The Linnet, by Elizabeth English

>> Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Linnet was my first Elizabeth English, an author I'd never even heard of until I read the review of this book at AAR. It's a Medieval, a genre I'm not a big fan of (no rotten tomatos, please!)

On the deadly border between Scotland and England, the ancient feud between the Darnleys and the Kirallens threatens the love between a woman trapped by fear and the man determined to free her.
I almost feel guilty for giving this book a B-, the same grade I gave to books like, say, The Real Deal. Technically, The Linnet is so much better than TRD, I know that perfectly well. It's just that reading it didn't give me all that much pleasure.

Maude and Ronan's love story itself is truly lovely and sweet, but what's going on around them, (and also, most especially, what had gone on in the past) is just so harrowing, that all the warm fuzzy feelings I got from Maude and Ronan were pretty much cancelled. Raping, pillaging, raiding... I know all this is probably perfectly accurate, and I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but it was too much for me.

And it's a shame, really, because Maude and Ronan are two characters who are very different from the usual. On the first place, it's the hero who's the healer here, and the heroine who's tortured. Maude is really a heroine on the edge of madness. Ronan arrives in the nick of time to save her, a couple more weeks and she'd have been either mad or dead. As for Ronan, he's almost too good to be true, so kind and caring, a real nurturer.

Another problem was the fact that there are a couple of books before this one, and while I wasn't completely lost for not having read them, the story in The Linnet does reference past events and characters quite a bit. At least when these characters appear, they have a necessary role in this story, so it's not just a "let's trot them out so that loyal readers can see they're deliriously happy" moment.


Master of Castle Glen, by Ana Seymour

>> Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Master of Castle Glen
is the first book I've read by author Ana Seymour.

In 1885 Scotland, a brash American is willed an ancient castle-and perhaps a chance at a love for the ages.

1885, Scotland. Duncan Campbell had never been to Scotland, but an obscure clause in a centuries-old will has been named master of Castle Glen. There, in the tiny highland hamlet of Glencolly, the brash American plans to modernize the castle's outdated ways--much to the dismay of Fionna MacLennan, the young widow of the castle's former owner.

Determined to find a way of overturning the will and returning the Castle Glen to her stepson, Fiona was unprepared for Duncan's bold attraction and the way he makes her feel. Duncan claimed that modernization was the only way to help the village of Glencolly, but can the clash between modern times and ancient traditions lead to a passion for the ages?
Master of Castle Glen was a pleasant, low-key read, but not particularly engaging, I'm afraid, which meant I put the book down way too many times. A C+.

I liked the characters well enough, especially Duncan. He's very much a businessman, not used to the life that he has to lead at the castle (there are some pretty funny scenes when he starts trying to ride a horse). And Fiona was ok, though I thought the most interesting thing about her was her somewhat ambivalent feelings about her late husband. Unfortunately, these two didn't really capture my imagination. I didn't get pissed off while reading about them (always good), but, on the other hand, they didn't provoke any strong feelings in the opposite direction, either. They're just... pleasant. And that's it.

I did like how the villains were not evil people out to do anything (anything, I tell you) to get their way. They're just men who are not averse to a little manipulation to get their way, but they're reasonable enough. The other important secondary character, Robby, however, didn't really work very well for me. He really felt at least 6 or 7 years younger than the 13 he was supposed to be.

The setup is interesting. There's nothing terribly new or unheard of here, but having the hero be the outsider who goes to Scotland is not the norm, and neither is having the book set in Victorian Scotland. One of the best things about this is the theme of the conflict between old ways and new, how a very traditional place is having to adapt to the modern world arriving. That was pretty well done. Fiona is, of course, completely against anything that would change the old ways, just as a good heroine always is, bleating on and on about how some jobs will be lost, even after Duncan explains that it's either lose some jobs or the mill going bankrupt and losing ALL the jobs, but at least I didn't get the feeling that the author was preaching some stupid simplistic philosophy. And the solution Duncan arrived to made sense.

Oh, I should mention the whole business about the ghost was pointless. I didn't think it really added anything to the story.


Close Relations, by Susan Isaacs

>> Tuesday, July 26, 2005

While I wait for Susan Isaacs' latest, Any Place I Hang My Hat, I decided to reread a couple of old favourites by her, which I hadn't opened in a few years. First up was Close Relations.

It was a situation from which half-hour television comedies are made. MARCIA--in tonight's episode, Marcia Green's warm and winning and wise and wonderful Jewish family reminds her that she is thirty-five, divorced, and childless.
That's Marcia on her close relations. True, she's one of the best speechwriters around in the tough world of New York's smoke-filled rooms, but her family wants something else for her. No, not that Irish person she's living with. Another doctor, or at least a dentist.

But Marcia claims she's happy, getting plenty of the two things that exhilarate her most: sex and politics. She's not looking for commitment, and certainly not looking for a wealthy, Harvard-educated man-about-town who is every mother's dream. Yet as wise mothers everywhere are fond of saying: you never know.
I didn't remember just how good Close Relations was. And it is, very. Most of it is no more than very good, very, very solid, but the final 100 pages are simply wonderful. An A-.

I guess you could say the book might be a bit slow at first. The actual action does take a while to get started, because the author keeps meandering and going into tangents, but what fascinating tangents these are! The way she writes this is one of the main reasons why I love Isaacs so much. She goes back and forth in Marcia's life, into her childhood, her adolescence, her first marriage, her post-divorce bout of promiscuity, her life in New York as a speechwriter, and of course, her relationship with her family throughout this all. You really get to know Marcia, how she thinks and why, how she reacts to things.

Such emphasis on one character, of course, only works if she's interesting, and Marcia is. I also liked her immensely (not strictly necessary for a good read, but it helps). I was amazed, actually, by how much I liked her. Someone who "allows" herself to be treated the way she did by her boyfriends, I'd usually just despise for being an idiot, but not Marcia. I understood her completely, even without having experienced what she did.

When Isaacs describes her life after her divorce, the way she kept sleeping with creeps who were awful in bed and out and treated her as if they were doing HER a favour... God, that almost made me cry, especially when Marcia describes how she felt when she saw couples in love in the street, doing normal "couple in love" stuff, how she felt she was on the inside looking in, unable to break into that world. The same with her boyfriend, Jerry, the Pretty Boy. He was such a jerk, using her, and yet I understood her still being with him.

Isaacs succeeded in making me care for her. I didn't write her off as a weak idiot and wish I were reading about someone else. What all this did was make me really want her to find someone that made her happy and treated her respectfully. I cared for this character so much that I needed to see her get what she deserved, a pay-off for all the mediocre lovers, cold mother and manipulative family.

And when the the time for a pay-off comes, what a pay-off it is! The final 100 pages are just brillliant. When I'd finished the book, I found myself going back and rereading them again and again. This is when a wonderful romance develops, the most wonderfully romantic romance, with a hero who's excellently developed in spite of the short pages devoted to him. This guy is just wonderful, and Isaacs made me care for him almost as much as I did for Marcia, and root just as hard for him to get the woman he so obviously deserved. ?

Even more amazingly, considering that I knew he was the best thing that could ever happen to Marcia, I still understood her reluctance to really get involved with him. I keep saying this, but it's true, I totally understood Marcia. I understood her feelings for her family and how she could still have an instict to rebel against them. The instinct to cut off her nose to spite her face, to not get involved with David just because it was what her family had been trying to manipulate her into, well, that might not be very rational (it's downright dumb, actually), but it's just so very human! And I think it worked because Marcia worked through it and conquered it.

I closed the book with a huge smile on my face.


If Wishes Were Horses, by Judith Duncan

>> Monday, July 25, 2005

My last M-Bag contained, among many others, a big pile of books which had heroes who'd been in love with the heroines for years, one of my favourite themes. One of them was If Wishes Were Horses, by Judith Duncan.

The cry for help came at night, during final roundup. But nothing could prevent Conner Calhoun from rescuing his brother's widow and her two children. From the moment he'd laid eyes on Abigail, he'd wanted her, but she wasn't his to have. And now he'd moved his forbidden love onto his ranch, where the secret between them had nowhere to hide....

Every time he tousled Cody's hair, every time he cuddled little Miss Sarah, he was reminded of impossible wishes...and a gift given out of love. But honor demanded he not claim for his own what was never meant to be - unless, of course, Abby wanted the same thing....
Like so many of the others I bought this way, there's a story I should like in there, but the execution had too many elements I disliked. In this case, the book ended up actually being unpleasant for me to read. A D+.

I the main problem was that it tried too hard to be heartwarming and sweet, and unfortunately, what the author seemed to find heartwarming and sweet, I found disgustingly saccharine and cloying. Abby's daughter was the worst culprit. Sarah. Sorry, Miss Sarah Jane... ugh, just the way they called her gives the idea of what the author did with her. Every time she lisped, I literally grated my teeth. It must even have begun to irritate Duncan, because a while into the book little Sarah drops it (saying so and so had taught her to say the sss), but that didn't help all that much, she was still a disgustingly "precious" monster. Cody was a bit better, but still a minion of the devil, too. I didn't find their antics funny, they pissed me off.

The actual romance wasn't much better.I'm not someone who's usually bothered by heavy internal lusting. In fact, I tend to enjoy it (often in a guilty pleasure kind of way), but here, it was way too much, way too overwrought. It wasn't exactly lusting, it was more "i love her so much... she's so wonderful... but I can never touch me because she was married to my brother... woe is me!" from Conner and pretty much the same thing from Abby, only from the opposite point of view. All the time. Seriously: All. The. Fucking. Time. And their physical reactions to each other were exaggerated to the max, with them trembling and practically falling to the floor in a faint every time the other even looked at them.

Something that bothered me, as well, was that after a long stretch of action from Conner's POV at the beginning, the book switches to Abby and stays there right until the end. Nothing else from Conner, nothing at all, and that was very definitely not good, because after the whole time I saw him suffering, I was much more interested in seeing HIS reactions when they finally get something started, not Abby's. Abby was boring.

Seeing Conner's POV of view would have helped near the end, too, when Abby decides she should leave. What does Conner do? Refuse to talk about anything and run off. He comes off as a passive idiot. Maybe if we'd seen what was going through his mind would have allowed me to understand him a bit more.

And that's just a small sample of the problems I had with this book. Others include the way Abby was completely useless and had to be rescued by Conner, the whole artificial insemination thing, that added nothing that made sense to the story, the way Abby gave up her entire career to move to the ranch and do laundry (a decision that *could* work for me if there's at least some thought behind it -see LLB's column at RTB - but which was pretty knee-jerk here), while, of course, Conner never even considers moving to Toronto with her... , right down to the nasty-looking cowboy on the cover, with his jeans jerked up to his armpits.


Absolutely, Positively, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Friday, July 22, 2005

Absolutely, Positively was one of the first books I ever bought by Jayne Ann Krentz. According to my signature and date on the first page (yep, I used to sign all my books when I read them, I've no idea why. I think my mom used to do it and I copied her), I read it as early as 1993, when I was 15.

Molly Abberwick, trustee of her late father's foundation, is furious with her new consultant, scientist-philosopher Dr. Harry Stratton Trevelyan. Harry is brilliant, sexy, and absolutely impossible -- and his outrageous suggestion of a scientifically inspired affair with her is positively the last straw....Besides, Molly's got a much more serious problem; she's become the target of a stalker whose sinister pranks are swiftly escalating into violence. Only Harry, of all people, seems to comprehend the true nature of the threats against his alluring boss. As a dangerous predator closes in on Molly, the enigmatic Dr. Harry seizes the day to reveal himself in a totally unexpected light....
Absolutely, Positively is a lovely comfort read for me. A B+.

I've read it so often, that I remember even the smallest details of it. I simply skip the parts I'm not interested in (namely, the ones dealing with the suspense subplot, never JAK's best), and I can actually remember parts of the dialogue ("hours of boredom broken by moments of stark terror", for instance, is one of my favourite lines).

And still, reading this still manages to engage my emotions, even if there's no much suspense as to what will happen. I still get a thrill when Harry goes out of control and is so sure he's lost Molly (see the "moments of stark terror" comment mentioned above). I still can feel his elation when he realizes Molly won't run from that part of him, that she actually loves it. Harry's my favourite type of JAK hero, the one she does so well, the guy who truly does need the heroine in his life and simply couldn't bear to lose her.

Another high point in this book is the family aspect. This is the perfect example of how JAK characters aren't usually those loners, with no family or friends, who populate so many other romance novels. Their relationships with their respective families are a big part of their lives, and they're an interesting part of the book, especially Harry's dueling paternal and maternal families. And Molly's way of dealing with them was just priceless!

If you're new to JAK, this is a good place to start!


Slightly Married, by Mary Balogh (Bedwyns #1)

I started reading the Mary Balogh's Bedwyn series with book number 3, Slightly Scandalous, simply because the previous ones weren't here yet, and I wanted to get to Slightly Dangerous. Now that I finally did read that one, and that the rest of the books have arrived, I've gone right back to the beginning and started with Slightly Married (excerpt).

Like all the Bedwyn men, Colonel Lord Aidan Bedwyn has a reputation for cool arrogance. But he is also a man to whom honor is more important than any other personal attribute--and it is this fierce loyalty that has brought him to Ringwood Manor to keep his promise to a dying fellow officer. He has sworn to protect the man's sister no matter what--and it is a promise he intends to keep even when he finds that Miss Eve Morris wants no part of his protection and will not admit to even needing it.

Finally, when Eve is about to be turned out of her home with all her friends and dependents, Aidan makes her an offer she cannot refuse. It is intended to be a simple, straightforward business arrangement--a few days in each other's company and then a lifetime of happy independence apart. But they have reckoned without two powerful factors that conspire to wreck their plans--Aidan's elder brother, the Duke of Bewcastle, and their own unwilling attraction to each other.

And so days pass into weeks and take Aidan and Eve from Ringwood to London during the Season--and back again. Soon they begin to wonder if perhaps it will someday be possible to be more than just slightly married...
It's a very solid start to what has so far been a solid to brilliant series. A B+.

I think what I most appreciated here was the very gradual development of Aidan and Eve's relationship. There's no lust at first sight here, not even much attraction. Their first interactions are just perfect, two strangers having to deal with each other in situations that make them feel distinctly uncomfortable, especially once they get married.

And then, very, very slowly, as they are forced by proximity to start getting to know each other, attraction and plain liking start growing more and more, until you see that they are very obviously in love. I'm not a fan of Balogh's love scenes, because I think they're too often uncomfortable and awkward and clinica, but she uses this very thing wonderfully here. The first love scenes are uncomfortable and awkward (not clinical, though), but they become less so as the story advances, as Aidan and Eve stop being strangers and develop some real intimacy.

The characters themselves were pretty good. I especially liked Aidan, a man who never wanted to go to war but had to do so out of duty and hated it, but also a man who never played the victim for it. He's a dutiful man to a fault, a man who prizes his honor as a gentleman and always treats his wife kindly and considerately, even when she's a complete stranger and he doesn't particularly care for her.

Eve is pretty standard fare, sacrificing for the children and her servants who all have lurid pasts, but she was nicely intelligent and sensible, all the same. And hey, not a virgin, which was the most interesting thing about her. I especially liked what this last thing told us about Aidan, how he was perfectly fine with this and never judged her. And his jealousy when her first love appeared and when he understood what exactly had gone on between them, were very revealing, especially to himself.

Like all the other books in the series, this is one of those increasingly rare beasts: a historical romance without a suspense subplot. A military hero who's not hunting up spies, who would have thought! The plot is plenty interesting enough with other distractions. There was a certain thing that I knew would happen (the other books spoilt me), and I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, but it was mercifully short.

As the first book in the series, there was a lot of introduction to the rest of the characters going on, but since all the Bedwyn siblings are unmarried and childless at this point, the whole family is a bit less intrusive here. I especially liked that Bewcastle's interference wasn't out of some matchmaking instinct, which would have been completely out of character (and I would have hated it even it was in character), but out of wanting his family to do what they ought to do. Much more tolerable that way.

I'm missing only one book in the series now, Slightly Wicked. It doesn't sound like something I'd like, really, but I can't very well leave a series incomplete, can I?


The Real Deal, by Lucy Monroe

>> Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Real Deal (excerpt), by Lucy Monroe, got a great deal of buzz last year at AAR last year, both garnering raves and "winning" in the Worst Read category at the annual reader poll. It seems to be a book that engenders some strong reactions, whether for or against.

OT: Monroe has a page devoted to her Spanish-speaking readers in her site, and it's perfectly well translated, quite a rarity!


The most important thing in Amanda's life is negotiating a successful merger between her company and Brant Computers, a family-held competitor. It should be a done deal: Company president Eric Brant is on board with the idea. But when Amanda arrives in Eric's office, it is his cousin Simon Brant who greets her-and Simon is anything but agreeable. He's not about to give up control of the family company or lay off loyal workers. Squaring off against the sexy, brilliant, sexy, obstinate, sexy, eccentric, not to mention sexy Simon is completely frustrating-and a total turn-on. And when he walks out on her presentation, sidetracked by another one of his brilliant ideas, Amanda is shocked...and, furious!...and...and...and so attracted she can barely enter data into her Palm Pilot...

Simon has never met a woman as passionate and driven as Amanda, or as devastatingly attractive. He can't decide if he wants to put her on the next plane home-in the cargo hold-or kidnap her and spend a long weekend showing her exactly the kind of negotiating he likes best. Come to think of it, if the lady wants war, maybe they should engage in full-on the bedroom...and see who will be the victor. But when intimacy leads to an explosive passion, it might be time to think of a different, more permanent kind of that's less about business and all about pleasure...
The question is: is this really the worst book of 2004? Nowhere near that, in my opinion.

Yes, the business angle is ridiculous. Everything is preposterous, from the fact that it was a low-level employee like Amanda who went to negotiate a merger (a junior executive negotiating a merger of the company that employs her... a MERGER, for goodness' sake!), to the simplistic philosophy of plain BAD business sense being touted as goodness, to Amanda's move into Simon's house. Not to mention the final scenes; just what was the logic behind Amanda's ex husband being the one sent there?

The only positive thing I saw in this area was that at least, when her boss tells Amanda to sleep with Simon to manipulate him, she stands up to him threatens him with a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Yes, the writing sometimes veered into purple awfulness. And Simon's gunmetal eyes, eek! Maybe one time I could tolerate it, but not every other page, every single time she described Simon!

Yes, the whole book was way over-the top. Amanda's husband doesn't just belittle her, he tells her "fat women shouldn't expose so much of themselves" when she puts on a sexy negligée. He doesn't just cheat on her, she walks in to find him in the middle of a ménage à trois (literally in the middle, he's nailing a woman while a man nails him). Amanda's mother didn't just not love her, she wanted to abort Amanda and had her only because she was blackmailed into it. Simon wasn't just well-endowed, he had a cock so big that he feared he might scare Amanda.

And yes, every situation is loaded full of over-the-top sex, everything designed to be as "hot" as possible, no matter how contrived and ridiculous. Stuff like Amanda helping Simon to his bedroom when he's dead on his feet and then both of them falling into bed, Simon completely asleep. And of course, Amanda can't move, because he's pinning her down in his sleep and he starts groping her.

Yes, the book combined hot sex with what a friend of mine called a "Harlequin Presents morality". Amanda, at almost 30, has never had an orgasm, because her husband was inept in bed and she's too much of a "good" girl to give herself one. *snort*

But, but, but ::she says in a small voice::... I had a good time reading this. Most of my brain was saying "oh, please!", but the rest of me was full into guilty pleasure mode. And it was a pleasure. For all the flaws I saw (and I obviously saw quite a few, just read above), I could somehow put it all aside and mindlessly enjoy myself. So while I'd probably give this a much lower grade if I had to rate it objectively, on "quality", I rate for my enjoyment, so I'll give it a B-.


Silent Confessions, by Julie Kenner

I've been hearing a lot about Julie Kenner lately, especially her Givenchy Code and Carpe Demon, so I picked up the book by her I had in my TBR, Silent Confessions (excerpt).

Detective Jack Parker needs an education-a sensual education. Someone is stalking women…and they're doing it with a literary flair. Verses from Victorian erotica are being sent to the victims, naughty turn-of-the-century postcards are left inside their homes. Jack has to figure things out before somebody gets hurt. But he needs help. And he finds that-and more-- in bookstore owner Veronica Archer…

An expert in historical amorous works, Ronnie is dying to know if reality can be as stimulating as fiction. So, when Jack shows up at the shop, she decides to make him a scandalous proposition. She'll help him decipher the clues, if he'll satisfy her wildest, most secret desires--desires Jack has no problem accommodating…

Only the closer they get, the closer to home the clues become. Leaving Jack to decide if Ronnie is just a very skilled scholar--or an even more dangerous decoy…
Well, I was pretty unimpressed, actually. It's not a bad book, but I just didn't think it had anything that raised it above average. A C.

Ronnie was a likeable character in the end, and so was Jack, but there just wasn't much depth here, which made nothing feel particularly engaging. Especially the romance. Silent Confessions is supposed to be quite steamy, and it does have the non-stop, inventive, graphic sex scenes, but I might have been reading a phone book, for all the reaction I had to them.

I don't know, it might have been my mood, but I didn't pick much chemistry between Jack and Ronnie. When they started going at it, I just had no idea of who they were (and neither did they, really, but that doesn't have to be an obstacle to steaminess), so reading about them felt about as erotic as watching cardboard cut-outs humping. And once the book was under way, I couldn't detect any tension between them. They weren't interesting to me.

The entire conflict in the book was external, and that didn't work too well for me, either. I got the feeling that Jack and his fellow investigators weren't particularly good at what they did. And there was a LOT they neglected to do, especially with the computer stuff. They get an anonymous note which sounds like a quote and immediately go looking for an expert to source it? Er, how about trying to google it first? A passage of well-known erotica would probably show up.

Of course, consulting an expert on erotica does sound like a good idea for the particular case the police is facing. But I didn't get why Jack would go on about needing an education in erotica, other than the author wanting to get in some "erotic education" puns. It doesn't make much sense. Veronica's been studying this stuff for years, is Jack supposed to pick up enough to crack the case in a couple of lessons? Wouldn't it make more sense to just consult with Ronnie?

Also, I didn't feel Jack behaved very ethically. I can't believe he's known to be sleeping with the sister of their main suspect, a sister who lives in the same building as her brother, and he faces no problems at work about it? And it never even crosses his mind that he really shouldn't be doing this?

Silent Confessions was a very disappointing read to me.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

>> Monday, July 18, 2005

Ok, DO NOT read this if you haven't read the latest Harry Potter. Really, don't. I'm even going to put this in brown AND after spoiler space, so nobody will read anything by mistake (I know I've done that a couple of times with people's comments about Lost, so I don't want to risk it). So, after spoiler space, highlight the text and you'll see the comments. And if you're on my email suscription thingie and haven't read the book yet, just close this email NOW, as you'd be able to see the brown text on the white background of the email.













Ok, so, here we are. There's a lot to digest in this book, so these are just some first impressions. I'll start by saying that I loved the book. It's dark, very dark. Both the atmosphere, with the effect of the events of the wizarding world on the Muggle world (I really liked the first chapter!), and the actual things happening. You really do get the feeling that the wizarding world is in the midst of a war. The daily reading of the Daily Prophet, with the regular "Did anyone we know die?" question, just killed me.

The insight into the Ministery's new strategy was very interesting, too. As Harry says, they go from ignoring the problem, trying to make it go away, to often overreacting completely and taking action against innocents, just to make it appear as if they're doing something. That, unfortunately, rings much too true.

Contributing to the darkness is Harry's situation. Harry's responsibility to be the one who's meant to get rid of Voldemort, something that was established at the end of book 5, starts weighing on him more and more, becoming more real to him. He's increasingly lonely now, more isolated, and has had to leave behind that sense of security that comes from believing those adults you trust aren't always right.

This is the novel in which different stuff from all the previous novels starts to come together. Certain things that didn't really click for me in the early books (say, Tom Riddle's diary in book 2), are cast in a different light and fit in much better with everything else. I suppose some sections there in the middle, especially in Harry's meetings with Dumbledore, might have a bit too much talk and talk, but it's such fascinating talk! Especially the stuff about Voldemort's past. He'd been such a shadowy figure so far, that a bit more insight into how he became what he is was very welcome.

On the romance front, something in which I'm always particularly interested, there's much activity here. Shippers will be very happy ;-) Ron and Hermione, Ron and Lavender, Ginny and Dean Thomas, Harry and Ginny, and even hints of Luna and Neville. I admit I like Harry and Ginny. I hated the idea in the first books, when Ginny's feelings for Harry were too much on a hero-worship level, but she's become an interesting, strong and smart person in her own right.

Back to the action: I never guessed about the Half-Blood Prince. And I thought and thought about it, and even asked myself the correct questions, which should really have helped me guess, but I never did make that final leap. It has to be someone we know, I thought. Who do we know that's so good at Potions? Someone who was a troubled teenager? I guess what threw me was that bit about the book being 50 years old, something that was perfectly explained later, when it was mentioned that the book originally belonged to Snape's mother.

At least I'd kept my mind open about the "is he or isn't he a traitor?" matter, so I wasn't completely surprised at Snape there in the end, though I'd dreamed up some scenarios in my mind about him protecting Harry with his own life, because of that Unbreakable Vow. I'd even questioned my immediate assumption that Draco's mission was to kill Harry, especially after the cursed necklace and poisoned wine incidents, so Draco's intentions weren't a total shock.

Only, now that I've finished and have been able to think for a while, I get a niggling sensation that there's something a bit fishy there in that final confrontation in which Snape kills Dumbledore. I'm not even a Snape-lover who can't stand to see her idol do wrong, not at all. I'm not looking for a way to excuse Snape, it's just that all it felt a bit staged, and Dumbledore had been so careful to tell Harry what he needed to know to be able to really kill Voldemort before he died... I'm coming up with theories like that the black withered arm of Dumbledore's was a condition that was spreading, and having only a little longer to live, D. decided to stage his death to maximum effect, to give his man, Snape, as much credibility as possible with Voldemort and the rest of the Death Eaters (remember that Bellatrix Lestrange was having doubts about him, so so must many others).

Now I just have to settle in for the long wait until book 7. I can't wait to see what's up in that one. Unlike in the wait for book 6, in which I had absolutely no idea of what might be going on there, some educated guesses are possible now. Harry's declaration that he wouldn't be coming back to Hogwart wasn't a complete surprise, really. If book 7's going to be about Harry going after the Horticruxes and the final bit of soul of Voldemort that's inside him, he wouldn't really be able to do that while stuck in Hogwarts and juggling lessons.

What will happen with Draco? He cut a pitiful figure back there in the tower, and it felt almost as if what Dumbledore was telling him was hitting home. And what about the mysterious R.A.B.? Who might that be? And I don't think we've seen the last of the Inferi. From the minute they were mentioned, I imagined Harry might have to fight against the reanimated corpses of his parents, which would make for a truly terrifying scene. The mention of Harry wanting to visit their graves there at the end strengthened this hypothesis.

So many open-ended things that will have to be closed! Oh, well, as soon as the waiting period ends at the HPforGrownUps group finishes and people can start posting, I'll be heading over to see if anyone has any theories.


Circle of the Lily, by Jill Jones

>> Friday, July 15, 2005

I didn't realize until I had finished the book and was googling for the author of Circle of the Lily, Jill Jones, that I realized she also writes as Emily LaForge and that I read one of her books, Beneath the Raven's Moon.

Claire St. John lives alone near the grounds of Hartford Hall, a sprawling ancestral estate in the English countryside. One hundred years earlier, a strange death occurred at the mansion, one which begins to haunt Claire's otherwise peaceful life. And when she discovers a curious ring that once belonged to the lady of Hartford Hall, a dangerous mystery is set in motion.
When Michael Townsend, an American, rents Claire's guest house, she immediately senses the darkness around him, and can feel the almost tangible intensity of his desperate searching. Every instinct tells her to keep her distance, but she cannot deny her powerful attraction to him.

As strange and disturbing events unfold, Claire and Michael are drawn together as soulmates and lovers. But there are forces afoot that would keep them apart--forces as old as time itself. They must fight with everything they believe in to right the wrongs that were first brought about by a secretive group known only as the Circle of the Lily...they must lay bare their darkest secrets...and begin to believe in the love that can save all they hold dear.
Like Beneath the Raven's Moon, Circle of the Lily was frustrating and disappointing. A C-.

This seemed to be just the type of book I love, when it's well done. Supernatural almost-horror, with a (big) touch of the gothic and a lot of romance. Unfortunately, the supernatural was blah and the romance was badly done.

I don't know if I can pinpoint exactly what went wrong with the supernatural plot. I think it might have been the way Claire and Michael were almost never proactive here. The whole battle on the astral plane felt anticlimatic, being basically between black magician Delilah and white magician Lady Sarah. Our protagonists are in the middle of it, but it doesn't feel like their fight, really. And the couple of times they take some action, it's just them behaving stupidly, as when Michael goes to see Delilah to ask her politely to lay off. Any halfway intelligent person would have realized this was likely to cause the exact opposite reaction, as did Michael, but only too late.

And the romance was, well, there's that word again: frustrating. I just couldn't figure out this people's minds. They seemed to act, not according to some kind of internally coherent motivation, but according to where Jones needed the plot to go. And, sadly, this was back and forth, back and forth, and back again. Especially frustrating because the whole thing seemed to be so intriguing at first, with psychic Claire attracted to this man with the black aura, completely drenched in sadness and anger.

The worst part is that, for all that I found this book unsatisfactory, and that it's the second book in a row I've felt that way about, I know my weaknesses, and I know I'll probably end up buying at least one of this author's other books. They just sound so damned fascinating!

How about My Lady Caroline, with seems to be about a heroine who buys a manor to search for Lord Byron's secret memoirs? Or The Scottish Rose, which has a heroine who hosts a TV series that debunks supernatural clap-trap, and who finds herself searching for "Mary Queen of Scots' fabled jeweled chalice"? Or even Bloodline, about a present-day heroine investigating Jack the Ripper, after a string of copycat murders start in London?

Gah! Browsing at amazon to get the links for the titles above, I somehow seem to have managed to buy them all! As Màili says: headdesk!


After Hours, by Vicki Lewis Thompson

>> Thursday, July 14, 2005

And now for something hot: After Hours, by Vicki Lewis Thompson

Two strangers hold nothing back...

For years, levelheaded lawyer Eileen Connolly has been fighting a reckless craving—for sex with a stranger. Well, it's now or never. She's about to commit to her boyfriend—a decent guy who's as irrestistible as an unglazed doughnut. All she wants is one wild, adventurous night. After that, she'll be ready to settle into predictability.

Then gorgeous Shane Nichols shows up at Eileen's office to fix the phones. In his tight jeans and tool belt, he's a walking, talking chocolate-glazed, cream-filled eclair. And suddenly one night doesn't seem like enough to satisfy Eileen's craving for something so wickedly delicious...
Well, hot it was, and ended up being pretty romantic, too. However, I wasn't completely comfortable with certain character motivations, so I'd grade it a B-.

The part I had most problems with was the very beginning. I found Eileen's willingness (no: eagerness, actually) to have a fling before she accepts her boyfriend's proposal distasteful. It's wasn't really the fact that she was planning on cheating on him that bothered me (and, in spite of all the technical hair-splitting about whether it was cheating or not, I thought it was), it was that she was so ready to marry this guy, when she felt the way she did about him. She didn't even like the man!

I also wasn't convinced by Shane's immediate decision that this was the woman, that he needed to lure Eileen away from Benjaming because she was the person who'd finally manage to make him relax and enjoy life again. Love at first sight isn't my favourite thing to find in a romance novel, but I can buy it, if it's well done. I can be made to forget the whole "But you don't even know her/him!" thing, but here, that didn't happen. Shane's conviction left me scratching my head.

But after that, once they got started with the actual adventure, most of my reservations faded away. If I call these scenes scorching, I'm falling short of the mark, really. And the best thing is that they weren't at all gratuitous, in that Lewis Thompson succeeded in showing Eileen and Shane falling in love and starting to trust each other, a bit more in every scene.

My happiness with the story dipped again near the end, when Eileen makes some truly moronic assumptions about what Shane is like, but on the whole, I enjoyed myself with After Hours.


The Man That Got Away, by Harper Allen

I love finding little unique series romance titles, and the DIKs for older books at AAR have helped me find quite a few. The latest was The Man That Got Away, by Harper Allen, an author I'd never heard of before.

She couldn't remember

Her name, her past or how she'd been shot -it was all a blank to Dana Smith. For five years, she built a new life, became a new person -and dreamed of a man whose hands caressed her, whose kisses set her on fire...

He couldn't forget

The mystery lady had kissed him and disappeared into the night -but after the shots were heard, her body was nowhere to be found. P.I. Gabriel O'Shaunessy could tell the police nothing about her disappearance, only that he'd been hired to follow her. Five years later, the lady walked back into his life -with no identification, no answers and a plea for help he couldn't ignore...
This wasn't a perfect book, by any means, but it was quite original, and I found it entertaining and intriguing. A B.

The synopsis quoted above, which is the one printed on the back of the book, cunningly hides both that this is a time-travel story, and that most of it takes place in the 1930s. I guess the 30s don't sell as much as amnesia does?

The story starts in the 1930s, with a scene right out of an old noir movie. P.I. Gabriel receives the visit of a beautiful femme fatale, Dana Torrence, at his office in the Quorum building. Dana demands to know why he's following her. He tells her a bit, they end up kissing, and she runs out. Gabriel rushes out when he hears shots, but when he gets to the street, all that's left of her is her fur stole and a pool of blood.

Cut to the late 1990s, when movie director Seb finally tells his assistant, Dana Smith, about the circumstances in which he found her 5 years before: shot, lying in a pool of blood, and wearing 1930s clothes. Dana has had amnesia ever since then, and the doctor had recommended that Seb not tell her anything about those weird circumstances, for fear it might be too much pressure.

Right after those revelations, Dana suddenly jumps back to the past, back to Gabriel's office, 5 years after she first disappeared. Gabriel is understandably pissed at her, since after her disappearance, he was suspected of her murder and his career pretty much ruined (not that it was going swimmingly before then, but still).

And there the adventure starts, and these two find themselves confronting both Gabriel's disbelief about Dana's time-travelling, Dana's fear of intimacy, and last, but not least, a gang of murderous thugs who want to get rid of Dana... because of something she just can't remember, something that she saw before the night she travelled into the future.

What can I say, this was lots of fun, fun with some depths, even though Gabriel and Dana spent most of their time on the run. In this short book, Allen not only creates a fascinating mystery, which the reader can pretty much put together at the same time as the protagonists, but characters who are real, too. She gives them each an interesting past (Dana's was very much of the Grapes of Wrath variety), and doesn't stop at that. Their actions in the present (mostly) ring true, too, and the romance is really nice and sweet.

However, Dana's amnesia and the time travel element were not without some problems. Her brand of amnesia seemed to behave in ways that were awfully convenient to the plot, as if it was a phenomenon with certain rules she could learn and then manipulate. Amnesia is always unrealistic, as written in romance novels, but this made it more so than most, really.

And I was a bit doubtful about Dana's seemingly immediate acclimation to the 1990s. Most characters I've read with amnesia seem to forget about themselves and their past, but they do remember the world against them: they know how to tie their shoelaces, they are aware that there are such things as computers, and so on. What was Dana's amnesia like? If she forgot only things about herself, she would have realized she'd travelled into the future. If she forgot everything, then she was a bit too well adjusted, a bit too soon.

I also had a problem with her continued insistence on the fact that Gabriel was a 1930s primitive man, who just wanted to protect her and couldn't see her as an equal. This just didn't reflect the way Gabriel acted, so the whole conflict felt a little contrived.

Still, even with those flaws, this was a fascinating read. Oh, and the epilogue was one of the best I've read. It was ingenious and fun, and it calmed any doubts I might have had about the choice Dana and Gabriel made in the end. Stay in the past? Move to the future? I won't say, but the decision they ended up making was really fine!


Stronger Than Magic, by Heather Cullman

>> Tuesday, July 12, 2005

First I read Mrs. Giggles' review of Stronger Than Magic, by Heather Cullman. A 99! I had to buy this! So I did, but I put it in my TBR and it quickly became lost in it. Until I read Bam's take on it and dug it out.


Five hundred years ago beautiful Alys Faire was taken captive by fairies. Now she was being offered a chance for freedom by saving the soul of Lucian Warre, the cold- hearted Marquess of Thistlewood. All she had to do was match him with a woman he could love.


Lucian could not belive the outrageous, outspoken hoyden who had been left as his ward. No one ever questioned his orders before. Or turned his enter household upside down as Alys did. Wishing to rid himself of this unwelcome burden, Lucian decided to enter society to find Alys a husband. Too bad no suitor in the entire realm seemed right.


Heaven would have to help Lucian, for he was being bewitched by this irritating ward. And with each day, his feeling for her were becoming dangerously stronger. But as Alys was cursed, she knew that their union could never be...unless a force stronger than magic made the impossible happen when two people fell in love....
I didn't quite like it as much as Mrs. Giggles and Bam did, but I thought it was pretty good, all the same. A B+.

It's just so original, so different! You've got a main storyline that's basically a romance between a cold, straight-laced hero and the heroine who thaws him. That's already one of my favourites.

But it's not the typical story of its kind, there's a huge dose of magic in it. In the last Cullman I'd read which had some supernatural elements, Bewitched, the magic element had really bombed, but it was great here. No lame curses and stuff, but a coherent mythology of faeries and other creatures, whose involvement in the human world wasn't a distraction from the story, but something basic to it.

It even helped "fix" the little details I wouldn't have been so crazy about otherwise. For instance, pairing up a 33 year old hero with an 18 year old heroine barely out of the schoolroom is not so bad when the heroine actually has the experience of 500 years (I'd much rather she hadn't been a virgin, though, but c'est la vie). And while a hero with Lucian's utter coldness wouldn't really be that explainable, given his past, when you take into account that his sould has spent almost half a millenium being tortured in some kind of limbo, you can justify that there's barely any warmth in the man.

The scenes in which Lucian starts feeling things... just feeling, were great. The way the guy just didn't recognize what feeling an emotion was like were really poignant, especially given what we know about him. And when he actually recognizes his love for Alys.. oh, man, that ending!

On the negative side, the reason STM missed getting into the As was simply that while a most of the book is oh-so-romantic, there are certain spots in which Cullman crosses the line into cloying. That's somewhat of a problem with her, one I already saw in books like For All Eternity and A Perfect Scoundrel.

Still, a real buried treasure.


All I Ever Wanted, by Ellen Fisher

>> Monday, July 11, 2005

As a newcomer to the world of e-publishing, I rely a lot on other readers' recommendations, but they need to be very detailed recs. The thing is, you see, that the usual dominating, uber-alpha who seems to be such a staple in e-books (especially erotica e-books), leaves me completely cold, so just picking highly-rated e-books at random won't work.

The latest e-book I picked up, I did because of a review at Paperbackreader: All I Ever Wanted, by new-to-me author Ellen Fisher. I believe Fisher has had some books in print, but this one was published exclusively as an e-book.

Maxfield Sinclair, the author of a popular science fiction series, is revered by fans everywhere as "The Creator." Drew Cooper, a snobbish literature professor, isn’t impressed with Max’s books, or with Max himself, for that matter. As Drew gets to know Max, however, she realizes there’s more to the shy, awkward writer than meets the eye. But can a woman who enjoys escargot and caviar fall in love with a guy who thinks fine cuisine means supreme instead of pepperoni?
All I Ever Wanted had the potential to be wonderful, as wonderful as its hero, but a horrid heroine and a suspense subplot which was frankly bad lower my grade to barely above average. A C+.

Max was... oh, just yummy. Don't misinterpret what I wrote above, I do like alphas, as long as their alphaness doesn't come accompanied by jerk-ness, but a steady diet of them gets boring, as a steady diet of anything does, really. So I treasure the few heroes with real insecurities and vulnerabilities I get, those who are very definitely not leaders or the aggressors in a relationship, those who are a teeny bit insecure in bed, instead of totally sure that they are god's gift to womanhood.

Max is just like that. At first he didn't ring completely true, actually, because I couldn't really buy that a guy like him, a rich, good-looking author, idolized by his fans, would be like that, but a certain revelation late in the book helped it make sense. And this revelation was kind of announced way before that, so the reader was able to have certain suspicions, and the actual knowledge wasn't left until too late.

So anyway, Max was great, a really sweet, caring and endearing hero. The only objection I had to him was his taste in women. Just what did he see in that close-minded, judgemental, holier-than-thou nitwit, Drew? The first scenes were truly painful, when she mouthes off about how sci-fi is so awful. I could totally see her saying the same type of mindless idiocy about romance novels, actually.

And, unbelievably, what does Max like so much about her, that he becomes so infatuated? "There was something special about her that attracted him, something beyond her obvious physical attributes. Maybe it was her conviction in the correctness of her opinions, the assurance of a woman who could read two paragraphs of a book and determine the writer was a sexist pig." Er, and that is attractive, why? I'm afraid that's the kind of thing that would completely kill a guy's chances with me! Oh, and of course, Drew's very fond of making huge assumptions on no basis. The mark of an intelligent person, as everyone knows.

Poor Max deserved so much better than this idiot! Even once she gets over her prejudices and realizes what a great guy Max actually is, she keeps hurting him and hurting him, pretty much on purpose, I thought. No one can be that thoughtless!

As for the suspense subplot, the least said about it, the better. It was half-way interesting at first, but by the end of the book, not only had it turned completely over the top (I'm talking about "Look! This person is evil! (S)he likes kinky sex!!!" lack of subtlety), it had also started cutting into the romance, which was basically why I was reading this.

Still, whatever the book's flaws, I find myself intrigued enough that I'd try another book by this author.


The Daughters of Freya, by Michael Betcherman & David Diamond

>> Friday, July 08, 2005

A few weeks ago I received an email from Michael Betcherman, one of the authors of The Daughters of Freya. He offered me a reviewer's copy (my very first!) and, never one to turn down any freebies, I obviously said yes. Plus, it did sound intriguing ;-)

Journalist Samantha Dempsey never imagined her life would turn out like this. Her 19 year-old son has fallen in love with an older woman. Her mother is a basket case, still haunted by the death of Samantha’s brother in a car accident years ago. Her once-promising career as a journalist has ground to a halt. And the cracks in her marriage are wide and getting wider.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Samantha gets an email from a desperate friend whose 21 year-old daughter has joined The Daughters of Freya, a California cult that believes sex is the solution to the world’s problems. He wants Samantha to write a story that will expose the cult as a fraud.

Samantha pitches the story to Jane Sperry, the editor of a San Francisco magazine and an old college friend. Sperry sends Samantha to Marin County to write a piece on the cult but she soon finds out that there is more to the cult than meets the eye.

She discovers that the cult’s ‘spiritual guide’ has a secret and insidious agenda, and wealthy and powerful partners who will stop at nothing to prevent her from revealing the truth.

As Samantha risks her life in an attempt to penetrate the inner workings of the cult, she must deal with a personal life that is threatening to fall apart and a past she thought she had left far behind.
The Daughters of Freya (which I keep spelling "Freyja"... way too much Bedwyn influence here, I guess), isn't a book, but an "email mystery". What this means is that the entire story is delivered directly to your inbox, over a few weeks, via emails in which you basically see the activity of Samantha Dempsey's email account: the mails she sends and she receives. If you want to see an example of what this looks like, you can get the first three emails here.

Anyway, you get to follow Sam as she goes deeper and deeper investigating the story of the cult, but not only that, you also see what's going on in her personal life in the meantime. It's not just email, many of the messages have links to outside content, as real emails would, so you also have access to things like pictures of the johns (when Sam sends photos to people, trying to identify them), e-tickets, the articles Sam writes, when they get posted on the paper's website, and so on.

I must say, I had some doubts about whether a story could be satisfyingly told this way. I mean, I've already read mostly-email books (like Meg Cabot's Boy Meets Girl, which I loved), but this was taking things a step further. Well, it worked.

The mystery was intriguing and well-constructed (I got a real surprise there at the end) and I found myself getting drawn in by the characters. I especially liked how Sam's "real life" didn't just stop because she was busy investigating the cult. Her son gets in trouble, her mother gets into a cyber-relationship, her dad's new wife has a health scare, her marriage goes through some rough spots, not least because of the all-consuming nature of her new investigation. This made the characters much more real to me.

As this was a review copy, I had the option of going to the website and reading the different messages when I wanted to, instead of waiting for the emails to arrive in my Inbox. From the beginning, I decided I wasn't going to do this. I'd read the emails as they arrived, wanting to get the experience a regular reader would. At first I was fine, once the story got really going, it was a close thing and I almost went to the website a few times because I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next. How's that for an endorsement? My grade: a B.


Tell Me No Lies, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Continuing with my trip down memory lane (which I shouldn't be taking at all, considering the size of my TBR), I read Tell Me No Lies, by Elizabeth Lowell.

I'd last read it over 10 years ago, when I'd borrowed it from my high-school library. That library had some truly interesting stuff. I first read Woodiwiss's Shanna there, too!


China's most priceless artifacts are being smuggled into the U.S. An international crisis is about to explode -- unless a desperate trap to catch a thief succeeds. And one woman is the key . . .

Lindsay Danner. Her worldwide reputation as an expert in ancient bronzes and her love for China make her the perfect pawn in a deadly game. But she needs protection.

Jacob MacArthur Catlin. The Dragon. A renegade ex-CIA agent whose name is still whispered in tones of hatred and admiration throughout Southeast Asia. Now it is his job to make sure Lindsay Danner succeeds . . . and lives.

Two puppets on a string. In a maze of intrigue where each deadly twist and turn leads deeper into deception and forbidden desire, friends can be enemies. Truth may be lies. Trust is a dirty word. And the only chance of getting out alive is to cut the strings . . . and grasp the only truth that remains .
Like Paradise, this was another successful experiment. I liked it just as much as I remember doing back in high school. An A.

If I were to guess when Tell Me No Lies was written, I'd never say 1986. It's radically different to what Lowell was writing back then, which was basically series books like Fever, books full of hateful men who mistreated the doormat heroine, heroes who reveled in making the most asinine assumptions and acting on them.

I found TMNL more comparable to her latest romantic suspense novels, like the Donovan series, for instance, with heroes who are tremendously macho and alpha, but who nonetheless, treat the heroine respectfully and are actually intelligent. These books have strong, immensely capable heroines, who are admired for it by the heroes, as well as excellently developed, fascinating suspense subplots.

The one difference I found in TMNL is in its favour, actually, and it's that the romance gets much more space and development (and it has better love scenes, too!). It was even my favourite kind of romance.

Catlin's the type of alpha I adore, a tough guy whose machoness manifests not through aggression but through protectiveness. He knows right from the beginning that Lindsay is exactly what she seems to be: an honest woman who's been placed in an unbearable situation through no fault of her own, and he falls for her right there.

The main barrier between them is that Catlin knows that it's not always possible to tell real feelings from fake ones when one is working undercover, living a lie, and he's sure that this is what's happening to Lindsay, that her apparent feelings for him won't last past the end of their charade. He believes that once she's back in her world, he'd be the last person she'd have feelings for. So, he tries very hard to stay away from her, which is especially difficult given the fact that they're pretending to be lovers.

Juicy conflict indeed, and the sexual tension Lowell manages to create here is amazing. She builds it brick by brick, until it's thick enough to be cut with a knife. And when, pretty late in the book, they finally act on their feelings, oh, wow! What a scene!

The whole international intrigue deal Catlin and Lindsay find themselves int he midst of is truly fascinating. It's all reminiscent of Jade Island, with its Chinese angle, and whether this is accurate or not, it feels as if Lowell did a shitload of good research.

I also really, really liked Lowell's writing here. Especially her dialogue. It's not particularly realistic (I mean, no one is that quick-witted), but it was brilliant to read, and the way she interweaves the concepts of truth and lies throughout every aspect of the book is great.


The Love Conspiracy, by Susan Napier

>> Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Anyone who's been reading my blog for a while will know that Susan Napier is the only Harlequin Presents author I read regularly. Her books always have some element of freshness, even when she uses the most contrived plot twists possible. This week I read The Love Conspiracy, one of the books Sybil was kind enough to send me.

The uncertainty was unnerving

Kat had cheerfully accepted her friend Todd's invitation to stay at the family home for the weekend - during which his Uncle Daniel was to announce his engagement.

Only slowly did it dawn on Kat that she was the pawn in another game altogether. A game complicated by the incandescent flame that erupted between herself and Daniel Bishop.

His eyes were dangerous, the curve of his mouth a threat - but of what? Kat wasn't sure. For Daniel's cool, cultured facade covered the soul of a ruthless buccaneer.
This was, unfortunately, the first Napier I've truly disliked. It was a D+.

In The Love Conspiracy, the author takes a classic HP plot and gives it some tweaks. The heroine gets invited by a rich friend to his house for the weekend. Unbeknownst to her, her friend has lied to his family and they all think she's his girlfriend and, of course, they all consider her unsuitable. Especially one member in particular of her friend's household. That can be an older brother or an uncle, as in this case. No matter, that guy has to be an older, staid-ish, responsible man, who finds himself captivated by the lively heroine and does all he can to seduce her. So the confict is always, from the heroine's POV, that she feels this guy is pursuing her only to separate her from her supposed boyfriend.

I started out by liking this book. Kat was very strong and refused to be cowed by the very rich Bishops. She plays with them, and they richly deserve it, IMO.

However, I'm afraid I never did warm up to Daniel. He's much too domineering and cruel, a right bastard, in fact. There's even a scene in which he actually slaps Kat. It came right after Kat had slapped him, and it wasn't a particularly hard slap, more like a warning that he wouldn't be tolerating any tantrums, but as far as I'm concerned, I don't care. It's one of my hot buttons. A guy who'd hit a woman, unless we're talking about a woman who's really trying to do bodily harm to him, is no hero to me.

I also hated how once they finally fall into bed, he keeps trying to make Kat his mistress (yes, he actually uses the term). Kat does resist this and refuses, prefering to be just his "lover", but what I really wanted her to do was to tell him to go fuck himself. He deserved it. There's some kind of half-hearted explanation at the end of the book about how it wasn't really this way, but I didn't buy it.

In this particular case, Napier's tweaks didn't really work. The thing about what Todd's plans were exactly when he asked Kat to pretend to be his girlfriend made no sense, and neither did Daniel actually having this wild past. It just didn't go with his rigidness and made me dislike him even more.

Does anyone have any recs for Napier? I'd like to decide which of hers to read next. Sybil sent me a huge pile of them, so whatever book you name, it'll probably be in my TBR.


Paradise, by Judith McNaught

>> Monday, July 04, 2005

Doing the reader interview for Màili got me thinking about some old favourites, including Paradise, by Judith McNaught. I bought this one back in 1992, on a trip to New York. I was 14 at the time, and though I was already reading romance, I was reading it in spite of the fact that the books I was finding weren't particularly good.

Paradise was a revelation. I had no idea romance novels could be this way, and I adored it. I used to reread it every few months back then, but, for some reason, I hadn't reread it for years before now.

Corporate raider Matthew Farrell had come a long way from the poor, scruffy kid of Indiana's steel mills. A long way from the country club where, feeling like an outsider, he had dared to fall in love with a beautiful blonde named Meredith Bancroft, and known a once-in-a-lifetime passion and betrayal that still haunted his memory...Now world leaders courted him, the media watched his every move, and he was ready to move in on the Bancroft empire.

A cool, poised executive in her family's legendary department store chain, Meredith had once defied her father for the sexually magnetic, intense Matt Farrell -- and their brief, ill-fated marriage was the disastrous outcome. Now, as the Bancroft firm is threatened by a hostile takeover, Meredith is forced to confront Matt. As tensions build between them, bittersweet memories rise to the surface, leaving them suspicious, restless, and uncertain. Will they be able to believe in each other -- and grasp the tender miracle that is before them?
I was half afraid when I started it that I was going to be terribly disappointed by Paradise. So much of what I used to adore hasn't really stood the test of time at all. I needn't have worried. I had a wonderful time reading this. In fact, certain details that I'd had trouble with all those years ago, were just fine this time. It's an A-.

Having reread this so many times before, I remembered quite a bit, even if none of those rereads were recent. I remembered both the characters' personalities and the "big" scenes. Practically all of those big scenes, actually. The scene in which Meredith finds out what really happened all those years ago, the weekend at the cabin when Meredith tells Matt everything, the meeting he calls when they get back, the scene at the restaurant, when Matt and Parker "cross the "T"s", the scene in which they finally confess their love (::sigh:: I remembered that one literally! The part in which Matt does four things to make her feel comfortable... I even remembered each one of those four things). Reading those scenes was like visiting old friends and rediscovering the little details that made me love them.

This is basically a Big Misunderstanding story, but one that works. The misunderstanding is excusable, as it was pretty much manufactured by Meredith's father, and it made sense that she and Matt wouldn't have cleared things up before, basically because they just weren't in touch at all. Once they do get in touch, they both find out the truth pretty fast, right when it was believable that they would. Those scenes are amazingly poignant, enough that they put a lump in my throat.

Matt is a truly wonderful hero, a guy who's strong enough to build an empire and strong enough not to become a bully with it. I loved how even when he thought the worst of Meredith, he was able to put himself in her shoes and think that well, she was young and scared back then, he shouldn't blame her (though he went back and forth with this, to tell the truth). And once he finds out the truth, I loved the way he ruthlessly went after Meredith, refusing to let her go without giving him a chance. That meeting I mentioned, when he proposes a certain deal to her, oh, wow! When he talked to Stuart at the end of it, and his reaction after the meeting was over... I just loved it all!

And as for Meredith, well, daddy issues aside, I really did like her. I did understand what Matt saw in her, which is more than I can say about too many books. I also liked that she was smart and a savvy businesswoman, and I respected the way she confronted her father's and her colleagues' sexism and triumphed over it.

Paradise is a very long book (over 700 pages), and yet I read it in a day. It just sucked me in and I couldn't let go until it was over. I did think the introductory sections, the ones narrating what happened 11 years before, when Matt and Meredith first met, went on for a bit too long. Of course, this might have been because I already knew all that was going to happen and couldn't wait for the "proper" story to get underway.

One of my memories of the book was that the last part was taken over by "boring business stuff", and I always skipped the final 100 or so pages when I reread it. This time I didn't of course, and I really don't see what it was that bothered me so much. There's a tiny suspense subplot that comes to the forefront here, about bomb threats in Bancroft stores and an attempt to take over the company, but I didn't feel it was boring or excessive and I thought it was a wonderful way of showing Meredith really choosing Matt over her father.

I'm happy I decided to take this little trip to the past.


Heart of Night, by Taylor Chase

>> Friday, July 01, 2005

Taylor Chase's Heart of Deception was one of the best books I read last year. Heart of Night (excerpt) is its sequel.

They call Sir Adrian Thorne a dangerous man -- and seek to jail him for untold crimes! Yet from the moment Lady Claire Darren feels the touch of his strong hand, she knows the lord is honorable. But as soon as the mysterious, arrestingly handsome Adrian stokes her fiery passions with a kiss, he demands that the lady keep her distance. It is a command Claire is powerless to follow, for she has fallen helplessly, hopelessly in love.

Adrian can ignore his feelings no longer. He needs Claire desperately -- to protect his name and to heal his tormented soul. But he is a baron who must fight to regain his stolen birth right a loner who dares not love -- and he can make no promises, because the danger that stalks him could touch sweet Claire, and that must never be! But once he shares his strength with her, could he ever deny her his heart?
Heart of Night was good, but what made Heart of Deception so unique, so different from other romance novels, wasn't present here. Still, it was a B for me.

What I loved best about HoD was its characters, the element of role reversal in their romance. I loved how Vivian was so different from other romance novel heroines. In HoN, while I did enjoy Adrian and Claire very much, they were more romance novel staples. I'm considering HoN on its own merits, so I'm not really counting this as a strike against it, but it was a bit of a disappointment.

But well, Adrian and Claire were interesting in their own right. Claire was strong, though her strength was more of a quiet kind. She was usually a dutiful daughter, but when it was needed, she was perfectly capable of doing what had to be done, whatever the cost would be to her. She made her decision that she was in love with Adrian and she really did fight for him, both against external circumstances and against Adrian's fears.

Adrian was a very appealing tortured character. He's got very good reasons to be that tortured, but he's a gentle and kind man who doesn't take his problems out on anyone. Chase did a great job with him, especially in the way he gave him a possibility of a HEA. At first I had no idea how she'd be able to manage it, but her solution made sense.

I also enjoyed the setting, the way Elizabethan England came to life throughout the book. Not only does every single scene have a very distinctive flavour, enough that whichever part of the book you're reading, you are fully aware that this is not Regency England, the characters behave like people of their time.

What I most had problems with was the actual plot of the book. Don't get me wrong: it was clever and interesting and made excellent use of the paranormal element (the one flaw I had found in HoD), but the problem is the villain was too, too horrible. The sections detailing his crimes were so graphic they literally made me queasy.

Oh, and I should mention that you probably shouldn't attempt to read this one without reading HoD. Anyone who hasn't will probably be very confused by the first part of the book. I remembered the action in the first book pretty well, so I didn't have any trouble, but I didn't really find my attention fully engaged until well into the story, mainly due to the repetition.


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