Shoot to Thrill, by Nina Bruhns

>> Thursday, September 30, 2010

TITLE: Shoot to Thrill
AUTHOR: Nina Bruhns

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Contemporary US and Sudan
TYPE: Adventure / Thriller Romance
SERIES: First in the Passion for Danger trilogy (I think it's a trilogy!)

REASON FOR READING: Impulse buy. I can't really say why it appealed to me, as it's not my usual kind of book. Hmmm, maybe because of that, actually!

A sexy black-ops hero and a beautiful ER nurse must fight for their lives--and for a love they never thought possible...

"Do this last mission and we'll tear up your contract." Kick Jackson, former CIA spy, has heard that one before. But this time, saying no isn't an option. Only he can identify a dangerous terrorist and stop a bloodbath--and Kick's conscience won't let him walk away. Unfortunately, his enemies are bent on making sure he never walks again, sending him on the run--and straight into the arms of the one woman with the power to save him.

Nurse Rainie Martin wants to run like hell when Kick kidnaps her, but how can she abandon a wounded hero? Thrown unwittingly into an international game of deadly stakes, Rainie soon realizes the drop-dead gorgeous rogue operator has sent her well-ordered life spinning out of control. To survive she'll have to face her worst fears ... including a lethal attraction to her dangerous captor.

From the glitter of New York to the desolate sands of the Sahara, the unlikely couple must battle to stay alive, while finding the courage to trust again--and something even scarier: to open their hearts to love...
Typical. With the book I read before this one, I had plenty of time to read, but a hard time caring enough about the characters to actually want to spend time finding out what would happen. And then I started Shoot To Thrill and proceeded to have a week where I had stuff going on every single evening. I only had time to read STT in dribs and drabs, even though I was desperate to sit down for an entire evening and finish it. It was that good.

Nurse practitioner Rainie Martin has been dragged along by her friend to a speed dating event for medical professionals. She's not into it at all (it's been a while since she's found a man interesting, and the people at the event are the same old, same old), until she sets eyes on a sexy, dangerous-looking guy. The guy sets his eyes on her right back, making it clear it's lust at first sight on both their parts. And before she knows it, Rainie is doing something completely out of character and leaving the event with him, against her friend's protests that the whole point was to find someone safe! Turns out Rainie's friend was right, and Rainie soon realises the man is not quite what he appeared to be.

Kick Jackson is on the run from his former CIA colleagues, who are determined to have him back and on a mission he really doesn't want to go on. He crashed the speed dating event with the sole purpose of finding a medic who could help him through some health issues, and at the same time give him a place to lie low for a couple of days. When Rainie sees through his cover, he is desperate enough to kidnap her and force her into helping him.

But things don't go quite as he expected, and Kick is soon forced on that dreaded mission, which turns out to be in Sudan. And so is Rainie, because the CIA guys aren't dumb, and they realise holding her is a good way of pressuring Kick into doing what they want. But things go wrong almost immediately, stranding the two of them in a desperate situation...

I can't really pinpoint exactly what it was that got me so excited to read this book. Yes, the pacing is pretty frantic throughout the entire book, with a fast-moving plot, but that's not something that would necessarily draw me to a book (I tend to prefer more character-driven and thus usually slower books). I suppose it's just the way the book flowed and Bruhns' writing style. She just does fast-paced, sexy adventure really well. In spite of the short time-frame and the fact that there was exciting stuff going on pretty much all the time, there was character development and enough between Kick and Rainie to make me believe in their relationship. I was even interested in the plot about the terrorists!

I thought at first that there wasn't going to be a huge deal of character development, but there was. Possibly even a bit too much, as Rainie changes from a woman who can't even bear to go into a car or look at a gun without getting panic attacks to a gung-ho warrior who refuses to be left behind even for what pretty much is a suicide mission. I didn't 100% buy this, but I quite liked it anyway. I liked that before too long, she's more than a match for Kick. As for Kick, he's got your garden-variety tortured background that made me what he is, blah, blah. Worked all right, but nothing particularly interesting.

The only annoying thing about STT was the nicknames. Seriously, what is it with these people? What problem do they have with their given name? Kyle constantly insisted on being called the very silly-sounding Kick, but I thought Rainie was even worse. I actually like the nickname Rainie, but to me, it sounds quite girly and cutie. Surely when faced with tough CIA agents who are blackmailing you into helping them do something you feel is very wrong, and when you're trying to stand tough and resist their pressure, the last thing you want to do is to sound girly and cute. Why on earth did she make a point of insisting they call her Rainie rather than Lorraine?

Anyway, minor stuff. I liked pretty much all else. Actually, this book reminded me a bit of Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters series, in the way Bruhns starts developing but leaves hanging a couple of other storylines at the same time as Kick and Rainie's. There's the mysterious man being held by the terrorists, with his dreams of his "angel with an H", which I loved and hope to see more of in the next books. And then there's Rainie's friend Gina (the one who dragged her to the speed dating). Now, that one I was very interested in as well, but had mixed feelings about. When Rainie disappears after contacting her with a weird story, Gina is desperate to find her friend. She ends up being contacted by a CIA operative whom she's sure is trying to keep her quiet and stop her from making a fuss, and there's a violent attraction between them. There is a lot of chemistry and potential for yummy conflict there, but some of the sex scenes made me uncomfortable. I think I'll still read their book, which is the third in this trilogy. I wonder if they'll feature in book 2 as well?

The other similarity to Brockmann is in STORM, the private company involved in military operations that is introduced during the book, quite similar to Brockmann's Troubleshooters Inc. I have huge problems with the very idea of companies such as these, but so far, I'm willing to keep going along with it.



The Surgeon, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Saturday, September 25, 2010

TITLE: The Surgeon
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary Boston
TYPE: Mystery / Police procedural
SERIES: Starts the Jane Rizzoli / Maura Isles series (although only Jane appears in this first book)

REASON FOR READING: Tess Gerritsen has been on my radar for a while now, and a post by Wendy about why she thinks Gerritsen's past writing romances helps her create such good mysteries, followed by a really intriguing review of the author's latest at AAR, made me finally pick up one of her books.

In her most masterful novel of medical suspense, New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen creates a villain of unforgettable evil--and the one woman who can catch him before he kills again.

He slips into their homes at night and walks silently into bedrooms where women lie sleeping, unaware of the horrors they soon will endure. The precision of the killer's methods suggests he is a deranged man of medicine, propelling the Boston newspapers and the frightened public to name him "The Surgeon."

The cops' only clue rests with another surgeon, the victim of a nearly identical crime. Two years ago, Dr. Catherine Cordell fought back and killed her attacker before he could complete his assault. Now she hides her fears of intimacy behind a cool and elegant exterior and a well-earned reputation as a top trauma surgeon.

Cordell's careful facade is about to crack as this new killer recreates, with chilling accuracy, the details of Cordell's own ordeal. With every new murder he seems to be taunting her, cutting ever closer, from her hospital to her home. Her only comfort comes from Thomas Moore, the detective assigned to the case. But even Moore cannot protect Cordell from a brilliant hunter who somehow understands--and savors--the secret fears of every woman he kills.
I'm feeling lazy today and the description above is very nearly spot on, so I won't bother duplicating the effort. Do read it and come back.

Done? Then I'll just add the big thing that's missing, which is Jane Rizzoli. Jane is part of the team investigating the Surgeon case, and as the only female detective working in homicide, she's got something to prove. She's just as desperate to solve the case as Thomas Moore, even though she doesn't particularly care for Catherine.

Within minutes of starting The Surgeon, I was kicking myself for taking so long to try Gerritsen. This is exactly what I want out of a police procedural.

Whether you like this as much as I did will probably depend on your tolerance for graphic violence. There is quite a lot of that here, and it's truly horrific, so be warned. I didn't have a problem with it, but all I need to be able to cope is that the violence is not gratuitous and exploitative. It's certainly not that in this book.

It also develops into a case that's truly fascinating. It's not only what's actually happening that's interesting, it's also the connections to the previous case and it all combines to create a case that had me wondering how on earth this could be and how would Gerritsen manage to tie it all together and make it make sense.

She does, and how! The answer develops organically from the investigation. For a procedural to work really well for me, I need to be able to follow and understand the logic of the investigation. I need to buy that it would happen that way. Here, I did. Gerritsen's detectives don't ignore obvious avenues of enquiry just to move the plot in a particular direction. They don't make leaps of logic that just, oh so serendipitously, happen to be on the money. The work their asses off to unearth evidence and then follow it. It makes for a very satisfying (to the reader) investigation.

But best of all was that not only was I interested in the investigation, I was also even more interested in the detectives involved in it, most especially Jane. Oh, I liked the other characters well enough. Thomas and Catherine provide a really nice romance subplot, and other characters were very well drawn. It was Jane, however, who I loved. She's very not an easy character. She's prickly and defensive, with a huge chip on her shoulder. She's definitely got a reason for it, given her family and some of the sexist pigs who surround her at work, but it's still sometimes frustrating to see her deal with them. She's a good person, but sometimes isn't nice at all. She's good at her job, but sometimes makes head-bangingly wrong decisions. All of which, actually, makes her an even more real and interesting character.

I've read an interview with Gerritsen where she said that she originally meant to kill off Jane in the first book. Instead she kept her, and she's become the central character of the series, together with Maura Isles, who doesn't show up until later in the series, apparently. I'm very glad Gerritsen changed her mind, and I will continue to follow her.



Warrior, by Zoë Archer

>> Thursday, September 23, 2010

TITLE: Warrior
AUTHOR: Zoë Archer

PAGES: 370

SETTING: Outer Mongolia, late 19th century
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: #1 in Blades of the Rose series.

REASON FOR READING: Just see setting above. Setting a book in Outer Mongolia will make me want to read it, whatever the plot.

To most people, the realm of magic is the stuff of nursery rhymes and dusty libraries. But for Capt. Gabriel Huntley, it’s become quite real and quite dangerous…

The vicious attack Capt. Gabriel Huntley witnesses in a dark alley sparks a chain of events that will take him to the ends of the Earth and beyond—where what is real and what is imagined become terribly confused. And frankly, Huntley couldn’t be more pleased. Intrigue, danger, and a beautiful woman in distress—just what he needs.

Raised thousands of miles from England, Thalia Burgess is no typical Victorian lady. A good thing, because a proper lady would have no hope of recovering the priceless magical artifact Thalia is after. Huntley’s assistance might come in handy, though she has to keep him in the dark. But this distractingly handsome soldier isn’t easy to deceive…
Captain Gabriel Huntley has only just resigned his commission in the British Army and after 15 years of non-stop action all over the world, isn't too excited about the idea of settling down back home into a quiet life. Mere minutes after getting off his ship in Southampton, he comes across a man being beaten up by a group of people. Gabriel doesn't like bullies, so he dives in to the man's defense and succeeds in beating off his attackers.

Unfortunately, the man dies of his injuries, but before he does, he passes on a cryptic message to Gabriel that he says will save thousands of lives. This message needs to go to a man in Outer Mongolia, and oh, yes, the only ship that will get Gabriel there in time leaves in hours. Since the man saved Gabriel's life during the fight, he feels obliged to do it (and of course, his reluctance to abandon all adventure helps).

After arduous weeks of travel, Gabriel finally reaches the home of Franklin Burgess and his daughter Thalia and delivers the message. Noticing Burgess has an injured leg, Gabriel offers his further help, but is rebuffed. Partly out of a sense of duty, partly out of the same adventure-seeking that brought him to Mongolia and wanting to see where this goes, Gabriel is determined to help and decides to stick around. But the person who sets out the next morning, clearly prepared for a long trip, is not Burgess, but Thalia.

Thalia isn't initially any more disposed to accept Gabriel's help than she was at the beginning, but after he helps repel an attack by Thalia's enemies, she decides to accept his help. And as they travel all over Mongolia, Gabriel is introduced to a world he didn't even suspect existed, one of secret societies and powerful magic.

Now, the setting was as good as I might have hoped. The landscape, the people, the culture... all those were well drawn and very unique. Obviously, since beyond having met a couple of Mongolian people, I know very little about the country, I have no way of judging whether it was accurate. It was fun and interesting and felt different, though, and that's enough for me.

Unfortunately, however, apart from the setting, this was one of those books where I liked the idea of it, I liked the bare bones of what was going on, but just didn't like the actual book as much as I wished I would. It was very frustrating.

So what made me wish I'd like the book more? Well, I've mentioned the setting already, but there's also the fact that we have a strong, unusual heroine, whose unusualness is perfectly well justified. We also have a hero who really values that strength and unusualness and considers it one of the main reasons he loves the heroine. But much as I liked that in theory, I couldn't bring myself to care all that much about Gabriel and Thalia and their relationship. I just wasn't engaged. I had to fight very hard to avoid the temptation of skimming over their scenes together.

This is an adventure romance, and there's a lot going on, as they ride all over Mongolia, escape supernatural storms, participate in a Mongolian tournament and finally make their final stand in what sounded like a really cool location. There's powerful magic and secret societies. But again, as exciting as that sounds, I wasn't as excited as I should have been. I wasn't turning the pages desperate to know how things were going to turn up, but trying to force myself to keep reading and not get distracted, so I could get to the end of the book. That sounds awful, but I'm afraid it's the truth.

All of these are things that I expect will strike other people very differently. It could be just me not clicking with Archer's voice, or not being inthe right mood. I have no doubt that many other readers will have a completely different experience and love this. There was one thing I thought as really bad, though, and that was the villains. They were beyond cartoonish and flat. They babbled for no reason and in completely out-of-character ways, leered at the heroine, made racist comments for no other reason than to show us readers how evil they were, etc. I rolled my eyes quite a bit when these people showed up.

MY GRADE: Warrior was at best a C+ for me. However, I think I might actually give the future books in the series a shot and see if they work better for me. Not only do the settings sound as great as Outer Mongolia, there's also the fact that one of the heroes, the inventor Catullus Graves, whom we meet in this book, is a black Briton. I actually thought when he was first referred to in the book that he sounded really cool, and what a shame that he most probably wouldn't have his own book. It's very, very nice to hear that he will.

NOTE: After writing my review, I like to seek out others. I notice that quite a few describe Warrior as steampunk. Good thing I didn't see them before I read it, because I love steampunk, and I would have been disappointed. Yes, Catullus' inventions are advanced for their time, but that was a very minor element, especially compared to the magic, which was a huge part of the plot.


Into the Crossfire, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TITLE: Into the Crossfire
AUTHOR: Lisa Marie Rice

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Comtemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts the Protectors trilogy

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author.

Former Navy SEAL Sam Reston keeps to himself. His world is dangerous, uncertain, violent...and there is no room in it for the helpless and weak. Then the most beautiful woman in the world moves in next door to him...

Nicole Pearce's life is complicated enough-with an ailing father and a new business to worry about-and the last thing she needs is to get involved with a secretive, hard-bodied, hardheaded neighbor. Yet Sam leaves her breathless-her body tingling with erotic desire-and it takes every ounce of her fabled control to resist offering herself to him, no strings attached. What she doesn't know is that Sam Reston is on an undercover assignment . . . and she's about to step into the crossfire.

Never has Sam ached for a woman so badly, and he's never fallen in love before. Now that Nicole is in grave danger, he will become her shield, and guard the tempting body he longs to touch and taste. Because a terrorist plot hatched half a world away is heading to their doorstep-and it can only be derailed by one man and one woman.
Nicole Pearce's life is not in a good place. Her father is dying, and in order to allow him to spend his last days with dignity, she's working herself to death to cover the costs of his care. The translation business she started after moving back from abroad to be with her father is going well and growing. However, so are the treatment costs, so it's a struggle to make enough money to keep up.

Sam Reston's security firm has offices in the same building as Nicole's company. Ever since he first saw her, Sam has been fascinated by Nicole. Really fascinated. The guy practically salivates every time he even thinks of Nicole. However, all that time he has been working undercover, so he has been coming and going looking like a scary lowlife -hardly the sort of person someone like Nicole would want to date.

Sam's chance comes just after his undercover case ends, when he finds Nicole struggling to break into her own office after forgetting her key. Not getting in equals losing an important business deal, so Sam, as ruthless as every LMR hero when it comes to getting close to "his woman", manages to to snag a date with Nicole in return for his help.

And just in time, too, because Nicole has just unknowingly become the target of an assassin. Someone has sent her compromising information hidden in some translation documents, and the evil terrorists it would compromise want her neutralised before she can pass it on.

I hadn't been reading for long before I went "Yay, she's back!". LMR's latest books for Avon Red have been ok, but nowhere near as addictively good as the Ellora's Press books that put her squarely on my autobuy list. These latest books lacked intensity (not to mention, I wasn't completely convinced by the heros). Into the Crossfire has intensity in spades, and Sam was just the right blend of tough and soft.

Sam's attraction to Nicole and his physical and emotional reactions to her are as gloriously over-the-top as ever. He only has to smell her to get a boner that could hammer steel (why you'd want to hammer steel, I don't know, but all LMR heroes think this). He can have sex with her ten times and still be hard. He shoots a "small lake" of semen into her. And as soon as he begins to know the real Nicole, he is absolutely and completely certain that this is the woman for him, and that he'll do anything to be part of her life. And no, I'm not complaining about any of this. This is something I actively enjoy about LMR's books, unrealistic or not, and I wouldn't have them any other way.

Interestingly, I found Sam a bit more human than most of the author's heroes, a bit more vulnerable. He actually has doubts about how Nicole feels about him, and about whether he'll manage to make their relationship go the way he'd so much like it to go. There's a scene when Nicole has sneaked out of Sam's house after sex and is not answering her phone, and he keeps ringing her every 5 minutes, leaving "pleading" messages on her answering machine. I quite liked the self-doubt, actually, because that shows he's not all-knowing and all-confident about everything. It made it seem as if there wasn't that much of a power imbalance between Sam and Nicole. I've sometimes found that a bit problematic in LMR's books, but not at all here.

The other thing I've sometimes found problematic in LMR's books is the heroes' mysoginistic internal monologues. Sam doesn't do that at all. He doesn't think about how he can barely tolerate to touch the women he normally fucks, or about how they are hard and bitter and materialistic (or, my personal favourite, how their pubic hair is stiff and bristly, as opposed to the heroine silky pubes). It was very refreshing, as I had began to consider LMR a bit of a guilty pleasure because of this. Instead of seeing Nicole as an exception, the one woman who's actually ok, Sam actually likes women in general. He doesn't quite see them as strong and equal to him, but rather, more as precious and fragile and needing his and his brothers' protection, but hey, I'll take that over mysoginy any time!

I realise I haven't mentioned Nicole much, but I actually quite liked her. On the surface she's a bit boring: the self-sacrificing daughter, perfectly ladylike and in need of rescue. However, there's more to her than meets the eye, and she's a lot stronger than I thought she'd be.

Finally, I should at least mention the suspense subplot. I never really see them referred to at all in reviews of LMR's books, but I always find them really good. They are different from the usual tired ones used over and over again in too many romances, and actually make sense and keep me interested, even (especially) during scenes told from the villains' point of view. This one involves dirty bombs and assassins, and I found it all quite thrilling.

MY GRADE: An A-. That's how much I loved it.


James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

>> Sunday, September 19, 2010

TITLE: James and the Giant Peach
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl

PAGES: 156

SETTING: 1960s England
TYPE: Children's book

REASON FOR READING: Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors growing up, and a few weeks ago I bought a boxed set of his books out of nostalgia. Roald Dahl day last September 13th (thanks to the Book Smugglers for reminding me!) was the perfect excuse to pick one up.

When poor James Henry Trotter loses his parents in a horrible rhinoceros accident, he is forced to live with his two wicked aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. After three years he becomes "the saddest and loneliest boy you could find." Then one day, a wizened old man in a dark-green suit gives James a bag of magic crystals that promise to reverse his misery forever. When James accidentally spills the crystals on his aunts' withered peach tree, he sets the adventure in motion. From the old tree a single peach grows, and grows, and grows some more, until finally James climbs inside the giant fruit and rolls away from his despicable aunts to a whole new life. James befriends an assortment of hilarious characters, including Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider, and Centipede--each with his or her own song to sing.
I went for my old fave, James and the Giant Peach. This is one of those special books which I actually remember reading for the first time, even though I must have been under 10. I remember sitting in the car on the way home from some sort of children's theatre thing, and feeling happy because I could finally, finally get my book out (even then I carried books on me... I wonder where, since obviously I didn't have a handbag!)

Basic plot: the orphaned James is living with his two evil aunts, who treat him like a slave, when a strange man shows up and gives him some magic crystals, à la Jack and the Beanstalk. Magic things will happen to whomever or whatever comes into contact with the crystals, the man tells James. Poor James, however, drops the crystals under his aunts' shriveled peach tree and they disappear from sight. But magic doesn't completely avoid James, and suddenly he is embarked in an adventure inside a giant peach, accompanied by the creatures who were scrabbling around under the tree when the crystals were dropped.

I had a blast reading this. James' adventures are equal parts scary and exciting, and I adored his companions, from the Centipede (so proud about being a pest) to the Earthworm ("the problem... the problem is there is no problem!"), not forgetting the motherly Ladybird, the kindly Miss Spider, the Old-Green Grasshopper with his beautiful music, the shy Glowworm and the industrious Silkworm. They each are extremely well drawn and have very distinct and entertaining personalities, perfectly reflected in the delightful illustrations by Quentin Blake that came in my edition of the book.

The bit that surprised me was how almost blasé the attitude is towards death. James' parents are eaten by a rhinoceros, people are flattened by the giant rolling peach, and Miss Spider's relatives have a habit of coming to sticky ends. Clearly Dahl saw no point in coddling children and pretending bad things don't happen, probably quite a healthy outlook.



Wife in the North, by Judith O'Reilly

>> Friday, September 17, 2010

TITLE: Wife in the North
AUTHOR: Judith O'Reilly

PAGES: 295

SETTING: Contemporary Northern England
TYPE: Memoir

REASON FOR READING: My book club's choice for September

When Judith O’Reilly, a successful journalist and mother of three, agreed to leave London for a remote northern outpost, she made a deal with her husband that the move was a test-run to weigh the benefits of country living. In the rugged landscape of Northumberland County, O’Reilly swapped her high heels for rubber boots and life-long friends for cows, sheep, and strange neighbors.

In this tremendously funny and acutely observed memoir, O’Reilly must navigate the challenges and rewards of motherhood, marriage, and family as she searches for her own true north in an alien landscape. Her intrepid foray into the unknown is at once a hilarious, fish-out-of-water story and a poignant reflection on the modern woman’s dilemma of striking the right balance between career and family.
Wife in the North is based on a blog the author kept when she moved with her family from London to the middle of nowhere in Northumberland. Our narrator (I decided quite early that I was going to treat this as fiction, otherwise any review I did was going to feel too personal) is a successful journalist who loves her life in London completely, but her husband's dream has always been to live in the country. When he finds the house of his dreams, a small cottage in the Northumberland countryside, she agrees to give it a go and try living there for a while. So there she is, heavily pregnant with her third child, with the two others both under 4, in a place where she knows no one and with a husband who ends up spending weeks upon weeks in London working. She is MISERABLE.

I read some 100 pages (about a third of the book), and then just couldn't bear to go on. It wasn't that I wasn't in the mood for it, or that the writing voice didn't agree with me (although I did find some of it unbearably pretentious), or that I found it hard to get into it. It was that I absolutely and completely hated it. I found it depressing and I disliked every single character.

The plot read like my worst nightmare (and bear in mind, I live in the North myself, so I have no objection to that part of it, per se). It'll sound weird, but this book reminded me most of all of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. This woman has been living a thoroughly modern life, with a job she enjoys in a city she loves, with friends who are a family to her and a husband who's a lover but also a partner. And then her world suddenly changes and pretty much goes back to the 1950s. Her marriage stops being a partnership and the husband starts disregarding her feelings and opinions. She's stuck at home, her identity reduced to wife and mother. Nothing wrong with that if it's what you want to do, but this woman hates it. She remembers what it was like to have that old life she loved, and mourns.

I could simply have felt sorry for her and rooted for her happiness. I didn't. I found her as unpleasant as I found her selfish pig of a husband. She is terribly passive-aggressive. So she's allowed herself to be pressured into doing something she doesn't want to do and is now unhappy. Well, she can either change her circumstances, since she hates them so much, or she can decide to make the best of things. She does neither. She just whines and punishes her husband in little ways (like the way she'd get so angry with him whenever she ran out of petrol - get your own fucking petrol, woman!). She revels in her unhappiness, and in making sure her husband knows it. But when he tells her "look, clearly this experiment isn't working out. You're unhappy here, we'll call it off and go back to London", she pretends everything is fine. Idiot.

I don't know what happens next. She probably does get on with things and learn to enjoy her new life. I just didn't care, and refused to spend any more time with these people to find out.

MY GRADE: A DNF, but the bits I read were an F. On the plus side, it did spark a very interesting discussion when my book club met.


Dream of Me, by Lisa Cach

>> Sunday, September 12, 2010

TITLE: Dream of Me
AUTHOR: Lisa Cach

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Lovespell

SETTING: 15th century in what is now Romania
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Related to Come To Me.

REASON FOR READING: This is one that's been in my TBR for ages, since it came out about 6 years ago, actually. I brought it back from Uruguay with me last year, and finally picked it up after seeing people talking about it on twitter recently.

Theron, undying creature of the Night World, knew everything about making love. But though he was an incubus, a bringer of carnal visions to sleeping maids, he had grander ambitions. He plotted to step into the mortal world and rule as king.

The beautiful Lucia was imprisoned in a fortress atop a mountain. Her betrothed, Prince Vlad of Wallachia, wanted her purity intact; but when the prince broke a vow to Theron, nothing could keep her safe. The girl would be subjected to Theron's seduction; she would learn all his lips might teach.

A demon of lust and a sheltered princess: each dreamed of what they’d never had. They were about to get everything they wished…and more.
Theron is an incubus, a demon who specialises in bringing sexual dreams to women. The role of incubi is to help women whose sex lives are not as they should be, whether it's showing the bride with an inexperienced and clumsy groom how she can show him what to do, or a woman who's been raped that sex can be pleasurable. No matter how worthy the work, however, after 4,000 years, Theron wants more. Incubi don't experience any feelings themselves. They don't love, they don't even experience desire, beyond a sort of mirroring of what the women they help are feeling. Theron is tired of this, and wants to be human.

His big plan is to trick a human into inviting him into his body, and then refuse to leave. But the first human who calls him is more than he bargained for. Vlad, ruler of one of the kingdoms in the area that is now Romania is a hard, cruel man and hugely ambitious. What he wants from Theron is help conquering a few more kingdoms. Theron is to use his powers to make sure the king of Maramures breaks his sister Lucia's engagement to a rival prince, and betroths her to Vlad. That way Vlad gets both military help, and a young, innocent, virginal bride (and Vlad is really into his virgins, deflowering as many as he can, whether they want it or not). In return, once Vlad's managed to conquer the kingdom's he's after, but before he marries, he'll allow Theron to take over his body for three days.

The bargain is struck, and Theron duly fulfills his part. But after 6 years, Vlad is still fighting his wars, even though the enemy's all but defeated, and Theron is getting impatient. And when he confronts Vlad, it becomes clear the man is planning to renege on his deal. Time to put in a bit of pressure on him, and Theron decides to make good on his threat to make sure Vlad's bride is not the innocent he wants her to be.

Right after her engagement with Vlad, Lucia was sent to an isolated castle on top of a mountain, which men are not allowed to enter, and she's been there ever since. She has not only been kept physically pure, she has also been kept shockingly ignorant. After so many years, she's curious and eager to know the world. She's also bored out of her skull. So when a demon starts visiting her dreams, she's very tempted.

This sort of book is why I'm sad Dorchester's ran into trouble. Back when it came out, they were the only ones publishing anything that was a bit different. And this certaily would have been.

It's a very imaginative story, with great characters. Theron is quite unique. I thought Cach did a very good job in showing how an incubus is completely different from a human man with wings and supernatural powers. He starts out quite heartless, doing some stuff that's truly disturbing in how amorally he reacts to it. But he's supposed to be that way. As a demon, he's not supposed to have a soul, and that makes the changes in him as the story develops even more remarkable. I thought it was a nice touch that at the beginning of the book it was well established that he was becoming less of a demon already, with yearnings he wasn't supposed to have. However, he didn't have a sense of other people, and getting to know Lucia changes him.

So I liked Theron's personal journey, but I have to say, Lucia's was even better. She starts out as this annoyingly childlike young woman. It is through no fault of her own, really. I mean, the woman's been locked up since she was a child and denied any knowledge of anything. It's no wonder that she craves knowledge, and none more than forbidden knowledge about sex, all the while clinging to girlish romantic fantasies. But really, she's so innocent that I feared I'd hate the book. But through her interactions with Theron, rather than give way to the infinitely more experienced 4000-year-old demon, Lucia grows. She grows more mature and she grows a lot stronger. By the end, she's in control, and Theron has only as much power over her as she gives him. In fact, she has a lot more power over him.

I really liked the romance up to the ending, which was a bit of a disappointment. First, it felt a bit deus ex machina and anticlimactic, with the rules changing suddenly and a character who was supposed to be merciless and 1000 times more inhuman than Theron ever was turning out to be a sweetie. But even worse was that Lucia betrays Theron in a way that I found unforgivable. It was completely pointless, as well, because the plan fails, and so neither has to deal with the consequences had it worked. And it was needless for her to do this. Her logic of why she had to was pretty faulty, IMO. It wasn't needed at all for plot purposes, it wasn't needed for character development, because it changes nothing in either of them. Even Theron, knowing exactly what has happened, just takes it in his stride. He's hurt, but it changes nothing at all. The only purpose it served, as far as I'm concerned, was to ruin some of my enjoyment of the book.

But not all, or even most of it, because I pretty much liked everything else, including the writing. I don't think there's anyone with a voice quite like Cach's. She's writing about a quite serious plot, and some awful things happen, but without ruining the angst, there are many touches of comedy. Some of the scenes with the truly vile, evil Vlad are extremely funny, and the scene where Theron first gives Lucia an erotic drem was truly hilarious (the image of the crotch monster... I'm still laughing!). The tone worked perfectly for this story, otherwise it might have been a bit dreary.

I'm very glad I dug this one out of the old pile, and I'm now looking forward to reading the companion book, Come To Me. It takes place at the same time as this one, and the glimpses I caught of what was going on with Theron's sucubus friend, Samira, were very intriguing.

MY GRADE: A solid B.


Cruise Control, by Sarah Mayberry

>> Friday, September 10, 2010

TITLE: Cruise Control
AUTHOR: Sarah Mayberry

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary Australia
TYPE: Romance

REASON FOR READING: I wanted something short and nice to read while I was sitting in the park

What good is a second chance if you don't take a risk?

That's what limo driver Anna Jackson asks when the seriously hot Marc Lewis climbs in her car. She's changed her looks, her career and now it's time to shed the conservative habits of a lifetime. And seducing Marc is the best way to do that. Sure, he's her client--sort of off-limits--but she's not wrong about the invitation in his eyes.

All she has to do is remember three simple rules--never stay overnight, make no plans for the future and never, ever talk about emotions. Once they hit the sheets, however, the rules aren't so easy to follow. And once they spend the night, can feelings be far behind?
Mayberry is fast becoming one of my go-to authors when I want a quick, sexy read. Cruise Control was the perfect book to read while sitting in the park, enjoying one of the last sunny days of the vanishing Northern English summer!

The plot is one of those Blaze staples: the no-strings affair that turns into something more. Anna Jackson is in the process of changing her life completely after surviving breast cancer. She's made some big changes already, from changing her look from classic and restrained to bold and sexy, to abandoning her law career for one as a limo driver. However, there are still plenty of things on the list she drew up in hospital when still wondering whether she would survive the cancer.

One of those things is getting some passion in her life. And the perfect opportunity presents itself when businessman Marc Lewis gets in the back seat of her car. Anna hesitates at first, but the chemistry between them is too explosive to resist for long, and in no time at all, they're involved in a hot and heavy affair. Both of them tell themselves it's nothing but sex -Anna even has rules to make sure feelings don't get involved-, but sure enough, feelings soon enter the equation.

I really, really enjoyed this, mostly because of the characters. Anna and Marc both come alive, with very distinct personalities and issues. Sometimes with this plot the tension feels a bit fake, because there's no real reason why the affair should be kept sex-only when both people involved start wanting something else. With Anna and Marc, Mayberry made me believe that there was.

Anna, like many cancer survivors, is quietly convinced that it will come back and kill her before too long. After all, that's what happened with her mother. And seeing the effect that had on her father, Anna doesn't want to put a partner of her own through that. So for her, keeping some distance between herself and Marc is essential.

Marc is also dealing with some issues of his own, arising from his divorce. These get solved in a way I really liked, and so he's the one who's then willing to go for the relationship, and has to convince Anna, all the while not knowing why it is that she's so set against it.

This, however, was the point where the book kind of fell down for me, because the ending was seriously rushed. I wanted to be there when Marc found out what Anna had been hiding from him, but I didn't get that. He finds out off-page, and then it's just "Anna, it doesn't matter". And Anna, for whom, it had been made very clear, this was a huge issue, just goes "oh, ok". There's also a really interesting secondary storyline about Anna's brother Danny, and that was pretty rushed, too. Not as badly as the main story, but I wanted more.

I think Mayberry may just have ran out of pages, which is a shame. I still enjoyed the book quite a bit, though.



Here There Be Monsters, by Meljean Brook

>> Thursday, September 02, 2010

TITLE: Here There Be Monsters (from Burning Up anthology)
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook

PAGES: Approximately 110 in my ebook reader

SETTING: Alternative version of Victorian England and the high seas
TYPE: Steampunk romance
SERIES: Starts the Iron Seas series

REASON FOR READING: Love the author.

Meljean Brook launches a bold new steampunk series as a desperate woman strikes a provocative — and terrifying — bargain to gain overseas passage.

It's been a couple of years since the people of Britain were able to liberate themselves from the Horde, who controlled their bodies for years through nanoagents in their blood. Ivy Blacksmith had been one of their slaves, so she's terrified when she wakes one night unable to move, just as when her body was controlled by the Horde, while men search the room where she sleeps.

When they leave and she can move again, Ivy knows she needs to leave London as fast as possible. She has barely any money, but she has her skills making and repairing any sort of mechanical machinery. In her job she has come into contact with Eben "Mad" Machen, a notorious and very scary pirate who helped defeat the Horde. What Ivy has seen of him makes her think he might be a reasonable man, so she goes to him to request passage on his ship.

But his price, a demand that she sleep in his bed during the voyage, isn't reasonable at all. When another way to escape presents itself almost immediately, Ivy reneges on her deal and disappears. But Mad Machen is not someone you can escape from, and a couple of years later, he finds Ivy again. And still insists she honour their deal.

I know it's silly, but after my love letter to Meljean Brook's previous book, I almost feel like I should give one of her books a bad grade if I don't want people to think I'm a complete fangirl. Well, that will have to wait, because there's no way I can say that this short story was anything but wonderful.

What a difference a few years make! Here There Be Monsters serves the same purpose for the Iron Seas series as Falling for Anthony did for the Guardians. But much as I liked FFA, I can't deny that there was way too much going on there for a short story, and it felt a bit unfocused.

This one wasn't like that at all. I know this is a much longer review than I'd usually do of a short story (or could we say this is a novella?), but that doesn't mean that's because the actual story is bloated or massive. Somehow there is plenty of room in that short length both to develop Eben and Ivy's relationship and to do some very good worldbuilding.

The romance was just perfect. Ivy is vulnerable but brave, and Eben is a really endearing hero. It's not a spoiler to reveal that he's not an evil scary rapist out to rid Ivy of her virginity, but a shy and somewhat socially awkward man who has worshipped Ivy from a far for ages and who finds himself hobbled by the tough image he needs to maintain in order to keep control of his ship. When Ivy comes to him originally, he's been gearing up to starting courting her, but her sudden appearance throws him and then nothing he says comes out right. Seeing Ivy start to realise who this man really is was just lovely.

The way their relationship develops has this kind of old-school pirate romance feel to it, but with enough twists to feel fresh and make me (NOT a fan of your typical old pirate romance) love it. I especially loved the scenes with Ivy's coins. Money changing hands in bed could have felt very sleazy, but it didn't at all here. It actually turns into something completely different, a sort of commitment device, and I really liked how that worked.

The story also works very well as an introduction to the world in which this series will be set. There are plenty of questions still to be answered (especially since the set-up is that the main big Good vs. Evil fight has already happened), but this felt enticing, rather than puzzling. There is not too much exposition, the information about what the Horde is and what they did and how they were defeated is worked into the story, and it all makes me want to find out more.

I actually don't usually like short stories all that much. But this one was not just a good short story, it was a good story, period. And I think it wouldn't have been nearly as good in longer form, although the part of me that tried to read slower and slower as the end approached, just to stay in that world, might disagree.



Blog template by

Back to TOP