Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Slave To Sensation by Nalini Singh ****

I had been putting off reading this book, even though it was on the AAR Top 100 of 2007, because of its genre: paranormal. So many people are really into her series about Psy and Changelings roaming the Earth 100 years from now, with humans.

Now that I've read it, I can say I enjoyed reading it but... do not feel compelled to keep reading the series. Hmmm, weird, I know.

The Psy are theoretically the most powerful - they run the government and such. They can communicate through the PsyNet, sorta like the Internet only with their minds. Changelings are part human/part animal - basically what other authors call shape-shifters. They exist in packs and fight amongst each other and against Psy. And humans are just, well, humans.

The Psy, starting 100 years earlier (ok, in the 1970s) decided to eliminate all emotions from their behavior with a program called Silence. Psy children are taught to tightly control all emotions, and are therefore cold and robotic. They also have other talents/skills/gifts like telekinesis and telepathy and such.

When Psy Sascha Duncan realizes her mind is going, she knows she will be destined to Rehabilitation, a fate worse than death. She struggles with her apparent lack of power- even though she is the daughter of one of the most powerful Psy - trying to maintain a hold. She meets Changeling/leopard Lucas Hunter in a business deal between the Psy and his pack, of which he is the alpha member.

The story revolves around a serial killer, presumed to be a Psy, who has now maimed, raped then killed 8 changeling women around the country. The changeling packs are getting together to find the killer and bring him to justice. Sasche finds out about the plan and basically determines to help them, as they have helped her come to terms with what ends up being her powerful gift - something the Psy have tried to eliminate.

And in the process, Lucas realizes she is his destined mate, against everything he's learned about the Psy.

It's an interesting read, and I liked the characters well enough. However, it didn't really change my mind that much about the paranormal romance genre - it still takes an effort to learn the world-building elements and remember who is whom and how they operate. An effort that doesn't engage me that much, as it turns out, at least not right now.

So I'm giving it 4 stars and posting it back on the WL at PBS.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen **

OK - this is a classic in the Romance field, actually written during the Regency period that so many favorite Romance novels take place.

It's also on the AAR Top 100 of 2007 (and other years as well), so it fell in my TBR list. I decided to listen to it in audio book form when my March audible.com credit became available. First, I looked at the free online websites for audio books - it is, after all, many years out of copyright at this point. The only one I found was read by a young woman in an American accent - a few seconds into it, I decided I'd rather pay. Then I went on Audible.com only to realize there are so many versions, I would have trouble deciding. I did 2 things: I looked for reviews that praised the narrators then did the sample listenings from 4 versions I picked from those, and basically I chose one at random, since I couldn't decide.

The version I chose - for anyone interested - was narrated by Josephine Bailey. I'm trying to decide if hers was a good narration or not. Frankly, it's hard to decide since the language is so obscure, and I had so much trouble following the story. Multiple negatives turned into possible positives. Things insinuated which I couldn't understand. I think Ms. Bailey probably did a good rendition. She did manage to use a different voice for most of the characters (her Jane and her Elizabeth seemed awfully similar - her Lydia mostly higher pitched and louder than Jane/Elizabeth - her male voices different from females).

The thing is, I could not figure out when it was that Mr. Darcy (whatever was his first name?) decided he was madly in love with Elizabeth. And I guess it's supposed to be ironic that the pride Mr Darcy is accused of is what kept Elizabeth from considering him anything other than... not worthy? A bad sort of fellow? Her pride, I mean, not his, is what kept her from... whatever.

Maybe if I had actually read the words, I could have spent more time allowing my brain to find the meaning of them. As they flowed into my brain in Ms. Bailey's voice, I found myself mostly frowning and wondering what the hell she just said.

So - did I dislike the recording, or the story? Unfortunately, they are at this moment the same. I have only the recording of the story to go by - and I did not like the mental calisthenics I had to go through to figure out what was being said. I guess I need the contemporary American translation to understand it.

So sue me. 2 stars.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Rain by Susan Weldon *

OMG. This was so awful I just had to read it all to believe how awful it was. Purple Prose. Cliche after cliche. Bad plot. Worse characterizations. Ghosts. OMG.

This was a story that has been written sooooo much better by Elizabeth Lowell in Only His. It's a heroine and hero drawn so much better by LaVyrle Spencer in Hummingbird. I'm sure any number of better authors have done better jobs with this subject matter.

It's almost laughable how bad it is. As I got towards the end, fully haven given up on its ever redeeming itself, I admit to skimming just to get to the last page.

It's 1872 in America. A prim, proper, Eastern virgin spinster of the advanced and decrepit age of 25 (gasp!) - a piano teacher with limited means - goes west to Denver to find her lost fiance. Ok, it's her 2nd fiance - her first one died on their wedding day. The 2nd fellow, while ok, is just someone with whom to spend her life - she doesn't really love him as she did #1. He decided to try his hand at finding gold so he could support her in style, as his own general store is just middling successful. After 1 year gone, his letters stopped and she began having nightmares of his death. At first, she sent money to friends in Denver who hired a scout to find him, but with no luck.

Now she plans to accompany the newest scout on a search so she can locate Clarence's body and put him to his final rest.

Well, who is this scout? Well, little lady, he's the roughest, the toughest, the meanest badass hunk of gorgeous man around - Reno McCord!! He bursts out of a saloon and knocks her over, taunts her a little, then proceeds to brawl his way to jail, where she finds him the next day. She tells him she's wealthy so he'll do it (why that matters, as long as she can pay her fee, I dunno.)

Then she tricks him into taking her along, lying to him that she can ride a horse. He insists she wears men's clothing - so she buys some but wears a dress on top so that he can't see her legs and ass shamefully displayed in the tight pants.

Yeah, doesn't this all sound credible enough?

So they spend the next several days traveling together, each of them switching back and forth like quicksilver from hate to lust to teasing to haughtiness and round and round they go. My head was spinning. I'm thinking to myself, the woman has never been on a horse and she can even WALK the next day? Not. But, hey, yeah, she does.

It's so over-the-top purple prose that I found myself groaning inwardly AND outwardly over and over. It's another virgin who manages to have wild monkey sex several times in one night - the first night, the next night and several more nights, including in a freezing cold waterfall (what a real man he is, no?). It's got the "I'll never marry, I can't settle down" multi-experienced man. It's got the "I'm now desperately in love with you after 1 day" virgin spinster. And to top it all off, it's also got the Secret Baby and the sudden-change-of-mind man proud of how potent he is that she's pregnant (after a couple dozen tries, at least) too. I just finished it so I could put it in my Spring 2009 Challenge under the title that reminds you of Spring (not that the story has anything to do with Spring) - and as a bonus, in my New Authors 2009 and A To Z challenges too. But I don't plan to give Ms Weldon another chance because it wasn't just mediocre, it was plain awful.

Do not read this book if you are looking for a good read. That's my advice anyway. But LLB over at AAR says it's one of her favorite Westerns and gave it a fairly high rating. Just goes to show, it takes all kinds, no?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paradise Valley by Robyn Carr ****

This is installment #7 in the Virgin River series, and as I commented on #6 (Temptation Ridge), it's sorta slowing down for me. I still enjoy it but not as much as the original Virgin River.

This one features several of the couples who haven't yet had their HEAs - the fellow we only knew as a pot grower is in town, post-prison sentence, and is introduced as Dan Brady. He meets the town former drunk now recovering alcoholic Cheryl Creighton. While they don't reach a true HEA, they do get to know each other a little better. I'm sure there'll be more to their saga in one of the 3 upcoming books.

Vanni's father and Shelby's uncle Walt and the movie star Muriel go a little further in their relationship - Muriel gets a chance to do a movie with Jack Nicholson, and leaves town for 6 months, and their relationship is tested.

Cameron and Abby deal with their relationship as the biological parents of her in-utero twins, and Abby also has to deal with her pre-nup issues from the drug-using rock star Kid Crawford. That gets resolved quite nicely and frankly a little bit too sweet for me.

And the biggest shocker of all is Rick getting critically injured in Iraq and coming home to deal with his injuries, and the way he deals with his situation and his friends. It's not good but for anyone squeamish, he comes to a better understanding before all is said and done. I wanted this to affect me more than it did, however. I just wasn't very moved by his story.

Meanwhile, we still have Brie and Mike - Brie gets to show her lawyer chops off in this one; Jack and Mel - Jack's an old busybody! and Mel's doing fine, dealing with her new partner in Cameron; Vanni and Paul - ok, Paul is a sorta dimwit, really, although he means well. For once I thought Vanni called it as it is (calling him a dimwit, which he proved more than once).

It's another chapter in the lives and loves of Virgin River, and their perfect, alpha-but-in-touch-with-their-feminine-sides men and their incredible women and jaysus I wanna live there and have them for my friends! Maybe I can be the new town drunk!

So I'm rating it 4 stars - I did really like it but never felt the emotional surges that other earlier books in the series gave me. I do want her to continue to keep us updated, though! It fits several of my challenges. Cool.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm In No Mood For Love by Rachel Gibson *****

A Re-Read first posted June 21, 2008 - still love it!

I'm starting to think I shouldn't have started reading Rachel Gibson with See Jane Score, an AAR Top 100 book I read as part of my self-imposed challenge. See Jane Score just didn't do it for me, but now that I've read 2 more, I'm really liking her books!

I like to read reviews of books after I have read them - and often I find they put into words sentiments I couldn't quite express. However, the AAR review of I'm In No Mood For Love was so totally different than my own feelings that I can't even believe we read the same book! I loved the whole book - that reviewer hated the first half, and liked the second half.

The heroine is Clare - a 30-something single romance novelist whose engagement has just been broken because she caught her fiancé having sex with someone else. The Sears repair man. In her own words, she watched:

...while the man who fixed her Maytag the day before road her fiancé like a cowboy.
Yeah, that's some way to end a relationship. She wakes up the next day in a hotel room with a hangover, and she's not alone. She ponders the times this has happened to her before - ending a bad relationship with an all-night drunk and indiscriminate sex with a stranger - and then realizes the man in the room is no stranger, it's the son of her mother's full-time live-on-the-property gardener, whom she knew as a child but hasn't seen for 20+ years. Sebastian Vaughan.

Sebastian is now a renowned journalist. Sebastian's parents were divorced and as a child he lived with his mother who moved around a lot and had a string of bad relationships. He spent summers with his dad, and pretty much made a living hell of Clare's childhood, just being a typical boy - she followed him around like a puppy and he taunted her, played tricks on her, and the final blow was his telling her the truth about sex when he was 12 and she was 10. This last one pushed her uptight frigid mother into laying down the law: he was no longer welcome on her property where her dad lived. This was a blow to him, and he didn't get to see his father very much after that as a result. So he harbors some bitterness about the incident as you can imagine.

Sebastian's mother has recently died - she had a fall and died of an embolism. This really shakes him to the core, losing the one person in his life who was always there for him. It pushes him to rekindle the relationship with his father, so he goes back to visit.

He's in the hotel bar where Clare has been drinking and as a favor, he helps her up to her hotel room, and then decides to watch some tv. When she wakes up, he leads her to believe they had sex all night (but they didn't). She's mortified - and a day or so later, she realizes she not only needs to be tested for HIV but should also tell him to do so as well.

Now we have two characters, sexy Sebastian - reeking of testosterone, all-man especially in comparison to her ex-fiancé, and Clare - looking quite a lot better than she did at age 10 - drawn to each other by the sexual chemistry, but pushed apart by both their situation (her mother is his father's employer) and their inabilities to commit to another person. They finally reach a point where they decide they are Friends With Benefits - and Gibson shows her forte with some hot benefit scenes.

Clare, however, isn't really a person who can have ongoing hot sweaty sex without commitment, even though she thinks she is succeeding on that score. And Sebastian is haunted by a feeling he is missing something, something his mother looked for and finally found: a feeling of being home. He decides to stop taking international stories so he doesn't have to travel as much, and wonders if getting a dog will fill the void. Clare is finally pushed to the realization that she wants more - and that pushes Sebastian out of her life.

I guess the AAR reviewer never went through this like I did. Although I'm nothing like Clare in most ways, I felt deeply what she went through in her relationships - always the bridesmaid, never the bride. A string of men who would never love her - including, she thinks, Sebastian. Gibson created realistic, 3 dimensional characters - people who have a void in their lives that they cannot understand, and because they cannot understand it, they cannot fill it. Thank goodness it's a Romance, so they finally come to their senses!

And Gibson's writing in this book is clever and funny - I found myself laughing out loud, and going back to re-read passages more than once to laugh all over again.

I really liked this book and I'm giving it 5 star/favorite status.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sex, Lies and Online Dating by Rachel Gibson *****

FIRST POSTED JULY 2, 2008 which is when I first read this. I just did a re-read (March 23, 2009) and loved it as much, maybe more!

This is the first in her Author Friends series, based on 4 women authors living in Boise, Idaho. I've already read books #2, 3 and 4. You can read them out of order, but in a way I'm sorry I did, because this book sets up the other books so nicely!

In Sex, Lies and Online Dating, we meet Lucy, the mystery writer. She is penning a novel about a female serial killer who meets her victims online and kills them with erotic asphyxiation. She's knocked off 3 victims in her story so far, and for research she is dating men she meets online. Her online persona is a nurse, but she does use her real name. She's managed to meet some guys whose attributes she uses in her book, but she needs one more...

Hardluvnman - I loved this handle!! Our hero is detective Quinn, also undercover on this mission - but his mission is to find Breathless, a woman who is actually murdering men using Lucy's plot MO. Although he's tall, dark and dangerous, his cover is he's a plumber whose wife died and he's trying to move on. There's an instant chemistry between them, but Quinn needs to keep it professional since after all, he is wearing a wire.

Lucy doesn't normally meet the men a second time, but Quinn pursues her since she is now the #1 suspect in the case. After a couple of dates, he gets a look at her work-in-process and nearly faints, because her character is killing the men in exactly the same way as the real life Breathless.

The one part I had a hard time with was when he invites her to his home as bait, to get her to try to kill him - the reader knows the house is wired for video and audio. He seduces her - pushes her HARD even though she's already said it's too soon. Knowing there are 2 detectives watching, I just skimmed this hot scene, almost as if I was embarrassed for her. No - I was embarrassed for her. And later in the book, when he finally reveals the truth to her, she was justifiably mortified along with me.

The book was funny, and also touching - I figured out the mystery killer a little sooner than her identity was revealed, but it was still a good suspense. I loved both the hero and the heroine - and I laughed out loud when early in the book, Lucy wonders why Clare is the only one who doesn't realize her fiance is gay!! (that's inthe next book in the series)

5 stars, a keeper! I say this in almost every Rachel Gibson review I write, but I'm so glad I gave her books a second chance. The first one I read, the only one that made the AAR Top 100, was See Jane Score. I actually gave it a 4 - but I was disappointed because I didn't feel it was as good as I was expecting. Since then I've liked (almost) every other book of hers I've read, quite a lot more than See Jane Score even when I also rated them 4 stars. Maybe it's just me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Temptation Ridge by Robyn Carr ****

This is #6 in the Virgin River series, and while I really enjoyed reading it, the series as a whole is starting to cool down for me somewhat. I considered the first one, Virgin River, a real keeper. And it's more like women's fiction than romance in that, while there is a definite hero/heroine for each book, the book's focus is wider, on the residents of Virgin River. We continue to run into the previous protagonists of the other books, and there are regular residents who didn't rate a book but still make up the neighborhood.

Shelby is the heroine of this story and she was introduced in an earlier book as Walt's niece - Vanessa's cousin. Walt's only sister was her mother, and Shelby stayed with her mother through 5 years of home care while she wasted away and died from complications of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Now that her mother has been gone for a few months, Shelby sells the house and goes to live with Uncle Walt, Paul, Vanessa, little Matt and Tom while she plans the rest of her young life (she's now 25).

Luke came to town as the owner of a property with cabins on it, property he and his brother Sean bought some years ago as investment property. The old man who had owned it had stayed on as caretaker, but died - and now that Luke is out of the army, he's looking for something to do. He figures he'll fix up the property and sell it for a profit.

Luke has a past with women - when he was 24, he married and was expecting a child with his young beautiful wife when he was shipped off to Mogadishu. When he came back, he was confronted with the awful truth - it wasn't his child, it was the child of one of his officers that was on the mission with him, and she left him for the other man. In the aftermath of that disaster, Luke decided he wasn't the marrying type. So when he gets attracted to Shelby, especially thinking she's about 18, he tries to curb his thoughts. But Shelby had other ideas - and put the moves on him. It takes a long time for her to break him, but eventually he breaks - after giving her The Speech. You know, the one where they both agree it's a short term fling, no weddings or kids, and they'll both move on.

Meanwhile a lot of things go on in Virgin River - Brie has a baby, the town drunk gets sent to rehab, the school bus driver has an accident - yeah, life goes on in Virgin River even when 2 people are struggling with their emotions and their relationship.

I wasn't as "into" Luke and Shelby as I have been for others. The secondary romance in this book is Walt and the movie actress - nothing out of the ordinary there. The Virgin River men are so perfect, so in touch with their feelings, so proud of their women and children, that frankly it's starting to be a little... sterile might be the word I'm looking for. I mean, doesn't Jack ever piss Mel off? Doesn't Paige ever have a cranky moment towards Preacher? Don't any of the h/h every fight at all??

This will go in the Serial Readers Challenge, and maybe in the Spring 2009 challenge too, I'll have to check... 4 stars - still good reading, but nothing earth shattering and smile inducing...

Friday, March 20, 2009

So Enchanting by Connie Brockway *****

This was truly So Enchanting! It's a book with a magical premise, and it's even magical to read. I'm not sure why I hadn't heard much about Brockway before, but I've liked the ones I've read and this one is a real keeper too.

Grey has spent his adult life devoted to debunking all sorts of paranormal shyster activity - people who prey on those hoping to make contact with the dead especially - because his father lost the family fortune to people like this. During his raid on a seance by Alphonse Brown, Grey is entranced by Brown's wife, Francesca - but pushes aside his feelings.

Fanny, formerly Francesca Brown, soon thereafter widowed, gets a chance at a new life. She has some power over animals - when she is upset, the nearby animals react, and as a child, animals attacked and crippled her brother, so she became a sort of pariah in her family and her neighborhood. When a neighbor comes to her after her husband's death and asks her to be his daughter's companion, she agrees only if she can use a new name and identity, and no one but the 2 of them will know.

Then she spends the next 6 years in the Scottish Highlands as Fanny Walcott, with Amelie as her ward. Now that Amelie is 18, though, she's tired of being cooped up in a small town away from all the excitement of town, and yearns to be free and travel. Unfortunately, she has 3 more years to go before she comes into her inheritance and freedom.

Her guardian, a Lord Collier, receives a letter warning that Amelie's life may be in danger, so he sends his brother in law and son to check out the situation. Coincidentally enough, Grey is the brother in law - and his son is Hayden, a young man of 21. Amelie and Hayden immediately take to one another, and in the space of one day are declaring their undying love, and spending long moments mooning about.

The spark is also still there for Grey and Fanny - but there's no declarations of love or mooning - their sparks are more the flint v steel type. Brockway's style is so humorous and witty - while the young lovers are chastely holding hands and murmuring endearments on the terrace, Grey and Fanny are first fighting like cats and dogs, then the next minute they are passionately kissing and ripping at each other's clothing in the next room. Meanwhile, Fanny's spell over the animals has them all howling and hollering and tweeting and boinking like mad in the garden, on the paths and pretty much everywhere they look - it's laugh out loud funny!

She continues to contrast the 2 couples - one chapter starts with Hayden declaring it's the most wonderful day, and describing his day with his love Amelie. The next chapter is Grey declaring it's the most dreadful day - the same day, only from Grey's POV. When the plot to harm Amelie becomes more real - a large pot is pushed off a balcony and barely misses Amelie - Grey and Hayden try to figure out who is behind the plot. Meanwhile, Grey cannot let himself be enchanted by Fanny - he does remember who and what she is - and tries to figure out how she is scamming Amelie and her guardian.

I enjoyed every minute of this story! It fits as my second book for the novel set in Scotland category of the Spring 2009 Challenge, and I think I'll tag it Besotted Hero - Grey was slightly besotted, but Hayden was truly smittenly besotted!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Everyday, Average Jones by Suzanne Brockmann ****

I went back and forth between rating this one 3 stars or 4 stars - maybe it's a 3.75?

This is #4 in Brockmann's Tall, Dark and Dangerous series - her first Navy SEAL series (before Troubleshooters), in which she uses the members of her fictional Team Ten Alpha Squad as the heroes. I enjoyed the first 3 - even rated them 5 stars, but not really keepers. But this one, Cowboy Jones' story, sorta rubbed me the wrong way.

First off, spoiler-ish, it's the Secret Baby plot. And not only is it the Secret Baby - Melody's not only keeping it secret, she's stubbornly refusing to even have anything to do with him. And she pissed me off.

See, she's always assumed she'd marry some everday, average guy - maybe an accountant. He'd be some guy whose biggest risk might be mowing the lawn on weekends. And it's because she figures, although she fell in love with Cowboy when he rescued her from a hostage situation in MakeBelievakia 7 months ago, she's too ordinary for him.

Of course, he's thought of nothing but the 6 days they spent together, boinking like bunnies after her rescue was over. So much that - in spite of his rogue-ish reputation - he's never even looked at another woman since those 6 days, 7 months ago.

So when he shows up in her middle-class, average town to see if he can woo her again, he's pretty dang shocked to see her hugely pregnant. He thinks she's 9 months pregnant and he's not the dad (which sort of pisses him off, really) - then he discovers the truth.

He spends a few weeks, literally camped out in her back yard, trying to convince her to marry him, but Melody is stubborn and won't marry except for love. See, what's annoying is, she won't even let him have his say - and she also won't own up to how she feels. She just shuts him out.

There's a sub-plot with a foster boy next door that shows his tender side, which she likes, but also makes Cowboy believe maybe he isn't father material after all - and since it's obvious to him that Melody doesn't want him (she worked hard enough to show him that), he finally gives up and leaves, promising to share custody and pay child support, but leaving her free to find a man she can love to marry.

Frankly, she's a bitch and she deserved his leaving her. But all in all, I still enjoyed reading their story, even if I wanted to smack her across the face a few times. Isn't that odd? It's just that I like Brockmann's style and her story-telling. Oh, and guess what, he goes back and they get a HEA after all.

It fit my Serial Readers Challenge, as well as the A To Z Challenge under title. Hmmm - was he besotted, or just determined. Naw, not besotted.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale ****

This was a hard book to read and digest, with much of the dialogue written in a sort of pseudo-Middle-English-speak to give it the flavor of medieval thought and speech. In addition, the author used different forms of English to convey speech in Italian and French. I felt like my brain was being taxed the entire time.

Also, it was so hard to feel anything positive for the heroine. Melanthe was English by birth, but married into an Italian family at age 12, to a man many years older, and then a widow. There were 3 Italian families represented - I think - as being enemies each of the other, and many of the characters were aligned with one of the 3, Riata, Monteverde (Melanthe's husband) and Navona.

Allegreto Navona is a youth of 16 traveling with Melanthe to England so that she could claim her father's lands and then return to Gian, his father, to be his wife. Allegreto is an assassin and is also portrayed as a eunuch so that he can stay close to Melanthe at all times, even in bed. (How she never knew the truth, I'm not sure...)

The hero is Ruck, an English knight - the Green Knight - who swore his loyalty to Melanthe when he and she were just 17. He was accompanying his wife Isabelle to become a nun, when Melanthe - already a princess - saved his life by telling the religious leaders he wasn't chaste, that he was staring at her and having lustful thoughts about her. Although he had loved Isabelle, he didn't understand her - she was portrayed as either having a gift or being insane, having visions and prophecies. By not being chaste enough for the religious leaders, he wasn't allowed to join his wife - which eventually saved his life.

It was all pretty confusing, to be honest. 13 years go by, and Ruck has managed to become an anonymous knight - something about not having proof of his birth/ownership of his father's property since everyone in his family died in the plague. He was concerned if he said where he was from and what his name was, it would come to the attention of the king that his family's lands were without owner and they would be taken. He meets Melanthe again, and again swears his loyalty to her - only this time he announces it so everyone knows (whereas before this, it was just in his own heart and mind).

Melanthe, in truth, is scared to death of everyone, and mostly for good reason. Her husband taught her not to trust anyone, and from him she learned to be aloof and disdainful in manner, as a way to save herself. She pits her servants one against the other as a way to keep them from harming her, and for them to be ever afraid of her and each other. When Ruck leads a small party of her servants and her into England, she pretends to be struck with the plague - and she and Ruck are abandoned by the entire party. At this point, when it's just the 2 of them, she is alternately in his debt and falling for him, and playing him for a fool. It was very hard to feel sympathy for her, even though you were meant to believe she was constantly in fear of her life even from Ruck.

They make their way not to her lands, but to his, where for a time they live as husband and wife, an idyllic life where she is loved by his people and seems to have relaxed and started to enjoy life. Unfortunately, Ruck is now never sure when she is telling the truth, and when she is acting (aka Lying). He keeps thinking that she will want to leave and go to her own lands and people - and therein lies his mistake. When he sends a youth to her property to see if it's safe, the youth is caught up in the web of intrigue to find her and bind her to Gian Navona again.

So not only was it hard to read because of the language issues, it was hard to be sympathetic for this lying, wheeling-and-dealing heroine who pretty much shot herself in the foot everytime she opened her dang mouth! Poor naive Ruck was truly led on a not-so-merry chase to save her from everyone including herself.

I think I would classify Ruck as a Besotted Hero - after all, he was able to remain celibate for 13 years in his pursuit of her! And even not knowing her, not understanding her, he never gave up on her, and followed her into the snake pit that was her home, where Gian and Allegreto and Cara and nameless others meant her harm - and from where she did everything she could to push Ruck away, meaning to save him again. He was more faithful, more patient than any hero I've read about so far. For that, and for the artistry of the prose (as hard as it was to digest) I give the story 4 stars. It's the first in a 2-book series (Serial Reader's Challenge) and it's an AAR Top 100 of 2007 which also puts it in the Spring 2009 Challenge under that category!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Black Rose by Nora Roberts ***

This is the 2nd in the In The Garden trilogy, about 3 women in different stages of their lives. The first dealt with Stella, a young widow with 2 boys, who moved to Tennessee and got a job with Roz, the owner of the nursery, In The Garden.

This one is Roz's story. In the first installment, she hired Mitch Carnegie, a genealogist, to help her discover the identity of the house ghost, the "Harper Bride" who haunted the mansion she inherited. The ghost seems to like children, and hate men. Of course, as the reader, I knew who it was from the prologues of each book - the mistress of an ancestor who bore him a son. The son was stolen from her, and she was told it was a stillborn girl - and although I don't know yet how she died, she haunts the house to warn women away from men.

The other women (Stella and Hayley) refer to Mitch in such terms as Dr. Studly - a tribute to his hunkiness of course! Isn't it always fun to have an academic hero, a sort of beta/alpha mix who knows when to step forward and offer to smash someone in the nose, and when to step back and let Roz deal with her own problems?

Her main problem is a con artist ex-husband who keeps popping up, trying to ruin her life. The ghost, even though she gets more violent as time goes by, is a minor diversion in comparison. So Mitch and Roz, yes, fall in love and battle the ghost and the demon ex-husband before getting their HEA. And we get whispers of Hayley's HEA when Harper starts having lustful thoughts about her... But that's the next book.

3 stars, Serial Readers Challenge and... something in the Spring 2009 Challenge, can't decide which. Parker the dog didn't warrant a Notable Pet tag, but even Dr Studly refers to himself as besotted early on, so I'll tag it as Besotted Hero.

It's a pleasant enough story - I would say 3 stars meaning "average" as opposed to "mediocre" - I wouldn't go out on a limb and highly recommend it, but I enjoyed the story enough.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Princess Goes West by Nan Ryan ***

This is my 3rd book by this author. I picked one up in the Portal Library Sale, which I liked (You Belong To My Heart), and I got one on audio book, which I found just average (Dearest Enemy). I don't see Ryan mentioned in Romance blogs and forums, so I'm not sure what others think about her. This one - well, I had great hopes for it and I thought it started out well, but as it went on, it became sorta average, and then the ending just was flat for me, and it dropped from a potential 5 star read to a 3 star at best.

This one is a sort of mistaken identity story - it made me think of Susan Andersen's Baby I'm Yours, where a bounty hunter grabs the wrong twin sister and drags her on a road trip back to jail. Virgil Black is a Texas Ranger in 1880 when he's given the job of catching the Queen of the Silver Dollar, an actress from Las Cruces, New Mexico and an accomplice in a robbery. But the tip he's given instead leads him to Princess Marlena of some fictional European country who was touring America looking for support for her country. She had fallen ill, and was recuperating while the Queen of the Silver Dollar filled in for her.

Marlena, a true spoiled brat, fought Virgil as hard as she could, but eventually - as must always happen on road trip romances - the two of them gave into the smoldering chemistry between them while in the New Mexico desert.

It was fun at first, and I had some laughs while reading it. But the story went flat when the truth about her look-alike comes out. It was another Big Mis which just wrapped up all the loose ends a little too quickly (in spite of it being about 400 pages).

This one fits the Western category of the Spring 2009 Challenge.

Second Chance Pass by Robyn Carr ****

This is the 5th installment in the Virgin River series, and continues the stories of the residents of the fictional northern California small mountain town of Virgin River. This one is mainly Vanessa and Paul's story.

Paul was in love with Vanessa from the moment he saw her across a crowded room - but his best friend Matt made the move on her first. Matt and Vanessa were married, and Paul had to stand by and watch his best friend and his love in their bliss. Matt went off to Iraq, leaving Vanessa pregnant and living with her dad, the general, and younger brother Tommy, in Virgin River. Matt was killed, and Paul stood by Vanessa, helping her with her grief, even helping deliver Vanni and Matt's son. But he had his own grief - losing his best friend and watching his love suffering, but knowing she would never love him.

Thinking Vanni would never feel the way he did, he left Virgin River and went into the arms of a "friend with benefits" for comfort.But Vanni did feel the way he did - and she constantly called him, asking him to come back and visit. Each figured the other thought of him/her as a brother/sister - and each wanted the other. Dang! The Big Mis! And it's further complicated by Ms Friends-With-Benefits telling him she was pregnant with his child...

A lot of the feedback I've read about this book has people having a lot of opinions - that Vanni didn't mourn Matt enough, that there are too many people to keep track of, that it doesn't live up to the earlier books, that there weren't enough mentions of Preacher. Well, I disagree - Preacher wasn't my favorite character anyway, but he was mentioned a lot.

This is women's fiction with a strong romance component - the story, while there is a focus on the main h/h, isn't JUST about them. It's about the town and its inhabitants, and it's about their families and friends. While building a strong fictional community of people who care about each other and help each other, there's also the undercurrent of truth and reality - pot growers, spousal abuse, dangerous pregnancies, mental illness, death. (Well, actually maybe all of those aren't as prominent in this book as in some earlier ones.) The good guys, the alpha marine heroes, are strong, tall, handsome, built and all have this incredible soft marshmallow heart inside that loves pregnant women and babies and all things domestic. Plus there's lots of male bonding and a touch of talk about feelings between the men. Yeah, there's fiction for you!

But it's done in a way that makes you believe it, makes you long for that small town, those friends, that family that is big, boisterous, loving, perfect. There are suspenseful situations as well, that have you on the edge of your chair, even knowing Carr isn't going to kill off her main characters and that the h/h will get a happy ending!

I didn't like Vanni's character - she was too impatient, too shrill, jumped to conclusions and seemed to walk all over Paul. It took Paul long enough to man up and come forward, and when he did, we're supposed to believe he went from passive to assertive overnight. It wasn't that credible, but I was ok with it - maybe once he said it out loud it was more true for him. I still enjoyed the book all in all.

I'm all about a good narrative, a well-told story, and I don't need any particular format or plotline or anything - just entertain me, make me feel what the characters feel, leave me smiling and happy at the end, and I'm good. 4 stars and a series for the Serial Readers Challenge.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Frisco's Kid by Suzanne Brockmann *****

These Tall, Dark & Dangerous books are like 2-bite brownies - short and sweet and all things yummy, but leaving you wanting more, more more! I have given each of them 5 star ratings because I've really enjoyed them, but honestly they don't compare to longer, more complex books with 5 star ratings that I consider keepers.

Frisco is disabled. Five years ago, the SEAL Team Ten Alpha Squad member took a hit to the knee during an op that damn near cost him his life, and did cost him the ability to walk. And he's mad. Frustrated. Angry. Determined to make it better so he can re-join the squad.

But he's already been replaced, because nothing will ever repair his leg enough for him to be an active duty SEAL again. And he's the only one who can't admit it. When he's finally released from the VA Hospital, against his wishes to keep working on his physical therapy, he moves back into his old condo, next door to Mia.

Mia bought the condo a while back, and has never met the neighbor. She knows he's retired military, and figures he's an older fellow, maybe with experience in Vietnam, or even Korea. She's hoping to meet him, because she teaches high school history and he might have some interesting first-person insights about those wars to tell the kids. She's totally not expecting Frisco - just a couple of years older than she is, and ruggedly handsome, and oh-so-built. And the biggest chip on his shoulder of anyone she's ever met!

When Frisco's good-for-nothing alcoholic sister dumps her five-year-old daughter Tasha in his lap while she is checked into detox, he's really got more than his hands full. For one thing, his condo is on the 2nd floor, and he can barely take care of himself, much less a kid. How's he supposed to get her and him and groceries and.... all that up and down stairs??

Frisco's biggest problem is that he can't accept the truth: we all need help from time to time, and if he would only open his eyes he would see that there is plenty of help available to those who help themselves. Instead, he focuses on goals that are out of his reach - re-joining active SEAL duty, mainly. And Mia and Tasha are just the medicine Frisco needs to realize the truth.

There's a suspense plot, based around a former boyfriend of the bad sister trying to recover some money she stole from him, and it's well done. But the bottom line is, Frisco has to find his way to re-visualizing his future.

So, there's a cute kid, and a sweet girl-next-door heroine, who is strong but not combatively so, and a hunky, flawed and slightly tortured hero; one bad guy; and the rest of Team Ten's Alpha Squad on call to help save the day! Whoo hoo! I loved all 3 hours it took to have this tasty snack, and now I need to go look for a full meal book. 5 stars, and in the Serial Readers Challenge

Shadow Music by Julie Garwood ***

This is really less than 3 stars, maybe 2.5 stars. It's not that I disliked it so much as it wasn't exactly a great story - just mediocre at best. I have to say, I'm back to where I was when I read The Bride: I just don't like her style in some of her books.

In the cover blurb, some kind soul writes: "A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions - unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire"...

Man, that person read a completely different book. When she writes medievals (as this was), she has this odd, stilted prose, both in the narrative and in the dialogue, that is the opposite of emotional. It's cold, and unnatural. She didn't do what I have disliked about other books - the Keystone Cop thing where everyone talks (nonsense) at once. Good - 1 check in the positive column. But "gripping"? Passionate? Raw desire? I did not feel any of that.

It was ok - the story was another medieval, another English virgin being married to a Scot as decreed by King John to help bind the 2 countries together. In this case, the Scot in question is murdered before the wedding, and the bride is accused of being a harlot and is banished from England. It has something to do with a treasure, and 2 English barons wanting both her and the treasure. However, she didn't even believe the rumored treasure existed, so she couldn't help them with that anyway.

A different Scot, Laird MacHugh, takes the half-English/half St. Bielish (??) Gabrielle under his protection, promising his buddy he'll marry her to restore her reputation. I sorta got confused about this part, but it wasn't worth going back to solve the riddle of why he agreed to do it. His buddy was Brodick of an earlier novel in the series, also married to an English lassie.

Of course, she is good with bow and arrow and managed to save MacHugh's brother from death by shooting the fellow trying to kill him, so that should have been why MacHugh took her in, except at that point he didn't even know she was involved. Over time he and she decide they're attracted to one another and maybe even falling in love, and they do marry and it's all wonderful and then she's kidnapped by one of the bad barons... and then she's saved and everyone else lives happily ever after.

See? It was just another story. I never felt gripped. Really. 3 stars - Serial Reader's Challenge, and Spring 09 Challenge for book set in Scotland.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pale Moon Rider by Marsha Canham *****

I first started reading Marsha Canham when I learned she had a book series that took place around the time of the Scottish defeat at Culloden in 1745. That was the time period that Outlander started in, so I was interested in it for that reason. The 2 books – The Blood of Roses and The Pride of Lions – are actually more like 1 long book, since it's the same protagonists and truly, the ending of the first book makes it imperative for the reader to keep going – leaving the hero watching the heroine's ship sail out of sight is too unrewarding to stop there! I loved the series.

Canham's style is broad, sweeping, swashbuckling – no pale, timid heroines for her, or beta heroes for that matter. I have since read more, but not all, of her books, and have enjoyed them all. But this one is not only a keeper but has risen to at least my top 10 favorites, maybe in the top 3. (Ok, it's difficult to compare it to Linda Howard's To Die For, which currently holds my top spot, since the time period, the writing, everything about the 2 books are so different!)

This one takes place shortly after the French Revolution. The heroine, Renée, and her brother Antoine have recently arrived in England from France with their trusty servant Finn. They are the only family members left of the Duc d'Orlons – the rest of the family has been killed in the revolution, at the guillotine or, as their mother was, beaten to death by the crowds in the street. Renée is 20, and her brother is only 13. He is now mute, mouthing words only, since he watched his mother's brutal death. Finn has spirited them back to their uncle, their mother's estranged brother. It seems mother eloped with a young Frenchman some 20-odd years earlier, and was disinherited, even though the family of the Frenchman in question was one of France's wealthiest families, and his father a Duke.

The book opens with Renée's carriage being stopped by a highwayman – none other than the infamous Captain Starlight. She is glad to see him, as she is being used as a pawn to draw him in – if she manages to do this, and helps him be caught by his nemesis, Captain Roth, the false attempted murder charges against Antoine will be dropped. Of course, she is still to be married to the fishmonger, Edgar Vincent, arranged by her uncle, so she is in desperate straits all around, desperate enough to meet with this dangerous and shadowy character.

Captain Starlight aka Tyrone Hart is instantly captivated by the young Frenchwoman, and agrees to meet her again in 3 days time to arrange for him to waylay her while she is wearing an expensive set of jewels her betrothed has given her. She intends to get away from all of them, with the jewels, Antoine and Finn, and head to New Orleans to start a new life. Hart, being the sneaky devil he is, manages to follow her, even into her uncle's house, to confront her about her deal with him. But when he sees her taking a sponge bath, and standing half naked in the moonlight, well, let's just say the Little Captain took over his thought processes and… The game was on – the game of her stealing the jewels and getting away; the game of her leading him to the authorities; the game of his besting her and getting away, alone, and holding the jewels himself; but mainly the game of the two of them falling in love.

Canham's prose brings to mind all the swashbuckling heroic movies you've ever seen, with storm water splashing over the sides of old sailing vessels and men in dark capes riding hell-for-leather across the countryside and villains shouting Stand And Deliver! to the coachriders. Her love scenes are visual, lush, sensual, romantic; well, every scene is like that, actually. She manages to have you sitting at the edge of your seat, wide-eyed and breathless, waiting for a resolution, and gasping as the situation gets worse and more impossible to escape, turning the pages as fast as your eyes can scan the page and process the meaning. I loved every minute, every page, every phrase! No simpering miss here – Renée is fragile in some ways, and tough as leather in others – she will do whatever she can for her own, for her brother , for Finn, and in the end for Tyrone. She's truly a Mama Bear with no thought for her own safety. Of course, Tyrone is a marvelous hero, tall, dark and dangerous, never intending to leave room in his life for anything so domestic as a woman, until… he meets Renée.

The secondary characters are also marvelous – the fragile brother Antoine, the stalwart servant Finn, Tyrone's sidekick Robert Dudley and his pregnant girlfriend Maggie, as well as the bad guys – Roth, Vincent and the cheating uncle, Lord Paxton.

Did I mention I loved this story??? I read it for the Spring 2009 Challenge category of a book with "moon" in the title, as well as because I plan to read every one of her books eventually. 5+ stars, Keeper, top 3!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Forever Blue by Suzanne Brockmann *****

This is the second in Brockmann's Tall, Dark & Dangerous series - her first Navy SEAL books - and while it's not quite as compelling as her Troubleshooters, it's still wonderful!

Hero Carter "Blue" McCoy is a member of the Team Ten Alpha something or other (yeah, I know, I'm bad at details). It's 7 - or 8?? - men who've passed the SEAL BUDs training and Hell Week, and work together like a well-oiled machine.

A moment while I think about the picture that makes. LOL>

OK - he goes home on leave to be the best man in his step-brother's wedding - to his former high school sweetheart. The whole town is expecting some fireworks, even though Gerry and Blue were actually very close. According to Blue, Jenny Lee used him in high school to get close to Gerry anyway - it's about damn time they got married, huh?

Lucy was only 15 when Blue and Jenny Lee were high school sweethearts - and she was no Jenny Lee. Lucy was tall, and athletic enough to make the boys baseball team, where Jenny Lee was frills and lace and wouldn't swim because it messed up her hairdo. But Lucy had the biggest crush on Blue - and still carries a tiny torch for him, having read everything printed on Navy SEALs.

When Blue and Lucy meet in the cafe, there are tiny sparks from that torch. He invites her to be his date at the rehearsal dinner that night - and she shows up dressed to kill, in a borrowed little black dress and high heels. The sparks are quite a lot higher, and the two of them plan to leave right away and sorta go with the flow. Blue needs to say goodbye to his brother and Jenny Lee, so he goes back in - and ends up dancing with Jenny. Of course, jumping to conclusions, Lucy decides he's still in love with Jenny and just plans to boff Lucy for a one night stand. And Gerry causes a scene, disses Blue's mother and causes Blue to publicly threaten Gerry.

This thread continues throughout the book - her not being able to accept his true feelings, ok not that he actually voices them till late in the book...

The next day, Gerry is dead - broken neck, done like something a SEAL might do, and Blue is now the #1 Suspect. Everyone except Lucy believes that too - and when she tries to stand up for him (did I mention she's a rookie cop now?), she gets put on suspension. In her anger over the situation, she quits! And then Blue and Lucy have a night of world-rocking-boffing (since there isn't any reason not to, now!) - and THEN they have to face the next day.

I love the line about adding breakfast to the mix, how that messes up one night stands.

Because Lucy is quick to point out that they were friends first and friends still, they manage to get over the Day After awkwardness. Blue finds out that he is telling her more and more of his secrets, things he hasn't even told his SEAL buddies. Pretty soon it's clear he has feelings beyond lust for her - could it be... LUV?

Meanwhile, the Team Ten Alpha Squad is out of the country, and when Blue needs them to help with his legal problems, he has no one but Lucy. Pretty soon the police trump up some evidence and put him in jail - and Lucy is alone in her quest to prove him innocent.

It was suspenseful and fun and I liked watching them develop a friendship and then fall in love. OK, it was way faster than true life, like they developed the friendship in 2-3 days and then went ahead and declared love, still I enjoyed it - quick, fast read. Brockmann's got a way of making them seem so real.

It's in my Serial Readers Challenge - nuttin' else. Still, 5 stars!

Untamed by Pamela Clare *****

I think I'm about to start a new glom - for Pamela Clare - this was so wonderful! If she had not used " 'twas " and " 'twould " so much in her narrative from the hero's POV, it might have been perfection!! (ok, it's a small quibble, but it did get slightly old...)

OK - like the first book in the series, Surrender, this one is a swashbuckling tale that takes place in 18th century North America, during the French and Indian War. The MacKinnon brothers were raised in the Colonies after their family was evicted from Scotland following Culloden. Now adults, they have been pressed into service by the British. This puts them in an awkward position, since Scotland and France were allies, and the brothers were Catholic (like the French) in an era when the British didn't even sanction Catholic ceremonies like weddings. But the brothers led the Rangers anyway, to save each others' lives as well as those of their men and their Mohican friends.

Morgan is now the Captain of the Rangers, since Iain left the Rangers to be with his wife and child (see Surrender). On a mission to Fort SomethingOrOther (jeez, I canna keep them straight), he is shot while trying to save one of the Rangers, and taken captive. The French intend to get him well enough to torture then hand him over to the local Indians after he spills the info so they can burn him at the stake. Nice fellows all.

Amalie is a young French woman whose father is an officer there at Fort SomethingOrOther. Her mother, an Indian of that tribe wanting to burn Morgan (Ok, yeah, I should keep the book nearby for notes), died when Amalie was only 2, and she was raised in a convent. She's - what, visiting? living with Papa at Fort SOO when he is killed - by the Rangers, no less. Her guardian, another officer, wants to return her to the convent, especially since she keeps rebuffing the advances of a potential husband, Lt. Rivillieux. But for now it's too dangerous for her to return.

Morgan tries to die from his wounds so that he doesn't have to face the French torture and the Indian fire, but with Amalie's nursing, recovers. In fact, while she is nursing him to wellness, he is growing more and more aware and fond of her. But he maintains control, even when she is pushing him to kiss her - she's such a naif, she doesn't even realize what she is doing - because he realizes his dilemma - he must leave her, he's partially responsible for her father's death (she forgave him anyway) and he will have to rejoin the Rangers and continue to fight the French.

She suffers from the knowledge that she is nursing a man who may be killed - and when she learns he is Catholic, and indeed an honorable man, she falls in love with him and does what she can to save him. In fact, she convinces her guardian to allow him to join their side! Since this officer has already informed the British that Morgan actually died from his wounds, it seems he might be able to do this - at least temporarily, while attempting to both spy for the British and escape back to them as well.

When the guardian finds Amalie and Morgan in a compromising situation - very compromising, even though technically she was still a virgin - he forces them to marry in a Catholic ceremony.

The Rangers manage to intercept some damning evidence, however, that Morgan has joined the French, and even though when he does finally escape (with Amalie) he makes a good case for why he pretended to defect, he is branded a traitor and put in prison. So there is a lot of adventure and tension in the story all the way through.

Well, it's such a good story - lots of action, lots of tension - and man-o-man does she turn up the heat! I enjoyed it as both a good historical page-turner and a realistic romance. In fact, I consider it a true Keeper, better even than Surrender, and I'm not exactly sure why it's better! I just go with my gut feeling when I'm done.

I think this story fits the Spring 2009 Challenge in the Feuds section, since Amalie was on the French side and Morgan fought for the British. The title fits in my A To Z challenge, and it's also a series! 5 stars.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Broken Wing by Judith James ****

This is the debut novel for this author, and it got a lot of buzz from the romance readers with blogs, making it highly coveted on PBS! I finally, after 5 months on the waiting list, got to Number 1 and got it, and have now read it. At last!

I must say, I liked it a lot, but I'm a little baffled by the buzz. It didn't make it to my keeper list. It didn't get me worked up, or make me cry or even get me choked up. I found it an enjoyable story, with unusual protagonists and unusual situations. The book needed a good proofreader - the author seems to like commas a lot, but they are not always where they should be - often in the wrong place, and sometimes needed where they are not. There are some grammatical errors that really should have been caught by someone before it was printed. All in all, it wasn't as perfect a love story as I was hoping for, as the buzz made me anticipate, and grammar errors popped me out of the story regularly. (When the story is good, I think maybe I don't notice these things as much...)

The hero, Gabriel, is a truly wounded and tortured fellow. He was raised in a brothel in Paris, used as a prostitute by both men and women. As an older teenager, he protected a young child sold, as he was, to the brothel, for 5 years, at which time the boy's family located him. The boy refused to be parted from Gabriel, so his older brother paid the Madame for Gabriel, paid Gabriel to be the boy's companion, and took him back home to England.

The boys' sister is Sarah. She's an unconventional woman - she wears pants and rides horses astride and all manner of odd things like this. She was married to a decrepit old earl - she escaped from the earl after 1 week of marriage, and took to the seas with her erstwhile cousin Gypsy Davey, looking for her younger brother. The earl died, leaving her wealthy in her own right.

Sarah and Gabriel have an immediate attraction, but Gabriel is too wounded to know how to treat a lady, how to be with women in any other way than as a paid gigolo. Sarah befriends him, and slowly helps Gabriel out of the hard shell he has built up to protect what is left of his soul. As their friendship grows, slowly, over time they fall in love. Sarah is willing to take it further but doesn't want him to feel used - for Gabriel, sex is something sordid, done for pay, and he needs to learn how to relate to a woman as a lover.

Eventually he is able to do that, and they do become lovers - something too shocking for her older brother, who threatens Gabriel with death. Gabriel realizes he needs to make something of himself before he can marry and support Sarah, and goes off with Gypsy Davey privateering, to earn enough to be worthy of her.

Well - you know it can't just be a bed of roses, and when Gabriel is knocked overboard in a storm, you realize there's more hardship ahead for him. Will he ever make it back to Sarah, as a whole person, worthy of her love? This is what keeps him going and motivates him for months. But he feels he's lost his soul in the process. So not only is he battling physical foes, he has to battle himself and find his own redemption.

I read this anticipating a truly emotional, heart-wrenching story, and because it didn't meet those expectations, I rated it 4 stars. OK, maybe 4.5 - there was a lot of swashbuckling adventure. I also read it for the Spring 2009 Challenge, as something rated 5 stars on Cindy W's shelf. I know it's her new favorite book, and the favorite of several who read and reviewed it! It also fits my A To Z Challenge, for author J.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Birthright by Nora Roberts *****

Ahhh, now this is why I read romance! This was a great story, full of suspense, full of wonderful characters, and a joy to read. When La Nora is on, she is really really good!!

The story centers around an archeologist brought in when a developer unearths multi-thousand year old bones while building homes in a new neighborhood. The local historical society, working against the builder and the development, hires the archeology team, and Dr. Callie Dunbrook is one of the best in her field. Her ex-husband Jake is also one of the tops - and although their divorce was anything but amicable, her boss brings him on anyway.

There's another story here as well - one family in the area had their infant daughter stolen from them, and the girl was never found. Her older brother, Doug, has lived with the guilt and the breakup of his parents' marriage, and coped as an adult by traveling - staying on the road as part of his job. When he's in town, he stays in the apartment over his grandfather's used book store.

Lana is the local lawyer - a young widow with a son, she moved there after her husband was killed, to start her life over. Lana's also involved with the historical society, and has done a lot of background work on keeping the developer from continuing his work.

When Callie's face shows up on the news, talking about the antiquities and bones being unearthed in town, Doug's mother thinks she recognizes her - that she might be the stolen daughter.

So, while the archeological team is digging up the past - measured in thousands of years - Callie is working on her own past. Was she adopted? Was she the stolen child? Who was behind it, and are they still in business. Blood tests prove the inevitable: yes, she is the biological daughter and sister of the Cullens. And another part of her past, her relationship with Jake, is also analyzed and measured, as both go over the mistakes of the past and deal with their continuing attraction.

Meanwhile, Lana puts the move on Doug - in a big way. She has to convince him to ask her out, more than once, because he's not much into relationships - at least, not at first. It doesn't take him long to realize he's falling in love with her and with her son as well.

The third romance in the book is between Doug and Callie's mother and father, who divorced years ago but are brought together when they realize Callie is their lost daughter Jessica.

But someone doesn't want them uncovering the past - not the old bones and not the whereabouts and identity of those involved in the child-stealing ring either. So that leads to some threats, some vandalism - and 2 murders.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this story, and I kinda wasn't expecting to! There was just enough suspense, and so much about all the characters, to make it a real page-turner. Not only was I interested in the suspenseful whodunit part, but I liked watching Doug make a 180 degree turn in his feelings, and the Cullens trying to resolve their differences, as well as Callie and Jake struggling to find a balance in their lives. I didn't guess whodunit before it was revealed - and the ending had a fun surprise in it too.

5 stars!