Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas ****

First read and reviewed on 8/5/08 and now I've also listened to the audio!


This is another of the books I lucked into while on my road trip this summer, by foraging through a bag of books destined for charitable donation. It's Ms. Thomas' debut novel, apparently, and wow! it's a great book made even better knowing it's her first!

The story is told in alternating times - first, we learn about how perfect the marriage of Gigi and Camden is in 1893, given they live on 2 different continents, and have been apart for 10 years - since the day after the wedding. But it isn't as perfect as it might seem, and Gigi is petitioning for divorce. Meanwhile, we are brought up to date through a series of flash-backs in 1882/83 into how they met and why they wed, and eventually we learn what brought them to the brink of disaster they teeter on in 1893.

When Camden comes back to face Gigi, he has one condition for the divorce: he wants an heir. Of course, this flies in the face of what Gigi wants, since she is all but promised to a new man, a younger artist who adores her.

But we are shown through their original meeting, courting, wedding and disastrous parting that what they each think they want and want they truly desire are at odds one with the other, because the chemistry that brought them together is still there. Now if they can only get over the wrongs done to each other...

I loved the author's writing style and her character development, and the only thing that kept it from being a full 5 star read for me was my inability to 100% buy into the original deceipt and his reaction to it. After all, although he has pledged his love to another woman, he hadn't actually seen that woman in over a year - and that woman has already made it clear he and she could never marry. And he clearly changed his affections when he met Gigi. His (over)reaction was not to changing his affections, but to how Gigi maneuvered him.

Yes, I did feel he had every right to feel betrayed and even horrified at the lengths to which Gigi went to get his proposal (after she had already proposed to him, and had been turned down.) She did it not for political or financial purposes, though, but for unexpected love. I had trouble fully grasping that a 15 year old Gigi could finagle the original marriage to the cousin who died, as well as an 18 year old Gigi doing what she did to trick Camden. And without the steps she took and the reaction Camden had, of course, there would be no story, so one does need to just go along with it. Well, maybe I'm not making any sense - I did love the book, but in comparison to my usual 5-star-read-feeling, this one rated a 4. Maybe 4 1/2.

On re-reading by audio, I liked it even better. Somehow the narrator brought out the characters and made Camden's reaction seem more rational than when I first read it. After all, she had maneuvered both him and his cousin into marriage, theoretically just to get a dukedom. Since she didn't confess when she had the opportunity, he was crushed because he was so in love with her and he thought she wasn't really in love with him at all. It was an ego-buster, for sure.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt ****

This was somewhere between 4 and 5 stars. I enjoyed it but it's not a keeper for me. It's the 3rd in the Legend of the Four Soldiers series, and this time I just completely skipped over the fairy tale beginning to each chapter because that is starting to irritate me as a writing conceit.

In this one, the hero is the Beast - Sir Alistair, who lost an eye and some fingers to the Indians during an attack in the Colonies. He's a naturalist, writing a book on flora and fauna, and was just traveling with the British troops for security and safety - his own.

The heroine, Helen Carter, is the Beauty - but she's also a Beast in her own right, since she has been the mistress of the Duke of Lister for 14 years, with 2 children by him. She's been cast out from her family, and she feels she is in danger from the Duke, who is very possessive. She has run away from him, with her 2 children, to hide undercover as Alistair's housekeeper in Scotland.

Alistair is surly and rude and tries over and over to throw Helen and the children out of his house - especially since it's obvious to him she is quality and doesn't have a clue about housekeeping. Desperate as she is, she figures a good housekeeper just oversees the housekeeping staff, so she hires several people from the village to do the actual work.

Alistair is in with the 2 previous heroes of this series, trying to discover who the traitor was in their midst who told the French their location. However, not much time is spent in pursuit of the traitor in this story - mostly it centers around their relationship and Lister's pursuit of Helen.

The story is about 2 flawed characters coming to terms with the choices they've made in their lives and dealing with an unknown future. Alistair's slow conversion from Beast to Human is helped along by his compassion for animals, especially his dog Lady Grey and the new puppy, Puddles. He also develops a relationship with the children. Helen, while admirable as a mother, isn't exactly the most commendable heroine - it took her quite a long time to start to atone for her decision to be the Duke's mistress and bear him 2 bastard children.

It's also in the Serial Readers Challenge 2009, as well as notable pets.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie *****

I first wrote this on 9/17/08 - now I've listened to the audio book - great narrator (Susan Erickson) and it's just as much fun the second time around!

Original Review from 2008:

Whee! It was short but fun. I have a new "love" - love books with cute pets! This one ranks right up there, although the dog in NR's Tribute might have been even cuter...

OK I did that thing where I read another book and now can't recall all the details. Let's see: we have a just-turned-40 woman, Nina. She's divorced from her life as a rich lawyer's wife and living in a tiny apartment in a new life and new job, but she needs some/one/thing warm at home with her, so she gets a dog. She's thinking perky puppy, but somehow decides a part-beagle-part-bassett named Fred fits the bill instead.

She lives upstairs from Alex, a just-turning-30 ER doctor in a family of specialized medicine doctors who is getting a lot of familial pressure to stop goofing off and declare a specialty and get married.

Nina teaches Fred to go down the fire escape through her window for his outdoor forays, and he manages to go in the wrong window - and Alex brings him home. She's immediately taken with this good-looking youngster but put off by her attraction to a much younger man. She decides he's 25 and from his own description, hasn't settled down and found a career, so isn't really her type. He's attracted to her too - but she makes it clear she's not available to him.

Alex is secretly longing for a woman who will just stay home and watch movies with him - but mostly dates ambitious women looking for a doctor husband. Nina is also trying to get back into dating - but the gray hair stiff who natters on about his life isn't as attractive as her downstairs neighbor...

Then - there's Nina watching movies upstairs with Fred. Pretty soon, Alex is spending a lot of time at Nina's watching movies but not acting on his desire for Nina.

Eventually, Nina and Alex must face their desires and decide whether or not to act on them. It was fun and funny and heart-warming, nobody died, no suspense and a great dog. 5 stars!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

High Noon by Nora Roberts ****

Nora Roberts does stories with beta heroes and kickass heroines better than just about every romance writer, and High Noon is one! Phoebe MacNamara is a police hostage negotiator - a career she sought out after having spent some years as a child fearing her abusive alcoholic step-father, and then being held hostage by him. The negotiator in that hostage situation, Dave, is now her boss and a beloved mentor that she views as the closest thing she's had as a father figure.

Duncan Swift, the beta hero guy, is a multi-millionaire - he got that way from winning the lottery! He now owns a lot of properties and businesses - and one of his employees is talked out of jumping off the roof by Phoebe. He decides he wants to get to know more about this spitfire woman!

As they get to know each other, the reader learns about Phoebe's highly dysfunctional family - her agoraphobic mother, her deceased aunt Bess who left her house to Phoebe with some weird twists that make it impossible for Phoebe to live anywhere else (she hates this house). Plus, there's someone tormenting Phoebe - leaving dead animals on her doorstep. Could it be that misogynist cop Phoebe suspended from the force, or is there someone even more twisted out to sabotage Phoebe's career, her family, maybe even her life? Duncan is there for her - he stands behind her, supporting her decisions (with only a couple of well-written arguments during the course of their courtship over what his position is).

The suspense is well done, and there's some seriously gory moments - if you have a weak stomach for reading suspense and murder, you might want to stay away from High Noon. There are references to the movie High Noon - the suspect calls himself Cooper (Gary Cooper) and the final showdown happens at noon, plus he whistles the theme song as he watches Phoebe from afar.

Susan Ericksen is a good narrator - she manages to create good character voices (ok, her Carly voice was kinda whiny) and keep the story moving forward with a lot of excitement and interest. All in all, it was a solid 4 star listen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Frederica by Georgette Heyer ****

Heyer's works, dating from 1920 - 1975, are considered classics in the Romance genre, and this one is one of 3 of her titles on the AAR Top 100 of 2007 list. I read one of them, Devil's Cub, which made me wonder what the fuss was about. But then I read another, The Corinthian, which changed my mind and I rated it 5 stars.

I consider this a 4-star read, or maybe 3.75. I did find myself laughing out loud at some of the antics. But the style of writing, and the jargon, are so convoluted that I found myself mostly lost in the prose. I have no clue if how she wrote (clause, after clause, after clause, separated by commas, making you lose the subject some 3 dozen words before) was supposed to be indicative of 19th century thinking, and I also have no clue where in the world all those odd words and phrases come from. I haven't seen any of them in any other of the historicals I've read. And the exclamation marks! After almost every sentence! It made my eyebrows rise! Time after time! Very tiring!

In this one, a young woman of 24 (Frederica Merriville) is the eldest of 5 children, and she was practically their mother and their father since their parents' deaths some years before. She is determined to give her younger sister Charis a London season because Charis is uncommonly beautiful. She sees herself as on the shelf, long in the tooth, over the hill, way past marriageable age. One brother, Harry, is of age and considered the younger children's guardian, but really he is still quite young and not at all responsible. The other 2 are schoolboys, Jessamy and Felix, who are constantly getting into scrapes.

Frederica asks Vernon, Marquis of Alverstoke, to help sponsor Charis into society as a very distant cousin who knew her father. Frederica is really a dear, and very funny and resourceful, and Vernon finds her amusing. Thinking to nettle his sisters with Charis's beauty when his nieces are so plain, he agrees by holding a ball for his nieces and inviting the Merriville sisters.

Really, Frederica gets into as many scrapes as Felix and Jessamy, and Vernon finds himself more and more attending to them - more and more amused - and realizes slowly that Frederica is the one woman he cannot live without. But it takes to the second to last page in the story for that realization to be said aloud, and even then it is said by one of his sisters!

While I did find lots of humor in the story, especially at first, and in the antics of the Merriville's mongrel ("Baluchistan hound" - definitaly Notable Pet!), the language and prose dropped it out of 5 star rating. The length - almost 400 pages - made slogging through the language even more tiresome. Well, if you're a Heyer fan, you'll probably enjoy it. If not, and you aren't doing an AAR Top 100 quest, I wouldn't be in a hurry to locate a copy to read.

4 stars.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sea Swept by Nora Roberts *****

I wrote this review 7/12/08 when I read it. I've now listened to it on audio and have some additional notes at the end.

Oh that Nora! She is good!! This is the first in a 3 or 4 book series (started out as 3 but I'm thinking there's a 4th now?) about the Quinn brothers - Cam, Phillip and Ethan - all adopted as troubled adolescents by Ray and Stella Quinn.

The hero of Sea Swept is the oldest, Cam. He's a guy who likes things fast. Fast women, fast cars, fast boats. He left home and has been traveling the world in the company of all things fast - not spending much time with his now widowed father in their small hometown in Maryland on the coast. When we meet Cam, he's just won some boat race and is in the midst of getting a hot French model into his bed when he gets the news that Ray has had a car accident and isn't going to make it. He drops that model fast and heads homeward.

The mystery of the series centers on Ray and his newest foster kid, Seth. There's rumors around - that Seth is Ray's biological child from a dalliance with a student while Stella was still alive. To top it off, Ray has paid the child's mother large sums of money, and in his car is a blackmail letter from her demanding more. Ray drove the car into a telephone pole for no apparent reason - other than maybe suicide. On his deathbed, he gets a promise from each of the grown sons to take care of Seth.

The heroine is Anna Spinelli - she must be a Gemini, because during the day she's a buttoned up social worker who's been assigned to the Quinn case, but during the evening she's a hot-blooded Italian babe. She also has a troubled past which led her to social work. She and Cam have instant chemistry - and I like Anna because she doesn't beat around the bush or try to hide her attraction. She lets Cam know she's interested too - but Seth comes first.

This book practically drips testosterone from the pages, Cam is such an Alpha. But he's hiding his marshmallow core from everyone but Anna - she sees him develop a relationship with Seth that's protective and supportive and understanding, when Cam himself isn't even aware of it. And she falls head over heels for him, until she decides she will never break through his tough-guy shell. He'll always be a rambling man and she's just another of his hot conquests, and she pulls back.

Roberts writes funny, hot, drama, mystery - you want it, she gives it to you in spades. I haven't read a ton of her work (who could keep up? The woman is prolific!) but I haven't yet found her to be repetitive or boring, criticisms I've seen in Romance forums and blogs.

The mystery of Ray's death isn't solved in this book so I'm now halfway through Rising Tides, Ethan's story. I haven't yet figured Ethan out - he's a tougher nut to crack than Cam, but I'll report back.

This is an AAR Top 100, so I'm checking it off my challenge list. 5 stars for me.

----- end of original review -----

I got this as a download audio book from the library in May 2009. The narrator is good. And I have a slightly different take on Anna Spinelli this time - she's a manipulating, nervy bitch!! I felt like Cam was as open as he needed to be with her, and she jumped all over Cam for what I think was NOT a good reason!! But I still enjoyed the book and will be listening to the others as well. It fits the Spring 2009 Challenge as a book from one of the first romance authors I read, and also fits the Serial Readers Challenge 2009.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Flowers From The Storm by Laura Kinsale *****

WOW! What a moving, wonderful, inspiring, unique romance this was! I can definitely see how it makes the Top 100 time and time again - it's a classic and it's truly unique, and so incredibly well written. It's also longer than the "usual" romance novel, well over 500 pages.

The back cover blurb is cleverly written to hide the true conflict - the Duke of Jervaulx, Christian, suffers a massive stroke near the beginning of the book, is declared insane and must struggle to regain his position in the world. The blurb only says he's "lost to the world" so that the reader learns what is going on as it happens. He has symptoms for several days ahead of time - his arm is stiff and unmoving, he has headaches, he forgets important details of his daily life - and in a duel, just as the other fellow shoots, he blacks out completely. Of course, in those days (sometime in the 1820s - it was close to 1828, around the time King George appointed Wellington Prime Minister) stroke victims were thought to be lunatics because they could not speak or if they could, it didn't make any sense. Christian's own reaction to his predicament was violent, so he was locked up in an asylum.

Maddy Timms is a Quaker who lives with her blind, ailing father. Mr. Timms is a brilliant mathmetician - as is Christian, and he has been corresponding with Christian about a particular theorem. Maddy delivers the correspondence to Christian, but neither she nor her father have ever met him. But she's read about him - he's notorious in all the gossip sheets for his bed-hopping and profligate behavior. Of course, she has a completely negative opinion of him, without ever having met him - typical of rigidly religious people, no? She does actually recognize that trait in herself and she admonishes herself to be more... well, perhaps open-minded is the word I mean here. But Quakers and non-Quakers are not to mix and mingle.

Maddy and Christian meet before he has his stroke, at a mathmatical society meeting where he and her father present a paper, to great acclaim. They take note of each other that day - the day before the stroke. When he has the stroke, he is pronounced dead - and with that, her dreams of her father's advancement die as well, since Christian had promised him a fellowship at a college. It's by chance that she and her father then move to help out her cousin Edward, who runs... wait for it... an asylum. Yes, the asylum where Christian is chained to his bed.

Maddy, who has been struggling with her faith, decides that helping Christian is God's mission for her, since she seems to be the only one who can communicate with him and who understands him. And throughout the book, it is only when she is strong in her conviction to help Christian that she is truly happy, and when she has doubts that standing by him is the right thing to do that she is conflicted and unhappy. Is Christian the Devil, tempting her? Or are the Friends who try to convince her to renounce their relationship the ones who are wrong?

Christian's POV is told from his muddled mind, and it's incredibly effective in putting you inside his head. He's treated as a violent imbecile, and in his own mind, as things come back to him - slowly, and never completely, he struggles with reaching out and regaining his position. He comes to depend on Maddy, but there's more there - he recognized her from the beginning as being something other than the Quaker front she presented and tried so hard to maintain. He sets out to humiliate her through seduction, to prove a point to his muddled self, but soon realizes that he needs her, he depends on her, she is his strength and his courage and his only way to his own personal salvation. If only Maddy could believe that. It was a struggle that had my heart aching almost the whole time I read it...

I did have some unanswered questions at the end - did Durham set up all the chases and conflicts, and if so, was it for some nefarious purpose? Was Durham simply doing whatever it took to get what Christian needed, or were the brothers-in-law lying to Maddy to get her to leave Christian, and therefore make him vulnerable to them? You'd have to read it to see what plot points I refer to, but these charges were never fully explained, mainly because we only saw Maddy's and Christian's POVs, and never anyone else's. I guess I wonder mainly because it seems to change Durham's character and motives in my mind.

It's a true 5 star read - and if I hadn't borrowed it from the library, it would be a true keeper! I guess when I'm moved to read it again, I'll get my own copy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Kissing Game by Suzanne Brockmann ****

I've been getting audio books for free from the East Baton Rouge library, but their selection isn't that great in general, and it's even worse for books that will work on my iPod. As a result, I ended up buying a cheap MP3 player (Sansa Clip 2 GB - it's a nice little player, too!). While I like Brockmann's work, this one wasn't on my "must have" list but since it came up on the EBR free download list, I got it!

It's a short book (288 pages - about 5 hours) so it didn't take long to listen to. Frankie grew up in the Florida Keys with her best friend Layla Hunt, and Layla's brother Simon. While she's had a crush on Simon since she was a teenager, she knows he's a rake and a rogue - his MO is to woo a tourist for a week or 2, then drop her. As far as Frankie can tell, he's slept with almost every woman on the island - except for her!

Simon has had a secret crush on Frankie too - since she turned 18 and he noticed her as a woman. But she never seemed interested, so he just flitted from relationship to relationship, getting out before getting "trapped". When Frankie needs his help with a case (she's a private investigator/taxi cab driver), he gets to play her side-kick - and as a result gets to read her diaries from when she grew up. (see, the case involved someone who came to the island in the summer several years earlier, and she thinks she can pinpoint the exact dates by reading her diary) There he discovers her writing about her crush - and her secret fantasy they would one day be married. So he decides maybe it's time he admits his feelings before she turns to a former boyfriend.

It's a fun, short book - no suspense, just pretty straight-forward romance - friends as kids who have been avoiding their feelings for each other. The narrator was good, so I'm going with 4 stars on this one.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas ****

Yes, it's raining pigs and ice cream floats are free in Hell. I liked another Lisa Kleypas! I'm guessing it's her contemporary semi-women's fiction-slash-romance style that I prefer VASTLY to her mediocre Regency historicals which needed major editing and a dash of interest.

This is the second in the Hardy Cates series, and once again it's told in first person entirely from the heroine's POV. Haven Travis is the youngest child and only daughter of Churchill Travis from book 1, Sugar Daddy. She had a rich, privileged upbringing in Houston's swanky River Oaks community (which is seriously posh and exclusive) but always felt a little ashamed of the conspicuous consumption and the over-use of privilege to get ahead. She considered herself something of a rebel and a feminist, and while she was away at college in the northeast, met a fellow Texan, Nick, who became her first husband.

Her father warned her that Nick was no good, and threatened to cut her off if she married him - just the right button to push to send her into Nick's arms. There was one encounter with Hardy Cates - Haven thought it was Nick when she first started kissing him in a dark corner of a party.

Good as his word, her father did cut her off, and Nick and Haven moved to Dallas where they tried to support themselves. Quickly Nick began showing his true colors - he was manipulative and soon became abusive, first emotionally and then physically. Within 2 years, he had beat her up more than once. When he kicked her out on a cold night, barefoot, no purse or money or ID, she walked to a pay phone and placed a collect call to her oldest brother, Gage, who sent someone to pick her up and get her to Houston.

Once in Houston, she wanted to make her own way without (too much) help. Several times I wanted to wring her neck and tell her to just let them help her a little, but I have to admit she stayed true to character. She refused an offer to be the manager of the downtown building Gage (or the family?) owned, accepting the manager's assistant position instead. The manager was brought over from another property and ended up being as manipulative and abusive in her own way as Nick had been. And Haven, true to form, just took it, didn't tattle, didn't ask for help.

When Hardy finds out Haven has divorced her husband and is living in the building, he leases an apartment there and takes up where they left off - the kiss at the party a little over 2 years before. Everyone in Haven's life, even her best friend, the bisexual playmate from her childhood (male... what was his name?), warns Haven to watch out for Hardy. Hardy had betrayed Liberty in the first book by using some information she innocently revealed to him against the Travis family, so there is an element of a family feud between the Travis men and Cates, although they all respect him.

The descriptions of Haven's slow slide into trusting Nick and then his use of emotional manipulation to control her into thinking his behavior is normal are chilling and no doubt true to life. For women who swear they would never stay with an abuser, listening to his reasoning, his begging forgiveness and promising never to hurt her again might make them rethink their holier-than-thou position. Abused women don't ask for their situation, and they don't stay because they want the abuse to continue. Haven had to rebuild her life and learn to trust again, and this is where Hardy Cates shines as a true romance novel hero.

I'm sticking by the women's fiction genre again - with a dash of romance - because once again the heroine has 2 men, and although you soon realize Hardy will play a bigger part later, once again he's separated from the heroine for a big part of the book. It's more about Haven, about her life and how she reacted to her upbringing and how she survived Nick's abuse. 4 stars.

Oh, I meant to add: I listened to it on audio. This is a different narrator from the first book. This narrator has a different approach, one that was very, very dramatic - almost too much. Her Texan/southern accent is quite a lot thicker and more pronounced than someone who actually grew up in River Oaks would really have - a girl Haven's age would have gone to the best private schools, and would have had a more cultured, rich-girl Texan accent, regardless of her parents' speech. But somehow it still worked for me. It was a dramatic tale, after all. She managed to whimper and sound scared and hurt when appropriate, and to sound contrite when speaking to her husband and her boss and even her father. I liked it, even though I sometimes winced when she went a little over-the-top.

The Iron Rose by Marsha Canham *****

Maybe I should add another star rating just for Canham's books - 5+, or 6, or maybe 10! She has a way of capturing my imagination, grabbing my hand and running with me tagging along behind as she describes worlds, histories, adventures, characters, situations that all become so real I can feel the wind in my hair and the sea spray on my face, even the sting of the dagger cuts and the blood running down my arm.

This is the sequel to Across A Moonlit Sea, another 10 star book. Simon and Beau Dante now have 3 grown children, 2 boys (Gabriel and Jonas) and a daughter Juliet. They are living on a secluded atoll in the general vicinity of the Caribbean with a community of their sailors and families, with a couple of dozen other privateers living similar lifestyles nearby. Juliet is out testing her new ship, The Iron Rose, when she comes across a Spanish galleon that is fighting a British ship and she slips in to save the day. Her crew manages to force the Spanish to surrender (cowards!!) and while the British ship sinks, most of the crew is saved, including the king's envoy, Duke of Harrow, Varian St. Clare.

Varian is a on fool's errand to get the various British privateers to adhere to the most recent treaty between Spain and England to stop sea warfare. Hah! Little does he know that many have been sent before and turned away!

The conflicts between Juliet and Varian are many - and the gap is wider than it ever was between Simon and Beau. Varian already has a future bride, chosen by his mother to carry on the St. Clare name. Although he has years of experience as a British officer, his seafaring experience is lacking. He's a whiz with sword and dagger, but only knows the civilized rules of land-based warfare, not the cutthroat ways of pirates. Juliet grew up a tomboy, tanned, wearing men's clothing as a way of life, not as a rebellion. She's never been schooled in the ways of the nobility. Her immediate reaction is to mock and challenge him constantly. She comes across as realistically immature - she is only 20 or 21, to his 28 - in her treatment of him. He, on the other hand, shows more maturity and tolerance of her behavior. I liked it!!

When they return to the Dante community, Beau reads all of the papers that were saved from the Spanish ship and discovers written proof that the Spanish are preparing to invade England in violation of the treaty. This convinces Varian to join in a plot to stop the ships currently in the Carribbean from crossing to aid the effort. Then Varian must try to convince Juliet that they have something worth fighting for - both the effort of the privateers to stop the Spanish invasion, and the growing love between them!

In classic Canham style, the story is both a swashbuckling adventure and a steamy love story. Juliet is shown to be strong, capable of taking care of herself and leading her own crew on her own ship, while still being immature about men and relationships. She thinks she knows what she wants - no cowering virgin - but she is still cowed by the thought of competing with Varian's lifestyle in England, with his betrothed, his 65-room castle, his rich lifestyle. Varian also has to face his own choices - to return to his duties as a duke, a peer of the realm, or to face a lifetime of privateering alongside Juliet.

I took a long week to read and savor this book, grabbing pages while working, a few pages before sleep. It was worth it in every possible way and is joining the first book, as well as most of my other Canham stories on my keeper shelf!

Friday, May 8, 2009

To The Ends Of The Earth by Elizabeth Lowell - ?

I'm unclear how to rate this. I have read this book, in paperback, 2 or 3 times, as a keeper, 5 star read. It's classic Lowell - asshole hero who bases all his decisions about women on his asshole ex-wife who ripped him off; heroine who also has opinions about men based on her asshole ex-husband but doesn't really let that rule her decision making.

This time I listened to it on audio. The narrator is good - she brings life to the characters and to the story. Unfortunately, she manages to bring to life the true assholiness of Travis, our erstwhile complete jerk hero, more than I ever picked up when I read it, and for that I'm not sure I like it as a 5 star read anymore!

He's a super-rich sailboat designer who comes from super-rich boating family. His first wife lied to him about having a miscarriage when she really had an abortion; he bought her off with a million bucks and divorced her. His new creed: he can only buy women because all they want is money. So, all his relationships with women are business arrangements - some amount of money for sex and companionship only. If he ever marries, it will be to a woman with a greater net worth that his own so he can be sure she doesn't want his money.

She's Catherine/Cat/Cathy, a photographer who is stretched to the limit by a couple of overdue accounts (to the tune of over $50,000) plus a needy mother and 2 siblings she is putting through med school. So it's not so much that her net worth is low, but more that her expenses are temporarily high and her income temporarily low. Her first marriage was to a rich boy who wanted children. When they didn't conceive and his sperm count was something like low but still viable, he and she both assumed she was sterile; he punished her - she left him. So her new creed: stay away from rich boys.

In classic Lowell style, both of their creeds are repeated over and over and over and over and over, both in their speech and in their thoughts. I GET IT ALREADY. No need to keep repeating it! Travis is determined to make Cat name her price, but when they get together, lust overtakes all sense and they boink like bunnies and forget to talk about their issues.

Cat works too much and is run down, missing periods, gets only a few hours sleep, forgets to eat (she doesn't sound very appealing, so I'm not sure what Travis sees in her, practically a walking cadaver). The doctor admonishes her to eat better, sleep more, work less. Cat thinks over and over about January, when her mother will marry someone who will take care of her, and her siblings will graduate from med school and her money worries will be over. Travis tries to take care of her, but what he really wants to do is sail away with her, and she can't - she has responsibilities. He sees that as another confirmation that all she cares about is money, and offers to pay. She sees that as what it is - forced prostitution and complete disregard for her art, her life and her family! WHAT AN ASSHOLE.

When, surprise surprise, Cat does manage to get pregnant, she is ecstatic but Travis decides that what Cat wants is not money, but to force him to marry her (so she can have his money?). He says he'll pay for the baby and once it's born, take it and she is out of his life and the baby's life forever. She says Go To Hell, It's My Baby, Stuff Your Money Where The Sun Don't Shine. Then - despite the fact that the doctor tells her over and over there's no way she'll be able to keep the fetus in her overworked, undernourished body - she tries complete bed rest to keep the baby. At this point I'm thinking she's not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

So I'm conflicted because now I don't think I like it anymore. I'm not even sure what to rate it - formerly 5 stars, now...??

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Delicious by Sherry Thomas *****

I have just finished this, and had to sit for a few moments just to let it simmer in my mind.

Then I started looking at what other people had to say. I cannot even fathom that anyone could not be completely in love with this book! I'm shocked. Stunned.

I'm thinking maybe I'm a fool for Cinderella stories, for one thing. I loved Julia Quinn's Bridgerton story with this theme, An Offer from A Gentleman. I also love the idea of his staying in love with her for so many years, not knowing her name or where she was.

And I'm just completely blown away with Sherry Thomas' writing. A little bit of googling had me realizing English isn't even her first language - she's a native of China who came to America at age 13. I am humbled by her incredible writing anyway, and even more knowing this.

The basic plot involves our heroine, Verity Durant, high born but disowned, who becomes a chef to support herself. Our hero, Stuart, was born a bastard to a titled gentleman, and inherits. So they are sort of the opposite one from the other.

Her cooking is described so vividly, so lushly, so sensually, that practically every meal is a metaphor for sex.

Stuart had an older brother, Bertie, who was briefly in love with Verity. Bertie, however, wouldn't lower himself to marry beneath him - and when she attempted to prove her true position so they could marry, the one person who knew the truth denied it. In revenge, she went to Stuart - but at the last minute, she found she could not admit her identity to him. They had one night together, where Stuart was so besotted he proposed, but she fled - and Stuart spent the next 10 years first trying to find her, then trying to get over her. Finally, he finds a woman he feels he can marry who will be his perfect wife and helpmate on his journey in politics to Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Verity has stayed on as Bertie's chef even though their affair is long over. Keep in mind, Stuart does not realize that his Cinderella is the same woman as his brother's former lover and current chef. He and his brother haven't spoken in years. Bertie has a heart attack and dies - and Stuart inherits the manse and the servants including the chef.

Now Verity begins, almost unwittingly, her seduction of Stuart through food - just reading Stuart's POV when she is cooking was so ...... well, wonderful!

I also liked the secondary romance with Mr. Marsden - I won't say more because it's revealed so well that I want readers to discover it for themselves.

So many contributors to the AAR forum thread complained about "flashbacks" - Ms Thomas tells the stories simultaneously, of the time when Stuart and Verity meet for the first time and the "current time" 10 years later when they meet as employer/employee. She puts the date at the top of the chapter - sheesh, how hard is THAT to follow?? I love the way the pieces are revealed so slowly, so deliberately, so that the tension builds as you, the reader, learn more of the details. If the original meeting was all revealed in a prologue, you wouldn't be wondering, as you read, what would happen, or the whys and wherefores, and the mystery and intrigue would be lost. So I guess if you want a story spoonfed to you, don't read this one.

I was completely bowled over in love with this story about 2 pages in, and never stopped. I felt like I was in a trance, and Ms Thomas' exquisite details had me tasting, smelling, feeling everything as if I were not just reading it but living it.

It's DIK/Top Favorite for me, 5 stars, no questions asked.

ETA: I just finished the audio book version of the on May 5, 2009 - once again I fell in love with this story. The narrator, Virginia Leishman, is superb - her reading and her character voices are wonderful (Ok, I did have a tiny bit of trouble distinguishing her parts with Marsden and the fiancee and her parts with Verity and Stuart). She really put some serious oooomph into the reading of the food!! 5 stars again!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas ****

Well, I guess it's a cold day in hell and pigs are flying - cuz after reading 7 - count 'em, 7 - books by Lisa Kleypas and being pretty darn sure I did NOT like her writing, I have now read one I liked pretty good!

To be honest, it's completely different in every way from the historical romances of hers I read, and I listened to it on audio book, so it's not really that surprising after all.

Sugar Daddy is the first in a series of contemporary women's fiction by Kleypas. The difference between women's fiction and romance is pretty subtle, but there are 2 components of romance - one is the focus on the main protaganists' relationship, and the other is the HEA (happily ever after). What separates this book from the straight romance genre is the relationship - this book is more about the heroine's life and it's not clear until the very end who gets the girl in the end!

In Sugar Daddy, we have a heroine - Liberty Jones - and the story of her life from about age 15 - 25. Told in first person POV, Liberty talks about growing up poor in east Texas, not far from Houston. Her mother is raising her by herself, her father - Mexican American, from whom Liberty got her dark hair and coloring - deceased. They live in trailer parks and scrape by on the meager income her mother makes, with occasional infusions of cash that Liberty never asks about.

Diana Jones has a shiftless, no good live-in boyfriend that she eventually runs off, just before she reveals she's pregnant. After having her second daughter, Liberty's half sister Carrington, Diana apparently goes through some post-partum depression during which Liberty bonds with her sister. When Diana is killed in a car accident, Liberty gets custody and becomes Carrington's legal guardian, raising her.

Hardy Cates is a local boy from another trailer park family. Liberty has a crush on him from the start, even though he's a few years older. He becomes her hero from the first time he manages to save her - and he continues, even after he leaves the little town to make it on his own. He admits right before leaving that he's always wanted her too, but knew if he gave in to his desire for her, he would never leave her and never realize his goals. So she keeps him in her heart as her own true love goal, even as she dates and even sleeps with others.

Liberty meets Churchill Travis at her hair salon job, becoming his personal manicurist and then hairdresser. Although her friends tell her about "sugar daddies", she doesn't have that kind of relationship with him - it's more a father/daughter kind of relationship. She confides in him things she's never told anyone else, including her love for Hardy. He gives her a job as his personal assistant, and insists she and Carrington live with him in his River Oaks mansion.

Because the story takes place in Houston, where I lived for more than half my life, I'm familiar with most of the places she mentions - I always like reading about places I'm familiar with because I can really visualize where things are happening. I guess I should just get over her writing about Katy, Texas, being north of Houston when it's due west and not a bit north!!

When Liberty first meets Churchill's son Gage, Gage is suspicious and not a little angry - assuming that Liberty is a gold-digger, sleeping with his father. But their relationship changes over time, slowly, as they realize they are attracted to each other - which was apparently part of Gage's trouble with her right at the start. Right after they consummate the relationship, though, Hardy Cates comes back into Liberty's life - and she's conflicted. She's still drawn to her childhood hero, even while she's falling in love with Gage.

Herein lies the split from straight romance to womens' fiction. For one thing, Hardy is gone from most of the story. As soon as he leaves the trailer park, he exists only in her mind where she compares him to other men - he doesn't contact her in any way for years. Although other romance novels do have separations, they don't introduce a second candidate for the heroine's heart! For another, in straight romance, there's no question of who the hero of the book is - the one that gets the girl is made clear throughout.

The conflict is now clear - is the love Liberty has held for Hardy strong enough to carry them through, or has she now matured and left that childhood dream behind? But there are other conflicts that arise too - who is Carrington's real father? and... how does Churchill figure into Liberty's and Carrington's lives?

The narrator was pretty good - she managed to develop consistent, distinct voices for each character, even though I didn't particulary like all the voices (her own voice was so young that some of her male character voices just didn't work for me). If I could offer her a critique, I would say she needs to re-think her pauses after commas - she somehow manages to make some of the phrases seem like completely different sentences even though they are related to the previous phrase. An example would be if you used a comma between adjectives, and she paused enough for you to think it was a period instead - a cold, brisk day sounding like A cold. Brisk day. (that's not a direct quote from the book, just an example, by the way!)

All in all, I give it 4 stars - I'm pretty surprised I liked it, although I should not be. After all, I got it and listened to it, even knowing how I feel about Kleypas's writing. I just kept reading about the series and was too curious not to give it a try, since I could get it free from the library!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Summer 2009 Reading Challenge is up!

I have a few more books to finish my second round on the Spring Challenge, but the Summer Challenge is already posted!

The dates are June 1 - August 31:

1. Read a Title with a Sports Theme

2. Re-read a favorite

3. Read a Title by Linda Howard

4. Read a Title published before 2000

5. Hot word for summer (heat, sun, fire, fever, hot, blaze....)

6. Read a book that takes place in a warm location (Florida, Caribbean, Hawaii, etc...)

7. Unlikely hero/heroine (whatever that means to you. overweight heroine, nerdy hero...)

8. Author with last name that starts with same letter as your last name.

9. Schoolmarms/Teachers/Governess...(it's summer no more classroom, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks!!)(AAR is a good tool for this one!)

10. Title with a person of royalty (Duke/Princess/Marquis/Queen...)

11. Title with an "S" for Summer

12. Food type word (Sweet, Tasty, Cake, Lick, Bite...)

13. A Title Read/Reviewed in the Spring Challenge...

14. Reader's Choice...

15. Double Trouble, ( a story with a twin or twins )...

Night Watch by Suzanne Brockmann ****

Finally! I'm done with Tall, Dark and Dangerous, ending with Wes's story.

It was slightly better than Bobby's story, but once again a SEAL is attracted to a sister, and tries to keep his distance. The 2 twists on the "can't boink a SEAL's sister" theme are that it's a sister-in-LAW, and he has a major crush on another SEAL's wife too, so he's conflicted.

Wes has always had a thing for Lana Quinn, "the mighty" Quinn's wife. And Mighty Quinn is a cheater to boot - he's always out hounddogging with the single guys, picking up chicks in bars and pretty much being an asshole. In fact, Lana actually says to Wes she figures if anything happened to Quinn, she and Wes would get together.

So when he goes on a blind date with Brittany, it's just as a favor to Melody and Cowboy. But hey - Brittany GETS him. She understands him. And there's some major chemistry going on too. OK, another conflict is Brittany's adopted, college-age son - only this kid's great, and he wants Wes in his mom's life, so it isn't really a conflict.

And the blurb on the back gives away another conflict point - because suddenly Lana is free. That actually happens right at the end, and once again doesn't actually present much of a conflict. It's just Wes's insecurities and Brittany's mixed messages that keep them apart. When yet another conflict pops up - which truly comes out of the blue for me - Wes steps in with his SEALs to save the day and the woman.

At least Brittany has the presence of mind to actually follow Wes's orders to save herself when that comes up, instead of charging some UZI-toting terrorist like that other TSTL heroine. 4 stars, and it's a Serial Readers Challenge submission too.

Spring 2009 Challenge

The list has been posted at Readers of Romance Challenge Blog. FIRST 15 DONE! I have now read 15 of 15 and 14 of the next 15.

Spring '09 Challenge list:
1. Read a Western (United States)- historical or contemporary
The Princess Goes West by Nan Ryan - read 3/11 ***
Reckless Love by Elizabeth Lowell - audio finished 4/16 *****

2. Read a book set in Scotland- historical or contemporary
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood read 3/9 ***
So Enchanting by Connie Brockway read 3/20 *****

3. Title contains Sun, Moon, or Stars (Moonlight, Starlight, etc, is ok!)
Pale Moon Rider by Marsha Canham read 3/7 ***** New Favorite!!
Across a Moonlit Sea by Marsha Canham finished 4/20 ***** Another Favorite!!

4. Title contains Angel or Devil
Lord John and the Hand of the Devils by Diana Gabaldon finished 4/6 ****
Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas finished 5/10 **** audio

5. Read any title by one of the first romance authors you ever read (or reread one of the first romance titles you ever read)
Birthright by Nora Roberts - 3/1 *****
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts - 5/16 *****

6. Title or Cover makes you think of Spring:
Black Rose by Nora Roberts, #2 in the In The Garden trilogy, read 3/13 ***
Spring Rain by Susan Weldon - finished 3/29 - *

7. Readers Choice:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - finished audio 3/31 - **
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh - 3/31 ****

8. Select a book that has been marked favorite or 5 stars from another group member's shelf

Cindy W has Judith James' Broken Wing on her favorites - my rating is ****, read 3/3

Joni U has Suzanne Brockmann's Heartthrob on her favorites - my rating is ****, finished 4/8

9. Read an AAR top 100 title
Since I have 25 to go, I'm sure I can find something for this category!

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale - finished 3/17 ****
The Duke by Gaelen Foley - finished 4/22 - *****

10. Title contains the word "Secret" or “Lie” in it
Let Sleeping Rogues Lie by Sabrina Jeffries (School for Heiresses #4) *** read 4/6/09
Sex, Lies and Online Dating by Rachel Gibson - re-read 3/23/09 *****

11. Read a title that was read and reviewed during the Winter Challenge

Dark Lover by J. R. Ward, reviewed 1/15 by Heather, and it's a series and an AAR Top 100
Flat Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy, reviewed 2/10 by Debbie, and it's gotten a lot of buzz

12. Read a book with a Romeo and Juliet type theme (feuding family/clan/etc): H/H have to be on opposite sides of the feud
Untamed by Pamela Clare - read 3/3 ***** (French and Indian War, she's French, he fights for the British)

My top 2 picks are:
Velvet Angel by Jude Deveraux (I have one in this series already)
The Wedding by Julie Garwood

The Gift by Julie Garwood might also fit

The AAR list "Best Enemies" doesn't differentiate between family feud and just enemies-into-lovers so I'm stumped. Here's some things I found:
Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson 9780446699457 / 0446699454

Dear Author has a review for His Captive Lady by Carol Townsend that appears to be a Norman v Saxon medieval feud

Lucky In Love by Rebecca Robbins "A lady whose marriage to a duke was arranged to settle a feud between their families vows never to give him her heart." isbn 0380774852

On PBS I got recommendations for Joan Johnston's Bitter Creek series: The Cowboy, The Loner, The Texan and some others. Also Hannah Howell's Amber Flame and Julie Garwood's The Secret (already read this).

Another Challenger is reading Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

Hold the Presses - a PBSer suggested this link of titles that fit this category from Romantic Times!

13. Read a trilogy (or 3 books from same series) Part 1
Forever Blue by Suzanne Brockmann - finished 3/5 ***** (Tall, Dark and Dangerous)
Second Chance Pass by Robyn Carr - finished 3/11 **** (#5 in Virgin River series)

14. Read a trilogy (or 3 books from same series) Part 2

Frisco's Kid by Suzanne Brockmann - finished 3/11/09 ***** (#3 Tall Dark and Dangerous)
Temptation Ridge by Robyn Carr - finished 3/22/09 - **** (#6 in Virgin River)

15. Read a trilogy (or 3 books from same series) Part 3

Everyday, Average Jones by Suzanne Brockmann - finished 3/18/09 **** (#4 Tall, Dark and Dangerous)
Paradise Valley by Robyn Carr - finished 3/26/09 - **** (#7 in Virgin River)

Spring Challenge FAQ’s March 1 – May 31

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

**Thank you to Heather D and Roberta for making the list!**