Sunday, June 29, 2008

Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson ***

I'm still trying to figure this book out. The review on AAR says it's "one of the funnier books I've read this year. It's witty and has some really side-splitting dialogue."

Maybe we read different books. Was this a comedy? Or drama? There wasn't any suspense - no murders - no hidden treasures - no horror. But, funny?

First off, too many details. Forgettable details. Resistible details. A prologue where we find out the heroine Georgie is dyslexic. That her mother left her to be raised by her grandmother. That she isn't considered very bright and should go to charm school to get a husband. A first chapter that serves as prologue #2 where we learn that indeed she went to charm school and has now snared an old, rich fiancé who coincidentally owns a certain hockey team - but doesn't really want to marry him. That she now has a centerfold-worthy body that she thinks is fat. That our hero John is a hard-drinking sumbitch hockey player (for a certain hockey team) that leaves his boss's wedding early and finds the centerfold body in his car asking to be rescued.

That John's father died when he was young. That his mother had 2 jobs so he was raised by his grandparents. That John had a disastrous first marriage to a woman he got pregnant but didn't love, the baby died and his wife committed suicide and he found her body, 1 year ago. That John had a disastrous second marriage to a stripper that lasted less than 24 hours, 6 months after his first wife's suicide.

That Georgie doesn't like sex but uses her charm school wiles and her body to get what she wants from men because that is all she knows. That Georgie is at the end of her rope financially and emotionally - maxed out credit cards, no friends or relatives to fall back on, nowhere to go - and that she's hoping to charm John into keeping her around for a while.

Whew. What a lot of baggage for both of them. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, is this supposed to be funny? Because I'm just not finding humor in a dead baby and dead mother, or in a desperate bimbo and alcoholic athlete either. I kept wondering if I needed to create a cheat sheet to keep track of all the details. Well, one thing leads to another: he takes her to his house to call friends (of which she has none), after a couple of drinks she charms him into bed instead of telling him the truth, somehow miraculously she falls in love during the night, and he - out of the goodness of his hockey-loving heart - buys her a plane ticket home (where she has no one) and leaves her at the airport. Heart broken and...

Well - that was just the first 2 chapters. Fast forward 6 years and, oh, 9 months... Yep - the Secret Child plot is stuck on top of all the other details. My head started spinning. Georgie never left Seattle - she managed to find a job, and now she is co-owner of a catering company, and I had to add all the details of the other owner's life to my cheat sheet. Mae's gay twin brother died, and... well to be honest, none of her backstory and almost none of her story made a lick of sense or added anything to the book. Something about hating athletes because they made fun of her gay twin brother.

OK, Georgie catered a charity event - she's avoided all sports events to keep from running into John - and whooops, as it turns out, John donates to charity. He sees her, runs her down where she, Cinderella-like, drops her purse, leaving her checkbook behind for John to use to run her down again. He shows up at her house, all innocence and light and curious. She's in the shower - but daughter Lexie lets him in to wait because she figures he isn't a stranger because she's seen him before, signing autographs at her school.

Here's a plot device I've seen mumbly-some-odd times before: he recognizes her as his daughter because she looks so much like him, and asks her age, and counts backwards 6 years and 9 months...

Now we start having some Big Misunderstandings. Start a new cheat sheet. He just wants to get to know his daughter - she's afraid he'll lead Lexie on, then get tired of being a dad and stop coming, breaking Lexie's heart. He tells her he'll contact a lawyer if she doesn't let him see her - she overhears a message from his lawyer, leading her to assume he's planning to take custody (or something) when she thought he wasn't going to contact the lawyer. He's a multi-millionaire offering to help with support; she doesn't want his money because she can support them herself on her less-than-adequate earnings.

See - she really is a bimbo.

The second half of the story, where John ends up falling in love with his daughter, is touching, and redeemed the book for me. I really almost just didn't finish it after about chapter 3 because it was getting so ridiculous trying to figure out where we were going on this journey. Was it about bad or negligent parenting and how that shaped their relationship? No, not really. Was it about the obstacles of overcoming dyslexia and becoming self-sufficient? No, that wasn't really a factor at all in the story except for telling us about it in the prologue and chapter 1.

Oh, did I mention the part about how he could lose his job for messing with his boss's fiancée? Well - yeah, that was on his mind 6 years and 9 months ago, and now is an issue again, because the boss is still around although he's now married to someone else.

We do get to see John make a turn-around in his feelings - how his experience shaped his feelings toward Georgie, and he does make a nice recover in the end. With that, I found I can give the book 3 stars. But it's pretty resistible. Sigh.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Endearment by LaVyrle Spencer *****

Interestingly, this is now my 3rd favorite Spencer - and it's one of her earliest books, too!

The Endearment is the story of a young woman who becomes a mail-order bride in the mid-19th century (I believe it was 1854?) for a young Swedish immigrant in Minnesota. She and her younger brother answer the ad in desperation to find a new life - anything other than the hand-to-mouth existence they are barely scraping out in Boston after their mother died, leaving them homeless and penniless.

Unfortunately for all three of them - Karl, the lonely bachelor, Anna, bride-to-be and James, her adolescent brother - the relationship is built on lies to Karl. Anna presents herself as everything Karl is looking for - 25 years old, experienced housekeeper/cook, educated - and alone. But she is only 17, her only domestic skill is sewing - and she's accompanied by James who wrote the letters to Karl, because Anna cannot read or write. She doesn't lie about her appearance, however, and Karl is glad to see her even though he figures out right away that she has lied to him about her age - and about coming alone.

There's one other lie, or rather, omission of truth, that he has yet to discover. In order to earn enough money to pay James' fare, she has to ply her dead mother's trade one time. This is the one fact she is hoping is never revealed because she knows this one will be the deal breaker.

Karl is exceedingly patient and forgiving, after a fashion, of all the lies she has told him. Having an extra mouth to feed is more than offset by James' extra set of hands for chores. And there is enough of an attraction between Karl and Anna for them to build their relationship, slowly, to the point of acceptance and finally consummation. Karl's inexperience with women ensures Anna's secret, that even James does not know, isn't revealed - until James becomes more comfortable with Karl, and exposes damning details when telling him more about their life in Boston. Karl is able to add up the facts, and once he realizes what she did, he turns away from her and cannot forgive, just as she knew he would not.

Once again, Spencer fills in the details of their pioneer lifestyle and the relationships among the 3 characters in such a way that you feel what each is going through - the anguish of Karl's discovery, the fear Anna feels while trying to do whatever she can to keep her brother and herself safe and alive, James's awe at his new life and brother-in-law, and his confusion over why Anna and Karl are no longer happy, the pain of their inability to overcome the obstacles, and the relief and joy when they finally do overcome them and move into their new home, and their new life, at the end.

5 stars

Tombstone the movie

I've seen this Tombstone movie several times, but we had company who had passed through Tombstone and saw the recreation at the OK Corral, so we pulled it out and watched it with them for old times sake.

It's truly a fun movie, and it's even more fun to watch with a crowd who has seen it several times - we shoulda just gone ahead and dressed Western and pretended it was Rocky Horror Picture Show! PD's favorite line is Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp saying to Billy Bob Thornton as the gambler, "Go ahead, skin it. Skin that smoke wagon" to challenge him to draw his gun first. We laughed and laughed at the absurdity of the line - I mean, "smoke wagon"? Go figure, but Kurt sure manages to make it sound sexy.

Then Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday mimicking the cowboy's expertise with twirling a gun by twirling a shot glass cracked us all up again. Kilmer's performance as the dying Holliday is nothing short of brilliant, and his Virginia drawl is wonderful. Myself, I'm not a Sam Elliott fan, but I was the Lone Ranger in that opinion in this crowd. I just think he doesn't open his mouth wide enough, he doesn't have any expression other than squinty eyes, and basically he needs to modulate his voice a little. But that's just me.

The movie makes Curly Bill, played by Powers Booth, to be meaner and lower than a rattlesnake so there's no doubt in anyone's mind who wears the white hats in this movie - no depth whatsoever - he's bad to the bone, and don't you fergit it. Poor Bill - maybe someday some director will let him be the hero in the movie, and show us what a sumbitch those ol' Earp brothers really were. After all, Wyatt's adulterous affair with whassername the actress, played by Dana Delaney, doesn't make him the most appealing fellow around.

It's a 5 star keeper movie all around, just for the fun and games. I'll be wearing a coupla six shooters next time, too.

November of the Heart by LaVyrle Spencer ****

I'm very close to finishing all the LaVyrle Spencer books - after this one, I have The Endearment in my TBR pile, and Sweet Memories in my To Acquire pile.

November of the Heart is one of her "Americana" books - it takes place in 1895 Minnesota. A rich young woman, Lorna, yearns to be more independent and liberated from the structure that women much follow. She is the eldest child of a wealthy family whose father loves racing sail boats at his yacht club. In their employ is a young Norwegian immigrant Jens who yearns to build boats, and has a design in his head that will produce a very fast racing sailboat.

Of course, in their world, not only do the rich not mingle with their help, they don't even know their help. I found that a little surprising - Lorna not only didn't know their names, but didn't seem to have ever even been in the kitchen before.

So when she learns that Jens has a design, she is overcome with curiosity and seeks him out to find out more about it. It's scandalous enough that she wants to sail, but to actually speak to and even encourage kitchen help - well, it's too much! But she manages to not only find out about his design, she is able to convince her father to allow him to build it.

She is drawn to this handsome young man in spite of having a perfectly good beau - a man of her social strata who plans to marry her. Against the wishes of her parents, though, she sneaks out to the shop where Jens is building the boat - and she assists in building their relationship from friends to eventually lovers. Although he tells her that what they are doing could lead to her getting pregnant, neither one can resist, and soon she is not only visiting him in the barn, she is also going to his bedroom during the night.

She tells the beau she is no longer interested so that she is truly available only to Jens. They figure when the boat wins the race for her father, he will be able to overlook Jens's status as kitchen help and allow Lorna to marry him. Then she discovers she is indeed pregnant, and she and Jens decide to go to her parents with their intention to marry now. Their big mistake, as far as I was concerned, was not getting married first and then telling her parents - they went straight to the parents who physically removed her from him, tossed him out without a reference (leaving the boat half finished) and scooted her off to a convent to bear the child and give it up for adoption.

The issue that swayed Lorna into considering giving the child up instead of marrying Jens was how her family, especially her sisters, would be affected by her bearing a child by kitchen help - she was convinced she was ruining their lives. I guess it was meant to be a measure of her youth and immaturity that she couldn't stand up to her parents. Twice Jens tried to convince her to marry him against their wishes, and twice she refused. Finally he told her if she gave the child up for adoption, he would never forgive her and would hate her forever.

Meanwhile, Jens managed to find other funding for his boat design, built it, raced it and won hands down - to the shock of the Old School sailors at the yacht club who were laughing at his crazy ideas. This lead to his being able to start a successful boat building business, so now he could support Lorna and the baby - but she still refused him.

Their journey wasn't over - the parents managed to pull one more trick out of their hat by basically stealing the baby from Lorna at birth and putting him up for adoption with someone they knew so that they could keep tabs on him as he grew up. This seemed so incongruous to me - they wouldn't allow Lorna to keep and raise him, but they wouldn't let him out of their sight? I guess they were as conflicted as Lorna about their true feelings.

Eventually the mystery of his whereabouts is solved, and Lorna and Jens find their way to each other and to forgiveness. As usual, Spencer managed to make me feel their indecision, their anguish and their joy in reuniting, and I give this a solid 4 stars - it didn't make it to re-read status but I liked it a lot.

I still think Morning Glory is Spencer's own crowning glory - the one where she manages to truly capture the feelings of 2 people conflicted by so many outside influences who find family and acceptance and love in each other. She also made me feel the struggles and real emotions of the characters in That Camden Summer, another of my Spencer all-time favorites (I think I say this in almost every review I do). Of her contemporaries, I think Small Town Girl and Family Blessings came the closest to Morning Glory. The only 2 I really didn't like were Vows and Spring Fancy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

10 Seconds Over Tokyo, a movie

You might see a pattern here of WWII movies - PD loves 'em. Loves everything WWII-related. So we watch a lot of them.

10 Seconds Over Tokyo is about Doolittle's Raid - sound familiar? It was a major plot point in the much more recent Pearl Harbor (the movie). In this 1944 movie, Spencer Tracy plays Jimmie Doolittle, the pilot in charge of the raid to bomb Japanese war factories after Pearl Harbor. The planes have a lot of strikes against them: they aren't meant to fly from aircraft carriers, they are too heavy and must be stripped down, they can't carry much fuel. The pilots have some strikes against them too - since they can't carry enough fuel to get back, they must land in China. I believe Doolittle gives them all a phrase in Chinese to memorize, something about being an American...

This particular plot was as much a romance story as Pearl Harbor. The main pilot (after Doolittle) is played by Van Johnson - he's recently married, and his wife is newly-pregnant when he goes on the raid. Although much of the movie focuses on the build-up to the raid and the attempts of Van's crew to get his plane, the Ruptured Duck, working properly, we get a lot of story on Van and his wife (whatever their names were in the movie...). There's also a lot of character actors as the other pilots and crew - one weird tall fellow stood out, making PD and me question his accent. Tall white guy with a vaguely ebonics pattern of speech, who turns out to be from Virginia. I wasn't sure if his speech was meant to be Virginian or he was just a jiveass. I didn't exactly follow any of that, and I admit I tuned out a lot of the scenes with just soldiers yapping it up.

After the Ruptured Duck crashes into China, Van and his crew get found and taken care of by the Chinese. Van loses a leg and has facial scars, and is too embarrassed by this to admit it to his now-getting-big-with-child wife. He wants to delay seeing her until after he's fitted for a prosthetic and has surgery to cover the scars. This will take months, by the way. She is also embarrassed by her size, and afraid he won't recognize her or that he'll reject her because she's fat. Doolittle goes to see Van in the hospital after he finally returns from China, and gives him a sort of pep talk although I wasn't sure exactly what it was he said to turn Van around. Then his wife comes right on in, having been summoned by someone else, and they make up and we are left feeling they got their HEA. End of movie. See how that makes it more a romance than a story about WWII?

There was some good actual WWII footage used in the movie - not sure if it was footage of Doolittle's raid, or just similar footage of big ol' planes taking off from aircraft carriers. Considering the movie was made while the war was still in progress, it's pretty amazing. I felt like the romance story was built into the movie almost as propaganda, telling us our soldiers are all heroes and deserve a hero's welcome.

As usual, I let my mind wander during parts of the movie and didn't give it the attention a good movie deserves. However, I'd call it a 4 star movie just for the sentiments and the realistic depiction of the raid through actual footage. And Van Johnson was a cute young fellow!

The Lady Chosen and Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens *

I am choosing to lump these 2 into one review because they are both going DNF - did not finish.

I got The Lady Chosen as an audio download at some time back. I believe I mentioned it in a few posts already. I love audio books, although I don't love every audio book or narrator, and I'm pretty sure I've finished every audio book before - even the dreaded Christine Feehan Dark series, #1 and #2. I truly disliked the narrator on the Dark series, and often yanked the earplugs out of my ears in frustration because she mispronounced so many words. I even started a list of badly and wrongly pronounced words!!

I had decided that the narrator Jill Tanner on The Lady Chosen was almost as bad (but not quite) as narrator Juanita Parker of the Dark Series. Ms. Tanner's accent grated on me - I have no idea if she's a native British speaker or if she's American. But worst of all were the odd pauses - in the middle of sentences, as though the sentence ended and then just started up again.

Then I got Devil's Bride as a print book. It's on the AAR Top 100 and is the first in the Bar Cynster series that so many romance readers love. And DAMN if that trait I thought was the narrator's poor reading isn't actually a writing conceit used by Ms. Laurens. Yes, she actually ends a sentence, even a paragraph, and then starts up again with another phrase - an incomplete phrase that should have been part of the previous sentence.

Look - it isn't because it's incorrect grammar - after all, good authors can break grammar rules to create tension, mood, whatever. I'm only a stickler for grammar and spelling when it's obvious the author just did it wrong. When the incomplete phrases are used effectively to the author's advantage, it can enhance the story. I can tell Laurens uses this style of writing on purpose. Over and over. And it's damnably annoying. It's driving me nuts and has pushed both the audio book The Lady Chosen and the print book Devil's Bride into my very, very short list of DNFs.

Oh - there is one other thing about these 2 books that drove me to distraction - the heroine's lungs kept siezing. Her lungs siezed a lot when she got excited (sexually that is). I guess every author has some phrase like that she uses over and over, but that one got old after, oh, 1 time.

And Jill Tanner is hereby forgiven for trying to make Ms. Laurens' prose work as an audio book. Obviously, I'm in the minority because so many readers just love her work. Not me. DNF - 1 star.

Monday, June 23, 2008

55 Days in Peking, a movie

ok - to be absolutely honest, I didn't even really pay attention to this movie. I read a book almost the whole time. But here's a summary of my observations: Charleton Heston plays an American Marine, and David Niven plays a British ambassador, both in China during the Boxer Rebellion. The Marines are there to ensure safe conduct for the foreigners stuck in Peking. There's a Russian Baroness played by Ava Gardner. Her scandal: she slept with a Chinese man, so not only did she commit adultery but with a barbarian to boot, which made her Baron husband commit suicide. Her acting was the worst I've seen in a long time - maybe not much worse than the Anglo actors playing the Chinese characters in the movie.

I have no idea what the plot was beyond squelching the Rebellion and getting the Westerners out safely - the Baroness ended up helping as a nurse and being the love interest of Heston's character. There was a ball at which she appeared wearing some jewels and was the center of negative attention, but I wasn't sure if it was because of her scandalous ways or the jewels. Heston got to show a tender side a few times - one of his mates died and left a Chinese/American child in an orphanage, and Heston had to talk to her. He carried some orphans during a march out of town. He showed some concern for the Baroness's safety. Yeah, a real softie is our Heston.

Very forgettable for me. I'm not even going to bother to rate it. Maybe PD liked it. Apparently it's a classic and history and war movie buffs rate it highly for how it so closely depicts what actually happened.

I didn't even ask, I just kept reading my book.

Vows by LaVyrle Spencer ***

Dang it, I'm considering giving Vows 2 stars just because I finished it thinking, is that it? OK, it wasn't bad, it just was not interesting.

The hero is Tom, arriving as a newcomer to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1888, with plans to start a new life as a blacksmith running his own livery. He's left his old life behind because his fiancée jilted him for another man.

Tom goes into the local competition to stable his horses, and mistakes the heroine Emily for a young boy working on a horse's hoof. This sets Emily off - and here is where I started disliking her. After all, she was dressed in boy's clothing, she's young and thin, she's wearing her hair stuffed into a boy's cap and she's dirty - surely this is not the first time anyone thought she was a boy. She's not just set off - she immediately turns into a rude spitfire, which amuses Tom and makes her even madder.

Emily is practically betrothed to Charles, who is a childhood friend that accompanied her family out West. He's always known he would marry Emily, but she's not so sure. She's just not that turned on by him, or even by the thought of any man. It made you think maybe she was more than just a tomboy...

Then there's Emily's father, the long suffering Edwin, and her mother, the dying Josephine. Edwin and Josie were betrothed young but Edwin only had eyes for Josie's cousin Fannie. Because that was how things were done, Edwin and Josie married but moved away because he couldn't stay around Fannie. Fannie, a spitfire like her niece, stayed single but lived the life of an independent woman - she had affairs, she wore pants, she rides bicycles - whoooey!

OK - just hit me on the head right now. First Tom's long-time betrothal to his childhood sweetheart, then Emily, and then the repercussions of the same in Edwin and Josie's marriage. I GET IT - this is the opposite of the First Love story. Tom's girlfriend was brave enough to throw Tom over and break his heart. Edwin and Josie weren't and although they stayed married and had 2 kids, they never did fall in love. Now that Josie is dying of consumption, she calls on Fannie to come help her family - guess what, she did it on purpose because she's known all along about Edwin's true love for Fannie.

Now - throw in some parties with really weird parlor games - I'm going to give Spencer her due and assume she can prove these games were actually played by single 20-somethings in 1888 - and we have the bones of putting Tom and Emily in each other's ways long enough to develop a relationship. Or at least Spencer must hope it's long enough, but I myself wasn't convinced. There was one believable scene that shows the budding of their relationship. Emily's studying by mail to be a veterinarian, and goes to help a farmer with a pig. Tom goes with her because on the return trip she takes him to a ranch to buy horses. There is where their relationship is started, and maybe if there'd been more of that type of interaction I would have found it more interesting. But paying a forfeit by staying in a closet together for 5 minutes where they share their first kiss just didn't do it for me.

And Emily - well, she's young and inexperienced, and she thinks she is required to marry Charles to make her mother happy. Or something. It's like she knows it's not right, but she's stubborn and she'll by gawd make it work with Charles. Even after having a taste of actual passion with Tom, she thinks she can make it work with Charles, from whom she pulls away at every touch. I just didn't get behind her line of thought.

Then there's the HEA - yeah, they finally do what's in their hearts and go for the HEA. But the very last sentiment in the book just ruined it for me. See, Charles - now broken hearted - stays to help his BFF Tom rebuild his burned down business, then leaves town before the wedding, smart fellow that he is. He's like Tom in the beginning - he needs to go start a new life now that he's been thrown over by his girl for his best friend forever. So what do our newlyweds talk about on their wedding night? Whether or not Charles will ever come back, and Tom says yes, with both of us here, he'll be back. Yeah, right, as if Tom plans to go back to his hometown now?? Puh-leeze.

OK 3 stars, just because. But man, that last sentence just ruined it for me, big time.

The Ghost Breakers, a movie

This predates Ghostbusters by 44 years, and while I wouldn't say Ghostbusters got their ideas from it, I do think it rates as a classic horror/comedy.

The movie features a very young Bob Hope as radio personality Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence, who reads true-crime mob stories on the air. The Netflix blurb refers to him as a detective - not sure why, since he's clearly shown on his radio show... Maybe I missed something.

Anyway, he's summoned to a mob boss's hotel room after one of his shows because the story contains some truths. As he's trying to find the room (and he's scared and carrying a gun), a man is shot in the hallway - and during the shooting, Bob pulls out his gun and shoots. He thinks he killed the fellow, so he dashes into the nearest room to hide - housing Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard), who has just inherited the haunted Castilo Maldito in Cuba. She's been dealing with at least 2 people trying to buy the castle from her to keep her away, and as it turns out, one of them is the dead guy (Anthony Quinn, playing one of twins). When the cops search the hotel room, Larry hides in Mary's steamer trunk - which is picked up and put on the ship to Cuba. He and his valet Alex end up accompanying Ms. Carter to Cuba and helping her solve the mysteries of who is trying to keep her away, and whether or not the Castilo is haunted.

The special effects were really good, the comedy surprisingly funny and all in all I was glad to find it an enjoyable movie! My (admittedly limited) experience with old movies that I've never seen before is that there is a reason I haven't seen them - they generally aren't good enough to have been shown a million times on late night TV - but this is an exception to the rule.

So Bob - 4 stars! There's another movie with an almost identical plot and same actors, The Cat And The Canary that is not available on Netflix, that takes place in Louisiana.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pearl Harbor the movie

I've seen Pearl Harbor before, but PD put it back in our Netflix queue for another look (I was shocked to realize we don't own it, since PD is such a WWII buff and we own so many movies).

I realized as I watched it: Pearl Harbor has the bones of a Romance novel! It's not really about WWII, and it's not really 100% about Pearl Harbor. The story revolves around the relationship of Rafe, Danny and Evelyn. Rafe and Danny are boyhood friends - even as children Rafe stood up for Danny, whose father was apparently a bit strong-handed with his discipline. Since we only get a glimpse of this, it's not really fair to say he was abusive. Rafe's father flies crop dusters, and the boys imagine themselves as war pilots at a very young age.

Next time we see them, the two are hot-dogging it as Army pilots and get both praised and disciplined for their efforts by their superior Doolittle (of Doolittle's Raid). Rafe has volunteered to go to England to join a special group of American pilots assisting the war effort, and Doolittle tries unsuccessfully to talk him out of it. Rafe tells Danny he was assigned instead of admitting he volunteered so that Danny won't go - protecting Danny is apparently his motive.

Rafe met Evelyn, Army nurse, when getting their physicals, and they started dating. They've now fallen in love, and have a tearful goodbye when he heads off on the trip. Evelyn and Danny discuss it afterward, and Evelyn lets it slip that he went voluntarily, not as an assignment.

Rafe's plane is shot down over the English Channel, and he is presumed dead. Danny is the one to tell Evelyn, and they share a moment of grieving before going back to their own lives. Several months go by, and they meet again and get romantically involved. One thing leads to another - Evelyn gets pregnant, but doesn't tell Danny.

As it turns out, Rafe was rescued by a French sailor and has been in occupied France recuperating. When he shows up, needless to say, the balance is upset among the three of them, and all three are hurt and confused.

Now is when we get to the whole Pearl Harbor thing. Interspersed with all this romance, we see scenes of FDR and various military leaders talking about the war. Dan Aykroyd plays a military intelligence officer who has been trying to alert the higher-ups to their vulnerability in Hawaii. They are grouping all their planes and ships in one place, for one thing. But no one seems to listen to him until after the attack. Too little, too late. Day late dollar short. All that - in hindsight.

The movie directors went out of their way to create a realistic Pearl Harbor invasion scene. That's all they can talk about in the DVD extras. (wonder why they don't mention that the story is really a romance??) There are some secondary plot lines going on - Cuba Gooding Jr plays a black soldier who is assigned to a ship as a cook. We see his frustration at wanting to serve in combat but not being allowed because of his race. However, race and rank don't matter when the ships are being sunk at Pearl Harbor, and he manages to rise above and show himself a hero. There is a romance subplot with another soldier and a nurse; the nurse is killed in the attack.

Danny and Rafe manage to overcome their personal hostilities to work together during the invasion to get some planes in the air and between them shoot down 7 Japanese aircraft. Doolittle seeks them out to join his raid - a raid to show the Japanese they can and will fight back. Oh yeah, FDR finally commits to declaring war too. But the real story here is about both Rafe and Danny going off on an extremely dangerous mission. Rafe confronts Evelyn about why she betrayed him with Danny. In their argument, he learns that Evelyn is pregnant, and also that she is conflicted about which man she loves, but she tells him she is committed to Danny as the father of her child. Rafe tries once again to protect Danny, but this time it's really for Evelyn as he begs Danny not to go on the mission. Danny, not knowing about the baby, stubbornly refuses to let Rafe be the hero once again. Rafe doesn't betray Evelyn's secret, and both men go.

Spoiler alert in case you don't want to know the ending: the planes are shot down in China, which should be safe but there are Japanese troops. The Americans put up a good fight, and kill the Japanese, but not before Danny is killed. As he's dying, Rafe tells him about Evelyn's pregnancy.

Everyone knows who won the war. We get a voice-over with the details just in case. Then we see a young dark-haired boy as a toddler with Rafe and Evelyn walking arm in arm, and Rafe calls the boy Danny. It's a multi-tissue HEA worthy of any romance. 5 stars.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spring Fancy by LaVyrle Spencer ***

Spring Fancy comes across as an exercise in writing - an study in the (over)use of adjectives, adverbs and various phrases as though testing how they would look or sound.

It's an ok story, but it was contrived, or maybe forced is what I mean. The heroine, Winn, is maid of honor at her best friend's wedding when she meets the hero, Joseph - best man at same wedding. Winn is engaged to Paul, a man her mother introduced her to and that her mother thinks is the perfect match. There's some mother issues here but they're not very convincing, something about mother got pregnant at 19 then dumped by her boyfriend, raised Winn as a single parent and wants better for her daughter. Mother is interested in computers, and Paul is interested in computers. Somehow that translated into an engagement - I didn't exactly follow this train of thought.

It is a romance so needless to say, there's instant chemistry between Winn and Joseph, and since they have to be together at the wedding and dance (and Paul leaves the wedding to go play with his computers), they are given an opportunity to act on it. But she stops it - she has obligations, a fiancé, a wedding to plan, whatever.

Winn is a physical therapist - and there's something in the story about not getting emotionally involved with clients, and Spencer manages to describe a lot of equipment and stuff. There's a plot line where Winn has a young client, severely burned, and she is immediately emotionally involved. She needs to talk to someone about it, and neither Paul nor her mother will listen.

There's a part where Winn and Joseph play racquetball and we hear a lot about racquetball courts and the game (I almost wrote "learn" but I didn't follow much of it, and began to skim).

Eventually Winn and Joseph act on their desires, and Winn is faced with the fact that she has betrayed Paul and must make a choice: her own happiness, or her mother's? Oh yeah another facet of her mother is the snob thing - Joseph is a car mechanic so he isn't good enough for her.

I didn't hate this story but it was really more like paint-by-numbers than a well written, well developed plot with 3 dimensional characters. It really did feel like maybe Ms Spencer had to write this using certain guidelines instead of writing from her heart - or wherever she got the inspiration for better stories like Morning Glory and That Camden Summer. My review isn't any better than the story. There ya go. 3 stars.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cry No More by Linda Howard *****

I knew. I had read the reviews and plot summaries. I knew when I picked it up it was a book that was going to make me cry.

I didn't really know, though. I had no idea that I was going to have to put the book down, take off my reading glasses and sob uncontrollably, three times. And in addition there were the number of times tears popped up and I just kept reading.

I guess I should have known. After all, the heroine Milla has spent 10 years looking for her son Justin who was ripped from her arms as a 6-week-old infant. She had nearly died in the attack. To be able to keep living, she tirelessly ran an agency that helped authorities find missing people. Her whole life revolved around finding her son. Her husband divorced her and went on to marry again, start a new family. Her siblings wouldn't talk to her. Surely this subject, no matter the outcome at the end of the book, was going to dredge up emotions.

The hero is Diaz, a bounty hunter of sorts – deadly, silent, trained, and a lone wolf. He and she are thrown together – by chance? By design? – during an attempt to find answers about Justin's kidnapping. Diaz is drawn to Milla by her unwillingness to give up, her strength, her determination. You wonder if he's motivated in some ways by his own mother's inability to love him, to care for him as a child, contrasted with Milla's doggedness. There is nothing that will stand in her way to find out what happened to Justin – she will not give up her search for any reason. And he finds he cannot give her up either, even when he betrays her in an attempt to help her get past it, and she shuts him out.

Sometimes when I write these reviews, I sketch out the plot and some of my thoughts about the characters and their motivations. Partly because of the suspense plot, I find I don't want to give away much of the story, even though this review is really just for me. It's the story of a woman profoundly and forever affected and changed by an incident – not an accident – that has left her bereft of everything she has known. She molds herself into something she is not – she is not a warrior; she is not the tough, brave person with killer instincts she tries to be, has to be to do her job. It's the story of her relationship with a man who is the warrior she is not, who fills in the missing parts she needs to go on. It's the story of how their relationship makes it possible for her to reach the goal she has set for herself. And how she deals with all of the ramifications and aftermath of reaching her goal. She hasn't made any plans for what comes after she finds out what happened to Justin.

There is truly a supremely happy ending, not exactly what you might want for a mother whose child was kidnapped, but one that works for all the characters, and left me feeling much better than I had 100 pages earlier in the book. 5 stars, although I don't know if I can read it again.

Enchanted, the movie

OH MY this is now my absolute favorite movie! It's everything I love all wrapped into a movie - with 2 delicious hunky heroes (James Marsden as The Prince and Patrick Dempsey as Robert, a divorce lawyer) and the most wonderful fairy tale heroine, Amy Adams as Giselle. There's musical numbers, animated and live action, romance - it's truly delightful!

It starts out with a wonderfully animated Disney beginning, a true send-up of all their animated fairy tale movies with just a touch of irony. The heroine, with all her Disney animal friends, dreams up a hero but cannot imagine his lips. She sings about finding her true love with his magical kiss - meanwhile, her true love - out bagging a troll - sings along with her. He hears her, rushes to her and of course it's love at first sight and they are to be married in the morning.

Oh, but the evil queen of this country of Andalasia (Susan Sarandon) will have to give up her throne if Prince Edward marries, so she grabs Giselle before the wedding and throws her into a magic well - which pops the character up from a sewer hole in the middle of Times Square! Fully dressed in the fairy tale costume, I might add. Giselle wanders about until she happens upon Robert and his daughter, who help her out and take her home to dry off and call for help. Not that she has anyone she can call - as she said, "Oh, I don't think they can hear us from here!"

The actors playing The Prince and Giselle are so wonderful, so guileless, that I smiled the entire movie when I wasn't laughing out loud at the ingenuity of it all. Giselle starts her first day in New York by calling the animals to help her clean Robert's apartment. Well, it is New York City - so it's rats, cockroaches and pigeons, washing dishes and scrubbing toilets and singing along. At the end, a cockroach and pigeon eye each other - and SNAP the pigeon eats the roach. I about bust a gut.

Robert is finally on the verge of asking his girlfriend of 5 years to marry him, but as a divorce lawyer he's skeptical about the outcome. He admits as much to Giselle, and when Giselle shows Robert how a man should show a woman he loves her, she engages all of Central Park into a wonderful musical showstopper. Robert scowls through most of it, until the end when he too is swept into the fantasy. As a romantic gesture, Giselle has 2 doves deliver flowers and tickets to a ball to Robert's girlfriend. But it's sorta too late because it's pretty obvious Robert has now fallen head over heels for Giselle.

The Prince, having figured out the well trick, dives into the well to follow Giselle to the ends of the earth if necessary. It takes him a while to find her - he does have some help and hindrance in the form of one of his employees and an Andalasian chipmunk, who can no longer speak English in the Real World like he could in Andalasia. They dash about New York - he almost finds her in Central Park during the musical number, but manages to get knocked over by a bicycle club. Once he finds her, however, Giselle has come to the realization that her true prince is actually Robert, so she tries to find a way to delay their return to Andalasia.

She and The Prince go on a date - and damned if James Marsden doesn't look edible in his Andalasian Prince costume and a Statue of Liberty hat!! At the end of their date, they go to the ball that Robert is taking his girlfriend to, and the evil queen, realizing she must intervene before The Prince and Giselle marry (not having caught on that their relationship is on shaky grounds now), jumps into the well to offer the poisoned apple to Giselle to prevent the marriage.

Needless to say, we sit on the edges of our seats awaiting the resolution - for me, it was a no-brainer because it had to have a HEA - but how? It's wrapped up quite tidily and satisfactorily and funny too. Only the evil queen misses out on the HEA.

Well, it was a rollicking good time with so many nods to so many movies (complete with a nod to King Kong when the dragon climbs the building) that my head was spinning. Amy Adams was a delight. I just kept laughing and saying This is My New Favorite Movie! over and over. 5 Full Stars!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

To Die For by Linda Howard *****

Oh. My. God.

OMIGAWD!! My new all-time favorite novel!! Omigawd I LOVED THIS BOOK!! 10 stars out of 5 - Desert Isle Keeper.

This is the first book that I've laughed out loud almost every other page. I had to put the book down several times, and even go back and re-read passages because it is truly hysterical.

To Die For is the story of Blair Mallory, former cheerleader. Told in first person, I found her writing to be sorta like how I think - so I truly Got Her. It's a contemporary suspense romance - AAR reviews call it Suspense Lite. As in - it's suspenseful but funny (ok there's a murder and yeah that's not funny, but still...).

Blair is the owner of Great Bods, a successful gym in a small city in North Carolina. She's been divorced for 5 years, and in that period of time has had only one date that she felt any chemistry with - Wyatt.

She and Wyatt went on 3 dates, 2 years ago - the chemistry was incredibly strong for the first 2 but she didn't let them go all the way because she wasn't yet on birth control pills, and didn't trust condoms. During date #3, Wyatt was cold and ended up just leaving, no goodbye, no explanation, and she never heard from him again. So she's pissed. Royally.

The story starts out with The Murder - Blair closes the gym one night, and goes into the parking lot alone only to witness the murder of one of her clients. Wyatt is now a police lieutenant called in to work on the case. Blair gets one whiff of him, and the chemistry is still there. In Spades. Her hackles immediately go up because she is still pissed. Royally.

Now they are back together by circumstance, and he takes advantage of the situation to Stake His Claim. He has put the past they shared behind him and figures unless she actually says No to him after he's started physically seducing her, anything is fair - and he remembers her Secret Spot. Which he uses to great advantage, over and over. Of course she gives in willingly because there is that major Chemistry Thing - it's always afterward she figures they shouldn't have and insists they won't again.

While the police try to figure out the murderer, it's clear Blair is the only witness, and she tries to hide (by taking her inner beach bunny, Tiffany, on a little vacation). Wyatt didn't rise to his position in the force by not having excellent detective skills - he finds her wherever she is. And he's with her when the possible second attempt on Blair's life is made - assuming the first one was also an attempt on her life, since the first victim looked a lot like Blair.

We spend a lot of time on the 2 aspects of the story: 1, the hunt for the killer, and 2, the rekindling of the relationship between Blair and Wyatt. Early on Wyatt marks his territory: he tells his co-workers, his mother, even Blair's family, that they are engaged, and not as a sham either. Blair fights him tooth and nail - she does want a relationship, but only if there's love, which she figures could not possibly have developed this fast. I started to say she also wants commitment but he has stated his intentions rather specifically - he tells his mother Blair is going to be the mother of her future grandchildren. Sounds an awful lot like "commitment" to me. And she fights him tooth and nail as long as he isn't fondling her Secret Spot - because once he goes there, she's helpless and way more than willing.

Blair's family is great - mom, dad, 2 younger sisters - everything about the family dynamics rings true while being hysterically funny. Blair has had a loving upbringing, complete with good Southern values - and her mom is a terrific role model for a strong, independent businesswoman. There was that incident with Blair's first husband, caught on film kissing the younger sister. The sister was only 17 at the time, so Blair doesn't blame her - at least not completely. Wyatt's family is great too - his mom and his sister. We don't get to know his sister very well, but he doesn't suffer from any of those contrived family issues that keep him from being able to love.

I've liked every Linda Howard book I've read and listened to, and I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to start glomming her backlist. Open Season, which I have abridged on audio, and Mr. Perfect are both wonderful and funny and hot. To Die For is also on the AAR Top 100 list that I'm working my way through. After finishing LaVyrle Spencer's Years earlier today, I was in the mood for something light and funny - and To Die For fit the bill to a T. Truly a stupendous read and majorly deserving of 5 stars or more.

Years by LaVyrle Spencer *****

LaVyrle Spencer is such a wonderful storyteller - in addition to her characterizations of her heroes and heroines, she usually weaves a wonderful web of family and neighbors that draw me into their world as one of their own.

Years is another of these stories, one that is not just about a young naive schoolteacher and an older widowed father but also about his extended family that makes up a large part of the rural South Dakota town and their Norwegian ways of farm life. In that framework, there is a heart-warming story of how an 18-year-old brash city girl and a 34-year-old farmer meet and fall in love in 1917.

Linnea is the oldest daughter of 3, from Norwegian/Swedish family that lives in Fargo. She completes "normal school" and gets a teaching position in a small, 1-room schoolhouse in a farm town. Theodore lives near this town with his mother and his 16-year-old son Kristian - Kristian's mother abandoned the two of them when Kristian was 1, and was later killed in an accident. He has traditionally offered room and board to the area school teacher, and is at the station to pick him up when he discovers he is a she. Convinced the new teacher is too young and too wet behind the ears, he tries to convince her to just go home - but she's willful and headstrong enough to get her way.

Spencer's characters include Teddy's bachelor brother John and their other brothers and sister and their families; little first-grader Roseanne who lisps; the preacher's son Allan who is always in trouble; the traveling farm workers, including the cook Isabelle - a whole network of fully developed, 3 dimensional people I fell in love with, laughed with, and cried over.

There were no Big Misunderstandings, no Secret Pregnancies, no suspense or murder or kidnapping or any of the common plots that run the Romance engine. Just the story of meeting, living, falling in love and experiencing the circle of life. And yet this story was just as touching, as emotionally wrenching, as compelling as any of those fanciful plots that keep you on your toes and guessing.

I could describe more of the plot, but really - it's just the story of lives lived well - people who farmed, danced, played cards, fought and made up, fell ill and recovered, fell ill and died. I'm still shaken over the deaths from the Spanish flu. Spencer brings these people into my heart, into my life and makes me love them, feel their pain and joy, and leaves me wanting more.

I'm going with 5 stars - I was thinking 4, but now that I've thought it over, I truly loved this story.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught ****

Whitney, My Love is apparently quite a controversial Romance novel - one that most readers seem to love or hate right off the bat. I'm going to go with love - with some caveats.

I read it as part of my "read all the AAR Top 100 Romance Novels" challenge I issued to myself sometime this year. It's a book that is often discussed on the Romance forums I frequent, so I was curious to see where my own opinion would fit in with everyone else's.

The story takes place from 1815 - 1820 in England and Paris.

Whitney is our heroine - hoyden that she is, at age 15 she is desperately in love with Paul, a neighbor 10 years her elder, and seeks to impress him with such tomboyish feats as riding a horse bareback - standing up. She is a laughingstock amongst her country neighbors, who live to gossip and make her the center of it all. While she cannot sing or play the pianoforte or do needlework, she is fluent in several languages, plays chess masterfully and is in all ways not a lady. Her backstory: mother died when she was 5; father doesn't have a clue how to handle her and is cold and unloving. At the beginning of the story, her mother's sister and husband come to take her back with them to Paris, where her husband is stationed as a diplomat, so they can teach her the ways of gentle women and high society.

Clayton Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore, is our hero. The 34-year-old rake/rogue (and the difference is...?) who has mistresses galore and dallies with women but never gives his heart or offers marriage is introduced to Whitney in Paris and is beguiled. She doesn't remember even meeting him, but he decides to win her - and does so by buying her father out of enormous debt in exchange for her hand in marriage. Oh, without Whitney's knowledge, I might add. (Oops.) He plans to woo her as just another country gentleman, and purchases property next to her father's so he can be close enough to be handy. Her father calls her back from Paris (it's now 4 years later...) so that the plan can be put in motion.

When she comes back from Paris, not knowing she is already betrothed, she goes about winning the heart of her first love Paul. The fact that her new neighbor Clayton Westland is always around, escorting her about and dancing with her, doesn't stand in her way of her goal.

McNaught paints Whitney, while headstrong and taken to acting before thinking, as truly goodhearted, and though she does occasionally lie to get her way, she isn't intentionally cruel. She paints Clayton, however, as arrogant and with the temper of an abuser that he only barely leashes. But she also shows him to be exceedingly passionate and truly smitten with Whitney. Oh and he sorta jumps to wrong conclusions which complicates matters. Twice. Bad.

Apparently in the first version of this book, released in the late 70s or early 80s, he both beats her and rapes her. In the updated version I have, the beating scene is changed and he stops before actually doing it. In the rape scene, while what he does could be construed as rape, it comes across more as forced seduction - it seems this is a common feature in "early" romances (that is, 70s and 80s) that is not used as much anymore due to our more PC sensibilities. Of course, his inclination is indeed rape - he is forcing her to have sex as punishment, and is angry with her. That he pulls back before it is rape (and realizes it) and then seduces her, it doesn't change the fact that he is still angry with her and hurts her.

This was a Big Book: 708 pages in paperback. Even so, the only part I found too long or that didn't really fit was the story about his brother Stephen at the end. She wrote a sequel for Stephen, Until You, and I guess she was setting us up for Stephen's story. However, his story did go on and on, and then didn't end well, plus it didn't exactly fit or have anything to do with our hero and heroine, so it seemed out of place.

Her writing is good, and I was never bored or exasperated with the story in spite of the 2 Big Misunderstandings that occurred. Whitney showed remarkable growth as a person over the course of the book (I did wonder where she got some of her wisdom, since she didn't exactly have the best role models growing up - perhaps from her aunt and uncle?). I was moved by the emotions she experienced - I should say that Clayton put her through since he was such a bastard! I didn't really hate him, but I was glad that at the end she found a way to make her point: if you have a problem with my behavior, stupid, just ASK ME instead of making assumptions! It was a truly satisfying ending (I kept harboring this secret fear McNaught was going to kill Whitney, from some review or forum post I read but she does not) that also revealed some Claymore ancestors about which McNaught wrote another book, A Kingdom of Dreams.

I considered 5 stars for this book but in the end went with 4 - liked it very much but don't plan to re-read it anytime soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Gamble by LaVyrle Spencer

I am having another "how to rate" issue with this book. I liked it. I didn't love it, but I did like it. I'm not sure I would read it again (and dang if it isn't water damaged, so I can't trade it back to PBS). But it was a good story.

But a Good Story by Spencer is better than a mediocre story by, say, Lisa Kleypas, in my opinion. So I rated it 3 but it's better than some I rated 3. But it's not as good as some Spencers I rated 4.

Oh what to do?

Here's the plot: a Southern gentleman, Scott, is our hero. He fought in the Civil War for the South. He was raised on a Mississippi plantation that had 1200 slaves. His 2 brothers and his parent died in the war and his young wife and daughter were killed after the war. He now owns this huge plantation, but is all alone. He strikes out on his own and develops a sort of family, with 3 ex-prostitutes, a couple of musicians and a bartender. He heads to Podunk, Kansas (OK, that isn't the name of the town...) to open a saloon, complete with gambling and dancing girls. He purchases a property that houses 2 businesses and 2 apartments.

The current resident of 1 apartment and 1 business is our heroine, uptight spinster milliner Agatha. Agatha is alone in the world, running her dead mother's hat business. Her father, alcoholic abuser that he was, died penniless and miserable years ago, after he pushed Agatha down a flight of steps that has left her limping since age 9. She gets swept into temperance fever and vows to shut down the Gilded Cage, Scott's new saloon, soon after he opens it.

So they start out as enemies. She campaigns along with other women in her area by singing and praying and making nuisances of themselves outside the bars. But that doesn't dampen the spirits of the cowboys coming through town or the resident drunks either, including the father of 5-year-old Willy, whose mother is dead. Agatha finds Willy outside the Gilded Cage one night, dirty, hungry and scared, and takes him under her wing.

Scott is also beguiled by Willy, and between the 2 of them, Agatha and Scott become foster parents of sorts. Willy's father is killed in a barroom brawl, and then Willy lives in a back room at the Gilded Cage. See, now Agatha and Scott become friends of sorts because of Willy.

There's some plot twists and turns. Scott is currently sleeping with one of the dancer/ex-prostitutes even though one of the musicians sorta has a thing for her and admittedly neither she nor Scott are that much invested in their relationship. Agatha regrets her zealousness about prohibition when she realizes that it will close the Gilded Cage and she'll lose her friends and pseudo-family that they've become, although she continues to do things like write letters to the governor. There's a sort of suspense plot: who is leaving the anonymous threatening letters? And then there's the question of what will become of Willy if Scott leaves town.

Of course, Spencer's writing is still wonderful even if the plot isn't as interesting as others she's written. It's almost a paranormal - there's a ghost; it's almost a sequel - the DuFraynes of Hummingbird make an appearance.

The Gamble of the story is when Agatha has to choose whether to move to Mississippi to be Willy's governess even though she doesn't know what Scott's feelings are for her. She would rather be his wife than his employee, but she gambles that she will get her wish if she makes the move. If she doesn't move, she's doomed to spinsterhood in Kansas.

In the end it sorta left me going - ok, what's next? and not sighing or smiling, like I like to do after a satisfying story. So I'm going with 3 stars. She's still a better writer than Lisa Kleypas.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Fulfillment by LaVyrle Spencer

Another day, another (short) book. The Fulfillment is apparently Spencer's first book, if publication date is any indicator.

It's a completely different plot from any romance novel I've read. There are 3 people, Jonathan Gray, his wife Mary and his brother Aaron. When the Gray brothers' parents were killed, the will stipulated that the house went to Aaron, and the farmland to Jonathan. Mary grew up in Chicago, and came to their rural midwest area to visit her aunt - while she was there, her father died, and she stayed on at her aunt's until she married Jonathan.

Jonathan and Mary and Aaron share the house and the land and its bounty. A few years into the marriage, Aaron left the farm to live in the city, to give Jonathan and Mary some privacy. But after a year there, he was unhappy, and Jonathan needed him on the farm, so he came back. Seven years have passed since Mary and Jonathan wed - and as the story opens it's 1910, and we learn that Jonathan is probably sterile from childhood mumps, and has decided after much pondering to ask Aaron to sire a child with Mary.

I had a hard time getting into Jonathan's head in this book. Somehow he spent a lot of time thinking about having a child, and has reconciled himself to the necessity of asking Aaron to be the father. Mary does wish for a child, but not obsessively so, and has been following the advice of a doctor to have sex when she is most likely to be fertile, to no avail. She loves Jonathan, however, and is appalled when he announces his intentions to her and Aaron.

Aaron is also appalled - he had been courting Priscilla, a neighbor, but was reluctant to marry her because he doesn't really love her. In fact, he recently told her he wasn't ready for commitment, and she broke up with him. However, he can't believe what Jonathan has asked him to do - how could he sleep with his brother's wife? In his frustration, he goes back to Priscilla, but she won't have him back. And now that Jonathan has brought the proverbial elephant into the room, it's all Aaron can think about - and Aaron realizes there is an attraction between him and Mary.

To further complicate matters, Mary also becomes acutely aware of her relationships with each brother. Jonathan, her husband and lover, isn't very attentive. He doesn't notice when she dresses up for him. He doesn't offer courtesies and help. But Aaron does. They all go to a dance together, and somehow Jonathan disappears and Aaron ends up dancing with Mary, confusing both their feelings for the other even more.

Jonathan has another dream: to start a cattle ranch, raising Angus cattle instead of farming the land. He has been researching this for a while, and plans a trip out of town to buy a bull at a time when neither Mary nor Aaron can accompany him. It seems his trip is planned to accomplish both his goals: buy his bull and throw Mary and Aaron together to conceive a child. Everything in his life is about procreation, and when he can't do it himself, he'll just see that it gets done under his control.

While he's gone, Aaron and Mary become more and more aware of their growing attraction. The temptation is too much and they give in to what has now become both their desires. Poor Mary - Aaron has more experience with women than Jonathan, and she discovers sexual joys she has never felt before. To top it off, it's her fertile time as well, and she conceives. Her love shifts completely from Jonathan to Aaron, and she is thoroughly conflicted about Jonathan's return and his place in her heart.

This isn't the first Spencer book I have read with a story line for which there can be no completely happy ending. In Twice Loved, the hero returns from 5 years at sea to discover he's been declared dead and his best friend has married his wife. In Home Song, the hero, married 18 years, learns for the first time he fathered a child with another woman 1 week before his marriage to his then-pregnant bride, so now he has 2 sons the same age. Home Song was easier to resolve than Twice Loved, but still brought a lot of pain and anguish to so many people. But in The Fulfillment, the one I couldn't comprehend was Jonathan. Was he simple? Deluded? At one point, Aaron says to him that he (Aaron) would kill any man who slept with his wife. Jonathan knows - they all acknowledge the child is Aaron's, out loud, to each other. But Jonathan keeps his eyes on the prize - the end justifies the means for him. If he feels anything negative at all, Spencer doesn't say.

I found it interesting that I dreamed of tornadoes last night, long before I read the scene in the book where a tornado changes the direction of their lives, leading to a HEA that is not completely happy for everyone involved. It's almost more like her last book, Then Came Heaven, in that perhaps providence played a part.

Spencer's writing is wonderful, as always, and I enjoyed the journey even though she never let me get inside Jonathan's head enough to understand him. I'm somewhere between 3 and 4 stars on this one.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Godfather part 1, the movie

I think I may have seen The Godfather movie over a dozen times by now. I also read the book, I guess close to the time it was published in 1969, and definitely before it was a movie.

My first time to see it was in Brazil in the early 1970s. I went with my parents, and had to use my older sister's American driver's license because I wasn't old enough to get in, even with my parents. Maybe that was a Brazilian thing, because I'm sure it wasn't X rated in the States*. I've never forgotten the scene with Sonny's wife at the wedding, a scene that would only make sense if you had read the book, where she shows with her hands the size of his package. That's one of those book-to-movie issues - the director can put a picture in to show something the author wrote, but only the actual words on paper can describe it for you. (Otherwise you might think she had been fishing, unless you read the book and learned Sonny was hung like a horse and had a hard time finding women to accommodate him.)

PD likes this movie a lot, so it gets pulled off the shelf for re-viewing often when we're between Netflix picks. Now that I know it by heart, the scenes seem to come too fast - it seems too early when Don Corleone is shot and hospitalized, too soon when Sonny is murdered, Michael's marriage to Apollonia seems too rushed. And I still think the horse's head scene, while grisly, just doesn't do justice to the way Mario Puzo describes it in the book. The horse's head is too small, and the white blaze isn't the same as on the horse they show.

That's the thing about books made into movies - it's the director's vision of the story. No - it's the director's vision of the screenwriter's vision of the story. However, it's been almost 40 years since I read it, and only 1 day since I watched the movie. They did do a good job of recreating Puzo's story, actually, and it's a good movie, if gritty and violent. Of course, the actors and the acting are incredible - a whole slew of silver screen greats - Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton. 5 stars.

*I see that the movie was released in 1972 - it's possible I saw it in Mexico instead, since we moved to Mexico from Brazil in October of 72. I just can't recall, but it seems it took months for movies and music to be released in Brazil after the Stateside release. It's an unimportant detail to anyone but me, who remembers it being Brazil... I even have a clear memory of going in after holding my breath to see if they would accept my sister's driver license for identification.

A Game of Chance by Linda Howard ****

I've been a Howard/Mackenzie series fan since I downloaded the first 3 in the series on audio from Unfortunately for me, the first one is abridged, and I keep thinking one day I'll get the book so I know what I missed.

The first one is Mackenzie's Mountain, and it's the story of Wolf Mackenzie, half breed, and Mary, a teacher, new to town. She meets Wolf when she goes to track down a student, his son Joe. I'm not doing a review of that one here, suffice it to say there's an attraction, there's an obstacle or 2 and Mary and Wolf get married. I gave it 3 stars, probably because it's abridged. They go on to have 3 boys and a girl (after the book ends), and Howard wrote stories for Joe (Mackenzie's Mission), Zane (Mackenzie's Pleasure), and daughter Maris (Mackenzie's Magic). They also adopted a homeless teenager, and A Game of Chance is his story - his name is Chance Mackenzie.

Since it wasn't on audio, and the reviews were mixed, I've avoided getting Chance's story. But last week in Safeway, there it was on the rack. On a day when I paid full price for Susan Andersen and Julia Quinn, it seemed only fair for me to pay full price (really full price) for a Linda Howard book, so got stuck in the cart next to colas and pizza.

I should have known better than to trust the reviews, and I found Chance's story heart warming if slightly shorter and therefore less satisfying than a full book, at only 200-some-odd pages.

We get Chance's backstory in the prologue, although to be honest, I'm thinking it's in one of the other books as well. He was found by Mary, sick with pneumonia, at about age 14. He had never known his name, his birthdate, or even had a family or any socializing at all. She managed to somewhat tame him while he recuperated in the hospital, and with the enormous amount of patience and love she and Wolf gave him, he became almost civilized. He does manage to be able to love his entire adopted family, including all the nephews his brothers bring into the world as well as the infamous Nick, the one niece introduced in the epilogue to Mackenzie's Pleasure. It's a kind of family joke that the Mackenzie children can only have boys -and then when Nick comes into the world, she's a holy terror that keeps everyone constantly on their toes.

His life now revolves around his career as a... well, they never put a name to it. Operative? He operates some covert company that does what the US Government isn't allowed to do, going all over the world tracking down and neutralizing the bad guys. AKA assassinating them. You know, the kind of guy who can sneak up on you without your knowing it, carrying all kinds of unheard of and illegal weaponry on his 6'3", 250 lbs of solid muscle body. Zane is also involved. Both were trained by the government but are now off on their on. Sorta like Elizabeth Lowell's St Kilda Consulting, only there is no name.

The book opens with Chance meeting with Zane to discuss a terrorist who has eluded them for years. He's located the terrorist's daughter, and assumes she is in cahoots with her father, Crispin Hauer. He has a plan to track her down and use her to get to Hauer. While he's discussing this, he's bottle-feeding one of Zane's twins, while Zane feeds the other. This gives us a chance to see the downy underside of both these lethal killers and plants the seed in our brains that he's a soft touch for kids. Seed, hell, it's a full grown redwood tree in Howard's hands.

Heroine Sunny Miller has been on the lam since before she was born. Her mother left her father while pregnant with Sunny, taking her older sister with her. She spent years underground, training herself and her 2 daughters in keeping hidden, and committed suicide rather than reveal the whereabouts of them when they were teenagers. The girls were actually adopted and raised by another couple to help hide their identities. Think Terminator and Linda whasshername. Her current occupation is actually unrelated to her father's activities - she's a courier. Well, she accompanies packages by airplane, not bicycle and messenger bag. Chance discovers her when a package she was carrying was stolen and made the news.

He assumes (that's 2x for him now) the packages she carries are also associated with terrorist activities as well. He has a plan: he will run her to ground by messing up her latest delivery and then pretending to be her savior. He pretty much lies through his teeth to her about everything, gains her trust and she doesn't even realize she's being kidnapped instead of being helped.

However, he miscalculated on one important issue: Cupid's arrow. Yeah, he was going to use her, boff her, and dump her, all to get her to reveal her father's whereabouts. Dang if he didn't find himself falling for her instead. She's confusing him - she shows her survival smarts which reinforce his assumptions about her involvement, then she reveals another side which negates them. And she's already fallen for him in a big way, even knowing how she must drop him when they return to civilization to keep him from getting involved in her life on the lam.

Once he decides she isn't involved, bastard that he is, he decides to use her as bait to draw in the old man. He knows this will mean the end of the relationship even though now he doesn't want to end it. The Mission of neutralizing the target is all important, more important than his own desires.

This is the part that gets a little dicey for me. 1, I had a hard time accepting that a terrorist would chase his grown daughters around the globe for a couple of dozen years for the reason she reveals. 2, there's a betrayal in Chance's organization which is introduced in Zane's book - and I just didn't follow the logic. 3, there's obviously a word-count restriction on this book, because she wraps it up neat and tidy and way too quickly at the end. I think this is the criticism many people have for it - Sunny forgives Chance way too handily after the crap he's given her.

But I teared up at the end, in the epilogue, at the name they choose for their first born son - a tribute to Howard's skill with words. Oh, come on, that's no spoiler - you knew it was a romance and they had a HEA! 4 stars.

I do have to add that I feel cheated that 2 of the Mackenzie boys didn't get their own books, or even a part as the secondary romance. Of course, she's still writing, so maybe one day...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Then Came Heaven (audio) by LaVyrle Spencer ****

I've been sorta getting away from audio books recently - not sure why. I downloaded Diana Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn in April, and decided to do a full listen starting with Outlander. But I've cooled off a little from the Outlander experience (thank gawd because it was eating me alive) and so I haven't rushed through them, and even though I decided to go to a 2-credit-a-month plan, I've slowed down in buying audio books in general.

I stopped in the middle of Dragonfly in Amber to work on Stephanie Laurens' Bastion Club book #1, The Lady Chosen. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, that narrator (Jill Tanner) is driving me crazy. So many pauses - complete stops end sentences that should have been slight pauses for a comma. Me, who listens to an audio book a day, and I have been working on it for days, weeks. I have given up and might actually not even finish it!

So I shifted over to Then Came Heaven. Like That Camden Summer, the audio quality is pretty poor, and there are some squeaks and squawks in it. Also the volume is a little wonky in places. The narrator is Amy Irving - not sure if it's The Amy Irving as in the movie star. She's a little better than average, tops. She uses accents well enough, but doesn't do much in the way of creating different voices for non-accented characters. And with the poor sound quality, it's hard really to tell.

The book opens with the heart-wrenching death of the hero's wife Krystyna when her car is hit by a train. Eddie is left with 2 young daughters to raise. Krystyna was truly loved by everyone in the small Polish-American community, including the nuns of St Joseph, where Eddie works as janitor and where both girls attend parochial school. True to form for Ms. Spencer, you grieve and mourn along with Eddie, with his family and with Krystyna's family over the senseless loss of this saintly young mother.

Somehow from reading reviews, I got the wrong idea about the heroine in this book. Sister Regina (aka Jean) is a nun and teaches both of Eddie's daughters. She has been a nun for about 10 or so years, and apparently had been questioning her vocation for about a year at the time of Krystyna's death. I'm not sure why I went into this book thinking she was no longer a nun at the beginning of the book (that the nun part was only backstory) - in fact, she doesn't even request dispensation until more than halfway through the book, and it's near the end that she receives it. That makes building any relationship well past impossible, it would seem. Instead the first half of the book is spent mourning Krystyna (Sister Regina also mourns) and developing the reasons for Sister Regina's dissatisfaction.

In spite of it being so much about why Sister cannot abide her life in the religious community, Spencer is nothing but thoughtful and respectful of the nuns' lives. She spends a lot of time lovingly describing their customs and lifestyle. Even though she makes a good case for why Sister Regina questions her vows, and God knows I could never lead the type of life they live, she doesn't make a strong case against joining a religious community either.

Spencer also spends time developing Eddie's life as a widower - he manages to go on, as best as he can, with the loving support of his large extended family. He attends dances, and family gatherings, and he dallies a little with Krystyna's sister Irene just to test how it might be to have another woman in his life. When Sister Regina reaches out to him, he finds he can talk to her about how he is doing, what he is feeling, and a kernel of the relationship begins to appear.

Sister Regina's dissatisfaction really comes to a head when she realizes she can't ever comfort the girls because she isn't allowed to hug or even touch them, to talk to them outside of what her teaching duties require, to show any kind of emotion. Then she begins to notice things about Eddie, things she finds attractive about him. All of this makes her question her vows to the point that she confesses to the priest. It seems she hasn't been successful in hiding her feelings and the priest isn't surprised at all. (At this point I couldn't help but think of Maria von Trapp.)

Slowly, over time, as Eddie begins to heal, he also begins to notice Sister Regina. Of course, he doesn't even know what color her hair is. She cannot show even her wrists - the only part of her body he has ever seen is just the face that shows through her wimple/gimp. Imagine.

This book takes us from a heart-breaking beginning, through a long, slow, healing search for guidance, to the development of the relationship between Jean and Eddie at the end. A heart-breaking moment for me was when Jean gets her dispensation and is whisked away from St Joseph without being allowed to tell anyone goodbye, not even her students. The students are told she is gone because Jesus needed her somewhere else, which is exactly the way the girls are told their mother died. I actually gasped out loud at this point, feeling the jolt of pain the girls felt when they thought Jean had also died.

There's no mystery, no true suspense, just the story of the developing relationship between Jean and Eddie - it's a Romance, and by definition the hero and heroine get their happy ending, so we know that eventually they overcome the obstacles, including the objections of her family. It's the touching way Spencer builds this tension that makes her stories so memorable.

I'm going with 4 stars for this one for the story, with no points off for the poor quality and mediocre narration. I think I also ordered the book.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Strictly Ballroom, a movie

Last night's movie: Strictly Ballroom. Wow - what a fun watch it was!

My very first impression was that it was by the same director as Best In Show, Christopher Guest, because it has that mockumentary feeling. The various characters are being interviewed about Scott, a young Australian ballroom dancer who is feeling rebellious and wants to use some of his own steps in his dances - steps that aren't Strictly Ballroom. His parents run a dance academy and all of the characters are as invested in competitive ballroom dancing as the Best In Show folks are in dog shows - that is to say, beyond obsessive.

The costumes, the hair, the personalities - way over the top, which made it that much more fun. When Scott dances, it's incredible. When the others dance, you laugh out loud because although they are good, they're so fake! But Scott does some incredible not-strictly-ballroom dancing in a competition, and his partner leaves him.

It's all about winning the big local competition. Without a partner, Scott has no chance - so they audition dancers (this smacked of the auditions in Waiting For Guffman). Meanwhile, ugly duckling novice dancer Fran approaches him in the studio after hours and offers to dance with him. She's not very experienced, but she has a secret - she's Hispanic (not sure of her background, but her parents speak Spanish) and her father is a very good Latin dancer. Fran and Scott practice every day after hours, without anyone knowing, and one day he walks her home and gets challenged by her papa to dance the Paso Doble at a party. When everyone at the party laughs at his attempt, papa and grandma show Scott how it's done - and then stay up all night teaching him.

OK, nothing else in this movie is exactly realistic, but the growing affection between Scott and Fran is so touching and real. He tells her at one point that the love they must show dancing the Rhumba, the "Dance of Love", is only pretend, but you can see it in their eyes that it's growing into something more.

When the pre-competition finals come along, we learn that one of the men is retiring from one of the top couples (to devote more time to his landscaping career - LOL!) leaving a top, experienced female to be Scott's partner. He is torn - because he really does want to win, and this dancer is much more likely to help him do that. But he also feels a loyalty to Fran who has spent so much time working on their dance. In the end, he feels he can't let himself and his parents down by risking the championship, and chooses the other woman.

Of course, that isn't the end - and there's about 4 other plot lines going on (soooo confusing). Fran and Scott were about the cutest couple I've seen in a movie in a long time - his dancing was truly wonderful, but his face - what a wonderful face! His affection for Fran was so blatant, and her change from ugly duckling to Latin dancer was subtle and genuine.

4 stars for some laugh out loud moments and the wonderful love story (did I mention it's an Australian film?)

The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn ***

I didn't like it.

I'm bummed. Julia Quinn is one of my favorite authors, although admittedly I haven't loved everything she's written. But this time I just didn't like it. However - I can't bring myself to actually rate it less than 3 stars because... I'm not sure why not. I didn't hate it.

The hero is Captain Jack Audley. We meet him when he stops a carriage to rob the occupants - dowager Duchess of Wyndham and her companion Grace. The dowager immediately recognizes Jack as the very likeness of her son, dead 29 years. He robs her of a ring which is the twin of one he wears, which proves to him he's related as well. And he admits to Grace his name was once Cavendish, the family surname.

Grace has been the dowager's paid companion since her parents died 5 years ago, leaving her not much but a good upbringing. Her choices were minimal at the time - marry her awful cousin who inherited the property, or...? Even though the dowager is pretty much dreadful from the word go, Grace is grateful because... ok, not sure why, because frankly I'm not sure the cousin option could have been much worse. At least she doesn't have to sleep with the duchess, right?

Somehow I think we're supposed to feel the immediate spark betwixt Jack and Grace during the robbery. The dowager shoves Grace at Jack to hold at gunpoint while she retrieves her reticule from the carriage, and... And... I think that is when we are all supposed to realize they are soul mates.

The next day, Jack finds himself sorta looking around the ducal holdings from afar, just out of curiosity, and there's Grace, several football fields away - but of course, being soul mates, their eyes are drawn to one another and... And... Next thing you know, the dowager has kidnapped Jack. See, she's decided he's definitely the offspring of her dead son which makes him legally the Duke - a title currently being held by Thomas, her other grandson.

Thomas is a likable enough fellow - in fact, he's the hero of the sequel. He's the usual Quinn duke - he fulfills his responsibilities, he knows all the tenants and all that, he's got this fiancée to whom he's been betrothed literally since birth but hasn't set the wedding date, he's got a mistress somewhere, he's almost like a brother to Grace. The fiancée is Amelia, younger sister to Grace's best friend Elizabeth. Amelia is the heroine of the sequel, so we know she's going to get her HEA.

So we now have this obstacle - is Jack the legitimate son of John Cavendish, the dowager's favorite son? And if so, can he marry Grace since she's not of the nobility? They must all journey to Ireland to find the marriage records (nobody ever mentions then finding his birth record to prove he was born of them, by the way...).

Jack spends some time thinking and dreaming about his past to reveal his backstory. His father went to Ireland, married an Irish girl, they had Jack then drowned on their way to England, leaving infant Jack behind with her sister. Jack was raised with his cousins in a happy household, denied nothing, everything was fine. It's not like he ever knew his parents, and he gets a great family to boot. But he has a secret (ok, he's dyslexic - really it wasn't that big a deal and meant zero to me when revealed) that made it impossible for him to get a good education. Instead he joined the military, and I guess he fought in the Napoleonic wars alongside his cousin, who died in battle. Yeah, yeah, guess what, he feels completely and thoroughly responsible for killing his cousin the same as if he'd done the deed hisself.

This part really had me scratching my head. First he thinks he killed his cousin, so he doesn't want to go to Ireland to face his aunt and uncle. That leads me to believe he has not yet faced them since the death. Nope, he took the body home and they buried him in Ireland and had a funeral and everything - so how does he decide he can't face them when he already HAS faced them?? In fact, I guess we're supposed to realize this is why he became a highwayman, out of his great guilt. No - wait - maybe he became a highwayman to be Robin Hood, because it's also revealed that he gives all the takings to disabled soldiers or families left fatherless by dead soldiers.

Oh yeah, don't forget about Grace - well, I think we're supposed to realize how much Grace and Jack are meant to be together while the story unfolds. I missed that part. And I think it might have been the writing.

Short sentences. Lots of them. Lots of short sentences and short paragraphs, repeating the same things. Over and over.

Three word sentences in 2 line paragraphs which say what the sentence before said, repeated. Over. And. Over.

And over. (With lots of parenthetical asides.)

Like it was written by an ADD mind. Wait - maybe that's it - Jack was ADD with dyslexia.

I didn't hate it - I didn't feel the need to toss it in the air - there weren't a lot of typos and grammar errors (ok, there was one place I was positive she meant to say Jack but wrote Grace, and then there was that sentence that had Grace waiting for the awaited something-or-other that nearly had me banging the book against the wall...).

I don't think I can read it again. It's on the Wish List at PBS so I guess I'll post it and share it with someone else. Look, I did my part - I paid (almost) full price for it, which is something I haven't done for a hard copy of a book in a long time. (I did buy it at Walmart, so that sullies the issue slightly.)

I'm thinking maybe 2.75 stars which I'll put as 3.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Getting Lucky by Susan Andersen *****

Oh man, can this woman write good stuff or what??? Getting Lucky is book #2 in the "Marine" series, and our hero is Zach, whom we met in the first book Head Over Heels. He was Coop's friend who came in for the wedding (right? for the wedding? or earlier?) whatever. (I cannot believe I don't already have book 4, Coming Undone, in my PBS queue...)

Zach is single, rich and still in the Marines. Zach has a younger sister that he feels responsible for. Zach's upbringing was an emotional wasteland, with 2 doctor parents who raised him to the age of 11 in Africa, then sent him and his infant sister Glynnis off to live with Stateside grandparents while they stayed to provide medical care to the less fortunate. Parents and grandparents are now dead, and sister is coming into her inheritance in a few months. Zach's big fear for his sister: gold diggers taking all her money because she's such an easy touch and pretty dang irresponsible too. And now he's on a month leave and he's gonna straighten Glynnis out.

Lily met Glynnis and developed a friendship. Glynnis, soft touch that she is, invites Lily to live with her in Zach's mansion temporarily, complete with lease (at Lily's insistence). Lily is a chef who works on corporate yachts, going on several day to several week cruises, and is between living arrangements. Lily is actually trying to help Glynnis - she teaches her to reconcile her bank statement, and tries to help her economize. Then Zach shows up - Lily's there in his house, and Glynnis is gone.

What's Zach to think but that Lily is sponging off Glynnis? Especially when he finds out Glynnis has left with her fiancé David to meet his parents - a fiancé Zach is sure is another gold digger.

Of course it kinda messes with his head that, while he immediately takes a dislike to Lily and wants her out of the house, he also has an immediate attraction to her. Man. I hate when that happens!!

Lily finds him boorish, dictatorial, rude and, dammit, sexy as hell. Man - I really hate when that happens!!

We have 2 suspense plots to deal with - first, a young Colombian native feels he has been insulted by Zach on a recent Marine mission, and he plans the old Eye for an Eye trick. His Colombian girlfriend apparently got hot and heavy with one of the Americans during the mission, consensually, but Miguel doesn't care about that old consenting part. He just wants revenge by taking Zach's woman. That's assuming Lily is Zach's woman - well, Miguel doesn't know that she's not. He's sorta not that smart, really.

Then, when Zach and Lily show up unannounced at the fiancé's mother's mansion (oh, yeah, by the way, David isn't a gold digger after all, being wealthy himself), they learn sister and fiancé have been kidnapped, and get involved in the rescue attempt. This part brings Coop and Ronnie into the picture, as well as the next Marine, John.

Once we get the kidnapping all solved, Zach takes Lily out on a real date, during which she makes mention of how they went about their relationship backwards. Ooops. Relationship? That sends Zach into a tailspin, because frankly he just hasn't taken a moment to think one way or the other about it, and now that the subject is on the table, he's got cold feet. It doesn't help that Lily admits she's in love with him - and his reaction is to backpedal, big time. That sends Lily out the restaurant door, right into Miguel's arms...

Once again, Andersen writes witty dialog, zany but believable plot twists - love the thing about Miguel not liking Lily's "chews" aka shoes! And have I mentioned about 5000 times how great her hot love scenes are? And sweaty stableboy - indeed.

The AAR Review mentions a "secondary romance" and that has me thumbing through the book looking around. Oh, wait, does she mean David's cousin Jessica and her husband Christopher? I didn't really consider it a secondary romance as much as just another story line. Maybe I'm wrong, because they do have a relationship issue and work it out, but it hardly earned the title "secondary" in my book. Parts of the story with David's family actually seemed a little superfluous, thrown in to sorta mix things up and confuse the reader about who the bad guy was. And frankly, I'm still mad at Zach for flirting with another woman while Lily does the dishes.

To be honest, as I read, I didn't find this book quite as endearing as Head Over Heels either. However I did finish with another smile on my face - her writing just manages to do that to me. The AAR reviewer didn't like Zach too much, but how can you not like a guy who finally admits he's ready for a relationship and in the next breath says, "So what do we do now? Do we get married?" Insert big grin here. 4.5 stars.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bitter Sweet by LaVyrle Spencer ****

I took a little break from the fun, sexy books by Susan Andersen and picked up a new-to-me LaVyrle Spencer book. I knew it would be different, although I have really liked Spencer's style of capturing how people feel, how their feelings are mirrored in the other.

I also knew going in that this book contained infidelity, which is a hot button for Romance readers in general. I wondered if it was still a hot button for me.

This was a First Love story - I was frustrated by never learning why they broke up and married other partners. But in Spencer's story, there was a soul-mate attraction, a conceit of the romance genre that may or may not have a real world application.

I don't know if the theory of Soul Mate really exists - meaning, there is 1 person to whom you become eternally bonded just after meeting each other. Or maybe Soul Mate theory allows for a courtship, but basically it transcends all other loves, no matter what transpires - once Soul Mates, always Soul Mates, across time, across space. I tend to believe more in the "love builds" theory - where there needs to be chemistry first, so that you meet and court, but then comes a series of deposits, so to speak, where each person fills the needs and wants of the other to maintain the relationship. Where it is entirely possible to fall out of love if the needs and wants are not met, and also to work back into love again with the right actions. Where love can dissipate if not fed, whether by imagination (keeping First Love alive fantasy) or by actions. I think you can feed your own "love bank" with your imagination, but it might go away if you were to actually be in the presence of the person you imagined and that person didn't continue to make "deposits". That sorta negates the Soul Mate theory, which would be that no matter what happened, she is for him and he for her, under all circumstances.

So, in this story, the hero and heroine, First Lovers as teens, were both married to others, and the heroine's husband has died in an accident. The story opens near the 1-year anniversary of his death, and Maggie is attending grief therapy, still struggling with getting over it. The counselor suggests contacting friends from her past, with the idea that going over happy memories of a time when life wasn't so complicated would help put her life in perspective. Specifically, high school friends. She contacts a friend from her home town , who puts her in touch with other friends, one her first love Eric. Although she balks at contacting him, she does anyway. They're adults, after all, having grown and changed, right? (well, not if you buy the soulmate theory, see?)

Eric is married to Nancy, who Spencer draws as a pretty tightass bitch, to be honest. Although they declare their love, and make love when we first meet them, pretty soon we see that Nancy is selfish and cold and not satisfied with life in Eric's small town. She's got a career that keeps her out of town weekdays - and she admits to us, from her POV, she's had several affairs over the years, but she loves Eric - or at least she loves having a good-looking husband anyway. She's not quite Cruella De Vil but she's close. Unfortunately for Eric, he doesn't exactly figure out he's not satisfied with Nancy until he starts seeing Maggie again. That's too bad, really. Maybe if we'd really felt them fighting, growing apart, before Maggie enters the scene, it would be easier to accept his actions.

Maggie is encouraged by her female friends to come back to her hometown for a visit, and while there one friend convinces her to buy an old house, move back and run a B&B from it. Maggie's rolling in dough from her husband's insurance settlement, and decides to go for it. Since it's a small town, she does run into Eric occasionally, and the attraction grows.

Now here is where, in a real world situation, the old Love Bank theory and some of the things I've learned about infidelity popped into my brain. For one thing, it is easy for Eric to transfer his feelings of love to Maggie because they are not living together - he only gets the "nice" side of the relationship, and not the real relationship. Plus it's new and newly-sexually charged, something missing in his marriage. That's a common infidelity issue, really, because it's easy to fantasize how much better the lover is over the spouse when the lover isn't really in the picture. (I'm sure I'm not saying this right...) For instance, a major issue between him and Nancy is her unwillingness to have a baby - but has he even asked Maggie if that is something she would consider? No, he has not. If he had, he might have learned that Maggie is going through menopause. If he had, he might realize that leaving Nancy for Maggie won't fill his need to have children of his own, and that he might stop loving Maggie after a while for the same issue. Of course, right as they're getting ready to Do The Deed the very first time, he does sorta pant out something about birth control, and she reassures him it's not an issue. Do they discuss STDs, health history, anything? No, sorry, they're hot and heavy and just go for it.

(Not that I wanted him to stay with Cold Bitch Nancy, mind you, because Spencer manipulated my own feelings about her! Boo! Hiss!)

Then there's the issue of Maggie's mother. Oh how close I came to relating to this mother. No, not that I am her, but that I know her. She's critical. She's cold. She's demanding. She's controlling. And she seems to be incapable of love. She makes Nancy seem like a mother earth figure. Interesting that Spencer introduces mothers like this in her novels (That Camden Summer comes to mind.) Maybe they just make for good conflict, or maybe she's experienced this. I wonder how the daughters of these mothers become such good mothers themselves, with such a poor role model.

Well, I've already introduced the Infidelity issue, so it's clear that Eric and Maggie do commit adultery - not so difficult with Nancy gone 4 nights a week. He decides to tell Nancy and get a divorce, and every time Nancy finds a way to manipulate him into staying. This part is so true and so typical of how married couples handle infidelity. I kept waiting for him to say "I love you but I'm not in love with you any more" just to get the whole picture. However, since Nancy wasn't the heroine of the book, she isn't destined for a happy ending, and they don't find the right combination of forces to keep their marriage going. Not that they don't drag it out for months - and even after he asks for the divorce and moves out and promises Maggie they will marry, sure enough, typical wayward spouse, he goes back for a couple of reconciliation tries. I did try to feel sorry for him, but his last decision to go back was really for all the wrong reasons, and it made me mad.

Oh the agony, and what a tangled web was weaved. Or woven. It about tore my guts out - that's LaVyrle Spencer for you. When she introduced the biggest obstacle, I waited, torn, knowing there was the Other Shoe, not knowing how she would handle it. When the Other Shoe dropped, I was actually shocked but pleased that it wasn't what I feared. And then - it's a long book, and I got too sleepy to finish, so I had to leave the last 100 pages for this morning, and while I drifted into sleep, I thought about this review and how I would put into words my own feelings about infidelity and love.

This book did bring me tears, which is not all that usual in general, but not completely unusual for a Spencer story. I wasn't prepared, however, for one thing - Maggie took him back in the end a little too easily for my taste. He had promised his mother (thank god she stepped in to save the day) he wouldn't see Maggie until he had divorce papers from Nancy, but that took months during which Maggie had no idea how he felt, or what his plans were. The day he got the papers, he went to her and she didn't even hesitate to take him back. It's not really a spoiler, being a Romance, to say they were married right away, although that wasn't the end.

There were unresolved issues in the story that kept me from feeling happy at the end when the h/h got their own HEA, however. What about her parents? What are her daughter's true feelings? (and on another note, I read a debate about how her daughter reacted to her mother's moving and selling her childhood home, and frankly my opinion is the daughter can take a flying leap - her mother was not wrong to sell/move since the daughter was away at college, having essentially left home anyway!)

Was the infidelity a hot button for me in this book? Hmmm - no actually it wasn't. Spencer successfully manipulated me into rooting for the hero and heroine over the hero's existing legal vows to his wife - a tribute to her talent with the written word, for sure. And it's always fun to keep the fantasies of First Love and Soul Mate alive too, even if I don't actually believe they exist.

I'm also torn on the rating - I think I have to go with 4 stars, because I was affected, because I did cry, because I was on the edge of my seat. Better than average/3 stars. But not a keeper/5 stars - I don't know if I can read it again. I think I need to devour another Andersen book and smile some more, because I didn't smile at the end of this .