Friday, October 31, 2008

More Than A Mistress by Mary Balogh *****

I'm always glad when I finish a book with a smile on my face and some amount of afterglow in the air - and More Than A Mistress did this for me today! It's an AAR Top 100 of 2007 (yay, another 1 checked off) and the first in a series of 2, followed by No Man's Mistress.

In this story, our heroine, Jane, rushes to stop a duel - and in the confusion, our hero, Jocelyn, Duke of Tresham, is sorta accidentally shot in the calf. Jane is subsequently hired on to be Tresham's nurse, and in the 3 weeks of his recovery, they develop a friendship of sorts. Tresham is prickly and quite full of himself, but Jane never lets him get the better of her - she is in all ways his match. At the end of the 3 weeks, not wanting to part from her, he convinces Jane to become his mistress - and she convinces him to create a contract for their "business" arrangement so that she is taken care of financially even after he tires of her company.

Tresham realizes, late, that Jane is not what she has portrayed herself as: she is not the product of a good orphanage where the children are given a good education. Jane is actually Lady Sara, daughter of a deceased earl, being hunted by her cousin, the current earl, as a murderer and a thief, and on the lam. Her service as Tresham's mistress allowed her to hide and still maintain a good life. The fact that a true relationship had grown while she was in his employ didn't diminish the fact that she was keeping secrets from him the entire time.

I enjoyed the story, and the slow revelation of their secrets. Over time, Jane helps Tresham realize his true inner self and to show more of his artistic side as a musician and painter. When he finally realizes she has gotten him to trust her and reveal his secrets to her while she apparently doesn't trust him enough to reveal her own, he is determined to make her rue the day they met - and the true challenge is on.

It was fun to see the two of them match wits, although I must say I agreed with Tresham that Jane was hypocritical, urging him to show his own true nature while withholding her own. She did plan to tell him, at some point, but she waited too late!

The secondary characters were interesting and fully fleshed out - Tresham's 2 buddies especially - and the villain (the cousin) got his comeuppance in the end, well, as much as an earl can, in any case. Even the Bow Street Runner, who was, after all, only doing his job, was a likeable enough character.

The very end had a little surprise that I found fun and romantic, too. I enjoyed the story - 5 stars.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Lady's Tutor by Robin Schone ***

This is another book I read because it was on the AAR Top 100 of 2007, and no other reason. I haven't seen it lauded on the forums, nor have I been wanting necessarily to read this author based on other's suggestions. It's subtitled "A novel of erotic romance" and AAR gives it a "burning" rating, so I went into it expecting something more, something different.

I dunno. I guess I set up my expectations for something and it did not meet them. It was erotic, a lot more descriptive and inventive than the books I normally read, so it did not disappoint in that area.

The heroine, Elizabeth Petre, is the wife of and daughter of politicians. Hers was an arranged marriage of sorts, set up to enhance her husband's rise on the political scene. They have 2 sons, off at boarding school. She approaches the Bastard Sheikh, Ramiel, out of desperation, because of rumors her husband has been seen with a mistress. He hasn't visited her bed in years, and so she has decided to learn the art of seduction to try to woo her husband back.

Ramiel is the illegitimate son of an English countess and an Arab sheikh. He was raised in England then sent to live with his father at age 12, and is now straddling 2 worlds - East and West - while not really feeling he belongs in either. He is sought out by English woman - hmmm, how to word this - not really as a lover because no love is involved. Just for sex. That's it. And while he is satisfied sexually, he suffers from a lack of love, of being wanted just for himself. Not that he wallows in it, but that, when he meets Elizabeth and hears her request, he realizes that no one has ever wanted to please him, pleasure him.

It isn't about adultery - she makes it clear that she wants lessons from him but he is never to touch her, just teach her.

The story is also one of intrigue, as the mystery of who the husband's mistress is followed.

Why did this story fall so flat for me? Maybe it was the way I did not buy into the villain part. I figured out way early on what the problem was with their marriage, and it wasn't much longer before I figured out who the mistress was. Somehow, though, the tawdriness of it all was too overwhelming, or maybe the author's treatment of it was what put me off. Maybe in my own mind, I was being a little too "PC" about the subject, wanting it not to be as it turned out to be. So while her lessons and the erotica were well-written, the "why" and the "whodunit" parts just didn't ring true for me. And I don't know why not, unless it was just that I felt the villains ended up too... much. Too incredible. Three generations?? I just gawked - and then I thought, if her mother and grandmother were aware, how in the world did she escape it and not know, as they did? Even the "nature or nurture" argument wouldn't work here, because she was both born of them and raised by them. Hello, Earth to Elizabeth.

Well, enough dancing around the story without spoiling it. I didn't get what I wanted: that feel good ending. And it wasn't the erotic writing, but the storyline itself that just didn't do it for me.

Don't get me wrong, the hero and heroine end up together with their own HEA, and I was glad they did. But I didn't get that afterglow, that - "oh, at last, the lovers are united" feeling because I was still so uneasy about their journey.

So - 3 stars. But I often feel this disappointment after finishing a book so lauded that doesn't speak to me - is it me? I dunno.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth ***

I read this book for my AAR Top 100 Quest - it's #83. After I got about half-way through, I decided to stop and read some reviews, because I was... Not exactly getting it.

The premise is that a Frenchwoman, Madeleine, illegitimate daughter of an English earl and a French opium-addicted actress, is now a 29-year-old spy in Marseille for the British government. She has been called to do an assignment in England with another operative, in which they are to uncover an opium-smuggling operation.

Now, opium trade is not illegal at the time the story takes place. What is illegal is that the opium is being stolen and distributed without paying the proper taxes. The operative currently in Winter Garden, Thomas, has specifically asked for her assistance, allegedly because she has become quite a favorite of the Home Office as being cunning, beautiful and successful in uncovering smuggling operations.

Thomas has leg injuries from The Opium War that cause him to limp, but in all other ways, we are told, he is quite well-built - muscular, tall, broad. Madeleine first sees him, without a shirt on despite the chill in the air, chopping woody weeds in the backyard, so we get quite an eyeful.

Madeleine's cover is that she is a widow, although in fact she's never been married. However, she is French, after all, raised by an actress, and supported herself as a dancer - all of which tells us she is no innocent virgin. She has had various lovers over the years, but is too dedicated to her work for the British government to bother with thoughts of true love and marriage. Thomas is in fact a widower, with a teen son off at boarding school. His cover is that he is a scholar writing his memoirs and Madeleine is translating them into French.

The story itself revolves around their attraction and Thomas' attempts to court Madeleine and win her love. It's not really that simple, however, and Ashworth uses quite a lot of sexual tension starting on page 6 to lead Madeleine into Thomas' heart as well as his bed. Actually, Madeleine's quite willing to have a brief affair before returning to France - it's Thomas who wants her heart or nothing. The smuggling operation takes backseat to their growing attraction and affection. So in fact it's more a character study, and not at all an action-packed spy thriller.

To be honest, I found it a little over-dramatic from the beginning. There was her immediate reaction to him (ok, shirtless, muscled, ok) and his reception of her (inhaled deeply, smelled her before he saw her), and then their tense, terse discourse, while we are given so much description that I actually had to go back a page to find the previous line of dialogue to match it to the response - more than once. Once I had gone back and read some reviews (which pointed out the character-driven nature of the story) I tried to read the rest of it with that in mind.

The sexual tension was so thick you needed Thomas' axe to get through it, but somehow I wasn't as satisfied as Madeleine when it was finally consummated. There were secrets to be revealed, and there was the smuggling operation which Thomas had already figured out anyway.

I had a very hard time believing Madeleine - raised in France by a French mother - hated France so much. Ok, so her mother wasn't exactly Donna Reed, but it isn't like she saw her father very often, or spent a lot of time in England. In fact, we are told she doesn't even learn to speak English until she is 15, so I kept wondering how she spoke English so well - when did she get to practice? Yes, she has an accent, we are told, but her dialogue is in almost perfect English. Basically, I wasn't convinced by Madeleine's actions or words that there was any reason for her to have the hatred for France that she harbored. I did want to believe that she was so dedicated to her work that she wasn't interested in love and marriage, really I did, but I just couldn't make the leap.

Ah - you see, therein lies the rub: the above paragraph is my inner dialogue while reading the book. If I can spend that much time wondering about her English proficiency while there's lust abounding in between lines of dialogue, obviously the prose has not led me in the direction the author [probably] intended.

If you like character-driven stories with quite a lot of angst and tension, this will be your cup of tea. Perhaps in another mood, I might have enjoyed it more myself. It's a sequel to Stolen Charms in which Madeleine is introduced, so perhaps reading that one first is a good idea, if you can find it - apparently it's almost as hard to find as Winter Garden.

3 stars.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Read For Charity: 100,000 Book Challenge by eHarlequin

I read on PBS about the 100,000 Book Challenge and the contribution they (and we) can make to literacy. Here's the quote directly from the eHarlequin site:

Once again, challenges you to new reading heights. IF we can read 100,000 books in total, we can beat our 2007 record and read a mind-boggling, and unprecedented 100,000 books! But the great news this year is that for every book we read, we'll be donating a book to the National Center for Family Literacy to benefit their literacy programs.

How does it work? Well - you have to sign up for an account - which is free. Just give them your name and email and create a password, and Bam! You're a member. Then you can start your book review blog, and submit entries using the handy navigation bar on the right-hand side of your account page (use Book Review not Blog Entry). I had to look around for the Rules, but when I did finally find them, they are asking that at least 50% of the reviews you submit are Harlequin books, either in print, audio or eformat. Their "online reads" do not count. There's other rules, about anthologies and such, but basically if you want to help out and you have some Harlequin reviews to submit, you can submit one non-Harlequin review for each Harlequin review you do.

Their format is similar to this blogger entry, except they ask for Book Title, imprint, Author, type of book and review. I copied/pasted my reviews I'd already done here - that made for some weird line breaks, so then I redid it by first copy/pasting into Word, then copy/pasting into their data entry box, which worked. Even though you can see formatting like italics, it doesn't translate over so you have to add that, using the same type of formatting as we have here. I found a discussion where the consensus was that putting the Title and Author in the Title entry box was a good idea, so that is how I did it is well. My username there is chiricahuagal (like PBS).

Anyway - join me! Join up and post some entries and let's get that review count up to 100,000! I cannot recall what the deadline was - the eHarlequin site is a little confusing to me, and I'm just jumping around.

Now that I've submitted 3 Blaze reviews, I can add 3 non-Harlequins. And I have at least 3 more Blazes that I've read, plus who knows how many other Harlequins?

Wow - I ended up finding more Harlequins among my reviews, like Jennifer Crusie's Anyone But You (HQN Mira) and Linda Howard's A Game of Chance (Silhouette) and Loving Evangeline (also Silhouette) - plus I have 5 audio books by Harlequin that I read before I started reviewing that I can probably remember well enough to write something. So far I've submitted 5 Harlequin and 5 non-Harlequin reviews.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Perfect by Judith McNaught *****

Perfect is a sort of sequel (more like related-characters, or a series, I guess) to Paradise, and reading them back-to-back like this was, uhm, interesting. For one thing, they're both a little different from the romance novels I've been reading. It's not just that they're contemporary, or even so much that they're quite a lot longer. It's more like a style - a sort of epic.

OK, I just googled definitions of "epic" - to me, epic means a story that takes place over a long period of time, spanning generations or years. However, I'm not exactly right about that because traditionally, epic is a "lengthy narrative of heroic actions" - so, Perfect doesn't really fit that definition. There are some heroic actions - mostly by the heroine, I might add, but maybe not in the tradition of epic poems. However, apparently epic films are generation-spanning, so maybe that is where I got the idea for this term. Think "Giant" with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean - that is surely an epic.

But it is long, involved, with a huge cast of characters (think DeMille), and it does take place over several years (only 1 generation though) even though the hero and heroine only actually know each other for a few weeks. The style of both books is to give the backstory of each character quite a lot of copy/pages/importance before getting to the meat of the story - and in both books there are 2 distinct periods where the hero and heroine interact with each other, and a break in between. The break in Paradise is 11 years; in Perfect it's only a few weeks, but emotionally the distance is about the same. That contrasts with the novels I've been reading which may involve a separation but get to the point of the story quicker, and resolve it quicker.

The basic plot is that the hero, Zack, a movie star/director (think in the league of Robert Redford, but younger) is wrongly accused of murder, imprisoned 5 years before he escapes - on his escape, he ends up taking the heroine Julie as hostage. Julie was a virginal God-fearing small-town teacher, living in the town she grew up in from age 11 after being adopted. She was driving home from getting a donation to the local literacy program in a nearby city when he kidnapped her. Whew! Could they be any more different??

I'm sorta surprised Stockholm syndrome wasn't mentioned in this book, because that's all I could think about when she started becoming sympathetic to him. It almost overshadowed my own usual suspension of belief when I read a romance novel, where I can believe 2 people are instant soul mates and/or so attracted to one another that it doesn't take much time for them to become lovers then want to marry (the usual HEA of a romance). But McNaught's prose - and maybe even the relentless ongoing story twists and turns - kept me involved.

There's a point in each backstory, as adults but long before they meet, that the hero and heroine each realize there is something missing in their lives, and they are both looking for the same thing: someone to love, who loves them, who anchors them. I think this one particular plot point is what helps you suspend your belief - I mean, can a rich, famous movie star/director-escaped-convict find love with a religious virginal school teacher? I guess so!

It's so much more involved than just a kidnapping, though. There's the entire story of how Zach ends up in Hollywood, how he becomes an actor, a director and what leads up to the fatal shooting of his wife with a prop gun on the set of a movie in which he is both the star and the director. There's the details of a tiny girl pickpocket, a sort of pint-sized Robin Hood who organizes children into strikes at school and the group home to force changes but whose own self-esteem is so low she cannot believe anyone would want her, after being left in an alley by her birth mother and rejected by several foster families when she was a toddler. There's the story of her adoption by Reverend and Mrs. Mathison and her upbringing as an upstanding member of the community, her development of a sports program for handicapped kids and a literacy program for women. Shoot, the book is almost 700 pages! It's a lot of stuff!

There's also an awful lot of name-dropping that makes me wonder how well the book will read in 40 years when these actors are just names - but hey, they're still famous now, 20+ years after publication, so maybe they'll always be recognizable names.

I was teetering on a 4 star rating - really liked it, but not enough for keeper status, but the more involved I got, the more I enjoyed the story. In the end, that brought it up to a 5 star read.

Hot Ice by Nora Roberts ***

I took a really long time to listen to this audio book because, well, it just wasn't that compelling a listen, even with Anna Fields as the narrator.

Whitney is an ice-cream company heiress driving home from the airport after a trip to France when Doug, a professional thief, jumps in her car asking for help escaping the Bad Guys. The Bad Guys are trying to grab him and the 200-year-old letters he carries which are reputed to guide them to jewels once owned by Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate French queen who lost her head to a guillotine. Doug had stolen the letters for Really Bad Guy Dimitri, but learned Dimitri was double-crossing him, so he's making his getaway, and planning to find the jewels himself.

Doug has a reputation as a really good thief but he's known for just spending his take and then moving on to the next job - he's never really been fixed for life. This job will be his last - the Big One - the one that ends his thieving days and sets him up to be what he's always wanted to be: a chef/restaunteur. Whitney's reputation is bored trust-fund baby, and this little lark is just what she needs to liven up her life a little. Unfortunately for Doug, he needs her to bankroll his journey, so he reluctantly agrees to take her as a partner - the money-carrying partner.

I'm not sure if it's Anna Fields' narration (which I usually love) or just the tone of the book, but frankly Whitney is annoying as hell. I kept thinking if I heard her call him Douglas one more time, I was gonna go through the earphones and smack her. Doug wasn't much more likable - and frankly, I never really felt their chemistry, and apparently neither did they, because they were together for quite a while before giving into the inevitable... well, it just didn't seem very inevitable but eventually they did give in and Do It. Yawn.

I'm not sure if I've read any more cartoony Bad Guys than Remo and Barnes and Dimitri - again, could it have been Fields' voices for them, or is that just how they come across in dialog regardless of the reader? I kept trying to imagine them actually keeping just 2 steps behind Doug and Whitney, dressed in suits and ties in the Madagascar jungles. (Huh?)

Oh, the plot, right - D and W hot foot it to Madagascar where the 200-year-old letter/diary says the loot is buried. These remarkable letters - the originals, mind you - take a licking and keep on ticking. They get submerged in water, taken out and refolded and handled and kept in the back jeans pockets. Wow, they musta used some really good paper back then. And although they point vaguely to where the jewels are buried, it takes some remarkable coincidences and incredibly intuitive detective work to locate them, and a twist I saw a mile or 10 away to rescue Doug and Whitney from the Bad Guys in the end.

OK, I enjoyed it enough to finish it, so it rated 3 stars, but it wasn't anything special and maybe doesn't even rate an credit, even with one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite narrators.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paradise by Judith McNaught *****

Paradise is the first of several connected contemporary romance novels by Judith McNaught, and was published in 1991. It's also on the AAR Top 100 and the TRR Top 100 - so it's obviously a well-loved story. And I like it too!

It's almost an epic, at 700+ pages, although only spanning a 16-year time period. It starts with Meredith Bancroft, department store heiress, as a gawky teen with a crush on a slightly older friend of the family, Parker Reynolds. She goes from gawky to beauty over the next 4+ years, but it isn't enough to keep Parker interested. At a country club affair, she learns he's planning to marry.

One of her country club buddies introduces the group to Matt Farrell, a steel-worker that the buddy's father has hired. The buddy is trying to embarrass both his father and Matt by trying to pass him off as good enough to attend the country club - and Meredith, feeling sorry for him because she recognizes what it's like not to fit in, takes Matt around, introducing him as though he were one of her set. They have a passionate kiss on the grounds of the club where her father - the tyrannical, suspicious, unyielding, autocratic bastard - catches them, and tells Meredith to get rid of him.

In her anger, she decides to show Daddy who's in charge, and takes Matt home where she allows him to seduce her. Unfortunately, this results in her pregnancy. Matt, ever the honorable guy, and truly having feelings for her, marries her, much against her father's wishes. There's a confrontation, Daddy tries to bribe him into leaving her, some mean words are exchanged... It's not pretty, especially considering these guys are practically 2 peas in a pod in stubborness.

Matt has a job in Venezuela, and plans to have Meredith join him there after he is settled. But in the meantime, Meredith develops problems with the pregnancy. She loses the baby - and she loses Matt, who sends a telegram asking for a divorce. Daddy handles the divorce as secretively as possible, and assumes all is forgotten.

Fast forward 11 years - Meredith's childhood sweetheart Parker, now divorced, is now her fiancé, and she is on the fast track to step into her father's shoes as president of the department store. Matt is now a rich tycoon, CEO of a megacorporation that buys and sells properties and companies - still single, but pops up in the tabloids with various famous women on his arm. Life is good for both of them. Then on a fateful evening at the opera, Matt and Meredith meet up again.

This is a long, involved tale of corporate intrigue, and Meredith's father is at the center of it all. He's not only an instigator, he's also a target because of his overbearing, tyrannical, suspicious nature that makes all sorts of people have a motive to do him and the company harm. He was the reason Meredith and Matt broke up to begin with - withholding their letters, and sending a telegram to Matt in Venezuela "from Meredith" saying she had an abortion and wanted a divorce. What a sleezoid. Are there really daddies out there doing that to their baby girls??

Now Matt is in a position to buy the department store and wreak revenge on Daddy... But at what cost?

It was a fun, engaging read - there was suspense, and re-direction (you know, where the author puts in some clues that make you look in the wrong place or at the wrong person!!), and intrigue and mystery and even a murder, and there was the intense chemistry between Meredith and Matt. McNaught also writes well-rounded secondary characters, and she built up a strong support system for Matt with family and friends that helped keep him from being the truly evil bad guy that Meredith's father REALLY is, even if in the end he ends up apologizing. (I found Daddy to be truly boo-and-hiss worthy.)

I liked it - in fact, it went above a 4 star read for me, but I can't say it's a solid 5 - rescue it from the fire - type keeper. Since I round up, though, I'm going with 5 stars.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The PBS Top 100 Romance Novels

OK - it's Top 100 Mania!

A PBS member has decided to formulate another 100 Romance Novel list using the votes of PBS members (that's, not Public Broadcasting by the way). We're each submitting our top 10.

I'll list them here when she publishes it!

My top ten that I sent in, in no particular order:

Only His by Elizabeth Lowell
A Season To Be Sinful by Jo Goodman
The Indiscretion by Judith ivory
Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
To Die For by Linda Howard
Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard
True Confessions by Rachel Gibson
Be My Baby by Susan Andersen
Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
First Lady Susan by Elizabeth Phillips

I had a sort of plan for choosing. I scrolled through my 5 star reviews first, then my "favorites" list in Bookpedia. I had this idea I would do a comparison grid, but then I randomly marked some of them as True Keepers - ones I've already gone back and reread. I got to 9 marked as True Keepers, and then picked a 10th randomly, without ever really comparing them.

Then I realized I have never actually updated my "favorites" list in Bookpedia, and completely left out Julia Quinn!!! I definitely would have added When He Was Wicked to this list, but I'm not sure instead of which one (maybe Only His by Elizabeth Lowell, although I have read it more than once and do love it). And there's nothing on the list by some of my favorite authors like Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann. And I have listened to Sarah Mayberry's All Over You and Hot for Him probably 3 times each, same for the entire Chicago Stars Series by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I guess it just isn't possible to fit 30 books in a list of 10, unless you choose a series?

I didn't even bother to list anything by Diana Gabaldon. Of course, I'm completely enthralled with the entire Outlander series, and have read and listened to them more than 3 times all the way through. But I don't really consider them romance, although they make it on all the lists.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Analysis of a Romance Novel: An experiment

This comes from a discussion online where we asked each other how we rated books - were we too easy? I figured out since I started blogging my reviews, I have rated 75% of the books as 4 or 5 stars!

So I'm developing a checklist. Well, it's more tongue in cheek - I mean, how can you relegate the way you FEEL about a book to words in a checklist?

But here is my first attempt:

The time period was:
Contemporary but older (like 80s or 90s)
Contemporary – TODAY sorta
Medieval/Renaissance – old
Historical – 100 - 200 or so years ago
Historical – 50 - 100 or so years ago
Paranormal – who knows what year??

The Heroine was:
Not physically beautiful
Black hair
Career woman
15-20 years old
21-29 years old
30 – 39 years old
Too Stupid To Live
Someone I would like
Someone I wouldn't even talk to
incredibly rich
Lived at the mercy of some rich relative
Dirt poor

The Hero was
Over 6 feet tall
Incredibly hunky
Black hair
Someone I'd let in the bed
Blue eyed
Green eyed
Gray eyed
Trained in rescue-type things (cop, SEAL, spy)
Ordinary, next door guy
Tough but lovable
Too Stupid To Live
someone who refused to commit until he met heroine…
Looking for a wife/lover
Someone who had a bad experience with mother/former girlfriend
Someone who grew up with a bunch of sisters
Raised on the streets or foster home
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound
Prone to giving multiple orgasms before finishing himself
a virgin until…
A father
a man with a strict code of honor (that did not include not ravishing the virgin heroine)
A Scot. Nuff said.
A condom user
Incredibly rich
Dirt poor
Some English title, can't remember which one though
Older than the heroine
Younger – a lot! – than the heroine (yippee)
A vampire
A were-something
Not human
Endowed – overly – really

Their relationship:
Was completely credible, and touching
Smokin' - man, the chemistry made the pages curl
Yeah, right, as if those two would ever hit it off...
Well, I wouldn't have paired them myself, but the author made it work

It took place in:
Some Central/South American/Caribbean country
Some country that either doesn't exist or I can't find it on a map
An alternate reality – no Such Place
On the sea/on a ship
Other: Please list _________

The Plot was:
Typical – boy meets girl, there was a credible obstacle, they lived HEA
Suspensful – I didn't guess the villain!
Mostly suspense but there was a nice HEA anyway
A twist on a fairy tale
Opposites attract
Forced or arranged marriage
Heroine passed as a boy; hero thought he was turning gay
The Secret Baby plot, mixed with a Big Misunderstanding
Just a Big Misunderstanding all around
Hero or heroine returns to the hometown, meets old love, rekindles
Hero or heroine moves to a small town, fits in & finds love
An alternate reality that worked
A different world I think but was too confused to be sure

The Plot:
Did not work for me
Worked perfectly
Worked in spite of how stupid it was
Was incredibly funny, on purpose
Was hysterical but the author didn't write it as humor
Caused me to sleep with the lights on for 2 days after reading
Had me fanning myself constantly –whew!

The Villain:
No real villain, unless you count the nosy neighbor
Was really creepy
Was cardboard/2 dimensional
Ended up being nice
Ends up as the hero in the sequel
Dies a violent death
Doesn't get caught

The secondary couple/romance:
Worked perfectly for me
Stole the show – who cares about the origin H/H?
Were sorta creepy actually
Made a nice contrast to the story
Were completely superfluous

The story contained these elements:
A notable pet
A cute precocious kid
A typically rotten teen with a heart of gold
A car (or horse) that was (almost) as important as the H/H
Too many references to brand-names

The sex was:
Graphic and plentiful
Just hinted at, tastefully
Worked in at just the right moments
Every 2 pages – weren't they sore?
Unusual... hmmm...
Not Human

The epilogue:
Tied it all up nicely for me
Made me throw the book at the wall – gimme an effing break, author!
No epilogue

When I finished the book I felt:
Afterglow – I had to just sit and grin for 10 minutes
"Thank gawd that is over and I can relist it at PBS"
WTF? That was the end?
Like the H/H would truly be HEA
Like the H/H would be at divorce court in 5 years
Like calling Barnes & Noble and asking for a refund

There. Maybe that will help someone analyze how they felt about a book.

And I'm not sure I can actually copyright a list, but just in case - I MADE THIS ALL UP MYSELF and hereby claim the copyright, © 2008. Heh heh. Just kidding. Sorta.

Love Me Forever by Johanna Lindsey **

I read this book for the Readers of Romance Fall Challenge: Read a book by Johanna Lindsey.

I bought it used at Hastings for under $5 in hardcover - that's why I got this title (cheap, available).

I had never read any Johanna Lindsey before, so it was a good thing for me to do, I figured. After all, she is a New York Times Bestselling Author, it says so on the cover.

And I didn't like it. Now, I am thinking I could have given it 3 stars, in comparison to other stories I've rated 3 stars. The writing itself wasn't exactly bad - no glaring grammar issues, no continuity mistakes that I caught. The basic plotline, while nothing unique, wasn't bad. The characters didn't exactly annoy me. What is it that made me go with 2 stars instead of 3?

It's because she's a New York Times Bestselling Author with a boatload of fans out there, and I don't get it. I. Do. Not. Get. It. (that's contemporary-speak for emphasis). I found the story meandering around like it was the damned Mississippi River - a little curve here, a little curve there. The POV confused me - it was less like one of the characters reporting it, in 3rd person, and more like a golf commentator, whispering it from the side. I felt no emotions at all, not love, not hate, not anything, while reading this book. I want a story to get to me, to get under my skin and make me concerned for the characters - even knowing there will be a HEA, I want to worry how they could ever make it. And then when they do, I want to feel relieved that at last they made it over the obstacle, the big hurdle, and found their love. If it's humorous, I want to at least grin. If there's suspense, I want to wonder whodunit.

I kept looking for something quotable to illustrate what I mean, but I couldn't find anything in particular that would work out of context. I just followed the words and waited for them to move me and they did not.

The story is about Kimberly and Lachlan. It's obvious this is the sequel to another story (I didn't research it in advance) where Lachlan has fallen in love with Megan, who is now married and has a child with Devlin the Duke of something-or-other. Apparently, in Megan and Devlin's story, Megan was always in love with the Duke of Something-or-other but had never met him, and for some reason that you'll have to read the other story to learn, Devlin was slumming it as Megan's family's stable boy. (ah, the stable boy fantasy!) I guess Devlin as the Stable Boy ravishes Megan and elopes with her to Gretna Green, which is the closest town in Scotland where Brits can get married without whatever issues they face in England. And I guess on that trip, Lachlan stops them to rob them and kidnaps Megan.

So, it's over a year later, Megan and Devlin have their HEA, but poor Lachlan is still pining away for sweet Megan. In addition, we learn Lachlan is reduced to highway robbery because his stepmother stole all their money (over 100,000 pounds! wow!) and left after his father died. The highway robbery doesn't bring in enough cash to fund a clan, so Lachlan gets invited by his Aunt Margaret to someone's house to find a rich wife. Coincidentally, his Aunt Margaret is Devlin's Aunt Margaret by marriage, go figure, and now Lachlan is there in the house with his sweet Megan. His plan: to convince Megan they are soul mates and she must leave Devlin. (Mind you, Megan is not the heroine of this book.)


Kimberly is just coming out of one year of mourning for her beloved mother who passed on. Her father's a mean, cold, bitter fellow who Kimberly just tunes out. She is an only child, and her mother bequeathed a mighty sum to her. During her year of mourning, her betrothed couldn't wait for her because he had a lot of gambling debt, so he dumped her and married someone else rich. Now she's practically an old maid, and Papa has another wife for himself in mind who wants no competition. So Kimberly must wed and get out of the house. Papa asks Devlin to take on this project - so Kimberly is sent off to Megan and Devlin's to find a husband.

Can you guess what happens? Well, the basic plot is, Lachlan and Kimberly meet but don't like each other. Lachlan has eyes only for Megan, and Kimberly doesn't want to play second fiddle to another woman in her husband's eyes.

So why does Lachlan end up in Kimberly's bed, taking her virginity and ravishing her to a fare-thee-well somewhere near the middle of the story? I have no idea. Although it was vaguely explained as something to do with how much Kimberly drank, I just didn't buy it. It came totally out of the blue for me. So who does he want, Kimberly or Megan?? He still thinks he wants Megan at this point, and he was just doing what Kimberly wanted, a tumble. What? In what universe?

There's a bunch of twists and turns, mostly incredible (per the book jacket blurb, "outrageous" is the adjective). There are some other prospects for Kimberly - many of whom seemed really more suitable. Frankly I was rooting for James the widower to be her husband. Needless to say, Lachlan and Kimberly marry and then we have to suffer through even more of their weird story when they return home to Scotland. There's a woman there who's in love with Lachlan. What a bitch she was, and if that was supposed to be humorous, what she did to Kimberly and how she ended up where she did, then I must have lost my sense of humor somewhere. I thought what she did was horrifying.

What I learned from this story was that sometimes people think they are in love with someone but they aren't. It sorta shakes the whole foundation of my romance reading - does that mean that maybe Megan and Devlin aren't really in love and will eventually grow apart? What about all the other HEAs? Was Lachlan actually in love with Kimberly, or was that another trick? What about Nessa, are we sure she wasn't in love with Lachlan?

Oh - and if you are averse to this, I shall forewarn you there is a Secret Baby plot, but it isn't Kimberly's baby... And what it had to do with anything, I have no clue, just story filler for all I could tell. I think it was supposed to explain why a character was like he was, but really, can't a character just be grumpy without having been cuckolded as well?

So this story rates 2 stars for me because I really: Did. Not. Get. It. Who did love whom? Which was real love, and how did they know?? I feel sorta like the lyrics from that song from Chorus Line: I felt nothing. For this story, it's as if I started it expecting at least 3 stars, and it just dropped to 2.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Top 100 - The Romance Reader's Top 109

I don't know when The Romance Reader (aka TRR) did this poll for the Top 100 Romances or published it. The way it worked out after they polled their followers, they came up with 109 titles because so many of them got the same number of votes. You can read their poll methodology on their website. (see note at the end)

A number of the titles, not surprisingly, are also on All About Romance's Top 100 for 2007 (and that is either the 3rd or 4th version of the Top 100 for AAR). What the heck, I'll add any from this list that don't already appear in AAR's list to my quest. There are even a number of authors on here that I've never heard of...

I reformatted the list so I could see which ones I'd read and which ones matched the AAR list, and since they gave the same # to all the titles with the same number of votes, the numbers are a little wonky. Again, I marked the ones read in RED and so on and so forth. If there is a # after the author, that is the ranking of this title at AAR. The asterisks are my rating (* = hated, ***** = loved).

The Romance Reader's Top 109 Romance Novels

1 - Outlander - Diana Gabaldon - #4 - *****
1 - Dream Man - Linda Howard - #22 - *****
1 - It Had to Be You - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - #14 - ****
4 - McKenzie’s Mountain - Linda Howard - #26 - ****
5 - Knight in Shining Armor - Jude Devereaux - #32 - ***
6 - Flowers from the Storm - Laura Kinsale - #5 -
7 - The Bride - Julie Garwood - #17 - ***
8 - Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase - #1 - *****
8 - Nobody’s Baby But Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - #21 - ****
10 - Morning Glory - LaVyrle Spencer - #81 - *****
11 - Naked in Death - J.D. Robb - #19 - ***
11 - Whitney, My Love - Judith McNaught - #71 - ****
13 - Shanna - Kathleen Woodiwiss - -
14 - Honor’s Splendor - Julie Garwood - #50 - *****
15 - Paradise - Judith McNaught - #24 -*****
15 - Almost Heaven - Judith McNaught - #35 -
15 - The Flame and the Flower - Kathleen Woodiwiss - -
15 - Heaven, Texas - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - #33 - ***
19 - Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon - #69 - *****
19 - Hummingbird - LaVyrle Spencer - - ***
19 - Born in Fire - Nora Roberts - #57 - ***
22 - The Rake (and the Reformer) - Mary Jo Putney - -
22 - Dream a Little Dream - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - #76 - *****
24 - Knight of a Trillion Stars - Dara Joy - -
24 - Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - #3 -
24 - Bewitching - Jill Barnett - -
24 - After the Night - Linda Howard - #61 - *****
24 - Born in Ice - Nora Roberts - - *****
24 - The Devil’s Bride - Stephanie Laurens - #31 - *
30 - A Place to Call Home - Deborah Smith - -
30 - Lion’s Lady - Julie Garwood - -
30 - The Wolf and the Dove - Kathleen Woodiwiss - -
30 - Once and Always - Judith McNaught - #64 - *****
30 - McKenzie’s Mission - Linda Howard - - ****
35 - The Windflower - Tom and Sharon Curtis - #75 - HARD TO FIND
35 - Kingdom of Dreams - Judith McNaught - #39 - *****
35 - The Secret - Julie Garwood - #28 - ****
35 - Kiss an Angel - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - #59 - *****
39 - The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer - -
39 - Venetia - Georgette Heyer - #95 -
39 - Honest Illusions - Nora Roberts - -
39 - Courting Miss Hattie - Pamela Morsi - -
39 - Voyager - Diana Gabaldon - #79 - *****
39 - Saving Grace - Julie Garwood - #51 - *****
39 - Born in Shame - Nora Roberts - - *****
46 - These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer - -
46 - Something Wonderful - Judith McNaught - #45 -***
46 - Devil’s Cub - Georgette Heyer - #86 - **
46 - Son of the Morning - Linda Howard - #29 - ****
46 - Dreaming of You - Lisa Kleypas - #2 - ***
51 - Ravished - Amanda Quick - #83 - *****
51 - As You Desire - Connie Brockway - #25 - *****
51 - Frederica - Georgette Heyer - #77 -
51 - My Lady Notorious - Jo Beverley - -
51 - Perfect - Judith McNaught - #70 - *****
51 - One Summer - Karen Robards - -
51 - A Rose in Winter - Kathleen Woodiwiss - -
51 - The Promise of Jenny Jones - Maggie Osborne - -
51 - River of Fire - Mary Jo Putney - -
51 - Thunder and Roses - Mary Jo Putney - #58 -
51 - Montana Sky - Nora Roberts - -
51 - Sweet, Savage Love - Rosemary Rogers - -
51 - The Last Hellion - Loretta Chase - - *****
64 - Annie’s Song - Catherine Anderson - -
64 - Jackson Rule - Dinah McCall - -
64 - The Shadow and the Star - Laura Kinsale - #37 -
64 - Slow Heat in Heaven - Sandra Brown - -
64 - Sunshine and Shadow - Tom and Sharon Curtis - -
68 - Mistress - Amanda Quick - -
68 - Warrior’s Woman - Johanna Lindsey - -
68 - Highland Velvet - Jude Deveraux - -
68 - The Wedding - Julie Garwood - -
68 - Duncan’s Bride - Linda Howard - -
68 - Angel Rogue - Mary Jo Putney - -
68 - One Perfect Rose - Mary Jo Putney - #73 -
68 - Carnal Innocence - Nora Roberts - -
68 - To Love and to Cherish - Patricia Gaffney - -
68 - Alinor - Roberta Gellis - -
68 - Anyone but You - Jennifer Crusie - #88 - *****
68 - Sleeping Beauty - Judith Ivory - - ****
81 - The Sherbrooke Bride - Catherine Coulter - -
81 - The Proud Breed - Celeste DeBlasis - -
81 - The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer - -
81 - Family Man - Jayne Ann Krentz - -
81 - Something Wicked - Jo Beverley - -
81 - Lord of the Storm - Justine Davis - -
81 - Walking after Midnight - Karen Robards - -
81 - Sunrise Song - Kathleen Eagle - -
81 - A Rose for Maggie - Kathleen Korbel - -
81 - This Is All I Ask - Lynn Kurland - -
81 - The Wives of Bowie Stone - Maggie Osborne - -
81 - Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell - -
81 - Mirror Image - Sandra Brown - -
81 - Drums of Autumn - Diana Gabaldon - - *****
95 - Indigo - Beverly Jenkins - -
95 - Eternally Yours - Brenda Jackson - -
95 - Finders Keepers - Fern Michaels - -
95 - Heart of a Falcon - Francis Ray - -
95 - Getting Rid of Bradley - Jennifer Crusie - -
95 - If You Believe - Kristin Hannah - -
95 - The Rainbow Season - Lisa Gregory - -
95 - Dearly Beloved - Mary Jo Putney - -
95 - Silk and Shadows - Mary Jo Putney - -
95 - Simple Jess - Pamela Morsi - -
95 - Wild at Heart - Patricia Gaffney - -
95 - The Outsider - Penelope Williamson - -
95 - Bond of Blood - Roberta Gellis - -
95 - Exposure - Susan Andersen
95 - Fancy Pants - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - - *****

41 of the titles appear on the AAR Top 100 for 2007. As of October 20, 2008, I have read 40 of these 109 titles. I think it's interesting that I've read a lot in the top 50, but not very many in the last 50. Whew. I have a ways to go, huh??

Note At The End: I can't even figure out if TRR is still updating their website - links on their homepage point to articles written over a year ago, so I'm not any closer to figuring out who they are and when they published the Top 100 poll. They do have reviews posted that are from October 2008, so at least they are still adding reviews even though they don't seem to be updating their home page and links.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nightcap by Kathleen O'Reilly ****

I'm almost done with the third story in the Sexy O'Sullivan trilogy.

OK, I'm done now. This was a fun read, even though Sean wasn't really my favorite O'Sullivan brother (Gabe was). Sean was the hard-driving hound dog lawyer, who did all the women - especially women in a position of power. Like, health inspectors and secretaries or co-workers of other people who could help out him or his brothers or the bar. He had women left and right throughout the first 2 books, in the bar bathroom, wherever, usually with an ulterior motive other than sex.

He was also a man who had been currying favors forever and a day, and in the end everybody owed him a favor or two.

When Prime (the family bar, co-owned by the brothers) was being hassled over building permits and health issues and anything the city could throw at them, Sean picked one hot female Deputy Mayor, Cleo Hollings, as his next victim target. He planted himself in her way and pled his case.

Cleo was a woman who saw herself as Cleopatra, powerful, in charge, in control. Of Everything. In her mind, she should be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Everything about her was all business and tough as nails. The Wicked Witch of Murray Street. She and Sean were a good match - they lived their lives in 15 minute and 30 minute segments, whether it was getting together, going to meetings, handling the city or handling personal things.

Of course, Cleo had some personal issues that she wasn't willing to share, not with Sean, not with her staff, not with anyone. The most obvious was that she was caretaker for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer's. The least obvious was her experience earlier in life with relationships, someone named Danny (whose backstory was never exactly explained.)

Sean senses a real soul mate in Cleo, something he really wasn't expecting in a ball-busting, steel-spined female politician. He even says to her early on she's the other half of him - sounds suspiciously like "you complete me", doesn't it? He pushes her - in a series of voice mails, and in his increasing presence - to open up, let him in, share. She pushes back, rejecting him as being one responsibility too many. Well, not really him, but the responsibility of loving then losing him is just one thing too many for her plate-juggling life. She's not sure she can survive it, so she fights him tooth and nail.

The writing style interestingly reflects their life style - it's staccato, rapid-fire, big-city rush-hour. Sitting here on my futon out in the middle of nowhere, high desert Arizona, it made me tired just reading it. I could practically smell the bus fumes and hear the rush hour horns and see everyone rushing in and out of office buildings. They lived on caffeine and 2 hours of sleep and stolen moments.

I wasn't 100% sure I loved this one until I got to the epilogue. I was feeling a little pushed - Cleo was a hard woman for me to like, or even to admire, and Sean wasn't exactly the most honorable hero I've read in his dealings with women. And then I read the epilogue. I have to say, I'm not sure I've read an epilogue quite like it - it wrapped up everyone's lives, more than 40 years' worth in under 2 pages, and it made me smile and even laugh out loud. I was reminded why I read - to feel, and importantly, when it's over, to feel good. And I did - 4 stars.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sex, Straight Up by Kathleen O'Reilly ****

This is the second in the "Sexy O'Sullivan" brothers trilogy. I originally became interested in the series because of the review I had read at Dear Author for this particular book. One of the reasons it interested me was that it addressed 9/11 - Daniel's wife Michelle died in one of the Towers where they both worked, and Daniel wasn't at work yet, so he was spared.

Except now that I re-read the review, that 9/11 connection isn't even mentioned so now I have no clue where I first read it. Something about the review made me want to read the book - about how he couldn't get past her death. Maybe it's because I read the first page somewhere, maybe on the author's website. Hmmmmm...

Ooops. It seems it was the Smart Bitches Trashy Books review that was my inspiration to find and read this book. Go figure.

OK, on to the synopsis. I've already covered how Daniel's wife died - but it's been 7 years, and he's still being faithful to her. Still wearing the wedding ring. Still keeping her photo next to the bed. His brothers Gabe and Sean think it's about time he consider moving on - or at least getting laid, so they arrange for him to go with a group of Sean's coworkers to a house in the Hamptons for a 3 day weekend.

He goes, reluctantly, and hates every minute of it, until he meets the woman in the house next door, Catherine. They don't exchange much information - basically, he just wants to sort of hide out on her deck, away from the playboy mansion-esque house party going on next door. Catherine is quiet, shy even, but attracted - she invites him to sleep in one of the extra bedrooms for the last night. They spend some time talking and getting to know one another over a glass of wine, and then... well, sleeping isn't exactly what either one had in mind after that.

The next day, Daniel's filled with guilt over his actions, and as he prepares to go, pulls out his wedding ring. Catherine sees it, jumps to all the wrong conclusions, and he leaves without setting her straight. Easier that way, he figures.

Catherine works for the family business - an auction house run by her grandfather. The board of directors has uncovered some information that her grandfather may be cooking the books, so they hire an accounting firm to do a thorough audit. Did I mention Daniel's an accountant (see review of Shaken and Stirred)? Well, guess who the firm sends out... Yep. Now Daniel and Catherine have to work together - and it's a compromising position because it may be a conflict of interest. They discuss it briefly and decide it's not, because there is no relationship between them, even after he admits to her he's no longer married, but widowed. She knows, because of what little he does share, that his heart belongs to Michelle, and that he will never love Catherine.

But there is still the attraction between them. It's a Blaze, after all, and so Daniel pursues Catherine, after hours, because he can't seem to help himself. She's starting to fill the hole left by Michelle's death, even though Catherine is nothing like her. He even manages to share a few details about his life and open up a little. And he's driven to push her sexually, mostly in places you wouldn't suspect.

The audit doesn't go well - the evidence against her grandfather is very damning, and they work together to see if they can figure out who is behind it. She's convinced her grandfather is being framed; Daniel's the accountant - he's just uncovering facts, and the facts all point to grandpa cooking the books.

I enjoyed this story, but I'm surprised that even though I got the trilogy for this story, I liked Shaken and Stirred better. I did feel for Daniel - his angst, his inability to move on with his life - but somehow not as much as I felt for Tessa and Gabe. Actually, the whole "conflict of interest" thing did sorta bother me, and the fact that they were discovered in a compromising position at the office during the audit really didn't make me any more sympathetic to their situation.

Also, in a shorter category romance like this, there isn't the word-count required to get deeper into the suspense element, but I was confused and not satisfied with how the suspense element was wrapped up (the whodunit part). In addition, I felt Catherine came across a little - maybe pathetic is the word I mean. I didn't feel much sympathy for her character. How did she get to be such a wimp with 2 strong role models, her mother and grandfather? There was some character growth for her, but I felt like she let her mother and coworkers push her around too much.

But enough quibbles, I did enjoy the story, and I'm so glad Daniel was able to move on with his life at last! 4 stars.

Shaken and Stirred by Kathleen O'Reilly *****

This is a short Harlequin Blaze novel, the first of a trilogy about the "sexy O'Sullivan" brothers in New York City. The O'Sullivans have owned this Manhattan bar for generations, since it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Things have changed - they had to sell part of it, and the current generation has changed the name from O'Sullivans to Prime - but they've managed to keep it in the family. Gabe, the working owner, is the youngest of the brothers. His older brothers are Daniel, the accountant, and Sean who is a lawyer but he also tends bar from time to time.

This is Gabe's story. He's focused mainly on keeping the bar afloat - to that end, he likes to have talented bartenders and wait staff, and he's recently purchased the empty space next door that used to be part of the original bar, for expansion. He knows how to keep his customers happy - and that makes him happy.

Tessa's been one of his best employees for four years, and they have an easy, friendly relationship. But he's always felt protective of her as he's watched her struggle to find her way in life. She moved to NYC from Florida, a way to establish her identity and feel independent from her family and the life she left behind. She had planned to go to college right out of high school, but met Denny who convinced her to just live with him and see what happened.

What happened was the relationship soured after 3 years, Denny decided he wasn't ready to commit, and she felt used and shaky and dependent and like life was passing her by. Her move to NYC was her way of taking control and making her own way, without having to depend on a man or her family for support. In that vein, she's been taking college courses in accounting while supporting herself at Prime. She's studying hard and has big, big plans to find a career making lots of money, but meanwhile has moved from apartment to apartment, roommate to roommate, trying to keep a roof over her head. And the last roof is about to dissolve with no future roof in sight. Sigh.

Gabe has been trying to convince her she can live in his extra bedroom until the right place opens up. For Tessa, who has done a ton of research on the real estate market in NYC, the right place is still just out of her reach - she just needs one more roommate while she gets financially independent, but not Gabe. Gabe's her boss, her mentor, her best friend - and damn if he isn't sexy and attractive and... Nope, can't risk the temptation that would be living with Gabe because she knows she'll fall for him and BOOM! she'll be dependent on another man, and her goals would go up in smoke. Then, in her world view, he'd dump her and there she'd be, alone, no education, no career.

She does move in with him as a last resort, but works as hard as possible at maintaining her personal boundaries and independence. She makes it as clear as glass that he is the LAST man on earth for her - in so many ways that are so incredibly hurtful, I'm surprised Gabe didn't throw her out. While she isn't capable of keeping them apart physically, she is capable of pretending it didn't happen, it didn't matter, it doesn't affect her, her own personal goals are still #1.

It's a Harlequin Blaze, so the sex is hot - but the emotions are hotter. I felt a number of things while reading this book, and I think the strongest was how much I understood what she was going through, even though she frustrated the hell out of me over and over. I wanted to stop her and shake her and tell her it would be ok, to stop fighting - but that was essentially the crux of the story. The obstacle was her own inability to trust herself, to see where she was heading and what the consequences were. The struggle was her fight with herself, with what her heart was telling her since it seemed to be at odds with her goals.

Gabe was so patient and understanding, even while he was completely confused and really hurt. I felt every little pang. He tries to understand why she sets him up with another woman, and even though I understood why she did it, I also saw his perspective, and I hurt with him.

For a short, hot read, it was incredibly ... (searching for the right words here) complex? Not exactly. Deep? No, that's not it. It just GOT to me - thwappp - arrow in the heart, a pain that kept dully throbbing while she kicked him and herself over and over and over, not on purpose and not with a motive to hurt, but inadvertently, unintentionally, because she just couldn't see how else to get where she wanted to go. It made me close my eyes and wish it would stop.

Actually, that's a good thing! When the story makes me feel for the characters, feel what the characters feel, well, the author's done her job. Well. And when she wraps it up with a neat, credible, satisfying HEA, then we all go home happy. Let's stop at Prime for Happy Hour!

5 stars.

As an aside, I don't mean to belittle the ability of Blaze stories to be complex - one of my favorite romance novels is a Blaze, Sarah Mayberry's Hot for Him, which I have on audio. I also like the other in the same series, All Over You. It's truly an accomplishment, in my opinion, for an author to stick to the "rules" of category romance and write a moving, credible, memorable story! Is that a back-handed compliment?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Top 100 list - The Essential Man's Library

Well, in my New Quest to find Top 100 Lists, I ran across a blog entitled The Art of Manliness, where The Essential Man's Library is published. It's a list of 100 Must-Read books "that have shaped the lives of individual men while also helping define broader cultural ideas of what it means to be a man." The list was published in May 2008.

I haven't yet gotten this list in a format I can easily peruse (working on it), since the bloggers have posted rather large photos of book covers for each entry, but the list itself is very intriguing. Not being a man, maybe I don't need to read them? But I do want to see how I stack up against Essential Manly Reading!

It's not only an interesting list, the bloggers have also published thumbnail descriptions of each book, so it's really a great resource for listers like me.

I've marked in RED the ones I've read.

The Essential Man's Library from the Art of Manliness Blog

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
3. Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut
4. 1984 by George Orwell
5. The Republic Of Plato: Second Edition by Plato
6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
7. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
8. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
9. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
10. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
11. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
12. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
13. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
14. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
15. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
16. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss
17. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
18. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer
19. Catch-22: A Novel by Joseph Heller
20. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
21. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
22. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
23. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
24. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
25. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

more to come... (10 of 25 read! Not bad, although most were done as required reading in school, and I can't say I recall a helluva lot about them.)

BBC's The Big Read Top 100 Books

The following list is from 2003, when the BBC began the search for Britain's best-loved novel and asked for submissions. This list is the Top 100 books nominated. I've marked in RED the ones I've read, and will mark in GREEN the ones I might read, and will mark through the ones I never ever plan to read. Asterisk will denote a book for which I've seen the movie.

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen *
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis *
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott *
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell *
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens *
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl *
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert *
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald *
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas *
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens *
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett *
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck *
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough *
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding *
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons *
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo *
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel *
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

Looks like I've read (at least) 19 of these, and I need to go through and remember which movies I saw. I had to look up the titles of the Harry Potter books and I guess the Philosopher's Stone one is the British title to Book #1, so I had read it, as Sorcerer's Stone though.

World Book Day's Top 100 Books You Can't Live Without

Here's the list as published by The Guardian in March 2007. I marked in RED the books I'm pretty sure I've read. I plan to mark in GREEN books I plan to or might get around to reading. I plan to mark out books I don't have any intention of ever reading. I've asterisked* books for which I've seen the movies. There's some I'm not sure if I read or not - didn't mark them one way or the other. Some of them I've even seen the musical adaptions!

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien *
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte *
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (read #1 only)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee *
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte *
=8 Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
=8 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens *
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott *
12 Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare William Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell *
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald *
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck *
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens *
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis *
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernières
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown *
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens *
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck *
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov *
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold in TBR pile
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas *
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding *
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens *
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker *
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett *
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens *
82 Cloud Atlas David - Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker *
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl *
100 Les Misérables - Victor Hugo (in English) *

So - I'm pretty sure I've read (at least) 23 of these. I haven't marked any (yet) as Going To Read or Will Never read.

Now let's briefly discuss The Bible - of course, I've learned a lot of Bible stories, but I can't claim to have actually read The Bible in its entirety. Once I tried Isaac Asimov's Guide to the Bible which I did find interesting, but then my cat threw up on it (no, really!) and I never bought another copy. I didn't count The Bible as "read" but can claim to have actually owned and read some of it at some point. Just saying...

Again, the origin of this list was from 2,000 people participating in World Book Day's online poll, where each submitted his top 10 books he couldn't live without. World Book Day claims to be "the biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland."

Top 100s and Big Reads and Polls, oh my!

I saw that several blogs have printed a list of 100 books they say are associated with the National Endowment of Art's Big Read program. I thought it looked interesting, so I went googling in search of the origin of the list and the program.

Hmmmm. It seems the list isn't part of the American NEA's Big Read at all, and neither are the facts being included in the blogs (something about most Americans having only read 6 of them?). The list being shared is very similar to one actually from the BBC - a list created in 2003 when they had almost a quarter of million votes for Britain's favorite novel in a program they called... (wait for it) The Big Read!! So, while their list is a good list of books - that Brits like - I'm not sure I'm going to try to make a quest of it.

I found a couple of other Doubting Thomases like myself: Book Geek published an article in June 2008 looking for the source of this list and the facts included. He located the origin of the list on a British news website, The Guardian, based on Books You Can't Live Without, a World Book day poll of 2,000 people at held in March 2007. Per the website, "World Book Day is the biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland."

I hope I've gotten all the links and facts right
  1. World Book Day had a poll on the Books You Can't Live Without in March 2007
  2. The Guardian wrote a story about the World Book Day poll results in March 2007
  3. The Guardian published the poll results (the Top 100 list now appearing in blogs)
  4. The BBC Big Read poll identifying Britain's favorite novel was done in 2003, and it's similar
  5. The NEA Big Read is ongoing and not related to either the BBC Big Read or World Book Day.
  6. A lot of folks are publishing the World Book Day list on their website and marking whether or not they've read the books in the list.

The actual Big Read program by the (American) NEA is focused on getting communities reading: "The Big Read provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities." A single book. There are only 22 books in the Featured Books list today (it seems it's growing) - I haven't double checked to see if these 22 books also appear on the BBC's list.

Anyway, if you copy the list or a list, there is a suggestion that you mark the list with books you've read, books you never plan to read, books you intend to read, books you loved. OK - I'll bite and post BOTH lists and maybe some others too!

Here is my personal analyses of
the World Book Day Books You Can't Live Without poll from 2007
the BBC 2003 Big Read Top 100 list

And for List Geeks, here's a Wikipedia article on the list of best-selling books as well as a Wikipedia article on assorted lists of books. And here is Random House's Top 100 Best Novels list, a list I think that was garnered from the NY Times, followed by Radcliffe Publishing's Top 100 Best Novels.

Magnolia Moon by JoAnn Ross *****

This is the 3rd story in the Callahan Brothers Trilogy, and it's the story of Nate Callahan, the youngest of the 3 brothers from Blue Bayou, Louisiana.

Nate's been the stay-at-home guy all along. While older brothers Jack and Finn played cops and robbers as kids, Nate was dragging wood out of the bayou - he likes to say it was so he could build the jail for those robbers. He was athletic too, and went as far away as Tulane (my alma mater!) on an athletic scholarship, but came home to take care of his mother as she died from cancer and never left. Of course, Tulane was only in New Orleans, so he didn't go far.

Now he's the mayor of Blue Bayou - it's a volunteer position, so he supports himself with his contracting business. He's a natural politician and diplomat - always had a way with the ladies, as long as they don't start thinking about flatware patterns and picket fences. No, marriage might have tripped up brothers Jack and Finn, but not Nate. That is, not until he met Regan.

Regan's a hard case - she's a homicide cop in L.A. That's Los Angeles, not Louisiana. She's all business, no nonsense and no play, just like his big brother Finn. When Nate shows up in the L.A. homicide office, she's also all suspicion. She worked with Finn a few years back, so she tries to remain open minded about Nate's visit - but she doesn't buy his story: he ran across some cold case evidence of a possible murder in Blue Bayou some 30 years ago. The victim had a 2 year old child named Regan, and it's no coincidence when the pieces of the puzzle come together: he thinks she's the daughter of the victim. But that doesn't fit her life because she had a mother, who died 2 years ago, who raised her in California as a single mother after her father died in Vietnam. However, there is mention of a toy elephant that is suspiciously similar to the one she still has...

It takes a while for Regan to get curious enough to follow the evidence to Blue Bayou and check it out for herself. Being a small town, there are still a folks around who remember Linda Dale, the nightclub singer who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, a probable suicide. But Linda's diary indicates there was more to the story - no depression, no suicidal thoughts, so what really happened, both to Linda and to little Regan?

On Regan's first day in town, however, Nate deputizes her to help out with a train/truck wreck where they pull out a runaway teen with an attitude, Josh. After that, rumor has it Regan is there for the sheriff's position, vacated in book 1 when the sheriff got put away for conspiracies and other criminal activities.

The story lets Regan take her time getting to know the Blue Bayou inhabitants and learn some of the mystique and appeal of small town living. I personally can vouch for the mystique and cannot say for sure whether or not it's different in south Louisiana, but I think it is. She also gets introduced to Mardi Gras Blue Bayou style - Mardi Gras is an institution down there, for sure. (For the uninitiated, Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, which is what it's called in the book, and it's the day before Lent.)

Meanwhile she takes her time getting acclimated to Nate as well. She finds him interesting, but she doesn't see any future there, what with her having this career in L.A. and all. There's an attraction on his part too - hell, he's a true ladies' man and he's not dead - but Nate makes it clear he's not looking for any commitment, especially one involving flatware. Ha.

I do love stories where the man caves first, and hard.

Once again, I was left with that grin on my face and the afterglow of a good story at the end. OK, the whole Josh-the-runaway-teen thing wrapped up a little too easily and left me scratching my head on the details, almost as if the author thought, oh wait we have to let the readers know how Josh's background played out.

There's a bit of suspense in solving the mystery of Linda's death, too, although it's clear Regan is definitely the little girl, but the main focus of this book is the developing romance. I found it credible and romantic, and the end is truly sigh-worthy - 5 stars.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

River Road by JoAnn Ross *****

This is story #2 in the Callahan Brothers Trilogy which takes place in fictional Blue Bayou, Louisiana, deep in southern bayou, swamp and Cajun territory. The story involves the eldest Callahan brother, Finn, an FBI Special Agent who has been hunting a heinous serial killer for over 2 years. The killer was finally caught and behind bars. As the story starts, we learn the killer attempted to escape, and Finn nearly killed him, beating him to a pulp after preventing the escape.

Finn's a big tough bad good guy - I liked the author's description of him as being a young Tommy Lee Jones mixed with the Hulk. (Of course, I knew she meant Jones' onscreen persona, the tough, hard case.) He's by the book, well, except for beating up that serial killer. And his superior officer, a woman who bows to political pressure, has just given him an unpaid leave of absence over that little incident. Grrrr.

He heads back to Blue Bayou, where younger brother Nate asks him to do Blue Bayou a rather big favor. It seems the actors and crew of the popular soap opera River Road are coming to film the big season finale in brother Jack's home, Beau Soleil, and one of the female stars, Julia Summers, needs a bodyguard. Apparently she's been receiving stalker-ish notes, and the last one was slightly threatening.

Julia is the daughter of a couple of hippies (think Dharma's folks in Dharma and Greg). She was raised on a commune, and she carries stones that her mother swears have powers - so she hasn't grown up to be the opposite of them at all. In fact, when she makes Finn for the FBI agent he is, she's pretty ticked off - he's the very embodiment of what she's been raised to believe are the bad guys, pigs, authority figures, who arrested and harrassed her folks at every turn.

Ah, the old "opposites attract" story! Actually, yes, and Ross makes it work! Finn isn't too thrilled to take on this assignment either, but Nate sorta blackmails him by letting him know the show will move to another location, and Blue Bayou will lose out on the money the show will bring to town. Finn assumes she's like her character, Amanda, on the show - a conniving, sexually-loose woman who will do anything to get ahead, and she strengthens that by taking on that persona after they meet. Julia assumes he's hard-assed, by the book... (oh wait, he sorta is) Sparks fly, but he sticks around - 24/7 - a combination that can really only lead to disaster - or attraction.

There's a suspense element with both the stalker and the serial killer still out there. I was actually surprised by the revealing of the stalker, especially since Ross does a little redirection thing that caught me unawares. And the serial killer escapes again...

The writing on this was a little different from Blue Bayou - for one thing, I didn't feel slapped in the face with the overabundance of similes that had me rolling my eyes in that story. Also there was a lot more humor, and I found myself chuckling several times. Every time I did, I wondered if I should mark the line to include in a review, but somehow it all seemed so contextual, sorta like "you had to be there" to get the humor. It wasn't really comedy or funny situations, it was things that came across as real, and wry, and just made me smile in agreement. I saved this one quote as an example, but I have to lead into it. He's finally cracked that granite exterior, at the end, and this isn't really a spoiler since it is a Romance, after all, so you know he's going to admit he loves her. He's actually groveling a little, and he's mentioned having kids, to which she is agreeable.

"Good. Because I want to get them a big stupid dog who'll shed all over and chew up your scripts."

I dunno, maybe you had to be there, but I found that line incredibly goofy and romantic and so not-Finn that it made me laugh out loud.

This one gets a 5 star rating from me!


Not to ruin a good rating, but I do have one, sorta minor, quibble. Near the end, on the last day of shooting, there's the scene where we learn the identity of the stalker. Not to give too much away, but that must have been the longest day in history - first they shoot the final scene, then It Happens where Julia, uh, goes missing, then We Find Julia and Bring Her Back To Beau Soleil (and I'm thinking, there must have been some time spent with the police?), and it is mentioned that the sun is going down

after that we have the stalker incident Where The Stalker's Identity Is Revealed and Guns Are Involved,

Finn and Jack drive the stalker, handcuffed, to Baton Rouge...

Now, if that wasn't the longest day ever, while Finn and Jack are off on their roundtrip to Baton Rouge, which I figure has to be 3-4 hours minimum, since surely they have to explain some things to the authorities there, and BR must be a good 60-90 minute drive away, Julia is getting ready for Finn to take her on a date to New Orleans when he returns.

What? When she left Where She Was (before We Find Her and Bring Her Back To Beau Soleil), the sun was already going down. It must be after midnight by now! And after the day she's had, she's going dancing in New Orleans?

I might have to re-read the scene because surely he didn't expect her to get dressed up and go dancing after What Happened?? (How's that for not giving anything away?) And they did not go dancing cuz after Jack and Finn return from BR, There Is Another Incident Involving Guns and Knives. Whew. Long Day.