Sunday, February 27, 2011

Body Check by Deirdre Martin ****

Martin is a new-to-me author whose work has been favorably compared to some of my favorites, usually Susan Andersen and Rachel Gibson. This series is the mythical NY Blades hockey team, and their captain Ty Gallagher is the first hero in book #1, Body Check.

Janna MacNeil is his worthy opponent/heroine - a hot shot, persistent terrier of a PR person, hired to help make the Blades team seem a little more respectable in the eyes of the media.

I liked Martin's style pretty well, although there were a couple of eye-roll moments for me (which I just overlooked) in the way the characters thought and reacted. Of course, at first Ty wants to just ignore her, but she gives him her "I'm going to be the pebble in your shoe, the annoying song you just can't get out of your head" speech, and she proceeds to do that all through the book. They bicker bicker bicker then...

I find myself looking at page numbers when the first intimate scene comes up - I figure around 100 pages into the book is reasonable for them to meet and develop a relationship. I think this one was right on target at page 97. There were a couple of plotlines that I had seen before - her family played a big part in the story, including a younger brother who idolizes the hockey captain, and sisters she always felt outshined her. All in all, a solid 4 star book by the end.

Mercy by Julie Garwood, ****

The second book in the Buchanan-Renard series, this one features Justice Dept attorney Theo Buchanan and brilliant backwater surgeon Michelle Renard. Another of those backwater-bayou Louisiana towns is the setting.

Buchanan is in New Orleans giving a speech when his appendix ruptures, and speech-attendee Dr Renard rushes him to the hospital and saves his life. When her father asks him to come to Bowen, Louisiana to go fishing, he is intrigued with Michelle enough to take him up on it.

That's merely the setup for the romance behind the thriller. As it turns out, Michelle was supposed to have received some very damning evidence against 4 white-collar thieves in a special delivery envelope, but dropped the envelope unopened in the hospital to attend to an emergency. The thieves hired Monk, a hitman, to get the envelope and take her out before she could turn the evidence over to the police. They didn't count on a Justice dept employee and his FBI friend Noah Clayborne to be in Bowen with Michelle and her father as well.

I found it to be a fairly exciting and entertaining read - I knew who (most of) the characters were, so there wasn't really a mystery. And Theo was pretty much one of my favorite types of characters, the besotted hero. 4 stars.

Speaking of Audiobooks 2011 Challenge

Here is the page with the categories.

As of Feb. 27, I have completed 6.

  • Pick an audiobook that received a DIK grade at AAR in print format.
    Summer At Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs, read by Julia Gibson
  • Tempt yourself to find a series that grabs hold and won’t let go by listening to the first in a series.
    I started The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig, read by Kate Reading, and it's wonderful! I'm already on book 4.
  • Listen to a book recommended in a previous Speaking of Audiobooks column (and following discussion). All columns and following discussions include a significant number of recommendations but two columns stand out – Favorites and Romance Audio Bests by Author
  • Listen to a new-to-you author.
    Thigh High by Christina Dodd, read by Natalie Ross

  • Listen to a romance sub-genre you usually avoid. Do you find yourself listening to the same type of book? Challenge your tired old preferences and discover a whole new world.

  • Listen to a romance book released in 2011. Watch our monthly new release columns for suggestions.

  • Listen to an abridged audiobook. Abridged doesn’t have to mean cut up with favorite passages missing.
  • Listen to an audiobook that has been languishing in your to-be-listened (TBL) pile. Whether your TBL pile consists on CDs on your shelf, downloads on your MP3 player, or a book you have on your library list – just do it.

  • Relisten to a favorite book. Relistening to favorites is not only an affordable audio option, it is also a great way to while away the time.

  • Give a less-than-favorite narrator a second chance.
    I've been giving Anne Flosnik chance after chance on the Balogh series - her romance readings are just not doing it for me. Grrrr.

  • Share in your listening – listen to a book someone else chooses for you. Ask for suggestions in any Speaking of Audiobooks column or check the thread we have going over at our Romance Audiobook message board at AAR.

  • Borrow a book from a friend or your library.
    Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas, read by Tanya Eby
  • Listen to a new-to-you narrator.
    Amanda Ronconi, reading Trouble In High Heels by Christina Dodd

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig *****

The Deception of the Emerald Ring (Pink Carnation, #3)The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am soooo loving this series! It's a romp - it's a chick lit wrapper around a historical romance - it's brilliantly performed by Kate Reading - and it's a nice long series!

In this one, we have Jeff, who was Richard's (the Purple Gentian) colleague in France when Richard met his heroine, Amy. When Jeff returned to England, he fell head over heels smitten for his love, Mary Alsworthy. In fact, he began to write (dreadful) poetry non-stop in the second book in the series.

In this, book 3, he and Mary plan to elope. Ok, Mary says "We elope or else". He receives an important missive right when he needs to pick her up, so he sends his coachman to get her. Mary's younger sister, Lettie - the logical one, the one who keeps the family from debtor's prison - finds out and tries to stop them to keep them from further ruining the Alsworthy family's reputation.

Only, in a manner that works best in romantic comedy, the driver sees Lettie coming to give Jeff a piece of her mind, thinks it's Mary, and throws her in the carriage which is soon met by Jeff, who pulls her into a heart-stopping kiss. Unfortunately, Mary had figured out that she needed to be compromised to be sure he didn't back out, so she apparently arranged for witnesses - and that compromised Lettie instead!

Meanwhile, Eloise, in current time, goes on a blind date where she sees Colin for the first time since they parted at his country estate...

If I didn't have so much fun with this book, with the whole series, I might quibble about the plotline of Lettie and Jeff falling in love so quickly, with Jeff forgetting Mary right away, and Lettie admitting that she had a crush on Jeff and maybe she was in the wrong of it to have gone out to stop the elopement. That part didn't exactly work for me. It just was a minor disappointment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wild Man Creek by Robyn Carr ****

Wow, this is getting to be a very long series! This is number 12 in the Virgin River series, and I've read all but 1 so far. (OK, I dnfed one too.) I liked this one above average - 4 stars - but none of them have quite matched the first one, Virgin River, for me.

In this one we have 2 sort of newcomers to Virgin River - Colin Riordan, whose brothers Luke, Sean and Aiden have lived in Virgin River and are now married to the women they met here. (Jack says it's something in the water.) Colin is recently recovered from his helicopter crash, his addiction to pain meds and a short stint in jail for illegal drugs.

Heroine Jillian Matlock returns to Virgin River where she spent a vacation week a year ago. She's come to lick her wounds from a bad experience at work: she had an affair with a co-worker who then sued the company for her sexual harrassment of him. She's always been driven, ambitious, corporate, and she finds it hard to slow down and smell the roses - but she soon realizes she can slow down enough to GROW the roses. She is able to transfer her work ethic to gardening, and takes it on like a Corporate CEO, tilling, planting, weeding an organic garden as part of a business plan to sell produce to 5 star restaurants.

As with all of the books, there are always other characters - wrapping up the previous book's couple with a wedding or a child or something, bringing in Jack and Mel and Preacher, and introducing another back story. In this case, the secondary couple isn't another love match, but the result of one: a young fellow claiming to be Jack's love child from 25 years before.

And without even reading the blurb for book #13, I picked up on it right away: Jill's sister Kelly is going to fall for the newest resident with a surly teenaged daughter.

The books are pretty dang predictable, beyond the obvious HEA for the Main Couple, but she writes so well that I just sit there and pretend I'm another of the gossipy Virgin River residents, listening to someone talk about what's going on in Virgin River today. Gotta go, I'm meeting the gang for poker at Jack's Bar tonight...

A Rake's Guide To Seduction by Caroline Linden ****

This is the third in the series about the Reece family, and the heroine is Celia Reece, half sister to twins David and Marcus of the previous books. Celia is having her Season in London to find a husband.

Hero Anthony Hamilton is a childhood friend of the Reece brothers, and has now made a reputation for himself as a complete rake. Partly it's true, and partly it's a myth based on Anthony's having business dealings with several women - widowed and married - that are mistaken as amorous trysts. He has to do this because his father has cut him off. However, when he meets Celia again as a young woman, he decides he wants to woo her - too late, though, because she has already become betrothed.

Blah, blah, Celia is unhappy with her husband, 3 years go by, the husband catches pneumonia and dies, and she spends one more year in mourning. So - 4 years later...

She comes back into society, and Anthony is still there, having now made his own fortune and wanting to woo her. But her brothers and her mother are dead-set against it, him being a rake and all.

OK, OK, my review makes it sound as if I didn't like it - actually, I've read another book and now can't recall my thoughts on this one except I recall liking it pretty well (like just shy of 4 stars?). I really need to write these right after I read it!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Summer at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs ****

Summer At Willow Lake (Lakeshore Chronicles, #1)Summer At Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in the Lakeshore Chronicles, which I started on book 5 or so (Marrying Daisy Bellamy). I liked that one enough to start at the beginning.

Wiggs writes in the style of Robyn Carr and Barbara Delinsky - romance that borders on women's fiction in that, while there is a Main Couple, there are so many family members and friends that the story is woven around a community more than a couple. Small town citizens and extended families come together around a central theme, and the Heroine and Hero are a part of that larger picture. The different stories in the series continue to build on the community created, just as Carr does in Virgin River, and Delinsky did with Lake News.

The narrator was Julia Gibson - a narrator that had the bad luck of following Anna Fields/Kate Fleming in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books. She's not bad - she manages to read the narrative well enough, and do passable male characters. She has a pleasant voice - she's just not an audiobook superstar like Fields, or Davina Porter, or Barbara Rosenblat. That hasn't kept her from having an impressive list of works, however.

Oh, I liked her voice ok, and the story was entertaining. I imagine I'll eventually read the whole series too - 4 stars.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas ****

Christmas Eve in Friday HarborChristmas Eve in Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am fully convinced that I only like Lisa Kleypas' voice in contemporaries. I have tried 7 or 8 or so of her historicals, both in print and audio, and found them to be pretty run-of-the-mill, but I liked the Travis series and I liked this little cupcake of a book too.

The narrator is Tanya Eby, who has an impressive number of books on Audible even though I can't say for sure I've heard her before. She's good - she manages to give each character a distinctive voice and personality, and she reads the narrative parts well too. That sorta reads as a kind of "and she's nice too" - I guess what I mean is, while she's no Davina Porter or Barbara Rosenblat, whose talents rival the wonderful authors they read, she's a very capable and easy to listen to narrator.

The story is short - around a 4 hour listen, about half of what I expect a regular book to be - which is why I say "cupcake". It's a plot I've read before: heroine runs a toy shop, hero is a single parent. Still, between Kleypas and Eby, I admit I teared up more than once during the story. Not only is there a cute little kid, but there's an ugly dog too! (Jennifer Crusie, your plot was stolen!!) If you're in the mood for short and sweet, get this one and Bob's yer uncle!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Trouble With Valentine's Day by Rachel Gibson *****

I know I've done more re-reads of this books since 2008, but for my own Valentine to myself, I stayed in bed and read this book today. Pure indulgence and lots of fun!

My original review from June 19, 2008:

I am so relieved to say I loved this book! This is my second Rachel Gibson book, the first being the AAR Top 100 See Jane Score. I liked See Jane Score ok, but not that much and definitely not "Top 100". I felt like it was a Susan Andersen-wannabe without the sass and smarts. The Trouble With Valentine's Day has sass and smarts to burn - and it's damn funny too!

Heroine Kate has just left her job and her life in Las Vegas to move in temporarily with her grandfather Stanley in Gospel, Idaho. Her grandmother died 2 years ago, and Stanley has been depressed. He's running the small town grocery he and Melba ran for decades, and it seemed a good opportunity for Kate to help out. Well, she's helping herself out too - after a string of bad relationships and a really bad experience on the job, she's feeling a little rudderless. She had to stop for the night at a ski resort on the way because of the weather. It's Valentine's Day, she's alone at the bar feeling a little blue and a little in her cups when a good looking guy sits next to her and orders a beer.

What the heck. She's always fantasized about picking up a hunky guy in a bar - what could it hurt? She'll never see him again anyway. She makes her move.

Rob is on a ski trip with buddies, and left the slopes early because of his knee. Rob's a former Seattle Chinooks hockey player who had an accident - but not on the ice. He was married, has a 2 year old daughter, and, well, he sorta played around too. On an out of town trip, he picked up a rink bunny who turned out to be psycho - and she hunted him down and shot him. He almost died and it ruined his knee, his hockey career and his marriage. To recuperate from his illness and get out of Seattle, he moves to Gospel, Idaho, where his mother lives. She's a nurse and helps him with his physical therapy. And while he's there, he vows never to pick up strange women for sex again.

He goes into the bar at the resort, sits next to a good looking woman and orders a beer. And wouldn't you know it, she propositions him. WTF? He tells her flat out he doesn't sleep with women he meets in bars and leaves as quickly as possible.

Well, Kate is mortified - crushed - horrified - embarrassed. But, she figures she'll never see him again anyway - that is, until she's working in Stanley's store one day, and he calls her over to meet the guy who runs the sporting goods store across the street - Rob.

Rob plays it cool and pretends they haven't met - and she is confused but relieved. OK, maybe it was dark in the bar or he was drunker than even she was.

Gentlemen, start your engines because now we have the makings of 2 people trying to avoid the inevitable: the chemistry of love! Kate is outspoken and liberal in a small town where it takes decades to be considered a native, and gets tongues wagging with her talk and her attempts to change the little grocery. She's also wary of the feelings she has - she knows she's always drawn to the Bad Boy/Mr Wrong type, and resists as much as humanly possible.

Rob is also attracted to her, but has the additional complications of his ex-wife, always hinting at reconciliation, and his daughter. As well as that issue of not sleeping with women who might turn out to be psychos. In fact, he hasn't dated any woman that anyone in town knows of, which starts some speculation about his sexual preferences, which turns into a rumor that he's gay - inadvertently started by Kate!

It's funny and touching too - I really felt Kate's insecurities and as well as her need to stand on her own two feet. Rob feeds her insecurities too, with his conflicting messages - he makes it clear she turns him on and then he makes it doubly clear he has no intention of acting on it. While I understood his point of view, I felt Kate's reaction to his messages. I hurt with her.

Eventually, with many ups and downs, they manage to come to a truce of sorts, which mainly means now they can act on their desires. But Rob is no closer to forging a true relationship with Kate - he's pretending they have a Friends With Benefits type thing going on. Once that topic is brought up, in front of the ex-wife who makes a surprise visit, Kate is out the door, broken hearted and ready to flee. This is the part where I felt the most like I was being dragged over rocks, along with Kate's heart. There's a secondary romance in the book - Rob's mother and Kate's grandfather - which forces them together again, and forces Rob's hand as well. Come on Rob, it's time to put up or shut up!!

I found Gibson's writing in this book wonderful and touching and funny and true. 5 stars.

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig *****

The Masque of the Black Tulip (Pink Carnation, #2)The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again, I'm totally enthralled with the work of Willig read by Kate Reading, this one being book 2 in the Pink Carnation series. It appears that each of the books has a historical-romance-within-the-story that is neatly tied up by the end, while the wrapper, the contemporary story of Eloise, is left open and unresolved.

In this one, the Purple Gentian - now unmasked - is happily married, while his best friend Miles and his younger sister Henrietta are showing a tendre for each other. Miles is tasked by the War Office with doing some espionage to help find a French spy in England, and Henrietta has been sent a note from Jane to do the same. As they each try to figure out the identity, they end up thrown together - and compromised - and are quickly married off.

In this book, it's as if Willig discovered alliteration, which uses to great effect - over and over - throughout the book. Once again, I laughed and groaned at silly but clever references, well-done puns and hysterical situations. And once again, at the end is a note about historical accuracies and inaccuracies which I think well cover all those crazy nay-sayers on Audible (which are really mostly on book 1).

The Lady Most Likely... by three authors ****

This was a joint effort by three authors - Connie Brockway, Julia Quinn and Eloisa James. Since I like all three authors, I was prepared to like it - and I did. It is a piece of Regencey fluff, with the story of three couples brought together by one man's search for the mother of his "heir and spare".

Hugh Dunne, Earl of something-or-other, has had a close call with death and decides it's time to settle down and get married. His married sister puts together a list of eligible ladies, inviting him and the ladies and some others to a house party so that he can choose, woo and propose, and get on with his love of horses.

Of course, with Julia Quinn involved, you know it will be funny, so there are several comic turns as two of the ladies get snatched up by Hugh's best friends. Each of the three men find love not in unexpected places, but right under their very noses - two of them with women they have known all their lives.

It made for an entertaining read, although it was hard to keep track of who was whom when I was just reading a few pages every night before falling asleep! Still, I'm giving it 4 stars for fun.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig *****

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Pink Carnation, #1)The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a lark! I haven't laughed this much with an audiobook since - well, ever! The writing is witty, the narration is incredible and anyone who quibbles about [clears throat, and using stentorian tones, says] "historical inaccuracies" - well, devil take them! It's fiction! and it's funny as hell!

It's a story-within-a-story, so there's a wrapper of contemporary, wherein an American scholar, Eloise, is researching her dissertation about British spies during the Napoleonic era. As she reads the documents about the spies, the story slips into 1803, where Amy Balcourt is trying to become a member of the League of the Purple Gentian, the, ahem, fictional successor to The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Narrator Kate Reading is a marvel - she manages to slip from American Emily into the Regency British and French and back with supreme ease. Her inspired acting - complete with various sounds - made this wonderful story a treat!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley *****

I really loved this book - the "madness" is what we call Asperger's Syndrome today, a condition which is similar to autism, without the difficulty with language and intellectual development.

Unfortunately for me, I waited too long to write my thoughts about it - so I'll just leave it with 5 stars.