Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Lady at Last

Author: Brenda Joyce
Published: December 2006 (Harlequin)
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 6/10

Oof, I'm seriously behind on my reviews again, and this time I don't have a vacation to use as an excuse.

Raised as a pirate's daughter, Amanda Carre has not been tutored in the finer social graces. Alone in the world, she has never depended on anyone, until fate intervenes when Cliff de Warenne rescues her from a mob at her father's hanging. Now she must set sail for England to find the mother she never knew, and her chaperone is an infamous ladies' man . . .

The greatest gentleman privateer of his era, Cliff knows honor demands that he see this beautiful wild child to London and into her socialite mother's arms. He's aware that Amanda is utterly unprepared for a debut in London's ton, so his only recourse is to becomes her guardian and champion her transformation into a lady—and find her a suitable match. But with every passing moment it becomes harder to deny his jealousy and ire—until Amanda makes her stunning debut, a lady at last. And when his passion in finally released, their love can no longer be denied.

Let's make it quick: I didn't like the way Amanda was throwing herself at Cliff. If she were doing that in our world, Cliff would be running away as fast as he could. And Cliff kept acting like he was in love with Amanda and kept denying his feelings to her and himself. In the usual "want what you don't have" way, Cliff leaves on a short mission and while he's away, he realizes that he really does need Amanda in his life. And when he comes back, he sleeps with her, but doesn't tell her that he loves her, and she idiotically runs away from him to become a businesswoman in the Caribbean. She just assumes that he doesn't care for her, even after the drastic change in Cliff's behavior.

The best part of the book is when Amanda dumbly leaves Cliff after he finally sleeps with her, steals his best ship, and he has to chase after her.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Letters from Pemberley

Author: Jane Dawkins
Published: May 2007 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Fiction
Rating: 7/10

Dawkins really captured the feeling of Pride and Prejudice in Letters from Pemberley, especially Lizzy's wit and sense of humor. A bit of warning to the future reader though - this isn't really a book with a goal in mind.

Dawkins offers a peek into the new Mrs. Darcy's letters. Just imagine a time without phones and e-mail, when your correspondence is a part of your daily routine, reading letters over breakfast and responding to them. Maybe I'm just old fashioned like that, as I still enjoy writing and receiving snail mail. The action doesn't focus on Lizzy and Darcy; it just gives the reader the details of the year after their marriage, introducing some new characters while staying true to those we've already met in the original novel.

One of my favorite parts of this book was when Lizzy described Darcy's attempt to obtain the services of a certain artist to capture her likeness for the Pemberley gallery. She jokes to Darcy that the artist probably considers his skills above capturing "merely tolerable beauty." Darcy then fires back that in response to this, he would write to the artist:
On the contrary, his wife's incomparable perfections are marred only by a head filled with fanciful nonsense, the result of an excellent memory and a cruel fondness for teasing an adoring Husband who surely deserves better treatment at her hand.
It's really an interesting book to read, as it really does feel like the way Lizzy would write and I'm glad Dawkins didn't dishonor the tone of Pride and Prejudice. I would sometimes think that I'd like to read a "Letters from Netherfield," but it wouldn't be as amusing because Jane's too nice to poke fun at people.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Born in Shame

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: January 1, 1996
Category: Romance
Series: Born In #3
Rating: 7/10

I'm not quite sure how much I like this book. At times I love it and other times I dislike it because Shannon annoys me so much. I think my loving it stems from it being an extended epilogue for Bree and Maggie's stories (the first two books in the trilogy).
Shannon's life is rocked by an emotional earthquake when she learns the identity of her real father. Obeying her late mother's last wish, American Shannon travels to County Clare, Ireland, to meet the sisters she never knew she had. Warmed and comforted by the bond that grows between her and her sisters, her heart is lured by the charm of the Irish countryside and tempted by the attraction of horseman Murphy Muldoon. Murphy takes one look at Shannon and knows that she is the woman he's waited for all his life. But Shannon is a practical woman. Will she open her heart and mind to the timeless, magical bond that connects them? Or will she reject fate's plan and leave Murphy to return to her life in America?
Shannon annoyed me with her anger over the truth of her heritage. She wished that she'd never known about her blood father. How could her mother have done such a thing in her youth? But if her mother hadn't been pregnant and unmarried and tossed out of her home, she wouldn't have met the good man Shannon called her father.

Murphy offers his love without any dancing around the issue, which is true to his character. He's a straightforward type of man who knows what he wants, and believes that Shannon and he were lovers in a previous life. Shannon kept rejecting him because she had a big and important life and job back in New York, despite the fact that her job didn't make her happy, and she's found a new family in a beautiful country. She actually reminds me of Tess, the Hollywood screenwriter stuck in Montana in Roberts' Montana Sky.

Another thing that bothered me: The past lives thing and reliving it through dreams. Apparently, Murphy and Shannon were lovers of a local myth involving a warrior and a sorceress parted by war. I have nothing against fantasy, but it seemed rather out of place in this book and didn't feel like it was in perfect harmony with the rest of the story.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Smoke in Mirrors

Author: Jayne Anne Krentz
Published: October 29, 2002 (Jove)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 8/10

Three strange deaths: one unsolved murder from thirty years ago, one suicide with suspicious circumstances, and a supposed car accident. Leonora Hutton, a mild-mannered librarian, has just lost her half-sister and con artist, Meredith Spooner. While cleaning out Meredith's apartment, she meets Thomas Walker, a victim of one of Meredith's schemes. He's also investigating the death of his sister-in-law, Bethany. She was supposedly under the influence of drugs, which is highly out of character for her, and jumped off a cliff. The common factor between these two very different women is their work in the Mirror House, built decades ago by Eubanks family, and also the site of Sebastian Eubanks', noted mathematician, death.

In exchange for the return of the money Meredith embezzled out of the Bethany Walker Endowment Fund, Leonora asks for Thomas' help in figuring out what really happened to Meredith. Since Leonora and Thomas are thrown together, they start a romance, which she tries to keep stifled because they're technically working together.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the little college town with its frequent fog covering and spooky mirror house (where Leonora worked as a spy for mystery-solving purposes). This particular romantic suspense is more about the mystery than the romance, and that wasn't a bad thing, as the mystery was rather high-quality for a romance. The secondary romance between the yoga instructor and Thomas' brother was superfluous though; I wouldn't have missed it if it weren't there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Quinn Legacy

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: February 7, 2006
Category: Romance
Series: Chesapeake Bay (Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Blue)
Rating: 8/10

I think this volume in the Chesapeake Bay series is more about Seth than The Quinn Brothers, even though Inner Harbor is Phillip's story.
Phillip begins dating Sybill, a well-known psychologist/sociologist studying small town behavior. However, she's really Seth's aunt, using the research as an excuse to get close to the Quinns and investigate Seth's situation. Her alcoholic/druggie sister Gloria called her with a bogus story about how Seth had been stolen from her when in fact, she sold her son to Ray Quinn and is out of money yet again and the Quinn brothers refuse to fork over more money. Fortunately for her, Sybill didn't stay stupid for too long, and decided that Seth was better off with a family that actually cared about him. Sybill's entrance into the story provides helpful background information about Seth's early childhood, his mother's twisted personality, and the truth beneath the rumors of Seth being a Quinn by real blood.
Chesapeake Blue brings us almost twenty years into the future and Seth is now a famous artist, Boats by Quinn has taken off in the best way, and his brothers have families. As soon as he returns to St. Christopher's, he homes in on a newcomer in town who's just opened a flower shop. And it turns out she's also rich and comes from an affluent family in Washington D.C. The obstacle in their relationship was trust. Seth didn't want to tell Dru about his mother coming back into his life. Then Dru gets pissed because he wouldn't tell her about it. Seth pissed me off with his refusal to tell the other Quinns about his secret payments to his mother over the past dozen years. After all the support they gave him and repeating that Quinns stood together, etc., I kept wanting to shake him and yell, "Tell your brothers! They love you and will help! Stop feeling sorry for yourself!"
I can't pinpoint why, but I didn't like The Quinn Legacy as much as I liked The Quinn Brothers. I think I liked the couples in the first volume more. Maybe it's because both couples this time around are rich all around, and it seems a little hollow at times. I found it hard to feel bad for the female characters: "Aw, poor little rich girl doesn't have a perfect life and she keeps feeling sorry for herself." Despite the annoyances, I did enjoy the story and as it goes in Roberts' series, the last book is like a big epilogue for the couples who were in the previous books.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels

Author: Jasper Fforde
Published: July 24, 2007 (Viking)
Category: Fiction
Series: Thursday Next #5
Rating: 8/10

After two years without a new Thursday Next novel, I devoured the newest entry into the series, which takes place fourteen years after the events of Something Rotten.

Thursday and Landen are reunited, and Goliath has resurrected itself. Spec-Ops has also disbanded most of its departments, and of course, Spec-Ops 27 was not one of those retained. But that's okay, because Thursday keeps busy, what with raising her three children, Friday, Tuesday, and Jenny. She's also running a successful carpet and flooring business.... all while doing secret Spec-Ops work and Jurisfiction work behind Landen's back. On top of leading a triple life, she's got to get Friday, the typical sloth-like teenage boy into the Chronoguard so that he can invent time travel and save the world as we know it.

Oh, and did I mention that she has two other Thursday Nexts working with her in Jurisfiction? Apparently, with Thursday's fame after the SuperHoop, the novelization of events was bound to happen, and there are two versions of herself in the book world: the more popular too-violent rough Thursday, and the quick-to-be-remaindered crunchy granola sensitive Thursday. Both are her cadets, and neither is well suited for the job. However, crunchy Thursday is easier to deal with, and she didn't go popping into the real world and sleeping with Landen.

While dealing with all this, Thursday has to stop the Council of Genres from ruining Pride and Prejudice for the sake of increasing readership rates. And super violent Thursday is helping them so she can take over Thursday's real life.

Fforde definitely hasn't lost his touch for quirky imaginative writing and I was constantly amazed at the stuff I was reading. You really have to wonder what kind of mind it takes to create these worlds within a world, and then hope that he never stops writing. However, this wasn't my favorite Thursday Next novel.

I had hoped to pick up where Something Rotten picked up, only to be jerked into the future. The characters reference things that occurred in The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco, which I assume occurs in the lost fourteen years before First Among Sequels. The book ends on a cliffhanger and I have no idea when the next book is coming out. Fforde even teasingly includes a note on the last page, listing several possible titles for the next Thursday Next novel, and one hints that it will take place before FAS. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there'll be some resolution to that cliffhanger, but if Fforde chooses to go back in time, it'll probably two Thursday Next novels before I find out what happens.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J.K. Rowling
Published: July 21, 2007
Category: YA Fantasy
Rating: 9/10

I'm a little sad that I've finished the final Harry Potter book, as I've been reading them for a long time. When the first one came out, I was working my first retail bookstore job (wow, I was still in high school!) and I mentioned to my manager that I wanted to read it. She scoffed and said that it was a kid's book. I'm glad I didn't listen to her...

Watching the movies doesn't compare to reading the actual books, as some people complained that the latest movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was too dark, and they hope that the next movie is better. I think that a good chunk of those people are of the "Harry Potter is just a kid's book and therefore beneath me" party, thinking that darkness and despair shouldn't be in a "child's" book. Or scarily enough, some of these people don't even think about the fact that the movies are based off of books and therefore have an option to .

Rowling really grew up with each book she wrote and I can see that just based on the change of book bulk on my bookshelf, and Deathly Hallows has shed what's left of the sugar coating the series began with. Far more characters died than I expected, and I wasn't outraged by them, because it would've been far more unrealistic to have a war without casualties. This is the first Harry Potter to make me full out cry when a character died. Sure I teared when Dumbledore died (oh come on, it's not a secret anymore), but this particular death really affected me.

The reason I didn't give a 10/10 is the boring chunk in the early-middle part of the book. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are trying to fulfill their quest to destroy the horcruxes, and as Harry doesn't have the wisdom necessary to figure out the next step, they're waiting around, getting frustrated, and dissent is brewing in the ranks. I'm not saying this doesn't belong in the story, but did it have to take so long?

And one thing I was particularly happy to see in Deathly Hallows was the return of Sirius' mirror. I was so frustrated at the end of Order of the Phoenix when Harry didn't use the mirror until after Sirius died. After all of his risks to speak to Sirius via Floo Powder, he had the means to communicate safely and whenever he wished. And I'd think of poor Sirius, sitting alone at Grimmauld Place, waiting for Harry to contact him in the mirror. And speaking of Grimmauld Place, it was fantastic to see Kreacher snap out of his hateful funk and get along with Harry, and even Hermione. I never thought I'd like Kreacher, but I can say that I've changed my mind.

The epilogue is nice, but I was a little confused on one thing. Who is Victoire? It turns out she's Bill and Fleur's daughter. Rowling originally had a very detailed epilogue, and she revealed the details that were cut out of the final version here. I can understand the wish to leave some things ambiguous so the reader can infer for themselves, but leaving Victoire's origins out was an awkward bump in the epilogue. Apart from that, it was a neat way to tie up the series, very circular and felt right.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Quinn Brothers

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: January 3, 2006
Category: Romance
Series: Chesapeake Bay (Seaswept and Rising Tides)
Rating: 9/10

I had just finished reading The Hunt Club the Tuesday before Harry Potter #7 was released and needed an easy read to while away the remaining time. I figured I'd read one of the two novels inside this omnibus edition. Ha! I was wrong, and read both Seaswept and Rising Tides in two days.

The Quinn brothers aren't actually brothers by blood. Their parents, Ray and Stella Quinn, were unable to have children, and chose to adopt three troubled boys (not at the same time) coming from abusive homes, starting with Cameron, the hero of Seaswept. Then came Ethan and Philip. After Stella's death, Ray adopted yet another troubled boy, Seth, but the difference with Seth is the ugly rumor that he's actually Ray's son, conceived through an affair with one of his students. It's made even uglier by the evidence of huge payments made to Seth's mother.

On Ray's deathbed, he makes his three older sons promise to keep Seth and raise him, as each (now) man has something to teach Seth. Cameron, as the brother without a set job (he used to race expensive fast vehicles all over the world), he had to play stay-at-home-parent and dealt with the tough social worker, Anna Spinelli. The social worker also had a hard time while she was growing up, but has healed thanks to her loving grandparents, and is trying to help other troubled kids through her job. She's also the stereotypical hot woman who tries to hide it behind her dowdy work clothes so people will take her seriously.

Ethan and Grace's story is quieter and sweeter in Rising Tides. They'd loved each other since they were teenagers, but Ethan always figured that with his horrible past, he shouldn't be with someone that bright and beautiful. Because Ethan denied his feelings for Grace, she went off and married a scumbag who ran off while she was pregnant, and she was estranged from her father because he was so disappointed in his little girl. At the end of the book, Grace bridges the gap with her father, and I actually cried at that point.

I really love how Nora Roberts' characters aren't perfect. Each one has some personality quirk or troubled past to overcome in the pursuit of happiness. The idea of the pieces of this family coming together and supporting each other is truly heartwarming and I kept wanting to know more about them. I also think it's the best malecentric storytelling I've read from Roberts. It was over all too soon for me, but luckily, the other Quinns' stories are told in the next omnibus, The Quinn Legacy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Hunt Club

Author: John Lescroart
Published: December 26, 2006 (Signet)
Category: Fiction
Rating: 8/10

This is my first John Lescroart read, and I was surprised at how much I liked The Hunt Club. It starts in the past, when one of our main characters, Wyatt Hunt, used to work in the Child Protection Services in San Francisco. He's one of the few good guys, fighting the good fight despite corruption in the department, particularly in his boss. After he was set up for failure, he left and because a private investigator, collecting an interesting crew in the Hunt Club, ranging from children he'd saved in the CPS to high-powered attorneys.
Homicide inspector Devin Juhle has just caught a major case: the shooting death of a sixty-three-year-old federal judge and his twentysomething mistress. While Juhle works, Hunt plays, hooking up with TV star and legal analyst Andrea Parisi - once he escorts her safely home and sobers her up, that is.
But before Hunt knows it, Juhle's case will be of great interest to the members of The Hunt Club. Especially to Hunt himself. Not just because Andrea's card was found in the wallet of one of the victims, but because just hours after their first romantic encounter, she disappears...
The story is compelling and and the descriptions of San Fran have just the right amount of detail. The pace is well set, without being nonstop, but still riveting at the same time. And when it came time to reveal the murderer? I was totally surprised, which is rare, as I sometimes flip to the last few pages to find out because I get impatient. The ending appealed strongly to my need for a-holes getting what they deserve.

The hint of romance between Hunt and Andrea isn't awkward, unlike the last manly book I read was. I didn't pick up this book to get a romance; I wanted a change from my usual reading! I don't want to read a thinly-constructed romance that's been shoehorned into the storyline.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Old Friends and New Fancies

Author: Sybil J. Brinton
Published: July 2007 (Sourcebooks); 1st printing: 1914 (Holden & Hardingham)
Category: Fiction
Rating: 7/10

When I first started reading Old Friends and New Fancies I had mixed feelings because I felt a bit lost. The only Jane Austen I've read voluntarily is Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice was last read in sophomore year of high school for English. This really lives up to the claim on the cover, "The first Jane Austen sequel ever created," as characters from all six Austen novels are brought together in Bath thanks (or no thanks) to Lady Catherine.

There is a lack in character development, but I might feel that way because I haven't read four of the original Austen novels (sacrilege, I know), and perhaps Brinton expected the reader to have a basic knowledge of the books and characters. I think that to enjoy the book , having a good idea of P&P and Mansfield Park would be the most beneficial. Thanks to Wikipedia, I started reading faster once I wasn't so confused about what was going on.

It's easiest for me to view this from a P&P-centric view, so to me, the book focused on the marital prospects of Georgiana Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Kitty Bennet. Thanks to the social rules of the time, there are a lot of hurdles on the way to matrimonial felicity. Sometimes, I'd say to myself, "If he/she just came out and told him/her about what happened, we wouldn't be reading about enduring emotional suffering for several months." But you know, because the characters are in polite society, they don't talk about the things they should and spread gossip about the things they shouldn't.

Georgiana and Fitzwilliam are engaged at the beginning of the story, but they don't have those kinds of feelings for each other, thank goodness. I'm absolutely skeeved at the idea of cousins marrying each other, and a Georgiana-Fitzwilliam match has not gone unexplored in other novels. They agree to break off the engagement as they will not suit and go off to pursue true love. Fitzwilliam finds it in Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park, a woman with a closet full of skeletons that the horrible Steele sisters are more than eager to let out in the middle of Lady Catherine's party. Of course, Lady Catherine doesn't hesitate to practically kick Mary out of her house, and Mary's pride is injured and she doesn't want anything to do with Lady Catherine's relations, even if she loves one of them.

Georgiana, however, finds herself involved in a love triangle between Kitty Bennet and Lt. William Price of Mansfield Park. Kitty saw him first and is under the impression that Price will offer for her because he's nice to her. If Price knew that being polite to Kitty and asking her for some dances would lead him to such a pickle, I doubt he'd ask any young ladies to dance knowing he might be engaged before he even knew it. He declares himself to Georgiana but she won't have any of it because she's Kitty's friend. Kitty has rejected a marriage proposal from Mr. Morland because she wants Price instead.

It boggles the mind a bit, so I think it'd be easier to show you the book's relationship's in a crude MS Paint diagram. Arrows show where feelings are one-way, mutual, etc.

It does seem confusing, but I found as I kept reading that I really wanted to know what happened next. It was like reading correspondence from my friend inside Old Friends and New Fancies filling me in on the latest gossip. The writing style allows no detail involving our main characters to go unnoticed, and I have no reason to gripe about the book being too boring with basal exposition. It's very character-driven and doesn't wait for you to catch up. I plowed through the second half of the book like nothing. I think I was slow reading the beginning because I dislike Lady Catherine, Lucy Steele Ferrars, and Anne Steele. Awful people! Sadly, no poetic justice for any of those women, unless you count being yelled at by Lady Catherine enough punishment for the Steele sisters.

I enjoyed Old Friends and New Fancies but maybe a real Austen fan who actually reads the original novels would enjoy it to its full capacity.