Monday, December 25, 2006

His Majesty's Dragon

Author: Naomi Novik
Published: March 28, 2006 (Del Rey)
Category: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Series: Temeraire #1
Quote of Choice: I was hatched! From an egg!

I saw this book a few months ago at Barnes and Noble while shopping for books with Jennie and Julie. Jennie told me she had heard excellent things about this book; combine that with dragons, and I'm sold. I am a big fan of dragon books, starting with Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, followed immediately by Laurence Yep's Dragons of the Lost Sea, and then Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern when I got to high school.

Novik has cleverly set her series during the Napoleonic Wars, where William Laurence, captain of the Reliant has just captured a French ship. This ship happens to have some very valuable cargo aboard, namely a dragon egg. In this version of the Napoleonic Wars, dragons exist and some have even been domesticated (sort of) by humans. For France and England, the dragons are their air corps, since airplanes haven't been invented yet. Dragons are manned by crews of aviators, on its back and in a contraption hanging beneath its belly. The crew will throw bombs and some dragons even have the ability to spit acid or breathe fire.

Unfortunately, England's air corps is not as large as France's, and therefore, this egg is extremely valuable. However, it's about to hatch, and there are no members of the air corps around. Without a candidate for the hatchling, the dragon could become feral, but none aboard the Reliant have been trained for the air corps. Apparently, it's not the most reputable of His Majesty's forces, due to the society the riders keep. Dragons scare the living daylights out of the ordinary citizens, so riders must live apart from society, and those ordinary citizens wind up making up horrible stories about the riders. Anyways, Laurence randomly selects a member of his crew to be the dragon's candidate, but when this elegant black hatchling emerges, he wants nothing to do with the chosen one. He makes a beeline for Laurence instead, and changes his life forever.

To a certain extent, it's very much like the "impression" ceremony in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. Instead of speaking telepathically, dragons have a speaking voice. The dragon bonds with his/her rider, but unlike McCaffrey, dragons can be convinced to accept a new rider should their current rider die. In Pern, dragons would commit suicide if their rider died.

Temeraire's (what Laurence named the dragon) bond to Laurence isn't some flimsy thing. When the air corps gets wind that this untrained boob of a navy man is in possession of a rare Chinese dragon, they try to replace Laurence by lying to Temeraire. Of course, it doesn't work out, and Temeraire and Laurence become a formidable team.

The book covers their training period and their trials as the odd team out. Laurence is treated differently because he used to be in another division of the king's forces. Temeraire feels different because he doesn't know what his breed is really capable of, and he looks so different from all the other dragons.

I loved this book so much that I even cried on the subway when I got to a sad part. When I finished, I had that urge to obtain the next book in the series as soon as possible, just to find out how Temeraire and Laurence are doing. Unfortunately, finishing a book on Christmas evening doesn't make it very easy to go book shopping.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Kitchen Witch

Author: Annette Blair
Published: October 5, 2004 (Berkley)
Category: Contemporary Romance
Quote of Choice: "Being nice to that woman is like feeding a baby shark so it can grow big enough to eat you."

I picked this book because I thought it was about a witch. I was disappointed though, as Melody Seabright is no witch. She just pretends to be one on her cooking show.

Anyways, a new neighbor moves into the apartment above Melody's. He's really hot and has a very young son from a previous relationship. Apparently, there have been rumors that Melody is a witch and Logan Kilgarven wants to avoid her because he doesn't want to get involved with those people. I started to dislike him, wondering if he was going to burn Melody at the stake. After all, the book takes place in Salem. Soon after moving in, Logan gets called into an emergency at the TV station (he's a producer), and doesn't have a babysitter for his son. Desperate, he asks Melody to watch the kid in exchange for a job at the TV station.

Somehow, she connives him into getting her an interview for a cooking show. Of course, she can't cook, but she wears revealing outfits and has a penchant for always wearing stilettos. Melody is hired and capitalizes on her rumored witchiness by making her show about her as a "Kitchen Witch." I shuddered when they chose "Do You Believe in Magic" for the theme song. I thought it'd be cooler if they'd gone with the "Bewitched" theme song.

Logan and Melody are super attracted to each other, but they are trying to deny it. He thinks that Melody is too flaky and sexy to be a good mother figure. Melody thinks that Logan is too much of a suit. Logan even dates Tiffany, the station owner's daughter. He thinks that this woman is better suited to be a mother because she's got a degree in early childhood education. However, Melody and Logan's friends see through the Tiffany's scheme. Her degree is just bait for a man, thinking that she'll be a great mom. I thought that Logan was a moron for being so incredibly blind to Tiffany's childish behavior in comparison to Melody's concern and caring for his son.

Dang, with the way I complain about the characters, it's not surprising that I didn't really care if they wound up together. At least there was snappy dialogue, but not enough to make me keep this book on my shelf.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Always a Lady

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: September 2002 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Marquess of Templeston Heirs #3
Quote of Choice: "And if you get fat eating cake, no prince will marry you."

This book comes in a close second to Once a Mistress in terms of how much I loved it.

Kit, the son of George Ramsey (the guy who started the locket thing), was raised by his adoptive mother Kathryn and his older half brother Drew (They were the focus of Once a Mistress). The book starts with a flashback to when Kit, 8 years old, vacationed in Ireland with Drew and Kathryn. He met a little girl, 6 years old, near the ruins of old Telamor Castle. She was an orphan in care of the nuns at the convent nearby. Adorably, the girl tells Kit about how she wants a handsome prince to rescue her, marry her, and take her to live in Telamor Castle (the new one). Kit offers to become her fiance, even though he's just an earl. The girl accepts, and the two part ways with her only learning his nickname, Kit. This is like the movie Serendipity, but with worse odds against the two ever coming together.

Upon reaching his majority, Kit found out that he has inherited an Irish title through his mother, the previously unidentified mistress. Incidentally, the title comes with Telamor Castle, that little girl's castle... and the little girl, who is now a young woman. It turns out that the previous Earl of Kilgannon was the guardian to Lady Siobahn Shaughnessy, mother of Mariah Shaugnessy.

So, Kit goes off to Ireland with his two best friends, Dalton and Ash, to claim his inheritance. I was was of him bringing his two bachelor friends with him, fearing a lot of encouragement for less gentlemanly behavior. But, in a rare thing for a lot of romances, the bachelor friends are strangely intuitive about the beginnings of Kit and Mariah's relationship and help Kit along, even helping with the protection of Mariah's reputation. In fact, Mariah realized that Kit was the man she was waiting for when Dalton called Kit by his nickname.

In the weeks that follow their meeting as guardian and ward, Mariah is taught the social graces, as her mother's last wishes were for Mariah to have a London season. During these lessons, Mariah and Kit fall more and more in love. I'm always a little upset when romance novels take too long for the man to realize that he's found his future wife. In this novel, Kit finds out very early that Mariah is his little girl in the tower. He's never forgotten her, and tells her so a couple weeks after her identity as the little girl was revealed.

Besides being a sweet romance, there's some intrigue as well. It turns out Mariah's mother was murdered, and that murderer is still waiting to finish his dastardly deeds.

I loved this book. It's witty and funny, and I got to hear more about Drew and Kathryn, meeting their daughters, and perhaps the beginnings of another romance between Dalton and the eldest daughter. It's been 4 years since this book has been published, so I doubt Lee's next book is about them, but one can hope!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ever a Princess

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: February 2002 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Marquess of Templeton Heirs #2

Oooh. Definitely my least favorite Lee and logically the least favorite of this trilogy.

Basically, the princess of some ficitional European country must flee her home when her parents are murdered by her cousin. Her evil cousin can't take the throne without recovering the signet ring which means he has to recover her body. If they can't find her, they have to mourn for a year and then he must marry a female of royal blood. Unfortunately, the princess is the last one.

So Princess Georgiana flees with a few trusted staffmembers to a hunting lodge in Scotland and pretend to be the staff. They figure that the owner will never show up, but of course he does. He's Adam McKendrick of Nevada, and happened to win the lodge in a card game. Through the shortest of accidental meetings throughout their daily routines, the two somehow fall in love.

I got annoyed by the way he called her "George," because when words of love are being spoken, hearing this guy professing his love to George doesn't sound right in a non-homosexual romance. And then you're sitting there for a while wondering who's the heir to the Marquess of Templeton, and it turns out it's the princess all along! Lee tries to throw you off because Adam carries a locket as well, which was left by his father. His parents' marriage was annulled because Adam's mother didn't want to leave America for England.

I found the romance a bit lacking in this installment of the trilogy. I'm not sure if the whole foreign royal intrigue element was overreaching and the book wasn't long enough to do it justice though. Maybe if the book were one of those 400 page monstrosities, it would've been better.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Author: Lauren Willig
Published: November 16, 2006 (Dutton)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Pink Carnation #3
Quote of Choice: He could have been a knock-kneed dwarf with a hook for an arm and still made it to the upper end of the matrimonial lists. Viscounts, after all, weren't exactly thick on the ground, not even in Mayfair.

I have been so excited about this book being published! I think it's a bit different from the first two though, because the heroine is someone we barely know, and the hero is Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, a member of the League of the Purple Gentian. He's also the last bachelor in the group, which makes me wonder who'll star in the next book. Maybe Willig will create a romance for Jane. We'll see what happens in the fourth book! I'd actually be interested in seeing a good portion of the next book focus on the developing romance between Eloise (our modern-day narrator) and Colin Selwick, descendant of Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian. Three books have gone by and they haven't KISSED while I've read the stories about three young ladies in the past have done some improper frolicking of their own.

Anyways, Letty Alsworthy wakes up one night to find that her sister Mary is about to elope with Geoffrey. Now, the Alsworthys aren't exactly in great social standing, what with their financial state (not good). Her parents are counting on their daughters marrying well, and Letty thinks that her sister's running off in the middle of the night will not help their family's reputation. Since Mary's taking her sweet time packing, Letty sneaks downstairs to convince Geoff that it's not a good idea to elope. Unfortunately, the coachman packs her into the carriage to meet Geoff, not realizing he's got the wrong woman. And then Geoff winds up kissing her because it's dark and he doesn't realize soon enough that it's not Mary. Everything would've turned out like Geoff had planned if he hadn't been spotted holding Letty, in her nightdress, by two of their acquaintances.

So Geoff does the honorable thing and marries Letty since her reputation's been compromised. However, he's so angry at her, thinking that she was a conniving younger sister who planned to take her sister's place, and thus keep him from his true love. The thing is, Geoff was never really in love with Mary. How well can you really know someone from a few meetings at balls and musicales when there's a crowd of suitors waiting to take your place?

Geoff's work with the league sends him off to Ireland on the same day as his wedding and he doesn't tell Letty where he's going. He leaves her and she doesn't stand for it. Miles and Henrietta (of Masque of the Black Tulip) tell her where Geoff's run off to and Letty follows him to Dublin under a rather unimaginative alias, Mrs. Alsdale. There, she meets Jane (a.k.a. the Pink Carnation) and Miss Gwen. It was a bit awkward at first when she thought Geoff was having an affair with Jane, but all was cleared up and Letty became a part of their spying endeavors. She was very bad at the dissembling involved with espionage, but it was safer to keep her close.

In the midst of all this intrigue, Geoff realizes that Letty couldn't possibly be the scheming, evil sister he thought she was, what with the way she couldn't even flirt with another man and the completely honest way she comported herself. And with that realization, they could start all over again. [Insert boinking]

I believe this was my least favorite of the three novels for two reasons. First, Letty and Geoff didn't have much time together. It's hard to explain, but in my mind, they weren't happy together long enough to satisfy my "happy ending" quota. Second, Eloise and Colin's budding romance is driving me bonkers! How many more books do I have to read before they're a couple? Otherwise, Willig is in fine form with her writing. The relationship seems so real because the dialogue is so good. Good dialogue is a must for me; that's why I couldn't get through The Lord of the Rings. As always, I can't wait to read the next book!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lord Perfect

Author: Loretta Chase
Published: March 7, 2006 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: "I have explained to Olivia time and again that physical assault is not the proper response to disagreements unless one's life is in danger."

Jennie deserves a huge thank you for bringing this book to my notice!

I unashamedly judge books by their covers even though I should know better, but who wants to be seen on the subway reading a book with this cover? It's ridiculous! Look at him with his come-hither look and his slick man-chest. ::shudder:: When I read this book on the subway (it was too good not to), I'd keep the cover pressed against my bag.

Anyways, Benedict Carsington is Viscount Rathbourne, also known as Lord Perfect to the rest of the ton. His name never appears in the scandal sheets. Even though he's a widower, he hasn't had any (public) affairs. He's also uncle to his nephew Peregrine as well as pseudo-guardian, as his in-laws would rather not bother with raising their child.

Bathsheba Wingate is a widow of widely-known scandal. The ton believes that Bathsheba lured her husband into a marriage to a woman from a bad family. Apparently, Bathsheba is from the bad part of the DeLucey family. They rack up debt and then run away from the credit collectors. And supposedly, there was some piracy in the family history. Jack Wingate, her husband, was cut off by his family when he married Bathsheba. They had a happy marriage for 12 years, although they didn't live comfortably. Now that she's on her own, she's teaching art classes to support herself and her daughter Olivia.

Bathsheba and Benedict meet (ugh, what unfortunate names) at the museum when Olivia attacks Peregrine with his sketchbook. Olivia, as a street-smart kid from the almost-seedy part of town, spots an opportunity for her mother to take on a rich pupil. Even though Benedict's strict rules of propriety forbid him from allowing Peregrine to take drawing lessons from this scandalous woman, his heart (a.k.a. better judgment) sets up the lessons. However, when Peregrine's parents decide to send him to a new school abruptly, Olivia doesn't want her mother's rich pupil to disappear. She ropes him into a harebrained idea of hers to search out the treasure of her scandalous ancestor.

So Benedict and Bathsheba embark on an adventure as well in search of the children. And if you throw our hero and heroine together without any supervision, the laws of attraction take over and there's some boinking and falling in love. However, with both of their highly evolved senses of propriety, they know that getting married would be social suicide on Benedict's part, and Bathsheba would be skewered again as some sort of seductress of well-to-do gentlemen. There is a sly solution to this, and it's thanks to Bathsheba's family that she is able to marry the man she loves. Hurrah! A happy ending!

This book is Jennie approved, and she's lending me her copy of Mr. Impossible, the story of Benedict's brother Rupert!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Once a Mistress

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: September 2001 (Jove)
Category: Historical Fiction
Series: Marquess of Templeton Heirs #1
Quote of Choice: Impossible, for you've made me quite breathless and dizzy.

I've returned to Rebecca Hagan Lee, and I'm so happy to be reading her again. I loved her Free Fellows League series, as each one involved a different couple but was always entertaining. There were always fantastic endings and they usually invovled some amount of intrigue because of the spying on England's behalf in the war with Napoleon.

In the Marquess of Templeton Heirs trilogy, the fifteenth Marquess of Templeton put a codicil into his will having his son provide for any of his mistresses that come forward after his death. As a true gentleman, he doesn't name the mistresses, but gives them an engraved gold locket with his likeness inside to identify them.

Andrew Ramsey, the new sixteenth marquess of Templeton (previously only Earl of Ramsey, Viscount Birmingham, and Baron Selby - what a catch for a young miss on the marriage mart!), is less than pleased to find that he has to care for his father's former ladybirds. He intends to prepare the family home for the funeral, but his solicitor informs him that one of the mistresses is living in the dowager cottage on the property, and Drew is furious. He storms out of the office without listening to the rest of the details of the will or the details about the woman living in the cottage.

It turns out this woman is no stranger to Drew. She is Kathryn Markinson, Drew's former fiancée, and stood him up on their wedding day four years previously with no given reason. She left him heartbroken, and he ran off to fight in the war against Napoleon to escape his pain. When they meet again, it's obvious that their attraction hasn't diminished with time, but their relationship has become much more complicated. Oh, and she has a son. I am not a fan of the surprise child, but his existence is part of a bigger mystery, which involves why Kathryn never showed up on their wedding day.

When I was reading this, I was disgusted at first, thinking "Eeeuw, he wants to get with his father's mistress?" But when you get into the meat of the story, you find she never loved George Ramsey in that way. He took care of her when she needed a place to live and a child to love. Kathryn was never actually George's mistress, although the reader is constantly being led to that idea.

Once Upon a Mistress was splendidly written. The romance was lovely (and a bit steamy at times! Woo!), but the mystery was a lot deeper than you'd expect. Kathryn had very good reason not to show up on their wedding day, but they get the chance to make up for it later on. Drew realizes that he was mistaken about Kathryn's character, and gives her 100% of his trust, which he was holding back on, with good reason though, after what he considered a betrayal on their first planned wedding. The dialogue was good too, and there weren't very many "ha ha" moments, but that didn't matter to me. I usually need a chunk of humor to get through a romance, but if it's a really good one, it's not necessary.

I can't wait until my copy of the second Marquess of Templeton Heirs book to come in!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Arrows of the Queen

Author: Mercedes Lackey
Published: March 3, 1987 (Daw)
Series: Heralds of Valdemar #1
Category: Fantasy

Arrows of the Queen is the first in a trilogy, and I've actually read the second one and started the third, but I realized that I really loved the first book and am indifferent about the last two. I don't think I'll even bother finishing the third.

Talia is a farm girl from a remote region of Valdemar, where the society is patriarchal and husbands have multiple wives. Girls are married out as young as thirteen years of age, which is what was about to happen to Talia. However, Talia doesn't want to become someone's child bride and bear children until she dies. She's been reading stories about the heroic Heralds of Valdemar. These people have been chosen by Companions, magical creatures that look a lot like horses, but can communicate with their chosen rider, run faster, etc. They're awesome. Heralds dispense the Queen's justice, sort of like wandering peacemakers who also distribute news from the main cities.

On the day Talia is being told by the headwife that she will be married soon, Talia declares that she would rather become a Herald. Now, Heralds are not viewed favorably in the remote regions. They're really backwards and old fashioned because they're so isolated. Talia runs away from home and while running away, she actually meets a Companion. This companion, Rolan, chooses her, but Talia isn't aware of this. She gets on Rolan, thinking that he's lost his Herald and she can return him to the Herald's Collegium, and possibly get a job there. She'd take anything to escape her fate as a bride to yet another backwards-minded man out in the sticks.

It turns out that Rolan is a very special Companion, as the Herald he chooses will be the Queen's Own, meaning that Talia is to become an advisor to the Queen when she completes her training. You may wonder how a young girl from the far reaches of the kingdom can advise the Queen, but the answers would just come to Talia from somewhere. Perhaps Rolan? Or something beyond that?

Talia's path to becoming a Herald isn't easy, as certain members of court do not wish for a new Queen's Own to come to power. The previous holder of that title died under suspicious circumstances, and Talia is not free from that same threat. Other students from the general school took to tormenting Talia, making her break down, almost to the point of quitting. They even attempted murder, but thanks to the mind link between Heralds and their Companions, Rolan was able to bring help to Talia in time, although she was ill for some time after the incident.

The only problem with the book? I wished that Talia could actually communicate with Rolan in words. Some Heralds have that gift, but Talia did not. Ah well. If I wanted bonded creatures who could talk, I'd turn to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern.

Again, I'm a really big fan of the "unappreciated hero/heroine gets taken away from horrible family by people who will truly appreciate him/her." You know, like Harry Potter, or Anne Bishop's Jaenelle, and Anne McCaffrey's Menolly. Reading those books, especially Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy, make me feel good. They're my comfort books for a bad day.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pick Me Up

Author: Zoë Rice
Published: June 6, 2006 (NAL)
Category: Chick Lit
Quote of Choice:It's like some sandman took an image from my subconscious and sculpted it into life out of clay. Or something finer than clay - like crystal, only manlier.

Isabel Duncan has a great job as a director in a prestigious Upper East Side gallery. She's gets along very well with her boss, the gallery's dealer, and their receptionist, who also happens to be an aspiring artist. All of
the gallery's clients love Isabel, which helps when she sells them paintings for thousands of dollars. In fact, Isabel is due for a big promotion to associate dealer. That is, until the death of the gallery owner. Now none of their jobs are secure, as Freddie, the gallery dealer, has been replaced by some avant garde dealer from Europe.

So Isabel has two new men to deal with in her life. First, she has to deal with Grady Cole, the last artist Freddie signed to the gallery and Isabel has unfortunately gotten off on the wrong foot with Grady (she accosted him in the subway station, thinking he was another rude passenger). After that, Grady and Isabel's conversations weren't easy, but settled into a sort of semi-annoying-each-other kind of banter. Second, she has to deal with Avery Devon, the gallery's new dealer. He's suave, sophisticated, and handsome. Isabel wants to have a future with Avery and can see their future as the perfect art-savvy couple. Grady, the paint-spattered, torn cargo pants wearing artist doesn't really fit into the picture, except to provide the artistic goods.

However, you could see that Isabel was starting to develop feelings for Grady, those little moments that you've had in your romantic life. Those glances that make your heart race and your stomach fall to your feet. It's little things like that that made the possibility of a Grady-Isabel match much more realistic than the glossy finish of Avery-Isabel.

After Isabel discovers Avery's less savory aspects, she finds that her friend has stood her up for an awful family wedding. Grady happens to be at the gallery when Isabel finds out, and he offers to take her out. It turns out the scruffy artist owns a tux... and can dance! He says it's because his mother said that you're not a real man until you own a tux and can dance in it. After that, I fell in love with Grady and was rooting that they'd get together.

Grady did have a bit of mystery to him, and he asked Isabel to trust him. When the novel got to that point, I got a little wary. I hate romances where someone has to hide something for a good reason, but the boyfriend/girlfriend flips out and overreacts to the situation, dragging out an unnecessary conflict for several chapters. Thankfully, Zoe Rice has the kindness and good sense to make Isabel a sensible heroine. The conflict? What conflict? It was over in a poof!

In short, Pick Me Up had great characters, ones you could really get on board with, and ending was lovely. I was actually proud of a couple characters at the end, and they're not real people! That's what I have to tell myself.

I loved this book. It's definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bubbles A Broad

Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Published: March 1, 2005 (Onyx)
Series: Bubbles #3
Category: Mystery
Quote of Choice: He is more disturbed by the cruel irony of a slip-and-fall lawyer slipping and falling on his own driveway. No one to sue but himself.

Our favorite ditzy and curvaceous blonde is back, and she's got a real shot at becoming a full-time reporter at the News-Times and leaving her past as a hair dresser behind. Bubbles is given a one week "tryout" by the paper, but before she even has her first day, she's visited by an escaped convict, a murderess (wife supposedly killed husband by scratching him with cyanide laced fingernails). Carol Weaver claims that Lehigh's steel corporation had her husband killed and framed her for the murder, and wants Bubbles to find out why he was killed.

After reading three Bubbles books, the elements in each are becoming apparent. She still dresses inappropriately (think animal print spandex and bosom-baring tops) while being upset that people don't take her seriously. I guess it's taking the "it's what's inside that counts" philosophy to heart the way she refuses to cover up just a little. So the editor at the newspaper doesn't take her seriously and seems to take joy in Bubbles' failures. And her ex-husband and his new wife are trying to subvert her daughter while treating Bubbles like dirt as always. It gets tiring after a while.

However, Bubbles gets some respect when the mystery is neatly solved. I'll give the next Bubbles book a try since she's supposedly a real reporter in it. My hopes aren't too high, as the excerpt for the next book, Bubbles Betrothed, has her getting into a fight at the courthouse on her first assignment.

On a side note, as this is mostly a mystery novel, Bubbles finally gets together with Steve Stiletto. Aside from the boinking, it appears that they're actually in love. It's nice, but as I don't really love Bubbles' character, I'm glad the romance wasn't a huge part of the story.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Unicorn Chronicles!

For Bruce Coville fans out there waiting with bated breath for the third book in the Unicorn Chronicles, he's got a blog up tracking his progress and it even has some excerpts. The manuscript is almost 500 pages long now, and he's not sure how long it's going to be!

Coville was one of my favorite authors when I was younger, and I first got sucked into his writing with Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, which was absolutely fantastic. He has the most wonderful heroes and the worlds are so vivid. Coville is also the author of the My Teacher is an Alien series (my favorite of that series is My Teacher Glows in the Dark). I love YA fantasy.

The Unicorn Chronicles started with Into the Land of the Unicorns somewhere around 1995 I think, and the sequel Song of the Wanderer was published in 1999. I remember buying it my freshman year in college and lumping it into my textbook purchases so my parents wouldn't realize that they were also paying for some fluff reading as well. Anyways, it's been quite some time, and I can't wait for The Last Hunt to be published. It'll probably be out before the last Harry Potter book.

I will never be too old for YA fantasy books!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Black Jewels Trilogy

Author: Anne Bishop
Published: December 2, 2003 (Roc)
Category: Fantasy
Includes: Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness
Quote of Choice: Daemon snarled in frustration and muttered a few uncomplimentary things about female stubbornness.
"It's not stubbornness when you're right," Jaenelle snapped.

I first found Anne Bishop when I was working at B. Dalton. I was stocking the fantasy shelves and there was this book by a new author, and it sounded really interesting, so I bought it and devoured it. I waited impatiently for the second book in the trilogy. However, the second book took quite some time to release, and I even wrote a letter to the publisher asking for any information regarding the next title. In return, I got an order form from sales to purchase the FIRST BOOK. Well, I never gave up and snatched up each book as it came along. Since that first book came out in 1998, I've read the Black Jewels Trilogy at least once a year.

The trilogy tells the story of Jaenelle Angelline, an extraordinary child who was misunderstood and mistreated by her family. They thought she was difficult and made up stories about unicorns and mythical lands. To their eventual misfortune, they were too close minded to realize that Jaenelle was the long-awaited Witch, dreams made flesh.

It's hard to explain the system quickly, but magic is ranked by a jewel color system, ranging from the White to the Black Jewels. Witch traditionally wears the Black when mature, but Jaenelle was born already with that ability, which is a great burden because that's a lot power for a kid to handle. She needed love and support, and her family gave her none. Besides the Jewels, there are classifications of witches. You could be just a plain witch, or you could be a priestess, healer, black widow, or queen. Jaenelle had the triple gift: healer, black widow, queen.

She is what Kaeleer, the Shadow Realm, has been waiting for to unite the known and mythical territories and bring the kindred (animals who are Blood, therefore wear jewels and can speak telepathically with humans) out from hiding.

Enter the High Lord of Hell, Saetan SaDiablo, hanging around for thousands of years because of a promise he made long ago. He was told that the daughter of his soul would be born and he had to wait for her, and Jaenelle was that little girl. Despite the threatening title and name, Saetan is a charming man, a great father figure and made me chuckle more than once. He has a troubled past, where two of his sons, Daemon and Lucivar had been taken from him and had to grow up in the cruelest of conditions. Daemon is destined to become Jaenelle's mate, and Lucivar becomes the protective older brother.

Bishop created a beautiful world, where this dance of protocol and rank allowed the characters to have this wonderful male-female dynamic:
In Kaeleer, service was an intricate dance, the lead constantly changing between the genders. Witches nurtured and protected male strength and pride. Males, in turn, protected and respected the gentler, but somehow deeper, feminine strength. Males weren't slaves or pets or tools to be used without regard to feelings. They were valuable, and valued partners. That was the leash the Queens used in Kaeleer—control so gentle and sweet a man had no reason to fight against it and every reason to fiercely protect it.
Every time I open these books, I lose myself in them. I love the characters and there is a big helping of poetic justice to close out the trilogy nicely in Queen of Shadows. I love me some poetic justice! Even though Jaenelle is the most powerful Witch in the Blood's history, she's wonderful and quirky, never losing her sense of humor to the most harrowing parts of her life. And with all the wonderful characters comes wonderful dialogue.

For me, you can have the most interesting story, but if you don't have good dialgue between your characters, I will give up on the book, like I did with Fellowship of the Ring. You have these powerful females and these powerful men who are constantly befuddled and howling in frustration over what the women say and do. Of course, they're only complaining because the ladies are always right and they're always wrong... almost :)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: April 1986 (First printing); August 7, 2001 (HarperCollins)
Category: Fantasy/YA

I really loved the movie version of this book, but some things were a bit confusing, especially the terms of Sophie's curse. I thought that reading the book would clear things up. Unfortunately, it didn't really clear anything up. It made some things more complicated and revealed to me that the movie version made Sophie's aging curse much more complex than it was in the book.

In short: Sophie the boring eldest daughter of a hatter isn't expected to do much with her life because she's the eldest (Jones has set her world up as a sort of fairytale spoof). It turns out that she has some magical ability (not in the movie) and this attracts trouble from the Witch of the Waste, who confronts Sophie and casts a spell on her, causing Sophie to age about 65 years and not tell anyone how it happened. Sophie leaves her home and winds up in the castle of the Wizard Howl. While he's out, she makes a deal with his fire demon Calcifer, promising to break him free from his contract to Howl in exchange for his breaking her spell.

Of course, there's a happy ending, but it got all weird and unnecessarily complicated at the end what with the second fire demon and the weird patchwork wizard/prince. And I really didn't like Howl. I thought he was flaky for most of the book, chasing after other girls, and at the very end he reveals that he cares for Sophie? Uh-uh. I'll stick to the movie version because I fell in love with him there.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Lover Awakened

Author: J.R. Ward
Published: September 5, 2006 (Signet)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #3
Quote of Choice: Zsadist's shitkickers carried him through an alley off Trade Street, the heavy soles stomping apart frozen slush puddles and crushing through the icy ripples of tire treads.

I have some serious issues with this series. Sometimes I feel like Ward is trying to shove the idea that these are some badass warrior vampires we're dealing with. The reader is often reminded that the brothers like to wear leathers and shitkicker boots. I really don't care that they're wearing shitkickers, but I was reminded several times. I actually don't care what kind of footwear the vamps care to sport! And the male vampires' names are completely ridiculous. Tohrment. Phury. Zsadist. Rhage. I have to force myself to get over the ridiculousness of their names because the story is actually pretty good once you get past the silly stuff.

The previous Black Dagger Brotherhood novels have told the stories of Wrath ::snort:: and Rhage ::giggle::, and now we come to Zsadist, the most badassy of badasses. You don't want to mess with this guy. He's got tattoos and piercings, and it's said he kills women for fun. However, Bella, a beautiful female from vampire society's upper class (like the ton of regency England), has managed to get under his skin. She was abducted by the lessers (vampire slayers) and assumed dead. Despite the assumption, Zsadist would demand information about Bella whenever he had a slayer in his death grip.

Even though I snark about the ridiculous names and big boots, the story is pretty good.... if you like stories about emotionally damaged heroes and the women who help them become human again. Out of all three Black Dagger novels, this one is my favorite. It had a good ending, although there was some sad stuff along the way, but in terms of the couple's happy ending, I was completely satisfied.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Author: John Bellairs
Published: 1973 (First printing), August 3, 2004 (Puffin)
Category: Fantasy/YA

When I first started reading this book, I thought it reminded me of James Howe's Bunnicula series. It has that same feeling. Maybe it has to do with the time period those books were written in.

Poor little Lewis Barnavelt has been newly orphaned due his parents dying in a car crash, so he's going to live with his uncle. Even though Lewis has never met this uncle before, he quickly takes a liking to his friendly uncle, who happens to be a magician, and lives in an old mansion. Little does he know that the mansion was previously owned by an evil wizard and there's a secret ticking sounding within the house's walls. What is the source of that mysterious ticking, and why is it ticking?

Along with Mrs. Zimmerman, their neighbor who also happens to be a witch, the three of them solve the mystery of the ticking and save the world.

I love the writing and the descriptions of this book! Even though it wasn't a "scary" book, I'd get a creepy feeling when I was reading. It's not like a monster was going to attack Lewis - it was just a bunch of ticking! Bellairs also had such vivid descriptions, and it sounds really cheesy to say that I felt like I was in that old house, but I did!

However, if you want a really scary young adult book, you should check out The House on Hackman's Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon, first published in 1986 and most recently in 2001 by Scholastic. I first read it in elementary school and read it again last year, and I still get scared.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Goddess of Spring

Author: P.C. Cast
Published: August 3, 2004 (Berkley)
Category: Romance

Hmm, another book involving Greek gods and goddesses? Rest assured, this book was much better.

The Greek goddess Demeter has some problems. Souls are calling to her from death, in need of a goddess' touch in the Underworld. She also has a daughter who needs to grow up a little, and a human invoking her blessing for a bit of a financial problem. This mortal, Carolina, owns a lovely bakery, but due to some careless work done by her sleazy accountant, she owes the IRS a lot of money. Demeter offers a trade to Carolina: Persephone, Goddess of Spring, will exchange places with Carolina and breathe new life to Carolina's business while the mortal (in the goddess' body) will go to the Underworld and use her life experience to help those souls crying out for the mothering nature of a goddess.

Unbeknownst to any of the ladies, the ruler of the Underworld, Hades, was one of those souls in need of comfort. He always felt that the other immortals were frivolous and distanced himself from them. When Persephone/Carolina appeared for her six-month stay in the Underworld, Hades became a nervous god, often retreating to his cold shell, which puzzled Carolina.

Of course, they work past that when they get to know each other. Hades shows Carolina the unexpected beauty of his realm and Carolina shocks him with her maturity and weird affinity for animals (she turns his dread steeds into babies and tames Cereberus into a three-headed puppy). Unfortunately, when Hades discovers the goddess-mortal swap deception, he turns against Carolina, whose heart breaks because she thinks Hades doesn't want her if she's not a beautiful, youthful goddess. After all, she is a forty-three year-old mortal.

I won't spoil it by revealing the details, but there is a lovely happy ending!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Venus Envy

Author: Shannon McHelden
Published: January 2007
Category: Chick Lit

I got an ARC for this book a month ago and figured I'd give it a shot. I enjoy snarky books, and one of the blurbs on the front cover says that it's snarky.

Alas, it was not snarky enough for me.

Rachel Greer has had it with men. It seems as though every guy she dates has some serious problem with him. Because of this string of bad relationships, Rachel has issues with starting a new relationship and fills her calendar with volunteer work. I can agree with her method of avoidance. After I broke up with one of my ex-boyfriends, I studied my days away and made dean's list. However, Rachel took this rational avoidance strategy too far, to the point where she avoided her friends and family.

Enter her fairy godmother, Venus (a.k.a. Aphrodite of Mount Olympus), who was banished by Zeus to live amongst mortals and do fairy godmotherly things. The problem is, Venus doesn't like helping these women out. She's going through the motions so she can go back to Mount Olympus. So at first, Venus is all about herself, but we slowly find that she's more human than she would like to admit. She's homesick and begins to actually care about Rachel. She also makes a horrible mistake in judgment for purely selfish reasons (how much more human can you get than that?).

In the end, I was mildly entertained by this book. I didn't think it was very funny or the best chick lit I've ever read. We find that a goddess isn't any better than a mortal and I had no pity for her at all.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Darcy & Elizabeth: Days and Nights at Pemberley

Author: Linda Berdoll
Published: May 2006 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Historical Romance

Darcy & Elizabeth is Berdoll's sequel to her Pride and Prejudice sequel, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. I didn't like D&E as much as I liked Berdoll's first book. While the first book had a very strong storyline, the second seemed more like a journal of the goings-on in the Darcys' life. This pseudo-storyline, paired with Berdoll's style of backtracking in time, but from the viewpoint of a different character, makes the book less fluid than its predecessor.

D&E picks up approximately where Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife left off. I say approximately because of the way the changing viewpoint sometimes changes the point in the storyline. Elizabeth has just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl, thus fulfilling her duty as Darcy's wife by providing him an heir. Nothing really happens with Lizzy and Darcy in terms of their relationship growing. Their only relationship obstacle is when they can start doing it again after Lizzy's confinement.

Georgiana gets married to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I'm not really sure about this. I guess back in those times, it was acceptable to marry your first cousin. After all, Darcy was "betrothed" to Lady Anne, his first cousin, and Mr. Collins tried to marry Lizzy (but I don't think he was a first cousin). It just grosses me out.

Wickham returns from the dead to do what he does best: scheme and cheat his way to some undeserved money. I dont' really like how Wickham wound up at the end of this book. I don't really see the point of Darcy meeting him to pay off the demands, especially with Bingley's money when Bingley was in dire financial straits. The end of the book got a little confusing and it was not as entertaining as the first.

There were other characters, such as the corrupt steward/butler and Lady Catherine, who didn't get the comeuppance they truly deserved. I love a good book with poetic justice. For a good example of that, read Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy, specifically Queen of the Darkness.

I think someone who wants to read a sequel to Pride and Prejudice should stick with Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and pass on Darcy & Elizabeth.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Undomestic Goddess

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Published: July 19, 2005 (Dial Press)
Category: Chick Lit
Quote of Choice: The great thing about legal training is it really teaches you to lie.

Despite my deep hatred for Kinsella's Shopaholic series, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I actually think her stand-alone novels are far better than the series that made her so popular in the chick lit circles.

I really didn't like Shopaholic because of the main character, Becky. She had no common sense and never learned from her mistakes. Therefore, each book was a repetition of the previous one. She'd constantly buy all kinds of crap and try to hide it, and then get into a lot of debt, and by some windfall, get out of the mess. There was very little substance to the books and I felt like it was a constant prattling of high end brand names.

All right, this isn't about Becky and her shopping problems. This is about Samantha Sweeting, top associate at one of the most prestigious law firms in London. She works 14 hours a day and is chained to her job 24 hours a day by cell phone and Blackberry. For example, when she went to a spa for a relaxation treatment (a birthday gift that was about to expire from almost a year of non-usage), she hid her Blackberry in her paper panties.

On the day Samantha is to be made the youngest partner in the history of her firm, she discovers a horrible mistake. She neglected to register a loan for 50 million quid and panicked, realizing that her career would never recover from the mistake and went into shock. Samantha left the firm and got on a random train, winding up somewhere in the English countryside. She walked up to a house and into an interview for a housekeeper's position... and gets hired.

She lied in the interview about being a Cordon Bleu trained chef and working for her friend (the one who gave her the spa gift certificate and always said Samantha worked too hard), Lady Edgersley. Of course, since Samantha never had the time to learn how to turn on an oven, make a sandwich, or use a vacuum, she wasn't doing so well when she first started her job.

I almost stopped reading the book when Samantha decided to order gourmet sandwiches to cover her lack of cooking skills, then £800 replacing the wardrobe that she turned pink in the wash, and £3 per shirt for ironing by some village girl. However, Samantha learned how to cook and clean, thanks to Nathaniel, the cute, yet intelligent and sensitive, gardener. He made himself memorable to me when he saw Samantha's burned chickpeas coming out of the oven.

"Are those rabbit droppings?"

Nathaniel introduced Samantha to his mother, who spent weekends teaching her how to cook and clean. During these weekends, Samantha's jittery, twitchy soul began to heal. As a lawyer, she had been living her life in six-minute increments. Every minute was to be packed with activity, lest it be wasted. However, after venting her frustration over waiting for bread dough to rise (she questioned the point of waiting for the rise because it wasn't worth her time), Nathaniel's mom put the warm finished loaf in Sam's hands, saying that she created that bread. That small accomplishment meant more to Sam than the seven years she had poured into the law firm of Carter Spink. This law firm wiped Sam from every business deal Sam had led, giving the credit to other people rather than soil their website with the embarrassment of Samantha. It was like she never existed to them. In her time as a housekeeper, Samantha became a human, rather than the husk she had been for a decade.

Of course, Samantha never made that mistake. She discovers a financial scam and clears her name. However, when Carter Spink offers her full equity partnership, apparently unheard of, she rejects it in favor of being a housekeeper. Then the story leaks out with huge headlines saying things like, "Promising lawyer would rather clean loos than work for Carter Spink," making CS look quite the fool. From what I hear, these kinds of prestigious law firms say that they don't treat their associates like resources to be milked to the last drop. Samantha's choice shot Carter Spink's humane associate treatment motto into the ground.

So in the end, Samantha has to choose between an even more generous offer to become a partner, or have a life where she can be happy and fulfilled. It is true that I enjoyed this book so much because of the whole, "I'd rather do something else than be a lawyer" thing. After all, I did choose to leave law school and take up publishing instead, despite the very low salary. You have to do what makes you happy, and I knew that I wouldn't be happy as a lawyer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Noble Intentions

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: February 2002 (Leisure Books)
Category: Regency Romance

This is the first of MacAlister's historical romances. I guess it was okay for the first one. I felt like it had a lot of potential that was never realized. For Noble Intentions, we have the "emotionally damaged hero rescued by plucky, ahead-of-her-time heroine" plot device.

The hero is Noble Britton (unfortunate name), a.k.a. "The Black Earl," so called because he was involved in quite a scandal several years ago. He was accused with murdering his wife, but that isn't a proven fact. Just the doings of the gossip mill.

The heroine is Gillian, visiting her cousin Charlotte, who is looking for a husband. Gillian doesn't mind being around since she's practically a spinster. She also has something she refers to as an "unfortunate habit," which encompasses speaking her inner monologue (like Austin Powers, as a side effect of the unfreezing process), setting curtains on fire, and touching wet paint in the most unfortunate of colors (blue).

Despite her unfortunate habit, Noble makes an offer for Gillian after just a couple days and they get married within a week. Their relationship is a little weird. They're extremely passionate in bed, but outside of it, Noble becomes distant, guarding his heart against her. Gillian, not one to back down from a challenge, keeps on trying to break down Noble's walls, no matter what destruction occurs along the way.

I felt like too much was going on at the same time. It probably could've been balanced better. There were a lot of characters, between Noble's friends, Gillian's relatives, Noble's servants (three of which are identical triplets, all going by their last name), and Noble's mute bastard son. There's a plot working against Noble and Gillian, most likely by the person responsible for Noble's first wife's murder. Oh, and there's a ghost too.

I got a little tired of Noble's indecision. He loves Gillian, then he doesn't. Then he doesn't trust her. Then he loves her again. Now he's going to yell at her, and then love her, etc. Of course, everything works out in the end, despite the unbelievability of their relationship.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife

Author: Linda Berdoll
Published: April 2004 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: She was uncertain whether first to disabuse him of the notion of her forlorness, explain implicitly that their "disappointment" was not to be spoken of by a man with the morals and sexual appetite of a particularly libidinous goat, or simply smite him across the forehead with the fireplace poker.

I guess I'd be upset by this book if I were an Austen purist, but I'm not. I like her stories and love her characters, particularly those in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. I'll say again that I haven't read Austen since high school and plan to remedy that situation if I ever unpack my books at my semi-new (at this point) apartment.

I've read one Pride and Prejudice sequel so far, and unlike Bebris' Pride and Prescience, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife feels as if it were really written in the 1800s. Upon reading the author's note, the reader is warned of a more passionate version of Darcy and Elizabeth, and the author points out that Austen never married, and therefore couldn't write about the intimacies of married life.

In this sequel, we join the Darcys right after their wedding day, but as seen throughout the book, the narrative flashes back to the few months prior to the wedding. Actually, the timeline goes forward and jumps back quite a bit. For example, an event will happen with the narration following Lizzy, and then in the next chapter, the same event will happen, but following Darcy instead, or his valet, or Lizzy's lady's maid.

I don't want to give anything away, but I can see why Austen purists would dislike this book. Berdoll shows us a more passionate Darcy, a very passionate Darcy, actually. I can also say that the Darcys enjoy a very happy marital bed. I think Berdoll holds very true to the characters as I know them, but yet again, I haven't read P&P recently enough to know if Berdoll held true to the way Austen wrote those characters.

It was an excellent read, and not one that is easily sped through. I've already purchased the sequel, Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley.

A list from Shirley

1. One book that changed your life?
Nancy Drew: The Clue in the Jewel Box by Carolyn Keene (Before I read this book, my teachers complained that I didn't read enough. After I started the Nancy Drew books, I couldn't stop reading.)

2. One book you have read more than once?
Every Harry Potter book. When a new one comes out, I read the new one first, and then the entire series leading up to that new book, and then the new book a second time.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

4. One book that made you laugh?
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

5. One book that made you cry?
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

6. One book you stayed up all night to finish?
Barely a Bride by Rebecca Hagan Lee

7. One book that took you too long to read?
Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

8. One book you are currently reading?
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Angelica by Sharon Shinn

10. Now tag five people.
I'll skip this because I don't even have five people to tag. However, feel free to do this, Jennie.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Barely a Bride

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: August 2003 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Fiction
Series: Free Fellows League #1
Quote of Choice: I am not chattel to be bartered for in exchange for a horse, nor am I a bone to be fought over by gentlemen who persist in behaving like hounds marking the lamppost boundaries of their territory.

I probably should've started with this title first, although you can get by quite easily starting anywhere in the series. As for setting up the members of the Free Fellows and their origins, Lee wrote a to-the-point prologue, with no tedious bits to bore the reader.

Griffin Abernathy, Seventeenth Viscount Abernathy and heir to the Earl of Weymouth, is about to join his cavalry regiment on the Peninsula. However, his father, the Earl of Weymouth, is quite distraught over the prospect of his only child and heir join one of the most dangerous branches of the military, thereby risking the extinction of their family line. Actually, Griffin kept his assignment a secret until two weeks prior to his scheduled departure. In order to secure the bloodline, Griffin's father (not an unkind man) blackmails him. If Griffin does not marry before leaving for the war against Bonaparte in two weeks, Weymouth will tear down Abernathy Manor (Griffin's home as Viscount Abernathy), leaving the servants and their families without a livelihood. Griffin agrees to find a bride, understanding his father's concern, and spends the next few evenings attending the social functions that Free Fellows are known to eschew.

During these social events, Griffin spots a beautiful girl and all others fade in comparison. She is Alyssa, youngest daughter (of five daughters) of the Earl of Tressingham. Her mama has high hopes for her youngest: a match to the Duke of Sussex, who happens to be the son of her close friend. However, Alyssa is not content to become a duchess because she wouldn't be able to pursue her hobbies since there would be more pressure to be prim and proper. She wishes to become a gardener, or rather, a garden designer who doesn't mind doing the dirty work (i.e. mucking out stalls so she can obtain manure to fertilize the garden). Lady Tressingham is constantly correcting her daughter's behavior, forbidding her to garden, ride her beloved horse without a chaperone, or interview the housekeeper about how she does everything, and then suggest how the housekeeper can run the household more efficiently.

Just a few days after beginning his quest for a bride, Griffin is introduced to Alyssa at Almack's, the infamous marriage mart, and quickly proposes. Despite the circumstances, he didn't do too badly, ending it well by saying, "You are the only young lady I've ever seen who made me believe I was meant to be her husband." Alyssa falls for Griffin, but it's up to her father to allow the marriage. Unfortunately, her mother is pressing for the Duke of Sussex to win her daughter's hand.

Thankfully, Griffin played dirty. He played to Tressingham's weakness for breeding champion foxhounds and horses. In exchange for Alyssa's hand in marriage, Griffin guaranteed Tressingham access to Weymouth's prized foxhounds for breeding, and loaned a prize stallion to him for the duration of his service in the war. Of course, the deal was made and Lady Tressingham was less than pleased to find that her daughter would wind up with a viscount instead of a duke.

Alyssa planned a huge society wedding in less than a week and it was a great success. She and Griffin had three days together before he departed, and they had to make good on the whole "securing the bloodline" thing. She didn't conceive, although it wasn't for lack of trying. While Griffin is in Spain, they communicate frequently by letters and it's sweet how Alyssa sends homemade soaps and lotions to her husband, his valet, and his lieutenant, who has become Alyssa's greatest fan.

After Alyssa realized she wasn't pregnant, she grew depressed and didn't come out of her room for days. Because Griffin had told Colin and Jarrod, the other two members of the Free Fellows (the Duke of Sussex joins later) to watch over Alyssa, they quickly went to action. It was very telling of their character when they visited so frequently and were so concerned over their friend's wife.

Do not despair! Griffin comes back from the war a hero, although he was severely traumatized. It adds some brevity to the whole romance thing and I liked it because it made the whole story deeper and more meaningful when the happily ever after came around.

It was an excellent read!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Author: Bill Buford
Published: May 2006 (Knopf)
Category: Cooking/Biography/Travel
Quote of Choice: "I said fine dice! This is not a fine dice! I don't know what they are, but they're wrong." I had been cutting carrots for two hours, and then, like that, they were tossed; they were that bad.

I stumbled across this title on Amazon's top seller list (I think it was #18 at the time). I proceeded to put myself on the waitlist for Heat at the NY Public Library. Unfortunately, I was the 279th person on line for about 11 copies of the book. Thankfully, Jennie put Heat on her waitlist with the Brooklyn Library, and it came in last week!

Bill Buford, a journalist, met Mario Batali at a birthday dinner for a mutual friend and decided to satisfy a lifelong culinary curiousity by becoming a kitchen slave in Batali's restaurant, Babbo. Buford spent a little over a year in Babbo's kitchen, beginning as a prep chef. Basically, the restaurant runs in two main shifts: the prep shift in the morning and the service shift during dining hours. Bill had no professional cooking experience, and being plunged into the hectic prep kitchen of a three-star restaurant amongst a lot of pros who regarded him as an interloper wasn't easy. Gradually, he became accepted as a member of the staff, even becoming a line chef, working the grill, and manning the pasta station. His presence was of great help in times of need when the kitchen was short-staffed.

Buford later went on to travel in Italy as many chefs do to learn real Italian cooking. He spent a few weeks learning from the woman who first taught Batali how to prepare fresh pasta. Apparently, she was a bit bitter about how she's struggling to make a living while Batali learned from her and is a rich and famous chef now. She taught Buford her secret ravioli recipe, but only on the condition that he not reveal it to Batali. He then spent even more time as an apprentice to the world famous butcher, Dario Cecchini, and actually became a spectacle for tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the Dante-quoting butcher. Buford tried to answer only in monosyllabic Italian words so he wouldn't give away the fact that the tourists had travelled to this little Italian town to see traditional Italian butchering methods only to find that an American was making the sausages.

Buford's book is tells a few stories all at once. Batali's education and rowdy antics are interlaced with Buford's experiences at Babbo. From all of the Food Network programming I've seen, Batali seems to be a really cool guy, but arrogant. Well, at least he doesn't seem as arrogant as Bobby Flay (he's on my celebrity chef blacklist, which includes Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee). I'm amused by Batali's marijuana infractions while at Rutgers, which is also my alma mater, and the story of how he once served foie gras with a sauce made of a reduction of orange soda and Starburst candies.

I've learned that I will never order the special at a restaurant. At Babbo, the special is the food that's left over and must be sold before it's gone bad and must be tossed. Bill also tells of the time when he was chopping celery and threw the florets in the garbage. Batali comes in and sees that the florets are being tossed, only to take them out of the trash because they're the most flavorful part of celery. For Batali, it's a business: take the raw materials and make the most out of them to sell them at the highest price possible.

After reading this book, my respect for the people who take part in the daily operation of a restaurant has grown immensely from the already high esteem I held them in. Everyone works so hard and there's so much pressure to maintain the high standards the customers expect. Buford wrote about his kitchen fellows with the utmost respect, from the hard work and dedication of the Latins to the maddening perfection of the big guy, Batali.

However, I'm not sure that I want to eat at Babbo after reading this book....

Friday, July 28, 2006

Hardly a Husband

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: October 5, 2004 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Free Fellows League #3
Quote of Choice: "Because I didn't realize I loved you yesterday! I was too arrogant and stupid to realize I loved you yesterday."

Yet another great book by Rebecca Hagan Lee! In this installment in the Free Fellows League series, the last of the original Free Fellows is about to realize that being married isn't as horrible as he thought it would be when he was twelve years-old.

Jarrod, fifth Marquess of Shepherdston is the last unmarried member of the original three Free Fellows. He suffered an awful childhood, witnessing his parents endure a loveless marriage, and hurting each other on purpose. In the end, he witnessed his mother as she killed herself after murdering his father in bed with the housekeeper. Because of that, Jarrod's vow never to marry was the strongest of all the Free Fellows.

Enter Sarah Eckersley, the daughter of a recently-deceased village reverend. As a child, she used to annoyingly tag along (a.k.a. stalk) Jarrod, eight years her senior. Due to the scheming of a nefarious distant relative, Sarah and her aunt Henrietta are tossed out of their home so the new, obnoxious reverend (with appropriately obnoxious children and wife) can move in without any notice to the current occupants. The distant relative, Lord Dunbridge, wants to make Sarah his wife. I'm constantly grossed out by these distant cousins wanting to marry their relatives (i.e. Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice)! Of course, Sarah would rather die than marry her disgusting, foppish relative, so she makes a deal with the village magistrate: Sarah will find herself a husband within 30 days or the magistrate will give Sarah's hand to Lord Dunbridge.

Sarah and Aunt Etta go to London, where Sarah plans to marry Jarrod, her childhood crush. To get Jarrod's attention, she goes to him in the middle of the night, asking him to give her lessons in the art of seduction. When that doesn't work, Sarah tries to make him jealous, by saying she'll get lessons from someone else. The real catalyst for their relationship is when Sarah wore a ballgown with a low-cut bodice and Jarrod frowned at any man who even looked at her. It turns out that the gown wasn't scandalous. In fact, Gillian (Colin's wife from Merely the Groom) was wearing a gown of the same style, and Jarrod hadn't even noticed. She said that only Colin said that her gown was cut too low and upon her discovery that Jarrod was doing the same to Sarah, she and Colin knew Jarrod's true feelings.

I think I enjoyed Merely the Groom more, but Hardly a Husband isn't too shabby either. I especially enjoy reading about a man who admits he's been wrong.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Much Ado in the Moonlight

Author: Lynn Kurland
Published: April 25, 2006 (Jove)
Category: Paranormal Romance

I first read Lynn Kurland in The Queen in Winter, a collection of stories by four authors. I really enjoyed her story, so I decided to give a full Kurland novel a shot.

I can definitely say that Kurland does not write flimsy, shallow romance. In Much Ado in the Moonlight, Victoria McKinnon, a great director of Shakespearean plays is given the opportunity to direct Hamlet in a Scottish castle. When she arrives in Scotland, she finds that the castle and inn she's staying in are haunted. The inn ghosts aren't just your run-of-the-mill ghosts; they're Victoria's ancestors, a group of (former) men bent on matchmaking their descendents. Apparently, Victoria's older brother and sister have already made matches thanks to their ghostly grandfathers.

For Victoria, the ghosts have chosen Laird Connor MacDougal, a big manly Scot, complete with kilt. Unfortunately for Victoria, he's a ghost too.

Yes, the idea is a lot to bend your brain around. I struggled with my ability to suspend disbelief when I realized Victoria and Connor were supposed to end up together, and my ability to suspend disbelief goes quite a ways.

So how does Victoria wind up with the burly laird? Time travel of course!! All she has to do is time travel back to medieval Scotland and save Connor before he gets murdered by a deceitful French minstrel. Of course, Victoria has to learn how to use a knife, speak Gaelic, ride a horse, basic survival skills, and use a faery ring to travel between their times. Everything works out in the end, and Connor travels into the future, but has no idea that his former ghostly self had already professed love to Victoria. In another instance of suspension of disbelief, all of Connor's ghostly memories come back to him in dreams, both waking and sleeping.

It turns out that Kurland has a lot of these ghostly matchmaking books and there's a family tree in the back of the book that shows which books correspond to which sibling or ancestor. There are a LOT of characters in just the one book I read, so much that there's a cast list in the front matter (ha ha, I'm using my production jargon).

I'm not really sure if I'd read another one of Kurland's books because most of them seem tied into this family tree and it wasn't a very passionate relationship. I didn't buy the Victoria-Connor match, and I'm not sure if it was the whole ghost thing. If I had to rate it, I'd give it a 5/10.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pride and Prescience

Author: Carrie Bebris
Published: 2004 (Forge Books)
Category: Mystery
Quote of Choice: The elderly vicar who had officiated this morning's ceremony suffered from declining wits, a condition that had led to some fascinating sermons in recent years.

Before I start, I'll admit that I haven't read Pride and Prejudice since high school. Sadly, my P&P exposure has been limited to recent viewings of the new movie and the BBC version. I can't help it, but I love Elizabeth and Darcy together! I think epilogues are great. I've said before that I love reading about how characters deal with their endings and since I'm a romantic, reading about one of my favorite literary couples puts me on Cloud 9.

Pride and Prescience begins with the wedding breakfast at the double wedding of Elizabeth & Darcy and Jane & Bingley. Caroline Bingley decides to steal the couples' thunder by announcing her sudden engagement to Parrish, an American, and even more sudden wedding to be held the following week, throwing a wrench into any possible honeymoon plans.

So Elizabeth and Darcy head off to London for the Caroline-Parrish wedding, only to find that after becoming a married woman, Caroline begins acting insane. Caroline's new husband suggests taking Caroline back to his plantation in Louisiana, but they figure that might make her condition worse. Instead, Bingley and Jane, the ultra kindhearted couple invite everyone to Netherfield to stay, where a series of unfortunate events begins to happen, making it looks as though someone's targeting the Bingley family.

Pride and Prescience was a lot of fun, like seeing old friends again. I'll pick up the sequel, Suspense and Sensibility soon.

Sex, Lies and Vampires

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: February 2005 (Love Spell)
Category: Paranormal Romance

This installment in Katie MacAlister's paranormal romances is a great example of the old "misconceptions about a guy's character due to misinformation" plot device (think Pride and Prejudice, but with vampires and charmers instead of dishy Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth).

Nell is a charmer, which means she can charm curses. I had a hard time bending my brain around this because I've read too much Harry Potter and my idea of charming has to do with making keys fly so you can't get to the Sorcerer's Stone. In MacAlister's world, a charmer can charm a curse to unbreak it, or create a curse by charming one up.

Adrian is the Betrayer, a Dark One, and he is hunted by other members of his race because of his crimes. Apparently, he has been turning Dark Ones over to the demon Asmodeus. What most people don't know is that he's been cursed since he was two years old because his father turned him over to Asmodeus in exchange for the power to seduce any woman. His father wound up dying alone and unhappy anyways.

When Nell first runs into Adrian, she thinks he's this monster because of all the bad things she's heard about the Betrayer, but then she realizes that he's not so bad after all and becomes his Beloved to undo the curse of all unredeemed Dark Ones. Unfortunately, retrieving Adrian's soul isn't that easy because he's doubly cursed, and has to be free of Asmodeus before he can have his soul.

In this book, Nell wants to become Adrian's Beloved, but he doesn't want to make her life unhappy and refuses to admit that she's destined to be his companion. He gives in to her (it doesn't take much), but doesn't act very happy about it. When Nell tries to give Adrian love names like "Snuggle Bunny," he gets all offended and says, "I am the Betrayer, blah blah, doomed to darkness, exiled, blah blah" and she doesn't even care. MacAlister's alpha male heroes are very alpha, but at the same time, they have some secret weakness that will make them into insecure little boys in a snap. That's probably why I love her books and her heroes.

It was pretty good, but I think I like Sex and the Single Vampire more.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Merely the Groom

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: April 2004 (Berkley)
Series: Free Fellows League #2
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: "How dare he make my daughter his third wife? If he was going to become a bigamist, he should have made her his first wife. How dare he consider Gillian his third choice?"

I have to say I'm said that I didn't discover Rebecca Hagan Lee sooner, as many of her books are out of print, despite being only a few years old. Even Merely the Groom is no longer available! This title is from Lee's Free Fellows League series. The League is composed of four gentlemen and originally began as an agreement made while they were boys in school (around 11 years old). They swore not to marry until absolutely necessary, at least until 30 years of age, and even at that point, it would be duty and not a pleasure, more like medicine to be swallowed. In their adulthood, the League became a service to the Crown, assisting in the war efforts against Bonaparte.

Gillian Davies has run off to Scotland with a man named Colin Fox. He romanced her and she fell for it, agreeing to an elopement. Unfortunately, Colin Fox turned into a completely different man after relieving Gillian of her virginity, and then disappeared with her jewelry and money, leaving her in a dodgy inn in Edinburgh. Without any money, Gillian had no way of returning to London or paying her bill at the inn, so she just kept waiting for her wayward husband to return.

Colin McElreath, the Viscount Grantham, happened to be in the area on business for the Free Fellows League. While sneaking about, Colin is nearly killed by an assassin, but gets away with a wound on his side. He decides to hide in Gillian's room since the assassin's accomplices are also waiting for him in his room. She thinks her husband has finally returned, and he doesn't disabuse her of the notion, and says that he'll be leaving again in the morning. Gillian asks him to hold her until she falls asleep and Colin finds that he enjoys doing so, wishing he could rescue her from her situation. In the morning, he arranges for her bill to be paid and books a coach for her to return to London, explaining so in a note to Gillian that he signs as "Galahad."

Because Gillian's in disgrace upon her return to London, her father, a newly made baron, tries to marry her off as soon as possible. Being that the Bow Street Runner figured out that Colin McElreath went by the alias of Colin Fox on his business for the Crown, Baron Davies figures that his daughter could do worse than marrying a viscount. He practically blackmails Colin into marrying Gillian, threatening to expose the League. Colin agreed to the marriage. First, because he was attracted to Gillian and second, he inherited a title along with his father's gaming debts. Colin was the perfect gentleman, supporting his mother and siblings and always doing the right thing, even marrying a woman with a tarnished reputation when he could have another rich heiress without the "fallen woman" status.

So Gillian and Colin wind up being married and they quickly realize that they're perfect for each other. Eventually, Gillian finds out that Colin was the very same Galahad who had rescued her from the inn, but unlike the usual Regency romance formula, she didn't throw a fit about it and Colin's secret work for the Crown. She was happy to be truly reunited with the man who helped her out of a sticky situation. Through some poorly deciphered French missives, Colin was under the impression that Gillian's father was aiding the French, and I was afraid that he'd turn against his new wife, but in a welcome change, the two of them talked it out right then and there, figured out what was wrong with the deciphering key, and didn't create unnecessary drama.

Lee's Regency romance writing was a breath of fresh air to me. The conversation between Colin and Gillian while dancing reminded me of Jane Austen (not that I've read Austen recently) and there was a big of Scarlet Pimpernel-ish intrigue. It was a good mix and I'm going to try getting my hands on the out of print books in the League series.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sex and the Single Vampire

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: March 2004 (Love Spell)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Quote of Choice: "I shall bring my rapier. I am most dashing with my rapier," Antonio told Noelle. He demonstrated with a few moves that would have left her without the ability to bear children had the rapier been made up of anything other than air and psychic energy.

When I started reading Sex and the Single Vampire, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was an honest-to-goodness sequel to A Girl's Guide to Vampires. I love seeing familiar characters again, and finding out how they're doing with their happily-ever-after endings. Think of it as an extended epilogue.

Allegra Telford is an American Summoner (can raise ghosts haunting a building, demons, etc.) in London, gathering proof of ghosts for her employer, the United Psychical Research Association (UPRA). She visits reportedly haunted sites in London tries to raise the spirits stuck there. Unfortunately, she hasn't had much success with that. Finally, she sneezes during a Summoning in her hotel room, raising the ghost of a cat, Mr. Woogums. At the next summoning, she sneezes and brings up Mr. Woogums' owner, Esme. Strangely, sneezing seems to be the key to Allegra's Summoning powers.

While in London, she promised her cousin that she'd attend a C.J. Dante book signing. C.J. Dante is known for his books featuring Moravians (a.k.a. Dark Ones). Basically, male Moravians are like vampires, doomed to be soulless (unless his parents were Joined) until he finds his Beloved, who redeems his soul after they have completed the seven steps of Joining. Christian (That's what the C stands for) was in A Girl's Guide to Vampires, where he thought Joy Randall was his Beloved, but she was already in love with Raphael St. John. At the end of that book, Joy promised Christian that she'd help him find his real Beloved.

So Allegra and Christian meet at the book signing and Joy (now pregnant), realizes that Allegra is Christian's Beloved even though the parties in question disagree with that. Christian is MacAlister's typical alpha male character. Allegra is a woman who suffered an abusive marriage and promised herself that she'd never allow a man to control her again. However, the two have to spend a lot of time together while trying to help Christian locate his Moravian friend, Sebastian, who's gone missing. They believe the Association of Research Mediums and Psychics Investigation Trust (also goes by the unfortunate acronym ARMPIT) is holding Sebastian captive.

This is my favorite of MacAlister's vampire paranormal romances. There's some real character development and I like the way Allegra and Christian made compromises between Christian's alpha male-dominating nature and Allegra's refusal to be controlled by a man again. Plus, Allegra's inability to Release (send ghosts on to Heaven or whatnot) means that she collected several ghosts that refused to be Released (a Summoner can't Release a ghost that doesn't want to move on). She even found a ghost of a Spanish courtier named Antonio who kept challenging Christian for Allegra's hand. Of course, the flesh and blood Christian won out.

It was great, and apparently, Sebastian's story will be featured in Just One Sip, a collection of vampire romances coming out in September 2006.