Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Romeo, Romeo

Author: Robin Kaye
Published: November 2008 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Romance
Rating: 8/10

Do you like that commercial with the hot shirtless guy ironing a dress for his toddler and making dinner reservations for his six-month anniversary, and then cleans the toilet? If so, Romeo, Romeo is the book for you!

Our heroine, Rosalie, is a successful Brooklyn businesswoman, too occupied with her career to find true love. Unfortunately, she's got a long-term boyfriend who wants to marry her so she can help him run a deli and have babies, and a mother who thinks getting married is the true goal of a woman. Nick Romeo is a hugely successful car dealership owner, with locations all over the east coast. He has gorgeous cars and a gorgeous Park Slope brownstone. Oh, and he's gorgeous as well. Aside from the money and good looks, Nick is a really great cook and he vacuums when something's bothering him. Rosalie meets Nick on the side of the Prospect Expressway when she's trying to change her tire, only to find that her idiot brother took her money for a spare tire without actually purchasing one. She assumes Nick, wearing coveralls from the shop at his dealership, is a mechanic, and he doesn't correct her assumption. In fact, he's pretty comfortable with the idea of seeing a woman who doesn't see him as a prime catch for a husband.

I normally have problems with stories where a hero or heroine keeps their identity secret and pretty much lies to the other the whole time, and you know it's going to end badly, but Romeo, Romeo was different, because Rosalie learned Nick's true identity soon after she meets him and understands why he'd keep it from her (too many golddiggers). And maybe my opinion of Nick is painted by his caring for Rosalie when she comes down with pneumonia very soon after they start seeing each other.

The romance is very sweet and very different from most romances I read. While Nick is an alpha male, he's a milder version than those found in the usual alpha male romance; I don't think this book would offend readers who think alpha males are too bossy and arrogant. He also gets along with Rosalie's huge dog, funnily named Dave, which is new to her because Dave hated her ex-boyfriend. I'm a sucker for big, goofy dogs with humorous names, especially when I was considering naming my cat Dave. It was all for the possibility of yelling, "Dave, stop licking your butt," when our (human) friend Dave was over. Sorry, I digress.

As a Brooklyn resident, I was amused by mentions of the Prospect Expressway, where Rosalie's tire blew out (I lived above it!) and the Park Slope neighborhood. The one inaccuracy that bugged me? When Rosalie and Nick were on the subway, Nick holds on to the strap, when there aren't any straps to hang upon anymore.

The suspense/action part of the book seemed a little unnecessary and outlandish, when it would've made more sense to humiliate the white collar thief in a board room. Otherwise, the book moves along smoothly for an excellent weekend read, the kind where you curl up under a big blanket with a purring cat (possibly named Dave) warming your feet.

I'm adding Robin Kaye to my "must read" list!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

At the Bride Hunt Ball

Author: Olivia Parker
Published: May 2008 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 5/10

I picked up At the Bride Hunt Ball after Julia Quinn recommended it on her website. The premise sounded interesting, a sort of regency twist on The Bachelor. I'm always amused by the ridiculousness of reality shows that promise romance and happy endings, and I like Julia Quinn, so this book should be good, right? Not really.

Gabriel Devine, Duke of Wolverest (odd name for a duchy, more of an excuse for the females to liken the Devine men to wolves), doesn't want to marry because his parents didn't have a love match, so he dumps the responsibility on his rakehell younger brother Tristan. He's pretty much forcing Tristan to marry, setting up a private ball/house party with invitations to seven perfect specimens for Tristan to choose from. However, one of the candidates has caught the eye of Gabriel.

Madelyn doesn't want anything to do with any of the Devine men because they are awful, awful rakes! She's only going to the ball because her scheming stepmother is making her go and she wants to protect her best friend Charlotte, who's been in love with Tristan for so long, ever since he helped her family out of a carriage accident. Madelyn's stepmother thinks she should aim for the duke, and has promised Madelyn the little cottage where she grew up if she makes a decent effort in chasing Gabriel.

I thought the book was sloppy. There are all these clues of a side romance between Charlotte and Tristan, but that was yanked away at the very end, without even a hint for Charlotte's happy ending. If Parker was intending to leave Charlotte's story open ended for a future book, it was a terrible way to do so. Madelyn's horrid stepmother never got her comeuppance, just a buttload of money from Gabriel when he anonymously purchased the cottage that Madelyn wanted so much. I was waiting for Madelyn or Gabriel to put the wicked stepmother in her place, but no, nothing of the sort. The "bride hunt" wasn't featured very well, just mentioned briefly in the background, when it could've been so much more amusing. The book turned out poorly balanced as a result.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Lady Chosen

Author: Stephanie Laurens
Published: September 2003 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Bastion Club #1
Rating: 8/10

I think I saw Stephanie Laurens recommended to me on B&N and figured I'd give her a try. She's got favorable reader reviews, appears to have sufficient bodice ripping, and has a big back list. I had no idea the back list was so huge with just her Cynster Family series. I'm hoping it's sort of like Nora Roberts' MacGregor clan. I decided to start with her Bastion Club series, which is about seven titled gentlemen, all former spies, who have retired from service only to find that they're very eligible bachelors. They decide to form the Bastion Club, a place where they can get away from the matchmaking mamas and power-hungry papas. While the men know they must marry, they want to do it on their own terms. As I was such a fan of Rebecca Hagan Lee's Free Fellows League, I liked it before I opened the book.

Tristan, Earl of Trentham, is overseeing the renovations of the house purchased by the Bastion Club, and in the course of doing so, he observes a lovely lady walking in the gardens of the house next door. She is Leonora Carling, a spinster who runs the house for her uncle and brother, and also the only one dealing with the threat to her family. Someone wants to get into their house for an unknown reason and has taken to scaring her and attempting to burgle the place. She introduces herself to Tristan, inquiring if he was the man who wanted to buy their house, and he decides to help her and satisfy this attraction he feels for her. Soon he is drawn into the plot as the Bastion Club is also invaded by the burglar, and Tristan's protectiveness of Leonora only grows stronger.

Thankfully, he realizes she's the only wife he'll ever want, but there's a problem, as he has to marry within the year or lose his income but not his responsibility to his fourteen aged female cousins and great aunts. I was afraid that Leonora would go ballistic when she found out about this condition and think that he's only after her because he'll lose his money, but she came to her senses very quickly, avoiding the drawn out drama that I was expecting. You know, like whenever a heroine finds out she was originally the subject of the bet, she flips out, despite the fact the hero is trying to explain that he fell in love with her and it's not about the bet anymore?

My biggest problem was the flitting about of Leonora sans chaperone. Was it because she was 26 and therefore a spinster and could do whatever she wanted? I'd think you'd need to be more firmly on the shelf before you can go running off without even a maid all over London and its surrounds. In most historicals, the couple will sneak off to neck in the garden, but Tristan managed to sneak off with Leonora to some secluded room and do the nasty with her every night at different events. I understand he was a very good spy and great at collecting intelligence, but finding out which room will be the best place for dalliance at a party is a stretch even for me, a very romantic reader.

This book is long for a historical romance written recently. I remember historicals being much longer several years ago and feel that recent novels are much shorter. The Lady Chosen was very well paced, with a gradual building of love. The descriptions of Tristan's first improprieties are filled with tension, like when he opens her glove to kiss the inside of Leonora's wrist. *swoon* This is going to be a great series! I have the first two Cynster novels on their way to me, if the B&N same day shipping guys can figure out that my office isn't open at 7 p.m., and I may pick up the second Bastion Club novel tomorrow if I'm feeling crazy.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Marie Force - Guest Blog!

Marie Force, author of The Line of Scrimmage is doing a guest blog here today! I'm so happy that she's graced my little blog with her writing as I loved LOS and can't wait to read her next book! I'm also a wee bit romance-happy because the football season has started and my boyfriend will be decidedly unromantic until it's over.

Let's get to Marie's post, shall we? She's even being generous and giving away a signed copy of LOS to a commenter who responds to her question at the end!

How does she do that? by Marie Force

One of the questions I’m often asked is, “How do you write a book?” Stephen King says, “One page at a time.” The writers out there will attest that it’s as simple as Stephan suggests—and much more complicated. Most of the time, I’m convinced I could never teach my process because it’s so bizarre. However, as I’ve connected with more and more writers, I’ve decided we’re all a little bizarre, but that makes us better writers.

So how do I do it? I’ll try to explain my process using my debut novel “Line of Scrimmage” and my spring release “Same Time Sunday” as examples. The seeds of “Line of Scrimmage” began with a vision: boots dropping in a fancy foyer. From that came a series of questions and answers: Are those boots welcome? No. Work boots or cowboy? Cowboy. Definitely cowboy. What if the house is his but he doesn’t live there anymore? And what if the mistress of the house is entertaining her fiancé and his parents when her soon-to-be ex-husband shows up? And what if that ex-husband happens to be an NFL superstar who just won his third Super Bowl championship? And what if he blackmails his wife into spending their last ten days as Mr. and Mrs. together or he’ll stop the divorce? Since she’s due to married in a month, that’s going to be a problem.

That’s exactly how it unfolds in my mind. Then come the decisions about where they’re from, what brought them together, and what broke them up in the first place. Often I don’t have those answers before I start a book. I tend to discover these things as my story unfolds, which I’m told makes me a “linear pantser” in writing vernacular. I write the story in chronological order, I edit as I go, and nothing gets in unless it propels Character X or Character Y’s story forward. Because I go back, re-read, and edit often during the writing process, I end up with a pretty clean first draft. In fact, I recently stumbled upon the hand-written opening scene of “Line of Scrimmage” and discovered that other than a renamed character, not much had changed.

For my second book, “Same Time Sunday,” I began with a conversation I overheard in an airport. Two twenty-somethings, on their way to visit their significant others for the weekend, discover they are on the same flight home and agree to meet up again to compare notes on how their weekends went. That part actually happened in the overheard (note I don’t say eavesdropped”) conversation. From there I wondered, what if both their weekends were a disaster? What if they strike up a friendship that leads to love? What if their exes don’t go quietly? What if he’s a prosecutor on the eve of the biggest murder trial of his career and she gets sucked into it in ways that endanger them both? From there, it was off to the races!

Since I don’t plot, I spend a lot of time staring off into space when a book has me by the throat. During these phases, my kids often ask, “ARE YOU LISTENING TO US?” at the top of their considerable lungs. I have to confess that Mom just took a brief trip to Pluto, but I’m back now and you have my full attention. I do my best zoning/plotting when I’m driving (watch out for a green Honda Odyssey), doing dishes, showering, drying my hair, and vacuuming. I’ve solved a lot of plot issues while sucking up a few days’ worth of dog hair. I’ve run dripping from the shower to the computer to get something down before I forget it. Bizarre? You bet. My friend Chris likes to say that my mind is a strange, scary place. Of course I take that as a compliment!

To the writers out there, are you a plotter, a seat-of-the-pantser, a linear plotter, a linear pantser, an organic or what? To the readers, are you more convinced than ever after reading this that all writers are a little bit nuts? I’ll give away a signed copy of “Line of Scrimmage” to one lucky commenter, so let’s hear from you!

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Book of Scandal

Author: Julia London
Published: August 2008 (Simon & Schuster)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

The Book of Scandal reminds me very much of another book I read recently, The Line of Scrimmage. Like LOS, the hero and heroine of BOS became estranged after the death of their baby (although LOS was a miscarriage). Rather than being set in the modern day, BOS is set in England during the Delicate Investigation, which was looking into the Princess of Wales' behavior and possible birthing of a royal bastard. In retaliation, Princess Caroline is threatening to publish correspondence with the King, which contains many details of scandals at court.

The Earl and Countess of Lindsey have been estranged for three years, with Evelyn residing in London and Nathan in the country. Evelyn serves Princess Mary and Nathan has earned the reputation as the Libertine of Lindsey, holding house parties filled with gambling, drinking, hunting, and loose women. When Nathan learns that Evelyn may be named in Princess Caroline's Book of Scandal, she may disgrace his family and possibly result in their family lands being taken away by the Crown. The most obvious solution? Drag her home to the country and put on a show that they've reconciled so Evelyn's supposed actions will be less likely to be punished.

Once home, Evelyn and Nathan are at odds, bickering with each other at first, but drawing closer and closer, talking about how badly they had handled the mourning of their son. At such an early stage of their marriage, they weren't friends enough to understand each other. With three years of life past, they've grown up some and fall in love for real. Just when they're almost reconciled, an attempt is made on Evelyn's life and they realize someone believes she knows something about the royal scandal. The only way to ensure Evelyn's safety is to go back to London and get to the bottom of the mess, and London's the last place she wants to go, as it brings up the uncomfortable subject of the man she almost had an affair with before Nathan showed up.

This is Julia London at her best, with a fantastic dramatic love story full of easy-t0-understand historical detail. I never knew very much about the Delicate Investigation or Princess Caroline, so it was nice to learn something new.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Line of Scrimmage

Author: Marie Force
Published: September 2008 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Romance
Rating: 9/10

Line of Scrimmage doesn't waste any time, as the book starts with Susannah, our heroine, dining with her fiancé and future in-laws when her soon-to-be ex-husband drops his cowboy boots in the foyer. Ryan Sanderson, the boot dropper, is a famous quarterback and has just won his third Superbowl, but he wants his wife back, and is going to spend the last ten days of their marriage to show her he's a worthy husband.

I couldn't put this book down and I did tear up a couple times because it shows a couple working through their difficulties with such heartbreaking detail. Susannah and Ryan started having serious problems when she miscarried and they couldn't share their grief with one another, so they started drifting apart. When they're together again, they talk through their feelings from that terrible time and get closer than they were before. Of course this wasn't just a tearjerker, as there were plenty of times where I chuckled.

You'd think the book would be pretty thin if they get together by the end of ten days, but there are more conflicts layered on. Susannah has to deal with her fiancé, who was her friend since she was a teen, and he's always been hoping for her marriage to fail so he could have her back again, feeding her with ugly thoughts about Ryan. Then Ryan is set up a couple times and the evil fiancé makes him think that Susannah is too good for a guy with a low class childhood. You'd think it would be too much conflict, but it really worked and I think Force found a great rhythm.

Ryan is the perfect guy. He knows he's made mistakes and wants to work it out and thinks his wife is the perfect woman for him. I'd usually say that I wish he were mine, but I liked Ryan and Susannah so much that I'm glad their story ended so well. I will definitely be reading more Marie Force; she has another book coming out next year.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Line of Scrimmage - Author Q & A

I've been a huge fan of romances involving football, like Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars series, so when I heard about Marie Force's new book, Line of Scrimmage, I had to find out more. In short, it's about an NFL quarterback whose wife is about to divorce him because she's sick of being number two to his career. He realizes he misses her and demands they spend the last ten days of their marriage together or he'll call off the divorce. My actual review will follow in the next couple weeks as I've just gotten it. In the meantime, check out this Q & A with Marie Force:
  1. Where did you get your inspiration for Line of Scrimmage?
    I had a vision of cowboy boots landing in a foyer, and I knew they weren’t welcome there. The rest of the story sprang from that vision. Ryan’s boots land in Susannah’s foyer while she’s entertaining her fiancé and his parents. To say her soon-to-be ex-husband is unwelcome at this event would be putting it mildly. With just ten days until their divorce is final, Susannah thinks she’s home free until Ryan shows up and “blackmails” her into spending their last days as Mr. and Mrs. together. It all goes back to the boots!

  2. Not only do you go into detail to describe plays, there’s a lot of player-to-player interaction that seems pretty authentic! What kind of research did you do for this book?
    Thank you for that compliment! As someone who never really. . . um . . . liked football all that much, it was a huge surprise when the Muse presented me with Ryan. Since I’m big into baseball, I tried to remake him into a star shortstop, but Ryan wasn’t willing to be reinvented. He was every inch the NFL quarterback, so I immersed myself in football during the 2006 season. My husband was thrilled (not) with my newfound interest and the litany of questions I peppered him with during the games. I also relied on my brother and a girlfriend who are football fanatics to make sure I got the facts right. As for the dialogue between Ryan and his teammates, I wish I could say I visited a locker room or two and hung out with big, sweaty men wearing skimpy towels, but in reality my goal was to have their interaction reflect the way guys talk to each other in general, not just in football.

  3. Susannah seems so certain that she will be happy with her new fiancé, Henry, but Ryan is goes above and beyond to prove that they are meant to be, which brings about a lot of conflict. What was your favorite part about creating this tension?
    Writing Ryan in all his over-the-top glory was so much fun! I love the way he talks down to Henry even though he’s scared to death that Susannah is really going to pick Henry over him. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Susannah is telling Ryan that he could have any woman he wants, and he says the only one he wants is the one right in front of him. “You can’t have me,” she says. “What part of that don’t you understand?” To which he replies, “Um, the ‘can’t’ part?” He pulls this intentionally obtuse routine with Henry, too, which makes for some major fireworks between the two men vying for Susannah’s heart.

  4. Even though Ryan could have any woman in the world, he chose Susannah back when they were in college. While he was able to go forth in his career, Susannah takes a back seat, doesn’t finish school and supports Ryan (for as long as she can). What do you think this aspect of the back story added to their divorce?
    When she left school to marry Ryan, Susannah was young and in love and under the impression that love would get them through any challenge. The series of events that led to their separation taught her that sometimes love isn’t enough. This is especially true when you’re competing with your husband’s larger-than-life career, public image, and sex-symbol status. I made sure Susannah spent the year she and Ryan were separated reestablishing her own life and figuring out who she is without him at the center of everything.

  5. Henry, Susannah’s new fiancé, while wimpy and conniving, has always been second fiddle to Ryan. Do you think some of his initial actions are justified because he wants to be with Susannah, a woman he’s been in love with since high school and had always “been there” for (as he feels)?
    Absolutely! Henry has loved Susannah since they were in high school and is on the cusp of having everything he ever dreamed of with her when Ryan shows up. Henry, who was Susannah’s high school boyfriend, is definitely nerdy, but his conniving side comes out in full force when he realizes Susannah might be capitulating to Ryan’s campaign to win her back. Susannah broke up with Henry after she met Ryan in college. Since then, she’s thought of Henry as a friend and never paid much attention to his passive aggressive behavior when she and Ryan were together. Ryan, however, was well aware of Henry’s obsession with Susannah and refers to him the “third person” in their marriage.

  6. What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?
    Perseverance is the key to this business. Before I sold, my motto was: “The only thing I know for sure is if I give up, it’ll never happen.” No one else is going to do it for you, so you have to stick with it no matter how many lumps you take, no matter how many rejections you receive or roadblocks you encounter. If you want to be a writer, WRITE every day. Nora Roberts has a great quote about how you can’t edit a blank page. It’s so true! Don’t get caught up in activities that take time away from your writing. I’ve learned to say no to a lot of things. I only volunteer in my kids’ schools, for instance, if the activity directly involves them. Finally, keep writing while you’re waiting to sell. “Line of Scrimmage” was the seventh book I wrote and the first one I sold. The third book I wrote will go next. “Same Time Sunday” (and it’s not about football, despite the name) will be out next spring. How glad am I that I wrote a lot before I sold? Very glad! Sometimes it takes a while to find an agent and an editor who “get” you. I’m thrilled to have both now.

  7. What else do you do other than write?
    I have two children, a daughter who’s 13, and a son, who’ll be 10 in October, and they keep me busy! My family would say I don’t do much besides work the day job and write at night, but I also read something every day, even if it’s just a magazine or the newspaper. I love to spend time at the beach, but my favorite way to pass a summer day is on my dad’s boat with my husband and kids as well as my brother’s family. We have a good time out there! I wrote about my love of the water on my website at www.mariesullivanforce.com/about.php if you want to read more. After ten years of living away from the Northeast when my husband was in the Navy, I’ve also developed a whole new appreciation for snow days. I used to hate snow! Now, it’s a lovely excuse to light a fire and write, write, write all day while the kids play outside.

  8. What’s next for your writing?
    I’ve been writing about “Line of Scrimmage” all summer! :-) I’m working on the second book in a suspense series, and I have a fun idea for another single-title contemporary. I knew this was going to be a crazy summer, so I gave myself a few months “off” from new projects. Now I’m ready to get back to the WIP!

  9. What are you currently reading?
    I brought back a box full of fun books from RWA National. I’m looking forward to “Sugar Daddy” by Lisa Kleypas (who was sooooo nice); “Say Goodbye” by Lisa Gardner, a member of my RWA Chapter and a lovely person; and “Nightkeepers” by Jessica Andersen, another chapter friend. I just finished Brenda Novak’s Last Stand series, and I loved it. Of course, I recommend all my Sourcebooks Casablanca sisters’ books! You can view the fabulous covers and read more about the books on our Casablanca Authors Blog at http://casablancaauthors.blogspot.com/.

  10. What’s your writing process? When do you write best?
    I learned at a recent chapter meeting that I’m a “linear pantser.” I don’t do outlines, plotting, or storyboards. I start with the germ of an idea (such as “the boots”) and go from there. I write, go back, re-read, edit, think, write some more, and then repeat the process. I keep all the various threads in my head, which will no doubt explode some day soon, and somehow end up with a decent first draft that doesn’t require much revising. I’d have trouble teaching someone to write a book the way I do it. It’s one of those “don’t try this at home” things. I write at night and on weekends—and only after the day job is done, the laundry folded, the kids played with, the lunches made, etc.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Breaking Dawn

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Published: August 2, 2008 (Little, Brown)
Category: YA/Paranomal Romance
Series: Twilight Saga #4
Rating: 7/10

I just happened to be next door to Barnes and Noble at 11 p.m. on Friday, August 1st, so Josh caved and went to the midnight release with me. I felt like I'd been cheated out of the whole midnight release experience with Harry Potter, so I figured I'd go to this one. Wow, what a mistake. Getting the book wasn't a problem. It was getting home that sucked, as my train stopped running at 12:01 a.m. and Josh was angry with me for wanting the book ("What difference does it make if you get the book the next day?!"). He says he's never going to another one of these things with me.

I know a lot of bad things have been said about Breaking Dawn, and how some readers hated it so much that they want their money back and are pledging never to buy another book by Stephenie Meyer (my money's on those people going to the library instead). Um, if you see a movie you don't like, do you ask for your money back? I was satisfied with the book, maybe a little surprised at times, but I was happy with the ending, which happened to leave it open for future books. The 7/10 is mostly for the middle of the book, which is narrated by Jacob, my least favorite character, and the ultra-dramatic emotions going on at the time.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The MacGregor Grooms

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: 1998; Reissued July 2008 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Series: The MacGregor Family
Rating: 8/10

This is the last of Nora Roberts' MacGregor stories, as her contract ended before she finished writing about the rest of Daniel MacGregor's grandchildren. The three stories in The MacGregor Grooms have heroines that choose to push away the handsome, charming MacGregor men, all to save their hearts from breaking.

My favorite of the three was D.C. and Layna's story. D.C., the bachelor artist, is of course, determined not to get married like three of his female cousins just did (in The MacGregor Brides). Daniel (Grandpa) asks D.C. to do him a favor and escort Layna to a charity event, but no worries, it's not one of his matchmaking schemes, because Layna is absolutely not for D.C. Daniel says he doesn't think they're a good match. Of course, that makes it easier for D.C. to fall for Layna, and Daniel knew it'd work out that way.

The MacGregor books are great for a cozy, heartwarming read. Unlike a lot of Roberts' other books, the MacGregor stories are all about the relationship without her usual suspense elements.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bright Lights, Big Ass

Author: Jen Lancaster
Published: May 1, 2007 (NAL)
Category: Memoir
Rating: 8/10

Jen Lancaster isn't perfect, but she's really funny. Yes, she's very confident, but also isn't afraid of criticizing herself too. In her first book, Bitter is the New Black, she documents her fall from a high-paying dotcom job and the drastic change in her lifestyle as a result. In this installment, Jen describes various incidents that counter Carrie Bradshaw's declarations about how life in a big city is oh-so-glamorous, all while she's anxiously awaiting the publication of Bitter.

This is a great read, not just for the beach, but beware: laughing aloud on the subway may occur when reading especially funny parts like the one where she was at her dreaded yearly gyno exam (I know that feeling - my heart races just thinking about it) and her paper gown exploded and she tried to staple it back together. I had to stop reading until I got home because I was starting to snort and didn't want the other subway riders to think I was crazy.

Bright Lights was just as funny as Bitter; Jen's sharp, smart humor is back with her hilarious asides stuck in footnotes and tons of stories about her dogs and husband (who likes Rachael Ray, but Jen has a whole chapter about why Rachael is NOT awesome - hurray!). Her third book, Such a Pretty Fat came out in May and I'm adding it to my TBR.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chasing Harry Winston

Author: Lauren Weisberger
Published: May 2008 (Simon & Schuster)
Category: Chick Lit
Rating: 7/10

I've never read any Lauren Weisberger before this, although I did see the movie of The Devil Wears Prada.

Chasing Harry Winston is about three unlikely friends. Well, one is more unlikely than the other two, because she is Adriana, a Brazilian trust fund child of a former supermodel. Leigh and Emmy are the more "norma" of the trio, with Leigh working in publishing as a rising star in editorial and Emmy as the romantic (think Charlotte of SATC) of the bunch. She wants the white picket fence, smart and funny husband, and 2.5 kids.

Actually, Leigh reminds me of Carrie in her engaged-to-Aidan days, because Leigh has the perfect guy. He's the most sought-after bachelor in Manhattan (a sportscaster for ESPN) and happens to be sweet and considerate. When he proposes, Leigh says yes because it's what's expected of her, not because she's happy. Leigh's got a lot of personal space quirks, like all her friends and family know that Monday is off limits. She likes to sit in her apartment by herself. She inevitably has an affair with the married author she's editing and breaks up with her fiance, but winds up happy. I just didn't like her because she was a coward and kept being all quirky (not in a funny way), having anxiety attacks, and shutting people out. She could've avoided a lot of her so-called anxiety if she broke up with the sportscaster when she was feeling smothered before the engagement.

And Emmy? She lets her friends convince her to have sex with a bunch of random guys all over the world because she's always been in long-term relationships, and any new relationship opportunities that come up are immediately analyzed for future-husband potential. She even gets embarrassingly attached to a hot Israeli dude, thinking that he'll change all his plans for her after their one-night stand. You cringe a little reading that particular part; it's so awkward. And all this sleeping around? It didn't get her a Harry Winston ring.

I was surprised to find that the character I liked the most was the one I thought I'd dislike most: Adriana. She's spoiled and beautiful, but her character makes the most improvement, even adopting Emmy's parrot (leftover from another long-term boyfriend) and doing research to give him appropriate care. She reforms herself from a jobless trust fund baby to a successful magazine columnist, and becomes more responsible, finally moving out of her parents' penthouse.

The book isn't bad; it's pretty good for a summer beach read. Just don't expect to learn much from the characters.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dark Moon Defender

Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: September 25, 2007 (Ace)
Category: Fantasy
Series: Twelve Houses #3
Rating: 9/10

This is my favorite of the Twelve Houses books so far. I felt like overall series storyline moved along nicely, and we also learn more about the mysterious Lirrenfolk who live over the mountains in eastern Gillengaria, with their own brand of magic. This is also the only book so far that I could see real romantic novel-ish elements.

Justin and Ellynor's romance was forbidden in a number of ways. First she's from the Lirrenlands, and Lirren women are not supposed to marry outsiders. If they do, one of her relatives will duel her suitor to the death. Most women will lie to their suitor, denying any affection rather than risking the death of a family member or her lover. Also, Ellynor's a novice at the Daughters of the Pale Moon convent, and is supposed to make like a nun and stay chaste. Justin, a King's Rider, sees the Lestra and her Daughters of the Pale Moon as enemies because the Lestra is hunting mystics and orchestrating a rebellion against the king.

Ellynor didn't know about the mystic hunting, and once she witnesses the Lestra burning down a house with its mystic owner inside, her eyes are opened and she must escape. Unfortunately, her cousin Rosurie, the reason she's there at the convent at all, doesn't want to leave. Rosurie had been a bad Lirren girl, falling in love with a boy from an enemy Lirren clan, and her family sent her to the convent until they settled the matter, and sent Ellynor to keep her company (and in check hopefully). Instead, Rosurie becomes a fanatic and drives herself into a coma with her religious fervor, and Ellynor delays her escape because of this, resulting in Justin's near-death by convent soldiers.

I was mad when Ellynor got captured after she and Justin made an escape from the convent. It was all her fault for wanting to stay so long with a relative of the Lestra, who she had healed previously. A servant betrays her and convent soldiers arrive to take Ellynor back to the convent that she'd wanted to escape so badly, and she's slated for burning at the stake, and needs rescuing yet again.

All characters from the previous books are back again, which is lovely, and they're more family-like than ever, particularly at the end, when Justin has to come up with an heirloom bride gift for Ellynor. Definitely the best so far!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The MacGregor Brides

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: 1997 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Series: The MacGregors
Rating: 8/10

This installment of the MacGregor family books tells the stories of three of Daniels granddaughters: Laura (daughter of Caine and Diana), Gwen (daughter of Serena and Justin), and Julia (daughter of Alan and Shelby).

My favorite was Gwen's story, partially because Branson Maguire discovered Daniel's plot and embraced it; he'd already fallen in love with Gwen. All the other couples fought Daniel's matchmaking, even though he'd found them the perfect partners.

The stories were nice, but the three women getting mad at Daniel for throwing their perfect matches at them was getting tiring. Each of them says they'll know when Daniel's setting them up, but they fall for it every time. The book is also charming because you get to see how their fathers deal with the idea of their baby girls getting married, or just kissing a guy (Caine's violent reaction, classic overprotective father, is the best).

Definitely read this if you're a fan of the MacGregors.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eclipse

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Published: August 2007 (Little Brown)
Category: Paranormal Romance/YA
Series: Twilight Saga #3
Rating: 9/10

Oh Stephenie Meyer, what have you done to me? Please provide another serving of textual crack so I can stop rereading my favorite parts of Twilight. Anyways, receiving Eclipse was a reward to myself for finishing my move into a new apartment. Also, if I had the book, I wouldn't have gotten any packing accomplished.

Eclipse picks up soon after New Moon left off, with Bella and Edward reunited and her preparing to become a vampire. However, more danger is on the horizon, with someone creating vampires in nearby Seattle, and someone is sneaking into Bella's room to steal her clothes for her scent, and the Volturi (heads of the vampire world) may come to take care of the Seattle problem and stop by to see if Bella's still a human. If she's not a vampire, she'll be killed because no humans are supposed to know about their world. At the same time, Edward is trying to push back Bella's changing, and comes up with the condition that he'll turn her if she marries him first, knowing that Bella has an aversion to marrying young. He's starting to get used to the idea of Bella becoming a vampire, but he doesn't want her to do it because she's afraid of the impending doom of a newborn vampire army hunting her. He wants her to do it of her own free will, not because she's afraid of being killed.

And to add to the angst, Jacob, Bella's pseudo best friend, werewolf, and other part of the love triangle, isn't giving up. Edward makes the good point to Jacob that even though Jacob may love Bella now, as a werewolf, he could imprint on his true mate when she comes along and leave Bella. I was going to give this a 10/10, but the Jacob portion of the storyline bugged me too much. Yes, it's good to have some romantic competition, but Jacob manipulated Bella, and most of the time, he was a little boy trying to act grown up. He knew acting depressed would make Bella feel bad and then he offers to die while fighting vampires so Bella can have what she wants. Ugh.

It's obvious I'm on "Team Edward," but it's mostly because Edward was willing to step back if that's what made Bella happy. Jacob did not take that route in his rough courtship, not taking "no" for an answer and disregarding Bella when she says she loves Edward. And near the end, Jacob has the nerve to say he's like that woman in the King Solomon story who gives up the baby rather than letting it get cut in half. Ummm.... Edward's been like that the whole time, so do you want a cookie or something? I spent most of the book saying, "I hate Jacob!" Stephenie Meyer better not make Bella flip back to Jacob in the last book!

Aside from the Jacob stuff, I loved everything else! Bring on Breaking Dawn!

I was introduced to the world of Twilight less than two weeks ago, and browsing fan sites on the internet is crazy. I find it funny that a lot of people don't agree with the casting of Robert Pattinson as Edward, but I think he's a good fit for the role. Just look at him... and that hair! I can't believe some people think Hayden Christiansen would be a good Edward Cullen. Gah, remember what he did to Star Wars? Or maybe the teenagers who're going nuts about Pattinson being casted were too young to remember the horror of Hayden Christiansen as Anakin Skywalker? I hope they'll give Pattinson a chance and at least see the acting before they string him up.

I'm very excited for the future of the series, especially after seeing this B&N video of Stephenie Meyer discussing Breaking Dawn and the next book after that, which is Twilight told from Edward's perspective (I think it's called Midnight Sun). Breaking Dawn is called the last book in the Twilight Saga because it's the last one told from Bella's perspective. Meyer also talks about how each book in the series drew from a classic, like the first was a little Pride and Prejudice, the second obviously Romeo and Juliet, and the third, and best interpretation so far, Wuthering Heights. She picked some great passages from Wuthering Heights to illustrate the love triangle, and ultimately, Bella's feelings for Edward.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Lost Duke of Wyndham

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: May 2008 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: The Two Dukes of Wyndham #1
Rating: 6/10

Jack Audley, formerly a respected soldier and currently a highwayman, has just held up his grandmother's coach, and then kissed her companion, the lovely Grace Eversleigh, while grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Wyndham, fetched a miniature of his father. While on the way back to England from Ireland, Jack's father died in a shipwreck, and his family never knew that he'd married in Ireland and fathered a legitimate son. If the marriage record is found, Jack would become the true Duke of Wyndham, displacing his cousin, Thomas, who has been raised as the future duke.

Jack doesn't want the dukedom, but his grandmother, who still hasn't completely redeemed herself by the end of the book, is shoving it down his throat because she wants to restore him to his rightful place, mostly because she liked Jack's father more than Thomas's father. Usually this sort of older character is amusing and has a really soft heart, but the dowager didn't have many good moments and annoyed me most of the time. And then out of left field, it turns out Jack can't read, probably because of dyslexia, and that's partially why he doesn't want to be duke. I thought that was completely unnecessary; Jack didn't need that extra excuse to decline the dukedom. The responsibilities that come with the title are more than daunting to someone who never expected to inherit them. And did I really want to spend most of the book reading about a character who doesn't want the power and responsibility? That's why I didn't like the Spider-Man movies!

I felt like the romance took second place to Jack and Thomas dealing with the possible monumental changes to their lives. Once Grace and Jack's mutual attraction was established, it felt like their story was on autopilot, and I was kind of disappointed in The Lost Duke of Wyndham. I'm hoping that the sequel, Mr. Cavendish, I Presume is fantastic and makes up for this one.

Friday, June 06, 2008

New Moon

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Published: September 2006 (Little Brown)
Category: Paranormal Romance/YA
Series: Twilight Saga #2
Rating: 8/10

So in my review of Twlight I mentioned that I couldn't wait to read the next book. Clearly, I didn't, as I whipped through New Moon in less than a day.... a working day. I should also mention that I got NO packing accomplished for my move this weekend. I'm so screwed with that, so I am not allowing myself to purchase the third book, Eclipse, until after I move.

This review is a bit difficult to write because I'm trying to judge based on the writing, not the fact that I was unhappy with a turn the story took. At the beginning of New Moon, one of Edward's family nearly kills Bella when she gets a paper cut. When Edward sees that Bella's association with him has put her in danger yet again, he breaks up with her, and not just in the "we're not dating anymore" way. His whole family leaves Forks, WA right after he tells her he doesn't want her.

Bella's heart breaks, and Meyer wrote it so well. I was sort of reminded of how my chest had that empty feeling right after a relationship ended. I love the way she showed time passing with nearly empty pages that just had the name of a month in the middle. That's how it feels when you've just had your heart ripped out by your true love. I won't say that's how it feels when you're young, because heartbreak is never easy.

You can guess that my main problem with the book is Edward leaving because I love him! I understand that he's doing it because he thinks he's bad for Bella. He doesn't want to change her into a vampire because he believes he'd be stealing her soul and humanity, and he's afraid she'll be hurt because she's a fragile human. You can't call him a jerk because he's thinks he's doing what's best for Bella, giving her a chance at life as a human. But then Bella begins filling the void in her chest by doing dangerous things, like riding motorcycles, approaching men in dark alleys, and jumping off cliffs.

Yes, this book was more teen angsty than Twilight, but it wasn't bad. The werewolves hinted at in Twilight make an appearance, and I hope this isn't going to be another unsatisfactory lycan vs. vampire thing like when I saw Underworld, but I'm going off on a tangent. The ending was good, but bittersweet, and is a pseudo-cliffhanger. I'm getting antsy here because I want the next book already!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Twilight

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Published: September 2006 (Little Brown)
Cateogry: Paranormal Romance/YA
Series: Twilight Saga #1
Rating: 10/10

I've finally given Twilight a try, and I'm so very glad I did. I was hesitant to pick it up these past couple years because of all the hype and the fact that it's YA vampire romance. I was afraid it would be very angsty Buffy-Angel stuff, and I fear that having past the 25 years old mark, I'm too old for this stuff. The last YA paranormal romance series I read was Cate Tiernan's Sweep series, and I think this book had far less angst than Sweep.

When Bella Swan's mother remarries, Bella decides to move from Phoenix to her father's house in a small town in Washington. She's not looking forward to leaving sunny Arizona for the rainy Pacific Northwest, but she wants her mom to enjoy traveling with her new professional athelete husband. On Bella's first day at school, all the boys are intrigued by the new girl, and she draws the attention of extraordinarily and eerily handsome Edward Cullen. He looks like he's angry at her, and she doesn't know why.

Edward's reacting poorly to his sudden and inexplicable attraction to Bella, a forbidden human. He tries running away from her, but it doesn't work, and he gives in to his desire to know her and be with her. It makes you think back to the cover image of the apple, as Bella is Edward's temptation. He has incredible self control, teaching himself to stand being near Bella without hurting her with his superhuman powers or his hunger for her blood.

I was expecting Edward's family to reject Bella, but for the most part, they're very accepting of Bella because she makes Edward happy. I thought they were going to pull one of those "She's not one of us!" things and be all close-minded. When the threat of other vampires comes to Bella, Edward's family bands together to keep her safe. In order to protect her, Edward and Bella must separate so she has a better chance of survival, and Meyer writes the pain of separation so well, you can practically feel the heartache.

Twilight is a beautiful story of first love, and not just any first love. It's true love in that Romeo and Juliet way, but hopefully without the tragic ending because they've got a lot working against them. I was up to the last chapter this morning and picked up the next book, New Moon, on the way to work because I didn't want to take my usual break between series books. I was sucked in within ten pages, which is rare for me, and I can't wait to read more!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The MacGregors: Daniel and Ian

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: March 2007 (Silhouette)
Cateogory: Romance
Series: The MacGregor Family
Rating: 6/10

This was my least favorite of all the MacGregors books. While Daniel is funny as the patriarch of the family, I didn't enjoy the story of his romance with the quietly strong Anna. He's the same as he is 30 years in the future. In fact, I may like Daniel less after reading his story.

The story of Ian was a historical romance about a MacGregor ancestor. I felt like it was blah, nothing special. I prefer stories about the present-day MacGregors. This is definitely a book you can skip for this series.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Olive Farm

Author: Carol Drinkwater
Published: June 25, 2002 (Penguin)
Category: Memoir/Travel
Rating: 7/10

I hit one of those romance walls again, where I can't bring myself to read another romance and have to read something from a different genre. It's like sorbet in the middle of a meal for palate cleansing.

Carol Drinkwater is a British actress and writers, best known for her work playing James Herriot's wife in the UK television series based on his books. In The Olive Farm, she recounts her crazy decision to buy a rundown olive farm olive farm with her fiancé Michel, a French film/TV producer. They'd only known each other a few months and were living separately in France and England, and they weren't rich either, so all of Drinkwater's friends and families thought she was insane for considering the purchase.

Drinkwater's descriptions of life on an overgrown olive farm are beautiful and I know it sounds cliché, but they made me feel like I was standing on her terrace and looking over the wild olive trees and orchard in the heat of southern France. I loved her stories about harvesting the olives and the pressing process. The book isn't just about the olives, but also about her and Michel's growing love and becoming a family.

However, I was annoyed often with the obstacles Drinkwater described. Most of the time, it was about how they didn't have enough money, but I thought they threw their money around irresponsibly. Why buy all these flowers and hundreds of rose bushes when there are more important things to take care of, like a leaking roof? While it is so romantic to buy this house on impulse, I kept thinking that the two of them weren't prepared for owning a summer home that needed so much work. During the summer, Michel flew down from Paris every weekend to be there, and oftentimes, Drinkwater would fly there from England. Just think of all the money spent on airfare!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Hollow

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: May 6, 2008 (Jove)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Sign of Seven Trilogy #2
Rating: 9/10

I've been waiting for this book for so long that I went into a ready slump the week beforehand in anticipation. Then when it arrived, I started reading it and then realized I should reread Blood Brothers so everything would be fresh.

The Hollow focuses on Fox and Layla, who share the ability to look into other people's minds and interpret the present. Cal and Quinn share the ability to see into the past and Gage and Cybil get glimpses of possible futures. While Fox has gotten used to his special power over the past 21 years, Layla has a hard time accepting her newfound power. She's also the odd-girl out, as Quinn and Cybil make a living investigating the paranormal, and all three men have been dealing with the horrors of the Seven since they were ten. Layla was managing a trendy boutique in Manhattan when she started having the dreams about Hawkins Hollow and picked up her life to figure out why she needs to be in this odd town that suffers a week of insanity in July every seven years.

Since, Fox's secretary decided to move away from Hawkins Hollow before the next Seven, he hired Layla to replace her. He just has to remind himself not to jump his hot secretary like some cliche. He takes it slow with Layla, charming her and kissing her in the supply closet when she needs his help reaching for something, then introducing her to his quirky hippie family with some embarrassment (his mom walks in on their first kiss in the supply closet).

It's also interesting to see that Gage and Cybil figured out that the group is pairing off, and perhaps it was meant to be, but they're not exactly thrilled about that, with Gage's "no serious relationships" rule.

Sigh. The final book, The Pagan Stone comes out in December. Why do I have to wait so long? The paranormal events are escalating in frequency and intensity, but I found that I wasn't as creeped out as I was while reading Blood Brothers. Really, nothing beats creepy demon kid peering into your second-story window in the middle of the night.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Thirteenth House

Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: February 27, 2007
Category: Fantasy
Series: Twelve Houses #2
Rating: 6/10

Kirra, serramarra of Danalustrous, has just returned home from rescuing Romar Brendan, the kingdom's regent, and finds out that her younger sister has been made heir to her father, the marlord of Danalustrous. Some people think she should be upset because she's the eldest and it should've gone to her, but others are happy because who wants a mystic shiftling running their House? Kirra understands why her sister was chosen over her, and even agrees to masquerade as Casserah in social tour of Gillengaria. Eventually, she runs into Romar again, and she reveals her true identity to him, and they begin an affair (he's married).

I was a little disappointed in this book because Kirra seemed so selfish for most of it. Does she want to be the kind of woman who breaks a marriage apart? Is Romar the kind of man to set his wife (who has done no wrong) aside? And at the same time, Donnal, her shiftling companion, has loved her always, but watches as she falls for the wrong man. Then Kirra gets jealous of Princess Amalie, who is also on the tour, because Donnal spends a lot of time guarding her.

Good thing: All the characters from Mystic and Rider return, most of the group being present to guard the princess. The bonds between the group members grow stronger, with Justin being the person to finally scold Kirra for her behavior, and Cammon's reading powers seem even more limitless than before. In terms of overall series storyline, I feel like not a lot happened regarding the Daughters of the Pale Mother and their evil leader, the mystic-hunting Lestra.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Natural Born Charmer

Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published: April 2008 (HarperCollins)
Category: Romance
Series: Chicago Stars #7
Rating: 8/10

Sorry, super short review. It's the usual more than your average romance again. The story is more than just the main couple; it involves Dean's odd and scattered family. It's a funny and poignant love story that isn't just about romantic love, but family love too. Very very sorry about crappiness of this post because it's late August and I read this months ago!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Red Lily

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: November 29, 2005 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Series: In the Garden Trilogy #3
Rating: 7/10

Finally, the end of the ghost mystery! Red Lily features the story of Hayley, the very pregnant young woman who showed up on Roz's doorstep in Blue Dahlia. No longer pregnant, but a single mom, Hayley has been working at In the Garden alongside Roz and Stella. She and Harper are falling for each other, but Hayley finds herself under the control of the Harper Bride ghost with increasing frequency.

You know what's a little freaky? The ghost possesses Hayley while she and Harper are going at it. The ghost is Harper's great-great-grandmother or something! Eeuw!

This is definitely not one of my favorite trilogies. I know a lot of Roberts' characters are similar from book to book, but this trilogy felt especially unoriginal characterwise. That being said, I think Red Lily was the best of the trilogy.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Black Rose

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: May 31, 2005 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Series: In the Garden Trilogy #2
Rating: 6/10

This entry into the In the Garden Trilogy shows us that grandmas are not too old to get it on, as Roz finds new love in the geeky (but hot in that Indiana Jones way) Mitchell Carnegie, who's doing the research on the Harper Bride ghost.

I felt like there was nothing special about the romance, even with the jerky ex-husband who returned to town to spread lies about Roz, making her the bad guy in their divorce. He was the one who stole thousands of dollars from her!

The ghost gets a little more interesting, and she even defends Roz when she's in danger of being hurt by jerky ex-husband. But the ghost is also a little crazy because she tries to kill Roz earlier.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The MacGregors: Alan and Grant

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: March 2006 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Series: MacGregors
Rating: 8/10

Sorry, I read this one four months ago and never posted a review.

Alan is the last of Daniel and Anna's offspring to tie the knot. He's a handsome US Senator and his party wants him to be President. While tossing that idea around in his head, he's falling for Shelby Campbell, owner of a high-end shop selling her own pottery. Shelby is falling for Alan as well, but she doesn't want to get involved in the world of politics again, as her father was a senator too and was assassinated before her eyes when she was a little girl. I found the easy approach to politics entertaining and I always like it when a Roberts character has a cool job, like making pottery.

The second story is actually not a MacGregor story, but related by marriage, as it's about Shelby's recluse brother, Grant. He winds up with Genevieve Grandeau, a famous artist, and in a small-world moment, she's actually a cousin to Diana and Justin Blade.

I liked Alan and Shelby's story more, but both are good reads.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Third Circle

Author: Amanda Quick
Published: April 22, 2008 (Putnam)
Cateogry: Paranormal Romance
Series: Arcane Society #4
Rating: 8/10

Thaddeus Ware, a psychic mesmerist, runs into Leona Hewitt (disguised as a man) while he's sneaking around Lord Delbridge's private museum, and they discover a dead body. Leona's there to retrieve a precious crystal that was stolen from her family, and during the escape, Thaddeus is poisoned with a hallucinogen, which will cause insanity. Leona saves him using the crystal and then dumps him unceremoniously in a crappy inn.

Of course, Thaddeus tracks her down, but he's not the only one. A hunter (seen in the contemporary Arcane Society novels as well) under the employ of Delbridge has found her and takes the crystal back. Thaddeus finds out that Leona, a talented psychic crystal worker (yes, I found this a little confusing), is the only one who can use the crystal, and is still in danger, so he takes her to his house for protection. I'm so amused by historical romances where the heroine and hero wind up under the same roof before marriage, or even a declaration of marriage. It provides so many opportunities for rendez-vous that are so improper.

The Third Circle provides insight into the matchmaking system that's so important in the contemporary Arcane Society novels, and also reveals the beginnings of the Cabal and how it's organized. Apparently, it's arranged into levels, called circles, and members of one circle don't know members of another. Very interesting, and I'm excited to read the next book in the Arcane Society series, Running Hot.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blue Dahlia

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: October 26, 2004 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Series: In the Garden Trilogy #1
Rating: 7/10

Sorry, it's June, and I'm trying to clean up this backlog of April books I finished, so I'm resorting to a lot of summaries.

Against the backdrop of a house steeped in history and a thriving new gardening business, three women unearth the memories of the past and uncover a dangerous secret—finding in each other the courage to take chances and embrace the future.

Stella has a passion for planning that keeps her from taking too many risks. But when she opens her heart to a new love, she discovers that she will fight to the death to protect what’s hers.

Trying to escape the ghosts of the past, young widow Stella Rothchild, along with her two energetic little boys, has moved back to her roots in southern Tennessee—and into her new life at Harper House and In the Garden nursery. She isn’t intimidated by the house—nor its mistress, local legend Roz Harper. Despite a reputation for being difficult, Roz has been nothing but kind to Stella, offering her a comfortable new place to live and a challenging new job as manager of the flourishing nursery. As Stella settles comfortably into her new life, she finds a nurturing friendship with Roz and with expectant mother Hayley. And she discovers a fierce attraction with ruggedly handsome landscaper Logan Kitridge

But someone isn’t happy about the budding romance…the Harper Bride. As the women dig into the history of Harper House, they discover that grief and rage have kept the Bride’s spirit alive long past her death. And now, she will do anything to destroy the passion that Logan and Stella share...

I'm not crazy about the start of this trilogy. Maybe I've read too many Nora Roberts books with women running away from their former lives. Blue Dahlia was a good read, but definitely nowhere near the best of her work. The ghost? It was a little creepy, but also a little annoying. However, the book does a good job setting up the rest of the trilogy. I hope the ghost story has a better ending than the one in Midnight Bayou.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Match Me If You Can

Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published: August 2006 (Avon)
Cateogry: Romance
Series: Chicago Stars #6
Rating: 8/10

It's been two months since I read this book, so I'm cheating and using the cover summary:
You met star quarterback Kevin Tucker in This Heart of Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed. But that's going to change now that Annabelle’s taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? When the determined Matchmaker promised she'd do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.
I found match Me If You Can absolutely adorable, and one of my favorite scenes was the football players invading Annabelle's little house because they felt like they were at their moms' houses there. When Heath sees her there, unafraid of these gigantic men, swatting them and yelling for them to use coasters, he knows she'd be perfect for him, while his perfect date cowered in the corner because she preferred seeing football players from a luxury box.

There's a good side romance in this one for Bodie, Heath's right-hand man, and it's an interesting one, although not surprising. Read it and see!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Heaven, Texas

Author:Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published: April 1995 (Avon)
Category: Romance
Series: Chicago Stars #2
Rating: 9/10

I'm working through the Chicago Stars books in a very roundabout way, pretty much determined by what Barnes and Noble has in stock when I stop by. I know I've said Nobody's Baby But Mine is my favorite, but this is right up there for a great read.

Come heck or high water, Gracie Snow is determined to drag the legendary ex-jock Bobby Tom Denton back home to Heaven, Texas, to begin shooting his first motion picture. Despite his dazzling good looks and killer charm, Bobby Tom has reservations about being a movie star - and no plans to cooperate with a prim and bossy Ohio wallflower whom he can't get off his mind or out of his life. Instead, the hell-raising playboy decides to make her over from plain Jane to Texas wildcat.

But nothing's more dangerous than a wildcat with an angel's heart in a town too small for a bad boy to hide. And all hell breaks loose when two unforgettable people discover love, laughter, passion - and a match that can only be made in heaven.

Gracie Snow can't fail at her job as a movie production assistant, and her first big assignment is fetching Bobby Tom and getting him to the set in TX on time. When Bobby Tom proves difficult and wants to take the most indirect route to Heaven, Gracie figures she'll have to make do with getting him there at all. When they finally arrive, she gets fired and Bobby Tom feels bad; then he makes her boss hire Gracie back, but he pays her salary in secret. He makes her his personal assistant and declares her his fiancee to keep horny women away. But they wind up falling for each other, and Bobby Tom can't express his love properly in the end, making Gracie leave him.

The secondary romance between Bobby Tom's mother and Way Sawyer was very strongly written, probably the most well-developed secondary romance I've ever found. Their story was also very well balanced in the book, without taking up too much attention, and not so underexposed that you're shaking the book and asking what the heck's going on.

I think I cried during the final scene of the book. It's just so dramatic and heart wrenching. Phillips really knows how to write to your heart, and I guess that's why I can't get enough of her Chicago Stars!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Mystic and Rider

Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: February 28, 2006 (Ace)
Category: Fantasy
Series: Twelve Houses #1
Rating: 8/10

Mystic and Rider is the first of Sharon Shinn's books set in Gillengaria, a land where some people are born with mystic powers. Senneth, a very powerful mystic, has the power to create and manipulate fire, and she's on a mission for the king to gauge the feelings of his vassals. With her are a couple King's Riders, a sort of elite guard to the king, and a few more mystics, among them shapeshifters and a mind reader.

Times are changing, and people are beginning to fear and hate mystics thanks to the whisperings of a fanatical religious order called the Daughters of the Moon. Mystics are being driven out of towns, beaten, or even killed. I find these sorts of plots the most disturbing because witch hunts really did happen, and people really did believe these kinds of holier-than-thou folks. During the group's travels, Senneth and Tayse fall in love so quietly you might miss it if you're insensitive and dense.

I find it funny that a lot of people think Sharon Shinn's stuff is so romantic and wonderful, but I don't find them very romantic at all. Just because two characters get together doesn't make it a romance. It's easy to assume that the Samaria books are romances because most involve an Archangel finding his/her mate. In the first book, Archangel the hero and heroine are fighting each other, and it's supposedly so romantic, which reminds me of how Lessa and F'lar, of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern, didn't get along when they were made co-leaders. While they and a couple in each book get a happily ever after, I've never thought of them as romances. Couples get together in Dean Koontz horror novels but no one calls them romances either.

Anyways, my confusion on what constitutes a romance aside, Mystic and Rider is a fantastic first novel in the Twelve Houses series. It provides exposition of this new world without being tedious, and each character is well crafted. I've already purchased the rest of the series.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Macgregors: Serena - Caine

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: January 2006 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Series: The MacGregors
Rating: 8/10

I've always heard about Nora Roberts' MacGregors series, but I was a bit wary of them because they were written so long ago. They've now been repackaged into several volumes containing multiple books. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe this volume contains the first MacGregor books.

Basically, Daniel MacGregor is a powerful, wealthy man with three children. His greatest desire is to see them happily married and producing lots of little MacGregor babies. If he has to meddle and matchmake, then it was all for the greater good, and Daniel gives all the matchmaking mamas from Regency romances a run for their pin money. I was afraid that I'd be annoyed because Scottish characters in romances tend to have exaggerrated accents. Thankfully, Roberts didn't subject me to that and didn't write Daniel's accent into his dialogue. Authors, you don't have to put in "verra" and "sich" to your dialogue. Just say that the character has a thick Scottish accent and I can imagine it rather than bend my mind around bastardized Scottish.

Playing the Odds

Serena MacGregor, Daniel's only daughter, has been going to school for a long time, studying all sorts of subjects, and finally left school to work as a blackjack dealer on a cruise ship. It's not that she needed the money; she just wanted to work with and meet all sorts of people. During her final cruise before returning to her family home and getting a "real" job, she meets Justin Blade, casino mogul, who happens to be on board because his friend Daniel MacGregor thought he needed a vacation. When Justin realizes how sharp Serena is, he offers her a job managing his Atlantic City casino. When Serena finds out Justin is there because of her father's meddling, she doesn't want to get involved with him romantically, but winds up taking the job.

I was rather fascinated by the descriptions of the inner workings of a casino. Serena and Justin make a great team and she's a strong female character without being all "I'm a feminist!" We also meet her brothers Alan (the politican) and Caine (the lawyer); of course, they're very charming and awesome brothers, and I couldn't wait to read their stories as soon as they appeared on the page. Playing the Odds is quite good, and its shortness helps focus on the romance with minimal background storylines. However, the story does show its age with all of Justin's smoking.

Tempting Fate

Caine MacGregor, successful lawyer and former district attorney of Boston, is opening his own practice, but he happens to be at Serena and Justin's Atlantic City hotel/casino during the reuniting of Justin and his sister Diana. Justin and Diana had a rough upbringing, with a Comanche father and society French-American mother. When their parents died, a mean aunt from their mother's family took in Diana, but refused to take Justin, so he left his sister behind. Serena, hoping to mend the rift, invites Diana to their hotel for a visit to get the healing started, but it was very difficult for Diana to accept her brother again. Caine was there to help her over the bumps and at the same time, offer her space to practice law in his offices.

Caine and Diana's romance is very character driven with no side plots to distract. Caine is very open to the romance, but Diana's upbringing by an aunt who despised her made her a very guarded person, seeming almost icy in personality. Once the MacGregor family began twining with the Blade family, Diana had to start opening up, first with her brother, and then Caine. Of course, there's the obligatory visit to the MacGregor castle where Daniel badgers all his children to get married and have babies. The family scenes are adorable and so much fun to read.

I've already ordered more MacGregors!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Welcome to Temptation

Author: Jennifer Crusie
Published: April 2001 (St. Martin's)
Category: Romance
Rating: 8/10

This was another Jennie recommendation, my third Jennifer Crusie book, and definitely my favorite of them. I feel like Crusie's books are fun reads with madcap hijinks surrounding the hero and heroine. I'm entertained, but in such a way that I don't feel the urge to run out and buy all of her backlist.

All Sophie Dempsey wants to do is help her sister make a video of a washed-up actress and get out of town before they get into trouble. The daughter of generations of con men, Sophie's trying to walk the straight and narrow, but it's, well, difficult.

All Mayor Phineas Tucker wants to do is run Temptation with as little fuss as possible and win his upcoming election without cutting into the time he needs for his real passion: playing pool. The son of generations of mayors, Phin's trying to be an upstanding citizen, but it's, well, boring.

It only takes one look before Sophie knows that Phin's the kind of boy her mother used to warn her about-- a fast-talking town boy-- and Phin knows she's the kind of woman his father told him to stay away from-- the devil's candy.

And in no time at all, boredom is the least of their difficulties. Gossip, adultery, and blackmail; pornography, politics, and murder; vehicular abuse of a corpse and slightly perverse but really excellent sex: all hell is breaking loose in Temptation, Ohio, while Sophie and Phin fall deeper and deeper in trouble… and in love.


I was annoyed by Phin's mother for most of the book. What is with all these crazy Southern mothers trying to run their sons' lives? I feel like I've read a bunch of books with overbearing, ambitious WASPy moms (case in point - Carolina Moon) in the South.


I was surprised that the love scenes were pretty raunchy, despite the supposed pornography that occurs in the movie. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised because the town council kept arguing about the painting of the water tower which usually resulted in it looking like a penis.

Once I got over the annoying characters, the book was a lot of fun, with the romance between the supposed pornmaker and respectable (but really hot) mayor, and the murder mystery in the background.

SEALed with a Kiss

Author: Mary Margret Daughtridge
Published: April 2008 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Romance
Rating: 9/10

When I first heard about SEALed with a Kiss, I was told that it's touching, has a little boy who needs a family, dogs, and a muscle-y hero. I'm a sucker for strong men dealing with new challenge and needing a strong woman's help. And did I tell you there are dogs in the story?

Lt. Jackson "Jax" Graham has always put his career in the SEALs first, so much that his marriage had been very brief, and he has seen very little of his four-year-old son Tyler. His ex-wife passed away suddenly and he has to figure out if he should sign full custody of his son to his ex-mother-in-law. I didn't know this until I read the book, but SEALs are away for at least 200 days a year, and when they are home, they're training all the time. I can see how that would put strain on a marriage.

While in North Carolina visiting his mother-in-law and Tyler, he meets Pickett Sessoms, our heroine. She happens to be a family therapist and does some work with Marine families as well. Her family isn't very supportive and makes her the odd ball out with their little verbal jabs, criticizing her being single, rescuing mutts, and having celiac disease (can't eat products with wheat flour). Being a family therapist and counseling marriages, Pickett has very strong notions about what kind of man she wants to marry, and a SEAL definitely doesn't qualify.

While Jax thinks Pickett is high maintenance and not what he's looking for in a woman, she thinks he's unacceptable as a love interest. But when they're thrown together in Pickett's house during a small hurricane, they find out they might have to rethink their first impressions. They coax Tyler out of his shell and act like a real family, complete with three rescued dogs.

This is a great book for readers who have a problem with alpha males due to their macho manliness. Jax, while an alpha male (he even says that all SEALs are), is in new territory that his elite training can't help him conquer. And don't be afraid that there'll be too much technical SEAL mumbo jumbo. There's enough facts to make Jax's character believable, but it was in no way a Tom Clancy super-techno-action novel. Heck, Jax keeps thinking about how his extensive training can't prepare him for fatherhood. It was so lovely seeing these characters grow: Pickett stands up to her family; Jax realizes he can be a father and want a real marriage; and Tucker shows himself to be a smart little boy. SEALed with a Kiss is greatly touching and heartwarming, a cozy read for a rainy day. Daughtridge's descriptions of the setting for the book made me want to live in Pickett's charming farmhouse, tucked in safely from a storm (preferably with Jax!) with a dog warming my feet. I wanted to read more about the new little family, but books have to end sometime. I can't wait to read the next SEALs romance!

I do have to say that the cover is kinda yummy, despite it being too naked to read on the subway openly. Two problems: His mouth seems kinda feminine. Maybe if he had scruff it'd be less noticeable and dang, that's a HUGE nipple. That is all.

SEALed with a Kiss Q & A

Mary Margret Daughtridge, author of SEALed with a Kiss has kindly done some Q & A for her web tour! If you have a question you'd like to ask Mary Margret, you can post it in the comments by the end of the week (4/5/08) and she'll answer it.

Both Jax and Pickett have occupations that are very technical and specific. How much research did you do for them?

Fortunately, my speech pathology and family education background is somewhat similar to that of a family therapist, so for Pickett I drew on my own experience. After all, she doesn’t try to be a therapist to Jax and Tyler—just a friend.

Detailed, current, technical data about SEALs is very hard to come by because their work is covert, and most of their operations classified. However, I was more concerned with how being a SEAL shapes a man’s character, than whether he would prefer a Heckler and Koch semi-automatic or a Glock.

JC Roat’s Class 29 was probably the most insightful book I read about what character traits make a man want to be a SEAL, and how becoming a SEAL changes him. I read and reread more than twenty books about SEALs and Special Operations, poured over military web sites, and corresponded extensively with two former SEALs, one of whom has become a good friend. A Navy lieutenant who works closely with SEALs was another source of information.
Without the two SEALs who patiently told me how they would handled this or that, SEALed With A Kiss would never have been written. In some scenes, I have actually used their own words. They exemplified the generosity of spirit, willingness to overcome all obstacles, and uncompromising accountability of these extraordinary men.

You created some important secondary characters in Tyler, Pickett’s Dogs, and many others. Talk about their roles and what made them so special to you.

There are characters that an author designs to fit a role, and characters that just appear. Tyler was the former. I needed a bright child, old enough to talk fluently, but too young to be left unattended under any circumstances. I chose a four-year-old because between four and five is an unstable age emotionally. Without warning, an otherwise good-natured child may return to the trantruming and non-compliance one associates with two’s, so Tyler could be counted on to give Jax a hard time. [grin] However, once I had established the parameters, Tyler proved he was his father’s son. I knew it the moment he surprised me by asking Pickett out of the blue, “Is my mother dead, do you think?”

As for the dogs, the lumbering yellow Lab, Patterson, and his sidekick, the cheerfully lowbred Lucy, just popped into my mind. Later, scruffy and a little dangerous, a Shepherd-mix named Hobo Joe turned up and I almost wrote him out, because, my goodness, Pickett didn’t need another dog! I was wrong. It turned out there was a lot more to Hobo Joe than met the eye.

The other secondary character is Tyler’s grandmother. When I first imagined her, she was only Jax’s antagonist, but in time I came to feel such compassion for her…she isn’t evil, she’s only trying to stop the pain of losing her daughter. I hope I get to write her story someday and give her a happy ending.

See, there’s this SEAL who’s not intimidated at all by her money, power and beauty. He tells her some truths she needs to hear, and then, because no good deed goes unpunished, he winds up having to ride herd on her, but he’s got troubles of his own, not the least of which is an injury that could sideline him permanently, and then…

Navy SEALs lead a pretty intense life. What do you think this brought to the character of Jax?

I chose a SEAL as my hero precisely because the life of a SEAL is just too hard, too all consuming to bear unless he wants it passionately. Jax’s marriage foundered because being a SEAL came first, and he has a son he hardly knows, because being away two-hundred plus days a year doesn’t leave much time for visits. But SEALs also feel hyper-responsible for those in their care. Of course every SEAL is an individual, but both by nature and by training they share certain characteristics. It was fun to extrapolate how Jax would think like a SEAL in a non-SEAL challenge.

Pickett seems so unsure of the developing relationship with Jax. What was it like creating a character with such an internal struggle?

The truth is that therapists have as many insecurities and blind spots as everyone else, and can just as easily fool themselves. Pickett has worked hard and overcome much to become the woman she is. However, she has placed all her confidence and her personal pride in her clinical expertise. So when she’s attracted to a man who doesn’t measure up to her husband checklist, she’s more lost than the average person would be. Pickett’s real problem is that she’s achieved a certain a level in her life and now she’s playing it safe. Jax is just what she needs to kick her out of her comfort zone.

I had fun dropping hints to the reader that Pickett is much more than thinks she is. Right up to the end, the reader can see Pickett more clearly than she sees herself.

What’s next for your writing?

Jax’s friend, the wily and subtle MENSA material, Caleb “Do Lord” Dulaude, demanded his own book before I was half done with SEALed With a Kiss. For this ex-bad-boy who grew up at the dirty fringes of society, becoming a SEAL saved his life and probably his soul. Now, to finally live up to a promise he made his mother, he has to trust an absent-minded professor, rather than another SEAL, to watch his six and he has to lose his heart, if he hopes to mend it.

What else do you do other than write?

I love choral singing, for which I have extremely minor talent, and painting. Recently I took up ballroom dance. It’s so much fun, one of these days I want to work it into a book. I also love to learn and most of the time I’m taking a course in something—right now, I’m studying a communication process called “Non-violent Communication.”