Sunday, August 31, 2008

Someone To Watch Over Me by Judith McNaught *****

I judge a book not by its cover but by its ability to move me. I want to feel what the characters are feeling - the joy and delight, the humor and witticisms, the pain, the fear, the anguish. The more involved I get in the story, the higher my rating.

I think I am a little capricious in the ratings. Sometimes a 5 star rating is a keeper/re-read, and sometimes I loved it 5 stars worth but not keeper-worth. Sometimes I give a 3 star rating to a book I didn't really like that much but felt deserved it, maybe because it was well-written or....

I digress. I consider Someone To Watch Over Me a 5 star book that I don't plan to keep or re-read - maybe because it's a suspense and now I know. Maybe because I felt what the characters felt, but it didn't always feel good. I'm not sure. I felt it was well-written, and the characters fully fleshed out and credible - but, like a good suspense, it pushed my limits of what feels good - so maybe that's my answer.

I read the AAR Review and agreed with many of her conclusions. For one thing - identifying the hero is almost a spoiler and removes some of the suspense. And there's a secondary romance - or is it secondary at all? It is treated more like the main romance at times.

The plot revolves around the disappearance of Logan Manning, successful businessman, husband to the main female protagonist Leigh Kendall. Leigh is a famous Broadway actress who wakes up in the hospital at the opening of the book, confused and battered. She left after the Sunday matinee to join her husband at their dream cottage in the Catskills, but got lost in a blinding snowstorm and was knocked off the road by another car. Rescued by an unknown Good Samaritan, now she learns her husband is missing and feared dead.

The press has a field day with the fate of the famous couple, printing half truths and innuendos. Was the marriage on the rocks? Was Logan having affairs with anyone in skirts? And how was the notorious Michael Valenti, wealthy businessman with a reputation for dirty dealing, involved?

And who can Leigh trust?

Samantha Littleton (ok, I kept putting Samantha from Foyle's War in my mind...) is a rookie detective on the task force - she's actually earned her place with her ability, but she has connections - money and politics - that factor in as well. She's not convinced, as the rest of the force seems to be, that Leigh is in any way involved in Logan's disappearance. Many of the clues - like why Leigh's car was driving away from the cabin when it fell over the embankment - are just wrong assumptions. Why didn't they ask Leigh so they'd know she thought she had missed the turnoff and turned around? The task force is specifically assigned to get the goods on Valenti, who has successfully avoided prosecution all these years - and a key piece of evidence seems to be the starting point for bringing Valenti down.

The clues are revealed slowly and I found some of it painful to read, because as the reader you knew the truth behind some of them - the police seemed to jump to conclusions too often.

The revelation of the culprit was a surprise to me, and throughout I did find myself suspecting many of the characters of being capable - and in a way, some of them were just as bad as the person who pulled the trigger. As Leigh learned more about her husband, the betrayals of friends and colleagues were almost as unbearable for me as they were for her!

It's always about the journey for me, and I felt McNaught created the atmosphere she intended - I felt the suspense, I even stayed up way too late because I had to know the ending. 5 stars.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Once and Always by Judith McNaught *****

Once and Always is a sort of classic story in romance - the young, virginal heroine with a spine of steel who has lost her parents; the older, jaded, experienced, wounded alpha hero, thought by the ton to be an abusive and fearsome man; the marriage of convenience and its ensuing conflicts before true love is found and expressed.

In this case, the heroine is Victoria, an American girl born around 1800, raised by her English mother and Irish physician father in New York with a younger sister. The parents were wed in haste and left the British Isles for America as the rebellious result of Victoria's mother not being allowed to marry her true love, a distant British cousin who married instead for wealth and position. Apparently, although the parents were friends, they never became true lovers and Victoria learned from her father how devastating it was not to have love in a marriage.

Victoria is in love with her American neighbor, Andrew, who is 5 years her elder at age 23. Andrew's mother is, well, unpleasant and given to hypochondria to get her way - and she doesn't like Victoria. She sends Andrew on a short Grand Tour to test their budding relationship, and shortly after he leaves, Victoria's parents are killed in an accident. Victoria and the sister are bundled off to England to the only relatives anyone can locate - a great grandmother and the same distant cousin as above, Charles, neither of whom even knew of the existence of the girls.

Charles, now a duke, lost his wife to illness some years ago, and the only heir he has is a bastard born of a liaison with a French woman who handed over the boy and disappeared. He gave the child to his brother and sister-in-law - they were missionaries in India, and he didn't keep up with his "nephew" - Jason, our hero - until he was an adult. Jason is now the heir to the duchy, and in addition is wealthy in his own right, the "how" of which is part of the story to be revealed later in the book.

Jason's life was further complicated by a marriage which produced an heir and a hatred for women, because the wife only wanted his money and title, and after giving him an heir, proceeded to cuckold him all over and spread rumors about his treatment of her. She takes the boy with her on a trip - they are lost at sea - and now, we have a truly wounded hero.

So now we have a wounded heroine, orphaned and left by her true love, going to live with the wounded hero and his father, her only relatives who will take her in. And while Charles is fascinated by her because she looks so much like his long lost love, her mother, Jason is angry and unreasonable - well, maybe rightly so, because Charles, impetuous romantic, has posted a notice in the paper that the 2 are betrothed - before she even arrives! (don't even bother thinking about the sister, because she's such a minor part in this story as to only waste ink)

First, Victoria and Jason must keep up appearances to avoid the gossip of the ton - they must pretend to be betrothed, but put out the word that maybe it won't happen, so that another suitable husband can be found. Victoria wants to hold out for Andrew to come and rescue her, but has received a letter from Andrew's mother revealing that Andrew has chosen a new bride and married her while abroad. Then Charles uses his own poor health to blackmail the two into actually marrying before he dies (ah, a lesson he must have learned from Andrew's mother!), which they do, reluctantly.

Well - sort of reluctantly. Now is where McNaught uses her Misunderstandings to create the tension. In one scene, Jason brings up the subject of virginity. After all, he is extremely experienced and even maintains a paramour - even after the wedding, the bastard! Victoria, unsure of the ramifications of his questioning, and being thoroughly American, misunderstands where he is going with this train of thought, and just demurs "I'm sorry" - meaning she's sorry he even brought up the subject she knows so little about. Of course, Jason assumes she means she's sorry that Andrew already took her virginity so she won't have that to offer... See what I mean? It isn't that they aren't communicating, it's that they are jumping to wrong conclusions about what is being discussed. By referring to her being thoroughly American, by the way, I mean that she is not schooled in the ways of British peerage and culture, and how things are done. What lessons she is given are full of misinformation and lies.

Now in a marriage of convenience, the two must learn to get along, to share, and to communicate - and it takes the hands of several outsiders interfering to reach this point, including all the gossipy servants, a female best friend, Jason's mentor, Charles and even the mean old great grandmother (whose change of heart I found really confusing).

The story did all the things I love in a romance - it made me feel joy when they were communicating and happy, and sad and jealous when he went to his paramour (the bastard!) and the confusion when she is confronted with conflicting information and emotions. For that alone, I give it 5 stars but not really keeper/re-read status. Oh - it's also on the AAR Top 100 list, so check it off.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught *****

ahhhhh - another personal favorite added to my list! What a wonderful story this was - with knights in shining armor, feisty but not too foolhardy heroines, a touch of suspense and a tear-worthy ending and epilogue! It's got laugh-out-loud funny moments, witty dialogue and lots of tender moments as well - everything I love in a good story.

A Kingdom of Dreams is the "prequel" to the beloved Whitney, My Love - a long-standing title on the Top 100 lists. I liked Whitney enough to rate it 4 stars, but liked its sequel Until You more and Kingdom even more than that.

Royce Westmoreland, first Duke of Claymore, is a wonderful hero - he's the much-feared Black Wolf whose reputation keeps children away from the woods where legend has him lurking and waiting to eat them. He's a fearsome warrior, fighting to keep King Henry and England safe from marauding armies, and he's on a mission to conquer Merrick Keep in Scotland.

Jennifer Merrick is the only daughter of Laird Merrick, who also has 3 stepsons and a stepdaughter Brenna. Jennifer, by rights, is a countess on her mother's side and should inherit the laird-ship, but her father decides to grant it to the eldest stepson instead. Jennifer is a bit of a hoyden, facing down the stepbrother in a jousting tournament (by lifting the face mask at the very last minute and sticking out her tongue at him, causing him to fall off the horse in surprise). At the ripe old age of 17, she's already refused two offers of marriage to older men and is almost a spinster for the time. To keep her safe and prevent her from any more mischief, her father sends her to live as a novice/nun in a nearby abbey, and later sends the stepsister as well.

The sisters are wandering home from the village when Jenny decides she would like to take the long way - think The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music here. Brenna is the goody-two-shoes of the pair, but stays with Jenny as they take a different, and less safe way. Royce's brother Stefan kidnaps them as hostages and takes them to Royce.

Brenna is ever the good girl, but Jenny looks for ways to make mischief and escape - the scenes where she "mends" Royce's clothing had me laughing out loud. She manages to come up with a good plan - she steals some of the clothing so she and Brenna can dress as boys, steals 2 horses and leaves the men looking in the wrong places. Her courage and daring impress Royce as much as make him mad - of course, it doesn't help his reputation much to have 2 girls outwit the Black Wolf!

When he gets them back, and takes them to one of his homes, Brenna becomes ill, and Royce strikes a bargain - he will let Brenna go if Jenny will sleep with him. Because she will do anything for her sister, for her family, for her people, she agrees. She even admits to him that she has a built a "kingdom of dreams" - a place where everyone will see her as heroic and good. It's the opposite of how her family and clan feel, because her no-good stepbrothers have spread lies about her, turning them against her. Royce is truly touched by this side of Jenny, and is already falling in love with her.

The story is told in a way that makes it suspenseful - we start on the day of their marriage, with Jenny trying to strike a bargain with God - anything to keep from having to marry this Barbarian! Then we learn their journey to this point as a flashbackk, 7 weeks earlier, when the girls are first kidnapped. When Jenny reveals her "kingdom of dreams", Royce reveals to her his own dream - good food, a life with no more fighting, a family. Their dreams aren't so far apart - except for Jenny's youth and inexperience, which make her take risks to keep her family and clan thinking well of her, even when they are not the least bit deserving.

The emotions she feels, the feeling of being betrayed, the desire to be loved and accepted - I felt each of these while I read the story. She makes choices which have consequences she didn't foresee, based on the falsehood that her father will love her and show her the respect she deserves. That was so sad and made the ending so much more a triumph, when her true kingdom is revealed.

Well, I don't know if I've conveyed how touching, and funny, and wonderful, and fastastic this story is, but I'm putting it in my Favorites lists and it's a 5-star-keeper for me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Reef by Nora Roberts *****

How does she do it? Where do all these stories come from? I'm not sure I could ever catch up with reading everything by Nora Roberts!

Ok - I don't always love them, but I don't think I've disliked one yet. However, I did love this one!

The Reef is a contemporary story - our heroine Tate starts out a 19-year-old college student, spending her summer vacation with her parents looking for buried treasure in the sea. Her father started diving as a hobby and got hooked, and she naturally got hooked with him. Her major is marine archeology, and she plans to one day have a museum of all the wonderful treasure she and dad uncover.

The hero Matthew starts the book a little earlier, at age 16, when he, his dad and his Uncle Buck (yep) are diving professionally with the villain, Silas VanDyke. It's no secret he's the villain, especially after he kills Matthew's dad but manages to make it look like a tragic diving accident.

The other character in the book is Angelique and her curse on a necklace in the 16th century. After Angelique is burned at the stake, the necklace moves from person to person, each of whom meets an untimely death. In the 18th century, the last person to have it goes missing under the sea and takes it with him - but who, and where, is part of the mystery.

Matthew and Buck meet up with Tate and the parents in the waters of the Caribbean. The parents and Uncle Buck get along so well, they decide to join forces as partners even though Matthew, age 25 now, and Tate at age 19 seem to do nothing but fight. Oh of course, that's code for foreplay - and eventually they get to turn the tension to something a little more romantic. They discover an 18th c. shipwreck and untold treasure, and are all waiting with baited breath to find the necklace. Unfortunately, there's an accident and some piracy - involving VanDyke - and the 2 split up, left with nothing from the relationship or the shipwreck.

Tate goes on to finish her degree, get a Master's and work in the field; Matthew has to support Buck and does whatever it takes. Then, 8 years after they first met, Tate's father makes a discovery that puts them back on track to find Angelique's Curse. Too bad VanDyke has been keeping tabs on them all, all along...

It was suspenseful to the point that I almost skimmed to get away from the evil villain, even knowing I would miss a clue if I didn't pay attention. NR managed to make me feel what the characters were feeling - the love between Tate's parents, the protectiveness of Buck towards Matthew, the love that develops between Tate and Matthew and the forces, mostly pride, that kept them apart. And the evilness of VanDyke - ick!! EEEssh. There was even a touch of paranormal - the necklace calling to Tate, and making her dream about it - but just a teensy, credible touch. All wrapped up in a wonderful story that really did have me turning the pages and rushing ahead trying to figure out how it would all play out. There wasn't any hiding who the bad guy was, but what would he do? Would they find the necklace?

I'm not gonna spoil it and tell you whether or not the necklace was ever found, but it is a romance, so I can tell you Matthew and Tate find their HEA in the blue blue Caribbean sea, which was very satisfying. Loved it! 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Read Around the Genre Challenge

Cindy at Cindy Reads Romance is always looking for a challenge and now she's challenging us to Read Around The Genre. She's giving us from September 1 to December 15 to read 1 book in each of the following romance sub-genres:

1. Pirate or Viking - A Lady At Last by Brenda Joyce - READ 9/11, 376 pp ***
2. Vampire - Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, downloaded audio book READ 10/13 (304 pp in paperback) *****
3. Contemporary - Beguiled by Lori Foster - audio, 9/3, 250 pages? ****
4. Chick Lit - A Little Help from Above by Saralee Rosenberg, loaned to me by a friend - READ 9/2 (334 pp) ***
5. Medieval - The Velvet Promise by Jude Deveraux- READ 9/5 376 pages ****
6. Time Travel - Time Enough For Love by Suzanne Brockmann, READ 10/7, (240 pp in the orig paperback; 179 in this edition) ***
7. Romantic Suspense - downloaded Death Angel by Linda Howard from - READ 9/1 (352 pp) *****
8. Inspirational - downloaded Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers from - READ 9/8 (464 pp in book form) *****
9. Historical - Seaswept Abandon by Jo Goodman - READ 9/9 *** 508 pp
10. Paranormal - Remembrance by Jude Deveraux - READ 9/6 (423 pp) ****

And she's offering incentives: Trophies up for grab:
-First Person Completed
-Most Pages Read (applies to these 10 books)
-Least amount of Authors read (JD Robb and Nora Roberts count as 2 authors)
-Challenge Winner (a random drawing will be held for all who complete the challenge)

I must say, it is almost more a dare than a challenge! Can I do it? We will see. Surely, at the rate of 1-book-a-day I can fit these in. Plus - HEY I did just realize that the Amanda/Cliff de Warenne/Brenda Joyce book that precedes A Dangerous Love is about a pirate...

(off to figure out how to weasel more credits out of my PBS account...)

UPDATE OCT 13 Happy Columbus Day! I finished this challenge. Whew! It's 3,566 pages, 9 authors.

A Dangerous Love by Brenda Joyce *****

I had been thinking Brenda Joyce was a favorite author for me and then I realized this was actually only my 3rd book by her, and I only rated the second one 3 stars... So where did I get the idea she was a favorite? Well - maybe she is after all, because I did love this story!

I got this book as one of the 8 books taken from a bag going to charity this summer on my road trip. I'm still sorry I couldn't have just taken the whole bag. But that really would have been greedy, no? Ok now to the book.

This is a historical romance, just post-Regency (1838), with a half-blood hero, Emilian St Xavier - a viscount who is half Gypsy, half English, raised by his English father from age 12 on, and a bluestocking heroine, Ariella de Warenne. Apparently the de Warennes have this thing about falling in love at first sight - maybe I should have remembered that from Promise of the Rose since he was also a de Warenne. (it's a huge series but I chose not to wait to read this one.)

Ariella is almost a spinster at 24, and she is the product of her father's SECOND love-at-first-sight relationship, with a Jewess, and raised by him and his THIRD love Amanda. (Their book is A Lady At Last.) She loves to hang out with eccentric people and attend debates and political discussions in London, and is only visiting her family somewhere north of London when she meets Emilian St Xavier. However, when they meet, he lets Ariella and her father believe he is the leader of a Gypsy camp that has just set up on their property, never letting on he is also their neighbor and a viscount.

Ah, and then Ariella falls in love at first sight with him, thinking he is Rom. She sneaks back later that night, drawn by the music and dancing, and sees him dancing. She doesn't hide very well and he sees her, and takes her into the shadows where he attempts a full ravishing seduction. But he does not seduce her from love at first sight - he does it as payback, as revenge for the English who killed his Gypsy mother 1 month earlier. The concept is brudjo, and it is described as cutting your neighbor's hay and selling it back to them, something Gypsies are fairly renowned for.

The story involves the bigotry and prejudice of the English against the Roma - Emilian's Gypsy half-sister is almost raped and then chased from an inn where she was reading palms, and she is saved by Ariella and her older half brother Alexi (product of Cliff's FIRST love at first sight - he was a very busy and very loving fellow!). Later a gypsy youth is accused of stealing a horse and the vigilante mob tries to hang him. Ariella tries to convince them to wait for her father to dole out justice, and instead they reduce the sentence to flogging, which Emilian takes for the youth. The flogger is brutal with his punishment, and Emilian almost dies from it and is nursed to health by Ariella in the de Warenne home. Emilian, however, cannot believe that Ariella or her family could ever be happy with him in their lives, in spite of what they say and their actions to the contrary.

The writing style is lush and dramatic - something you would really have to be in the mood for, because it's all but over-the-top. People don't "say", they "cry" - as in, "Wait!" she cried. Ariella pushes Emilian to love her, and she makes an awful lot of assumptions about him, about his feelings and about their future together. She pursues him relentlessly, and I felt she really needed to listen to him a little more. It's something that got very, very close to being annoying - for all her intelligence, she let her hormones take control and make decisions for her more than once. But Emilian's struggle with his 2 halves, his passionate Gypsy blood and his staid viscount upbringing, was very credible. The story was moving and emotional, and I loved it all the same.

So - not in my Author-glomming list, not on my AAR Top 100 list - but in my 8-books-from-California list, and a passionate, emotional read to boot.

5 stars.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 2-for-1

My bookshelf on PBS is now up to 54 books, and so I've decided to run a short 2-for-1 credit deal through Sept 1, which is Labor Day this year. So if you're a PBSer like me, check out my shelf on the link below and PM me with your request! My username there is chiricahualgal - I'm not 100% sure where the link in the list below takes you, to be honest.

I buy a lot of hardcovers at Hastings (used and usually under $5), all of which have the dust jackets, so there's a lot of hardcovers, as well as mass market paperbacks.

The Prize by Julie Garwood ****

This is #99 on the AAR Top 100 - and another book by Julie Garwood, an author with 6 titles in the list. After reading 2 or 3 of her books (not all in the Top 100 because I'm a stickler for reading entire series in order), I had decided I didn't like her writing style. Then I read Saving Grace and changed my mind. After all, I don't rate all of the Nora Roberts or LaVyrle Spencer books 4 or 5 either, and they are 2 of my favorite authors!

Now that I've read The Prize, though, I'm shaking my head. She has a familiar theme she seems to employ that I'm tired of. No, not the Keystone Cops thing this time - it's the misunderstanding thing. Not the "Big Misunderstanding" but the characters misinterpreting things each other say and do. Yes, this is realistic. In general, people don't always say what they are thinking, and often they misinterpret actions or things said by others. I'm sure this is multiplied 100x between men and women in general, and add to that the fact that the heroes and heroines in her books tend to be from (slightly) different cultures, you can say that misinterpretations and misunderstandings must abound.

However - what I am finding a tedious repetition is how we go through the mental process with the heroine. Her brute of a husband just doesn't understand how things work, how they should be, what his reaction should have been, and instead of her saying it, she thinks about how she will bring him around and usually it seems to be some off-beat logic on her part. Maybe if I had read The Prize before the others, I would have enjoyed it more. But seeing the use of this conceit again just wasn't that interesting.

I'm quoting Ms Garwood here from an interview in 2007 with AAR:

At the core of any great romance is emotion. I think the reader has to identify with the characters – to root for them. My goal is to make the reader feel what the character is feeling—to fall in love, to be afraid, to be angry, to laugh.
She is absolutely right, and I did not feel what the characters were feeling in this. I'm not sure whether she failed me or I failed her. I liked this book, in fact I'll give it 4 stars because it was a good enough read, but not great. Slightly better than average, where the definition of average is "lacking exceptional quality" and to which I give 3 stars.

The era is medieval - 1066 during William the Conqueror's reign. The hero is Norman (Royce) the heroine Saxon (Nicholaa). He's come to conquer her lands and take her, The Prize, back to William. She's the prize because she has led her people in victory over 3 different attacking armies sent by William. Royce is the 4th, and instead of force, he uses cunning to finally capture her - after she has used cunning to avoid capture.

They get back to William, through some cute dialog and actions they end up married, and then we watch them struggle to learn how to get along with each other, mainly through a lot of that misinterpreting thing I described. I marveled at Royce's control of his libido, sleeping with her for days before consummating the marriage... I also marveled at Nicholaa's ability to use a slingshot so accurately without ever practicing. She never showed any other similar skills, although you woulda thought she had them, since her aim was so incredible. Ah, I'm such a cynic. (and at the tournament, she had 3 rocks, used 1 and had only 1 left... where did the 3rd rock go?)

4 stars, go ahead and read it so you can finish the Top 100 challenge...

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Thin Dark Line by Tami Hoag *****

Wow! I read a non-romance!

Ok, wait. Let's define romance - a book with a hero and a heroine who develop a relationship and in the end get together for their own HEA?

Ooops. It's a romance - well, a thriller/romance. Or suspense/romance. But the focus isn't on the relationship, so...

The focal point of the book is the unsolved murder. Two law enforcement types are involved here - our heroine, Annie Broussard, is a sheriff's deputy who wants to be a detective. She grew up in Bayou Breaux, a fictional small town in fictional Partout Parish in south Louisiana. (I know it's fictional, because I grew up in south Louisiana myself. There ain't to Partout Parish or Bayou Breaux town.) She has an on-again/off-again relationship with a distant relative - or maybe he isn't related by blood - the ADA A.J. She's currently the only female law enforcement officer in the area.

The so-called hero - or maybe we should just say main male protagonist - is Nick Fourcade. His family is from around here (both have Cajun genealogy) but he's been gone, as he was a New Orleans police department detective. He had a little trouble there and was run off the force, and that's saying something since the NOPD is known for not exactly being by-the-book or above-board. He's now a detective for the sheriff's department in Partout Parish.

There was a brutal murder - a realtor, separated and almost divorced, mother of a young daughter, left to bleed to death. The alleged killer, a man she had tried to get a restraining order against as a stalker, has just been let go on a technicality. Seems Det. Fourcade is now accused of planting the only good piece of evidence that ties the murderer to the crime.

The victim's father tries to kill the alleged murderer, and is stopped by Nick and Annie simultaneously - their first actual encounter, although they've worked for the same department for several months. Not long after, a drunken Nick beats the murderer almost to death - and is stopped by Annie, who coincidentally comes across the scene while Nick is reducing the guy to a bloody lump.

Now Annie's a pariah on the force for stopping Nick from killing the guy, for turning in a Brother and breaking The Code - and Nick's temporarily off the force while being investigated. It doesn't seem likely - but Annie goes to Nick because she's driven to solve the crime, both by her desire to help the victim and her family as well as her ambition to be a detective - an ambition it doesn't seem likely she'll ever realize given how she is now being treated by the force.

I found it to be a true page-turner, with new evidence and new crimes coming in each chapter, making the eventual solution almost impossible to see. A rapist is now on the loose, and there are pieces that tie the rapes to the murder, and pieces that don't fit. The alleged murderer turns his attentions to Annie, and begins to stalk her as well. The murdered woman's husband was considered a possible suspect, and then dropped from the list. Nick and Annie - working strictly off the record and without the backup of the police and sheriff's offices - discover he may not be innocent after all. Ties to Nick's shady past in New Orleans come back to haunt him.

The relationship between Nick and Annie - the romantic relationship that is - is a background for the events that happen. Nick finds that she may be the light in the darkness that is his soul - I liked that about him. I liked the story and her writing style and I enjoyed stretching my reading a little to include this book. Ok, ok, it did have a HEA, so I wasn't stretched very far.

5 stars

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Lady of the West by Linda Howard ***

As I wrote in the entry for Angel Creek, I was lucky to get this in a Large Print 2-for-1 book with Angel Creek. However - the book has Angel Creek as the first story, but chronologically it's the second one in the series and this one should be read first to avoid character spoilers.

If you read my review of Angel Creek, you already know I have mostly contempt for the men - heroes and villains - in these 2 books. The men in this book are the worst. I mean, what bastards! Especially the Sarratt brothers, Ben and Jake, the 2 "heroes" which is only to mean they are the main protagonists. Jake is the #1 asshole, I mean hero.

The brothers witnessed their mother's rape and murder, and saw their father dead, and managed to escape some 20 years earlier at ages 13 and 11 with slight bullet damage. They have spent the past 20 years honing their gun skills and their anger because the killer took over their father's property and has been living on it ever since. They are gonna get it back, come hell or high water.

Now, 20 years later, their plan is ready - with one fly in the ointment. If they kill the bastard McLain who murdered their parents and stole their land, now his new bride - Victoria - will inherit. Victoria has just arrived from Augusta, GA, with her young cousin and sister in tow. She's basically been sold to the old guy, McLain, by her parents who were devastated in the war. Civil War.

McLain is really a bad guy, and lucky for Victoria, he can't seem to get his johnson to react so the marriage is never consummated. Jake has immediate lust for Victoria anyway and decides after he murders McLain, he'll marry her so he can have everything he wants - Victoria's pussy and the land. What a nice guy, huh? NOT. He pressures her a lot to let him have a little before he kills McLain - what's a little adultery between friends, right?

And just when you thought Jake was the biggest asshole, here comes Lil Brother Ben - who decides he'd like a piece of ass too - how about cousin Emma? But marry her? No way Jose. Just put out and shut up, that's his motto. Makes ya get all warm and squishy just thinking about it, huh? Good thing Emma's spine is a little stronger than Victoria's. She holds out for months.

Is this Linda Howard's idea of how men were in the old West, or is it just before she started writing great alpha heroes? I'm pretty sure a jury wouldn't take 20 minutes to convict either one of rape and assault. The brutes!! And frankly, I didn't find their technique that coma-inducing either - they had a sort of wham bam shut up ma'am way about them.

Meanwhile Luis (if you kept your scorecard from Angel Creek, he's the one who wanted whassername) has discovered what a treat little sister Celia is. Too bad she's written in as, well, slow. "Fey" was another way they put it. But it came across as mentally challenged. Yep, wasn't that sweet of him to show her his thing when she asked, all innocent and full of wonder. Remember, he's a gentleman and women love him. Even 16 year old mentally challenged women. (rape rape rape - jury verdict in 10 minutes on this one)

OK - there's some plot twists and turns - they do manage to kill McLain (he's actually killed by a woman servant McLain raped, robbing Jake and Ben of their right to murder him theirselves, dagnabit) and get the ranch back. At this point, Jake rapes Victoria, then marries her, then continues to rape her as much as possible. She, of course, falls in love with him, and lo and behold gets pregnant pretty quickly.

Now - he's not much of a talker, but he's a deep thinker. He's thinking she's holding some awful secret from him, but he doesn't know what. We know what it is - she's sad because she's in love with him, but she thinks he had only 2 choices - marry her or kill her for the land. She thinks this because BEN SAYS IT in front of her. Oh. So she's sad that she's just a piece of ass with land to him.

When she announces her pregnancy, he immediately decides it's McLain's baby, and well - he is a ratass bastard, so in his dark world, the baby has to go at birth and she can either go or stay. She tells him, no no, McLain never did it to her. This is when we learn he is also a batterer - he knocks her across the room, leaving her bruised and bloody. Does ANYONE like this guy?

Oh - but when the local whore tells him Victoria's telling the truth, McLain never touched Victoria and it's indeed his baby, sure, THEN he wants Victoria to forgive him, goddammit. Right. He believes a whore but not his wife. Yes, they'll have years and years of loving to look forward to, huh? NOT.

oooo it makes me mad to write this.

And yet - LH is a good story teller and excellent writer, so as mad as those ratass bastard Sarratt brothers made me, I'm still going with 3 stars. What a sucker I am.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase *****

This is the 4th in the series that includes The Lion's Daughter, Captives of the Night and the fabuloso Lord of Scoundrels which is the AAR Top 100 #1 book in 2007. I have put off getting it because it hasn't been available on PBS and is out of print. The AAR reviewer really didn't like it, so I just dilly-dallied and then I finally broke down and ordered it used on Amazon.

Why did I bother to pay attention to the AAR reviewer? She and I obviously do so not agree - because I loved this book!! I think Chase used the same wonderful techniques to create this story that made Lord of Scoundrels such a favorite - incredibly witty, rich, layered writing that had me grinning and laughing out loud all the way through the book. Even the dog is funny in this book!

The hero is the Duke of Ainswood, friends with Dain of Lord of Scoundrels, you remember: the one who called Dain's wife Jessica a whore on their wedding day and whom Dain beat to a fare-thee-well because of that comment. Ainswood is all things bad - the last of the hellions in his family. He should never have inherited the title - it went through so many male relatives, down to his cousin Robin, the 6th Duke of Ainswood, who died of diptheria at age 9 after having spent 6 months traveling with Ainswood.

The heroine is Lydia Grenville - she's not high born but suspects her mother was somehow related to Dain, based on a diary Lydia discovered then lost. (the diary was the one piece of info that befuddled me in the story line.) Lydia is a spinster journalist - she is a sort of muckraker, plus she also writes a serial romance under a pen name for the same newspaper. She is hot on the trail of a well known whore who abducts young girls for the trade when Ainswood thwarts her and their first sparks start to fly.

Ainswood manages to continue to thwart her efforts - not really in order to stop her but just because he's intrigued and he follows her. She goes through a number of disguises in order to find justice, but he manages to see through them all. He is so attracted to her, but realizes she must be treated like a lady - and the only thing he can think to do is offer marriage in order to get what he wants (her). She's too independent for that, so he challenges her to a race - if he wins, they marry; if she wins, the prize is money in the form of dowries for her assistant and contributions to her favorite charities.

Lydia has the most wonderful dog - I must be on a roll for great story dogs, since Nora Roberts' Tribute also has a great dog. Susan is a huge mastiff with lots of opinions - and she takes a shine to Jessica's brother Bertie Trent.

Ainswood has 2 wards, Robin's older sisters, that he has been neglecting, and they become the focal point near the end when they run away to attend the wedding (Ainswood and Grenville) and instead get caught by the notorious whore.

So we have mystery, suspense, humor, love - all wrapped up in wonderful writing. What is not to like?? Well, I guess we all have different tastes, because that AAR reviewer pretty much thought everything I liked was bad bad bad.

I think I would consider it a 4.75 if I did fractions, because I did get real confused about the diary and how they discovered Lydia's genealogy in the end (and wondered why it mattered anyway...?) But hey, I'm keeping it because it took me so long to get it. There were plenty of references to characters from the original books, including lots of Francis Beaumont which means it takes place simultaneously to some of the other books (is it a spoiler to say Beaumont dies in the middle of one of the books? I hope not - after all, since he is married to the heroine of the book and he is not the hero, he's gotta go!!) OK, so the AAR reviewer thought it was annoying to have the characters foot-noted - I was glad! I think there were only 3 footnotes, so how annoying is that?

I need to do a full series re-read pretty soon. I have already read the other books 2x each. 5 stars.

I do need to note: the picture on the back cover? NO way is that Lydia or Ainswood, really- that picture is of 2 young, soft looking cute teenagers, and in no way reminds me of the descriptions of the hero/heroine of this book!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dearest Enemy by Nan Ryan **

It's been a while since I listened to an audio book!! I went on a binge of audio booking earlier this year but somehow slowed down, and allowed my credits to accumulate and also got a gift certificate. There was a sale and a promotion at so I jumped in and grabbed a bunch, and listened to Dearest Enemy today.

This is by author Nan Ryan, and I have only read one other of her works, which I got at the Portal Library sale this past year - or the one before that. It sat in my TBR pile for a while then I read it, and liked it. So when this book came up on audible, I added it to my TBR pile too.

It's another Civil War story, and like You Belong To My Heart, the heroine is Southern and the hero fought for the Union. I wondered as I listened if You Belong to My Heart was filled with the same number of adjectives and adverbs as Dearest Enemy. It seemed every noun was preceded by at least one and often 2 adjectives, every verb enhanced by an adverb or 2, until I wanted to scream! Maybe reading it and hearing it make it seem different - I know from having first read then listened to a book that the experiences are different, but usually I just feel like I gained more of an insight into the story. In this case, maybe when I read the first one I skimmed over all the adjectives?

The author indulged in a lot of (forced?) alliteration as well, and I thought if I heard the adjective "saucy" one more time I might have to rip the earphones out of my ears and scream. Bulging Biceps. Saucy Sweetheart. well you get the picture.

I did try to focus mainly on the story and the characters, and I tried to overlook all the excess and purple prose. But that was hard too - the heroine was a Southern spy, so bitter that the Union soldiers had taken everything from her - her sweetheart, her brother, her home - that she had no qualms about pretending to be in love with the hero and having lots and lots of amorous encounters (was she on the pill or what? I kept wondering why she didn't get pregnant!!) only to go behind his back and read documents he carelessly left lying about with Union Naval secrets. He's injured when what she reveals puts his ship and his life in danger, and he's cashiered out of the navy, but doesn't reveal her name.

That doesn't stop Pinkerton from figuring out who she is and getting her imprisoned as a spy. The coincidences that keep her from being hanged were fairly hard to believe, but she survives and lots and lots of time goes by before the lovers are reunited, also in a very incredible and coincidental way. Now it's his turn to be bitter and punish her. As well he should.

Well, whatever. Weak plot. The narrator was mediocre. Her southern accent was pretty good, and her different characters were easy to keep track of, but she did get sorta breathless in her reading at some points where I would have preferred a more straight-forward approach. I don't mind the characters getting dramatic, but the prose between doesn't need to be quite so, uh, dramatically read...

And yet, look at me giving it 2 stars -not as good as mediocre/average, but not as bad as Did Not Finish. I wasn't touched by this story, I didn't find the characters or their actions very compelling, and I don't really recommend wasting an credit on it.

Tribute by Nora Roberts ****

This is a fairly new release but I managed to snag a used half price copy at Hastings this week, so I indulged even though I prefer to wait til they get under $5. It'll get me a credit at PBS no doubt, as well.

I liked it! The dialogue is fast and true and a little sarcastic and witty. The hero is a great guy - I'm guessing we can classify Ford as a beta hero - slightly nerdy but also slightly hunky, he's a well known graphic novelist who lives across the street from the house where former Big Hollywood Star Janet Hardy lived and died, which her granddaughter Cilla is now remodeling. He's the boy next door, and while he works out and has a nice body, he won't go anywhere near a power tool. And he has a marvelous dog, Spock.

Cilla's a former child star currently living off residuals and making her way in the world flipping houses (as in, buying, rehabbing and selling for a profit). But this house, which she bought from her mother, is the only thing in her world that smacks of family and stability, so she's thinking she might just make it her permanent base. And she's doing a lot of the work herself personally - as in using power tools.

I pictured Judy Garland as a sort of model for grandmother Janet Hardy, because it was obvious that a lot of people still thought very highly of this now-deceased famous actor/singer. People were selling memorablia on eBay and such for someone who had committed suicide (or maybe it was an accidental overdose) 30 years ago. Part of her tragic story involved her son dying in a car accident that killed one friend and left another paraplegic. There are still some folks bitter about this accident, since the star's son was driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

In fact, someone is apparently still so bitter that Cilla's house and even herself become the target of someone twisted, someone who starts with vandalism and then moves on to attempted murder. But who?

It's a suspense/mystery/thriller with romance, and I liked the whole package. Cilla gets to know her father, who divorced her mother when Cilla was still a toddler and now lives with his current wife and daughter in this same town. She also gets to know the other families - Ford's very normal parents and grandparents, the families of the local construction workers she hires to help her rehab - and she develops, slowly, her own sense of family around her. Her relationship with Ford builds slowly and realistically.

There's a lot of humor in Ford's work - he leaves drawings around for her that feature her as a super hero. I wondered a little at the enormous amount of "dating" the work has in it, though. Having just finished a 1984 work by LaVyrle Spencer that really seems dated now, I wonder how someone will read this story in 20 years, since there are lots and lots of current references - HGTV tv shows, current jargon, branding - will any of that make sense in 20 years??

So - I liked Ford and I liked Cilla. I liked the depiction of family as stability. I had read a review that already tipped me off that when the Villain was revealed it would be surprising, so I spend a lot of time making wild guesses (her half-sister?? Ford's grandfather??) and since I considered every single character wasn't quite as surprised as the reviewer. I thought Ford's proposal was oh-so-romantic and very in character.

Here's where it didn't make it to 5 stars - I enjoyed reading it but it really didn't make me ... feel anything. I wasn't moved to tears or to laughter, I didn't really get scared. I enjoyed it and now I'm done. For 5 stars I need the characters to get under my skin and I need to feel what they felt.

YMMV. 4 stars.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sweet Memories by LaVyrle Spencer ***

At last I found the one book by LaVyrle Spencer I hadn't read, hardcover, used and cheap at Hastings! So my Spencer journey is at an end, because she is retired and no longer writing.

Ya know, if I had started with her earlier books, I might not have done a glom and read everything she'd written, because I found some of her works stunningly wonderful, and others truly mediocre. I'm not sure if it was growth as a writer, or inspiration (as in, better stories). Morning Glory (1989) is one of my all-time favorites, as well as That Camden Summer (1996). And I haven't rated any of them less than 3 stars, although this one might be more in the 2.75 range for me.

Sweet Memories was published in 1984, and it smacks of some of her other earlier books in that it's truly dated and maybe in the future will be considered historically accurate, while today just seems, well, dated.

It's a sweet enough story - a young woman who is well-endowed is embarrased by the attention she receives from men. She still lives at home, and tries to hide her chest from everyone behind bulky clothes and a shy personality. Her younger brother comes home for Christmas with a buddy. The buddy has been "warned" about her problem with men, and spends the holidays slowly wooing her and trying to help her regain her self confidence.

I guess it was an ok story although there were some odd phrases in it that I couldn't follow - I wasn't sure if they were the result of poor editing or local jargon or what. I didn't make note of them, even the one that had me going back and forth between one page and the next since the sentence at the bottom of one page didn't seem to be related to the end of the sentence at the top of the very next page... And I found myself rolling my eyes every now and then at things the characters said and thought - that reaction isn't exactly what I expect from reading a good book.

So - I can now say I've read every LaVyrle Spencer, and that I will continue to re-read my favorites. The rest of them will be listed for trade at PBS so someone else can fulfill their desire to read all her books... 3 stars.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Shades of Twilight by Linda Howard ****

I got this in a 2-for-1 book with Son of the Morning, and read it first.

This one is a contemporary that takes place in the South - a South I'm not sure really exists, where people still live in the Big House with a large extended family headed by a formidable matriarch who can trace her genealogy to all the important and good Southern families in the area. This matriarch also runs the Family Business that is rich, powerful and growing.

Hey, I grew up in the South (on the grounds of a plantation, mind you!) and I'm not sure that "Dallas" world ever did exist.

Regardless, you have to buy the concept to get the story, so I paid and went inside with popcorn and a soda and enjoyed the ride.

Well, mostly enjoyed. There's some truly icky moments involving incest that made me wince and look away. And our beloved heroine walked a very narrow line between doormat and reasonable actions.

I'm not gonna recap the story - there's a heroine and a hero, and they have to go through a lot of bad things, wrong accusations, and heartache before they can admit to their feelings for each other, overcome the evil past and face a bright future together.

And yet - I rated it 4 stars because it worked its magic on me, and had me feeling and rooting for the HEA.

Friday, August 15, 2008

First Impressions by Jude Deveraux ****

Another in my list of books picked out of a bag destined for charity! I've almost finished all of them, and I'm still feeling a little greedy and wishing I'd taken the whole bag for myself.

I liked it!

The story centers around Eden Palmer, a 45-year-old single mother, and her inheritance of a home in a small North Carolina town. When Eden was 17, she was raped, became pregnant, and was thrown out of her uptight parents' home and left homeless and almost penniless. She lucked into meeting Mrs. Farrington, who took her in as her private assistant and allowed her to live there and raise her daughter. Unfortunately, Mrs. Farrington's son was a convicted pedophile, and when he was found watching her daughter sleep, Eden and daughter Melissa ran away in the night, never to return or have any contact.

Mrs. Farrington did manage to keep track of Eden, and since her son died before she did, she left everything to Eden on her death. That's the backstory - now we follow Eden back to the house while she decides what to do.

Her options are pretty limitless, really. She's a book editor, and can apparently work from anywhere, and easily leaves her job in NYC to go to NC. Melissa and husband Stuart have been living with her in NYC - unhappily for all 3 - and so she has few qualms about leaving them, either temporarily or permanently. She could move to NC. She could sell the house. What to do?

Her options are actually limited by the fact that there is a mystery - a spy is murdered, and in his stomach contents is a piece of paper with Eden's name and social security number on it. Now the FBI is watching her, sending an agent there to woo her and get her secrets - Jared McBride (his pseudonym).

In addition, there's Brad Granville, the local guy - a widowed lawyer. He's interested in Eden. Real interested - but why? More mysteries to solve. One woman, never married, is now being pursued romantically by 2 fellows - yep, pretty mysterious!

As it turns out, it's pretty fun too. It wasn't "funny" but fairly light, considering it's a sort of thriller/suspense/murder mystery with romance. And well done - credible plot, twists which had me guessing, well fleshed out characters - yep, I enjoyed it. I did really wonder throughout which of the 2 heroes was the Hero, and had my opinion (I was rooting for Jared the whole time). But Brad was a nice heroic fellow as well, so it wasn't 100% clear...

It was a Deveraux HEA - were they happy? We don't really know, but it was possible. 4 stars.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Secrets of Surrender by Madeline Hunter ***

I finished this book today and put it down and thought "hmmph." It left me cold. While I was reading it, I thought I was enjoying it, and I waited and waited for it to affect me. It finally did affect me by just plain leaving me cold.

I liked the story.

I found the characters likable. Credible. Fleshed out.

I liked the prose.

But. Where was the chemistry? The feelings? The love? The romance? The angst? The passion? Anything? I just felt these 2 characters never quite... got there for me. Like they kept their feelings locked inside. Like their nightly sex was a routine to be done. Yes, they said there was passion, but I never felt it. They maintained separate rooms. They kept secrets that even at the end when revealed showed me nothing - I was never convinced they had actually created a relationship that was other than a marriage of convenience. Where was the HEA? Where they happy at the end?

It was too... sterile. And I wondered. And Pondered.

Then I did what I always do and consulted the AAR review - lo and behold, dang if that reviewer and I didn't agree: it was missing something. The reviewer says

I never really felt a compelling connection between the couple until the end of the novel.
Well, at least she felt it at the end - I did not.

So while it teetered on 4 stars as I waited and waited to feel something, it ended, and left me with a barely 3 star feeling.

Oh I almost forgot a plot: Rose is a Lady whose brother is a criminal on the lam - he defrauded a lot of nobility out of a lot of money. Kyle is the son of a coal miner with education - now he's a sort of engineer/architect, with some money but not a title. She's outcast and has found herself almost a courtesan - when a Bad Earl auctions her off at a house party, Kyle buys her out of chivalry. Then he is convinced that his marrying her will benefit him by lifting him into Society and will benefit her by saving her soiled reputation. Then we spend the book bringing the brother and the Bad Earl to justice while Kyle and Rose try to have a marriage mostly in separate bedrooms and with a lot of secrets. I dunno, it just didn't work for me.

Also - I didn't do my research, and this is book 3 in a series, so maybe if I read The Rules of Seduction and The Lessons of Desire first it might have made more sense, but maybe not.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Drop Dead Gorgeous by Linda Howard ****

Drop Dead Gorgeous is the sequel to To Die For, featuring former cheerleader Blair Mallory. To Die For recently became my all-time favorite story, so needless to say I was really looking forward to reading about Blair again. It was a sweet bonus that I got a hardcover large print version from PBS (my eyes thanked me over and over).

I guess I can say I'm a little disappointed that I didn't love it as much as the first book, but it was still fun. It's a sort of thriller - Blair seems to be attracting nutcases who are trying to kill her again, and somehow she has to deal with that while trying to pull off a wedding in 4 weeks as well. It's pretty inconvenient all around, and fiancé Wyatt, consummate cop, decides she's being a little paranoid and perhaps a tad high maintenance about 1 near-miss in a parking lot and some hangup phone calls.

Blair has a way of dealing with life: lists. She kept a list of Wyatt's transgressions in the first book, and starts a new one when he doesn't pay attention to her concerns. But when he finally actually accuses her of stepping over the line and expecting him to drop everything whenever she calls, it dawns on her that maybe there is a more serious issue to be dealt with in their relationship, and maybe the wedding planning should come to a halt.

The stalker quickly ups the ante and Wyatt finally starts to pay attention - both to the dangerous situation with the stalker and the explosive situation with Blair over his attitude about her.

It's the same tone and first-person POV as the first book, but somehow it didn't enchant me as much this time around. That and the coincidence of the identity of the stalker made me rate this a 4 instead of a 5 star read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steel Magnolias the movie

We picked up some 2-for-1 movies at Walmart this week, and one was Steel Magnolias. The 2fer with it was Sleepless in Seattle; the other 2fer we picked up was Jerry Maguire/A Few Good Men.

I first came across Steel Magnolias when I bought the play script while in New York City sometime in the 1980s. I read it in the car while my dad drove back to Houston from NYC, and I cried like a baby. I couldn't wait to see the play, which I am pretty sure I did, probably at The Alley Theatre. I just googled it - the play came out in 1987 and was produced at the Alley in 1989, so yeah I'm pretty sure I saw it there.

The movie came out in 1989, and as usual, was Hollywoodized a little but maintained the core of the play and most of its great lines, being about the friendship of 5 women in a small Louisiana town. In the play, the action all takes place in the hair salon, and while Shelby is a central plot device, she isn't the main character. She isn't really the main character in the movie either, but she has a larger presence and the movie seems to revolve around her life and death. There are no men in the play either - all the action we see in the movie comes either from the dialog inside the salon or from the screenwriter's imagination.

The movie does feature some of my favorite actors of all time - Sally Fields, Darryl Hannah, Julia Roberts, and Dolly Parton, and while not my favorites, Olivia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine are marvelous in their roles.

The central theme is still the strength of the friendships among the women. Sally Fields plays M'Lynn, the mother of Julia Roberts' character Shelby. Dolly Parton's Truvy is the hair salon proprietor, where Darryl Hannah's character Annelle gets a job. Olivia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine are local resident widows. We see each of them through the stories and gossip they share together at the salon (and in the movie, also at weddings, parties and the funeral). Shelby is getting married at the beginning, and we learn that she is diabetic and her doctor has told her her body probably won't survive having children.

The time period is over a number of years - Shelby proves the doctor wrong and has a child, but her kidneys fail and she needs a transplant. M'Lynn provides the kidney, but it's too little too late.

Annelle comes to town penniless and homeless since her husband left her and took everything - over a period of time, she changes and grows and tries a number of lifestyles. Truvy has an adult son who is wild, and a husband who is not there for her - she is optimistic, patient and supportive, but has needs of her own. The widows each have their own stories as well, of being the surviving spouse and also of being survivors. It's their willingness each to listen to the others and be there, be a supportive shoulder for each other, that makes the plot.

Be prepared with a full box of tissues because the end will knock you to your knees sobbing if you aren't careful. Even in the play - where the death scene does not take place onstage, but only in retrospect through dialog at the salon after the funeral - I was reduced to tears, so you can only imagine watching the family go through it, including the teenage brothers, the father and the young husband.

On Netflix I originally rated it 4 stars, but I'm changing it today to 5.

Saving Grace by Julie Garwood *****

Hallelujah! Yes indeedy, faithful romance readers, I have seen the light, and I'm here to tell you - every author's work is different, and at last, praise the lawd, I have seen Julie Garwood's light and it is Saving Grace, my first 5 start read for this author!

I knew there were a ton of romance readers out there who just love love love this author, and I'm always disappointed when I read a well-loved book or author and wonder what the fuss is about. After reading the AAR Top 100 books by this author Ransom, The Secret and The Bride, I was just not feeling the love.

But I'm here to tell you today, Saving Grace has made me a believer.

OK, enough ranting and raving. I shouldn't in all fairness overstate my case. This is no To Die For (Linda Howard) or True Confessions (Rachel Gibson) or A Season To Be Sinful (Jo Goodman) which are 3 of my very favorite books ever. But, hey, I had almost given up on my ever liking Julie Garwood's writing and lo and behold, I have found one I love.

Saving Grace is another medieval - for all I know, all she's written is medieval romance (actually, I just read her interviews on AAR and she even writes contemporaries). It takes place around 1200, when England is being ruled by King John, the one who (probably) killed his nephew Arthur who should have been king after Richard the Lion Hearted. It involves an Englishwoman Johanna who is the widow of the alledgedly dead Baron Raulf, one of King John's cohorts. After his death, John wants to have her wed again for various political reasons, and her brother Nicholas makes a deal with John for her to wed a Scottish laird, Gabriel MacBain.

Gabriel weds Johanna only to get her lands, but also finds he is attracted to her as well. What he doesn't know about her is that Raulf was a batterer - he just figures she's timid and probably doesn't have the constitution needed to survive in the Highlands. She also thinks she's barren since she didn't conceive while wed to Raulf for 3 years, but he has an illegitimate son already and figures he's covered on the heir issue anyway - her lands are sufficient reason to wed.

OK - what we have here is a story of a truly courageous and very young girl, really - she was wed at age 14 to Raulf, so she is perhaps only just 18 or so at the beginning of the story. While she had a good family life, she is sequestered away in the Baron's castle where he truly is the typical batterer, keeping her distanced from family, not allowing her to even have the same servants for more than a month so that she has no confidants - and beating her mainly where the bruises are hidden under clothing.

This book, while having some humor in it, does not have the traits that drove me to distraction in the other 3 Garwoods I read, that Keystone Cop thing of people racing about and talking over each other and interrupting to create misunderstandings and plot contrivances. Well, there is a teensy touch of it, but it isn't distracting. Instead we get a more realistic picture of people living according to their traditions but being forced to open their eyes and their minds to other ways of living through necessity. Macbain is laird of 2 clans trying to live together but staying separate - forcing Johanna to switch her plaid from one to the other every day, for instance, to avoid insulting one or the other. We have the Scots clans ways and we have her English ways to consider as well. She is prejudiced against them but outnumbered, so she tries to make it work, but the Scots aren't as open minded to her or to each other.

The growth of Johanna as a character and her love for Gabriel were developed slowly and realistically, and it was fun and touching and heartwarming and all things I like in a romance novel. She was determined and somewhat headstrong, she did things that were uncommon for women of the time, but she wasn't an unrealistic major aberration that made you think, "oh as if..." every 20 pages.

And lo and behold it's another AAR Top 100 under my belt, and I liked it too. 5 stars.

However, I did visit AAR to see what their reviewers had to say - one of them needed to consult her book before writing (it's MacBain not McBain) and the other gushed somewhat too much for my tastes, even though I agreed with many of her sentiments. Well, everyone's different and that is what makes the world interesting, if somewhat frustrating and often annoying. I'm sure they would hate my Garwood opinions, so maybe we're even.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Summerhouse by Jude Deveraux *****

I'm a Deveraux fan - sort of. Some of her books I've loved - and some I've not. So, in my reading journey, I pick up her books cheap and free when I can and fit them in when I'm in the mood. This book is one of the 8 I scored on my road trip, browsing through an offering of a couple dozen books destined for charity.

I'm wondering if The Summerhouse is considered more Chick Lit than Romance, if someone were parsing genres. While there is love and romance and a HEA, the story is driven by the events of 3 women's lives. The story is about these women who share the same birth date, who met through Fate at the NYC DMV getting their drivers licenses renewed. They were each in NYC to pursue a dream - of dancing professionally, of modeling, of being an artist. Because of a mixup (contrived as it was), they have to stay in the DMV for a few hours, and develop a short friendship based on their birthday and their situation.

Fast forward 19 years when one of the 3 arranges for a reunion.

Now - here's the premise. What if - what if you were given the chance to go back into your past and relive 3 weeks, from any point in time you chose? You could do whatever you wanted in that 3 weeks, and you would be there in the past knowing what you know today. To top it off, you get to choose when you get back which of the 2 lives you want to now continue with, and whether or not you will remember both versions.

(Actually - IMO, the real topper is that it only affects your life and not the whole world - but that's a different subject to debate - like a butterfly's wings starting the breeze the creates the hurricane that... Deveraux's time travel theory does not take that notion into account.)

Of course, it could be like a bargain with the Devil - there could be unknown and unplanned consequences. But - you choose - continue on as you were, or take the new life lived by your new actions.

So - we have 3 women, poised to change their lives. Ellie was the artist at 21 - but she met a musician who changed her path. He felt his music would be better appreciated in LA, so she gave up art and moved to LA. From her perspective, she did everything she could to help him further his goal, but he couldn't/didn't hold a job. She ended up writing 5 mystery novels and becoming a bestselling author, and when they divorced, she lost everything because he convinced the judge he was co-author and managed her career. When she arrives at their reunion, she's gained 40 pounds and has writer's block.


Her choice is to go back to 3 weeks before the divorce so she can go through the divorce differently and maintain her career and her self-esteem. But it doesn't go exactly as she thinks - she ends up meeting someone else. When she returns, she chooses the new life and also to remember - and in her new life, she has a new husband, a child and lots more writing left in her.

The model was Madison - a western girl almost 6 feet tall, she was sent to NYC by her small town to make it in modeling. Even though she was strikingly beautiful, she wasn't prepared for the cut-throat modeling world. She returned home when her ex-boyfriend needed her to help him get through a life-changing accident that left him paralyzed. She married him, had a miscarriage that resulted in a hysterectomy, and he divorced her, leaving her childless, broke and broken. She had one almost-affair with a medical student named Thomas but chose not to go through with it; later, Thomas was killed in a plane crash.

Her choice was to go back to the DMV day, moments later. With her current knowledge, she threw out her loving-hands-at-home portfolio, bought a new wardrobe and convinced a then-unknown but soon to be famous photographer to shoot a new portfolio for her. In 3 weeks, she managed to get the attention of a top modeling agency - and on her return, chose the new life as Ellie did - only she chose to forget the old life.

Now, in her new life, she has to explain to Ellie and Leslie who she is and what she is - a medical doctor with 4 kids, married to Thomas. They ask about Roger, the original husband, and she tells them about his accident which left him a paraplegic, where in her first life she helped him learn to walk again. Since she approached her new life with the knowledge of her 40-year-old self, she saw things differently this time around. Where she had reacted as a young person with rage and anger, she was cool and cunning. Things that had outraged her then were used to her benefit on her do-over. It was wonderful!

The best story is Leslie, the dancer - now she's a homemaker, married to the boy next door, Alan, with 2 teenagers. She feels she has paid her dues over and over again for jilting him originally to go to NYC only to learn she wasn't talented and motivated enough to make it in the dance world. She went back and married him after all, but now feels empty and used and unappreciated. Her husband has hired a younger, well endowed secretary named Bambi with whom he spends more and more time, causing lots of gossip.

She goes back to a fateful spring break in college. In her first life, Alan's car breaks down on his way to pick her up so she spends the week alone in her dorm room. In her do-over, she accepts an invitation to spend the week at the home of another student, a wealthy boy who in current times is a successful politician on the road to the presidency. Her time with him and his family and the other students shows her how things could have been with another man who was attracted to her, and then she spends the other 2 weeks with Alan.

Her revenge on returning is to choose both her same life and to remember - and she goes home to start changing things on her own. Her story is the most compelling and wonderful, because it reaffirms the notion that she always had the power to do what she wanted, and even now has the power to take control and do what she wants with her life. I'm not going to spoil the entire book with her satisfying ending - suffice it to say, I was well pleased with how it turned out.

5 stars - there were some bumps in it (not story bumps so much as events/sentences/words that had me scratching my head and wondering how that fit in) that almost demoted it to a 4, but I felt so good at the end of the book I have to give it a 5.

Born In Shame by Nora Roberts *****

The last of the Born In trilogy, Born In Shame is the story of the third Concannon sister - a half sister to Maggie and Brianna, Shannon. Her mother Amanda had a brief affair with their father when the girls were still babies, and although she told Tom she was pregnant in a letter, she never asked him to make a choice - she went off, leaving no trail to follow, met another man, married and raised Shannon as his daughter - in America.

Shannon lost both parents within a year - and on her death bed, her mother reveals the truth about her biological father.

I finished the book yesterday and since I was working, picked up another book to pass the time (and finished it last night) - the result being, I feel I'm having a hard time writing this review. I loved Born In Shame almost as much as Born In Ice, and I think I will need to re-read Born In Fire soon to see why it did not affect me as much.

Shannon's mother was being pursued by the sisters in the second book, and the private detective hired to find Amanda arrives after her funeral. Shannon is heart-broken, both by the revelation of her true parentage and by her mother's passing, and in her grief she feels only anger at the news that her half-sisters are looking for her. She doesn't want to have anything to do with them.

I feel like I'm giving an inordinate amount of attention to this part, when what the story is about is her actually going to Ireland and finding family and love. But it takes her time to acknowledge all this - and it's wrapped up in her life in New York, her life as a commercial artist, with a boyfriend who is also a co-worker, with an apartment, a life - such as it is. When she returns to her job after the funeral, she looks around and feels that what she had, what she depended on, seems to have been based on a lie - that who she really is is not who she thought she was, and her world has tipped on its axis.

Going to Ireland, at the request of Brianna, does not right her world. Although she is drawn to Ireland - for reasons beyond the curiosity of who her sisters are, where her mother found love - it's new to her, and so different from what she is accustomed to. She's very much a stranger in a strange land here. And she has dreams at night that further confuse her.

Somehow her upheaval struck a note with me, and her reactions seemed so real. While she is almost more like Maggie in her demeanor, I liked her more than I liked Maggie in her book. Where Maggie's tempermental outbursts just seemed childish and reactionary, Shannon's seemed to come from her confusion and her grief and her world upheaval.

We met Murphy Muldoon in the first book: he's a neighbor and has always felt like a brother to Maggie and Brianna. He's there when they need him, for chores and help, and they are there for him, but none have felt more than brotherly love one for the other. When he meets Shannon, however, he's struck dumb - literally. He can only stare, tongue twisted, and she thinks perhaps he's slow witted. It takes her much longer to feel Cupid's arrow - and longer still to acknowledge it.

Murphy's not at all slow witted, as we already know from the first two books. He's a farmer and he's also a gifted musician - and he's a damn romantic too! He's determined to have Shannon - well, if you are sensitive to this sort of thing, it's almost to the point of stalking. OK, not exactly stalking - but he's damned determined, and isn't planning to take no for an answer. However, when his POV is revealed we see him as vulnerable and often hurt by Shannon's rejections, despite his outward confidence. She not only rejects him, she mocks him - he's serious about courting her, and she's a 20th century New York woman who can't believe his type even exists.

It seems Shannon and Murphy are brought together by Fate, having been lovers in a past life that is in both their dreams. Their past relationship ended badly - he left her, with the idea of returning, but left her nonetheless because he had other matters that took precedence. He was killed in battle and never returned. And now, in the present, it's her life in NY that is taking precedence. She can only see, with blinders, that her time in Ireland is temporary, that her life in NY is what she is destined to complete, no matter what her feelings for Murphy are.

It's the same type of conflict that Brianna and Gray faced in Born In Ice - he had another life, and his stay was intended to be temporary. But in Shannon's case, it wasn't just Murphy to which she was drawn - it was family, and her talent as an artist, both factors in showing Shannon that she had reached a crossroad, and that traveling on in the same direction she started was not her only option in life. The tighter her ties to Ireland became, however, the more confused she got because she couldn't open her blinders on her mind enough to realize that she held her future in her own hands, and she had the power to take any road, to realize any life path.

Her stubbornness to look around, to wake up and smell the Irish coffee, was the main obstacle. And in her stubbornness, she broke Murphy's heart a thousand times - and it was his sweet heart and gentleness that broke mine while reading this story.

OK, spoiler spoiler, she stays - it is a Nora Roberts romance after all, and we knew - didnt' we? - that she would give Shannon and Murphy a HEA. But the getting to it, the ride, the journey - it was wonderful and awful and heart wrenching and romantic and of course, I cried like a baby.

5 stars - a wonderful if bumpy ride, a quest for self and happiness and family and love, all found.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Born in Ice by Nora Roberts *****

Oh be still my heart - because it hurts so when Nora breaks it like she did with this story!!

After coming away from Born In Fire with an "ok, that was good, what's next?" feeling, I wasn't quite prepared for the sacking I took reading Born In Ice. Because this time she grabbed my heart and squeezed and ripped at it and left me gasping and bloody and sobbing, I'm afraid!

This is Brianna's story. Brianna is the second daughter of Maeve and Tom, and she was Born In Ice - born in duty, because Maeve not only didn't love Tom, she didn't love marital duties either. She did it one more time (after her shameful first child, conceived before marriage) just to get her Catholic duty of bearing children over with. And she never let either daughter forget it.

Where older sister Maggie is tempermental and loud, Brie is all about control. Her dream is to just run a quiet B&B in their family home, providing motherly care for her guests - feeding and housing them, doing laundry, gardening. Years ago she was almost married to Rory - until Maeve told Rory a lie about Brie's fidelity to him. He left her at the altar, and left her battered and bruised and alone.

Gray is a famous American murder mystery author who is spending a few months in the west counties of Ireland while researching for and writing his latest bestseller. He had a loveless upbringing as well - a classic Nora background, prostitute/drug addict mom, no clue who dad was, kid put through public system and learned life on the streets (Quinn Brothers, anyone?). Now he compensates by never having a family, never loving anyone enough to stay anywhere for long - until he meets Brianna. He fashions his mystery heroine after her, and his hero after himself - and when he ends the book, the hero walks away without looking back.

I loved the scenes where he developed the story in his mind - walking alone, he imagines his characters, what they are doing, how they lived and their grisly deaths. Of course, being an author, no doubt Nora is intimately aware of the process which is why she describes it so well - and I am not, except vicariously through reading authors' words about it. But still, it rang true and I felt what he was feeling, the thought processes, the stories, the characters - and he made me feel his own ambivalence at both the ending of his book and the ending of his relationship with Brie.

I felt Brie's conflict too - she's too proud to ask him to stay or to even show him how much he hurt her. She grieves alone, in the dark, and I wept with her and for her. Even knowing there must be a HEA around the bend, I felt the power of her grief and went there with her. Maybe I was already feeling a little down - or maybe it's the story, the words, or just my imaginings.

I wonder if I should re-read the entire trilogy after it is over to see if I feel any differently about Maggie's story, now that I've felt Brie's so deeply.

It's a 5-star read, and it's also an AAR Top 100. The review there states more eloquently than I how wonderful this book is, too.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Born in Fire by Nora Roberts

Ok, another one bites the dust - I mean, I can check another one off the AAR Top 100 list. I feel so lucky to have gotten a hardcover 3-in-1 of all three Born In books (2 of them are Top 100s) at PBS for 1 credit! Whoo hoo!

But - uh - and I'm a NR fan, here - it wasn't that great. Yeah, go figure. It was ok - I liked the characters, I liked the story, but...

Maggie's a tempermental Irish glass artist. She has a sister Brianna. Her parents conceived Maggie before they wed, and her mother went pretty much off her rocker because I guess she just had that one passionate moment (I'm pretty sure he didn't rape her...) and that was the end of their love and passion. Forever. So Mom's bitter and unhappy and obnoxious, and Dad's a great guy who dies at the beginning of the book (the girls are in their 20s at this point). And by the way, get the title: Born in Fire (Maggie was conceived in their passion) and Born in Ice, the sister's story, and guess what it implies... Duh.

Ok, sorry to be cynical. Back to the plot.

Rogan (heh heh, get it? Rogue, Rogan - maybe it's just me) is a fabulously wealthy Irish guy who owns art galleries and some other industries. Fabulously wealthy, both by upbringing and in his own right. He discovers Maggie's art and decides he wants to represent her works, and won't take no for an answer - and when he meets her, he wants her, too. But he's not really a rogue, and he lets her take her time and come to him. But again he won't really take no for an answer.

Somehow the jacket blurb implies there are secrets - see, I'm part way through the next book (Born in Ice) where there are secrets but in Born in Fire there were really none. Maggie's stubborn and tempermental and loud and argumentative and fights against her feelings for Rogan; Rogan is nothing but patient and insistent and always there. Waiting. Flying her around, selling her artwork and working on her inner needy beast to just let him manage her art and her heart.

So it was a pleasant story but I wanted some more conflict (other than Maggie's temper tantrums and Mom's, well, personality) or something. I'm glad I read it but it left me thinking it was about a 3 star read. Likeable. Pleasant. But Top 100? Ah, I am a cynic.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Bride by Julie Garwood ***

Maybe it's just me. This is an AAR Top 100 book. I mean, I went back and re-read the AAR DIK review for this book, and that reviewer makes a passionate argument for how everyone, everywhere should love this book.

But I did not love this book. In fact, now that I've read 3 Garwood books, I think I can say without hesitation that I do not love her writing style. I don't even particularly like it. But I will read the others in the AAR Top 100 just to be sure, since I already have them.

Plot: Jamie, English lass, is chosen by Alec Kincaid, Scottish Laird, to be his bride as arranged by the current English king Henry as part of some political something or other. In other words, he has to marry an Englishwoman, and his choice is limited to the daughters of an English baron. She's feisty and independent and doesn't want to go along with this edict but does. She and he grow to love one another. As backstory, he's a widower whose first wife was thought to have committed suicide but as it turns out she was murdered, and the murderer has it out for Jamie too.

There's something - stilted? - I'm not sure what the word is, or the words are, that I need to describe her writing. The heroine's moods shift hither thither and yon without warning. It's almost - cartoony? - like Keystone Cops, the way people rush about, change direction both literally and in mood and thought. I found myself going back paragraphs, pages, to figure out exactly how we got where we were.

Yes, they develop a passion for each other, and yes, sometimes I found myself being affected - smiling, laughing, feeling things. But more often than not, I felt myself confused. Furrowing my brows and frowning, thinking WTF??

First of all, all that crying and moaning by her sisters. Was that - funny? Disturbing? I mean, 3 adult women moaning and wailing. WTF? Second of all, was Jamie Cinderella or not? We're told over and over at the beginning how she's the favorite, and she has all these skills, then later we're led to believe she'd been ill used, practically abused by her father (who was not really her father at all). WTF? And she's a skillful horsewoman with no sense of direction? WTF?? That direction thing was apparently a joke throughout the book.

Was it a comedy? A thriller? A murder mystery? Either way, Garwood is no Linda Howard, no Nora Roberts, no Elizabeth Lowell, in spinning a tale that contains all of these features.

Was the stilted writing meant to bring to mind how one would speak in Medieval English/Scots? Did people say "spit" then like we say "dang"? Does it matter? Well, maybe not. Would the residents of the Scottish Highlands in 1100 have been speaking both English and Gaelic? I really do not know the history of the 2 languages well enough to know. Maybe that isn't really important to the story.

And yet, in spite of the trouble I had reading it - I didn't hate it. I didn't find her characters Too Stupid To Live, or too annoying to keep reading. I didn't dislike the storyline of an arranged marriage between and English subject and a Scottish laird. I didn't dislike the way they came to love one another, or the mystery of someone unknown trying to kill the Laird's wives. I just did not like the writing style. The Keystone Cop-ishness. The weird switches back and forth of moods.

OK I just don't like Garwood's writing style. That's all I can figure. So, I'll give it 3 stars and try 2 more times to see what it is that makes her books so popular. And if those 2 books don't do it, I'm done with her books - there are just too many Nora Roberts books to read, plus I haven't finished Lowell or Howard's backlists, and there's more Jo Goodman, and jeez, I just got started on Jennifer Crusie, and... No point in wasting time, is there?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Homeport by Nora Roberts ****

I'm working hard at catching up on Nora Roberts - although I figure if I just stopped everything and read and read and read, maybe I'd have her backlist done by Christmas, 2009. So I'll just keep picking up her books at PBS or at Hastings when I can get them for under $5, and reading them from time to time. (Not that I won't pay full price (well, maybe not for hardcovers) - I have, and will!) They're another comfort read - sometimes I love 'em, sometimes I just like 'em but always I'm entertained.

Homeport is about a couple of interesting, not-quite-stock characters. Dr. Miranda Jones is a tall redhead PhD of, well something I couldn't pronounce and now can't remember, something to do with authenticating art, ooold art. Think 400-500 years old. She's a little uptight - ok, she's really uptight. I thought it was interesting that in her own mind she was shy and uncomfortable, but to her employees she was daunting and unapproachable and, well, practically a slave-driver. Not that we got a lot of their thoughts on this, just a couple of times, and it seemed a little odd because I was so inside her head I couldn't believe they saw her that way!!

Her hero is not exactly heroic - the man's a THIEF by golly - a serious cat burglar! Ryan comes from a large loving Irish/Italian family, most of whom are also engaged in not-quite-aboveboard activities. He also runs successful art galleries. Apparently his parents were/are artists of not-quite-the-highest caliber, which meant something had to fund a large family, so why not Ryan's burglary skills? After all, a gift from God shouldn't be wasted, now, should it?

Go figure, I agreed with Ryan's mom on that one, at least long enough to read the story and enjoy it.

There's a further complication: when Ryan steals the statue he's after (from Miranda's family's art institute), he discovers it's a fake, and boy does that make him mad. This coming on the heels of Miranda authenticating a potential Michelangelo that is later proven to be fake is kinda ruining things, like Dr Jones' reputation, her day, her family, her week, her relationships - well, it's just not good. And it sure made Ryan mad that he'd been duped.

But there's some chemistry betwixt Miranda and Ryan, and he decides to sorta help her out instead of strangling her. In a blackmail, cat-burglar kinda way, he is going to find the originals, and help prove her original finding correct and then take the originals for himself and no one will be the wiser. Yeah right. He should realized Nora wasn't going to let him get away that easily, him being the hero and all.

There's a strong contrast between Miranda's family and Ryan's - Ryan's is more like a Roberts novel family, loving and supportive, and Miranda's is all ice and distance, literally and figuratively. Miranda has a great supportive older brother who is also in the family business. He's also a divorced alcoholic who isn't over his ex-wife except it seems he's still harboring feelings for his first love too. He's a conflicted guy.

There's intrigue - mystery - murders - gun play - this one has it all. I thought I had it figured out, then I wasn't sure, then I was proved right the first time.

AAR has 2 reviews, and interestingly it was the first NR book for each reviewer. Weird, huh? One gave it a B, the other a C+, and I'm thinking, there are actually reviewers for AAR who have never read NR?? And neither reviewer is listed on any of her other books. Too bad, because I wouldn't offer Homeport to anyone as the 1st NR book to read.

Well - I rate it somewhere around 3.5 but because I've limited myself to single digits, I'll round it up to 4 stars. I liked it, I was entertained, but I wasn't wowed. (is that a word?)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Be My Baby encore

I was in the mood for some comfort - you know, the mac-n-cheese of reading, so I picked up one I knew would do the job: Susan Andersen's Be My Baby. I already reviewed it, so no need to rehash it all here. I'd love to have heard narrator supreme Kate Fleming read this book, because I know she would have done justice to the accents. Unfortunately, Ms. Fleming is no longer with us, which is a terrible tragedy on a number of levels, not just for the audio book world.

Last August, I listened to The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke. It's a Dave Robicheaux mystery, and it was read by actor Will Patton. He nailed the south Louisiana and New Orleans accents (except for a few notable exceptions...) and would also be a good candidate for this book, assuming he could do Juliet's Boston blue blood heritage proud as well. (One of Patton's notable exceptions in his otherwise spot-on pronunciations: he tried to Cajunize the name of Cameron Parish. Those of us raised in south Louisiana know it's plain CAM'run, but he kept saying Cam - ROHNG, you know that French way of not exactly pronouncing the final N but sorta nasalizing it?)

Be My Baby worked its charm on me and I'm feeling much comforted knowing Juliet and Beau got their happy ending all worked out. Plus I managed to allow myself to let go of 2 favorites I recently read (Duchess by Night and Your Scandalous Ways) to get more PBS credits because God knows I need to add more books to my TBR mountain!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Amber Beach by Elizabeth Lowell

Amber Beach is the first in a 4 book series about the Donovan family. I picked this up as a used hardcover at Hastings, where I like to buy any hardcover romance that's under $5. I'm conflicted on Elizabeth Lowell as an author - I love some of her books, and others leave me cold and/or frustrated - sometimes using the same techniques she used in the books I love!

This one is a solid 4 star read for me, though - didn't love it but liked it quite a lot. Honor Donovan is the heroine - she has a twin, Faith, that we only hear about; a brother Kyle who's gone missing along with a fortune in Baltic amber; the eldest brother Archer that we meet at the end; and 2 brothers I guess are also twins that, like Faith, we only hear about. I'm trying to figure their ages since Archer is the eldest at 34 and Faith and Honor the youngest at 30. Mom and Dad were busy there for a few years, I guess.

The hero is Jake Mallory, who answers Honor's ad for a fishing guide when she moves into Kyle's home in the Pacific Northwest. She's hoping to find someone who will teach her to use Kyle's boat so she can putter around the San Juan Islands and find him. She doesn't know Jake is one of Kyle's best friends who thinks Kyle has betrayed him - because now the Donovan family thinks Jake betrayed and possibly killed Kyle and stole the amber for himself.

Lowell gives them terrific dialog, biting and fast and sarcastic and witty, that comes across as real albeit often confusing (I found myself counting out the lines when I lost track of who said what). And the chemistry between the 2 was instant, and pretty good. Although Honor doesn't immediately suspect Jake's involved in the disappearance of Kyle, though, she should have sooner than she did - didn't she think it was weird for a dufus fishing guide to have so many questions about her brother??

The plot involves several governments and some goons, all wanting Kyle and the amber, so there's a sexy female US agent who is Jake's former lover, a sexy female Lithuanian freedom fighter who is Kyle's lover, some mentioned but never revealed SEALS, an overworked Coast Guard guy and some Russian thugs, a break-in and some boat chases and some gun play. Frankly, I never did figure out why the US government was involved, but there ya go - you just have to follow the author's premise, and if the story is good, you overlook things like credibility. After all, I read time travel books, why should I question this plot??

As I said, it was a solid 4 star read for me because I enjoyed it enough but didn't love it like I love some of her other books (Only His, Only Love, To The Ends of the Earth, Too Hot to Handle, to name a few) and I didn't throw it against the wall like some of her books either (which I managed to give 3 stars to, dangit, just because although they made me mad, I didn't actually HATE them, go figure).