Your Scandalous Ways, by Loretta Chase

>> Monday, November 30, 2009

TITLE: Your Scandalous Ways
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase

PAGES: 367

SETTING: 19th century Venice
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Not really, although it's part of Chase's Fallen Women books

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author

James Cordier is all blue blood and entirely dangerous. He's a master of disguise, a brilliant thief, a first-class lover-all for King and Country-and, by gad, he's so weary of it. His last mission is to "acquire" a packet of incriminating letters from one notorious woman. Then he can return to London and meet sweet-natured heiresses-not adventuresses and fallen women.

Francesca Bonnard has weathered heartbreak, scorn, and scandal. She's independent, happy, and definitely fallen; and she's learned that "gentlemen" are more trouble than they're worth. She can also see that her wildly attractive new neighbor is bad news.

But as bad as James is, there are others far worse also searching for Francesca's letters. And suddenly nothing is simple-especially the nearly incendiary chemistry between the two most jaded, sinful souls in Europe. And just as suddenly, risking everything may be worth the prize.
James Cordier is a spy working for the English government. Over the years, he's become more and more weary of his work, and he longs to go back to England and spend the rest of his life being normal and boring. But before he can retire, he must complete a last mission: to get a bunch of letters which are proof of treason by an English nobleman.

These letters are suspected to be held by the man's ex-wife, whom he divorced a few years earlier. Francesca Bonnard moved to Venice after the scandalous divorce which left her ruined and became a successful and sophisticated courtesan. When a mysterious gentleman appears in her life and begins to pursue her, Francesca just knows he's up to no good -but can't resist sparring with him, all the same.

I always have sky-high expectations when I start a Loretta Chase, and she never disappoints. This was a beautiful book, with fascinating, excellently drawn characters engaged in a romance that kept me turning the pages. And it was written in Chase's trademark style, which infuses the whole story with humour and wit.

Let us be clear: Francesca is a real courtesan. She's not pretending to be one, James is not her first client and she hasn't even had only one client (whom she actually was in love with, of course) in her whole career. Yes, she's selective and can afford to choose, but she still has had sex with men for money, and she's not eaten up by guilt about it.

I just loved Francesca's pragmatism. Given her choices after what her husband did to her, she chose what was best for her and wasted no time regretting what could have been. And this pragmatism extends to her not automatically being on James side when she finds out what he's aiming to do (England as a whole hasn't treated particularly well, so why should she move a finger to help?), which I really appreciated. I also liked that she wasn't above being a little bit petty and taking revenge on her ex by sending him those letters rubbing in his face what she's doing. I just find it easier to like a character (especially the heroine, for some reason) when she has some flaws.

James is a really good character as well. I especially appreciated his attitude to Francesca's occupation. James hasn't been above sleeping with his targets to get the information he needs, and there's no hypocritical condemnation of Francesca for doing pretty much the same thing, only for survival, rather than a mission. James is quite aware of the fact that he's just as much of a whore as Francesca is.

And something else I enjoyed was the way Chase dealt with James being a gentleman spy. We all know that being a spy was considered something a bit disreputable, not quite honourable at the time this book is set. Most books with gentlemen spies take the view that this is a silly thing to think, and all the characters involved think it's silly as well, and the issue is completely ignored. Not completely so here: being a spy has definitely had an effect on James. He's weary of it, of doing things he knows are necessary and yet that part of him still feels are dishonourable, especially because he gets a thrill out of them all the same.

The romance between James and Francesca is absolutely fantastic. It's an adversarial relationship that they have, but they're so well-matched that this only adds to their enjoyment of each other. If one wins one bout, then the other will win the next, and there are no hard feelings. I just loved that ice-cold, calculating spy James quite loses his cool when it comes to Francesca, and that Miss Pragmatic is not much better when it comes to James.

YSW was a straight A for the first, say, two thirds of the book, but near the end, there was a slight shift in focus to the letters and efforts by different parties to get them, and that wasn't particularly interesting to me. This meant that the book ended up in B+ territory, a very strong B+, but still.



The Chocolate Run, by Dorothy Koomson

>> Saturday, November 28, 2009

TITLE: The Chocolate Run
AUTHOR: Dorothy Koomson

PAGES: 419

SETTING: Contemporary Leeds
TYPE: Romance

REASON FOR READING: I'm not sure, I think I read something about it on Karen's blog.

Amber Salpone thinks in chocolate - talk to her for three minutes and she'll tell you what kind of chocolate you'd be. In fact, most days, if she was asked to choose between chocolate and relationships, there'd be no contest. At least chocolate has never let her down. Unlike her family. Growing up in the Salpone household has taught Amber to avoid conflict - and love - at all costs. So, when she does the unthinkable and has a one-night stand with womaniser Greg Walterson, her uncomplicated, chocolate-flavoured life goes into meltdown. Especially when Greg announces she's the love of his life - and Amber finds it hard enough to decide if she wants plain or Fruit & Nut ...Meanwhile, her best friend, Jen, seems to be launching a bid to become Bitch Of The Year and Amber's family are making unreasonable demands. Amber has two choices: to deal with her past and the people around her, or to go on a chocolate run and keep on running...
I reviewed another Dorothy Koomson a few weeks ago, but The Chocolate Run was my first by her, and the one that put her square on my autobuy list.

When Amber Salpone met Greg Walterson, the first impression wasn't great. Too good-looking for his own good and a complete bastard with women, he was the sort any rational woman shouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Being a rational woman herself, Amber was careful to squash any romantic interest before it developed. However, it turned out that no matter how toxic he would have been as a potential boyfriend, Greg was a pretty cool guy otherwise, and he and Amber became very close friends.

Over the years, Amber has had a front-row view of Greg's extremely active sex-life, even having to rescue him from clingy wife-wannabes every now and then. And yet, one day Amber finds herself where she could have sworn she'd never be: in Greg's bed. Worse, even as she swears it was a one time thing, it keeps happening.

If you were wondering (and I was, before I started this), even though it's narrated in the first person by Amber, TCR is very much a romance novel. The other two Koomson books I've read haven't really been so (The Cupid Effect was chick lit, while Goodnight, Beautiful was more women's fiction), but this one definitely is. The focus is on the development of Amber and Greg's very intriguing relationship.

Because, you see, after a few "I can't believe we ended up here again" encounters, they decide they might as well keep doing it, since it's clear they won't be able to help themselves otherwise. For Amber, it's pretty obvious that they're plain having sex, rather than anything more involved. Amber has some issues with commitment herself, and also, she knows Greg can't want anything else. Only he's not acting as if he didn't. Amber is pretty oblivious to it, but to us readers, it's clear Greg's feeling a lot more than Amber suspects.

I absolutely loved every minute of it. Amber is wonderful. She's funny and a really decent person, a great friend to her friends. She's got her hang-ups and flaws, of course, but these only make her more human and a more realistic character. Greg I liked almost as much, although not from the beginning. In fact, at the beginning of the book I felt nothing but disbelief that this utter pig was going to be the hero.

The reason this works and I was fully behind him by the end of the book, is that Greg suffers the consequences of his earlier womanising and general assholeness. Sadist that I am, I loved seeing him suffer because of the complete role reversal from what he was accustomed to. In all his previous relationships (well, hookups, really) he was the one who didn't want to commit and kept it casual, with his girlfriends getting jealous and possessive and clingy. Well, now he's the clingy one, and Amber isn't having any of it. Amber doesn't realise the effect of her actions on him (whenever she's delivered what to Greg is really a crushing blow, she usually just thinks he's acting weird, because after all, this is just sex, it's not as if Greg would actually want to be in a relationship, is it?), but we readers do. Greg really has to work for it, and that's sweet.

Amber's relationship with her best female friend, Jen, is also a huge part of the book, and boy, do things get complicated (and quite heartbreaking, as well) there! Same thing with her family. All this doesn't detract at all from the romance. Rather, it's enriched and made even better, because the characters become even more real.

What else can I say? The writing's excellent, as usual with Koomson, easy-flowing and absorbing, making it the sort of book you just can't put down. It's a fantastic read, and one I highly recommend, most especially to romance readers.



First Come Twins, by Helen Brenna

>> Thursday, November 26, 2009

TITLE: First Come Twins
AUTHOR: Helen Brenna

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Superromance

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: Starts a trilogy set in Mirabelle Island

REASON FOR READING: I was in the mood for category romance, and I'd heard good things about Brenna

He couldn’t stay. She couldn’t leave.

Noah Bennett swore he’d never return to Mirabelle Island. Facing the love of his life after she married his older brother would’ve been too much to bear. But when Noah’s injured as a photojournalist imbedded with the military, the only safe place to go is home.

Although a few surprises await Noah on his return, one constant remains. Sophie Rousseau, now a widow with teenage twins, is as entrenched in island life as ever, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get Noah off her island. Before the only man she’s ever loved breaks her heart all over again.
Sophie Rousseau and Noah Bennett were childhood sweethearts, growing up in isolated Mirabelle Island. Noah always hated Mirabelle and intended to leave as soon as possible and Sophie, who quite liked Mirabelle but never had much of a personality (aha, the criticism starts!), was content to follow him. However, right before they were supposed to leave for university, Sophie's father (or it might have been her mother, I can't quite remember) got sick and died. Rousseaus have run the inn in Mirabelle for generations, and Sophie felt obliged to stay and help out, and when her other parent also died, this turned into her life's work.

Very, very soon after Noah left, Sophie married his brother and had two children (the twins in the title). Hearing this, Noah stayed away for almost fifteen years, becoming a photojournalist and spending his life travelling from warzone to warzone. His final assignment was Iraq, where his vehicle was caught by a bomb, killing everyone else and blowing up Noah's foot. Having trouble adapting to this and at risk of developing full blown PTSD, Noah ends up in quiet, peaceful Mirabelle island for the first time in years, where he and Sophie soon meet again.

What I liked: The main good thing about this book was the way the author avoided cliché. A lot of the description above will probably bring to mind many other category romances, but a) Mirabelle isn't portrayed as perfect and its inhabitants more virtuous than sinful city people. It's a much more even-handed portrayal, with the author being very clear about what could be problematic about living in a place so isolated, especially during the long winters, but also recognising the good points. And it's the same with the characters: there's nice and not-so-nice people here, and when the islanders are being unfair to Noah, it's not portrayed as being ok. b) What could have been a run-of-the-mill secret baby plot (you saw that coming, right?) was a lot more complicated than that. I liked what Brenna did here.

What I disliked: Sophie, basically. She was spineless, too easily influenced by other people. The clincher came when (trying to avoid spoilers here) Noah questions why she didn't take steps to find something out, and she bleats (paraphrasing) "I wanted to, but so-and-so convinced me not to!". Oh, not your fault then, honey. This was something big, too. Idiot. Sophie was also incredibly conservative, and I don't mean politically, but in terms of being petrified of change, any sort of change. For Sophie, "but it's always been like this" is more than reason enough not to even consider change. In fact, she's the one making the argument. This makes her both narrow-minded and short-sighted in the story. There's a subplot about her brother trying to make some changes to save Mirabelle from the decline int he tourist industry, and this showcased Sophie's worst flaws.

What I thought was just ok: Noah and his story were all right, but didn't captivate me. Same for the romance... meh.

MY GRADE: Some good, some bad, some merely ok and a book that took me a bit too long to finish. That's a perfect C.


Catch of the Day, by Kristan Higgins

>> Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TITLE: Catch of the Day
AUTHOR: Kristan Higgins

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Combo of romance, women's fiction and a touch of chick lit. Unclassifiable, really.

REASON FOR READING: I don't really know, it was an almost random pick from my TBR. I know I've heard good things about Higgins, and I must have bought it originally after a particularly enthusiastic comment.

This catch of the day could be the dish of a lifetime!

First Date à la Maggie
Take one lovelorn diner owner (me)
A generous helping of nosy local gossips
A dollop of envy at married sister's perfect life
A splash of divine intervention (my matchmaking priest)

Combine ingredients with one adorable puppy, add a strong but silent lobsterman with a hidden heart of gold . . . and watch the sparks fly.
I think Higgins will probably be in my list of best discoveries of the year. Catch of the Day was that rarity I'm always searching for: a plain contemporary romance, with no suspense subplot whatsoever, that was still completely engrossing. It was also fun, beautifully written, and had a very endearing heroine.

Maggie Beaumont's life is just as she wants it. She's settled in the small Maine town where she grew up and runs a diner which is a huge part of the community. Maggie is liked by everyone and truly enjoys her life in Gideon's Cove. Only problem? She's now in her early 30s and unmarried, and the selection of men in such a small town is pretty much nonexistent. The last in a string of bad attempts at relationships was especially disastrous, when Maggie managed to develop a crush for the new priest and tell anyone about it before she realised what his line of work was.

Maggie is determined to find love, and helped by her family and Father Tim (for whom Maggie's crush on him is getting to be a bit too much), COTD follows her search, as she realises that she's not seeing what's right under her nose.

What makes this book so wonderful is Maggie. She's a genuinely good, kind, generous person you can't help but love. She's very, very human, which keeps her from being at all boring or too perfect. She's also a really fun narrator, probably because she sees the humour in the disasters that are going on around her, and because she genuinely likes the people she interacts with, no matter how much some of them annoy her.

Having a main character whose main purpose during the book is getting married is something that's usually enough to have me running in the opposite direction. It's not that I have a problem with her wanting to marry per se, it's just that with most (especially chick lit) heroines it feels like an ego thing, like they want it only because they feel inadequate if they are single, and they annoy me. I didn't get that from Maggie. Part of what I loved about her was that she was so self-aware. She knew who she was and she knew what she wanted from life, what would make her happy. Running her diner was one of those things, no matter how much her mother thought she was wasting her life on it (and I think it takes real guts to accept that one's ambitions are small and everyday normal), and sharing her life with someone was simply another.

I also loved that the secondary characters living their lives around Maggie's are very well drawn, with some subtlety. Maggie's mother, especially, could have been rendered as a caricature of a mean, unsupportive mother, but Higgins digs in deep and makes us understand where she's coming from. She has her own story, as well, as she and Maggie's dad experience trouble in their relationship, and I really liked what Higgins did with that (it completely surprised me, too, which is a good thing).

There's a romance here, and quite a nice one, too, but it's not the focus of the book. We get as much about it as about Maggie's relationship with her friends and family (and her wonderful, wonderful dog, with whom I fell head over heels in love), which is why I think this is not an easy book to classify. Still, it's one I'd definitely recommend to romance readers, just with the warning not to go in expecting a normal romance novel.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


Bound by Shadow, by Anna Windsor

>> Sunday, November 22, 2009

TITLE: Bound by Shadow
AUTHOR: Anna Windsor

PAGES: 432
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: First in the Dark Crescent Sisterhood series

REASON FOR READING: I just felt like reading a paranormal, something new, and this one looked interesting enough.

Falling for a demon can be hazardous to your heart.

Riana Dumain is a fully trained Sybil, a warrior priestess battling evil whose practical magic keeps her grounded in earthly science–and desires. She knows that gorgeous NYPD detective Creed Lowell is dangerous, and possibly a foot soldier of the evil Legion cult, using his badge and drop-dead looks to consolidate demonic power.

Creed’s low-profile Occult Crimes Unit pulls Riana and her two sister Sybils into the case of a politician’s son, murdered in a ritualistic sacrifice. Soon, Riana’s instincts prove true. Creed, the hottest half-human she’s ever known, a demon in bed and out, is guarding a trapdoor to hell. And unless Riana can find a way to tame her mystery man’s treacherous inner self (and her heart), all of Manhattan may be enveloped by darkness.
Bound by Shadow is the first in a series centred around a group of Sybils. The blurb calls Sybils "warrior priestesses battling evil", and I suppose that's clear enough. Sybils organise themselves in triads covering specific geographical areas, with each member of the triad controlling a different element (I'm not sure why triads and not quartets, since there are four elements, but anyway, they haven't got one who controls water in this particular one).

Riana Dumain has an affinity for Earth, and is also the leader of her triad. Creed Lowell is a police detective working in the Occult Crimes Unit. Although he deals with crimes with an occultist element to them, Creed has a secret which means that he's spent all his life avoiding contact with anything connected to the paranormal, for fear that this secret might be discovered.

When a senator's son is murdered in a way that suggests occult rituals, Creed and his partner are called in to investigate. Their investigation leads them to Riana's triad, and the minute they meet, the shit hits the fan. The Sybils are battling a demonic secret society called the Legion, and the moment Creed comes into the triad's house, they realise there's something odd in him. Is he a demon, one of their enemies, or is he an innocent, still a good person in spite of his dual nature?

Both the paranormal elements and the romance had enough interesting ideas in them to make me excited about reading this, but the execution wasn't great. It's a very promising world that Windsor creates, but by the end of this first installment, I wasn't 100% clear on what was what. I think I mostly got enough to understand the Sybils and how they work, but the Legion and their motivations were a bit shadowy. Still, what I could see there was pretty cool. Riana's power is very well developed, with Windsor really going into detail about Riana's relationship with the element she controls.

The romance was better, although again, good but not great. I was very intrigued by some elements of the book, especially by the power dynamics in Riana and Creed's relationship. It turns out Creed is half-human, half-demon, and his demon half is released when he removes a ring he's always had. When this happens (and it happens for the first time during the book), Creed becomes an unstoppable monster, a bit like Rhage in JR Ward's Lover Eternal. So obviously, Creed's got an edge in terms of physical power. However, he has pretty much no idea what's going on, and he's more afraid of what he seems to be than anyone else. Riana and the two other members of her triad distrust him for a lot of the book, even treating him as guilty until proven innocent for quite a long time, but Creed doesn't particularly resent it, because he's afraid they might be right to do so.

Most of the romantic conflict, as you might imagine, stems from Riana falling for Creed despite not knowing whether she's being conned into it by a demon playing the part of the confused innocent, and from everyone else's disapproval once the relationship comes out. It was good, but it could have used a bit more development, especially near the end, when the focus goes firmly on the action and the fight against the Legion.

All in all, it was an ok read. I might yet pick up the next ones.



Octavia, by Jilly Cooper

>> Friday, November 20, 2009

TITLE: Octavia
AUTHOR: Jilly Cooper

PAGES: 190

SETTING: 1970s England
TYPE: Fiction

REASON FOR READING: Strange as it may seem, my school library had Jilly Cooper's entire backlist. I read them all, even though I intensely disliked most of them. The only one I had good memories about was Octavia, so when I saw it at a charity shop recently, I had to pick it up and see why that was.

As soon as Octavia caught a glimpse of Jeremy in the night club, she knew she just had to have him. It didn't matter that he had just got engaged to an old school friend of hers, plump, good-natured Gussie; he was looking at Octavia in the way that suggested bed rather than breakfast, and she was weak at the knees ... An invitation to join Gussie and Jeremy for a cosy weekend on a canal barge came like a gift from the gods: how could she fail to hook Jeremy? But the other part of the foursome was whizz-kid tycoon Gareth Llewellyn, a swarthy Welshman with all the tenderness of a scrum-half ... definitely not Octavia's type! And one way and another, he certainly managed to thwart her plans...
So why did I use to like this? Honestly, I've no idea. I couldn't make it past the first 50 pages this first time around.

Right at the beginning I was ok. Octavia is this poor little rich girl, completely amoral. When she runs into old school friend Gussie and her yummy new fiance, she decides she has to have him. Gussie is fat and square after all, so she practically deserves for Jeremy to be taken away from her. Octavia is not at all likeable, but I was looking forward to seeing how Cooper would go about developing her character.

The one thing about this bit was that I just couldn't take the book seriously, because it was, well, way too 70s. This is Charlie, Octavia's lover at the beginning of the book:

Charlie nodded enigmatically. With his Mexican bandit's face, pink suede suit and dark grey shirt, he looked both sinister and glamorous. No girl could be ashamed of being seen with Charlie.
And then they go home and have sex on Octavia's blond fur counterpane!

I stopped reading when Gareth Llewellyn is introduced. Jeremy and Gussie invite Octavia to spend a weekend with them on a canal barge, and Gussie makes efforts to matchmake by inviting Jeremy's business tycoon friend Gareth. This guy's the type of sensual brute so beloved by 70s romance novelists, the type who'll fuck everything that moves (it's presented as being soooo sexy, that) and mocks and is cruel to the heroine. I flipped forward to see what was coming and if I remember correctly, Octavia loses her money and is constantly humiliated by both circumstances and Gareth. Maybe with another hero this would have been fun, but I just couldn't stomach Gareth.



Kindred in Death, by JD Robb

>> Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TITLE: Kindred in Death

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Piatkus in the UK

SETTING: 2060s New York
TYPE: Romantic suspense / Police procedural
SERIES: Latest in the In Death series (30th full length novel, by my counting)

REASON FOR READING: Because I love the series and feel it's still got the magic, even after so many years

When the newly promoted captain of the NYPSD and his wife return a day early from their vacation, they were looking forward to spending time with their bright and vivacious sixteen-year-old daughter who had stayed behind.

Not even their worst nightmares could have prepared them for the crime scene that awaited them instead. Brutally murdered in her bedroom, Deena's body showed signs of trauma that horrified even the toughest of cops; including our own Lieutenant Eve Dallas, who was specifically requested by the captain to investigate.

When the evidence starts to pile up, Dallas and her team think they are about to arrest their perpetrator; little do they know yet that someone has gone to great lengths to tease and taunt them by using a variety of identities. Overconfidence can lead to careless mistakes. But for Dallas, one mistake might be all she needs to bring justice.
Hoping to spend Peace Weekend (two days off in a row!) relaxing with Roarke, Eve is instead called in to investigate the brutal rape and murder of the daughter of a fellow cop. It soon becomes clear that the murderer was somehow taking revenge on the victim's father, but why?

In terms of the relationships, there wasn't much big stuff going on here. As many put it, part of the attraction of reading the In Death series is that it feels like visiting with long-time friends. Well, this particular visit was a very uneventful on, which didn't make it any less enjoyable. Eve keeps getting better at being a friend, she and Roarke are still in love and still getting better and better at being a couple, and so on. Good stuff.

And while not technically relationship-related, it struck me in this book just how great NR is at creating characters, all sorts of characters. We all know our protagonists are among the best developed characters in romance, and so are the secondaries. Peabody and McNab, Louise and Charles, Feeney, Nadine, Mira, Summerset... all these recurring characters are more alive and more real than many heroes and heroines in other books. But it was the more minor ones that caught my attention in this book. The tens of people they interview or otherwise talk to in the course of the investigation also feel real and very individual, even though they're drawn with just a couple of very sure strokes. I realised every time Eve and Peabody were preparing to go talk to someone we hadn't met before, I was really anticipating meeting that character and seeing them interact with the investigators. I just don't do that with any other author.

But if the relationship bits weren't gripping, the investigation more than compensated for that. The case investigated in this book must be among the most horrific we've seen in the In Death series, and considering we've had quite a few doozies, that's saying a lot. It made my stomach turn to read the descriptions, enough to make me want to skim and to have to remind myself that this was a book and the crime hadn't actually happened.

The horror of it all did emphasise the high stakes involved in finding the monster responsible for it. As a police procedural, this was absolutely brilliant, above average even for this series. There were so many different tacks they took, some of which were successful, some of which weren't, but all of which could have been. All were interesting to follow and only underlined how determined to get to the bottom of things Eve's team was, that they would go down every possible avenue.

Except for one, that is, and that's the only reason why this is getting a B+, rather than an A. This is a bit of a spoiler, so I'll white it out and leave spoiler space:








Start spoiler //Why on earth didn't they look into the father and try to get to the murderer through him? The way he was ignored by the investigators was so glaring that at one point I almost became convinced that he must be dead, and I must have just missed the bit where they said this. Given this, the final bits, with Eve playing hard to bring him in felt like they came out of nowhere. // end spoiler.



One Night Stand, by Julie Cohen

>> Monday, November 16, 2009

TITLE: One Night Stand
AUTHOR: Julie Cohen

PAGES: 310
PUBLISHER: Little Black Dress

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Romance / Chick Lit

REASON FOR READING: Picked it up at random at the library

Eleanor Connor may have written seventeen steamy novels, but her own life is more mundane. In fact, the nearest she comes to sex is having to listen through the thin walls of her house as her friend and neighbour, Hugh, makes love to an ever-changing stream of female conquests. But then one night she makes a one-night-only conquest of her own, only to wake up alone, a bit repentant, and as she later realises, very pregnant. Desperate to find her missing lover, if only to tell him he’s going to be a father, she enlists the help of Hugh to help her search – but begins to realise that the perfect partner could have been right under her nose all this time...
Eleanor and Hugh have been best friends for ages. She's been half in love with him the entire time, but knows that he doesn't return her feelings, so she has pretty much given up on him. Good thing, too, because Hugh is a bit of a man-whore, and Eleanor knows this full well, since they're neighbours and the wall between their houses is quite thin.

Eleanor writes successful erotica novels under a pseudonym, but her day (well, night as well) job is at her local pub, and she feels she's going nowhere. One night that she's feeling especially frustrated she samples the pub's wares a bit too enthusiastically, and ends up having a one-night stand with one of the patrons, an especially attractive newcomer.

As luck would have it, it turns out she was too drunk to bother with a condom, and Eleanor is now pregnant. Determined to find the father, she and Hugh start searching. But things feel different now between them...

I really loved this one, and not just for the story. I read this quite a while ago, and it was the first time ever that I'd read a book where the setting felt like the environment around me. However many American-set books I read and however familiar the settings have become, they still feel foreign, and for that matter, so do most of the English-set ones I've read. It tends to be that the characters' lives are so different to mine that I just don't get that sense of "I know this!". I did with this one, even though it's set in Reading and I don't actually live there. All the little details were there. Cohen is originally American, which might explain it. While English authors might take certain things for granted, it seems logical that she would be struck by the same things I was. Well, however it came about, I really liked the feeling of recognition.

And the romance was great, too. The setup is a bit chick-litty (you won't get many traditional romances where the heroine sleeps with someone else and even becomes pregnant by this someone else, during the book), and so is the fact that it's narrated in the first-person by Eleanor. However, this is very much a romance novel in that the focus is on the development of Eleanor and Hugh's relationship. I'd compare the feel of this book to Kristan Higgins's, which I also really like.

I thought I might have trouble liking Hugh as a viable love interest for Eleanor, since I'm not overly enamoured of promiscuous heroes, but I did. He's possibly a bit underwritten, but there was enough development of his character (well, of Eleanor's perception of him) that I changed my mind and thought he and Eleanor were perfect together.

This is one I'd recommend. I don't know if it's been published outside the UK, but it might be worth seeking out.



One Corpse Too Many, by Ellis Peters

>> Saturday, November 14, 2009

TITLE: One Corpse Too Many
AUTHOR: Ellis Peters

PAGES: 192

SETTING: Medieval England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Second in the Brother Cadfael series

REASON FOR READING: Picked it up on a whim at the charity shop and then took it out of the TBR pile to read on my commute, mainly because it's a thin, light book and it wouldn't weigh me down.

When Shrewsbury Castle falls during a war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, Brother Caedfael makes another grim discovery--a strangled corpse lying among the dead--and vows to find the murderer.
It is 1138 and the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud is going strong. Shrewsbury castle is under siege, and as the action starts, Stephen's forces finally manage to breach its defenses. Faced with the escape of the noblemen in charge and having been accused of being too lenient, Stephen orders that the 94 men captured from the castle's garrison be executed.

Close to Shrewsbury castle lies the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, which houses our crusader turned Benedictine monk turned detective, Brother Cadfael. Being well accustomed to gruesome sights from his years of war, it falls to him to arrange the proper burial of the executed soldiers. But when Brother Cadfael actually counts them, he finds 95 corpses, one too many and who has clearly not died as the rest.

A firm believer that every single life is important, Brother Cadfael is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I've been meaning to try this series forever, and I really liked this first try. It's not exactly a page turner (although I did miss my station one day when I was absorbed in it on the train), but it's a good mystery, with an engaging protagonist, interesting characters and plenty of medieval flavour.

I especially liked Brother Cadfael. Stuck in the middle of the war and having to deal with opposing sides, it's clear he doesn't care much about backing one or the other, but cares a great deal about the people caught up in the conflict. He's a very non-judgmental man, tolerant to other people's foibles, although intolerant of cruelty and treachery. He's clearly had a colourful past (there's only brief references to it here, so I think I'll have to read the first book to find out more), and is now happy in the peace the Abbey provides, although this hasn't caused him to withdraw from the outside world and the people living there.

There are interesting secondary characters (including two I believe show up again in later books) and there is even a slight romance here, between a girl who's taken refuge in the abbey disguised as a young boy (her father was on the losing side) and who's been taken under Brother Cadfael's wing, and a young man, and this was the only bit that didn't fully satisfy. As in many mysteries, it's a nice romance but underdeveloped. Funny how some non-romance writers will devote a lot of time and space to all sorts of feelings, but when it comes to love, they feel that telling us that they met and fell in love is enough. It's as if they think falling in love is not important and worth exploring. *sigh* Not that this particular book was especially bad in this regard, it just got me thinking.

The mystery is interesting enough, but I get the feeling that the author, as her protagonist, is more interested in the characters involved than in the plotty bits. And that was absolutely fine by me!



A Man In A Million, by Jessica Bird

>> Thursday, November 12, 2009

TITLE: A Man In A Million
AUTHOR: Jessica Bird (aka JR Ward)

PAGES: Silhouette

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: Related to books in the Moorhouse Legacy series, and also to The Billionaire Next Door.

REASON FOR READING: I liked The Billionaire Next Door, despite the sucky title.

As far as bad boy Spike Moriarty was concerned, Madeline Maguire defined female perfection. When they'd met, she'd walked up as if she wasn't the most gorgeous thing on the planet and asked to see his tattoos. He--a tough guy who'd make grown men run--had just about passed out. But their connection was definitely one-way…it had to be. Because he could never be the man in a million she was looking for, not with the things he'd done and seen. So for as long as she'd let him, he'd give her whatever she wanted. He'd worry about her walking away when it happened.
Sometimes when an author writes both single titles and categories, they have very different feels. Nalini Singh is a good example of that; her categories read nothing like her single titles. This is not the case with Jessica Bird / JR Ward. Her categories affect me just as her Black Dagger Brotherhood books do, in that they get me in the gut and make me 100% absorbed in the story, while often irritating the bloody hell out of me.

Madeline Maguire and Spike Moriarty are both good friends of Sean O'Banyon (whose story is told in The Billionaire Next Door, and I must say, he must have had a personality transplant in between this book and his). Since their first meeting, they've been eyeing each other in fascination, but neither thinks the other could possibly be interested in them. Madeline is a competitive sailor and has always felt unfeminine and unattractive, especially next to her beautiful sister (whom Mad's boyfriends have a history of prefering to her). Someone as sexy as Spike could never actually want her. Spike, meanwhile, comes from a modest background and looks quite rough, with tattoos all over his body. Someone from a background as privileged as Mad's could never actually want him. Not to mention his five and a half years in jail for killing a man (to save his sister's life, of course). The last woman he told about this dropped him like a hot potato, and he fears Mad would have the same reaction.

But things change when Mad asks Spike for help. She's been avoiding her bully of a half-brother for ages, but she now needs to take action on some family business, and that requires her to confront him. The idea of spending an entire weekend at the family house fills her with dread, and Sean can't help her, so no one's left but Spike.

There's plenty of silly / annoying things about the book. For instance, Madeline's character felt very contradictory to me, and I never felt she made sense. On one hand she's a renowned athlete, very much a jock, nicknamed Mad Dog, of all things! On the other, she's a doormat and a complete pushover with her family. Fortunately, from the beginning of the book she's determined to stop this spineless behaviour and stands up to her stupid brother every time (otherwise I don't think I'd have been able to finish this), but the things that nasty bastard would say to her and expect her not to react to gave an idea of just how passive she must have been in the past.

And then there was her eating. Or rather, her not eating. She's forever playing with her food, or refusing to order breakfast, or pretending she's just eating. Aside from the fact that it irritated me that so much was made of it, that made no sense at all for an athlete, especially not one with a training schedule as punishing as Madeline's. Wouldn't you need at least some calories if you're going to burn off so many? I'm not expecting Michael Phelps here, and maybe she'd eat some things but not others, but I would expect her to at least eat!

Spike's a more consistent character and I understood his reluctance to tell Mad about his history. However, I wasn't too convinced about the final conflict, which was a very cliched Big Misunderstanding one could see coming miles and miles away, and in which the "villain" behaved in very cartoonishly villainy ways.

But for all that, oh, the romance! I just loved, loved, loved Spike's reactions to Mad, which just border on awe at the beginning (he thinks of her as an Amazonian goddess and thinks every man is drooling after her, and he becomes tongue-tied if she as much as looks at him), and turn into a very sweet protectiveness and worship as the book goes on. This is a very sexy book without being particularly explicit. It's more the sort of steaminess that gives you the shivers because you really get what a huge deal it is for the two characters to be together.

Oh, well, I'll definitely keep reading Bird. I know I'll have to keep myself from rolling my eyes at the irritating bits, but that the good bits will more than make up for that.



The Down Home Zombie Blues, by Linnea Sinclair

>> Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TITLE: The Down Home Zombie Blues
AUTHOR: Linnea Sinclair

PAGES: 517

SETTING: Contemporary US and a spaceship!
TYPE: Sci-fi romance
SERIES: Not sure, there might be sequels coming

REASON FOR READING: Love this author.

Bahia Vista homicide detective Theo Petrakos thought he’d seen it all. Then a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware sends Guardian Force commander Jorie Mikkalah into his life. Before the night’s through, he’s become her unofficial partner—and official prisoner—in a race to save the earth. And that’s only the start of his troubles.

Jorie’s mission is to stop a deadly infestation of biomechanical organisms from using Earth as its breeding ground. If she succeeds, she could save a world and win a captaincy. But she’ll need Theo’s help, even if their unlikely partnership does threaten to set off an intergalactic incident.

Because if she fails, she’ll lose not just a planet and a promotion, but a man who’s become far more important to her than she cares to admit.
Christmas is fast approaching when Detective Theo Petrakos' life goes weird. First, his team gets called in to investigate a very strange corpse, one that looks all dried up and mummified, but with strangely moist eyeballs (and that was a very effective image... euww!). Finding some very mysterious tech equipment in the corpse's house, Theo takes it in as evidence. But on the way to the police station he does a quick stopover at his house, and that's when all hell breaks loose.

First, a strange but beautiful woman shows up and tries to take the evidence from him, just to be interrupted by a very, very strange, murderous creature which just materialises in his back yard. A pitched battle ensues, and when he and the strange woman kill the creature and Theo thinks all is safe, then the weirdness just increases. Suddenly, Theo finds himself in a spaceship, to which he's clearly been beamed up.

The woman in his backyard is Commander Jorie Mikkalah, from the Guardian Force. Jorie's team's role is to protect the universe from infestations of "zombies" (what they call creatures such as the one in Theo's back yard). These zombies are not undead people... to cut the story short, they were engineered by Jorie's people centuries earlier to patrol trade routes, but something went wrong with them and they started operating independently. Unfortunately, operating independently means that they slaughter masses of the inhabitants of the worlds they occupy, so Jorie's team tries to go in as soon as possible to prevent it from happening.

When the target is a world already in the loop about what's really going on in the universe, things are straightforward enough. The Guardian Force will just work with the locals to get rid of the zombies. However, when the target is a nil-tech world, like Earth, stealth is needed, because the Guardians have learnt through experience that nils are very suspicious of aliens, and that they tend to get very aggressive very fast.

The standard way of dealing with particular nils who find out about the existence of the Guardians is to relocate them to the lovely world of Paroo (a sort of Hawaii on steroids), and that's what's supposed to happen to Theo now. But Theo is determined not to be sent away from his beloved world and his community, not to mention his family and friends, and he manages to negotiate a bit of a stay-of-execution. The Guardian Force's man (alien?) on Earth has become a victim of the zombies, and so they'd be operating blind. Theo is perfectly placed to help them out with his local knowledge, and help them save the planet.

But plans go wrong soon after they go back and Jorie finds herself stranded on Earth, cut off from the support of her mothership and her systems. If she wants to keep the zombies from taking over the Earth (and possibly later the whole universe as well, because it soon becomes clear that this is not a run-of-the-mill zombie infestation), she's going to need to trust Theo and his nil comrades and work with them.

Oof, that was a long summary, but necessary to explain the setup (it doesn't feel complicated in the book, I have to say). I really like Sinclair's mix of sci-fi, adventure and romance, and while this one doesn't reach the amazing wonderfulness of the last I read by her, Games of Command, it was pretty damn good.

The plot is interesting, with plenty of twists and turns (and I loved the teamwork that develops), and the world-building is well-done, but what I liked best was the romance. Both Jorie and Theo are a bit older than your usual romance character, and indeed, they feel more mature. They're both very invested and competent in their chosen fields, and this is very important to both. There's a lot separating them, obviously, what with Jorie being from another planet and speaking a language which while similar to English, is not quite the same (some pretty nice comic relief from that). But even with all that, they click. There's more than enough closeness in the persons they are deep inside that it compensates for all the outward differences. I also liked that though both are coming out of really bad relationships, this affects them in realistic ways. No "all men/women are evil just because I knew one who was" from Theo or Jorie!

For all the action, there was a lot of character and romance development. However, for all the action, there were also times when the book dragged a little bit. It's a long book, and it felt like it could use some tightening. Not an awful lot, though, and I enjoyed it.

MY GRADE: A very solid B.


The Perfect Poison, by Amanda Quick

>> Sunday, November 08, 2009

TITLE: The Perfect Poison
AUTHOR: Amanda Quick

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Victorian England
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Part of the Arcane Society series

REASON FOR READING: I always get to Quick's books, sooner or later

Victorian London holds many secrets. But none are so closely guarded as those of the shadowy Arcane Society. In her suspenseful new novel, New York Times-bestselling author Amanda Quick delves into this underworld of passion, greed, and powers that lie beyond this realm . . .

Plagued by rumors that she poisoned her fiancé, Lucinda Bromley manages to live on the fringes of polite society, tending her beloved plants-and occasionally consulting on a murder investigation. For the notorious botanist possesses a unique talent: She can detect almost any type of poison, especially ones that have their origins in the botanical kingdom.

But the death of a lord has shaken Lucinda to her core. At the murder scene, she picks up traces of a poison containing a very rare species of fern. So rare, in fact, that only one specimen exists in all of England-and it was stolen from her conservatory just last month.

To keep her name out of the inquest and to find the murderer, Lucinda hires fellow Arcane Society member Caleb Jones who runs a psychical investigation agency. A descendant of the founder of the Society, Jones is very skillful at protecting its secrets-and frighteningly good getting at the truth. Immediately, Lucinda senses both a raw power and an undeniable intensity in the imposing man.

But as a nearly overwhelming desire blooms between Caleb and Lucinda, they are drawn into the dark heart of a deadly conspiracy that can be traced to the early days of the Arcane Society -and to a legacy of madness that could plunge Caleb into the depths of his own tortured soul...
The Perfect Poison tells the story of notorious suspected poisoner Lucinda Bromley and of Caleb Jones, the founder of the Jones detective agency that has featured in all the Arcane Society novels, both historical and contemporary.

Ever since her fiance was found poisoned, botany talent Lucinda Bromley has find herself under suspicion and ruined, as far as society is concerned. This actually gives her some freedoms, like being able to assist a detective who happens to be a member of the Arcane Society whenever a potential poisoning case comes up. Lucinda's talent allows her to detect the psychic auras of all kinds of plant-related substances, even to the point of being able to detect individual components of a potion. This is very useful in determining exactly what the victim has ingested, especially considering only very few tests for poison exist at the time the action is set.

It is while Lucinda is helping out her detective friend that finds cause to seek out Caleb Jones. Lucinda realises that the victim in her latest case was killed with a poison containing a very rare plant, one, in fact, she and her botanist father brought back from an expedition in the Amazon jungle. That plant was stolen from her conservatory quite recently, and since it was very likely her specimen was the only one in England, Lucinda fears she might come under suspicion.

How anyone without her particular talent would have detected the plant, much less know it was a plant she had in her conservatory, I never really understood, but be that as it may, Lucinda decides to ask Caleb Jones to investigate the case and find the real poisoner, before blame falls on Lucinda herself.

Caleb thinks having to deal with clients is the only bad part of being an investigator, but Lucinda is different. He's eager to take her case, and not just because he quickly realises it's linked to his ongoing pursuit of the secret cabal that's been mucking about with the dangerous Founder's Formula (see all the previous books in the series; the secret cabal and the Founder's Formula have been an ongoing issue -and a pretty boring one, at that!). For all that he and Lucinda bicker, there's a definite connection there, one that makes him regret more than ever the fact that over the years, Jones men with his particular talent have invariable gone insane.

I think this one was a bit better than previous Arcane Society installments, mainly because the tedius plotting and planning of the secret cabal was a bit more unobtrusive. What was there was old-hat and repetitive (yet again, we get that scene where hero and heroine break into the house of a suspect and find a dead body. It's in every single Quick book, I think), and the balance between suspense and romance did lean more towards suspense than it used to in those vintage Quick books that put her in my favourites list, but less than in previous books, and we did spend less time in the villains' POV.

And the romance was good. Very good. Quick excels at showing the intimacy and sense of connection between her hero and heroine, and this was very definitely the case here. You really get what it is Caleb sees in Lucinda and what she sees in him. You also get, especially from Caleb, a sense of the total need and craving he feels for what being with Lucinda gives him.

There's also a secondary romance that's nice, if unexciting, and some good secondary characters, but really, it was all about the romance for me.



The Countess Takes a Lover, by Bonnie Dee

>> Friday, November 06, 2009

TITLE: The Countess Takes a Lover
AUTHOR: Bonnie Dee

PAGES: 150

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Erotic romance
SERIES: Related to The Countess Lends a Hand


Who is learning more, the novice or the master? Countess Meredith du Chevalier, a widow with a reputation for being sexually adventurous, is intrigued when she is approached by a gentleman who wishes her to "make a man" of his son. Sensing a passionate man beneath Christopher Whitby's reserved exterior, Meredith takes on the challenge, inviting the botanist to her country home to revitalize her abandoned greenhouse. Chris finds people to be a chaotic, animalistic species, and has chosen to devote his life to the study of plants. One kiss from the vivacious countess, however, and his inner animal is aroused. But lust is only a fraction of what he feels for the vulnerable woman hiding behind a brittle façade. He resolves to coax her to grow until her petals unfurl in a glorious bloom. To her surprise, Meredith finds Chris brings much more to life than just fallow soil. But just as their love begins to thrive, he learns about the secret arrangement. Meredith must risk her heart for the most dangerous lesson of all-love.
The jaded rake taught to love by the innocent virgin heroine has been done to death, and it's not a plot that will tempt me to buy the book. Stories with the same plot but with a role reversal, however, will, but I seem to be only one of very few, because such plots are really rare. I make a point of buying any I become aware of, and if, like this one, the author is one I've liked in the past, so much the better!

The jaded rake (rakess?) in this story is Countess Meredith du Chevalier. A widow, she takes full advantage of the freedom given to her by her status, especially after what a very unhappy marriage, where the sex was something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

When one of her acquaintances proposes an exchange of favours, with her part being to take his botany-obsessed son in hand and teach him "how to be a man", Meredith isn't amused. She might enjoy her sexuality, but she's not a courtesan. However, the young man intrigues her, and she decides to go for it (not to mention that the favour she will receive in return is something she really wants).

Christopher Whitby can barely believe it when the beautiful countess, the first woman he's ever felt really attracted with, indicates she shares his feelings. He can't but accept her invitation to help her with her greenhouse, an invitation she mades clear can include other things, if he feels so inclined.

I really enjoyed the dynamics of their relationship. Meredith starts out as the one in control, the instructor, but soon finds that she's starting to feel way too much to be coolly and impersonally controlling. Before long, the relationship is one of equality (fortunately, the roles don't flip, which would have annoyed me). Meredith is quite a vulnerable character, but I liked that this wasn't done by making her weak and needy, but by showing that even though she didn't know it, falling in love with Chris makes her a happier person.

Chris was a lovely nerdy hero, and I loved how completely into Meredith he was. He feels no need to replace Meredith in the dominant role and doesn't come across as at all weak for it. The only thing about him that I was doubtful about was that he was possibly a bit too much of a fast learner for someone who'd previously had absolutely no experience. Oh, well, I suppose that's just in the best tradition of all those sex-kitten virginal heroines who instinctively know all those sophisticated techniques that bring the heroes to their knees :)

This is an extremely character-driven story, the best sort of erotic romance, where the sex is not there to titillate, but to develop the characters and their relationship. This is a subject that's been on my mind lately with the whole to-do going on about erotic romance, and this book is a perfect example of why I don't think sex that pushes the envelope is a necessary feature of it. There's nothing too kinky or even too unusual happening in the bedroom here, and yet it's all very, very steamy, for the simple reason that those scenes are as much about the feelings involved as about the body parts.

The result is that it's a surprisingly effective romance. I believed that these two people were truly in love. I think I was a bit worried about Chris' feelings leaning towards hero(ine)-worship of Meredith (it was something mentioned in the AAR review, which I read before reading this, IIRC), and while I thought things could go that way for a while (and that the AAR reviewer had a point), I was soon convinced that this wasn't the case.

The book loses a bit of steam near the conclusion, when the necessary conflict emerges and Chris finds out just why Meredith approached him initially, but still, it ends on a high note.



Nothing to Fear, by Karen Rose

>> Wednesday, November 04, 2009

TITLE: Nothing to Fear
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

PAGES: 434

SETTING: Contemporary Chicago
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: All of Karen Rose's books are interrelated, to some degree. Specific details here.

REASON FOR READING: Continuing to explore Rose's backlist

As director of an inner-city woman's shelter, Dana Dupinsky safeguards many secrets. Some are new identities; some are new addresses; and some are even hidden truths about herself. Passionately dedicated to Hanover House and the women she protects, Dana has always been reluctant to look for love. But now, just as a case puts her and a child in mortal danger, it seems that love has come looking for her.

Security expert Ethan Buchanan learned to stalk men in the Afghan desert. Now he vows to track down the ruthless woman who kidnapped his godson-and falling for Dana is not in the plan. Yet her very presence seems to chase away the ghosts that haunt him, and her skillful evasion of personal questions raises his hunting instincts. For there's a deadly new secret at Hanover House. A brutal killer is weaving a web of revenge with a stolen boy at its center. And Dana is the next victim on the list...
Nothing To Fear isn't a whodunnit. We know who the villain is from the very beginning. Sue Conway is out of jail and bent on revenge against those she believes put her there. She has a plan, a very detailed one, and the first step is kidnapping a deaf 12-year-old child. She needs a place to lie low, and her mind turns to a place she was told about by another prisoner: a refuge for battered women.

Dana Dupinsky runs the shelter in question, Hanover House, and at first, this new woman who comes in with her son seems just like any other. Before long, though, Dana starts sensing something wrong, but tells herself she's imagining things.

At the same time, Dana's distracted by other things, like her developing relationship with Ethan Buchanan. Ethan's godson (a deaf 12-year-old, does that ring any bells?) was recently kidnapped, and he's in Chicago tracking the kidnapper. His meeting with Dana is completely coincidental, as far as he's concerned, so how long until he suspects that Dana's input would be essential to find what he's looking for?

The suspense in Nothing to Fear was extremely effective. It's based on us readers knowing exactly what's going on and having to watch the protagonists blundering along blind, putting themselves at risk, because they don't know. Dana thinks there's something not quite right with Sue (or rather, "Jane Smith"), but her first instinct is to deny it, to think she couldn't possibly feel that about this person. She's clearly a victim of domestic violence, and obviously needs support and reassurance, not suspicion, and Dana should be more sensitive, etc. And all the while we know she's right, and feel like reaching into the book and shaking her, telling her to trust her instincts. This reminded me of a very, very scary movie I watched recently, called The Orphan (which gave me nightmares for weeks). Both Sue and the villain in The Orphan were masters of manipulation, making anyone who suspected them feel guilty for doing so.

And Sue is terrifying. Just terrifying. It's not just that she's evil and ruthless, there's an element of pettiness in her actions that makes her even scarier. I thought in the second half of the book things were a bit over-the-top with her... I mean, she's cunning and ruthless, but she would have had to be superwoman for some of the things she was able to pull and the ways the bodies started piling up (the extent to which they did was also a bit much). But still, an intriguing villain which made the suspense side of this romantic suspense very successful.

The romance was all right, but I didn't love it. I think my main problem with it was that I found it hard to believe that Ethan would spend so much time having meaningful quiet moments with a new love interest when he was supposed to be frantically searching for a little boy who's in danger of being killed by his evil kidnapper. It did mean I believed in their love by the end of the book, but still.



The Italian's Wife by Sunset, by Lucy Gordon

>> Monday, November 02, 2009

TITLE: The Italian's Wife by Sunset (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Lucy Gordon

PAGES: 248
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Romance

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Series romance
SERIES: Part of the Rinucci brothers series

REASON FOR READING: I got this one because of Jane's review at DearAuthor.

Intelligent, sensible Della Hadley should've known better than to embark on an affair with a playboy Italian six years her junior, but vibrant and sexy Carlo Rinucci was just too hard to resist....

Della knows that a fiery passion so quick to ignite should be fast to die out, despite Carlo's vow that their love is forever. But Carlo is Italian through and through, and determined to win his woman--and make Della his bride before the sun sets on their affair.
The plot is quite simple: Della Hadley is a television producer preparing a series of programmes on historic sites. Archeologist Carlo Rinucci is suggested to her as the perfect person to present them, and Della agrees.

Carlo likes the idea of the programmes, but he likes Della even more and falls for her hard and fast. She returns the attraction, but it's no go for her, as Carlo is several years younger (if I'm remembering correctly, Della was in her late 30s and Carlo was 30ish... a difference of 6 or 7 years, I think). But Carlo is persistent and determined to convince her.

Carlo is just wonderful. He falls like a ton of bricks for Della and then he treats her really sweetly, even (especially) when she's being an idiot about their age difference. I especially loved the scene where he was joking about coming ready-made-hen-pecked. There's something very sexy about a man who recognises that a man doesn't have to be dominant and bullying to be a real man.

Della I was a bit less sure about. I wasn't 100% convinced by her reasons to refuse a real relationship with Carlo so definitely. She seemed a bit hung up on appearances, and I didn't really understand where her unreasonably severe fear came from. 6-7 years difference in age isn't that much, especially when the guy is 30 (or maybe I've just got used to it... going back to uni at 30 last year I felt like I was pretty much the oldest person there, and I necessarily dated guys who were quite a bit younger).

It's a good but not revolutionalry December-May story right until the ending. I'm going to add some spoiler space here, because I really can't be too cryptic in discussing this and it would definitely be a spoiler. However, this is one spoiler warning I think readers shouldn't heed, because it's something that will probably be a deal-breaker for many.








In the conclusion, it becomes clear that Della has some health problems that mean that she will almost certainly not live until old age, and she and Carlo have to deal with this knowlege. I'm as much wedded to the HEA ending, but the way Gordon wrote this was amazing. It was a very romantic and sweet and lovely ending, even though it made me cry. For me, it definitely counted as a happy ending, if a little bittersweet, but for those who need the guarantee that everything will be wonderful forever, it won't work. Me, I loved it. Like Jane, it made the book for me.



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