Saturday, July 31, 2010

Honor's Splendour by Julie Garwood *****

FIRST READ IN NOVEMBER 2008, now as audio book. Below is my first review and at the end I made some notes about the audio book.


Isn't it funny how the very end of a book can change your mind about your rating? I was truly liking it all the way through, and then the ending grabbed me and left that afterglow I require for a true save-it-from-a-fire keeper.

This is one of Garwood's medieval romances, set in England in 1099. Lady Madelyne is at the home of her brother Louddon when Duncan, Baron of Wexton, comes to kidnap her in retribution for Louddon's rape of his sister Adela. The baron is captured and is left to freeze to death, tied to a post, when Madelyne frees him. She takes him into a building to help him warm up and holds his freezing feet to her body - a pivotal moment early in the book, when she shows her generosity of spirit and begins unwittingly to win him over. She intends to let him go and escape from Louddon herself, but Duncan takes her with him, telling her she belongs to him.

Over the next several days, Madelyne travels with Duncan and his men back to his home, and he keeps her close and under his protection but vows not to seduce her, a vow he keeps although he sleeps next to her every night. At one point, Madelyne is wounded in battle, right near Duncan's home, and she spends several days in a fever, not knowing what she is doing or saying, and Duncan stays nearby the entire time.

On a forum, there is a current thread about besotted heroes - although Duncan doesn't recognize and acknowledge his love for Madelyne until much later in the book, his actions are those of a besotted hero. His alpha-ness does not extend to forcing seduction in any way, and he's protective of her in all ways. Madelyne recovers and goes on to win the hearts of Duncan's brothers and sister as well, and she also makes a lot of changes in their home and their way of living, so that soon all the servants and vassals are also under her spell. Duncan arranges for a priest to come and wed them, so that Madelyne will not have to go back to her abusive brother.

There are still many obstacles in the way of their eventual HEA - Louddon the brother is the cause of most of them. They have to travel to London to meet with King William II and Louddon is apparently quite thick with the king. He tries to convince the king he was ambushed by Duncan who then kidnapped his sister as revenge, and that he did not do anything to Duncan's sister Adela. Well, if I were to list all the obstacles, I will meander into spoiler territory - suffice it to say, none of the obstacles involves any misunderstandings between Duncan and Madelyne, and that in itself is refreshing.

It's an AAR Top 100 for 2007, and now that I'm done, I know why! 5 stars

====July 2010 ====audio book====
I finished the audio book today. The narrator is Anne Flosnick - I loved her reading of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and have looked for her other readings. However, somehow her reading of this one was just a little odd to my ears. Maybe she was trying to capture the essence of a medieval romance which is different from Esme Lennox - after all, that was more a contemporary mystery, no romance at all. Something about the way she said "her" - huhhhhhhhh - dragging it out for long seconds - really seemed overly dramatic. Of course, not just that one word, but using that style of being overly dramatic and really enunciating and holding out syllables in that very high-British style - I dunno, it wasn't as pleasing as her Esme Lennox reading, I'm afraid.

But I did still love the ending.

Fall 10 Readers of Romance Challenge

Yay! I'm going back to my challenges! Ok here's the list:

1. Comfort Read. (could be reread a favorite, revisit a favorite author, a beloved genre Your Mac-n-Cheese read)

2. Spooky Book for Halloween (could be paranormal in nature, or ghost story type theme, or spooky setting)

3. Read a book with an animal on the cover. (doesn’t have to be the main character on the cover, but a animal somewhere on the cover)

4. Read a book with a name in the title.

5. Book with Hero who is Military/Police/Fire-rescue. (love a man in uniform!!!)

6. Book with disabled or plain hero/heroine (some ex. Can be found at

7. Read a book that was free or borrowed. (includes PBS, or library books, or borrowed from a friend.)

8. Read a book that is part of a series.

9. Read a book, where the hero/heroine is in the limelight. ( for ex. An actor, artist, musician, politician, etc. for ideas try )

10. A book where the couple are reunited. (

11. Reader’s Choice 1

12. Reader’s Choice 2

13. Reader’s Choice 3

14. Read a book where someone has Amnesia (

15. Revisit one of the previous Challenge Authors: Read a book by (pick one) Johanna Lindsey, Lisa Kleypas, Lori Foster, Linda Howard, Julia Quinn, Christina Dodd.

Movie: 27 Dresses ****

This movie wasn't really on my To See list until I read a thread on the upcoming movie of the books by Janet Evanovich which feature the character Stephanie Plum. I've never read them, but there's the usual brou-ha-ha over Katherine Heigl as the lead (no one ever likes the choices for characters they've already read about and come to imagine in their minds!)

So I pushed it to the top of my long-neglected Netflix queue, and watched it tonight. I really liked it! That's 4 stars, not 5 - mainly because, while I really did like it, it didn't grab me and make me want to revisit it several times.

In it, Heigl's character is Jane - always a bridesmaid, never a bride. It seems Jane's mother died when she was young, and she grew up feeling like she needed to take care of younger sister Tess and eventually her boss George and 27 of her friends in whose wedding she was a bridesmaid. Always saying "yes" to anyone who she thought needed her help. Plus, she did have a love affair with the wedding itself!

Her one secret obsession is with journalist Malcolm Doyle, who writes the Commitments section of the paper. She finds his romantic stories of engagements and weddings so beautiful, she clips and keeps them all.

Her boss (George) is her perfect ideal of a man. He's everything she's ever wanted in a man, with one exception: he only sees her as his assistant. Oh, he loves her as his assistant. He loves what she does. But he doesn't see her as a woman at all. In fact, when younger sister Tess comes to stay, suddenly he thinks he has found his perfect ideal of a woman - in Tess! Dang.

Jane runs into Kevin (James Marsden - he truly has a great romantic hero look) at a wedding she keeps slipping out of to attend another wedding. She even hires a cab for the night to ferry her back and forth between the 2 so that no one misses her. Kevin is intrigued - what is up with this woman dashing into and out of the wedding - so he follows her to the cab and gets an eyeful as she changes bridesmaid outfits in the back of the cab. Now he is even more intrigued and spends a lot of time annoying her by calling and following her around.

Well, it was a cute little romantic comedy in which we learn that Kevin - Kevin DOYLE that is - has a pen name, Malcolm. It takes Jane a long time to see Kevin as anyone other than an adversary trying to ruin her life by making her learn the value of saying NO to her friends once in a while. And the ending epilogue with the 27 brides was perfect!

Yeah, I laughed and smiled and felt for poor Jane - her friend Casey was the only one who seemed to realize what she was going through! and so in the end, I felt I needed to add my review to my blog in case I forget what the plot was and try to rent it again!! I thought Heigl was good, and since I haven't read the Stephanie Plum books, I'm all for her getting the role!! (maybe I'll break down and read them, although they are really chick lit - she never settles for a particular guy.) and James Marsden is so cute - no, he's handsome in a romance-novel way - so he was fun as the hero.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne ***

This is the second book in what is apparently a trilogy (The Forbidden Rose being the 3rd) about spymasters. I was a little disappointed that the hero and heroine of the first book, The Spymaster's Lady, weren't even mentioned. In this one, the cohorts of the first Spymaster (Grey), Adrian and Doyle, are featured, and now Adrian is the Head of or Chief of or whatever Grey was of the British Intelligence. I guess Grey retired.

I also didn't have a good feel for how much later it was - there was still talk of Napoleon and secrets and traitors, so I figured it wasn't much later. So where were Grey and Annique??

The heroine of this one is Jess, and she, like Annique from the previous book, was raised poor and had to fend for herself. She was abandoned as a child - or else she thought she was, but her father was in prison, or... something (shaking head) - and raised by Lazarus in the worst part of London - think a mean cross between Dickens's Fagin and Bill Sikes, with the emphasis really on villainy. At about age 8, her father returns for her and spirits her off to Russia, where somehow they become rich and are now in shipping. In London. Well, smuggling, but that's nitpicking.

Her father has been thrown into - well, whatever the house on Meeks Street is, not really a jail, but the British Intelligence, by the hero of the book, Sebastian (therefore now Jess's sworn enemy). Sebastian is also in shipping and dabbles a bit in intelligence (of the spy variety) and has come up with evidence that the senior Whitby is Cinq, a notorious traitor who also sank one of Sebastian's ships. Sebastian also had a hard life as a child, the bastard of a titled person who somehow - really, you have to read it - inherits the title, the house and the various relatives who live with him. And now he, like Jess, is wealthy and hard working and all things good.

Jess and Sebastian spend a lot of time lusting after one another as well as trying to best each other on their sneaky skills - each breaks into the other's property and snoops about, each trying to prove the other is Cinq. Eventually they have to prove someone else besides Jess's father is Cinq so they can get together.

I dunno, hot on the heels of the charming Annique, I just couldn't buy into Jess's story. Another hoyden, who invented accounting (or so it seemed) at age 16, running her father's business completely by 20, yada yada yada. We learned about her thieving and pickpocket skills, and her bag of tricks. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of ferrets - they stink - and I kept thinking about how she had that one on or around her all the time. Every time the hero thought of how she smelled, I kept expecting him to hold his nose over the pervasive smell of ferrets. (He does mention it once, calling it musky.) Maybe the author has never been around ferret owners, who - really - smell like their animals pretty much all the time in my experience. And it isn't a nice smell.

So, Jess and Sebastian keep looking for Cinq, and lusting after one another, and he keeps promising her they'll end up in bed, and she keeps saying nonono, and... then when Cinq is revealed and she somehow wants to help cover for him... OK, I just found it all so-so.

3 stars - it was ok, not unlikeable but not nearly as charming and romantic as the previous book.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard ****

I read this book and reviewed it almost 2 years ago, and today I finished it on audio book. So, here's my original review, and then I'll comment on the audio book:

from August 2008

Here's another of my subjective 4 star books - it's Linda Howard, it's an AAR Top 100 - I liked it ok, so maybe it should have been 3 stars but... I'm so wishy-washy because I liked it more than "average" or "mediocre"!

The story involves Grace St. John - an average woman with a good career, a loving husband, and a loyal brother, who loses it all in one evening when she realizes she is inadvertently caught up in the enormous power struggle between Good and Evil. She translates ancient documents for a living, for a Foundation that is Evil - "Lucifer thou Son of the Morning" is the quote from the Bible, I believe. The Foundation Director is the current embodiment of All Things Evil, and he is looking for documents Grace has in her possession that will help him locate the source of the power he seeks.

The documents in question were written by the Guardian in the 14th century - a Guardian who, while not the embodiment of All Things Good, is the person charged with protecting the Big Secret. Or Secrets. He's the last of the Knights Templar and he has the relics and the documents hidden in his Scottish castle. The Big Secret includes (or is?) the recipe for time travel, and once Grace starts working on translating it while on the lam from the Foundation Director, she begins to dream of the Guardian.

Grace is truly a wonderful heroine - she's really all things good, and normal, and average, until she witnesses the murder of her husband and brother by the Director. Then she is all things cunning and wary - she uses her considerable skills in reasoning and translation and problem-solving, and turns them into street-smarts to avoid being caught. For a year.

Several reviewers have remarked that the book really does have 2 heroes - one is her wonderful husband, who died lying to the Director, protecting her so that Grace wouldn't be caught. In all her thoughts and all the flashbacks, he is loyal, and loving, and her true soulmate. The other hero is the Guardian himself, Niall - who shares Grace's dreams. Literally.

When Grace finishes translating the documents, she decides that to avenge her brother's and husband's deaths, she must do whatever it takes to keep the Director from getting whatever it is Niall is guarding. The documents she has only point to where the Treasure is. Grace follows the recipe for Time Travel and shows up in Niall's world to move the Treasure so that the Director won't find it.

There was a lot of anguish and heartache in the story - the deaths at the beginning, her year of hiding from the police and the Director, having to use all her wiles to find underground employment, to remain disguised and hidden. The Director was truly a bad, bad man - evil in every possible way. Niall, the medieval Scots warrior, was also bigger than life - tall, big, possibly immortal - although he wasn't All Things Good or the least saintly, he was alpha to the max. I had a hard time buying the concept that Grace would be enough Woman for him after his exploits, I'm afraid - even if she was supposed to be his match. He just didn't strike me as true soulmate material.

But hey - another one on the AAR Top 100 checked off the list. I might manage it this year after all, if I can veer away from glomming more Linda Howard and Nora Roberts and - hey, I need to read more Jennifer Crusie, and I have a couple more Jo Goodmans to go, and...

Sooo many romances, so many bills to pay that require me to work instead of read 24/7...

OK the audiobook. Well, while I still feel the book is around 4 stars, I think the audio is closer to 3 stars. The narrator is ok, but either she has an odd way of speaking or the audio itself is off. Every word, every sentence,there's a sort of mini-explosion or elevation of sound and then it backs off, like her opening consonant is loud but the rest of the word is soft. After a while, I got used to it, even though it did continue all the way through. Maybe the microphone was off, I dunno. Plus she had a sort of quaver in her voice when it was dramatic that I really found annoying. But her voices were good, and different, so she wasn't awful - just not great. Plus, after listening to Davina Porter narrating the Outlander series, while this narrator's Scots accent was pretty darn good, I cringed when she said pronounced plaid to rhyme with "add" instead of "aid" the way Porter says it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson *****

WOW! what a ride! The trilogy ended, leaving me bereft of the rest of the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist...

There were several sub-stories in the 3 books - the various relationships among the characters - but I felt like there were 2 major story arcs. 1st, in book 1, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, there was the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, ending with what happened to her; then partway through book 1, Lisbeth Salander became the focus of the 2nd arc. The title of the 1st book in Swedish translates to Men Who Hate Women, and that title does apply to both arcs - both Harriet and Lisbeth were targets of men who hate women, and their stories are similar. But once Lisbeth's story started, it eclipsed Harriet and carried through the rest of book 1 and didn't end until the bitter epilogue of book 3.

When the 2nd book ends, we are left with Salander having been buried alive, digging her way out and attempting to kill her father by smashing an axe into his face. She's been shot in the head - and Blomqvist finds her and Zalachenko, both hovering between death and life. It's the first time the Lisbeth and Mikael have seen each other since book 1, when she decided she was in love with him and saw him with Erika. Their paths have crossed electronically many times - and Mikael has tried to contact her in person, but she decided she couldn't live with the pain of letting herself feel love and refused to see him.

She and Zalachenko are both in the hospital - only 2 doors apart, as it turns out - and both fighting for their lives. Lisbeth has had the bullet removed from her brain, but hasn't awakened from the surgery. How Zalachenko managed to survive an axe to the face, I don't know, but it's the survival of daughter and father that push all three books and the 2nd story arc. Both are seemingly invincible, as though that were some kind of gene. In fact, his son, Niederman, is actually invincible in that he has a rare affliction that keeps him from feeling any pain - at all. So maybe it is genetic... It's almost Star Wars/Darth Vader-esque, except that Lisbeth is far from being Luke Skywalker, out to save the world and his mother.

Meanwhile, while Salander and Zalachenko fight for their lives, Blomqvist is out fighting for truth, justice and the Swedish way - he's managed to get into Salander's apartment to use her computer, and is on the verge of unraveling the secret police's dirty secret - the rogue group of covert operators who have spent the past 25 years covering up the trail of death and destruction caused by the man they think is more important than Swedish security, the Russian defector Zalachenko. Piece by piece, their world is uncovered - by Blomqvist, by Milton Security, by the local police and finally by the secret police themselves. It's a story so convoluted and fantastic that I was on the edge of my seat most of the time I was listening to it, and often had to just turn it off and rest. It speaks both to the human flaw of thinking oneself Godlike and above the law and the way we are taught to follow authority : the innermost members of "The Zalachenko Club" are so convinced they know best and are right that they worked themselves into an unsolvable puzzle of how to continue to keep their secrets. They are so convincing in their lies, they manipulate everyone around them into buying into the secrets and the lies and... And the truth is so incredible that Blomqvist had a difficult time getting anyone to listen.

It was very, very intense and so well-thought out, I can't even imagine what Larsson's writing process was like. Did he map out the various schemes and characters, or just write as it came to him?

After the story of Zalachenko ends, the epilogue picks up and slowly ties up the various loose threads - how does one go on after a life that has been spent under the the guardianship of the state, a life spent hating authority and struggling to break free... and is now free? Of course, we are left wanting more. I wondered, since Larsson's plan was to write several books, but only finished 3 before he died, if there was another story cut from the book during editing?

Anyway - wow - great series, must be read in order - incredibly talented narrator, Simon Vance - and I loved both the first 2 movies, and I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the last one!

5 stars

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Patience by Lisa Valdez ***

Patience was a book a lot of people didn't have patience for - the author had some... issue? and the book wasn't released for several years after the original release date. Or something like that. There was so much controversy - her first book, Passion, had so much buzz that readers were anxiously anticipating the next in the series. Readers posted all over the romance forums how tired they were of waiting. They swore they wouldn't read it. I'm trying to figure out why it mattered when the book was released, but couldn't get into the fray.

I liked Passion very much, in spite of its near-erotica content that seemed pretty fantastical. Valdez managed to surround the frequent-sex-with-an-incredibly-well-endowed-stranger-in-a-public-place with a touching and human love story that touched my heart. I wasn't put off by the length of time it took for the book to be available. But I was put off by her inability to touch my heart again. The bones of the story were ok - after I made it through the eye-rolling opening scenes where there was so much throbbing pulses and pulsing throbs and hardening and thickening and dripping I felt like I needed a shower - I thought the characters had fairly believable stories. We already knew about Matthew's story: he learned his biological father was not his mother's husband and therefore he was literally a bastard in Passion. His former-future-father-in-law was so upset he went way out of his way to ruin Matthew financially after refusing to let his daughter marry him.

Patience's story was more hidden, both from us the readers and from Patience herself. She had sublimated her feelings of being abandoned as a child when her mother died, and channeled them through playing the cello. She took her music teacher's advice too literally, and decided she could never marry.

That didn't keep her from playing bondage and submission sex games with Matthew - as long as he left her maidenhead intact, she was ok with it. (?)

Yeah, there we go: back to a concept similar to stranger-sex-in-public. I tried to keep an open mind. I tried to go with the flow. But I never got to the point where I understood and let it happen and make sense. It was just a lot of hardening cocks and dripping sexes (only she liked to use grittier terminology) filling the nights while he tried to figure out why she resisted marriage by spanking her and punishing her for not obeying him. I think after it was over, I sorta saw the connection: the games fulfilled her need for boundaries and her need to feel wanted. Or something.

It isn't clear to me what the problem was that postponed the release of Valdez's book. I read that she had writer's block; I read that she was so overwhelmed by reader feedback and trying to deal with it (by changing the book?) that she couldn't finish the story. And I haven't yet read any reviews, so I don't actually know how well this one was received.

I went with a 3 star rating because it wasn't really awful, but it wasn't anything special either. It could have used some editorial oversight - really, the repetitive use of throbbing and pulsing and such was not good writing in my opinion.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Naked Edge by Pamela Clare ****

wow - I think this might be the first time I started and finished 2 books in one day! (ok, I'm 30 minutes into the next day, but if I'd started reading earlier...)

This is actually the 4th book in the I-Team series and - gasp! - I haven't read books 1-3 yet. I wanted to - but I had a Barnes & Noble gift card, and they only had this one, so... I'd been meaning to do a Pamela Clare glom after reading 2 others (different series) so I figured I would just go ahead.

This is a contemporary, and it didn't take long for me to pick up that the I-Team of the series is a journalistic team, not a Navy SEAL or similar. The heroine, Kat, is one of the journalists, and her background is Navajo. She grew up on the rez in Arizona, but has left to make a living in Denver. As it turns out, her father was not Navajo and was not married to her mother, something that shamed her mother so much she never accepted her, and she was raised by her grandmother.

The hero is Gabe, who apparently appeared in earlier books. Gabe is a Mountain Parks ranger, and a "rock climbing god". After the prologue, we meet Gabe doing what he figures he does best - boinking and leaving a woman. He's not the marrying kind. (well, what contemporary hero is?) Kat and Gabe first meet when she falls into his life - literally, because she fell off a cliff he was climbing. They meet again when he is called to the scene of what appears to be a crime, only to see her being dragged out of a sweat lodge by her hair. Some local cop has decided the religious ceremony is breaking some local law.

Kat decides to follow up on the issue, writing a story about the Indian protest that follows, and pointing out the various laws already in place to protect Native Americans and their religious freedom. But that move gets her some death threats, and is soon followed by the suspicious death of one of the Indian elders. Clearly, something is rotten in Denver...

Kat has already told Gabe that she is a virgin and plans to wait until she meets her Other Half (aka soulmate) and gets married. She is not going to be one of his conquests. He lets her know right off the bat, though, that he's interested but not the marrying kind. (oh yeah, and as I said, what contemporary hero is?) But the two of them are thrown together in the mystery of who is behind the death of the elder when someone takes shots at them while they investigate.

We follow the 2 of them (with their buddies from earlier stories) through the investigation and mystery until they are forced to hide out in the mountains near Vail in a small cabin, while their buddies and the police try to find the killer.

I enjoyed the story very much, and at one point I was close to tears, thinking the author might have actually gone too far and killed one of the characters... And I gasped with shock near the end at what did happen. But at the end, I confess the epilogue just went on and on and made this particular happily ever after too sweet for even my taste. OK, everyone who needed being saved was saved, and the only character who dies was a bad guy - alright? (sorry, spoilerish) And they each confessed to loving the other. I didn't need another couple of dozen pages of the next year, as cloyingly cute as it was. Really.

It wasn't going to be a 5-star anyway, even as much as I liked the story and the characters. But it almost slipped to a 3... (oh, and my copy had about 4 almost blank pages! sheesh! I ended up reading them from the Look Inside page at Amazon!)

His at Night by Sherry Thomas ***

I'd been looking forward to the 4th book by the author of Delicious and Private Arrangements. Sherry Thomas' first 2 books reminded me of the style of authors Jo Goodman and Loretta Chase. They seem to all use wordplay to bring the story to life - rich, full characters and descriptions, with an underlying sophistication and humor. This style is still evident in His at Night but somehow the story itself didn't rise to the occasion for me.

Lord Vere is the elder brother of Freddie, a character from the previous novel Not Quite A Husband. He pretends that an accident in his teens included a head injury that rendered him an idiot while he is actually a spy in the service of the British Crown, around the turn of the last century. His idiocy - mainly he blathers on and on and on about subjects he knows nothing about - is the cover that allows him to do his work.

Elissande is a desperate woman, trying to escape the horrors and abuse of her uncle. Desperate enough, it seems, to trap an idiot into marriage, although it almost goes beyond even what she would do to save herself.

So - we have the cliche of the forced marriage, because she puts herself in a compromising position with him so that he'll marry her and save her. He is immediately attracted to her, but sees through her smiles to the scheming witch she is, or rather, appears to be. He wants to remain as far away as possible, and lets her know it fairly early on - he'll spend whatever it takes for an annulment as soon as she is safe.

Of course, there is also a mystery around the circumstances of her uncle - why is he under the scrutiny of the Crown if he is actually a successful diamond miner? What would make someone like him be considered for murder or blackmail?

And poor Freddie, left by his love in the previous book, turns to his best gal friend - a woman who has done everything she knew to throw herself into his path and get him to see her as a woman, and not just a childhood friend.

So, Vere slinks about investigating the uncle, Elissande quickly picks up on the truth about Vere's intelligence, the uncle is b-b-b-bad to the bone, and Freddie takes a while to wake up and smell the coffee.

It was ok - I liked it, 3 stars, but it just didn't carry me away to exotic locales (ok, now I'm quoting that voiceover in Harlequin audio books). At least I have several more books to start - and maybe even finish! - this holiday weekend!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ****

I got this audio book on recommendation from my sister. It's the first in the series by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish author who unfortunately died before finishing the series. In it we are introduced to a large, rather confusing cast of characters. (Made more confusing by the similarity of names, all Swedish of course)

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist and editor of The Millennium, a monthly magazine. He is sent to jail for libel over an article he has written about the Wennerstromm affair - a large, international financial fraud scheme. Even though the court found his article libelous, he knows he is on to something bigger and scandalous, and he doesn't want to give up on the research. After he is released from prison, he is hired by an elderly gentleman who wants Mikael to find out the truth about the disappearance of his niece Harriet decades before. Vanger promises to help him with the Wennerstromm research as an incentive.

Meanwhile, and my memory is a little clouded, somehow Milton Security becomes involved and Armansky, the director of the firm, uses his best researcher, Lisbeth Salander, to do background research on Blomqvist. (Oh yeah, I just remembered - Vanger hired Milton Security to do a background check on Blomqvist!) Lisbeth is the title character in all 3 of the novels in the series - she's young, extremely intelligent with incredible hacking skills and resources, extremely anti-social and had a horrendous childhood. She was institutionalized as a teen, and is still considered mentally ill and must report to a guardian. Blomqvist and Salander manage to meet (again, cloudy recall) and she helps him in his research, both on the Wennerstromm issue and finding what happened to Harriet, who was presumed murdered.

It's an extremely engaging set of mysteries that takes Mikael on a rather wild ride, uncovering shocking and rather gory family secrets along the way. Salander herself isn't truly revealed until the last part of the book, when she uses sleuthing methods to bring down Wennerstrom, almost just because she can.

The narrator is the wonderful Simon Vance, who appears to be able to pronounce just about anything, and brings a completely different (British Isles) accent to all the Swedish characters, as well as other accents to characters like Armansky. Except for keeping up with all those names, it's easy to follow Vance's narration as a result. Just when you think the mystery has been solved - the plot thickens to mud, and you are off again on another journey!

I'm now about 1/3 of the way through book 3, and it gets easier and easier to keep up with the characters, but harder and harder to follow the intricate web of the mystery! In fact, I was slack-jawed at the part I listened to last night - it came out of nowhere, and although earlier I had thought it could happen, how it happened was a complete shock! I can't say for sure until I'm finished, but it seems there is one underlying mystery across all the books that have nothing to do with Harriet Vanger or the Wennerstrom affair.

My sister commented that after she finished book 3, she was sorry to see it end and she would miss Salander. I'll have to comment on that after I'm done, since I have so much more to go!

It's a great 4 star read for me, a mystery/thriller/suspense type book.

A Summer in Sonoma by Robyn Carr ***

I loved Virgin River, and have kept up with the series, and even read the earlier series that linked in, the Valley one (can't remember). I generally like Carr's characters and writing, although one of the VR series left me cold and so far is a DNF. (I do still have a bookmark in it.)

This book is closer to women's lit than romance - 4 childhood girlfriends, now adults, and their lives and loves. Each one has a different challenge to face - two are single, two married. Julie is married to her childhood sweetheart, but is overwhelmed by their difficulty making his two paychecks stretch to cover their family of five, even frugally. Beth is a single doctor, facing a reappearance of cancer - during the first cancer, her fiance left her. Cassie makes all the wrong choices in men - during her moratorium on dating, she hangs out with the completely wrong kind of guy, or so she thinks. Marty's husband Joe doesn't listen to her, and she thinks her marriage might be over.

I enjoyed reading it, finished it in 2 sittings, but somehow the voice of the book bothered me. She gave almost every character in the book a POV at some point, but every voice was the same. They all sounded the same to me. Well, in my head - it wasn't an audio book. Maybe it's the constant switch from POV to POV, but it just seemed overdone. While each character seems different on the outside, all their thoughts seemed the same - the same voice, the same... I dunno, it just wasn't very riveting or interesting. I enjoyed it but it didn't leave a lasting impression - I just got to the last page and was done. The End.

In fact, I had a hard time figuring out how the 4 friends stayed close with lives so different and needs so different. Julie has to couch dive for pennies to feed the kids - how in the world does she even find time to get together with the others? And Beth, an OB/GYN - Cassie an ER nurse - how can they make their schedules mesh? I dunno. I did find myself understanding Cassie and Marty a little more than Beth (I kept thinking of her as Beth from Little Women...) or Julie. I don't need to feel like I can walk in the shoes of the heroine to enjoy the book - I've enjoyed plenty of books where the heroine was nothing like me at all. But I guess I do need to understand her, care about her.

So, Julie and Billy end up in crisis from their lack of money and another unexpected pregnancy inspite of birth control; Cassie spends a lot of time with the Not My Type guy, but in her head she's pretty much putting him down; Marty fantasizes what her life would be like with an old boyfriend; Beth faces chemotherapy. Yeah - pretty different challenges.

Well that is my take. Women's fiction, ok read, 3 stars. The End.