Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory ****

This was one of my first forays into romance novels, and I got it as an audio book - almost exactly 2 years ago! I don't recall liking it all that much, even though my original rating was 4 stars, so I figured I would revisit it now to see if it had changed.

I didn't make any notes about it or review it at all, but this time it struck me that the narrator, Violet Primm, must be Davina Porter. I mean, it's just not that possible for a woman to so completely copy everything about another's voice for a 10-12 hour audio book, it just isn't! The speaking patterns, the pronunciations, everything about her voice screamed Davina Porter - and since I have listened to 5 of the 7 books in the Outlander series at least 4 times (I don't own the other 2 in audio) as well as 4 of the books in Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, I think I can recognize her voice! (that would several hundred hours of this woman's voice directly in my ears, mind you) In fact, I found 2 other references from people online saying exactly the same thing.

Some of Ivory's other books are favorites, but - 4 stars notwithstanding - this one isn't. I think it's sort of a 3.5 star. Of course, the narration was superb, so that didn't count against it! But the storyline - even if it was fable-based - just didn't "speak" to me. OK, it is supposed to be Sleeping Beauty. I found it hard to think of Coco as a Sleeping Beauty. For one thing, she was an extremely poor French child who was ruined by her employer and then tossed out on her ear, to raise her child alone. It soon became obvious to her that her charms were best used to make money, so she became a courtesan. (a very lucky woman to be able to do that in her teens - although perhaps we are supposed to believe first she was just a common prostitute?) In fact, she became a very well-known courtesan and then at some point married well, to man who gave her son his name.

The hero is James, a young scholar just returned from an ill-fated journey to Africa where he was the only survivor of his rather large contingent of scholars. He is lauded for his scholarly efforts, invited to all the best parties, has private meetings with Queen Victoria and is given a rather high post at Cambridge. He also had humble beginnings but will soon have an earlship, or is it earldom, bestowed on him. But the politics at play here go against his own wishes - to leave the Africans who helped him survive and their gold alone.

I listened very hard and paid close attention to the story to see if it would be better, seem a little different this time. Coco was in no way sleeping, or hidden away from the world, so I still didn't find the Sleeping Beauty metaphor. Oh, and there was this disparity in their ages - Coco a worldly 37, and James a naive, wet-behind-the-ears 29, who even admits that Coco is only his 4th sex partner. Oo la la, you would think she had some things to teach him.

He does seem to have a problem with the fact that apparently she has already slept with most of the men he knows - his mentor, the bishop, various other dons at the college. Yeah, frankly, I can see where this would be a problem. I kept trying to do that math in my head - it's been more than a decade since she slept with men for money; her son is 22; she has just turned 37; she was married to someone who gave him a name (when was that?); she's been a widow for, if I recall correctly, 3 years. So, she gave birth at age 15; she stopped sleeping around at age 27 when the child was 12, but when was she being a courtesan and entertaining the Duke of Wales and when was she married?

So the story is, James and Coco meet at the dentist - he becomes besotted with her, not knowing a thing about her past since he's been in Africa - then he learns about her past - then she tries to shoo him away - and he's having to deal with the politics of people accusing him of wrong-doings associated with the Africa trip - and... then they do get together and then there's some things that keep them apart and then... they go to France? I dunno.

It was a little too disjointed for me. Then there is the ending. I read some complaints that it was done too quickly, ended too abruptly. Au contraire - once he publicly declared his love, I was ready for a short epilogue and then the HEA statement, not 3 more chapters of blah blah blah.

I think that was my last re-read of this book, and I'll save my Ivory re-reads for The Indiscretion and Untie My Heart. Oh, and probably The Proposition.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick ***

I picked this up in hardcover for maybe $1 at a Goodwill store in BR. Now, I have 3 shelves and more of books to read, and why I decided to choose this one this week, I dunno. I think I've read 2 other Amanda Quick books (looking... yes), months ago.

It was, in a short word, OK. There was some funny stuff, and the hero and heroine were slightly outside the norm of romance protagonists. Not much, but slightly. She (Elenora) was the daughter of some titled fellow who died, then the uncle raising her gambled away her worldly goods. So she ended up needing to find work, and what do gently raised but now impoverished women do? Become Paid Companions, generally to elderly women.

He (Arthur) was a titled fellow albeit eccentric-leaning whose young just-out-of-the-schoolroom fiancee had run away with another fellow. As it turns out, Arthur arranged for it, being pretty much bored with the idea of sharing his life with this particular naif. When his great-uncle is murdered, he must go to London to solve the murder. But how does one keep all the marriage-minded mamas at bay without a fiancee? One hires a Paid Companion to pretend to be the fiancee so everyone will leave him alone while he sleuths.

He heads to a Paid Companion Agency where Elenora is searching for her second employer, they meet and ... Both of them being logical to a fault, they agree to terms and go about their business arrangement. And in the acts of pretending and of solving the murder, they fall in love and live Happily Ever After.


This is why it only gets 3 stars. The premise seems interesting enough - I'm happy to buy almost any premise as long as the journey the author takes me on is well done. OK, the writing was fine. The editing was transparent - I didn't notice any misspellings, any historical inaccuracies, any major grammatical no-nos. But the journey itself was just... OK. The almost-ending plot device of "no, I don't want him to offer marriage just because he's ruined me" really ended it for me. That device needs excellent well-placed motives and writing to work, and this story didn't have those.

The murderer wasn't that hard to figure out. The madman's POV wasn't compelling. The H/H relationship was fun, and I saw the growth, but it wasn't enough to sway me into another star.

3 stars.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Infamous by Suzanne Brockmann ***

I got this on audio, thinking it was perhaps a re-release of an older book (seems I read something online that implied that?) But when the year 2010 was mentioned in the book, I decided it must be a new book - and sure enough, it is.

I have also been reading, for a while, about all the former Brockmann fans who haven't forgiven her for a few things, one of which was in the Troubleshooters series when she paired up a hero and heroine that everyone was disappointed about. There had been 2 men and 1 woman sorta dancing around getting together as background characters in several books, and when the book for that woman was written, well, a lotta folks just didn't like who ended up being her hero. Personally, I didn't care. I liked that book as well as the others in the series, and plan to keep reading them.

And then there's the folks that feel she pushes her own "political" agenda about gay rights in her book. I'm not sure what she says is what I would consider "political" but yeah, she has an ongoing gay character who got his own book and his own hero in Troubleshooters, and uses some ink to speak out for gay rights through the characters.

My own opinion is that Brockmann writes well, her mystery-thriller-SEAL stories make great reading, and I've been happy with the audiobooks too, even when she uses 2 narrators, one of whom is Patrick Lawlor.

Now my opinion about the audiobook of Infamous.

She does spend a leeetle too much time ramming her gay rights agenda down our throats. I hadn't really noticed it before, but I think even if I hadn't read that (and not agreed until this book) I would have been aware. One gay character with one monologue about gay rights are ok is fine. Hell, 20 gay characters and one monologue about gays are ok is fine. But that second riff on how it's ok to be gay, and "I knew this guy.... blah blah blah and he's gay and"... I got it. I. Get. It. OK OK OK!! That's #1.

This story uses a made-up historical event that vaguely smacks of the shoot out at the OK Corral. It's supposed to be something all children are taught about in school, and everyone knows how the sheriff was this incredible hero who killed 7 in one blow, but his wife was abducted and murdered anyway, poor fellow. Then there's the Bad-to-the-Bone Bad Guy who is bad bad bad (booooo!) Kid Gallagher, the murderer. Our heroine, Allison Carter - historian - has written at least one book about the Shining White Hatted Sheriff and his nemesis (boooooo!) Kid Gallagher, and is now serving as historical accuracy consultant on the set of the umpteenth movie about this subject.

OK, here's my problem #2 - Allison. She's this HISTORY PROFESSOR who really, really hates the Bad Guy. She's not the least bit objective about this story. Her facts do not seem to come from original documents and her research came across as shoddy.

Let's meet our Hero - AJ Gallagher. Gallagher. Yes, turns out he's the great-grandson of Kid. Kid died at the ripe old age of 101, when AJ was 10. AJ lost his dad in Vietnam. AJ served his country in Afghanistan or Iraq, where PTSD turned him into an alcoholic who left the service with a mental discharge. Then he starts seeing Kid as a ghost, a ghost who sends him to Jubilation Arizona to change Allison's mind about her book. Because as it turns out, she has the facts wrong - the Sheriff was Bad, and Kid was the True Hero at the shoot out.

Here comes my problems #3 and #4 - the narrators. First: I did like Lawlor in her other books, and he was ok in this one. Kid speaks in 1st person POV - which usually works for me. But Lawlor used the same exact voice for both Kid and AJ, so I had to listen hard - if he used "I" then it was Kid, otherwise it was AJ. Very, very confusing. And his other voices - well, the gay character had affected speech, the stereotypical lisp. Both narrators used that affectation. Hmm. And the female narrator spoke like she was on speed. At one point I wondered if I had accidentally turned on the 2X speed function. Then there was her Minny Mouse on helium voice at the beginning. (were they paying her by the word?? I don't think I can even talk that fast!)

There was some mention (from Allison's point of view) that AJ had a slight Western drawl - and she used it at first, but Lawlor never did. It was as if all he had was 2 voices - his regular voice and his gravelly voice. Lawlor's voice doesn't quite capture tall, dark and handsome for me - his pitch is a couple of notes too high for me, but truly in the TSS I thought he was great at capturing the thrill and excitement of those dangerous adventures. Not so in Infamous.

OK - you have to take a leap of faith and go with the ghost part. AJ can see and hear him, but no one else can. Was it his PTSD? His alcoholism? Or a true ghost? Her world-building for ghosts was not exactly convincing but I went along anyway. When the ghost touched people, they felt a sort of cold shock. The ghost was able to zoom around and solve all the problems. And at the end, when he... well, spoiler territory. Very Deus Ex Machina.

There were too many plot contrivances for me. The bad guys were 2 dimensional, the actor on drugs with a keeper seemed overdone and unrealistic, the FBI couple too... something, the stupid movie set details didn't ring true for me. And Allison was a bitch - she seduces AJ, although it wasn't as subtle as seduction - she JUMPS AJ then accuses him of lying to her and such. Sheesh. His POV told us he was going slow; her POV told us she was instantly hot to trot. So why is she getting mad at him as if he forced her?

Brockmann, however, still managed to make it a story I had to finish and even enjoyed a few scenes in - I really do like her writing voice, even if I rolled my eyes several times over the details that just didn't add up for me. That's why, in spite of my having so many issues with the story and with the narration, I have to give it a 3 - mediocre, but I didn't dislike it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas ***

OK, what is wrong with me? I've read 7 - count 'em, 7! - of Kleypas's historicals and I do not like her writing. Do. Not. So, why do I keep torturing myself and trying to read them?

I dunno. But somehow I got caught up in the excitement of one of her series - HISTORICAL - and decided to try it, from the beginning, on audio. Free audio, I might add, since I did download it from my library.

Bleh. Meh. It's ok, but nothing great. This is the first book in her Hathaway series, about a group of orphaned siblings whose eldest somehow inherited a title that included a run-down estate and very little money. The next in line wasn't Madeline but (sheesh, what was her name...) - oh right, Amelia, who is the actual Adult (in her own mind) who must take care of the bunch. Then there's Wynn, and Poppy and Beatrix. I assume there's a book for each, not that I'll actually find out since I WON'T BE READING HER AGAIN (I'm trying to promise myself).

I really believe Kleypas is the first author of all the popular authors out there that I really just can't get into, and I keep thinking it must be a character flaw within myself. I mean, can all those thousands, maybe millions of fans be wrong, and me right? Maybe.

And, to make it worse, I did like the contemporaries by Kleypas - it's just the historicals that leave me yawning and wondering when it will be over. I give them 3 only because I did manage to finish them. Oh, maybe I should change it to 2.

The narrator for this book was Rosalyn Landor. I can't say whether I've listened to her before (without doing some research) and she had a sort of odd vocal thing that drove me to distraction, mostly with the hero Cam (half Gypsy who sweeps Amelia off her feet). I guess she was trying to do a Brit/Romany accent thing, and instead it sounded like maybe he had asthma or something. There was what seemed to be a big puff of air behind several of the opening consonants, like maybe he was coughing. You know how people say something in a cough? That was almost what it was like. Her girl-voices were good, and - I don't know her own nationality - her American character accent was good. She read in a British accent. But Cam - well, I didn't like it.

There was a story - you know, Amelia can never marry because she has to take care of everyone, and Cam wants her so he boinks her thinking she'll see that they HAVE to marry, but noooooo, that doesn't persuade her. There's a bit of quasi-paranormal when the dead fiancee of the brother appears twice as a sort of vision, and once as a cold wind. There's Wynn, weak from scarlet fever (think Beth in Little Women, only Wynn didn't die - at least not in this book); there's a 15-year-old (Poppy? Beatrix?) who SCAMPERS (right). and the eldest, whatshisname, who pines for the dead fiancee and tries to off himself but instead they exorcise the ghost. Hmm, a house fire, some boinking, some more boinking (alright, already, haven't they boinked enough?)

So, yada yada, blah, blah, blah, boink boink, ghost woooooooo, boink boink, yes I'll marry you. The end. almost 3 stars.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Burning Point by Mary Jo Putney ***

This is Putney's debut contemporary, and to me it had the feel of those "best seller" contemporaries in the 80s and 90s, especially the lifestyle of the heroine's family - rich, debutantes, money, power. It appears to have been the first story in a trilogy "circle of friends" which is what the heroine, Kate, and her 4 best friends from school call each other.

The topic that keeps the hero and heroine apart is a fairly serious one that many romance readers found too controversial - spousal abuse. Generally, in romance, the heroine leaves the abuser and finds the hero, who helps her overcome it. In this case, the hero IS the abuser. Patrick Donovan grew up poor and abused, and apparently Putney considers his problem "impulse control" - Kate and Patrick marry young, he becomes obsessed with her, keeps her from her friends and whacks her when she's late or does anything else that upsets him. Especially if he's had a drink.

Kate leaves him but only tells one best friend and her brother why - oh, her brother's gay, and so both she and her brother are disowned at this point. The two of the flee to San Francisco, and her parents "adopt" Patrick, who becomes her father's right hand man/surrogate son. By the way, Patrick also thinks the gay brother is abominable. What a hero (NOT).

OH and the family business is blowing up buildings, something Kate has always wanted to be involved in, but Big Daddy doesn't approve of women in the field.

Ten years pass, and Big Daddy dies in a job-related accident. His will stipulates that Kate and Patrick have to give their relationship another try or neither of them gets the family business.

Aren't you just panting to find a copy? Somehow I fell into the trap of reading someone else's take on it and thinking it might be interesting. I already knew about the spousal abuse angle, and the post I read implied Putney had handled it very well. Maybe in that person's opinion, but not in mine. I think the most unforgivable part was the end where Kate decides SHE has the same kind of violent lack of impulse control in her that Patrick had in him just because she - twice - defended herself by hurting the attacker. Somehow that came across as her justification for forgiving Patrick.

So, we have a divorced couple getting back together, a dead father manipulating from beyond the grave, the gay brother, the Circle of Friends, and the family lawyer who was originally engaged to Mother but Mother broke it off when she met Manipulative Man. Lawyer went on to marry and love someone else who is now gone, so they are the perfect couple for our secondary romance.

Was that enough for a story? No, because there's also a possible bad guy messing with the family business.

I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, so I gave it 3 stars.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

To Desire A Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt ***

Hoyt is starting to be an on/off author for me - I really liked the first couple I read but now ...

and part of that might be the narrator, Anne Flosnik. My first encounter with Flosnik was the audiobook The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and frankly I thought she was brilliant in that book. I actually began to seek out books with her narrating, and as I listened to them, I started to wonder what was wrong.....

I noticed, for instance, at AAR the audiobook blogger doesn't seem to like her, and comments indicate agreement. After slogging through a Julie Garwood medieval she narrated, and then today this book, I think Flosnik has some weird idea about narrating historicals and or romance, because ICK her voice is annoying as hell on these, and I thought she was truly great in Vanishing Act. She does this thing with the word "her" especially at the end of sentences where she pronounces it "huhhhhhhh" and holds it for a count of 8. Every time. Every. Time. AARRRRGGG. Now I'm in agreement with AAR.

Plus the book was only middlingly good - the last in the series and I just couldn't get that interested in the last soldier. Hoyt's fairy tale chapter headers have completely lost their appeal for me. This one is Reynaud St. Aubyn, who was believed killed by Indians during the French and Indian wars in the colonies. His sister Emmeline marries a colonist in the first book (or maybe the second) in the series. The heroine is Beatrice, the niece of the man who took Reynaud's title and lands as next of kin (but she's not related by blood to Reynaud...). Reynaud is fighting to get his title and lands back; Beatrice is fighting to get a bill passed by parliament and to have her uncle treated well after he's stripped of the title. And there's still the mystery of the traitor that betrayed the British to the French during the war.

But all in all, I'm still giving it 3 stars because I didn't hate it (but Flosnik's voice was pretty dang annoying). Don't think it'll be up for a re-listen.

After the Parade by Dorothy Garlock ****

This is book 4 in a series of which I only read books 3 & 4. This one is really unusual for romance - it's the second book about the same characters, Johnny and Kathleen Henry. At the end of book 3, With Heart, we know they will be getting married in 1938.

Now it's 7 years later, and Johnny is coming back a hero from WWII. But there's a catch - before he left, he and Kathleen had a baby girl who was born deformed and died within 48 hours. After her birth, Johnny told Kathleen he couldn't give her children and advised her to get a divorce. Then he enlisted - and the 2 didn't correspond at all during the 4 years he was overseas.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've only read one 2-book series with the same hero/heroine like that, the Marsha Canham book that takes place around the time of Culloden. (I'm not counting books like the In Death series) But the Canham book literally stops in the middle of the story and then takes up again just days later, and the 2 haven't had a falling out.

A lot of the book I was sorta torn - her writing style, perhaps meant to mimic a speaking style of the time, kept making me blink. I'm not sure how I'd describe it except to say that she always used:

"I've not got any bread"

instead of

"I haven't got any bread"

and it's such an odd way of speaking. Did people all talk like that in Oklahoma? Or is that just the author's way?? Dunno.

Also, she had more 2 dimensional bad guys, and another psycho/sicko in the mix, sorta like the previous story. I started to wonder if Kathleen was going to be Pauline in the Perils of Pauline!

Yeah, then I got to the end, and got all weepy for Johnny and Kathleen getting back together FINALLY. So I had to go and give it 4 stars.

With Heart by Dorothy Garlock ****

This book is a little different from the romance books I usually read because it's historical, set in the 1930s USA during the depression. It's actually the 3rd book in a series, but worked well enough as a stand alone in a 2-book collection.

In this one, Kathleen Dolan - a writer/journalist - moves to a small town in Oklahoma where she has invested in the small-town newspaper. She meets Johnny Henry and the two of the spend the book trying to avoid falling in love. Johnny's problems are multiple -he's a "half breed" (actually, I think he's only a quarter because when his father is revealed, I recall he was a half breed). His mother was a whore and his father just a kid sowing his wild oats, who didn't even know until many years later that he had fathered a child with this woman.

In addition to the attraction between the 2, the book has a number of other memorable characters and a scary suspense story involving the town doctor. Not real scary, and I figured the mystery out pretty early on.

I liked it pretty good, and kept reading past the end so I could learn "the rest of the story" because the second book is also different. I give it 4 stars, mainly because I did care for the characters. I didn't love it though because the bad guys were really just caricatures, not fully fleshed out human beings with faults.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beastly by Alex Flinn ****

This is a paranormal YA book with A Message, but it's done in an entertaining way that keeps it from being too preachy. I read it (audio) for 2 reasons - 1, I've known the narrator since he was a child, and 2, the movie is coming in a few months and I like to read the book before I see the movie.

Chris was great as narrator - as I knew he would be - giving different voices to each of the characters, and overcoming what I think would be a major challenge for narrators: several sections of internet chat room dialogue. He managed to make that part comprehensible, so kudos because having to read each character's name before each chat line while conveying that they are writing, not speaking, is surely a stumbling block. Chris does have a good, deep, fully adult voice in the book, even though I still see him as an adolescent so I found his adolescent voice believable if sometimes a little annoying (on purpose, I assume).

This is sort of a Beauty and the Beast story, but told from the Beast POV.

The "hero" of the book, written in first person POV (other than the chat room speak), is teenager Kyle Kingsbury. Kyle is a BMOC - he's going to be crowned Prince of the Prom or Homecoming or whatever, and he's good looking, rich, loved by all, and looks down on anyone who isn't good looking, rich and loved by all. He angers a new student at his private school - someone who doesn't fit into his crowd and who turns out to be a witch. (dang, I hate it when that happens) To bring Kyle down to size, she turns him into a beast - an awful, scary, ugly, hairy creature who must earn the luv of a good woman (rather, girl - he's a teenager after all) within 2 years or remain the beast forevah.

Kyle learned his obnoxious behavior from his father, a news anchor who stresses the importance of good looks over all other considerations and never really has time for his son. Or his ex-wife, who took off years ago (or maybe she died - but there's no mom in the picture now). Now Kyle has to learn to live on his wits - and in his Beast form, he learns that all his relationships (mostly at school) were as shallow as he was. He basically has to completely rebuild his life, even taking on a new name, to earn his way back to having his body back.

I can see from the movie trailer that the FX look good but hey, instead of hairy, he's bald, no hair, and has some growth on his face that is sort of tattoo-ish. Hmmm. Anyway, I must say, I was concerned Beastly was going to have the same kind/amount of teen angst that Twilight had, and so I prepped myself for it. Knowing there was going to be A Message, I think I set my expectations rather low, but it truly did rise above that. Beyond The Message content was some pretty fun world-building (in the chat rooms, with the mermaid, the frog and ... the others) and some real-world relationship building, and not just with the One Who Can Save Him. It wasn't just that he had to learn A Lesson By Himself, it was almost more a journey started by stripping him of everything he knew, and forcing him to rethink everything he had learned. Aw, maybe that doesn't make sense, but I was so glad that Twilight/teen angst thing was not emphasized that I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

So, 5 stars for Chris and 4 stars for Beastly.

Strangers in the Night by Linda Howard ***

This is 3 short stories (novellas?) written by LH in the 1990s but only recently released by audible.com in audio, narrator Laural Merlington.

I guess the first story should have alerted me that this wasn't going to be as good as I'd hoped. Generally, I'm a big LH fan - my absolute favorite book right now is To Die For, and among my top favorites are After The Night, Death Angel - oh, too many to count. But hey, there are a couple of duds, and now I can add these three stories to that list. Yeah, I rated them 3 stars, because, I don't know, I didn't hate them, just... blah.

I can't even recall the first story now, and I only started the audiobook yesterday. All three have a strange man coming into the lives of our heroines in mysterious ways and falling madly in love within about 2 minutes, then pledging loyalty to death do they part before 24 hours. The first one was something about the 2 of them having known each other forever, literally, then dreaming about each other, then meeting each other in real life/today. The narrator got so caught up in the story, her drama was way over the top and I wanted to ask her to calm down and lower her voice.

The other 2 didn't seem to have... wait, no - I started to say no paranormal element, but no, story #2 did have a woman who could see auras and also had a sort of vision thing happening too. And that living off the land thing in Alabama, no electricity and all that? Sorry, but it's hot as hell and humid too, and so I just couldn't buy that one either. Oh, they are thrown together on an island and the bad guy takes their boats, so what the hey, they boink all night.

The last one, the heroine takes in the frozen stranger, warms him with her body heat then, what the hey, they boink all night. But - oh - noes - could he be a murderer? You'll have to read it to find out. Naw, I won't put you through it: spoiler, no, he's not the murderer, but because they boinked all night she thinks she's probably pregnant, and he's so happy he proposes right then and there.

3 stars for the narrator cuz she wasn't as hysterical in the last 2 stories.

But I recommend skipping it or getting it from your local library.