I happen to think it's perfectly healthy that he did. I hate it that characters in romance novels so often forgive really horrid behaviour from family just because they're family, and I appreciated that Simon didn't come to some stupid, contrived love for his father by the end of the book. Still, his reaction, deciding to punish his father, even in death, by not having a kid, seemed extreme. I would have been fine with his not wanting a child for whatever reasons (I'm not planning to have children myself), but this particular reason was just cutting off his nose to spite his face.

Daphne was actually refreshing. Here's a heroine, at last, who happens to be what would be considered typical marriage mart material. She's attending the Season because she wants to get married and have children. Simple, and yet I've read very, very few heroines who are like that. I like both kinds, but the rareness of Daphne's aspirations made me appreciate her more. Oh, and she's really, really innocent. She truly has no idea of what will happen during her wedding night, which isn't all that usual either, these days, and made for some truly funny scenes.

The book is also an introduction to the Bridgerton family, especially the first part, and I thought Quinn did a good job of presenting the characters, with their different personalities, especially the eldest three brothers. I liked that these are already the people they are in the following books.

Last, but not least, no suspense subplot, yay! ;-)


Worth Any Price, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Tuesday, August 03, 2004

After reading and enjoying Again The Magic, when I saw Lisa Kleypas' previous book,Worth Any Price, on someone's trade list, I didn't hesitate to trade for it. It got here quite quickly!

Although former criminal and current Bow Street Runner Nick Gentry has spent three years tempting fate and hunting down many types of lawbreakers, he knows that his life is about to change when he spots wayward Lottie Howard, the runaway fiancée of an overbearing lord.

Nick was hired by Lord Radnor to track Lottie down but, upon meeting her, he realizes that he wants her for himself. Faced with the prospect of returning to her much older betrothed or marrying a notorious Runner whose kisses make her heart pound, Lottie hardly hesitates to accept Nick's proposal, despite his dark past. But even as Nick woos her into his bed, his reluctance to open his heart holds her at bay.
Worth Any Price was quite readable, but I liked it only enought to barely give it a rec. My grade: B-.

My main problem with this book was that Nick and Lottie simply didn't "touch" me. I didn't desperately care about them and their fate. I did like them and wish them the best, but I felt distanced from them throughout the book.

Also, maybe it's a bit insensitive of me, but I didn't completely "buy" Nick's torture. I'm not sure if the truth about what had happened to Nick in the prison hulk had been revealed in Lady Sophia's Lover, but if it had, I'd forgot about it, so I learnt the secret together with Lottie. I wrote a bit about what I think makes a Big Secret plot work when I blogged about Again The Magic (basically, that the secret itself really be a big deal, and that it's not kept a secret just to keep the book going), and though it worked there, I just didn't feel Nick's secret was such a big deal that he'd be so desperate for Lottie not to know. That was something that just didn't ring true.

The basic plot of the book I did enjoy... Nick feeling he needs Lottie desperately pretty much as soon as he meets her, and doing everything he can to make her marry him, that was really good. I'm a sucker for that kind of plot. And I liked that the book after that was mostly about Nick and Lottie becoming comfortable in their marriage and falling in love. Oh, and I especially appreciated the fact that Nick had had such a discriminating sexual past, having been only with one other woman, but having learnt so much from her.

The bit of suspense with Lottie's former fiancé didn't bother me at all in itself, but I did get annoyed with Lottie's parents and her attitude towards them. It drove me mad. Why would she worry about whether they will be taken care of when they behaved as they did? If her concern had been for the rest of her brothers and sisters, ok, but she was so guilty about what she'd done to her parents and went on and on so much about how she'd betrayed them, that she came across as an idiotic martyr. Why would she ask them to forgive her, for heaven's sake? They were the ones who'd done something wrong to her, what with selling her to a pervert (they knew he was a pervert, or at least they did after she told them what he was doing to her, and did nothing). And during her and Nick's visit, come on, it was so tremendously obvious what was going to happen to her sister! She and Nick (who's a runner and should have noticed) think that there's something a bit off there and wonder what source of money they've found, that they can afford to refuse their son-in-law's help, but simply don't do anything about it. Hmph! That alone lowered the book's grade quite a bit.

I'll definitely keep reading Kleypas, but I'm not particularly crazy about her books.


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