Jade Island, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Sunday, October 31, 2004

I started Elizabeth Lowell's Donovan series basically because I wanted to read the third one, Pearl Cove. Book 2, Jade Island wasn't even in my radar.

Wild and restless, Kyle Donovan has freed himself from the constraints of his family's high-powered gem-trading empire to rove the world as a treasure hunter.

Now the president of Donovan International has given Kyle an assignment with explosive ramifications. A case he must take.

When one of China's legendary cultural treasures is stolen, Lianne Blakely, a mysterious and beautiful jade expert, is accused of the theft. It's Kyle's job to get to the bottom of what could be a potential disaster for the Donovans as well as Lianne. Kyle finds himself irresistibly drawn to the exotic beauty and captivated by her fierce claim of innocence.

Soon they are in dangerous pursuit of the real thief, drawn deeper into the perils of spiraling power plays, and linked by a passion as powerful as the lore of the ancient culture and as enduring as the splendor of the treasured jade.
Not having particularly anticipated reading Jade Island, it was a surprise how much I enjoyed it. It was very close to an A grade, but a few little niggles about the romance kept it at B+, still a very respectable grade.

Kyle has become my favourite Lowell hero. He was macho and alpha, like all her heros, but he was no sexist jerk and I liked that he always treated Lianne respectfully and nicely. Even when he was so sure she was trying to use him, he felt drawn to her and was prepared to treat her well and protect her even from his brother. I also liked that she was the knowledgeable one about jade here, and Kyle had no problem listening to her advice. He was actually attracted by her intelligence and expertise and confidence in this area.

As for Lianne, I ended up really liking her. At first, I found it difficult to warm up to her because I thought that her practically killing herself to please a family who so obviously don't care about her and who don't deserve her effort, was very stupid. I didn't change my mind throughout the story about the fact that she really should have consigned her family to hell, but I came to understand Lianne and her desire to be accepted by them. It made me terribly angry the way she and her mother were treated by the Tangs, but it did make sense that Lianne could react by craving their acceptance in spite of herself, even as she resented their indifference. At least, there was some validation for her in the end, as her family ended up giving her more acceptance than she thought possible. I especially liked how Kyle stood up for her in front of them and demanded she be treated well.

The romance was both one of the strongest and weakest elements of the book. I'll explain: Lowell did very, very well in showing them gradually falling in love and in building sexual tension. Plenty of angst here, enough to give me that nice stomach-clenching feeling. However, I thought Lowell dropped the ball with the pay-off in the romance, just as in Amber Beach. The love scenes themselves were strangely short and un-intense (and remember, this is Lowell! I know she can write beautiful, intense scenes) and the conclusion of the romance was a bit unsatisfying and much too short.

The jade-centered suspense subplot was excellent. Also like in Amber Beach, this was not break-neck speed, on-the-run suspense, but something more leisurely, with plenty of time for the romance to develop. I also loved the info about the jade. I'm sure it might be considered a little excessive by some, and a couple of little sections do smell of info dump, but I thought it was so fascinating that I didn't care, and actually, I thought most of the "lectures" were written to be pretty naturally integrated to the story.

Jade Island reminded me a bit of an old Lowell I read years ago from my high school library, Tell Me No Lies. I liked this one so much, that I'm going to have to look for TMNL and see if it was as good as I remember.


Harvard's Education, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Thursday, October 28, 2004

Reading Suzanne Brockmann's Get Lucky, one of my two favourites in the TDD series, made me want to reread my other favourite, Harvard's Education. So I just did...

As a Navy SEAL, Harvard had seen his share of trainees before, but PJ Richards managed to pack more fire in her five-foot-two-inch body than all the men he’d ever worked with. And he couldn’t help hoping for some more personal contact.

One thing always-in-control PJ Richards couldn’t afford to do was let herself get sidetracked. Not now, when her goal was finally within reach. Unfortunately so was Harvard -- every hard-muscled, pure-male, irresistible inch of him...
It was an A-, and I don't know if I can decide which I liked best, this one or Get Lucky. Of course, the cover on this one is miles better!

The characters and romance are wonderful. I really liked PJ. She's one strong heroine, sure of her worth and used to fighting for what she wants. She's got some strong defenses Harvard has to go through, but this never feels like just a plot device to increase conflict, simply something integral to her character. In fact, she's a virgin, and this is much, much better explained than it usually is in other romance novels. It's not used as a way of saying she's pure and innocent and virtuous, it's simply something that says a lot about what her life was like as a child, and it makes sense for the person she is. Her attitude towards it also feels right... this is not what she set out to do, but now that she's waited so long, she's going to make sure that when she finally does it, it's not just a throwaway moment.

I loved Harvard. Big and strong and very, very intelligent, he was a sweety. I especially liked to see him with his parents. The way that family was portrayed was great.

I have to say, I don't usually enjoy books in which the heroine has to deal with sexism. It's an issue that makes me so horribly angry, that even a good resolution of it is sometimes not enough to compensate. Plus, if some of the sexism the heroine has had to face came from the hero, well, let's say I find that very hard to forgive. Here, Brockmann manages to deal with the issue in a way that worked for me. Harvard does have some qualms about PJ's abilities and whether a woman will be able to do what has to be done. However, this is a man who is very intellectually honest. He's not afraid of questioning his assumptions, and he's perfectly willing to see that he might have been making a mistake. He doesn't try to fit new facts to his prejudices, but fits his worldviews to the facts, even if this means he has to change his mind, and I have to respect that.

Harvard and PJ's relationship was wonderfully done, especially the way it proceeded so very gradually. PJ doesn't like Harvard very much at first, and he, while very attracted to her, has some doubts about her abilities. I loved how they slowly change their perceptions as they start getting to know each other, how Harvard comes to respect and like PJ, and how she realizes he's not the pig she'd made him out to be in her mind. They become friends before becoming involved more intimately, and the whole progression felt lovely and so natural. And speaking of their more intimate involvement, Brockmann is a genius in this area. Her love scenes and the way she creates sexual tension are perfect.

The plot was just right, too. Most of the book, while PJ and Harvard's relationship is still developing, is just the day to day of training. The focus is squarely on the romance, and what little plot there is simply serves to enhance it. The action plot intensifies on the last part of the book, and still serves to further advance the romance. There's a scene there, while they're waiting for the sun to set before starting a mission, that could have come across as melodramatic, but is lovely and sweet instead.

As for negatives, hmmm, maybe I would have preferred that the Navy Seal rah-rah-rah stuff be toned down a little. Maybe it's just that I've already read all of her books, but I really don't need a lecture on how Navy Seals are the best and can do anything and blah, blah, blah. But that's really just a minor irritant, nothing that bothered me too much.

Reading my two favourites of the series has made me want to reread all the others, something I haven't done in ages. There's bound to be some massive rereading in my future!


Night Smoke, by Nora Roberts

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Night Smoke is the fourth story in Nora Roberts' Night Tales series. It was the last one written, originally, but Nora did add one some years later.


Ryan Piasecki: A man's man. A woman's fantasy. The kind of guy who got the job done, no matter what the obstacles...or how beautiful they were.

Natalie Fletcher: Cool, calm, collected. Until someone started making trouble for her business...and he showed up.

Arson investigator Ryan Piasecki came from the street, and he wasn't exactly the type to make nice with an upper-crust business executive like Natalie Fletcher. His business was fires - and his instincts told him the one at Fletcher Industries was no accident. They told him something else, too - that the sparks flying between him and this very classy lady had all the makings of a five-alarm blaze…
Night Smoke was a solid entry in the series. My grade: a B.

Again, as in Nightshade, the darker atmosphere was one of the draws here. The subject matter wasn't as dark here, but the setting in the city, mostly at night, gave the story a much different feel than it would have had if the same plot and characters had played their parts in the sunlight. It was very well done.

The characters were interesting, though at times, Ryan's "she's rich, I can't give her what she's used to" was irritating. Other than that, I liked them together. I especially liked Natalie. I enjoyed the fact that she's running a big business, doing it well and liking it. And all with a very matter-of-fact attitude.

The suspense subplot was interesting, though I did immediately zero in on what exactly was going on. I'm guessing I must have remembered something from the first time I'd read this, years ago, because I don't think it was that obvious.

I don't know why this series isn't better known. While not as good as her best, I found it very satisfying.


The Seducer, by Madeline Hunter

I was planning to wait until I had all the books in the series before I started The Seducer (excerpt), by Madeline Hunter, but I couldn't stop myself from starting it!

An innocent searching for her lost family, Diane Albret finds herself living in the house of Daniel St. John. The world thinks she is his cousin, but she knows differently. She also knows that her attraction to this dangerous, dark and mysterious man is perilous to both her heart and her future. Worse, she fears his generosity is a prelude to seduction and that he plans to make her his mistress--an offer she does not trust herself to refuse.

Daniel indeed has plans for Diane, but they involve his scheme to complete a lifelong dark quest. The legendary seducer also has a secret about her lost past that he will do anything to keep; a secret that will put both their lives in jeopardy even as the passion they deny threatens to break out of all control.
After a somewhat slow start, The Seducer got very good indeed. I'd grade it a B+.

As I said, I was a bit doubtful when I read the first pages of the book. At first, the dynamics of Daniel and Diana's relationship bothered me a bit. It was all to unequal. Daniel had too much power over Diana, being her tutor and having so much more information about her life than she did. I also felt him to be cold, almost indifferent to her.

Fortunately, this started changing, and it was soon obvious that Daniel was everything but unaffected by Diana. In the end, she had as much power over him as he had over her, and that made the book work for me. I loved the way he purposely made himself vulnerable to her, made sure she knew her power.

Something else I liked was the way the revenge plot was dealt with, the way being with Diana helped Daniel throw off a lot of the past's power over him.

The ambience was excellently done. This is no wallpaper historical. Of course, I'm not an expert on the history, but the period felt real. Her rich, dense style (reminiscent, at times, of Liz Carlyle's) worked wonderfully in making it come alive.

The Seducer is first in a series I'll definitely be reading. I have the next two books in my TBR already, and plan to get the remaining two as soon as possible. I've already met many of the characters here, and I thought their presence was not just sequel-baiting, they served a purpose.

I'm glad the book was a success for me. I'm still a bit sad that Hunter has changed periods, since her medievals were pretty much the only ones I read, but she does well in Regency, too.


Creative writing... book version!

>> Friday, October 22, 2004

As promised, here's what I got doing the book version of the game Màili put up in her blog the other day:

Rules are:

1. Take five books off your bookshelf.
2. Book #1 -- first sentence
3. Book #2 -- last sentence on page 50
4. Book #3 -- second sentence on page 100
5. Book #4 -- next to the last sentence on page 150
6. Book #5 -- final sentence of the book
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.
8. Feel free to "cheat" to make a better paragraph.
9. Name your sources
10.Post to your blog.

My result:

Charlotte Bowen thought she was dead. Wonderful, grateful relief. She may have the Sight - present at times, absent at most- but even such a Gift could not have foretold her how important she and her prisoner were to Lord Nelson's hopes for saving England. Damn, I though. Then Camden Ruledge, the terribly solemn and oh-so-proper Earl of Treyhern, blushed three shades of red as his Great Hall erupted into a thunderous round of applause.
Books I used:

Book 1: In the Presence of the Enemy, by Elizabeth George
Book 2: By Design, by Madeline Hunter
Book 3: My Lady Pirate, by Danelle Harmon
Book 4: Season of Storms, by Susanna Kearsley
Book 5: Beauty Like the Night, by Liz Carlyle

I almost didn't have to cheat, I only moved Carlyle's book from number 4 to number 5.


The Moon-spinners, by Mary Stewart

>> Thursday, October 21, 2004

A couple of months ago I found a reprint of The Moon-spinners, by Mary Stewart, which I'd been trying to get for some time. The older editions were pretty hard to find, so I'm very glad someone decided to reissue it!

Young, beautiful, and adventurous Nicola Ferris loves her life as a secretary at the British Embassy on the lush island of Crete. Then on her day off, she links up with two hiking companions who have inadvertently stumbledupon a scene of blood vengeance.

And suddenly the life Nicola adores is in danger of coming to an abrupt, brutal, and terrifying end . . .
The Moon-spinners is that kind of book which was so popular some years ago, the British young woman visiting an exotic locale who gets embroiled in some adventure. When they are well done, I adore these books, and this was was very good indeed. A B+.

These books really live or die on their heroines. A boring or dumb protagonist can easily ruin the whole thing. Fortunately, I really liked Nicola, a smart, resourceful and fun woman. I loved how she was so confident and sensible. She never acts stupidly and she thinks things true. Of course, sometimes her actions have bad consequences, but it's simply that she's done the best she can with the information she had, and she didn't have all the info.

Her involvement in the whole problem made perfect sense. That's something that can get a bit iffy, actually. I've read a lot of books in which the heroines' determination to be part of the investigation of a certain crime they're only peripherally involved in was pretty unbelievable. Not so in this case. Nicola even half-heartedly considers forgetting about the whole thing and enjoying her holiday, but she's too decent to do it in good conscience.

The actual suspense subplot was interesting and engaging, with very well written "action" scenes and well-drawn secondary characters.

Crete had as much a presence in the book as a main character. Steward is wonderful at making her settings come alive, and this one's one of my favourites so far. Her descriptions are lovingly detailed, and made me feel as if I was there.

The only negative I can find in the book was the romantic thread, which was underwritten. Nicola and her love interest just don't spend enough time together, I'm afraid.

This is one to read for the heroine and the setting, not the romance, but that's fine, too!


Heartbreaker, by Linda Howard

>> Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Heartbreaker, by Linda Howard, is related to Diamond Bay, though the only link between them is that John, the hero of Heartbreaker was a very minor character in DB, and at one point in his book he gives a passing thought to the protagonists of the other one. Not much of a relationship!

Michelle Cabot has inherited her father's Florida cattle ranch -- and a mountain of debt. To make matters worse, a huge chunk of that debt is owed to the neighboring rancher, her nemesis John Rafferty.

Nothing shocks Rafferty more than discovering that the spoiled, pampered rich girl he once despised is painstakingly trying to run the Cabot ranch herself, working the land with desperation the only thing she has left. He likes this new Michelle and decides to make her his woman. What he doesn't know is that underneath Michelle's cool, polished façade lies heartache, secrets and the raw determination to live life as her own woman. But Rafferty isn't about to take no for an answer.
Though this one is actually ok compared to some old Linda Howard series books, that's not really such a big compliment! It's pretty dated, and the hero and heroine weren't particularly likeable. It did improve a bit near the end, so I'm giving it a D+.

As I said, the characters were simply not to my taste. John's was a neanderthal, in the sense that his actions were more fitting to someone living in the prehistory than to a supposedly modern man. The first scene in which he's with Michelle was enough to make me want to kill him, when he offered Michelle to forgive her her dad's debt to him if she'll become his mistress. Nice going, very respectful. I just hate men who are so arrogant that they think they have the right to judge, condemn and punish other people. At least his misconceptions about her didn't last long, once they came into closer contact, but I found I couldn't really forgive him his earlier hateful behaviour.

As for Michelle, I'm sorry, but she was stupid! I mean running herself into the ground, trying to run an entire ranch by herself? It was so painfully obvious that it was impossible. She does think she doesn't know what she'll do when time comes to have to castrate the cattle and do other stuff to them that requires quite a few people, but she still goes on, refusing to think about it. Come to think of it, she seems to believe that if she ignores problems, they'll go away. Just witness the way she sticks her unpaid utility bills in a drawer and forgets about them, this ending with her having her electricity cut off.

I didn't like the dynamics of John and Michelle's relationship. At first, at least, all John did was take care of Michelle and solve all her problems and generally rescue her, basically in exchange for sex. I also couldn't stand the hypocrisy of him resenting her for being a parasite when the book starts, and then trying to keep her wrapped in cotton once they become lovers. The whole thing had such a condescending feel, an air of "Just don't worry your pretty head about it", that I couldn't stop gritting my teeth.

Things improved a bit near the end, luckily, basically when John acknowledged he was in love with Michelle and when he started making an effort to allow her to do something more fulfilling with her life than sitting around in luxury.Still, too little, too late, and even when he had improved I still thought he was a condescending jerk.

Oh, and the suspense subplot was a bit of a joke. I mean, are we supposed to not realize what's going on? It was so obvious that it made John and Michelle seem like real boobs for not realizing immediately.

Why not an F, then? Well, Howard does the sexual tension very well. Also, I don't deny that this type of story has some kind of instinctive appeal. Yes, I did get a little thrill when John realized how mistaken he'd been, how he'd been misjudging the poor little put-upon heroine. It's not the type of story I like, but it's a good example of its kind and I guess a fan of hyper-dominating alpha heroes would enjoy it much more than I did.


Lucky's Lady, by Tami Hoag

>> Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Lucky's Lady, by Tami Hoag used to be one of my favourite romance novels years ago. I hadn't reread it in some time, though.

As wild and mysterious as the Louisiana swamp he called home, Lucky Doucet was a dangerously attractive Cajun no woman could handle. His solitary life left no room for the likes of elegant Serena Sheridan, but Lucky couldn't deny her desperate need to find her missing grandfather. He would help her, but nothing
more--yet once he felt the lure of the flaxen-haired beauty, an adventurer like Lucky couldn't help playing with fire.

Serena felt unnerved, aroused, and excited by the ruggedly sensual renegade whose gaze burned her with its heat, but she did not dare tangle with a rebel whose intensity was overwhelming, who claimed his heart was off limits? Deeper and deeper they traveled into the steamy bayou, until with one electrifying kiss her resistance melted into liquid desire. And the devilish rogue found he'd do anything to make Serena Lucky's Lady.
Unfortunately, while it was good, it was nowhere near as wonderful as I remembered it. My grade now would be a B.

On the plus column: the hero, the romance and the ambience.

Lucky was yummy, a bad boy who had actually wanted to be a scientist before a tragedy in his past made him drop everything and join the military. He was also one tortured guy who didn't make everyone around him miserable because of it. He did irritate me at first with his immediate assumption that Serena was the same as her bitch of a sister, Shelby, but he was willing to keep his eyes open and accept he had been wrong.

He and Serena had some explosive chemistry together, and I thought the romance was nicely developed, with each of them attracted to the other in spite of themselves, and unable to resist. The love scenes were beyond steamy, and of the kind which are definitely not gratuitous and actually serve to show us more about the characters and their development.

The ambience of the swamp was really well done, too. Hoag succeeded in showing the beauty of it as well as the danger, and while I don't think I'd like to visit in real life, I enjoyed doing so in the book.

And now for the negatives. Serena was one of them. I wasn't too crazy about her, basically because she was a bit too willing to be manipulated by her relatives. I mean, it's fine to want your sister to love you, but she allowed her wishful thinking ("She's my sister, I'm sure she isn't that bad and that she actually does love me") to ignore facts. After what Shelby had done to her leaving her for days in the swamp, and the way she made fun of Serena's phobia about it, a smart person would have at least been a bit more careful about trusting her. I also didn't like Serena's grandfather's manipulations and the way she gave in to them.

And this brings me to my biggest problem with the book: the suspense subplot and the villains. Much too over-the-top, especially Shelby. She was eeeevil, tremendously immoral and selfish and stupid with it. I also thought the thingie about the chemical company was too unrealistic. It simply didn't ring true to me that a mere employee would be so fanatical about what amounted to buying a site for a new plant.

All in all, an entertaining read, but one which didn't completely satisfy.


Creative writing with blogs

Ooooh, Màili's just posted a really fun exercise in creative writing thingie. The one with books will have to work until I get home, but I can do the blog version from right here.

1. Blog 1 - first sentence of the latest blog entry
2. Blog 2 - second last sentence of the earliest blog entry on the front page
3. Blog 3 - last sentence of the first blog entry of the entire blog
4. Blog 4 - third sentence of the third blog entry on the front page
Then, click on the last link of the Blog Links sidebar at Blog 4. If there isn't one, do this with Blog 3
5. Blog 5 - last sentence of the latest blog entry
6. Put all together to create a paragraph out of all that
7. Post it to your blog along with links to all blogs that you used here.

Here are my results. Maru, I took the liberty of translating yours. Please don't stick me in the Shitty Translation Corner!

I've long been told you can't have a discussion with me. If this is happening on our staff, I imagine it's also happening in the rest of the romance-reading world. If not - ach, well, at least I tried. :) The purse is probably in a garbage can somewhere while the money is pocketed by whoever found it. Of course, there are still 100 pages to go....

Blog 1: Basket Case
Blog 2: Laurie Likes Books' Blog
Blog 3: McVane
Blog 4: Mad's House
Blog 5: The Misadventures of Super_Librarian

Sounds... weird?


Big Guns Out of Uniform, an anthology

>> Monday, October 18, 2004

I got Big Guns Out of Uniform because I'd heard great things about the third story, and I just adore Liz Carlyle's historicals and was curious about how she'd do in a contemp setting.

The first story was my least favourite, BAD to the Bone, by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

In Sherrilyn Kenyon's "BAD to the Bone," teacher Marianne Webernec wins the "Hideaway Heroine Sweepstakes" and a chance to pretend to be the heroine in her favorite romance novel. Whisked away to a remote tropical island, Marianne's fantasies become real when BAD (Bureau of American Defense) agent Kyle Foster kidnaps her. Together they uncover Marianne's every desire, and Kyle's secret fantasy, too.
I actually liked the romance here ok. Kyle falls for Marianne hard the first minute he sees her, and these two actually like each other and treat each other kindly. I could say it was a little creepy, the way he got so turned on by her "innocence" and "purity", but I guess it could make sense, given his past, that he'd find normalness attractive.

Kyle was one of Kenyon's trademark needy heros with a horrid past, but luckily the short format of the novella didn't allow her to go overboard with the pathos, as she's been known to do in other books (see my comments on her Born in Sin for more on this). Marianne, meanwhile, was a bit too much of a wide-eyed innocent, but she didn't really go into TSTL territory, so I could bear it.

Where this story went horribly wrong was with what was going on around this nice romance. I do enjoy some kinds of silly, but this was silly in a bad way. From the whole "romance novel reenactment" crap (with its not particularly flattering portrayal of romance novel readers) to the final scene, with all those big, bad antiterrorist agents who seemed to delight in spending taxpayers' money on playing their games and matchmaking for Kyle, it was all beyond stupid, crossing the line into painful.

This lowered my grade quite a bit, to a C.

Then came Let's Talk About Sex, by one of the few autobuy authors I have left, Liz Carlyle.

In Liz Carlyle's "Let's Talk About Sex," Dr. Delia Sydney dishes out perfectly sound sex advice on the radio. So how is it that this slightly repressed divorcee is so easily seduced by her bad-boy neighbor? And just what is it about Nick Woodruff, a smooth-talking sergeant on a forced "vacation," that makes Delia feel she'll do anything -- anything -- when she's with him?
Carlyle's contemporary voice is very, very different to her historical style, but it works. It's actually quite distinctive and modern, something many historical romance authors don't manage when they switch genres.

The story itself, well, I must say I enjoyed it in spite of myself. I just can't believe I liked a story with a good-ol'-boy hero who tells the heroine things like "You just need to have your brain fucked out.", or the ever classical "Let me teach you what a passionate creature you are." However, I did. I liked his sexual obsession with Delia and I liked the way Carlyle showed it turning into love.

Delia was ok, too. Yet another sex therapist who's never enjoyed sex (I really don't understand why authors seem so fond of this), but at least she a) wasn't a virgin, b) gave good advice and c) didn't get all shocked about sex... she had the theoretical knowledge, at least, down pat.

My grade would be a B.

The best in the book, though, was the story I actually bought this anthology for, The Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden.

Things get even hotter in Nicole Camden's "The Nekkid Truth" when crime scene photographer Debbie Valley works more closely than ever with the detective who has fascinated her for years. After a harrowing accident Debbie finds her life forever changed when she loses the ability to recognize faces. She is forced to identify people by their bodies and soon finds that the wonders of Detective Marshall Scott's body never cease...and that he needs her unique gift to help catch a killer.
This was the freshest short story I've read in a long time. A story about a heroine with a strange condition in reaction to a head injury (the romance novel version of amnesia comes to mind) who falls in love with a police detective is a staple of many category romances, and yet Camden does something with it that is wonderful.

The Nekkid Truth is narrated in first person by the heroine, Debbie, and she's an amazing narrator. I loved her voice, she was a bit of a smart-ass, but didn't cross the line into being a walking one-liner. I found her attitude towards sex refreshing and I loved the way she dealt with her problem with not recognizing faces. She was very matter-of-fact about it, but this didn't really hide her angst about it.

This is (obviously) a very short story, and yet both Debbie and the hero, Marshall Scott, are very well drawn, though maybe Marshall a bit less than Debbie, an understandable consequence of the first person narration. Their relationship was believable, and I bought their HEA easily.

There is a mystery here, but it's very definitely not the main (or even secondary) focus of the story. This is very much a romance, a very steamy romance, and Camden does have a way with her sex scenes. These, BTW, had a different "feel" from what I'm used to in romance. Good, too, but different.

My grade: an A-. I'd never heard of Camden before, and it seems this is her first published writing. Unfortunately, there's no info in her website about upcoming books. I'll be keeping her name in mind.

Just the fact that there were no clunkers makes this a good anthology, as far as I'm concerned. Given that 2 of the stories here were actually good, I'd give this a B


Falling Angel, by Anne Stuart

>> Friday, October 15, 2004

Anne Stuart can always be counted on for something different. You never know exactly what you're getting with one of her books, even with her categories, and that appeals to me. Falling Angel is one of her old Harlequin Americans, and it sounded interesting.

Bad boys weren't meant to be angels... until Gabriel Falconi returned to Earth!

With just one last chance to redeem his immortal soul, the man suddenly felt truly alive. He could really taste mulled cider, feel snow melting on his skin, appreciate Christmas festivities... and still revel in the devilishly delicious vision of Carrie Alexander.

Unfortunately, he was sent to help the woman, not make love to her. And yet Gabriel trembled to touch his newfound angel-in-the-flesh. He began to believe that one single, heavenly night in her arms would be worth a whole eternity of flames.
Falling Angel was very, very readable and it had an interesting hero, but it had way too many problems for me to really enjoy it. What was good was very good, but what was bad was really horrible. My grade: a C+.

I enjoyed the main plot about the hero having to go back to Earth to earn his passage into heaven by saving three people whose lives his actions had destroyed. It kept me turning the pages like crazy, even if it wasn't particularly hard to guess who these three people were and what Gabriel was going to have to do to help them.

And I found the hero a very interesting character, especially his earlier incarnation as superficial, cold bastard Emerson MacVey. The conflict between the man he had been on Earth and the man he was now, carpenter Gabriel Falconi, was fascinating to read, even if I did think that he became Gabriel too easily at first. It seemed to be almost too quickly, the way he started to see things as Gabriel would see them, not Emerson, but later on his Emerson instincts did show up a bit more.

However, too many things rubbed me wrong. First and foremost, I absolutely detested Carrie, the heroine. I've read too many martyr heroines since I've started to read romance, but Carrie is hard to beat. She blames herself for everything and is determined to sacrifice herself to make up for what she has built up in her mind as the most horrible sin anyone could have committed... something which was basically no more than her trusting the wrong person to do a good thing for her town. She's one of those heroines who "forget" to eat, for instance. She refuses to take any care of herself and to ask for help when she's over her head, so the result is that people have to end up rescuing her all the time. She doesn't eat so she gets sick, and of course, she doesn't phone her friends to ask for help, so by the time they find her, she's very, very ill, and what could have been easy to solve has become a sickness that takes days and days of bedside vigils to cure. Typical Carrie, this.

I also didn't appreciate the message that poor people are good and rich people superficial and mean, as if poorness in itself was a virtue. It was a very heavy handed message, and I just hate being preached to.

Oh, well, I can't say I hated the book, but I wish Carrie had been written differently. It would have been a much better read.


Face the Fire, by Nora Roberts

>> Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Face the Fire is the third in Nora Roberts' Three Sister Island trilogy. I reread the previous book, Heaven and Earth, not long ago.

A stunningly beautiful, powerful witch who possesses the gift of Fire, Mia Devlin locked her heart away when Sam Logan rejected her youthful love and left Three Sisters Island. Eleven years later, Sam returns to the island to claim Mia and take over his family business, the Magick Inn. Passion still burns between them, but Mia refuses to trust the man who once tore her life apart, leaving her grieving and alone. It's imperative that they find a way to resolve their thorny, complicated relationship for time is running out and the deadline for breaking a centuries-old curse is near. Mia has the steadfast aid of her two sisters of the heart, powerful witches that rule Air and Earth, but without Sam's help, even Mia's powers may not be enough to keep her alive until the deadline. And unless Mia makes the right choice about her heart and Sam, evil may win in the final confrontation, destroying all their lives and Three Sisters Island as well.
Nora Roberts' trilogies are not simply 3 stand-alone books connected by characters who show up for a couple of pages. The trilogies are a unit, with characters who play important parts in all of them. They take turns in the spotlight, but they don't disappear in between. This rather roundabout intro is to say that by the time I came to Face the Fire, I knew a lot about Mia and I had a very good idea of what had happened between her and Sam 11 years before. I knew the basic facts and how Mia had felt about Sam's desertion, so even before starting Face the Fire, I confess I suspected I wouldn't enjoy it much. I'm not a big fan of reunion romances when the guy really hurt the heroine terribly in the past.

However, this book surprised me with how well all this was dealt with, and I very much enjoyed it. A B+.

What surprised me the most was how well I understood Sam's reasons for feeling he had to leave Mia all those years ago. There's no big misunderstanding here, no evil relatives manipulating our protagonists to pull them apart. There's just a young man's increasing suffocation in the face of a future that seemed preordained and leaving nothing to his free will, and I could imagine his increasing claustrophobia perfectly. I'm not saying he was blameless, because he wasn't. The way he actually effected the break left a lot to be desired and hurt Mia, who actually was blameless, IMO, unnecessarily. Still, sympathizing with his reasons was basic to my enjoyment of the book.

The story also worked wonderfully because Sam is made to work hard for what he wants, and made to go through a lot of anxiety, not knowing if he is even going to succeed. He starts out a little irritating, very sure of himself and confident that because he's finally able to deal with this preordained love of his and Mia's, Mia will be basically waiting for him, ready to take things up where they left them. She's not, and Sam soon begins to fear he might lose this woman he needs so much.

Mia took Sam's desertion very, very hard, and now she's understandably doubtful about whether she should allow herself to fall for him again. She's attracted to him and gives in to this attraction, but she simply isn't convinced that he won't leave again, so she refuses to let herself fall in love, certain that when he leaves, she wouldn't be able to resist it.

So that's the romantic conflict, Sam madly in love with Mia, trying to convince her to return his feelings and start a life with him, and Mia resisting, not to be difficult, but because she truly believes her very survival depends on it. I adored this!

All this played before the backdrop of the final struggle between good and evil that could claim the entire island. This was not the strongest point of the book (it was actually a bit lame, at times, like when our characters broke into rhyming chants), but it didn't bother me all that much.

The other element in this book that I loved was the relationships between the Sam and Mia and the extended family that are the protagonists of the earlier books. These are six people who obviously like each other very much, and Roberts wrote their interactions beautifully. I especially liked the teamwork in how they worked together to break the curse on the island. It reminded me a bit of some of my favourite Barbara Michaels paranormals, actually, and that's a high compliment, coming from me!

This was an excellent close to a trilogy that started out a little weak but improved on each further book.


Divided in Death, by JD Robb

>> Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Divided in Death is the latest in JD Robb's Eve Dallas series to be released in paperback.

Reva Ewing was a former member of the Secret Service, and now a security specialist for Roarke Enterprises—until she was found standing over the dead bodies of her husband, renowned artist Blair Bissel, and her best friend. But Lieutenant Eve Dallas believes there was more to the killing than jealous rage—all of Bissel's computer files were deliberately corrupted.

To Roarke, it's the computer attack that poses the real threat. He and Reva have been under a code-red government contract to develop a program that would shield against techno-terrorists. But this deadly new breed of hackers isn't afraid to kill to protect their secret—and it's up to Lieutenant Eve Dallas to shut them down before the nightmare can spread to the whole country.
After 19 books (not including the one I haven't read yet, which is still in hardcover), plus two short stories, this is a series that I'm still enjoying. This one's not my favourite, not even close, but it was a solid entry in the series and I enjoyed it. My grade: a B+.

The mystery? Ok. Not boring, but not particularly interesting either. As always, an excuse to visit with these characters I'm so fond of. This is what I read the In Death books for, the interactions between the characters and the buildup in their character we get from book to book.

What engaged me the most was Eve and Roarke's personal stuff, also as always. They face some trouble here, an instance when their outlooks on life and the way they each think things should be dealt with clash. It was an important thing for them to solve, and I liked the way it was done.

I hope I can get a copy of the next quickly!


The Sexiest Dead Man Alive, by Jane Blackwood

The Sexiest Dead Man Alive (excerpt) was my first book by Jane Blackwood, under that name or her previous one, Jane Goodger.

Declan McDonald has been dead for two years. At least that's what everyone thinks. Certain that his pop idol status cost his brother his life, the superstar has faked his own death and sentenced himself to exile in a bleak mansion. But even the most extreme self-imposed punishment has its loophole. Dec is tired of TV dinners. Rose Pisano thinks it's a little odd that someone has offered her $80,000 a year to be a personal chef, and the fact that she talks with her employer over a speaker seems strange, too, but she needs the money. Dec soon becomes infatuated with the spunky chef, not to mention her food, and when they accidentally meet, it's obvious they're made for each other. However, Dec doesn't want to, once again, subject someone he loves to the risks that go hand-in-hand with superstardom.
This is one of those books which start well, but which go downhill later on. My grade would be a C.

The first part of the book was good. It would have been easy to go overboard with the whole mystery thing about the invisible employer, but Blackwood didn't. It really would have been tiring if it had gone on for almost all the book, but, as it was, it might even have gone on for a while longer and still worked. Anyway, once Rosalie finds out who exactly "Mac" is, the romance develops beautifully. They really talk to each other, and listen, and come to know one another before they fall in love. It was really sweet.

Rose was actually a fun character. I liked how she would joke about anything and refused to take some of Declan's more paranoid thoughts seriously. I especially liked how she refused to let herself be too impressed by his fame, and I thought it was a nice touch that she hadn't really been much of a fan before his disappearance. It removed all taint of hero-worship from the relationship. Declan was an interesting character in the first part of the book, basically because I did believe that he had been driven to almost crazyness by the papparazzi, so I thought his years in seclusion were actually understandable, if a little over the edge.

But then the book really deteriorated in the second half, once Declan was out in the open again. The main conflict in this part of the book was Declan feeling that he wanted to be with Rose but oh, no, he couldn't ask her to share this type of life with him! All those papparazzi torturing them! How he wished he could have a normal life with her, away from all this. My problem with this was that it might have worked IF he hadn't done all he could to revive his career, after reappearing. Thus, I felt his whole problem was self-created. There was no need for him to go to all kinds of talk shows and promotion thingies. He didn't need money, and he would have been able to write his music and even record it and release it without all this he supposedly hated. If he was serious about what he wanted, he would simply have had his press conference announcing he was alive, married Rose and proceeded to have a perfectly boring life with her. After about a month of Declan and his new wife Rose having dinner at such and such restaurant and Declan and his new wife Rose going to the supermarket, I bet he'd have been left mostly alone. To make it completely clear, I didn't mind his promoting his career per se. What bothered me was the double talk. If he had decided that ok, he liked the whole fame thing, fine. If he had decided to remove himself from the spotlight and actually done it, fine too. But to do all he could to promote himself and then complain about how he couldn't stand the press's persecution, that's just stupid and it made me feel stupid for feeling sorry for him earlier in the book.

Plus, this part of the book was terribly depressing. I can't stand this type of Hollywood settings, filled with shallow celebrities and manipulative users.

I wasn't too fond of the subplot about Leah's song either, I'm afraid. It felt like a bit of a manipultive thing, like the author was trying as hard as she could to tug on my heartstrings, and I tend to resent that.

And a bit of nitpicking: I got a bit distracted by the term "hoards" of people, used at least 3 times in the book. Doesn't anyone proof-read these things? If a mistake is obvious enough for someone like me, for whom English is a second language, it should definitely be obvious enough for a copy-editor or editor to catch. It was especially distracting because I've just finished Face the Fire, by Nora Roberts, where Mia was "hording" her strength a few times, too... There were quite a few of that kind of mistakes, like you're for your, or, most puzzling, taught for taut.

Anyway, I won't completely give up on this author after reading this, but I'll look for a bit of feedback before trying her again.


The Marriage Test, by Betina Krahn

>> Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Marriage Test is my first Betina Krahn in a very long time. I remember reading her 1991 book Behind Closed Doors shortly after it was released, and I think I liked it quite a bit, because though I've never reread it, it's still in my shelves.

Griffin de Grandaise will do anything to make Julia of Childress his personal chef—even keep his vow to return her to the Convent of the Brides of Virtue in one year...with her virtue intact. But nothing prepares him for Julia's sumptuous meals—or for the maddening way she drives him wild with desire. To make matters worse, it's obvious Julia is determined to get him to propose a more lasting arrangement—and it will take every ounce of Griffin's willpower to resist the feisty beauty.
Despite a hero who started out very unlikeable, The Marriage Test ended up being a pleasant read. Most of it was unremarkable, and the romance didn't work very well, but the medieval food pushed it from a C to a B-.

The actual story and romance could have been better than it was. The idea was promising: a hero whose super-sensitive sense of smell was torture enough that he had to completely isolate himself from all odours, in a way locking every feeling away, meeting a woman who seduced him with her wonderful cooking, tempting him to open himself up to other feelings as well.

However, the romance simply didn't work for me. I'm not sure I know how to explain it, but in a romance, if I don't feel the love between the main characters, the romance doesn't engage me. Griffin and Julia were a bit like characters in a fairy tale, not a romance author's take on a fairy tale theme, but the actual fairy tales I used to read as a child. The reader is told a certain character is in love with the other, but it's not something one can intuitively tell from the character itself. I guess it might be a showing vs. telling thing, here.

The characters themselves were ultimately likeable. Julia was a nice mix of common sense and romanticism, and Griffin was all right. I must add, though, that though I warmed up to him in the end, I really, really disliked Griffin in the first few chapters, finding him particularly stupid and dim-witted. He pays a fortune for a cook, after tasting what she can do, and then refuses to allow her to buy the ingredients necessary for her to cook. He obviously knows nothing about cooking and takes it upon himself to tell her what to do. Imbecile. And he's so ANGRY! Blows up for the slightest thing, is always in a bad mood. Furthermore, I never got why he'd do certain things, like when he'd refuse for days to admit that he loved Julia's food. I guess this was supposed to be a funny, funny thing, but it was just stupid, to me. Luckily, both he and the humour in the story improved.

So, why did I find reading the book a nice experience, after all? Well, mostly because I very much enjoyed everything that was *around* the hero and heroine. I liked the secondary characters, who were all pretty cute (in a good way). The setting was pretty original (medieval France doesn't show up much in romance novels), and this wasn't about the dark, violent side of the period. Much of the action takes place in Griffin's estate, all surrounded by vineyards, and the times are mostly peaceful. We get the bright colours of the medieval period and none of the grit and blood and gore.

And then there's the cooking. In a word: yum!! It sounds delicious, really. I'm not much for meat myself, but I think I'd be hard-pressed to resist if some of these dishes were placed before me. And the way Krahn describes them made me very, very hungry. It all made for a pleasant couple of hours of reading.

As a final note: apparently, this one is the third book in a series, but it stands alone perfectly well. I haven't read the others and I never felt lost.


Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase

>> Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I've no idea why I haven't reread Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase more.

Tough minded Jessica Trent's sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian ballister, the notorious Marquess of Diain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And When Daines reciprical passion places them in a scandously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction...

Dawn the minx for tempting him, kissing him...and then for forcing him to salvage reputation! Lord Dain can't wait to put the infuriating bluestocking in her place -- and in some amorous position. And if this means marriage, so be it -- though sebastian is less than certain he can continue to remian aloof...and steel his heart to the sensuous, head strong lady's considerable charms.
This is one of most readers' favourites, and it deserves it. I know it's my favourite, but until I reread it this time I didn't quite remember just how wonderful, how perfect it was. An A+.

As I said above, I hadn't reread LoS for some time, so I had some impressions not supported by concrete memory. One of these was that while the first part of the book was amazing, the second part, once Jess and Dain get married, was a little less so.

That was one impression I'm glad to report was wrong. There are two pretty distinct halves, yes, and the first one is superb, but the rest of the book is just as good!

In the first part we see Jess and Dain's very unusual "courtship". I loved the way they danced around each other, it was so witty and full of sexual tension. I especially enjoyed the way Dain found it so absolutely incredible that Jess could be attracted to him. Both main characters are introduced and fully fleshed out here, and their personalities grow during the book, and yet they remain true to who they were. There are absolutely no instances of Jess or Dain behaving out of character simply to move the story along.

Jess is, in a word, amazing. She's proof that a virgin heroine needn't mean a stupid, naive or ignorant one. She's strong and independent and intelligent and sensible. She knows her own female power and didn't hesitate to use it. She knows her own worth, too, and is perfectly able to defend her own honor. The scene where she gives Dain exactly what he deserved was incredible!

I liked that she was proud, but not stupidly so. She's simply not one to insist on living a martyr's life, poor and exiled from all she loves solely because she's not being offered a love match.

As for Dain, he's also a fascinating character. Chase doesn't make him a larger-than-life perfect character, not at all. She shows us exactly how the immature, insecure child inside him is making him act like an idiot. And this works, because the author is so good that she can make Dain and his actions funny and poignant at the same time. An excellent example is the way he talks to himself during the whole book, going on and on about his monstrous hands and his horrible brute body. This was at the same time LOL funny and sad and touching.

Another reason this worked so well was because Jess was so terribly perceptive in what she saw in Sebastian. She saw quite a bit more than what he showed, pretty much realizing from the beginning that there's a hurt little boy inside and that this is what sometimes makes him act like a jackass. Jess could come across as a little manipulative, in fact, if it weren't for the fact that she needed Dain as much as he needed her. Together, these two are just wonderful to read. Their banter, which turns into verbal foreplay much of the time, was superbly written, and so were their love scenes.

Surprisingly, the subplot near the end of the book, about Sebastian's son, who he'd pretty much abandoned, worked very well for me. I say surprisingly because it was something I didn't have very positive memories from the last time I'd reread the book, but this time, I wouldn't have changed a word. The consequences of this part of the book was basically what finally kicked the little kid out of Dain, what made him finally complete the process and grow up all the way.

Perfect, just perfect!


Canis Royale (Bridefight), by MaryJanice Davidson

Canis Royale (Bridefight), by MaryJanice Davidson was, like her Dying for Ice Cream, which I read not long ago, a novella. Only, this one was a steamy fantasy romance, while DFIC was Young Adult.

Detective Lois Commoner has had enough. Deciding to end it all as an escape to ongoing physical agony, she overdoses one night while Star Trek blares in the background. To her amazement, instead of waking up dead, she finds herself in the Sandlands...a startlingly beautiful world whose inhabitants are shape-shifters.

An ordinary woman on Earth, Lois is fought over in the Sandlands, where tough, scarred women are prized as highly desirable mates. And it seems like the entire royal family has turned their attention to Lois, including the king, his heir, and the two younger princes. Let the Bridefight begin...
This was an entertaining read, though not particularly satisfying. My grade: a B-, just because it was so damn fun!

Funny, inventive, entertaining... it was all that. And I always enjoy Davidson's distinctive writing style. However, as a romance, it just wasn't very substantial. For a novella, though, I can't complain.


Fever Dreams, by Laura Leone

I'm rereading a lot these days. One of them was Fever Dreams, by Laura Leone. This one has been reissued with some rewriting, but the book I have is the original.

She’s rich, sophisticated, and dedicated to the family business. He’s rugged, sexy, and into risky business. And he’s the only man who’s ever succeeded in seducing her. Barringtons don’t do such things. Hard-living, fast-loving men like Ransom of the Marino Security Agency do. Even so, Madeleine’s father hires Ransom to protect her.

But placing Ransom within arm’s reach of Madeleine is like putting the fox in with the chickens. And sending them together on a business trip to a war-torn dictatorship is madness! So Madeleine sets some ground rules: No flirting, no touching, and not one single reference to their night together. But Ransom will talk about whatever he damn well pleases. Besides, hell will freeze over before he’ll go near Madeleine Barrington again. But when hell does freeze over in the sultry heat of the jungle, Ransom and Madeleine discover that rules are made to be broken . . .
This one and Linda Howard's Heart of Fire are probably the best "jungle-adventure" romance novels I've ever read. An A.

Fever Dreams is an excellent combination of romance and adventure, each enriching the other. The adventure part is interesting and provides the motivation for some well-done character growth, while the romance is plain amazing.

At first glance, I've seen Ransom and Madeleine hundreds of times before. The rugged, macho bodyguard and the uptight, always-perfect rich girl he has to protect. But these two feel so much more real than these stock characters. They were also much too complicated for these simplistic labels.

The story grabbed me from the very first scene, when serious Madeleine acts completely out of character and has a one-night-stand with the sexy stranger she meets in a bar in Montedora City. Where she does act in character is in refusing to give him her name, and disappearing before he wakes up. Some months later, they meet again when Madeleine needs to return to Montedora and her father hires Ransom as a bodyguard for her. They are shocked to see each other, to say the least.

Ransom reacts badly, but one can't help but understand him, because Leone manages to perfectly convey his hurt at being "fucked and forgotten", as he puts it, especially because he'd woken up that morning filled with optimism at having found someone like the mysterious woman he'd spent the night with. He feels that the rich Ms. Barrington sees him basically as a guy good enough to have sex with, but not to have a relationship with. Madeleine, meanwhile, is terrified that this man will betray her lapse to the rest of her family and that they'll see that she isn't, in fact, perfect.

And that's the situation between them when they leave together for Montedora and end up on the run together, depending on each other to survive. But before that, there was a little detail, something relatively unimportant in the story, that nonetheless said a lot to me. The night before they leave, they each try to "exorcise" the other by spending the night with someone else. In most romance novels, what would happen would be that either both find themselves unable to follow through, or that the hero does sleep with someone else, but the heroine doesn't. Here, they both do it, and they both feel the same way the next morning: that it didn't work. As I said, it was a relatively unimportant incident, but it gave me an important indication of the lack of double standards and sexism that I'd find in the book.

Anyway, back to the story. Given the situation between our hero and heroine that I described above, this could have been a story in which the hero treats the heroine like crap for hundreds of pages due to a misunderstanding about why she did what she did. That wasn't how it happened here. Ransom and Madeleine did distrust each other for a while, but after the first shock, they were pretty adult about this and didn't overreact much. They were able to start seeing beneath the other's protective shell and begin to fall for the real people there even before they each came clean about how they felt about that first night of theirs and before they were forced into close quarters by a blow-up in the Montedora political scene.

And here was where the romance worked so wonderfully: it was in the depiction of the process of their falling in love. As a reader, I could actually feel their feelings... their hurt, their want, their burgeoning fondness for each other. And that's what makes a good romance. It also didn't hurt that the sexual tension could be cut with a knife and that the love scenes were wonderfully steamy.

The adventure part of the story was well done, even if it was the slightest bit too overpowering near the end of the book. But, on the positive side, I loved what being in this dangerous situation did to Madeleine, how it provided a catalyst for her to grow and get over her need to be always perfect.

And how about the setting, how did it strike me, as a South American? It's complicated, but on the whole, my reaction was positive. I appreciated what Leone was trying to do. Montedora was much, much more than a generic jungle-filled Latin American country. The author created a country with its own history, geography and economy, down to income distribution and inflation figures. She created a complex political situation, with rival rebel groups and rival government factions. I'd give her an A for effort.

However, I'm afraid many of the details didn't ring true, at least to me. First of all, why situate Montedora in South America? I know this continent, and Montedora didn't feel South American.

My impression was that it was modeled on the image one has of some Central American dictatorships in the late 70s - early 80s. And there's that little tidbit about how the country had gone to was with one of its neighbours over the result of a football game (which Leone calls "soccer", of course!). Now, *that* incident is obviously based on the war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, which wasn't actually because of the result of the football game, but did start shortly after it.

I also had trouble understanding where exactly in South America Montedora was supposed to be, though I suppose this might have been exactly what the author intended. The info we get in the text is that it's a landlocked country, in a mountainous area, where there used to be gold in the mountains. It limits with Brazil to the north and Argentina to the south. Problem is, the only place where you have Brazil to the north and Argentina to the South and the distance between these two borders is relatively small is in eastern Paraguay, near the Iguazu falls (an area, BTW, which some in the Bush administration proposed attacking after 9/11, because of alleged links between the areas large arab community and al Qaeda). Just look at the map here. No mountains there, not even close. Oh, well, it's fiction, Rosario, just let it go!

Then, I had a bit of an issue with some of the names in the story. Nothing *obviously* wrong, just things that didn't sound completely right to my native ear. Stuff like the president being called "de la Veracruz", when plain "Veracruz" would sound more natural (I repeat "de la Veracruz" is NOT wrong, there probably are hundreds of people with that name around, for all I know. It just sounds more like a foreigner's idea of what a Spanish name would be than like a real Spanish name). Other examples: the name of the country (I'd have chosen Montedoro, with an "o"), or the "Seguridores", the secret police, a play on the word "seguridad" (safety, or security), which ends up sounding like made-up nonsense, not like a plausible name. Still, I can't fault Leone's research, because all my objections are for things which she had to make up. I had no problem at all with the snatches of Spanish used, they were all perfectly correct.

I must repeat that I did like the setting. I've gone on and on about my criticism, I know, but it's just nit-picking, really. Nothing a non-South American would be bothered by. On the whole, the setting works fine.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. Now, if I could only get my hands on a copy of Fallen From Grace...


My Top 100 list

>> Monday, October 04, 2004

I've been working for DAYS on my Top 100 list for the All About Romance poll. Selecting which my top 100 novels were was pretty easy, but arranging them in the right order was sheer torture. It took me ages, and it's nowhere near perfect yet, but I guess it'll do. So, without further ado, here they are:

1. Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase
2. Gaudy Night - Dorothy L Sayers
3. Born in Fire - Nora Roberts
4. Winter Garden - Adele Ashworth
5. Daughter of the Game - Tracy Grant
6. Shining Through - Susan Isaacs
7. Beauty Like the Night - Liz Carlyle
8. Heart of Deception - Taylor Chase
9. Busman's Honeymoon - Dorothy L Sayers
10. Naked in Death - JD Robb
11. The Devil You Know - Liz Carlyle
12. Rapture in Death - JD Robb
13. The Viscount Who Loved Me - Julia Quinn
14. Bridal Favors - Connie Brockway
15. Ravished - Amanda Quick
16. Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
17. Heart of Fire - Linda Howard
18. Night Owl (from Hot Blooded anthology) - Emma Holly
19. For My Lady's Heart - Laura Kinsale
20. Anyone But You - Jennifer Crusie
21. The Bridal Season - Connie Brockway
22. My False Heart - Liz Carlyle
23. In the Midnight Rain - Ruth Wind
24. Harvard's Education - Suzanne Brockmann
25. Mistress - Amanda Quick
26. Get Lucky! - Suzanne Brockmann
27. Trust Me - Jayne Ann Krentz
28. As You Desire - Connie Brockway
29. Menage - Emma Holly
30. My Dearest Enemy - Connie Brockway
31. Fever Dreams - Laura Leone
32. Over the Edge - Suzanne Brockmann
33. Gone Too Far - Suzanne Brockmann
34. Perfect Partners - Jayne Ann Krentz
35. Birthright - Nora Roberts
36. Midnight Bayou - Nora Roberts
37. Family Man - Jayne Ann Krentz
38. Breathing Room - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
39. A Tale of Two Sisters (from Where's my Hero anthology) - Julia Quinn
40. All Night Long - Michelle Jerott
41. Crocodile in the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
42. Welcome to Temptation - Jennifer Crusie
43. Scandal's Bride - Stephanie Laurens
44. The Golden Chance - Jayne Ann Krentz
45. It Had to Be You - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
46. When He Was Wicked - Julia Quinn
47. Heartthrob - Suzanne Brockmann
48. To Sir Phillip With Love - Julia Quinn
49. Hidden Riches - Nora Roberts
50. To Have and to Hold - Patricia Gaffney
51. Midsummer Moon - Laura Kinsale
52. Grand Passion - Jayne Ann Krentz
53. Deep Waters - Jayne Ann Krentz
54. Luisa's Desire (from Fantasy anthology) - Emma Holly
55. The Last Rogue - Deborah Simmons
56. Fair Play - Deirdre Martin
57. By Possession - Madeline Hunter
58. Breathless - Laura Lee Guhrke
59. One Summer - Karen Robards
60. Thunder and Roses - Mary Jo Putney
61. The Phoenix Code - Catherine Asaro
62. Trojan Gold - Elizabeth Peters
63. Fever Dreams - Laura Leone
64. A Woman Scorned - Liz Carlyle
65. Lady Be Good - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
66. The Iron Rose - Marsha Canham
67. My Sweet Folly - Laura Kinsale
68. The Famous Heroine - Mary Balogh
69. Two Hearts (short story in The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown anthology) - Karen Hawkins
70. Getting Her Man - Michele Albert
71. Dancing on the Wind - Mary Jo Putney
72. Suddenly You - Lisa Kleypas
73. Holding the Dream - Nora Roberts
74. One Perfect Rose - Mary Jo Putney
75. The Gentleman Thief - Deborah Simmons
76. Witness in Death - JD Robb
77. Loyalty in Death - JD Robb
78. By Arrangement - Madeline Hunter
79. A Summer to Remember - Mary Balogh
80. This Heart of Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
81. A Great Catch - Michelle Jerott
82. Wizard - Jayne Ann Krentz (as Stephanie James)
83. Zinnia - Jayne Castle
84. The Shadowy Horses - Susanna Kearsley
85. One Good Turn - Carla Kelly
86. The Indiscretion - Judith Ivory
87. Sea Swept - Nora Roberts
88. Paradise - Judith McNaught
89. Love's Prisoner (from Secrets Vol 6 anthology) - MaryJanice Davidson
90. The Man Who Loved Christmas - Kathryn Shay
91. Desire's Moon - Elane Osborn
92. Face the Fire - Nora Roberts
93. Gallant Waif - Anne Gracie
94. Son of the Morning - Linda Howard
95. Stealing Heaven - Madeline Hunter
96. Carnal Innocence - Nora Roberts
97. The Charm School - Susan Wiggs
98. Bewitching - Jill Barnett
99. Then Came You - Lisa Kleypas
100. The Nekkid Truth (from Big Guns Out of Uniform anthology), by Nicole Camden

I'm to lazy to add links to them, but you can find my comments about many of them here.


Get Lucky, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Friday, October 01, 2004

Get Lucky is one of my favourites in Suzanne Brockmann's TD&D series. It and Harvard's Education are the two entries I reread regularly.

An unlikely state of affairs. For Navy SEAL Lucky O'Donlon was the original love-'em-and-leave-'em guy. Used to women swooning at his feet. So how could it be that the adorably quick-witted and frustratingly attractive journalist Sydney Jameson seemingly had nothing to offer him...but one very cold shoulder?

Well, two could play at this game. But first things first -- he and Sydney had a job to do. They had to get their man.

Then there would be time enough for him to get his woman....
I enjoyed it just as much this time as I did the first 5 times I read this ;-) My grade: an A-.

I suppose the reason Get Lucky works so well is the fact that it taps into what has to be a major fantasy for many women: that the charismatic, movie-star handsome golden boy can be a nice, sensitive, genuine person and can fall like a ton of bricks for someone like us, non-supermodel body, good brain and all.

Brockmann tells this story well, making the characters live, and become their own persons. Lucky is wonderful, with just the right degree of vulnerability to make him even more attractive and not that much larger than life, and Sydney was immensely likeable. Her reactions to this god seeming to be interested in her rang true, and I liked that she refused to be manipulated by Lucky when he tried to do so at the beginning of the book.

The suspense subplot was pretty good. I much prefer Brockmann's SEAL books when said SEALs are doing non-military stuff. And this kind of ties in to what I saw as the main thing that could improve the story: cutting the SEAL stuff a bit. I've said a few times already that I prefer to stay away from military romance, and though I make an exception for Brockmann, I can't help but wish that she'd go back to writing about civilians. The ubiquitous explanations about what it meant to be a SEAL and what SEAL training is like, and so on and so forth felt out of place here.

That was a small problem, however, and I enjoyed this one very much, especially Brockmann's writing style. It's a very distinctive style, and I know it bothers some people, but for me, it works. This is one of the few authors whose books I'd buy without even skimming the back blurb!


Nightshade, by Nora Roberts

I started reading Nora Roberts's Night Tales series about a year ago, but for some reason, I read only the first 2. This week I finally got to the third one, Nightshade.


Colt Nightshade: Professional troubleshooter. A damn good man to know—if he's on your side…

Althea Grayson: That's Lieutenant Althea Grayson—a hell of a cop, and heaven in his arms.

Colt Nightshade made his living facing danger—alone. But his search for a runaway girl through the steamy side of the city was one time he had to have help—whether he liked it or not. And if a man had to have a partner, he could do a whole lot worse than Althea Grayson. She was all business…and embodied his every pleasure. Soon, trouble became a four-letter word called love!
A good entry in the series, really good. A B.

I guess I've been in the mood for dark this week. First Darkness Calls and then this. The main difference was that, in Nightshade, the romance provided quite a bit of respite from the horror of the suspense subplot, while in DC, it continued the exploration of the darker side of the characters. I liked both approaches :-)

For such a short book, both Althea and Colt were well-drawn characters, Althea maybe a bit more than Colt. Their relationship developed in a believable way, and I liked the way Colt did his pursuing, having accepted his feelings long before Thea.

The suspense subplot was actually very interesting, if horrific. Nora pulled no punches here. There was no miraculous rescue at the nick of time, and real consequences for the victim, but all the same, the ending was optimistic.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the last 2 books of the series.


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