The Boyfriend School, by Sarah Bird

>> Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Boyfriend School, by Sarah Bird is probably the book that has spent the longest time on my Wish List. I recently found an old file on my computer containing one of my earliest versions of it, from back in 1998, when I first started buying books online, and The Boyfriend School was already there, the only one of the books on it that I hadn't been able to get since.

Gretchen Griner is an underpaid, underappreciated photographer for the Austin (that’s Texas) Grackle, part-time lover of Peter Overton Treadwell III (known as “Trout”), and major consumer of Cup O’ Soup. That is, until she meets Lizzie Potts—otherwise known as Viveca Lamoureaux, romance writer extraordinaire. Lizzie has a plan for Gretchen’s life—and it includes Lizzie’s brother Gus. But Gretchen has her own plan, and it does not feature a “wispy goon” named Gus. Of course, fate also has a plan for Gretchen, and it doesn’t care what Gretchen wants. So Lizzie will give Gretchen Gus, Gus will give Gretchen the man of her dreams, and among this oddball cast of marvelous misfits, someone just may discover the secret to true romance.
I loved this book, my grade would be a B+.

I was surprised to find that The Boyfriend School actually fits in perfectly well within the Chick Lit genre, for all that it was written back in 1989, before this genre was... formalized, I guess would be the word. The focus on the story is Gretchen's life, even if there's quite a bit of romance, too.

I loved the romance novel angle. I worried a little bit at the beginning, when Gretchen had just arrived at the romance novel convention (the Luvboree), that it was going to be all clichés and romance-novel bashing, but I soon realized it was going to be nothing like that. Bird obviously reads and loves romance novels, and it shows, especially in the way she does criticize certain things about them... not the things snobby non-readers keep harping on, but the type of things that drive me, for instance, crazy.

I don't really know how accurate the publishing scene is for 15 years ago, but it sounds basically good, if a little exagerated. My main impression was that the settings sounded so much fun! Much more variety than there is nowadays. I don't know if it was that free, but I do know that this is an area that has become much more conservative lately.

The characters were a delight. I especially adored Lizzie and Juanita, Gretchen's romance writer friends. And Trout, Gretchen's fascinatingly repulsive on-and-off lover! Everyone was a bit exagerated, not enough to make them cartoons, but just enough to make them fun.

The romance was good, too. I don't want to give anything away, but there was a certain plot twist that surprised the hell out of me, enough that I needed to go back quite a few pages and reread them from this different optic. I'll say this, though: I really loved the hero!

If this book had a negative, it would be that I ended up with the feeling that Gretchen was a bit shallow and hung up on appearances. The good thing is, Bird is perfectly aware of this and so is Gretchen, so the HEA ending was more believable than it would have been otherwise, especially because it was a bit of an open-ish ending, less definite than what usually happens in romance novels.

I adored reading this book. Everything was enjoyable, from the characters, to the dialogue, from the setting to the author's writing style.


Prince of Darkness, by Barbara Michaels

>> Thursday, February 24, 2005

I can't remember the last time I reread Prince of Darkness, by Barbara Michaels. In fact, I could barely remember what Prince of Darkness was about!

A mysterious visitor from England has come to the exclusive and captivating town of Middleburg, Maryland. And when this handsome stranger becomes a bit too involved with the beautiful Tiphaine Blake, the local villagers fear the revelation of dark secrets. Secrets of the living and the dead -which can only be resolved by the great Prince himself...
Prince of Darkness started out intriguing and mysterious, but I thought it lost a bit of its charm near the end. My grade would be a B-.

The first two-thirds of the book are narrated from the point of view of the mysterious Peter. In this part, Michaels manages to keep Peter's motivations and intentions a mystery, without making me feel she was being obnoxiously enigmatic (the blurb didn't help at all in explaining this). We saw Peter's actions and some stray clues as to what he intended and why, but it wasn't until the last third that everything got explained.

And when we finally know who he is, and the point of view changes to Kate, the story loses some interest. It's not that the explanations don't make sense, it's just that for all the over-the-top drama, I didn't think it was all that interesting or frightening.

Still, an interesting book, the first part more than makes up for the weaker ending.


Tell Me Lies, by Jennifer Crusie

>> Monday, February 21, 2005

Tell Me Lies was my first Jennifer Crusie, and it started me collecting her entire backlist (or, at least, the ones not prohibitively expensive!). Other books have become my favourites by this author (Welcome To Temptation, Bet Me, Anyone But You... ), but Tell Me Lies has a special place in my shelves for getting me started with this wonderful author.

Maddie Martindale has been the nice girl of her small town of Frog Point where gossip is major entertainment. Comfortably, if not happily, married to bigshot Brent, who is running for mayor, and mother to a sweet girl, Maddie seems to have a perfect life. But after she finds crotchless panties in her husband's car, Maddie's pristine reputation unravels. An imminent divorce, her husband's murder, and the precipitate return of Maddie's sexy high school flame, C.L. Sturgis, lead to her quick fall. C.L., the rebel bad boy who never dropped his torch for Maddie, has straightened out handsomely and plays a seductively vital role. The town is agog with talk of Maddie, the adulteress and murderess.
The back of the book has a comment from a reviewer comparing Crusie to Susan Isaacs, and in this book, I really do see the similarities. It was a B+ for me.

I really enjoyed reading Maddie's metamorphosis from a woman determined to live the life her whole town seems to want her to live to a woman who decides to take control of her own life and do what she wants with it. At first, Maddie frustrated me with her insistence on keeping up appearances, not creating gossip, looking like the perfect wife. She was a doormat for everyone, from her cheating husband to her dominating mother, and the contrast between her pleasant, compliant facade and what actually goes on inside her head, her snarky thoughts and needs to rebel, was heartbreaking.

So I cheered when that facade started cracking and she realized that she'd go crazy if she kept on with that type of life. It wasn't an instantaneous process, and she really tortured C.L. with her back and forth, but the woman who emerged in the end was wonderful!

C.L. was an interesting character, a knight-in-shining-armour accountant, who had remained half in love with Maddie since high school, but this was Maddie's story, so he was a bit less prominent in the story. What there was of the romance was lovely, though :-)

I liked the plot, too, and most of the secondary characters. You couldn't pay me enough to live in Frog Point, but I did think it suited Maddie and C.L., so I didn't finish the book wanting to scream at the hero and heroine to get the hell out of that horrible place, as I've often done with other books set in gossipy small towns.


Flashpoint, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Sunday, February 20, 2005

I love Suzanne Brockmann. There's something about her writing that just clicks with me, so much that I venture into a genre I don't like, the military romance, just to read her books. I've previously snapped out her books as soon as they came out, but for some reason, I was able to wait for Flashpoint (excerpt) to come out as a paperback. I don't know if it was the low after Gone Too Far (I confess it, I'm one of the people who adores Sam and Alyssa and waited anxiously for their book), or that the buzz online about Flashpoint wasn't that good, but I was able to withstand the wait quite well.

Jimmy Nash has already lived two lives--and he can’t talk about either of them. Formerly an operative of a top secret government agency, he has found a new job with a shadowy company called Troubleshooters, Incorporated. Created by a former Navy SEAL, Troubleshooters, Inc. helps anyone in desperate need--which provides a perfect cover for its other, more perilous objective: covert special operations.

Now Nash and a quickly assembled team of expert operators have come to the earthquake-ravaged country of Kazbekistan in the guise of relief workers. There, amid the dust and death, in a land of blood red sunsets and ancient blood feuds, they must track down a missing laptop computer that may hold secrets vital to national security.

To get it done, Nash does what he does best: break every rule in the book and manipulate those who can help him get what he needs. But this time, Nash may have met his match in Tess Bailey, a Troubleshooters operative with all the right instincts--and zero field experience. The deep attraction between them is immediate... and potentially volatile, with risk at every turn.

Now these two professionals must play out their dangerous games in the world’s most dangerous place-- isolated from their own government, cutting deals with people they can’t trust, and guarding forbidden passions that threaten to compromise their crucial mission.
Flashpoint had many of the things I like about Brockmann, but the main romantic storyline was a bit lacking. My grade would be a B.

The plot was interesting and well-developed, there was a fascinating secondary relationship and it was all written in the style I love, but I couldn't work up all that much interest in the main couple. Tess was ok... par for the course for a Brockmann heroine (let's face it, her heroines tend to be just ok, it's her heroes who are to-die-for), but Jimmy I never warmed up to. I thought he was bland and a bit juvenile, and I just didn't find him very interesting.

It might have helped if there had been more to the secondary relationship between Sophia and Decker. Don't get me wrong, I was fascinated by what there was between them, and it simply wouldn't have worked if their relationship had developed more during this book, since I didn't feel Sophia would have been anywhere near ready for it. However, the fact that this relationship was so much in its early stages by the end of the book meant that I couldn't find in the secondaries the stomach-clenching romance I wasn't getting from the protagonists, which is what I have done in some earlier Brockmanns.

Hmmm, sounds all I had were problems with this, but really, I enjoyed reading it very much. I'll even do my best to get Hot Target as soon as possible, even if it is in hard cover. My cousin's boss, who lives in Texas is coming next month to Uruguay, and she offered to bring me a couple of books if I wanted to have them delivered to her house. I might just take her up on the offer...


As Bad As Can Be, by Kristin Hardy

>> Saturday, February 19, 2005

Kristin Hardy is one of the very, very few authors whose Harlequin Blaze releases I make a point not to miss. As Bad As Can Be (excerpt) is the second in the Under the Covers series. It comes right after Scoring, and it's also related to My Sexiest Mistake.

For Becka's neighbor, Mallory Carson, opening her own bar is a dream come true, and she'll do whatever's necessary to keep it going. Her brother -- and silent partner -- Dev gets nervous when he hears that she's trying outrageous hooks to draw customers into "Bad Reputation," and he sends his buddy, Shay O'Connor, to watch over her.

A local tavern owner, Shay doesn't approve of Mallory's Coyote Ugly approach to attracting a clientele. The more he tells her to clean up her act, the more Mallory gets the urge to show him just how bad she can be.

The only thing hotter than the sparks that fly around when they're together is the passion that sizzles between them.
As Bad As Can Be was a pleasant, if unsubstantial, read. I'd grade it a B-.

The characters were likeable and I liked the plot. I know it's probably clichéd, but I'm always fond of books about a relationship that starts as a fling but soon has the guy wanting more, with the heroine resisting. I liked Mallory, though I thought her "bad girl" thing was a bit self-conscious... it felt a bit immature, like all those heroes in historicals who go around calling themselves "scoundrels" and "rogues". Shay was lovely, so serious and responsible, and I had fun seeing Mallory bring out his well-hidden wilder side.

They did have chemistry and the book had some nice moments, but I never could bring myself to get excited about them. It was a nice read, though, and sometimes that's just fine.


Chesapeake Bay trilogy, by Nora Roberts, books # 1 & 3

>> Friday, February 18, 2005

I finally got a copy of Chesapeake Blue, the book Nora Roberts wrote some years later to add to her Chesapeake Bay trilogy, so I decided to reacquaint myself with the original trilogy, which I hadn't reread in some time. I read the first one, Sea Swept and then I realized I had lent the second one, Rising Tides to a friend. I did remember that one quite well, so I just skipped it and went on to read book 3, Inner Harbor.

Sea Swept:

A champion boat racer, Cameron Quinn traveled the world apending his winnings on champagne and women. But when his dying father called him home to care for Seth, a troubled young boy not unlike Cameron once was, his life changed overnight.

After years of independence, Cameron had to learn to live with his brothers again, while he struggled with cooking, cleaning and caring for a difficult boy. Old rivalries and new resentments flared between Cameron and his brothers, but they tried to put aside their differences for Seth's sake. In the end, a social worker would decide Seth's fate, and as tough as she was beautiful, she had the power to bring the Quinns together -or tear them apart.
Inner Harbor:

Phillip Quinn had done everything to make his life seem perfect. With his career on the fast track and a condo overlooking the Inner Harbor, his life on the street was firmly in the past. But one look at Seth and he's reminded of the boy he once was...

Phillip had intended to fulfill his father's dying request and considered Seth to be a duty. He never expected he would grow to love Seth, and soon his promise to his father became more than just obligation. Seth's future as a Quinn seems assured -until a stranger arrives in town. She claims to be researching St.Christopher's for her new book, but the true objects of study are the Quinns. Her cool reserve intrigues Phillip. He is determined to uncover her motives, but she is holding a secret that has the power to threaten the life the brothers have made for Seth. A secret that could tear the family apart... forever...
This one's probably Roberts' most consistently excellent trilogy. Both Sea Swept and Inner Harbor were amazing, each an A, and I remember Rising Tides as pretty excellent, too.

The romances in each book are wonderful. Each of the characters is different, but lovely in their own ways. Cam and Anna, from Sea Swept are earthier and lustier, while Phillip and Sybill are more sophisticated and elegant. I especially enjoyed Phillip, who coupled his cool, cosmopolitan, urban tastes with a side which was perfectly comfortable horsing around with his brothers.

But however much I adored the romances, the dynamics between the three older brothers and Seth were the best parts of the trilogy. These were the parts that put a lump in my throat, the parts that made this trilogy so much better than others. There's not a cloying, sentimental moment in the entire three books, and the emotion feels genuine.

The only... not negative, exactly, but not quite completely positive moment in the whole thing wasn't even something in the books. The fact that from what I've read about Chesapeake Bay I now know that Gloria wasn't completely beaten by the end of Inner Harbor, that she continued to make trouble for Seth for years, was something that took a bit from the wonderful ending of the third book.

Still, that's a small thing. The Chesapeake Bay trilogy is, to me, the one someone wanting to try Roberts for the first time should start with.


Patriot's Dream, by Barbara Michaels

>> Thursday, February 17, 2005

Patriot's Dream, by Barbara Michaels was written in 1976, in time to celebrate the bicentennial of the American Revolution.

Jan Wilde came to Williamsburg, Virginia, for a much-needed vacation. But her dreams at night were far from restful... Night after night, a stranger called to her, reached out to her from two centuries past, fueled by the fires of war and the fury of passion. He seemed so real, so close -yet by morning, he was just a memory. Who was this lover from the past? Only Jan's dreams could reveal the truth.
This is a bad blurb, it makes it sound as if there's a romantic link between Jan and this dream man of hers. The dreams are much more than that: in them, she follows the life of a group of people in the years before and during the American Revolution. She becomes especially attached to one of these people, Jonathan, the pacifist, the radical, the idealist, but I didn't perceive anything sexual about it. She did care (and passionately) about him, but this is no romance-caught between-time kind of thing. Anyway, I really enjoyed Patriot's Dream. I'd give it a B+.

The book goes back and forth between Jan's life, vacationing with her great-aunt and uncle in Williamsburg, and, through her dreams, Charles and Jonathan's time, starting in 1774. Both parts are fascinating, and whenever I'd reach the end of a chapter I'd wish I could stay in that time, right until I got caught up in the next chapter and felt the exact same way when I reached the end of that one!

I was especially interested in the parts set in the past, basically because while I do know the rough facts about the American Revolution, it was all mostly new to me. I suppose it would all be much more familiar for the book's intended American audience, but history lessons in school here focus on Uruguayan history. I know all kinds of details about the Uruguayan fight for independence (or rather, to rejoin the United Provinces), but what I know about the American Revolution is a couple of history lessons in high school and whatever I picked up from fiction books.

So, while I'm not taking this as a serious history book, I was fascinated by the glimpse I got here into that particular moment. And I especially liked that while Michaels obviously admires many of the men involved and what they did, she has a very clear-eyed and unromantic way of looking at things. Her vision of the times isn't idealistic, and she accepts and points out the inconsistencies in things like fighting for lovely ideals like liberty and at the same time keeping slaves.

The parts of the book set in the present were wonderful, too. I enjoyed Jan and her relationship with her relatives, and I really liked the romance. She has a couple of candidates, but no one who's ever read this author would ever doubt who she'll end up with.


No Man's Mistress, by Mary Balogh

>> Wednesday, February 16, 2005

No Man's Mistress, is the sequel to Mary Balogh's More Than a Mistress. It's hero is the youngest Dudley, brother, Ferdinand.

Lord Ferdinand Dudley lives passionately, recklessly. And he is accustomed to getting what he wants...that is, until he appears at the door of Pinewood Manor, attempting to claim his rightful estate, and is met by the bewitching fury of Viola Thornhill. She refuses to cede him the home she calls her own. He refuses to leave. So the contest begins between these two foes to force one to acknowledge the other's claim. Nor will they acknowledge the passion brewing between them. But Viola knows it is a game she cannot afford to lose. Marriage is out of the question and she will be no man's mistress.
On the whole, this book pissed me off, because it was just so, so close to something I've always wanted to read. My grade would be a C.

I've long wanted to read a romance between an experienced courtesan and an inexperienced man. This book was exactly that, yes, but while I really liked Ferdinand, Viola drove me crazy. She was so stupid, so completely determined to prostitute herself, whether there was a better option or not.

I didn't mind the fact that she had been a courtesan and had, at her own admission, slept with so many men that she had lost count. What I did mind was that I never bought that this really had been a last resort. Hmmm, no, that's not exactly right, either. If she had simply decided that she prefered to be a courtesan (one who worked one night a month, apparently) instead of going to work as, I don't know, a scullery maid or a lady's companion or something, that wouldn't have been a last resort either, but I would have been ok with it.

What bothered me was that for her, working as a courtesan had been really awful, she would have preferred any of those other jobs, but she allowed herself to be bullied and manipulated and forced into prostitution. And that is what I didn't buy, that she had had no recourse but to give in to those manipulations and bullying. I truly believe she could have fought the bastard who wanted to "manage" her career. But, oh, no, she couldn't ask her family for help, she had to sacrifice! That's not being a good person, that's being an idiot.

And she was even more of an idiot late in the book when yet again, she allowed herself to be forced into taking up her career again (don't worry, she was saved in time). In this case, she had even more options, even more ways of staying out of this. She finally did something, but it was too little, too late for me, she was already forever an idiot for me.

And then there was the ending, with the entire ton accepting Viola into its fold, even with everyone knowing about her past. Yeah, right.

It's a shame, really, because this could have been a lovely story. Some things were wonderful, like Ferdinand's total devotion to Viola, no matter what she has done in her past. And of course, it was well written. But this story made me think of one of the entries in the Purple Prose Parody at All About Romance, one which ended up winning one year, if I'm not mistaken. The heroine tearfully confesses to the hero that she has been forced to sell herself to pay for the butcher's bill, or something like that. It then turns out that the hero would have returned in two days time, that the butcher would have been perfectly happy to wait a while for his money, that all manner of people would have lent her the money. While I read No Man's Mistress, I couldn't help but hear in my mind the voice of the hero in the parody "I. Was. Coming. Home. Thursday!!!"


More Than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh can be hit or miss for me (though the last couple of her books that I've read and reread have been all good), but when she's good, she's so good that I keep trying her. The latest I read was More Than a Mistress.

When Jane Ingleby interrupts a duel in London's Hyde Park, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, gets shot in the leg, and Jane, late for work at a milliner's workshop, loses her job. She is angry enough to demand a new job of Jocelyn, and he is angry enough to give her one--as his nurse. He vows to make her believe that starvation would have been a better option. However, the dangerous duke, whose will no one has ever dared cross, is soon vowing that just once in his life he is going to have the final word in his frequent verbal battles with Jane. And soon too he is offering her a different job--as his mistress.
Really, really nice! As a rule, I don't usually have a problem putting a book aside to go to bed, even with books I'm enjoying, but More Than a Mistress had me staying up way too late. My grade would be a B+.

Jocelyn and Jane's relationship was just engrossing. For some reason, I couldn't get a handle on where the story was going. I needed to know what would happen next, in what direction Balogh would take the story, and I simply couldn't stop reading.

I really liked what she did with Jocelyn. He seemed like a rigid, humourless bore at the beginning of the book, but Jane had the knack of making the much nicer person underneath that come out. Jocelyn had his ideas about what the master-and-servant and man-and-mistress relationships should be, but Jane kept changing this, refusing to conform to what he expected. It took a while, and the slightest suspicion had him putting up the "duke" mask back again, but by the end of the book, I'd become fond of this vulnerable, artistic man who had been molded by his father into his idea of what a Dudley should be. I loved the scenes in which he recognizes his desperate need for someone to love him and, more than that, someone to understand and like the real person inside him.

Jane was a good character, too. She did behave like a headless chicken a couple of times, but most of the story she was great, standing up to Jocelyn and not allowing him to bully her into submission. I liked that there was no hint of sacrifice in her becoming Jocelyn's mistress. She made her choice freely, recognizing that this was the most convenient thing for her, and a deciding factor was that it was also something she wanted. She never kidded herself about it, and I liked her for it, and for being sensible and negotiating like crazy for the best conditions possible for her employment.

This was an A read throughout most of the book, but I thought Balogh faltered a bit near the end. When Jocelyn found out Jane's secret, I thought he overreacted, and the ending, with the resolution of the big secret from Jane's past and it's threat to her and with Jocelyn's efforts to get her to marry him, wasn't up to the wonderful level of the rest of the story. Still, the rest of the book was enjoyable enough to make this a success.


Kinsman's Oath, by Susan Krinard

>> Monday, February 14, 2005

Kinsman's Oath (excerpt), by Susan Krinard is set in the same world as the author's short story in the Out of This World anthology, which I bought for the J.D. Robb In Death story. For once, I never got around to reading the rest of the novellas, so I was new to this universe when I started Kinsman's Oath.

Ronan VelKalevi was a man torn between two worlds. Born into the human race, he was kidnapped at the age of six by the alien shaauri. More than twenty years later, he has found himself on the run from the aliens who raised him--and being saved by a ship of humans. Captain Cynara D'Accorso, commander of the Pegasus, has no reservations about rescuing the telepathic Kinsman from his damaged ship. But she isn't expecting the dangerous emotions this troubled man awakens in her--or that he isn't the innocent fugitive he claims to be. Now, as their hearts fall prey to passion, Ronan and Cynara must discover the paths to which they were born before their destinies destroy them both...
Kinsman's Oath stands head and shoulders above most futuristic romances in terms of the intrincacy and consistency of its world-building, but unfortunately, I was a bit less enthused by the romance. My grade would be a B-.

The universe Krinard created is fascinating and original, and I enjoyed spending time there. She doesn't make things simplistic and black and white; each world has its good and bad points. They are all different, so each new one was an interesting place to visit and discover. I was especially fascinated by the Shaauri-ja, with its distinctive form of organization.

The characters and their romance were a bit of a disappointment. I immensely liked Cynara, but the whole thing with her and Tyr, especially the revelations at the end, was just too weird for me. Ronan was even more problematic, because I felt distant to him most of the book. I think what got me there was the back and forth with the mind stuff: the false memories and hidden compulsions and programmed amnesia and all that. It made it hard to get to know a character, when I never could be sure of what he seemed to be thinking, if it was the real person's thoughts or something planted there by telepaths.

Still, for all that, I did enjoy the book. I hope there are more books like this coming, futuristics which go beyond the barbarian and psychic virgin healer mold!


St. Oswald's Niche, by Laura Frankos

>> Sunday, February 13, 2005

Since Barbara Mertz is no longer publishing any books under the Barbara MichaelsI pseudonym, I am on a perpetual lookout for books that are reminiscent of those. St. Oswald's Niche, by Laura Frankos was the latest that was recommended to me. And the author even dedicates it to Mertz, "for all her books", so I took that as a good sign.

From the moment Jennet moves in with the other students working on archaeologica digs in beautiful York, someone seems to be setting her up as a thief. Small things disappear, and her dormmates make ugly insinuations. Then, disaster: an exquisite medieval chalice uncovered in the St. Oswald's dig is stolen.

By this time, Jennet has suspicions of her own. Something very odd is going on at the St. Oswald's dig, and with the help of a fellow student from California, Jennet takes out her tools and embarks on another kind of dig -one that looks to the present for answers.
While I didn't see much of a resemblance to B. Michaels, I greatly enjoyed this one, in spite of a couple of problems. My grade would be a B.

My main problem was with the beginning, the first 60 or so pages. The book started slow, and it took me a while to really get into it. I even put it aside for a couple of days while I read something else. The main problem was that it felt very much like a first effort. I don't know if this is so, because I haven't been able to find almost any information about the author on-line, but the little I've found mentions only this particular book, so I guess it might be so. Anyway, what I mean is, the author kept "intruding" while I was reading... the characters didn't feel like real people, but like constructs the author was trying to make me believe in, and not quite succeeding. Especially the British characters, they felt like Frankos was trying way too hard. In a way, this reminded me of the two Lillian Stewart Carl's books which I read earlier in 2004.

Still, after the two-day hiatus, when I sat down with it again and forced myself through a few more pages, things started getting much, much better. I think what happened was that the plot got going, and this gave the characters something a bit more external to react to, so they started to become more real to me. It still didn't become perfectly polished, but the story moved at a nice enough pace that it pulled me along, and the plot really was interesting. I just love stories of treasures and scholarship.

The best thing about the book was the academic ambience. In that area, Frankos obviously knew what she was doing, and I was fascinated by the discussions and the work... even the lectures about medieval eclesiastical history, and the characters backgrounds in that area were beautifully done. I liked how important knowledge, even knowledge for its own sake, was for all of them, how it was valued and how they were still young, for all their expertise in subjects like Roman history or medieval warfare.

Some other positives about the book were things like the settings, the character interactions, even the romantic threads. Jennet's romance was a bit too abruptly resolved, but it was a relationship I did see a future for, so I was fine with it.

I hope the author has written something else, I'm going to have to keep searching!


Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie

>> Thursday, February 10, 2005

Faking It )excerpt), by Jennifer Crusie is a sequel (or rather, a kind of spin-off, as Crusie calls it) to Welcome to Temptation, one of my favourites by her.

Meet the Goodnights, a respectable family who have run a respectable art gallery for generations. There’s Gwen, the matriarch, who sedates herself with Double-Crostics and double vodkas; Eve, the oldest daughter, who has a slight identity problem (she has two); and Nadine, the granddaughter, who’s ready to follow in the family footsteps as soon as she can find a set that isn’t leading off a cliff. Holding everyone together is Matilda, the youngest daughter, who’s inherited the secret locked down in the basement of the Goodnight Gallery, a secret that she’s willing to do almost anything to keep, including breaking into a house in the dead of night to steal back her past.

Meet the Dempseys, or at least meet Davy, a reformed con man who’s just been ripped off for a cool three million by his financial manager, who then gallantly turned it over to Clea Lewis, the most beautiful sociopath Davy ever slept with. Davy wants the money back, but more than that, he’ll do anything to keep Clea from winning, including breaking into her house in the dead of night to steal back his future.

One collision in a closet later, Tilda and Davy reluctantly join forces to combat Clea, suspicious art collectors, a disgruntled heir, and an exasperated hit man, all the while coping with a mutant dachshund, a jukebox stuck in the sixties, questionable sex, a painting of three evil fishermen closing in on a dyspeptic tuna, multiple personalities, miscellaneous Goodnights and Dempseys, and the growing realization that they can’t turn their backs on the people they were meant to be... or the people they were born to love.
Faking It was tremendously enjoyable, full of wit and humour and likeable characters. A B+ for me.

I was a bit surprised at how much I liked it, actually, because I had resisted reading it for a while, since I'm not really attracted by the whole "con man meets woman part of a hugely dysfunctional family" thing it seemed to be about. However, very suprisingly to me, I really liked the con angle. I'm a bit uptight about thief characters and all that, but I loved that part of Davy, probably because he had it well under control now. But anyway, I was weirdly charmed by the way his first instict when faced with a situation was to figure out how he could work a con. ;-) And the dysfunctional family in question was a blast. Evie with her alter ego, Gwennie pretending to be happy, Nadine's struggles to find her way... the whole secondary cast of characters made the book shine.

Tilda and Davy were lovely together, too, and I really appreciated how Crusie dared show a first time which wasn't at all good, as they sometimes aren't. It made me cheer even harder for these two. I felt, as I don't often feel, that they really understood each other, under the fake facades they were used to wearing.

Such fun, it even makes me want to give Fast Women another chance!


Forbidden, by Jo Beverley

>> Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I can't remember why I decided to reread Forbidden (excerpt), by Jo Beverley, but I suppose I must have read something about it in one of my discussion groups, because not 2 days after I finished it, my friend who belongs to those groups as well asked me if she could borrow it!

The death of her husband has freed Serena Riverton from life as an abused sex-object, but now her brothers plan to force her into another similar marriage. Fleeing, she is helped by Francis, Lord Middlethorpe. A passionate encounter leaves her pregnant, but no keener on marriage than before. He is virtually committed to marrying a sweet-natured lady. They marry anyway, and struggle to make something of their lives amid the disapproval of all around them.
Forbidden had some really good things going for it, but also enough bad ones that my grade for it was a B-.

What I liked best were the protagonists. Francis and Serena are both really interesting characters, not at all common in romance. Serena could have been the irritating heroine who complains because she's beautiful until one feels like slapping her for being an idiot, but she wasn't. Beverley was able to convince me that, for Serena, her beauty was truly a curse, that it had brought her nothing but grief all her life, not because she had made herself a victim, but because she'd had simply not had any choice. The scenes where the horrors of her marriage were revealed were heartbreaking, especially the ones featuring the jewelry from her marriage. As for Francis, well, he's a sweet, honourable man, who does his best to help Serena and treat her well, even if he has no obligation to her. He's also a virgin, and I really liked the role reversal in their relationship, with Serena being the "experienced" one. Of course, she wasn't really experienced in balanced, equally pleasurable for both partners sex, so their relationship had an element of discovery for both of them.

Unfortunately, the suspense subplot was terribly distracting and I intensely disliked it. Francis is a member of a kind of club carried over from his schol days, the Company of Rogues, and the endless scenes featuring this club was probably the thing I liked least in the whole book. This is book 4 in that series, and the whole clubby thing is a huge part of the scheme. I really disliked this, and not just because grown men doing this whole thing always feel like dweebs. It was also the fact that they called themselves "Rogues"... I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but laugh at these supposedly mature men running around, so proud that they were "rogues". ;-)

In addition, the whole thing was hugely distracting, because the author spent way too long unnecessarily detailing the backstories of many of the members of the Company. It's weird, because even in cases like this one, in which this kind of info is de trop and I get irritated at the author for wasting my time, I often end up feeling some interest in these stories anyway. In this case, however, I wasn't even the slightest bit tempted to search them out.

So, basically, while I liked the scenes with Serena and Francis, the rest of the book just wasn't enjoyable to me.


Duke of Sin, by Adele Ashworth

>> Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Adele Ashworth's Winter Garden is one of my favourite romance novels ever, it even came in in the top 5 (or thereabouts, I don't have the list with me right now) in my Top 100 list. Unfortunately, her books since that one have been disappointed, but rumour had it Duke of Sin (excerpt) was a return to Winter Garden levels.

A scandalous liaison with a mysterious, disreputable rogue may be the only way the desperate lady can guard her shocking secret…

He is called "Duke of Sin" …a notorious rogue and recluse whose reputation is as black as the Cornish night. They speak of his conquests, his past, and his mysteries in breathless whispers. And now lovely and desperate Vivian Rael-Lamont has no choice but to enter William Raleigh's lair.

Vivian prayed that the scandal that drove her from London would never be revealed — but now she will be exposed to the world… unless William can protect her. She has heard the rumors about the infamous Duke of Sin, yet she is unprepared for the man's raw, sensuous power… or for the traitorous response of her own body. Surrender, however, could prove most dangerous indeed — for both of them. For while the duke is intrigued by the guarded, intoxicating lady who has invaded his solitude — and fully intends to discern her every secret through sweet, unhurried seduction — it is his own heart that will be imperiled when passion takes them farther than he ever intended.
While Duke of Sin was a definite improvement, I'm afraid it was also a little disappointing. I'd grade it a B, a good grade, but I was expecting something much, much better.

I liked both characters, and enjoyed most of their relationship. I especially liked Will, a reclusive man whose mistreatment and isolation by society hasn't made bitter. I loved how he really needed Vivian, not just on a sexual level, but for companionship. Vivian I liked, too. I enjoyed reading about characters who were more mature and sensible than usual.

My problems came with the accumulation of details that kept the story from ringing true. It was all details which wouldn't have mattered much on their own, but together, the effect was noticeable. I'm talking about things like the ease with which Will's penniless in-laws were able to get a well-connected and generally well-liked, powerful duke accused of a murder for which there wasn't the slightest proof. Or of how impossible it was for Vivian to get an annulment. I mean, her word against her husband's that he wasn't able to consumate the marriage? Not quite, aren't we forgetting Vivian's virginity? That's quite easily confirmable. Then there was the introduction of Will's two best friends, who were totally unnecesary to the story and whose inclusion smacked of setting up the next stories in the series. And the suspense subplot also felt flimsy and improbable.

So, in the end, what we had here was couple of likeable protagonists falling in love against a truly mediocre backdrop. The romance is always the most important thing to me, but really, I had a hard time not getting distracted by all the other flaws. Plus, I wasn't too crazy about the ending of the romance itself, with a certain late revelation. It was just unnecessary and, like Vivian's virginity, felt like something not integral to the story but calculated to keep from offending rigid readers.


Truth or Dare, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, February 07, 2005

Truth or Dare, by Jayne Ann Krentz is a sequel to Light in Shadow. It follows the same protagonists, Zoe and Ethan, as well as the various secondary characters from the previous books.

Zoe is an interior designer with a unique sense of style. But even more uncanny is her sense of what's going on under the surface, the secrets a house can hold.

At the moment, though, Zoe isn't concerned about a client's space. She's more worried about what's going on in her own house in Whispering Springs, Arizona, where she lives with her new husband, private investigator Ethan Truax. After a whirlwind courtship, and a dangerous adventure, they've gambled on commitment, hoping that their powerful attraction can help them learn to live together despite their utterly opposite personalities.

But newlywed life is suddenly interrupted when a shadowy figure from Zoe's past shows up in Whispering Springs, and her closest friend is put at terrible risk. For Zoe and Arcadia Ames share a shocking secret. And as they seek to protect the truth, they must join together, and with Ethan's help, accept a very dan-gerous dare
While not the best JAK I've ever read, Truth or Dare was very enjoyable, the type of book I know I'll be rereading over and over in the years to come. Sometimes you just know, as you are reading it the first time, that a book will become a perfect comfort read. My grade for it is a B+.

I found it ver remarkable how busy the book was. On the romance front, there's the main romance plot about Ethan and Zoe adapting to their marriage, and there are a few other subplots: Arcadia and Harry, Bonnie and Singleton Cobb, even Ethan's competitor, Nelson Radner, and the mystery about whether his wife is cheating on him.

On the more suspensey front, there's also a main one and a few minor ones. First there's the whole matter about Arcadia's husband trying to find her and murder her. There's also the thing about Dexter Morrow's potential threat on Ethan, a spillover from a former case. Then there's the old murder case Ethan is investigating for the town, about the murder of a famous writer who used to live in Whispering Springs. And finally, not really suspense, but there's the rivalry between Zoe and another designer, and Zoe's problems with her building manager.

Sounds like a bit much for a 350-page book, doesn't it? But it works surprisingly well. It didn't feel to me as if any thread was neglected, and when the focus changed from one to the other, I never got irritated because I wanted to stay with the previous one, as often happens when you read a book with several subplots.

My favourite was the main storyline about Zoe and Ethan, exactly as it should be. I liked how the story focused on them learning to live together and finally coming to terms with their inner selves and accepting that the other really loves them. Those parts were lovely.

I had a wonderful time reading this, and I'm looking forward to reading JAK's latest.


Shadowheart, by Laura Kinsale

>> Friday, February 04, 2005

I read Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart last year and it was a revelation. I hadn't liked the only Kinsale I'd read until last year, the much beloved Flowers From the Storm, so I had thought this author was not for me. But then I read My Sweet Folly and loved it, so I dared read FMLH and I thought it amazing. I've had Shadowheart (excerpt) since not long afterwards, waiting for the right moment to read it.

Readers were first introduced to Allegreto, the elegant assassin, in For My Lady's Heart. Now, he is a charismatic, dangerous man who will stop at nothing to regain his rightful place in the rich Italian principality of Monteverde. And the perfect tool has just fallen into his hands, in the lovely form of Lady Elena--the long-lost Monteverde princess. Only she can solidify his claim...but the dark passion that grows between them is more dangerous than any treachery mortal men could devise.
Shadowheart was just as incredible as FMLH, an A.

I started reading it already knowing much of what would happen, since I can't resist spoilers and the discussions about the book last year were long and detailed. I remembered much of the criticism it had received, and though I see where other readers might feel in those ways, what bothered many people I worked wonderfully for me.

Let's start with Elena's character. There was much talk about how people couldn't buy her behaviour in the bedroom and in the boardroom, so to speak, her being so adept at political intrigue. In a way, it might have been because I'd read the spoilers, but I looked at her very closely from the start, and both felt very appropriate to her personality to me. The sexual part, especially: I saw the potential for it in her from the beginning. I saw her as trying very hard to be a regular modest young woman, and having to try even harder because there was something stronger inside her which she thought she shouldn't let show. With Allegreto, she could finally let this aspect of her out, and the way she was both scared of it and delighted was perfect. I've heard it said that there's no way someone as sexually innocent as Elena could have conceived of doing what she did, but this wasn't a case of those typical virgins in romance novels who one minute are asking "you're planning to do what with that??" and the next are going down on the hero and deep-throating him. Kinsale wrote the process of sexual discovery believably, as far as I'm concerned.

And speaking of the sexual aspect of Elena and Allegreto's relationship, this was... just perfect. I thought it was a wonderfully eloquent way of showing their inner selves and how they saw themselves. The way the dynamics of their sexual relationship evolved echoed the way they evolved themselves, especially with Allegreto. And I hesitate to confess that I found it all very, very exciting.

In the politics area, I do admit that the instinctive way in which Elena grasped the intrincate political intrigues of Monteverde strained credibility a bit. The actual things she did were fine, I bought those perfectly, but that she immediately "got" what had taken Melanthe, from FMLH years to master... hmmm. Still, it wasn't enough to throw me out of the story.

As for Allegreto... well, what can I say, he was just as complicated and intriguing and fascinating as he was in FMLH. We saw him mostly from Elena's eyes, which made him even more mysterious, and the fact that there were only a few scenes from his POV was the right thing to do, I thought.

Something else that I liked was the way Kinsale incorporated religion to the story. It's not the focus, but we never lose sight of the fact that it's ubiquitous in every character's life. Such a way of thinking is very foreign to me, but it rang true to who these characters were. The threat of hell was so real to them, confession so necessary, even if they saw the Church's hierarchy's sins clearly. Also, the author was able to use to create some incredibly poignant moments. I would never have thought that an agnostic like me could tear up with a scene showing a character getting absolution for his sins from what I see as a corrupt, despicable Church, but I did.


Untie My Heart, by Judith Ivory

I love Judith Ivory's books so much that I've been saving them for a rainy day. However, packing up for my vacation I took a good look at my TBR shelves and noticed I had 5 of her books saved, so I decided I could afford to treat myself and read a couple of them. The first was Untie My Heart (excerpt).

In Victorian England, a powerful viscount and a Yorkshire vicar's widow seem a most unlikely match. But, from the first, the situation between Stuart Aysgarth and Emma Hotchkiss has been anything but typical. While the viscount has recently inherited his unlamented father's vast property and responsibility, the wealth to maintain it is beyond his reach. Stuart is locked in a legal struggle with his father's greedy brother, who almost succeeded in claiming the title and property as his own before Stuart could return from his self-imposed exile abroad…and who has stolen many of the estate's more portable valuables, including two that are particularly precious to the rightful heir. Meanwhile, Emma's background includes much more than writing her husband's sermons and tending his sheep.

When the viscount refuses to pay for the valuable lamb his coach horse killed, the lovely widow quickly slips back into habits from her disreputable past to swindle the devastatingly handsome, infuriating peer out of what she sees as her due. Trust doesn't come easily to either of them…but when Stuart proposes they work together to dupe his uncle out of his ill-gotten gains, he makes an offer Emma cannot refuse. The confidence game they set in motion is a tricky balancing act, with vengeance as well as wealth as its goals...and an immensely imaginative range of intimacies between these unlikely conspirators as an unexpected and irresistible reward.
Oh, this was such a joy to read! I wallowed in it, trying to read as slowly as I could to make it last. My grade is an A-.

Part of what makes me like Ivory so much is simply the language she uses. I pretty much enjoy that independently of the actual story, but I usually love those, too, and I did this time. She has a very distinctive voice, even if she adapts it perfectly to the story she's telling. It was one way in The Proposition and another in Beast, but it was still recognizable as very much hers. This time I'd describe it as luxurious. I wanted to snuggle in Stuart's coat, to sit in his library, to ride in his carriage...

The story was lovely, with an interesting plot and fascinating characters. Stuart is one of Ivory's best creations. An arrogant nobleman whose vulnerabilities still show, and I loved how amazed he was by Emma, how he found her irresistible. But what I found most attractive about him was his self-awareness, how he was very conscious of exactly who he was and how he was so ready to discover new facets of himself. Also, in a way, I thought he was endearing. I adored his reactions to the famous chair scene... "I seem to have accidentally shagged her". Indeed! I though his delight and wonder at what they had managed to do together was amazing.

Emma was the perfect counterpart to Stuart. I liked that though she was trying to live a certain life, she acknowledged the way this other way of life tugged at her. I also liked that she was no missish idiot, but accepted her sexuality. And I loved that she was very smart and that her plans were intelligent and well thought-out, and that Stuart recognized this.

This was one of the most romantic books I've read, not a cloying, too-sweet type of romance, but something that was intelligent and sensually romantic. My favourite kind!


Improper Conduct, by Patricia Rosemoor

Patricia Rosemoor's Improper Conduct is the middle book in her Chicago Heat series.

Was it indecent...?
Nick Novak is shocked when gorgeous Isabel Grayson suddenly reappears in his life. She'd broken his heart once years before... now she suddenly needed his help? Nick's price is high -a no-holds-barred sexual fring with him. Maybe then he can get her out of his system.

Or improper...?
Isabel is shocked by Nick's "proposal". But she desperately needs his assistance to find her runaway sister. By day she'll accompany him on the hot streets of Chicago. By night she'll make love to him... in every way possible. Maybe then can get him out of her system.
I've read and enjoyed both of the other books in the series (Sheer Pleasure and Hot Zone). Improper Conduct shares with them a certain edgier, darker feel, a more realistic than usual urban sensibility that I very much enjoyed, but this particular title had too many negative aspects, and my grade is a C.

My first, and probably biggest problem was that I didn't like the premise of the book or think it convincing. First of all, the reason behind Isabel's sister running away made no sense. I understand that she'd be upset, but running away? Hmmm, I don't think so. And then there's Isabel's reaction to this. I thought it was inexcusable that she acquiesced to her father's wishes to keep it quiet and not bring in the authorities. The reason why she didn't bring in the police of a PI into it was not because the situation wasn't grave enough, because she was worried out of her mind about it, but to cover her father's political ass, and I lost most of my respect for her for not standing up to him.

I did like Nick and I enjoyed the romance, mostly. Rosemoor has a way with love scenes. They are rawer and darker than usual, and I liked that Isabel was no naive ice princess, but sexually confident. And also, I liked that there wasn't a sugary epilogue, complete with marriage and children. It wouldn't have gone well with the tone of the book.

The parts about runaways and life on the streets I was a bit ambivalent about. On on hand, they were interesting and felt realistic, at least the facts of it. On the other, I thought Nick and Isabel's reactions here felt a bit fake. As did the suspense subplot, which was just plain weird.

Oh, well, in spite of all this, I think I'd read Rosemoor again. She at least writes something somewhat different and original, and I know she can do better.


The Touch of Fire, by Linda Howard

>> Thursday, February 03, 2005

I'm not a big fan of Westerns, but I'll read one that looks good every once in a while. The review of The Touch of Fire, by Linda Howard sounded wonderful...

Annie Parker came to Silver Mesa, Arizona, because it was the only place she'd found where folks thought a woman doctor was better than no doctor at all. Her lonely life became harder still on the winter night Rafe McCay broke into her office with a bullet in his side and a bounty hunter at his back.

With a gun aimed at her heart, he led her deep into the Arizona mountains, and into a world of danger and passion, for Annie discovered in Rafe not only a wounded man, but a soul betrayed...and Rafe, healed by her skill and the magic in her hands, awakened in Annie a woman's tender longing and hungry desire. Pursued by dangerous secrets of the past, they are swept into a thrilling odyssey of the heart -- a bold, exhilarating journey that rekindles Rafe's lost hope and transforms Annie's healing gift into a deep, enduring love.
I really enjoyed most of the book, but my interest waned a bit near the end. I'd grade it a B.

Up until the plot about why Rafe is running springs to the forefront, I was finding The Touch of Fire immensely enjoyable. Rafe was a yummy character. Linda Howard's heroes often balance on the line which separates wonderfully male from arrogantly, abusively, disgustingly sexist. They are usually on the right side of that line, but some, usually her earlier ones, stumble into the wrong side. Rafe was an example of the former, and a lovely example.

He's hard and tough and possessive, but he's so crazy about Annie, right from the beginning, that he's almost always tender with her, and when he isn't, it's because circumstances force him, but he wishes he could be anyway.

The book also worked because Annie was plenty strong enough to withstand him and the rigurous conditions they face during most of the story. She's a doctor, and devoted to it, a honourable, sensible woman.

TTOF is half cabin romance, half road romance, and this means that Annie and Rafe are almost always together and concentrating on each other. What Howard can do with the sexual tension in these circumstances is amazing, and the book was really, really scorching.

And now for the negatives: there's a point in which the focus shifts abruptly from Annie and Rafe to the suspense subplot, and I pretty much lost my interest about then. The whole romance, the whole mood, seems to fizzle. To be honest, part of the reason I didn't like this was because of the very pro-Southern tone of this part of the book, but I do think that even if I'd shared that viewpoint, I don't think I would have enjoyed this part much.

I think I'll probably stop reading when they get to the Apache camp when I reread this, LOL!


Rightfully His, by Tracy Grant

>> Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tracy Grant wrote one of the only three books I gave A+ grades to last year, the wonderful Daughter of the Game (the other two were Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers and one which has been a favourite for years, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels). Whenever I find an author who can write such a great book, I immediately go looking for her backlist! The first one I got was Rightfully His (excerpt).

Francis Storbridge was once her best friend--though he had always wished for more. But Charlotte de Ribard sent him away, accusing him of collaborating in her blackguard father's most terrible crime. Now, years later, Frank is a member of Parliament and Charlotte's only hope to save her family from disgrace. In desperation, she appeals to the man she has tried to hate, prepared to risk anything--except her heart and the passion she'd buried so long ago.

To Frank's astonishment, Charlotte says yes--to a marriage of convenience. She will be his wife in name only, mother to his orphaned family. Suddenly everything he has always wanted is within his reach, yet beyond his grasp. Now it is his turn to earn her trust by honoring their bargain and protecting her from her powerful, ruthless father. Only then can he tempt her to the sweetest abandon of all, the kind only love can bring...
Oh, what an amazing book! Grant is an excellent plotter and I really liked the romance, too. Rightfully His was not as perfect as Daughter of the Game, but it was still an A-.

The book has the protagonists join forces against a common enemy, by entering into a marriage of convenience. Francis has always been in love with Charlotte, while she distrusts him because of some events in the past. The proximity of marriage and their work together to defeat Charlotte's father worked to slowly bring them together, and this was a joy to read.

Frank was my favourite type of hero, a kind, honourable person, who is remarkably tolerant of other people's weaknesses. He was wonderfully idealistic and yet pragmatic and realistic, and I loved the way he was with Charlotte. Charlotte was a nice character in her own right, intelligent and strong. I liked her, but I think I kept comparing her with Mélanie, from DOTG, and Charlotte definitely lost in the comparison.

The plotting and political intrigue was fascinating, and I liked that Daniel de Ribard was a villain with some subtlety and who was well-drawn and very definitely not over-the-top villainous.

As in Daughter of the Game, Grant makes the political intrigues and issues of the time intrinsecal to the plot. History is very definitely not wallpaper in her books, and she manages to integrate it wonderfully into the story. I was tickled to see that this was the second book I read in a couple of weeks which uses Castlereagh's suicide as a possible consequence of its villain's manouvering (the other one was Madeline Hunter's The Saint).

Something else I found interesting was that the book actually acknowledges the existence of South America at that time. I can't emphasize enough how rare that is. Even the historical romances with more history in them are tremendously centered on the events in England and often the US. Sometimes events in Continental Europe or the Caribbean colonies intrude, but South America? Almost never. Here, not only is there a character who's been married to a Brazilian nobleman, but there's a mention of event in Peru, with a character who pretends to be a Peruvian count trying to get Britain to acknowledge his country's independence from Spain. That rang very true, since I know Britain at that time was very involved diplomatically in things like this in South America. Right about then, the country was even intervening in the negotiations that made Uruguay an independent country, and there's actually a mention or two of real-life politicians who participated in that process.

I'm looking forward to reading the previous books related to this one (Shores of Desire and Shadows of the Heart). Both people and events from these books play important roles in this one; their appearances are not simply pointless visits to allow readers to catch up with them. Grant gives enough info here to allow Rightfully His to stand alone just fine, while tempting the reader to read those books (she does give quite a bit of the plot of those two away, though).


The Devil to Pay, by Liz Carlyle

>> Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Liz Carlyle is one of the very few auto-buy authors I have left, and I've been anxiously waiting for The Devil to Pay (excerpt), ever since I read A Deal With the Devil back in June.

George Kemble, the man forever fixing everyone else’s problems, finds himself plagued by troubles of his own when his sister returns to London after a decade abroad. Sidonie Saint-Godard has lost her husband, but widowhood, unfortunately, bores her. When a thief called the Black Angel begins haunting the hells and alleys of London, robbing rich gentlemen of the ton, Kemble is mystified. He knows every member of London’s underworld, yet he does not know the Angel. But when a battered Sidonie collapses on his doorstep, bleeding from a nasty stab wound, Kemble begins to suspect the truth. Can he stop Sidonie’s dangerous behavior before someone else does?

Perhaps the Marquess of Devellyn can? The man unaffectionately known as the Devil of Duke Street has a watchful eye on his new neighbor, the mysterious Frenchwoman known as Madame Saint-Godard. In fact, he would like very much to seduce her, since he finds the lady lovely, intriguing, and almost disturbingly familiar . . . But when Kemble hears of his sister’s fascination with society’s most reviled nobleman, he is doubly alarmed. The Marquess of Devellyn is the absolute last person Kemble wants his sister in bed with—and for reasons which have nothing to do with Devellyn’s appalling reputation.
Well, this wasn't my favourite of all the Carlyles I've read, but it was quite excellent anyway, a B+.

I really enjoyed both protagonists, who were both very different from the usual. In Devellyn, the author managed to create a hero who really was dissipated and promiscuous (one who we even saw being dissipated and promiscuous), and yet kept him likeable. I think the reason why I wasn't bothered by his womanizing was that he seemed to really like the women he got involved with, and treated them kindly, be them an infuriated former mistress, a dockside prostitute, like Sidonie pretended to be, or a gently bred lady.

Also, he seemed very honest about himself, very aware of what and who he was and of the fact that this might make him unattractive to the woman he thought Sidonie was. He pursued her very much against his intentions, or at least what he thought his intentions should be. His obsession both for Sidonie and for the mysterious Ruby Black was wonderfully done.

Sidonie was a lovely character, too. She was also honest about herself and very clearheaded about her motivations for taking so many risks and about the possible consequences of her actions. For once, I thought that the heroine's risky actions weren't stupid... Sidonie planned well and had the sang-froide to carry out those plans. I guess she could be considered very much a tortured heroine, one who seemed to have a bit of a death wish, even.

I really enjoyed Sidonie and Devellyn's interactions, both with her as Ruby and as the elegant widow, Sidonie. These two had wonderful chemistry, and I felt their mutual obsession developed beautifully into love. Devellyn was a bit stupid when he discovered Sidonie's alter ego, but he soon snapped out of it and dealt with it well.

The only real negative I could find in this book was that Carlyle's writing style sounds a bit different from the one in the earlier books that made me such a fan of this author. The book was still very well written, but I felt the style wasn't as distinctive as it once was, not as sumptuous and rich. Oh, well, I still have the early books to go back to again and again, and they're just so very rereadable!


Artists in Crime, by Ngaio Marsh

Ohh, I just adore cozy, Golden Age mysteries! Ngaio Marsh is a newish author for me, and I've very much enjoyed what I've read by her in the past. The latest was Artists in Crime.

It was a bizarre pose for beautiful model Sonia Gluck-and her last. For in the draperies of her couch lay a fatal dagger, and behind her murder lies all the intrigue and acid-etched temperament of an artist's colony. Called in to investigate, Scotland Yard's Inspector Roderick Alleyn finds his own passions unexpectedly stirred by the feisty painter Agatha Troy-brilliant artist and suspected murderess.
I'd been particularly wanting to read this title, since it's the one in which Marsh's detective, Roderick Alleyn, falls in love with the woman who'll be his wife, artist Agatha Troy. While the romance was just "nice", I did like the mystery quite a bit. I'd grade this a B.

The best part about this book was actually taking a look at a setting and way of life which just aren't used for settings nowadays, the period between the two World Wars. Artists in Crime was written in 1938 and set in an artists' colony, a group of painters and sculptors gathered to take classes from the famous Agatha Troy. I found this really fascinating, the attitudes, the morality, even the ways of speaking.

The book's focus is a neat mystery, well-constructed and interesting. Marsh played perfectly fair with the clues, and I finally saw what had happened right when the detective did, which is the best possible outcome, because it affords the reader the satisfaction of solving the mystery without making the supposedly brilliant detective look like a fool for not deducing the truth before.

The romance, as I said, was just nice. Alleyn, who had seemed to me a bit dull in Overture to Death was much more interesting here, but there just wasn't enough Alleyn-Troy interaction to make this part of the book really work.

Still, it was a good, satisfying read.


Courting Trouble, by Nonnie St. George

I liked the first Nonnie St. George book I read, The Ideal Bride. Even though the humour was a bit too slap-stick for me most of the time, it had a wonderful romance. I heard at various message boards that her following book, Courting Trouble, featured a more witt-based type of humour, so I really wanted to give it a try.

I had the opposite reaction to Courting Trouble that I did to The Ideal Bride. While I loved the humour, the romance was a huge failure for me. My grade would be a C+.

St. George has a wonderful eye for satire, and she's incredible witty. I kept laughing out loud, especially during the first half of the book. The way she made fun of the conventions of the genre and of her own characters was priceless, and I kept finding little jewels every couple of paragraphs. To tell the truth, I didn't think the author would be able to keep up the manic pace, but she did, and that element of the book was what I enjoyed best of all.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the romance nearly as much. I just hated that the plot mainly consisted on everyone trying to bully the heroine into marry the hero. Maybe I would have come to like the book if St. Fell had experienced at least an instant of uncertainty, but he spent the entire 250 pages being just as smug, condescending and manipulative. By the end of the book, I wasn't even enjoying the humour as much, because I was so put out by St. Fell's arrogance.


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