To Have and To Hold, by Patricia Gaffney

>> Monday, October 31, 2005

To Have and To Hold, by Patricia Gaffney is not one of my frequent rereads. In fact, even though I loved it when I first read it, I don't think I ever have read it again. It's just not a comfortable book, which is what I tend to look for in a reread.

It probably would have stayed untouched on my shelves if it hadn't been for a truly fascinating discussion in one of the AAR message boards last year. That thread is long gone (it's been that long), but it left TH&TH hovering near the top of Mount TBR, ready for whenever I was in the mood for something heavy.

Sebastian Verlaine, the new Viscount D'Aubrey, was cynical, sophisticated, and too handsome for his own good. He was also bored. Why else would he agree to sit on the bench with two fellow magistrates to judge the petty crimes of his tenants and neighbors? It was all a lark--until a beautiful prisoner came before him, and he realized he held her fate in his hands.

Rachel Wade knew everything about helplessness and sexual degradation. Her husband's violent death had freed her from that nightmare, but ten years in prison for his murder was only another kind of torture. Now a jaded viscount was offering her freedom--but at a price. "Housekeeper," he termed her new position at Lynton Hall. "Lord D'Aubrey's whore," the scandalized villagers called it.

A ruthless, unkind bargain. But neither of them guessed how the tables could be turned. How a game that began in base desire could lead to a breathtaking gamble in love.
Well, it was just a difficult a read as I knew it was going to be. It was also an outstanding, beautiful one. An A+.

Even knowing what was going to happen at every point and that everything was going to turn out well, I think I was just as shocked while reading the story as I was the very first time. The first half, especially, isn't at all pleasant to read. It's powerful, raw and incredibly good, definitely not something nice and sweet. Gaffney pulls no punches with her characters. She makes no excuses for them, simply gets inside their heads so much that you understand exactly why they're doing what they do, even when they don't know themselves.

Rachel's character was amazingly done. I loved how Gaffney shows her journey from someone pretty much dead inside, who just doesn't care, to someone completely alive. She starts out with only some tiny little sparks of life, and these grow very, very gradually.

Seeing this process, actually, is what saves that first part of the book from being too completely grim. You get the feeling that, in a way, Sebastian's actions are having some consequences on Rachel that are positive. Her shell at the beginning is so thick and resistent, that I got the feeling it would take something brutal to break it. And Sebastian provides it.

He's NOT trying to help her, I must stress that. This is what I meant when I wrote that Gaffney doesn't make excuses for her characters.. she doesn't have Sebastian going all "I need to behave this way because it's the only way to reach her", but in the end, his actions do have that effect. And through their effect on Rachel, they start having an effect on Sebastian himself, and providing him with the motivation to change.

One of the most amazing things about this book is how I was able to forgive Sebastian for his truly appalling behaviour, even after really hating him for a long part of the book. I have certain double standards when I read, and one of them is that I find it harder to forgive bad behaviour in men than in women, especially in historical settings. And arrogant, emotionally or physically abusive rapist jerks (like Sebastian, actually), piss me off the most.

So how come I was able to accept Sebastian as the hero and both believe in the happy ending here and root for him to have one? I don't want to repeat myself here, because I actually wrote a column at Romancing the Blog about just this, but basically, it's the oblivious jerks who can't tell right from wrong that I can't stand. Sebastian knows he's behaving very badly, which is why I buy his change of heart. If you read the column, you'll see I actually used Sebastian as an example, which, considering how long it had been since I'd read TH&TH, will give you some idea of just how memorable this book is!

I'm aware of the fact that this book isn't for everyone, but the rewards of getting through the difficult parts are great enough that I'd still recommend it to anyone who loves romance.


New authors tried so far this year

>> Friday, October 28, 2005

And now for an exercise in geekdom... In the past couple of years, I've been making a conscious effort to try new authors. By new, I don't mean necessarily debut authors, simply authors I haven't read before.

Last year, I managed to try a whopping 79 new authors, and while I'm not doing quite that well this year, I just started a book by my 48th new author of the year, a pretty good number anyway.

Some stats:

  • Even if these new authors weren't necessarily debut authors, 9 of them were (that I know of, at least. It could be more).
  • Half the books tried were at least newish (copyright from 2003 onwards). 12% were published in 2005, 24% in 2004 and 14% in 2003.
  • A quarter of the books read were Series Romance titles.

    Next came Contemporaries (including Romantic Suspense) with 18%. If I include Chick Lit in that category, the percentage reaches 24%.

    All the Historical subgenres (including Regency Historicals, Trad Regencies, Victorians, Medievals, Westerns, American Historicals and so on), were 27% of the total.

    And Alternate Reality books (Sci-fi & Fantasy, Fantasy Romance + Futuristic Romance) added up to 14%.

    Straight Fiction and Mystery were 6% each.
  • I tried a full fifth of these authors in July, while only 4% of the books were read in September.
  • But the most important thing: how did I like these new authors? Was it a waste of time or did I find plenty of new backlists to glom?

    I'd say it's been a success. 57% of the books I tried I graded a B- or better. In fact, a quarter were B+ or better! (I include one I'm still reading, The Shadow Side, by Linda Castillo. Can't really grade it without finishing it, but unless it really plummets in the last 100 pages, I'm looking at a B+ here, maybe better if the ending is just brilliant)
Here's a list of the books themselves. I'm feeling to lazy to actually provide links to my comments about each, but you can look them up in my index if you want to know more.

>> I read only 1 book by a new author that was pretty much perfect:

  • The Fairy Godmother - Mercedes Lackey - Fantasy Romance - A - After this one, I've gone on and got quite a few more books by Lackey.
>> Books that were not quite perfect, but were very, very good an enjoyable. As soon as I finished them, I either immediately started looking for these authors' backlists or, if they were debut authors, decided I'll most probably be buying their next releases.

  • Behind Closed Doors - Shannon McKenna - Romantic Suspense - B+

  • About a Boy - Nick Hornby - Fiction - B+

  • I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith - Fiction - B+

  • 32AA - Michelle Cunnah - Chick Lit - B+ - I've also now read Confessions of a Serial Dater and it was just as good.

  • What Do You Say To A Naked Elf? - Cheryl Stirling - Fantasy Romance - B+ - Debut author, I believe.

  • Gabriel's Ghost - Megan Sybil Baker - Futuristic Romance - B+

  • The Veil of Night - Lydia Joyce - European Historical - B+ - Debut author.

  • Day of Fire - Kathleen Nance - Futuristic Romance - B+

  • His Secondhand Wife - Cheryl St. John - Western Romance - B+

  • On a Pale Horse - Piers Anthony - Sci-Fi Fantasy - B+

  • Midnight Angel - Lisa Marie Rice - Contemporary Romance - B+ - I've read the two other titles in the trilogy (Midnight Man and Midnight Run), and while Midnight Angel was the best of them, I liked the others, too.
And probably, as I said:

  • The Shadow Side - Linda Castillo - Romantic Suspense
>> Books that were pretty good... enough to get a B or B-. I liked these authors well enough to keep an eye out for other books by them, and I looked at their backlists to see if there was anything that sounded interesting there.

  • St. Oswald's Niche - Laura Frankos - Mystery - B - I want to read more by this author, but I don't think she every published anything else!

  • A Cold Day for Murder - Dana Stabenow - Mystery - B

  • Tempting Adam - Dorie Graham - Series Romance - B

  • Glory Bound - Billie Green - Series Romance - B

  • The Damsel in This Dress - Marianne Stillings - Contemporary Romance - B

  • Getting What You Want - Kathy Love - Contemporary Romance - B

  • The Man That Got Away - Harper Allen - Series Romance - B - This was her debut, I think. I've already read one more by her, The Night in Question, and it was even better.

  • The Daughters of Freya - Michael Betcherman & David Diamond - Mystery - B

  • To Love and to Cherish - Joan Elliott Pickart - Series Romance - B-

  • Kinsman's Oath - Susan Krinard - Futuristic Romance - B-

  • Starting From Square Two - Caren Lissner - Chick Lit - B-

  • Miranda Blue Calling - Michelle Curry Wright - Chick Lit - B-

  • The Real Deal - Lucy Monroe - Contemporary Romance - B-

  • Still Waters - Deanna Lee - Futuristic Romance - B-

  • The Linnet - Elizabeth English - Medieval Romance - B-

  • Child's Play - Bethany Campbell - Series Romance - B-
>> Starting the not quite successful part of this listing, books that got C grades: either plain average or only slightly better or worse than average. Some of these did have enough sparks of something good that I'd actively look for something else by the authors (not without some feedback, though), but most I don't think I'd be that interested in trying again, not without hearing some loud raves, at any rate:

  • Widow in Scarlet - Nicole Byrd - European Historical - C+

  • The SwanSea Destiny - Fayrene Preston - Historical Romance - C+

  • All I Ever Wanted - Ellen Fisher - Contemporary Romance - C+ - The hero was wonderful enough that I'd try Fisher again.

  • Master of Castle Glen - Ana Seymour - European Historical - C+

  • Zoey Phillips - Judith Bowen - Series Romance - C+

  • The Lady and the Lion - Cynthia Kirk - European Historical - C+ - Some things were so much fun, that I might be willing to try another one.

  • Some Kind of Sexy - Jamie Sobrato - Series Romance - C+ - Ruined by something pretty extraneous to the main relationship. I'd try another by her.

  • ... And a Sixpence for her Shoe (short story in A Wedding Bouquet anthology) - Anne Barbour - Regency Romance - C+

  • Angie and the Ghostbuster - Theresa Gladden - Series Romance - C

  • Silent Confessions - Julie Kenner - Contemporary Romance - C - I hope for better results with The Givenchy Code, which I've already bought. And I think I have something else by her... something with a superhero or heroine.

  • Waking the Princess - Susan King - European Historical - C - Might possibly try something else.

  • Crescendo - Adrienne Staff & Sally Goldenbaum - Series Romance - C-

  • Circle of the Lily - Jill Jones - Fiction - C- - It's been two mediocre ones in a row with this author (the other one was written as Emily La Forge), but her books just sound so damned interesting that I've bought a bunch more.

  • The Basque Swallow - Leigh Daniels - Series Romance - C- - Flawed, but there was a good story trying to get out.

  • Something Blue - Patricia Rice - Regency Romance - C-

  • Resurrection (short story in Everlasting Love anthology) - Linda Lael Miller - Western Romance - C-
>> And now for the painful part: these were definitely NOT successes. Bad, bad, bad, and I don't think I'll be reading anything else by these authors any time soon, but since you never can tell with short stories, I might just make an exception for Neggers and Oliver, if I get very good recs:

  • This is All I Ask - Lynn Kurland - Medieval Romance - D+

  • Tricks of Fate (short story in Everlasting Love anthology) - Carla Neggers - Contemporary Romance - D

  • Something Old (short story in A Wedding Bouquet anthology) - Patricia Oliver - Regency Romance - D-
And that would be it. Took a bit longer to write than I thought it would! So, which great new authors have you discovered this year?


Some Kind of Sexy, by Jamie Sobrato

>> Thursday, October 27, 2005

I've been feeling a bit under the weather lately (I was running a high fever yesterday, but I'm ok now, I just can't talk at all because my throat hurts), so if you don't mind, I'll keep my comments about Some Kind of Sexy (excerpt), by Jamie Sobrato pretty short and to the point.

Unlike her friends, party planner Juliet Emory will do almost anything to escape the fate of “I do.” There’s just too much fun to be had to tie herself to one man. Hottie Cole Matheson is case in point. Sure, he’s a little straight-laced for her taste, but his steamy kisses reveal a depth of passion beneath that good-guy exterior. A sexy fling is exactly what this party girl needs!

Cole doesn’t do casual flings…until he meets Juliet, that is. She is so tempting he can’t resist her. With the scorching heat between them, he agrees to a quick affair—or anything else!—to keep Juliet in his bed. But all too soon, his feelings are no longer casual. Can he hold out against her sensual tricks and convince her that the best kind of sexy comes after the commitment?
Mostly, this was quite nice. Problem is, there was something right there at the end that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and that made the difference between the B- I was planning on and the C+ I'm rating it.

Keeping it short:


- Cole really was a nice guy and I liked him. I loved how he fought to keep seeing Juliet even against her best intentions, just because he could see she was someone worth getting to know better. I'll even excuse his lame invented psychological theory, just because he was aware of its lameness himself, but just couldn't think of anything else.

- I liked that bad girl Juliet wasn't really a virgin in disguise, but a woman who'd been round the block a couple of times. However, there'll be more about this in the negatives, I'm afraid.

- Chemistry: oh, wow. That was lovely, and the ambience helped.


- Here's the more about Juliet's sex life: her whole rationalization about why she just had to remain free and unshackled from any man was silly. This wasn't something she'd decided on because it was the best way for her, it was more a kind of stupid imitation that made no sense.

- Even more: she was awfully self-consciously "bad", with those rules and the whole "League of Scandalous Women" nonsense.

- And the worst, which is what I mentioned left a bad taste: the whole resolution of the main conflict is based on Juliet discovering that her aunt hadn't been happy being single after all. Oh, no, she'd just projected that image, but behind it, she was bitter and sad. Ok, this is a romance novel, so of course the heroine is going to realize she actually wants to spend the rest of her life with the hero, but the message here was basically that a woman can't be happy alone and that if she doesn't find a man (any man, apparently), she deserves to be the object of pity. And this bothered me.

Without that final revelation about aunt Ophelia, I'd have been so much happier with this one!


The Fire Within, by Kathryn Shay

>> Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Fire Within is the 4th book in Kathryn Shay's America's Bravest series, all about the firefighters of Rockford, a small town in upstate NY. I've read the first 3 and 1 and 3 were pretty good, while the second was so good it made me (me!) cry.

Dr. Reed MacCauley has spent years helping firefighters deal with their problems and the stress of their jobs. But Reed--a former firefighter himself--questions his own courage. Dr. Delany Shaw is the woman who loves him, and she's trained to chase demons--even from strong, brave, stubborn men like Reed.
This one, I'm afraid, was quite a disappointment. A C+.

I think this was a case of an author falling in love with her research a bit too much, so much she cared more about sharing it with her readers than about telling the story she was supposed to tell.

It was fascinating material and I was interested in it, but rather than a romance novel, the book read like a thinly disguised public service announcement, complete with fakey conversations in which characters asked each other stuff, not because they wanted to know, but because the author wanted the reader to know but didn't know how to do it otherwise.

In fact, every single interaction felt like that, calculated not to advance the story or develop the characters, but to illustrate the psychological repercussions of a firefighter's work on themselves and their families, and the story got completely lost because of this.

This meant, of course, that the characters (both the protagonists and the secondaries, like Sam and his family) didn't feel particularly real, either. They seemed more like case studies than anything else, and their actions felt like they'd been lifted straight from a psychology textbook, maybe even one of the books Reed had on his shelves... "PTSD and the Rescue Worker", for instance. That made it hard to work up any emotion about them.

Shay has shown a tendency to do this before, to let her story be overwhelmed by the "issues" she chooses to write about (I remember her being perilously close in Promises to Keep), but unfortunately, she went overboard in TFW.


The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody #2)

>> Monday, October 24, 2005

I started to reread the early books in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series last year, but, like many of my rereading projects, it didn't really go anywhere. I read the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank and loved it all over again, but I only got around to starting the second one, The Curse of the Pharaohs, a couple of weeks ago.

The joys of home and hearth are about to drive Victorian gentlewoman Amelia Peabody Emerson mad. While she and her husband, the renowned archeologist Radcliffe Emerson, dutifully go about raising their young son Ramses, she dreams only of the dust and detritus of ancient civilizations. Providentially, a damsel in distress -- coupled with a promising archeological site -- demands their immediate presence in Egypt.
The damsel is Lady Baskerville, and the site is a tomb in Luxor recently discovered by Sir Henry Baskerville -- who promptly died under bizarre circumstances. The tabloids immediately scream "The Curse of the Pharaohs!"

Amelia and Radcliffe arrive to find the camp in disarray, the workers terrified, and a most eccentric group of guests. A ghost even appears.

This is not at all what Amelia considers an atmosphere conducive to scientific discovery. Never one to deny others the benefit of her advice and example, the indomitable Victorian sets about bringing order to chaos and herself that much closer to danger. How Amelia triumphs over the forces of evil -- and those who would stand between her and her beloved antiquities -- makes for a delightfully spirited adventure.
Reading these early books is like coming home again. This is what got me into reading the series. An A.

Don't get me wrong; I did very much enjoy the latest books I read in the series (I'm only up to The Golden One), at least as I was reading them. However, now, from a bit of a distance, what I remember the most is a feeling of soap-operaishness (is that a word?), especially in the internal quartet that develops Ramses and Nefret's romance.

And even the last book, which I thought was somewhat of a throwback to the early books, as it didn't have a WWI setting, the romances were already settled and the plot was mostly archaeological, felt as if it lacked a certain something.

The Curse of the Pharaohs lacks nothing at all. The setting, the cast of characters (oh, how I love Ramses as a child! And the cat Bastet! And Cyrus Vandergelt!), the plot, and, most of all, Amelia herself.

Amelia is one of the best written narrators I've ever read. She's funny and flawed and human and admirable. Peters very definitely does not fall into the Mary Sue trap, and she's not afraid of poking a bit of fun at Amelia. Even through Amelia's own narration, people's feelings about her are perfectly clear, and they aren't always pretty, even when Amelia thinks they are!

For instance, say a person who Amelia thinks admires her actually is fond of her, but finds her a bit ridiculous sometimes: that is perfectly conveyed. Or say Amelia feels a certain way about someone, but prefers to pretend she doesn't when she writes: that is perfectly conveyed as well.

In fact, Amelia is such a strong narrator that even the stylistic quirks made me think "Oh, that's so like Amelia", as if she'd really had written it. Things like the flowery passages which parody Ryder Haggard's She. When I was reading them, I saw Amelia in my mind writing them and smiling at what she would have though a particularly lyrical turn of phrase. Or when Cyrus spoke in that exaggerated "aw-shucks" Americanized manner, it was obvious to me that this was the way Amelia remembered it when she wrote it.

The plots themselves, both the excavation and the murder mystery, were enormously entertaining. I loved the allusions to Tutankhamon and it was fun thinking "if only they knew how close they are!" And the murder mystery read almost like Agatha Christie (actually, with the expedition house setting and everything, it was faintly reminiscent of Murder in Mesopotamia).

I'm definitely continuing with my rereading, and I swear I won't let so much time pass before my next read. Actually, I've already put The Mummy Case in my purse!


Brazen Virtue, by Nora Roberts

>> Friday, October 21, 2005

Brazen Virtue is one of Nora Roberts' often recommended novels with oxymoronic titles. It's the sequel to Sacred Sins, but it can stand on its own just fine.

Superstar mystery novelist Grace McCabe needs to unwind after a grueling book tour, and visiting her sister, whom she hasn't seen in months, seems the perfect solution. But Grace is surprised to find the fastidious Kathleen living in a grungy Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Kathleen, reeling from a bitter divorce and the loss of her son, is saving every penny of her teacher's salary to hire a hotshot lawyer for a custody battle.

Then Grace discovers that Kathleen is boosting her income with an unlikely profession: as an at-home phone-sex operator. Known as Desiree to the clients of Fantasy, Inc., Kathleen is living life on the edge. Yet how dangerous could it really be? With the ironclad anonymity the agency guarantees its employees, could anyone ever track her down?

Grace finds out one cherry-blossom-scented night when she comes home to find her sister dead, strangled with the cord of her "special" phone. Suddenly Grace's life turns into a scene from one of her own books — the horror, the tight-lipped police, the shattered survivor. Only this time the survivor is Grace herself.

But she isn't waiting around for the police to catch up with the killer. Instead she creates a daring trap to lure the killer to her. Her plan goes against every coolheaded instinct of Detective Ed Jackson, the lead investigator on the case. He's read all of Grace's books and might have been the perfect consultant for the one she's working on, though in this real-life murder, she's the last complication he needs.

He's determined to keep Grace out of harm's way, but it's too late. Her trap has already worked. She has aroused the attention of a brilliant madman, and now nothing may be able to protect her from the murderous lust that drives this killer down a path of ecstasy laced with death.
If I remember correctly, this was one of the very first Nora Roberts books I read, way back when I still had to make do with whatever I could find in the couple of local bookstores which carried books in English. I remember I'd just read Born in Fire (still now my fave Roberts), and I was frantically looking for more.

Brazen Virtue was something completely different, but I enjoyed it quite a bit too, then and now. It does feel a bit short in some parts, though, which is why I'm giving it a B.

I found myself very intrigued by the romance part of the book. Ed is just a lovely guy, someone whose description I didn't find particularly attractive (huge redheaded mountain-man type, with a full, cushiony beard. Grace actually thinks he looks like Paul Bunyan, and that's just not a good image for me). However, his personality was another matter. He's a really sweet man, a nurturing, protective homebody who eats, as his partner Ben puts it, only nuts and berries.

He's also Grace's complete opposite. Mystery author Grace is much flashier, and a bit nuts, too. She's the type of woman who makes friends with everyone and who's most comfortable in a messy, disorganized environment. She is smart and hardworking, but laid back about it, if it makes sense.

The minute Ed sees Grace he falls for her, and he falls like a ton of bricks. He's nothing at all like the woman of his dreams, the one he was imagining as he was building his wonderful dream house, but the minute he meets her, he doesn't care. Actually, the fact that his dream wife is someone who'll be fragile and need taking care of, and will just love to wash and iron his shirts, is the only thing I didn't much like about Ed. But still, I give him points for forgetting all about that and going for Grace instead.

This is a romantic suspense which is actually pretty low on the whodunnit part of the suspense. From the very beginning, you know who the killer is, you know who he's stalking and you know what he's planning to do. The fun is in seeing the cops come nearer and nearer, slowly finding out more details and making more deductions that allow them to know more and have a better chance of catching him. This worked just as well for me as a traditional romantic suspense would have.

Also, given how the first victim was Grace's sister, and how their relatioship was so conflictive, this made it easier for me to accept that she would be so insistent on being involved in the investigation. It also made it all even more personal to them all.

I thought the dénouement was a bit too abrupt, both on the romance and suspense areas. On the suspense especially, though. I really wanted to know what was going to happen with the killer's family, but there's nothing, the book just ends and that's it.

Quite a small problem, comparatively speaking. All in all, a winner.


Confessions of a Serial Dater, by Michelle Cunnah

>> Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I meant to write about Michelle Cunnah's Confessions of a Serial Dater (excerpt) weeks ago, but I completely forgot. I actually especially wanted to write it quickly, because I'd promised Jennifer (who sent me the book) that I'd send her my impressions, but it just slipped through the cracks.

See? That's what happens when I forget to enter a book in my reading spreadsheet.

I love my boyfriend. Probably.
So how can I be so tempted by someone else
at the very first sign of trouble?

After all, it's not that Jonathan's not wonderful. He is. He didn't mean to cripple me by giving me shoes two sizes too small. He didn't think that I would actually wear too-small shoes to a dinner with his very bizarre boss (and I know about bizarre from working with porn stars all day). He certainly couldn't have known I would use said miniature shoes to cripple the lecherous boss to keep him from slipping me the tongue.

But what kind of guy chooses to tend to his disgusting boss's minor heel-inflicted wound instead of siding with his poor abused girlfriend? More important, what kind of girl just ignores the overtures of a gorgeous doctor who shows up and carries her -- actually picks her up and carries her -- away from the grabby boss, the embarrassing scene, and the vise-gripping shoes?

Not this girl. And so I go from man to man, until one day I sit down at my best friend's wedding reception and realize I've been to bed with every last man at my table. How did this happen? I'm beginning to think the worst is true: My name is Rosie, and I'm a serial dater. This is my story ...
Ohhh, I just love Michelle Cunnah's voice! Just like with 32AA, I enjoyed myself so much while reading this book, that I'm giving it a B+, a higher grade than what I'd give it if I had to be really objective.

This is just the type of funny book that I like: one that's written with a light hand, but which doesn't skimp on the emotion and depth, and also one where the "humour" isn't based on making the heroine act like and idiot.

Our heroine, Rosie, is a wonderful character, likeable and interesting, and someone I was happy to root for. She's refreshingly centered and competent, a fixer, more than someone who leaves disaster in her wake, as her interactions with her mother show. And speaking of this, I liked that Cunnah didn't go as far as making her a martyr. Rosie wasn't at all indiferent to her mother's problems (and the woman was a mess), and she helped as much as she could, but ultimately, she concentrated her efforts on helping her mother stand on her own two feet and stop depending on her.

Ahem, can you tell this is an important thing with me? Moving on. The romance here is interestingly more important than the one in 32AA, even though Rosie and Luke probably spend less time together than Emma did with her hero. What happens between them is something that was strikingly different from the usual.

I'll try not to include spoilers, but the whole conflict in Rosie and Luke's relationship is based on a misunderstanding that could be cleared with a 5 minute talk, and Luke knows that very well. Rosie simply refuses to listen. And yet... it makes perfect sense for Rosie to do that. It's the decent thing to do, and in the same situation, I'd probably refuse to even let Luke speak, and just as adamantly.

The "different" comes in what actually causes that misunderstanding. Let's just say that Luke's difficult circumstances are such that you often see as being the premise in many romance novels, not the problem in another relationship.

Something else I liked was the cast of secondary characters. Rosie's friends really are good friends... they're supportive and loyal, and real characters with well-drawn personalities. And the secondary characters who are not her friends were just as interesting. Elaine was a bit over the top, but her antics were just so funny that I didn't care.

This was a very quick, engrossing read. I grabbed it the minute it arrived and finished it pretty much immediately. Thank you Jennifer for sending it! :-)


Everlasting Love, an anthology

>> Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cover of Everlasting Love anthologyEverlasting Love is an anthology which contains five short stories, two of which I was especially interested about: the two by the big name authors: Jayne Ann Krentz and Linda Howard.

I found it especially interesting, when I looked at the cover, that it seems Linda Howard wasn't particularly "big name" back in 1995. It's JAK and Linda Lael Miller who have their names in big font, while the other three authors, including Linda Howard, are given much less importance. How things change in 10 years!

The first story, Connecting Rooms was the JAK I was reading this for. This one's about Amy Comfort, who approaches her newish neighbour in Misplaced Island, PI Owen Sweet, to ask him to investigate the man her rich widow aunt has gotten engaged to.

I wrote in my latest column at RTB that many of the best short stories I've read start in the middle of relationships and keep any extraneous plots slight and unobtrusive. Connecting Rooms does the former, but fails to do the latter.

When the story starts, Amy and Owen have already been checking each other out for a while. Owen has even started to slowly approach her, asking her for coffee and so on. This meant the beginning of a romance didn't feel rushed, as these two were already half-way there.

The problem was with the investigation Amy asks Owen to undertake. It basically takes over the whole story, completely crowding out the development of the romance. There just wasn't enough space in a short story which was under 80 pages to spend so many of them on the very pedestrian investigation of a very pedestrian blackmail plot. A C+.

Resurrection was the next story, written by Linda Lael Miller, an author I've always been aware of but who I'd never tried before.

This one's set in late 19th century Montana. After 7 years without any news from her husband, Emmeline has long assumed he is long dead. So sure is she that she even built a memorial for him at the cemetery. On the day of her wedding to another man, however, Gil returns, back from the dead and with stories of having been shanghaied and spending all those years as a virtual slave on a ship.

The story started out intriguing. Emmeline soon believes Gil's story completely and it's obvious neither of them is at fault for what happened, and yet, it's not so easy. There are plenty of issues to deal with... maybe not completely rational issues, but very real, all the same.

Unfortunately, this is just not dealt with satisfactorily, only with the vaguest allusions, and also, the story soon gets bogged down in looooong descriptions of the preacher's Sunday sermon, a revival meeting, and, worst of all, a totally unnecessary villain whose motivation remains murky at best and completely unbelievable at worst. A C-.

Lake of Dreams, the Linda Howard story, was the best of the lot. I was expecting good things, because a friend had told me this one was wonderful, and I wasn't disappointed.

For the past month, Thea has been having dreams so real that they're almost visions. In them, she sees herself as other women from the past, and a man who's always the same, even though she sees him under different identities.

Her dreams somehow instinctively draw her to the lake house her family always spent their summers in, and the moment she gets there, who should turn up but a man she recognizes as the one from her dreams?

This was a lovely story. There is a romance that feels real in spite of being so fantastic, and I found myself truly intrigued by what exactly might going on. There are no distractions whatsoever here, and this makes for a very intense romance. A B+.

The fourth story is a time-travel by Kasey Michaels, Role of a Lifetime. Michael Casey is a Hollywood superstar on location in an English mansion to film a period movie. When checking out a secret passage in the library, he travels back in time to 1815 and into the skin of the man he was supposed to play in the movie.

Or, at least, I *think* he time-travels into the guy's skin, because I didn't finish this one. The real Lord Ambersley might well show up later on in the story, I don't know. Time-travels usually bore me, and this wasn't an exception. Plus, Casey was so obnoxious in the way he spoke pretty much as modernly as possible to people who very obviously weren't going to understand a word he was saying, that it was an ever greater incentive to skip right to the last story and stop wasting my time.

The last story was Tricks of Fate, by Carla Neggers, another new-to-me author. This one was the one I liked least of all. Very, very blah and positively boring.

The hero (whose name I've forgotten already... see? That's how memorable it was. I think he was Sam) arrives at his late uncle's house. According to the will said uncle left, he needs to stay there for two weeks without any contact with the outside world and no means to leave.

Once there, he meets Cassandra, who's in a very similar situation. Sam's uncle hired her to appraise his wines and she'll earn five bottles of a very rare vintage if she stays there in the same conditions Sam agreed to.

The characters are so flimsy they're barely one-dimensional, the uncle's actions are horribly contrived and there's also some nonsense about a curse that's too silly to be believed. A truly pointless story. A D.

With only one story I'd recommend, this wasn't a very good anthology. I'd give the whole collection a C.


Love Lies, by MaryJanice Davidson

>> Monday, October 17, 2005

Love Lies is one of MaryJanice Davidson's early books, from before she started with her vampires and warewolves and alternate realities. This one's a plain, non-paranormal romance.

Victor Lawrence has everything a man could want...until he runs into Ashley Lorentz and finds out what he REALLY wants. Ashley, for her part, can't believe the wealthy, dashing Victor could possibly be interested in a mutt like her. Their fragile trust is shattered one night when Victor, out of his head, takes Ashley by force. A child is conceived as a result of Victor's actions, leaving Ashley with some decisions to make...
This is a flawed but very interesting book. I liked what she did with her subject matter enough that I'd give this one a B+.

The short summary of the book's plot that I'm about to write might contain a spoiler (not anything the summary I quoted above doesn't contain, really), but I believe that, because of the nature of this spoiler, it's something most readers will prefer to know about before they decide whether they really want to get the book.

The early sections of Love Lies show a very sweet romance, rich lawyer Victor Lawrence meets free-lance journalist Ashley Lorentz when he donates money to the mental hospital where she volunteers, and he's immediately smitten. She resists her advances at first due to very clichéd "you're rich and I'm a nobody" prejudices, but these problems are overcome quickly and, by the time the crisis arrives, they're well on their way to developing a lovely relationship.

And then Victor accidentally gets a hit on the head while working out on his best friend's dojo and Ashley volunteers to stay with him that night and wake him up periodically to see if he's all right. All goes well until one of the times she wakes him, she finds him pretty much out of his head with a concussion.

She doesn't realize this at first, and when he makes advances, she at first agrees. It only becomes clear to Ashley that Victor isn't himself when they're already in bed, and he calls her by his ex-wife's name. At that point, she tries to make him stop but is unable to get through his fever, and what until that point was consensual foreplay, turns into rape.

By the time Victor wakes up the following morning, he remembers nothing about this, all he knows from the note Ashley left him before she disappeared is that he did something to her that she says she will never forget, and that she doesn't want to see him again. And the rest of the book deals with how Victor has to manage to make Ashley regain her trust in him.

What's best about Love Lies, what makes it unique, is how it turns the attitude towards rape by the hero that was prevalent in all those old bodice-rippers on its head.

When it came to the distressingly frequent rapes in those books, the heroine was just fine and dandy, completely non-traumatized, no matter what was done to her sexually, as long as it was the hero doing it. Violent or non-violent, outright rape or forced seduction (if there is such a thing, that is), the following morning she was, at the most, a little bit angry.

Here, however, it's the very act that was problematic. It doesn't matter that Victor really wasn't responsible for his actions that night, or that he would very obviously never act like that again (man, the way he felt when he found out what had happened almost made me cry!). The fact remains that Ashley was raped and that this deeply traumatized her, even if it was the man who she loves and who loves her who did it.

From the very beginning, Ashley pretty much fully forgave Victor for his actions, but she still couldn't bring herself to be with him because she couldn't forget what happened that night, and just couldn't see herself being with him without being reminded of the rape.

And it isn't only that night Ashley needs to get over to be able to trust Victor. There's also, and mainly, in the end, the very extreme actions he felt himself forced to take in order to make sure Ashley didn't run away and refuse to have any interaction whatsoever with him.

As I said, this isn't a perfect book. There was a lot that bothered me... from the heavy demonization of Victor's ex-wife for not wanting chlidren (Ashley, of course, just luuuurves little kids and wants a million babies), to the awkward POV switches and the fact that the author was sometimes as subtle as a sledgehammer when it came to expressing motivation. And there was the fact that Davidson's unique voice sometimes felt a bit out of place, with Ashley still cracking out one-liners when it didn't make sense for her to do so.

But really, the whole angsty situation was so good, that I could gloss over this and enjoy the rest!


One Little Sin, by Liz Carlyle

>> Friday, October 14, 2005

In the last couple of years, Liz Carlyle has become a total autobuy author for me. I don't even check out what her new books are about before I buy them, much less wait for a review to come out.

Her latest, One Little Sin, is the first in her new Sins, Lies and Secrets trilogy, vaguely related to her late 2004 book The Devil To Pay.

Sir Alasdair MacLachlan is a dashing man-about-town, too charming for his own good, and a bit of a notorious bounder. But Sir Alasdair’s cavalier past is about to catch up with him when a beautiful stranger arrives on his doorstep with a basket full of surprises.

Miss Esmée Hamilton is a gentlewoman tossed out of the home and life she knew in Scotland by a vindictive stepfather. With her infant sister Sorcha in tow, Esmée makes her way to London by her wits and her tenacity, and calls on the man she holds responsible for their plight. Sir Alasdair MacLachlan, she is confident, has committed more than a few sins. But Esmée vows that Sorcha is one he won’t walk away from.
As much as it pains me to say it, OLS was a bit of a disappointment, and I didn't like it nearly as much as I've liked the rest of her books. It's not bad, but it would be "only" a B- for me.

I just didn't really feel the romance here, and I didn't find myself too captivated by the protagonists. Esmée was likeable, but her characterization was not particularly deep. I never really got a feel for her, for who she was and what she wanted in life.

Alasdair's characterization was a bit better. The dissipated rake who really should have outgrown his dissipation a good 10 years earlier is not a character type I enjoy, but it's a testament to Carlyle's talent that she was able to mostly like him. Still, I would have liked a bit more reassurance that his whoring days were over and that he wouldn't fall into temptation again.

The romance was best when it really got going, in the second part of the book, when Alisdair has to face losing Esmée. Problem is, I just didn't feel that he was so crazy about her before she left. I didn't get the feeling he'd even felt anything but some basic lust for her before that, so, to me, his love for her once she had left came out of nowhere.

In that second half of the book, then, the romance was much better. This is also the point where this story intersects with what will be the storyline of Carlyle's next, Two Little Lies, and I found myself more interested in Quin and Viviana than in Alasdair and Esmée. There's a bit of a whiff of Beauty Like the Night there, even if Quin doesn't seem to be that much like Cam, nor does Viviana seem to be like Helene, and I was intrigued.

I really do like Carlyle's style, though, and I found the book entertaining throghout, which is why I'm giving it a B- instead of the lower grade my above litany of complaints seems to suggest.

Or maybe I'm just still in a good mood thanks to these gentlemen: ;-)


The Well Of Lost Plots, by Jasper Fforde

>> Thursday, October 13, 2005

As I mentioned when I wrote about Jasper Fforde's second book in the Thursday Next series, Lost in a Good Book, that one ended leaving the situation pretty much unsolved, which meant I had to read The Well of Lost Plots as soon as possible.

Oh, but I love it when I have an excuse not to space books out!

After two rollicking New York Times bestselling adventures through Western literature, resourceful literary detective Thursday Next definitely needs some downtime. And what better place for a respite than in the hidden depths of the Well of Lost Plots, where all unpublished books reside?

But peace and quiet remain elusive for Thursday, who soon discovers that the Well is a veritable linguistic free-for-all, where grammasites run rampant, plot devices are hawked on the black market, and lousy books—like the one she has taken up residence in—are scrapped for salvage. To make matters worse, a murderer is stalking the personnel of Jurisfiction and it’s up to Thursday to save the day.
As LIAGB ends, Thursday decides she needs to lie low for a while, at least until her child is born and she can better take on her mission to get her husband Landen reinstated. She decides to take refuge in the BookWorld, deep down in the Well of Lost Plots, where things are supposed to be calmer.

And really, the TWOLP is a bit of a break from what the first two books were. It's a respite from Thursday's fight with Goliath in the real world. However, while she does absolutely nothing to get her husband back during this book, Fforde manages to still keep the emotional fight there, by making her have to fight not to lose the only thing she has left of Landen: her memories. This meant this book, while mostly lots and lots of show and tell about the BookWorld, doesn't lack in story or emotion.

Still, I must say it was Thursday's exploration of the BookWorld and her adventures as an apprentice, and later a Jurisfiction agent, that I loved best of all here. This is just full of details so brilliant that even one or two would have amazed me. But no, there are two or three a page here, ad this makes TWOLP a delight to read.

From the emotionally starved characters of Shadow the Sheepdog to the Bookie awards (where the most important category, the Most Troubled Romantic Lead, had shades of the Most Tortured Hero category in the AAR Anual Reader Poll), from Emperor Zhark to how Uriah Hope became Uriah Heep, from the whole idea of Generics (loved the profusion of Mrs. Danvers) to the idea of the grammasites... and I could go on and on. It was all amazing.

Add to this a truly interesting and well constructed mystery (and I was wowed by the way the culprit shifted the blame to Thursday by putting his/her own motive right out there in the open!), and I was in heaven! A B+.

And now I'm off to read Something Rotten. I was able to read book 2 while remembering book 1 only vaguely, but from then on, I think reading them all close together is essential.


Always to Remember, by Lorraine Heath

>> Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Always to Remember, by Lorraine Heath is a book I had in my wish list for ages, because it was so HTF (though it seems to have become a bit cheaper lately. Is there a repring in the works or something?). But a good friend took pity on me and sent me her ARC, even though she had loved it, and I've been waiting for the perfect time to read it.

For refusing to pick up a gun for the Confederacy, Clayton Holland was branded a deserter and imprisoned during the war. When he returned home to Cedar Gove, Texas, he was given a coward's welcome, spurned by everyone in town. To Meg Warner, Clay's presence was a constant offense: a betrayal of the cause for which her husband and brothers died.

As punishment, she commissioned Clay, a talented sculptor, to create a memorial to honor Cedar Grove's fallen heroes, hoping that every name he carved into stone would carve remorse into his heart. But as Meg spent months watching Clay work, she began to see strength instead of cowardice. And she discovered that a hero could be found in the most unlikely of men. That passion could be sculpted from a heart hardened by bitterness. And that sometimes love--like courage--whispers instead of shouts.
This is a truly lovely book, with one of the most amazing, wonderful heroes I've ever read. A B+.

In a genre that seems to require heroes to be all-powerful warriors in order to prove their masculinity and dispel any suspicion that they may be wimps, Clay is a rarity. He is a pacifist. Really. His pacifist stance isn't a cover for spying or some other kind of stealth activity that requires that he not be suspected of participating in the war. No, he really does have convictions that tell him that war is wrong, and this one in particular more so, and that he shouldn't stand by his friends in this.

Clay is also one of the most corageous characters I've read in a long, long time. He's not afraid of physical risk, but, more importantly, he's refuses to bend to the pressure of his entire town and does what he thinks is right, no matter how much hate this nets him.

I admit to being a bit frustrated because in some cases, I felt Clay was going too far out of his way trying to get the whole town to accept him. I mean, yes, every single one of his actions did make sense for the person he was, so I'm not faulting this, but I just saw it as so, so futile for him to still be there. I get that he felt it was important to not give the impression that he was running away, but all these people were so revolting, that I hated to see him caring about their opinions, even a little bit.

Meg was a more problematic heroine for me. She started out as someone just as awful as the rest of the townspeople, just as blindly patriotic and narrow-mindedly judgemental. But I really liked how Heath wrote the process of her changing her attitude towards Clay, how she slowly and gradually began to change her understanding of what courage really entails.

This was a sweet, heart-warming romance, and it did have some passionate moments, too. When it comes to the romance, there is a bit of a role reversal, because it's Clay who is the innocent virgin, who has never even kissed a woman, and Meg who is the more experienced one, who basically takes the initiative in their lovemaking. These scenes just worked really well.

The ending I wasn't really all that crazy about. The way everyone changed their minds was a little too easy and quick. And also, I didn't forgive them. I didn't forgive them and I wanted them to suffer more for the way they'd tortured Clay. Of course, again, it makes sense for Clay to be so forgiving, but still.

This is one book I'd recommend to anyone, even if, like me, they're not usually big fans of the setting.


White Heat, by Jill Shalvis

>> Tuesday, October 11, 2005

White Heat, by Jill Shalvis

Bush pilot Lyndie Anderson lives only for her plane and the open sky. But when she's hired to fly a brooding-but-gorgeous fireman to a forest fire, suddenly she's struggling to douse a burning desire. And although it doesn't show, Griffin Moore starts having feelings for her, too. But he's suffered too much lately to open his heart. So when the two set off sparks, he wonders if Lyndie could be worth the risk...
Not so good. Nothing offensive here, or that I actively even disliked, but White Heat just left me cold. A C.

This was my main problem with this book, really. I was told about how tortured Griffin was because of the fire where he lost so many friends, about how emotionally scarred Lyndie was because she had been raised by a very cold grandfather... but I didn't feel it. I was told about how they wanted each other like crazy, but I didn't feel it. And I was told about how they slowly started having more tender feelings for each other, but I didn't feel it either.

In fact, what roused my emotions the most about this book were the editing and Spanish language issues. (WARNING: rant coming up!)

If you're going to set a book in Mexico, would it kill you to have someone with some knowledge of Spanish check over the words in that language? Someone should have caught that "vamanos" should be "vámosnos" and that "una mapa" should be "un mapa". The literal translation of "you're full of shit" into "estás llena de caca" did give me pause, though (even if "caca" is more poop than shit, really). There's no such expression in my kind of Spanish, but who knows if there isn't in Mexico, with their Anglicized "aparcar el carro" for "park the car", instead of our "estacionar el auto". But I'm really going off into a tangent here, aren't I?

Still speaking of editing, even the English editing sucked. I'm pretty tolerant about things like this, and just tend to slide over typos and so on, but this was just excessive enough that it threw me out of the story a few times... sometimes I even had to stop to figure out exactly what stuff was supposed to mean, only to realize it was an editing mistake. Stuff like "he carved his hand around his ear" instead of "curved", "missionary" for "mercenary" (it took me quite a while to figure out why Lyndie thought Griffin was accusing her of being missionary when he remarked she received money for doing a certain thing, I can tell you that!), "what is it you what" instead of "what is it you want", "itself" when "themselves" should have been used... the examples were endless.

At about 320 pages, this wasn't a long book, but it felt much, much longer!


Midnight Run, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Monday, October 10, 2005

It took a bit longer than I thought for me to finally be able to read the only remaining book in Lisa Marie Rice's Midnight trilogy, but I finally managed it last week. I can't wait for my ebook reader to get here!

Anyway, Midnight Run is actually the second in the trilogy, but since I started with Midnight Angel, which was book # 3, MR was left to be read last.

Claire Parks has been very sick, but she's fine now—just fine—and ready to paint the town red. Well, pink. On her first excursion into the wild world of dating, she nets Bud, a tall, sexy, good-looking lumberjack. She won him fair and square, her prize for not dying. But after a weekend of wild sex, she discovers he's not what she thinks he is.

Undercover police officer Lieutenant Tyler "Bud" Morrison can't believe his eyes. What's a 'princess' doing in a dance club known for its rough trade? She needs rescuing, and rescuing women is what Bud does best. He saw Claire first—finders keepers. After a weekend of the hottest sex he's ever had, he's definitely keeping this one. When trouble comes her way, he pulls out all the stops to protect her. Except Claire doesn't want Bud at her back. She wants him in her bed.
Like the other two books, this one is heavy on the larger-than-life characters (most especially the very alpha hero) and the fantasy and wish fulfillment. The first part was just amazing, but unfortunately, I thought the story lost a lot of intensity and focus on the second half. A B-.

It's not something I thought I'd ever write, but the story worked just wonderfully as long as Claire and Bud were stuck in her house, setting fire to the bed (and kitchen counters, and chairs, and.... you get my point). LMR is somehow able to develop a romance purely throughout sexual encounters and a bit of chatting in the middle, and of course, the actual love scenes were just amazing.

As I've got used to expecting from this author, after only 2 books, these scenes were hot as hell, not because of the mechanics, but because of the emotions and feelings involved. These are scenes which don't feel like filler or like pure titillation, they're basic to the development of the relationship and kept my attention completely. I don't think I skipped even one line. Oh, hot and funny, too. " was definitely the first time he’d ever fucked in iambic pentameter". That line (and that scene!), were incredible!

Bud wasn't my favourite of the three LMR heroes I've read, but I liked his brand of alphaness well enough, at least for the first half. And then came the moment when he became aware of Claire's past, of the fact that she'd spent years and years horribly sick, about to die, really. There's this absolutely hideous scene between Bud and Claire's father, in which Horace basically tells Bud that he "gives" his daughter to his care, that Claire is now his to take care of. And the worst part is that Bud seems to take the guy at his word, and becomes a condescending, patronizing, overly protective monster.

Not only that: at about the same time, the whole action seems to shift and move to what was the suspense plot of the first book, Midnight Man. The action in that one actually started a few weeks after Midnight Run, and in MM you saw some interactions between John and Bud, but from John's POV. In this book we get Bud's POV, and the feeling I got was of distraction. It felt as if the author had lost interest in this book, because the focus moved to what was going on in the other one.

And once this is over, the action moves to something covered in book 3. That one, though, was my own fault for reading out of order, and I suppose I wouldn't have been bored if I hadn't know what was going to happen. But still, the fact remains that this part of the book was more about the other two books than about this one.

The main saving grace of this second half was that Claire gets fed up with Bud's treatment and takes action. And not even this is all good: Claire really never tries all that hard to speak to Bud about what is bothering her. She basically seems to wait for him to read her mind, and when he doesn't, she breaks up with him.

The ending was a bit too abrupt, too. I know we were supposed to assume that things would be all right in this relationship from a little phrase Bud says, but I would have liked to be shown that this was so, that he was going to be treating Claire like a flesh and blood, grown-up woman.

Fortunately, the wonderful first half did make up for the not so good second one, but I can't help but wish LMR had been able to maintain the initial level. This would have been one amazing book!


Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde

>> Friday, October 07, 2005

Lost in a Good Book is book # 2 in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction—the police force inside books.

She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s "The Raven." What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications. Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth.
I really liked the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, but my main criticism, the only reason I didn't absolutely and positively love it, was that there just wasn't much heart in the story. It felt like it was all basically an excuse for the (wonderful) world-building, but not substantial enough in its own right.

Lost in a Good Book, however, has plenty of heart. We have the same level of brilliant world-building, full of all kinds of references and in-jokes. Of course, some of those I didn't catch at all, but I caught enough that I was laughing out loud most of the book.

But apart from this, there was much more emotion here, mostly based on Thursday having to deal with the fact that Goliath has made her husband, Landon, disappear from everywhere but her memories. This made LIAGB better than TEA, IMO.

Apart from these aspects, I loved the twists and turns from the plot. The entropy thing was just brilliant, and I loved what Fforde did with the plot about the pink sludge which would take over the world.

The only thing I didn't love about this one was just that there's too much left unsolved at the end. Luckily, I have the next book (The Well of Lost Plots) ready to start, otherwise I would have been truly pissed!

Final note: For those of you who, like me, aren't well read enough to catch every single reference, but would like to be able to do so, here are a few links. Fforde's website really is chock-full of fascinating stuff!

Guide for readers: The Eyre Affair
Guide for readers: Lost in a Good Book
Guide for readers: Well of Lost Plots

Edited to say: I forgot my grade! It's a B+.


The Lady and the Lion, by Cynthia Kirk

>> Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I was so happy with my latest venture into the oldest sections of my TBR, where I found Balogh's Longing, that I've decided to do it more often. My next random pick netted me The Lady and the Lion, by new-to-me author Cynthia Kirk.


Blaming herself for her husband's death, archaeologist Charlotte Fairchild has given up her greatest love: Egypt. Then Dylan Pierce strides into her life. Reputed to be the infamous "Lion," he is said to plunder ancient tombs and a woman's virtue with the same disregard. But with a kiss as searing as the Sahara and as dangerous as a scorpion, he ignites a passion that rivals anything she's felt before.


Welshman Dylan Pierce disdains European women and their well-bred sensibilities. But there is nothing cold or uptight about Charlotte Fairchild. She is as hot as the Egyptian sun and as fiery as its sands. Dazzling and mysterious, she embodies everything he loves about Africa. And loving the English lady will prove to be as wild and scorching as a desert whirlwind.
Before deciding to read this book, you need to consider whether you'll be able to think of a historical setting as an alternate universe, and forget any consideration about what would be historically accurate behaviour. The Lady and the Lion is set in a version of late Victorian England where, for instance, no one is particularly scandalized by two respectable and virginal young ladies who loudly discuss during a lecture the wicked acts a man might require from a wife, and whether he might even require more than one partner at a time. It's a universe where where a woman can suggest in the middle of a pretty staid dinner party that she may ask a man to demonstrate certain erotic verses, if he's athletic enough, and elicit reactions no more shocked than a mild "You're an impossible woman". In this place, the hero and heroine can lock themselves in a room all night and one of the servants can ask the following morning if they're done ravishing each other, and they can live together for a few years before getting married and it isn't regarded as all that scandalous.

I gave it my best shot, and while it did bother me quite a bit, I might have been able to mostly disregard this problem. If only it hadn't been for all the head-spinningly stupid conclusions the heroine kept reaching! As it is, I'd rate it a C+.

I wanted to love Charlotte, I really did. And I did love the way she was crazy about Egypt and so competent and able to take care of herself there, the way she was capable of shooting a cobra at 20 paces and the way she was perfectly ready to go toe to toe against people who tried to insult her. But her thought processes were too often either mysterious or plain idiotic to me!

It started with her insistence on how she was to blame for her husband's death, which I might have tolerated. But then there were too many little things, all ending by the huge to-do about Dylan having her and her father and late husband investigated... when they'd only just met, mind you. You would have thought he'd asked his detective friend to exhume their remains and use them for Satanic rites, given how Charlotte reacted to this!

The whole book just felt off, I suppose. It's a shame, because I loved the Egyptology background (I didn't even mind that most of the action was actually set in London, not Egypt) and the hero was lovely, but too many things irritated me.



>> Monday, October 03, 2005

Uh-oh, Tagged by Alyssa! ;-)

Rules are:

1. Delve into your blog archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas.
5. Tag five people to do the same.

So, here we go. My sentence is:

Night after night, Brianne has fantasized about the sexy stranger she met at the café where she works part-time.
It's actually a quote from the back cover blurb of a book I was planning to read back in late August 2001, Body Heat, by Carly Phillips. Given the structure of my posts, I could have guessed the 5th sentence would hit on a blurb!

Anyway, the very next post after that one reads: "Dropped Body Heat after 40 pages. It bored me."


Light of Day, by Ruth Wind

Light of Day, by Ruth Wind was one of the books I asked for info about a couple of weeks ago.


Loner Lila Waters had never met a man as fascinating as her new employer. Dashing and charismatic, yet also brooding and distant, Samuel Bashir awakened the hungry, loving woman within her. But too many clues-and the darkness that seemed to surround him-hinted at a mystery that could break her heart.

Years of being on a dangerous secret "mission" were gnawing at Samuel, leaving him empty, except for an aching desire for Lila. But she was a creature of light, of shimmering passions, while he moved among the shadows. He could offer her nothing but pain. Still, her poignant radiance tugged at him, daring him to dream the impossible-that their love could find its place in the sun....
A promising romance... if only the author had just cut that silly secret agent stuff! A B-.

This is a book that really didn't know what it wanted to be. One of its facets is a truly lovely, low-key romance between two fascinating people, two characters who were nothing but original and who had some very nice chemistry together.

I especially enjoyed the hero, Samuel. It's not every day that you see a romance novel hero with a background such as his: French Jewish mother, Muslim father, both living in the Middle East. A history as a scientist, but his doctoral thesis abandoned because he realized it just wasn't what he wanted to do. And the best part of this is all this background had real bearing on the person he was, and it showed. From his interest in working towards world peace, an interest which lead him into a line of work which left him drained, to his interest in the world around him, his whole character really made sense.

Lila was interesting, too, both in her past and personality. She was a bit of a rebel, but one who didn't engage in self-destructive behaviour, simply a person grounded enough to want to live life in her own terms and not allow little things like having her back broken in a motorcycle accident to prevent her from having a full life. She was really perfect for Samuel, and I enjoyed seeing the way she lightened him up and gave him hopes.

On the other hand, and this is what keeps this from getting a higher grade, there's a thread running throughout the whole book about this secret society Samuel belongs to, The Organization, which is half-baked at best and didn't go at all with the tone of the rest of the book.

I've no idea if this is so, but I really got the feeling this must be part of a series or something, because it just doesn't make sense to create something as big as this Organization and then don't develop it at all. At one point, the author tells us Samuel explains The Organization and his role in it to Lila... all off camera. Well, someone forgot to explain all that to us readers, and the story really suffers for it.


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