Monday, March 31, 2008

It Had to Be You

Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published: August 1994 (Avon)
Category: Romance
Series: Chicago Stars #1
Rating: 6/10

I started the series with This Heart of Mine, which tells Molly Somerville's story. The series starts with her older sister Phoebe's story, at her father's funeral and inheriting the Chicago Stars. Her jerk of a father's will gave her the team, but only allowed her to keep it if they won the AFC Championship. She didn't want anything to do with it, but Dan Calebow, the rough and tough head coach convinced her otherwise.

Phoebe annoyed me a lot, and this was due to her behavior, pretending to be a dumb bimbo so she wouldn't be threatened by men, and the out-of-date fashion descriptions. Fourteen years after It Had to Be You was first published, the book is starting to show its age. Granted, Phoebe had a horrible youth, where she was molested by her cousin, and disbelieved by her father, thinking that Reed was the son he never had and the best thing since sliced bread.

I was also annoyed with the way Dan and Phoebe's relationship grew in fits and starts. They sleep together, then he starts dating a teacher because she'll be the perfect wife, then she thinks he's with her for the football team ownership, then she finds out about the other woman, etc. Too much drama!

I was amused by Phoebe dealing with running a football team and the way she drives Dan crazy with her lack of football knowledge (i.e. Knowing which one's the kicker). I found it hilarious, now that I've been watching football for several years with my boyfriend and learning by osmosis.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Creation in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: November 6, 2007 (Putnam)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #25
Rating: 8/10

Have I run through almost the entire In Death series already? I think I should save Strangers in Death for a rainy day! As I'm behind in my reviews (I can't remember the last time I've been on time with them), I'm resorting to the publisher's summary.

NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas keeps the streets of a near-future New York City safe in this extraordinary series. But even she makes mistakes, and is haunted by those she couldn't save-and the killers she couldn't capture. When the body of a young brunette is found in East River Park, artfully positioned and marked by signs of prolonged and painful torture, Eve is catapulted back to a case nine years earlier. The city was on edge from a killing spree that took the lives of four women in fifteen days, courtesy of a man the media tagged "The Groom"- because he put silver rings on the fingers of his victims.

When it turns out that the young brunette was employed by Eve's billionaire husband, Roarke, she brings him in on the case-a move that proves fitting when it becomes chillingly clear that the killer has made his attack personal. The victim was washed in products from a store Roarke owns, and laid out on a sheet his company manufactures.

With the Groom's monstrous return, Eve is determined to finish him once and for all. Familiar with his methods, Eve knows that he has already grabbed his next victim. Time is running out on another woman's life.

And chances are he's working up to the biggest challenge of his illustrious career-abducting a woman who will test his skills and who promises to give him days and days of pleasure before she dies: Eve.

This was standard Eve/Roarke fare. The emotional drama in this one comes from Feeney, who takes umbrage to Eve taking point on the investigation. With Eve's traumatic childhood, Feeney is really the only father she's ever known, and his anger at her in how she's doing her job (may as well insult her for her entire life, because that's what her job is) throw her off severely.

The villain was a little disappointing. I'm not sure if I've been desensitized to Eve's opponents by now. It always comes down to Mommy issues with murder mysteries like this, where the women are hurt and the bodies prepared like they were for the Groom. However, it's still a good entertaining read.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Heart of the Wolf

Author: Terry Spear
Published: April 2008 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 8/10

Heart of the Wolf is a different kind of paranormal romance, as it is a werewolf story, but based on researched wolf behavior. The shapeshifters do not call themselves werewolves, but lupus garou, and that designation makes them more like a real species rather than a mythical beast. And rather than just a general lupus garou, there are subspecies. Spear also wrote some great descriptions of the setting for the story. I could really feel the cold and damp of the northwest, the smell of the forest, and the ground beneath my feet, or paws would be more appropriate.

Bella, our heroine, is a red lupus garou who was adopted into a gray pack (these seem to be more common and happen to be bigger than reds) as a pup. Volan, the pack leader and evil guy, has singled Bella out to be his mate and tried raping her when she was very young. Bella actually loves Devlyn, the gray who rescued her when she was a pup, but doesn't want to show him preference because then he'd have to challenge Volan for her. Bella escapes the gray pack and lives under the radar, hoping to find a human male she can bite and change, therefore creating a mate for herself.

During one of her moon runs as a wolf, she gets captured and put in a zoo, as red wolves are very rare, and arouses the attention of her old pack and single red wolves close by. If she thought escaping Volan for a mate was bad, she had it much worse after that. Devlyn rescues her after she changes back to a human, and their attraction to each other flares up again, but this time, he's ready to challenge Volan. Unfortunately, that's not the only obstacle to happiness, as a red has been committing murders on red-haired women in the area.

The one annoying thing that stood out was the italicization of lupus garou. I understand that the book is based on real wolf behavior rather than werewolf myth (except for the part of people shifting into wolf form while the moon's out) , but the term lupus garou was used so much that seeing it italicized all the time made it seem out of place in the text, and broke the smoothness of my reading.

The attraction between Bella and Devlyn is steamy hot. There's a lot of tension and anticipation because they want each other, but Bella won't give in because she doesn't want Devlyn to be killed by Volan. Because this is based on animal behavior, their lust seems more primal and pure at the same time. They were meant to be mates, and when they're together, it's right and the obstacles fade away, at least while they're in bed... or in the back of his car.

While the overview makes Heart of the Wolf seem like a shallow story (star-crossed werewolves have to kill packleader to be happy, but want to solve a murder mystery where they know a rare red wolf is the culprit), it turned out to be deeper, with rich characters and great writing. I hope this turns into a series, because I'd like to read more about the lupus garou. There are hints of another book in the making, maybe set in the red wolf pack Bella and Devlyn cleaned up. There's an alpha male who hasn't taken control of the pack, and he seems like a pretty decent fellow. He helped Bella and Devlyn against the reds and Volan. I hope there's a sequel about him!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Calhouns: Suzanna and Megan

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: March 2005 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Series: Calhoun Women
Rating: 7/10

The Calhouns: Suzanna and Megan actually contains two books, Suzanna's Surrender and Megan's Mate. Suzanna is actually a Calhoun, but Megan moves into the family home and business (the mansion is also partially a hotel) to be its accountant. While Suzanna was married to her scumbag husband, she found out he had a second family with Megan. Due to the timing of events, Suzanna is sort of the other woman, because her husband was dallying with Megan before they married. He was a jerk anyways, and the women were better off without him!

Again, I'm behind in my reviews by over a month, so here are the summaries:

Suzanna's Surrender: Burned-out and tired as hell, all ex-cop Holt Bradford wanted to do was relax. But when beautiful single mom Suzanna invaded his solitude to search for the missing Calhoun emeralds, he couldn't say no. Holt had changed from a bad-boy teen to a dangerously sexy man, but Suzanna couldn't risk her well-ordered life for a man who made her mouth go dry . . .

Megan's Mate Calhoun sister-in-law Megan O'Riley and her young son had traveled far to become the Towers' newest residents. Cool as an Atlantic breeze, Megan buried her passions and vowed never to let her heart control her life. But when boat captain Nate Fury set his course for her, the practical lady was swept away by his formidable charm.

I wasn't that impressed by both stories, with the ex-husband making an appearance in each. First he tries to take the kids he had with Suzanna on a WASPy vacation in Martha's Vineyard and bend them to his will. Then he threatens Megan when he decides to run for Congress, not wanting his philandering past to come to light.

And the necklace line was blah to me. There are better Roberts books to be read.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Nobody's Baby But Mine

Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published: February 1997 (Avon)
Category: Romance
Series: Chicago Stars #3
Rating: 9/10

This is my favorite of the Chicago Stars series so far!

Dr. Jane Darlington is freakishly smart, and regrets the abnormal childhood she had due to that freakish intelligence. On her birthday, she's alone and wants a baby, but doesn't want her child to suffer as she did. She figures that her baby daddy has to be dumb as a rock so the baby's intelligence will average out.

With her neighbor's help, Jane gets into Cal's birthday party, where she's presumed to be a stripper/escort, and they sleep together, but she doesn't get prenant. Cal doesn't understand his attraction to the mystery woman, but shrugs it off because he'll never see her again. Jane shows up at his away-game hotel where they have another awkward sexual encounter (she refuses to take her clothes off), and she gets what she wants. However, she doesn't figure Cal will find out.

Cal Bonner, despite being a football player, is not dumb. He's actually really smart, graduating at the top of his class in college with a biology major, not the usual underwater basket weaving type of major serious athletes graduate with. He finds out about the baby and he's pissed that he was used for his man seed, and marries Jane, taking her back to his Southern hometown. While sharing the house, they fall in love, and their charade to his teammates and his family is so great to read. Kevin Tucker, hero of This Heart of Mine, is Cal's backup at this point in the Stars timeline, and he acts like a jerk for the beginning, but Jane gets to him and helps the two men become friends in that mentor-mentee (or manatee, if you're Tracey Jordan) way.

This series is too much fun :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

When He Was Wicked

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: July 2004 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Bridgerton Family #6
Rating: 8/10

I was eager to read this entry in the Bridgerton series because Francesca wasn't in the previous books much. Either she was too young or already married and mourning soon after in the later ones.

Michael Stirling, the notorious rake and cousin to John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin, has always chased skirts, but when he sees Francesca Bridgerton, he knows she's the one. Unfortunately, she's about to marry John, and because John is his best friend and practically his brother, he sucks it up. He, Francesca, and John are the best of friends, and when John dies out of the blue, he can't deal with being the new earl. Is it possible he made this happen because he wanted Francesca?

He goes abroad for several years, trying to get over Francesca, but when he returns, he finds that he loves her still. He and Francesca are definitely attracted to each other, but after they kiss, she's overcome with guilt, thinking she's desecrating her memory of John, and this time, she runs away.

This is one of those less common novels where the hero admits he loves the heroine but must work to get her to accept his affection and help her learn the truth of her own feelings. Of course, Michael uses his sensual expertise to encourage Francesca along, and it's quite steamy, maybe the steamiest of all the Bridgerton novels I've read so far. When Francesca realizes she loves Michael, and that her first husband would have wanted her to be happy, it's quite touching and sweet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Remember When

Author: Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb

Published: April 27, 2004 (Berkley)

Category: Romantic Suspense

Rating: 7/10

I had been reading Memory in Death, and Eve and Roarke refer to his Christmas gift of fabulous diamonds as the jewels from the O'Hara heist, like it was a big deal. At first, I thought I had read too many J.D. Robb titles too quickly and have forgotten details. However, it turns out that the J.D. Robb portion of Remember When takes place between Imitation in Death and Divided in Death.

The first half of book is the Nora Roberts part, telling the story of Laine Tavish, daughter of a con man named Big Jack O'Hara. She wanted to live a straight life, so she changed her name and opened an antique shop. And then one of her father's partners shows up to tell her something important, and dies in a car accident outside her shop. Turns out he left a stash of stolen diamonds with her, but she doesn't know where. Enter handsome Max Gannon, the investigator hired by the diamonds' insurance company. He sets himself up as her bodyguard when her home is ransacked, and figures that she's his best source for clues. In the end, not all the diamonds are found and it's up to Eve Dallas to find them fifty years later.

The second half of the book is the J. D. Robb portion, and it's not the best of the Eve Dallas books, but entertaining enough. The villain was disappointing; he's a spoiled rich kid who wants more because he feels entitled to it. I think I spent most of the time being annoyed with him.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

This Heart of Mine

Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published: February 2002 (Avon)
Category: Romance
Series: Chicago Stars #5
Rating: 8/10

Jennie and I have a little problem. We can't resist the Borders Rewards coupons that appear in our inboxes every week. "I have to buy a book because I have a 25% coupon!" is what usually runs through my head, while I also tell myself that I have a huge TBR and there's nothing I really want anyways. While I was visiting Jennie, we each had coupons and she recommended Susan Elizabeth Phillips to me.

Molly Somerville, sister to Phoebe Somerville, owner of the Chicago Stars football team, has always been the good girl. However, that's not really what she's like, and the pressure of being perfect vents itself once in a while in outrageous behavior. Like when she gave away her $15 million dollar inheritance, or when she pulled the fire alarm at her school. Or the time when she was stuck in her sister's cabin with her crush, Stars quarterback Kevin Tucker, and she took advantage of him while he was asleep. And got pregnant.

When Molly's pregnancy is discovered, Kevin does the honorable thing (with some encouragement from Phoebe's husband) and marries her. The two don't really get along, partially because Kevin has never noticed Molly and doesn't remember her name. However, when Molly suffers a miscarriage on their way to their honeymoon, Kevin is kind and gentle, and he's suddenly a hero. He even helps Molly get out of her depressive funk after the loss, taking her to a summer lake resort he's inherited.

Shouldered with the burden of resort guests and preparing meals, Molly heals and finds peace, while she and Kevin fall in love. It's a very endearing story, and the ending is perfect.

Hooray for new authors with backlists! I'm going to plow through the Chicago Stars series, and use some more coupons that way.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Midnight Bayou

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: November 26, 2002 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Rating: 8/10

In 1899, Abby, wife of wealthy Lucian Manet, is raped and killed by her brother-in-law, Julian (twin to Lucian) in the middle of the night. Lucian, away on business, doesn't know that his mother, who always disapproved of his marrying a woman of the bayou, covered up the murder and tells him Abby ran away with another man.

In 2002, Declan Fitzgerald, successful lawyer, picks up his life in Boston and moves to New Orleans, having purchased the decrepit old Manet Hall. Other people have tried to to restore the mansion before, but the ghosts of the Manet family have driven them out. However, Declan feels a connection with the hall, and it feels right for him to be there, despite the disturbing visions and noises he experiences while renovating the place. He relives the romance of Abby and Lucian, the birth of their child (I found it interesting that a man got to experience childbirth), and her murder. It turns out that Declan was reliving Abby's memories, and that meant Lucian, the other half of the ill-fated couple would be played by a descendant of his daughter.

Angelina, owner of a successful bar, falls for Declan, but doesn't want to commit because she's got issues, thanks to her good-for-nothing crackwhore of a mother. Once in a while, her mother shows up, saying she's cleaned up her act, then robs Angelina or Angelina's grandmother, and disappears for a while. This time, the deadbeat mother tries seducing Declan, and when he rejects her, she robs him. Next to Abby's horrid mother-in-law, Angelina's mom was my least-liked character in the book.

I thought the ending was kinda anticlimactic. Abby and Lucian weren't the only spirits haunting the place; Lucian's mother was there as well, slamming doors and such when Declan decided to alter the original plans of the hall. I thought there'd be this big showdown against psycho mama ghost after Declan and Angelina set the spirits of Abby and Lucian to rest by solving the murder mystery.

Despite disappointments with the ending, the book was great with fantastically written descriptions of the bayou and New Orleans. It made me want some creole cooking (good thing there's a New Orleans-style restaurant close by).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lost and Found

Author: Jayne Ann Krentz
Published: November 1, 2001 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Rating: 7/10

I picked up this Krentz because I was doing my usual weekend dance of "what do I want to read," which was made worse by the fact that I was traveling to visit Jennie and her sister for a long weekend as well. I probably drove Josh crazy with my, "Do I have enough books? What if I don't like what I brought?" Not that Jennie didn't have books I could read while visiting or anything like that.

Cady Briggs is useful to mack Easton. Her expertise in art and antiques helps his low-profile company, Lost and Found, find missing treasures for high-paying clients. But Cady knows that being useful to a client is one thing - and being used is another. So no matter how alluring she finds Mack, she plans to keep business and pleasure entirely separate.

But then a sudden tragedy puts Cady in charge of Chatelaine's, her family's prestigious art and antiques gallery. Suddenly the roles are reversed, as strange developments at Chatelaine's lead Cady to ask for help from none other than Mack Easton. And instead of tracking down missing masterpieces together, they'll be hunting for a killer.

I always enjoy the plot device where the hero and heroine pose as an engaged couple so they can investigate a mystery. The mystery was quite good, very layered with a surprise at the end after you think everything's been settled neatly. I liked the way Cady and Mack started out, dealing via e-mail and phone calls when he needed her expert opinion. Each of them thought the person on the other end of the line was their fantasy, but they kept the idea at arm's length because this is strictly business.

This was a good book, nothing mind blowing, but got me through most of my plane ride.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Innocent in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: February 20, 2007 (Putnam)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #24
Rating: 10/10

The mystery was pretty good for this one, with Even investigating the death of a poisoned history teacher in a swanky Manhattan school. Among all the teachers, students, and parents, several likely suspects arise, as swanky schools are far from squeaky clean.

Eve and Roarke's story is fantastic, with the return of Magdalena, Roarke's old flame from his criminal days. She's a blond bombshell who happens to be sharply intelligent, glamorous, cultured, and sophisticated. Eve comments to Summerset that he'd prefer Magdalena to be Mrs. Roarke, but in a not-so-surprising turn, Summerset is on Eve's side. He tells her she's got to get Roarke to see Magdalena's sly manipulation. When they were partners, Magdalena ditched Roarke to run away with their rich (and really old) mark. Now she's back because Roarke's hugely rich (and hot and in his prime) and she figures she can bump Eve out of the picture and take up where she left off.

You'd think Eve would just take care of the problem, but she's not too good with this love stuff. Roarke, normally the sensitive one of the relationship, is blind to Magda's sabotage, so he gets angry when Eve gets jealous or paranoid. It's really great seeing the two of them work out their squabble, and you know that Eve will deck Magda eventually.

This one was really great, one of my favorites in the series.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Born in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: November 7, 2006 (Putnam)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #23
Rating: 9/10

Eve's investigating a double murder of young lovers who worked for the same accounting firm. This common fact between the two murders points Eve to dig into the firm's customer's. At the same time, Mavis asks Eve to help her with a missing friend from her birthing class. Of course, these two cases would be linked.

The best part of this book is Eve and Roarke dealing with Mavis' birth. Roarke, for all his smoothness, is absolutely terrified of all things to do with pregnancy and birth. I find this hilarious, because he's the one who actually wants children and Eve thinks they're little aliens who grow in your body for nine months. I classify her fear of babies/children with her fear of farm animals. It's such a funny quirk for this tough cop, who finds herself planning a baby shower with a rainbow theme.

I would've given this one a 10/10 if the mystery were a little better. It was kind of a "ho hum, yawn" thing after the horror of Origin in Death, but all of the baby stuff was so much fun to read. A baby black market seems kinda tame after that.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Kitchen God's Wife

Author: Amy Tan
Published: 1991 (Putnam)
Category: Literature
Rating: 10/10

I don't read what people call "critically acclaimed" books very often, but after my most recent romance read, I fell into a slump and didn't want anything out of my regular TBR. I read The Joy Luck Club in high school for class and while it was good, I think reading for class tainted my feelings for classic Amy Tan books. However, I figured it was time to get over high school English classes and read something serious (I guess this means I'll get back to Jane Austen soon).

The Kitchen God's Wife is so smart and moving that I don't really feel like I can write about it. I loved reading it and got lost in the words every time I picked it up, despite the near-tragic story it told. Pearl, a Chinese woman who was born in America, is listening to the story of her mother Winnie's life in China. Winnie's childhood wasn't easy, with a mother who ran away, and having to grow up in her cousin's family. Reading about the family dynamics in the traditional Chinese family, despite taking place in China, reminded me of my very old school family (I'm quite the black sheep in my family).

Winnie later marries Wen Fu, who seemed to be a good catch, but he turned out to be a horribly cruel man. He abused her and indirectly caused the deaths of their children, and then later took over Winnie's father's household. After years of trying to be a good wife and respecting family, Winnie escaped to the man she loved, a Chinese-American soldier from California. It turns out that Amy Tan's mother was basis for this: She had married an abusive man in China and wound up leaving him to marry the man who would be Amy's father. The story is amazing and the writing is perfect.

I think I'll put The Hundred Secret Senses into my TBR for the next time I'm feeling the need for a literary novel.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Memory in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: June 27, 2006 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #22
Rating: 9/10

During the Christmas season, Eve and Peabody are wrapping up an open-and-shut case when a very unwelcome blast from the past walks into Eve's office. Her abusive foster mother, Trudy Lombard (the sort who makes you bathe in ice-cold water because you're an evil and dirty girl), comes in all teary, wanting to reunite with her little Eve after all these years. Eve kicks her out and gets sick as a reaction. Thankfully, she comes clean to Roarke about Trudy, and they're prepared for her. She later realizes that Trudy's after Roarke's money, but I'm also surprised it took her so long. Of course, Trudy would underestimate Roarke, and he scares her away.

Trudy really is evil and I hated her in a way I rarely hate characters. After all, they're not real! After Roarke warns her off, Trudy decides to extort the money by beating herself up and making a video framing Eve and Roarke. It turns out she's been blackmailing her former foster children, threatening the new lives they've created with the ugliness of their childhoods. Eve deals with lots of horrible people, but sometimes they don't come across as evil; they seem like bad guys. Trudy Lombard was an evil woman and the scary thing is, there could easily be people like her taking in foster kids for the money and mistreating them.

The murderer's identity was pretty easy to figure out in this one, but the story was so great, with more of Eve's past revealed and healed, sort of like lancing a boil. Pretty picture, I know.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Origin in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: July 12, 2005 (Putnam)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #21
Rating: 9/10

When a famous reconstructive surgeon is murdered in his office in broad daylight by his lunch appointment, Eve Dallas is first on scene with Detective Peabody. She does the usual digging into the past, and lots of people are offended, because this Dr. Icove Sr. was the best dude ever and pretty much shat golden eggs that he gave away for the great good of humanity, blah blah, how dare you insinuate he ever did anything bad, blah blah. Of course, his son, the second Dr. Icove is murdered soon after, and it's revealed that the Icoves were involved in human cloning of the cruelest kind. They want to control every baby that's born, eliminating imperfections and flaws as they see fit, and make it so every pregnancy is conducted artificially in a lab.

I laugh sometimes and say that having kids should require a license, but the Icoves took that idea and ran with it. Where does Roberts come up with this stuff? Anyone can come up with human cloning, but this creepy idea of Quiet Birth, where all babies are created in labs, made to order, and all humans are sterilized is like something from a scifi movie.

The mystery really ruled this book, and I was more than happy to eat it all up.