Wednesday, May 14, 2008

gotta lotta reading to review

Wow - I have some reviewing to do. Finished Baby, I'm Yours by Susan Andersen for the 2nd read. I picked up 2 books from my seriously-old physical TBR pile next to the bed - Nan Ryan's You Belong to My Heart and Jude Deveraux's Wild Orchids, both purchased months ago at the Portal library book sale.

I had been avoiding Wild Orchids because the reviews indicated it was a paranormal, and not a Romance. Wrong! Well - there is a paranormal element, but it's not vampires or some weird alternate reality. And it's a Romance through and through. I really enjoyed the writing - this was my first Deveraux - and the book was written from the hero's and heroine's first person POV, each chapter from 1, back and forth. The story is about a best-selling author, our hero, after his wife died, trying to get back his writing mojo and deciding to write a book about ghost stories, and a young researcher (our heroine) - engaged to be married but jilting her fiance at the altar to join the hero as his assistant. She has a devil story from her youth that interests the hero, and he takes them both to the story's town of origin to research the story.

The book had me crying twice in the first 26 pages as the hero talks about his now-deceased wife and her family - I knew from those first pages I would love this book. Then as we get closer and closer to the devil story, it picks up pace. The actual solving of the town's problem was almost a let-down for me, but then when the Real Reason the Devil is there comes to light, it becomes tense as the hero fights his own devils and of course, being a Romance novel, he wins. Think The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

You Belong to My Heart was another good book. It takes place in Memphis before and during the Civil War, and involves our wrong-side-of-the-tracks hero and plantation belle heroine as they grow up as best friends then young lovers, thwarted by her parents who think he's not good enough for her. Years go by, there's that Big Misunderstanding thing between them, the Civil War starts and they meet again - and must overcome the wrong done to them by someone else and not, as they each think, by the other one. The actual unveiling of the Big Mis was a little too pat, and made me wonder what made the fellow admit the truth and since he did, why did he wait so long?? But I still loved the story enough to give it 4 stars.

I happened across 2 LaVyrle Spencer books at the Rodeo book exchange in the cafe: Family Blessings and A Heart Speaks. My previous Spencer reads have me glomming her backlist - although I was surprised how much I liked her writing style, since the 2 I read were both "sweet" romances. Turns out she did write some steamier and more graphic stuff, and contemporaries at that (well, in the 80s - so contemporary to that). Family Blessings concerns an older heroine/younger hero - he's the roommate of her son who is killed at the beginning of the story. They turn to each other for support, one thing leads to another - and the big conflict is of course how her family feels about their age difference, and how they deal with that. Yeah, lotsa tearing up at the beginning as the death happens, and they deal with the grief. Since he's 30 (to her son's 25) and she's 45, it's a credible plot but they still overcome. He's something like the hero in Morning Glory - really bad upbringing, and somewhat needing mothering as well as loving from the heroine, although he's made a much better life for himself on his own.

A Heart Speaks is actually 2 short novels, Forsaking All Others and A Promise To Cherish. Forsaking All Others has our photographer heroine not yet over being dumped and screwed by a former boyfriend/male model, meeting the hero - guess what, he's a male model she's hired to pose for a Romance novel cover she's doing. A Promise To Cherish has a Native American heroine trying to make it in a man's world and trying to get over her divorce, from which she loses custody of her kids to the ex-husband (something we don't learn the details of till the end, really). The hero is the owner of a rival firm, who hires her when she quits her job. The Big Secret here is, she has a chip on her shoulder about being part Cherokee - she thinks it's why the kids were taken away - and she learns the hero's mother is also part Cherokee. Of course, there's the conflict of her being the employee and not wanting to sleep with the boss - but it's very 80s and that conflict isn't really dealt with much. The biggest conflict is her not telling him about having children because of her shame of losing custody. Three stars for Promise, and 4 for Forsaking. Neither one was as compelling a story as Morning Glory or That Camden Summer, but I still like her prose.

From PBS, I got Spencer's Separate Beds. Now I'm starting to think maybe her earlier stuff isn't really as good as the later stuff, or I just lucked out by reading her best stuff first. I enjoyed Separate Beds (ok, 4 stars) but it's very dated with 80s styles and such. I have to agree with an Amazon reviewer who mentions how it pulled her out of the story to read about how they dressed and how they decorated. I guess someday it could be a period piece. We have a rich law-school student hero, who has a fight with his rich girlfriend, and for revenge goes on a date with our wrong-side-of-the-tracks college student heroine during which she gets pregnant. That's backstory - we start with the heroine's alcoholic father going to the rich kid's parents to see if he can profit from this.

The protagonists choose a marriage of convenience (I guess it's 80s that they didn't even talk about prenups, even though the father is a big lawyer, and hero a law student??) that only they know will end after he finishes law school, within the year. She's so completely screwed up by her upbringing that she cannot allow herself to ever be nice to the hero - even though she decided early on she loved him. That was frustrating. Bring in the Rich Girlfriend to complicate matters - it's intimated the hero kept up the relationship during the marriage, although he denies it. Then - lo and behold, he does go back to the Rich GF and actually moves in with her for several months, which - yeah - I found that squicky. I mean, he knows RGF lied to the heroine. Then - this is kinda messed up - he just leaves RGF one day and calls heroine, and they get back together. I wondered (1) why he didn't visit the baby more and (2) why she didn't take the baby to his parent's more. And she saved the get-back-together scene for the very last page, so... well, I still liked it ok, but again, comparing it to Morning Glory and That Camden Summer, it just didn't live up to the promise of those 2 wonderful books.

Did I mention I did listen to David Dukes' narration of That Camden Summer? And I'm still working on the audio of DIA - we've just fought Prestonpans, so it isn't long now til Culloden. Which leads nicely into the next 2 books I have from PBS by Marsha Canham, which take place during the '45.

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