Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

>> Thursday, September 28, 2006

I'm not much of a YA reader (I didn't even read YA books when I was a YA... I don't think I knew at the time that such a thing existed, actually), but Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer generated such an intense buzz that I was interested enough to buy it.

About three things I was certain.

First, Edward was a vampire.

Second, there was a part of him - and I didn't know how dominant that part might be - that thirsted for my blood.

And Third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

Isabella Swan's move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella's life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife - between desire and danger.
Well, I liked it. I didn't think it was the best book ever written, and it isn't going to send me on a YA glom, but it was a good read. A B.

Bella Swan didn't want to move to Forks, Washington, the rainiest, most boring place in the country, but her mom has recently married again, and her husband is a baseball player. Bella knows her mother would love to go with her new husband in his constant travels, so she decides to sacrifice and go live with her dad for a while.

Forks is just as rainy as Bella remembered from when she lived there, but it's not nearly as boring. At least, not once she meets the Cullens.

The Cullens are weird. Beautiful, but weird, especially Edward. Bella really can't understand what his problem is with her: sometimes he acts as if he finds her disgusting, sometimes as if he finds her fascinating. And when he saves her from being hit by a car in such a way that should have been impossible, Bella begins to suspect that there's something not quite human about him.

This is an extremely readable book. It's very long, but it's written in such a way that it reads very quickly, especially the first sections. Meyer lost a bit of my interest the end, though (more on this later).

The book is best and most interesting when Meyer is developing Bella and Edward's relationship. We readers know from the beginning that he's a vampire (at least, those of us who read the back cover blurbs do!), but Meyer manages to make him mysterious and the intriguing anyway. Why did he immediately have this strange reaction to her? What is his story? Who are these people he lives with? And for those of us who've read about 1001 different vampire mythologies lately, just what does being a vampire mean in Meyer's universe?

When we start getting our answers, the book gets more and more absorbing. Bella and Edward's is an extremely emotional, sexually charged relationship. Nothing more happens than a few (very passionate) kisses, but the sexual tension here was thicker than in a lot of erotic romance I've read.

There isn't really much conflict in their feelings... I mean, pretty soon, she loves him and he loves her, but Edward's nature presents a pretty much insurmountable one, because Meyer's vampires are very definitely not cute and cuddly and inoffensive ones. Given this, it would have been easy to cross the line into a woe-is-me, overwrought tone, but Meyer manages not to do this.

I had basically two problems with Twilight. One of them concerns a plot issue, and I guess would be more minor, while the other one has to do with the whole concept of the romance between Bella and Edward, and is the reason why I don't think I'll read the next book in the series, New Moon.

I'll start with the smaller problem. Once the other vampires show up and the suspense subplot comes into play, the book became a lot less interesting to me. I thought there was more than enough conflict intrinsic in Bella and Edward's relationship that we didn't need to have this out-of-nowhere external conflict appear. It wasn't particularly interesting one, either.

As for the bigger problem, it's basically that unless Bella is turned into a vampire, too, (and this is not a path I see Meyer taking) I just don't see a way in which her relationship with Edward can have a happy ending.

Why? Well, it has to be one thing or the other. Either Edward is forever 17 physically, but time passes for him emotionally, in which case it's icky, because this is then a 100-year-old man with a 17-year-old girl, or he's forever 17 both physically AND emotionally, in which case, what's the future of the relationship? In 10 years she'll be a 27-year-old woman with a 17-year-old boy. Both options are bad.

Fortunately, this was something that didn't occur to me until after I'd finished the book, so while I was actually reading, other than the silly suspense subplot at the end, I enjoyed the romance and the plot tremendously.


A request

Would any kind soul who has both Elizabeth Adler's Peach and a scanner do me the HUGE favour of scanning a few pages for me? Or rather, for my mom.

See, mom is a huge fan of Adler and wants to reread Peach. Her original copy got wet when our roof developed a leak a few years ago and we had to throw it out, so I bought her a replacement at amazon marketplace. Well, the damn new (used) copy arrived yesterday, and it's missing the first 16 pages!

Soooo, I'd really appreciate it if someone could scan the few pages we're missing. It wouldn't really be all 16, because you can read the first 6 at in their look inside feature. Thank you so much!

PS - We got the original edition. Page 17 starts with "Supplying drugs, women -anything he can put a price on- to those who need them", and around the middle of the page another scene starts: "Leonie could never enter Monsieur's house without a flicker of fear....


Silhouette in Scarlet, by Elizabeth Peters

>> Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ok, finally catching up with some books a read a while ago. Lately the reviews of the books I finish have practically been writing themselves, so there are two or three titles I read last month that have been left behind. One of them is the third in Elizabeth Peters's Vicky Bliss series. Though actually, Silhouette in Scarlet is only the second book in which Vicky and her love interest, Sir John Smythe, appear together.

One perfect rose and one perfectly mysterious plane ticket to Stockholm have American art historian and sleuth Vicky Bliss off to Sweden and over her pretty head (and at 5'11" that's deep) in danger. Her former lover, the sexy bad boy of the antiquities world, Sir John Smythe, has set her up for a rendezvous with trouble, not romance. Before Vicky can say Leif Eriksson, she's being courted by a dashing Viking, shadowed by an elderly silhouette cutter, and whisked away by limousine to an island mansion in search of long-lost Nordic treasure. Vicky never suspects that her life may depend on finding it—or that her feminine urge to kill the rascally Sir John may lead to his murder, at someone else's hand...
Smart, sexy and incredibly funny, SIS is excellent. A B+.

As the book opens we find out that, as John promised Vicky at the end of Street of the Five Moons, he did keep in touch, after a fashion. And "after a fashion" means in such a way that Vicky was left extremely pissed off with him (the little rat ran out on her after a romantic weekend in Paris, sticking her with both the hotel bill and the questions of some angry policemen).

So when Vicky receives a box from him containing one rose, a plain ticket to Stockholm and a mysterious message reading "Wieland Fabrica", she's not inclined to go running after him. But she does need a vacation, and she's not one to throw away a perfectly valid plain ticket just out of spite, so she decides she's going. She'll simply go on holiday, she thinks, and refuse to get involved in whatever scam John wants to involve her in.

But refusing to get involved isn't so easy, and soon Vicky is mixed up in something that has gone out of control, involving Viking treasure, a gang of criminals, a mysterious silhouette cutter and a poor old gentleman who thinks he's her cousin Gustaf.

The mystery is fascinating, the secondary characters are brilliant (and extremely funny), but as always, it's Vicky and John who carry the book with their relationship. And they are in top form here. I love Vicky more with every book. I love how she's not anyone's fool and how the usually very smooth John can never really know what to expect from her and has had to accept that his attempts at manipulation will probably not have the expected effects.

And, as always, I especially appreciate how she's so self-aware and, try as she might, can never really convince herself that her motives are anything other than what they are. When she's being petty, Vicky knows she's being petty, and she accepts that about herself, without making up her mind that she's doing such and such a thing for a more noble reason. I find that very attractive in a character.

Vicky and John are incredible together. Their interactions are very romantic, but not in a sappy, schmaltzy way. As they poke fun at themselves and each other, you can just see their feelings shining through. They see each other extremely clearly (Vicky on John: "He isn’t a very successful thief. He’s smart enough, and God knows he’s tricky, but he is also a dedicated coward. When he hears the heavy footsteps of cops or competitors thundering toward him, he drops everything and runs. That may not seem like an attractive quality, but it is actually one of John’s more appealing traits. If everybody were as reluctant to inflict or endure pain, there wouldn’t be any wars, or muggings of helpless little old ladies.") and are crazy about one another anyway, and that's my idea of romance!

Oh, also, as in every single book in this series, I absolutely loved the setting. This was special, though. I don't know why, but there's something about Sweden that has always fascinated me, and I loved visiting Stockholm and some of the countryside with Vicky. You just don't get many romances (or romantic fiction, at any rate) set in contemporary (-ish) Sweden!

Off to get Trojan Gold from my shelves now. That one was always my favourite in the series, and I can't wait to see if it still is!


One-Night Man, by Jeanie London

>> Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Erm, I think I forgot to enter Angie's TBR challenge this month, but here's my read, anyway. This month we had to read a category romance or a book that is part of a series. I went for a category, a Harlequin Blaze.

Title:One-Night Man

Author: Jeanie London

Year published: 2002

Why did you get this book?: I'm not exactly sure; it's been in my TBR for a while. I suspect I must have picked it up because I liked another of London's Blazes, Secret Games. I probably bought it before I read her How To Host a Seduction, though.


Is one night enough to cure a grand passion?

Josh Eastman is a grand passion waiting to happen. A fantasy come to life. One look at this sexy private investigator has Lennon McDarby thinking scandalous thoughts about long, hot nights. But long, hot nights with Mr. Wrong are not in her future. She's looking for a nice respectable man for a nice, safe relationship. No excess desire to make her crazy, which is what's happening with Josh! Maybe, though, her search can wait a night-or two-while she gets this irresistible man out of her system...

Problem is, this Mr. Wrong is convinced Lennon is Ms Right. He's never met a woman more perfect for him than Lennon. And he's determined to prove it to her-even if he has to use her own fantasies to persuade her that they need a lifetime of nights to explore the heat between them.

Do you like the cover?: No. The design's ok, not horrific, but nothing special, but it's printed in a way that looks dingy and low-quality. I don't know if it really shows in the jpg I've included here, but my copy looked as if there were another image superimposed on the cover.

Did you enjoy the book?: I didn't, I was extremely bored by it and irritated by the silly contrivances. I'm giving it a C-, and the only reason I'm not going with a D grade is because I reserve those for books I found offensive in some way, and this one wasn't.

One-Night Man in a few sentences:

External conflict: Lennon McDarby's helping her great-aunt put together an exhibition of erotic art, and the usual nuts are protesting and making threatening noises. So Great-aunt Quinevere asks Josh Eastman (her long-time lover's grandson) to stick close to Lennon and protect her from any danger.

Internal conflict: Lennon believes passion must be kept separate from love. Men who inspire out-of-control passion are good for affairs (and she's had and enjoyed a few), but for marriage, she wants someone who doesn't drive her crazy. She wants a relationship that will be staid and stable. Josh inspires out-of-control passion, so therefore, he's fine for an affair, but nothing more.

Both internal and external conflicts were problematic for me.

The external plot was beyond contrived and silly. Josh guarding her through all the "erotic activities" they have planned for the exhibit's promo? Typical of the Blazes I hate, those which go for ridiculous situations supposed to generate heat instead of finding the heat in more believable setups. Yawn. Like, of course the hotel is full, so Lennon and Josh will need to share their hotel room and sleep in the same bed. Can you get any more clichéd than that?

I think the more I read, the pickier I'm getting. I probably would have been ok with this a few years ago. If you look at my early reviews in this blog, back in 2002, you'll probably see me raving about books similar to this one.

As for the internal plot, Lennon's schizoid distinction between the guys who are fling- and marriage-material was idiotic and didn't make for a compelling conflict. Yet another fake conflict, and I've read too many lately.

Maybe if there had been convincing chemistry between Lennon and Joshua, the book could have been saved, but there wasn't. The love scenes were plentiful and varied, but didn't engage me. Actually, they bored the hell out of me.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again?: Not new, I've read two of her books, as I mentioned above. One was very good, the other was like this one. I'm not sure if I'd read something else by her. Probably not unless I heard some very good buzz about it.

Are you keeping it or passing it on?: Passing it on. Unless anyone here wants it, it's going into the box bound for the British Hospital's retirement home.


The Splendour Falls, by Susanna Kearsley

I fell in love with Canadian author Susanna Kearsley's books when, thanks to a recommendation in my Barbara Michaels book group, I read The Shadowy Horses. My experience with this book was a bit weird: I could see its flaws and weaknesses perfectly, but it was still an A+ for me. There was something about it that clicked with me in such a way that I even loved what I know were its problems.

After that, I immediately ordered what books I could get from her backlist. Named of the Dragon and Season of Storms were easy to get, and a year later, I was able to find her first, Mariana. They were very good. Not as perfect as TSH, but extremely enjoyable.

I was still missing three books though. Undertow and The Gemini Game are impossible to get (we're talking about some $100 here), but I had some hopes I could find a cheapish copy of The Splendour Falls. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I did. The copy I found listed in abebooks had its cover a bit torn in the corners (the reason why it was affordable), but I didn't mind.

Chinon -- château of legend, steeped in the history of France and England. It is to Chinon that Emily goes on a long-awaited holiday, to meet her charming but uinreliable cousin, Harry. Harry wanted to explore the old town and the castle, where Queen Isabelle, child bride of King John, had withstood the siege of Chinon many centuries ago, and where, according to legend, she hid her casket of jewels.

But when Emily arrives at her hotel she finds that Harry has disappeared, and as she tries to find him she becomes involved with some of the other guests and learns of a mystery dating from the German occupation during the Second World War. Another Isabelle, a chambermaid at the hotel, fell in love with a German soldier, with tragic results.

Emily becomes increasingly aware of strange tensions, old enmities and new loves; as she explores the city, with its labyrinthine dungeons and tunnels and its ancient secrets, she comes ever closer to the mystery of what happened to both the Isabelles of Chinon's history.
I started TSF two weeks ago and drew it out as long as I could, because reading it was such a pleasurable experience. This isn't a book to read for 15 minutes between tasks, or while waiting for the bus; it's one to read in a comfy chair, feet up and a glass of good wine at your elbow. It's not really a page-turner, so I could pace myself without much trouble. A B+.

When Emily Braden's cousin Harry badgers her into accepting to come with him to the medieval town of Chinon (see location here) for a holiday, she just knows it's not going to work out as planned. Harry has a history of not being where he promises he'll be, and so Emily's not surprised when she arrives and he's nowhere to be seen.

She's not too worried, either. Plantagenet-mad historian Harry's very interested in investigating the tunnels under and around the Château Chinon, in which he suspects Isabelle, John Lackland's young bride might have hidden a treasure before she escaped from the château under siege, so Emily knows he'll turn up sooner or later. She'll simply settle in at the hotel (fortunately, Harry did make the promised reservations!) and explore a bit on her own.

And she does have a lot of fun, at first. Chinon is beautiful, and she's soon settled in with the people at the hotel and even some Chinon residents. But as the days go by and Harry doesn't show up, Emily begins to get worried. And she begins to get the feeling that some of her newfound acquaintances are hiding something.

I think it's fair to say that if you've enjoyed other Kearsley books, you'll probably enjoy this one. It's got that mix of fascinating history with more contemporary drama, all set before a wonderful backdrop.

One of the best elements of TSF is its atmosphere. Chinon is a character in its own right, and provides an excellent setting. This is a constant in all this author's books: she finds unique settings (an archeological excavation in Scotland, searching for a lost Roman legion in The Shadowy Horses, a beautiful villa in Northern Italy in Season of Storms, a house built next to a ruined tower in Wales in Named of the Dragon...), and makes them come alive. She did the same with Chinon. She writes in the dedication that she actually spent some time there, and this shows in the level of detail.

But it's not just a matter of knowing exactly where each stone is set, it takes a special ability to be able to make the reader see what she's seeing, touch what she's touching and even smell what she's smelling, and it's an ability Kearsley has got, in spades. After I was done with the book, there was nothing I wanted more than to go there, stay at the Hôtel de France, as Emily did (is this the Hôtel de France, where they stay? It sure sounds like it. But it's a Best Western! That kind of ruins the mood, I'm afraid), and be served drinks at the bar by Thierry. I wanted to sit under the statue of Rabelais and watch the river, and I wanted to explore the castle and go visit the Cave des Cloches and try their wine. That was one of the main reasons I didn't want the book to end: I didn't want to leave Chinon.

Something else that was interesting about TSF's atmosphere was its timeless feel. It reminded me more of Mary Stewart than of Barbara Michaels, as some of Kearsley's other books did. Even though it was published in 1995, the setting could easily have been moved to the 1960s without having to change many details. Yes, it needed to be set a certain number of years after WWII, but other than that, any changes made would have been minor.

I really enjoyed the plot. I loved the way the investigation into Harry's whereabouts intersected with the mystery of Isabelle de Angoulême's hidden treasure and the hidden treasure of yet another Isabelle, a young Frenchwoman who fell in love with a German soldier during WWII. Both were fascinating, and I appreciated the way the solutions mirrored each other.

The characters populating this book were just as interesting as the mystery. Well, other than Emily, that is. I never found her to be a particularly compelling narrator (which would be the only negative in the book), but the people around her were more than colourful enough. I liked that though they were colourful and had their faults, they were all of them basically good people. I've read a couple of books lately in which the characters were interesting but so nasty that I reached the last page feeling depressed about humanity. Not so here. Even the villain had a humanity to him/her, and you could almost understand what had led him/her to those actions.

I did end the book a little bit depressed though, but that was because a character I was half in love with is murdered. I don't count it as a negative, because I see it really was necessary to the story, to increase the stakes. Plus, it inspired one of the most touching moments in the book, which was Emily's posthumous tribute to him. So well, the ending was a bit bittersweet. There is a nice (if subtle) romance, which made me happy, but my smile at the end of the book was probably a little sad.

To close this review, a little note, probably of interest only to me: Emily's father is a diplomat, and he's living in Uruguay, of all places, working at the British Legation in Montevideo! It was such a jolt to see this; as you can imagine, it's not particularly common for my tiny country to be mentioned in anything other than football histories (we won the 1930 and 1950 World Cups) or international trade texts (because of the GATT's Uruguay Round, which gave birth to the WTO). Anyway, Mr. Braden plays a not unimportant role in the book... he and Emily actually talk on the phone a few times, and he uses some of the influence he still has to aid her investigations. I found it very funny that every time Emily phones Uruguay, it's a huge deal... they don't talk much because if she were to phone Uruguay very often she'd go bankrupt, the lines are so bad it's like talking to someone on the moon, and so on. A funny little detail for me.

After years of searching for info about her online, I'm happy to report that Kearsley now has a website. In it, I discovered she had a new book out just earlier this month, and it's fortunate I discovered the website, because she's publishing it under a new pseudonym, Emma Cole. The title is Every Secret Thing, and it sounds great!

I do hope she adds more info, though, since there just isn't much there. For instance, she says "Please visit the newly updated Emma Cole page", but never says where that page IS! I tried googling and got nowhere (it's probably too new) and then random pages (,,, and finally found her at Kearsley mentions there that Evert Secret Thing is supposed to be an old-style thriller, without the paranormal thread that usually runs through the Susanna Kearsley books (boo-hoo, I love that supernatural element!), and that's why it was published under another name.

Whatever it is like, I hope I can get it soon... according to amazon US, the book came out on September 16th, but though they have it in stock, it takes 2 to 4 weeks for them to ship it. I also checked in Amazon Canada and Amazon UK... Canada because that's where the author is from, the UK because that's where the publisher, Allison & Busby, is from. Amazon Canada shows October 15th as the release date (both for the paperback and the hardcover), while Amazon UK has September 16th, and ships immediately.


River of Fire, by Mary Jo Putney

>> Friday, September 22, 2006

River of Fire is one title most people never mention when talking about Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angels series and its spin-offs. I've heard it called not really a part of the series and "the least necessary "Angels" book", for instance, and I guess that's not wrong. Unlike the other heroes, Kenneth wasn't a character who had been screaming for his own book throughout the series. Be that as it may, ROF has always been one of my favourites.


He was known as the Demon Warrior. As rebel, soldier, hero, and spy, Kenneth Wilding had never known defeat. But nothing can save his heritage when he returns from the wars to an empty title and a ravaged estate. Nothing--until a stranger offers a devil’s bargain: financial salvation in return for Kenneth’s special subversive skills. Reluctantly, Kenneth enters the household of the greatest artist in England to unmask a terrible crime. But he also discovers something infinitely more dangerous: a tantalizing new way of life and an irresistible woman. Everything he has ever wanted, and can never have.


After a scandal destroys her trust and her reputation, tempestuous Rebecca Seaton withdraws to her attic studio and buries herself in her work. Then Kenneth Wilding sweeps into her life, dazzling her senses with his pirate’s face and poet’s soul. Warily, they slide into a duel of desire that brings both searing risks and shattering fulfillment. But Kenneth’s secret mission comes between them, unleashing a danger that threatens Rebecca’s life even as a passion sweeps them into a river of fire that transforms their very souls.
A few weeks ago I read one of Putney's newer releases, A Kiss of Fate. I liked it well enough, but reading River of Fire has really brought it home to me that Putney's books used to have a certain quality to them that just isn't there any more. To bad she's not writing them like this now, but at least I can reread! ROF was an A-.

Kenneth Wilding, the new Viscount Kimball, returns home from war to find his ancestral home devastated by his late father's infatuation with his young wife. The woman was a greedy bitch (yeah, yeah, *eyes rolling* and a pretty clichéd one, too, but that's pretty much the only bad thing about this book, so don't despair), and the old Lord Kimball sold and mortgaged whatever he could get his hands on to cater to her every whim.

So when Kenneth comes back home, it's to find huge mortgages on the house and no way to pay them. But he finds a possible way out when a gentleman offers him a deal: all his debts will be cancelled if he accepts to undertake a certain investigation.

The gentleman is Lord Bowden, and what he wants Kenneth to do is to infiltrate the home of Britain's most famous painter, Lord Anthony Seaton, and investigate the death of Seaton's wife. Why does Lord Bowden care? Well, the dead woman, Helena, had once been Bowden's fiancée, but left him for his brother, who just happens to be Lord Seaton. Bowden is still somewhat obsessed with her, and believes her husband has murdered her.

Kenneth isn't too happy with his assignment and dislikes the deception involved, but the offer is irresistible. After all, he's not doing anything illegal and he won't be harming any innocents. If Bowden's suspicions are correct, a murderer will be punished. If they're not, the man's will have some peace of mind. And even if the results are inconclusive, as long as he's given the investigation his best effort, Kenneth's debts will be paid anyway. No problems at all, right?

Wrong. Kenneth easily obtains the position of Seaton's secretary and starts his inquiries. But he didn't count on coming to like the man, and much less on his growing attraction to Rebecca, his daughter. As these two become friends and then even more involved, and Rebecca helps him make his dream of seriously painting come true, Kenneth's deception weighs more and more heavily on his mind.

My love for this book is all about the characters. The mystery subplot is interesting, but it does nothing more than provide the initial setup and add an element of conflict to the romance, as Kenneth feels he has to fight his attraction for Rebecca because he knows she'll feel betrayed when she finds out why he is in her house. Heh, nothing more. What I mean is, there isn't a huge focus on Kenneth's investigation. He keeps his eyes open and tries to talk to people about Helena as much as possible, but it's not something that's particularly obtrusive during the book. Much more attention is paid to the development of the romance.

Rebecca is a very interesting character. Ever since she was ruined as a young debutante, she's been living like a hermit in her house, devoting herself to her painting. The story of her ruination gives a good idea of who this woman is: it wasn't a tragic episode in which Rebecca was the victim, or anything like that. She thought she was in love with a poet and they eloped, but halfway through the elopement, she realized the guy was an idiot, so she went back home. Anyway, ever since, she's told herself she doesn't mind being ruined because she doesn't care about society anyway, so she's been home, painting wonderful pictures no one but her family sees.

Until Kenneth arrives. I loved this guy. This is a man whose very stable, reasonable façade hides an artist tortured by his experiences in the war, most especially by the death of his lover, a young Spanish guerrilla. Rebecca sees the turmoil inside him immediately, though, and just has to paint him.

These scenes in which Kenneth poses for his portrait are probably the most wonderful parts of the book. They're tremendously sensual, and perfectly show their attitudes towards each other shift. First they go from not liking each other and not being particularly comfortable in each other's presence to being friends. And then they go from friends to lovers, in a lovely process.

One of the things I liked best was that the way Putney shows us that Kenneth and Rebecca care for each other. They each intuit what it is that the other wants more than anything in the world but is afraid to reach for, and they do their best to help. This is what happens with Kenneth showing Rebecca that it's possible for her to take her place in society, and with Rebecca showing Kenneth that he can, too, become a serious painter if he wants to (and that he can use his talent as a way to exorcize his nightmares).

And speaking of painting, I absolutely loved the peek into this world that we get through ROF. The way Putney described them, I could almost see the pictures these people painted. Actually, I wish I really could see them, especially Rebecca's. I guess some of the theory on painting might be construed as info-dumping, but it didn't feel that way to me, maybe because it was just so incredibly interesting.

You know, for some reason, this has been quite a difficult review to write. I've just read back what I've written and I don't think I've managed to really convey how much I loved this book and why. What I've written reads like the review of a very good book, not a great one. I guess that's because what made me love this one so much wasn't an objective thing, but the way it captured me and made me feel immersed in that world, and how I didn't want it to end because I wanted to be there with these people for a while longer!


Bloodline, by Jill Jones

I've sincerely no idea of why I bought so many books by Jill Jones. The two of hers that I've read (one written as Emily LaForge) haven't been good. Both have been books I wanted to like, because they had extremely intriguing ideas behind them, but the execution was so mediocre that I couldn't.

But I still couldn't stop myself from buying a batch of her books on Amazon Auctions. One of them was Bloodline.

Victoria Thomas is one of the FBI's finest criminal profilers, a career born of the tragic, unsolved murder of her younger sister. She's also a closet "Sherlockian," involved in a group that follows the famous English detective. This hobby leader her to London, to a symposium on Sherlock Holmes, where she finds unexpected passion....and a chilling murder mystery involving a modern-day Jack the Ripper.He's murdering women and leaving clever, diabolical messages for Victoria to follow. He's teasing her, taunting her, daring her to find him. For he, too, is following his calling--answering the terrible demons of his bloodline, proving he is every bit as elusive as his infamous ancestor.In the chilling Bloodline, Jill Jones weaves a spellbinding tale of icy suspense, haunting romance, and lost history, that spans from the time of Jack the Ripper in 1888, to this very day.
I should have learned my lesson with those two books. My experience with Bloodline was almost exactly the same: fascinating idea behind it, a plot with some very interesting aspects to it, but crappy characterization and a tendency to go over the top with her plots. A C.

When her sister was found butchered in a motel room and the police bungled the investigation, Victoria Thomas decided to go into law enforcement. Seven years later, she's one of the FBI's best profilers. She puts all her energy into her job and practically has no life. Which is why, after a particularly harrowing case, her boss insists she take a vacation.

Did I say Vicky has no life? Well, she does have a hobby. She's a Sherlockian, and she decides to take advantage of her forced vacation by taking a trip to London to attend a convention of fellow Holmes afficionados. On the first morning, she meets Jonathan Blake, a Scotland Yard inspector and a Ripperologist who's there to deliver a conference to the Sherlockians on Jack the Ripper (the theme of that particular convention is "Where was Sherlock Holmes when we needed him?", or something like that. Maybe it's just the nerd in me talking, but it sounded pretty cool!).

Vicky and Jonathan clash at first (he doesn't believe in anything but evidence he can touch, and has no time for that profiler mumbo-jumbo), but they're soon very attracted to each other and begin an affair. But that night a crime is committed in Whitechapel by someone who seems to be channeling Jack the Ripper, and it becomes clear that the killer is somehow focused on Victoria. And so the hunt starts, with Vicky and Jonathan working together to catch the killer, first in Britain, and later in the United States when he takes his crimes across the Atlantic and goes on a rampage all over that country.

At first, I thought this one was going to be better than the others, but my hopes were soon dashed. For instance, Jonathan and the romance. At first, I quite liked the guy, and I liked his hesitance because he's not good with women and he feels Victoria won't pay attention to him. But after a while, the wishy-washy idiot started driving me nuts with all his bitching and moaning about how he isn't good enough for Vicky, and how they have nothing in common because she comes from a rich family and his dad is a steelworker from Manchester. Er, I don't know, great sex, a career in law-enforcement and a passion for justice? Sounds good, for starters (and a bit corny; I apologize). Anyway, he kept trying to make a huge deal out of nothing, and that just smelled like fake conflict to me.

Vicky I soon began to dislike intensely. When they first start work on the case, she's there completely unofficially. One would think a good profiler in that situation woud try to be unobtrusive and observe all she can, but not our Vicky. She immediately starts acting as if she's in charge of that investigation. She's way out of line by butting in and insisting on making her sweeping pronouncements instead of allowing the policemen to work. She's a real jerk, in short, and very unprofessional. Take her first outburst. Jonathan has allowed her to go with him and observe, and they meet one of his men, who's interviewing a potential female suspect. Well, Vicky immediately pronounces her not a suspect and tells Jonathan that it's because these and these and these reasons. All in front of the woman. Give me a break!

And to make things worse, she's one of those ninnies who are fond of either refusing or forgetting to take the precautions they promised they would. When the idiot was offering herself as bait for the killer and she decided she needed to take a bike to go buy doughnuts (stupid enough on its own), and then she forgot to take her monitoring device, I hoped the killer would suceed in killing her (I had NO doubts that she would be attacked?)

The romance itself is very lukewarm and all tell and no show. Jones would tell us frequently that these two were incredibly hot for each other, but to be honest, if she hadn't been telling me, I would never have guessed it from seeing these two together. Well, other than the fact that they kept having sex, but even that frequent sex was really cold, so I could be forgiven for thinking they weren't hot for each other in spite of this!

As for the whole deal about their very different investigation styles (the profiling vs hard evidence thing), this was something else that smelled of fake conflict. As far as I know, profiling is pretty mainstream these days, and it's not "intuition" (though.... is astrology an accepted method of profiling? Like: "he's organized and meticulous, so he's probably a Virgo, but passionate, so he must have some Leo ascendents", or whatever. I'm not rejecting this out of hand (though I my first impulse is to do so), but it does seem weird). Jonathan's big eye-opening, when he accepts Vicky's profiling might actually contribute something to an investigation? Didn't buy it. Why would he change his mind, if her profiling never actually helped discover anything? It felt to me more as if he changed his mind just because he's hot for a profiler.

The case is actually pretty entertaining, if you ignore all this silliness. The author has an interesting theory about the identity of Jack the Ripper, and though she doesn't really argue it here (what she does is basically invent diaries and letters and missing police files that would prove it), it's fun to read. And the modern case, the modern Jack the Ripper who starts his rampage in Whitechapel and then takes it to the US, well, that was pretty good, too. Too graphic, and I kind of got the feeling the author was relishing them too much for my taste, but I enjoyed it.

I was toying with giving this book a slightly higher grade until we got to the ending. First there's the fact that both these two ace investigators, but most especially Vicky, suddenly became majorly obtuse. They were just incredibly slow to make connections. Like, there at the end of the book, Vicky is in a car with the murderer, and he's been ranting and raving about how he's going to kill her and how he's killed a certain person, and suddenly, after he's been going on for quite a while, Vicky astutely deduces "Oh, then you're the copycat Ripper" A round of applause for you, lady! And sorry, but it was sooooo obvious that it was this person. Or when it took a hundred hints before she realized the connection between William Coleman, the man she'd sent to prison, and a certain suspect, a connection that would have been obvious to anyone with half a brain on their first meeting. The more the book progressed, the less I believed that this woman could be a profiler.

And the resolution of the whole deal about discovering the identity of the original Jack the Ripper completely sucked, IMO. Ok, I'm going to have to go into spoilers here, you know what to do. [[[So they finally have in their hands the documentary proof of Jack the Ripper's identity (it's Queen Victoria's grandson, Prince Eddy, working with his lover... not a spoiler, we know this almost from the beginning), and that the Queen ordered this to be covered up. And these two brilliant investigators receive a summons from the current Queen to go meet her and bring all this material with them... and they do! My god, can you get any more stupid? Of course, they're forcibly relieved of all their diaries and letters and physical evidence, duh. Well, serves them right for being idiots.]]]

I should be saying here that all those other Jill Jones titles in my TBR are going to remain unread, but I'm not that sure I'll be strong enough to resist those fascinating-sounding plots, even knowing it's 99.9% certain they're not going to live up to their promise. There's always that 0.1%!


Eternal Nights, by Patti O'Shea

>> Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Eternal Nights (excerpt) is Patti O'Shea's long-awaited (by me, at least), return to the world she set up in Ravyn's Flight.

Capt. Kendall Thomas has been plagued by dreams of blood, dreams so horrifying they leave her trembling in the night. Kendall has good reason to be afraid. She's discovered thieves are stealing artifacts from the alien city on Jarved Nine, and the smugglers will do anything to protect their lucrative sideline-even commit murder.

The last man Kendall wanted to endanger was her best friend Wyatt Montgomery, but the stubborn Special Ops captain followed her when she went to gather evidence, and the smugglers trapped them both in the city's ancient pyramid. Now by day, they're chased through labyrinthine tunnels, deeper and deeper into the heart of the temple. But in the cloak of darkness, they can no longer deny the powerful force drawing them together, the passionate dreams that leave them aching with need, the touch of skin on skin that makes them long for-ETERNAL NIGHTS.
Friends-to-lovers plots are a weakness of mine, and this was a good one. A B.

If you've read Ravyn's Flight, you'll remember that after trekking for days through Jarved Nine, Damon and Ravyn discovered a mysterious alien city that had originally been settled by a civilization which died because of the evil Damon and Ravyn themselves had been fighting.

Well, Eternal Nights starts a couple of years after this. Kendall Thomas and Wyatt Montgomery are stationed in the Old City, part of a contingent of several thousands troops sent there from Earth. They're very good friends and have been so from the very day they met, when they just clicked.

But Wyatt doesn't want to be just friends with Kendall. He's crazy in love with her. And not just that: Wyatt has always known that he's been reincarnated, and the minute he saw Kendall, he knew she was the reincarnation of the woman who'd been his true love in that past life. Wyatt knows Kendall has certain issues with trust and commitment (and obviously, if he went to her with his weird story about past lives and reincarnated lovers, she'd think he was crazy), so he's been biding his time, trying to advance their relationship step by step.

But that relationship takes some giant steps forward when Kendall discovers a ring of smugglers who've been stealing valuable artifacts from Jarved Nine, and she and Wyatt end up locked up in the mysterious pyramid in the centre of the Old City. And as they explore secret rooms and try to avoid both alien booby-traps and modern smugglers who want to finish them off, Wyatt and Kendall make some explorations of a more personal nature.

Ok, first of all, let's get this out of the way for those of you who are a bit leery of fated / reincarnated lovers plots. So am I. This very definitely isn't a draw for me. I'm often bothered by the lack of self-determination and by the fact that some authors seem to think that because the love is preordained, they don't need to show why and how their characters are in love.

So, did it work here? I thought it did. I liked how O'Shea dealt with the issue of the issue of whether Wyatt was in love with Kendall because she was Kendall, or because she was the reincarnation of Kaliana, "his" lover in that past life. In that sense, I especially appreciated that it's always very clear to him that while Berkant was in love with Kaliana, he is Wyatt, and he's different from Berkant. He, Wyatt, is in love with Kendall, not Kaliana, and in fact, if he were to have to spend time with Kaliana, he would probably want to strangle her after a while. He knows that what he loves about Kendall are the things that make her Kendall and not Kaliana, and I was perfectly convinced of this.

With that out of the way, I'll just say that I loved the friends to lovers thing, and I especially adored the way Wyatt was so in love with Kendall from the very beginning of the book (O'Shea hit on all my favourite plots here... I love unrequited love, especially when the one in love is the hero). Wyatt is a wonderful guy, maybe a bit too good to be true (honourable, kind, respectful, faithful, willing to be as patient as he needs to for Kendall to trust him completely... Not one rough edge to the guy), but I'm not complaining.

I thought the way he felt about Kendall was very nicely done. On one hand, he calls her "Bug" and sometimes seems to feel about her as if she's some sweet, delicate, cute little thing that needs to be cuddled and protected. But at the same time, he's very aware of the fact that she's a soldier and that she's one tough woman, and respects this and relies on her to rise to the circumstances. My kind of guy!

Kendall I had a bit more trouble with. She's smart enough, and her actions don't fall into TSTL territory, but I never completely bought the reasons why she was so reluctant to get involved with anyone. Hmm, actually, I'm not expressing it right. What I didn't buy was the way she thought of those reasons.

Let me explain: I thought it was perfectly valid that Kendall had some issues with abandonment because of her childhood, with her mother always searching out for true love, and Kendall always getting attached to each of the new daddies, and then having to leave them behind when her mom hightailed it out of there to look for her true true love. But she was a bit too rational about this... it reminded me a bit of the heroine's phobia about cops in Lisa Marie Rice's Port of Paradise: I wouldn't have had a problem if what happened was that Kendall intellectually understood that her mother's example shouldn't affect her behaviour, but still couldn't help but be influenced by it, but what I get here is that she firmly believes that this is something that's absolutely true and should affect her life, and that was much too foolish.

Anyway, while this did bother me, it was a minor thing, and I really enjoyed the romance. The pacing was great, with Wyatt and Kendall's relationship only gradually progressing (well, as gradually as it can be in a romance that takes place in a few days). I also liked the way O'Shea integrated the story of Berkant and Kaliana with theirs, with certain things mirroring each other (sometimes to Wyatt's consternation, as he felt the pyramid trying to claim Kendall as its guardian and take over her life, as it had with priestess Kaliana's) and certain others serving to show the difference between these two couples.

The plot, with our protagonists trying to find their way out of the pyramid, dealing both with the pyramid's defenses and with the people who are after them, reminded me quite a bit of a book I read last year, Ring of Fire, by Cinnamon Burke. That one also had its protagonists on an alien planet, trying to figure their way out of a mysterious structure. It was an interesting plot there and it was just as interesting here.

There's a secondary romance in Eternal Nights, and it was the same one as in Ravyn's Flight, continuing the relationship between Ravyn's brother, Alex Sullivan, and her best friend, Stacy. Stacy has discovered that she's pregnant, and this has given her the courage to leave Alex. After a few years, their relationship is still one-sided, with Stacy giving and giving and giving, and Alex never showing that he cares about her other than in bed. So when Stacy finds out the baby is coming, she decides she doesn't want it to grow up with parents in such a relationship, and leaves. Obviously, Alex feels much more than he's showing, he just has problems demonstrating it. This subplot started out very well, but it lost a lot of steam after a while. I liked the resolution well enough, but I wasn't too crazy about it.

All in all, a strong sequel to a book that I very much enjoyed. There's just something about O'Shea's voice that works for me.


Simply Love, by Mary Balogh

A few weeks ago there was an interesting thread in AAR's Reviews message board. If you're reading this long after I posted, sorry, but the thread might be gone already. It basically says that while the poster loves Mary Balogh's old Trad Regencies, she also loves what she's writing now. "...her newer books are equally good, in a different way", she says. And I agree, which is why I both spend more than I can afford on old, out of print Baloghs and eagerly anticipate each new release.

Her latest is Simply Love (excerpt), second in the Simply series, which started with the excellent (surely I'm not the only one who thought so?) Simply Unforgettable.

I should also mention that if you read ebooks, you should keep an eye on Fictionwise. Right after Simply Love came out, they had some very attractive offers. First the book had a 100% Micropay rebate (which means that Fictionwise charged your credit card the $18 the book costs, and you got the book + a $18 credit at Fictionwise, so Simply Love ended up being basically free), and then for a while it went for about $9, half-price. Alas, the price now is the full $17.95!

New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh returns to the elegance and sensuality of Regency England as she continues the enthralling story of four remarkable women–friends and teachers at Miss Martin’s School for Girls. At the center of this spellbinding novel is Anne Jewell, a teacher haunted by a scandalous past…until she meets a man who teaches her the most important lesson of all: nothing is simple when it comes to love.…

She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening–a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales on the invitation of an influential friend, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows–and passions–run deeper than she could have ever imagined.

As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives. For Sydnam, it is a chance to heal the pain of the past. For Anne, it is the glorious promise of a future with the man who will dare her to reveal her deepest secrets…before she can give him all her heart.
A truly lovely romance. Too bad certain distractions around them made me lower my grade somewhat. A B+.

Simply Love is the story of two characters we've already met, and who I, at least, very much wanted to know more about. We first met Sydnam Butler in the very excellent A Summer to Remember, which starred his brother, Kit. A few years before the start of that book, artist Syd had felt compelled to imitate his brother and join the army to go fight against Napoleon. But things ended disastrously for him, and after an incident that had Kit blaming himself, Syd came home horribly scarred and missing an arm and an eye.

At the end of ASTR, though, both Kit and Syd have more or less come to terms with what happened (and these were some of the most compelling parts of the book), and Syd has decided he needs to continue his life away from the ancestral home. He therefore decides to accept a post as the steward of one of his neighbour, the Duke of Bewcastle's estates in Wales.

In the following years, Syd builds a life for himself that he's satisfied with. It's a solitary, low-key life, but he feels comfortable with the way things are. When he receives news that Bewcastle is coming to visit, and that he'll be accompanied by a large party, he's not overjoyed. They'll probably expect him to socialize with them, he thinks, and then there's the fact that while the Bedwyns are already used to him, their wives and husbands aren't, and neither are the non-family members of the party, which is due to cause some embarrassing moments when they first see him.

Syd's fears prove right the very first night, when while walking the cliffs, he runs into a beautiful woman who runs away from him as if he's a monster.

The woman in question is Anne Jewell, and we met her in two other books before. The first was Slightly Scandalous, the third in the Bedwyn series. In that, Freya and Josh's book, Anne is a young single mother who lives in the village near Josh's home. When Freya discovers that Anne's son David is product of a rape by Josh's cousin, she decides to help her, and so she gives her a recommendation and sends her to Miss Martin's school, to apply for a post as a teacher. This works out just fine, and in the first book in the Simply series, Simply Unforgettable, we see Anne happily adapted to the school.

Still, Anne is very aware that although everyone in the school accepts her, she would be considered by many to be a pariah. So when Josh insists she join him and the Bedwyns in their stay in Wales, so that her son can play with the children who are, after all, his cousins, Anne only reluctantly accepts. She's going, but she's not going to force her company on the rest of the party. She'll help take care of the children and do her best not to join the party at dinner.

Which is why Anne is walking the cliffs that night, when she comes face to face with a man who's incredibly handsome on one side, but whose disfigured other side shocks her when he turns around. Shamefully, Anne's first reaction is to run, and I must say I was a bit disconcerted by this. I guess I expected something like in all those other romances I've read in which the hero has some kind of scar or disfigurement: the heroine would be the only person who'd ignore the injury completely and immediately see the wonderful person beneath it.

Well, Anne's first reaction isn't like that. It's a very human reaction, but as she immediately realizes, a silly, hurtful one. To her credit, the minute she sees this she goes back to try to apologize, but the man isn't there any more.

But of course, they do meet again, and the apology is offered and accepted. And as these two start to talk and talk and talk, they become friends, and soon something more than friendship develops.

This is a story that's extremely character-driven, and it works because these are very interesting characters and the issues they have to overcome are believably dealt with. There are no evil villains to confront here: what hurt Syd and Anne is over and the most immediate consequences have been got over. They have both rebuilt their lives after they were destroyed, and they're pretty satisfied with the results. But they both still need to realize that content isn't happy, and that they'll need to reach outside their comfort zones to get that happiness.

And this is exactly what being together helps them do. First, it helps them understand and accept what isn't so good about their lives now. I loved the first sections, when they first started talking and found themselves sharing things they hadn't even accepted to themselves. What got me here was the rawness of the feelings expressed, the honesty of them and of the way they shared them with each other. There's a particular scene, when both admit to their loneliness, that had me almost in tears.

And the dialogue is amazing. I especially appreciated the way Balogh showed that though they don't play games with each other, they obviously sometimes don't understand exactly what the other is thinking, and that is perfectly natural (and makes for some delicious conflict). Then, once they realize what is wrong in their lives, they each push and prod the other into doing what they need to do to completely heal their wounds. And it's a beautiful thing to read. I guess a quite book like this one in the hands of a less talented author might be boring, but Balogh makes it pèrfect.

The only thing that keeps me from giving this one an A grade is Balogh's crush on the Bedwyns. Their constant presence was much too heavy. I don't mind characters from previous books showing up, but it has to be because they're an important part of the plot, not just to show off how happy they are and to matchmake for the main couple!


Bluebird Winter, by Linda Howard

>> Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bluebird Winter, by Linda Howard is a short story that was originally published in 1987 in the Silhouette Christmas Stories anthology. It was then published on its own, but the version I got was a still later reissue, in the Delivered by Christmas anthology. This one also contains stories by Joan Hohl and Sandra Steffen. They really don't sound all that interesting (Texas Rangers, ranchers, children wanting a daddy for Christmas... blah!), so I don't think I'll be reading them.

Kathleen Fields, pregnant and alone during a blizzard on Christmas Day, finds her life changed after Derek Taliferro rescues her and helps deliver her baby.
Bluebird Winter is total rescue fantasy, and is so unsubtle about it, that it becomes boring. A C.

The story is simple. Kathleen is pregnant and alone, and she goes into labor during a huge Christmas Day snowstorm. She tries to get to the hospital, but in the storm, she accidentally drives her truck into a ditch.

She's lucky enough that she's seen by Dr. Derek Taliferro, who's on his way home from visiting his mother. He rescues her, takes her to her house and delivers her daughter. And he falls madly in love with her.

Yep, the guy's extremely attracted to this woman who he's only seen while in labor, and decides there and then to marry her. He adores his daughter, too, but this is not a case of his initially wanting the mother because he wants the daughter. Oh, no, it's Kathleen he's immediately crazy about. So when it's necessary for Risa to spend a couple of weeks in an incubator, Derek uses the fact that Kathleen has no health insurance to pay for it to get her to marry him, in order to provide for her daughter.

Nice fantasy? To me, not so much nice, as creepy. Heros who immediately fall for the heroine and will do anything, even manipulate like crazy, to have her are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but Derek was too much. I guess I should have loved that Derek was so fascinated with Kathleen's inner strength, etc., etc., that he fell for her so immediately, even though he met her while she was giving birth, but I totally didn't buy it.

I mean, the guy was practically salivating after her while she was in labour... are you kidding me? This reminds me of a recent review at AAR. Let me see if I can find it.. ah, here. It's a review of Phoebe Conn's Midnight Blue:

Compounding these problems are a series of head-scratching moments. The worst is probably when Chris thinks the postpartum Sarah is a raging hottie. When I read this, I actually checked the back of the book to see whether the author had children. Surprisingly, she did. While I can believe that Angelina Jolie could probably look hot mere hours after childbirth, with the help of able and expensive make-up artists, I simply can’t believe that anyone else would look sexy. (If you disagree, and in fact looked like a ravishing temptress five hours after you had your child, please post about your experiences at
Even worse here.

The rest of the book is basically... nothing. Derek showering Kathleen with gifts and introducing her to his friends, all couples from previous books, come to parade around and show us they're deliriously happy. I hadn't met these people (they're from Sarah's Child and Almost Forever, books I don't think I'll ever read), so they bored me.

In fact, most everything about this book bored me. Linda Howard has some very nice short stories, but this is not one of them.


Yet another Top 100 AAR reads memo

>> Friday, September 15, 2006

We've had a lot of fun with AAR's top 100 reads from 2004, haven't we? The Ja(y)nes from have tweaked it and posted a version with their thoughts on each of the books they've read, and I couldn't resist doing the same for mine, even though I've already posted a version (plus, it was a good chance to learn how to code tables in html... thanks Jane for the help!).

Sooo, here it is!

# Book Rosario's mini review
1 Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase Best romance novel ever
2 Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale I feel like a peasant for saying this, but hated it. Couldn't like Maddie and I got BORED!
Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer CrusieLoved it. Funny and sexy. Among my top 3 Crusies.
4As You Desire by Connie BrockwayLove it. The hero, the heroine, the setting, the "Egypt" speech... everything.
5Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie Loved it. Also in top 3 Crusies. Esp. liked that they didn't want kids.
6Dreaming of You by Lisa KleypasLiked a lot. Not my fave Kleypas (Kristie, don't kill me!), though.
7Outlander by Diana GabaldonHaven't read, and don't really want to, though I know I should try.
8Over the Edge by Suzanne BrockmannLoved it, both for the main plot and the Sam and Alyssa developments.
9All Through the Night by Connie Brockway Liked it a lot. But the hero and heroine were a bit too damaged.
10Sea Swept by Nora RobertsOne of my favourite NR trilogies, and that's saying a lot.
11It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Loved it, almost in spite of myself.
12A Summer to Remember by Mary BaloghLoved it. A surprise, because I hadn't liked the book that came before it (hadn't read many Baloghs, back then)
13Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer I know I read it and liked it, but I can barely remember it.
14The Proposition by Judith IvoryMostly liked it. Didn't completely love the hero.
15A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught Didn't like it much.
16Ravished by Amanda QuickFavourite AQ and great comfort read.
17Frederica by Georgette Heyer Haven't read.
18Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla KellyHaven't read, but it's in the TBR.
19MacKenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard Ok, I guess. Can't understand all the fuss about it.
20Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard Nice enough, but LH's humour doesn't work for me very well.
21The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer Started it, but didn't get past pg 50. Might try again.
22Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenLoved it.
23The Bride by Julie Garwood Another I abandoned after a few pages.
24Devil's Bride by Stephanie LaurensHated it the first time, liked it a lot on reread (why did I reread? No idea).
25To Have and to Hold by Patricia Gaffney Loved it. Book that proved that a good author can make me love anything.
26Born in Fire by Nora RobertsIn in my #3 spot when I voted for this, and still probably is in my top 5. I adore the heroine.
27Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth In in my #4 spot when I voted for this, and still probably is in my top 5. I adore the heroine.
28Gone Too Far by Suzanne BrockmannObjectively and in hindsight: not that good. But I loved it anyway.
29The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn Loved it. Excellent hero and heroine. Plus, Bridgerton Pall Mall scene.
30Saving Grace by Julie GarwoodHaven't read and not interested in doing so.
31My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway Loved it, especially those letters. Ahhhhh.
32In the Midnight Rain by Barbara SamuelLoved it, perfect book. And what a hero!
33The Windflower by Laura London Haven't read, but it's in the TBR.
34Naked in Death by J.D. RobbLoved it, the book that started it all. Took me a while to start book 2 for fear it might spoil NID's HEA.
35Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught Hate, hate, hate, HATE it. Clayton Westmoreland should be castrated with a rusty spoon.
36Nobody's Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsHated the setup, but ultimately loved the book. In spite of myself. It's always the same with SEP.
37A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux Sentimental favourite, even though Douglass was a ninny. Didn't mind the ending.
38Paradise by Judith McNaughtAnother sentimental favourite. First read it in 1992, when I was 14. I reread it last year and it's held up just fine.
39The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale Loved it, brilliant book. I didn't like the heroine, but I loved the book anyway.
40Dream Man by Linda HowardLoved it, in spite of Dane's perpetual hard-on and his actions late in the book.
41Out of Control by Suzanne Brockmann Loved it, in spite of its having almost no Sam & Alyssa (I was obsessed at the time!)
42Silk and Shadows by Mary Jo PutneyI read it, but though I remember I loved it, I can't remember any details.
43See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson Liked it a lot. Hero was yummy. Her best to date, IMO.
44Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo PutneyGreat book, I even loved Saint Catherine. Only negative was that weird hunt thingie.
45Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney Read a long time ago, but loved it, still remember the billiards scene, and the mine scene.
46The Duke and I by Julia QuinnLiked it a lot, but I was truly horrified by something Daphne does.
47Heart Throb by Suzanne Brockmann Probably my favourite Brockmann. I wish she'd stop doing SEALs and went back to books like this.
48For My Lady's Heart by Laura KinsaleFavourite Kinsale. Melanthe was AWESOME!
49Honor's Splendor by Julie Garwood Best of the Garwoods I've forced myself to try. Which isn't saying much.
50Lord Carew's Bride by Mary BaloghLiked it, though I've enjoyed some of the books related to it more. Holds the honor of being the first used book I purchased online.
51Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory Ahhh, Stuart! Loved it, fresh and different and a little bit twisted.
52Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsCouldn't stand it. Depressing, horrible judgmental hero and stupid martyr heroine.
53The Secret by Julie Garwood Haven't read, and won't. Can you tell Garwood isn't an author I like?
54This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland Blech! I detested this book. Can't believe it's here, it's so BAD!
55Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh Loved it. I'm a Wulf fangirl.
56One Perfect Rose by Mary Jo PutneySchmaltzy, but it works. I loved it anyway.
57To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney Excellent. Gaffney makes a vicar a wonderful hero. Should reread it.
58Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsHaven''t read it, and it doesn't really tempt me. I think it might be in the TBR.
59Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Loved it, (all together now:) in spite of myself.
60Venetia by Georgette HeyerHaven'read it.
61Daughter of the Game by Tracy Grant Loved it. Fascinating and complex, and an incredibly wonderful heroine. And the hero was perfect for her.
62The Prize by Julie Garwood Haven't read, nor will I.
63Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly Haven't read, but would like to, if I could find a copy.
64Prince Joe by Suzanne BrockmannLiked it, but like with Mackenzie's Mountain, I don't see the fascination.
65The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh One of her best. The way she redeems the rake is fabulous (and I'm not usually a rake-lover).
66Heartless by Mary BaloghHaven't read it, but it's in the TBR.
67Son of the Morning by Linda Howard Read it a long time ago, but I think I liked it a lot.
68Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory Haven't read, but it's in the TBR. Actually, started it once and put it aside, but I'm pretty sure it was my mood.
69Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas Liked it a lot, in spite of the often doormat-ish heroine.
70The Devil's Cub by Georgette HeyerHaven't read it.
71The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons Haven't read it, but it's in the TBR.
72The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegar Ditto. Haven't read it, but it's in the TBR.
73With This Ring by Carla Kelly Liked it ok. Not very memorable, though.
74The Lion's Lady by Julie GarwoodHaven't read it, of course.
75The Rake by Mary Jo Putney Liked it a lot. Not my fave Putney, and maybe too heavy on the psychobabble, but it was good.
76Fallen from Grace by Laura LeoneExcellent. Difficult theme, but Leone handled it wonderfully.
77Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath Loved it. One of the most admirable, sweetest, more corageous heroes I've ever read.
78Castles by Julie GarwoodNo, no, no, no.
79One Good Turn by Carla Kelly Brilliant. Wrenching, but in a quiet, subtle way. All in the little details.
80Chesapeake Blue by Nora RobertsVery nice, but... come on man, you're a grown-up, and you've been so for years!
81By Arrangement by Madeline Hunter This non-fan of medievals LOVED this one (and the other two By... books).
82Perfect by Judith McNaughtI know I've read it, but I'm drawing a blank. Maybe cause I read it in Spanish, and translations tend to be so indistinct.
83My Darling Caroline by Adele Ashworth Liked it a lot. Felt fresh, and I loved the brilliant heroine.
84The Defiant Hero by Suzanne BrockmannSay what you want about the heroine (I mostly agree), but it was a good book anyway!
85The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann Tom and Kelly: I couldn't care less. The WWII old guys: ditto. But David and Mallory... ahhh, made the book for me.
86Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee GuhrkeEh, nice enough.
87Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte Loved it.
88Kill and Tell by Linda HowardDon't know why the manipulative hero didn't bother me, but it was an amazing book. And the dancing on the balcony scene was very, er, impressive.
89After the Night by Linda Howard Total guilty pleasure (the double standards in this book make smoke come out of my ears). A classic.
90More than a Mistress by Mary BaloghVery good. Love her cold heroes.
91Born in Ice by Nora Roberts Liked it well enough, even though I never completely warmed to Brianna.
92Miss Wonderful by Loretta ChaseLoved it. Not as good as her best, but Alisdair is a wonderful character.
93The Charm School by Susan Wiggs Can barely remember it. I think I have it mixed up in my mind with an Eva Ibbotson book.
94Scoundrel by Elizabeth ElliottHaven't read it.
95How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn Sweet and nice, but almost too innocent, IIRC.
96Angel Rogue by Mary Jo PutneyNice enough. Can't remember many details, either.
97Trust Me by Jayne Ann Krentz My absolute favourite JAK. With Ravished, my top comfort reads.
98Dancing on the Wind by Mary Jo PutneyLoved it. Especially the first sections. And I loved that Lucien was a more discriminating hero than I was used to at the time.
99Once and Always by Judith McNaught I know I read it, but which one is this? *Google, google* Ahh, ok. Yeah, I can only remember I loved the final scene.
100This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsLoved it. Didn't want it to end.


The Shadow Runners, by Liz Maverick (2176 #3)

>> Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Shadow Runners (excerpt), by Liz Maverick, is the third of the five books in the 2176 multi-author continuity series. I really meant to read all these closer together, but it's taken me over a year to start this one, after finishing Kathleen Nance's Day of Fire in July last year.

Newgate, Australia: In the 22nd century, history repeats itself. The land is controlled by "the Parliament," a gang of dissipated self-styled aristocrats who rule in a mockery of the English Regency. To survive here, you have to know the tricks. Like Jenny Red. She knows the score. She's been Down Under and made it out to tell the tale.
I think the reason why I was so reluctant to start this one, and even considered skipping it (what spurred me to start it now was that I really wanted to read book #4, which is by Patti O'Shea, an author I like very much), was that I remember seeing many, many people complaining about The Shadow Runners when it first came out. It seemed everyone had the same problem: what the hell is going on?, they wondered.

So I was expecting the worst as I went in, but I was pleasantly surprised that the book was very readable. Most of it is fine, but yes, there's a part near the end that left me scratching my head, and some things are never made clear. If it weren't for the ending, and for something that is revealed about Deck's past actions that was extremely upsetting, I'd have given it a B+. But these things were bad enough that I'm going to go with a C+. Cs are usually so-so books, but this is definitely not the case here. It was more a matter of great things combined with very bad things.

It's the 22nd century and the world is a very different place from what it is now. What used to be the USA has expanded and turned into the oppressive UCE (United Colonies of Earth). It's main rival is the Kingdom of Asia. As for Australia, it has gone back to being a penal colony, and it's ruled by a gang of drugged-out disgraced aristocrats who live and govern in a parody of the English Regency.

It was there that Jenny Red was sent when her father was accused of trying to kill the Emperor of Asia, and it wasn't fun, to say the least. She managed to escape, though, and she's been living in the horrible slums of Macao for a while, when she's plucked out of there by Deck Valoren.

Deck used to be D'ekkar Han Valoren, the second son of the Emperor of Asia and a friend of Jenny's when she and her father lived as servants in the palace. But it was revealed that he was illegitimate, and his brother accused him of being implicated in the same plot as Jenny's father, so he was sent to prison, where he suffered continuous beatings and abuse.

It was in prison that Deck became involved with the Shadow Runners, a group of people supporting the mysterious Freedom Voice, which is preaching revolution against the world's tyrannies. After getting out of jail, part of Deck's mission has been to build a communications depot in the Australian outback, and he needs to go there now. For that, he needs someone who knows Newgate and Australia and who can lead him past the perils of this complicated unknown place. And that person is Jenny Red.

Jenny isn't particularly interested in helping the man she thought was her friend, but who left her to languish in hell and never even tried to help her. But the deal Deck offers is too good to refuse, and so they (and Deck's former bodyguard, Raidon), head on to Australia, where the mission turns out to be even more complicated than they had imagined.

I loved, loved, loved the setting. Maverick's vision of Australia is repellent and fascinating, at the same time, and she makes us feel it and breathe it in. From the Dante-worthy Immigration Hall (hey, I've been in a few like that!) to the shabby chic of the Parliament Club, from the slums of Newgate to the Outback, which now has a few new hazards, like radioactive-green mutant dingoes, Maverick brings it alive, and I got a huge kick out of it.

As for the characters, Jenny is an excellent heroine. She's the real thing: corageous, tough, streetwise, and supremely competent. But at the same time, she's no cold robot. She's got feelings and she's not afraid to show them.

Deck was a bit less interesting, as the formerly privileged prince who now fancies himself a man of the people and the most ardent proponent of revolution. It's a very well done character (I've know people just like that), but not one I found too likeable. He came across as the teeniest bit too much of a zealot to me.

Still, the conflict between Jenny and Deck was really fascinating. Jenny feels she's practically cannon fodder for Deck, that there's nothing more important to him than the revolution, so if he needs to sacrifice her for it, he will, without second thoughts. So why should she trust him? Why shouldn't she look out solely for herself and make whatever deal she can get that brings her out of the hellish life she's been living?

This conflict makes for some extremely powerful moments, like the one with the jeep and the cliff on the outback. I completely understood Jenny's feelings after that, when she fel that while she really couldn't blame the guy for his choice or his doubts, she could hate him for it.

Ok, so far, so good, right? But unfortunately, some of the the negatives were huge. They might be a bit spoilerish, too, which is why I've left them for the end, to write them all together. Beware the spoilers, if you haven't read this.

That fascinating conflict between Jenny and Deck? I wasn't too happy with the way it was resolved. This is a romance, so what I wanted was for Deck to make it clear that Jenny is more important to him than the revolution. I didn't get that, really. Rather, I got Jenny becoming just as committed to the revolution as Deck. Plus, I'm afraid I didn't really buy it. That Shadow Voice transmission didn't feel to me as powerful as to make that kind of conversion in a previously pretty cynical woman.

Another negative, and actually, a much bigger one : remember what I mentioned above about Deck's past actions, that had bothered me? Well, at one point it's revealed that the reason why he left Jenny in Newgate and didn't go help her was that he knew he was going to want to build his comm depot there, and so he was going to need someone with street knowledge of the place. So voilà, what better way to get this than abandoning a friend to spend all those years in HELL, right? Not! See why I thought him a zealot? That, IMO, was truly unforgivable, and it's barely touched upon once it's revealed. Plus, it makes no sense. Like there are no other people who've escaped?

And then there are the other things that never do make sense. What remains a mystery at the end of the book is basically two areas. First, it's never completely clear what happened a few years earlier... all those events surrounding the plot to kill the Emperor. What was the problem with Deck's parentage? Why did he suddenly become illegitimate? What happened with Jenny's father? Who was the man and what did he want? What the hell was the assassination plot like and did it succeed? There are tantalizing allusions to all this, but in the end, we're never told.

Second, and even more irritating, the actual ending of the book. Granted, I was reading really fast, but if there is an explanation of what exactly happened, what those Han Imperial guards were doing in Newgate and why Jenny and Deck are going to Kyber there at the end, I completely missed it. If anyone can explain, I'd be grateful. Seriously, I'm not joking, I would be grateful.

So does this stand alone? Yes, of course, if you haven't read the first two books in the series, you'll understand as much as the people who have read them will. The comm depot mission is pretty self-contained, and other than a couple of askings of the "What do you know about Banzai Maguire?" question (which don't receive any answers), that's as related to the other books as this one gets. But that doesn't mean either of you will understand everything, and there's the problem.

Too bad, because this had the potential to be a wonderful story.


Second Sight, by Amanda Quick

>> Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Second Sight is the first novel in Amanda Quick's Arcane Society series. I never doubted I was going to read it (it's a JAK, duh!), but I confess I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the whole concept. I worried it might become like that Vanzagaria thing she used to do... boring mumbo-jumbo that only takes time away from the romance.

Financially straitened and on the path to spinsterhood, Venetia Milton thought her stay at the remote, ramshackle Arcane House would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engineer her own ravishment. She was there to photograph the artifacts collected by a highly secretive organization, founded two centuries earlier by an alchemist. And the alchemist's descendant-her employer, Gabriel Jones-has the eyes of a sorcerer...
But despite Venetia's intent to seduce Mr. Jones and move on, she is shattered upon her return home to read in the press of his violent demise. Using the sizable fee Mr. Jones paid her, Venetia establishes a new life, opening a gallery in London. Of course, posing as a respectable widow makes it easier to do business, so-in a private tribute to her lost, only lover-she assumes the identity of "Mrs. Jones."

Her romantic whim, however, will cause unexpected trouble. For one thing, Mr. Jones is about to stride, living and breathing, back into Venetia's life. And the two share more than a passionate memory-indeed, they are bonded by a highly unusual sort of vision, one that goes far beyond Venetia's abilities as a photographer. They also share a terrible threat-for someone has stolen a centuries-old notebook from Arcane House that contains a formula believed to enhance psychic powers of the kind Gabriel and Venetia posses. And the thief wants to know more-even if he must kill the keeper of the Arcane Society's treasures, or the photographer who catalogues them, to obtain such knowledge...
I thought AQ's latest couple of books were a step in the right direction, going back to emphasizing the romance over the mystery, but Second Sight was a bit of a step back. Not a huge one, but still, a bit more of the mystery than I would have liked. I still mostly enjoyed the book, and it did work as a comfort read, but I can't rate it any higher than a B-.

After the death of her parents left her small family in economic trouble, Venetia Milton knew she had to shoulder the responsibility. She was going to have to take her hobby of photography and turn it into her family's support.

When a mysterious client offers her some excellent money to photograph some artifacts at the very isolated Arcane House, Venetia finally sees the way clear to financial security. With that money, she'll have a stake to open a fashionable London gallery and cater to the upper classes. But she also knows that she'll have to do that as a widow and that her reputation will need to be impeccable. So the secretive atmosphere of Arcane House seems to her the perfect place where to have the only sexual experience that she'll ever have in her life.

Yep, right at the beginning, we get one of those heroines who go all "oh, oh, I want to have a special memory to treasure the rest of my life!". I'm sooo tired of that particular plot device, but I admit Quick did make Venetia's actions believable. So anyway, Venetia's host at Arcane House is Gabriel Jones, the son of the man who runs the Arcane Society. Gabriel is also very attracted to her, so when she tries to seduce him, he's an extremely enthusiastic participant.

I actually quite liked the book's opening, though I wish we'd seen something more from Gabriel's POV there. There's that scene in which they have sex for the first time (and for a scene practically between strangers, it was very nicely done), and then we see he's thinking of Venetia as "his future wife". Ok, fine. But why? Tell me a bit about why he wants her for a wife. Is he just looking for a wife and thinks she will do? Is he terribly attracted to her? We don't find out until MUCH later.

But about that "future wife" thing he does.... what's that about Quick's heroes' possessiveness that just works for me? In that first scene, when Gabriel gets all "you're mine" and even makes Venetia say that she's his, I was all a-flutter. Even though if a guy did the same thing in a similar situation, I'd be so out of there! Even though with many other authors, a similar thing would make me more uncomfortable than anything else. Even though in older JAK books I haven't liked that kind of thing, either. But here... wonderful!

Uh, ok, sorry for the disgression. I've written way too much already and still haven't gone beyond the beginning of the book. Right, then, so Gabriel and Venetia have just finished with their lovemaking, but before they can take it upstairs, they notice there are two men stalking the house, hiding in the bushes. Gabriel's reaction is instantaneous. He rushes Venetia through an escape tunnel and sends her away with his servants. Then he runs back to Arcane House.

A few days later, already back home, Venetia sees a small paragraph in the newspaper about the mysterious fire at Arcane House that killed a one Mr. Gabriel Jones. Venetia is gutted, and as a kind of homage to Gabriel, when time comes to choose a name for the "elegant widow" identity she'll have to assume in London, she settles on Mrs. Jones.

But obviously, Gabriel isn't dead. He just faked the whole thing about the fire to catch his enemies off guard (it's all about some convoluted plot starring an alchemist's stolen formulae. Convoluted, as I say, but pretty boring, and I'm not going to go into it here). But when he realizes what Venetia has done, he knows he'll have to give up the game. She doesn't know it, but using the name Jones has only put her in the villains' sights.

And so Venetia gets the surprise of her life when she's innocently reading the newspaper and comes across an interview with Mr. Gabriel Jones, where she learns that he miraculously saved his life after falling off a cliff and being washed away by a tumultuous river in the Wild West, during their honeymoon. He just had amnesia, see, which is why he didn't return sooner. But now he's remembered his darling wife, and he means them to be reunited. Considering that (obviously) the whole Wild West thing is something she made up, Venetia is understandably startled by this and believes it must be someone who means to blackmail her. But she's even more startled when her "husband" arrives at her house and she sees it's Gabriel.

After all the necessary explanations are provided, it's decided that they will continue with the fiction that they're married (nothing else they can do, not if they want to keep Venetia's reputation clean), and that Gabriel will move into the house she shares with her brother and sister and aunt. He will move into the attic, of course, and pursue his investigations from there. But Venetia is an Amanda Quick heroine, after all, so of course she's going to want to investigate, too!

Ok, so what's the good here? Hmm, I don't think I can really isolate anything, because the good stuff is very mixed up with the disappointing. Take the romance. I liked Gabriel and Venetia together. They had very nice chemistry, and their banter was written with AQ's trademark humour. I also liked how Venetia helped Gabriel deal with his psychical talents.

What????, you say. Psychical talents? Yep, Gabriel has some kind of "hunting sense" and Venetia sees auras. And it feels as badly integrated to the story as it feels badly integrated to this review. Yes, these talents do play a role in the mystery, and yes, in Gabriel's case, they do play a role in his issues, but on the whole, this aspect feels half-baked.

The mystery aspect is more developed than that, and it's got some interesting angles, but on the whole, it was much less interesting than the romance and I resented that it took up so much of the book. And that it took so much of the hero and heroine's attention, really. After a certain point, whenever these two got together, all they did was talk about the mystery, and this bored me.

And then there were the things that were thrown in and then didn't go anywhere. The Janus Club, for instance. What was the purpose of this? It's intriguing, yes, intriguing enough that it's not the kind of thing you don't develop more! And how about the big secret about Venetia and her family's parentage? It doesn't go anywhere, either.

I've just gone to the author's website and taken a look at her upcoming releases. Her next contemp (yep, a JAK, not an AQ) coming out in January is also an Arcane Society story. *sigh* Yes, I will be reading it, but the whole Arcane Society bit will not be a draw!


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