Angel-Seeker, by Sharon Shinn

>> Monday, March 31, 2008

TITLE: Angel-Seeker
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 483

SETTING: Samaria
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Part of Shinn's Samaria series, together with Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files and Angelica.

Angel-Seeker was the last Samaria book published, but chronologically, it comes right after Archangel, which was the first published. In fact, these two are the only books that take place in the same time, with the same supporting cast. You, could, therefore, read it before Jovah's Angel and The Alleluia Files.

REASON FOR READING: I'd been hoarding this one, as it was the last Samaria full-length book I had left, but I couldn't resist any longer.

Elizabeth has arrived at the new angel hold of Cedar Hills, determined to improve her lot in the world by seducing an angel and bearing his baby. To her surprise, she learns that she might be able to earn her keep instead by becoming a healer. Meanwhile, one of the Cedar Hills angels, Obadiah, has been sent by the Archangel Gabriel to try to make peace with the quarrelsome Jansai tribes. Obadiah unexpectedly meets and falls in love with a rebellious Jansai girl named Rebekah, who would be put to death if her family knew she was seeing an angel. Everything changes on one fateful day when Elizabeth, Rebekah and Obadiah all come together.
THE PLOT: I don't have much to add to the summary above. I believe this isn't the book blurb, but something Shinn's written herself, so it really describes the essence of the book perfectly. All I could stress is that for most of the book, we get two parallel storylines, that of Elizabeth, the woman who moves near an angel hold to become and angel-seeker, and that of Rebekah, the Jansai woman who falls in love with an angel. The angel Obadiah (Rebekah's love) is somewhat of a link between the two stories throughout the book, and it is only at the end that both come together quite spectacularly.

MY THOUGHTS: As with all the Samaria books, the minute I started reading this I felt completely immersed in the story. It's strange, because as much as I've adored Shinn's other books, and as much as they absorb me, it's not quite the same feeling. Samaria is just special, I suppose.

I mentioned quite recently, in my post about Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea, that when I get two simultaneous stories, I'm often more interested in one than in the other. TWS was the exception, but Angel-Seeker wasn't.

I was most interested in Elizabeth, not least because I've been intrigued by angel-seekers from the very first book. In all the other stories they had only been mentioned in passing, almost derisively by all the other characters. Even with my slight knowledge of their role, every time I saw this I wanted to protest their automatic condemnation. I wanted to know more about them and see them portrayed in a more positive light. After all, they seemed to me as if they were just doing the best they could in their circumstances.

With Elizabeth, we get this. Shinn shows why a woman would put herself in that position, not condemning her, but simply and matter-of-factly explaining her circumstances and those of the other women with her same objectives. One of the most interesting aspects of this storyline was seeing the interactions between these women, the sisterhood and the rivalries and the shades of different objectives.

Elizabeth is an interesting character. Even as you can see that she not suited for it, you can't help but understand why the perceived easiness of the life of an angel-seeker would appeal to her, and why she'd resist changing her life for so long, when an option so patently better for her was within reach. But she does do some soul-searching in the end, and her final choices, both in career and in romance, were perfect.

The story of the Jansai Rebekah and the angel Obadiah, which one could argue was the more prominent (the book's title notwithstanding), I liked less. That was basically because the lack of any positive things about the Jansai (a very patriarchal society, where women are ruthlessly oppressed) made Rebekah's reluctance to leave very frustrating. I found it very hard to sympathise with her. If she saw the evil in the Jansai's ways so clearly, what was she waiting for? Maybe it's because I'm an immigrant myself, but her "It's what I've been familiar with all my life, how can I leave?" hand-wringing didn't strike a chord. Honestly, I think the very wonderful Obadiah was wasted on this woman.

Still, in spite of this, I enjoyed the book immensely. The plotting was great, the world-building as fantastic as ever and I especially enjoyed the ending.



Travel reading

>> Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hi everyone, I'm back! Scotland and Ireland were fantastic. I've already started posting photos at my travel photolog, so go take a look if you want to know more. So far, I've posted my first day in Glasgow, and I should be posting more in the next few days.

But this is a book blog, so on to what I read while I was travelling. It wasn't much, just two Mills & Boon Medicals that I picked up from the 20p bin at the library. The idea was to be able to leave them behind when I was done with them, and get rid of some weight.

TITLE: Crisis at Katoomba Hospital
AUTHOR: Lucy Clark

I confess I picked this one up because I was tickled by the sonorousness of the word Katoomba. Seems it wasn't so bad a strategy, because this was a nice one, both because of the likeable characters and the cool setting: the small town of Katoomba, in the Australian Blue Mountains.

Dr. Stephen Brooks has come to Katoomba to work with his twin sister, also a doctor. He's spent a year as a doctor on the frontlines in Africa, and he needs some serious unwinding after that. At the hospital he meets Dr. Nicolette Bourgeois and an attraction immediately develops between them, but Stephen is reluctant to get involved in anything before he gets his head screwed on right and recovers from his experiences.

As I said, this was nice. I won't go further than "nice", because the book was too short to really dig into some of the issues and felt a bit shallow, but it's got good bones. Stephen is a good guy. I loved his close relationship with his sister, Stephanie (who seemed really cool... she ends up with a shaved head and dyes the stubble green. She's got her own book and I've already borrowed it from the library), and I thought his reasons for not wanting to get involved with Nicolette just yet made sense. Best of all, Nicolette understood them perfectly as well. She'd spent a few months on the battlefront herself, a few years before, so she got why Stephen would need his space. That was the best thing in the book, actually: seeing how these two people were so perfectly suited for each other, how they understood what the other needed better than anyone else could. There's no sex whatsoever here, but their obvious compatibility meant nice chemistry.

MY GRADE: A B-. I hope whoever picks it up at the Dublin hostel where I left it enjoys it.

TITLE: The Spanish Doctor
AUTHOR: Margaret Barker

Eh. This one had a distinct Presents-ish feel to it, and compared to its shallowness, CAKH was deep as the ocean.

Nurse Pippa Norton is on her way to Spain, to join her friend Julia and work at a hospital in San Miguel. She's pregnant and alone, having found out that the baby's father was married and had a family of his own. Some further personal tragedy meant that she had to postpone her flight until quite late in her pregnancy, so obviously, she starts her labour right on the plane. Her baby is delivered by Doctor Carlos Fernández, who turns out to be the medical director of the San Miguel hospital, where she's due to start work. Carlos seems infatuated with baby Matthew, and once Pippa settles into her new life, she and Carlos start a relationship.

The story is very heavy on the wish fulfillment and fantasy, which is ok, I suppose, only it's not a fantasy that works for me. He meets her while she's in labour and immediately falls in love, and wants nothing more than to pamper her and help her take care of the baby? Yeah, not really interested.

Other problems I had include that Carlos is very broadly drawn. We never get to know him. There's nothing from his POV (unlike Stephen, from the previous book) and Barker doesn't succeed in making us get a sense of him through Pippa's eyes. He remains shadowy all the way. Pippa we do get to know better, and she seems to be a mostly sensible, nice woman. However, she has a moment of TSTL there in the end, when the action gets all melodramatic (all upper class Spaniards have family-arranged engagements, ya know?), and the book ended in a sour note.

MY GRADE: A C-. And this one went in the bin, since one of the pages was missing.


Away for a week

>> Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My plane leaves for Edinburgh tomorrow at 6.45 AM (oy!), and then it's off to Glasgow. See what I mean when I say reading Susanna Kearsley's stories makes me want to visit her settings? I'm not making it all the way to Aberdeen and Cruden Bay, but hey, Scotland! And after this, I'll be in Dublin for a couple of days. I'm so excited!


The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley

TITLE: The Winter Sea
AUTHOR: Susanna Kearsley

COPYRIGHT: 2008 (the UK release date is next Monday, March 24th. I won't be here, so I'm posting this early)
PAGES: 527
PUBLISHER: Allison and Busby

SETTING: Contemporary Scotland, with sections taking us back to the early 18th century.
TYPE: Fiction, with nice dollops of romance and paranormal

REASON FOR READING: The Winter Sea was right at the top of my most anticipated books of 2008. I adore Susanna Kearsley's books, and though I really liked her Emma Cole release in 2006, it was a vintage Kearsley that I was wanting. So can you imagine my reaction when she emailed me to ask whether I'd want to receive an ARC? Yep, there was much joyful dancing and a long series of "yes, yes, YES!". My flatmates must have thought I was insane. And Marta must be extra convinced, because she was the one to bring the actual book up from the mailbox a few days later. She never knew what hit her; I tore it out of her hands and started dancing again. From the expression on her face, it wasn't pretty :-D

Carolyn McClelland, a writer of historical novels, finds herself with a familiar enemy; writers block.

A change of scenery leads her, and her book, in a whole new direction. Writing about the attempted Jacobite invasion of 1707, Carolyn takes up residence in a cottage in Edinburgh. Inexplicably drawn to Slains Castle, and not so inexplicably drawn to the charming, but somehow familiar, Stuart Keith, Carolyn is soon writing with an unusual speed and imagery which leads her to wonder whether her fictional character of Sophia is really so fictional after all.

Carolyn soon realises that she is somehow channelling the memories of her distant relative and that her story has a life of its own.
THE PLOT: Historical novel author Carrie McClelland's next book is not flowing as it should. She's writing about the little known failed Jacobite invasion of 1707 and her main character, a sea captain, refuses to speak to her. But everything changes when she goes to visit her agent in Aberdeen. On the way there, she drives through a small fishermen's town set at the foot of a ruined castle, and something in it calls to her. When she asks her agent about it and discovers it's Slains castle, which features prominently in her subject matter, she knows what she needs to fix her book.

A change of location (from France, where the exiled Jacobite court used to be located, to a nice cozy cottage in Cruden Bay, the small village next to Slains) and a change of narrator (from the sea captain to a young woman living in Slains at the time, who she names after one of her ancestresses), and in no time at all, she's writing as if possessed. But then Carrie slowly begins to realise that some of the details she's writing, supposedly making them up, are more accurate than she would have thought. Much, much more accurate, so accurate that she begins to suspect that she might have somehow inherited her ancestress' memories.

MY THOUGHTS: The Winter Sea was a lovely read. There's just something about Kearsley's style, about her combination of suble paranormal plots and modern contemporary stories and settings, that appeals to me very strongly. And this one was classic Kearsley, reminiscent of The Shadowy Horses in the setting and of Mariana in the plot.

The structure is one that works beautifully for the story. We get author Carrie's story in the present and interspersed with it, fragments of the novel she's writing, as she's writing it. Usually when you get something like this, two stories threads that are rather separate, I might be more interseted in one or the other, and want to stay with the one I like. Here this just didn't happen. When I was reading about Carrie in the present I kept thinking "please, please, some more, don't go to the past", but when I was reading about Sophia, I'd think "please, please, some more, don't go back to the present" :-)

Each of the stories was fascinating. Sophia's was probably the most eventful and exciting, as we see how she becomes involved in the plotting of the invasion and in a secret love affair. She's a poor relation, come to live at Slains Castle with the mother of the current Earl of Erroll, and the Countess and her son are central figures in the plot. There are people coming and going from the Castle all the time, allies, envoys from the exiled court, people whose loyalty must be doubted, and Sophia finds herself in the midst of it all, having to tread very, very carefully. And in addition to the cool political intrigue, there's a sweet romance, as Sophia and one of the visitors to the Castle fall head over heels in love.

For once, I was glad of my ignorance. I didn't know much about the history involved, and I made a conscious effort not to do some quick googling, so I could discover things as the book progressed. I did know how things turned out, on the whole (because you get that information right from the beginning), but I didn't know the details, and I loved the uncertainty.

As I implied, Carrie's story in the present day is not as outwardly thrilling as Sophia's. Technically, all that's going on in her life is that she sits in her cottage in Cruden Bay writing her novel, befriends some of the locals and falls in love with the son of one of them. There's no real danger or intrigue or suspense in her life. But... here's the thing: the subtle chills as she discovers that her writing process has been pretty much taken over by memories that are coming from unexplainable sources provided more than enough excitement for this reader. Plus, her sections were helpful breaks in the dramatic action of the 18th century, and I loved seeing her efforts to discover what's going on.

Carrie's a great character. Her reactions to all this strangeness were perfect: she's shocked and intrigued at the same time, a little bit scared but also excited at having this amazing window into the period. She deals with everything in a very sensible manner, testing herself, actually talking to trusted people about it and generally researching the hell out of the experience *g*

And there's another lovely romance here, with a guy I actually found even more interesting than Sophia's lover. It's a quiet romance, with only slight conflict in it, but I loved the way there was some interesting mirroring here of what's going on in Carrie's novel. It's very subtle, just a hint that there might be more here than meets the eye, and I really liked it.

Something else that was excellent was the way Kearsley made the settings come alive. This is par for the course for her, as she's, IMO, one of the best authors out there at describing a location and making you feel as if you were there, really giving you a feel for the place. I'd go as far as to say that she's even better than authors like Mary Stewart at it. I always finish her books feeling the need to go visit the locations, because they sound so great.

The only thing I didn't love about the novel is that the ending felt slightly anticlimactic. It was still very satisfying, but I think a slightly bigger bang (but not too much, otherwise it wouldn't have gone well with the rest of the novel's tone) would have made for an even better book.


NOTE: It seems there were two versions of the cover, as I also found this one when I googled for it to post here. I think I like the one that finally got used better, even if the dunes are more relevant to the story.


Killing Time, by Linda Howard

>> Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TITLE: Killing Time
AUTHOR: Linda Howard

PAGES: 330
PUBLISHER: Piatkus in the UK (Ballantine in the US)

SETTING: Contemporary Kentucky, US
TYPE: Cross between romantic suspense and time-travel

REASON FOR READING: I tend to run away from time-travels, but the one time Linda Howard tried her hand at the genre, it resulted in the wonderful Son of the Morning. So in spite of the subject and of the fact that this book received a very lukewarm welcome, I thought I'd give it a try.

In 1985, with much fanfare, a time capsule was buried under the front lawn of a small-town county courthouse, to be reopened in 2085. But just twenty years later, in the dead of night, the capsule is dug up, its contents stolen. That same night, one of the contributors to the capsule is brutally slain in his home - with no sign of forced entry or indication of a struggle. One by one, others who had placed items in the time capsule are murdered.

Besides his suspicions about the sudden, mysterious appearance of Nikita Stover, the chief investigator, Knox Davis, has absolutely no leads. And while Nikita's no murderer, she seems to be hiding plenty of secrets. With more at stake than anyone else realizes, the smart-talking Nikita is determined to catch this cunning killer - while at the same time battling her own deepening feelings for a man and for a world in which she doesn't belong.
THE PLOT: When strange things suddenly start happening one morning in tiny Pekesville, detective Knox Davis, who likes nothing better than a mysterious puzzle, is er... puzzled. First someone digs up the town's time capsule from right in front of the courthouse, leaving absolutely no footprints in the churned-up earth around the hole. It's all filmed on the security cameras, but all that can be seen on the tape is a bright white flash and then suddenly, there's a hole where there wasn't anything one minute earlier. A farmer reports some vandalism and mentions he saw some white flashes among the trees the night before. Someone is murdered inside a tightly locked house... with a spear. And finally, Nikita Stover shows up, sniffing around the crime scene. She claims to be an FBI agent, but she strikes Knox as someone out of place.

Nikita is an FBI agent, but as we soon find out, she's also very much out of place, because she's not from this FBI. She's a time-traveller from the 23rd century, on a mission to apprehend an unauthorised time-traveller. Things start going wrong from the very minute she goes in, and when it soon becomes clear that someone in her organisation must be involved, she will have to rely on Knox to stay alive and complete her mission.

MY THOUGHTS: Well, now, this was a mess. A great, big mess. There was a potentially nice story and the bones of a decent romance buried in there, but the plot was so half-baked and ridiculous and badly conceived that I ended up cringing through most of the book.

Time-travel usually gives me a headache. I hate it. I hate having to think of the whole if I change this, then this happen, so this wouldn't happen, and then she wouldn't exist in the first place and yadda-yadda-yadda thing, but it's unavoidable, otherwise you have some nice failures of logic.

Which this book had, in spades. Stuff like, I don't know, Nikita being allowed a month to complete her mission, so once she loses her means of time travelling, there's no chance that a search-and-rescue party will come for her for a month. That's just silly. What's to keep her from returning 1 minute after she left, in 23rd century time, even after spending a month in 2005? So if after that minute she doesn't show, they'd know to send a search party immediately, maybe even to the moment when she shows up in 2005. Or is the implication that somehow time is advancing at the same pace in the two moments in time so she can't do it? Which makes no sense, as far as anything about time-travel can make sense at all.

And how about her lamenting about how they could have been so short-sighted and not thought of sending an agent to the location and time where the unauthorised traveller would appear (which they know perfectly from the time-travelling machine settings), only a few minutes earlier? *Groan* Yeah, right, they've sent three agents in total and didn't think of that? Then you might as well dissolve the FBI, because they're all brain-dead. That's the kind of thing that keeps happening in this book: there are huge suspensions of logic required so that the plot makes even the slightest sense. And sometimes that wasn't enough. The villain's motivations, for instance, make absolutely no sense at all. I just went "huh?" and still don't get what he was trying to do.

To all this, other problems must be added. First, Howard's vision of the future is pretty lame and inconsistent. Pretty much all books and music from the late 20th and early 21st century have been lost, because storage devices like CDs proved fragile. What, did they all suddenly fail at the same time?? Wouldn't it make more sense that once people saw they'd started to fail they'd back up other copies in better media? *sigh* Also, the little language issues, which are a running joke throughout the book, and which supposedly happen because Nikita doesn't recognize some idioms and slang, were not convincing. If she studied the language enough to be as proficient as she is, she should have known them. I knew them all, and I knew them even before I moved to England, when I'd spent all my life in Spanish-speaking Uruguay. And finally, -and this is probably just my problem- Linda Howard's sense of humour and mine don't really jibe. There were quite a few moments which I think were supposed to be hilarious (Knox laughs and laughs like a loon), but I thought they were just idiotic.

The writing's smooth, the pages keep turning and the hero's nice, a total teddy bear with some slight alpha tendencies, but that's just not enough to overcome the monumentally stupid plot.



Up Close and Dangerous, by Linda Howard

>> Saturday, March 15, 2008

TITLE: Up Close and Dangerous
AUTHOR: Linda Howard

PAGES: 325
PUBLISHER: Piatkus (in the UK - it's Ballantine in the US)

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense

REASON FOR READING: Sooner or later, I always read Howard's books.

Bailey Wingate's scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father's will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying from Seattle to Denver in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters - and then fails.

Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this was a mere accident.
THE PLOT: Bailey's marriage to Jim Wingate was one of convenience: after his death, she was to manage the inheritances of his spoiled, irresponsible children, and in return she'd get a nice salary. But as it happened, she also got their undying hate, as well a reputation as a cold gold-digger.

When the engines of the small private plane she's flying in fail, and her pilot is forced to make an emergency landing in the mountains, it looks as if her step-children have finally decided to express their hatred in a more active manner. Hurt and cold and miles from civilisation, Bailey and her pilot, Cam Justice, will have to rely on each other to survive and get to safety.

MY THOUGHTS: For all that it got accolades in the 2007 AAR readers poll, I think it's fair to say that this one didn't really receive universal acclaim when it came out. In fact, what I remember most distinctly is complaints about some parts reading practically like a survival manual, which was something I found too easy to believe. Why? Because this is a feature that I've noticed has become more common in Howard's books lately: she tends to go into extremely painstaking, boring detail about background stuff that doesn't really add much to the story.

The survival stuff was as bad as I'd heard. Way, way, WAY too much detail. I appreciate careful research as much as the next reader, but I want it to be well integrated into the story. Here it felt as if Howard was thinking "I did the research, so by God, every single thing I found out is going to get used". That just gets boring very quickly. I don't need (or want) to know exactly how to build a refuge from twigs and bits of leather... I might read a basic description, but once you start getting into step-by-step instructions about how exactly to position each branch, you've lost me, and I start skimming. A lot of the pages, especially right after the crash, got skimmed.

However, hiding behind the mind-numbing detail is a very decent romance. In fact, a romance that felt more like classic LH than anything she's written in years. The characters weren't great, granted (Bailey was strangely featureless, and I never felt I knew her that well, and though I did understand Cam, he wasn't particularly complicated), but the romance? Yummy.

LH still excels at portraying masculine possesiveness in a way that I find sexy and wonderful, rather than stifling and ugly. Once he gets over his first impressions, there's a wonderfully protective, sweet element in Cam's feelings for Bailey, but all the while it's clear that he respects her and knows (and likes) that she's a strong woman, and that he has no problem accepting that her clear thinking and hard work right after the crash saved his ass. I loved this, and in spite of the very short period in which their relationship developed, it was so intense that I found it believable.

Unfortunately, the romance was all that was great about the book. The suspense was pretty disappointing. The identity of culprit was not a huge surprise, even though I thought Howard did cheat a bit (I mean in showing this person's POV). And also, I thought Seth's reformation was completely unbelievable, and much too quick.

MY GRADE: On the strength of the romance, I'm giving this a rec. Qualified, but a rec all the same: a B-.


Mistress at a Price, by Sara Craven

>> Saturday, March 08, 2008

TITLE:Mistress at a Price
AUTHOR: Sara Craven

PAGES: 185
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Modern (usually published in the US as Harlequin Presents)

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Series romance

REASON FOR READING: I checked out a bunch of Sara Craven books from my library after reading and enjoying The Count's Blackmail Bargain.

She just wants to be his mistress...

Cat Adamson is intoxicated by Liam Hargrave when they share an explosive night of passion. Cat agrees to be Liam's mistress - but that's all. However, Liam's a man who always gets what he wants - and he wants Cat - all of her!

...and he's willing to play her game -for now!

Cat starts to realise the game she's playing is dangerous - especially now she's falling in love. She wants Liam. But how can she change the rules that she made - and what price will Liam demand?
MY THOUGHTS: This one was certainly an unexpected read, after the utter retrograde crap that was The Forced Bride. It's not even like The Count's Blackmail Bargain. In fact, it doesn't much read like an HP at all.

Cat Adamson is the daughter of two successful actors whose private lives (and those of pretty much everyone else in her family) have left her with an extreme cynism about marriage and long-term relationships. When she meets the handsome Liam and they share a very intense night, Cat refuses his overtures to continue their relationship in a traditional way. Rather than having lunch together on the way to London and then meeting for dinner, and so on, getting to really know each other, Cat proposes that they have a no-strings-attached affair. She wants them to meet regularly for sex at what she calls "a neutral location" and not exchange any private details at all.

Liam, who seems to like as well as desire Cat, and to truly want to get to know her better, indignantly refuses. However, after a few days and a very awkward accidental meeting, he shows up at her appartment to say he'll do it. But when their affair gets going, Cat realises it's not enough, and that she actually wants more of Liam than anonymous sex.

Why do I say it doesn't read like the typical HP? Basically because of the heroine. Cat is pretty sophisticated, wholly unvirginal and has a great job she's very successful at and enjoys. And by the end of the book, this is still the case. She's also very much not a doormat for her parents. They try to roll over her a few times, but she quickly sets them straight. Then there's how Liam is clearly completely into Cat from the very beginning, likes her and wants her and would love to have a relationship with her. It's Cat who refuses, who's a commitment-phobe. And "mistress"? What mistress? If anyone's a mistress in this book it would be Liam! The only HP-ish thing was the implied age difference between them, but that's something that could have been so easy to leave out.

Things start very well. At around the half-way point, once the situation is set and Liam has -very reluctantly- accepted Cat's conditions, I was very excited, thinking this could be a wonderful book. I looked forward to seeing Cat slowly realising that she did want more from her relationship with Liam, and Liam showing her why she should want this, the good things about having a real relationship with him.

But things start to derail right then. Cat immediately (and I do mean immediately) starts to regret those conditions and feel almost used. Not after a couple of encounters, right from the first one. Huh? And Liam, rather than trying to subtly subvert the rules, becomes more Catholic than the Pope and acts as if they had been his conditions in the first place. And then comes that whole soap-opera with Cat's mother, and that's when things went really bad. So unnecessary, and in the end, there was no payoff at all in the relationship. No nice, satisfying scenes where Liam makes clear that he loved her from the very beginning, etc., etc. Too bad.

MY GRADE: I'll go with a B-, as an average between the B+-verging-on-A- of the first half and the C- of the second one.


4 things meme

Tagged by LLB!

4 Jobs I've Had

1) Tour guide for cruise ship passengers arriving at Montevideo
2) Content editor for a financial services (which went spectacularly bust not long after I left... coincidence?? *g*)
3) Product manager at a bank (I detest marketing, never again!)
4) Economist at the Ministry of Industry

4 Movies I've Watched Over and Over

1) No Retreat, No Surrender (inexplicably addicted)
2) Cenerentola '80
3) Forrest Gump
4) The Three Caballeros (not for a while, but as a child, I watched that video until the tape was worn to shreds).

4 Places I've Lived

1) Montevideo, Uruguay
2) Punta del Este, Uruguay (I used to spend all three months of summer there when I was a child, and I still spend my holidays there these days)
3) Tokyo, Japan (well, only two months, but I hope it counts, because it's all I've got!)
4) Nottingham, England

4 Shows I Watch

I don't own a TV right now, so I don't watch any shows at all.

4 Places I've Been:

1) Kyoto, Japan
2) Buenos Aires, Argentina
3) Mafra, Portugal (hi, Ana!! *waves*)
4) Bath, England

4 Things I Love to Eat

1) Hummous and tabbouleh on pita bread
2) Grilled salmon on a cous-cous bed
3) Pasta asciutta with puttanesca sauce (Sainsbury's puttanesca is yummy).
4) White choc-chip cookies from Millie's Cookies (sinful!)

4 Places I'd Rather Be

1) Montevideo, Uruguay (just for a few days, to see my family)
2) Prague, Czech republic
3) Edinburgh (not too long to go, I'll be there in about 2 weeks)
4) Stockholm, Sweden (well, not right now, but maybe sometime during the summer? There are cheap flights right from East Midlands Airport).

Things I Look Forward to

1) Seeing my family (including the cats!) again
2) Having my dissertation done. I'm dreading it.
3) My upcoming Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin trip
4) My next A+ book, whatever it may be.

Now, who to tag? I think everyone's done it already! I just invite anyone who hasn't to give it a try, then.


Comments on 2007 AAR annual readers' poll

>> Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ok, here we go. The results of AAR's 2007 annual readers' poll were announced on Monday. You can take a look at them here and there's a column with analysis here.

So go grab a cup of coffee and make yourself nice and comfy, because I'm going to be looking at all the results and sharing my ballot, and this could go on for a while *g*


Best Romance

The winner(s):

A tie between:

If His Kiss Is Wicked, Jo Goodman


The Serpent Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt

I've read The Serpent Prince (*sigh* still need to post about it), and it was really good, so I'm not surprised it won. Goodman, OTOH, is an author I just don't get. I tried a couple of her books (most recently, One Forbidden Evening), but the writing style drove me insane. I'm half tempted to read this one, seeing as how everyone loved it, but I'm going to contain myself.

My vote:

Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook

This was my standout of 2007. I had quite a few other A- grades (and I promise I'll do a Top 10 post for 2007, no matter how late it is), but there was no doubt in my mind about what I was going to vote here. I should also mention that I actually gave Brook's other single title release a better grade (Demon Moon got an A, vs. Demon Angel's A-), but thinking back, and as much as I loved Colin and Savi, my love for Hugh and Lilith's story was too great not to vote for it.

Favourite funny

The winner:

Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

It was my runner-up in this category, so obviously, no objections here.

My vote:

The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid, by Lisa Cach

I actually graded Natural Born Charmer a bit better, but TESOAFM was much funnier, even taking into account the beaver scene at the beginning of NBC. And I considered The Serpent Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt for this category, but though it was a funny book, that wasn't its main characteristic, IMO. It's always hard to vote here!

Most-Hanky Read

The winner:

Beau Crusoe, Carla Kelly

I want to read this one so badly! It's on the way here, not to fret.

My vote:

Never Deceive a Duke, by Liz Carlyle

Those flashback scenes! Broke my heart.

Most Luscious Love Story

The winner:

The Serpent Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt

It is luscious indeed. And an excellent story, too. Good win.

My vote:

Dangerous Lover, by Lisa Marie Rice

I voted for this one because it was the most luscious romance that I thought had been good enough to vote for here. I think if my reasoning had been "best romance novel that I thought was luscious", I might have gone for The Serpent Prince. Am I overthinking things here? Anyway, this one was a runner-up in the poll.

Best Erotic Romance

The winner:

Fairyville, by Emma Holly

My vote:

Fairyville, by Emma Holly

Hey, the first one I get! I admit to being very unadventurous when it comes to the level of sexiness in my romance fiction. For the most part, I just want plain vanilla sex. Hot and intense plain vanilla sex, but vanilla, all the same. No backdoor action (unless it's gay romance, of course), no threesomes, no multiple partners, no D/S. Just not interested. For the most part, at least, because Emma Holly is the exception to this rule of mine. Wherever she decides to go, I follow.

Best Cabin/Road Romance

The winner(s):

A tie between:

Up Close and Dangerous, Linda Howard


Driven, Eve Kenin

I have Driven TBR, and just last weekend I got UCAD out from the library. Must confess though, I'm excited about the former, but not really about the latter. I've heard too much about it being some kind of mammoth survival manual, but hey, it seems a lot of people loved it!

My vote:

Games of Command, by Linnea Sinclair

Not all of it is cabin romance, but a lot takes place in a spaceship... ultimate cabin AND road romance, combined. Loooooved it!

Best New Author

The winner:

Anna Campbell

I guess I can see it. I detested her debut, Claiming the Courtesan (as a romance, at least, because as I say in my review, as a portrayal of a scary psycho it was excellent), but the writing was fantastic, and it was quite a page-turner. Her next book, Untouched, seems much more my cup of tea, and I'm planning to read it.

My vote:

C.L. Wilson

I loved her combination of epic fantasy and romance, and I thought her writing was very polished and assured for a new author. I'm quite surprised neither Lord of the Fading Lands nor Lady of Light and Shadow rated even a honourable mention in the poll.

Best Buried Treasure

The winner:

If His Kiss Is Wicked, Jo Goodman

Even though she won top honours, I would still agree she can be considered buried.

My vote:

Off World 2: Sanctuary, by Stephanie Vaughan

I suppose I'm a bit of a sheep, because most of the 2007 books I read wouldn't qualify as buried treasures. They're all pretty well known. Not this one, though, especially since it's an ebook and a gay sci-fi romance.

Guiltiest Pleasure

The winner:

Lover Revealed, by JR Ward

My vote:

Lover Revealed, by JR Ward

And that's 2 points for me. Ward is the perfect definition of guilty pleasure, because as I read her, I keep telling myself I can't be enjoying such awfulness. But it IS like crack, and I AM enjoying it. This particular entry in the series was especially cringe-worthy, but still oh-so-addictive.

Author Most Glommed

The winner:

J.R. Ward

Not surprised. Everyone who discovers her books probably goes and immediately buys all her backlist. Crack, remember?

My vote:

Meljean Brook

I didn't really glom anyone, unless buying everything by Meljean Brook counts. It's not that many books, but it's all of the ones available.

Best Medieval/Renaissance

The winner:

Laird of the Mist, Paula Quinn

I remember reading the AAR review and thinking "nah". I think it was the reviewer's comparison to Julie Garwood that did it. Dunno, maybe I'll give it a try now.

My vote:


I just didn't read any 2007 releases with this setting.

Best European Historical

The winner:

If His Kiss Is Wicked, Jo Goodman

No need to repeat myself.

My vote:

The Serpent Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

Sooooo, good! It was the runner-up in the poll.

Best Amer Historical / Frontier

The winner:

Caine's Reckoning, Sarah McCarty

I tried to read one of McCarty's books, the first in her Promises series and I dropped it after about 30 pages. Not my thing. BTW, as the ATBF column points out, interesting that an erotic romance won here.

My vote:


Part of the reason the Promises book didn't work for me might have been that I don't much like the subgenre. I didn't read any at all last year.

Best Contemporary

The winner:

Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Good one!

My vote:

High Noon, by Nora Roberts

Clearly, I kind of see Romantic Suspense as a subcategory of Contemporary Romance. Plain contemporary romance? Is anyone other than SEP doing that these days? I hope it revives, because it's a kind of romance I love.

Series / Category Novel

The winner:

The Billionaire Next Door, Jessica Bird

My vote:

The Billionaire Next Door, Jessica Bird

It's 3! I read only two other 2007 categories last year, and they were pretty mediocre. There was no contest. TBND was perfect, not just the best of the bunch. The kind of story that's best suited to the format.

Best Romantic Suspense

The winner:

High Noon, by Nora Roberts

My vote:

High Noon, by Nora Roberts

She scores! 4! NR's romantic suspense is consistently top-notch.

Best SF/F & Futuristic

The winner:

Games of Command, Linnea Sinclair

My vote:

Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook

I got hoplessly confused with this category and the next one. One of the features of the latest wave of "non-traditional" (I guess we could call them that) romances is that the lines get blurred. The Sinclair was sci-fi, clearly smack dab in this category, and it was a good win, a great book. But I thought DA was, too. Is it fantasy romance or paranormal romance (in which case it would have gone in the other category)?. I suppose it could be argued both ways, but since I thought the complex mythology and world-building was more important than the cool paranormal powers, I put it here. I think the division needs more work, but damned if I know how to fix it.

Best Paranormal & Time Travel

The winner:

Caressed by Ice, Nalini Singh

My vote:

Visions of Heat, by Nalini Singh

Both were wonderful. I went for VOH in the end and it's funny, because just as with the Brooks in the first category, I voted for the one that got A- rather than A.

Best Chick Lit/Woman's Fiction

The winner:

Sugar Daddy, Lisa Kleypas

Not tempted in the least, in spite of the good reviews. I've no idea why.

My vote:

The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid, by Lisa Cach

It has a chick-litish feel to it, but I admit it's not quite.

Best Short Story

The winner:

Beat of Temptation, Nalini Singh, in An Enchanted Season

Haven't read it yet, I'm hoarding it. Since it's a prequel, I don't need to read it before I go on with the rest of the books.

My vote:

Paradise, by Meljean Brook, in Wild Thing

I really liked this one, and the Liu in the same anthology was cool, too, although a bit of a teaser.


Most Tortured Hero

The winner:

Vishous, from Lover Unbound, by J.R. Ward

This is one of the categories I don't quite see the point of. A really "tortured" hero can be a wonderful one or a total ass. This category's not "Best hero who happens to be a tortured soul" after all. In the ATBF column LLB wonders why many people voted for Lover Unbound both here and in most disappointing, and I humbly propose this explanation.

My vote:

Gareth Lloyd, from Never Deceive a Duke, by Liz Carlyle

He happened to be both really tortured and a great character. My runner-ups were Rain Tairen Soul, from Lord of the Fading Lands and Lady of Light and Shadows, by CL Wilson (hey, he scorched the world!) and Brandon Kel-Paten, from Games of Command, by Linnea Sinclair. Both wonderful heroes.

Strongest Heroine

The winner:

Eve, from Creation in Death, by J.D. Robb

Haven't read this one yet, it's another one I've been hoarding.

My vote:

Lilith, from Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook

I'd hate to see Lilith take on Eve. It would be bloody, and both would probably end up dead.

Best Hero

The winner:

Restell, from If His Kiss Is Wicked, by Jo Goodman


My vote:

Hugh, from Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook

My sweety! I loved the guy. But there were so many great characters this year! Colin Ames-Beaumont, from Demon Moon, also by Meljean Brook, Brandon Kel-Paten, from Games of Command, by Linnea Sinclair, Simon Iddesleigh, from The Serpent Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt.

Best Heroine

The winner:

Emmaline, from And Then He Kissed Her, by Laura Lee Guhrke

Really? Haven't read it yet, so I can't really say anything, but I'm surprised. I don't remember hearing all that much about her.

My vote:

Lilith, from Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook

She truly is one of my favourite heroines ever. I also loved Savi, from Demon Moon, as well as Faith NightStar, from Visions of Heat, by Nalini Singh. Oh, and Jaime Vegas, from No Humans Involved, by Kelley Armstrong. So far my fave KA heroine.

Best Couple

The winner:

Eve & Roarke, from Creation in Death, by J.D. Robb

Well, yeah, I love them, too.

My vote:

Lilith and Hugh, from Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook

Did anyone doubt what way I would vote? I loved quite a few other couples, but no contest here, they were so amazing together.

Best Villain

The winner:

The one in Innocent in Death, by J.D. Robb

My vote:

The one in Innocent in Death, by J.D. Robb

Oh, yeah. Scary. I didn't read that many great villains this year, this one was the creepiest. And my 5th match.


Most Annoying Lead

The winner:

Marissa, from Lover Revealed, by J.R. Ward

Well, I kind of warmed up to her by the end of the book, but yeah, heroines are not Ward's strong point.

My vote:

Justin Kinmurrie, from Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

Spoiled, whiny little boy.

Author You Gave Up On

The winner:

Sherrilyn Kenyon

I should probably try her again. I did like Fantasy Lover, but I think I was overwhelmed by the tons of books that came afterwards and the complicated mythology.

My vote:


Can't think of anything here.

Most Disappointing Read

The winner:

Lover Unbound, by J.R. Ward

My vote:

Lover Unbound, by J.R. Ward

Yep, 6 matches. With this one, I daresay it's all about the ending. It sucked.

Least Believable HEA

The winner:

Lover Unbound, by J.R. Ward

Right. That ending. I didn't vote for this one, but it's a deserved win, nonetheless.

My vote:

Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

A rapist and his victim? Please!

Biggest Wallbanger or "I Tried, I Really Did"

The winner:

Lover Unbound, by J.R. Ward

Also understandable and probably also due to that ending.

My vote:


I have absolutely no moral objection about voting here, but even Claiming the Courtesan never went even near a wall. Too fascinating to read.

Purple-est Prose

The winner:

Gideon, Jacquelyn Frank

My vote:


I believe this category is being retired after this year, and I think that's understandable. It's getting hard to find thrusting love lances and weeping grottoes.

So.... any thoughts?


Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre

>> Tuesday, March 04, 2008

TITLE: Grimspace (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Ann Aguirre

COPYRIGHT: 2008 (it was released last Tuesday)
PAGES: 320

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi romance
SERIES: Starts one. Will be followed by Wanderlust in September.

REASON FOR READING: So much great buzz! I was actually one of the happy ARC winners at DearAuthor. I know I'm a bit late with my review, but I've had a complicated last couple of weeks (and to my defense, the ARC took a while getting here). Still, better late than never, I suppose.

By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago...

As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace -a talent that cuts into her life expectancy but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she's navigating crash-lands, and she's accused of killing everyone on board. It's hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.

Imprisoned and subjected to a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom -for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel -and establish a new breed of jumper.

Jax is only good at one thing -grimspace- and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime...
MY THOUGHTS: Please, please, please, if the new wave of sci-fi romance is going to be like Linnea Sinclair's Games of Command and Grimspace, can we have some more of it? A lot more of it? Could it please become the next trend? *g*

I've always liked sci-fi, especially that involving long periods travelling through space. I suppose it's because it's a kind of extreme variety of the road and cabin plot... you just can't beat the isolation and forced proximity of being stuck in a spaceship! That can make for some very interesting, intense relationship developments. And when you combine this with a wonderful romance (as Grimspace does), and although you have your characters go through several external adventures, it's their growth that drives the story forward (as Grimspace does), I'm in heaven.

The story is narrated in first-person present-tense (more on that later) by Sirantha Jax, our heroine, who's spent all her life being a jumper for the Corp. The Corp is a huge company which holds a de facto monopoly on long-distance space travel, as they control the scarce supply of jumpers like Jax. So what's a jumper? Quite simply, people who carry a gene that allows them to instantly jump a ship between two locations in the universe, however distant, through what's called grimspace.

As the story starts, Jax is being held in prison by the Corp, after the ship in which she was working as a jumper crashed, killing everyone on board but her. She's accused of being responsible for the accident, and she's spent the last few weeks being subjected to interrogation so severe that it amounts to mental torture.

Jax is also grieving for her pilot, Kai, the man she loved. Pilots and their jumpers share a unique kind of mental closeness, being connected as they go through grimspace, so his loss hit Jax especially hard. By the time a mysterious man named March breaks in and rescues her, spiriting her off in his ship, Jax is fighting for her sanity and life just out of habit, not out of any particular desire to stay alive. But this changes as she joins March and his companions' mission to create an academy for jumpers that will provide some competition to the Corp.

Jax is a fantastic character, and seeing her growth as the story progresses is what makes the book so wonderful. As I mentioned, she starts out being practically suicidal. As she's grieving for Kai, having to immediately work with another pilot feels like a betrayal. At the beginning the idea of being killed doesn't strike her as something to fear, but rather, as something that might give her a rest, at least. She doesn't particularly want to live. But she comes to want to. She comes to want to live and to want to have a life that she wants, rather than the one these people think she should have just because they saved her life. She also comes to realize that she can be very different from the cocky and arrogant jumper she used to be, and that she can love again. And she does.

The romance wasn't really the point of the book, but it was a lovely one, nonetheless. One of the things I found most interesting about it was that we soon find out that March has some psychic abilities. He can't usually read minds, but his brainwaves and Jax's are so compatible that he can read hers, pretty much all the time. A priori, I would have thought this would be creepy and a relationship-killer, but Jax is not your typical person, so this worked for her and March. She's just completely out there, a person with absolutely no interest in hiding what's in her mind. After a while, she even starts toying with it, teasing March through her thoughts, and even missing him when he's out of her head. I suppose I bought that she'd so easily accept it because it's a kind of extension of the normal pilot-jumper relationship and closeness, anyway.

The fact that in some situations the connection is a two-way one also helps flesh March, because we don't see his POV at all here. Actually, I wish we'd seen more, because I didn't feel I completely knew him by the end of the book. I hope there's more insight into his very intriguing past in the next entries in the series. Still, Aguirre does succeed in making him real. The scene where you finally see how he feels about Jax is amazingly powerful.

The plot was very well-done. It's a fascinating world that Aguirre has created, and the crew's adventures were entertaining. Jane mentioned in her review that she'd found the action a bit episodic, and I'd mostly agree with that. It didn't bother me, though, because I thought there was enough of an overarching "mission" to tie the episodes together. However, I never did find that mission, the whole jumper academy, that compelling. I wasn't quite sure why March and the others would be so willing to risk their lives for something like that. Fortunately, Jax keeps pretty much aloof of that, seemingly sharing this readers opinion *g*.

Oh, before I finish the review, a word about the first-person present-tense POV. If you're worried about this, don't be. I can't say I'm a fan of it, but I can say that I stopped noticing after a couple of pages. That said, I didn't really think it added anything that couldn't have been conveyed through past-tense narration. I know the author mentioned the reason she chose this way of narrating the story was because:

...I thought it made the action seem more uncertain. Events unfold as the reader rides along with Jax, and nothing is set in stone. When an author writes in past-tense, the reader has the unconscious security of knowing that everything must’ve worked out in the end, or the narrator wouldn’t be able to relate his story.
But... doesn't the fact that there are still X pages to go before the book ends give me that same security?

Well, whatever. All in all, a fantastic discovery. I can't wait for Wonderlust. Which reminds me: for those of you reluctant in embarking in yet another new series, this one stands alone just fine. You get perfectly satisfying emotional and plot closure, even while leaving the door open for plenty more adventures.

MY GRADE: An A-. I was going for a B+ before I started the review, but as often happens to me, thinking back about the book and about how much I'd enjoyed Jax made me appreciate just how good it had been.


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