Friday, June 30, 2006

The Alibi by Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown never disappoints. You never know what she will pull out of the hat.
Hammond Cross falls for the major suspect in the most sensational murder trial of the decade. When Lute Pettijohn is found dead all the evidence points to Dr. Alex Ladd who spent the evening of the murder in bed with Hammond Cross, County Solicitor and future District Attorney.

Fast paced and surprises coming at you from all angles, you never know who actually killed Lute until the last chapter of the book.

Grade: A
Format: Audiobook

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Back to the Bedroom by Janet Evanovich

I want to say that Evanovich is wonderful and one of the most talented writers out there. I can't.
One of the funniest series I have read is the Stephanie Plum books but I have not read anything else she has written that can hold a candle to her work on this series.
How is this possible? Usually the author of a great series can be credited many more wonderful tales yet Evanovich seems to stagnate when penning other characters.

So is the case in Back to the Bedroom. I think this one is a reissue of a previously printed book so maybe we can say that it's her beginner work.

Since I don't have time right now I'll just say that this one was entertaining yet too bland.

Grade: C+
Format: Audiobook

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer

Continuing on the line for Author of the Month I gave this other title a try. It was very different from Morning Glory but it was just as entertaining.

Will give more details later.

Grade: B+
Format: Audiobook

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

Last month I had the pleasure of reading the first book in this series called Then Came You. I knew that this month's TBR challenge was to read "a book that was recommended by someone you "know" (another blogger, author, friend, family member) or got a lot of buzz and that's why you bought it but it's still on your TBR pile" (wow, what a mouthful!). I also knew I wanted to read Derek Craven's story but since it's the second in a series, and I'm a stickler for the order of my books in a series, I picked up the first book last month.

Title: Dreaming of You

Author: Lisa Kleypas

Year published: 1994

Why did you get this book? I love the books that I have read by Kleypas and everyone has something to say about the hero in this book. So, after hearing everyone tell me I HAD to read this one... I did!

Do you like the cover? No really. There is a newer cover that is nicer and although this one was not as bad as the first book in the series, it still was not my favorite.

Did you enjoy the book? Yes, I did.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? Not new to me. One of my favorite authors, and with many more titles in her backlist I can delve into.

Are you keeping it or passing it on? Already gone!

Anything else? Derek was not the most tortured hero I have read or the most flawed. Although I did enjoy the tale, I honestly think I would have forgotten Derek if it was not for the scar that was left on his face during the first chapter and the way he refused to allow himself anything of value.

Derek is the owner of a very notorious Gaming hell in London. He was raised by prostitutes and he struggled to survive on the streets. He was an ambitious scamp and has become one of the wealthiest men in London. He has tried to improve himself by hiring tutors that have helped him drop his cockney accent.

When the book starts we find him being attacked by two men who slice his face open. Lucky for him Sara Fielding was at hand to shoot one of his attackers and scare the other one away before further harm is done to him.

Sara is researching the gambling world in hopes to gain some accuracy for her next novel. She is most known for her gritty realistic tales, like "Mathilda", which portrays the life of a woman turned into the streets. When she stumbles onto the attack on Craven she doesn't think but reacts, saving Derek's life in the process.

After some wheedling, Derek agrees to allow Sara to come to the club and interview his workers. What he never suspected was that she would gain their trust and admiration while she stole his heart.

I loved that Kleypas was able to portray a truly innocent nature, without her being naive. Sara lives her life through her books and believes it's time to walk out of her pages, but she still holds an air of being pure and untouchable, which is why Derek believes he can never have her.

I greatly enjoyed this book, not just because I thought Derek deserved a break but because the secondary characters were so wonderful. From Derek's butler (his man of affairs really) to the woman that sold their 'wares' at the club.

After Sara returned to the country, Derek's suffering was tangible and when the prostitute comes to tell Sara about Derek going to her bed because she looked a bit like Sara... it was heart wrenching and when at the end he cries in front of what is left of his club, after finding out Sara is not dead. These are the scenes that will stick to me...

Grade: B+

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Her Officer and Gentleman by Karen Hawkins

This one is the sequel to Hawkins' Her Master and Commander. This tells the story Christian Llevanth, Viscount Westerville. He is the twin brother of the Tristan who we met in Hawkins' earlier novel. Now that Tristan is happily married, although without fortune, Christian feels he can pursue the goal that has kept him fighting for life all these years, revenge.

As children, Tristan and Christian were abandoned by their father and their mother was falsely accused of being a traitor to the crown. Christian has searched for year to find the person that supplied the false information against his mother. It eventually caused her death since she became ill in prison and died before she was given a trial.

He has followed clues after clues until he ends up at the door of the Duke of Massingale. He now has to find a way to get through the doors of the reclusive Duke in hopes to find the proof he needs of the Duke's involvement in his mother's downfall. He believes the key can be found in Lady Elizabeth, the Duke's granddaughter.

Elizabeth has spent her life in the country caring for her cantankerous grandfather and ensconced in the library with her nose buried in a book. When her grandfather becomes ill and asks her to go to London for a season, she has difficulties refusing him. But just because she is going to town for the season does not mean she has to find herself a husband. To discourage any potential suitors she pretends to have a horrible stutter. The plot appeared to be working until Viscount Westerville strolls into her life and sees beyond her verbally challenged vocabulary.

Unfortunately for Christian's plan, she is not the only one affected and with a conscious called Reeves, he finds himself confessing to his plans in short order. With the little time he has spent with Elizabeth he is not surprised to have her agree to help him but things are easier said than done when these two find themselves entangled by more than the mystery of who framed Christian's mother.

Having been caught by a large group of people in a VERY compromising position in the billiard room, Christian has found his way into the house of the Duke. What he didn't expect was to like the darn man so much. Now he finds himself in the moral dilemma as to honor the vow to his dead mother or to grasp at the chance for happiness life has given him.

Loved the verbal sparing between Christian and Reeves. That butler was just too much! What disappointed me was that Hawkins didn't delve into Christian's past. We never really got details on how Christian became a highwayman. At least not in the details we got for Tristan's past. I would have like to know more of his past since it might have added weight to his guilt at possibly betraying his mother's memory by falling in love with the granddaughter of her accuser.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Splendid by Julia Quinn

This story was the first book that Julia Quinn wrote and is the first of the Blydon trilogy.

Emma Dunster is an American heiress who has no interest in marriage. All Emma wants is to get over the season she was forced to have and get back to Boston and manage her father's shipping company. The girl does not lack charm, beauty and a huge dowry which makes her a prim candidate to all those seeking a wife.

Alexander Ridgely, Duke of Ashbourne has vowed to never marry, but his family is ruthless in their endeavors to get him hitched. When a house maid saves his nephew from being crushed by a hackney he finds himself enchanted by the wench. After a searing kiss, he returns the maid to the Blydon household where he thinks she works. That evening he goes to a ball thrown in Emma's honor in hopes of seeing the housemaid that he kissed. We can safely say he is bit surprised to find the housemaid as the guest of honor.

Thus starts a truly fun friendship between these two very frank (and funny) characters. Alex finds himself attending all the festivities of the season and Emma finds herself falling for the duke even though she knows that to marry him she would have to renounce her life back in Boston.

Alex also finds himself caving in when it comes to his vow of bachelorhood, especially since Emma has money up the wazzo so he does not fear she would marry him for his fortune. Also, she has no interest in titles but instead wishes to return to Boston to manage her father's business. So, if she would accept him, he feels confident it would be for him and not for the things he represented.

There are a few misunderstandings on the way to the altar, like when Emma proposes and says she did it because she needed money (to help her cousin). I think Alex's reaction was a bit harsh but I liked that it didn't take chapters upon chapters to resolve. Although the book was entertaining until the end, I think we could have skipped the last 50 pages or so and still enjoyed the book just as much. Anyway, this one was a treat!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Turnabout by Elizabeth Jewell

I have realized that there are only 11 days until the end of the month and although I have read a vast amount of books this month, I really haven't reviewed many at all.

At this point I'm really just playing catch-up with the blog, so I'll start with the shortest book of the month.

I had never read Elizabeth Jewell and I think this book is a bad example of her work since it was so short (27 pages). I have read fan fiction longer than that, sh*t, I've WRITTEN fan fiction longer than that.

Anyway, the story is about a married couple that go out to an Irish pub to celebrate St. Patty's day. Fee is not really into the whole pub'ing scenario and just wants to call it a night but her hubby, Mal gives her a hard time. They argue in front of the bartender and she wishes that Mal could walk in her shoes for once. The wish was granted.

The next morning Fee wakes up in Mal's body and vice versa.

The concept was interesting but, as I said before, the story was just way too short. We didn't really get to feel anything for the couple as they invented creative ways to pleasure themselves as they waited for the pub to open and get some answers to their dilemma.

This story was equivalent to pimpin' my reading time for a quick fix. Slam, Bam, Thank you 'mam. I think I need to give Jewell's longer stories a try.

Grade: C
Format: ebook

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Rose at Midnight by Jacqueline Navin

Magnus Eddington, the Earl of Rutherford, has recieved a death sentence from his doctors. With just about a year to live and little to show for his efforts at living he sets out to buy himself a wife that might provide him an heir.

After interviewing a few potential wives, Caroline Wembley applies for the position. Caroline is desperate for funds to help her mother and very ill brother. Her family was left destitute after her immoral father died. Besides the fact that Wembley (the father) was a pervert and a disgusting human being, he was also a baron which makes her a great candidate for the position of wife to an Earl.

Magnus is taken quite quickly with Caroline. He finds her quick wit as attractive as her other attributes which she has displayed in the only pretty gown she had.

I really loved this one. I could not give it a perfect score because the Earl had moments in which he was just a complete ass. The fact that he could not take time to give Caro a chance to explain why she needed money and Caro was also to blame since she just took everything he tolled out.
Yet the love story was sweet and unhurried.

The Magnus was flawed and desperate. He was so vulnerable in his illness and his emotions were so fraile after years of debauchery and idle pursuits. He never learned to trust, always shielding his heart from anyone that could get close enough to hurt him. His only refuge was his brother and there was betrayal there as well.

I'm a sucker for wounded heroes, both emotionally as well as physically and the Earl fit the bill.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dirty Blonde by Lisa Scottoline

I love Scottoline's courtroom suspense since it usually focuses on women as the main character.
In this book the main character is Cate Fante, who was recently appointed federal judge. She has been assigned to preside over a celebrity case where Mr Simone (a reknown producer) is accused of stealing the idea to his most recent hit from local lawyer who had pitched the idea to him.

Although Cate would like to rule in favor of Mr. Marz (the local lawyer), since it's clear that the ideas and storylines to the show had been stolen, the law is clear and she has to rule against him. This sets off a chainof events that finds Simone murdered and Marz killed, supposedly by his own hand with the same pistol that had killed Simone. Seems like an open and shut case except, one detective believes Cate did the killing or better said, hired an assasin to do the dirty work.

It seems our lady judge has one big ghost in her closet. She likes to go to seedy bars and pick up men for one night stands. She doesn't do it on a regular basis but the fact that the men are from the lowest spectrum of society could lead to ruination. And almost does.

When the truth somes out, after Russo (the detective) leaks it to the press, her life turns inside out. She finds herself running from a madman intent on killing her, trying to save her job and in her spare time, she is looking for the real killer since she is fairly certain that Marz had nothing to do with the murder of the producer and he was setup to take the fall because of the lawsuit he loss.

Although the book set a decent pace it seemed as if all the characters had been brushed over. We never get attached to anyone, not even Cate. Even though Scottoline gives us a glimpse into Cate's past nothing really explains her behavior or makes us believe that she really wants to be a judge. I was a bit disappointed in this book because Scottoline is an author of higher caliber than the work put out in this book. In the last chapter of the book we discover what happened to Cate's last one-night stand and it seemed as if the author put it there as a last attempt to tie a loose end and decided to use a shock me mentality which failed completely.

If you are looking for a quick, entertaining read... pick this one up, but if you are expecting the usual quality of Lisa Scotoline's books, skip it.

Grade: C
Format: Audiobook

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer

Picked this one up at the recommendation of a friend on my yahoo group.
LaVyrle Spencer was the Author of the Month for June and since I had never read her work I needed some guidance on what to select. At first I thought I would not have the chance to read this book so I got Small Town Girl in Audio book but this one came just in time and with everyone singing it's glory, I had to give it a chance. I don't regret it.

Will Parker has been out of Huntsville Prison for just a few months but he has live in a type of prison all his life. A bastard at birth, and abandoned shortly after, he has lived with the constant taunts and abuse typical of children of his status back in the 1940's. He went from foster home to foster home until he dropped out of school and ran away. Unfortunately his life didn't get any easier from there and after a betrayal from someone considered a friend, he spent 5 years in prison for a murder that in truth, was really an unfortunate accident.

Elly Dinsmore lives in a self imposed prison as well. Also a bastard at birth, she was raised in the home of her grandparents who were religious zealots. They locked her and her mother in the house for years, submitting them to shameful penances that scarred her emotions, if not her skin. When she finally was released from her 'prison' it was to go to a school full of bullies and heartless taunts that labeled her as crazy. She finally gave up on schooling and would escape to the woods where she would commune with nature. This was where she met her husband, Glendon.

Elly finds herself widowed with two young boys and pregnant with a third child. She realizes that she can not care for her property and decides to place an ad in the local newspaper for a husband.

Will was not very welcomed in Whitney but he was tired of roaming from town to town. He knew his gig was up when after just four days working at the local sawmill, the foreman, Harley Overmire, finds out about his criminal record and runs him off. Will is a sad sight at this point, malnourished, tired and dirty, he finds Elly's ad and goes up to the house to apply for the position.

This book was not your typical romance. It was more... real. More sweet and touching than any other I had read in a long time. There is not a lot of plot twists and turns but just a day to day recount of a couple that is getting to know each other, finding out they love one another in spite of their past, having to deal with life. What is so poignant about this book is how these two find a way to trust when no one has given them any reason to trust.

It kills you to hear their thoughts. Words stuck in their chest because they are like frightened kids who have had their hands smacked too many times to risk reaching out again.

The secondary characters are just as real as Elly and Will. Laura Marsh who you think will be all haughty and reproachful turns out to be so supportive and good. Gladys, the librarian who befriends Will from the first, puts aside her own fears because she sees Will needs her more than she needs to guard her feelings. And then there is Lula Peak who deserves her fate like no other.

Spencer has a talent to be admired creating characters that just jump out of the page. The pace is not what I was used to, since it was slower but it was so rich in descriptions and the characters had such depth, it will stay with me for some time.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas has never disappointed me and this one was no exception. I picked this book from my TBR pile in preparation of June's TBR challenge. The callenge is to read a book that someone has recommended. Everyone's favorite Kleypas hero is Derek Craven and his character is introduced in this story.

More later...

Grade: B+

The Dangerous Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

I actually started reading this one when I read the first two stories in the trilogy (The Pirate Lord and The Forbidden Lord) but I just hated it. I now realize that I was just tired of the characters and didn't care enough about the hero in this story to give the book much credit.

Now that I have had more time away from all the characters I met in the earlier books I could appreciate Ian's story fully and realized that I actually enjoyed it.

We met Ian in The Forbidden Lord, where he is Jordan and Sara's childhood friend. At the age of nineteen Ian disappeared to the Continent under the cloud of a possible scandal. No one really knows why he left but his very young Aunt died just before he left and thus the rumor was that after having an affair with Ian, she killed herself and Ian fled to the Continent over the guilt.

This gossip does not help Ian in his current endeavor which is to find himself a wife. Seems his father was not very happy that his only son and heir had runaway from home, so he put a clause in his Will that would strip Ian of the properties that being the Viscount St. Clair entitled him to if he did not produce an heir by the age of 30. Ian just turned 29, which leaves him with very little time to get married and get the deed done.

Felicity Taylor has a secret. She is the infamous Lord X, the author of a gossip column in the local London newspaper. When her father died with mountains of debt Felicity found that her ability to write stories and tell tales was the only thing between her and the poor house. With four brothers to support she turned to writing just to stay a few steps in front of the creditors (who are moving in fast).

When her friend Katherine finds herself on the precipice of an engagement to Lord St. Clair - arranged by her parents, of course - Felicity decides that she needs to do something to help her friend who is helplessly in love with a childhood friend. Lord X to the rescue! Or not...

Felicity writes a column exposing the possibility that Ian has a mistress and a bastard child. This based on the rumor that a mysterious woman has moved into one of his townhouses which he is seen visiting. Of course, Ian is furious, especially since the column has prompted his possible fiancee to elope with her true love. Now he has to start his search for a wife all over again. Ian is out for blood, determined to find out who is this meddlesome Lord X and put a stop to his gossip.

He does in fact find out and there starts a battle of wills where they both pull low punches. Felicity accuses Ian of going 'too far' with a kiss when they are discovered in the balcony at Sara's (from The Pirate Lord) house. Ian threatens to expose her secret to one and all. Between cat fights and kisses, Ian decides that since Felicity chased away his current prospect she either needs to find him a wife, or do the job herself.

As I said earlier, I really enjoyed the story when at first I really couldn't even bring myself to care.
This was my first trilogy by Sabrina Jeffries and I will say that it has solidified her on the list of one of my favorite authors.

Grade: B

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

This one was recommended to me by everyone in my yahoo reading group and so I started reading the series from the first installment (Lion's Daughter followed by Captive Nights) but after reading this one I realized that this is the first book that can stand on it's own. Actually it should be read before Captive Nights since the characters in that story are still not involved in this one.

Anyway, I'll give more details later...

Grade: A

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Manhunt by Janet Evanovich

Being a big Stephanie Plum fan I tend to give Janet Evanovich's other work a look at and when my sister got her hands on the audiobook version of Manhunt I could not refuse to hear the short (4 CD) track.

Alexandra Scott is an high powered Wall Street exec that has decided to trade in her luxurious condo in the city for a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. She is tired of her long hour days and the offer to own a cabin and hardware store proves to be a temptation to much to refuse, even when she has not seen either. The fact that men outnumber woman gazillion to one is another strong incentive. Her goal is to settle down at a slower pace and find herself a husband.

Michael Casey has no interest in finding himself a wife but when his neighbor sells his run down cabin to a city slicker he can't stop himself from feeling the attraction. He has a Sir Galahad complex and if anyone needs saving it would be Alex (even if it is from herself).

The tale is somewhat predictable but it doesn't really take away from the story. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I would have read the book in paper format. The narrator was a bit distracting since she sounded too much like the narrator of the Stephanie Plum books.

In essence the book was light and funny. Alex kept getting herself into funny situations, like blowing up her outhouse, and Casey kept saving her. I like that Alex went against the odds and was willing to tough out the Alaskan weather. She didn't scare easy and even when things couldn't look worse, she stiffened her spin and moved forward. Casey on the other hand was a bit of a coward since he just couldn't give Alex a chance. I understand how he was burned before but he just could not budge and had so little faith in Alex that I wanted to smack him around a bit.

Grade: C+
Format: Audiobook

The Chivalrous Rake by Elizabeth Rolls

I had been looking forward to this one since I first read about Jack Hamilton in The Dutiful Rake were he was the voice of reason. In that tale Jack was the calming influence for Marc when he falls for his poor relation Meg.

That Jack is nowhere to be found in this tale. Except for the kind heart Jack exhibits with his friend and employees, he has been completely transformed into a distrustful, close minded, raving lunatic. There is just so much one can blame on love and I was a bit disappointed to find this changed Jack.

For this sequel we get a repeat theme of The Dutiful Rake. Jack has broken a collarbone and is homebound when Dr Bramley and his daughter Cressida arrive at his doorstep. Dr. Bramley has lost his position as a vicar and, as Jack's distant cousin, seeks to stay a few weeks with Jack.

Cressida is looking to find a position as a governess or companion but Jack becomes irrational and refuses to allow it. So Jack offers her father the position of his personal Librarian. He does some good deeds toward Cressida developing a friendship that has him falling in love with her but his distrust and close mindedness makes Cressida search for other options for her livelihood to get out from under his roof.

Seems there is a reason why Cressida and her father are homeless and without character references she cannot dream of finding a job. When Jack discovers what happened to Cressida and her father he jumps at the excuse to offer for her, but she refuses him. So now we have the Big Misunderstanding that Rolls is famous for.

Jack believes she doesn't want him as a husband and arranges to have a dowry given to her, He then takes them to London for the rest of the season so that she can have her pick of men, but things don't work out as smoothly as Jack would have wanted.

In the end we do get to see our old Jack back but it's on the lines of too little too late. There was lots that could have been done with Jack but Rolls took the easy street by relying on the Big Misunderstanding and falling back on themes that are worn and old. Rolls' does have a good flow to this story and the words fly off the pages but I'm not sure if that is enough to makeup for the lack of plot.

Grade: C-

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra

I had heard many things about this book before I found the Audiobook at my local library.
I tend to be more lax on my reading when it comes to Audiobooks. I have a difficult time keeping my attention on a piece of fiction (interpret non-romance) if it's in paper format, but in audio format I can read most anything. So, when I heard this book was about Da Vinci's painting "The Last Supper" I waited until it was available at my library to pick it up.

A few things I found interesting before opening the book itself were that it was written by a Hispanic author. It's not often that a Hispanic author's work is recognized nationally. The other interesting fact I learned was that the book was originally published in Spanish. As I listened to the piece I tried to imagine the words in Spanish and, for the life of me, I could not really imagine it.

Spanish is such a romantic language, so rich and alive that you would think that with all the monks and secrets roaming around in the book it would be easy to bring the pages alive in Spanish but I just couldn't find the right words to say everything that was hidden in the book.

The story takes place in the 15th century - this was news to me since I was sold the idea that this was in the same lines as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. An inquisitor is sent from Rome to find the identity of a man that has been sending mysterious notes to Rome. The notes are of heretical nature and the inquisitor is to identify the man and see what his intentions are toward the church.

Since the notes refer to Leonardo Da Vinci's latest work in a monastery, the inquisitor seeks refuge in the monastery itself. He then goes about trying to decipher the last note sent to them which is a puzzle that when solved will expose the writers name.

During Father Augustino's inquiry we learn a lot about Da Vinci's The Last Supper. Obviously without doing research of your own there is no was to distinguish what was real and what was molded to become more interesting in this work of fiction. There is definitely a connection to Dan Brown's book in that there is reference to Mary Magdalene and the Scared Feminine.

But there are other interesting tidbits like the artist using the monks as models for the apostles and a bust of Plato as the image of Simon. How Peter looks effeminate because a woman was chosen to pose for the youngest of the apostles, how the right side is illuminated thus casting favor among those apostles and those on his left are questionable. These little details are the ones that make you take a second look at the work of art and question if there is truth behind the words we read.

The whole idea of the book is to make us question these details and in doing this makes us believe that Da Vinci did, in fact, leave a certain code within the painting and that his purpose was not to destroy the people's faith but to cut out the middle man (the church) and give the people freedom of religion. There are no races against time but the book does give you a sense of urgency to discover the meaning hidden beyond each brushstroke of the painting.

Unfortunately, because of it's theme, this book will suffer from comparisons and the same reasons that made me pick up the book (it's close relationship to The Da Vinci Code theme) will make me critique it more harshly. The higher expectation will cause me to give it a lower grade even though, in general, the book was good.

Grade: C+
Format: Audiobook

Second Sight by Amanda Quick

I find that most books by Amanda Quick are a bit formulaic where if you read on you have read them all but I enjoy the formula too much to really complain.

In this one we meet Venetia Milton who has been commissioned to take a few photos of some rare artifact collection at the Arcane House, the home of a highly secret society that was first established by an Alchemist. Venetia takes the job with hopes of accomplishing two things. The first is to earn the high fee that the Arcane Society has promised her for the photos. This fee will help her open her own gallery, which in turn, will help with her families expenditures. The other reason to take the job is to have the chance to seduce Gabriel Jones, her current employer.

Both tasks are accomplished within a few days, but she is forced to leave Arcane House suddenly (after her seduction) when two men are found trying to break into the house. She flees the house on Gabriel's order while he stayed behind to see if the criminals could be caught. When she next hears of the Arcane House it's to read that it was burned to the ground and Gabriel was lost in the blaze.

With the small fortune she was paid for the assignment at Arcane House, she moves and sets up her gallery. She does this all by trading her own name for that of Mrs. Jones (in honor of the only lover she had ever taken) and posing as a widow.

The deception appeared to be working fine since her gallery was receiving abundant commissions and she was making a name for herself among the artists' communities. But her husband refuses to stay dead and when Gabriel arrives at her doorstep she is unsure to be delighted that he is still alive or desperate to kill him herself for the aggravation he is causing in her life.

Gabriel needs Venetia's help in uncovering the villain that stole a journal from the Arcane Society and since she has decided to pose as his widow she has placed herself in the path of a man that will stop at nothing to prove his theories on evolution. It seems that the madman knows of one of the many secrets Venetia holds close to her heart and her 'talents' have made her a prim catch as mate.

I enjoyed the tale as I do most of Quick's work. The slant on the paranormal abilities that Venetia and Gabriel share added a little twist to the story and the inclusion of several secondary characters (Venetia's brother and sister as well as Gabriel's parents) made this one a decent read.

Grade: B

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hunters: Interlude by Shiloh Walker

This is the second anthology-like collection in this series. This one carries two stories as did the first one (Hunters: The Beginning).

Byron & Kit: We met Byron during Eli and Sarel's story. He was the Master that Eli visited in the States. Kit is the daughter of a very close friend of Byron who died in battle. When the inherent died, Byron promised to care for his only child, but Kit is no longer that little girl and she has grown into a temptation that Byron has difficulties pushing aside.

Kit loves Byron but he resists her and she believes that it's because he doesn't want her. When Byron can no longer control his temptation he decides that he needs to send Kit away but Kit refuses to go to school and requests that the Council reassign her to a new Master.

Although short, this one was good. I liked to see Byron crawling around under his skin everytime Kit defied him, especially when she showed up in his bed. Poor guy... He didn't have a chance.

Jonathan & Lori: This one was the longer one of the book and we read about the relationship that has developed between Jonathan (the were that is the first to feed Tori) and Lori, Sarel's little sister. Lori has come into her own as a witch / healer but is coddled because she is Sarel's little sister. Jonathan is strong enough to have his own territory but he feels the darkness inside him makes him unworthy both of becoming a Master and of loving Lori.

When a contingent of rebels try repeatedly to kill Jonathan, Lori has to step up to heal him and inadvertently bonds herself to him. The bond scares Jonathan but chaos breaks out around them when someone close to him is kidnapped and he is forced to accept Lori's help in the rescue.

This story gave us more backdrop on what the future might hold for the Hunters which is nice but, honestly, Jon & Lori's story was not my favorite.

Grade: B

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Camel Club by David Baldacci

I discovered Baldacci a little while ago when I exhausted most of the audiobook selection at my local library. I discovered he is an excellent writer of suspenseful fiction. In his latest, The Camel Club, he deviates from his usual 'get to know your characters and then throw them into a precarious situation.'

This one was... interesting. For half of the book I had no idea where it was going. At first I thought the plot was about the assassination of a federal employee which was witnessed by a rag tag group of conspiracy theorist called The Camel Club. The group is mostly formed by older ex-military who have been let down by their government.

Oliver Stone lost his wife and child to the dangerous career he chose and now lives as a homeless man who works at a cemetery. The other three, Milton, Caleb and Ruben, have different stories but all are outcasts of society and all have a reason to question their government. When they witness the murder of a man while holding one of their Camel Club meetings they try to find out why this person was important enough to have the government (because the assassins where government men) want him dead. Or maybe it was just the second hand to the president himself, Carter Gray, who ordered the killings.

Well, when you think this is going on the murder / chase / government conspiracy track you get side swiped when you learn there is a plot to assassinate the President (who I didn't sympathize with). The man who is organizing the attack against the president is unmasked to the reader by the middle of the book but this does not take away from the story since the plot is not so much about who dun it by how the hell he do it.

With the help of Alex Ford, a federal agent that gets demoted to secret service guard duty after he screws up the murder investigation he was assigned to; Kate, the bartender / lawyer who is dating Alex and other host of characters that keep us on our toes, our Camel Club try to stop the plot against the president and then try to save the country from nuclear war.

If I can forget the fact that this book was mostly all over the place for the first half of the book, I would say I enjoyed it very much. There were many characters to follow but Baldacci gave everyone a distinct personality and in small degrees explored them all. We see not just the Camel Club in action but we follow closely the terrorist that have been recruited to do the dirty work for a cause they deeply believe in. At point we actually sympathize with some of them and when we discover what this plot against the president really is, we can't even hold a grudge against the person who coordinated the whole thing.

A bit confusing at first, this one ended up redeeming itself in the end.

Grade: B-
Format: Audiobook

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Anthology - Talk of the Ton

Picked this one up a while ago but had not gotten around to reading it. This month it works to satisfy both my Anthology of the Month goal as well as containing a short story by Jacqueline Navin, who is the selected author in my Yahoo Reading Group's Author of the Month challenge.
The Anthology also has stories written by Eloisa James, Julia London and Rebecca Hagan Lee (who I have never read before).

Eloisa James - A Proper Englishwoman: (A) What a delightful short story. This is the tale of Gilbert Baring-Gould, Earl of Kerr who has been betrothed to Emma Loudan since they were children but has yet to collect his bride. He has spent a few years trying to get over the loss of his brother. He spent six months in Paris drunk and putting himself in situations that would result in his death, but failing at that, he has given up all vices. The ton has him pegged as a rakehell because he works at promoting that opinion. His underlying hope is that Emma will hear and call off their engagement.
Emma does hear. She hears that he would marry when she has his child in her belly and his ring on her finger. Of course Gil made the comment quoting Shakespeare and didn't think much of it, but Emma took it as a challenge and decided to seduce him during a masquerade party. But the thing is... Gil has given up his vices... all of them. The story was sweet and funny and just plain well done. Nice rounded tale where you didn't feel like you were dropped in the middle of a tale or were left wanting in the end. This was a great start to the Anthology.

Julia London - The Vicar's Widow: (C ) This one didn't start as promising as the first. I think it shocked me when the hero kissed the heroine - passionately I must interject – while the heroine was married to the local vicar. That was not really the shocking part, the shocking part was that she responded to the kiss - again, quite passionately - while she was, not just married, but also, in love with her husband. Come on now! If you plan on painting the heroine as a kind, gentle soul don't start it off painting her the wanton. When I got past that first glimpse of the main characters I settled in to enjoy the tale, unfortunately the story really didn't take off. In truth the romance was flat on her side and although he had been a scoundrel in the past he was head over heels for her and he showed it in the most romantic ways. She on the other hand…

Rebecca Hagan Lee - Clearly a Couple: (C )This third story is part of The Free Fellows League series by this author. Lord Barclay is given the task of picking up a parcel on his return to London from doing some work for the Free Fellows League. What he didn't realize is that the parcel is the granddaughter to Lord Admiral Sir Harold Gregory who had been abducted 5 years ago and spent the time as part of a sultan's harem. India is a sweet girl and Lord Barclay appears to be a very good man but in truth I just could not swallow that the couple fell in love over the period of one day when there was not much interaction between them. Friends maybe, some attraction definitely, but love? No way.
There was no real plot to this one. He arrives to the cottage, fights and overcomes the Turkish bodyguard, she has nightmares, he consoles her; they wake up, get a carriage and drive to London where he proposes. Just not a very good tale if you can even call it that.

Jacqueline Navin - Miss Jenny Alt's First Kiss: (B ) This is the story that had me digging the anthology out from the TBR pile. Navin was selected as the Author of the Month on my Yahoo Reading Group (as I mentioned before) and this was the only title I had of hers.
Genvieve Alt is somewhat of a wallflower but more of her chosing than anything else. She has come to London with her Aunt Iris and cousin Cassandra for her first season. Jenny is 22 but had put off her first season until it was Cassandra's turn at 18. She tries to blend into the walls as to not take attention away from her younger cousin. This has always been the case since she was brought to live with her Aunt after the death of her own parents.
A distant cousin by marriage of Aunt Iris has requested her assistance with introductions in the ton since he, the Earl of Hatherleigh, has to find himself a bride. There is no complex reason for his seeking the marriage mart except that he had promised his father that he would remarry (his first marriage was a disaster and after her death he avoided the whole business altogether) before he turned 25. The tale is not a cut and dry, 'I saw you, I wanted you' deal. Miles actually thought to offer for Cassandra who is the prettier one and who had shown a clear interest in him. But he noticed Jenny, who avoided him like the plague, was more suited for him. They shared interest and she was more suited to the country life he enjoyed. Unfortunately, Cassandra didn't think so and thus the sneaky conniving began.
I actually enjoyed this one a lot. I did find that Jenny was too much of a coward to really deserve Miles but the flow and the storytelling in this one kept me interested and in the end, I realized that I had enjoyed it a lot.

Grade: B-

Friday, May 19, 2006

Blue Twilight by Maggie Shayne

Last year I read most of Maggie Shayne's Twilight Series. The series has 11 stories that are covered in 7 tomes after the first few were re-issued in trade paperback. The stories have been very good, but for some reason I didn't expect much from this entry. I was not surprised or disappointed.

The thing with this installment is that it doesn't have the group of vampires we have learned to love over the first 10 stories. This one was the story of Maxine Durant and Lou Malone, the mortals that have helped our group of friends since story seven of the series. Max is actually Morgan's twin sister (Morgan being the heroine who marries Dante in Twilight Hunger) and she is a PI that explores supernatural phenomenon.

Max has had her eye on Lou since she was merely a teenager and Lou who is much older than her (40ish to her 20ish) has tried to keep the relationship platonic, but since Lou retired (he was a cop) and Max has decided to move to Maine to be closer to her sister, she has put her flirtations into high gear. He just wants to spend the rest of his retirement in peace and quiet but as he helps Max and Stormy (Max's best friend and partner in the PI firm) they get their first case, which drags him into the craziness that is Max's life.

Jason Beck had been Max and Storm's friend while growing up. Jason's sister and her best friend have disappeared in the town of Endover, NH and he has enlisted Maxie and Storm to help him find them. What they don't know is the Jason has already found his sister and she is being held captive by a mysterious man who wants to attract Maxie and Stormy into town.

The thing with this story was that I have never really felt much of a chemistry between Max and Lou. Through out the story we don't really see it develop either. It wasn't really much of a disappointment because my expectations were so low. The next installment of the series is Prince of Twilight which will be out sometime this year, tells the story between the mysterious man we met here and Stormy. Although the 'Prince' somewhat intrigues me I think I will lay Shayne's Twilight series to rest and keep the good stories I have read up to now in the forefront.

Grade: C

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hunters: The Beginning by Shiloh Walker

This month the TBR challenge was two fold and I was lucky to be able to comply with both themes. The first was posted recently which was The Admiral's Bride, but the second theme was to read a book originally published as an e-book (even if you have it in print now). The selection I chose was by an author that my friend Luisa loves and I just had to give a chance.

Title: The Hunters: The Beginning
Author: Shiloh Walker
Year published: 2005
Why did you get this book? A friend of mine is a big fan of this author and I decided to try her work.
Do you like the cover? Yes. Very sexy and tasteful for an erotica
Did you enjoy the book? Yes! It had just the right blend of plot and sex. Reminded me of Lora Leigh's Breed Series
Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? Brand new author and I already started her next installment of the series.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? Keeping it for a while.

Anything else?

This one was an Anthology of a sort, or a collection of stories which contains the first two installments of The Hunters series.

Declan and Tori: Tori has cross paths with a full fledged vampire who takes a dislike to her after she shoots his face off. He believes that the worse he can do to her (after she poisons her own blood with acidity and garlic) is to turn her into one of his own and then abandon her. But Tori is not as alone as this monster assumes and she finds her way to the door of the sexy cop she had been avoiding for months.
What Tori didn't know was that Declan is not all he seems to be. He has his own secrets in the closet, like the fact that he is a shifter. A man with the ability to turn himself into a wolf. Knowing a bit more than she does about the paranormal life, Declan takes her in and helps her. It doesn't hurt that the attraction Tori had been feeling for Declan was mutual and, with their highly developed senses, exploring that attraction can be very, very interesting.

Eli and Sarel: Eli has been a bit envious of Declan and Tori's relationship. Even though he is part of a little trio that gives as much as it gets, Eli feels he is missing something. Sarel hunts Eli because she believes that he has taken someone precious to her. She doesn't realize that the man she seeks is actually the savior she owes everything to.
When her attempts almost succeed, she is forced to see him as he truly is, a Hunter who preys on the evil of the world. Now she owes him more that she ever dreamed. Will she be able to give him the ultimate gift? Her heart?

I love a good vampire tale and the Hunter Council backdrop promises many stories of the other vampires, shifters and werewolves that are also Hunters. There are already several characters I am anxiously looking forward to reading their stories. All in all a great start to a very interesting series!

Grade: A

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Admiral's Bride by Suzanne Brockmann

This month's TBR Challenge was to read a book that had some military theme to it or law enforcement personalities. This was in honor of Memorial Day.

Title: The Admiral's Bride
Author: Suzanne Brockmann
Year published: 1999
Why did you get this book? I have been reading the Tall, Dark and Dangerous Series for the last few months and had decided to skip this title but the library purchased it when it was reissued last month, so… I picked it up.
Do you like the cover? Absolutely! Looks wonderful.
Did you enjoy the book? Absolutely. I thought I would not like it because in a previous book I had met Jake's first wife Daisy but Brockmann is VERY talented and didn't make me feel as if Jake's feelings for Zoe was a betrayal to Daisy.
Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? Definitely not new to me. She is an auto-buy.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? It's not mine… I have to return it to the library.

Anything else?

This is the seventh book in the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series. We first met Admiral Jake Robinson in Hawken's Heart. He was the long time lover to Crash's Aunt Daisy. Between Daisy and Jake, they raised Billy. The love story between Jake and Daisy was tenderly told in that book and I decided I could not see him with another woman, so I decided to skip this title all together, but the book almost fell in my lap and so I gave it a try.

It's been three years since Daisy died and Jake is trying to live without a piece of his heart. He doesn't dwell on his loss but he realizes that she was the love of his life and there will be no other. Until Zoe.

Dr. Zoe Lange is the daughter of a soldier that Jake rescued in Vietnam. She works with the Agency as a biohazard engineer. When a lethal toxin is stolen from a military lab, she is called in as a consultant on an operation to retrieve the powdery substance. She never thought she would ever work with her hero, Jake Robinson.

The assignment was to infiltrate an anti-government, white supremacist cult-like compound. Jake would first go in as a military fugitive and then bring in Zoe as his wife. She knew what the compound looked like and how to dispose of it, which is why she was involved at all.

The attraction between these two was present from the get go but Zoe was much younger than Jake and he struggled with his guilt over desiring another woman that was not Daisy. I think this guilt and the struggle that Jake went through before giving into his feelings, before acknowledging his love for Zoe, helped me get past the fact that he was moving on after Daisy died.

This was a great installment in this series. My favorite is still Hawken's Heart but this one definitely held its own.

Grade: B

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Forbidden Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

This is the second book in the Lord Trilogy that began with The Pirate Lord. This is the story of Sara's brother, Jordan. It picks up right at the end of the previous story.

When Jordan attends a ball in honor of his brother in law at the residence of Lord and Lady Dryden, he confuses Emily Fairchild, the daughter of the local rector, as a merry widow who wants to spend the night with him. It is not until he has swept her away in a carriage that he realizes that she agreed to go with him because she thought he was her escort and cousin, Lawrence. Doom seems to be inevitable when he also realizes that if someone sees them he will have ruined her.

Emily had no clue that the man she had invited to leave the ball was Lord Blackmore and she immediately understands the situation that they have become entangled in. As they figure out how to extricate themselves from the possible repercussions of the situation Jordan steals a kiss that will haunt their senses for a very long time.

Two months later Emily's friend, shy Lady Sophie, tried to elope with a mysterious man, but her plans were spoiled when her father, Lord Nesfield catches her sneaking out of the house. The mystery man escapes but Nesfeild is determined to find out who he is and ruin him before he has a chance to try the elopement again. He concocts a plan with the help of his sister Lady Dundee. They will bring Emily to London and have her pose as Lady Emma Campbell, daughter of Lady Dundee, so that the man might approach her and inquire after Sophie, who has been sent to Scotland. They hope the interloper will ask Emily to help them elope, thus exposing the man.

At first Emily refuses to go along with such deceit but Nesfield threatens to expose a family secret that could ruin Emily and her father or even have her hung for murder. Of course, in London who should she meet but Jordan, the Earl of Blackmore, who recognizes her instantly.

He has been pinning over the innocent, rector's daughter, even though he denies it to himself. When he sees her he immediately is infatuated but Lady Emma is nothing like the sweet innocent Emily he left in the country. He is not sure anymore who is who. She looks like Emily, smells like Emily and definitely tastes like Emily but his Emily would never respond to his kisses in such a wanton fashion, or would she flirt so outrageously or would she tease him so mercilessly. So who the hell is this woman that has the face of his sweet innocent Emily?

At first I didn't think this story would be as good as its predecessor, and in fact, I did enjoy the first book more, but this one gets you caught up in the masquerade and has you wondering how they are going to get Emily out of this bind she finds herself in. I guessed early on who the Mystery Man was so it was nice to see love win out on two scores. But the real enjoyment came at seeing Jordan just crumble in the face of Love when he deemed it something that he would never risk.

Grade: B+

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

I discovered this author when I read one of her novellas in an Anthology. If you know my reading habits you will know that I'm not too fond of Anthologies. I think they don't give the author enough time to develop a decent story or flesh out the characters enough so that the reader can connect with them. On the other hand, Anthologies are great for people that have a problem concentrating or for people that don't have much time. It's like instant gratification if you want to get some reading in but don't want to start something that will take you forever to finish.

Anyway, I'm deviating. After reading that novella I needed to see if her other work was as good. My reading group buddies tell me that she is very good and everyone had different takes on their favorites but everyone agreed the The Forbidden Lord was their favorite. The thing with that book is that it's part of a trilogy and I just could not bring myself to read the damn thing out of order so I patiently waited until I could get my hands on the first book of the set. On Tuesday I found it.

The Pirate Lord tells the story of Capt. Gideon Horn who sails the Satyr against any nobleman that might dare cross his path. Although born English he is raised in America and after privateering against the English during the Revolutionary War he decides to become a Pirate after the war ends. He is known as the Pirate Lord because he only takes on the ships of noblemen. His mother was the daughter of a duke and she had abandoned him and his father at a young age. He was told that she had ran back to her family in England because she missed being pampered. Gideon lived a miserable life with his drunkard of a father who beat him because he reminded him of the mother that had left them both.

Sara Willis is the step sister to the Earl of Blackmore. Her mother was no one special but after Sara's father died in debtor's prison, Sara's mother decided to become a reformer and work to change the system that led her to become a widow. She meets the late Earl during one of her visits to parliament and they fall in love. He supported her reformist ideas and they lived happily. When her mother died and quickly after the Earl, Sara decides to continue her mother's work by voyaging with a group of women that are being transported to New South Wales in Australia. Although a lawless country, Sara is determined to go with them to document their treatment and make sure that they are treated with dignity. Of course Jordan, her stepbrother, the new Earl, is adamant she not go, but he has never been able to control his stepsister and she sets off on The Chastity.

Gideon wants to retire but to do so he needs to find women that are willing to join him and his crew on a deserted island that will be their new utopia. With his reputation built on fear, it's that fear that is making his task difficult. No willing female can be found, until he hears that a convict ship filled with women is at port. Assuming that the women on board will be grateful of escaping the clutches of their jailers he kidnaps them and offers them marriage to his gang of ex-pirates. What he didn't expect was that these women have a mouthpiece and she is not one to be trifled with. As they bargain for an equitable arrangement over the rights the women will have he realizes that the spitfire makes him burn. Since he too is looking for a wife he decides he will have her.

This book was so much fun, I was sad it actually ended. There wasn't tons of sexual tension but more of a pin pong of desire running through them. The tender scenes grabbed you and the harsh past of Gideon made him sympathetic. He was a strong man but not without faults and yet when proven wrong he acknowledge it and tried to remedy the problem. These two were just perfect for each other. There were a few secondary romances between the sailors and the convicts that were also highlighted and added to the enjoyment of the book.

Grade: A

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ride The Fire by Pamela Clare

This one was a complete hit. I have determined that Clare has improved her writing with each new book published. Ride the Fire is the last of the Blakewell / Kenleigh Family trilogy, telling the story of Nicholas Kenleigh the first son born to Alec and Cassie of Sweet Release.

Nicholas joined in the French-Indian war but was captured and tortured by an Indian tribe. Catching the eye of the chief's daughter he avoided being killed but suffered greatly at the hands of the tribe before he escaped. The emotional scars he had, rivaled those his body endured and as he returned home he realized he couldn't pickup were his life had left off. So he returned to the wilderness and lived the next six years in a sort of limbo.

Elspeth Stewart escaped a tortuous past herself. She was married off after an incident with her step brother that made her weary of men in general. Her husband died recently leaving her in Frontier land heavy with child.

When Nicholas comes across her cabin in the woods, he is wounded and needs her assistance but she fears him and doesn't take lightly to his highhandedness in coercing her into giving him aid. They strike up a bargain where he will stay until he is of able body and in return he will not harm her and her unborn child as well as protect them against outside threat.

During the ensuing weeks they start to trust each other but it is not until Bethie gives birth that real trust starts to bear root. With trust also comes the attraction that start simmering between them. Circumstances keep them together through a mad dash out of the wilderness and to the nearest Fort where Bethie poses as Nicholas' wife.

This book just pulls you right in from page one. There is no lag at any point. We enjoy seeing how the coldness in Nicholas' heart melts into feelings he has problems accepting and with those feelings come the responsibilities he has tried to put aside. Bethie's past catches up with them and we see how Nicholas helps her confront the ghosts of her past while accepting that at one point he will have to do the same. He accepts this and doesn't hesitate when it's his turn to peel back the layers of his nightmares.

The journey through our history's past makes a wondrous backdrop for the love story between these two wounded souls. A wonderful ending to a great trilogy.

Grade: A

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Devil's Waltz by Anne Stuart

I had never read Anne Stuart but my friend Luisa swears by her and since Luisa has never let me down I decided to bite the bullet and pick up something by Stuart. I also had the great pleasure of corresponding with this New England Author and discovered that we share a few hobbies outside the literary circle. Seems Stuart has a daughter into Anime, she enjoys j-rock (Japanese rock) and is also a quilter. All things we share in common. It's not everyday you encounter someone with all those quirks that also loves romance novels. So before opening one of her books, I was already a fan.

This book is one of her latest historicals. She doesn't write many of these and so I decided I'd go with something I was more comfortable with (historical romances). Historicals don't tend to be overwrought with a lot of subplots that might draw you away from the actual romance so they tend to be safe.

Christian Montcalm in line to inherit a viscountcy but it's a title without funds, so he is determined to marry an heiress. He has selected the daughter if shipping giant George Chipple. His daughter, Hetty, is vivacious, young and quiet beautiful. The only problem is that Mr. Chipple has asked Annelise Kempton to be her chaperone during this season, and Christian's reputation as a scoundrel and a rake has already preceded him.

Annelise Kempton is reaching 30 and has declared herself a spinster and unfortunately, she is a penniless spinster. Her father drank and gambled away the little money they had, so after his death she has been forced to become a guest at people's house (since she cannot really work for anyone, being the daughter of a baron). She is hoping that Mr. Chipple will be very grateful when his daughter marries into society and will give her enough to buy a small cottage and retire, from her visitations.

That is, until Montcalm declares he will have Hetty one way or another. Lots of undercurrents are taking place when it seems Hetty is not as determined to have him as we first think and Mr. Chipple is not as caring of a person as we first think either.

Although the actual love story between Christian and Annelise is fairly straight forward and in the same vein as most historicals, there was so many other things going on, it could easily become distracting (remember I said historicals are not typically overwrought with a lot of subplots... Hmm, need to keep those thoughts to myself in the future). This book reminded me a bit of that movie with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, Much Ado About Nothing. There was a villain, a secondary romance and then throw in an apple falling from a family tree thought to have been dead long ago. I easily could put this one down a few times but when I got back to it, I would read with gusto. So, this one is a bit difficult to grade.

Grade: B-

Every Breath You Take by Judith McNaught

This one was interesting because I have read just one of McNaught's contemporaries and it was none of the books related to this one. Yes, this one is part of a world built around several of McNaught's characters. The previous books in this 'so called' series were Perfect and Paradise. We meet the couples from those books but they have no real bearing on this story.

Mitchell Wyatt had a rough childhood, growing up without the knowledge of where he came from. His mother gave him up to the Wyatt family when he was born and they put him in the care of an unknown family until he was old enough to move to boarding school. He grew up going from school to school thinking he was a charity case. It was not until recently that his brother, William, discovered his existence and sought him out. By then Mitchell had made a name of his own, and commanded a fortune of his own as well. So Mitchell had no interest in the family that had abandoned him. It was William's insistence and his genuine affection that drew Mitchell back to the Wyatts. Shortly after Mitchell rejoins his family, William goes missing and the authorities suspect he has something to do with the disappearance.

Kate Donovan has recently lost her father and needs to get out of Chicago to regroup. Her current boyfriend, Evan, arranged for a short vacation in a tropical island resort but cannot join her because his work pulls him back home. During his absence Kate, who has been questioning the direction of her relationship with Evan, bumps into Mitchell and sparks fly. The fling leaves an indelible mark on both of these characters and Kate decides she wants to pursue the romance further and Mitchell is willing to let her into his secretive life.

Well, things didn't work out that way and misunderstandings get in their path. When Mitchell is accused of the murder of his brother he has to leave the idealic setting too quickly to clear things up and with a relationship built on passion, the small tumble brought the whole house of cards down.

Other things happen which I will not get into so that I won't spoil the book for anyone, but two years pass before Mitchell and Kate's paths cross once again. They will have to overcome the lack of trust that seems ingrain for these characters before they reach a happily ever after.

The book kept me wanting to know more, which is good but the subplots were short and seem to be there just to cause problems for our couple. For example, the murder of Mitchell's brother was resolved within 24 hours of Mitchell returning to Chicago. The killer confessed. Eh? There was a kidnapping later on in the book that was also resolved quick and too clean. It seems it was put in there just to bring our couple together. Again, eh? Even with these quirks, I enjoyed the book but if you are planning to read it... wait for it on paperback (or get it from the library, like I did!)

Grade: B-
Format: Audiobook

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Marly's Choice by Lora Leigh

I had heard so much talk about this series, I knew I would not be able to stay away from it for too long. The talk and the fact that Lora Leigh is one of my favorite erotica authors drew me like a bee to honey. The August Men series is about three brothers and the way they have learned to cope with a past that left them with a peculiar sexual quirk. Their need to share their women.

Marly's Choice tells the story of the first brother, Cade. We don't learn the details of what exactly happened to the brothers in this installment but Cade is quite haunted by it. The experience has left him feeling quite deviant and he feels he is not worthy of Marly.

Marly has a past of her own. She was sexually molested by her stepfather when she was young and her mother took her to the August ranch in hopes that they could protect her from the obsessions of a madman. She was barely a teenager when she joined the August household and Cade and his brothers raised her as their niece. It's this fraternal relationship that has Cade gritting his teeth with disgust when he starts lusting after her when she becomes a woman.

When Cade's father dies, Marly comes home from college to the funeral. She has always idolized Cade and in the past few years that feeling has developed into a crush. She has noticed that Cade seems to see her a bit more than a niece and puts a strong backing into trying to seduce him. Cade resists but he is weak when it comes to his lust for Marly and every encounter leaves him feeling dirtier than the next.

This is where I had a problem with the story. He would resist but when he gave in, he did it with gusto. He then would recriminate himself for a few days. When he finally decides to give up the fight completely he is so dominating it borders on rape (during one encounter, I would definitely would have called it rape, even if she did appear to enjoy herself). The sharing of partners is the least of the problem. Marly was really all for it, even if she was a bit hesitant at first. She definitely was into it, but Cade was really over the top in his possession of Marly.

Regardless of this, Leigh mixed the romance with a subplot of her stepfather coming back into their lives, which gave the story more substance than just the out of the ordinary sexual encounters. Unfortunately the resolution to the subplot was so quick and so lacking in action buildup, we are left wondering, why we had it there in the first place.

Even with all the negatives I described, I still could not put the darn ebook away and read the whole thing in an afternoon. I guess if we catalog each aspects of the book I would have said the book was lacking, but as a whole it was good. It really kept me wanting more and that makes me grade it higher than I would have normally done.

Grade: B-
Format: ebook

Friday, April 28, 2006

Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard

Linda Howard never disappoints. Since I read All The Queen's Men I have made sure that I have something of hers in my TBR pile. When a group of woman in my yahoo reading group kept raving about Kiss and Tell, I went out and picked it up. I still haven't read it but I know it will be a delight. And when the same group started talking about Duncan's Bride I had to pick it up as well. The difference being that this story had a premise that always gets me. Marriage of convenience in the form of a Mail Order Bride. So instead of sticking this one in myTBR pile I read the short book (249 pages) in less than 5 hours.

Reese Duncan lives off on a cattle ranch that once was prosperous, until he decided he wanted to get married. Two years later, his wife had enough of cow poke country and took him to the cleaners, nearly bankrupting him in the process. Now, he cares for his ranch alone because he can't afford to hire help and the hundreds of cattle are reduce to just a few heads. But Reese knows he needs to take a wife if he wants to father children to inherit the ranch he is pulling out of the black.

Madelyn lives in New York doing a pretend job that her stepbrother arranged until she can determine what she really wants. When she reads the ad Reese placed in the small town newspaper she answers it without really thinking he will take her seriously.

But Reese is serious about marriage and although the leggy beauty that disembarks from the plane has his blood boiling, he cannot see her being content on the ranch. He is looking for someone that will bear his children and help in the daily chores. Someone that won't get tired of the ranch after a couple of years and want to run off, leaving him looking for a new partner. One look at Maddie in her city clothes convinces him that she is not the one. Now he only has to convince the rest of his body that she's not for him.

Well, obviously that didn't work because he takes her as his bride and she chips away at his heart until she is more important to him than the land he has always cherished.

The way Maddie works to gain Reese's trust and still keeping her dignity makes this one a true winner. I wanted to kick Reese's arse all over the place when a misunderstanding has him backpeddling but Maddie doesn't let him walk over her, she stands her ground and wins her man. Gotta love it! I love how reigned in Reese tries to keep his desire for his wife only to have her win him over with a simple lunch! LOL! The scenes are passionate but not raunchy and the tenderness is just so fabulous... This one is not to be missed.

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Since I started reading Pamela Clare's Kenleigh/Blakewell Family Trilogy with Sweet Release, I thought I'd read the next one in the series since the premise was too good to ignore.

Jamie, the young brother from Sweet Release is the hero in this tale. He is all grown up and has gone to England to arrange for military intervention to help fight the French American War. While there he stays with a university friend who recently became an Earl, but his friend has changed a lot since their young years and Jamie finds that Sheff's behavior is cruel and intolerable. When a mere look at a local Irish lass has her hauled to the manor and presented to him as gift, Jamie feels the need to rescue her.

Brighid has had her share of run ins with the English and after her father is taken from his home and sent to the colonies as an indentured servant, she holds no faith toward the English. When she has to give herself to the Earl's guest in order to save her brother's life, her hatred grows, but then Jamie spares her the act of consummation and she questions her feelings toward the handsome Sasanach.

At first Brighid doesn't believe that Jamie could be different from all the other Englishmen she has encountered but he keeps risking his neck for her and her kin and she finds her heart melting. The fact that their love can never be, since she's a catholic and he a protestant doesn't deter her in giving him her heart.

Clare weaves a tale that has a flow so smooth it has us grasping at every word. Sheff is a true villain and Jamie is a true hero. Maybe that is the single flaw in this book. Jamie is just too perfect. Brighid is not without flaw which makes her very real (and sometimes annoying) and the contrast is very sharp against Jamie. Don't get me wrong, Brighid has reason to be so distrustful and so adamant in staying with her brothers but we see the Jamie she can't believe is real.

Anyway, the book was excellent and it kept me up to the wee hours in the morning gobbling it up. Definitely would recommend this one.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Black Out by Annie Solomon

Annie Solomon definitely knows how to write a thriller but her romantic sense is just a bit hard to swallow. After reading three of her books I will now approach her work as being thrillers with an edge of sexual tension instead of romantic suspense. I have not found the romance that she hit on with Blind Curve in the following two books, even though the quality of suspense was just as strong.

We met Jake Wise in Blind Curve. He was the FBI agent that helped hide Danny when he couldn't trust anyone. Jake's mentor and friend Frank Temple has been murdered and he believes that the woman he has been following on Frank's bequest has something to do with it the murder.

Margo Scott has lost a month of her life, literally. When she shows up to open her book shop she realizes that a month in her life has vanished and in it's place is a big black hole. If that doesn't put her on edge, the little she remembers of her life seems to be disappearing as well. A sister that doesn't exist, an apartment that she doesn't recall having, guns, knives... Things that can't possibly be part of the life of a book seller suddenly appear and disappear in the span of a few hours.

The police are closing in, asking for answers that Margo cannot give since she has no clue herself, when Jake steps in and offers a light in the blackness that is her mind.

The book was very good if I kept my romantic expectations at a minimum. Solomon takes the couple on a sexual relationship but not on an emotional one and credit must be given that she didn't try to feed us a romantic relationship when the heroine was in no place to even think about anything of the sort.

"Maybe I want to hold your hand"
And that was the problem, wasn't it? He was the only living creature she had an attachment to, and she wanted to cling to him like Krazy Glue.
But how could she trust that any of the feelings were real? And if they were, how could she figure out who she was, who she wanted to be, if he was always there to cushion her fall?

This is just an indication of how mixed Margo's feelings were at less than 50 pages from the end of the book.

When it came to action and getting an answer to the 'who dunit?' question, Solomon kept us guessing all the way to the end. We never could completely disregard Margo as a suspect because no one knew exactly why she had the Black Out of her memory.

I think I'll hold out from blindly purchasing more work from this author because I like my romance and, although I read through this book fairly quickly and enjoyed the ride, I want more emotional connections between my main couples.

Grade: B

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Her Master and Commander by Karen Hawkins

This is the first in a new series by Hawkin called Ask Reeves. Quite the catchy name since it refers to Reeves, the long time butler to the Earl of Rochester.

Tristan Paul Llevanth is the by-blow of the Earl of Rochester. He and his twin brother, Christian had been kept by his mother until she was accused of treason and died in the gallows when they were 10. At that point, with the funds that had been sent from his father dwindling, their tutor sold them as hands onto a ship. Tristan was able to help Christian escape but he was caught and spent his life on the sea. It was there that he made a name for himself and earned the recognition of the crown as he served in the Navy and became a war hero

When the old earl finds himself dying without an heir, he arranges to legitimize his first born sons by bribing the Archbishop to produce false marriage papers. He then send his trusty butler Reeves to find his wayward sons and make sure they are worthy of the Rochester title. He gives the title to Tristan but the fortune that goes with it will pass on to Christian unless Reeves can transform the ex-pirate/war hero into a true gentleman.

After being wounded, Tristan takes residence in a small cottage overseeing the sea. The small cottage has become a refuge of sorts to old sailors that have been wounded and have no other place to go. It's there that he meets Prudence Thistlewaite and her mother.

Prudence who has been widowed for several years is an outcast of society, after her deceased husband convinces some prominent members of society to invest in a proposition that later fails. When society turns their backs on her and her mother, they head off to the country to start a school of deportment for young girls. When her neighbor's livestock (the Capt's sheep) keep trampling into her garden she has to confront the man, but the seed of attraction is planted during each encounter, and that blasted sheep makes their encounters fairly frequent.

Well it seems that the Capt will need a little polishing up and this is where Prudence comes in. She gets recruited to teach Tristan some lessons in comportment so he can dazzle the trustees into giving him his inheritance.

I had never read anything by Karen Hawkins and I must say I was quite impressed with her work. I enjoyed the banter between the hero and heroine and the romance developed nice and slowly. She did not bring a lot of baggage to the relationship. She had loved her first husband but was able to find love again. Tristan was not jaded by his previous experience in love (his love for his brother and mother). His brother had more baggage, although he approached life in a more carefree manner, and so his story (Her Officer and A Gentleman - which comes out in May) should be more complex.

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 22, 2006

On The Run by Iris Johansen

Johansen is a must buy for me. Her romantic suspense is not as fabulous as Sandra Brown but very much comparable to Linda Howard. For some bizarre reason I don't love her Eve Duncan series but her stand alone work and, even those books that take place in Eve Duncan's world, keep me coming back for more. Her latest book definitely doesn't disappoint.

Grace Archer is a Horse Whisperer living on a ranch in Alabama with her 8 year old daughter Frankie and the man that took them in many years ago, Charlie. But Grace also has a past kept secret from everyone except for the local Martial Arts instructor, Robert. Nine years ago Grace was a CIA operative in training on a mission in El Tariq, Morocco. Her team's mission was to kidnap a pair of horses which appear to have the ability to find a buried treasure in the dessert. The problem is that 'The Pair', as they are known, are untamed and have killed many who have tried to get close enough to tame them. The mission goes sour and they barely make it out alive but not before she develops feelings and has an affair with her leader, Jake Kilmer.

Jake has tried to keep his distance from Grace over the years, even after he learns she is pregnant with his child, but his recent actions have put her in danger. After stealing a map from the man that owns "The Pair", the villain, called Marvot, is more determined than ever to find the woman that almost tamed his horses. With a mole in the CIA, Marvot discovers her whereabouts and attacks the ranch.

Jake will not let her face this madman alone and steps back into her life stealing her off to another safe house where they get reacquainted. When Marvot kidnaps their daughter, Frankie, the action kicks up into high gear.

This was simply a wonderful read that kept you glued to the book from page one until you turned the last page. With just the right mix between action, suspense and romance, Johansen takes us for a rollercoaster ride that is typical with her work. Definitely pick this one up.

Grade: A
Format: Audiobook

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I was recommended this book last year and it was described to me as The Da Vinci Code for vampire lovers. The Da Vinci Code it was not.

Part of the story is told from the point of view of a woman who tells us the events she is to recount took place when she was a 16 year old girl and found a mysterious book among the things of her, historian turned diplomat, father. The book is blank but in its center, is a woodcut image of a dragon carrying the single word "Drakulya". She also finds a series of letters dating from 1930.

When she asks her father about the book, he goes on to tell her the story of when he found the book himself and how his life changed from that moment on. The book jumps from the young girls view, to her father, to his advisor (another historian) from the University of Oxford.

It seems that her father's advisor, Professor Rossi also had been given a similar book which intrigued him enough to go out and search for its origins. When Rossi goes missing the day after their conversation, Paul (the girl's father) feels the need to search him out and the book holds the key to his friend's disappearance.

We then follow Paul on his search for Prof.Rossi. He travels all over Europe with the daughter of the professor, Helen, in search of Dracula's tomb which he feels will be where he will find his friend.

The book itself is very slow at parts (most parts), it seems to pick up in the middle just to crawl later on. Even with evil minions tracking Paul and Helen's every move and the political climate that impede their search, we never get a real sense of urgency that makes an exceptional thriller.

The story gets bogged down by so many historical facts and details that it tends to lose connection to the reader. Most of the action is in the finding of historical documents and how they uncover layers to who was Vlad, the Impaler. The moments of horror are in the telling of Vlad's unmerciful reign. There are no real chases or threats (except for the librarian that refuses to die). When we finally catch up with Prof. Rossi and Dracula (yes, we do finally catch up with them) there is so much that has transpired and so much history behind Dracula's state of life, it's almost anticlimactic (Almost).

Another issue with the book is the flipping between storytellers. It can get confusing and irritating. At parts it leaves you hanging until we get back to the correct narrative and by then we have lost steam. It's like trying to stand at the door frame between two rooms and trying to hear two separate conversations at once.

I almost gave up on this title, but I had invested so much time in reading it, I just had to get to the end. The book is the latest hoopla out there and if you want to know what every one is talking about, I would recommend it. It does have it's moments. But if you value your time, I would skip the whole darn thing altogether.

Grade: C
Format: Audiobook
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