Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sizzle and Burn

Author: Jayne Ann Krentz
Published: January 29, 2008 (Putnam)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Arcane Society #3
Rating: 8/10

I really like JAK's flipping back and forth between contemporary and historical romances for the Arcane Society series (historical ones are written under Amanda Quick).

Raine Tallentyre is reluctantly drawn into a J&J investigation involving her murky past when she goes back to her hometown to settle her deceased aunt's affairs. A long time ago, her aunt fell in love with Wilder Jones of J&J, but Raine's father was under suspicion for stealing the founder's formula, the basis of the addictive drug being used by Nightshade (the cabal mentioned in White Lies). On the day of her father's funeral, Jones destroys his lab, cementing the Tallentyre's notorious reputation in the Arcane Society. Raine and her aunt turn their backs on the Society and J&J until the day Zack Jones, another J&J investigator, show up at her hotel room door. On the same day she discovers a girl locked in her dead aunt's basement, the work of a serial killer known as the Bonfire Killer.

Actually, the Bonfire Killer is a secondary mystery, because Zack is investigating the disappearance of Lawrence Quinn, an Arcane Society researcher who disappeared. He worked on the founder's formula, and they're afraid Nightshade got a hold of him. Quinn also paid a visit to Raine's aunt the day she died, leading Zack to believe Aunt Vella knew something about the formula.

Stereotypically, in the course of the investigation, Raine and Zack give in to their attraction for each other. However, Raine doesn't fully trust Zack because he's another Jones from the Arcane Society. She was also hurt by the last man she worked with. Since she's a clairaudient (she hears voices), she helped close some cold cases, but all the credit went to her partner in the police department. She thought there was more to their relationship, but he told her he was creeped out by the idea of sleeping with someone who heard voices. So ended their working relationship. Zack smartly tells her that her hearing voices turns him on, and he happens to see visions. Zack's obstacle to true love is his previous engagement to a woman planted by Nightshade. He caught her trying to poison him and thus undermined his confidence in his mirror talent (sort of anticipates things, like someone's moves in a fight). At the same time, he's been tapped to be the next Master of the Arcane Society, which makes Raine think he'll leave her so he can marry some well-bred Society woman, not the daughter of one of its most infamous ex-members.

I thought this was a great addition to the series, as the mysterious formula's background and workings are really explained, and the fight against Nightshade becomes clearer. It's confirmed that Nightshade agents on the formula must keep taking it, or they'll go insane and extra murderous, and then commit suicide. By the end of Sizzle and Burn, it seems as if the next contemporary Arcane Society book will have a lot of action (and not just of the romantic variety). I had a really good time reading this one.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Author: Yasmine Galenorn
Published: January 2, 2008 (Berkley)
Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Sisters of the Moon #3
Rating: 7/10

This is, appropriately, the darkest book of the series (so far), telling the story of vampire-sister Menolly. She was the touchiest of the three sisters in the last two books, dealing with her unwanted form of un-life. Before she was turned, Menolly worked for the OIA as a spy, using her acrobatic skills to observe from odd places, like the ceiling of a cave. However, on one of these missions, she was captured by the Elwing Clan and turned by their leader, Dredge.

All over Seattle, humans have been going missing, only to turn up as newborn vampires - the sure sign of a rogue vamp on the loose. It looks like Dredge is to blame - the same sadistic Dredge who gave me my scars, and who may well be in cahoots with the demon Shadow Wing. If so, Otherworld and earth are screwed. The only way we can hope to defeat Dredge is for me to travel home to Otherworld, and face my own demons. For unless I sever the ties that bind me to Dredge, all hell is going to break loose...
A word of warning to prissy people: Menolly is bi and has relations with a female were from the Rainier Pumas we met in Changeling and a priest in Alastril, the City of Seers. That's the least of a prissy reader's worries, as the description of Menolly's torture, rape, and turning by Dredge are rather graphic and violent. Despite that, it's very well written. Clearly, I have no problem with violence (and I didn't even play lots of damaging video games as a child!).

I really enjoyed the view into Menolly's past; it felt like she was hidden away in the first two books of the series. Reading about her emotional pain made me feel so bad for her, but at the end, she accepts her nature, and fulfills a prophecy that claimed she would do what she would never do. So in accepting her vampire nature, she became human again.

Morgan Le Fay makes a brief appearance in Darkling, really more for the purposes of foreshadowing events to come in the series. The next book, Dragon Wytch, is scheduled for July release, and goes back to Camille's story.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Purity in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: August 27, 2002 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #15
Rating: 8/10

The killers in Purity in Death choose the computer as their weapon of choice, sending a virus to the user that makes the brain swell and drives the victim crazy. If there are other people in the vicinity, the victim will act out on them in the most violent of ways. The vigilante group responsible, called Purity, is meting out justice as it sees fit, seeming to target criminals who have slipped through the system, like drugdealers and child molesters.

Eve then has to fight with Roarke, who doesn't regret the deaths of the bad people. He thinks that the victims deserved it, and the system was flawed because they weren't punished, thanks to money or trivialities. At the same time, Eve is right that Purity must be punished because the system isn't perfect, but we have to trust in it, otherwise Purity will start offing anyone they choose because they weren't "good" enough, and the deaths caused to bystanders is inexcusable.

One thing I really didn't understand: Roarke wants to test the shield he and the e-team have put together to resist Purity. However, he could go berserk from exposure to Purity if the shield fails, so he figures he'll hide a gun at the console and kill himself if it gets that far. But why would he place an illegal weapon in his reach if he is exposed to a mental bug that can make him violent and irrational, hurting people indiscriminately. Seemed rather cocky of him in a "Yeah, this virus could make me crazy and violent, but I'll use this gun on myself instead of the team in the next room" way.

Peabody and McNab have some drama, with McNab being paralyzed in the line of duty. He tries to break up with her, but you know Peabody won't have any of that!

Good read, not too romancey though.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Brief Gaudy Hour

Author: Margaret Campbell Barnes
Published: 1st Printing: 1949 (MacDonald & Co.); Reissue: March 1, 2008 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 9/10

I was never one of those people obsessed with Henry VIII and his six wives, but I was accidentally suckered into the recent popular fiction explosion of Boleyns when I got a free copy from a coworker. True, I'm a couple years behind everyone, but I've found the books I've read so far an entertaining train wreck.

Brief Gaudy Hour is the first book I've read that portrays Anne Boleyn in a very human and likeable way. The other books I've read paint her to be a power-hungry monster, eager to stomp on all those who help her rise, so I never liked her, but after reading Barnes' version of the story, I find myself sympathizing with Anne.

Barnes paints Anne as an unconventional dark beauty compared to the fair English roses that set the standard for looks, but she also had a small deformity on her left pinky: a second fingernail. I was surprised at this, and Googled this right away, and there have been some accounts of Anne having this deformity, but it's not widely confirmed.

In this version of history, Anne was truly in love with Henry Percy, heir to the Duke of Northumberland. When Wolsey puts an end to their love affair, Anne's hatred of him is secured and the choices she makes after that are for achieving revenge. After several years, she gets her revenge on Wolsey, but finds that it wasn't as sweet as expected. All of the anticipation for that moment, only to be disappointed, is only the beginning to Anne's downfall, and instead of my usual "Serves her right" attitude, it seemed sad.

Is it disturbing of me to to say that one of the best parts of the book is the execution and Anne's final days in the Tower? Those several pages really stick in my mind, with that chilling description of her steps to the chopping block, and I didn't want to finish the book because that meant Anne would die. Silly, I know.

Definitely read this one if you want a different take on Anne Boleyn; I found it very refreshing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Spymaster's Lady

Author: Joanna Bourne
Published: January 2, 2008 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

Oh dear. It's been a while since I read a book with a cringe-worthy cover. Clearly, I didn't pick this one up based on the cover; I chose it because Jennie told me it was really good and Julia Quinn also recommended it on her site. Jennie, aware of my subway shyness in regards to cravat/waistcoat ripper covers, warned me that the cover was pretty bad. In person, it's worse. Grey's (our hero, duh) chest is bare, but he has this narrow, yet potent love trail heading into those oh-so-tight buckskin breeches and right by that riskily-placed pistol. Gah, just that was enough to make me read this one only at home, and I think my boyfriend was a little disturbed by the cover as well. As I said to Jennie, "At least they didn't emboss his pecs." I suppose I must be thankful for small things.

Scary cover aside, this was a fantastic first book from Joanna Bourne! Grey, one of Britain's best spies, escapes from a dungeon with the help of Annique Villiers, a notorious French agent, and luckily enough, his quarry. Both Grey and LeBlanc, the man who threw Annique and Grey into the dungeon, want Annique for the Albion plans, which detail Napoleon's invasion of England. Grey takes Annique into custody, and it took more than one trained man to catch her, which only goes toward her reputation as an excellent agent. I don't want to spoil anything, but she's fighting with a handicap that makes her an even more amazing heroine.

While she's being held captive by the strangely compelling Englishman, Annique never stops trying to escape, and it's no secret to Grey. They have this constant fight going, and each acknowledges the other's skills, all while being attracted to each other. I'm a very big fan of romances where the hero and heroine can't stand each other, and what better vehicle for that than spy versus spy? Their dialogue is fantastic and smart, and I loved Annique's musings on the strange things love did to a person.

The spying background, which plays rather prominently in this romance, isn't shallow at all. Annique's murky background throws twists into the fate of the Albion plans, as she doesn't want to betray France, but also doesn't want to allow deaths of innocents, both French and English.

Why didn't I give this book a 10/10? There was a point in the book where Grey deceives Annique, and I don't like those situations at all. Thank goodness it didn't last more than a few days.

Bourne is writing another historical romance set during the Napoleonic Wars, My Lord and Spymaster. I can't wait to read it!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Brighter than the Sun

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: December 1997 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10
Quote of Choice: And, he added silently, he'd have to get himself an heir eventually. Might as well find someone with a bit of a brain in her head. Wouldn't do to have stupid progeny. He eyed her again. She was staring at him suspiciously. Yes, she was a smart one.

Brighter than the Sun is the second half of the duology that started withEverything and the Moon. Ellie, the cheeky younger sister of Victoria (heroine of EATM), is out for a walk when Charles Wycombe, Earl of Billington, falls out of a tree, drunk.

Their first exchange?
"You smell as if you've imbibed a winery."
"Whishkey," he slurred in response "A gennleman drinks whishkey."
I was sucked in from the first page and first drunken slur.

If you love fast, funny, witty banter between a hero and heroine, this is the book for you. In fact, the story moves quite fast, with the inebriated Charles proposing marriage by the end of chapter one! True, they don't have much in common, but their marriage benefits both of them. He had to find a wife within fifteen days or his fortune would pass to his cousin, thanks to a clause in his father's will. Ellie, facing a horrid life under the thumb of her future stepmother, chooses Charles, who offers her an opportunity to manage her life freely, even making her own investments.

Ellie is so often exasperated by the charming Charles, who is fascinated by his new wife. He respects her wish not to consummate their marriage until she knows him better (they do marry within a week of meeting), but he reserves the right to convince her the time is right by kissing her senseless and being absolutely adorable. He makes various lists, like the one on how "to seduce Ellie," and seeing his hilarious ideas organized in such a serious manner was so much fun to read. For example, "Compliment her business acumen. Typical flowery compliments will most likely not work on her."

The only reason this didn't get 10/10 was the annoying factor. Ellie tries to make Wycombe Abbey more of a home, but every effort she makes is sabotaged. She adjusts the rack in the oven so they won't get burnt toast, and immediately after, the kitchen's on fire. She gardens in the orangery, and then plants start dying amidst a horrible odor. The thing is, she didn't really investigate into things, and the orangery was the easiest thing to investigate, while all the other residents were blaming her for causing all these disasters. This, combined with Charles' unwillingness to believe her rather than seeing the obvious culprit, made me rethink the couple's intelligence.

I loved this book, and definitely prefer it over Everything and the Moon. This was also the only Quinn where the couple was married for almost the entire novel, and I really liked that.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Reunion in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: March 5, 2002
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #14
Rating: 8/10

In this entry into the In Death series, Eve faces an old foe, a beautiful young woman who married old rich guys and offed them. She was part of the team that captured her, and now that Julianna Dunne is out of prison, she's getting her revenge by offing men she'd scoped as potential targets before she was convicted, and Roarke is one of them. It's not because he's rich, and he's certainly not old, but because he belongs to Eve.

There was nothing wrong with Eve or Roarke that makes me go below my usual 9/10 rating for a book in this series. Something about Julianna, the villain, was disappointing. She was so petulant when she didn't get her way that I found it hard to see her as this intelligent and cold-blooded killer. She escaped detection in most cases because of her femininity. I think I was a little put off by that, expecting more of my villain than some batting eyelashes and convenient tears.

Peabody and McNab grow only more endearing, with Eve giving Peabody a cold case to solve. Despite Eve ragging on Peabody all the time, she really does care about training her and bettering her skills as a good cop.

Eve also deals with some unwelcome intrusion into her childhood when Peabody's parents stay in her house for a visit. While Mr. Peabody, a "sensitive" (aka psychic) is helping Eve with a headache, he accidentally glimpses the horrors Eve endured as a child. While this did make things awkward for a while, Eve deals with it, knowing that she can't stonewall caring people from her life.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: July 2007 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

I think I picked this particular Quinn because Borders was out of the next Bridgerton book and I had a coupon that was about to expire. I actually find that Quinn's non-Bridgerton books are consistently good, whereas the Bridgerton titles are really good or disappointing, because they don't live up to the expected Quinn awesomeness.
At the age of ten, Miranda Cheever showed no signs of Great Beauty. And even at ten, Miranda learned to accept the expectations society held for her—until the afternoon when Nigel Bevelstoke, the handsome and dashing Viscount Turner, solemnly kissed her hand and promised her that one day she would grow into herself, that one day she would be as beautiful as she already was smart. And even at ten, Miranda knew she would love him forever.

But the years that followed were as cruel to Turner as they were kind to Miranda. She is as intriguing as the viscount boldly predicted on that memorable day—while he is a lonely, bitter man, crushed by a devastating loss. But Miranda has never forgotten the truth she set down on paper all those years earlier—and she will not allow the love that is her destiny to slip lightly through her fingers . . .
To make this quick, as yet again, I'm 12 reviews behind, Miranda has to overcome Turner's refusal to marry ever again because his first wife was a horrible woman. In the end, it takes the stereotypical "stuck in a remote cabin during a scavenger hunt at a house party during bad weather, and get preggers as a result" to push Turner into marrying her. Of course, he has to chase her to Scotland, because he was a dumbass and left the party "on business" and didn't return to town for a few weeks, during which Miranda discovered her condition and removed herself from society to have her child out of wedlock. And after she marries him, Turner has to figure out how to say "I love you" to his new and wonderful wife.

It's rare that I cry from a book, but I did during the dramatic birth scene at the end of the novel. Miranda was smart enough to ask Turner if he decided to say the long-awaited "I love you" because he thought she was going to die, and his response was so sweet and perfect that you realize how much he's grown since being with Miranda, putting his dark past behind him.

A fun read, but still doesn't topple Splendid as my favorite Quinn.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Seduction in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: September 1, 2001 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #13
Rating: 9/10

It appears human nature doesn't change in the futuristic world of Eve Dallas, as she's pursuing killers who uses a very rare and expensive date rape drug being used in a horrible game where the women are just game pieces.

The killers were another example of someone having too much money and too much time. Roarke could've wound up like the rapist, but he uses his time efficiently to make more money and love his wife. I found the comparison between them very interesting, as the killers use their parentage as an excuse for the way they are. Both Eve and Roarke didn't have parents and opportunities like these jerks, but they turned out so differently.

Peabody and McNab are still working through their relationship, and the conflict in the triangle comes to a head as McNab finally confronts Charles Monroe, Peabody's other interest. I'd been eagerly awaiting that headbutting for quite some time.

For Roarke and Eve, this case was important because Roarke was recovering from a personal loss that occurred in the previous book, Betrayal in Death. Eve finds herself in the rare position of having to care for Roarke, and she was happy to point this out to him.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Everything and the Moon

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: March 1997 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7/10
Quote of Choice: "You needed to knee a man in the groin before you could tell me you love me?"

I seem to be in this Nora Roberts/Julia Quinn frenzy at the moment. I can't bring myself to read anything different and as I have lots of backlist titles to catch up on, this could go on for quite some time. Everything and the Moon is the first half of the duology about two sisters that ends with Brighter than the Sun.
When Robert Kemble stumbles across Victoria Lyndon in a hedgerow maze, he can't believe his eyes. The girl who'd torn him in two, who let him plan an elopement and then left him standing by the side of the road, was suddenly within arm's reach, and even though his fury still knew no bounds, she was impossible to resist...

Victoria's father had told her an earl would never marry a vicar's daughter, and he was right. Robert had promised her marriage, then danced off to London while she suffered the shame of a foiled elopement. But even though Victoria doesn't particularly enjoy her new life as a governess, when Robert offers her a job of a different sort - his mistress - she refuses, unable to sacrifice her honor, even for him.

But Robert won't take no for an answer, and he vows to make her his, through any means possible. Can these star-crossed lovers learn to trust again? And is love really sweeter the second time around?
The romance was so incredibly sweet. Here are two young people who realize and confess their love to each other. Robert courts Victoria for a couple months, but his father disapproves of the match, so he figures they can elope. Victoria's father tells her that Robert will use her and discard her, and when he catches her the night of the elopement, he ties her to the bed so she can't disgrace him.

I got impatient with Robert and Victoria. If they'd told the truth about what really happened the night of their elopement, we could've avoided a lot of frustration. But no, it dragged out for a really long time, even when Robert gets the truth from Victoria's sister. He's so cocksure about getting Victoria back that he tries to manipulate her into accepting him, after he'd insulted her by offering to make her his mistress. I thought he didn't respect her intelligence enough.

If the frustrating wait for Victoria's acceptance of the marriage proposal wasn't enough, then there was the stereotypical wait for "I love you." True, they'd said it before when they were younger, but since being reunited, they both held back the words they were desperate to hear from the other.

Amusing, but not one of Quinn's best.