Saturday, February 28, 2009

Winter 2008 Reading Challenge

2/27: I'm done. I read 2 for each category EXCEPT the Lisa Kleypas book category, where I read only 1.

Here's the LIST:

1. Reader’s Choice Place any book here
Kiss An Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips re-read 12/6 ***** audio
First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - re-read 1/14 ***** audio

2. Book that was read and Reviewed in the Fall Challenge:
Pearl Jinx by Sandra Hill read 12/22 ****
Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann - in my TBR Pile

3. Read a book that has a “D” word in it for December:
My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway finished 1/3/09 ***** (posted at RRBC blog)
Tall, Dark and Cajun by Sandra Hill - 2/6/09 - ****

4. Arranged marriage or Marriage of Convenience
Beast by Judith Ivory *** READ 12/1 (posted on RRBC blog)
Nobody's Baby But Mine ***** 1/25 audio re-listen

5. For Valentines Day, read a book that has love, kiss or heart in the title:
Acts of Love by Judith Michael *** read 12/15 (posted at RRBC blog)
One Night for Love by Mary Balogh - read 1/12/09 ****

6. Read a book by Lisa Kleypas
Suddenly You - read it 12/3 ** (posted on RRBC blog)

7. A book that makes you think about Christmas:
A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr *** read 12/13
Here Comes Santa Claus, an anthology by Sandra Hill and 2 others 12/17 **

8. A title that has 4 words in it:
A Summer To Remember by Mary Balogh *** read 12/9
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer ** audio 12/28 (posted at RRBC)

9. Read a story that features a military or civil servant:
Unleashed by Lori Borrill, read 12/4 *** (posted on RRBC blog)
All Through The Night, Connie Brockway (an AAR Top 100) read 1/11 ****

10. Read a book that has a Viking or Pirate in it!
Wild Jinx by Sandra Hill - sorta cheating, but it has Jean Lafitte's treasure! read 12/25 **** (posted at RRBC blog)
The Reluctant Viking by Sandra Hill

11. Pick a book that was first published in 2008:
To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt - 1/25 ***
To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt - 2/23 ****

12. Read a series (Harlequin or Silhouette):
Below The Belt by Sarah Mayberry audio 12/2 ***
Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard 1/25 ****

13. Read a book that the author has 3 names -
Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke **** on audio
It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - ***** a re-read on audio

14. For the New Year-Pick a book that has been in your TBR pile for a long time
Out w/ the old in w/ the new!
The House On Olive Street by Robyn Carr *** - I bought this a few years ago at a library sale
A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons ** 2/25

15. Read a book that has a “W” word for Winter:
Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught- AAR Top 100 of 2007 *** read 12/5
The Woman Next Door by Barbara Delinsky **** read 12/18

and here's DA RULES:
1. Select 5, 10, or 15 books to read that fit the category.
2. Post your list on the discussion board and blog (Name’s Winter Challenge List)
3. If you need title suggestions please use the Discussion titled WINTER TITLE SUGGESTIONS if you don't see it please search (to try and minimize number of discussions)
4. Once you have read a book please find the corresponding discussion by searching you can search by 08 Winter # and use the number that corresponds with the list. (one will be created for each number on December 1, again, to try and minimize number of discussions) and post the book and title you read and rating, and review.
5. It is not required, but if you could post your review on the blog that would be great.
6. Reviews on the blog please include labels list the rating, author, and # of challenge only.
7. Audio books are okay
8. Rereads are okay
9. You can change your list at anytime

Friday, February 27, 2009

When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn *****

This is one of my first romance novels, and also one of my first audio books - and I've listened to it several times. Simon Prebble is the narrator - he can read the phone book in my ear any day! I just love his voice so much.

This is book #6 in the Bridgerton series - which I read in order after reading books #6 and 7. Books #1-5 are not on audio, unfortunately. This is Francesca Bridgerton's story, and it's the darkest and most serious of the series. Quinn is known for her humor, and although there are humorous moments, the subject is not humorous. Michael Sterling, we learn in the first paragraph, has been in love with Francesca since the moment he met her - the week of her marriage to his cousin John. He remains best friends with both John and Francesca for the first 2 years of their marriage, keeping up his reputation as London's most notorious rake, all done to hide his true feelings.

Not only does John have Francesca's love, he's also the Earl, with all the family holdings and money - his father and Michael's fathers were twins, but John's father was born first. They are each only children, and Michael was raised in John's home because his own parents died.

So when John dies of an apparent aneurism, in the first chapter, Michael stands to inherit everything - everything, that is, except the woman he loves, because he cannot bring himself to let her know of his feelings. He feels such guilt that he may have wished this to happen. He spends 4 years in India, letting Francesca continue to run all the estates as the Countess, trying to forget her or at least get over her.

After 4 years, they each have an epiphany of sorts: She wants a baby, and realizes she must remarry. He tires of India, and returns to England to take up his position as the Earl. When he returns, and she confides in him her wish to have children, he then realizes he must face losing her again.

She also comes to a realization: she finds him handsome, attractive, and it shocks her that her best friend, John's best friend, would be attractive to her. She isn't really expecting to have love again, and is hoping her new husband will at least be someone she likes as father of her children. But the lust she feels suddenly for Michael scares her.

Leave it to Colin Bridgerton to force Michael to admit his feelings for Francesca (if you're a Bridgerton fan, you will know why I say this). Convinced he must act, he begins the seduction.

The "wicked" part of the story is that, before John died, Francesca was always asking Michael to confide his wicked ways to her. He knew she liked to hear what he did, and that she got a secret thrill from learning what he did, who he was with. He never really told her all - he was a gentleman after all - but he uses this proclivity in his seduction of her. She must face what he has already discovered: John is gone forever, and her love for Michael is different and separate - and perfectly reasonable.

I liked all of the Bridgertons' stories, some more than others, but this one is my favorite, maybe because it was my first so I didn't already have a preconceived notion of what Quinn's stories were usually like. It's in the AAR Top 100 of 2007, and it's also a series (Serial Readers Challenge) and fits my A To Z Challenge.

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer *****

This is my second Heyer read - the first one was Devil's Cub, an AAR Top 100 book, and frankly I didn't like it much. I'm pleased to say I liked this one quite a lot - there was a lot of humor, and the intricacy of the plot was fun too.

A "Corinthian" is defined as a playboy or a man devoted to the pursuit of pleasure. In context of the book, it's associated with "dandy" really implying more about his manner of dress. The hero, Richard Wyndham, seems more the dandy and in no way a rake from what is said about him. Indeed, it's stated over and over that he seems not to be interested in women at all - if the book wasn't written in 1940 (it was), I would say the implications were quite the opposite of a rake. Oh, there is the mention of perhaps an opera singer in his past.

When pushed to the wall by his mother and sister to make an offer for a certain young woman whose family is in need of cash, he goes to the woman's home and interviews her. She's as cold as his brother-in-law has said, and is plain that it's a marriage of convenience - her convenience, that is. Later that evening, he leaves White's with the intention of a long walk to decide what to do, when a young woman dressed as a boy falls literally into his arms.

Penelope Creed is running away - she too is being forced to marry for money - her money, that is, by her aunt who wants her son (Pen's cousin) to have it. Her plan is to run back to her original home where she and a local boy, Piers, pledged themselves to each other 5 years ago when they were children. Pen has developed quite a good acting (aka lying) streak, although she does tell Richard the truth. He's quite taken with her plight (and he's also under the influence of quite a lot of brandy) and decides to take her under his protection and accompany her. He is introduced as her tutor, then as her uncle, then as her cousin, depending on the needs of the day, as they make their way to the small town where Piers lives.

Meanwhile, the almost-betrothed-to-Richard woman's family is robbed of a diamond necklace, in odd circumstances. It seems only family members knew where it was hidden. Upon meeting up with a thief on the way, Richard and Pen find themselves in possession of the jewels when the thief hides them in Pen's cloak to avoid detection.

The convoluted plot has a member of the strapped family staying with Piers, his friend from school, while working with the thieves who stole his mother's necklace - and Pen livens up the adventure with so many lies and stories of what happened when that even she gets confused. It seems Piers, in addition to having the school friend in residence, has been sneaking out to meet his secretly betrothed - which throws a wrench in Pen's original plan.

It was fun, and funny, and I'm glad I can now look forward to other Heyer stories! I picked this one up for a quarter at the local library sale mainly because I figured I could trade it on PBS, and now maybe I'll keep it! It isn't in a series, but it does fit my A To Z challenge.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Reluctant Viking by Sandra Hill ****

Hill's writing and humor is something that takes a little bit of getting used to and a certain mood to be in - it's pretty outrageous and over-the-top. As long as I'm in that mood, I find I can enjoy the craziness of the plot and fun of the story.

This one is sort of a cross between time travel and dream fantasy. Ruby and her husband Jack have lost that loving feeling in the 20th century - and Jack has had enough and moves out. On that day, Ruby, exhausted emotionally, decides to listen to one of Jack's motivational tapes. While she is being told she can do anything she wants, live anyway she wants, she goes to sleep - and wakes up in the 10th century, in Jorvik/York England, on a Viking ship, in her 20th century t-shirt, jeans and running shoes (and 20 years younger). Once on land, the ship's owner - Thork - turns out to be the spitting image of Jack. Several of the other characters also look like her modern day neighbors and co-workers, which helps give the story it's dream fantasy characteristics.

Hill just writes away the language differences by having her understand everything they say - no trying to have it be something complicated, after all, since it's humor. But the clothing and lifestyle differences are there in spades. And Thork, her Viking hero, doesn't buy her time-travel story at all. It seems she is taken for a spy, and is headed for torture or death if she can't prove her innocence.

In her time in the pre-medieval world, she tries to get Thork to marry her - but he's sworn never to marry. He has a half-brother that is always trying to kill him, so he keeps his 2 bastard sons a secret, to protect them. He has a mistress, Linette, and eventually agrees to a political betrothal - meanwhile, while he's attracted to Ruby, he's determined not to marry her.

She soon decides/realizes she's been sent back to learn a lesson, and does whatever she can to woo Thork. She doesn't seem to know when to keep her mouth shut - she's constantly trying to modernize the locals, with talk of birth control, sexy lingerie, jogging. Stuff that in a more serious time travel novel, you'd be aiming the book at the wall, but in her humorous style you just shake your head and keep reading. She knows a little bit about the era, and has done a genealogy that includes Hrolf, a Norman royal, as an ancestor (yeah, as if) so she claims him as family for protection purposes. When she does finally meet him, she can name his children and grandchildren since they're in her genealogy chart.

She's conflicted about whether she's committing adultery to sleep with Thork while still married to Jack, but goes with the theory that Jack and Thork are one and the same. In fact, if it's just a dream, where's the adultery, right? So hers is a quest for getting back her husband - getting back that loving feeling. OK, she's pretty flighty - one minute she's telling him he is her husband, the next she's insisting they get married - one minute she's teasing and laughing, the next she's angry or crying. Lightning quick mood changes all around - it's pretty standard Hill stuff.

I think this was somewhere in the 3.5-3.75 star range for me - I liked it ok, didn't find myself laughing out loud but I was amused by the story, as outrageous as it was. It's a Viking book for the Winter 2008 challenge, and a series book for the Serial Readers Challenge. It also fits my A To Z Challenge.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons **

This is a book that's been in my TBR for a really long time - I don't know if my sister gave it to me or I picked it up at a library sale (not likely, from the description). It seems it was an Oprah Book Club pick at some time (or I thought I read that somewhere...)

From the blurb, I expected a love story, and from the opening I knew it wasn't going to be a romance since the heroine died of cancer. But somehow I never got it. I never saw the love story. OK, she married young, into a bad, abusive marriage, even though her upbringing was apparently solid and Dick-and-Jane. In her own words, it was her family's fault for never letting her make her own mistakes as a child (??) - not sure what that is about. The first husband died, and somehow that we are never privy to, she marries Jack who is 20 years her elder.

The story is first told, in first person, from each character's POV, back and forth. His after her death, hers just before. The last chapter is then from several POVs - the neighbor, the neighbor's daughter, Jack's. And it ended without any resolution for me. Plus I never even felt sad, not for Ruby, not for Jack. It just affected me like it was a 90 second story on the news: a woman, married to a man 20 years older, got cancer and died today, leaving him grieving.

So it was a 2-star read for me. I wasn't drawn into the story. I didn't care about the characters. OK - it does count for the Winter 2009 Challenge for my 2nd book that's been in the TBR a long time, though.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt ****

This is the 2nd in the Soldiers Series, Hoyt's second series (after the Prince series) - and like the Prince Series and the first in the Soldiers, it opens with a part of a fairy tale at the beginning of each chapter. This time I didn't follow the connection between the tale and the story, but that's ok because I liked the story this time.

The hero in this story is Jasper, Lord Vale, Emeline's first fiancee in book 1, and Sam's compatriot in his search for the traitor from 6 years earlier in the American Colonies. Sam and Emeline have now married and moved back to the colonies, and Lord Vale in on the threshold of marrying his second fiancee when she too leaves him at the altar. While he sits there in the church, hung over and pondering his dilemma, Melisande comes in and offers to wed him.

It seems Melisande had met Jasper years before, through Emeline, but he doesn't remember her. She, however, remembers him, since it was love at first sight for her. Well, not exactly first sight - she saw him as others did, a sort of playboy/rake/rogue, until she discovered his tender side (unbeknownst to him, she observed a private moment).

He agrees to wed her, but even after the marriage, he stays away from her as much as possible because he believes himself to be unworthy - of her, of any woman really. His PTSD from the incident in the Colonies still haunts him, enough to drive him to continue the search for the traitor. Melisande chips away at his hard shell, slowly, to get to the sensitive fellow underneath.

I liked the tone, the voice of this story better than the previous one (To Taste Temptation). Jasper's hidden insecurities made more sense, and Melisande was a more credible and likable heroine for me. Interestingly, the book blurb indicates that Melisande keeps her husband at a distance - in fact, I found it was Jasper keeping her at a distance, and her pursuing him. She did have secrets she didn't want him to learn, but he was the one who was keeping her distant, refusing to stay overnight in her bed.

So I'm going with a 4 star rating - I liked it, a lot. It's in the Serial Challenge and the Winter Challenge (book published in 2008). And Melisande has a featured dog, a Notable Pet, named Mouse (he's a rat terrier).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Just Imagine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips ****

I have this (and every other SEP except Glitter Baby) on audio - and periodically do re-listens. Where the other pre-2008 SEPs are narrated by Anna Fields, this one has a different narrator. It works because the tone of the book is so different from any of the others. For one thing, it's her only historical, set after the Civil War, in South Carolina. For another, there's none of the trademark SEP humor - it's a straight-forward drama.

The heroine is hoydenish Kit, an 18-year-old orphan, going to New York to murder the man, Caron Cain, who inherited the plantation owned by her father. Baron's mother was Kit's father's second wife. When he died, the wife inherited - when she died, she left both the plantation, Risen Glory, and the guardianship of Kit to her son. She doesn't manage to kill him, but it sets the tone for their relationship. Cain sends her off to finishing school for 3 years - and when she returns, she's grown up - a lot - and he doesn't even recognize her.

The sexual tension between them is an extension of their earlier antagonistic relationship. Once he realizes she is out to marry anyone so that she can get her inheritance earlier, and therefore buy Risen Glory from him, he does what he can to thwart her attempts. When she tries to ruin him by burning down the improvements he has made, he decides to marry her himself, so that he can have the inheritance to rebuild. Of course, given the sexual tension, it isn't just the money he's after - plus he thinks she's already sexually experienced (but she's not).

At first he's revolted by his own need for her, and decides to leave her alone after their disastrous wedding night. She circumvents that by seducing him, after weeks of no contact. What comes between them is the usual - their inability to communicate outside the bedroom. He thinks she just wants him for Risen Glory, the only thing she feels has been constant in her life. Baron has learned over time not to count on anything or anyone, so he gives away things before they become to dear to him, and Kit realizes she is next on his give-away list.

One of them has to give - and it takes a major event to bring them back together after Cain does the inevitable, leaving both her and Risen Glory.

I like this narrator's voice, her Southern accents and her character voices. The story works for me too - 4 stars, maybe even 5 now that I've listened to it 4 or 5 times.

Hot & Bothered by Susan Andersen *****

Hot & Bothered is #3 in her Marine series, and features John "Rocket" Miglionni from books 1 and 2. Rocket got his nickname from something he keeps in his pants - yeah, that something. Apparently it's impressive enough for the other guys to have noticed and christened him this. He had a reputation with the ladies - he liked to love 'em and leave 'em, complete with rules right up front: no last names, nothing longer than a week. Until he met Tori - who slipped away before her week was out, never to return, 6 years ago now.

Then he changed.

I have a serious thing for Ms. Andersen's books, and I loved Hot & Bothered too - but I will say that reading them back-to-back does evoke déja vu feelings, as she uses some similar plot devices and even some similar phrases. Maybe a book or 2 between would soften that feeling - it isn't so prevalent that you feel you've already read the book - just enough to make you think, wait-a-minute, didn't I read that line already?

Tori is Victoria Evans Hamilton, whose father has recently been murdered. The #1 suspect is her teen half brother Jared, now on the lam. The senior Hamilton left the bulk of his enormous wealth to his 2 kids, having signed a fairly tight pre-nup with trophy wife #5 that left her with very little. Tori is convinced Jared couldn't have done it, and has her lawyer hire a PI to find Jared. Who's the best PI of them all? John Miglionni, of Semper Fi Investigations. Yep - the Rocket hisself.

Rocket comes with the usual Andersen baggage - what was it this time? A family that moved around too much? A mother who didn't love him enough, or died when he was young, or something. One of those things that left him feeling like he wasn't worthy of love, and taught him not to count on anyone but himself and his Marine buddies, ever. Hoo Yah. OK - I didn't feel this cynical while I was reading, but it's the morning after and my afterglow has faded a little.

Tori suffers from a similar problem - dead mother (trophy wife #1), mean father, feels enormous responsibility for brother Jared, yada yada yada. She chose to separate herself from her father (and Jared) by an ocean, so she was living in London with her 5+ year old daughter when the murder happened. Wait. Back up - 5+ year old daughter born out of wedlock, last had wild monkey sex with Rocket about 6 years ago... Hmmmm.... Could it be the Secret Pregnancy plot???

I'm afraid so. But, how could she have told him? Remember the rules? No last names - and they met in Pensacola on spring break. And they used condoms! But there is a 4% failure rate, after all. But yeah, who knew who or where the father was? Again - I didn't have any trouble going with this premise because it's the journey, not the plot devices that make or break the story!

OK - so John Miglionni has been hired to work with Victoria Evans Hamilton, and when he walks in and they both realize who the other is, it's a major shock to both of them. For her, the father of her daughter. For him, the woman who changed his life (in more ways than even he realizes, though!). While he is interviewing her about Jared, in comes 5 year old Esme - with mummy's hair and daddy's eyes. It takes Rocket about, oh, 35 nanoseconds to do the math.

Rocket isn't one of those I'm-the-daddy-now-I-adore-Esme-and-want-partial-custody guys. He figures out quickly that he is in way over his head on this issue and needs some time to figure out what he wants. And ya gotta give it to Tori - she takes the middle road, asking him what his intentions are. Of course she won't need his money - she's got a bucket load of it. They agree not to disclose his paternity to anyone but he decides he'll move into the Evans Hamilton estate while he works on the case, giving him time to get to know Esme and maybe... Maybe what? Who knows, because he doesn't give any indication that he intends to establish a daddy-daughter relationship with Esme.

Meanwhile Jared has left Colorado Springs for Denver, and is living homeless and on the streets. He meets a buddy, PJ, a 13-year-old runaway. PJ stands for Priscilla Jayne, as it turns out, which shocks the hell out of him since she looks like a scrawny little boy. PJ has street smarts and the 2 become fast buddies while she teaches him the ropes. Her mom threw her out and refuses to let her come home. Spoiler type hint: they are the hero and heroine of the next book - although I'm hoping it's been several years because I don't want Jared arrested for sexual assault on a minor, and she's got at least 5 years to go.

Jared thinks he did kill his father - he shoved him, causing him to fall and hit his head. Jared tried to get a pulse, found none, panicked and split. But the fall didn't kill the old bastard - a letter opener through the heart did.

John goes about getting info on Jared, including meeting with the local police to get their take on the situation. Once he decides that Jared will be railroaded, he and Tori realize the best way to clear Jared will be to find the killer - which changes John's job duties. He decides the best way to get info is to gain access to the father's friends, and on a whim announces he's Tori's fiancé at the father's funeral. It was actually a gut reaction to meeting someone interested in Tori, but he figured it would be his undercover disguise too. He keeps sorta forgetting there's another (little) person to think about before he makes these rash decisions though, and now they have to explain the make-believe game to Esme too.

This is an incredibly long review already in which I feel like I've rewritten the entire book and yet I haven't given away any of the secrets! Like - whodunnit, and why. I won't - suffice it to say, she works in a plot device or two to make you wonder who it could and could not have been (not trophy wife, because of the pre-nup; not the erstwhile first love, because he lost a big opportunity as a result of the death), and she works in another plot device that I found a big stretch (climbing a tree, which makes Tori realize something is odd about the house...??) to uncover the killer's identity and reasoning.

I think my favorite scene in the book which had me laughing out loud was John and Esme playing War Barbies - or as she called it, Raccoon Ants (a 5 year old translation of reconnaissance which is John's Marine forte - what the heck, right?).

Oh, and I haven't mentioned the fact that John and Tori are still attracted to one another and eventually, finally, find occasion to act on it. At that point, we have their failure to clearly communicate - John assumes she feels he is beneath her social class so the relationship cannot last; Tori assumes John is still living by his rules which means no relationship longer than a week, which he has clearly outlasted and therefore should by all rights be chomping at the bit to get away. And we still have that complication of whether or when to announce Esme's paternity as well as how John will fit into Esme's life.

Did I mention it's a Romance? Of course it is and it takes them a while to get - and take Jared and Esme with them - to the HEA.

UPDATE ON FEB 21 2009: I got this on audio, narrator Richard Ferrone who also narrated Elizabeth Lowell's Only His. Except for his slightly annoying Esme voice and more annoying PJ voice, I like Ferrone's reading on both this and Only His. So I changed the date of this post to put it in 2009.

I managed to snag a copy of Coming Undone at Hastings today (it's only fair that I actually PAY for a copy of a book by one of my favorite authors*, after all!) so that is next. For this one, somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, loved it, yay Susan Andersen, you go girl!

(* in that same vein, I paid for a new copy of the latest Julia Quinn, and even snagged a new copy of a Linda Howard book too.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Finger Prints by Barbara Delinsky **

This one was the best of the 3 in the book but wasn't good. It's closer to Romance than the first 2, maybe it's a romantic suspense.

Robyn Hart/Carly Quinn is in the witness protection program. She has a new identity and a new life as Carly, the Boston school teacher, instead of Robyn, the Chicago investigative reporter who was the state's main witness in a big arson case.

In her new identity, she's constantly feeling alone and on the run til she meets new neighbor, lawyer Ryan Cornell, and falls in love with him. But of course, she can't tell him her real identity - or, well I guess she can but doesn't.

So they get to know each other, but she keeps her distance emotionally from him. Meanwhile, there's Sam, the US Marshal assigned to her case, and Sheila, her bodyguard in Chicago who decides to relocate to Boston and becomes her friend and sometimes bodyguard.

There's intrigue and suspense as - ok, a spoiler but it's ssoooo obvious you can't miss is - Sheila becomes a turncoat because she's never gotten what she deserved in life. Sheila concocts a plan to make it look as if Carly committed suicide, but bungles it, and dies in the process. And Carly and Ryan get their HEA.

Dang. This book just wasn't very good, and my whole reason for reading Delinsky was for a comfort read similar to Lake News and An Accidental Woman. 2 stars.

Within Reach by Barbara Delinksy **

This is the 2nd novel in the hardcover "3 complete novels" book. While it wasn't quite as bad as the first on (A Woman Betrayed), it did have the adultery hot button and wasn't much better a story.

The heroine, Danica, is trapped in a loveless marriage. She meets the hero Michael at the beach house she and her husband bought in Kennebunkport, a house she was hoping the 2 of them could get away to and rekindle the marriage. Yeah, well, the clues were all there - her husband was an in-the-closet gay politician using her as cover so he could get a big political appointment. She hated politics, having been raised in a political family where politics came before her. But she married this much older guy hoping to please Daddy. A recipe for imminent disaster, since Daddy will never approve of anything anyway.

Yada yada yada, Michael Buchanan is from a publishing family, whose patriarch hated Danica's father's politics and was vocal about it in his newspapers, just to make it more sinister. She and he fall deeply in love but she manages to keep it platonic until her husband refuses to divorce her. Then they go all the way and conduct a slightly clandestine affair. (roll eyes here)

I guess it was written in the 80s and that must be why it seemed so weird that she couldn't just divorce him? Or maybe it was the Daddy thing. Well, then she's tipped off about his sexuality and holds that up as her trump card.

There's some political and legal intrigue, not much, and then she gets her divorce and she and Michael live HEA.

It wasn't that great. 2 stars.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Only His by Elizabeth Lowell *****

I have read this book 2 or maybe 3 times, and when I found out it was also on audio, I had to have it! I just finished the re-visit, on audio, today.

It's a Western, taking place after the Civil War. Willow Moran, parading as Mrs. Moran, Matt Moran's wife, is actually his sister. Matt sent his family a map to where he was, in the Rockies, and Willow was the only one left at home, after her parents died and her brothers scattered to the 4 winds. She heads to Denver where she meets up with Caleb Black, the man she's hired to lead her to Matt.

Caleb takes the job, thinking Willow is probably just his "fancy lady" aka mistress, because he's looking to kill the man who got his sister pregnant and left her - a man named Reno - AKA Matt Moran. He doesn't tell Willow the truth about why he agrees to lead her into the Rockies wilderness - and he doesn't have much respect for a soft, Southern lady who would lead 5 over-bred horses into such wild territory either. He has just enough respect to keep from touching her, on the off-chance she really is married.

Willow is made of tougher stuff than Caleb realizes - she held her own during and after the war, and made her own way across the country. He puts her through a lot of misery - riding in the rain, on a sidesaddle, for hours through the night to avoid the Bad Guys - but she takes it all without complaint. Her horses are as tough as she is.

This book is #1 in the Only series, with 3 other books - Only You, Only Mine and Only Love. Only Love is the only other one I loved as much - I really disliked the heroines and the stories of the other 2. Lowell writes hard alpha male heroes that a lot of people don't like, but in this story, I always felt he managed to justify his actions, if only from his POV. He was hard on her, but he also thought she was a spoiled whore, not worthy of his respect or tender feelings. Once he learns the truth about her and her mission, and once she shows him how tough she is, she earns his respect, and his love.

Lowell also writes sensual and hot love scenes that are among my favorites - in this one, with its trout-tickling metaphors, the hot pool scene is grrreat.

So I enjoyed the re-visit, and will no doubt put it back on the ipod in a few months and wander the Rockies with Willow and Caleb again. 5 stars

A Woman Betrayed by Barbara Delinsky *

ARggghh. I bought this book - 3 novels by Barbara Delinsky in a large hardcover - for a buck at a library sale. I have liked Barbara Delinsky's books, her voice, so who knew how this one would affect me?

Even though there are, if you look at it clinically, a number of HEAs for some of the characters, really, I hated this story. Let's be honest = if you define HEA as a couple considering marrying at the end, then yeah, HEA. But if you try to figure out who the H/H were, no.

I started it last night, figuring with 3 novels in an 800 page book, it couldn't be very long. (It was 300 of the 800.) Then, when the story took so many bad turns, I felt compelled to read it until I finished this morning. I need the HEA. I needed to have these people's issues resolved, to know what happened, and why. Everything that was happening was so awful, I just had to know it all worked out.

And now that I'm done, I feel awful that I read it. It wasn't a romance. I guess it was just fiction, maybe women's fiction. The "heroine" Laura was such a flawed woman. I'm sorry for her very existence, fictional or otherwise, because she made so many wrong choices and was involved in so much hurt. The endings - offers of marriage, foreshadowings of things working out in the future - were so bleak. The resolutions were so unrealistic. Laura needs major therapy, and new friends. Her easy forgiving of her husband and her best friend was just not RIGHT!

First - her perfect accountant husband, always punctual, doesn't show up for dinner. Then he's gone for several days. Her two perfect teenage children, one in college, gather close by for the vigil - then the IRS sends in an agent because, Mr Perfect Accountant aside, there's evidence he's been filing fake taxes and collecting fraudulent refunds for years.

We get Jeff's, Mr Perfect Accountant, POV as he hides out in a shack he bought several hundred miles away - apparently he's never felt like a real man with Laura. She's been busily arranging their lives without any input from him, complete with vacations to beaches when he hates hot weather, for 20 years. Now he knows the IRS is onto him, and he just splits with no trace. Who cares what the repercussions are for his family, his children? Not him.

We meet Laura's mother, the cold academic bitch who does nothing but criticize and psychoanalyze Laura with every word.

We meet Jeff's brother Christian, the badass who's wrecked so many family gatherings - and learn that Christian and Laura had a youthful love affair before she met Jeff, and both still carry a torch for the other.

We meet Daphne, Laura's best friend and lawyer - and it's transparent she's the one who had been having an affair with Jeff before he left. Then Daphne jumps into bed with the IRS agent. Oh yeah, she's a good friend, huh?

What a sucky story this was - Christian comes in to help Laura, the two of them get back together before Laura even files for divorce (now we have 2 cases of adultery). Her teenage son gets accused of date rape. The town paper smears their family name in every issue. Why? Well, the answer to that solves another mystery - who is Christian's real father?

How can all this be resolved?? Oh I'll tell you. After revealing himself one last time to Laura, Jeff fakes his death - he'd already set up a new identity and the FBI searched for 6 weeks and gave up. Christian asks Laura to marry him. The IRS agent asks Daphne to marry him (even though he figured out she was the one having the affair with Jeff...). Jeff takes up with a simple-minded brain-damaged woman. Three HEAs, all wrong, all doomed, in my opinion.

Who was the woman betrayed? ME for reading what I thought was going to be an uplifting story by an author whose other works I've read were.

Gawd. Now I need to find something good to read to cleanse the palate of this awful, Peyton Place story. I want ROMANCE!!! 1 star. Gawd.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann *****

I first read this in February, 2009, and have now also heard it in audio book. My audio review is at the end, and here is my 2009 review:

This is the first of the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series by Suzanne Brockmann, and it's also her first foray into Navy SEAL territory (visit her website for more info on that). It's a Silhouette, which means short, category romance (sold in grocery stores for one month-type of thing) so it was a short, easy read. I also enjoyed it!

Veronica is an American with British roots, and she made some royal friends in boarding school - the Princess of Ustanzia, a fictional country somewhere in Europe. Now she's got her own company doing public relations, and the Prince is her first big client. Thing is, he's doing a tour of the States and there's been an assassination attempt on his life. Because the tour will mean so much to the economy of the country, the Prince and Veronica are hell-bent on seeing it through - and Prince knows just how. Seems there's a Navy SEAL out there who is practically his double. What if Veronica could do a Pygmalion on this SEAL and have him masquerade as the Prince until the bad guys are caught?

Joe is from the complete opposite side of the tracks from Veronica - New York accent, and less-than-savory upbringing. It seems pretty impossible to do the Prince and the Pauper switch here, but Veronica's in for several surprises. Apparently Joe is a language specialist with a gift for mimicry - dang, but that's convenient when one is the twin of royalty, huh?

Of course, there's a spark of interest between Veronica and Joe that simmers for several days until they give in and experience their first kiss. Then they are off on a series of misunderstandings - she says "it's a mistake" meaning not professional, and he hears her saying she's slumming. He wants her to stay away, meaning he's a target for a sharp-shooter and she might get shot, and she hears him telling her he doesn't want her around. Luckily, since it's a short book, Veronica is able to think clearly and figure out what he means before it's too late and the best thing to happen to either of them gets away!

It's also an exciting suspense story, with a smart terrorist pulling a fast one on the good guys, too! Plus we meet 3 more of the Alpha Team, Harvard, Blue and Cowboy, each of whom no doubt have a story in the series, which I believe has 10 in all.

It's on my Serial Challenge, and is one of the last books in my Double-or-Nothing Winter 2008 challenge - no notable pets. 5 stars! I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!


Prince Joe (Tall, Dark & Dangerous #1)Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again I've gotten an audio book of something I've already read - and once again, I liked it just as much as the first time! I started Brockmann with the Troubleshooters series, and then tackled Tall, Dark & Dangerous, of which this is the first book. Brockmann takes a group of SEALS, turns them into these dangerous and charmingly vulnerable heartthrobs and throws a woman into the mix who turns their worlds upside down and makes them grovel. It's pure fantasy, even if there isn't anything actually paranormal other than their seeming immortality. Yeah, I like it.

This is my first for this narrator, Ashley Adlon, and she's good! I mean, really good - although she isn't a Barbara Rosenblat or Davina Porter. Her accents and voices were truly good - very accurate to my ears, and consistent. She has a kind of... well, for lack of a better word, bedroom voice - a sort of intimate, quiet voice one might use to read a child to sleep or murmur love words in a lover's ear. I guess you would have to hear it to understand how those two are similar. It was pleasant to listen to, but I kept thinking she needed more variation - not all the scenes called for quiet intimacy. I wondered as I listened how Anna Fields might have read it. I enjoyed it, though, and it worked for this book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Shadow and The Star by Laura Kinsale *****


That is my first gut reaction to this book. It's a new favorite for me - the sensual writing, or maybe I mean sensory - or - the picture she paints is so vivid, so touching, in the book.

I wrote a few paragraphs about this book right after finishing it, then I read Lisa Kleypas' review on AAR. Of course, being an author, she manages to write a wonderful summary of the book and its high points without even going into much detail of the story, and I felt I needed to revise my own review as too wordy and not nearly sufficiently descriptive. (It's ironic that I'm not really of fan of Lisa Kleypas' books...)

Basically it's the story of a tortured hero, Samuel, who was rescued from a childhood of sexual abuse by a wealthy British family living in Hawaii in the mid 19th century. Samuel mentors with the family's Japanese butler in martial arts and Japanese ways of living and thinking. As Kleypas points out, the training is a way of healinb - but one area of his life, the sexual side of him, is too dangerous for him to reveal or even experience. While he's aware of the feelings, he suppresses them as too violent.

His heroine is prim and proper Leda - she lives in genteel poverty but while she's naive in the ways of things between a man and a woman, she's worldly in the ways of Society. When she catches Samuel in the act of stealing items from rich people, he gets her to help him - he's actually on a campaign to expose child prostitution, by hiding the stolen objects in houses of ill-repute and sending the police there to find them.

He manages to hire Leda as his personal secretary, and enlists her help in courting the woman he imagines he's loved most of his life - Kai, the daughter of his benefactors. But his love for Kai is chaste - he builds a house for him and her, but builds her a separate bedroom - his fantasy of love and marriage with Kai does not include sex. When confronted with the truth - Kai will want children - he's horrified but tries to go forward. Meanwhile, his lust/attraction to Leda builds, and because he has imagined that she is actually a courtesan, he steals into her room one night to indulge his seamier, sexual longings.

It's obvious from the story that both of them are virgins - well, he is a virgin in the sense that he has not, as an adult, chosen to have sexual relations before this encounter. When his benefactors insist he marry Leda, he does so reluctantly. Leda, it seems, is the one who brings true healing to him, though.

The story is told in flashbacks, one chapter in the present, one chapter in the past, revealing Samuel during his years in Hawaii, undergoing his training and his relationship to Kai as a child.

There's a suspenseful ending, with the Japanese trying to get back the last item stolen in England, as well as a truly satisfying HEA. I know I'll want to read this one over and over, because of the wonderful way the words sorta washed over me while I read it. Her convincing portrayal of Samuel's childhood in Hawaii, what he was thinking and longing for, made his character real and gave the story its depth.

5 stars and a keeper

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann ****

This is a book that has stirred up a lot of controversy amongst SB fans (some now former fans) because of the SHOCKING way she has paired up some of the inhabitants of her fictional Troubleshooters world.

Spoilers abound, so if you haven't read it, click away from the page if you don't want to know.

I liked it! This is the 14th in the Troubleshooters series, and I read 1-12 and listened to Into The Fire (#13) on audio. I also listened to DoN on audio. It used the same male narrator (Patrick Lawlor) for the sections from a male POV, and a different female narrator (Renee Raudman) for the rest. At least I think she was different, since I thought her name was Melanie something, but it doesn't say on Audible.

Although Patrick Lawlor's voice isn't exactly ideal (and I didn't like his Sam voice much), he's a great narrator who really got into the story and brought the characters to life. She also did a great job. Although I like having one narrator, the way 2 are used in this audio works for me too.

The story picks up right where we were left at the end of Into The Fire - with a prologue that actually is something that happens at the end (so I was sorta cornfuzzled for a few minutes...). Dave and Sophia - yep, they get their HEA and Decker pairs up with Tracy. That is the sum of the Big Controversy. Readers passionately defending their right to have Decker and Sophia get a HEA, and feeling betrayed by the author for daring to change that outcome in this book.

I read about 2 pages of the diatribe on the AAR boards and decided it was pretty, uh, immature and shrill and not at all lucid or logical - sorry ladies. Maybe you do deserve a different story - read a different author! There were those arguing that it was obvious and fated for Decker and Sophia (even though the total sum of their sexual interaction was a PAID BLOW JOB under extreme war-like circumstances, several years earlier, during which Sophia tried to kill Decker - yeah, that's how I want to meet my true love). There were those saying there was never before any attraction between Tracy and Decker, so how could she manufacture that in this book?

I found it to be another great book in a great series - with action that had me on the edge of my seat - with love stories that I found true-to-life and realistic. After all, Dave has loved Sophia forever, and they spent some quality time together, all of which can lead people to a loving relationship. SB made Dave out to be Superman who had been hiding behind his Clark Kent facade for the other books, and that pissed some readers off. How dare the author write Dave in as an ass-kicking hero in this story!!! That wasn't his character at all, they say! (I was ok with Dave actually being a former ass-kicking superhero who was trying to be dorky and normal.)

There was the continuing story line of Nash and Tess - we learned in the last book that Nash's death was a ruse, but only 4 people knew. And that pissed some readers off - how dare they hide the information from Dave? I dunno, to save his life?

The basic premise was that someone was after them all - mostly Nash - and there was a scramble all over the place to figure out who it was and eliminate him. It's related to Nash's involvement in The Agency, a Black Ops secret governmental agency that may have a rogue employee who's been giving bogus assignments. The story ranged from Boston, where Sophia's father was dying, to San Diego (I think?), where Nash was holed up in Robin and Jules' safe house. It was pretty much non-stop action adventure with some hot stuff to boot, and frankly, it's a pleasure to read, credibility issues notwithstanding. I gotta say, I went into their world and believed every word. Sophia and Dave are a love match, Dave's an ass-kicking hero, Tracy's actually very bright, and Sam is a sensitive guy.

Now - ok, I'll be honest, I feel "invested" in, say, Jamie and Claire of Outlander, and might be shocked if she pulled something with them, like a divorce or an affair. But enough to have 150+ pages of angry posts on a forum, dissing the author and wondering how she dares to do this to her readers? No, I hope not. I would probably just stop reading the series. (I can't even think of another series I feel that "invested" in - maybe Grey's Anatomy...)

So I'm going with a solid 4 star - I Really Liked It - rating. So there!

Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney **

OK - I could consider this a 2.5, maybe even almost a 3 star read. But here's why I'm rating it 2 - it's on the AAR Top 100 of 2007, so I was expecting something good or at least better.

I can't compare it at all to how I feel about Lisa Kleypas' books - I mean, she's on the AAR list too, and I don't like her style, and I think I gave her books 3 stars (maybe 2). But this book - omigawd - the purple prose, the absolutes and melodrama from page 1 - omigawd!

It also wasn't a DNF like Stephanie Laurens' 2 books I (didn't) read. I felt obliged to keep going on this one, sort of like looking at a wreck, because I couldn't stop. To be honest, about 20 pages or so in, I actually thought it might end up being funny - you know, like all the exaggerations and such were going to be mocked later on.

But no.

The storyline rang familiar, although it was published in the early 90s so it's possible the one I'm thinking of with the half Rom/half aristocrat was written later. (also a series, cannot recall the author/title of that one though) Oh wait, I recognized a lot of the plot lines from (probably later) books.

Plain, prim, prudish spinster and Methodist minister's daughter Clare meets lusty half Gypsy Demon Earl Nicholas - he's widowed, and it's rumored he killed the first wife and slept with his grandfather's young wife, which killed his grandfather. Yeah, really.

There's a series (Fallen Angels) of which this is the first, but we meet the other fellows, one of whom owns the nearby mine. It's set in Wales, and the mine is a hazardous dangerous mess, in which young children toil and die. Ok, I am not mocking how horrible life was for poor people in Wales in the early 19th century, but my gawd the descriptions practically begged me to weep, wail and keen while reading. Oh, the misery! So Clare goes to Nicholas to ask his help. "Yes," he says, "if you will live with me as a Counterfeit Mistress for 3 months, which will ruin your reputation." He figures she'll run screaming and leave him alone.

Oh, no, the brave, fearless Clare takes the dare - her reputation can survive!!

So he spends a lot of time seducing her, and she resisting - but not wanting to resist. In fact, in one amorous embrace on the pool table, she ALMOST loses her virginity!! But does not, on a technicality only, because he didn't go all the way in..... Yeah there was bare skin to bare skin and some penetration and blood. I'd say her reputation was ruined!! But that's just me.

I think The Perils of Pauline was less melodramatic. Blah blah blah, we have dangerous mine with explosions, issues with parents, mysterious happenings, murderous former friends and inability to truly love. And Clare was a sanctimonious thing too, enough that I wondered if it qualified as Inspirational Romance. After all, once she decides she's actually in love with Nicholas, she has a religious conversion from non-believer to Seeing The Light and can pray again.

There are a couple of action scenes (the fire, the fight at the OK Corral... no, that's not it) with the whip that had me just shaking my head and thinking, oh no he did not.

I think this story could be considered Old Style writing, and I will try again with this author (there are 3 more on the AAR Top 100!!), but man-o-man this writing style is not my cup o'tea. 2 stars. Serial Challenge and AAR Top 100 Quest and no notable pets.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

I'm finally done with my Chicago Stars Audio Marathon of 2009! And I'm a big fan of Natural Born Charmer with Blue and Dean.

We first met Dean in Match Me If You Can - he was the model-handsome quarterback backup to Kevin (This Heart Of Mine) Tucker, friend of Annabelle. He's driving along, looking for a diversion during the off-season, and there's a woman in a beaver suit on the side of the highway...

Blue is doing whatever she can to support herself, including a job marketing Beaver Lumber by standing in a beaver suit, directing traffic. Blue is a wanderer - her backstory includes a crusading mother who left her in the care of others while she went around saving everyone else. Blue has been left behind time after time - first her mother, then various friends of her mothers. She has major trust issues, so keeps her life simple so she can stay on the move.

Dean has a similar backstory - his mom April was a rock star junkie, bed-hopping and drug-ingesting, leaving Dean in boarding schools. He didn't even find out his father was rock star Jack Patriot until he was 13, and that fact is still a secret to everyone except April, Jack and Dean.

Dean decides to drag Blue along (she has no choice - she's down to her last $20...) to his new home in Tennessee, where a housekeeper is overseeing the remodeling.

Jack Patriot had one marriage, to a country star, with one daughter - Riley. The country star has just died in an accident, and Riley is being cared for by a nanny at her home in Nashville while Jack is on the road. Riley learned about her relationship to Dean and that he has a new home in Tennessee, not far away. Riley takes off on her own to find Dean, who is family after all.

Since the housekeeper ends up being Dean's mom, April, pretty soon they are all living there, trying to get along and learning to be a family. April has never forgiven Jack, Dean has never forgiven Jack or April, Riley is desperate for attention, and Blue (while mortified of her reaction to her rock idol, Jack) is the mediator amongst them all.

It's a fun story about forgiveness and family and love. Although Blue doesn't fit Dean's idea of the type of woman he's attracted to, he soon realizes she knows him - she GETS him - and she's just THAT into him, which is what he needs. They both struggle with trust issues, and in the end come up with a plan to test them both. But it isn't just their love story - it's April and Jack's, and Jack and Riley's and even Blue and Mrs Garrison's - young love, mature love, parent/child love.

And the ending is so wonderful that even if I was feeling a 4 star, I'd have changed my mind during the epilogue and given it 5 stars. Oh, and Notable Pet status goes to Killer/Fluffy, the dog!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts ****

I went back and forth between a 3 star and a 4 star rating for Blue Dahlia. This is the first of the In The Garden trilogy, featuring 3 women who work at the In The Garden nursery in Tennessee. This story features Stella - a young widow with 2 young sons who moves to Tennessee after her husband's death to be near her father and step-mother. She gets a job working for Roz Harper, In The Garden's owner, and living at the Harper estate where the nursery is located.

The Harpers have lived on this property for generations, and there's a rumor that a ghost haunts its halls, as all good Southern mansions should have. Apparently this ghost prefers children and reveals herself mostly to them, and is fairly benign, so the story goes.

Logan is the nursery's landscape designer - a surly fellow who lives nearby. Roz and Logan have a sort of understanding - they each let the other do their jobs with little to no interference. The job that Stella's been hired to do is Manager - she's a left-brain spreadsheet wonk who also loves plants, so it's her dream job, and Logan's nightmare. She nags him for invoices, for inventory reports, for plans - you'd think that would drive him nuts. Of course it does.

Here's, ironically, what got me about this story. There was so much potential conflict - Roz, the hard-headed woman business owner, Logan the loner artist, the ghost, a woman with 2 young kids - oh, and a pregnant distant relative with an unknown background who shows up unannounced. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there was a teeny touch of conflict, but mostly Roz loved Stella, let her do what she wanted and loved Stella's kids just as much. Everyone loved what's-her-name, the preggers cousin; everyone even loved Logan. Ok, Logan and Stella struck a few sparks outside the chemistry. But there was chemistry too.

And Stella, Miss Straight-forward, figured out right off the bat she was gonna do it with Logan, so she just invited herself over one afternoon to get it over with. How romantic is that?

So what we had was this sweet story about a young widow finding love again, with a ghost who wanted to protect Stella's boys, a good business woman with a talented, loving son who lived nearby and a perfectly respectible pregnant cousin who gave birth at the end. Yawn. Apparently one book will be about Cousin and Loving Son, and the other about Roz and the university professor who does genealogy on the side, the guy hired to get the background on the ghost.

I enjoyed the story - NR is a superb story teller - but it wasn't very, ummmm, interesting. Does that even make sense? I mean, she threw in a bad mother (Stella's) but countered it with the wonderful step-mother. There's potential for Cousin since she never quite got around to telling the baby's father about her pregnancy - well, it was because he was dating someone else so why upset them? Roz has an ex-husband who might want to do her harm, since she caught him with his hand in the till and his dick in another woman before she booted him out. So maybe the next 2 stories will be more interesting. I guess the ghost's background hasn't yet been revealed (at least, to the characters - the reader meets her in the prologue) so there's potential there.

But it fits my Serial Readers Challenge, and it fits the A To Z title challenge! So all is not wasted. There's a dog too but, sadly, the dog wasn't interesting enough for Notable Pet rating.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tall, Dark and Cajun by Sandra Hill ****

It's not uncommon for me to have a certain rating in mind while I read, then have the ending change it for me. I was going along at a 3 - 3.5 star, mostly because I was unhappy with the heroine, then Hill put in a 5 star ending that brought the book to a solid 4 star rating for me.

This is the second in her Cajun series, which feature the 3 sons and 1 daughter of Valcour LeDeux, from somewhere around Houma, Louisiana (way south in bayou country). Remy is the hero of this book. Remy lives a pretty solitary life - he's a casualty of the first war in Iraq, where he was shot down and suffered burns and injuries over half his body. Half his gorgeous face is marred by burn scars. He now operates a helicopter business, part tourist trips and part undercover work for the DEA.

The heroine is Rachel Fortier - in spite of her half-Cajun genealogy, she was raised in the north (and by north, I mean north of Baton Rouge) in various foster homes after her mother abandoned her. Her father died, but his mother Gizelle still lives near Houma, with land next to Remy. Rachel is a decorator, engaged to a plastic surgeon in Washington DC. At the beginning of the book, she's just learned that her fiance has had a vasectomy without telling her. This is the final straw for her relationship, since he spends a lot of time telling her she's too fat and buying her workout equipment. She ends the relationship, and runs off to spend some time Granny Fortier, a woman she's just learned about after she found her mother.

Hill likes the Thunderbolt Approach To Love: love at first sight in a big way, and when Rachel sees Remy and vice versa, there's chemistry oozing from the pages. But Granny Fortier has never liked Remy's father, and forbids her to have anything to do with Remy. As if.

The big conflict here - and this part really pissed me off - is that, after 2 weeks of hot monkey sex on the bayou, they've declared love and feelings but both keep saying there is no marriage. However, when Remy reveals his big secret to her - a secret no one except his doctors know - she goes apeshit. Turns out he's sterile from the injuries that caused his disfigurement. And because he didn't tell her, in effect LYING TO HER even though she swears it is not about having children, she refuses to have any more to do with him.

Now, this is a woman who is theoretically ready to beat up anyone who treats Remy with any kind of disdain over his scars, and yet she is shallow enough to accuse him of LYING TO HER because he didn't say right off the bat he was sterile? I don't know about you, but I found that conceit disgusting on her part, and I could barely forgive her at the end. And she thought he should apologize to HER? Hello?

Meanwhile, he's so humiliated he can barely breathe - once again, he's been rejected because he fought for his country and was injured. But he sucks it up enough to share the reason with his family, and they rally around and find a very romantic way to bring them back together. Not that Rachel deserved it, in my opinion.

As I've said before, Hill's humor and writing style is an acquired taste, and I think you also have to be in the right mood to find the humor in it. But I went into her weird world and enjoyed it (except for wanting to bitch-slap Rachel several times). Having grown up in Cajun Louisiana, I can appreciate a lot of the situations and humor. I will say this - having Rachel's adoptive parents die in an earthquake in Brazil was over the top, even for Hill. I guess the usual car accident for killing off parents or former spouses would have been too run-of-the-mill?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

Ah, it's so much fun to revisit the Chicago Stars, and Match Me If You Can is a really fun one. One thing I like about it is how their relationship developed slowly, over time, and they felt an attraction but also developed a solid, comfortable friendship before embarking on the love journey. Even after the first semi-drunken (ok I think there was alcohol involved) boinking, they stepped back and kept the friendship/business relationship separate for a while. It wasn't love at first sight - it wasn't even lust at first sight although there was chemistry and attraction from the first.

Heath Champion is a sports agent - think Jerry Maguire, except already rich and successful. He came from trailer park roots, and he keeps the sign from the trailer park in his office as a reminder. He goes about everything in a practical, success-finding way, and when he realizes it is time to settle down and get married, he decides he needs professional help. So he hires Portia Powers of Power Matches to find him the perfect wife. She needs to be a woman who can keep a home for a successful mover and shaker, a woman comfortable with football player clients - and his list of other attributes also make it next to impossible to fill the bill!

Turns out his client Kevin's wife Molly has a good friend who is also in the match-making business. Annabelle gets a meeting with him through Molly, and he agrees to give her 10 minues. Too bad for disorganized and off-the-wall Annabelle that she's a few minutes late! She manages to bully in past the secretary and basically challenges Heath to give her a try.

Quickly he learns that while her business is new, her instincts are good and he uses her to vet all the matches - both hers and Portia's. To do this, she goes on every meet, and restricts the women to 20 minutes. She leads the conversation - she does everything but cut Heath's meat during dinner, as a matter of fact. She seems to be the only woman that knows what he wants!

Portia gets caught spying on Heath and Annabelle by Heath's scary driver/assistant, Bodie (don't know how this is spelled since it's an audio), who vows silence if Portia will go out with him. Portia buys Bodie's story of his upbringing - she doesn't realize he's giving her Heath's backstory, and that his blood is a lot bluer. She's a ball-buster supreme, and Bodie is her dirty little secret, she thinks, not realizing he's playing her the entire time. As it turns out, they are perfect foils for the other.

Heath is astonished by Annabelle's contacts - she's in a book club with all the "right" woman, wives of Chicago Stars players and front-office as well as Phoebe, the team's owner, and he invites himself along on a couple of events to see if he can mend fences with Phoebe. Annabelle develops a friendship with Dean Robillard as well - he's the 2nd string quarterback to Kevin (of This Heart Of Mine), and hero of the next book (Natural Born Charmer). Dean's also in the market for a new agent, but won't consider Heath because of his bad relationship with Phoebe. It seems Annabelle knows all the right people!

Months go by while Annabelle and Portia try to find just the right woman for Heath, neither one of them clueing into the truth: Annabelle is obviously the one. Heath finds himself at her house frequently, where she also entertains Dean and other NFL players as friends and guests. He's comfortable with her, she knows all the right people... She is practically flaunting all the attributes Heath needs in a wife right in his face (without either realizing it)!!

There are some great funny moments in the book - her sex toys catalog being snatched as reading material, the women's video Crystal shows to the book club, the cell-phone snatching kid. Yep, I'll probably listen to the whole series again, several times!! 5 stars.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Passions of Chelsea Kane by Barbara Delinsky ***

This is an older book (1992 - omigawd, who thought I would ever refer to something from 1992 as "older"???) and it shows in the story. I've liked the Delinsky books I've read, but this one was just a mediocre/average read, and it was long too!

The book opens with a birth scene - no one is identified, but the mother gives the child up for adoption, then we are left wondering what happened to the mother. Then we move on to the life of Chelsea Kane, a 37-year-old single woman, an architect in a small firm with her long-time best male friend and another woman (who played practically only a walk-on scene the whole book). She's also an adoptee (could it be...?) and her adopted mother has recently passed away. She had everything she ever wanted - wealth, success - except knowing who she really was and a good man.

She tried out the partner/best male friend for size, and even though they had been friends for life, and even though both sets of parents were pressuring them HARD to get married, they had never been ... intimate. So, what the heck, they did it and man, was Carl virile or what? Not only did he get her pregnant that one time, he was also doing another woman AND SHE GOT PREGNANT TOO. I say, hand the man a box of condoms! Sheesh!

As it turned out, he was more in love with Other Woman, and married her, so Chelsea never got around to telling him he was the father of her unborn child. Which I thought sucked.

Chelsea learns, somehow, that she has ties to a small town in New Hampshire, and since she's an architect who uses granite, she recognizes the name of the town as one they've bought granite from before. She up and invests in the granite company, against the better judgement of the current owner, and then buys a house and just moves to this town.

This is not one of those cozy, cute, warm and loving little towns like Robyn Carr's Virgin River or Grace Valley. No sirree, this town is in-bred to the max, and if you aren't from there - meaning, if your last name isn't a street name and you can't trace your genealogy back to the founding father - then you're an outsider, never to be trusted.

Also this town is stuck in the pre-women's lib era. No woman should be seen in exercise clothes. No women's knees, please. And there's some dirty little secrets - affairs, spousal abuse - and these are condoned because the surnames are those of the founding fathers. So you can just imagine the hardships Chelsea faced as major investor in the town's largest industry, and as unmarried pregnant newcomer to boot.

It has some romance-ish overtones. There's Judd, who supports his father who has Alzheimer's, even though he had college and plans to move away. There's Hunter - who's his father? And, hmmmmm, is he EXACTLY the same age as Chelsea?? Yeah, no spoilers here but it didn't take a magnifying glass to read between the lines on that issue. At least she and he were never attracted to each other, which would have been soooo squicky.

All the conflicts revolved around Chelsea and the decisions she made, so it falls pretty strongly into Women's Fiction for me. Single career woman, multiple partners (ok, just Carl and Judd), parental conflict, some slight suspense over some half-hearted attempts to scare Chelsea with ghosts and cut phone wires - yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. Not bad, just nothing special. 3 stars and I only get to add it to one challenge (A To Z Author) - no pirates, not by Lisa Kleypas, hasn't been in my TBR forever. Dang!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

This is the 5th in the Chicago Stars series, and stars Kevin Tucker - Stars Quarterback and best friend to Cal Bonner and Jane Darlington Bonner of Nobody's Baby But Mine - and Molly Somerville, Phoebe Somerville Calebow's sister of It Had To Be You. Even though there's a similar theme - heroine getting pregnant right at the beginning, it's got a different twist than Nobody's Baby, and this time I found it funnier than ever. I admit, the first time I read it, I had my eyebrows shot up to my hairline, but once you let yourself into the seemingly-normal/partially fantasy fictional Chicago Stars world, you just go with the flow!

Kevin and Molly have something in common - they are both thrill seekers and need some danger and excitement in their lives. Molly's always been seen as a good girl, even a goodie two-shoes - except for occaasional forays into serious mischief. She was raised by Bert Somerville, owner of the Stars who would have preferred a son to the 2 completely different daughters he sired. Her life was similar to Phoebe's - boarding schools and summer camps, and not much contact with the important adults in her life.

Kevin was raised a PK - preacher's kid - by older parents who doted on their only child. It was a solid, middle class life, with summers spent at the family retreat in Michigan where he was the only kid amongst older adults. His recent thrill-seeking adventures have put him at odds with Coach Calebow, who sends him off to the Calebow vacation home for a weekend of solitude. He wasn't expecting to have company - and neither was Molly, when she went there to get away. She's been on the verge of doing something really stupid, so she figured she would stay out of trouble for the weekend.

Wrong. She's always had a crush on the good looking jock who doesn't even know her name. She's even fashioned one of her recurring characters in her children's books on him. When she couldn't sleep, she decided just to look in his room to see what he looked like sleeping... Then she decided it wouldn't hurt to just crawl into his bed, just for a touch - and the next thing she knows, she's pregnant. This leads to a marriage neither one wants but Kevin is determined the child won't be illegitimate.

What's fun about their story is the realistic way they form a friendship and then fall in love - it's not just a thunderbolt, love-at-first-sight type of relationship. When Kevin checks up on her to find out why she hasn't signed the anulment papers, he finds her depressed, and takes her with him for a few days to the family retreat that has now become a bed and breakfast/family camp. A few days turns into a few weeks, and Molly finds she's enchanted by the storybook cabins and surroundings. She finds her writing muse again, and regains her self-confidence and self-esteem while building a friendship with Kevin.

Kevin has some other family-building to do - his Aunt Lily (I think of Tyne Daily of Cagney and Lacey, sort of...) shows up to mend fences as well. There's a secondary romance with Lily and a famous painter who has a summer home there. There's also the famous softball game that gets funnier every time I listen to it - the "last kids chosen in gym class" versus the jock team which includes 2 NFL quarterbacks, where the Last Kids use cunning and deceit to nearly do the jocks in!

OK, if you can get past the odd way they get together, Kevin and Molly's story is warm and funny and touching and a romp, and I'm giving it 5 stars on this my 4th or 5th listen.