Books, books, books

>> Thursday, June 30, 2005

I don't really feel like writing much today, so I thought I'd post some pictures. Pictures of books, of course! I think if you click on them they should get big enough for you to actually read some titles ;-)

Nora, Elizabeth Peters, Sayers, etc

These is a corner of some bigger shelves, the part dedicated to romance novels. It's mostly Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy Sayers (right there, in the bottom right-hand corner), Agatha Christie, plus some odds and ends.

Entire bookshelf

And this is the entire bookshelf shown in the first pic. Lots of old stuff in Spanish in the parts not already shown.

Entire bookshelf

Entire bookshelf

Entire bookshelf

These are biggest bookshelves I've got. Books are stacked two-deep here, so there are twice as many books as you can see there. The second pic is from another angle, so you can see a part that wasn't shown in the first photo, and the third was taken with the photographer (me, that is) standing further away.

The guy sitting there's my brother, Juan, BTW. I told him "Unless you want to show up in my blog, move out of the frame". He didn't.

Oh, and another BTW: part of my TBR is there, behind the doors below the rest of the books. I meant to take these photos with the doors open, but I forgot.

Entire bookshelf

And speaking of TBR piles, here's the rest of it. Top and bottom shelves. There are two more rows of books behind them (these are very deep shelves), but only the ones right in front are TBR. Behind them I have Julia Quinn, Mary Jo Putney, Deborah Simmons and lots of series romance.

The middle row holds my Trade list.

Entire bookshelf

More books here. Miscellaneous stuff in Spanish on the top shelf. My Emilio Salgari collection in the middle shelf. Romance in the bottom shelf... mostly Mary Balogh, Lorraine Heath and Judith McNaught.

Entire bookshelf

Finally, here are my Jayne Ann Krentz books, in my bedroom shelves. My fanatism is even worse than it looks like here: I've got even more books by her. Some are in my TBR, and my Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle books are elsewhere.


Ain't She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I'm probably the only Susan Elizabeth Phillips fan who likes her latest books even more than her earlier ones. I've been saving Ain't She Sweet, waiting for the right moment. It arrived when SEP was chosen the author of the month in one of my romance groups.

Ain't She Sweet?
Not exactly . . .

The girl everybody loves to hate has returned to the town she'd sworn to leave behind forever. As the rich, spoiled princess of Parrish, Mississippi, Sugar Beth Carey had broken hearts, ruined friendships, and destroyed reputations. But fifteen years have passed, and life has taught Sugar Beth its toughest lessons. Now she's come home -- broke, desperate, and too proud to show it.

The people of Parrish don't believe in forgive and forget. When the Seawillows, Sugar Beth's former girlfriends, get the chance to turn the tables on her, they don't hesitate. And Winnie Davis, Sugar Beth's most bitter enemy, intends to humiliate her in the worst possible way.

Then there's Colin Byrne. . . . Fifteen years earlier, Sugar Beth had tried to ruin his career. Now he's rich, powerful, and the owner of her old home. Even worse, this modern-day dark prince is planning exactly the sort of revenge best designed to bring a beautiful princess to her knees.

But none of them have reckoned on the unexpected strength of a woman who's learned survival the hard way.

While Sugar Beth's battered heart struggles to overcome old mistakes, Colin must choose between payback and love. Does the baddest girl in town deserve a second chance, or are some things beyond forgiving?

Ain't She Sweet? is a story of courage and redemption. . . of friendship and laughter. . . of love and the possibility of happily-ever-after.
Stories about the heroine coming back to the small town she left years before, swearing never to come back, are very definitely not among my favourite plots. But dodgy-sounding plots are par for the course for SEP, and she's managed to make me love too many of them for me to even think of avoiding Ain't She Sweet. And right I was: this was an A-.

You know those books which have everyone, especially the hero, trying to make the heroine's life hell, usually because they believe she's an evil bitch who deserves it, probably because of some misunderstanding or other? Even when I hate those books, I can't help but be manipulated into feeling this lump in my throat at the way she's mistreated. Even if she's stupidly and needlessly putting herself in a vulnerable position because martyrhood seems to be her calling, I feel that. There's this "oooh, when you realize she's actually good, you're going to be sorry!" element there that gets me every time, even if part of me is angry at the manipulation.

That's how I felt the entire first part of Ain't She Sweet (I thought of using the acronym ASS, but I don't think that would work. Author's should think of this before choosing a title for their books!). All the while Sugar Beth was being tortured by the entire town, led by Colin, I kept wanting to cry. And loving it.

It worked. Why?

Number one: because the reason why Sugar Beth was back in Parrish and had to stay there for a while, thus putting herself in that vulnerable position, made sense. This was a place she despised, a place where everyone despised her, so giving her a good reason to do this was basic. Too often, in cases like this one, I want to shake the heroine or hero and tell them that if this is such a horrible place, why aren't they already 50 miles away?

Number two: Sugar Beth did deserve some torture, even if she was now a good person. She truly was a bitch when she was young. This is not a poor young woman who really did nothing to earn people's hate. It wasn't all a misunderstanding. No one set her up to take the blame for horrible things, she really did them. She made people's life miserable and she enjoyed wielding her power. She did have some twinges of guilt, which made her more human (as in that horrific scene with Winnie in the changing rooms), but mostly she was a cruel, unfeeling bitch.

Number three: The whole "let's drag Sugar Beth in the mud" went on just long enough. When it would have become overkill, when I would have started to really resent her torturers for being immature children who were too hung up on what happened in high school and who had gone even lower than Sugar Beth had ever done, things lightened up.

Colin, especially, had no stomach for cruelty and immediately saw through Sugar Beth's insistence that she was the same selfish little girl she was all those years ago. And it worked wonderfully well because Sugar Beth never did anything to convince him, she actually tried to play up her bitch side, and he still saw right through it.

And Sugar Beth herself was amazing. There's nothing I like more than a tortured heroine, even more than a tortured hero. I love imperfect heroines, heroines with real baggage, heroines with pasts that are far from snow white. And that's Sugar Beth to a "T".

After that humourless, boring twit, Jenny, from the book I'd just finished, this woman was a joy to read. She was fun, she was interesting, she was a little (big) bit bent, and she was a truly good person underneath all those vices she flaunted. By the end of the book, you do understand why she was that way as a young girl, the baggage she had, but even all those years later, when she's grown up and changed from the person she was back then, she never, ever tries to excuse herself. She takes full responsibility for everything she ever did.

While Sugar Beth was the main character in this book, Colin was a strong hero. He was really fun to read, I loved his quirks and his sarcasm and the way he truly appreciated Sugar Beth in her entirety, never wanting to change what she was. If there's any criticism I can level at this book it's that as much as I loved Sugar Beth, I was left wanting with Colin. He's got some issues of his own which I thought were a bit shortchanged.

As always with SEP, there are some interesting secondary storylines. Sugar Beth's relationship with her sister, Winnie, is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. Nothing is easy for them, and their rapprochement is very slow and complicated, which made their reconciliation believable.

And Winnie's relationship with her own husband, Sugar Beth's old boyfriend, was great, too. It reminded me a bit of the story of Cal's parents in Nobody's Baby But Mine, an apparently successful marriage of many years which hides some serious issues.

This has been an excellent ending to an excellent reading month!


Led Astray, by Sandra Brown

>> Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sandra Brown used to be one of my favourite authors when I first started reading romance in earnest. She's gone way too much outside romance for my tastes, so I don't read her latest releases. And also, of course, tastes change, so many of the books I used to love I don't really like, which means I don't even reread my old Brown favourites.

So why did I buy Led Astray last year? No idea. Might have been the Unrequited Love special listing at AAR, but then again, it might not.

After his brother Hal dies, Cage Hendren, trying to overcome his reputation as a womanizer, pursues the only woman he has ever loved, Hal's quiet and serious fiancee, and shows her how to explore the wildness in herself. .
This forbidden love type of story (hero in love for years with brother's girlfriend) has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but this time, the problems I had with the story, and, most especially, with the heroine, overwhelmed whatever pleasure I could take out of it. A C-.

Even the hero, who ended up being the best thing about the book, didn't really start all that well. Since this happens in the first few pages, it can't be considered a spoiler, can it? Anyway, Jenny's fiancée, Hal, is about to go on a mission to a wartorn Central American country (aren't them all, in RomanceLand?). Jenny doesn't want him to go, she wants, for once, for Hal to put her first.

The night before he's due to leave, goaded by Hal's brother, Cage, who's also against Hal going, she decides to go for her big weapons and seduce him into staying. But Hal refuses to be seduced and leaves the room. Only to return and make love to Jenny, who's very surprised the morning after, when she sees Hal's left anyway.

It's pretty obvious from the first that it's not Hal who comes back in the room, and the reader is told soon afterwards, in a scene in which Cage is berating himself for "violating" Jenny. Now, usually, when romance heroes moan about what they did wrong in bed with the heroine, it's something like "Ohhh, I was too rough, she'll never want me to touch her again", while the heroines loved, loved, LOVED the sex. So, most times the heroes are completely wrong to torturing themselves (those yucky rapists heroes in 80s bodice-rippers never repented, so they don't count).

Not here. When Cage calls what he did "violating" Jenny, I'm sorry, but he's right, and it's inexcusable. He's right to torture himself, and he should have tortured himself a whole lot more. And yes, I have liked a book in which the same situation happens, a Susan Napier, but the context was different, and that made all the difference.

At least, though, I approved of how he dealt with his guilt over what he had done. He doesn't go straight out to tell Jenny (what possible good could that have done her, especially after Hal dies?), and when it would have been in his best interest to confess the truth, he doesn't because it wouldn't be the best for Jenny. He only tells her when it's absolutely necessary for her.

Apart from this, I quite liked Cage (everything but his name, which was ridiculous. Brown specializes in horrible names. I still remember the heroine she named "Banner". WTF??). He was a bit too indiscriminate for my tastes, but at least he was kind to his lovers and had some fondness for them. I also liked that this tortured guy didn't try to make other people as miserable as he was. He was decent with everyone, especially Jenny, and that's something that's always a positive with me.

So as I said, he was the best thing about the book, but I'm afraid that's not really saying much. Jenny was a wash as a heroine. Sooo perfect she was perfectly boring. And when she wasn't being Miss Goody-Goody, she was being a judgemental idiot. She lost lots of points with me when she dismissed Roxy as "a slut" when all she knew about her was that she was rumoured to be an old girlfriend of Cage's. And she was so passive! Cage went on and on about the free spirit inside her waiting to break free, but I just didn't see it. She had to be forced into every single change she made.

And I do NOT want to read any more books which have this "promiscuous man redeemed by the love of a pure, innocent woman". I'm tired of this, I've read way too many of them and I've been finding them offensive for quite some time. I would have prefered to see Cage with someone like Roxy, really.

But even this silly twit of a heroine wasn't the worst thing about the book. That was Cage's parents, Bob and Sarah, and more small-minded, judgmental (even more than Jenny), mean people are probably hard to find. I hated the fact that they all end up with a big reconciliation. So what if they're family? Better to lose people like this and make your own family.


Black Rose, by Nora Roberts (In The Garden # 2)

>> Monday, June 27, 2005

Conquered by my weakness yet again! Back when I read Blue Dahlia, the first in Nora Roberts' new In The Garden trilogy, I made up my mind that I'd do my best not to read book # 2, Black Rose, until the third and last, Red Lily was out, so that I could read them together. It's always an added pleasure to read Roberts trilogies like that. Well, I tried and lasted almost a week. But it was calling my name so loudly that I couldn't help myself.

Number-one bestselling author Nora Roberts presents the second novel of her In the Garden trilogy (following Blue Dahlia), as three women must discover the secrets from the past contained within their historic home...

Three women meet at a crossroads in their lives,
each searching for new ways to grow-and find in each other
the courage to take chances and embrace the future.

Roz is a woman of independent means who thought love was behind her,
but when romance takes her by surprise;
she won't allow anything to keep her from her second chance at happiness.

A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night...

At forty-five, Rosalind Harper is a woman whose experiences have made her strong enough to bend without breaking-and weather any storm. A widow with three grown sons, she survived a disastrous second marriage, and built her In the Garden nursery from the ground up. Through the years, In the Garden has become more than just a thriving business-it is a symbol of hope and independence to Roz, and to the two women she shares it with. Newlywed Stella and new mother Hayley are the sisters of her heart, and together, the three of them are the future of In the Garden.

But now that future is under attack, and Roz knows they can't fight this battle alone. Hired to investigate Roz's Harper ancestors, Dr. Mitchell Carnagie finds himself just as intrigued with Roz herself. And as they begin to unravel the puzzle of the Harper Bride's identity, Roz is shocked to find herself falling for the fascinating genealogist. Now it is a desperate race to discover the truth before the unpredictable apparition lashes out at the one woman who can help her rest in peace...
This is a lovely book. A B+.

I loved that for once, I got to read about more mature characters, both in their late 40s. Romance novel protagonists tend to be pretty close to my age, so it's not a matter of me having liked this because I could identify with them better, or anything like that. I just like variety.

Roz and Mitch's is a relationship without great angst or conflicts, which is why it amazes me that Roberts was able to make it so interesting. They are attracted to each other from the first, flirt a bit, have a few dates, start sleeping together, decide they're in love and a bit later, that they should get married. No great snags, no big fights, just a natural, easy progression.

Roz would have had good reason for finding it difficult to trust, after her nightmare of a second marriage, but though it's not as easy for her as it might have been if she hadn't been hurt by Bryce, she didn't have great trouble realizing that she could trust Mitch and there really was no question of her letting bad past experiences influence their relationship.

And yet, without any conflict, I really enjoyed reading their romance and never got bored. I think it was a combination of the fact that there was a lot of stuff going on around them, livening things up, and that Roz and Mitch did have great chemistry and were interesting together anyway. Having said that, I never did get that extra zing, that knot in my stomach, while reading Black Rose, which is why this book didn't go into A territory.

Mitch was a yummy hero, a really nice, brainy and a bit nerdy guy, who was confident and mature enough that he could handle being equal partners with the very strong Roz. And speaking of Roz, wow! At one point, Stella says she wants to be like Roz when she grows up. You and me both, Stella!

Roz is truly a butt-kicking heroine, and the great thing is that while she can easily physically kick ass, she's just as good at manipulating situations so that people who are harassing her get what they deserve. There's this amazing scene at the country club where she basically destroys her ex husband which had me cheering. Up until then I'd half feared that she'd let him get away with too much.

I was remembering another Roberts book, Finding the Dream, in which the heroine had basically let her ex walk all over her. She didn't want to hurt their daughters by going after their daddy and having them realize he was pond scum, plus, she kind of saw the money he'd stolen from her as what she had to pay for having been so stupid about him. Well, in Roz's case, reason number 1 didn't apply, but I feared she'd go for number two (she was half-way there, not having gone after him for something he'd stolen from her before he left her), but she definitely didn't. She flattened him, and did it with great class.

And I absolutely adored that she didn't let her disgusting aunt (or cousin, or whatever) get away with her crap. She might have been in her 80s, but that's no excuse for being a horrid, judgmental bigot, and rude to boot, and Roz made her pay without a qualm.

I found all the stuff about Roz's business pretty fascinating, even though half the time I had no idea what she was talking about. Having lived in mostly plantless appartments in a big city all my life, most of the things about this part of the book were new to me. And also, of course, I never could identify any of the flowers, and had to keep running to the computer to either google for images or translate them to Spanish, as that's one aspect of my English vocabulary that's very poor.

In addition to all of this, the plot of the Harper Bride, the ghost of Harper House, continued to develop, and I thought it's going really well. The Harper Bride's not like any ghost I've seen in a romance novel. Those seem to be sappy cute most of the time, and just evil the rest of the time. The Harper Bride is neither. She's a sympathetic figure at times, but she's crazy, which makes her more than a little scary, as the things she does with good intentions tend not to be the best.

Add to this a wonderful supporting cast, secondary characters who are there for a reason and play important roles, rather than just popping up so that readers can see the protagonists of the first book again, or to tempt us to buy book 3, and you get a wonderful book. Now, of course, I'm berating myself for giving in to the temptation, because I just can't wait to read Red Lily!


Miranda Blue Calling, by Michelle Curry Wright

>> Friday, June 24, 2005

I'm on a binge, trying new authors right and left. My latest read was Miranda Blue Calling, by Michelle Curry Wright

She's the breezy voice on the telephone, bringing life into the lonely days of her elderly clients ... But who's calling Miranda Blue?

Not a soul -- which is the way Miranda likes it. From her sweet, ramshackle house in the middle of Colorado's pinto bean country, she can run her tele-companionship service while steering clear of men. No more sexy, Big City bad boys. No more tangled, short-lived relationships. Just those eager, grateful voices on the other end of the line, appreciating what Miranda Blue does best: talking.

William Wordsworth "Billy" Steadman, a young widower and greenhouse farmer, has been a man of few words. With the arrival of his eccentric and reclusive new neighbor, however, he willingly rises to her rebuffs, determined to interact in the flesh while bantering his way to her heart. Now he's spoiling her dogs. She's feeding his fish. And if they'd just let each other in, together they might find a little of that precious, elusive commodity called happiness.

This call's for you, Miranda Blue. Pick up!
This was definitely not what I was expecting. It had been described to me as non-stereotypical chick-lit, so I wasn't expecting a Bridget Jones clone, but I was expecting chick-lit and this wasn't it.

This, to me, read more like literary fiction. Of course, there are as many concepts of what the difference is between literary and genre fiction as there are people making the distinction, so I don't suppose everyone will agree with me here. Just to be clear, I'm not saying it was better or worse for this, it just was different.

The main point of the book didn't seem to be the story, but the writing and the message it was sending. This threw me a bit at first, but once I got into the rythm of it, I did like the book, though at times I did get a bit tired of the way nothing seemed to happen.

The characters have some very interesting aspects, and there's a nice romance here, especially in the last part. My grade: B-.


The Damsel in This Dress, by Marianne Stillings

>> Thursday, June 23, 2005

Marianne Stillings was one of my favourite reviewers when she was at AAR. Not only did I tend to agree with her assessments, her reviews were always entertaining, even when she was giving books a C. So, when she got published, deciding to get her first book, The Damsel in This Dress, was a no-brainer.

Port Henry Ledger Book Review by Betsy Tremaine: WRONG GUY HAS THE WRITE STUFF IN TORRID LOVE STORY

Let me tell you, dear reader, I've rarely been subjected to such drivel as I have in the novels of bestselling tough-guy cop-turned-author J. Soldier McKennitt. The man himself, however, is considerably more interesting. Having finally met him at a recent writers' conference in Seattle, I am pleased to report that Soldier is a tall, dark, and gorgeous hunk of literary superstar. To my surprise, he became quite the charmer once his self-righteous indignation evaporated ... Could it have been this critic's blonde hair and hourglass figure that brought about such an abrupt turnaround? Or perhaps our Soldier boy was simply vanquished by this reviewer's intelligence and caustic wit. In any case, due to the recent emergence of a crazed stalker, this plot has since thickened uncomfortably, and Detective McKennitt has brashly assumed the role of my knight in shining Brooks Brothers.

Bottom Line: The only thing standing in the way of a beautiful relationship in this love story is the fact that the two protagonists are so deliriously, passionately wrong for each other!
I consider this a very, very promising debut. I had some problems with it, especially with the second half, but on the whole, it was an enjoyable read. A B.

I got really, really excited while reading the first part of the book. I was getting that tingly feeling I get when reading a book that is heading towards keeper status. The plot felt fresh, so did the characters (mostly, at least), and the humour, which was of the "cute" variety, was making me laugh out loud instead of barf.

There were so many details I appreciated... just to mention a few: Betsy's drunken email to Soldier, the setting at the mystery conference, the story they produce in the workshop, Soldier's immediate meltdown-grade lust for Betsy, the scene with the fortune cookies, the fact that Betsy reacted like a normal person to the stalker... I was having fun!

But then the action moved to Betsy's hometown and ::fizzle::. For some reason, the romance became a bit less exciting to me. It kind of felt as if Betsy and Soldier's relationship stalled and they started going round and round.

And even worse, the main problem was that the stalker plot came to the forefront. What had felt intriguing and fascinating in the first chapters, became almost humdrum, and while both Betsy and Soldier had behaved very sensibly then, in this part there's such an obvious line of investigation that they ignore that I felt like tearing out my hair. Also, I felt the body count climbed way too high for the mood of the book.

There were also certain details about the characters that made me roll my eyes a little bit... for instance, Betsy's nonexistent social life and Soldier's fixation with her "innocence", though, to be fair, Betsy wasn't really this naive woman Soldier saw when he looked at her. Oh, and Soldier's reasons for being on leave from work were such a cliché! I mean, getting life insurance must be very expensive if you're a cop and your partner's a romance hero!

For all these problems, I did like the book. The main thing was that I adored Stillings' voice, so I'm definitely going to keep an eye on her.


Wait Until Midnight, by Amanda Quick

>> Wednesday, June 22, 2005

After a good number of hardcovers, Wait Until Midnight is the first Amanda Quick book in years to be published directly in paperback. I wonder what happened? It must not be a matter of sales, since her subsequent book is being published in HC again. It also doesn't sound as if it's a case like Linda Howard's To Die For, since WUM is very much in the vein of her other Amanda Quick books. Who knows?

The sins of Adam Hardesty's past have been discovered. And if he does not hunt down his blackmailer quickly, his secrets will be revealed to all...

But there is an obstacle in his way: sensation novelist Caroline Fordyce. She knows that Adam's quest for justice could shatter her own reputation—and mire her family in lethal scandal. And she fears what he may find.

Together, they will navigate the shadow side of London, venturing into an underworld of cutthroats, connivers, and illusionists. And as the mystery grows ever deeper and the danger circles ever closer, they must guard not only their secrets but their lives...
Wait Until Midnight was a really nice surprise. My expectations were very modest, especially after the very lackluster ending to the Tobias and Lavinia trilogy, so modest that I actually didn't get a copy of it but borrowed it from a friend. And this is a friend I rarely borrow books from because she takes such good care of her books that I have to read hers without fully opening them, sheer torture for a spine-cracker like me.

Furthermore, the reviews and online buzz about WUM have NOT been good. It actually got a D- at AAR, and the feedback from readers at the messages boards was only a little bit better.

So imagine my surprise when it turned out that for me, WUM is Quick's best book in years and years, maybe even since Affair, published back in 1997. While it's not up to her high early-90s standards, it's much, much better than what she's been publishing in the last few years. It's got more romance, more passion and zing between the protagonists and also a suspense subplot that is less convoluted and more interesting. A B.

I especially enjoyed the romance between these two people with scandalous pasts. Adam's fascination with Caroline was well done, and I liked the way it progressed from lust-at-first-sight to more tender feelings. The parallels between the way Caroline's latest novel and her relationship with Adam evolved were a nice touch.

The suspense subplot wasn't the strongest element of the book, but it was ok. I found the exploration of society's increasing fascination with mediums and the details about how fake mediums operated very interesting.

After this, I have some revived hopes for Lie By Moonlight.


Wheeee!! Uruguay has now joined the ranks of civilized countries. A local bookstore is bringing in some copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to be sold right on July 16th, together with the rest of the world.

They're bringing in the UK paperback edition, apparently, which is weird, since I don't see it at It costs about $ 150 Uruguayan (that would be about $ 6 US) more than it would cost me to get the hardcover from the US, but I won't have to wait, and I actually prefer pb to hc, so... need I say that I've already reserved my copy?


Getting What You Want, by Kathy Love

>> Monday, June 20, 2005

Kathy Love was one of the debut authors who got the most buzz last year. Her first book, Getting What You Want, got quite a bit of attention.

NOTE TO SELF: Remind me to have my head examined. What exactly possessed me to come home to Millbrook, Maine, where nothing changes but the weather? Oh, right. A six-month grant to do genetics research at Rand laboratories. What can I say—I’m a smart girl. And smart girls get what they need and get out again. Smart girls don’t dream, they settle. And smart girls do not get completely tongue-tied while holding a basket of fried clams when they bump into the most gorgeous man they haven’t seen in fifteen years: Chase Jordan.

Remind me to have my hormones removed. Chase Jordan. Town bad boy. Rebel with a cause to show up in my dreams unannounced. Oh boy, this is not good. Not smart. It’s like high school all over again. But in a good way. A heart-thumping way. An I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-to-happen way. A way that’s making me feel like maybe settling for what I have isn’t so smart…but really going after what I want is the craziest thing I may ever do...
After coming close to faltering in the first pages, GWYW shows a lot of promise. A B.

It took me almost a week to really get into it. I read the first 50 or so pages on the bus, but after that, I kept finding other stuff I wanted to read instead of picking this one up again. Why? In a word: Abby. The way she behaved at first was just painful. I hate books which have the supposedly intelligent and level-headed heroine behaving like a blabbing idiot whose mind just flies away the minute she goes near a good looking guy, and one she doesn't particularly like, at that.

But things improved when I decided to push on. Abby got her act together and stopped behaving like an idiot. She still had her insecurities and had a hard time believing Chase could really be attracted to her, but she soon lost that high-school sense of awe that the popular guy could really be interested in the class nerd and she and Chase startd relating like grown-ups.

Chase was a wonderful guy. He's sweet and responsible and crazy about Abby right from the first. He's got his own insecurities about something that isn't spelled out until right at the end of the book but was pretty obvious from early on. This felt to me at first like much ado about nothing, a manufactured conflict (a bit like that book in which the hero's (or heroine's? Can't remember) big secret, what made him so ashamed that he felt that any woman who found out would leave him, was that he was diabetic). However, when the secret became public, the author managed to convince me of the fact that this was a very big deal for Chase and that his insecurities were understandable.

Something I really liked about GWYW was that it often felt as if Love was coming really close to some truly irritating plot developments, but she changed tracks every time. For instance, there was Abby's relationship with her boyfriend Nelson. I feared the book would become bogged down in a really dumb conflict about Abby staying with him for no good reason, in spite of her feelings for Chase, but then, zoom! She quickly realized she was with Nelson for all the wrong reasons and immediately ended the relationship AND told Chase.

And then there were Summer's machinations, which had the potential to create some really stupid misunderstandings. They did create one, but Abby and Chase soon came to their senses and TALKED about it and got over the problem. Extra points for a) making Summer a real person, not completely evil, not completely nice b) having Chase be completely aware of Summer's true personality. No gullible idiot, he.

I also liked how the whole deal about Abby having been bullied at school was dealt with. She started out pretty unforgiving, and I confess I pretty much cheered her on when she delivered some stinging set-downs to her former tormentors. The good thing about this is that she progresses throughout the book, from somone still very much emotionally stuck in high school to someone who was ready to let go, to realize that all that was in the past and that some of the people who'd bullied her had changed as much as she had. I was especially happy that Love did this without making Abby look like an idiot. Even when she shows us how Abby used to come across as snobbish and cold, she doesn't blame her for it at all.

This was one of those increasingly rare contemps which are straight romance, no suspense subplot at all. I kept expecting something to come up (sabotage at the lab! a plot to take over the mayor's office!), but nothing happened, luckily!

Has anyone read Wanting What You Get, the book about the second Stepp sister, Ellie? How was it? I have to confess that for all that I liked GWYW, I didn't find Ellie or Mason all that interesting here, so I don't know whether to get that book. Any advice?


Secret Seduction, by Susan Napier

>> Friday, June 17, 2005

Even though I'm not a huge fan of Harlequin Presents, the recent discussion at AAR had me wanting to read one. Of course, not being a fan, I don't have very many of them. There are a few by Susan Napier (my most glommed author last year), but that's about it, so a Napier it was, Secret Seduction.

Nina Dowling was happy on her island home, despite the missing two years of her life. Then a stranger arrives, bringing flashes of memory and pain. Ryan Flint has pushed his way into Nina's life, forcing her to remember what she can't bear to think about, from their life together to why she ran away.
Not the best Napier I've ever read, but it was a nice read. A B-.

The story's premise is almost identical to that of my fave book so far by this author: Another Time. The heroine, who's lost her memories of a certain period of time in her past, meets a man who claims to have had a relationship with her then. From then, each of the books goes in a different direction. Secret Seduction is a bit more angsty. I don't want to spoil anything here, but things get darker and darker as Nina begins to remember.

Nina and Ryan's initial meeting was wonderfully dramatic, but I thought Ryan's supposed amnesia (yep, there's amnesia right and left here) diluted the focus of the story quite a bit.

But the main problem I had with this book was the lack of Ryan's POV. Actually, we get into his head exactly once in the entire book, and it was for something like two paragraphs, which is even worse than if we'd never been there. Getting a few more scenes from his POV might have removed a bit of the mystery in the first part of the book (mystery which had been given away already by the back cover copy, I might add), but it might have made Ryan more real.

I was even more interested in his reactions than in Nina's. How does he feel to see the woman he loves again and realize that she doesn't remember him at all? How does it feel to have to hide he knows her? Apart from certain very powerful scenes (I loved, loved, loved the one on the first night he spends at Nina's, when he asks her to hold him. Sounds corny, but I loved it), Nina's POV just wasn't enough to makes me feel what he must have been feeling, and he tends to seem just like the average "sardonic" HP hero.

Still, I liked Secret Seduction very much and will definitely continue to read Napier.


Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase

>> Thursday, June 16, 2005

Finally I was able to get my copy of Loretta Chase's latest, Mr. Impossible. The person who'd offered to bring it back from the US had to postpone her trip for a couple of months, unfortunately, so it took the book much longer than expected to arrive.

Rupert Carsington, fourth son of the Earl of Hargate, is his aristocratic family's favorite disaster. He is irresistibly handsome, shockingly masculine, and irretrievably reckless, and wherever he goes, trouble follows. Still, Rupert's never met an entanglement--emotional or other--he couldn't escape. Until now.

Now he's in Egypt, stranded in the depths of Cairo's most infamous prison, and his only way out is accepting a beautiful widow's dangerous proposal. Scholar Daphne Pembroke wants him to rescue her brother, who's been kidnapped by a rival seeking a fabled treasure. Their partnership is strictly business: She'll provide the brains, he, the brawn. Simple enough in theory.

Blame it on the sun or the blazing desert heat, but as tensions flare and inhibitions melt, the most disciplined of women and the most reckless of men are about to clash in the most impossibly irresistible way.
Mr. Impossible definitely lived up to my (very, very, very) high expectations. An A-.

The relationship between Rupert and Daphne was a delight. Rupert...::sigh:: what a wonderful, wonderful man! I think what I loved best about this book was how attracted Rupert was to Daphne's intelligence.

It wasn't just that he was ok with her being so smart, smarter than he was, actually, even though, contrary to the image he had so much fun projecting, he was an intelligent man himself. He wasn't just ok with it, her "gigantic brain" was one of the main reasons he was so attracted to her, and that's just lovely.

These two were actually fun together. Their scenes together both made me laugh out loud and gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling, at the same time.

Actually, the entire book was fun, a perfect road romance, with plenty of adventure but more than enough quiet moments to avoid the dreaded sex-in-inappropriate-moments-while-on-the-run syndrome.

The only thing I didn't completely love about Mr. Impossible was the contrast between the tone of the romance and the casualness of the violence and death that goes on around Rupert and Daphne. It does drive home how differently Egyptian and European lives were valued, but I confess the light, breezy way in which some of the deaths were narrated (the gate keeper's, for instance), made me a little queasy.

Anyone know anything about Chase's next book? From the last scene, it looks like it'll be about the eldest Carsington brother, but there's absolutely nothing in the author's website yet.


The Vow, by Dallas Schulze

>> Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I can't really remember what made me buy The Vow, by Dallas Schulze. I know I meant to look through her backlist after reading The Substitute Wife, but it seems I bought this one before that. Well ::shrugs::, whatever.

She was alone, and pregnant. Brittany never got a chance to tell Dan about the baby. Now it was too late, and with no one to turn to, she faced a harsh and desperate future.

Until Michael Sinclair offered sanctuary, and a solution. As Dan’s best friend, he told himself that helping Brittany was temporary. Just until she was on her feet again.

But neither of them had expected their arrangement to awaken such passion. Nor could they have anticipated the twist of fate that would put it all to the ultimate test.
Like The Substitute Wife, The Vow is a weird combination of old-fashioned Harlequin Presents stuff and more modern sensibilities. It's HP-like in its structure, with its marriage-of-convenience plot, and in the way Brit's complete life becomes her husband and child.

But if you look closer, you see that the marriage of convenience makes sense in a more modern sort of way (they don't marry because every child should be brought to the world within the sanctity of marriage, or anything like that. They marry because that way Michael's insurance will cover Brit's medical bills).

And you also see that their marriage becomes a partnership of equals. Brit is a SAHM and Michael appreciates and values what she does. There's no head-of-the-home / little-woman dynamics in their relationship, which is always appreciated.

The actual romance was nice. Sweet, but not saccharine. I tend to like stories of the forbidden love variety, where the "forbidden" element doesn't feel like much ado about nothing. Michael's reluctance to show his increasing attraction to his wife, and hers to show her own, made sense, given the fact that Brit was pregnant with Michael's best friend's baby.

The story takes place in a much longer time-frame than usual. There's a jump of about a year in the middle, before we get to the final plot twist, but the rest of the book spans months and months. This works well for this story, showing their increasing attraction and difficulty to hide it.

All in all, a nice, quiet read. I'd grade it a B-.


Late For The Wedding, by Amanda Quick (Tobias & Lavinia # 3)

>> Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Late For The Wedding is the third in the Amanda Quick trilogy starring Tobias March and Lavinia Lake. It comes right after Slightly Shady and Don't Look Back.

An invitation to a country house party at Beaumont Castle provides a perfect solution to Tobias and Lavinia's most exasperating challenge: how to escape the chaos of London for a remote, relaxing--and above all romantic--retreat from prying eyes and wagging tongues. But the lovers' plans are foiled when their first cozy interlude of the weekend is disrupted by the appearance of a stunning woman from Tobias's past. Aspasia Gray's beauty is as haunting as her connection to Tobias. Her long-deceased fiancé was a friend of his--in addition to being an eccentric assassin. The mysterious nature of the bond between Tobias and Aspasia makes Lavinia more than a little uncomfortable. Especially as her first encounter with Aspasia occurs when she finds her in Tobias's bedchamber...

It seems Aspasia is seeking protection--and solace--after receiving an ominous message that eerily recalls the past. Suddenly the obstacles standing betweenTobias and Lavinia appear greater than just a little London gossip--and far more deadly.When events at the castle suggest someone is imitating the dead killer's methods, the team of Lake and March fervently pursue the investigation--and each other-- as their leads take them from Society's most elegant haunts- -and most discreet hideaways--to London's shadiest backstreets. As their relationship heats up, so does the intrigue. Soon Lavinia will have to employ all her talents to flummox the scoundrel who so rudely interrupted her rendezvous. And then she and Tobias can get back to more pleasurable affairs.
On the whole, I was pretty underwhelmed by this trilogy, and this final entry showcased what was good and bad about each and every one of the books. It's readable and has some good moments, but it's not particularly exciting. A B-.

What I liked most here was that the characters weren't your run-of-the-mill aristocratic rake and innocent young lady. Both Tobias and Lavinia are more mature characters who act their age and also, these two weren't all-powerful members of the ton. They do have some contact with the ton, via a few friends, but they're obviously outside of it. They are genteel, but not aristocrats, and their financial situation is merely adequate.

And finally! A widowed heroine who relishes the freedoms her condition gives her and is happy to take a lover! Lavinia and Tobias' relationship was nicely done, if unexciting. I liked that there's a strong sense of intimacy: I felt they were comfortable together and genuinely liked each other.

LFTW isn't really a funny book, but there are quite a few amusing moments, like Tobias' constant pressure on Lavinia's housekeeper for her to go out on the afternoons to buy currants, so that he and Lavinia can be alone together for a while. I thought his increasing need for more time with her was nicely done.

I also enjoyed the Victorian ambience. It's mostly of the "dark foggy nights and wet cobblestones" variety, and it worked quite well for me.

On the negative side, I was a bit bored by all the emphasis on the investigations, not only on this book but in the entire trilogy. These investigations were frankly pretty boring, and the fact that they became more and more convoluted didn't make them any more interesting.


The SwanSea Destiny, by Fayrene Preston

>> Monday, June 13, 2005

This post is for Màili, who wanted to know how I'd liked The SwanSea Destiny, by Fayrene Preston. I mentioned I had no memories of it from the last time I read it (probably about 10 years or so ago), but I refrained to put it in my Trade List when I went through my shelves because seeing it did elicit some vaguely positive feelings. I promised to do a quick reread this weekend, and here's what I though:

Socialite Arabella Linden was as flamboyant as she was beautiful. When she walked into the ballroom at SwanSea Place leading two snow-white peacocks, Jake Deverell knew the woman was worthy prey..At the stroke of midnight as the twenties roared into the new year 1929, Jake set out to capture the lovely Arabella and quickly found he was no longer a man on the prowl--but a man ensnared. He was entranced by the extravagant yet sweetly mysterious woman.

The illegitimate son and unwilling heir of a millionaire who abandoned him and his mother when he was born, Jake scorned all his father had achieved. Now, involved in bootlegging and pitted against the notorious racketeer Wade Scalia, Jake is falling more and more deeply in love with Arabella. When, suddenly, her life is jeopardized by his illegal activities, he must risk everything for her..and for the destiny at SwanSea.
Worth reading? Well, yes, if only because the setting is so different.This is no wallpaper historical, and the late 1920s setting figures heavily in the story.

At times it's even too heavy-handed... scenes like Jake's actress friend telling him à propos of nothing that she has to go to this award ceremony that they're holding for the very first time that year and which oh, by the way, they are calling the Academy Awards. And later in the book she even gives him a detailed description of who won what, even though up until then, Jake has shown absolutely no interest in the world of moviemaking.

Still, even if the author's hand shows occasionally, most of the time she managed to create a good, rich ambience. The novel is full of speakeasies and people dancing the Charleston and gangsters, and I also liked the glimpse into a world in which social mores are changing and women are gaining a bit more freedom.

As for the actual romance, it wasn't particularly good. I really liked the heroine, Arabella. She's an interesting character, smart, self-assured and remarkably sensible. Jake, on the other hand, was much more problematic, an immature little boy who's willing to devote his entire life to thwarting his father, even if this means he won't be happy either.

Not that I didn't think he had cause to hate his father, Edward. Jake's illegitimate and his father only recognized him as his son and made him his heir when his legitimate son got killed in World War I. When Jake's mother got pregnant, Edward tried to force her to get rid of the baby and when she refused, he abandoned her for her disobedience and never helped at all. Jake grew up seeing her working herself to the bone, practically going bling from sewing all day long, so he hates Edward for not helping out when it would have been so easy for him to do. Melodramatic, but I understand his holding a grudge.

So Jake accepts becoming Edward's heir, but he decides to spend his life hurting and embarrassing his father. He takes over the house that is Edward's pride and joy and runs his bootlegging empire from there. He keeps the house constantly open to guests which treat it pretty much like a brothel.

And, the main reason I disliked Jake: since what his father wants most of all is a dynasty, he refuses to give that to him. So, even though he's crazy about Arabella, he refuses to even think of marrying her because it "would make Edward too happy" to have him settle down with such a good match as Arabella. To hurt his father he's willing to make himself unhappy and to hurt the woman he's quickly coming to love.

This is a romance novel, so of course he changes his tune in the end, but by then it was too little, too late as far as I was concerned. He'd spent the entire book forcing Arabella to make sacrifices for him and refusing to give even an inch of himself.

My grade: a C+.


Hot and Bothered, by Susan Andersen

>> Friday, June 10, 2005

Hot and Bothered, by Susan Andersen is related to a couple other of this author's books, one of which I believe I've read.

Wild flings are supposed to be short-lived.

Socialite Victoria Hamilton had hers with a sexy Marine she knew only as Rocket.

But now her father's been murdered, her brother's on the lam, and the PI John Miglionni, whom her lawyer hired, turns out to be none other than the man she stole away from as the dawn broke over a Pensacola beach six years ago .

And he wants answers. About a lot of things.

But mostly about Victoria's daughter--the little girl with his dark eyes.
This was nothing spectacular, but it did deliver what it promised: a fast, hot, entertaining romance, while adding some surprising nice moments. A B.

Andersen does very well with her characterization. John and Victoria had some unexpected depths and every time I thought we were going into stereotype territory, the author managed to avoid it and deliver some very genuine reactions. So if you're expecting a typical poor little rich girl / rough former marine from the wrong side of the track story, you'll be in for a surprise. The characters are all those things, but they're also much more.

John's actually a sweetie, with no stupid, alpha aggresiveness. He ended up being quite a reasonable, professional guy, which was something I wasn't expecting. I wasn't completely sold on him, though. Even if had changed, somewhere in there was the slut who'd screw anything that stood still long enough and then told his friends in pornographic detail. That's a turn-off on so many levels! And on a more shallow level, I'm not a fan of ponytails on men, but well, that was something I could get past easily here. Victoria was pretty ok. She was smart, and very definitely no pushover, especially with John. When he was behaving like an idiot, she called him on it.

The title really reflected the content of the book, as their relationship was truly steamy. I especially liked that Andersen doesn't hesitate to use frank, even crude language when she gets into John's mind. No "dances as old as time" here, the man calls a cock a cock and that's that, and I found this so much sexier than flowery euphemisms.

The secret baby thing was pretty much a non-issue. Actually, I thought it could have been cut from the book without it really losing much. It's just not a secret for long and it didn't add much to the relationship between John and Tori. At least it wasn't irritating in the ways so many secret baby plots are... Tori had good reasons for not telling John about Esme (she had no idea how to find him, basically), and John understood this quite easily.

As for problems, something that bothered me was the sexual double standards. John's promiscuous, Tori's past is very circunspect. In the 6 years since they first met, Tori's been celibate while John's spent his time sleeping around as much as ever. And there's one scene which drove me crazy in which Tori worries John might think she's a slut. Oh, please, she's worried a slut like him will think badly of her?

To be fair, I don't think this is something that would have bothered me so much if this had been the first romance I ever read. I certainly don't demand that an author give her character equal sex lives simply for political correctness' sake. I guess the problem is that 99% of romances give so much more leeway to the heroes than to the heroines in this arena, so every time I see yet another of them, it pisses me off a little.

Another problem were the children. Oh, yes, the children. Andersen's written the absolute worst child I've ever read, in her Exposure (little Grace only barely edged out Linda Howard's baby-talking monster from Mackenzie's Magic), and though her kids here are better, they still suck. Esme didn't bother me all that much (though the baby-talk grated), but 17-year-old Jared and his 13 y.o. friend P.J. were oh-so-fake. There's no way Jared could ever pass for 17. He felt more like 13, and a very fake 13 year old, at that. And P.J. was completely unbelievable.


Survivor in Death, by J.D. Robb (In Death # 21)

>> Thursday, June 09, 2005

Now that JD Robb's Origin in Death is about to come out in only a couple of months, I allowed myself to read the previous one, the latest so far: Survivor in Death. By my count, this is book 21 in the series (I count Remember When, but not the two short stories).

The newest in the number-one New York Times-bestselling In Death series featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas and Roarke. Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb returns to the New York City of 2059-where Dallas will struggle to solve the murder of a seemingly ordinary family and to protect one small, terrified survivor.

The members of the Swisher family were murdered in their beds with brutal, military precision. The state-of-the-art security was breached, and the killers used night-vision equipment to find their way through the cozy, middle-class house. Clearly, Dallas is dealing with pros. It seems the only mistake they made was to overlook the nine-year-old girl cowering in the darkened kitchen.

Now Nixie Swisher is an orphan-and the sole eyewitness to a seemingly inexplicable crime. Kids are not Dallas's strong suit. But Nixie needs a safe place to stay, and Dallas needs to solve this case. With her partner, Peabody, back on the job-and her husband, Roarke, providing the kind of help that only he can give-Lieutenant Eve Dallas is running after shadows, and dead-set on finding out who's behind them.
This was a very good entry in the series, even a little better than the previous ones. I'm giving it the same grade I gave the others, a B+, but only because it didn't quite reach A level.

What gave Survivor an extra edge was how truly intriguing the crime investigated was. It was horrifying, but fascinating. 9 times out of 10, I just see suspense subplots as an excuse to read about the rest of the stuff in a book and don't spend even a minute wondering about them, but I spent quite a bit more than a minute trying to think of a reason why the whole Swisher family could have been obliterated like that.

When the answer came, I was actually a bit disappointed, which is what kept me from grading this higher. [Spoiler coming up, you know what to do, just highlight the following text to read. Hope it works!] I was hoping for a cleverer explanation than "they were killed by a nut who held a grudge". The explanation did make sense, but I felt let down.

The stuff going on outside of the investigation, the interactions between all the characters (and Eve's world is becoming pretty crowded), were as good as ever. The addition of Nixie, the little girl they are protecting, made things even more interesting. And I especially appreciated that Nora allowed Eve to still be Eve with this little girl and didn't turn her into an instant nurturing mother-hen.

I also enjoyed the little connections to previous books. They are small enough that if you don't catch them, it doesn't detract from your enjoyment, but when you do, it's fun.

Can't wait for Origin!


How To Host a Seduction, by Jeanie London

>> Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I very much enjoyed the first Blaze I read by Jeanie London, Secret Games, so I decided to give her How To Host a Seduction a try.

Step 1 – Know the target.
After Ellen Talbot walks out his door, Christopher Sinclair vows to get her back in his bed. He remembers everything about their three incredible months together—all of her sexual fantasies and longings. Now, he’s using that to tempt her….

Step 2 – Set the stage.
What should have been a simple corporate training session turns intense when Ellen discovers her partner is the one man whose sexy memory she can’t forget. And being with him again just stirs up all that incredible heat….

Step 3 – Don’t retreat.
She can’t resist him when he starts using his intimate knowledge about her to entice her again. So she’ll indulge herself for these few days, then walk away at the end. But she doesn’t count on his determination to have her…for keeps!
It sounded intriguing from the back cover copy, but unfortunately, it was very disappointing. A C-.

HTHAS had a couple of good things going for it. First and foremost, the hero, Christopher, who was really a lovely guy, almost too good to be true. He fell hard for Ellen from the minute she saw her, and after a couple of months dating, he was ready to marry the woman. When this didn't produce the reaction he was expecting, and Ellen ran in the opposite direction, he concentrated all his efforts on winning her back... not by bullying her or manipulating her (not that much, anyway), but by courting her.

The main problem with this was that I simply couldn't conceive what he saw in Ellen. She's one of the most irritating heroines I've read lately. Rigid, humourless, obsessed with her silly rules, she's a woman whose entire life seems to be focused on not attracting the attention of the press.

It didn't help that I felt that the whole fear of the press she had going on was a tempest in a teacup. It would have been believable if that so horrid "bad press" would be something of the caliber of "Senator's daughter arrested for drug-dealing", but Ellen seemed to fear headlines like "Senator's daughter marrying a perfectly respectable and successful man after dating for only 3 months!!!" Oh, the horror!

The book is chock-full of love scenes. These are well-written enough, but there just isn't much sexual tension, and I really got the feeling that all those love scenes just didn't add anything to the character development.

I liked the setting of the story. Having them participating in a murder mystery reenactment / training seminar was fun, but the author managed to make the actual investigation of the murder pretty boring. I never got a feel for the protagonists of that story within the main story, so the endless conversations about the different steps of the investigation never became interesting.

A shame, really. This could have been so much better.


The Sinner, by Madeline Hunter

>> Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Sinner (excerpt) is the only book I hadn't read of the Madeline Hunter series which starts with The Seducer. It's not the last book in the series, that's The Romantic, which I'd intended to read only when I finished The Sinner. But I'm weak.

Wearing nothing but a man’s nightshirt, Fleur Monley woke to find herself in the bed of England’s most charming and reckless libertine. But it was stray gunshot, not passion, that put her at the mercy of a man as infamously handsome as he was famously talented in the arts of love. Believing herself immune to any seduction, Fleur thought herself perfectly safe to make him an offer no sensible woman would dare risk: half her fortune for the freedom she would gain by being his wife—in name only.

Desperately in need of funds, Dante Duclairc could do worse than the "white marriage" proposed by this idealistic beauty too naive to know the danger she courted. But the rashest thing he ever did was tell himself he’d be able to resist the invitation to sin that this lovely innocent would arouse at every turn—or that he’d be able to protect her from both the enemies that ruthlessly sought her ruin, and his own dangerous desire.
After the second book in the series, The Saint, which was the one in which both Fleur and Dante were really introduced, I couldn't wait to read their book and see how a marriage in name only would work between the very proper Fleur and that Duke of Slut Dante. I hadn't particularly liked Dante there (he came across as a hypocrite), but I was interested in seeing what Hunter did with him.

I was a bit underwhelmed, but more because my expectations were too high than because of this being a bad read. In fact, it's pretty good. A B.

The main problems I had with The Sinner were three:

The first was that I never really saw the change in Dante. That is, he's not the little creep he was in The Sinner, but the change from that into the mostly (more about that later) honourable man he's here has already happened off-scene. As the book starts he still seems to be a bit of a wastrel, but the minute he marries Fleur, he's all responsible family man.

The second problem has to do with his being an honourable man. I hated that he seemed to shrug off his promises to Fleur so easily. He's explicitly promised that she'll be free to handle her own financial affairs and the rest of her life, but the first thing he does is to give orders right and left. She's not to walk out alone, she's not to sell of any more land, she's to have some pretty dresses done.

He does have some good reasons for all this, and it's all for her own good, but the point is, he gives zero thought to the fact that he's going against the very promises he made. That was a problem because one of the things I was looking forward the most was to see Dante's reactions in a marriage in which his wife was the one to have all the power, and his reaction, simply grabbing all the power back, was the worst possible.

Third problem has to do with how The Sinner didn't stand alone very well. It would probably have been fine if I'd read it right after the previous books in the series (especially right after The Saint), but I'd forgotten a lot about the suspense subplot in that one, so the references to blackmailers and duels and so on left me lost.

But not everything was negative about The Sinner. One of the things I like best about her books is that she makes excellent use of the historical setting. She writes about people (both her heroes and heroines) who are not typical for that place and time, but I don't get the same anachronistic feel I get from other authors, because it's very clear in her books that these are people who are behaving outside the norms.

In Hunter's books, the extreme powerlessness of women is very, very clear. Her heroines manouver against it and triumph, and her heroes are happy to help them, but the fact that this is extraordinary behaviour is always right there on the forefront.

The romance in The Sinner could have been better, IMO, but I ended up enjoying it, mostly because I truly liked Fleur. She's a character who's got plenty of secrets, secrets she's very reluctant to share, but I never got the feeling that she was being stupid by keeping her mouth shut. It's always obvious that these are very important to her, and Dante really needed to prove his trustworthiness to her before she could even consider sharing with him.

I also liked the ending of the book, especially Dante's reactions when he finally found out what Fleur was trying to do. He pretty much won me over then.

The Sinner was my least favourite of the series, but it was still a good read.


Still Lake, by Anne Stuart

My only Uruguayan romance-reading friend and I are currently on an Anne Stuart glom. Everything we see by her we buy, and the latest one we got was Still Lake.

It was a dream come true.

Buying a run-down farm in a beautiful Vermont town is the start of a new life for Sophie Davis. She moves her mother, Grace, and her half sister, Marty, out of the city, hoping the change will help both women sort out their complicated lives. And for Sophie, turning Stonegate Farm into a quaint country inn is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. She doesn't even mind that the farm was the scene of a grisly multiple murder twenty years earlier . . .

Then a stranger comes to town.

When a stranger moves in next to the farm, Sophie believes the sense of peace she has built for herself and her family is being threatened. Because there's something different about John Smith. It's clear he's keeping secrets . . . and that he's come to Colby, Vermont, for a reason. And that reason has something to do with Sophie and Stonegate Farm.

Now her dream is becoming a nightmare.

Who is John Smith? Why does his very presence make Sophie feel so completely out of control? And why is she beginning to suspect that this mysterious stranger will put in jeopardy everything she's dreamed of -- maybe even her own life?
It's funny, but the reason my friend and I both like Stuart so much is the exact opposite of the reason why I like Jayne Ann Krentz. I like Krentz because I always know what I'm getting with her, which is why she's my biggest comfort read. The reason I like Anne Stuart, on the other hand, is because, with her, I never know what I'm getting. Light, dark, quirky, dramatic, funny, depressing, contemporary, historical, she's done it all, and it's fun to open the book and prepare to be surprised.

Still Lake is a very atmospheric read, a darkish contemporary with a very gothic feel. I quite liked the plot and the hero, but wasn't too crazy about the heroine. My grade would be a B-, but only barely missing a C+.

Griffin is an immensely interesting hero. He's back at Still Lake trying to find out the truth about the murders which took place there 20 years before, murders he was accused of committing. He was sent to jail and got off on a technicality a few years later. He's almost completely sure he was innocent, but he was drunk and stoned out of his skull that night, so whatever happened is a blank in his mind. After trying to just ignore this for 15 years, he's decided he wants to try to find out exactly what happened that night, and going back to Still Lake is a good way to jog his memory.

The best part of the book is the complete fascination he feels for Sophie, the woman who's opening an inn in the house which was the scene of the crime all those years before. Griffin is cynical and sophisticated and he has a frankly cruel edge, so the way he can't stay away from this naive, old-fashioned woman surprises him.

Those scenes are great. I adore books in which the hero is determined to stay away from the heroine but just can't help himself, and Griffin tries to put up a good fight. These two really don't have much in common, but the chemistry between them is steaming hot.

However, Sophie was NOT a heroine I liked. She's a silly woman, often crossing the line from naive and innocent into foolish. I did buy her reasons for being a virgin (her explanation actually sounded exactly like a friend of mine), but her reactions to Griffin's sexuality were more suitable to a 12-year-old.

It was near the end of the book when I realized how much I disliked her. There's a scene in which she dresses up in her sexy underwear (all the while telling herself she's doing it for no reason, just because) and goes over to Griffin's after convincing herself she really needs to go tell him off.

By the end of the book, it would have been nice if she'd grown up enough to take at least a little control of her own sexuality and not need to feel as if she's being overpowered so that she can get her pleasure AND still feel like she's a good girl... the old rape fantasy rationale.

And there's a tiny little moment as she leaves the house, barely a couple of lines, but it turned my stomach. She passes her supposedly senile mother's window on her way out and she sees her in bed accompanied by the doctor, who's reading to her from the Bible. And the little twit actually giggles, thinking that her mother had never cared much for organized religion, but that now she had no choice but to put up with it. As an agnostic who doesn't never care much for organized religion, I put myself in her mother's place and hated Sophie a little bit right then for being such a self-righteous prig.

The suspense subplot wasn't as good as it could have been. It really had potential, but for one thing, it was never much of a mystery who was responsible. Not only did this take away any sense of mystery from the book, every clue ended up being so obvious that Sophie, especially, looked like an idiot -a willfully blind idiot- for not realizing what was going on. Also, there were several very obvious avenues for investigation that were completely neglected, which drove me crazy. I wanted to scream at Griffin to do things like ask around about certain flowers, for instance.

I've gone on and on about my problems with this book, so it must sound as if I hated it. Actually, I had a good time reading it. It's just that it could have been a truly excellent book if these aspects had been a bit better.


Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh (Bedwyns # 6)

>> Friday, June 03, 2005

I've been eagerly awaiting reading Slightly Dangerous (excerpt), by Mary Balogh since the very first book I read in the series. I'd actually been anticipating this so much that I was half-worried it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations.

When Viscount Mowbury invites Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, to his sister's country house party, Lady Renable has to scramble to find another lady guest to balance numbers. Christine Derrick, widow and part-time schoolteacher, is persuaded much against her will to be that lady.

The cold, aloof duke and the fun-loving, accident-prone Christine are about as mismatched as a couple could possibly be, and they dislike each other from the start. But there is a definite attraction between them too, and soon Wulfric, much to his surprise, is in determined pursuit of an elusive Christine--even after the house party is over.
I'm very, very glad to report that it did live up to my expectations. I loved every word of it. An A. And that's two new-to-me books that get As in less than a week!

While I enjoyed Christine, this A is all about Wulfric, Wulfric, Wulfric. It was just so, so satisfying to see this arrogant, rigid man go practically nuts for Christine. She's all he shouldn't like, she's nothing like the image of the duchess he should have, but he just can't help himself.

The story takes place in longer time-frame than usual, almost a year. There are even a few separations, which I don't usually care for, but, in this case, they work wonderfully to show how a little time and distance doesn't dim Wulf's obssession in the least.

What I liked was that by the end of the book, he hasn't really changed who he is, he simply lets the real man inside the duke (who he calls Wulfric Bedwyn, as opposed to the Duke of Bewcastle) show his face more often. And he does this as much for himself as for Christine, though it's showing her that he can give her what she wants that prompts this.

Christine was really a lot of fun and a very sympathetic character. I loved how she refused to let Wulfric cow her and I didn't get the contrived feel I sometimes get when the heroine keeps refusing the hero for no good reason. Christine does have very good reasons for not wanting to spend the rest of her life with Wulf. We know she's wrong about him, but there's no way she could know it, so her reservations make sense. And Wulf's reactions to knowing what she thinks of him make for some powerfully emotional reading.

I loved that he didn't simply discount her fears and try to bully / pressure / manipulate her into changing her mind. He took her opinions seriously and put himself and his pride in the line to try to show her she was wrong about him.

I loved Slightly Dangerous so much that the minute I finished it (pretty much in one sitting), I turned right back and reread the choicest bits. The true mark of a keeper!


Shades of Twilight, by Linda Howard

>> Thursday, June 02, 2005

Incredibly enough, Shades of Twilight, by Linda Howard is a book I've reread quite a few times.

Roanna Davenport was raised a wealthy orphan on her grandmother's magnificent Alabama estate, Davencourt, where she had a passion for horses, a genius for trouble, and a deep love for her cousin, Webb. But everyone expected Webb to marry their ravishing cousin, Jessie. When he did, Roanna's desire became no more than the stuff of dreams -- until the night Jessie was found bludgeoned to death.

After the shocking murder of his wife, Webb left for Arizona, abandoning the legacy that he had once believed was all he wanted. But then an all-grown-up Roanna walked into a dingy bar in Nogales to bring him home; the mischievous sprite he had known ten years earlier was no more. Gone, too, was her fire. In its place was ice that melted at his touch. Webb is drawn back to Davencourt, to Roanna, and to the killer that once destroyed his life and waits only for the chance to finish the job....
This has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but man, on this reread, what struck me the most was that it takes AGES for the "pleasure" part to kick in! The first part of the book is a big fat F as far as I'm concerned. It pushes every single one of my ick buttons. Things improve after the first 120 or so pages, and I really did like the actual romance, but I can't give this more than a C+.

Even more than the incest thing everyone seems to find disgusting in this book (IMO, it is icky, but so cartoonish that I couldn't really work up any strong feelings about it), what bothered me the most was the Jessie - Webb relationship. God, talk about disgusting. There are scenes which made me sick, like the one when Webb is 14 and Jessie 13, and Webb delights in imposing his dominance over the sexually manipulative female, while grandma looks over in approval at how her boy has the instints of a man, and a dominant man at that.

The fact that Webb would willingly get into a relationship like the one he had with Jessie made it impossible for me to care for him at all. Howard seems to delight in blaming Jessie for everything, but I'm sorry, a guy who treats his wife as an unruly child, as Webb did, and goes into a marriage knowing that it would be a perpetual struggle for dominance, deserves whatever he gets.

But then, once the story moves to the present day events (after that 120 page mark I mentioned), things get much, much better. There's still stuff that bothered me (way too much skanky villain sex which added nothing to the story but some cheap titillation, the fact that every evil woman is portrayed as sexually promiscuous, a stupid suspense subplot), but the romance was surprisingly good, especially given how Webb had been portrayed before.

It's not usually my cup of tea, but the combination of tenderness and protectiveness and raw lust that characterized Webb's feelings for Roanna was very satisfying to read. The continuous internal lusting worked well, creating loads of sexual tension, and he was really sweet to Roanna, not only making sure she was all right physically, but making sure she knew he valued her intelligence and business sense, too.

I don't know why Roanna's fragility and passiveness didn't bother me. I suppose it was just that it wasn't a sign of weakness or stupidity, but a defense mechanism. And I liked how this worked to make Webb uncertain of Roanna, in spite of his knowledge of her love for him.

I think I'm going to be marking the stupid scenes in my copy of the book, so next time I reread this, I can just skip them.


Falling Awake, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Falling Awake is Jayne Ann Krentz's latest release. I haven't loved her last few books as I adore the ones she wrote in the early / mid 90s, but I still enjoy whatever she writes. There's something to be said about knowing exactly what you're going to get and that it's going to be a comfortable, undemanding and enjoyable read.

A red scarf. A roller coaster. A tidal wave of blood...

Isabel Wright spends her days at the Belvedere Center for Sleep Research analyzing the dreams of others. Dr. Martin Belvedere, a pioneer in the field, recognized her unique talent for what he calls Level Five lucid dreaming. It's satisfying, lucrative work, but it can be emotionally draining. Especially when one of her anonymous subjects, known only as Client Number Two, captures her imagination through his compelling dream narratives. Secretly, she thinks of him as "Dream Man."

His real name is Ellis Cutler. A loner who's learned not to let anyone get too close, he works for a highly classified government agency with an interest in the potential value of lucid dreaming. And he's just been ordered by his boss to make contact with Isabel, who's been fired after the sudden death of Dr. Belvedere. Heading to California, he pushes his fantasies out of his mind, determined to maintain a professional relationship with the woman who reads his dreams, the mysterious figure he has come to think of as "Tango Dancer."

But when they meet in the flesh, the dream becomes real enough to touch. And a waking nightmare begins—when a suspicious hit-and-run leads them into a perilous web of passion, betrayal, and murder, and forces them to walk the razor-thin line between dreams and reality.
A comfortable, undemanding and enjoyable read was just what I got. More enjoyable even than some of her latest. A solid B.

What made it better than others was that the romance seemed to be amped up a bit. More emphasis was placed on it, it plain occupied more space, and what there was of it was pretty intense. Especially Ellis' need for Isabel; I really liked that part.

Krentz also continues the trend from Truth or Dare, including plenty of smaller romantic subplots. I liked one of them (the marriage-in-trouble subplot about Isabel's sister and brother-in-law), but I wasn't too fond of the one about Ellis' boss, Lawson and his partner. I just didn't much like the way Lawson behaved. It wasn't so much the affair, though that did bother me, it was the way he transfered the woman he had the affair with, after it was over. I've seen that way too often in real life, and I despise men who act that way.

I had somewhat mixed feelings about the plot. The whole dream thing was interesting to me. With its categories and its levels and so on, this aspect was a bit reminiscent of the author's Jayne Castle books. Those had similar things with the protagonists being prism and talent of off-the-charts power and their fascination at finally being able to interact with someone who really understood them.

However, I didn't think Krentz really did enough with this. For instance, ee're told of how Isabel works, dreaming of other people's dreams in order to interpret them, but we never really saw her doing it.

The suspense subplot itself was interesting, but I felt that the resolution was a bit too convoluted and that the villain's motivations weren't all that believable.

On the whole, this is a nice way to spend a few hours, but unless you're a die-hard fan of JAK, as I am, my advice is to wait for the paperback.


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