Longing, by Mary Balogh

>> Friday, September 30, 2005

Random pick from the deepest depths of my TBR: Longing, by Mary Balogh, which has been there ever since it arrived on March 1st, 2001.

Sian Jones is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy English mine owner and a Welsh coalminer's daughter. She was educated in a fine English school. But she turned her back on her English heritage, married a coalminer, and went to work in the mines herself after his death. Now she is engaged to another Welshman, leader of the revolutionary movement of the workers against the tyranny of the English owners. But one of those owners, the Marquess of Craille, has just inherited and come to live in Wales. And he seems sympathetic to his workers. When Sian becomes his daughter's governess, she gets caught very firmly between two worlds--and two loves.
This time my random pick was a great one. I loved this book! An A-.

This one's a rec for those of you who dislike wallpaper historicals. We have here characters who felt more authentic than usual, and a historical background that really did play a big part in the plot, one that was fascinating and vividly done.

But on top of that, we have a just wonderful love story, a love story between two truly good people who are caught at a time when their choices were not wholly their own.

I especially loved Alexander. If you require all your heroes to be alpha and masterful and dominating and excessively confident, this would not be the book for you. Alex is a wonderful beta, a man trying to do his best but stuck in circumstances in which he sometimes can't even do what his conscience tells him he must.

I suppose his enlightened attitude towards his workers and their plight might feel a bit too good to be true, but I loved the way went about improving things. This is not simplified to make it sound easy. His first instinct is to go ahead and change things according to what he feels is fair and just, but he gets battered from every side.

His agent and the other owners insist that he knows nothing about business, that his decisions improving the lot of his own workers will either run his business into the ground and cause every single one of his workers to lose their jobs, or create chaos in other valleys, because everyone will want the same.

His workers, meanwhile, don't seem particularly interested in his help. They seem to see him as the enemy, someone whose overtures can only be a trap and who can't care about them at all. Some of them would even prefer for him to want to exploit them, because otherwise this might make people less likely to join the Chartist associations.

Since it's true that Alex knows little about business and he realizes that (see what I said about him not being an alpha?), he allows their pronouncements to dampen his resolve and decides to study like crazy until he knows what he's doing, and then act. That was a bit frustrating, because what he wanted to do was so obviously right, from a modern perspective, but his actions made excellent sense for the person he was.

Sian was also a wonderful character. Even when some of her choices were also frustrating, I felt I completely understood her. As the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, whose mother had been ostracized by her community for her choice of becoming this man's mistress, she spent all her childhood "stranded between two worlds", as she described it. Her fondest wish is to belong completely to one of those worlds, so, as belonging to the upper classes would be impossible, she makes every effort to belong to the miners' community, even to the extreme of going down into the mines, to do the hardest, dirtiest work, instead of looking for something easier or even not working, as her late husband's family insists she can do.

Getting involved with Alex is the last thing she wants, both because her intention is to marry this ironworker, Owen, which will finally make her a full part of the community, as she wants, and because she knows there's absolutely no future with Alex, other than as his mistress, and she refuses to follow her mother's footsteps.

As for Alex, while he wants Sian from the beginning, he's a honorable man. Once he knows why she doesn't feel she can be his mistress, he doesn't force the issue or try to seduce her. At least, not fully consciously. Balogh did well in portraying the way these two people were drawn together even against their wishes, how their attraction and their need for each other was completely overpowering. Alex's feelings were just wonderful, especially his loneliness and how being with Sian makes him feel happy.

Something I found interesting is that he doesn't even consider marrying at first, even when he realizes he's falling in love with her. I never got the feeling that he was a snob himself, but just that he knew it was something that simply wasn't done, so it took quite a while for the possibility to even cross his mind. And even once they've decided to marry, Balogh doesn't tie it up in a big shiny bow, but makes it clear that everyone in Alex's world will disapprove and that even their children might experience some snobbery because of who their mother was.

The same refusal to make things simplistic characterized her description of the miners. These are not Disney cartoons. I liked how Balogh portrayed the complexity of the issues. I sympathized 100% with the miners' demands, but hated some of their methods. The way people who dissented were punished until they conformed, how people who didn't join their protest organizations were visited by the "enforcers", the "Scotch Cattle" and whipped, how the men who didn't want to participate in the march on Newport were forced to do so and taken as prisoners if necessary... I hated all that, even as I understood why they felt they had to do it.

As I said, there's a lot of historical detail. I've learned the hard way not to take what I read in my romance novels as fact, even when it's a usually trustworthy author like Balogh, but I love it when a book inspires me to research something I knew little about. I closed this book and went right on to read about Chartism, the same way I researched the issue of Reapportionment after reading Madeline Hunter's The Charmer. I did know the basics, enough to think "uh-oh" when the word "Newport" is mentioned, but I was interested enough to try and learn more details.

Wonderful book, I highly recommend it!


River's End, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, September 29, 2005

River's End is the only "big" Nora Roberts book I had missed. I thought I'd read everything she'd written since the mid-90s or so and that all I was missing was some early categories, but I realized only a few weeks ago that I'd never bought this one.

One summer night in 1979, four-year-old Olivia Tanner finds her doped-up father, Sam, bloodied shears in hand, poised over the dead body of her movie-star mom. Haunted by the image of "the monster" pursuing her, Olivia is sent to live with her grandparents in the Pacific Northwest, where she is sheltered from her memories by towering Douglas firs.

Two decades later, the specter of the "monster" returns. From prison, her father urges young investigative reporter Noah Brady -son of the police detective who discovered Olivia after the murder- to research the crime. Noah accepts this task eagerly, heedless of Olivia's rebuffs and undeterred by violence and danger, especially after Olivia begins to remember the crime.
This was a rich, interesting romantic suspense. I had trouble with the beginning, but once the story really got started, it was fascinating. A B.

As with The Reef, I spent the first 150 or so pages wishing Roberts would just hurry up and get to the present and the main story. I suppose you could argue such a huge... well, prologue, really... gave the characters depth, but I just thought it slowed things down and didn't give me anything I couldn't have got in little bits throughout the story.

Short prologue, showing the murder, and then zoom to the present, skipping all those pages and pages and pages of people reacting to Julie's death. In fact, a little mystery about what exactly this troublesome past between Olivia and Noah was would have made the romance even better.

Even better, because it was great as it was. Noah was a really good character, a nice guy whose niceness didn't make him boring in the least. I felt like his father, in that I didn't really "get" his fascination with writing true crime books, but that doesn't mean I didn't understand him pretty well.

Olivia was interesting, too. Roberts got her pricklyness just right: she didn't look stupidly stubborn, but neither was she a pushover. And her issues made sense, too.

The romance and the suspense were seamlessly integrated, each enriching the other. I was actually quite interested in the suspense side, something not at all usual in me.

lAt one point I thought Roberts was about to go overboard and shift her attention too much in the direction of Olivia's parents. Basically, I feared she was going to give us the book Noah was writing, and I just didn't find that at all compelling. Fortunately, while we did follow some of Noah's research as he made it, it wasn't excessive, and the focus of the story stayed on the present.

The main weakness in this book (other than the slow start, that is) was how predictable the identity of the real murderer was. That person had the word "murderer" written all over from the first moment (s)he appeared. And, to make matters worse, there was absolutely no exploration of his motivations at the end. The original crime did make some sense, but all the stuff he did after that, the way he started everything again, didn't. I kept thinking the best solution would have been to have Sam be the murderer after all. Now, that would have been surprising!


Midnight Man, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I knew within 15 pages of starting Lisa Marie Rice's Midnight Angel that I would be reading the rest of the series. Midnight Man is the first book.

Interior decorator Suzanne Barron's new tenant is the most dangerously sexy man she's ever met. Navy Commander John Huntington, a former SEAL (aka 'Midnight Man') works best under cover of darkness. Within hours of meeting him, Suzanne has wild, no-holds barred sex with John, then panics at the depth of her passionate response to such a powerful and dangerous warrior. Suzanne doesn't do sex like that. John is definitely someone she needs to avoid for her own peace of mind. But when killers come for her, Suzanne known she can turn to only one man. John will guard and protect her body. But who will guard and protect her body against John?
I worried at first that I'd goofed and got book # 2 instead of book # 1, because it looked like this was happening after the Midnight Run story (haven't read that one yet, but I knew who it was about), but I was reassured by other readers that this one is, in fact, the first, it's just that they take place more or less at the same time.

Anyway, I enjoyed MM very much. A bit less than Midnight Angel, mostly because of the hero, but it was still a solid B.

Like MA, this was a extremely intense, steamy read, almost claustrophobic in how fully the focus is on the two main characters. John and Suzanne spend practically every single page together, and the chemistry between them was enough to singe my fingertips.

Also like in MA (can't stop comparing these two, it seems), the hero is an alpha to end all alphas. But, and here's the reason I liked this one slightly less, John was a bit too much for me. Too dominating, too hard, too overprotective. I couldn't help but remembering a scene in MA when Suzanne is having lunch with her friends Allegra and Claire and tells them she would have wanted to wait to get pregnant until she'd managed to soften John up a bit, because he was going to go overboard when he found out about the baby. After reading this one, I can definitely say she had grounds to worry.

Another thing that was different was that, throughout most of the book, John was basically in lust with Suzanne, and without the appealing tenderness towards her that Douglas had when it came to Allegra. It was only very late in the book when he did start getting some softer feelings. Up to that moment, I was worrying that this wasn't really a love story, but only about lust. Overpowering lust, which was actually very fun to read, but just lust. When he became aware of some tender emotions towards her, it was lovely, but it was almost too late and there wasn't much book left. Almost, but it was just enough to make it work.

The author made perfect use of the interesting suspense subplot which accelerated John and Suzanne's relationship. The only weak point I found was Suzanne's late decision to be excessively civic-minded, which didn't really ring true. And John's easy acceptance of it, supposedly based on the fact that he was an officer and duty and honour were so important to him, didn't jibe with his later actions.

But that's a pretty small issue, and this was a very satisfying read. I'm going to try to hold out until the weekend to read Midnight Run.


The Way Home, by Linda Howard

>> Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Way Home, by Linda Howard, was one of the books I asked about below.

For Anna Sharp the choice was clear. Saxon Malone might not want his baby, but she did... even if that meant having to leave the man she loved. But maybe, if she were able to show him the value of his past, he could come to want to share his future... as a family.
The Way Home was actually the first story in an anthology, which also contained Family by Fate, by Paula Detmer Riggs and Stella Bagwell's Baby on the Doorstep. I did start the PDR story when I was done with TWH, but after 30 pages it wasn't working for me, so I just dropped it. And the last story didn't tempt me in the least.

TWH was surprisingly good, much better than I expected after I read the first couple of pages and realized what the set-up was going to be. A B-.

The story starts when Anna Sharp has realized she's pregnant and gets ready to tell the baby's father. Anna and Saxon aren't "lovers". She's his mistress, and every connotation and implication of that word is present in their arrangement. She was his secretary when they had sex for the first time, and the minute that was done, Saxon told her she could be his secretary or she could be his mistress, but not both.

So Anna quit her job and went to live in an appartment Saxon provided for her. He didn't allow her to get another job. He supported her and took measures to make sure she'd be ok financially once their arrangement ended. He didn't go to live with her, either, but kept his own appartment and went to her every night. And they didn't even develop a regular relationship, their interactions had no emotion, other than in bed. Why did Anna accept something like this? Well, simply because she was soooo in love with him and intuitively realized this was the only relationship he would allow himself to have with her.

Sounds awful, right? But Howard makes it work, somehow. I think the key point is that she managed to make me empathize with Saxon, to understand why he was so afraid to become emotionally involved with anyone. She made me see that the guy was positively crying out for someone to love him, but was terrified to be hurt again.

And once Saxon realized he needed to risk himself or risk losing Anna, their relationship changed radically, and became pretty good. It's a pretty good story, really.


Bewitched, Bothered and BeVampyred, by various authors

>> Monday, September 26, 2005

Bewitched, Bothered and BeVampyred is a charity anthology with stories by 20 different authors. It was written this year to benefit the International Red Cross after last year's tsunami.

Welcome to Brokenoggin Falls, where the housewives are not only desperate, they're Witches! (And one of them might be a Harpy) The spells cast by moonlight frequently go awry. And there are times when toads and Chihuahuas seem abundant as black flies in the summer, the dragons are a little touchy, the Forest Trolls are in danger of extinction from teeny-boppers, the Gryphons need help conceiving and...the scientist are crunchy and good with ketchup...
As one would expect, given the number of authors, this ended up being very uneven. All the authors seem to be trying for over-the-top, silly fun, but only some of them succeed in being something more than plain silly.

Stories that stood out for me:

Patricia Rice's Feed Your Head (or: The Flaming Faery Queen Closeted at the Bottom of the Garden Closet Tool Shed), featuring a fairy queen (in every sense of the word) in love with the town vet. Surprisingly romantic.

A Dance Through the Garden Of Good and Evil, by Susan Grant, the story of a former demon from hell and Harmony Faithfull, the pastor of Brokenoggin Falls' only church. This one actually left me wishing for more (did I mention all the stories are very short?).

Candy Cox and the Big Bad (Were)Wolf , by PC Cast, in which teacher Candy Cox finds a werewolf lover, feels betrayed and gets even. This one was fun in an "I can't believe she's actually going to do that!" way.

The others range from silly, to blah, to WTF? My grade: an A+ for the initiative and the idea, but a C+ for the actual book.

(If you'd like to read what each story is about, go here and scroll down for short summaries)


The Widow, by Anne Stuart

>> Friday, September 23, 2005

The Widow is one of those Anne Stuart books I hadn't heard great things about.

Aristide Pompasse is dead. But the evil in the great artist's soul still haunts the vineyards and lurks in the corners of his Tuscan villa. Known as much for his fabulous portraits as his penchant for young mistresses, Pompasse had not let anyone go until Charlie, his young wife, had managed to escape.

Now Charlie is back, to lay old ghosts to rest, to find the answers to who she was, to make peace with her past and her future. And there is no room in that peaceful future for a dangerous man like Connor Maguire.

Maguire knows what he wants. He is about to break the biggest story of his life — Pompasse's murder — and damn anyone who gets in his way. So why can't he keep his eyes and his hands off the old man's widow?

In the old house, where murder is a whisper away, and desire a dance in the moonlight, nothing is quite as it seems...
Well, it wasn't her best, but it was mostly enjoyable. A B-.

Nothing too original to see here. Maguire is an Anne Stuart type of hero that I've read a hundred times before. He's a guy whose idealism has been almost completely beaten out of him.

After years and years as a war correspondent, he's quit and gone to work for a tabloid. So, as the story starts, he very firmly believes he's a complete bastard and that he has no qualms about cheating and lying and using people to get his story for that slimy tabloid... or at least, he thinks he doesn't. He finds himself falling for Charlie in spite of himself and having to actively fight his impulses to do the right thing, because, surprisingly enough (for him, not for the reader), he still has some of that idealism left.

I really enjoyed the way Maguire was so attracted to Charlotte in spite of not wanting to. He's fascinated by her, can't stop himself from following her around and trying to get through her defenses by getting her riled up. He tells himself it's for the story, and that he's going to do this and do that and will hurt her, but he ends up behaving like her knight in shining armor.

As for Charlotte, she was basically ok. She's got the typical martyr tendencies of a Stuart heroine (the whole he's a great artist so he doesn't need to be a decent human being thing, for instance), but actually, she didn't behave like a martyr during the book at all. She was perfectly ready to tell people (Maguire, her fiancé Henry) to fuck off when they deserved to hear it.

The mystery was pretty interesting throughout most of the book, but the resolution was a miss for me. Way too over the top, more horror movie than romantic suspense.

What I did love was the setting. Not just the villa in Tuscany (with that wonderful-sounding ruined church), I especially enjoyed the parts that are set in Florence. It's a short scene, but Maguire's old, run-down appartment had great charm. Contemporaries should really use European settings more. I thought that when I read L. Howard's Kiss Me While I Sleep and I still think it now.


Midnight Angel, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Thursday, September 22, 2005

A couple of weeks ago, it seemed everyone online was talking about a certain book from Ellora's Cave: Midnight Angel (excerpt), by Lisa Marie Rice.

This one's the third in a series, and the AAR review mentioned that it might be better to read them in order, because this one has spoilers for previous books, but luckily, while I'm fanatic about certain things, having to read books in order isn't one of them... unlike some people I know (yes, I'm talking about you!), so I jumped straight to this one.

Her nightmares don't stop when she opens her eyes…

In one night, talented musician Allegra Ennis lost her sight, her father and her career in a brutal attack she can't remember. Now she's alone in a world of darkness, her only company the nightmares in her head…and a killer is stalking her every move.

Scarred and disfigured by war, tough former SEAL Douglas Kowalski never thought a beauty like Allegra could love someone like him. He doesn't expect more than a one-night stand. But when Allegra's life is threatened, Kowalski realizes he will do anything to keep her safe-and by his side.
MA was a wonderful read. So wonderful, in fact, that after reading for 15 minutes, I broke off to go and order the first books in the series, because I was going to want to read them soon. A B+.

This is very much a character-based story. There's a suspense subplot, but the focus is on Douglas and Allegra's relationship, and for those of for those of you who are a bit leery of Ellora's Cave books, I need to mention that, while this is a very steamy read, when I say that the focus is on the relationship, I mean the relationship and not just the sex, even though the love scenes start almost immediately.

The sex scenes were steamy and numerous, detailed and intense, but they weren't gratuitous at all. Rice used them to develop Douglas and Allegra's relationship and managed to infuse them with so much emotion that my stomach was clenching every couple of pages and I kept getting a lump in my throat. And I read every single page of those scenes. Every. Single. Page. What made the difference was that I cared for these characters and felt I knew them. They weren't just anonymous bodies writhing around.

Douglas was total alpha, and I was surprised at how much I adored him. It was probably because he was one lost little puppy for an alpha, so used to being rejected and stared at in horror. It's sick of me, I know, but I just loved how incredulous he was that Allegra wanted him, how he was ready to do anything to keep her with him. And I probably liked him because his alpha tendencies manifested, not in bullying and dominating Allegra, but in protecting her and wanting to make her happy.

Allegra was a good heroine. I like that, in spite of her appearance, she wasn't all sweetness and light. The lady had a temper and wasn't scared of showing it, and her difficulty in dealing with her recent blindness made her very human.

Once the story moves out of Allegra's house and they start spending a little time apart, the story loses only a little intensity. The suspense subplot moves a bit more into the forefront, so fortunately, it was an ok one. But I was reading solely for Douglas and Allegra, and there was plenty of that there, too.

I do think Ha Nguyen, who reviewed MA for AAR, was spot on, though, and that's the reason I'm giving this a B+ and not an A grade. This is one of those books in which you pretty much feel the author manipulating you, but you don't care. You're too busy eating it up. Still, I admit that, as much as I enjoyed it all, I did feel certain things were over the top. Not that it dampened my enjoyment much, but it has to be said.

I have such high hopes for the first two books! I just hope I'm not disappointed.

Oh, and before I go, I should also mention, given what people who are not really into ebooks seem to assume about Ellora's Cave books (at least, per a recent thread I read in one of the AAR message boards), that nothing in this book would prevent it from published by any print romance publishers. No kink whatsoever here, I've read Harlequin Blazes that are kinkier.


Any comments on these books?

>> Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I borrowed a big pile of books from a friend, anything that sounded interesting, so I'd like some feedback on the following titles. I'd appreciate as many details as possible, thanks! (And if I sound unenthusiastic about some of them, well, there's a reason I haven't borrowed these before. Most books that I actively wanted to read I already borrowed months ago!)

First, I need help deciding between two books by Karen Marie Moning: Kiss of the Highlander and The Highlander's Touch.

I'm not a fan of time-travels and I'm not a fan of what most romance novels authors do with Scottish heroes, so I ordinarily wouldn't touch these, but I already know Moning will be one of the authors chosen as author of the month in one of my groups, so, as long as I have to read one of hers, I'd rather read the one I'm more likely to enjoy.

KOTH sounds a bit better, at least from the AAR review, but it seems to have the heroine going back in time after meeting the hero in the present and having to convince him that she's from the future and that, oh, yes, they were in love back (forward?) then. My absolutely least favourite TT contrivance, that one. On the other hand, THT doesn't sound good, either, and the heroine seems to be of the dreaded feisty variety!

So, any opinion from people who've actually read these?

On to the other books:

  • Bouquet of Babies, an anthology with stories by Linda Howard, Paula Detmer Riggs and Stella Bagwell. Babies in romance = yuck for me, usually, but I do want to give Linda Howard's story (The Way Home) a shot. Should I even bother with the other two stories? The one by PDR is Family by Fate and Bagwell's is Baby on the Doorstep.

  • Another anthology: Blossoms, which has 5 Trad Regency short stories. No info to be found about it, at least online. I'm definitely reading the Mary Balogh story (The Forbidden Daffodils, but how about the other 4? One of the authors is unknown to me (Margaret Evans Porter), while I read a very meh contemp from Karen Harper and short stories from Patricia Rice and Patricia Oliver in another Regency antho, A Wedding Bouquet. The Rice was also meh, and I detested the Oliver.

  • And the last one: a Christmas anthology from Arabesque: Something to Celebrate. I haven't tried any of the authors yet. They are Felicia Mason, Margie Walker and Brenda Jackson. The book has been reviewed at AAR, and the Walker and Jackson stories seem interesting.

  • Roses for Harriet a Trad by Patricia Oliver. As I said above, I hated the one Oliver short story I did read, and though my friend told me she'd liked this one very much, I'm a bit doubtful.

  • Yours Until Dawn, by Teresa Medeiros. I'm probably reading this one. I'm not a fan of Medeiros, but the plot sounds intriguing.

  • Two Balogh Regencies: An Unacceptable Offer and The Christmas Bride. These two I really do want to read, but any comments are welcome.

  • Light of Day, by Ruth Wind. Another one I can't find any info on.
So, can anyone help?


Public Displays of Affection, by Susan Donovan

>> Monday, September 19, 2005

I felt like something funny and sexy, so I grabbed Public Displays of Affection, by Susan Donovan.

Charlotte Tasker has always been a good girl, so she married the most decent, reliable man she could find even though their love life was a bit on the predictable side. Thirteen years later, she's a widowed mom who runs her company, prepares three vegetarian meals a day for her children, and volunteers for just about every good deed in town. But no one knows that Charlotte has a secret weakness for squirt cheese, erotic poetry-and the mystery man she lost her virginity to in a reckless roadside tryst, moments before she got engaged. They never exchanged names, and even now, Charlotte can't stop fantasizing about that spectacular stranger...

DEA agent Joe Bellacera isn't crazy about having to hide out in Minton, Ohio before testifying at the trial of a notorious drug lord. But he's handling it just fine...until he lays eyes on a fiery redhead and a hot little body he'd recognize anywhere. Joe's never had another woman like Charlotte since that day thirteen years ago. Now she's his neighbor-and strictly off-limits...

Amid the balmy, honeysuckle-scented breezes of a Midwestern summer, sense and sensibility are about to be subverted by an ice cream-loving dog, conspiring kids, and nosy neighbors. And when the Widow Tasker's fantasies meet the rock-hard reality of Agent Bellacera, let the fireworks begin...
I liked this one even more than Take a Chance on Me. A B+.

I really enjoyed Charlotte. She's the complete opposite to the usual heroine conflicted about her sexuality. It's very common to see heroines who, because of some bad or mediocre experiences, have become convinced that they are frigid. Charlotte, however, does not think she's frigid at all. In fact, she thinks she's over-sexed. We don't have this whole scenario of the hero awakening her sexuality here. The thing with Joe is that, with him, Charlotte can let loose and be herself and do all those things she's wanted to do forever, but couldn't because her partner didn't want them.

I've read a lot of condemnation for her behaviour in the message boards I read. Basically, people seem to have hated her for her willingness to sleep with another man on the side of the road, when she was on her way to pick up her boyfriend at the airport and accept his proposal of marriage. Well, my own 2 cents is that yes, it was cheating on her part and she behaved badly. It's always wrong to cheat. Thing is, I could understand perfectly well why she did it, and understanding her made all the difference.

There was this huge struggle going on inside Charlotte, between what she thought she ought to want and what she really did want. Her upbringing (and remember she's very young at the time) told her she should want someone like Kurt, that sex isn't supposed to be joyful and beautiful, it's supposed to be something sinful, to be resisted before marriage and endured after it. Meanwhile, the person she really is inside it all doesn't feel that way at all.

At the time she meets Joe, Charlotte has just been disappointed because she'd been anticipating her life with Kurt as a married couple. She hadn't just been eagerly anticipating the companionship, but a life in which, at long last, she would be able to unleash her desires. And then Kurt makes it very clear that he's not all that interested in sex, so the inescapable conclusion to her is that she'll spend the rest of her life sexually unsatisfied.

And here's where her upbringing comes in: instead of having a hard thought about whether she really should be marrying Kurt when they're obviously so unsuited in this arena, Charlotte simply accepts it, because she feels she's the one in the wrong, the one who's wanting things that she shouldn't want. And so, she takes that opportunity with Joe to, at least once in her lifetime, do what she wants to do.

I thought the description of what her marriage was like was excellently done. Donovan doesn't take the easy way out by demonizing Kurt. He's not a bad guy at all, he's a loving husband and father and Charlotte does love him, too. It's just that his sex drive is way lower than Charlotte's, and their inhibitions don't allow them to solve this problem: Charlotte's inhibitions because they don't allow her to really spell out what she's feeling and give Kurt an ultimatum (let's go to a therapist or else) and Kurt's inhibitions because his embarrassment doesn't allow him to understand what's behind Charlotte's occasional requests for stuff he thinks is perverted, behind her masturbating, behind her (terrible) erotic poetry and even behind her addiction to that disgusting-sounding squirt cheese thing.

I just read what I've been writing, and it's all Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte. Which is about right, because while I very much enjoyed Joe, it's Charlotte's character that shines in this book. It's more her story than anything else. But a few words about Joe: I just loved the way he'd been so stuck on his memories of Charlotte for all those years. It's the ultimate fantasy, that this quick one-night (or rather, one-afternoon) stand will so haunt the guy that he won't just forget it, but obsess about it for years and years. Both that, and the way he immediately know that what he really wants is to be part of Charlotte's life forever (if only he could be sure his presence won't endanger her and her kids), was very satisfying.

And when they finally get together, oh, wow! It's a steamy read, but Donovan also managed to show how these two people connected and fell in love, as well as in lust.

I also loved the cast of secondary characters. Matt and Hank, Charlotte's children, were well-drawn and likeable, and so were her neighbours, Bonnie and Ned. But the best was LoriSue, a character who I worried at first would be the very stereotypical evil, trashy, career-woman other woman. I loved what Donovan did with LoriSue, the way she drew her very sympathetically and gave her a very happy ending.

The suspense subplot was just fine. I don't tend to be a fan of on-the-run-from-organized-crime plots, but I liked how Donovan handled this. I'm not sure exactly how the bad guys did find Joe in the end (it felt like a bit too much of a coincidence, though just as much of a coincidence as Joe ending up living next door to Charlotte, actually), but other than that, it was all great. I especially enjoyed how there were absolutely no TSTL moments in this and how the issue of the danger to Joe's life was resolved.

Can't wait to read Donovan's last book. It's on its way here as I write this, ETA: mid November!


Child's Play, by Bethany Campbell

>> Friday, September 16, 2005

Child's Play, is an old Harlequin Intrigue by Bethany Campbell, an author I've been hearing a lot about.

The residents of Black Bear Lake thought that evil could never touch such an idyllic spot. But they were wrong.

Thornton Fuller, a young man with the mind of a child, was paralyzed with fear when he told the secret of Black Bear Lake to the children of Rachel Dale and Jay Malone.

Caught in the throes of summer passion, Rachel and Jay savored the serenity of the lake. But soon, Black Bear Lake was antyhing but tranquil. Suddenly good was battling evil...and the children's lives were at stake
This is a book with a suspense subplot that is much, much stronger than the romance. Definitely not what I usually go for, but I enjoyed Child's Play. A B-.

The mystery presented here is truly intriguing, and terribly chilling, too. From the beginning, we more or less know what happened, thanks both to a prologue that says just enough and to certain cryptic passages by the murderer, passages from his or her confession. This makes seeing Rachel and Jay floundering and often doing exactly the wrong thing (always with the best of intention), suspenseful and scary.

And the way they become convinced, little by little, as clues start emerging, that maybe Thornton was telling the truth when he said he'd seen a dead body, was pretty well done. Maybe Rachel clung to the idea that it was all false for a little too long, but this basically made sense with the type of extremely rational woman she was.

I think what made the suspense even scarier was the way Campbell creates an almost gothicky, sombre atmosphere, from the actual setting, to the cast of secondary characters, even down to the songs Rachel's daughter Mercer sings. Children's songs are often very macabre, but Mercer is fond of the most macabre of them all! I loved this!

The mystery aspect wasn't perfect, though. For starters, I didn't really get why they didn't get the hell out of this horrible little town long before things came to a head. And also, while the villain's motivations were very well developed, I wasn't convinced of the reasons why certain people felt they were obliged to cover for this person. Still, the plot of the book was pretty good.

What didn't work very well for me was the actual romance. The protagonists themselves were well-drawn: brainy, rational psychologist Rachel, with her doubts about whether what she plans to do both with her personal and her professional life is really what she wants, and hot-headed, grief-stricken Jay, still mourning his late wife and worrying about the fact that he can't seem to connect with his son.

I enjoyed both, but when they came together, the whole irresistible passion thing Campbell tries to do between them... well, it just didn't ring true. Especially on Jay's part. The transition from a guy still in love with his dead wife and almost clinically depressed about it, to passionate new lover of another woman, to me, wasn't smoothly done. It was much too abrupt, and I never did believe in it.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is one book that would have been stronger without a romance!


On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony

>> Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Jay's comments after my post on The Fairy Godmother mentioned a series that was so intriguing that I just HAD to go get it. I mean...

in the first book, On a Pale Horse, this guy Zane is thinking about killing himself, gets a gun and just as he's about to shoot himself, he sees this guy walk in the door. he's like wtf? and shoots the guy dead instead. turns out the guy that walked in was Death aka the grim reaper. see Death knew that Zane was going to kill himself, miscalculated, and showed up a little too early. But since Zane killed Death, now he has to take over his position. intrigued yet?

in case you were wondering the other incarnations are as follows: Father Time (Bearing an Hourglass), Fate (With a Tangled Skein), War (Wielding a Red Sword), Nature (Being a Green Mother), Satan (For Love of Evil), and God (And Eternity). yep the last two books are about the people that take over the jobs of Satan and God.
How could I resist?

The series is the Incarnations of Immortality, by Piers Anthony, and, as Jay says, it starts with On a Pale Horse.

When Zane shot Death, he learned, too late, that he would have to assume his place, speeding over the world riding his pale horse, and ending the lives of others. Sooner than he would have thought possible, Zane found himself being drawn to Satan's plot. Already the Prince of Evil was forging a trap in which Zane must act to destroy Luna, the woman he loved...unless he could discover the only way out....
Ok, as I said in my post about The Fairy Godmother, I'm very much a newbie to fantasy, so I guess I'm easily wowed. But... wow!! I just cannot believe the imagination this guy has.

Anthony builds a fascinating, complicated world, and he plays with such absolutely huge stuff that I kept thinking "surely he wouldn't dare to touch this?". But he does, and pulls it off with style. God, the Devil, I'm talking as big as that.

I think my favourite thing about the whole book was seeing Zane's day to day work as Death and the implications of it. I loved seeing him figure out how to do things and what is expected of him. I especially enjoyed seeing him grappling with the conflict between what he's supposed to do and what he thinks he should do.

Slighly less wonderful was the romantic element. Well, I'm a newbie only in the fantasy area, in the romance area, I usually read from the pros, so it makes sense. But still, that's just minor stuff, and this was a B+ for me. I've already found myself a copy of Bearing an Hourglass...


Homeport, by Nora Roberts

>> Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Still rereading my forgotten Nora Roberts books, and while waiting for River's End, I read Homeport.

From Booklist:

Dr. Miranda Jones, an art authenticator specializing in bronzes, is summoned by her mother to Italy to verify a bronze called The Dark Lady after a courtesan of the de Medici court. A leak to the Italian press is immediately blamed on Miranda, and under threat of dismissal from the family's entire operation, she returns home to Maine seething at the injustice.

The international media call her findings fraudulent, and so does Ryan Boldari, a handsome art thief who stole a bronze from Miranda's museum only to discover that it was a fake. His confrontation with Miranda sets them on the trail of a shadowy figure determined to hide The Dark Lady and destroy Miranda's reputation at all costs. Sparks fly personally and professionally between Ryan and Miranda as they close in on the killer stalking her--a killer who is either a close friend, coworker, or member of her family.
Call me rigid, judmental and unsophisticated, but stealing is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, unless it's a matter of taking back something that belongs to you or the Les Misérables thing of stealing a hunk of bread so you don't starve. And no, that the original owner is insured doesn't make it right. So for the first time, I found myself literally tossing a Nora Roberts against the wall.

Ryan just wasn't someone I could root for. All the book, but most especially during the first half, I was wishing he'd get caught and sent to jail for years and years. I hated his complete amorality and the way he and his family preached at Miranda about it. His idiot mother even tells Miranda, all holier-than-thou, that "when God gives you a gift, it's a sin not to use it". Yes, really, and yes, she does mean that, as Miranda puts it, "God gave Ryan a talent, and that it would be a sin for him not to break into buildings and steal". Bullshit. I'm an agnostic, and still that self-serving rationalization offends even me.

I guess Ryan's supposed to be charming in a devil-may-care kind of way, but not to me. It must have been his condescending amusement at Miranda's oh-so-naive problems with his being a thief. Once he toned down that aspect a bit, in the second half of the book, I didn't despise him quite as much, but he never really did appeal to me.

I spent the entire book having my blood pressure raised. It took me some two weeks to read, just because I'd get so pissed off I had to stop reading it and turn to another book for a while. I only kept reading because I wanted to see Miranda slap her bitch of a mother when what had happened became clear. And even that was all for nothing, because when we got to that scene, it wasn't satisfying at all.

As for the plot, there was some interesting stuff about the world of art galleries and institutes, but not enough to make this worth it. The identity of the villain was tremendously obvious from the start, and the motivation sucked.

I never thought I'd see the day when I gave a Nora Roberts book a D+.


The One That Got Away, an anthology

New month, new Author of the Month in my Historical Romance Chat group. It was my turn to choose in September, and my pick was Liz Carlyle. Since the only thing by her that I haven't read yet is two short stories in the The One That Got Away and Tea For Two anthologies, I chose one of them for myself: the first one.

The first story was The Trouble With Charlotte, by Victoria Alexander, an author I haven't liked much before. It started well enough, with widowed Charlotte Robb about to start her first affair after some 6 years of widowhood. She's managed to acquire a certain reputation during those years, but being a good romance heroine, this is just a fake one (first sign things weren't going to end well).

She already has a candidate for a lover, a lover who is fond of her and is already thinking vaguely of marriage, when her supposedly dead husband shows up. The second sign things weren't going well was when that husband, Hugh, admits he's been sleeping with other women in those 6 years, even in the years when he'd recovered from his amnesia (didn't you guess he'd had amnesia?) and knew full well he had a wife.

This info, coupled with the knowledge that Charlotte had been celibate even if she had thought herself a widow all those years, was almost enough to make me stop reading. I'm sick of this double standard in romance. I've read way too many books with this plot, and it bothers me. Still, I decided to keep on reading, because Hugh had decided never to go back, apparently, and let Charlotte start a new life, when he started cheating on her while away.

But then, not 10 pages after that, when they're talking about the discussion that ended with Hugh leaving Charlotte and going off to war, he admits that while he wasn't doing what Charlotte had accused him off, which was bedding a certain woman, he had been planning to.

So that was it, I was out of there. I refuse to finish this one. Cheating bastards are a huge hot button for me. I can read anything, if it's handled by a good enough author, but a plot like this one.... that's my one exception.

But after that, the best story in the bunch, amply fulfilling my expectations: Much Ado About Twelfth Night, by Liz Carlyle. It's a story based on a series of misunderstandings, but it worked for me.

Edward, the new Marquess of Rythorpe, has loved Sophie St. John forever (so forever that I prefered not to dwell on the fact that, if my quick calculations are right, he must have been after her since she was about 13). He proposed as soon as she was old enough for it, but made a mess of it out of stammering and hemming and hawing his proposal.

Sophie thought he was only proposing out of duty, because he felt sorry for her, so she said no. Meanwhile, Edward felt he'd made his love for her clear and was very hurt by what he saw as her cold refusal.

Eight years later, Edward is back from the war, now titled, and trying to recoup his family's diminished fortunes. And then he receives notice that Sophie's coming to his grandmother's birthday party, and his grandmother tells him Sophie's planning to make him a Pretty Offer he would do well to consider. That offer is actually that Sophie wants to buy one of his racehorses, but can't you guess what Edward assumes?

And on that second misunderstanding, off they go. And it's actually a lot of fun. I loved how Edward is still crazy about Sophie and keeps getting more and more convinced of the fact that maybe he should think of accepting her offer. The romance is sweet and tender, and the misunderstandings were understandable enough (hah-hah) and made sense. A B+.

Eloisa James' A Fool Once More comes after that, and it was all right.

At 17, Genevieve eloped with wild Tobias Darby after only 3 hours of meeting him. Her father caught them before they got to Gretna Green (but not before she was deflowered twice, as Genevieve puts it), and married her off to an old, rich guy. Tobias, meanwhile, left for India where he made his fortune.

Fast-forward seven years, and Genevieve is widowed and infatuated with her late husband's business partner, who seems amenable to a match between them. And then Tobias comes back, determined to finally marry her.

This story was pretty enjoyable. I always like James' writing, and her characters were fun, if a bit silly. A B-.

Nightingale, by Cathie Maxwell, closes the anthology. And, oh, no, not a martyr heroine! Anything but a martyr heroine, please!!!

You know the drill if you've ever read one of these books. Dane and Jemma were engaged when they were very young (the magic age seems to be 17 in this book), but Jemma was pressured by her horrid family to marry an old, rich guy. Now she's widowed, but her husband was stupid with finances, so her family's still in trouble.

When her brother drunkenly goads Dane and challenges him to a duel, martyr Jemma goes to him in the middle of the night (of course), to ask him to spare her brother (of course). When he seems not to be too enthusiastic to do that, she offers to sleep with him (of course). Trite's the word for this story. A C-.

So, one story I very much enjoyed, on that was just ok, one that was pretty bad, and one that was so bad I could not even finish... *working*working*working* maybe a C+?


Other Worlds, by Barbara Michaels

>> Friday, September 09, 2005

Barbara Michaels's Other Worlds was a HUGE disappointment when I read it right after it came out. It was her first Barbara Michaels book since The Dancing Floor, so I had been eagerly awaiting it, and when it arrived it just didn't read like a B. Michaels!

I've never known if it was really a bad book or if it was just an expectations problem, so I decided to give it a reread with an open mind, ignoring the fact that it pisses me off that the author is writing only Amelia Peabody books now, as much as I like those.

One foggy evening, the most famous crime specialists in the world meet in an exclusive club, their minds on mystery. On the agenda, two tantalizing, unsolved cases of ghostly terror.

New York Times bestselling author and unsurpassed mater of suspense Barbara Michaels delivers a fireside page-turner in the grand tradition with her latest book, Other Worlds.

The smoky room glows with a mix of cigars, brandy, and genius. Those present include Harry Houdini, king of illusion; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, father of the modern detective novel; Dr. Nandor Fodor, a psychoanalyst of international acclaim; and an elegant writer who can rival them all with her sleuthing talent.

These maters of mystery put their minds to a pair of gripping storiesof families beset by poltergeistly pranks and bewitched by inexplicable horrors. Gripping puzzles, yes, but the terror is all too vicious and all too real.

In the hallows of Tennessee, a family is threatened by a dire spirit whose predictions of despair and death come frighteningly true.

In a small Connecticut town, a newly married widow and her children move into her second husband's home to find their lives possessed by an unimaginable demon.

For the gathering at the club, a brilliant battle of wits is at hand. Were these villains phantoms from beyond or evildoers of flesh and blood? Each expert has a theory. Which of them is correct?
Ok, I realize that most of my hate for Other Worlds came from dashed hopes, but it truly isn't a very good book. A C+ for me.

The book has an interesting and promising premise. In a "gentleman's club" ambience, and out of time and space, experts on the supernatural gather to discuss unsolved cases. They take turns presenting the facts, and after each narration, each shares his conclusions.

We have two such cases presented in the book. The first one, the case of the Bell Witch, presented by Houdini, was pretty good. It had some chilling moments (though not as many as I want in a ghost story), I liked the narrator's little asides, and the conclusions presented were fascinating.

The second case, however, I didn't like at all.

First of all, it's presented as a fictionalized account, narrated in first person by the "newly married widow" mentioned in the blurb I quote above. And this woman... ahhh, I detested her. I guess it shows the skill of the writer that she managed to make me feel that way, but I didn't enjoy reading it. The little barbs she throws at her daughter while favouring her son, her decision to marry such a man as Mr. Phelps, a man who condescendingly treats her like a child ("don't worry your little head about such subjects" -that's the kind of man he was), her catty remarks about other women.. and so many more things. Ugh, couldn't stand her, even though I suppose she was just a woman of her time.

The case itself had no chills whatsoever and no interesting features to distinguish it from countless other garden-variety poltergeists. And I thought the conclusions lacking and mixed up. In fact, the only redeeming feature I found in this second half of the book was the character of the writer who presents this account of the case. Other than that, it's a complete loss.

I'd give the first story a B-ish grade, but this last one, probably a D or thereabouts.


Colour Scheme, by Ngaio Marsh

>> Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Next in my pile of Ngaio Marsh books (ordered by date published, because I'm anal that way), was Colour Scheme. Actually, I remember there being another one before it, but I couldn't find it and I needed to start a mystery NOW, so I'll just go back to that one later.

England is at war, and this means "spy fever" for a quarrelsome collection of patriots at a shabby New Zealand resort. Inspector Roderick Alleyn joins them incognito when their amateurish sleuthing results in a macabre murder that shocks even Scotland Yard!
It had some fascinating stuff and I liked many aspects of it, but this was my least favourite of the Marsh books I've read so far -even if it's supposed to be the one Marsh herself considered her best. A B-.

I think the reason might be that Marsh is especially merciless with her characters here. That was something I noticed about her characterization from the very first of her books that I read. In Overture to Death, I was a bit taken aback by the utter viciousness with which some of the characters were portrayed.

It's not so bad here, and each and every one of the characters (except maybe Dikon Bell) is unpleasant or stupid in a different way. This made it interesting to read, but after a while it got to be overwhelming, and not so much fun to read.

Another slightly disappointing aspect was the spy plot. I'm never too fond of those, but luckily things played out as a cozy mystery here, which was good. Thing is, strangely enough, even though as a spy story Colour Scheme deals directly with the war, those events felt much more distant than they did in Death and the Dancing Footman, for instance.

The final explanation didn't really make all that much sense when it came to the culprit's motivation. The deductions which led to Mr. Septimus Falls discovering whodunnit were great, very ingenious, and they explained several details I hadn't even realized might be important, but the murderer's motivations lacked some development.

And speaking of Septimus Falls, well, someone should have warned the person who wrote the blurb for the back cover that he's supposed to be a mystery man. That's all I need to say, I suppose!

Edited to say: Hah! I was so busy writing my problems with the book that when I saw the time and realized I was running late, I forgot I hadn't mentioned what I'd really, really liked about the book. So, quickly: first, the setting. The spa and its grounds, with all those mud baths, was fascinatingly eerie. I especially liked the way it was described as resembling a moon landscape, I had the perfect image of it in my mind after that.

And also, the romance. It seems there always is one of those in Marsh's books, and I liked this one because neither Dikon nor Barbara are perfectly beautiful dolls. Barbara, especially, doesn't seem like a likely candidate at first glace, with all those mannerisms and affectations, and I loved how Dikon slowly starts seeing beneath them.


Origin in Death, by J.D. Robb (In Death # 22)

>> Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Origin in Death is the latest in J.D. Robb's In Death series. Not counting the short stories, this is book # 22.

Set in 2059 in New York City, the number-one bestselling In Death series has given fans a searing glimpse into near-future law and order. Now, as scientists work to expand the limits of technology, Detective Eve Dallas tracks the cunning, cold-blooded killer of a father and son.

A pioneer of modern reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, Dr. Wilfred B. Icove, is found dead in his office-murdered in a chillingly efficient manner: one swift stab to the heart. Struck by the immaculate condition of the crime scene, Dallas suspects a professional killing. Security disks show a stunningly beautiful woman calmly entering and leaving the building-the good doctor's final appointment.

Known as "Dr. Perfect," the saintly Icove devoted his life to his family and his work. His record is clean. Too clean for Dallas. She knows he was hiding something and suspects that his son-and successor-knows what it is. Then, like father, like son, the young Dr. Icove is killed . . . with the same deadly precision.

But who is the mystery woman-and what was her relationship with the good doctors? While her husband, Roarke, works behind the scenes, Dallas follows her darkest instincts into the Icoves' pasts. What she discovers are men driven to create perfection-playing fast and loose with the laws of nature, the limits of science, and the morals of humanity.
After 22 books, this series still feels fresh. This wasn't among my favourite books in it, but it's a good entry in the series. A B.

I read the In Death books for the character development, mostly, and though I get the feeling there wasn't as much of it here as in the books I've loved the most, what was there was wonderful. I especially loved seeing Roarke nervous about something as natural and easy for most people as a family reunion.

As for the other "half" of the book, the one that dealt with Eve's case du jour, that was more than interesting and compelling enough. Eve's investigation of the death of the reconstructive surgeons, the Drs. Icove, was eerie and horrific and, at the same time, scarily plausible.

That said, I did have a couple of problems with it. For starters, the realization of what exactly was going on felt slightly too easy and immediate on Eve's part. This was so tremendously big, that I didn't really buy that her mind would immediately jump to the conclusion it did.

And then there's the book's climactic scenes, which didn't really have the feel of an In Death book. This might be an unfair criticism, of course, since I'm injecting my expectations in my evaluation, but while I was reading those scenes, I had to remind myself these were Eve and Roarke running around!


Now and Always, by Caridad Scordato

>> Monday, September 05, 2005

Caridad Piñeiro, author of my favourite series book from 2004, Darkness Calls, has also written some Encanto books as Caridad Scordato. I was interested to see that the one I read, Now and Always, was published together with its Spanish translation, in a 2-in-1 volume.

Meet Connie González. She's saucy, single and one of the best FBI agents this side of South Beach. Not bad for a scrappy marielita! All that's missing from Connie's life is a man -someone unlike Victor Cienfuegos. The dashing Cuban-American M.D. is too rich... too handsome... too macho. But wouldn't you just know it? Conie loses her restless heart to him anyway. And the passion's mutual!
This very bland title, which I kept forgetting as I was reading the book, hides a tender, colourful story. A B.

I complained in one of my first columns at RTB about romances with latino characters or settings. Authors too often get things horrifically wrong. Based on what I read in Darkness Calls and on the fact that Scordato is latina herself, I suspected she'd probably do better, and I'm glad to report I was right.

Certain things that usually bother me about the latino thing were just fine. Characters who mix Spanish (or whatever language) into their English irritate me, because it's usually done without rhyme or reason. If they're talking to people who don't understand the foreign language, it would make sense for them to use it only when there's no acceptable English for it, or they don't know it. But no, too many characters tend to use it for stuff that's just weird, solely a way for the author to show us they're foreign.

Now, Connie and Víctor, they switch back and forth from Spanish to English, often in the same sentence. And I was fine with it. Why? Because it felt true. They're both completely bilingual, so they understand each other perfectly, whatever the language. I speak that way with my sister, myself, especially if I'm relaxed and feeling lazy. I just use the first words or expressions that come to mind, whether they're English or Spanish. Víctor and Connie do use more Spanish in their English than Luli and I use English in our Spanish, but they are more bilingual in their lives than we are here in a Spanish-speaking country, in a Spanish-speaking family.

The Spanish itself was fine. There are a few mistakes, but nothing too bad, just run of the mill stuff that I see all the time. Stuff like using "porque?" instead of "por qué?" when they mean "why?", not "because?", or not putting the accent on "mí" when it's used as what would be "me" in English, not the possessive "my". On the whole, pretty good. I only noticed because I'm really anal about stuff like that.

I really enjoyed Scordato's depiction of what it's like to be Latino in Miami. Of course, a Cuban-American living in Miami has as much in common with me, a granddaughter of Italian and Spanish immigrants living in Uruguay, as an American Anglo does, so I'm obviously no expert. However, whereas other Latinos I've read didn't feel authentic, Scordato's rang true. And it was all fascinating, stuff like the tension between the immigrants from the first wave that left Cuba and the newcomers.

And then there were things like the fact that her Cuban-American hero isn't a stereotypical arrogant Macho Latino pig. On the contrary, Víctor's a sensitive, nice guy, who's led a very sedate life, sex-wise. Connie calls him "too macho, too sexy, too rich", but I didn't really think she had much to worry about in the macho department, and he was very down-to-earth for the money he had. I truly liked the guy, and found him interesting, too.

Connie I enjoyed, too. She's a character with a lot of contrasts, contrasts which work together anyway. She's truly kick-ass in her work (and really good at it, too), but she's a bit old-fashioned about sex and relationships and admits it. At the same time, when she does decide to start something with Victor, she does the sensible thing and takes responsibility, buying condoms herself and standing up for herself when she doesn't like the direction things are going.

I very much enjoyed how their relationship progressed. Connie and Victor are attracted right from the beginning, and after a few initial "should I or shouldn't I" doubts on Connie's part, their romance develops pretty normally. Connie has some reservations about getting involved with someone as aristocratic and rich as Victor, feeling a bit self-conscious about being a "marielita", but she gets over that fast. The main conflict between them was near the end, about each supporting the other in their careers. That was interesting, but it got started and was over pretty quickly. I would have appreciated a bit more of that.

Oh, I was forgetting: something I found particularly interesting was the way Connie's career was dealt with. Unlike so many books where the heroine is an FBI agent, there was no question of Victor being involved in any of the cases Connie works in during the story, even the serial killer one that's the main job she has. He doesn't know any of the victims, he's not a suspect and he doesn't become an amateur detective. He basically supports and misses Connie while she's undercover, and that is it.

As for the format, the 2-in-1 thing I mentioned, that was bit of a distraction at first. I kept checking back and forth, wanting to see how things had been translated. I must say, it was a pretty bad translation, I'm afraid. It seemed to me that the translator had trouble getting across concepts that took one word in English, and opted to explain the whole idea with words and words and more words. To be fair, there are words and expressions in any language that don't have an exact translation in another, but this was ridiculous. And it explained, BTW, why the Spanish version was so much longer than the English, something that had intrigued me a priori. But on the whole, I think it's a wonderful idea. I'll even be able to lend it to my grandma!


The Challoner Bride, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Friday, September 02, 2005

I loved Jayne Ann Krentz's Wizard, so I took it as a good sign that The Challoner Bride was published with it in a 2-in-1 volume titled Worth The Risk.


A man with a past. But Flynn Challoner had big plans for the future. Hard-driving and iron-willed, he meant to find a dynasty...and for that he needed a woman.

Angie Morgan had every reason to doubt Flynn. He had deceived her, seduced her; now he wanted to lure her into a marriage she had sworn never to accept. She was no man's brood mare, and she had told him she would marry for nothing less than love. So why was it that she found herself longing for the wedding night that would make her a Challoner bride?
I didn't like it as much as Wizard, but it was a nice read. I'd rate it a B-.

The Challoner Bride had a conflict that shows up every now and then in Krentz's old categories: the hero is determined to marry the heroine for certain business of dynastic reasons, and the heroine refuses to marry for anything other than love.

In TCB, the conflict echoes an old family legend both of the Challoners and the Torreses (Angie's family), which had a young bride being practically sold into marriage, to cement a truce between the families. Angie feels that she's almost channeling that long-ago bride, Maria Isabel, and the parallels between their situations are striking.

The situation in the present is set up in such a way that it doesn't feel anachronistic. A plot that is too close to the legend would be hard to believe in a contemporary setting, but this one's close enough that the reader can see the similarities, but modern enough to be believable.

What Angie sees is that Flynn is driven to create some kind of new dynasty, to remake his family's fortunes, which have deteriorated in the last century or so. He gets much of his inspiration from the past, so his wanting Angie, as a kind of symbol makes sense to her. As for Angie, what pressures her here isn't the family obligation that drove Maria Isabel, but her own fascination with Flynn.

And the reason it all works, is that from the beginning, the reader can see that Flynn's attraction to Angie is based on so much more than what Angie thinks. He is obviously fascinated by Angie herself, even if it takes him some time to admit it to himself.

The emphasis is on the romance here, which is good, because the suspense subplot is silly and feels tacked-on. But it's mercifully brief and so not that much of a nuisance all that.

A nice, low-key way to spend a couple of hours.


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