Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taking Chase by Lauren Dane

Taking ChaseNovember TBR.... a book originally released in ebook format

Taking Chase is the 2nd book in the Chase brothers series by Lauren Dane. You can read my review of the first book, Giving Chase, here. Once again, Ms. Dane has created complex, three dimensional characters that come alive from the very first page.

Cassie’s introduction to Petal is a feeling of rightness, of safety. It is abruptly ended by a rear-ending at the hands of Polly Chase, mother of all those delicious Chase brothers. That is how much of the book is written - a roller coaster of feeling yanked from safety into uneasiness. Cassie is written with multi-faceted emotions; at first fearful and careful; not just private, but secretive. All perfectly understandable for a victim of such tremendous emotional and physical abuse as she. All of the Chase family are supportive, in that incredibly wonderful Chase way, with the exception once again of Shane, who feels an unrelenting need to unravel the mystery. Is Cassie so secretive because she is hiding a criminal past? Is his need to dig deeper because he feels such a strong attraction to her, or is it because he feels obligated as the town sheriff to protect the citizens of Petal? He is unsure at first, as is Cassie. This leaves Cassie feeling confused and scared, because she is attracted to Shane as well, and doesn’t want to be, but he also leaves her feeling vulnerable, and she never wants to feel that way again.

Shane, as portrayed in the first book, was not the most sympathetic of characters, but we learned just enough of his past to make him appear vulnerable and to create enough of a sense of anticipation for his comeuppance. In Taking Chase, we learn more of his past, and why he is so reluctant to open himself up to a relationship. When he meets Cassie, he feels as though he’s been hit by a sledgehammer. He must control all his domineering tendencies, which frighten Cassie and drive her away.

Much of the conflict is derived from Cassie’s refusal to be dominated, and Shane’s inherent "alphaness". Dane also creates a feeling of suspense, as the reader senses that Cassie’s ex-husband will make a re-appearance at some point. We are kept waiting in anticipation. Will she be ready? Or will she still be held immobile by her fears and past victimization?

The interaction between Cassie and the people of Petal was very realistic. At first she held herself apart, not wanting to get too close to anyone. Slowly, she started to allow herself to make some friendships with some of the women. Yet she remained afraid of the men. Dane did a good job of showing how the men were careful to always allow Cassie to see them before they touched her, and not to startle her. Her panic attacks were what one would expect of someone in her position. I liked that her physical relationship with Shane built slowly, even though they were strongly attracted to one another. She had self-image problems and this continued, even throughout much of their physical relationship. What didn’t happen, and what I would have expected from *SPOILER* a multiple rape victim, was that the first time that they had actual intercourse, Cassie didn’t freak out. I found myself wondering about that several times as I read the book, even though the rest of the sex scene was perfectly written. This was the only thing that gave me pause in the entire portrayal of Cassie, as I felt that the rest of her personality and her relationships were highly realistically drawn.

I liked the character growth. I like to see characters grow and change if it’s warranted. When you meet that special someone, something often happens to you. Or, as in Cassie’s case, if some major life-altering event occurs, it precipitates changes in you. Cassie grows as the book progresses; learns to take more control over her life, not to live in such fear, to be more assertive, not just in terms of her emotions, but her physical being as well. Shane must learn to put another’s needs before his own, which is perhaps the most difficult for him. He had to turn his alpha personality into gentleness and learn to channel his frustration in ways that were non-threatening. In doing so, he learned a lot about himself and about his interactions with others. He learned to forgive. He grew as well, and became the kind of protective alpha Cassie needed – one who allowed her the freedom to make decisions on her own while always knowing the backup was there.

And as always, this is a Lauren Dane book, so the sex scenes are written beautifully and explicitly. And they are hot! But they serve to really forward this story in a big way. They are a major growing point in Cassie and Shane’s relationship, so without them, the book would be much less than it is. It is just a huge plus that Dane writes them so darn well *g*.

As with Giving Chase, I really cannot recommend this book enough. The storyline grips you right from the start. You care about these characters. You root for them and their relationship. Lauren Dane left me panting for more. Chased is coming in March. All three are available from Samhain.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Vintage Brockmann

Hero Under Cover by Suzanne Brockmann

Murder attempts were not the norm for art authenticators. Neither were bodyguards. Yet Annie Morrow needed Pete Taylor's protection. But what would happen when she learned her rescuer's secrets...?

Published in 1994, this was Brockmann's first book for Silhouette Intimate Moments. I stumbled over it at a neighborhood book exchange. As expected, it was a fast read through an old formula. I was pleased however, to find that Brockmann excelled even in her early days. Despite the constrictions of formula writing, Brockmann's characterization was strong and the plot twists clever. I enjoyed it.

HeartThrob by Suzanne Brockmann

This one has been in my TBR stack (a really small stack) for over a year. It wasn't until I saw it on the top 100 reads of '04--and noted everyone's comments about it, that I moved it up on my To Do list.

NO WOMAN COULD RESIST HIM...Once voted the "Sexiest Man Alive," Jericho Beaumont had dominated the box office before his fall from grace. Now poised for a comeback, he wants the role of Laramie bad enough to sign an outrageous contract with movie producer Kate O’Laughlin -- one that gives her the authority to supervise Jericho’s every move, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

ESPECIALLY THE ONE WITH THE MOST AT STAKE...The last thing Kate wants to do is baby-sit her leading man, and Jericho Beaumont may be more than she can handle. A player in every sense of the word, he is an actor of incredible talent -- and a man with a darkly haunted past. Despite her better judgement, Kate’s attraction flares into explosive passion, and she is falling fast. But is she being charmed by the real Jericho -- or the superstar who dazzles the world?

Not at all what I expected. Given the blurb, I anticipated a light bodyguard romance in reverse--with the woman in the role of bodyguard. Or in this case, as babysitter to a petulant (but brooding and sexy) hero. Neither character fit my preconceived stereotyping. And the story was not the stuff of a light read. It was as complex, as deeply emotional, as some of Brockmann's SEAL books. Featuring characters with ugly baggage, questionable futures and few redeeming qualities.

I was in Jericho's corner almost from the outset. And stayed there. He is an unlikely hero, suffering a good deal of humiliation throughout the story. Yet Brockmann was able to give him an aura of power or strength--despite his weaknesses--without sacrificing believability or consistency. His power comes from his undisputed talent and drive (for his work). His strength is a barely there control over his alcoholism and suppressed rage. A false strength if you will. He is an engaging hero with surprising depth.

Kate also held surprising depth. Brockmann assigns Kate her own set of dichotomies--false strength, masking insecurities, pitted against unerring dedication--with competence to match--in the making of her movie. She comes alive with the same force as Jericho--engaging the reader in the battle for allegiance. Interesting approach that--spending much of the book in a contest over who readers will support--Kate or Jericho--before rallying them to cheer for the romance, the HEA for both. Not a storybook romance. But a poignant one.

I also enjoyed the book's setting, the movie-making. Brockmann succeeded in giving the set, the actual making of the movie, its own character--one that featured prominently throughout the story. It provided the framework for the book's secondary plotline of racism and the pitfalls suffered by child actors. Just as in her SEAL romances, I did not mind the secondary storyline or its political bent. It served nicely, adding dimension to the overall telling and furthering the characterization of Kate and Jericho.

Loved the ending. A much better step in the HEA than the expected Oscar nod.

My only regret was not getting to this title sooner. Now I understand why it made the top 100 list for so many. Can anyone tell about BodyGuard? As good?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Keegan's Lady by Catherine Anderson

Finally. A book so wonderful, I'm compelled to talk it up immediately. I'll get back to my catch up reviews tomorrow. For now, I'll go on about the book I finished only moments ago.

Catherine Anderson has been on my TBR list for some time. No particular title. Just enough buzz about her to warrant her name on my list of authors to try. Last week, I picked up Only Your Touch, a contemporary from Anderson published in 2003. It featured a divorced, single mom, new to a remote mountain town, and an exhiled Native American (mostly) healing wild animals with science and a bit of magic. It failed to grab me. While I found Anderson's writing phenomenal, the story felt laden with cliches. It wasn't, really. I simply found little that I hadn't already seen assembled in a dozen other stories. Though Anderson assembled them with admirable skill and an uncanny attention to detail, it didn't grab my attention completely. I skimmed the better part of the book.

It was that skill and the detail in her decriptions that compelled me to try another title. Keegan's Lady. Wow. It is a western historical constructed upon a tragic injustice and the ensuing pursuit of revenge. Only Anderson turns the previously used plot on its head. It reads nothing like anything I've ever read. Every turn felt unique.

Anderson's characterization is powerful. Ace and Caitlyn could walk from the pages. Her terror is heartbreaking; his frustration palpable. Anderson puts readers there with them, in every moment, missing not a single detail of any given scene. She reveals every side, every facet of their personalities. The heroine is battered, but independent minded. The hero is strong in physique as well as moral character, but suffers some ineptness and stumbles when trying to express himself. Anderson is not afraid to give readers characters that don't exactly fit the fantasy. And it is there, in their imperfections, that readers find humor both poignant and gut-busting, and charm that will interupt your heart's rythym.

The book's setting and its premise suggests the potential for violence--frontier town with corrupt law enforcement and townfolk who turn a blind eye. There is violence. Just very little in the big picture. This book is devoted to the romance. Focused there, giving readers all the time in the world to relax and enjoy the fall each character takes into the other. Character driven. Not plot driven. Basic, I know. But I so rarely see a clear cut example of a good, character driven book. It just stands out to me here. Anderson draws readers into the romance between hero and heroine, capturing our attention with the simplest interplay and spending little time elsewhere. A page turner where the only element of suspense is in the breath-hitching moments when each admits their love for the other.

Anderson's characters come to life with an ease that belies the precision of the craft beneath.

Valley Of Silence and Born In Death

Valley Of Silence by Nora Roberts

This is Cian and Moira’s story. It is also the scene of the final battle between good and evil in Roberts’ conclusion to her Circle trilogy.

The battle and its preparation did not squeeze out the romance—as I had feared. Cian and Moira’s romance unfolded nicely with Moira’s initiative and Cian’s tortured acquiescence. Both remained ever-wise and forthright as they succumbed to their love affair. The hopelessness of it—knowing they could not live their lives out together—did serve to dampen Cian’s wit a little. I missed that. But all in all, Roberts’ telling of their story felt just as it should. Even their happy ending. I saw it coming a mile away, but liked it anyway.

Roberts also continued to entertain readers with the interplay between the chosen six. Where Roberts appeared to skim over characterization in the first book, she more than made up for it in the remainder of the trilogy. By its end, all six stepped easily from the page, trailing readers beyond the story’s conclusion.

What else? Oh, I loved the dragons. That was a nice bit of fantasy carried throughout the trilogy.

For anyone yet to read it, my only recommendation would be to read all three consecutively—no waiting or interruptions between installments. Reading one right after another may diminish some of the early characterization issues and minor imbalances between action and romance.

JD Robb’s Born In Death

Excellent. It never matters to me whether Robb allows Eve and Roarke to move forward in harmony or chooses to set sparks between them. Either way, I always enjoy spending my time with them and the entire In Death cast, losing myself in the rhythm of Robb’s words and the details of Eve’s cases. Plenty of humor in this one too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Silver Bells by Luanne Rice

Every year on the first day of December, Christopher Byrne traveled from his farm in Nova Scotia to sell his Christmas trees on the streets of Manhattan. But this year there'd be no cheer for the widower and his twelve-year-old daughter, Bridget. For New York City had taken Christy's only son, headstrong sixteen-year-old Danny, who'd run off without a trace.

Librarian Catherine Tierney used to love the holidays: the lights, the carols, the nip in the air. But after her husband's death on Christmas Eve three years ago, the festivities seemed to start too early and last too long. Just before he died, Brian told his wife that he'd never leave her, that every Christmas he'd send Catherine a sign. On the quaint Chelsea street where she lives, Catherine will meet the tree seller from Nova Scotia. Both figured the world had forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. But they hadn't counted on finding each other, on fate, on second chances. . . and on a holiday gift of new love and new hope to last a lifetime.

I'll admit this time of year I'm all about the Christmas themed books. I love to read about life, the holidays and the love that's found during a season that can some times be very tough for me. This is the first Luanne Rice book I read, I picked up a few of her other books and they have sat on my TBR shelf for awhile now. Not that I don't want to read them, it's not that at all, I found out after purchasing a few of her books that some are loosely connected and I just can't bring myself to read books out of order. So till I get them all they will sit a bit longer. That's why I was excited to find this book of Luanne's. Finally a chance to read a book from an author that was recommended to me by one of my closest friends.

So I geared up to read this book, and I am happy to say it did not disappoint. I will however warn you that this book will bring you tears and often. I happen to be one of those people who love a good cry when they read so this is considered a plus for me.

The story seems to be a simple one but is yet complex in it's own right. I can see why they made a TV movie out of it. The flow of the story lends itself well to that format and for the reader it helps to walk you through the emotions of each and every character as they each deal with their separate losses.

Catherine is believable in her grief, the description of her paints and easily imaginable image. Strong yet sad, Living but not and most of all compassionate. The death of her husband definitely haunts her, but she has found a way to try and go on. Although it's clear throughout the beginning and even the middle of the story that she is still buried in her grief, Ms Rice does show that beneath lies a woman who just wants to love.

Christy is a man faced with difficult choices, ones that he makes with the hope that it is the right thing for him and his children. His courage is simple and his pain comes across as real as any I have suffered in life. The reader can feel his anguish over his son running away, his confusion as to why, and his need to find his child.

The season has brought these two together, the connection is strong from the get go and as we walk through each ones feelings and strife you can not help but feel connected. At one point I had shed tears so many times that I had to put the book down and walk away. Not just those tears that slip silently from your eyes, the ones that burn your throat and make it hard to swallow past the lump that's formed. It was for me a wonderful experience.

As we come closer and closer to the end the emotions slow some, but the impact is just as intense. All in all a touching read and keeper for sure.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Born In Death JD Robb

Eve Dallas has a grisly double homicide to solve when two young lovers-both employees of the same prestigious accounting firm-are brutally killed on the same night. It doesn't leave Eve a lot of leftover time to put together a baby shower for her buddy Mavis, but that's supposedly what friends are for.

Now Mavis needs another favor. Tandy Willowby, one of the moms-to-be in Mavis's birthing class, didn't show up for the shower. A recent emigrant from London, Tandy has few friends in New York, and no family-and she was really looking forward to the party. And when Eve enters Tandy's apartment and finds a gift for Mavis's shower wrapped and ready on the table-and a packed bag for the hospital still on the floor next to it-tingling runs up and down her spine.

Normally, such a case would be turned over to Missing Persons. But Mavis wants no one else on the job but Eve-and Eve can't say no. She'll have to track Tandy down while simultaneously unearthing the deals and double-crosses hidden in the files of some of the city's richest and most secretive citizens, in a race against this particularly vicious killer. Luckily, her multimillionaire husband Roarke's expertise comes in handy with the number crunching. But as he mines the crucial data that will break the case wide open, Eve faces an all too real danger in the world of flesh and blood.

What can I said that probably hasn't been said before about the In Death Series. It's always fresh, entertaining and in some cases a little gruesome. Of core when you heroine is a homicide detective it comes with the job.

As usual JD/Nora manages to tangle up the story line so you never quite sure who the killer(s) are, I had my suspicions, but that would telling so I'll keep that part to myself. Focused around Eve and her delicious husband Roarke this story has more twists and turns than a roller coaster ride and is IMO tens time more exhilarating. Roarke found a way to get himself all tangled up in the investigation. Without giving away the plot I have to say I was just as outraged right along with him and Eve. Mix in the fact that Eve is to throw a baby shower for Mavis as well as solve her case, and some how juggle a missing persons case. Nora/JD mixed and swirled the plots so seamlessly I was amazed. I was never lost in terms of what was going on and the twisting of the good with bad made it a very enjoyable read.

My favorite cast of characters are back Peabody, McNab, Dr. Mira, Nadine, Feeney, Commander Whitney, and this time around we will finally have the birth of Mavis and Leonardo's baby. For me it's one of the many reasons I was foaming at the bit to get my hands on this book. Of course the blessed event wasn't revealed till the very end. Which was for me a struggle to not peek to get the answer I have been waiting for, but I did manage to hold out. The impending birth of the baby and the fact that Eve and Roarke were asked by Mavis to participate is enough to make me laugh out loud still. Well written and thought out I felt like I was there with them in the delivery room.

Poor Eve, hopefully Nora/JD will wait quiet some time before making her a mother. She can wade through all sorts of grisly crime scenes, but birth no way. I'm paraphrasing here, but in one scene with her and Feeney he makes comment about her never having to assist in a birth in all her years on NYPSD, and she replies with 11 years and she never had to and doesn't want to either.

The plot moved along at a even pace and had me enthralled from the get go. So much so that I read the book in one sitting and while I suspected at one point who the killer was, she still managed to surprise me. The motive behind the killings was quite sinister and had my stomach in knots.

All in all it was a great read and a keeper for certain.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Into the Fire by Anne Stuart

Into the Fire by Anne StuartBlurb: Jamie Kincaid knows that she can't move on with her life until she has answers. And she's walking straight into the fire to find them.

A year ago Jamie learned that her beloved cousin, Nate, had been killed. Beaten to death in what police suspect was a drug deal gone wrong, he was found by his childhood friend Dillon Gaynor. Dillon had always been the baddest of the bad boys, leading Nate astray, about Nate's death. He's not about to volunteer any information, and Jaime's only choice is to head to the Wisconsin town where he lives to find the answers for herself.

Jamie shows up unannounced on Dillon's doorstep, only to find that Dillon is as dangerous and seductive as she remembers. But despite his silky hostility, she discovers that she can't leave. Things start disappearing, strange accidents begin to happen and Jamie doesn't know whether Dillon is trying to seduce her or scare her away. And if she gives in to his predatory games, will she lose her soul? Or her life?

But something else — something evil and threatening — is going on. And Dillon knows more that he's saying. Is he the one behind the strange threats. . . or is he Jamie's only chance for survival?

Stuart's heroines often appear to teeter just on the edge of TSTL, appearing to do the things we know are so wrong for them, making poor decisions, putting themselves in harm's way. Yet we always seem to understand the pull they feel to jump into the fray. To launch themselves into the unknown, unable to help themselves; they feel that inescapable urge to be with their hero. And we forgive them for it, because we completely understand it. In this offering from Anne Stuart, Jamie feels that magnetic pull to be with Dillon.

I found myself thinking that she had to know how dumb it was to keep going back into such a deadly situation. Yet back she went. I found myself forgiving the TSTL tendency of this girl who never got the chance to grow into her womanhood, because I, too, felt Dillon's magnetism. Not just his bad-boy side, but the clues that Stuart drops give us insight into his good-boy draw as well, and it is so beautiful. I was in love with this boy-man in the flashbacks very early on. I continued to fall deeper with this man who fought for his hard-won sobriety, and carried the picture of a lost never-to-be love in his wallet, but who seemingly carried no guilt over sending his closest friend to his death.

Stuart once again paints a dark, dreary setting, both the physical setting in a run-down garage and the emotional setting; the hero and heroine have a shared adolescence that haunts them both. A bad decision made on a wild teenage night forever changes the course of their lives. Much of the story is told in flashback and feeds us information about each of the characters in little snippets - just enough at a time to paint a graphic picture of each person in such vivid detail that you sense where each is going, what each will do with their life, and where the story will ultimately end.

As so often occurs in romances, our hero feels the need to punish himself for his past actions, and the heroine is slighted by an unfeeling parent who favors another undeserving child instead. However, because this is an Anne Stuart, the hero comes off as unrepentant and merciless and the heroine has full knowledge of the favoritism - acknowledges it, accepts it, and is therefore not weakened by it.

Yet, the ending is still surprising, and completely perfect for their story. I was held in thrall as I watched Jamie come to the realization that Dillon had loved her for all those years. I wept when I realized all that Dillon had given up by trying, too late, to protect Jamie. And when the deep betrayal by a loved one is revealed to them both, it is heart-wrenching.

I loved this book. Finished it in just a few hours. Ignored everyone and everything in order to finish it. The deep and abiding love that Dillon never lost for Jamie over the 12-year span this book covers made me want to grab my own husband and hold on tight (of course, doesn't everything? *g*). That love is so precious and is not to be sqandered or taken lightly is a lesson that both hero and heroine must learn, and it is one for which I appreciated the reminder. Ahhh, as Jen so ably pointed out, there is nothing like a Stuart hero, is there? In her so eloquent words... fucking fabulous book. Moving on to Cold as Ice now.
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