Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cover of Night by Linda Howard ***

I listened to this book on my road trip to Arizona to pack up my life and move it cross country for a new beginning. This fact might have colored my experience, but somehow this story seemed so unlike any Linda Howard I'd read that it left me a little confused.

There wasn't much romance or sexual tension, and the hero was so beta at first as to be almost non-hero until a sudden transformation late in the story. I guess because we hear so much of the heroine's POV at first, he comes across as a blushing, stammering idiot whenever he's around her. Cal's a handyman in the small Idaho town, and he's spent so much time fixing things at Cate's Victorian B&B she's considering offering him free room and board in exchange for his services. His HANDYMAN services that is.

She's a widow with twin boys - her husband had some short fatal illness (staph infection? I think) right after the twins were born. In her grief, she sold her home and moved to small-town Idaho to start over. How she made a going concern of a B&B at the end of the road in a town of 50 people I have no idea.

But her handyman issues are apparently all because everyone else in town can see that Handyman Cal is head over heels in love with her, so they break things in her house to force their getting together. Weird, huh? Especially since he's actually a former special ops marine with all kinds of saleable skills, so why is he doing plumbing and carpentry?

That's only part of the weirdness of the story. A mob accountant decides to force a mobster's hand: pay me $20 mil to keep your real books away from the feds or else. He has the raw data on a flash drive which he takes with him to - guess where - the Idaho B&B. He leaves his stuff in the room, slips out a window and disappears, leaving a trail to the B&B that stops cold. Now - let's take stock - he has the data on a flashdrive, and several times the people who know this realize it MIGHT be on his person like, duh, in a pocket or on his keychain. But the mobster hires some goon who hires some more goons, one of whom has a beef with Goon #1. The goons go to Idaho and shoot 7 of the 50 townspeople after cutting it off, and now Handyman aka Former SpecOps guy must save the day. Meanwhile no one has any idea why they're shooting at them - they have made no demands at all. No one realizes Mob Accountant is even involved. Or is an accountant. Or works for the mob. Or anything.

And at the very end, while trying to get over a mountain to Save The Day, Cal and the widow boink in a cave while it snows, their first and only in-story tryst. He admits to her he loves her and her wild kids and that he stayed in Small Town for 3 years waiting for her to be ready for him. Which borders on creepy and stalkerish in a way.

Ok - why did I even give it 3 stars? Because I didn't really dislike it as much as I was disappointed.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer **

I got this on audio book and it took me weeks to finish it - and it wasn't that great. 2 stars - way too confusing plot and annoying heroine and weird hero.

I'm not even going to bother with much of the plot - Agnes writes a cooking column entitled "Cranky Agnes" which reputation she lives up to by whacking boyfriends in the head with a cast iron skillet or stabbing them in the throat with forks. She has a best girlfriend whose daughter is getting married, and Agnes is hosting the wedding at her home. The Hitman has a shady past associated with many of Agnes' neighbors and friends - he's actually a government agent on the trail of a bad guy or girl. It's pretty danged confusing, with some Italian last names and an Irish-accented guy and a bad mother, and Agnes comes across as deranged, and true to Crusie-Mayer story crafting, a lot of people are murdered. In the end, the last deaths were truly mystifying and in my opinion, gratuitous and out of character.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie ***

My sister and I listened to this on audio - read by the author - on a road trip to Arizona over the holidays. This is my first listen to an author-narrated book, and I have to give Mr Alexie kudos for doing a great job with the voices and the narration. Of course, as author, he no doubt had in mind what they sounded like in his head, but I have read/heard that author-as-narrator doesn't always work, so I was pleasantly surprised.

The book's genre appears to be YA = Young Adult, a classification that is actually intended for younger teens. Why that is considered Young Adult I dunno - in my vocabulary, "young adults" would be 18 - 25 but of course at that age, they would probably read Actual Adult or AA books. Go figure. It's also classified as "coming of age" which more accurately described the story.

The protagonist was Junior, a Native American teen of the Spokane (as in State of Washington) tribe who lived on the reservation with his mother, father and older sister. He was born with "water on the brain" and apparently suffered no ill effects from it other than some speech issues like a lisp (he doesn't read it with a lisp, by the way). On the contrary, he was of above-average intelligence but suffered from the abuse of his peers being a geek and maybe somewhat physically different. He played basketball reasonably well in junior high, so I gathered he was also ok physically although he referred to his brain damage several times.

He also had a best friend on the rez who stood up for him when bullied, and with whom he spent a lot of time doing kid things. But by high school, he had decided he wanted more, so with his parents' help, he enrolled in the closest "regular" or maybe "mainstream" high school, some 20 miles from the rez where he was the only Indian. At this point, his best friend gave up on him, and he was left an outsider both at his new high school with all the white kids and also back at home on the rez.

The pivotal moment for me was his best friend admitting he had looked up the history of their people and learned that they had been nomadic before being sent to live on reservations by the American government. He realized then that Junior was actually nomadic - leaving the rez, driven to go away and sort of follow his ancestors to better places.

It didn't really have a "lesson" like children's books seem to have but it did have that moment of discovery, that Junior wasn't so much different as everyone else was - by staying in one place and not expecting more.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wild Jinx by Sandra Hill ****

This is Tee-John LeDeux's story - apparently fans have been following John from the first Cajun series, waiting for his "thunderbolt of love" to strike, and now that he's 28, it's time.

And when he meets up with a former acquaintance, also a former one-drunken-night-stand, it seems she might be the one. Celine Arseneaux might just fit the bill Tante Lulu has for John - a good Cajun woman, ok, 3/4 Cajun. But why doesn't she have a Cajun accent?

Celine grew up somewhere else, hence no Cajun accent, and came to live with her grandfather at 15 after her parents' deaths. She went to both high school and college (Tulane) with John, who was 2 years older. Their night-o-drunken-love happened a little over 5 years ago, while in college.

And it's not a coincidence that there's her son, Etienne, who is, uh, 5 years old. Yep - the ol' Secret Baby plot. It seems Grandfather Arseneaux hated John's alcoholic, abusive father and would only agree to help Celine raise her child if she promised never to tell John.

John and Celine meet up again in, of all things, a brothel for both women and men - Celine is there as a reporter looking for a story, and John is there undercover, a police detective from the fictional Fontaine, Louisiana, police department, about to bust a Mafia money-laundering whorehouse.

After the bust, to keep his identity and location as a witness secret, he joins the Jinx team, which has been hired by Tante Lulu to find pirate Jean Lafitte's treasure somewhere near his brother's property on the bayou out in the middle of nowhere - a plane ride or a couple days pirogue ride away. Celine is also sent there by her paper for a scoop on the pirate's treasure story - and is sorta hijacked into staying for a week, allowed to stay only if she promises not to reveal John's whereabouts.

I enjoyed reading it, now that I'm a little more accustomed to author Hill's style and humor and way-over-the-topness. Tante Lulu is now in her 90s and going strong - she stays on at the camp to oversee the treasure hunt, and keeps them all fed on jambalaya and gumbo and poboys. She manuevers John and Celine into some alone-time, which they take advantage of. But while they're alone, Lulu goes through Celine's purse, looking for some aspirin, and finds photos of Etienne, who is the spitting image of his father. Thinking at first that John just abandoned his child, she is angry at John - meanwhile he doesn't have a clue, since he did use a condom so never suspected.

I found Celine a little hard to like, truth be told. First off, the Secret Baby thing - and her acting like John was an asshole over it! I thought she was pretty unreasonable about a lot of things. Of course, I've only read the Jinx trilogy, so I don't have all the Tee-John history, but he's likable if a little wild. So I went with 4 stars for this book - maybe more like 3.75, but I round up.

Only 5 more days til 2009, when I can finally read more series for the Serial Challenge!! I just couldn't wait - most of my books seem to be in series right now, so what's a reader to do? Well, I decided to have this book be my Pirate book - after all, it does have Jean Lafitte's treasure! and they talk about Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp, and there's a Pirate Ball!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pearl Jinx by Sandra Hill ****

Now I'm seeing the trademark Hill humor in this series!! Somehow, she managed to create a believable character out of an ex-Amish ex-Navy SEAL! And make it funny too.

Caleb Peachey was introduced in Pink Jinx when the Jinx team hired him for a deep sea dive treasure hunt. He was hitting on heroine Veronice "Ronnie" - and was making inroads! Ok, she couldn't let go of her love for Jake but was tempted.

In Pearl Jinx, the Jinx team went into Amish territory to do a cave treasure hunt on private property. Theoretically they were looking for cave pearls, but there was also a rumor of potential gold hidden there as well. The team was required to hire a local history authority to accompany then - Claire, who was an expert on the local Native American tribe, the Lanni Lenape. She was there to make sure anything of historical interest uncovered was protected. But Claire also had another agenda that slipped out when she met Caleb - her biological time-clock was ticking and his genes were looking real good...

Well, that was because of the thunderbolt-producing chemistry between them - which Caleb was hell-bent on ignoring. He had been shunned by his large Amish family for the past 17 years - as it turned out, it was for something actually done by his twin brother Jonas. Because he had no contact, he had no way of knowing that Jonas was also shunned because he admitted his guilt after Caleb left. Jonas now lived in the area as a Mennonite, a widower with 3 children.

Among the characters are John LeDeux and his Tante Lulu from Louisiana, Ronnie and Jake, and Mark Franklin, an Iraq veteran who lost an arm, and Caleb's younger sister Lizzie who wants to be on American Idol. While I felt like Tante Lulu was again over the top, this time it worked better for me and I found myself laughing along. Tante Lulu and Claire did their best to connect with the Peachey family to get them to see the error of their ways in shunning their sons for 17 years. And in the end we had a happy ending for Caleb and Claire, Ronnie and Jake, Mark and Lily, with good news for Lizzie and also for Jonas.

By the way, there were pets but I decided they didn't rank as Notable Pets.

4 stars.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pink Jinx by Sandra Hill ***

This is the first of a Jinx trilogy by an author I'm just starting to read. I've read that her books are funny - she has a Cajun series, a series about time traveling Vikings some of whom become Navy SEALS, and some other crazy combos.

In this book, Veronica "Ronnie" has a problem or 2, one of whom is her ex-husband. She's been married 4 times - all of them to Jake. Seems they can't live without each other but then they don't seem to be able to live with one another either. (I never exactly understood what happened, but got the idea that she criticized what he did for a living and he left...) Seems an expensive way to live, considering the cost of divorce, but maybe it's cheaper since she is an attorney.

Jake is a gambler - a professional poker player who is successful, at least at the opening of the book. He wasn't always successful, though, which is why Ronnie seemed to take issue with his career choice. This time they meet up during a tournament - Ronnie has come to tell him about her grandfather who has just signed all his worldly goods over to her. When Jake takes a break from playing poker to talk to her, his fiancée comes over for an introduction - which jars her world, even though they've been divorced (for the 4th time) for 2 years.

Of course Jake still has feelings for her too, so ... ok the plot is pretty convoluted, concerns Grandpa - who's been divorced from control-freak Grandma for 50 years and now runs a treasure-hunting business with Flossie, his SO of 30 or so years; some mobsters; a couple of Cajuns from a previous series that I haven't read (Tante Lulu and Tee John which means "petit John" to differentiate him from other Johns in the family); the ex-Amish ex Navy SEAL who is the hero of the next book; and a Cuban character, another diver, who is there just to confuse Ronnie I guess. Grandpa fakes his financial demise to make Ronnie feel sorry for him and come bail him out by participating in a deep sea dive treasure hunt for the mobster widow. What Grandpa really wants is 2-fold - he wants to see her back with Jake (why? dunno) and he wants to finally let her know he loves her, since Grandma raised her to believe he was an asshole who did not.

Ok, it's pretty silly and way over the top in a lot of ways, but somehow I either wasn't in the mood or her humor doesn't affect me positively the way it affects others. I wasn't as put off as I was by the anthology "Here Comes Santa Claus" but I also am not yet a fan either. I'm going with 3 stars and will keep reading - or maybe I should start with the Cajun series? No, wait, the next one is Pearl Jinx which is my Winter 2008 challenge book.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Woman Next Door by Barbara Delinsky ****

The Woman Next Door is women's fiction, and the story is about 4 women neighbors. Three of the women are married and have been friends for several years. The 4th woman is recently widowed - she was the second (and much younger) wife of an older man - the 3 women had been friends with his first wife who died years before. They had never become friendly with her (Gretchen) although all 3 husbands had - they had each helped her out when she needed it.

The main couple is Amanda and Graham - I believe they are the youngest of the 3 married couples, and have only been married about 5 years. Graham came from a large Catholic family, and there was a lot of pressure on them to have children. They wanted children, but had not conceived, even with a year of infertility counseling and treatments.

Georgia runs her own company, and is out of town a lot. Lucky for her, her husband is a journalist who works from home and takes care of the kids. Karen is a SAHM with 4 kids - her husband is a womanizer and a past adulterer, supposedly reformed.

When they all discover Gretchen is 7 months pregnant - and no boyfriend around - each grapples with the insecurities of wondering if her husband was the one. Delinsky spends the most time with Amanda and Graham - not only are they dealing with their own disappointment with not conceiving, but there is enormous pressure from his family, especially his mother, to have children - as though they are slackers or aren't doing it right or something. Amanda is the school psychologist/counselor, and there's the issue of her working and allowing her work to be overtake family life, especially when a tragedy strikes at the school. The tragedy affects the children of the neighbors, and Amanda and Graham both deal with the fallout from that as well.

I've liked the Delinsky books I've read, although I was more in the mood for something a little lighter or maybe a little more about the couple and less about the conflicts of extended family (I wanted to smack Graham's mother...) - this one seemed to have more angst and conflict in it than Lake News and An Accidental Woman. 4 stars all the same.

Here Comes Santa Claus by Sandra Hill & 2 others **

This was an anthology/novel of sorts - the authors collaborated and each took 1 h/h couple, and each wrote a chapter, so it wasn't 3 separate stories but one long, boring story that I didn't like.

OK - it didn't work for me. At all. For one thing, waaaay too many clichés - in what they said, in what they did. The characters were 2 dimensional for me and the secondary characters came across as cardboard. The married-50-years couple - how many times did they have to remind us of that? Were we likely to forget since it was mentioned every time their names were invoked? The elderly sexed-up spinster doctors? Ick. And "thanks" for making one of the elderly folks be 50 - being 53, I really did NOT appreciate that!

But was the story good? No. OK - it's 3 best friend guys, all orphans from the same group home in Maine, now adults making their way to the wedding of their mentor George. Hey - how about fleshing out George a little? He's just now getting married, and yet he was an adult when these 35-year-old guys were kids? But no, we get nothing about George except each of the guys and one of the girls really looked up to him (but we don't ever learn exactly why - he helped them, but how?).

The heroines weren't particularly likable either. One was from the home town - wait, actually 2 were, but the guys only knew 1 - Reba - who is now the director of some old folks home, or something, that sends out Santas to visit homeless shelters at Christmas. The bus that drives them around is the only mode of transportation in the area so the fellows have to get on it to get to the home town where the marriage is. So we match up guy #1 with Reba - ok, they've always had a thing for each other and they acted on it as teens but then he left and didn't come back for some reason which I never figured out. Maybe it was in there - I was bored and skimmed a lot.

Guy #2 is a private detective looking for a woman who skipped bail, and miraculously he runs into her in the airport - unaware - and then figures it out and takes her along on the Santa bus. Well, she didn't skip bail, there was some other convoluted reason she was on the lam and he was being paid to find her. Lo and behold, they fall in love. Yeah, just like that. And she was really on the right side of the law. And she was a famous fashion designer too. Right.

Guy #3 is a former football player who was in a car accident and now walks with a cane, and it seems George fixed him up with Girl #3, who was also from their home town and also from a group home for orphans but the guys never knew her even though George did. Hmmm. Their tale was the worst of all.

And in the end the guys all proposed marriage. Right. Oh and they made it to the wedding and we still didn't get to meet George.

Did not like it. 2 stars.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Acts of Love by Judith Michael ***

This is a book I picked up at a library sale - not sure if someone recommended it or I just picked it up on a whim, never having heard of this author. Actually, it's authorS - a husband/wife team who writes romance.

This smacked of bestsellers I read in the 80s - maybe romance? not sure - that I didn't particularly like, although this one I'm rating 3 stars - "liked it". The hero and heroine are rich and famous and live in a world I can't exactly relate to - Broadway actress and Broadway director who never worked together but were linked by his grandmother who was her best friend. The way they talk, the way they each related to Constance, the grandmother - it never seemed real or realistic to me.

When Constance died, Luke (the director) found the letters that Jessica (the actress) had written to her over the years. Constance had always thought the two of them would hit it off and fall in love, but the 2 or 3 times she tried to fix them up it didn't work out. Luke married another woman, divorced her, and then had various shallow affairs over the years.

Jessica was in a tragic train accident after which she spent years having surgeries and physical therapy. Then she disappeared basically - dropped out of theater and life and lived as a hermit on an island in Washington state.

Luke read the letters Jessica had written and fell in love with her. He set out on a quest to find her. When he did, she first tried to keep him away, but then allowed him into her life, where he stirs up the passions she has kept leashed. But - she had to make it on her own to feel whole again, and went halfway around the world to do that.

Well - the story was ok but not riveting, and if you have an issue with books where the h/h spend very little time together, this book is not for you. I'm not inspired to glom this author (author team).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr ***

This is the 4th in the Virgin River series, and it introduces 2 completely new characters (unless they were mentioned in the 3rd one and I don't remember) - Ian Buchanan and Marcie Sullivan.

Ian is a former Marine who is now a hermit in the mountains near Virgin River, and Marcie is the widow of a Marine who served under Ian in Iraq. In fact, Ian was the one who saved Bobby when he was hit - but Bobby never recovered, and spent a few years unresponsive and comatose before passing. Ian had only visited one time - and apparently his emotional scars from Iraq were enough that he left the Marines and went into hiding. Marcie has spent several months looking for him, determined to let him know about Bobby's death and also how much Bobby had looked up to him.

When she finally finds him, he tries to chase her away, but she's stubborn and determined and will not be run off. However, she's picked up the flu, and he ends up having to nurse her in his hermit cabin for a week while she recovers. She chips away at him slowly, getting him to come out of his shell, and eventually a relationship develops.

It's a nice story and I enjoyed it, but somehow the magic of the 1st book in the series was never recreated in the subsequent sequels, so it never rose above a 3 "liked it" for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shelter Mountain by Robyn Carr ***

I might be in a reading slump, or maybe I can blame it on Preacher's "voice" - I liked this book but not nearly as much as the first one in the series, Virgin River. I found Preacher's POV a little too - too good, too humble, too unbelievably platonic and a little too gosh-ish. And I found his tendency to think of violence in reference to the husband - who, after all, was a violently abusive man, a little creepy too. Maybe that was realistic, but still...

This is Preacher's story. An obviously abused woman shows up in the bar at Virgin River with a 3-year-old, and Preacher manages to convince her not only to stay for the night in an extra room over the bar but also to see Mel, the midwife/heroine of Virgin River, the next day. In the cocoon of all the great folks of Virgin River, Paige and Christopher slowly come out and admit to the horror that was their life before - Wes, the abusive over-achiever husband, was out for blood. He hadn't wanted Christopher, and he really didn't want the baby she carried now. She was on her way to a safe house in Oregon when she got lost trying to use back road to avoid detection.

It might seem that John/Preacher would be the last man she'd be attracted to - at 6'6", he's a bear of a man but really, make that Teddy Bear. He's shy to the point of never acting at all on his attraction - and he's head over heels for Christopher, for whom he is a true role model and hero.

As in Virgin River, the hero and heroine are not given the most copy in the book (hence the genre women's fiction, not romance) while we learn the story of teenagers Rick and Liz, who are expecting a child from their one encounter without a condom, more about Mel and Jack and how Mel is doing with her pregnancy. We also meet Jack's sister Brie and his Marine buddy Mike who are the focus of the next book (which I read out of order: Whispering Rock). Because of the way the books are structured, they make more sense and you enjoy the characters more if you already know them and their back story, which is not recreated in the sequels.

I did like it - maybe 3.5 stars - but I found John/Preacher's voice - ponderous? Well, it grated on me after a while - it was almost like he was simple aka mentally disabled, although I'm pretty sure we're supposed to get that he is merely extremely shy and inexperienced with women, and simple as in simple tastes.

So it gets 3 stars "liked it" from me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Summer To Remember by Mary Balogh ***

A Summer To Remember is the first I MEAN SECOND in the Slightly series, a sort of prelude as it were. Somehow the magic wasn't there for me with this book - too wordy, or something.

The heroine is Lauren - she was left at the altar by her fiance Neville when it was revealed, while she waited in the back of the church to enter, that he had been married and his wife whom he thought had died was alive - and there! (apparently this is the plot of the first book) He apparently had never even told anyone in his family about this marriage, which was confusing since Lauren had been raised in his family since she was 3. I kept trying to figure out how she could not have known - it was something about his having married her while away, in the military or something. (after I read the FIRST book I guess I'll understand better - ETA I have now read the first book, and since he thought her dead, and they had only been married 1 day, and it wasn't anyone the family knew, he never talked about it to anyone. Whew. It made more sense reading it.)

Anyway, she's very prim and proper and has decided it is her lot in life to be a spinster, and is planning the very same when she witnesses the very roguish rakish Kit fighting off 3 local yokels who made some unwelcome overtures to a milk maid. He defended the milk maid's honor, bare-chested and brawling and then took as his prize a lusty kiss - all observed by Lauren, who is horrified.

Then Kit reveals to his friends that he is being called home, after having been banished for 3 years, to marry his dead brother's fiancee. It seems he thought he was in love with this young woman when his brother announced their betrothal, and he fought the brother - and was sent away. The brother died, leaving Freyja alone, and now the parents think they will make it up to him by signing a marriage contract for the 2 of them. Only now he doesn't want her.

He's also suffering from guilt about his younger brother, who went to war with him and managed to lose an arm and an eye to torture while accompanying Kit on some spy mission.

The upshot of all this is Kit wants to find a young woman to marry before going home so he can spoil the parents' plans - and the friends decide Lauren is just the one.

They set up instead a Counterfeit Betrothal - oooops, Ms Balogh already used that title and conceit... - and went together to his parents to thwart them. Actually, what Lauren has in mind is to help poor Kit get back in his family's good graces, and hopefully also marry Freyja after she (Lauren) jilts him, on purpose, so she can go live that spinster life she sooo craves. She thinks he's still secretly in love with Freyja.

Blah blah blah, yada yada, they manage to both fall in love along the way and both help the other get over their phobias and problems, but - ah, the honor - they cannot betray their original deal, so she leaves and breaks it off. Guess what happens. Hint, it's a romance and the main characters always get their HEA.

It's an AAR Top 100 for 2007, and the beginning of a long series. No notable pets, no besotted heroes - just your typical pretend engagement. Sigh. Yawn. 3 stars. OH I cannot believe I read this out of order - it's the SECOND and One Night For Love is the FIRST in the series. Dang. I have got to get my notes in order!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Killing Time by Linda Howard ****

I listened to Killing Time on audio as I drove from my... former home... to Kerrville, Texas, where I'm in a Best Western, halfway on my trip to the next part of my life. So I used Killing Time to kill time while I drove.

This is a time-travel/suspense with a dash of romance. I haven't read any of the other reviews, but I'm guessing LH romance fans were not happy with waiting so late in the story for any romance to come about. The time travel - from the future to 2005 - isn't the usual time travel conceit (which seems to be a contemporary woman going back in time to some guy, often a Scot - am I wrong?). I didn't even know it was time travel when I started listening, so the clues, which are released slowly, had me guessing. Was she from another country? Outer space alien? I enjoyed how it came about, that speech was so different in addition to other issues like paper being precious and digital data being lost because we in 2005 thought it would last forever.

The prologue sets up the original issue: 15-year-old Knox and his dad watch the small town governors bury a time capsule in 1985 to be opened in 2085. But thirteen items are put in, not 12 as noted in the newspaper, and Knox worries and wonders about it.

Now it's 2005, 20 years later, and someone digs it up - but the 2 video tapes detective Knox looks at only show a bright light then a hole, with a second or two between. Then some weird things start happening, and people start dying, and a female FBI agent named Nikita shows up, thinking the first murder might be related to a case she's working on... in 2205. After a phone call to the agency proves she isn't an FBI agent (in 2005), Knox cuffs Nikita to a chair in advance of locking her up. She manages to get him curious about her story that she's from the future, and after a couple of tricks of 23rd century technology, he reluctantly agrees to help her.

She's here chasing an unknown time-travel bandit that she suspects might be one of her colleagues. But how does his/her appearance in 2005 relate to the disappearance of the time capsule, slashed tractor tires and three murders - as well as a suicide in 1985?

Here's the one thing about this audio: I find Joyce Bean's narration to be slightly stilted and that bothers me. I don't mean just her Nikita voice, for whom 21st century English is not her native language - I mean her narration of the POV voice too. As the book goes on, it gets less noticeable. I felt the same way about Death Angel but I loved Death Angel so much I overlooked this issue after the first several minutes. This story wasn't quite as engaging, so the over-pronunciation of consonants, and slight pauses between some words seemed more pronounced. I see that she has narrated a lot of LH books - I guess it's lucky for me I have been reading them rather than getting the audio. I do have one more to keep me company on the final leg of my trip, so we shall see.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kiss An Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

I was influenced to do this re-listen to Anna Fields reading Kiss An Angel by all the folks reading it for the Winter Challenge (it's an Arranged Marriage). I've already listened to it at least 4 times, but I never get tired of Daisy and Alex!

It's a contemporary arranged marriage - which is a little unusual. Daisy has been forced into marrying Alex by her father - she's a little flighty and irresponsible, and managed to get in serious debt after her mother's death and almost go to jail. If she will marry Alex and stay married to him for 6 months, living as a married couple, her father will give her a large trust fund and she's free to divorce Alex. Theoretically, it's a gesture of tough love, and he finagles Alex into it as a repayment of a favor: he saved Alex's life by taking him away from his abusive uncle. He expects Alex to teach her responsibility - and secretly he's hoping they'll stay together.

Daisy soon learns that Alex is the manager of a small traveling circus - and her new life will include living in a small RV and traveling every day to a new backwater town. Alex is also a performer: Alexi the Cossack, doing a bullwhip show. This is about as far from her normal life as she can imagine, and she spends the first 24 hours doing anything she can to back out of the deal. But she's determined to be the opposite of her mother, who slept with anything in pants, the younger the better - so she plans to honor her vows and do the best she can.

My favorite part of this story is Daisy's growth - she manages to accomplish things, do hard work she never realized she could do, face her fears and gain self-esteem and confidence. Through the process, she manages to enable Alex's growth as well. His upbringing taught him that he couldn't afford to love - but his relationship with Daisy proves that isn't true. Slowly his frozen heart melts for Daisy, until he's practically a besotted fool who will do anything to prove his love to her.

There are some truly memorable scenes in the story, and one of my favorites is the bullwhip show, especially the first time Daisy performs. It's sensual and erotic and surprising - I would love to see a circus act like this!

Ahhh, just what I needed. 5 stars again.

Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught ***

I need to write this review - it's an AAR Top 100; I also read it for the Winter Reading Challenge 2008: book with W in title.

review coming...

3 stars.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Unleashed by Lori Borrill ***

I got interested in Unleashed after a post at... Smart Bitches or Dear Author - one of those 2 (I think it was SBTB). I'll look it up and link it later. It was a discussion about the dearth of good contemporaries and such, and how this one was so good, etc., etc. Having read and listened to some Harlequin Blazes and found some of them very good, I put it on my PBS wishlist and got it last week. It was also originally my entry for the Winter 2008 Reading Challenge under the Harlequin category, but then I listened to Watch and Learn by Stephanie Bond, and reviewed it under that category.

Nevertheless, it does fit in another category, the Civil Servant one - the one that makes me giggle to think maybe there are romances built around a postal carrier hero or maybe a customs agent or IRS clerk. Well, not that I don't think those guys are heroic or romantic, but the category is really meant to be tough and ripped SEALS and Marines and hardass cops and stuff.

OK enough blathering. After the buildup I got from (whichever blog), frankly I wanted it to be better than it was. The hero is Rick, a homicide detective with the San Francisco PD - a workaholic guy whose wife was killed a few years back, in a murder case (although I think she was killed in an accident associated with the murders, and not actually the original victim? not that it matters) that went cold. He picks up our plucky red headed heroine in a bar for a one night stand - something they agreed on before embarking on that night of hot sex.

She's Jess Beane, an up-and-coming purse designer from a small town in Texas. Well - she's really just starting out, and is part of an artists coop in SF. Some celebrity has just been photographed with a Beane Bag, and the photo is on a magazine, so she's on the verge of being the Purse It girl. She started her business with a small inheritance from her grandmother.

While she and Rick are boinking their brains out, her ex-husband has been following her - turns out he might not have signed those divorce papers yet, and therefore might get half that inheritance. When she realizes the ex is outside Rick's house watching, she leaves Rick asleep to take a taxi home, and the bad ex-husband steals Rick's car, which contains a major piece of evidence in a crime Rick is trying to solve. Of course, what's Rick to think after he runs a fingerprint check on Jess and learns she and the ex had been running an illegal chop shop, and the ex just got out of prison?

Now we have a road trip: Rick and Jess on the road trying to find Rick's car and the evidence, plus the stuff he stole from Jess's apartment. They end up in Texas, after 5 more days of sweaty sex by night and scowling and grumpiness by day over this one-night-stand that has totally turned both their lives upside down. How can Jess make enough designer purses to pay her coop fees, and how will Rick get that criminal behind bars? Plus, can they both get beyond their misery and find happiness together?

Look, it's romance, so yeah, there's a HEA. I had a hard time seeing the 2 of them together, although I did get how Jess was able to help Rick get past his wife's death. The writing style wasn't my cup o'tea - I don't have any specific examples, but I wasn't hooked. If this is the future of contemporary romance, I may stick with the old - however, I've read other Blaze contemporaries that I did really enjoy, so I'm not really worried. There is a future for them, and this one isn't necessarily the best example.

3 stars.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas **

What is it about me reading Lisa Kleypas? I just Do Not Get It with her popularity. It's not bad grammar, or TSTL heroines - I just was not interested in the story. At All.

I read for the feeling - I want to feel something: sorrow, anger, grief, happiness, lust, elation, despair, SOMETHING. "Bored" was not the feeling I was looking for but I'm afraid that is what I felt.

I read most of this book last night, and when I picked up the book today to finish it, could not even remember who the hero was or why she was planning to marry someone else. Yes, that's how NOT invested I was in this story.

And at the end, there's a marathon of sex - all of which I glossed over, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, because I just Did Not Care.

The plot, redux, virgin spinster bluestocking on the shelf author Amanda goes to a Madam (aka brothel owner) to hire a gigolo so she can lose her virginity on her 30th birthday. The scheming Madam sends a rascally rogue of a publisher Jack who has been wanting to sign the author. She doesn't confide why she is sending him, so he goes not knowing the Real Truth. Hah hah hah, isn't that an amusing conceit. Amanda lets on she thinks he is a gigolo, so he seduces her, and then lo and behold, they meet at a party and the cat is out of the bag: He's the Big Bad Rogue Publisher.

First, they get along like cats and dogs, but then they conduct an affair - sexual and business - and then for some reason, she ends it, and truthfully I cannot even remember why. He has emotional baggage about being the bastard son of an Earl or something, sent to a school for bastards where he was a leader of men, all of whom would now follow him anywhere. Not that they figure into the plot, when you get right down to it, so I'm not sure of the point of all that.

Well, she finally meets another man who asks her to marry him, and then... Come on, it's Romance, we know she has to end up with Jack, cuz he's the hero.

I really should just go ahead and give it 2 stars, cuz I didn't like it. OK, that's it, 2 stars, and I am NOT reading any more!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Below The Belt by Sarah Mayberry ***

This is a Harlequin Blaze that I listened to on audio book with Gabra Zackman as narrator. I have 3 other Mayberry titles on audio, none in physical book, and really liked the 2 that were part of a series of 3 women working on a soap opera in Los Angeles. This one was working for me until the stubborn heroine really did a broad jump past TSTL - Too Stupid To Live.

Cooper Fitzgerald is a former boxer, now trainer, starting out his own gym. He's wooing one of his boxer pals, Ray, into being one of the first boxers he trains - but Ray wants him to have a look at Jamie - a woman boxer and former lover - as part of the deal. Cooper is adamant - boxing is not for women, for a number of sexist reasons. Then he attends a couple of Jamie's fights, with her grandfather as trainer, and can't resist. She's talented but she has a couple of flaws that a good trainer needs to work out of her, mostly having to do with her former training in tae kwon do.

Jamie has wanted to prove to the world that her family's name is still golden in boxing, ever since her father threw a fight, went to jail and then committed suicide from the shame of his actions 2 years ago. She's got the body, the raw talent and the drive - she just needs the best trainer, and in her mind that is Cooper. Once she hears his opinion of women in boxing, though, she's over him. But when he approaches her during her second fight, and gives her a tip that causes her to best her opponent, she's willing to re-think.

The 2 of them strike sexual chemistry sparks from the word go - she's a looker, and everyone in the gym can barely keep their eyes in their heads and their tongues in their mouths when she's around. This includes Cooper, except that he is able to (usually) control it. One late night session with some heat, however, and she's decided to confront him.

OK - she has decided that ol' Romance conceit: we'll screw until we're brainless, and then it will be worked out of our system and we will be over it and can go forward, never feeling the sexual draw again. Oh, as if that would work. If there is chemistry, they'll want more - THEY ALWAYS DO. If there's no chemistry, they're not even going to want to see each other again. Why do authors play this foolish card? I wasn't happy but I kept listening.

Cooper actually maintains enough control to keep it in his pants - well, it stayed in his pants, but his hands went in hers - and after her orgasm, he begs off. What a saint. And so unbelievable, but there you are.

OK - they move on, no more sex, keep it professional. She's all "it's just sex" and he's all "I have feelings for her" and so they keep it strictly professional, really, until the heady aftermath of a win has him ripping her shorts off and boinking her in the locker room. Guess they shoulda locked the door, cuz in walks gramps and boy is he mad. For one thing, Jamie's vulnerable and trusts Cooper, Gramps says (later). Oh, yeah, who's vulnerable? Miss "It's just sex" or Mr. "I have feelings"?

Tell you what - when an opportunity comes up towards the end of the book for Jamie to face one of the top women boxers in the world, after Jamie has been in a total of 3 - count'em 3 - professional fights, and is still suffering the aftermath of her win as well as a street brawl - and Jamie decides to take it, against the wishes of Gramps, of Cooper, even of Ray - hello? Can we talk about the requirements for TSTL? Let's see: her very professional and practically saintly trainer (older, wiser, and definitely thinking of her best interests) says she's not ready; her grandfather, FOR WHOM SHE THINKS SHE IS DOING THIS, doesn't want her to do it. Those 2 reasons alone should be enough, but noooooooo, Miss "it's just sex and I can beat one of the best women boxers ever even though I'm not experienced enough" knows best.

At some point, Jamie realizes that, indeed, she also has feelings for Cooper (before her major TSTL decision) but doesn't let that cloud her reasoning, not when she has a passle of other clouds to do that for her.

About the narrator: I have listened to a number of audio books by Zackman, and she's ok. She has this inflection thing going on, this sorta rise at the end of a sentence that almost turns it into a question, though, that I found bothersome on this book. Because Mayberry is Australian, and sets many of her books in Australia, Zackman gives the characters Aussie accents but narrates in American English. The accents sound good to me, but then I'm not Australian, so what do I know.

OK - I didn't hate it but I really didn't like having that TSTL moment cloud the story, although it ended HEA of course. 3 stars - mediocre.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beast by Judith Ivory ***

I'm conflicted by my reaction to Beast. It reminded me in many ways of The Indiscretion by the same author, which is a true keeper for me - the 2 people meeting under unplanned and less than ideal circumstances, with secret identities, then meeting later as they should have and coming to terms with their new relationship. And the heroines are similar - young, rich, spoiled, intelligent, insecure.

But somehow, the more Louise held on to her feelings for the man she thought she met first, and the worse she treated Charles, the less I liked her and the less I liked the story.

Louise - as I said - is a rich young American woman who is betrothed to Charles in her absence by her parents. She is uncommonly beautiful, and also willful and spoiled. Their concern for her well-being seems to be the real reason behind their convincing Charles, Prince d'Harcourt of France, to marry her, rather than a real greed to have someone of royal blood in the family. Well, that is also a nice benefit, and to convince him, they offer him quite a lot in return: a large shipment of ambergris, used in his perfume business. After the betrothal, the entire family travels by ship from America to meet Charles in France for the wedding.

On the same ship, however, is Charles who is pursuing his married mistress. Both to keep her husband from discovering he is there and to keep his fiancée's family from the same discovery, he hides in a luxury suite onboard the ship and has a cousin in France send telegrams to the family from himself. But he is intrigued by sight of his fiancée onboard, and manages to interest her in a little dalliance with him, as a prank. To hide both his identity and his physical scars and handicap, he insists on meeting her only in the dark, so that she never sees his face. He speaks in English with a slight accent that she decides is Arabic, and she develops the fantasy that he is her pasha.

Once he has seduced her, he realizes he too is seduced by her - but he cannot now reveal himself without making her the fool of his prank, so he decides never to tell her. Unfortunately for both of them, she has fallen in love with the pasha. When they meet for real, he speaks only French to her, knowing she will recognize his English. But she has created such a fantasy of her Arabic lover that she doesn't even see the real Charles for anything beyond his physical disabilities - a blind eye and a limp. She refuses to even let him kiss her, and forget about sleeping together, because she longs for the Arabic lover instead and finds Charles repulsive.

Now, maybe some would feel that since Charles did make a fool of her, duping her that way, that he deserves her treatment. And maybe he should have come clean earlier. But when he finally does, she won't listen - and then once it sinks in, she refuses to forgive him unless he does say out loud to her that he was the shipboard lover. WTF? He DID try to tell her and she wouldn't listen!! I found her willfulness petty and immature (well, she was only 18) and frustrating beyond belief from the moment she refused him on their wedding day. So while I truly enjoyed the first half, it just slid downhill from that moment on, and then it dropped into 3 star territory when she refused to forgive him until he told her he was the shipboard lover - not that she ASKED him, she just waited for him to admit it. Sheeesh.

I read this as my first book in the Winter 2008 Reading Challenge for the arranged marriage category. 3 stars and grrrrr, I wanted a more satisfying ending! Interestingly, author Sherry Thomas wrote the AAR DIK review for this book - she obviously was not put off as I was by the exceedingly annoying and petulant behavior of Louise after the wedding.

And there was a pet... but not really a Notable Pet - he should have gotten higher billing all the way through to warrant Notable Pet status, I think.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Surrender by Pamela Clare ****

Wow! This was a true adventure story that takes place in America during the French and Indian wars, but stars a couple of Highland Scots, Iain MacKinnon and Annie (aka Lady Anne Burness Campbell).

Iain grew up in America, the son of an exiled Highlander after Culloden. Iain's the eldest of 3 sons, and they live on the family farm (I'm trying to recall - I guess both parents have passed on). They grew up with Mohican's as playmates, and are wise in the Mohican ways. OK, it's spelled differently but Mohican made more sense to me. They get conscripted into becoming Rangers for the British army with a threat of hanging for a murder they did not commit.

Annie was a gently bred virgin from Scotland, daughter of an Earl who died at Prestonpans, the battle before Culloden. Her family fought on the British side of the war, and she feels much fear and hatred for the dreaded MacKinnons who slaughtered her father and brothers. But she learns to fear her evil uncle even more when she realizes his fetish - strangling lovers and in some cases, killing them during sex. This is how her mother dies - which she observes. She runs away, with her mother's jewels sewn into her dress, but is caught, thrown in jail and even branded -by her uncle - as a thief. She is then sold into indenture in America.

Annie escapes her owners when they are slaughtered by Indian and French scouts - and manages to land, barefoot and battered, at the very feet of Iain and his Rangers. He has 2 choices: shoot the bastard that's getting ready to rape her and let their position be known, or skulk away, leaving her but keeping his men safe. Of course, honorable guy, he shoots the Indian and French scouts, then sends his men back to Fort Whichever while he and Annie take the scenic route. Ok, that's not exactly right, but he's doing it to keep both Annie and his men safe.

He manages to get her back to the fort relatively unharmed, never knowing she's lied to him about her name and position both as a lady and as indentured slave. She lets him believe she was living with a sister and brother-in-law as her only living relatives and her name is Annie Burns. She's afraid if he finds out, he'll take her back to Albany where her indenture papers are. She also doesn't want him to find her thief brand, placed high on the inner thigh so that no man will want her.

This is really a terrific adventure story, and the heat level is very, very high, along with some unusual scenes. Apparently the AAR reviewer found at least one of them not to her taste, but I wasn't put off. This same reviewer also felt Iain was a little too alpha, but I guess I missed that part. I felt it was more in the spirit of Marsha Canham's Robin Hood stories - so swashbuckling and fast-paced, old fashion adventure that his actions seemed to be appropriate to his character and the time and the spirit of the story. After all, maybe if he made some decisions for the heroine it was because he was older, a lot more experienced and had a better fix on the situation than an 18-year-old Earl's pampered but spirited and courageous daughter! He can make some decisions for me any day!

4 stars

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coast Road by Barbara Delinsky ****

Coast Road has an interesting premise - a woman, divorced from her ex for 6 years - is in a car accident and a coma for 16 days. During the 16 days, her ex comes to take care of their children, and also spends time with her, urging her to come back. And in the course of these 16 days, we learn of their relationship - how they met, how they came to live in San Francisco, what led to the divorce and where they are today, mostly from the POV of the hero since the heroine is in a coma.

In addition, we meet the new friends she has made in her new life without him - a book club group of women, the neighbors, work-related friends, as well as the players in his life - a business partner, a steady girlfriend pushing for commitment. It was an interesting way to bring a group together, in tragedy, to test their relationships and force them to look at their lives.

Rachel is an artist, working on a set of paintings for a solo exhibit coming up in 3 weeks, and raising her 2 teenage daughters alone in a small community. Her ex is Jack, an architect in San Francisco - a "Sunday dad" who takes his daughters on weekends from time to time, when he can fit it into his workaholic life.

It was his commitment to building his practice that drove the 2 of them apart. In the city, she seemed to need all his time, while he missed out on school plays and sports meets to jet around the country drumming up business. She had no friends, no outside life except him and the girls.. In her new life, she's surrounded with people who care, who seem to know her better even than he did. Where did they go wrong? He reminisces about meeting her in college, and changing his schedule to take classes with her, be with her. But somehow, along the way, they didn't ever put voice to their future plans, and where his life went, she no longer felt a part and didn't share the dream.

A rather nosy, buttinsky friend spends a lot of time at the hospital with Jack - if not for her, he might not have learned what he did about her new life, things that made him face the truth about his "abandonment" of her. The way he saw it, she left him - and he had never really stopped loving her. He moves into Rachel's home to take care of the girls, and being forced to be the parent in charge, learns to appreciate even more what Rachel has had to face without him. The older daughter is facing her first prom, and is pushing the limits by switching allegiances at school from her safe, known friends, to the faster crowd. Without Rachel there to ask questions and make phone calls, she's able to convince Jack these kids are fine and he should trust her. The younger daughter is griefing for her elderly cat who is on the verge of death, and she is struggling with abandonment as well - first dad, then the cat and now possibly her mother.

I can't decide if it's Romance or Women's Fiction - somehow, not having the heroine participate changes things, although we get a lot of perspective of her before the accident. But I liked it - 4 stars.

Watch and Learn by Stephanie Bond ***

I downloaded this from - it's one of the "Sex for Beginners" trilogy. The premise is that in a college course laughingly referred to as Sex For Beginners, the professor had the participants write themselves a letter containing their sexual fantasies. She sent the letters, unopened, back to the original writer 10 years later.

In Watch and Learn, the heroine Gemma had a fetish for being watched by strangers that she indulged in briefly in college before almost being caught. That event scared her straight, as it were, so that when she was introduced by her best friend to a law student, she decided to give up the fantasy and concentrate on him. They married - lived together for 10 years - but then he divorced her, no reason given, and moved away. She was devastated and had a hard time facing the reality of her new, single life - and then she received the letter.

Next door to her, a house that had been on the market for 2 years had a new buyer - Chev Martinez. He was a carpenter who was flipping houses between commercial jobs, so he had moved in temporarily to renovate. Of course, he was a hunky guy too - which caught Gemma's eye. Motivated by the letter and his looking out his bedroom window one day, she acts out her fantasy.

Unfortunately for Gemma, she's too conflicted by her guilt of the fetish to actually consummate ther relationship - and she still holds on to the other fantasy in her life - that her ex-husband will change his mind and come back. Meanwhile, she needs a job. With a degree in art history and no work experience beyond charity work, she finds it difficult. Happily - and way tooo conveniently - the local museum is hiring temporary help in the form of docents for an adult-themed exhibit of sexual devices and furniture. The docents are required to wear masks to hide their identity and sexy costumes, which somehow Gemma is allowed to wear home (go figure). Seeing Gemma in her outfits, Chev is moved again to put the moves on her, but she still shies away.

I'm not sure if the peacock in the story should be considered a Notable Pet, but one appears in her yard - a male looking for a mate. He's destructive and loud - and Chev has to come over more than once to chase him away from Gemma's car so she can come and go, giving him an opportunity to make small talk and expand their relationship to friends if not with benefits other than occasionally watching.

The narrator on this story was really good! I liked her voices for the characters (well, ok, her accents for Chev and his family were a little odd to me) and she did the narration interestingly without being breathy and overly dramatic (breathiness that doesn't work is my pet peeve in romance audio). She actually made the story work better for me than I think it might have if I had read it. The resolution of Gemma's relationship with her ex, who does try to come back, as well as the details of their divorce, all seemed weird and wonky to me - not very believable. I mean, he just walked out and the divorce was finalized before she had even told her parents? Don't these things take time? Maybe not in Florida, where the book was set, who knows?

And the museum job - I'm sorry, while it had to be this way for the storyline to work, surely no place who has the workers wear costumes just lets them wear them home after work, especially specialty/provocative costumes. Again, I just let those things go and listened to the narrator speak as though it were the most common thing in the world... After all, it was the job and the costumes that allowed Gemma to act out her fantasies for Chev, so without them, where would the story go? But it was the peacock that allowed them to talk, become friends and hopefully grow the relationship that led to their HEA.

so - 3 stars - I liked it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whispering Rock by Robyn Carr ****

I was in need of some comfort-food reading material, and somehow marked my records that this was #2 in the Virgin River series. I found the first one, Virgin River, a true comfort read, and so decided to read this one - even though I was saving it for after reading the Grace Valley series.

However, as I read I kept thinking I missed something - sure enough, this is the third book and I missed the second book in the series. I hate when that happens!!

This book had a number of characters from the first - and a number, I guess, from the second that I didn't know the story of. You could read it as a stand-alone, because she fills in with backstory, but I was disappointed to miss out. I guess it will all fall into place when I finally get the second one and read it.

The main romance couple is Jack's sister Brie and Jack's Marine buddy Mike. Both characters had to overcome a major trauma (that I guess we learn about in the second book?) and learn to live and to trust again. Brie's husband left her for her best friend, and not too long after that she prosecuted a major rape case and lost - the rapist went free. The true trauma was that the rapist followed her home, and raped and beat her, and in that instant she went from confident and independent to a shell of her former self. She left her job as county prosecutor, and moved in with her father during her recuperation, and became essentially a hermit - afraid to go out, afraid to be seen.

Mike had been a member of the LAPD, working a gang task force, when he was ambushed and shot by a 14-year-old gang member, and nearly lost his life. After being released from the hospital, he went to Virgin River for physical therapy with Mel. Again, I guess that part was in book two, because at the beginning of the book, he's recuperated enough to take a trip home to visit his family in Los Angeles. He had first met Brie soon after her marriage, and again after her breakup with her husband, and has always carried a torch for her.

But in Carr's books, it isn't just about Mike and Brie - it's still about Jack and Mel, and about Preacher and Paige, and all the other characters in Virgin River as well as their extended families. Hope, who first hired Mel, talks Mike into becoming Virgin River's first cop - a "constable" position that isn't actually a member of a police force. His credentials as a Marine and a member of the LAPD are enough to give him credit, but he spends some time with local sheriffs and other law enforcement types who would normally cover Virgin River to be sure they will accept him and his work. There isn't much crime in Virgin River, unless you count the number of hidden marijuana growers dotting the area, or the occasional drunken misbehavior at Jack's bar. Or unless you realize there seems to be a pattern of high school girls coming to Mel with the marks of date rape, none of whom actually remember what happened.

So Mike does some investigation on this subject, while also trying to spend some time driving to Sacramento and calling Brie, wooing her slowly back to herself. There's another new family in town, also related to the Marine buddies group - a general, his daughter who is married to one of the buddies, and his teenage son Tom. Tom figures in the storyline about the high school date rape issues; the daughter Vanessa is the love interest, not returned, of another of the buddies.

Once again, I was sucked into the lives of the characters in this non-existent small town, wanting to have a beer with them at Jack's bar and gossip with them and go with them to the county fair. I think I might have enjoyed it even more under different circumstances, one of which would be reading it in order!!

4 stars

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Up Close and Dangerous by Linda Howard ***

This is a romantic suspense novel - although it's more a road-trip type (well, a survival trip, anyway).

Bailey is the widow of James Wingate, to whom she was married for a business reason only: she was the trustee of his adult children's trust funds, and Wingate was hoping to shock his kids into being responsible with this action. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died less than a year after the marriage to Bailey. The Wingate heirs Seth and Tamzin were pretty hateful and public about it too.

When Bailey takes the Wingate private charter plane to meet her brother for a 2-week vacation, the regular pilot Bret is ill and has to allow his partner Cam to fly the plane. Cam and Bailey have never gotten along, so it seemed like it was going to be a long 5 hour trip - until the engine died over the mountains in Idaho, out of fuel.

Cam manages to find a place to land the plane, but is knocked unconscious with a gash in his head. Bailey has no survival training or skills, but she was on her way to a 2-week rafting trip, so she has 2 suitcases of helpful items including hiking boots and such. She manages to get Cam out of the plane and sutured up, and even builds a shelter of sorts for them.

They spend 5 days in the wilderness - Cam figures out the plane was sabotaged, and they both realize that Wingate's kids must have done it to kill Bailey. Meanwhile, on the ground, we have Cam's partner Bret and their secretary Karen, both shocked and grieving over the suspected deaths. Bret uncovers evidence of potential tampering and turns it over the to NTSB, but without real proof, no arrests can be made. Seth Wingate, scared straight that he might go to prison for this, starts work at his father's company, hoping to avoid any suspicion.

Cam and Bailey also spend their survival time realizing they don't hate each other after all...

So - there ya go. Suspense. Road Trip. Love and a HEA for Cam and Bailey. You'll have to read it yourself to find out whodunit. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good - average. 3 stars.

The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux **

Ahhh... Jude Deveraux - sometimes I love her stories and sometimes... I don't.

I didn't love this one. At all.

The story revolves around Lillian Manville who changes her identity to Bailey after her wealthy husband Jimmie dies and leaves her nothing except a pittance in funds and a run-down farm in Virginia. The billions he leaves to his older brother and sister whom he despised - in fact they get everything, including Bailey's clothes.

The mystery is why - and to be honest, now that I've finished, I don't have a clue why. OK, I know the mystery but I still don't get WHY.

For one thing, when one dies and leaves everything to his/her spouse of 15 or so years, how can anyone contest that and win? Especially when the deceased is a billionaire? So that doesn't seem to be the real reason.

OK set that aside and follow Bailey's journey to discover herself. She was married at 17 to a man some years older than she, somewhere between 9 and 15 years (the years don't all add up in the book...) older, who was on the road to being rich and famous. He plucked her out of a local state or county fair where she was the winner of a jam contest - she was overweight and had an awful crooked, broken nose, but somehow she was the love of his life in the few minutes they spent together before getting married that same day. Go figure.

From the flashbacks and memories Bailey has, we learn that Jimmie did indeed seem to really treasure and love her. But he also had affairs - or seemed to, I guess (same thing in her mind). He was also incredibly, abusively controlling - he kept her fat and ugly and hidden away on purpose, to keep her dependent on him. Then he died and suddenly she was lost. Her mother dead, her only other living relative was her estranged sister; she really had no friends, no one - except Jimmie's lawyer who helped set her up in the farm house.

Then we meet the odd characters of the little town in Virginia. Creepy odd. At first I thought maybe it was going to be a paranormal, since the first 2 women we meet don't seem to think the other one exists. However, it is just a family feud, and they are cousins who don't speak to each other although they are constantly together. They are 2 of the more normal people in town.

Then we spend time with Bailey who is trying to figure out what to do with her life and while doing so, she stumbles over some town secrets. What do the secrets have to do with her? Wellll - maybe there's a connection between this town and her dead husband? Maybe that's the reason he left the billions to his brother and sister and not her?

By the time we get to the turning point in the mystery, I needed a damn scorecard to follow the players. Frankly, I didn't care enough to bother to find paper and write down who was married to whom, who was sleeping with whom, who the parents were of various people. It was a case of a group of small town bullies with a secret that they did everything they could to cover up - and succeeded for years. Where Bailey fits into the story is what you learn when you get to the end. (well, she doesn't really fit in - how's that for a spoiler?)

Since it turns out Jimmie knew the secret all along, why didn't he do something about it while he was alive?? Why did he let his brother and sister get away with so much? Were we supposed to believe he was planning on doing it later or something? And the biggest mystery of all is - why did so many people write positive reviews about this??

There is a (mild) love interest in the story - Matt. Well. I dunno. He's just a local guy, related to but unaware of the town's secret. But it really isn't Matt and Bailey's story - it is more a story of the town, as uncovered by Bailey while she tries to get on her feet after being left destitute by her dead billionaire husband. There was very little romance in this book - I'm not even going to tag it romance. One reviewer mentioned that she feels Deveraux is good at writing about women who have come to crossroads in their lives - maybe that's what I missed about this book, it was about a turning point and not about romance at all. There were several turning points - Bailey's, after Jimmie's death; Jimmie's, when he left the small town and became a billionaire - it seemed every character (and there were a bunch of them) had a major crossroad issue.

I didn't hate it and I finished it, so it gets 2 stars.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crystal Clear by Jane Heller ****

This is another of the wad o'books I picked up at the Portal Library Sale held each October. I can't recall now whether someone there recommended it, or I picked it up for it's chick-lit cover and possibly the cover blurb.

It's chick-lit to the max, hitting all the points: first person POV, 40+ year-old single career woman from NYC (is it just coincidence that my 2 chick-lit experiences have been Jewish women from NY?) trying to make sense of her life. Like I've come to expect from chick-lit, it's snarky comedy too. Crystal is a CPA, a partner at her NY accounting firm, dating a lawyer - at least, trying to, whenever she and Steven can fit in a movie or dinner in their chockful calendars. Crystal visits her father every Sunday - but he couldn't care less; as far as he's concerned, she's keeping him from his reruns of Barnaby Jones.

All in the space of a couple of days, Crystal learns that Steven's ex-wife is back in his life, causing her to doubt their relationship, and that her accounting firm is about to downsize and she figures she's the partner on the shortlist to go. To top it all off, her father blurts out that the person he misses most is her older brother - a child who died at age 3 before she was born and whose existence was kept a secret from her, until now.

Her assistant at the accounting firm encourages her to become more spiritual and take a trip to Sedona, Arizona, on a quest to find inner peace. The last thing she expects to find in Sedona is her ex-husband Terry - a man she married right out of college, divorced one year later and hasn't seen in 20 years. Apparently he was the quintessential Peter Pan - he'd been a college jock, everyone's favorite, but couldn't settle down and find a job after college and marriage. Job security was apparently very high on her list of important things in life, and without that, their relationship was over.

Just to further complicate her life, once Steven sees her reaction to his ex-wife being around, he decides it's time to get serious, threatens to follow her out to Sedona and begs her to marry him.

Terry apparently settled in Sedona 11 years before, with a girlfriend who got pregnant, had the baby and split - leaving him with a preemie infant to raise. That experience forces maturity on him - he starts a company taking tourists on Jeep tours around Sedona, buys a house, and in effect finally becomes what Crystal had been looking for in a man: mature and settled down.

On the Jeep tour is a millionaire heiress, Amanda, and her entourage: a group of unhappy lackeys, all of whom have ulterior motives and agendas which make them each a suspect when Amanda goes missing. But the number one suspect is a close friend of Terry's, a native American spiritual guide, and Crystal decides to do whatever she can to help clear his name.

Now - I'm sorta conflicted about this book. I enjoyed it, mostly, and am rating it 4 stars. But there were some things that really bothered me about this book. Crystal's attitude was nowhere near as annoying and snarky and outright obnoxious as that of Shelby in With A Little Help From Above. But it was not exactly the opposite of that, either, and some of the things she said and thought just rubbed me wrong (not that I can come up with a single example now...). While I know I should expect this in chick-lit, I also felt that the characters of Amanda, the shallow millionaire heiress, and all of her entourage, were cardboard and 2 dimensional. Yeah, yeah, it was supposed to be (sorta) funny and all, so they were cartoony, which I didn't like, because I felt the author went overboard in her effort to make them that way.

Then there was Annie, Terry's 10-year-old daughter - another character who just didn't exactly ring true. I'm not exactly an authority on kids, but have known my share - and the whole bit of her watching C-Span and discussing politics just did not ring true. OK, maybe it was just smart-ass writing, and we're just supposed to think the kid was worldly and wise, but I thought she pushed the envelope on that. However, she did pull back and have the kid say some kid-like things and have some kid-like reactions - until the end. Then I was rolling my eyes again at the trampoline scene at the end which really did not work for me. It should have been suspenseful and scary, but instead was silly and unrealistic.

Maybe I'm expecting too much - I like a laugh as much as the next person, and hey - I read Time Travel books, so who am I to expect realism? And in the end, I did enjoy the story as a whole - although I would like for the epilogue to have wrapped it up for me a little better. Somehow just taking her to the house, and not inside for the reactions, was like being a kid and having one of my sisters offer me a cookie then eat it herself and laugh at me...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Open Season by Linda Howard *****

I have listened to the abridged audio book of Open Season three - or more? - times and it's one of my favorites. However, I knew I was missing out on the whole experience, because abridged means a lot of the story was left out. So when I purchased an eBay lot of Howard's books, I was glad it contained Open Season, and I picked it up to read.

As a matter of fact, the abridged version does a very good job of giving most of the story, and most of the very best scenes in the book. But, having listened to it so many times, I could practically mark the book with the deletions made!

Daisy Minor faces her 34th birthday with some dread: she's drab. She's a small town librarian, and she lives up to the worst stereotype: she's single and hasn't had a date in years, she's prim and prissy, and she lives at home with her widowed mother and aunt. She decides she needs to spruce up her wardrobe, her hair and her makeup and be a party girl if she wants to ever meet a man, much less get married.

Jack Russo is the small town chief of police, but he's an outsider, having grown up in Chicago. His police background is as a SWAT member in both Chicago and New York City - but when his elderly aunt died and left him her home in this small town, he decided maybe it was time to make a change, so he gave up his big city cop life and is now the chief of police in a community with very little in the way of crime.

Jack and Daisy first meet in the library when Jack goes in to sign up for the virtual library. He gets a kick out of her prickly behavior, but she's put off by his invading her space and being too big, too male. But the next time they meet, he saves her from a barroom brawl she's inadvertently started. He follows up on that meeting by taking her for a ride while he updates her on the potential dangers of date-rape drugs being used in the area.

The story is a romantic suspense - the suspense is that the local good ol' boy mayor is actually involved in the sex trade, and has in his employ several shady characters, one of whom (Mitchell) has been killing women with GBH. Daisy is in her car in the bar parking lot when she witnesses one of the other bad guys having Mitchell killed - and now they need to tie up that loose end by killing Daisy!

The truly famous scene in this book is when Daisy decides the best way to announce her availability to the single men of her small town is to buy condoms at the local drug store. She knows the pharmacist's wife will spread the gossip, so she goes in and grabs a PartyPak - half a gross of condoms in varying colors and flavors. As she's checking out, Jack gets behind her in line. The dialog after they leave the drug store is hysterical, and has me gasping for breath every time I listen to it. The next best scene is when they actually use the PartyPak, trying to decide what the best color will be. These two scenes always come up in discussions of funny moments in romance novels.

There's also a Notable Pet - Midas, the golden retriever puppy Daisy gets as a guard dog. Midas eats everything in sight, and is pretty much adorable through and through. Having owned a goldie, I can picture this puppy completely!

So it's still one of my favorite books, and I now know "the rest of the story." Mostly what was left out of the abridged audio was detail: there's nothing about Daisy's sister Beth and her family; there's less detail in every scene (even the condom scenes); there's less detail about the puppy - the scene where she picks him out of the litter is left out. Pretty much everything about Todd Lawrence was left in, though, which still has me scratching my head: was Todd Lawrence working as a federal agent on the sex-trade issue, or was his involvement only personal? I never did figure that part out. If not, then what the heck were he and Howard doing? And that scene in the epilogue with the mayor's wife and Sykes, well, that was just creepy - was it a setup for a sequel or just there to make us be creeped out? Cuz frankly, I'm not sure I want a story about Jennifer and Sykes, because they weren't exactly sympathetic characters to begin with. Well... then again, I loved LH's Death Angel, and those were 2 similarly nefarious and flawed characters.

Still 5 stars.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Accidental Woman by Barbara Delinsky *****

This is the sequel to Lake News and it's the story of Poppy Blake, the middle of the 3 Blake sisters we met in that book. They all live in Lake Henry, a small town in New Hampshire.

Delinsky writes in the back of the book that she originally planned to do 4 Lake Henry books, one for each season. But she didn't write more Lake Henry books for several years after Lake News, and then only because of the requests for Poppy's story.

At the end of Lake News, Poppy has finally met in person Griffin Hughes, a journalist who had been calling for news about her sister Lily's debacle (the false rumors of her being a Catholic Cardinal's lover). They struck up a relationship by phone, and Poppy never wanted him to know she was paraplegic. She's actually got a good setup - her home was built specifically for her needs, and she has what seems to be state-of-the-art equipment - wheelchair, car - for getting around. But she's never fully forgiven herself for the role she played in the accident that killed her boyfriend and caused her injuries 12 years earlier. They meet in person at the news conference at the end, and we are left only to imagine that a relationship bloomed between them at that point. An Accidental Woman takes up several weeks later, after John and Lily marry, and Poppy has given Griffin the brush-off.

Griffin Hughes doesn't have much in the way of secrets or disabilities himself, unless you count a sister having run away and never being found some 7 years earlier. He comes from Money and has 4 or 5? brothers, all of them living high-powered lives, but since their sister ran away after a drug scandal, the family hasn't been close. However, he mentioned to his FBI brother that a cold case fugitive photo looked a lot like a woman he met in Lake Henry - and the next thing you know, Heather Malone has been arrested for murder and flight from prosecution.

The FBI is claiming Heather is actually Lisa Matlock, who ran over and killed an influential California politician's son 15 years ago and was never brought to justice. Heather claims she is indeed Heather Malone, but refuses to help the lawyer, Cassie, with any details that might exonerate her. Now in jail in another New Hampshire town awaiting trial, Heather left behind her lover Micah and his 2 young daughters with whom she'd been living for 4 years - well, it was heartbreaking all in all.

And Griffin is responsible for this, he feels, responsible for tearing the town in half - half thinking Heather could never have killed anyone and she wasn't this Lisa, and half thinking nobody really knew Heather or what she was really capable of.

Like Lake News, it's a complicated story with a cast of thousands (well, ok, dozens), all fully fleshed out. I said Lake News wasn't complex or layered - I'm not sure I was using the right adjectives. It's got several storylines going on at once - Poppy coming to terms with her disability; Poppy coming to terms with her mother Maida; Griffin's search for his sister and also his search for redemption for having inadvertently turned Heather in; Heather's story - was she Lisa? - and Micah's story - could he still love Heather if she was Lisa and had never told him the truth? We got a glimpse of Lily and John, and we got a taste of the life of lawyer Cassie and her husband and children. Everyone has a story, all intertwined, and all leading up to whether they could let the past rule their present and their futures.

There was a twist in the book that felt forced and not as natural, almost as if there were no other way to find the child given up for adoption so the author threw in an extra, sort of mysterious character. I'm not sure why that bothered me - it wasn't really that outrageous, it just didn't flow easily from the story in my own mind. It seemed too pat, too coincidental. And where we got justice for the wrongs done to Lily in Lake News, we had to settle for what little justice could be had for Heather when the facts were put on the table. It was a lot messier than Lily's cut-and-dried situation: Lily had not done anything at all wrong, including the affair which did not exist. What Heather had done - what Poppy had done - even what Cassie was doing to her own family, these things were not as simplistic and as easy to resolve. No Die Hard YESSS! moments here.

Still the story was tender and touching and I teared up on more than one occasion, most notably when Micah's younger daughter Star urges him to go see Heather in jail and take her a tuna fish sandwich so maybe Heather would be think of Star when she ate it. It reduced an enormously complicated issue to a very small and simple one: all that really mattered to Star was whether Heather thought about Star, or had left her for good, like Star's mother had done by dying.

There's a notable pet in the blind cat Victoria that Griffin picks up in town and then loses to Poppy, and the maple sap business is given enough copy that you'll be able to open your own someday - but not so much that I felt like I was being lectured to!

I am not as conflicted about the genre on this story - this is really women's fiction. The actual romance between Griffin and Poppy is no more important that the relationship between Micah and Heather, and there are other threads in the story that overwhelm these as well. But still, it was a wonderful, relaxing, satisfying and heart-wrenching read.

5 stars!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lake News by Barbara Delinsky *****

This is a new-to-me author whose name I've seen listed in lots of PBS bookshelves but not discussed much in the forums I frequent or the blogs I read. A friend in the area loaned me this and the sequel, An Accidental Woman, to read, and I bought a slew of her books at the local library sale as well.

It seems Delinsky straddles the Women's Fiction/Romance genre borders, from what I can tell. Her book affected me like the Robyn Carr book, Virgin River, I read recently - I truly loved it. I found the writing warm, and lush - not complex or layered as much as detailed and thorough. Well, I'm not much of an author myself, so maybe I'm not describing it right. There were some suspenseful moments, and some tender, heart-breaking moments, and I felt those. I felt Lily's fear as she battled the newspaper reporters after being accused of having an affair with a Catholic priest, and I felt John's grief as he watched his father - as he wrestled with the feelings of inadequacy and longing for approval. She made me feel - and that's my first requirement of a good story.

Both Lake News and Virgin River also made me long for a small town to go home to, a community of people who know me and accept me for what I am and defend me. That's actually laughable since I grew up in a small town and frankly don't have any yearning to ever return there. I don't find the reality of small town living anywhere near the romance of it in fiction. (I don't count my current rural living as really small-town because I consider "small town" as more like 1000-5000 people, with the accompanying accoutrements, and I'm rural, as in, pack a lunch to go into town rural.)

The Blake family of Lake Henry, New Hampshire, has run the apple orchard and cider business for generations. Currently Maida Blake is in charge, since George died some years back. Maida's daughters Poppy and Rose live in town. Poppy's paraplegic, and lives in a cottage on Maida's property, and Rose is married and lives in town. Rose and Maida don't approve of the oldest Blake sister's life: Lily Blake is a nightclub singer and music teacher in Boston.

Lily left Lake Henry after a teenaged scrape that gave her a (sealed) juvenile record: a boyfriend, Donny Kipling, stole a car and took her riding in it. She didn't know it was stolen, but he claimed she did so his jail sentence would be reduced. Now living a relatively quiet life in Boston, she counts among her friends and associates Father Francis Rosetti, who has just been elevated to Cardinal. A Boston reporter decides there's more than friendship, and cons Lily into making some statements that, taken out of context, set her up as the Cardinal's lover - and the story breaks on page one of major newspapers all across the country.

John Kipling is Donny's older brother. He also left Lake Henry at a young age - but he's about 8 or so years older than Lily, so he didn't really know her then. He's become an accomplished journalist, but 3 years before his father had a heart attack, and John decided to move back to Lake Henry to watch over his dad, and run the local weekly newspaper, the Lake News. Donny died years ago, and their mother left their father a long time before that, so John is Gus's only relative. Not that Gus has ever respected him, or forgiven him for leaving, or anything. Gus is a crusty old bastard, and John grits his teeth and goes forward, trying still to win his approval after all these years. When John gets a call from his long-time nemesis, the crooked journalist who broke the Lily/Cardinal rumors/story, he develops an interest in the story.

The book chronicles, in rich details, what Lily goes through - losing her two jobs in Boston, her flight to NH to hide and her slowly developing relationship with John. John is hoping to get a book deal out of Lily's true story of injustice, and he's got a publisher chomping at the bit for it - but his sense of honor won't allow him to use the underhanded techniques his colleagues used to break the story. He works away at Lily slowly - and slowly finds himself head over heels in love with this shy singer with a stutter.

Reading the book felt like swaying in a hammock, comforting and comfortable, and the ending was satisfying and smile-inducing. In fact, on one level, it almost had the same effect that watching Die Hard movies has on me: wanting to jump up and shout YESSS! when the bad guys get it and the good guys come out on top. Except not in a shouting way, but just a smile and a nod of the head. Same emotion, different level, is all.

Now - why is it more women's fiction than romance? Well, the emphasis of the tome is more on their lives and their families and neighbors and how they intertwine than the actual romantic relationship between Lily and John, but it's a tiny, narrow line between the 2 genres and could be either, really. There are also the undercurrents of the relationships between father and son, and between mother and daughter - the latter shown between Maida and Lily, and echoed in Rose and her daughter Hannah, but these don't necessarily make it not a romance. In a Harlequin/Blaze I have on audio, Hot for Him by Sarah Mayberry, the relationship between the heroine and her mother is an important element and the book is still romance.

Anyway, it's a 5 star read, and I'm already several pages into the sequel.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Now You See Her by Linda Howard ****

This book came from an eBay glom I did - got several LH books for a low, low price. I read it, I enjoyed it - but it wasn't --- great.

It's a murder mystery with a background in romance. Maybe it should be called a thriller or suspense - I just went googling in search of some definition assistance. Mystery is the unveiling of the clues, the whodunit, and in suspense you as the reader know it's going to happen but not how the protagonists will react or the outcome of the suspense (to which the protagonists are not privy).

So this was a mystery with suspense - well, thriller maybe, because while the victims didn't know it was coming, the hero and heroine sure did.

I agree with some of the criticisms pointed out by the 2 reviewers on AAR for this story. Our heroine, Sweeney, became psychic - she sees dead people. She knows the answers to Jeopardy! before the clues are even revealed. Her presence makes traffic get out of the way, traffic lights turn green and cars abandon the best parking spots so she can park right in front. And she sleep-paints death scenes and is unnaturally cold afterwards. But, why? What happened to her to make these gifts suddenly start? What is the significance of the traffic and the Jeopardy! answers, other than to prove she has some gift? We are never shown and we are never told.

She's an artist, living in NYC, and since her Gifts appeared, she's been painting stuff she finds weird and wrong - although once shown to her adoring gallery owner, it seems everyone loves them. Ah - the adoring gallery owner is going through a nasty divorce from Richard Worth, a Horatio-Alger story fellow, grew up poor, got rich and is now dumping Candra.

Candra's another dilemma. If Richard was as great a lover as she thinks, WTF was she doing screwing everything in pants? We are shown she's a snob - and maybe there's a hint of insecurity, but it doesn't add up to sexual addiction, which is the only answer I could come up with for collecting an average of 2 additional lovers a month. Or more. She makes it clear he was insatiable so how could she be even more insatiable than he? We are never told. Richard knows about her adultery, but he's an honorable fellow who keeps his vows until she reveals she had an abortion. Then it's over.

Richard has always thought Sweeney was attractive. Sweeney was always too wrapped up in her art to give any man a single thought. Until that Diet Coke commercial...

OK - she sees Richard for the first time since the Gift and in her heightened awareness is wildly attracted to him. And he senses it and returns it in spades.

The story is then about how Sweeney has these two episodes of painting while asleep, each a murder scene. The second one comes in spurts - first just shoes, then more but no face. When she finally paints the face and learns who the victim is, the victim is dead. Now we're on a manhunt to uncover the killer whose face hasn't yet been painted. Uh, why didn't they watch her at night to see if she would paint the killer's face??

There was a shortlist for the position of killer - there weren't that many characters in the story - and it's given away pretty easily. So - I enjoyed reading it, I liked the hero, I didn't understand the heroine, and the story wasn't as good as I've come to expect from a great author like Linda Howard. Yeah, yeah, a rich guy, an artist, a senator and his ambitious bitch of a wife, the gallery owner and her lover - whodunit? Guess.

still, 4 stars because she is such a good writer that even mediocre from her is 4 stars.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reckless by Amanda Quick ****

Reckless was picked up at the local library sale, which this year I realized is mostly the dregs and leftovers of donated books, probably donated back every year, and not the overstock of the actual library. When I chose it, I had only read one other Amanda Quick - since then I read the AAR Top 100 of 2007 pick, Ravished, and enjoyed it quite a lot.

I enjoyed this one as well. Phoebe Layton, youngest daughter of an earl, is an imaginative and daring young woman who harbors a strong Arthurian-legend streak - she likes to believe there are indeed knights-errant out there to help damsels in distress. Of course, she manages to put herself in distress so often, she should have realized the lack of available knights.

Her last suitor, Neil Braxton, was apparently searching the South Seas for enough treasure to win her hand when he was murdered by a pirate. The token she gave him before he left, a book of medieval romance, has returned to England, possibly in the possession of that very pirate - and Phoebe sets off on a quest to find the book and unmask the murderer. It's not that she actually loved Neil - indeed, she was glad he was gone, because she didn't love him and has no intention of marrying until she finds true love.

She cloaks herself in disguise as The Veiled Lady and spends 2 months attempting to hire the services of Gabriel as the knight-errant to help her on the quest for the pirate. Gabriel has just returned from an 8-year odyssey to the South Seas himself, having gone after being financially ruined by Phoebe's father when Gabriel attempted to rescue Phoebe's older sister from an arranged marriage she dreaded. It seems Gabriel, like Phoebe, once harbored that same romantic Arthurian streak, which was squashed and ended forever after this ill-advised event. Meredith, as it turns out, was just having pre-wedding jitters, married the arranged fellow and is now happy as a clam with him and their 3 children - no one else in the family actually has Phoebe's romantic, reckless streak.

Gabriel wants revenge against the family for forcing him to leave the country, and when he realizes it's the younger daughter who is seeking his services, decides to ruin her. Of course, he's also drawn to her because of her daring and courage. And he does not reveal to her that he is the owner of the book of her quest - he took it from Neil's cabin after forcing the fellow to walk the plank.

It seems the two are each keeping lots of secrets from the other: Gabriel is also the anonymous author of a popular new book. Phoebe knows this because she is secretly the publisher and editor of the book - she has become the silent but controlling financial partner of a publisher because it's too risky for a woman, especially of Society, to be in trade.

All of Gabriel's attempts to manage Phoebe end in disaster as Phoebe will not be managed or dictated to (Isn't that just like a man! Will he never learn?), and no one has ever been able to do so. When her father and brother approach him in a club - first to challenge him, then to merely warn him - he starts to understand their motivation: they love her and want to protect her, mostly from herself! And then he begins to realize he is also falling in love with her, which will negate all efforts to affect revenge.

It's a fun tale, and Phoebe's daring and outrageous actions never seem to come across as Too Stupid To Live - mostly they're hare-brained schemes or Lucy Ricardo-esque situations. When she ties the sheets together to escape her Night In Hell, she is actually rescuing herself from a dangerous situation. And her knight-errant, Gabriel, through clever story-telling, always manages to be there to rescue his lady in distress.

4 stars

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh ****

Ah, so I figured out the connections amongst The Trysting Place, A Counterfeit Betrothal and this book. The hero of this book is Lord Edmond Waite from The Trysting Place - the man who pursued Felicity Wren first as a mistress, then as a bride. The heroine is Mary, Lady Mornington, Marc's "friend" from A Counterfeit Betrothal. At the beginning, Mary is trying to get over her loneliness from the loss of her friendship with Marc, and Edmond is still nursing his wounds from being jilted by Felicity - and suffering from the effects of his jilting of his long-time betrothed, Dorothea.

This is the deepest and darkest of the three books, with the accidental death of Edmond's brother some 15 years before coloring his every action from that day forward. He had even considered suicide, which isn't surprising considering his father, his other brother and even his mother - who died shortly after the accidental death - considered him a murderer. The facts of the death were really so shocking that I found it hard to believe that his father could have been so cruel, considering his father was elemental in the circumstances that surrounded the accident.

Those facts drove Edmond to be the rake, the libertine he was - and his shocking jilting of Dorothea for Felicity (in the previous book) made him persona non grata to the ton which exacerbated his condition. It was just happenstance that he appeared in a party at Vauxhall Gardens where Mary went at the invitation of a friend, hoping to re-start her lonely social life. And it was her phobia of lightning that forced her into his arms when they were trapped out walking the gardens.

This was a shocker of a scene for me - her previous books have never had the hero and heroine in a sexual clinch by page 15 before, especially scandalous since they had just met! Mary is certainly ashamed of her actions - her willingness even - but allows him to take her to the home he maintains for mistresses (none currently in residence) and spend the night.

It seems they are both surprised and confused by the attraction. She is not his type at all - she's a bluestocking, hosting weekly intellectual salons in her home; she's petite, not a striking beauty. He is nothing like what she wants or needs in a man - his roving eye alone puts him beyond the pale. Still, he pursues her, against her wishes, and to the outrage of her friends and acquaintances.

Balogh puts an interesting twist into the story in the form of Lord Goodrich - a widower with grown children who pursues Mary for his next wife. Goodrich also maintains a mistress and her 5 children by him, unbeknownst to Mary, and had even before his first wife died. Mary never did find out, but it made an interesting comparison - was Goodrich really better than Edmond? After all, Edmond wasn't married and had no illegitimate children to support. He just liked to party, and put up a good front drinking and gambling, though actually never to excess.

It's Edmond's meddling Aunt Eleanor who provides the catalysts in the book. After Edmond takes Mary to a garden party there, Eleanor can see that Edmond has fallen in love with her, and goes out of her way to include the 2 of them in invitations. As her 60th birthday approaches, she hosts a week-long house party, and invites both Mary and Lord Goodrich, as well as her nephew. Indeed, the surprise guests include her brother and nephew - Edmond's father and brother from whom he is still estranged. Forcing Edmond to face his past and reconcile with his father and brother eventually brings out his true inner nature.

Well, actually, it's a sort of complicated psychological story about a man who has suppressed his true self, running from it and trying as hard as possible to be the very opposite, to live up to the reputation he gained through gossip and innuendo. The true inner nature is what Mary reacts to, and falls in love with even though he hides it from everyone else.

OK - not sure I've explained it well. To be honest, I liked the previous book quite a lot better, but this one I still really liked, so it's a 4 star read and an AAR Top 100 of 2007 checked off.