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.”