Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cover of Night by Linda Howard ***

I listened to this book on my road trip to Arizona to pack up my life and move it cross country for a new beginning. This fact might have colored my experience, but somehow this story seemed so unlike any Linda Howard I'd read that it left me a little confused.

There wasn't much romance or sexual tension, and the hero was so beta at first as to be almost non-hero until a sudden transformation late in the story. I guess because we hear so much of the heroine's POV at first, he comes across as a blushing, stammering idiot whenever he's around her. Cal's a handyman in the small Idaho town, and he's spent so much time fixing things at Cate's Victorian B&B she's considering offering him free room and board in exchange for his services. His HANDYMAN services that is.

She's a widow with twin boys - her husband had some short fatal illness (staph infection? I think) right after the twins were born. In her grief, she sold her home and moved to small-town Idaho to start over. How she made a going concern of a B&B at the end of the road in a town of 50 people I have no idea.

But her handyman issues are apparently all because everyone else in town can see that Handyman Cal is head over heels in love with her, so they break things in her house to force their getting together. Weird, huh? Especially since he's actually a former special ops marine with all kinds of saleable skills, so why is he doing plumbing and carpentry?

That's only part of the weirdness of the story. A mob accountant decides to force a mobster's hand: pay me $20 mil to keep your real books away from the feds or else. He has the raw data on a flash drive which he takes with him to - guess where - the Idaho B&B. He leaves his stuff in the room, slips out a window and disappears, leaving a trail to the B&B that stops cold. Now - let's take stock - he has the data on a flashdrive, and several times the people who know this realize it MIGHT be on his person like, duh, in a pocket or on his keychain. But the mobster hires some goon who hires some more goons, one of whom has a beef with Goon #1. The goons go to Idaho and shoot 7 of the 50 townspeople after cutting it off, and now Handyman aka Former SpecOps guy must save the day. Meanwhile no one has any idea why they're shooting at them - they have made no demands at all. No one realizes Mob Accountant is even involved. Or is an accountant. Or works for the mob. Or anything.

And at the very end, while trying to get over a mountain to Save The Day, Cal and the widow boink in a cave while it snows, their first and only in-story tryst. He admits to her he loves her and her wild kids and that he stayed in Small Town for 3 years waiting for her to be ready for him. Which borders on creepy and stalkerish in a way.

Ok - why did I even give it 3 stars? Because I didn't really dislike it as much as I was disappointed.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer **

I got this on audio book and it took me weeks to finish it - and it wasn't that great. 2 stars - way too confusing plot and annoying heroine and weird hero.

I'm not even going to bother with much of the plot - Agnes writes a cooking column entitled "Cranky Agnes" which reputation she lives up to by whacking boyfriends in the head with a cast iron skillet or stabbing them in the throat with forks. She has a best girlfriend whose daughter is getting married, and Agnes is hosting the wedding at her home. The Hitman has a shady past associated with many of Agnes' neighbors and friends - he's actually a government agent on the trail of a bad guy or girl. It's pretty danged confusing, with some Italian last names and an Irish-accented guy and a bad mother, and Agnes comes across as deranged, and true to Crusie-Mayer story crafting, a lot of people are murdered. In the end, the last deaths were truly mystifying and in my opinion, gratuitous and out of character.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie ***

My sister and I listened to this on audio - read by the author - on a road trip to Arizona over the holidays. This is my first listen to an author-narrated book, and I have to give Mr Alexie kudos for doing a great job with the voices and the narration. Of course, as author, he no doubt had in mind what they sounded like in his head, but I have read/heard that author-as-narrator doesn't always work, so I was pleasantly surprised.

The book's genre appears to be YA = Young Adult, a classification that is actually intended for younger teens. Why that is considered Young Adult I dunno - in my vocabulary, "young adults" would be 18 - 25 but of course at that age, they would probably read Actual Adult or AA books. Go figure. It's also classified as "coming of age" which more accurately described the story.

The protagonist was Junior, a Native American teen of the Spokane (as in State of Washington) tribe who lived on the reservation with his mother, father and older sister. He was born with "water on the brain" and apparently suffered no ill effects from it other than some speech issues like a lisp (he doesn't read it with a lisp, by the way). On the contrary, he was of above-average intelligence but suffered from the abuse of his peers being a geek and maybe somewhat physically different. He played basketball reasonably well in junior high, so I gathered he was also ok physically although he referred to his brain damage several times.

He also had a best friend on the rez who stood up for him when bullied, and with whom he spent a lot of time doing kid things. But by high school, he had decided he wanted more, so with his parents' help, he enrolled in the closest "regular" or maybe "mainstream" high school, some 20 miles from the rez where he was the only Indian. At this point, his best friend gave up on him, and he was left an outsider both at his new high school with all the white kids and also back at home on the rez.

The pivotal moment for me was his best friend admitting he had looked up the history of their people and learned that they had been nomadic before being sent to live on reservations by the American government. He realized then that Junior was actually nomadic - leaving the rez, driven to go away and sort of follow his ancestors to better places.

It didn't really have a "lesson" like children's books seem to have but it did have that moment of discovery, that Junior wasn't so much different as everyone else was - by staying in one place and not expecting more.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wild Jinx by Sandra Hill ****

This is Tee-John LeDeux's story - apparently fans have been following John from the first Cajun series, waiting for his "thunderbolt of love" to strike, and now that he's 28, it's time.

And when he meets up with a former acquaintance, also a former one-drunken-night-stand, it seems she might be the one. Celine Arseneaux might just fit the bill Tante Lulu has for John - a good Cajun woman, ok, 3/4 Cajun. But why doesn't she have a Cajun accent?

Celine grew up somewhere else, hence no Cajun accent, and came to live with her grandfather at 15 after her parents' deaths. She went to both high school and college (Tulane) with John, who was 2 years older. Their night-o-drunken-love happened a little over 5 years ago, while in college.

And it's not a coincidence that there's her son, Etienne, who is, uh, 5 years old. Yep - the ol' Secret Baby plot. It seems Grandfather Arseneaux hated John's alcoholic, abusive father and would only agree to help Celine raise her child if she promised never to tell John.

John and Celine meet up again in, of all things, a brothel for both women and men - Celine is there as a reporter looking for a story, and John is there undercover, a police detective from the fictional Fontaine, Louisiana, police department, about to bust a Mafia money-laundering whorehouse.

After the bust, to keep his identity and location as a witness secret, he joins the Jinx team, which has been hired by Tante Lulu to find pirate Jean Lafitte's treasure somewhere near his brother's property on the bayou out in the middle of nowhere - a plane ride or a couple days pirogue ride away. Celine is also sent there by her paper for a scoop on the pirate's treasure story - and is sorta hijacked into staying for a week, allowed to stay only if she promises not to reveal John's whereabouts.

I enjoyed reading it, now that I'm a little more accustomed to author Hill's style and humor and way-over-the-topness. Tante Lulu is now in her 90s and going strong - she stays on at the camp to oversee the treasure hunt, and keeps them all fed on jambalaya and gumbo and poboys. She manuevers John and Celine into some alone-time, which they take advantage of. But while they're alone, Lulu goes through Celine's purse, looking for some aspirin, and finds photos of Etienne, who is the spitting image of his father. Thinking at first that John just abandoned his child, she is angry at John - meanwhile he doesn't have a clue, since he did use a condom so never suspected.

I found Celine a little hard to like, truth be told. First off, the Secret Baby thing - and her acting like John was an asshole over it! I thought she was pretty unreasonable about a lot of things. Of course, I've only read the Jinx trilogy, so I don't have all the Tee-John history, but he's likable if a little wild. So I went with 4 stars for this book - maybe more like 3.75, but I round up.

Only 5 more days til 2009, when I can finally read more series for the Serial Challenge!! I just couldn't wait - most of my books seem to be in series right now, so what's a reader to do? Well, I decided to have this book be my Pirate book - after all, it does have Jean Lafitte's treasure! and they talk about Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp, and there's a Pirate Ball!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pearl Jinx by Sandra Hill ****

Now I'm seeing the trademark Hill humor in this series!! Somehow, she managed to create a believable character out of an ex-Amish ex-Navy SEAL! And make it funny too.

Caleb Peachey was introduced in Pink Jinx when the Jinx team hired him for a deep sea dive treasure hunt. He was hitting on heroine Veronice "Ronnie" - and was making inroads! Ok, she couldn't let go of her love for Jake but was tempted.

In Pearl Jinx, the Jinx team went into Amish territory to do a cave treasure hunt on private property. Theoretically they were looking for cave pearls, but there was also a rumor of potential gold hidden there as well. The team was required to hire a local history authority to accompany then - Claire, who was an expert on the local Native American tribe, the Lanni Lenape. She was there to make sure anything of historical interest uncovered was protected. But Claire also had another agenda that slipped out when she met Caleb - her biological time-clock was ticking and his genes were looking real good...

Well, that was because of the thunderbolt-producing chemistry between them - which Caleb was hell-bent on ignoring. He had been shunned by his large Amish family for the past 17 years - as it turned out, it was for something actually done by his twin brother Jonas. Because he had no contact, he had no way of knowing that Jonas was also shunned because he admitted his guilt after Caleb left. Jonas now lived in the area as a Mennonite, a widower with 3 children.

Among the characters are John LeDeux and his Tante Lulu from Louisiana, Ronnie and Jake, and Mark Franklin, an Iraq veteran who lost an arm, and Caleb's younger sister Lizzie who wants to be on American Idol. While I felt like Tante Lulu was again over the top, this time it worked better for me and I found myself laughing along. Tante Lulu and Claire did their best to connect with the Peachey family to get them to see the error of their ways in shunning their sons for 17 years. And in the end we had a happy ending for Caleb and Claire, Ronnie and Jake, Mark and Lily, with good news for Lizzie and also for Jonas.

By the way, there were pets but I decided they didn't rank as Notable Pets.

4 stars.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pink Jinx by Sandra Hill ***

This is the first of a Jinx trilogy by an author I'm just starting to read. I've read that her books are funny - she has a Cajun series, a series about time traveling Vikings some of whom become Navy SEALS, and some other crazy combos.

In this book, Veronica "Ronnie" has a problem or 2, one of whom is her ex-husband. She's been married 4 times - all of them to Jake. Seems they can't live without each other but then they don't seem to be able to live with one another either. (I never exactly understood what happened, but got the idea that she criticized what he did for a living and he left...) Seems an expensive way to live, considering the cost of divorce, but maybe it's cheaper since she is an attorney.

Jake is a gambler - a professional poker player who is successful, at least at the opening of the book. He wasn't always successful, though, which is why Ronnie seemed to take issue with his career choice. This time they meet up during a tournament - Ronnie has come to tell him about her grandfather who has just signed all his worldly goods over to her. When Jake takes a break from playing poker to talk to her, his fiancée comes over for an introduction - which jars her world, even though they've been divorced (for the 4th time) for 2 years.

Of course Jake still has feelings for her too, so ... ok the plot is pretty convoluted, concerns Grandpa - who's been divorced from control-freak Grandma for 50 years and now runs a treasure-hunting business with Flossie, his SO of 30 or so years; some mobsters; a couple of Cajuns from a previous series that I haven't read (Tante Lulu and Tee John which means "petit John" to differentiate him from other Johns in the family); the ex-Amish ex Navy SEAL who is the hero of the next book; and a Cuban character, another diver, who is there just to confuse Ronnie I guess. Grandpa fakes his financial demise to make Ronnie feel sorry for him and come bail him out by participating in a deep sea dive treasure hunt for the mobster widow. What Grandpa really wants is 2-fold - he wants to see her back with Jake (why? dunno) and he wants to finally let her know he loves her, since Grandma raised her to believe he was an asshole who did not.

Ok, it's pretty silly and way over the top in a lot of ways, but somehow I either wasn't in the mood or her humor doesn't affect me positively the way it affects others. I wasn't as put off as I was by the anthology "Here Comes Santa Claus" but I also am not yet a fan either. I'm going with 3 stars and will keep reading - or maybe I should start with the Cajun series? No, wait, the next one is Pearl Jinx which is my Winter 2008 challenge book.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Woman Next Door by Barbara Delinsky ****

The Woman Next Door is women's fiction, and the story is about 4 women neighbors. Three of the women are married and have been friends for several years. The 4th woman is recently widowed - she was the second (and much younger) wife of an older man - the 3 women had been friends with his first wife who died years before. They had never become friendly with her (Gretchen) although all 3 husbands had - they had each helped her out when she needed it.

The main couple is Amanda and Graham - I believe they are the youngest of the 3 married couples, and have only been married about 5 years. Graham came from a large Catholic family, and there was a lot of pressure on them to have children. They wanted children, but had not conceived, even with a year of infertility counseling and treatments.

Georgia runs her own company, and is out of town a lot. Lucky for her, her husband is a journalist who works from home and takes care of the kids. Karen is a SAHM with 4 kids - her husband is a womanizer and a past adulterer, supposedly reformed.

When they all discover Gretchen is 7 months pregnant - and no boyfriend around - each grapples with the insecurities of wondering if her husband was the one. Delinsky spends the most time with Amanda and Graham - not only are they dealing with their own disappointment with not conceiving, but there is enormous pressure from his family, especially his mother, to have children - as though they are slackers or aren't doing it right or something. Amanda is the school psychologist/counselor, and there's the issue of her working and allowing her work to be overtake family life, especially when a tragedy strikes at the school. The tragedy affects the children of the neighbors, and Amanda and Graham both deal with the fallout from that as well.

I've liked the Delinsky books I've read, although I was more in the mood for something a little lighter or maybe a little more about the couple and less about the conflicts of extended family (I wanted to smack Graham's mother...) - this one seemed to have more angst and conflict in it than Lake News and An Accidental Woman. 4 stars all the same.

Here Comes Santa Claus by Sandra Hill & 2 others **

This was an anthology/novel of sorts - the authors collaborated and each took 1 h/h couple, and each wrote a chapter, so it wasn't 3 separate stories but one long, boring story that I didn't like.

OK - it didn't work for me. At all. For one thing, waaaay too many clichés - in what they said, in what they did. The characters were 2 dimensional for me and the secondary characters came across as cardboard. The married-50-years couple - how many times did they have to remind us of that? Were we likely to forget since it was mentioned every time their names were invoked? The elderly sexed-up spinster doctors? Ick. And "thanks" for making one of the elderly folks be 50 - being 53, I really did NOT appreciate that!

But was the story good? No. OK - it's 3 best friend guys, all orphans from the same group home in Maine, now adults making their way to the wedding of their mentor George. Hey - how about fleshing out George a little? He's just now getting married, and yet he was an adult when these 35-year-old guys were kids? But no, we get nothing about George except each of the guys and one of the girls really looked up to him (but we don't ever learn exactly why - he helped them, but how?).

The heroines weren't particularly likable either. One was from the home town - wait, actually 2 were, but the guys only knew 1 - Reba - who is now the director of some old folks home, or something, that sends out Santas to visit homeless shelters at Christmas. The bus that drives them around is the only mode of transportation in the area so the fellows have to get on it to get to the home town where the marriage is. So we match up guy #1 with Reba - ok, they've always had a thing for each other and they acted on it as teens but then he left and didn't come back for some reason which I never figured out. Maybe it was in there - I was bored and skimmed a lot.

Guy #2 is a private detective looking for a woman who skipped bail, and miraculously he runs into her in the airport - unaware - and then figures it out and takes her along on the Santa bus. Well, she didn't skip bail, there was some other convoluted reason she was on the lam and he was being paid to find her. Lo and behold, they fall in love. Yeah, just like that. And she was really on the right side of the law. And she was a famous fashion designer too. Right.

Guy #3 is a former football player who was in a car accident and now walks with a cane, and it seems George fixed him up with Girl #3, who was also from their home town and also from a group home for orphans but the guys never knew her even though George did. Hmmm. Their tale was the worst of all.

And in the end the guys all proposed marriage. Right. Oh and they made it to the wedding and we still didn't get to meet George.

Did not like it. 2 stars.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Acts of Love by Judith Michael ***

This is a book I picked up at a library sale - not sure if someone recommended it or I just picked it up on a whim, never having heard of this author. Actually, it's authorS - a husband/wife team who writes romance.

This smacked of bestsellers I read in the 80s - maybe romance? not sure - that I didn't particularly like, although this one I'm rating 3 stars - "liked it". The hero and heroine are rich and famous and live in a world I can't exactly relate to - Broadway actress and Broadway director who never worked together but were linked by his grandmother who was her best friend. The way they talk, the way they each related to Constance, the grandmother - it never seemed real or realistic to me.

When Constance died, Luke (the director) found the letters that Jessica (the actress) had written to her over the years. Constance had always thought the two of them would hit it off and fall in love, but the 2 or 3 times she tried to fix them up it didn't work out. Luke married another woman, divorced her, and then had various shallow affairs over the years.

Jessica was in a tragic train accident after which she spent years having surgeries and physical therapy. Then she disappeared basically - dropped out of theater and life and lived as a hermit on an island in Washington state.

Luke read the letters Jessica had written and fell in love with her. He set out on a quest to find her. When he did, she first tried to keep him away, but then allowed him into her life, where he stirs up the passions she has kept leashed. But - she had to make it on her own to feel whole again, and went halfway around the world to do that.

Well - the story was ok but not riveting, and if you have an issue with books where the h/h spend very little time together, this book is not for you. I'm not inspired to glom this author (author team).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr ***

This is the 4th in the Virgin River series, and it introduces 2 completely new characters (unless they were mentioned in the 3rd one and I don't remember) - Ian Buchanan and Marcie Sullivan.

Ian is a former Marine who is now a hermit in the mountains near Virgin River, and Marcie is the widow of a Marine who served under Ian in Iraq. In fact, Ian was the one who saved Bobby when he was hit - but Bobby never recovered, and spent a few years unresponsive and comatose before passing. Ian had only visited one time - and apparently his emotional scars from Iraq were enough that he left the Marines and went into hiding. Marcie has spent several months looking for him, determined to let him know about Bobby's death and also how much Bobby had looked up to him.

When she finally finds him, he tries to chase her away, but she's stubborn and determined and will not be run off. However, she's picked up the flu, and he ends up having to nurse her in his hermit cabin for a week while she recovers. She chips away at him slowly, getting him to come out of his shell, and eventually a relationship develops.

It's a nice story and I enjoyed it, but somehow the magic of the 1st book in the series was never recreated in the subsequent sequels, so it never rose above a 3 "liked it" for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shelter Mountain by Robyn Carr ***

I might be in a reading slump, or maybe I can blame it on Preacher's "voice" - I liked this book but not nearly as much as the first one in the series, Virgin River. I found Preacher's POV a little too - too good, too humble, too unbelievably platonic and a little too gosh-ish. And I found his tendency to think of violence in reference to the husband - who, after all, was a violently abusive man, a little creepy too. Maybe that was realistic, but still...

This is Preacher's story. An obviously abused woman shows up in the bar at Virgin River with a 3-year-old, and Preacher manages to convince her not only to stay for the night in an extra room over the bar but also to see Mel, the midwife/heroine of Virgin River, the next day. In the cocoon of all the great folks of Virgin River, Paige and Christopher slowly come out and admit to the horror that was their life before - Wes, the abusive over-achiever husband, was out for blood. He hadn't wanted Christopher, and he really didn't want the baby she carried now. She was on her way to a safe house in Oregon when she got lost trying to use back road to avoid detection.

It might seem that John/Preacher would be the last man she'd be attracted to - at 6'6", he's a bear of a man but really, make that Teddy Bear. He's shy to the point of never acting at all on his attraction - and he's head over heels for Christopher, for whom he is a true role model and hero.

As in Virgin River, the hero and heroine are not given the most copy in the book (hence the genre women's fiction, not romance) while we learn the story of teenagers Rick and Liz, who are expecting a child from their one encounter without a condom, more about Mel and Jack and how Mel is doing with her pregnancy. We also meet Jack's sister Brie and his Marine buddy Mike who are the focus of the next book (which I read out of order: Whispering Rock). Because of the way the books are structured, they make more sense and you enjoy the characters more if you already know them and their back story, which is not recreated in the sequels.

I did like it - maybe 3.5 stars - but I found John/Preacher's voice - ponderous? Well, it grated on me after a while - it was almost like he was simple aka mentally disabled, although I'm pretty sure we're supposed to get that he is merely extremely shy and inexperienced with women, and simple as in simple tastes.

So it gets 3 stars "liked it" from me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Summer To Remember by Mary Balogh ***

A Summer To Remember is the first I MEAN SECOND in the Slightly series, a sort of prelude as it were. Somehow the magic wasn't there for me with this book - too wordy, or something.

The heroine is Lauren - she was left at the altar by her fiance Neville when it was revealed, while she waited in the back of the church to enter, that he had been married and his wife whom he thought had died was alive - and there! (apparently this is the plot of the first book) He apparently had never even told anyone in his family about this marriage, which was confusing since Lauren had been raised in his family since she was 3. I kept trying to figure out how she could not have known - it was something about his having married her while away, in the military or something. (after I read the FIRST book I guess I'll understand better - ETA I have now read the first book, and since he thought her dead, and they had only been married 1 day, and it wasn't anyone the family knew, he never talked about it to anyone. Whew. It made more sense reading it.)

Anyway, she's very prim and proper and has decided it is her lot in life to be a spinster, and is planning the very same when she witnesses the very roguish rakish Kit fighting off 3 local yokels who made some unwelcome overtures to a milk maid. He defended the milk maid's honor, bare-chested and brawling and then took as his prize a lusty kiss - all observed by Lauren, who is horrified.

Then Kit reveals to his friends that he is being called home, after having been banished for 3 years, to marry his dead brother's fiancee. It seems he thought he was in love with this young woman when his brother announced their betrothal, and he fought the brother - and was sent away. The brother died, leaving Freyja alone, and now the parents think they will make it up to him by signing a marriage contract for the 2 of them. Only now he doesn't want her.

He's also suffering from guilt about his younger brother, who went to war with him and managed to lose an arm and an eye to torture while accompanying Kit on some spy mission.

The upshot of all this is Kit wants to find a young woman to marry before going home so he can spoil the parents' plans - and the friends decide Lauren is just the one.

They set up instead a Counterfeit Betrothal - oooops, Ms Balogh already used that title and conceit... - and went together to his parents to thwart them. Actually, what Lauren has in mind is to help poor Kit get back in his family's good graces, and hopefully also marry Freyja after she (Lauren) jilts him, on purpose, so she can go live that spinster life she sooo craves. She thinks he's still secretly in love with Freyja.

Blah blah blah, yada yada, they manage to both fall in love along the way and both help the other get over their phobias and problems, but - ah, the honor - they cannot betray their original deal, so she leaves and breaks it off. Guess what happens. Hint, it's a romance and the main characters always get their HEA.

It's an AAR Top 100 for 2007, and the beginning of a long series. No notable pets, no besotted heroes - just your typical pretend engagement. Sigh. Yawn. 3 stars. OH I cannot believe I read this out of order - it's the SECOND and One Night For Love is the FIRST in the series. Dang. I have got to get my notes in order!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Killing Time by Linda Howard ****

I listened to Killing Time on audio as I drove from my... former home... to Kerrville, Texas, where I'm in a Best Western, halfway on my trip to the next part of my life. So I used Killing Time to kill time while I drove.

This is a time-travel/suspense with a dash of romance. I haven't read any of the other reviews, but I'm guessing LH romance fans were not happy with waiting so late in the story for any romance to come about. The time travel - from the future to 2005 - isn't the usual time travel conceit (which seems to be a contemporary woman going back in time to some guy, often a Scot - am I wrong?). I didn't even know it was time travel when I started listening, so the clues, which are released slowly, had me guessing. Was she from another country? Outer space alien? I enjoyed how it came about, that speech was so different in addition to other issues like paper being precious and digital data being lost because we in 2005 thought it would last forever.

The prologue sets up the original issue: 15-year-old Knox and his dad watch the small town governors bury a time capsule in 1985 to be opened in 2085. But thirteen items are put in, not 12 as noted in the newspaper, and Knox worries and wonders about it.

Now it's 2005, 20 years later, and someone digs it up - but the 2 video tapes detective Knox looks at only show a bright light then a hole, with a second or two between. Then some weird things start happening, and people start dying, and a female FBI agent named Nikita shows up, thinking the first murder might be related to a case she's working on... in 2205. After a phone call to the agency proves she isn't an FBI agent (in 2005), Knox cuffs Nikita to a chair in advance of locking her up. She manages to get him curious about her story that she's from the future, and after a couple of tricks of 23rd century technology, he reluctantly agrees to help her.

She's here chasing an unknown time-travel bandit that she suspects might be one of her colleagues. But how does his/her appearance in 2005 relate to the disappearance of the time capsule, slashed tractor tires and three murders - as well as a suicide in 1985?

Here's the one thing about this audio: I find Joyce Bean's narration to be slightly stilted and that bothers me. I don't mean just her Nikita voice, for whom 21st century English is not her native language - I mean her narration of the POV voice too. As the book goes on, it gets less noticeable. I felt the same way about Death Angel but I loved Death Angel so much I overlooked this issue after the first several minutes. This story wasn't quite as engaging, so the over-pronunciation of consonants, and slight pauses between some words seemed more pronounced. I see that she has narrated a lot of LH books - I guess it's lucky for me I have been reading them rather than getting the audio. I do have one more to keep me company on the final leg of my trip, so we shall see.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kiss An Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

I was influenced to do this re-listen to Anna Fields reading Kiss An Angel by all the folks reading it for the Winter Challenge (it's an Arranged Marriage). I've already listened to it at least 4 times, but I never get tired of Daisy and Alex!

It's a contemporary arranged marriage - which is a little unusual. Daisy has been forced into marrying Alex by her father - she's a little flighty and irresponsible, and managed to get in serious debt after her mother's death and almost go to jail. If she will marry Alex and stay married to him for 6 months, living as a married couple, her father will give her a large trust fund and she's free to divorce Alex. Theoretically, it's a gesture of tough love, and he finagles Alex into it as a repayment of a favor: he saved Alex's life by taking him away from his abusive uncle. He expects Alex to teach her responsibility - and secretly he's hoping they'll stay together.

Daisy soon learns that Alex is the manager of a small traveling circus - and her new life will include living in a small RV and traveling every day to a new backwater town. Alex is also a performer: Alexi the Cossack, doing a bullwhip show. This is about as far from her normal life as she can imagine, and she spends the first 24 hours doing anything she can to back out of the deal. But she's determined to be the opposite of her mother, who slept with anything in pants, the younger the better - so she plans to honor her vows and do the best she can.

My favorite part of this story is Daisy's growth - she manages to accomplish things, do hard work she never realized she could do, face her fears and gain self-esteem and confidence. Through the process, she manages to enable Alex's growth as well. His upbringing taught him that he couldn't afford to love - but his relationship with Daisy proves that isn't true. Slowly his frozen heart melts for Daisy, until he's practically a besotted fool who will do anything to prove his love to her.

There are some truly memorable scenes in the story, and one of my favorites is the bullwhip show, especially the first time Daisy performs. It's sensual and erotic and surprising - I would love to see a circus act like this!

Ahhh, just what I needed. 5 stars again.

Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught ***

I need to write this review - it's an AAR Top 100; I also read it for the Winter Reading Challenge 2008: book with W in title.

review coming...

3 stars.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Unleashed by Lori Borrill ***

I got interested in Unleashed after a post at... Smart Bitches or Dear Author - one of those 2 (I think it was SBTB). I'll look it up and link it later. It was a discussion about the dearth of good contemporaries and such, and how this one was so good, etc., etc. Having read and listened to some Harlequin Blazes and found some of them very good, I put it on my PBS wishlist and got it last week. It was also originally my entry for the Winter 2008 Reading Challenge under the Harlequin category, but then I listened to Watch and Learn by Stephanie Bond, and reviewed it under that category.

Nevertheless, it does fit in another category, the Civil Servant one - the one that makes me giggle to think maybe there are romances built around a postal carrier hero or maybe a customs agent or IRS clerk. Well, not that I don't think those guys are heroic or romantic, but the category is really meant to be tough and ripped SEALS and Marines and hardass cops and stuff.

OK enough blathering. After the buildup I got from (whichever blog), frankly I wanted it to be better than it was. The hero is Rick, a homicide detective with the San Francisco PD - a workaholic guy whose wife was killed a few years back, in a murder case (although I think she was killed in an accident associated with the murders, and not actually the original victim? not that it matters) that went cold. He picks up our plucky red headed heroine in a bar for a one night stand - something they agreed on before embarking on that night of hot sex.

She's Jess Beane, an up-and-coming purse designer from a small town in Texas. Well - she's really just starting out, and is part of an artists coop in SF. Some celebrity has just been photographed with a Beane Bag, and the photo is on a magazine, so she's on the verge of being the Purse It girl. She started her business with a small inheritance from her grandmother.

While she and Rick are boinking their brains out, her ex-husband has been following her - turns out he might not have signed those divorce papers yet, and therefore might get half that inheritance. When she realizes the ex is outside Rick's house watching, she leaves Rick asleep to take a taxi home, and the bad ex-husband steals Rick's car, which contains a major piece of evidence in a crime Rick is trying to solve. Of course, what's Rick to think after he runs a fingerprint check on Jess and learns she and the ex had been running an illegal chop shop, and the ex just got out of prison?

Now we have a road trip: Rick and Jess on the road trying to find Rick's car and the evidence, plus the stuff he stole from Jess's apartment. They end up in Texas, after 5 more days of sweaty sex by night and scowling and grumpiness by day over this one-night-stand that has totally turned both their lives upside down. How can Jess make enough designer purses to pay her coop fees, and how will Rick get that criminal behind bars? Plus, can they both get beyond their misery and find happiness together?

Look, it's romance, so yeah, there's a HEA. I had a hard time seeing the 2 of them together, although I did get how Jess was able to help Rick get past his wife's death. The writing style wasn't my cup o'tea - I don't have any specific examples, but I wasn't hooked. If this is the future of contemporary romance, I may stick with the old - however, I've read other Blaze contemporaries that I did really enjoy, so I'm not really worried. There is a future for them, and this one isn't necessarily the best example.

3 stars.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas **

What is it about me reading Lisa Kleypas? I just Do Not Get It with her popularity. It's not bad grammar, or TSTL heroines - I just was not interested in the story. At All.

I read for the feeling - I want to feel something: sorrow, anger, grief, happiness, lust, elation, despair, SOMETHING. "Bored" was not the feeling I was looking for but I'm afraid that is what I felt.

I read most of this book last night, and when I picked up the book today to finish it, could not even remember who the hero was or why she was planning to marry someone else. Yes, that's how NOT invested I was in this story.

And at the end, there's a marathon of sex - all of which I glossed over, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, because I just Did Not Care.

The plot, redux, virgin spinster bluestocking on the shelf author Amanda goes to a Madam (aka brothel owner) to hire a gigolo so she can lose her virginity on her 30th birthday. The scheming Madam sends a rascally rogue of a publisher Jack who has been wanting to sign the author. She doesn't confide why she is sending him, so he goes not knowing the Real Truth. Hah hah hah, isn't that an amusing conceit. Amanda lets on she thinks he is a gigolo, so he seduces her, and then lo and behold, they meet at a party and the cat is out of the bag: He's the Big Bad Rogue Publisher.

First, they get along like cats and dogs, but then they conduct an affair - sexual and business - and then for some reason, she ends it, and truthfully I cannot even remember why. He has emotional baggage about being the bastard son of an Earl or something, sent to a school for bastards where he was a leader of men, all of whom would now follow him anywhere. Not that they figure into the plot, when you get right down to it, so I'm not sure of the point of all that.

Well, she finally meets another man who asks her to marry him, and then... Come on, it's Romance, we know she has to end up with Jack, cuz he's the hero.

I really should just go ahead and give it 2 stars, cuz I didn't like it. OK, that's it, 2 stars, and I am NOT reading any more!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Below The Belt by Sarah Mayberry ***

This is a Harlequin Blaze that I listened to on audio book with Gabra Zackman as narrator. I have 3 other Mayberry titles on audio, none in physical book, and really liked the 2 that were part of a series of 3 women working on a soap opera in Los Angeles. This one was working for me until the stubborn heroine really did a broad jump past TSTL - Too Stupid To Live.

Cooper Fitzgerald is a former boxer, now trainer, starting out his own gym. He's wooing one of his boxer pals, Ray, into being one of the first boxers he trains - but Ray wants him to have a look at Jamie - a woman boxer and former lover - as part of the deal. Cooper is adamant - boxing is not for women, for a number of sexist reasons. Then he attends a couple of Jamie's fights, with her grandfather as trainer, and can't resist. She's talented but she has a couple of flaws that a good trainer needs to work out of her, mostly having to do with her former training in tae kwon do.

Jamie has wanted to prove to the world that her family's name is still golden in boxing, ever since her father threw a fight, went to jail and then committed suicide from the shame of his actions 2 years ago. She's got the body, the raw talent and the drive - she just needs the best trainer, and in her mind that is Cooper. Once she hears his opinion of women in boxing, though, she's over him. But when he approaches her during her second fight, and gives her a tip that causes her to best her opponent, she's willing to re-think.

The 2 of them strike sexual chemistry sparks from the word go - she's a looker, and everyone in the gym can barely keep their eyes in their heads and their tongues in their mouths when she's around. This includes Cooper, except that he is able to (usually) control it. One late night session with some heat, however, and she's decided to confront him.

OK - she has decided that ol' Romance conceit: we'll screw until we're brainless, and then it will be worked out of our system and we will be over it and can go forward, never feeling the sexual draw again. Oh, as if that would work. If there is chemistry, they'll want more - THEY ALWAYS DO. If there's no chemistry, they're not even going to want to see each other again. Why do authors play this foolish card? I wasn't happy but I kept listening.

Cooper actually maintains enough control to keep it in his pants - well, it stayed in his pants, but his hands went in hers - and after her orgasm, he begs off. What a saint. And so unbelievable, but there you are.

OK - they move on, no more sex, keep it professional. She's all "it's just sex" and he's all "I have feelings for her" and so they keep it strictly professional, really, until the heady aftermath of a win has him ripping her shorts off and boinking her in the locker room. Guess they shoulda locked the door, cuz in walks gramps and boy is he mad. For one thing, Jamie's vulnerable and trusts Cooper, Gramps says (later). Oh, yeah, who's vulnerable? Miss "It's just sex" or Mr. "I have feelings"?

Tell you what - when an opportunity comes up towards the end of the book for Jamie to face one of the top women boxers in the world, after Jamie has been in a total of 3 - count'em 3 - professional fights, and is still suffering the aftermath of her win as well as a street brawl - and Jamie decides to take it, against the wishes of Gramps, of Cooper, even of Ray - hello? Can we talk about the requirements for TSTL? Let's see: her very professional and practically saintly trainer (older, wiser, and definitely thinking of her best interests) says she's not ready; her grandfather, FOR WHOM SHE THINKS SHE IS DOING THIS, doesn't want her to do it. Those 2 reasons alone should be enough, but noooooooo, Miss "it's just sex and I can beat one of the best women boxers ever even though I'm not experienced enough" knows best.

At some point, Jamie realizes that, indeed, she also has feelings for Cooper (before her major TSTL decision) but doesn't let that cloud her reasoning, not when she has a passle of other clouds to do that for her.

About the narrator: I have listened to a number of audio books by Zackman, and she's ok. She has this inflection thing going on, this sorta rise at the end of a sentence that almost turns it into a question, though, that I found bothersome on this book. Because Mayberry is Australian, and sets many of her books in Australia, Zackman gives the characters Aussie accents but narrates in American English. The accents sound good to me, but then I'm not Australian, so what do I know.

OK - I didn't hate it but I really didn't like having that TSTL moment cloud the story, although it ended HEA of course. 3 stars - mediocre.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beast by Judith Ivory ***

I'm conflicted by my reaction to Beast. It reminded me in many ways of The Indiscretion by the same author, which is a true keeper for me - the 2 people meeting under unplanned and less than ideal circumstances, with secret identities, then meeting later as they should have and coming to terms with their new relationship. And the heroines are similar - young, rich, spoiled, intelligent, insecure.

But somehow, the more Louise held on to her feelings for the man she thought she met first, and the worse she treated Charles, the less I liked her and the less I liked the story.

Louise - as I said - is a rich young American woman who is betrothed to Charles in her absence by her parents. She is uncommonly beautiful, and also willful and spoiled. Their concern for her well-being seems to be the real reason behind their convincing Charles, Prince d'Harcourt of France, to marry her, rather than a real greed to have someone of royal blood in the family. Well, that is also a nice benefit, and to convince him, they offer him quite a lot in return: a large shipment of ambergris, used in his perfume business. After the betrothal, the entire family travels by ship from America to meet Charles in France for the wedding.

On the same ship, however, is Charles who is pursuing his married mistress. Both to keep her husband from discovering he is there and to keep his fiancée's family from the same discovery, he hides in a luxury suite onboard the ship and has a cousin in France send telegrams to the family from himself. But he is intrigued by sight of his fiancée onboard, and manages to interest her in a little dalliance with him, as a prank. To hide both his identity and his physical scars and handicap, he insists on meeting her only in the dark, so that she never sees his face. He speaks in English with a slight accent that she decides is Arabic, and she develops the fantasy that he is her pasha.

Once he has seduced her, he realizes he too is seduced by her - but he cannot now reveal himself without making her the fool of his prank, so he decides never to tell her. Unfortunately for both of them, she has fallen in love with the pasha. When they meet for real, he speaks only French to her, knowing she will recognize his English. But she has created such a fantasy of her Arabic lover that she doesn't even see the real Charles for anything beyond his physical disabilities - a blind eye and a limp. She refuses to even let him kiss her, and forget about sleeping together, because she longs for the Arabic lover instead and finds Charles repulsive.

Now, maybe some would feel that since Charles did make a fool of her, duping her that way, that he deserves her treatment. And maybe he should have come clean earlier. But when he finally does, she won't listen - and then once it sinks in, she refuses to forgive him unless he does say out loud to her that he was the shipboard lover. WTF? He DID try to tell her and she wouldn't listen!! I found her willfulness petty and immature (well, she was only 18) and frustrating beyond belief from the moment she refused him on their wedding day. So while I truly enjoyed the first half, it just slid downhill from that moment on, and then it dropped into 3 star territory when she refused to forgive him until he told her he was the shipboard lover - not that she ASKED him, she just waited for him to admit it. Sheeesh.

I read this as my first book in the Winter 2008 Reading Challenge for the arranged marriage category. 3 stars and grrrrr, I wanted a more satisfying ending! Interestingly, author Sherry Thomas wrote the AAR DIK review for this book - she obviously was not put off as I was by the exceedingly annoying and petulant behavior of Louise after the wedding.

And there was a pet... but not really a Notable Pet - he should have gotten higher billing all the way through to warrant Notable Pet status, I think.