Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taylor's Temptation by Suzanne Brockmann ***

OK, as the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series winds down, well... it's running out of steam. Whether that's just my opinion reading them so close together, or it's a fact the author just can't keep this series interesting, I'm not sure.

Remember Bobby and Wes? Wes and Bobby? The "twin" SEALs, only 1 is short and wiry (Wes), and the other is huge and muscular (Bobby)? Mutt and Jeff. Ren and Stimpy.

Basically, Bobby Taylor has had the hots for his best buddy's little sister Colleen since he met her when she was about 18. OK, he first met her younger, but it was when she was of legal age that he really got it bad for her. But he's several years older, and she's his best buddy's little sister! Off limits! (why? I dunno, I never had a brother so I never experienced this.)

And - guess what - she's always had the hots for him too! She's a left wing liberal do-gooder in law school, and she's hooked up with a group going to Turgeria (yeah, Brockmann has this thing about making up countries filled with dangerous terrorists) to help orphans. Since Wes is going "wheels up" on a mission, and Bobby is recuperating from gunshot wounds and can't go, Wes insists on Bobby's going to stop Colleen.

Let's see if you, the reader, can just write this story for Ms Brockmann and save her the trouble. (Too late, it's already published...) But you can save yourself some time - Bobby goes to Colleen, Colleen's too stubborn/stupid to back out of going to a dangerous country where terrorists are teeming and shooting everything that seems to be American. Plus she's pushy and since Wes isn't around, she throws herself at Bobby constantly. Friend that he is, he manages to avoid her passes for several pages then gives in, and then... yada yada yada, boink, boink, boink, Wes comes back and fists fly, they all go to Turgeria together, something something something, wedding bells.

3 stars for average, Serial Readers Challenge...

A Woman Without Lies by Elizabeth Lowell ****

I got this on audio book from the library - and it's missing the LAST 18 MINUTES!! HOW DOES IT END???

Whew. As it turns out, I'm having some kind of issue transferring my audio book CDs into iTunes and it just dropped the last track of 18 minutes. I got out the disk and listened to it on the computer.

This is another of Lowell's typical style - her jackass hero who developed a hatred for women when he was 18 and had some disastrous encounter with a cheating woman. In his suspicious, closed little mind, all women lie to get what they want. "Hawk" meets "Angel" (follow all the flying and wing metaphors throughout the book) through a mutual friend, Darry. Hawk assumes (that's "make an ass out of u and me") Angel and Darry are lovers, and he's put off when there's chemistry between himself and Angel that she freely shows him. See! he thinks, even though she's Darry's lover, she's coming on to me!! The whore! The slut! I'll show her - I'll boink her mad and leave her high and dry, like the good friend to Darry I am.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Why do I keep reading her? Is it for the groveling she puts those jackasses through at the end?? I dunno, cuz I still rated this one 4 stars, in spite of the extreme jackassism of Hawk.

Angelina AKA Angie AKA Angel is an artist working with glass. Her troubled past included a tragic car accident in which her parents and her fiancé were killed, and from which she received multiple bad medical issues that took months to recover from. Darry was the fiancé's brother, and he stayed by Angel's side and helped her through her emotional and physical recovery. Therefore, she feels she owes him whatever he needs when he suffers a broken leg and needs assistance. However, the assistance he asks her to give him is in showing his property to Hawk, a potential buyer. Selling the property will give Darry the money he needs to complete medical school.

Since Angel never bothers to communicate the details of her relationship to Darry, Hawk continues to assume the worst - not that Hawk ever asks her, either. Why bother? He assumes she's a cheating, lying bitch who should be brought down, and treats her that way. But Angel soon realizes that what Hawk needs is love, an unconditional love that he has never experienced.

Why do I put up with these storylines? Because somehow, Lowell manages to make it work for me - even though I hate the hero and his treatment of the heroine, her writing evokes the feelings in me that I look for in a good story. She manages to make me feel what the characters are feeling (even as I'm rolling my eyes at some of her phrasing). Oh yeah, and because I love audio books and I got this one as a free dowloand from the library (which I had to burn to a disc and transfer to iTunes to put on my iPod, and lost the last 18 minutes). 4 stars.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get Lucky by Suzanne Brockmann *****

Finally! Lucky's story! LOL - I say that like I've been chomping at the bit to get to it. Brockmann herself referred to books 7-9 in her Tall, Dark and Dangerous series as all being "Lucky's story" and this is book 9, where he finally finds his match. This is a hard book to find, and I ended up getting it from the library. Maybe it's because of the awful cover? Lucky is supposed to be the most handsome, attractive, good-looking SEAL in Team Ten's Alpha Squad, so how in the world did the art department at the publisher get away with a drawing of the Pillsbury Dough Boy?? The cover model is a porky-faced pudgy fellow, not a movie-star-handsome guy!!

It's another fun story in the series (thank goodness, because that last heroine... arg!) although our heroine, journalist Sydney, does almost get to that TSTL level. Syd has a brush with danger when she literally runs into a big fellow who apparently just beat up and raped her neighbor! When she helps her neighbor get the police, she learns there is a pattern here - a serial rapist that hasn't been reported - and she's a reporter! But there's a couple of caveats - the perp may be a Navy SEAL and the police are concerned that if there is any publicity, he'll use his covert training to go underground. So she gets an exclusive to write the story - as soon as he's caught.

This means she insinuates herself into the task force as her trump card - and has to work closely with a few SEALs, a couple of FInCom agents and the police. Enter Lucky - who has to miss a SEAL expedition anyway because his younger sister's getting married in a week. Since he's available, he's drafted to serve on the task force as well.

The old standby plot conceit: Lucky and Syd must pretend to be in love to lure the rapist to go after Syd while she "lives" with Lucky. It seems there is another pattern to his attacks: all are women who have a relationship with someone in the Navy during a particular period of time, making most of the Alpha Squad's women targets. Of course, they haven't exactly gotten off on the right foot - she assumes he's a vacuous one-night-stander; he assumes she's a meddling bitch. Or something like that. As well, she in no way fits his usual date: she's slender/flat chested and dresses in oversized mannish clothing that hides her petite cute body, instead of the lush bimbos who show it all he is usually seen with.

Still, it's a fun read in spite of the well-worn plot - both thinking the other isn't really attracted, and so each keeps his/her feelings in check as much as possible. There's a tiny bit of misdirection - several potential perps - it is a short book, so not too much detail outside of the relationship between Lucky and Sid. It fits my Serial Readers Challenge and the A To Z Challenge. I gave it 5 stars because that's what the others rated - loved reading it, but it's not really a keeper.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flat-Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy ***

I read this for the Spring 2009 Challenge as a book reviewed in the Winter Challenge. There was an awful lot of buzz about this book as being a model for contemporary, non-paranormal romance, the likes of which readers haven't been able to find in books recently published.

Which is why I feel like Oscar the Grouch for rating it only 3 stars - aka Average. OK, I liked it. I liked the characters, I liked the storyline. It's probably considered "romantica" or romantic erotica - to me, partly that means to expect the characters in bed before page 100. And the sex is steaming too.

The characters are Tammy, the young widow of a race car driver, raising their 2 sons on her own, and Elec, a rookie race car driver, who is 6 years younger than Tammy. He's almost 26 and she's 32, and that is one of 2 major sticking points for Tammy who feels like she's robbing the cradle. The other is she doesn't want to be involved with any race car driver again for fear of losing him like she did her first husband.

Tammy bumps into Elec, literally, at a fund raiser peopled with race car folks, and the attraction is instant - the chemistry is there - and it's been a while for her. She has a couple too many glasses of wine, and with her inhibitions lowered, they end up doing the deed in a fellow driver's motorhome and spending the entire night. She's more than a little embarrassed when the friend shows up and catches them late the next morning - and spends a few days blushing and avoiding Elec.

Elec wants more of what he got that night - and eventually more of everything. He insinuates himself (credibly and sweetly, really) into her and her children's lives, and pretty soon everyone except her in-laws are aware there's something going on there. The 2 conflict points are a blonde bimbo stalker and the potential for danger in a race - which, when it happens, causes our brave heroine to run screaming in the other direction so she can get a lecture from her father-in-law. OK, there's also a plot that Elec's family and the in-laws are bitter enemies, but that is never really explained in detail and doesn't really cause much conflict.

All that aside - the writing style just did not appeal to me. The writing style, in my humble opinion, should be like lighting in a theatrical production. It should brilliantly illuminate the story without your ever being aware that it's there. When grammar errors and injudicious use of adjectives jolt me out of the story, it's like the a gel burning out on stage, making one spot glaringly white while the rest is in shades of amber and blue. I'm not sure if McCarthy herself does not know the difference between the use of "you and I" and "you and me", or if she is using that as a character defect (at least 3 times). But Tammy is a college professor, and if college professors don't know how to use those phrases correctly, we are in trouble. Then again, the style may have been reflecting some younger generation use of language to create a particular ambiance that I didn't get. Or maybe McCarthy just needs a better editor, which is what I think.

So - good story, hot sex, imperfect style. 3 stars. She's a new author for me, it might even be a series, so it meets a lot of criteria for me to read - so maybe I am Oscar The Grouch?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Identity Unknown by Suzanne Brockmann **

First of all, I wrote almost the entire review, and then inadvertently closed the window before saving. Shit.

Second of all, I don't feel the book was worth rewriting the review. I'll just say this: after 7 books where Brockmann had me believing the characters were acting in accordance with their background experience and training, she finally slipped in a Waaay Too Stoopid To Live heroine. Here's what I wrote in a post on PBS forum:

So I'm reading along, enjoying the story. Oh No Mr. Bill - the bad guy is around the corner and he's got a gun!!! What does TSTL heroine do when SEAL hero says to get outta there? SHE STORMS THE VILLAIN WHO IS HOLDING THE UZI. And does she have any training in weapons, firearms, survival, rescue? No. She's a cowgirl and she can ride a horse.

Bang! Sigh. Bangbangbang. The first bang is the book on the wall. The last 3 are my head on the desk. But does that end it? NO. I pick the book up, and the villain makes them get in the truck and they drive far far away. All 3 get out, and while SEAL and villain fight, hero yells: Hey Heroine, get in the truck and get outta here! (note: they already called the sheriff, so if she would just LISTEN to the SEAL she could get him and direct Sheriff with gun to them) What does the TSTL heroine do? SHE GOES INTO THE WATER TO HELP THE SEAL.

Yes, you read that right. He's a SEAL and she thinks she can save him while he's fighting a UZI-toting villain IN THE WATER. This is the same heroine who, earlier in the book, was not able to save a small child clinging to a branch in the water.

I did finish the book. The hero has amnesia for most of the book and doesn't know he's a Navy SEAL. He goes to the address in his pocket, a dude ranch in New Mexico where he meets TSTL heroine Becca, Dude Ranch Manager, who tries to save him over and over, like he needs it. Meanwhile, the Team Ten Alpha group guys are looking for Mitch, the Gray Group member/SEAL who has gone missing with the load of plutonium he was using to lure the bad guys. Did Mitch become a turncoat and betray his country?? (no, silly, he has amnesia) All this while Mitch wonders, Am I a convicted felon/murderer/assassin?? (no, silly, you have amnesia but you're a hero Navy SEAL undercover) There's no mystery for us because, duh, we're being told both sides. The only mystery is, what was Brockmann thinking when she had this stoopid heroine try to save a Navy SEAL?

The plot just didn't work for me, and those TSTL moments had me so riled up I wanted to scream. But I still only "didn't like it" (2 stars) as opposed to 1 star/hated it/DNF. Grrrr.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Duke by Gaelen Foley *****

I read this book because it's on the AAR Top 100 of 2007 and I have a quest to read them all. To be perfectly honest, about 1/3 of the way in, I was thinking this was a 3-star/average read. Frankly, the writing style wasn't particularly stellar, the way I like 5 star reads to be. If another character crossed his arms over his chest, I was gonna scream. I was envisioning all these people with their hands on their opposite shoulders - how else does one cross one's arms over one's chest??

And also, there was the idea that a gentlewoman who had been raped once could become a worldly courtesan in just a few weeks - and still not have had sex any other time than the brutal rape - and yet she was highly sought after, with no experience whatsoever. She must have been quite an actress, is all I can say. It just stretched my personal credibility somewhat.

Of course, the author finished the story with such a bang, that by the time she was done, I had already decided to go up to 4 stars and then maybe even 4.5. Since I don't use 1/2 star ratings here, I just went ahead and gave it 5 stars and can totally understand that some feel it's a true keeper. (I did not put it in my keeper shelf, however.)

To be honest, although the story blurbs indicate it is a story about a duke and a courtesan, it's very important to realize that Belinda Hamilton didn't start out a courtesan, and indeed did not want to be a courtesan. She felt that was her very last resort - at a suggestion of a lowly prostitute, who told her she was beautiful enough to be one. She was penniless, having been abandoned by her boyfriend, and her father had been thrown in jail by another titled gentleman (Dolph) who was obssessed with having her, and so sought to ruin her so he could.

The Paragon Duke of Hawkscliffe was for all intents and purposes a saint. He had raised his younger siblings, of whom only 1 was fully related, the other 3 were by-blows from his mother's affairs. He had one true love who died young, married to another, that he only loved from afar. He was a Tory by birth but felt personally responsible for righting injustices that were really only espoused by the rival party, the Whigs. Nary a scandal was associated with Hawk... until...

His lady love's widower, the elderly Earl of Coldfell, led Hawk to believe the young woman was murdered - and by his nephew, Dolph. Yes, the same Dolph who is also besotted with Belinda, enough to ruin her so she would be in his clutches. He's an evil, evil man!! Allegedly anyway.

As revenge, Hawk presents Bel with a proposition: he will be her protector for 2 months for some enormous sum; she will go along with the ruse to help him get a confession from Dolph; Hawk will not require her services in bed. WTF?? Well, as it turns out, it's the perfect arrangement for Bel since she is all but a virgin, and scared of men to boot. And he's such a paragon - how could he press her for sex?

As time goes by, they do grow a serious attraction one for the other, and Bel - harlot that she is - does step up the intimacies without actually getting a home run for a while, if you catch my drift. Hawk is totally, deeply falling in love with her BUT he is still conflicted, and part of him still sees her as a money-grubbing social-climbing high-priced whore. And face it: he's a duke and cannot marry someone of her station, either as the poor gentlewoman or the high-priced courtesan.

Eventually he realizes he must marry elsewhere, and he must break it to Bel. At this point, she's regained her self-esteem and sense of worth. Plus she did make one rule when she became a courtesan - she would not have a married man as her protector. Keep in mind, she's only had sex with 2 men - the rapist, and Hawk by this point, so she's still pretty inexperienced except for her lessons in Hawk's bed.

This is when it really started to tug on my heartstrings in a big way. He was so fully besotted but still had his honor and could not imagine marrying Bel or not marrying at all either. She stuck to her principles, though, and when she learned he was to marry, she left him. (this was after confronting Dolph about the alleged murder of Coldfell's wife)

There were a couple more plot twists which I had figured out pretty early on, and then not only a HEA but a major grand gesture that was really quite heartwarming. Yes, Lord Hawk groveled like the worm he was.

As it turns out, this is the first book in a long series - which I started to suspect as we met various of Hawk's siblings and they were introduced as if we might learn their story later. Plus it fits the Spring 2009 Challenge as a book from the AAR Top 100. 5 stars.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Across A Moonlit Sea by Marsha Canham *****

OMG! OMG! I'm squeeing like a little fangrrl with pleasure from reading this wonderful, fabuloso book!! I love it so much!!

OK - deep breath. First, like all of MC's books, it's chock full of adventure, spelled out in such a way that you feel the deck of the ship rocking under your feet and the spray of the sea in your face. It will make you want to grab your pirate costume and run out the door to board the ship for their next seafaring adventure, shouting ARRRRRRR the entire way.

Whew! The heroine is Beau - aka Isabeau, the daughter of Jonas Spence, who has kept her by his side as he sails the seas in search of treasure and booty on his ship, the Egret. Beau has become a daring helmsman as well as good with knives and pistols by her 20th year.

The hero is Simon Dante, a French count who prefers to spend his time at sea, stealing Caribbean treasure from right under the Spaniards' very noses. But on his last trip, he's betrayed by one of his comrades who steals away with the supplies and the booty, leaving him to the mercy of 6 enemy ships. He manages to limp the ship and some of the crew away - and is rescued by Jonas Spence and the Egret.

Of course, at first he is so filled with hate and rage that he cannot be civil to his rescuers, and is even less civil to the slip of a girl - a girl of all things! - that is piloting the ship. She is insolent, outspoken and insulting to him. And he does have a past life that makes him wary of women in general, with a wife who had 2 children by other men while they were married and he was at sea.

But a run-in with another Spanish galleon changes his mind about Beau and her talents as a helmsman, and with his appreciation of her skill, his appreciation of her as a woman also grows. Eventually the 2 succumb to their attraction, and have to deal with the aftermath.

When the Egret runs into a British armada led by Sir Francis Drake, Dante is confronted by the coward who left him. Dante and his sworn rival must join forces with Drake to fight the Spanish, and Dante sends Beau and the Egret back to Britain to wait for him.

But when does she ever take orders from him? (Answer: rarely!)

This was such an incredible romp! Beau is a wonderful heroine, full of spit and vinegar, able to hold her own against the men around her. She also wasn't a blushing virgin - she'd had more than one affair. And Simon - ahhh! he's a droolworthy hero. There's also a secondary romance with Simon's sidekick Pitt and their Spanish hostage, a young duchess. I'm definitely putting this in my top 10 favorites!! It's a title with the word Moon in it, for the Spring 09 challenge, and it's the first in a series for the Serial Readers Challenge.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Admiral's Bride by Suzanne Brockmann *****

This is book 7 in the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series - and it's another great story! This contains a spoiler for book 6... the hero is Jake Robinson! Jake was supposedly assassinated in book 6, although you learn at the end that he didn't actually die.

Jake was Crash's sort of substitute father - Jake and his SO, Daisy, helped raise Crash. Jake was also a SEAL during the Vietnam war, and through his heroic efforts, saved hundreds of American soldiers' lives - including Matthew Lange, who was left to die with several other severely wounded Marines. Matthew's daughter Zoe was conceived after he returned from the war - and today (in the book) she's 29, and a secret agent specializing in biological warfare.

Zoe is called in to consult on a special, supersecret Gray Group mission: a crazy white separatist group in Montana has stolen 6 canisters of an incredibly potent and dangerous substance from the government testing labs and have it within the walls of their compound. The plan: Jake and Zoe will go into the compound as husband and wife, with Jake's cover being that he's running from the government and has a lot of secrets to share with the group. They will get the dangerous powder and save the day.

Most of the story - in spite of its interesting premise - actually revolves around Jake's and Zoe's attraction. It's been 3 years since Daisy, the love of Jake's life, died, but face it - Jake is in his 50s and obviously old enough to be Zoe's father! But Zoe's been attracted to the war hero forever - she's read his biography, heard the stories and alway thought he was wonderful. Then when they meet, she realizes he's also shockingly handsome and buff to boot.

I found Brockmann's characterization of Zoe as a remarkably intelligent heroine, capable of holding her own and knowing what she wants, as credible and refreshing. Credible heroines are something I've remarked on in my last few reviews - to me, as long as the author has shown me the heroine has the background and personality to match her actions, I'm satisfied. It's when the heroine is some desk jockey wearing stilettos who wants to protect the highly trained superman cop from danger that I start rolling my eyes!

The plot was interesting and credible as well, ok, except for that part about following all the video cameras around the compound - is that really possible?? We got to hear a little bit more about Lucky (Brockmann considers books 7-9 all part of Lucky's story) and the others: Joe Cat, Harvard, Blue, Cowboy, Wes, and there was suspense and even grief when the team all believes Zoe has been killed. Hey, it's romance, no romance author kills the heroine at the end!!

So - it's a 5 star read for me, and it's in my Serial Readers Challenge to boot.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reckless Love by Elizabeth Lowell *****

I find that Elizabeth Lowell's prose is a bit of an acquired taste - and that sometimes her treatment of a story can be wonderful, and the next time annoying as hell. This time I found it wonderful, even though it's over the top and there were probably a dozen times or so I wanted to bitch slap the hero (usually it's her heroines I don't like, but not this time).

I got this on audio download from the library, and I must say I really did like this narrator, Laural Merlington. I wouldn't compare her to Anna Fields, or Barbara Rosenblatt, who I think are truly incredible actors who bring the story to life. But she's good - really good - with this story. Her voice is pleasing, her characters' voices are good, distinct and consistent, and she really brought a sense of urgency to the big chase scene (no, not car chase - it's a historical western!) as well as reading the love scenes just right.

The hero is Ty Mackenzie, who has just managed to escape the gauntlet after being caught by Indians. The local "bruxa" is a white woman who lives alone in the area - Janna - and she follows him and heals his wounds while they both hide from the Indians seeking them.

Janna's father died a few years back, leaving her alone in the territory. He was a doctor, so she has healing skills, and she has also developed survival and coping skills that keep the Indians and locals away. Her only real friend is a local gold miner who shares his wealth with her because of her father. She's managed to befriend the local mustangs - and Ty was there looking for a mustang named Lucifer to start his horse ranch, make a lot of money and marry the silken lady of his dreams. AKA highborn, soft, probably rich.

Of course Janna doesn't fit this description by any stretch of the imagination - in fact for several days, he thinks she's a boy. Well, she does dress in men's clothing and binds her breasts for that very effect, as a survival mechanism, but it still pisses her off that he can't figure it out. And it pisses him off that he's attracted to this boy!

The story is about Ty getting the mustang back to his ranch, and Janna's part in it. She really doesn't want the mustang(s) caught and tamed, but she's willing to help him if he will do it her way, especially since she realizes it will mean the mustang will be well-cared for. It seems the locals and the Indians are considering killing Lucifer. And while Janna and Ty are hunting the mustang, they are also avoiding the Indians and the locals. And playing a little hanky panky too (in fine Lowell style).

Of course, Ty assumes she's not a virgin, because of talk he heard in town and also - in fine Lowell style - because of her sensual reaction to his touch, so he figures it's no big deal to seduce her. Once he realizes she is a virgin (and boinks her anyway), he decides he has to protect her or else she'll end up having to be a whore. What a broad minded guy, huh? Yeah, he's a typical Lowell historical hero. His idea of protection is to get her to town and find someone to marry her. Needless to say, she wants nothing to do with this idea.

Ty almost comes around to accepting her as she is - then at the end, he makes a complete ass of himself which requires a brotherly intervention. His brothers shoulda beat him to a pulp, but instead I think they just talk to him and he finally owns up that Janna is the woman of his dreams and he was deluded to think otherwise.

The action/adventure scenes really are edge-of-the-seat exciting, and Janna is a credible, independent heroine. I liked her retorts to Ty when she tells him exactly what he's been saying to her and how it affected her! You go, girl!

It fits the Western book of the Spring 2009 challenge and it's a series for the Serial Readers Challenge. 5 stars!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hawken's Heart by Suzanne Brockmann *****

This is book 6 in the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series - it was originally titled It Came Upon A Midnight Clear when it was released (I read the version with this title). This one stars Billy "Crash" Hawken, the SEAL who filled in for Frisco after his accident. He wasn't originally a member of Team Ten's Alpha Squad - he was on Team Twelve.

As a child, Crash spent his summers with his mother's cousin Daisy and her long-time SO, Jake Robinson, a Navy Admiral. Because his own mother had died, and his father sent him to boarding school and summer camp rather than raise him himself, Crash always felt that Daisy and Jake were more like parents.

Nell Burns is Daisy's personal assistant, and when Daisy is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she is tapped to go tell Crash in person. She and Crash have met several times, and although she's always been attracted to him, he has never so much as acknowledged her with more than a few words. They both end up living with Jake and Daisy in Daisy's last month, and at her death, they give in to their mutual attraction and passion with one night - which Crash attributes more to seeking comfort and grieving than anything else, and he considers it over and done.

What we have here is a very well drawn character: Crash has developed a very strong coping mechanism against opening his heart to anyone, ever. He has learned to detach himself emotionally - which works well for his job, and he even uses his job to hide his heart. It's obvious to him he can't ever get emotionally involved because he has to travel so much for his job.

Nell has also developed similar coping mechanisms, but as she watches her boss and mentor die, she realizes that sometimes you have to open up, reach out and ask for what you want. So she is more forthright with Crash about her feelings for him - but is still spurned.

When, one year after Daisy's death, Crash is involved in an ambush that results in Jake's assassination and is consequently framed for killing Jake, Nell comes forward again. She feels that she knows Crash well enough to know he would never harm Jake, much less be involved in a conspiracy to kill him. So she puts all her will and strength to helping him - even though he doesn't want her to. It's not just him protecting his heart, though - he's concerned that Nell is now a target of the person behind the conspiracy and cover-up.

There really wasn't anything about this book I didn't like - it's another tight story, with well-developed characters, and a strong, determined and still credible heroine. Nell may be just a personal assistant, but she had access to big-time contacts through Daisy and Jake that helped her. And this story has more than one happy ending, as well. So I'm going with 5 stars - and it's a series for my Serial Readers Challenge.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Heartbreaker by Julie Garwood ***

This might be the first non-historical Garwood wrote - it's definitely the first I've read of hers, and I liked it ok, so it got 3 stars from me. The style was vastly different from her historicals, and it really was more a murder mystery/suspense than a romance.

Father Tom hears a confession that chills him in spite of the oppressive summer heat: a parishioner that he doesn't recognize confesses that he's planning to kill Tom's sister Laurant, the way he killed another woman, slowly and with a lot of pain. Laurant and Tom were separated for most of their childhood after their parents died - Tom moved in with a family friend in Boston, while Laurant lived with their grandfather (somewhere in Europe, I guess) and after his death, in a boarding school in Switzerland.

Laurant is now living in Tom's adopted home in small town Iowa, and has ingratiated herself with most of the small town community with her volunteering and good deeds. However, she hasn't had much luck with men - enough bad luck, in fact, to get the notice of the local gossip/society columnist, who has even written fake relationships made and broken in her column, mainly to embarrass Laurant. Laurant has never met Nick, Tom's best friend and now an FBI superagent - not until Tom calls him about the confession. (This is kinda odd, since she apparently knows all of Nick's siblings...)

The rest of the book is spent trying to catch the alleged serial killer, whose POV is also told from time to time. He's (theoretically) obsessed with Laurant, so as a ruse to catch him, Nick and Laurant play newly-affianced lovers to draw him in. Of course, while they are doing this, they are also wildly attracted to each other, making the sting operation a little sticky.

Here's what I liked: there was some suspense, and the story did keep me guessing til the end.

Here's what I didn't particularly like:
(a) the small town characters - too "stock", too stereotypical. I'm having a hard time buying the society columnist who prints notices of false engagements, and chases people down the sidewalk. The nosy elderly sisters - ok, they were slightly better than the columnist, but still...
(b) the style of writing wasn't particularly... well, tight is the word that comes to mind. I just found it not that ... pleasing I guess. At some points it was almost too simple, and while the main characters were credible, I just didn't get emotionally involved.

Garwood threw in a lot of ringers and misdirection that were pretty obvious (even though I didn't guess the actual perp until almost at the end). One of the misdirections was way over the top, too, and I think there were some details that needed some 'splaining on that misdirection, like how the actual perp was watching her in an earlier scene after the misdirection was revealed. But I wasn't interested enough to go back to that scene and read it again for clues.

It's the first in a fairly long series - so it fits my Serial Readers Challenge, but nothing else.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

His Favorite Mistress by Tracy Anne Warren ***

This is my first book by this author, and I only had this one because it was given to me by a friend. If I had to use 1 word to describe the story, I think I would say Formulaic, with no twists or surprises.

We start with a young (very young: 17) hoyden virgin - illegitimate daughter of some titled fellow and, gasp!, an actress - Gabriella St. George. She's in boy's clothing, with a pistol, ready to shoot her father's arch nemesis who did him in and caused his death, in the man's home. She's waited until all his guests have left - he walks into the room - she confronts him. Ah! It's not him! It's the rakehell, bachelor-til-death, Tony Black! Tony disarms her neatly and then presses a searing kiss to her lips.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. BTDT.

OK, in a few sentences, Tony and the arch nemesis tell Gabriella the truth about her dastardly father, and of course - she gulps and believes them. Wow, talk about change of heart - first she's willing to kill, then she's a kitten in their hands.

And, here's a twist -(not)- the arch nemesis is also somehow her uncle, who now offers to have her live with him and his wife and child. Then Gabby takes a few pages to wail against doing that very thing before giving in.

Tony, the rake, the devil, then grows bored with his latest mistress, one of many married women who've lured him to their beds. He can only think of the young Gabby - but no! He cannot have her! She's too young! She's the niece of his best friend! She's... ahh, she's all he can think about now.

Blah blah, they get caught in a compromising position, and get married. The plot is this: he doesn't realize he loves her, and tells everyone he does not until she finally hears him, and then she moves out until he can convince her he loves her. The End.

So much of the prose is Superlative. Tony's the baddest rakehell, he has the biggest cock, he's the most wonderfully involved duke who treats his tenants and servants better than anyone ever, he's the best lover in all of England - the only one these married women really want - the author tells us all of this over and over. Even when she shows us by his deeds, she has to jump in and remind us it's because he's the best, he's the most, he's the biggest, he's the baddest. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. Just show us, ok, and let us come to our own conclusions, ok?

So: boy and girl meet. Boy and girl kiss. Boy and girl get caught and therefore marry. Girl hears him tell someone they don't love each other, so girl moves out. Boy tries different ways to show her he loves her until finally there's a Grand Gesture, and they live happily ever after. Yawn. Let's see - hoyden virgin, badass rakehell with a heart of gold. Ever heard such an formulaic story before? Yeah, hundreds of them. But that alone doesn't make it average/mediocre because a well-written story can be Cinderella retold and be superb.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. It didn't even fit in any of my regular challenges except the New To Me Authors. Not that I'll never read any more of her books - but maybe not for a long, long time. 3 stars because it wasn't awful, just mediocre. (Oh, and as I suspected, the uncle and his family were the stars of a previous book - so hey, it's a series! and the plot sounds just as overdone and hackneyed as this one.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Heartthrob by Suzanne Brockmann ****

I listened to this on audio book. I have a mixed opinion about this narrator - and I do think the narrator can affect how I feel about a book. On the one hand, he had a pleasant voice and used distinct voices for each character consistently. But some of his reading was stiff, unnatural and sorta jarred me out of the story. At one point, where Brockmann writes "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" in reference to a character (from another character's POV), this narrator said "ding dong" as though the doorbell rang, instead of in the rhythm of the song from Wizard of Oz. ???? I thought to myself, has this fellow never seen the movie?

OK - so the story is about a Hollywood heartthrob, Jed "Jericho" Beaumont, a bad boy whose career is on the skids because of his drug and alcohol addiction. He hasn't had a major movie part in 5 years - but there's an independent film being made that has a part that seems tailor-made for him. However, the producer, Kate O'Laughlin, knows him by reputation - and doesn't want him anywhere near her movie.

He goes to an open audition for the part and is cast by the director. Jed wants the part bad enough to sign an outrageous contract that includes daily urine tests and searches to be sure he isn't using/abusing again. He even has to have a bodyguard 24/7. When the bodyguard chains him to his bed and leaves him, causing him to be late for his shoot the next day, the producer fires the bodyguard and ends up having to stay with him herself until a suitable replacement is found.

Because Kate actually wrote the screenplay for the movie and is half in love with the story's fictional hero, and Jed creates a persona for the character that matches her own idea, she starts to fall for him - but Jed is a man with a dark and tortured past, who finds it easy to have casual relationships but won't open up to anyone.

There's a sweet secondary relationship between a female teen co-star and another cast member who plays a slave in this Civil War era story. Apparently the teen's parents don't get along - loudly, in front of cast and crew, and her father in particular is very critical and overprotective as well.

Despite Jed's proving himself over and over, Kate has a hard time trusting him - she can't tell the difference between his "acting" and his real feelings and emotions and decides he's just playing her. And maybe he is, a little, until she pushes him away, forcing him to re-evaluate thier relationship.

So, I actually feel sorta 3.5 about the book - partly because the narrator sorta let me down with his inconsistent reading (consistent voices, but the reading sometimes fell flat) - but I always seem to round up, so I'm calling it 4 stars.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon ****

This is a set of 3 novellas, unrelated, that feature Lord John Gray. Lord John was a minor character in the Outlander series - first, at age 16, he tries to kill Jamie in a minor skirmish several months before Culloden, but is released. Later, he's the head of the prison Jamie spends several years in after turning himself in 7 years after Culloden.

All three are murder mysteries, set in the 1750s, during some war or another (sorry, my European history isn't that well developed) - Lord John is a major, serving in Prussia, France and England during the period the stories take place. He plays detective to the crimes - sort of NCIS-ish, I guess, since he's not actually the police, military or otherwise.

The first story is Lord John and the Hellfire Club - he pursues the murderer of a young British army officer, and is taken into the Hellfire Club where the murderer is revealed - and killed by his fellow officer, the same fellow who was the head of the Scottish prison before he arrived whose name now escapes me. Since it's an audio book, I can't go back and look it up - but this fellow appears in all 3.

The second is Lord John and the Succubus - another murder mystery, but this time the rumor is a succubus is involved. There's lots of quasi-paranormal activity that seems to give credence to the rumor.

The 3rd story is Lord John and the Haunted Soldier - Lord John and several others are wounded, and some killed, by exploding cannons, and it's no accident, as Lord John sets out to prove.

It's no secret that Lord John is gay - that is, to the reader it's no secret. However, it was a fairly major crime to be a sodomite in the army, so John and his fellow sodomites have to keep their activities and proclivities very hush-hush. It's not really germane to the stories except to explain some of the goings on. John himself is not particularly sexually active, especially in these novellas - and it's also made clear that he's still in love with Jamie, even though he rarely sees him during this time period (and of course Jamie has threatened to kill him if he even touches him, so his feelings are in no way returned). There are some recurring characters in the stories from the other Lord John books as well that you won't recognize unless you've read them all.

The narrator is good - the stories are entertaining and each mystery remains so for quite a while - Gabaldon is clever about that sort of thing. 4 stars.

Beware A Scot's Revenge by Sabrina Jeffries ****

This one is actually the 3rd installment in the School For Heiresses series, and I read them out of order. As it turns out, it didn't really change my experience much, if any, since there didn't seem to be any particular continuing story lines in the series.

This one is about Venetia Campbell, a Scot whose mother died in childbirth of her second child. Her father, the Earl of Duncannon, was so heartbroken, he took Venetia to London, and left their Highland property to an overseer to run.

Lachlan Ross, who is also the Scottish Scourge, is after the earl because the earl borrowed money from Ross's father which he never has repaid. The Ross clan is now suffering and needs the money, but the earl is refusing to pay. So he's taken up highway robbery, mostly from Duncannon's friends (which he did in an earlier book). And now, in desperation, he kidnaps Venetia - his childhood friend that he hasn't seen since the family moved away so many years ago.

Venetia had a childhood crush on Ross, and so her first reaction is actually that she is glad to see him and learn that he isn't dead, as was reported. But after she realizes what is happening, she becomes pretty feisty and tries on several occasions to get away. He intends to hold her for ransom so that her father will repay the loan.

But there is a reason the loan was actually forgiven by Ross's father - a reason that the earl doesn't want to reveal, and Ross Sr. never told anyone about before he died.

The attraction between Lachlan and Venetia is more believably written than the protagonists' story in book 4 (Let Sleeping Rogues Lie) and they end up getting married (sort of hand-fast) in Scotland before her father comes to pay the ransom, and before the real reason is revealed. Once revealed, Ross is so ashamed at how he bullied the earl that he almost succeeds in sending Venetia back to London with her father - but, as in all good Romance novels, they finally reconcile and get their HEA.

There's a secondary romance with an older couple, Venetia's aunt and Lord Seton, Lucy Seton's widower father.

I enjoyed this one - 4 stars.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Harvard's Education by Suzanne Brockmann ****

This is the next in the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series (maybe #5?) - this one features Senior Chief Daryl "Harvard" Becker of the SEALs Team Ten Alpha Squad. The SEALs are still messing around with the FInCOM group who is attempting to get some of their agents trained to work with the SEALs. This sorta pisses the SEALs off - after all, they did their BUD/S training and Hell Week and all to get where they are - why should some other agents come in with a rule book saying they can only train 10 hours a day for a few weeks and be the equals??

Then they send 4 agents who don't even get along (and team is a very important concept to SEALs), including a woman. OK, this woman, while only 5'1", is their best marksman, but still!! Women in combat? No f-ing way!

Except this woman, P. J. Richards - who is not only a woman but also African American - carries a tiny chip on her shoulder about her treatment, not just from the SEALs but from her own co-workers, the "finks". She's out to prove she's their equal in every way. And that no way is she at all attracted to the hunky, the gorgeous, the smart Harvard. No way in hell.

OK, yeah, she's attracted. And so is he. But, hey, they can keep it buttoned down and just be friends, right? (after a lot of circling and growling, that is.)

First, Harvard needs to re-assess his own opinions of women in general, and women in combat situations in particular. Maybe the SEALs won't let them join - for potentially valid reasons - but FInCOM does, so she's got every right to have this training op!

But P. J. needs to do some re-assessing of her own abilities, limits and attitude (in my opinion). Yeah, ya gotta be "out there" to get noticed when you're a short, AA woman in a big man's field. But there's "out there" and there's "Out There". For one thing, she hasn't been true to herself - she orders beer when she wants iced tea, because the men would drink beer (and Harvard drinks iced tea...) OK yeah, he can get away with it, she thinks. Personally, if she were a real person and asked my advice, I'd say be true to yourself and do what you want. But that's just me.

It takes a training-op-turned-true-life-suspense for the two of them to reconcile their conflicting emotions and opinions. I still think, superior marksmanship or not, short women without special SEAL-type training are nutz to insist on going in to help in dangerous terrorist situations, but hey, it's fiction and it's only up to the author who lives and who dies - and in a romance, the heroine doesn't die, ok?

I'm enjoying the series - I like continuing series like these that let you keep up with all the characters. I also think Brockmann is a superb storyteller - her situations and their resolutions ring true enough for me to feel the suspense. 4 stars, Serial Reader's Challenge.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mr. November by Lori Foster ***

This is the final story in the Men To The Rescue series (an offshoot to the PI series) by Foster. The first book, Caught In The Act, is about Mick the undercover cop and his heroine Del the mystery writer. I have it on audio. The second is Treat Her Right, featuring the EMT Zack, his daughter Dani and their heroine Wynn the 5'11" athletic physical therapist.

This one features Josh, the firefighter. He's been a womanizer for years - he just likes women, and likes to date around. Ok, sleep around. I wasn't as convinced as he was when he fixed on Amanda - the uptight, prissy woman spearheading the Firefighters Beefcake Calendar to raise funds for burn victims. You sorta have to read Treat Her Right to get the whole story, because it starts there with him complaining about her pestering him to be the cover/November model.

In his book, he's decided to fight fire with fire (heh heh) and come on to her, in a way meant to chase her off at first. Then Bam! he's gotta have her. He gets a whiff of her perfume (like he couldn't smell it before, when she irritated him?) and he wants her in bed, even though she's about as uptight and prudish as they come. (or don't come, heh heh, since she's frigid).

She has her secrets - ok, I won't spoil it except to say she swore off men completely after some emotional trauma left her unable to perform... aka frigid. Still, he wants her. He pushes her. He has to get to her, find out her secrets. He even tells his Friends With Benefits he's no longer available, he's a one-woman man. I'll just give one spoiler - there's a HEA.

Well, it was still fun in its own way, if not particularly a great read. 3 stars, Serial Readers Challenge.

Treat Her Right by Lori Foster ***

This is the 2nd in Foster's Men To The Rescue series (which is a split off from her PI series...) - I have the first one on audio, Caught In The Act. The series is about 3 friends - gorgeous, hunky guys, #1 an undercover cop Mick, #2 an EMT Zack, and #3 a firefighter, Mr. November, Josh. They meet once a week for lunch, which is where Mick first sees his heroine, Del, in the first book.

Zack is a widower with a 4-year-old daughter. His wife died in a car crash on the way to the hospital to give birth to Dani, and he's been a fiercely protective dad ever since. Between his long hours as an EMT, and his kid, he hasn't had time to date. But he's decided Dani needs a mother - a female role model, since mostly all she has been around is her elderly babysitter and his 2 buddies. He has in mind someone small and delicate and girly, sort of like her mother (whom he didn't particularly love, but married her because he got her pregnant).

His new neighbor Wynn doesn't fit this description in any way. She's almost 6 feet tall, big and loud - she's been raised around big men and her brother and his friends have always treated her as one of the guys. Of course, she's described as big but more in a model-body way, the way an athletic, 5'11" woman would be. Dani takes an immediate like to her - and Zack also finds himself attracted to her sexually. But in no way does he want her for the female role model he envisions his next wife and Dani's new stepmother to be!

OK - it's a short story - he decides to "get her out of his system" as it were, so he can go forward with his plans to marry someone else... But it's a romance, and in the end, with some hurt feelings and some lust, they get together.

It was an ok story - nothing special. I felt like he was overly mean and surly to poor Wynn, who was drawn as a loud but well-meaning character. 3 stars - Serial Reader's Challenge - A To Z Challenge.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Only A Duke Will Do by Sabrina Jeffries ****

This is the second in the School for Heiresses series. The heroines are all graduates of Mrs. Harris's school for young ladies, nicknamed the School For Heiresses. This story takes on the changing politics in the 1820s in England, and the mixture of the romance and the politics makes it very interesting. To be honest, the first half or so of the book was starting to seem pretty average but the last third or so, where Simon and Louisa begin to struggle with their relationship and their politics is what made it a 4-star read to me.

Louisa is the bastard daughter of the king. She has vowed never to marry - for 2 reasons. The first reason is that she wants to remain a spinster in order to continue her political aspirations, but the real reason is that she watched her half sister, the Princess Charlotte, die in childbirth. 7 years before the start of the story, she was besotted with Simon, the future Duke of Foxmoor. He had seduced her, offered to marry her - then left her to serve in the English government in India for 7 years.

Simon came back from India a changed man. He was a hero for his actions in a battle there and was lauded to have served his country well. But his backstory includes a grandfather, formerly a Prime Minister, who had worked on Simon to train him to think love was impossible and that women were never to be trusted.

Simon is approached by the king and asked to marry Louisa in order to stop her political activities. Louisa is involved with a group of women working on prison reform. They go to the prisons to help the women there. The king believes Simon is the only man she'll agree to marry. But she proves harder to seduce now, having spent 7 years building up her shell.

Eventually he uses the one method to guarantee success - after she is seduced, he sets up a situation where they will be discovered, forcing a marriage. During this courtship, they try to bargain with each other so that each gets what he/she needs from the relationship - neither play fair, in my opinion, and this was the part that started to get on my nerves.

But after they are married, and he begins to support her side politically, she is lulled into thinking all will work out. But she isn't exactly forthcoming with him about her issues either - which forces another showdown after they are married.

The real conflict comes when Simon has to make a choice - stop supporting the reforms and force Louisa to stop as well, or miss out on his opportunity to realize his political ambitions. This part is where the historical aspects are mixed into their story and for me became more interesting.

So I went from a 3-star to a 4-star opinion at the end.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Never Seduce a Scoundrel by Sabrina Jeffries ****

This is the first in The School for Heiresses Series, about young women who graduated from finishing school and their teacher, Mrs. Harris. Our first heroine is the spirited Lady Amelia, who has always longed for adventure. Being a proper young lady, she has had to live vicariously through other's tales, and keeps journals containing news stories and other's tales of travel and pirates and battles and such.

She meets the American Major Lucas Winter at a ball held by his distant cousin Kirkwood, while she is roaming the family's private quarters, going to put a note from a friend on Kirkwood's pillow. While looking for Kirkwood's room, she goes into Winter's instead and learns from correspondence on his desk that he is in search of a woman named Dorothy, and considers Amelia's stepmother Dolly his possible suspect.

When she is found in the hall, she determines to become a spy in her own right to find out why he suspects Dolly. Using her not-well-honed acting skills, she acts ever the flighty, flirty chit to see if he'll reveal any answers. He decides she's as brainless as she acts, but doesn't reveal anything. He also decides that courting her might provide him with more information about her stepmother - the woman he knows as the wife of the man who defrauded his father.

During the mock courtship - which Amelia agrees to, for her own purpose of finding out why he wants Dolly - the 2 inevitably fall for one another. It's slow - but Amelia has done quite a lot of adventurous reading, including some tales of harems that heat up her seduction. Lucas begins to take issue with another suitor, and begins to torment the fellow by sitting outside her home cleaning weapons. Since this other suitor, "Lord Pompous", is quite mad, it pushes him to abduct Amelia to Gretna Green - where Lucas follows and grabs Amelia for himself. She only has 3 choices - marry Lord Pompous, marry Lucas or be ruined.

Their adventure has just begun, though, because then they have to fight off a Scottish thief and escape his clutches, all before returning home and facing Dolly - is she the wife of Theodore Frier, the man who embezzled from Lucas' father?

It was a fun read - some slightly unorthodox situations - a little bit of suspense - a very happily-ever-after - nothing extraordinarily moving but still I liked it, so I'm rating it 4 stars.