Monday, October 30, 2006

Cold As Ice by Anne Stuart

Fabulous. Fucking fabulous.

And flawless.

Sorry for the language, but this book warrants extreme description. It’s hard to find the right words to describe this Stuart victory.

Here's the blurb:

The job was supposed to be dead easy -- hand-deliver some legal papers to billionaire philanthropist Harry Van Dorn's extravagant yacht, get his signature and be done. But Manhattan lawyer Genevieve Spenser soon realizes she's in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that the publicly benevolent playboy has a sick, vicious side. As he tries to make her his plaything for the evening, eager to use and abuse her until he discards her with the rest of his victims, Genevieve must keep her wits if she intends to survive the night.

But there's someone else on the ship who knows the true depths of Van Dorn's evil. Peter Jensen is far more than the unassuming personal assistant he pretends to be -- he's a secret operative who will stop at nothing to ensure Harry's deadly Rule of Seven terror campaign dies with him. But Genevieve's presence has thrown a wrench into his plans, and now he must decide whether to risk his mission to keep her alive, or allow her to become collateral damage...

A lot of talk about the hero of Cold As Ice. A whole host of tangent discussions about sex, gender and the romance readers’ threshold. Discussions I watched from well beyond the sidelines, suspicious of the big deal folks were making about what I was sure would be more a footnote than a full measure of character. I was wrong. Stuart wields Peter’s sexual history—with bold, unflinching strokes—fleshing out every ruthless choice in his past to create a persona worthy of his Iceman moniker. The result is a depth of characterization that defies the usual compliments. Peter is startling. He left me breathless, reeling, at a loss for words.

That Genevieve is drawn like a moth to flame is understandable. His feelings for her are palpable, the path to his core unlit and slippery. Like Genevieve, the reader is pulled under with the same sense of inevitability and the same bone-deep fear of the consequences. Stuart juxtaposes Peter’s attachment and mercilessness beautifully. The resulting filament of unease always there, sensed by readers, but visible only when Stuart shines the light on it--something she does often enough to create the doubt critical to this unlikely romance. Again, Stuart’s resulting symmetry defies the usual compliments. I cannot find the words to describe how or why she manages to lure respectable, strong heroines into loving assassins. I can only assure you it is not by cliché. Nor can I adequately describe the sensory response that lure evokes in readers. Breathless is as close as I can get.

The beauty of Stuart’s voice is less mystical. I know what I like about it. I can tell you what I like about it. Stuart’s voice is strong, economical. Her turn of phrase concise, her descriptive narrative unobtrusive. Her highly charged scenes are perfectly set—without the distraction of intricate props or excessive movement. To say Cold As Ice is tightly written would be an understatement. It is delivered on the edge of a blade with all of the precision that implies.

Tension. Suspense. Stuart builds both with the same economy of words. I was riveted. Stunned into stillness as I watched Genevieve and Peter. Jolted only by the unexpected turns in the story—delivered without warning by Stuart. To say this is a book you won’t be able to put down is another understatement. Better to say that Stuart succeeds in heightening tension to a point where reality is suspended. There is that unnatural stillness. That oppressive weight making it difficult to breathe. With well-timed, insightful references to current events, Stuart creates a suspended reality—here in the present—more powerful, more dramatic than even the best altered realities found in today’s top selling paranormals.

This offering from Anne Stuart is one of only a handful of books I’ve ever desired to re-read. Starting the minute I turned the last page. Black Ice was another. Some might say I simply have a penchant for extreme-bad-boys-as-heroes stories—and we all agree Stuart does them like no other. But I would say it is simply a matter of Stuart’s talent to enthrall, whatever the subject matter.

Just Wow.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Deep Freeze by Lisa Jackson

Deep Freeze Lisa Jackson has long been on my TBR list. Deep Freeze left me feeling as though I was out in it. Shivering. With the chills. This woman is seriously twisted. I loved it! Think Mariah Stewart, only even way more twisted and macabre. The romance also plays a bit more heavily in this than in a Stewart, which I liked, but I believe that, while a very integral part of the book, it definitely takes a back seat to the suspense/thriller component.

Blurb (courtesy of Jenna Hughes has had it with her seemingly frivolous Hollywood lifestyle. The tragedy of her sister's death on the set of Jenna's last movie still haunts her, her marriage has fallen apart, and her spoiled teenagers are giving her nothing but grief. Determined to start fresh in a more peaceful area she packs up her reluctant children and moves to a quiet existence on the shores of the Columbia River . . . or so she thinks.

What she doesn't realize is that terror is lurking in the raw wilderness. The peaceful winter becomes deadly with the worst blizzard in over a hundred years. As the temperatures plunge below freezing, Jenna's biggest fan, an obsessive maniac, has tracked her to the rambling log house in the Pacific Northwest. Women start to disappear and soon Jenna realizes that the bizarre abductions and killings are happening because of her. She's at the vortex of a twisted murderer's horrifying scheme and no one can help her, not even Shane Carter, the sexy, irreverent local Sheriff. She's on her own, trapped in a blinding snow storm and no matter what she does, the killer keeps getting closer to her and her daughters.

Let me begin by saying that it is very difficult for an author to deceive me on the whodunnit. Jackson masterfully does it in this book. The only clues she gives are the color of his eyes (ice blue) and the fact that he is fairly buff and runs around naked in the snow (paraphrasing here, people, LOL!). So, every man in the book that is described with blue eyes (and there are a few) had me wondering, "Is this the one?". Usually I can, at a minimum, narrow it down to two possibles. Hu-uh. Not a clue. Everyone seemed suspect to me.

I enjoyed the romance (despite the fact that the hero had a moustache - hate 'em *g*). The first interaction we see is when Jenna is pulled over by the sheriff and given a ticket for a busted tail light. He so doesn't want to be impressed, but, expecting a prima donna moviestar, finds himself drawn to her "normalcy".

I liked that Jenna was portrayed as nothing more than a single mother trying to get her life back together post-divorce. She has to deal with an absentee ex-husband and father, and her daughters, an angry defiant teenage girl and a shy, introverted preteen. Just like so many of us deal with. OK, that's all she had to deal with until someone starts to stalk her, yada yada yada.

For the most part, I enjoyed the supporting characters, the townspeople, Jenna's friends. I liked that there was a sense of history and friendship and connectedness and caring among them. And, yes, nosiness, too. Very small town. And who knew that waterfalls freeze and then you can climb them?! So cool!

This book could have become cliched stalker/thriller, but Lisa Jackson's macabre sense of danger and suspense makes it unique and scary and thrilling all at the same time. This is definitely a suspense/thriller first, romance second, but if that is up your alley like it is mine, definitely get this book! I'm off to get Fatal Burn, the second in this 2-book series.

Oh, and if you visit her web site, yes, she is definitely twisted. Love the series page... Majorly creepy!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward

A former blood slave, the vampire Zsadist still bears the scars from a past filled with suffering and humiliation. Renowned for his unquenchable fury and sinister deeds, he is a savage feared by humans and vampires alike. Anger is his only companion, and terror is his only passion—until he rescues a beautiful aristocrat from the evil Lessening Society.

Bella is instantly entranced by the seething power Zsadist possesses. But even as their desire for one another begins to overtake them both, Zsadist’s thirst for vengeance against Bella’s tormentors drives him to the brink of madness. Now, Bella must help her lover overcome the wounds of his tortured past, and find a future with her…

I finished Lover Awakened in two sittings. It felt easy, flawless. Far beyond the learning curve of Dark Lover. Without the disjointedness of Lover Eternal. In Lover Awakened, Ward balances characters and storylines with ease, drawing readers deeper into the fold. Vesting us with emotional attachments and grudges of our own.

Well accustomed to the groove that is the Black Dagger Brotherhood, I enjoyed the banter and male bonding. Ward takes it to new heights in this one--letting readers experience more of the emotion that lies beneath the adolescent banter. Despite their cartoonish nature, it is not corny. It is not embarrassing. They were hilarious and poignant--at well-timed intervals.

Ward infuses the H/H with a deeper emotional bonding as well. As they were both victims of brutality, Ward's emotional telling of their story is right on. Zsadist and Bella do not battle overwhelming 'want' for each other. They battle 'need'. Ward depicts the difference beautifully, delivering astonishing intimacy the first time Bella feeds from Zsadist. Building the perfect construct--Bella's needing--to shatter the remains of Zsadist's sexual resistance. Affecting a physical change--not at all what you might expect--in Zsadist following Bella's needing. It goes on.

I also enjoyed the deepening of Phury's character. And of John. Also, the unexpected miracle of John's identity. Ward paced each development, introduced each twist without breaking the story's rhythm.

Which is not to say there were no jolts. Ward leaves us with loss and uncertainty. A reminder that she will take this series--already unique--exactly where she wishes. Somewhere outside the series lovers' comfort zone. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Red Heart Of Jade by Marjorie M. Liu

The grisly murders are just the beginning. Dean Campbell, ex-cop and clairvoyant, is sent to investigate. He is with the Dirk & Steele Detective Agency, that global association of more-than-human men and women. Shapeshifters, psychics and other paranormals, Dean and his peers are devoted to protecting life. But there are those who live to destroy.

In Taipei, he finds the remains of burned-alive men and women, bits of bone and ash, that reveal a pattern far more deadly than any he has foreseen. Someone knows Dean's secret. And they know more—of a power that can change the world, and of a woman who can complete him: Mirabelle Lee, the childhood sweetheart he'd once thought dead. Now, all that remains was blinding light and searing pain, potent passion and a purifying fire. And beneath it all is...The Red Heart of Jade.

It took me four days to read this book. For me, that is a measure of its complexity and weight. So much is happening in this book—right from the start—and I struggled to find a jumping on point.

In Tiger Eye, we learn almost immediately that Hari is a slave cursed to live as such forever. In Shadow Touch, the height of danger is the early capture of its H/H. In both, the reader rides a roller coaster of mystery and magic, up and down, through shocking twists. Both offer somewhat linear paths featuring dreaded—think scary movie music—ascents toward screaming—world drops out from under you—danger. Exquisite world building, with the kind of magic that mystifies results in a few astonishing twists. In these two installments of the Dirk & Steele stories, I had the sensation of accompanying their H/H’s for the ride.

In RHOJ, Liu unravels the story from a tangle of painful knots. Evil appeared in so many corners and forms. And the H/H fight for their lives on nearly every page. I felt like I was standing in the center of the chaos—slowly spinning and all the while wondering WTF is going to happen next. I wasted time trying to find a place to get on for the ride.

The upside to this is that readers experience the same disorienting confusion that Dean and Miri suffer. Readers endure the same powerlessness of not knowing, the same rigid grip of fear. We are exhausted by the fear, sweaty and tired of running.

The downside is that we are sweaty and tired of running both toward and from the unknown.

Either way, it is a powerful reader experience—one evoked by the potency of Liu’s words. Her prose is as extraordinary here as it is in previous works.

Liu’s conclusion to RHOJ does not provide the warm comfort of safety or the cool comfort of a shower and clean sheets. It is a rather abrupt and uneasy acceptance of fate. An acceptance clouded by more unknowns.

It is the most appropriate ending possible, IMO. Instead of being along for the ride so to speak, RHOJ is more like one of those things you shake, a globe filled with little scenes and snow. Reading it is like being at its center while someone shakes the fuck out of it. Turning the last page is like that floating sensation felt when the shaking stops. It is a temporary feeling of peace.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase

I've been plowing my way through the Carsington family tree. This is Alistair, the third son's, story.

Blurb (courtesy of Alistair Carsington really, really wishes he didn’t love women quite so much. To escape his worst impulses, he sets out for a place far from civilization: Derbyshire--in winter!--where he hopes to kill two birds with one stone: avoid all temptation, and repay the friend who saved his life on the fields of Waterloo. But this noble aim drops him straight into opposition with Miss Mirabel Oldridge, a woman every bit as intelligent, obstinate, and devious as he—and maddeningly irresistible.

Mirabel Oldridge already has her hands full keeping her brilliant and aggravatingly eccentric father out of trouble. The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart--not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.

Could the situation be any worse? And why does something that seems so wrong feel so very wonderful?

Yet again, the story is much stronger from the hero's POV. And, I must say, he is far more likeable than the heroine. I found Mirabel a difficult character to really like. Which disheartened me. Although I have always found Chase's heros to be compelling and heartwrenching, her heroines have always been a tremendous match for them. Here, I just didn't believe that of Mirabel.

Alistair is a veteran of Waterloo, and suffers from amnesia relating to his final battle, which left him with a pronounced limp. As he finally begins to recollect what happened to him on the battlefield, he begins to suffer bouts of insomnia, and what I would call PTSD, although nothing even closely resembling that of Bit (Robert), in England's Perfect Hero. Mirabel is so caught up in getting her own way that she plays upon this and uses Alistair's suffering to her own advantage. This really bothered me, and I began to find her more and more unlikeable. I found myself wondering what on earth Alistair found so wonderful about her?

I also had a difficult time understanding why she downplayed her looks so much. The explanation given was meager at best, and I just wasn't buying it. I also was unnerved by the betrayal of Alistair's best friend, and I missed seeing any of the other Carsington siblings, at least one of whom usually makes a brief appearance in each other's books.

I found the emotional connection between the H/H a bit lacking. While I think that Chase gave it her best try, I think that Mirabel is just not an engaging enough character to create the kind of intense bond necessary for a lasting love to take hold.

I did find Alistair likeable. He grew as a character. I felt his pain. If he had one great flaw, it is that he was too milquetoast. He let everyone walk all over him. In a romance novel hero, this is not a good thing.

Obviously, this is my least favorite of all the Chase books I've read. I missed her heavenly banter, her wonderful rapport between the H/H, her truly satisfying conclusions. It breaks my heart to write such a lackluster review. I try to always find something really positive to say. So for a truly fantastic Chase read, I highly recommend Lord Perfect or Lord of Scoundrels.

A Woman Of Virtue by Liz Carlyle

This is an older title (2001) from Carlyle that I stumbled upon at my local UBS. Reading it—and enjoying it—reminded me that somehow, I managed to leave off “Read Carlyle Backlist” from my To Do list. I know I read my first Carlyle title last year. And I know that would have prompted me to read everything she had ever written. As it did this time. Hmmm.

At any rate, A Woman Of Virtue is the story of Lady Cecilia Lorimer and Lord David Delacourt:

In the months since her husband’s death, Cecilia, Lady Walrafen, has hidden her emptiness by devoting herself to a charity mission for the poor women of London’s slums. But when the man who once tried to ruin her reputation turns up at the Nazareth Society, Cecilia is outraged.

The womanizing Lord Delacourt is vain, vindictive, and merciless. But he’s a man who honors his wagers. And when one of them goes wrong, landing him in a charity mission for prostitutes, he comes face-to face with the young woman whose reputation he once nearly ruined—and whose lips he has never forgotten. Soon, however, evil is stalking the women of the Nazareth Society, and only Delacourt knows how to guard Cecilia from the consequences of her own principles.

What I like most about Carlyle is the emotional depth of her heroes. They suffer very real insecurities and that underlying lack of self-assurance draws me to them. Delacourt is another excellent example. He harbors a desire for Cecilia that even he cannot define or understand. And her previous rejection (twice) cuts deeply. When they are thrown together again, he battles that desire in the name of bloodlines. His is not a pure bloodline—something he and very few others know—and he believes Cecilia to be worthy of better. He also believes that she despises him—given her past avoidance. Watching him act against, or in spite of, his own fears was interesting and even a little painful. I feared her rejection almost as much as he did.

In Cecilia, Carlyle creates a partner to Delacourt that is equally well drawn. Cecilia is intelligent, independent and not without her own emotional regrets. She is much more pragmatic than he however, and that makes her end of their exchanges a bit less emotional than his. Carlyle hides Cecilia’s insecurities behind a common sense demeanor and a surprisingly optimistic outlook. She is very likeable.

Cecilia’s no nonsense take on life provides one source of this book’s humor. Delacourt’s self-deprecating witticisms provide another. And his valet serves up the rest, with a personality that matches his sharp tongue. I laughed out loud. Often.

I also like Carlyle’s ability to create an element of danger that is genuinely dark. It is not contrived merely to put the damsel in distress. In A Woman Of Virtue, the criminals and their victims wrap around the hero and heroine in a very believable sense. Carlyle involves nearly every character, deftly casting suspicion and innocence at every turn. Her final twist involving a potential villain was superb.

Inspector de Rohan plays a pivotal role in this book and we see a fair amount of Bentham Rutledge as well. I’ve read both of their stories (apparently out of order) and enjoyed seeing them here. This is also the book in which George Kemble is introduced—as Delacourt’s valet. Although he does not get his own book, he does feature prominently in his sister’s story—another I read out of order. I really enjoyed the company of these characters again and plan to finish off Carlyle’s backlist ASAP—if only to spend time with more familiar faces.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Some Ebook Buzz... Jebediah's Promise by Adrianna Dane

I forget where I read about this book, but what I remembered was that the H/H were married... and happy. It's not often you see that in a romance, so I thought to pick this one up. Well, I have mixed reviews. Mostly, I imagine, because of my own mixed feelings about the Iraq war. This book is about a soldier who is deployed, and is captured. Many of the scenes are flashbacks, some told from his perspective, some from Trudy, his wife's.

What I liked: I lovedlovedloved that this was a married couple, depicted in love, without marital strife, with a happy, healthy sex life. THANK you, Adrianna Dane! They have hot sex, a deep, abiding emotional connection, and a sense of fun and adventure.

I liked the H/H as individuals. They each come to the table with strength of character. I liked the romance that still exists between them. I liked the way they felt so connected to one another, even so far apart and in such dire circumstances. Many happy years together can do that to a couple. I did like that Dane attempted to show that not all Iraqis are contemptuous of the US.

What I didn't like: Like KarenS, I'm not certain that I'm happy with an Iraq setting. I think I'm too conflicted about the war itself - not supportive of the war, yet wanting to be supportive of the troops that are actually there, ya know? So I was uncomfortable with that aspect.

Where was Jeb and Trudy's family? The only support she had was the other wives (a mighty support system indeed). Also, I somehow doubt that the military is as forthcoming with information as they seemed to be with Trudy.

So, taking away from all this... what I liked was the romance. What I didn't like was the setting.
This novella is available at Amber Quill Press.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nora Roberts’ Circle Trilogy—Books One & Two

I’m thinking there could be spoilers here. I don’t give away any twists, but I do share the basic plotline and character identities.

Morrigan’s Cross

A foot race. This is the best I can come up with for a summary description of Morrigan’s Cross from Nora Roberts. It felt rushed. I felt rushed reading it. Like there was so much for Roberts to ‘set up’ that she was simply not afforded the time to entertain.

It starts with a somber, medieval tone and a pace that is filled with dread—like a slow, tortured march to death. And it seems to go on like that for a good length. In this darkness, we meet the wizard Hoyt, the Goddess, Morrigan and Lilith, the evil that leads the vampires. We also learn of Cian, Hoyt’s twin turned by Lilith. A visit from Morrigan sets up the trilogy nicely. Hoyt is to gather a circle of six to battle Lilith, with the fate of all worlds at stake. From here, the reader can see how the trilogy will unfold.

But just as I was drawn into the images and vernacular, Roberts transports us to today’s New York, introducing three new characters with pivotal roles. With the change in setting, Roberts switches to a new vernacular and a lighter tone (cast by the internal dialogues of each new player). The time travel is not unexpected. And the lighter tone is not much more than the attitudinal difference between medieval times and the 21st century. Still, the change felt abrupt to me, jolting me out of the story a bit. Others may not experience the same disconnect.

In New York, we meet Cian in the vampire flesh, his right hand man, King, and Glenna, a modern day witch. Hoyt and Cian’s reunion is interesting, revealing the character of Cian in insightful glimpses. Left me wanting more. The introduction of King and Glenna felt too brief however, and their immediate acquiescence to Hoyt’s cause left me feeling shortchanged. We get background on each, but little time with them in person.

Remaining in the 21st century, the group relocates to a more suitable base of operations. Two more characters are introduced—first in their own POVs, in their own time. A short while later, they join the others in this century. Again, we get some background, that instant acquiescence and the story shifts forward. And again, Roberts’ move to assemble the circle feels rushed; the number of characters—introduced with no time to become acquainted—appears a tangled mess. I tried reading more slowly (don’t laugh), but remained on the outside looking in. Couldn’t get a real sense for any of these characters. Not even the couple at the center of this book’s romance.

Between more visits from Morrigan and Lilith, the characters (all of them) are attacked at every turn. This constant level of danger is critical to the storyline, yes. But it was exhausting and predictable. And, in one of those skirmishes, ALL of Roberts’ characters suffer the TSTL syndrome. It was unbelievable to me. Also, with the constant sword swinging, there was little time to get to know the characters. I harp on that, I know. But I’ve never read a book that left so little an imprint of its characters. There were simply too many in too short a time, IMO. That problem (for me) was compounded when yet another pivotal character is introduced—in their own POV—seemingly out of the blue. While this character—through identity—provides the neatest twist of the book, I was still annoyed by the last minute addition of yet another character I can only watch from a distance.

So clearly, Morrigan’s Cross fell short of my expectations. I liked the premise, saw promise in the characters—despite their number—and enjoyed Roberts’ voice (as I always do). However well written though, I found Morrigan’s Cross poorly constructed. The story ascends too quickly. And characters and readers are simply along for the too-fast ride. When I finished, I told a friend that this was a book that could have been two; a trilogy that would have been better served in five books.

Dance Of The Gods

Less than thrilled with the first book, I was still compelled to read book two. I chalk that up to wanting another chance at getting to know these characters. I’m glad I did. Dance Of The Gods was much, much better in that sense. Tossed together in Morrigan’s Cross, all of the characters are afforded more face time in book two. For the romance, this is pretty important, as these two characters were not much more than faces in book one. Roberts’ builds their romance slowly, playfully—peeling back layers on each until we connect and begin rallying for them. I was relieved. Happy to finally be drawn into the circle, developing an attachment to each member that will keep me tuned to the rest of the story.

I also enjoyed the pace—the space between battles, the breathing room for banter and the time to absorb the weight of fate’s dictate. In book two, Roberts lets us ‘live’ with the characters. It is what I missed in book one and what I fear will be lost in book three—sure to be the action-filled scene of the final battle.

To avoid spoilers, I’m not inclined to reveal even the identity of this book’s ‘couple’. Nor spend more than a few words on pivotal events. Here are the few words: In preparation for the battle, the circle is transported back to medieval time—where the battle will take place.

To share more of the book’s tone however, I will share a laugh out loud passage featuring the trilogy’s driest wit—Cian. This follows a simple request from Glenna, asking him to drop off a tray of tea and cookies to Moira in the library.

Copyright © 2006 by Nora Roberts:

He hefted the tray, muttering to himself as he left the kitchen. “I’m a vampire, for God’s sake. Creature of the damn night, drinker of blood. And here I am playing butler to some erstwhile Geallian queen. Mortifying is what it is.”

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand

First, my thanks to Erin for this recommendation. I now share your enthusiasm for the voice of Elin Hilderbrand.


Adrienne Dealey has spent the past six years working for hotels in exotic resort towns. This summer she has decided to make Nantucket home. Left flat broke by her ex-boyfriend, she is desperate to earn some fast money. When the desirable Thatcher Smith, owner of Nantucket's hottest restaurant, is the only one to offer her a job, she wonders if she can get by with no restaurant experience. Thatcher gives Adrienne a crash course in the business...and they share an instant attraction. But there is a mystery about their situation: what is it about Fiona, the Blue Bistro's chef, that captures Thatcher's attention again and again? And why does such a successful restaurant seem to be in its final season before closing its doors for good? Despite her uncertainty, Adrienne must decide whether to open her heart for the first time, or move on, as she always does.

Infused with intimate Nantucket detail and filled with the warmth of passion and the breeze of doubt, The Blue Bistro is perfect summer reading.

I loved everything about this book--setting, characters and conflict.

Hilderbrand’s voice, its cadence and punctuation, easily engages the read in Adrienne’s story. Her reliance on Adrienne’s POV for the entire telling keeps the reader poised for every experience, every sensation. I loved this girl. She was a very realistic study in all our own, ‘hard to explain’ contradictions—equal parts confidence and self-doubt, self-reliant in many ways, but dependent too, suffering both the emotional clarity and confusion that accompanies every journey. In Adrienne, Hilderbrand creates a woman we recognize—if not as a whole, then at least in little bits. The end result is testament to Hilderbrand’s understanding and identification with her character.

The Blue Bistro begins on a self-prescribed change for Adrienne. A new start, in a new place, with three simple rules: get solvent, be honest about the past and make better choices in men. I don’t know a single woman, myself included, who could argue these goals. As a result, I related to Adrienne fully by page three. And my attachment never wavered. Hilderbrand’s skillful introduction was followed by all the introspection, actions and reactions, and emotional responses expected from this woman. While she was complex and well, human…there were no jarring out of character moments. No special contrivances to accommodate plot. By virtue of that alone—letting the character remain true throughout—Hilderbrand became an auto-buy author for me.

Hilderbrand’s supporting characters were equally authentic. Although we are acquainted with each by way of Adrienne—The Blue Bistro is written entirely in her POV—it is not a limitation. Hilderbrand’s entire cast live as naturally for the reader as Adrienne does. Even Thatcher, the man Adrienne loses her heart to. He is a character whose motivation and intentions remain largely unknown throughout the book. For some, that omission may be enough to obliterate the romance. But if you allow yourself to fall into the story, you will find that Hilderbrand’s refusal to give readers Thatcher’s POV expertly heightens Adrienne’s experience—the delicious surprise that follows Thatcher’s unexpected and stolen kiss; the emotional fear that follows when she falls in love with him. None of us are sure that Thatcher will choose to return her love. It is an almost unbearable risk and readers feel the same vise grip about their hearts that Adrienne suffers. Ultimately, it makes for a far more poignant love story than those in which we are assured an HEA.

The uncertainty about Thatcher’s feelings leads me to the conflict that churns throughout The Blue Bistro. Its source is the relationship between Thatcher, restaurant owner, and Fiona Kemp, partner and chef. The nature and history of their relationship is unveiled slowly. It is a truth that is difficult to accept or completely grasp. Adrienne knows, deep down, that theirs is a platonic friendship. Yet she also recognizes that it has depth and purpose she may never realize in her own relationship with Thatcher—should they be allowed one. Hilderbrand’s depiction of such a friendship is beautiful. Honest and unapologetic. The tragedy inherent—what Fiona needs from Thatcher just now, the ill-timed love Thatcher has found with Adrienne, Fiona’s own unrequited love with another—all of it builds to the same vise-like grip in emotion, reason and resignation. It’s a highly emotional story, masterfully told by Hilderbrand.

One additional comment on characterization. The Blue Bistro—an upscale restaurant on Nantucket—plays a role with a script of its own. Some readers may even consider it the leading character. It provides the beat, or pace, of the story. It seems to hold the answer to what lies between Thatcher and Fiona. And it provides the backdrop and pulse of many of the story’s dramas. Hilderbrand uses it for setting and characterization—putting readers there by sight, sound and taste. Her descriptions of its frame, inhabitants and guests are rich and textured. Provided again in a voice distinguished by its cadence and punctuation. Erin is right. This is an author from which you only want more.
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