Thursday, July 31, 2008

Crystal Passion by Jo Goodman

I was looking forward to reading more of Jo Goodman. She is one of my favorite authors, although I haven't equally loved all her books. Somehow the muse of book naming has escaped Ms Goodman or her editors, and once again I wondered what in the world the name of this book meant and what it had to do with the story...

This is the first in a trilogy about the McClellans - and the hero is eldest son Salem, who is in England supposedly to locate a specific horse for his father from the Duke of Linfield. A filly with a brand, to be specific.

The Duke's "ward" is Ashley - raised as the poor relation to the Duke, and mistreated, she is about to be married off to an elderly gentleman, again for a horse. Because the fiancé is impotent, the Duke cruelly decides to have Ashley lose her virginity to the next visitor to the house - and wouldn't ya know it would be Salem? And, this is a slight spoiler, but what the heck, it happens early in the book - the Duke branded Ashley at birth... so... she's the filly Salem's father is looking for.

Not sure exactly how dad thought Salem was going to figure it out unless he undressed her, considering where the brand is - so that part is a little muddy in my own head. Was he prescient and figured Salem would want her? Or that the Duke would somehow fix them up? Well, Salem doesn't take her virginity but he does find the brand, and figures out she's the one his father wanted.

Then the Duke further complicates the matter by having Salem thrown in prison for smuggling, and Ashley must figure out a way to get him out. This is a major stretch for a character who has been pretty meek and sheltered her entire life, but she pulls it off.

Well - to say much more might spoil the plot for anyone who wants to read it - Ashley heads off to America with Salem - and it's 1775. There's a question of the relationship of Salem's father to Ashley, and therefore his own relationship - could they be half-siblings? There's a sea voyage to complete, just the 2 of them in a small cabin. There's this revolution talk...

There is a hint of Goodman's layered and complex prose here, but it's not as well developed a story as her later works. I found myself skimming ruthlessly near the end, wondering where she was going with the plot but not much caring. There were ends left undone that I figure will be addressed in the next 2 books in the series.

3 stars - didn't hate it but was a little disappointed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Until You by Judith McNaught *****

Until You is the next in the series after Whitney, My Love. Whitney is an AAR Top 100, and is also a frequently discussed book – it contains a couple of scenes that offend our current sensibilities (rightly so, in my opinion) and which border on rape and brutality in its first iteration. It was subsequently rewritten in a less offensive manner, but still pushes the boundaries. Until You didn't affect me in that way and contains no rapes or beatings.

The story is of a young American woman, Sherry, who travels as a companion to England – her charge Charise elopes before they arrive, and our heroine Sherry must break the bad news to the charge's overthrown fiancé. However, the fiancé has had some bad news as well – seems he got foxed and stepped in front of Stephen Westmoreland's carriage, and is now, well, dead.

Stephen is the brother of Whitney's hero Clay. He's an earl in his own right, by virtue of a deceased uncle. He is, however, a confirmed bachelor thanks to a bad experience with a woman several years ago, which I believe is outlined in Whitney. He's feeling pretty bad about killing the young fiancé, so he meets the ship to let Charise know the bad news. Assuming Sherry is the fiancée Charise, he gives her the news mere seconds before she is whacked in the head by a crate at the dock. The head injury puts her out for a few days, and when she awakes, she has amnesia and doesn't know who she is. Needless to say, she never had time to actually introduce herself or tell Stephen that Charise has eloped.

Stephen doesn't know who she really is either – and her and her charge's trunks all went back to America. So he and the doctor tell her who they think she is (Charise, not Sherry), but not wanting to upset her further, they start – or continue – a ruse that Stephen is the man she came to England to marry. Since she has no memory of having had a fiancé, he just passes as himself.

This is a complicated ruse because she recovers from her injury but still has only flashes of memory (think Overboard). She asks him about how they met, and whether they are in love – and he has to make up stories. The doctor thinks she might recover faster if she can see her family, but then they learn Charise's father has died. In another and further complication, of course Stephen falls in love with her and she with him. He is forced to introduce her as his fiancée to his family, then he lets them in on the ruse – and they decide to somehow get her out on the town and find her another man/fiancé. Well, as I said, it's complicated but somehow logical.

McNaught did a fine job of weaving the story and the lies so that they actually made sense – the convoluted way Stephen arrives at the decision to go ahead and marry her was justification in his own mind because he did indeed love her even if he couldn't bring himself to admit it. But when the facts are laid on the table, Sherry comes to a different conclusion – and it makes sense how she arrives at her conclusions.

I liked it better than Whitney, and McNaught used a scenario that frankly always gets my gut tied up in knots – the hero, in his anger over Sherry's reaction and especially over his own wrong conclusion about Sherry's behavior once true her identity is revealed, takes back up with his mistress and with other women, and Sherry is aware of it. I think of the discussion on AAR about Big Misunderstandings that could be solved with a 5 minute discussion – I do see why and how each Sherry and Stephen came to the conclusions they did, and even though it's possible a 5 minute conversation might have cleared things up, neither was in the mood to listen and comprehend. They did know the facts but they used the facts to come to wrong conclusions, and I found their conclusions believeable.

5 stars because it did what I like in romances – it made me FEEL what the characters were feeling.

High Tide by Jude Deveraux

My Gawd this was a weird and terrible book! I think this was written under the influence of mind-altering substances and without the benefit of an editor reading it and saying, uh Jude, honey? Do you think maybe you should just START OVER and write something else??

Somehow, we are supposed to buy into the fantasy that this woman, Fiona, who develops toys, is sent on a business trip to Florida where she is going on a 3 day fishing trip with a client and a fishing guide. The client is someone she's never met. The fishing guide is the surly hunky hero. The fishing trip scenario for a female toy developer was quite a stretch.

Among the weird things that happen, most of which make absolutely no sense whatsoever and don't seem to have anything to do with the plot, the hero – Ace – buys a lifelike alligator that the heroine smashes with a bowling ball when she arrives at the airport, thinking the alligator has bitten Ace. Yeah. Right. That establishes their antagonistic relationship although, guess what, neither one knows they'll be on the fishing trip at this point.

Let's see – the client is a grabby womanizer who gets murdered and the body is left on top of Fiona. Why was he murdered and who did it? That's the crux of the matter. Ace and Fiona decide to avoid the cops – not sure why – and are tagged as the murderers. Go figure. (Note to self: when involved with a dead body, do not run.) They spend some time on the lam, but Ace manages to find homes for them to stay in, and even a luxury hotel where his family connections get Fiona a new wardrobe and lots of yummy food.

I'm still trying to wrap my tiny brain around the plot and it just won't go. It's something to do with her father, who she thought was some prince of a guy but turns out to have been a notorious underworld guy – maybe – or something. The father abandoned Fiona to boarding schools as a child – I think she believes her mother was dead – but he wrote her "stories" and sent her fantasy maps. Guess what – this is somehow related to the plot!

The client had created some god-awful children's TV show about a bunch of characters searching for lost treasure, and Fiona was supposed to help him develop a line of toys from it. Oh – it's the exact same stories as those her father sent her! Did he steal the stories from her father, or what?? Turns out the stories were loosely based on some truth – and somebody else will have to explain how Ace and Fiona ended up in a retirement community where everyone knew the truth about this lost treasure story. I couldn't figure out who was good and who was bad – mostly everyone was weird and… And Ace, engaged to someone else, and Fiona, with a steady beau, keep sorta almost doing it but never exactly making it there. Truly, I never felt their chemistry so when they do finally, several times, almost make it, I'm thinking – jeez, do it and get on with your lives, people.

Oh and Ace never lets on that he's a multi-millionaire (not sure how that figures into the plot except it's part of a series about his family, none of which I've read).

The "whodunit" part at the end was so bizarre that I just kept shaking my head. By the way, I did read part of this book under the influence of mind-altering substances myself, just to see if that helped. Not only did it not make any more sense, when I picked up the book to finish it (with quite a hangover) I had to backtrack about 10 pages because I had no memory of reading them. I should have just kept going, and indeed I did skim skim skim to see if anything good might pop up. It did not.

1 star. It's just too damn weird and hopefully Ms Deveraux got professional help before attempting another book under the influence (WUI – maybe it's not a crime but it should be). I really like some of her books, so I'm not completely put off (yet).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

blogging blogging blogging

well, I've just been given the great honor of having an award given to my blog by my Shelfari buddy Cindyw! You can read her blog here. Thanks Cindy!! Seems there's a lot of us out there reading and blogging. There's some rules and stuff about this award, passing it on and stuff - I'll try to get to them later, ok?

I'm not much for doing a lot of the blogging type things - like adding widgets, and running contests and stuff. I really just do the blog for keeping track of my thoughts on books, and then I started listing it in my profiles on Shelfari and PBS ( Shelfari is a sort of combination networking and book-cataloguing site. PBS is where I get almost all my books - it's a swapping site, with an active forum that uses almost the worst forum format, second only to the awful Shelfari forum format. Not that the people posting or the actual posts are bad, but sheesh, could it be any less user-friendly??? Oh, these 2 are in the same league as the dreadful Romance Forum software. Those Amazon, Shelfari and PBS website developers need to switch to something GOOD like over at AAR. There are several flavors of good bulletin board/forum software, so I don't have a clue why those big sites can't figure it out.

I do read romance blogs, but to be perfectly honest, I find it difficult to read websites with dark backgrounds and light type - sorry. I peruse the Big Ones like Smart Bitches, and Dear Author and some others from time to time, rarely if ever commenting. I may have to branch out and read more just to keep in the loop. But I plan to keep mine focused mostly on my books and movies - it's just my thoughts anyway.

Anyway, thanks again Cindy! I'm honored! see ya on Shelfari!

Three Fates by Nora Roberts

Nora hasn't disappointed me yet, but I am starting to get the feeling I've read some of it before. Not the story line, not even the exact characters, but I think I need a Nora break so it will be even fresher when I start up again.

Three Fates does have three heroes and three heroines - I tried to decide if any were more dominant, and I guess Mal and Tia were introduced first, so they are couple #1. There's the Sullivan family - Malachi, Gideon and Rebecca (with mom Eileen), an Irish family that's always lived in the city near where the Lusitania was sunk in WWI. They run tour boats in the area, and are also descended from a Lusitania survivor. A thief who stole a statue representing one of the Three Fates.

Tia is also descended from a Lusitania victim - not a survivor, but the man from whom the statue was stolen. Her father runs the successful antiques business - Tia is an author/mythologist (whatever the heck that is). She grew up with the stories about the famous statues.

Cleo (short for Cleopatra) is descended from a family that had another statue - she's the black sheep of the family, though, and hasn't kept touch. Lucky for her, her grandmother gave her the statue, which she's kept for luck. It does bring her luck - first, a lot of bad luck when villain Anita Gaye sends her goons to steal the statue back, and then good luck, when she meets Gideon.

Jack is the third descendant - his ancestors were saved by the thief, and - hmm, I forget how and why, but he has statue #3 - oops, maybe that's a spoiler.

It's a fun romp, a lot of suspense, a truly bad bad bad-to-the-bone villain (love the line about her still being cranky since the house fell on her sister), and three weddings in the end. Nora is such a great story-teller, so even knowing there's going to be a happy ending times three, once she kills off a character or 2 you're sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering what's next.

4 stars.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Blessing by Jude Deveraux

What is it with me getting all these single mom stories? Anyway, The Blessing (which I now own 2 copies of, dangit!) is the single weirdest, most contrived premise for a story I have yet to come across, and in spite of that, I liked it enough to give it 3 stars.

Somehow, older brother Jason - the rich one, the responsible one - is duped into coming home to his Kentucky small town by his younger brother David. Jason has a history of helping David - now a successful doctor, mind you - since their mother died when David was a baby. Mind you, their father is alive and well, even though the ruse is that he's on his death bed, and it's right before Christmas. Not sure how long before - the whole book was so weird, and I never exactly understood where we were in time.

David convinces Jason he must move in with single mom Amy to take care of her child while David courts her - like, for a week, I guess. David can't stand the child, who turns out to be an infant. What a great way to start a relationship with a mom, huh? He convinces Amy that Jason is gay and temporarily homeless so that Amy will let him live there. WTF?? None of this made a lick of sense. Amy didn't have a clue that David was courting her either. Go figure.

Jason moves heaven and earth to do things for Amy's baby in ways meant to make her think she was just lucky, not that he had paid for it all. Although he kept saying he wasn't a billionaire, I kept thinking his coffers would be pretty much empty by the end of the book the way he was shelling it out.

It was weird too to have 2 full years go by with the conceit of putting "One Year Later" in front of 2 chapters. Jason of course was madly in love with Amy and baby almost from the beginning, and managed to get David out of the way, but Amy disappeared - for 2 years. So, in truth, it was a truly weird, contrived plot that made no sense while not being particularly humorous or witty. And yet I didn't hate it. So, 3 stars.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts

This is a 2-in-1 book containing the novellas Impulse and The Best Mistake. Both claim to be stories of summer loves - the first, Impulse, is about an accountant Rebecca who decides her life has been too boring and predictable, so she sells everything she owns and takes a trip to Greece. She meets Greek tycoon Stephen and has a whirlwind affair. She decides she has been lying to him because she didn't own up right away that she wasn't worldly and traveled, and worst of all, she was a virgin (which he finds out soon enough). Of course, he hasn't been 100% open with her either, letting her believe he was an olive farmer when he was a multi-millionaire businessman. Yeah, he owned the olive grove - and the 2 hotels - and a bunch of other stuff too.

The Best Mistake involves bachelor Coop renting the upstairs apartment from single mom Zoe. There were hints of the Ethan Quinn/Chesapeake Bay story here, since Zoe had to dress provocatively and waitress in a bar to help support herself, and Coop had some Ethan-like opinions about it. I guess since she wrote both of them, there wasn't any plagiarizing going on...

In all, it was an ok, short read - I tried not to get icked out by Stephen's Greek alpha male behavior - you know, worrying that he wouldn't turn out to be the best husband material for a modern American woman after all. It's fantasy! Fiction! Get over it! (That's what I told myself anyway.) I wonder if it started the whole Greek billionaire thing that's going on now...

3 stars.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Lady's Secret by Jo Beverly ****

I lucked into a stack of romance novels while on my road trip - Vicky's niece admitted to being a romance reader, although I got the feeling maybe she hadn't read some or any of the books she offered me. Not wanting to appear greedy, and not really having much room, I only took 8 of the bagful she offered, books she said were on the way to some charity to be resold. I could only look at them and see PBS credits... but didn't even take the one I had already read and knew to be on the wishlists.

A Lady's Secret was one, and I didn't learn until after reading it that it is in a series - now of course I have to go and collect the series and read it! I imagine it might even be the last in the series. Oh Well.

It's a fun and witty book - my first by Jo Beverly. She doesn't write with a lot of depth, in my opinion, and I found some details off-putting (toothbrushes in 1794? well, someone did produce toothbrushes in 1780, so maybe...). Not that her research wasn't good, or in depth, but it wasn't Jo Goodman or Loretta Chase, who both write in such luscious prose, with layer upon layer of detail. It also wasn't a romp, like Julia Quinn. But light, and funny, and I enjoyed the ride.

It was a road trip, an earl returning from Versailles meeting an Italian woman posing as a nun, escaping a possessive lover. They travel together, both keeping secrets about their true identities from the other, and of course they fall in love. However, Petra is afraid she brings too much danger to Robin and escapes him to finish her journey on her own.

When her biological father is found, and his past revealed, I admit I wished for a different history for him. I didn't realize at that time he had already been featured in a previous book - so obviously his history couldn't now be changed, but it seemed a little... contrived. Apparently he did not want to have any children of his own because he was afraid they would turn out mad like his mother. Petra was born a bastard, without his even knowing of her existence, from a tryst while he was on a Grand Tour at a very young age, maybe 18, I guess? That seemed pretty lame to me (his reasoning about not having children) and I would have preferred he didn't marry until age 40 because he carried a torch for his married Italian lover, who actually died about the time he married. Oh well, I'm not the author!

There was a little intrigue, and lots of adventure and even a swashbuckling moment or two - as well as a cute little dog. 4 stars and hopefully a future PBS credit for this book!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome To Temptation by Jennifer Crusie

This is my first Jennifer Crusie book, and it's also an AAR Top 100 Romance (which could be disastrous for me on both accounts). But guess what - I loved it! Yippee! I'm not the cynical person I was afraid of being after all.

This work has common elements with works by Susan Andersen and Rachel Gibson, especially Gibson. It involves a fictional small-town, with one character "going home" followed by the heroine and her sister to produce an audition tape. Sophie, heroine, isn't from here - in fact, isn't from anywhere. Her family is notorious - con men/women for generations back. Once her mother died, leaving her father desolate, Sophie took over as parent and kept her younger brother and sister in one place, in school. As adults, she still fulfills the parental role - and although she's wise in the ways of the con, she isn't one herself.

I laughed outloud at the idea of having the mayor named Phineas Tucker be the hero - he's the 4th generation of Phineas Tuckers to be mayor in this tiny burg. He's got a 9-year-old daughter whose mother is dead from an accident - a woman he had to marry because she got pregnant, and from whom he was separated since before daughter Dillie was even born. He and Dillie live with his battle ax of a mother - she's got Junior League written all over her, and I do not mean that as a compliment.

The story was laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, even when a character ends up dead. OK, he'd been shot, drugged, Maced and thrown in the river - but what killed him was a heart attack, so it wasn't really murder. Well, unless you count the fact that several characters were aware there was a problem and no one stepped in to help, but apparently only 1 character could have helped.

The love scenes are sizzling hot and funny too - I really think this might be the first time I've ever read a romance where the characters got out of the mood during love scenes (and sometimes stopped altogether). It was a great blend of cartoony-behavior and realistic actions - maybe I wouldn't have ever found myself in these situations, but if I had I might have reacted the same way!!

The gist of the story is the character of Clea coming home to create her audition video, and bringing videographers Sophie and her sister Amy along to produce it. The video somehow morphs into a soft porn for women video, and then into hard core porn - all of which might be against the new town ordinance against porn created when they all arrived in town. There are plenty of crazy small-town characters, including the mayor who really runs a book store, and the police chief, a mayor-wannabe, an actor-wannabe, a Cincinnati news anchor who is not from there - well, you practically need a scorecard to keep up. The 9-year-old is funny if a little too aware, and I love how she tries to con the con women without much success.

So many books to read, so little time - I guess it's a keeper and it's definitely 5 stars.

The Last Arrow by Marsha Canham

This is the final book in the Robin Hood trilogy, where the Robin Hood character(s) finally come to light, along with the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Littlejohn and all of them.

I didn't mention the character of Sparrow in the first 2 books - he's a dwarf who has ape-like abilities to swing through trees and shoot arrows. He's a funny little fellow who appears in all three books. Littlejohn, or Petit Jean, Jean de Brevant is only in books 2 and 3. I expected the hero of this book to be Robert de Wardieu, the oldest son of the hero and heroine of book 1. He is the younger half brother of Eduard, the hero of book 2. He has pledged his love and his life to the maid Marienne (get it? Maid Marian??), who has stayed with the blind Princess Eleanor, who should have been queen but preferred to be a nun anyway.

However, as prominent a character as Robert aka Robin is in the book, he is not the hero. The hero is his now-arch nemesis, former friend, Griffyn Renaud who develops a tendre for Robin's younger sister, Brenna, our beloved heroine.

Brenna's a hoyden - she prefers to dress in boys clothing because it's easier to ride a horse and shoot arrows that way. Of course, she's a master archer, taking after the family friend Gil Golden of books 1 and 2 (Gillian, female, now dearly departed). However, she isn't quite as annoying as Lady Ariel was, and she's a lot more fun too.

She's torn because she discovers that Griffyn, passing as Robin's friend, is actually the Prince of Darkness who is hired to kill Robin at a tournament - and she's fallen in love with him. It's just a job to him, until he meets Brenna - and until he meets our second female villain of the series, another torturing woman who gets off on blood and gore and learns what she and the man who hired him are really after (which includes his own grisly death).

While I didn't like Ms Torturer again for the same reasons as the female villain in the first book (not a shred of decency there, not even 1), I will say the villains in the book were cleverer than usual and almost outwitted our merry band in Nottingham Forest. Even when I thought I had figured out who the mole was, I couldn't believe it - and I was right. It seemed like an error on Griffyn's part, but indeed it was more the patience of the villain, to plant the mole and wait for years for the plan to play out. The final battle was truly heart-stopping and -wrenching.

4 stars - I like Canham's work, but this wasn't a keeper series for me even though I did enjoy it quite a lot.

In the Shadow of Midnight

This is book 2 in Ms Canham's Robin Hood trilogy. As I said about Through A Dark Mist, book 1, it isn't about Robin Hood as much as it encompasses the time, the place and some of the characters in a big, over the top, swash buckling adventure.

The heroine is Ariel de Clare. To be honest, she was my least favorite of the heroines in the series. She was spoiled, too outspoken for her own good, and danced dangerously close to TSTL - Too Stupid To Live - in her actions. Ok, ok, we get it, she's as good as the boys in shooting arrows and wearing boys clothing and all that. Sure, sure, all the men who've been paraded past her as potential husbands haven't lived up to her expectations for one reason or another. And she has a brother who would move heaven and earth to keep her satisfied, as well as an uncle she's got wrapped around her cute little finger. I found her annoying as hell and would have had her spanked a time or 2 before she got as old as she was in the book.

Meanwhile, that poor little Princess Eleanor has gotten herself abducted by her uncle again. Will she never learn? Speaking of learning, she could have taken a lesson or 2 from Ariel in getting her way. But Eduard, the bastard son of the Black Wolf, aka Lucien Wardieu, aka a couple of other names and titles, has vowed to save her.

Of course, we all know he only thinks of her as a sister, but what's poor Ariel to think when she discovers he carries Eleanor's ring next to his heart, and hears that he has vowed to save her at any cost? Not that a lowly Bastard is good enough for her royal blood, mind you! (see the dilemma here? yeah, she was annoying)

Eduard accompanies Ariel, her loving brother, her intended groom's brother and someone else... (?) back from Brittany, or Normandy - well, ok, modern France - to Wales, where along the way they will save Eleanor before dropping Ariel with her groom-to-be. Oh, assuming he manages to get rid of his, er, WIFE.

OK, I really did like the story except when Ariel was being obnoxious - plus it's best to read the whole trilogy so you get all the characters placed and in place for the final book where we figure out about the whole Robin Hood thing.

4 stars

Through a Dark Mist by Marsha Canham

This is the first of the Robin Hood trilogy - not that the book is about Robin Hood, but takes place loosely in the same timeframe as the myth and is loosely concerning people of the myth. Of the 3, this one is my favorite, and earned 5 stars from me. I left it with Vicky's niece in Mount Shasta, California, because she said she likes medieval romance. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did!

The heroine is Lady Servanne de Briscourt, a widow at the tender age of 18, being married off to another lord, Lucien Wardieu. She is waylaid in the forest on her way to Wardieu's castle by a man claiming to be Lucien Wardieu, also known as the Black Wolf. He says the man using his name is his bastard half-brother Etienne, who tried to kill him while they were on a Crusade. He managed to live, although horribly scarred for life, and is coming back to avenge his name.

Lady Servanne is a feisty, independent heroine, but she's no hoyden - in my opinion, she earns her reputation as a lady. She stands up for herself and for her people, but she is also intrigued by the Black Wolf. He has in mind having his way with her first, then sending her on to his brother, as part of the revenge. She wasn't a virgin anyway, although her first husband was elderly, so she wasn't exactly learned in the ways of love. But she also owns, as the Briscourt widow, a lot of valuable land, which is what Etienne seeks first and foremost.

There is another villain in the mix - a woman who was lover to both Lucien and Etienne, and bore Lucien's child 13 years ago. She is truly painted as completely without morals, bad bad bad in every way. She enjoys torture. She never had 1 moment of maternal instincts for her son. It was meant to be a swashbuckling adventure in which every character is over-the-top, but she managed to chew the scenery all the way through - personally, I like to see even villains have some measure of humanity.

Servanne does end up being a pawn in the power play between the 2 brothers, with some kingly things going on as well. Richard the Lion Hearted is away on crusade while his brother John plays regent, and also plays fast and loose with the local royal laws. However, the Black Wolf, after having ravished Servanne beyond thought, finds himself in love with her as well, which makes his adventure to save princes and princesses that much more complicated.

It's such a fun ride - you do need to be in a swash-buckling, bigger than life story mood, but if you are, then Ms Canham will take you up and down and around until your head spins.

5 stars

Monday, July 14, 2008

reading Marsha Canham's Robin Hood trilogy

Just for my notes: I'm starting Marsha Canham's Robin Hood trilogy now, and going on a road trip with my friend Vicky to Seattle. I won't have time to read a book a day, or log in to write my reviews. So I'm leaving this place marker so when I look back, I'll remember why I haven't read or written anything.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts

Phillip's story.

I just finished this one and haven't even written my review of Rising Tides yet. But I was all teared up with the romantic and wonderful ending and just had to say that before I go off and get ready for work and do other things and forget this wonderful HEA feeling I'm harboring right now.

OK, I'm back to finish up my review. Truthfully, Phillip wasn't originally my favorite Quinn brother. He was kinda buttoned up, uptight, and maybe came across as a little superior in his own mind in the first 2 books, and somewhat into his own book.

Our heroine Sybill is harboring a couple of secrets on her own. I have to admit, I almost skipped several pages to read ahead because her introduction made me very very edgy and concerned!! Who was she really? Well, without revealing who she was, her career was as a psychologist/author, having written a couple of books that the Quinns had even read, and her "cover" was that she was researching a book on the behavior of people in small towns. What better place than the small town where the Quinns lived?

Phillip wasn't one who was necessarily avoiding relationships - he just needed everything to be tidy, organized, in its place, and so far his world wasn't ready for a relationship. And now that he's commuting from Baltimore to St Chris every weekend, and working 10-12 hour days in Baltimore, he doesn't even have time to date. His attraction to Sybill is just that, chemistry, and he'll act on it if he can fit it in...

But once Sybill's secrets are revealed (sooner to the reader, thank gawd, than to the brothers), there'll be hell to pay on both sides. Can Phillip get past it? Can Cam, Ethan, Anna, Grace and Seth ever get past it, is the bigger question, because it was big enough to tear the family apart.

Sybill was my least favorite Quinn heroine - even discounting her various secrets, she was awfully buttoned up and way too prissy and prim. OK, prissy and prim aren't exactly the right words - she was too... Too taken with her profession. Used too many big words and phrases and... ok, whatever, I just didn't warm to her and cannot seem to express what I mean, dammit. But she comes down a notch or 2 before it's over, and really, this story had the most romantic ending of the three, which had me tearing up and grinning through watery eyes and all that. You go Nora! Thank goodness someone out there can express herself with words!

5 stars and it's a keeper too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Divine Evil by Nora Roberts

I don't have an exact strategy for reading Nora Roberts - she's so prolific that I'm not sure I could ever catch up with her backlist. But what I have read has been good, and when I find one cheap at Hastings in hardcover, I can never resist picking it up, regardless of where I am in glomming another author or trying to scale the TBR mountain or attempting to read the AAR Top 100.

So I got Divine Evil at Hasting, and since my laptop with my carefully constructed author and TBR lists is still visiting the shop, rather than redo my research to see what book fits where in a series, I just picked it up and read it.

Gotta give it to Nora - even when I hated this book, it was great. I mean, she is a true craftsman of words - I don't think I've been this creeped out since I read The Exorcist in the 1970s. (After reading The Exorcist, I heard noises overhead, and felt the bed move several times and ended up sleeping in the shared bathroom in my dorm suite.) OK I wasn't quite that creeped out but close.

Divine Evil is a story of going home - this is a storyline I've already mentioned that isn't something I would consider doing. Our heroine Clare is a successful artist/sculptor, currently living in NYC, who is tortured by her father's death some dozen years before when she was a teenager living with her parents and twin brother in a small town in Maryland. Her mother has just remarried, something that bothers Clare more than she admits. She gets the urge to spend some time in her old hometown, just for a refuge or maybe to find out why she's having nightmares, or just to find some peace.

The sheriff in town is the former bad-boy Cameron. When Clare was in high school with him, he was the one sneaking around smoking and drinking beer and boffing the bad girls, screaming through town on his motorcycle and generally just troubled and dark. He left the burg after high school, cleaned up his act and served on the DC police force until his partner died in his arms. Having had enough of the gritty realities of big city cop life, he returned to the small town just as the former sheriff retired. That kind of police work seemed right up his alley - kids getting caught necking in the woods, the occasional speeder, accidental shootings - no more gangs and drugs and murders.

Funny that after I finished this book, past midnight, I turned back to True Confessions by Rachel Gibson for some light reading to wash the taste of this story out of my mind (bad boy turned sheriff in a small town). I was too tired to read more than the first chapter, but it helped.

One good thing to me about this book: she didn't set it in the Deep South. Something about Deep South small towns with hidden evil secrets gets me, maybe since I grew up in the Deep South. Oh, I'm sure there were evil secrets there, but I do get tired of the stereotype of people thinking Southerners are all inbred and evil. Maybe tired isn't the right word - it isn't like I read a ton of them (Deliverance) but maybe I just get my hackles up. Those are my people!! So what if they go into the woods and sodomize Yankees?? But I digress.

There are some majorly seriously hidden evil secrets in this Northern small town - secrets that have been hiding for decades, secrets that were so shocking as they were revealed I kept thinking, surely this kind of thing doesn't really go on outside Nora Roberts' fertile imagination? If only that were so. She made it real enough to me that I sat on edge, creeped out but unable to stop reading, knowing she would give the heroine a HEA and horrified she wouldn't in which case I would never sleep again.

The relationship between Cam and Clare was wonderful, and developed fast but believably so. Their chemistry was immediate, and Clare was the one holding back, not wanting to trust. Trust was a problem for Clare, and it ended up being tied up in the town's hidden secrets - and it took revealing them for her to learn to trust again.

Even the ending was creepy - I needed an epilogue or something to tell me everything would be alright, and when denied that, read the first chapter of True Confessions instead.

I have to add here that 2 Shelfari readers found the book funny. Funny? I don't think so. One called it "hilarious", the other "smart, funny and hot". Did they even read the book?

I have to give it 4 stars just because her writing was so wonderful, but I don't think I can get rid of this book fast enough. I don't want to know that evil exists, and I don't want to think about it lurking around the tiny town I live near, knowing it's all too possible.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory *****

Whew!! I was really starting to think I had a bad attitude, and that every new author I read on the AAR Top 100 was going to be something I didn't like.

Imagine my relief to say, I loved Untie My Heart! It was a fun romp, incredibly romantic with some unusual and hot love scenes.

The heroine is Emma. She's the vicar's widow, a sheep farmer in a small village far from London. Oh wait, and she's also a former con artist, with talents in forgery and stolen art and such. Yep - no blushing virgins here!

Our yummy hero is Stuart, the Viscount of something or other. He had a miserable childhood, and as soon as he was able, left England to roam the world as an adult. He could hardly get far away enough from his father - well, he managed to get far away enough to almost be declared dead after his father's death left him the heir. His rascally uncle managed to steal some things and lots of money from his estate before he showed up, alive and well.

It was fun too to have it set in the 1890s, so there were lots of things around that we don't get to hear about in the usual historicals set in the Regency period.

It's Stuart's bad luck - or maybe his good luck, but the lamb's bad luck - that his coach kills Emma's lamb. In the area, this is taken very seriously, and the usual penalty would be the sum of several sheep that the male lamb would have sired. However, since the coach was the Viscount's, the local law is hesitant to do anything, which really riles Emma up. She manages to make an enemy of the new Viscount while trying to get him to cough up the dough for the lamb, and then she falls back on her old ways and finds a clever way to swindle him out of it. It makes sense that he will never miss the mere 56 lbs that comes from a bank account she manages to create. Unfortunately, he does remember the 56 lb cheque and follows up on it...

Once he has caught her in the act (he assumed it was the uncle doing it, which is why he was so adamant about following up), he decides to blackmail her into helping him retrieve the items the uncle stole. He also manages to befuddle and addle her into a little challenge - I loved this scene, where afterwards he thinks he's accidentally shagged her.

It did walk perilously close to forced seduction which, if you aren't in the right mood, sounds perilously like rape. Frankly, Stuart's sexual tastes and proclivities are a little outside most romance novels I've read - and it's actually refreshing if a little edgy.

The writing and the humor were really delightful - Emma uses first the alias Molly Muffin, and Stuart has many hysterical thoughts and innuendos involving this name. Her next alias is Peep, although she did not use Bo as the first name. When Stuart asks her, "Whatever will Mother Goose think?", I laughed out loud.

Wow. I'm really overjoyed - another great book, a new-to-me author, and I liked it a lot even though it's on the AAR Top 100! As soon as I get my REAL computer back, I'll have to do some research and maybe some glomming on Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas.

5 stars.

Swept Away by Marsha Canham

I'm amazed when I find another new-to-me author that I love, and it makes me wonder how many more are out there!! I read Marsha Canham's Jacobite books a while back on a recommendation from PBS, and really liked them. Another PBS reader has challenged me to read more, and consider her books for Conversion Kit status, so I ordered them. I'm not sure when or why I got Swept Away (probably as a 2-for-1 deal on PBS?) but it was truly wonderful.

Canham's writing is incredible - this book has adventure scenes that went on and on and practically had me breathing hard from the suspense and action. These scenes rival any movie car chases!

The heroine is Annaleah, a 20-year-old woman raised in a traditional British household during the Regency. Her mother is, predictably, trying to find a suitable marriage for her, and has managed to get 3 proposals from more-than-suitable young men with titles and money, none of which Anna will even consider. Her older sister is already married to one of those suitable men, with an heir and a spare on the way. Her older brother isn't yet married, but is the traditional-type, interested in politics and all that. In fact, although Anna is shown to be stubborn and head-strong and independent, she really isn't all that much - she just doesn't want to settle for someone she doesn't love.

When she refuses to attend a ball, she is packed away to her spinster great-aunt's to consider her future. The purpose is, no doubt, to let her see the error of her ways by seeing how she could turn out. In fact, Auntie Lal (Florence) is wealthy and independent and not nearly as dottie as everyone would believe.

While out walking the beach one morning, Anna discovers the still-breathing-body of Emory. As it turns out, once Auntie gets a look at him, she recognizes him as the 3rd son of a local family. He's wanted for treason and has been gone for some years. His eldest brother, who inherited the family title, is now dead, and 2nd son is - well, he thinks he's a bird. The 4th son is the local vicar - Auntie brings the vicar over, and amongst them all, they decide to keep Emory's arrival a secret until he wakes up and can explain himself.

Emory awakens to a vision - it's Anna, backlit by the sun, but he thinks he's dead and in heaven. Anna, however, isn't as taken with him. I love how Canham shows her to be real - she may be stubborn and feisty and independent in rejecting suitors whom she doesn't love - but in reality, she's scared spitless to be in the room with this criminal! She doesn't go against her upbringing and training lightly. It isn't until she challenges him to kiss her with his "best effort" that she feels the connection that motivates her to go against her upbringing and follow her desires. The kiss is instigated when her most recent suitor shows up - it's meant both to discourage the suitor and to hide Emory's identity. It quickly escalates, however, to something more.

The action scenes are truly wonderful, and the suspense is kept until the very last minute - you think you know whodunit, but then you are proved wrong, and proved wrong again! The love scenes are hot and romantic and everything I look for in a romance novel.

I think I'm onto a new glom for everything Marsha Canham - when will I ever finish my TBR pile?? 5 stars!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase *****

This book was just released recently, and has been on all the romance discussion boards and blogs. The AAR Review gives it an A with DIK status and I have to say, I am in complete agreement with this reviewer. Others are still using words like "disappointed" and "meh" (whatever that means) - which just goes to show that it takes all kinds, and everyone is different!

The heroine is Francesca Bonnard, a divorcee turned courtesan, living in Venice. She was married well and young through the "marriage mart" but it turns out he was bad news, with a series of mistresses and bad political choices. In a naive effort to get him to pay attention to her, she has an affair which causes the breakdown of the marriage and the disastrous divorce. She manages to find evidence of his treason in letters that she takes with her and taunts him with over the years. There are 2 camps that want these letters - the camp that wants to out him as a traitor and ruin his political career, and the camp that wants to destroy the letters so he can move up.

When we meet James Cordier, our hero, we know he is there to get the letters but it isn't clear which camp he is in. He's a master spy, master jewel thief, master mimic and 2nd son - he thought he was at the end his spy career until pressed into service one last time to get the letters.

He first meets Francesca at the opera, in disguise as a servant, and realizes right away the charm and appeal she has for all the men in her life. She is currently between lovers, and is stringing along a series of men, waiting to see which one will be her new protector.

Francesca has been using her wiles to attract men for 5 years - skills she learned from a madame in France. She is independent and strong - character traits she honed from her experience with men abusing her trust, mainly her father and her first husband.

From the start there is a chemistry between James and Francesca, but what makes their story different is that both have had lots of experience with lust and sexual chemistry and the use of sex as a weapon or a ways to an end. They go into their relationship with eyes wide open, knowing (or assuming) each is only good for one thing. She teases him and leads him on only because she assumes he could not afford her services, and he plays along because he is only looking for the letters. What they don't see until they are both in the thick of it is how their relationship has evolved, how their teasing and intrigue has changed, and how they have both fallen so deeply in love, against both their better judgements. In fact, in a conceit I love, he realizes it and voices it first and often.

Chase's writing skill is unmatched in my experience - she manages to write layered, complex stories that are still light and funny and witty and romantic and steamy and still ring true. I almost wrote "unique" and I guess "unmatched" isn't exactly right either. The other author who writes like this is Jo Goodman, but they aren't the same and they don't write the same style or the same stories. It's just their abilities to craft words into experiences that are similar, and unlike any other authors I've read. Not sure if that makes sense... I sure don't have that talent.

5 stars and a definite keeper (although I'm so tempted to grab a PBS credit by swapping mine out....)

The 5 People You Meet in Heaven, a movie

After this movie was over, I felt - cheated. Years ago I saw another movie with Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder that made me feel the same way. Because I felt emotion, I cried (at the earlier one) but I didn't like the movie. I felt manipulated, like maybe there had been subliminal messages embedded in the movie, shots of puppies being killed or something. Because I didn't think the story warranted the way I felt. It wasn't that good of a movie.

That's how I felt after this movie. Jon Voight plays Eddie, the maintenance guy at a carnival. Or fun park - Ruby Park - a permanent park with rides and side shows. He's there for years - I'm guessing he was older than 75 when he died, but they never said. The plot is that after he died, he met 5 people who had already died from whom he was to learn something before he could enter Heaven.

It's not really a spoiler to say that the point was his life affected so many others and he didn't even realize it. His work touched souls and had meaning. Well, as much meaning as anyone else's, I guess, was the point. So he kept rides safe at his park so that all the people who rode them were safe, even though he did things in his life that caused death for others.

I kept thinking his assent to Heaven was really Hell - the 5 people he met really did not have anything uplifting to say. A man died of a heart attack after swerving his car to miss 5-yr-old Eddie. An army buddy (WWII) died while the 2 were in captivity in the Phillipines. I don't know, I sorta thought someone going to Heaven would feel better about it. He's reunited with his wife, who died before him, but then she's taken away. Cheap shots like that, ones that bring emotions to the surface but don't really make you feel better....

Well he finally does make it to what is supposed to be his Heaven, but I say the movie should be called The 5 People Eddie Met in Heaven.

It just wasn't that good.

2 stars.

Only Love by Elizabeth Lowell *****

I have a mixture of reactions to Elizabeth Lowell's works. Sometimes I just love them. Sometimes I want to scream ENOUGH ALREADY. She has a way of working you over, working over the situation, repeating the issues, using and overusing adjectives and adverbs - it's dramatic and lush and sometimes I fall prey to her work and sometimes it gets under my skin and gives me the heebie jeebies. Go figure. It's pretty much the same in all her books, whether contemporaries or historicals, and sometimes it works for me and sometimes it just doesn't.

It worked for me big time in Only Love. Only Love is the 4th in her "Only" series that star the Moran siblings and their friend Wolfe Lonetree. Only His is the 1st and it's truly a DIK status book for me that I have re-read and loved. Books 2 and 3, Only You and Only Mine, didn't do it for me. I disliked the heroines in both (especially Jess, Wolfe's heroine), and the stories just got on my nerves. So I held off for a long time before getting Only Love. In fact, I reread Only His one more time just to see - maybe it's my mood when I read? - but no, I loved it all over again.

The hero is Rafael Moran - "Whip" is his Western nickname, for the bullwhip he uses so masterfully. It made me think of Alex in SEP's Kiss An Angel, because he was also a master at the bullwhip. Now I really want to see someone use it this way to see if it's true - Lowell has Whip using it constantly, hovering and whispering and shimmering - does it really work like that? (The show in Kiss An Angel when he first uses it on the heroine is so erotic!)

Whip is what Lowell calls a "yondering man" - I guess he's always going over yonder? I have never even heard of that before, but it works. She means, of course, wandering. He was born a Rambling Man. He's been all over the world and is a restless guy, never wanting to settle down. Even with the pull he feels to Shannon, our beloved heroine, even realizing early on she's been in his dreams, he doesn't understand she's what he's been yondering for until the end.

Shannon is a widow - well, sorta like Willow was in her book (Only His) anyway. She was actually under the protection of her great uncle, pretending to be his bride for her safety out in the wild west wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. The one thing that really got to me about Shannon was her inability to see she truly needed to either have someone in her life or go somewhere else, that staying there alone was not only foolish but would be fatal. I had to agree with Whip on that. While I did respect her wish to be independent like her shaman buddy Cherokee, I just felt like she had some kind of death wish to just stay in that dilapidated shack and not try to do any better for herself. I kept trying to convince myself it was because she just couldn't imagine anything better.

Her imagination should have gotten a little better after she met Whip. He came into her life and helped her out - he did the Man chores she so desperately needed done, like hunting for food and splitting wood, and fixing up her cabin. But she realized early on he was a yondering man (probably because he kept telling her it was so) and that she couldn't tie him down. His plan was just to get her into a safe position and leave, hoping she could figure out a way to stay safe on her own. Of course, he imagined her safe and celibate, mind you - it sorta got to him when his own relatives pointed out the best situation would be for her to find a man, get married and bear his children. He didn't want another man having her, you see. Hmmmm. (someone knock Whip upside the head here, ok?)

Lowell's love scenes are so steamy you have to keep wiping your reading glasses to go on (and you have to keep stretching and shifting around - man, she can really get some ideas in your head!!). She winds the tension and the sexual chemistry so tightly it's a wonder you don't rip the book in half and scream, in situations that just crop up and are not contrived. The two of them under the tarp during the hail storm... sigh...

It was fun to have them visit Willow and Caleb from Only His, as well as Eve and Reno, and Wolfe. Jess is only a mention (thank goodness, because I'm still irritated with her from her book). I like reading series that bring the other characters back in for visits, like old friends.

It was slightly over-the-top dramatic, slightly too many adjectives and ol' timey sayings, you know, "he clung to it like a beaver with its whatever whatever*", those things yer grandpappy is always saying. But if you just slip into the skin of the characters and let those things roll right over you, it can work. It did work for me. 5 stars and a keeper.

(* I just made that up cuz I couldn't find any examples fast enough...) wait here's one "as foolish as walking barefoot through a campfire".

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Obsessed by Susan Andersen

Obsessed is another of Andersen's earlier romantic suspense novels, very different from her later romantic comedies. Different, but just as wonderful.

This one stars Ivy as a young trauma center doctor, who moves into the apartment next door to our hero, Vincent. Ivy has wanted to be a doctor since the night her parents died in an ER after a car accident. She was raised by her aunt and uncle in the context of an even larger family of cousins and aunt and uncles. Although she was touched by tragedy, she has a loving, stable family life - I like that in a heroine.

Vincent is Midwestern-Italian-American - this is to explain his feeling somewhat alone and left out, as the midwestern town he grew up in was largely Swedish-American. He had a 4-year marriage to The Bitch, who was unfaithful - a lot - which left him bitter about women in general. When Ivy's family helps her move in next door to him, they create a lot of noise while he's trying to sleep - and this starts their relationship off on a really bad note.

Unfortunately - or not - for both of them, they become involved professionally right off the bat because Vincent is the Special Assault detective on the case of a serial rapist, and one of the rapist victims ends up in Ivy's care. The rapist is a sick fellow who hears voices that urge him to rape someone every full moon. (I kept wondering where he was before the 3 previous rapes - did no one find the victims? Because it sounded like he'd been doing it for a while...) He followed this victim to the trauma center and fell for Ivy right off the bat - she's someone who can calm his voices down. Now he tries to find her.

Meanwhile, Ivy and Vincent really do try to fight off their instant sexual chemistry for, oh, a day or so. They really do - but once it's unleashed, there's a great Wham/Bam/Thank You Ma'am scene. Ivy falls right to sleep - and Vincent, realizing how powerful the feelings are and desperate to make them stop - leaves her sleeping and tries to forget her. Yeah, right. Like that's gonna work.

The rapist sends Ivy flowers with an anonymous card that takes her a day or so to figure out. At that point, she has to face Vincent again, professionally, because it's another clue in the case. Nothing seems to help the 2 of them stay away from each other!!

The chemistry between the 2 was great, and it was great to have a smart heroine again (I was getting sorta bimboed out). Vincent was a little edgier than I usually like, and he clung to his convictions about women a little too hard too. Andersen presents his point of view realistically but I still wanted to shake him - do men really cling to the idea that all women are evil after one bad relationship? Maybe some do.

Andersen does a great job in her books of creating families and fleshing out the various characters. I really fell for Terry, the twin in love with his first cousin Jasmine forever, and was sad for him at the end - he didn't get his HEA in this book, and I guess we'll never know how he fared in San Francisco. Auntie Babe and Uncle Mack and their bar with singing every night was another great touch. And I loved that the cousins all sang together in harmony at the bar a lot too. Once again, Andersen's writing made me feel a part of the story, which I love best of all.

The suspense was nail-bitingly good - the rapists attempts to get to Ivy were well written. I was icked out by the near-rape scene at the end - well crafted, I guess, since it made my skin crawl. Oh, one really bad typo: "heir" for "hair"??? Hello?

I liked it a lot - but didn't love it as a keeper. 4 stars.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Present Danger by Susan Andersen

I wasn't sure I was going to like this book - it seems I had read something about her earlier, non-comedy, romantic suspense novels that made me think they wouldn't be as good as her later romantic comedies.

Hmmm, either I was really wrong or I made that up about not liking them. I loved this story.

The heroine is Aunie, a Southern belle divorcée and spousal abuse victim who runs away from Atlanta to start a new life. She shows up in Seattle, bruised and battered, at James' apartment house where his apartment manager Lola rents her an apartment.

James is more than upset about this - he's had enough of bearing the responsibility of his brothers' fuckups without taking on a stranger's as well. He can tell just by looking at her swollen, bruised face and broken nose that she has trouble following her, and he lets her and Lola know this with no uncertainties.

Aunie's backstory: she grew up thinking her beauty is her only asset - her mother comes from a rich, old Southern family but she married down - poor - for love. According to her mother, love is fleeting and you might as well just marry rich instead. When a man 16 years her elder, rich and charming, woos her, she falls in love with him and her new life - for a while. But Wesley only wanted her for one thing: decoration. When being constantly at his beck and call to dress up and show off for clients is the only thing he allows her to do, she divorces him. That drives him over the edge, and he begins stalking her, and eventually beats her senseless. Well, not completely senseless - when she leaves, it's without a trace - almost.

James' backstory: he grew up in the Projects, no dad around, and mom had to work 2 jobs to keep him and his 3 brothers in shoes and food. He was always the responsible one, and when his lifelong dream of being a well-known cartoonist comes true, he's the only one with any money - now used too much to bail out the brothers. He also loves working with his hands, so he's purchased a historical apartment building and is renovating it.

When Aunie starts receiving odd calls where no one speaks, she assumes it's Wesley. This brings James and Lola's husband Otis into action - they set up an alarm system, they act as bodyguards and they help prepare her to protect herself. But when push comes to shove, and neither of them are there, Aunie has no one but herself to rely on.

This is not a story where you are wondering whodunit - you know who the bad guy is but the suspense is in whether or not he can find her, and if he does, what will happen. The suspense is deepened by the phone calls, because apparently there is someone else making scary phone calls to other women, so it isn't clear who is behind the calls.

Meanwhile, Aunie and James develop a relationship, starting with his showing his protection and deepening into something more. Once again, Andersen shows her skill at writing hot love scenes as well as showing us what her characters are feeling and why - bringing their minds into mine so I feel along with them. Aunie is able to express her own feelings sooner, but James falls just as hard, maybe harder because he's bigger.

The secondary characters in the book are wonderful too - Lola and Otis, trying to conceive a child; James' brothers, each dealing with the Devil in his own way, with the promise of happy endings for 2 of the 3 before the book is done. Aunie's friend Mary at school.

I had to go read the AAR Review just to see how far off my own thoughts were from theirs, and this time we are almost completely in agreement, even though that reviewer gave it a B+ and I'm going with 5 stars. I do like the character of Aunie quite a lot (like the AAR Reviewer) and I agree also that Andersen creates a family atmosphere for her characters in many of her novels that is touching and realistic.

Lola Carlyle Reveals All by Rachel Gibson

hmmmm... I'm conflicted about this book. Didn't love it, didn't hate it.

Lola is our heroine - she's a former underwear model who is now designing underwear and running her own underwear empire. She's a recovered (or is it recovering?) bulimic who is still referred to as fat in tabloids. The whole "reveals all" title is a reference to the fact that there are some embarrassing photos taken by her ex that he is now showing on the Internet - and she wants the photos gone. She is hiding from her life, with her rat of a dog (it's a Miniature Pinscher), in the Bahamas when she falls asleep on a yacht, is left there alone - and our hero Max commandeers it for his escape.

Max is one of those covert operators, a former Navy seal who gets called in by the government to do their dirty work from time to time. Highly trained, big, bad and dangerous. A loner. He was in the Bahamas on some drug cartel work that went real bad - they beat the shit out of him, and he killed some guys, including the Head Guy's son. He's a bruised and broken mess when he gets onto this supposedly empty yacht to escape.

We didn't have love or even chemistry at first sight in this story. Well, Max recognizes the underwear model and feels some lust, but Lola is horrified and repelled. In my opinion, she is bimbo material and did several stupid things, including shooting a flare gun that set the yacht's burnable materials on fire and melted others - rendering the yacht dead in the water too many miles out to sea for any quick rescue.

So I spent the first part of this book, in my afterglow from loving True Confessions so much, thinking it was a really lame story and I did not like Lola at all. I'm sure it's my own prejudice, but the whole bulimic recovery thing just didn't work for me - I couldn't find myself feeling any pity for her or the rat of a dog. I did, however, develop tender feelings for poor Max after a while - anyone with broken ribs who would jump into the sea to save the rat of a dog is a good person.

They did go through some harrowing experiences together, and while I kept feeling like Lola made more and more bad decisions, Max thought she was courageous. Huh? Just goes to show, he was already falling in love with her and couldn't see her faults, I guess.

But the harrowing escape from dangerous drug runners was nothing compared to what Lola put Max through afterwards - she actually made him attend her family reunion. Wow - that is true love on Max's part. And that was during the weekend he spent at her house - and wait a minute - nothing sexual happened between them. I was stunned.

My one big laugh out loud moment was a reference to Gibson's True Confessions: in the aftermath of Lola's disappearance, one tabloid publishes a report that she'd been abducted by aliens and was living in a small wilderness town in the Northwest. (That was Lola's favorite story.) See, the heroine of True Confessions wrote alien stories for a weekly tabloid, and... ok go read that book because it's a lot funnier and a lot more romantic too.

The ending of the book - their getting together afterwards in real life and trying to work out some sort of relationship - vaguely redeemed it for me, so I'll give it... I'm torn between 3 and 4 stars. I'll go with 4 stars only because I sorta have to almost not like it to give it 3 stars.

One more thing about this book: WHERE WAS THE EDITOR?? There are a bunch of typos in this book that are really slap-you-in-the-face wrong and should have been edited out. I'm not talking about her use of grammatically incorrect phrases - which I think she uses well as a break-the-rules kinda thing. Those work in this book as a way of making a point - and she uses them over and over, so it becomes a sort of recognizable pattern. No, I'm talking about verbs in the wrong tense, and misspelled words. Lots and lots of them. About using the word "gunnel" when it's "gunwale" (and she did use "gunwale" as well). Things an editor should have corrected.

Ok maybe it should get 3 stars. But I'll put 4, to be sorta consistent, because I did like it more than others I rated 3.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

True Confessions by Rachel Gibson *****

Ahhhhh - another great book by Rachel Gibson! A 5-star keeper for sure.

Hope is our heroine - she's a freelance writer. Well, ok, she writes stories about aliens abductions and Bigfoot for a weekly tabloid, but hey - she knows it's fiction, and she's good at it. She's had a sort of run-in with a dwarf, the model for Mickey the Magical Leprechaun, and she's also having serious writer's block, which motivates her boss at the paper to send her on a 6 month sabbatical of sorts, to Gospel, Idaho. However, she keeps her employer a secret mainly because people try to give her story ideas - it's easier just to be vague about who she writes for.

Gospel's sheriff is Dylan - he grew up in Gospel, and left after high school for the big city lights of LA, where he was a homicide detective for several years. But he wasn't happy in LA, and he got custody of his young son and moved back home - leaving the kid's momma in LA, working as a TV actor.

Gospel is a small town where gossip rules and weirdness is a virtue, by the way. Truth is stranger than fiction here - Hope soon realizes no one would believe her if she wrote about the actual residents!

Hope has some other secrets she's not quick to share with strangers - one is her 7 year marriage to an LA plastic surgeon which ended when he divorced her for her best friend, who was 5 months pregnant with his child. Since Hope had a hysterectomy at age 21 (which he knew), that was the only way he would have children, and she figured they were better off divorced.

Dylan has a secret too - no one knows that the actress in the popular Christian show has an illegitimate son who is being raised by his father - the two never married. If their secret is revealed, she could lose her audience, so mum's the word on Adam's mum.

Of course, there's sparks all over the place when Hope and Dylan get together. Dylan is the most eligible bachelor for 70 miles - he's single, straight and has a job - so the women in town are pretty open with their admiration. He's not keen on starting anything with any of them, including Hope - a conviction that pretty much goes out the window whenever he gets within 10 feet of her. She's not keen on starting a relationship either - for one thing, it would be temporary, and she's not one for sex without commitment. But she loses her conviction to stay away every time he loses his...

The story has so many laugh out loud moments - all the odd characters in Gospel, and Hope's ongoing conviction that she (who writes stories about aliens) is the only normal person around. The buildup of the sexual tension between Hope and Dylan is gripping - Gibson's story grabs you and makes you think this is it, then throws an obstacle in that douses Hope, Dylan and the reader with a blast of ice water. Then there's Dylan's son Adam, who hates all the women throwing themselves at his dad, but develops a relationship of his own with Hope, not seeing her as going after his dad. Adam is holding on to the fantasy, however, that his mom (the angel on TV) and dad will get back together.

The sizzling hot love scenes are pretty wonderful, and being inside Dylan's head when he's thinking about Hope had my eyes rolling back in my head in lust, I'm afraid.

But what really got me was the true emotions I felt while reading the story - how caught up I got in Hope's head when she thinks Dylan has rejected her and is feeling nothing. So, yeah, I laughed, I cried, I felt - and I think this had the most romantic moments of any book I've read so far. When Dylan tells Hope he had to show her the most beautiful spot in the world because it reminded him of her, welllll I about melted away.

Yep, it's a 5 star keeper/re-reader for me.

Ransom by Julie Garwood ***

This is another of the AAR Top 100 books I've read to meet my self-imposed "challenge" - to be honest, I'm also reading lots of other stuff and haven't even made it half way through this list, I don't think. But I'm doing it to find new authors and stories to love.

What is my opinion of Ransom? I'm conflicted. Truly, I feel a little inadequate as well as disappointed when I don't love a book that so many other people love. I mean, several of this author's books have made it to AAR Top 100 status, and I just Don't Get It. Is it me? I tell myself everyone is a little different, but I still wonder - why don't I like this more?

This is the second in her medieval series, and the first was The Secret, which I finished yesterday. The writing wasn't exactly the same - I didn't have quite the same issue (wondering if it was a comedy or not) but there was a touch of the Keystone-cops, everyone-talking-at-once thing going on here that befuddled me in the first book. And there was a conflict-obstacle trick I really hate, when the character intends to say something, but doesn't - or it doesn't come out right - or the other person misunderstands in a way that makes me want to shout at them. I'm talking specifically about the heroine not realizing she was married, not betrothed, in the ceremony she participated in - when it was so obvious to me, the reader - and when several characters sort of told her. Well, that's just it, they didn't tell her - they just kept saying, "no, you are not betrothed" instead of "YOU GOT MARRIED", leading her to believe nothing happened at all. But I found it irritating and annoying and wanted to shout JUST F**KING TELL HER THE TRUTH.

I liked this story - I did. But I didn't love it. It's not a keeper. I have no desire to read it again.

The plot involves an Englishwoman, Gillian, who helps the son of Scots laird Iain Maitland (The Secret) escape his captors. In order to take him back to Scotland, she calls on his Protector (Brodick, also now a laird) by sending a message saying his bride is waiting for him. The son was mistaken for the young brother of a different laird (Ramsey), so now we have 3 lairds involved in getting the son home and seeking revenge on both the English who sought the brother and the Scots who betrayed him. Of course, being a romance, we also have the growing relationship between Gillian and Brodick.

I kept wondering how historically accurate (or inaccurate?) the plot was - does the author mean to stray from the times? Is it meant to just be fiction, without regard to what the lives of people during this era - c. 1210 I guess - would actually be? I don't really know history well enough to call out any particular issues, but I'm pretty sure they didn't bathe as much as these characters did. And they surely didn't talk anything like these characters did, but maybe that was her "translation" as it were - from whatever they would have said that we couldn't understand to the modern version of what they said.

So - ok, another one to check off the list and put back in my PBS bookshelf. And I'm disappointed I didn't love it. 3 stars.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Secret by Julie Garwood ****

I read Garwood's The Secret because it's first in a series which contains an AAR Top 100 (Ransom) and I prefer to read books in order. This was my first Garwood book, and I guess I need a little guidance to understand her writing style.

Is it meant to be historically accurate? Funny? I wasn't sure - she has the characters say things like "Wait up" and... well, I don't have other examples, but it seemed odd. Other times she uses Nay and Aye not in character lines but just in her prose - is that to give us the feeling of Scots speech (from 1200 AD?). She doesn't use "verra", "canny", or "lass" to infer Scots speech, which I guess is good. I can only surmise that she used modern expressions that modern readers would understand and that modern readers are to assume that the characters actually used whatever would have been the vernacular and we are reading a translation, as it were. (does that even make sense?)

There's an almost Keystone-cops feel to all the discussions involving the elders - I finally figured out it must have been meant to be humorous. They all speak at once, they eavesdrop like mad, and they contradict and misunderstand each other a lot. The heroine often thinks they speak backwards, but I didn't find her speech or thinking to be exactly linear or sensible about 90% of the time either.

This is not to say I didn't like it - I did. I wasn't offended by her writing style (like I was by Stephanie Laurens') but I felt like I was missing something - something maybe obvious. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

The heroine Judith is English, raised near the Scotland border (of course, in 1200, that might have still been changing, if I recall) where she had a Scottish friend she grew up seeing once a year at the, uh, Highland games or ren faire - you know, something like that. When the Scottish woman got pregnant, she requested Judith attend the birth to fulfill a childhood promise. The woman's brother-in-law is Laird of the clan, so he fetches Judith for her. He is our beloved if surly and stubborn hero, Iain. (wonder how that is pronounced?)

Once again I'm going with the excuse that writing this from my work PC is stifling my ability to express myself. What we do get from this story is that Judith brought to the clan a lot of new-fangled and modern ideas from England - you know how modern those English could be in 1200 - and slowly won the clan over to some of her thinking. She also learned about herself, and her character development was realistic. Once I decided the book was meant to be humorous, I relaxed a little and enjoyed the ride.

OK, enough trying to figure out what I'm trying to say. I'm going with 4 stars for this read.

Dying to Please by Linda Howard ****

Dying to Please is another of Howard's romance/suspense books with some murder mystery thrown in for good measure. Sarah is a butler/bodyguard, working for a retired judge. Yes, butler as in she actually irons the newspaper in addition to all those other butlerly duties like overseeing the household. (She says in an interview it sets the ink - go figure) The judge has had some death threats during his years on the bench, and since he's wealthy and can afford it, why not have a butler with bodyguard training? Sarah's big Plan for life includes taking a year all to herself to travel the world in style - and since she makes a 6-figure income and has few expenses, it's easy enough to sock away the funds for this and anything else she might desire.

Tom Cahill is a police detective who is also recovering slowly from a bitter divorce. Slowly is the operative word, since his wife cheated on him then tried to get everything in the divorce. The night the judge's house is broken into and the burglars foiled by the female butler, he goes to the scene and meets Sarah.

Now we have 2 single, hot-blooded and available people who are interested one in the other - except they each have an obstacle to getting involved. He's actually better about keeping his distance even than she is, being surly and uncommunicative when they do have to interact.

The anonymous third person involved wants Sarah for himself. He saw her in a TV news piece on the foiled burglary, and in his psychotic mind, he decides she needs him. The clues we get are only that he's killed before and he lives in the same upperclass neighborhood as the judge. He offers her a job with him, including a (relatively puny) financial incentive and when she turns him down, he decides the only way to get her is to eliminate the obstacle between them - the judge.

My regular computer is on the fritz and I'm having to use my work PC to write this - I think it is keeping me from expressing myself well here. Suffice it to say, the characters are well-written, the crime suspenseful, and I'm going with 4 stars on this one.