Saturday, July 28, 2007

What I've Been Reading

Annie Parks came to Hawaii to gather information and settle a score, not spend time handcuffed to a sexy stranger's bed. Okay, so this particular stranger saved her from drowning after she was pitched overboard by some goons. And he's about six feet of hard, Hawaiian muscle and gorgeous cool that's making forgotten parts of her say, "A-lo-ha!" She needs to stay focused, but a side dish of Kane Travers is awfully tempting.

Kauai Police Chief Kane Travers is not a vacation kind of guy. So it figures that when Internal Affairs suspended him, he'd end up rescuing a sarcastic, dishonest, extremely hot redhead who is clearly hiding something. Amnesia? Yeah, right. Kane's got half a mind to give Miss Whoever She Is something she'll never forget. His cop senses tell him that the lady's in deep and needs his protection. But how can he get her to tell him anything when all he wants is to take her home and do everything?

I was lucky when I won this book over on Alison Kent's blog but until I began reading this book I didn't realize how much. First let me say I love the character names- Kane Travers and Annie Parks. As you know, I don't delve into the story because the blurb tells it all, but I will tell you this- this was my first book from HelenKay Dimon and it won't be my last. It had all the elements to make a great story: humor, drama, suspense, mystery, sexual tension, and hot sex. I'll be looking forward to more great stories from Ms. Dimon.
Rating: B+

A mysterious plane crash . . . a dangerous trek through the Idaho wilderness . . . a smoldering attraction . . . and a deadly game of cat and mouse. In her latest tour de force of romantic suspense, New York Times bestselling author Linda Howard blends these elements into a gripping story that will keep readers breathless–and leave them begging for more. For in Linda Howard’s world, trust can be a weapon, a kiss can be a threat, and intimacy can be deadly. Bailey Wingate’s scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father’s will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying from Seattle to Denver in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters–and then fails. Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this was a mere accident. Who tampered with their plane? Who’s trying to reunite Bailey and her husband in the afterlife? Cut off from the world, and with little hope of rescue, Bailey must trust her life–and heart–to Cam, as they battle the harsh elements to find a way out of the unforgiving wilds and back to civilization . . . where a killer may be waiting to finish the job.

I'm not sure why this book is getting the reviews it is at, but I freaking loved this book. This is Linda Howard at her finest. This book focuses on plot, yes, but the romance and characterization are prominent and, to me, that's what her books have been missing for quite a while. I hope Ms. Howard continues with this style, the one that made me fall in love with her stories in the very beginning.

The only thing I
didn't like about this book was the abrupt ending. When I say abrupt, I mean it literally. It was as if there was a chapter missing from the final version of the book. I like closure, and I didn't get that for Bailey and Cam in this book. Unless a book is going to be a continuation story, it needs an ending, more than what Ms. Howard gave us in this one. Another chapter or at least an epilogue would have left me satisfied and given Up Close and Dangerous an A rather than a B+.
Rating: B+.

Millionaire of the Month:
Jack Howington III

Source of Fortune: International security corporation

The woman he can never have: Meredith Palmer

When he arrived at Hunter's Landing, Jack got the surprise of his life. His best friend's shy little sister had become a breathtaking young woman—with an ax to grind. Still smarting over Jack's long- ago rejection, Meredith was now intent on luring the mogul into her bed…and her bed was right across the hall. At what cost would Jack keep a decade-old promise?

As with all Susan Mallery stories, this one was very entertaining. I liked Jack and Meri's past, I enjoyed Colin and Betina's secondary romance. What I didn't like at times was Meri's personality. There were times it was over the top and grated on my nerves. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't enough that I hated her because I did like her. Anyway, the story was great as are all Mallery stories.
Rating: B+

Would she accept one million euros to be his mistress for a month? How could practical American Stacy Reeves say no to Franco Constantine's proposal? The wealthy, arrogant CEO of Midas Chocolates was overwhelmingly passionate in his pursuit. Their union would be pure pleasure….

But Stacy did not know Franco's offer was part of a bet. Her acceptance would label her a gold digger and give Franco complete control of Midas. Unless the billionaire denied his dynasty for the woman in his bed….

To say I was disappointed with this book would be putting it mildly. Normally I love Emilie Rose, but not with this book. It just wasn't her best work. I can't explain why it didn't work for me, I still haven't figured it out, what she did differently in this book than in her others. Whatever it was, let's hope it doesn't happen again. Sigh.

Rating: C(maybe less)

A Midsummer Night’s Steam story

A year after her husband died while serving in Iraq, Cassidy Yates still nurses a broken heart. Thinking a vacation will help, she agrees to a week in Key West with her best friend, April. Upon arrival, April suggests a way for Cassidy to ease her pain—sleep with the sexiest stud she can find.

Not the type to bed hop, Cassidy refuses April’s idea and ends up alone. Abandoned by her friend, Cassidy decides to take a nighttime swim. In the Jacuzzi, she masturbates to the memories of making love to her husband. Mortified by her own behavior, Cassidy retreats to her hotel room, hoping no one witnessed her exhibition.

Chase Dempsey is a man with rugged good looks and a killer smile. He isn’t looking to fall in love and only wants few days of relaxation before returning to his Texas ranch. Still, he’s curious after watching Cassidy’s erotic display and wonders what makes the gorgeous redhead tick. When he finds her dropped sarong, he realizes she’s just given him the opportunity to find out…

I'm normally not a fan of short stories, but this one was really, really well done. It made me laugh and cry... hard to do in a short story. Great story. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Rating: A-.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Broken by Megan Hart

I just finished Broken by Megan Hart. As with Hart’s first book, Dirty, I’d label this one a profound read that held no punches. Another brutally honest heroine that a small part of me wishes I hadn’t accompanied. That is the trouble with first person I think. It either misses its mark entirely, subjecting readers to distracting and gratuitous inner monologue, or it cuts right to the bone with razor sharp truthfulness. I’d put Linda Howard’s Drop Dead Gorgeous in the first category and Hart’s work in the second.

For me, Hart’s narrative is beyond compelling. She manages to draw readers into her heroine’s psyche and keep them there through a never-ending barrage of emotional confessions. Confessions delivered without prelude, some still rough and unvarnished, others with the sharp clarity of cut diamonds. Both with the power to wound. And still, we remain attached to the narrator, unable to judge or condemn. Therein lies Hart’s greatest talent.

Moral issues and questions aside, her characters suffer feelings we all recognize, legitimate hurts that speak to our own. And because Hart deftly avoids using those feelings to justify questionable actions, her characters appeal rather than repulse.

The upside is a moving read, one that stays with you long after you shelve the book. The downside is that Hart’s moments of truth can hit too close to home, startling emotions out of the reader that, in some cases, are better left dormant. I’d hazard a guess that everyone who says they cried through this book found one or more of those moments. I did.

The first was the scene of her massage—when she was overcome by the realization that no one touches her anymore. It brought to mind the latter months of my pregnancy, when everywhere I went folks pampered and fussed. Bestowing kindnesses that contrasted sharply with the emotional and verbal cruelty I was experiencing within the walls of my own home. After reading Broken, I resumed the task of preparing to move from said home. When cleaning out my medicine cabinet, I found a bottle of scented lotion I used religiously throughout my pregnancy. I threw it, and the last of my unwillingness to remember that time, in the garbage.

The next was Sadie’s belief that she had lost herself to her marriage, her husband and the events that shape their lives. I imagine there are quite a few women who will admit to feeling the same way, like they’ve forsaken their own needs for those of their partners and children. Same here. That medicine cabinet also held a couple of bottles of cheap perfume, reminding me that I gave up my $100-a-bottle scent years ago. In the name of saving money I think. An extravagance enjoyed by single women, not married folk with mortgages. A relatively small item, true, but still an indication of my blind acceptance of someone else’s priorities over my own. Threw those away too.

Finally, Hart acknowledged a truth that should probably have been accompanied by trumpets. “I know you can’t be lost if you know where you are.” Speaks for itself, doesn’t it? And begs the question, are you where you want to be? A bit more difficult than tossing old scents, but a worthy challenge nonetheless.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Time for a roundup…long post

I’m so behind in reviews and can think of no other way to catch up. LOL So here are some very brief reactions to recent reads:

Moonrise by Anne Stuart

A friend recently recommended this title and Wow. This is vintage Stuart that almost made me feel foolish for having waited until Black Ice to discover the ultra dark hero she is known for. I’ve glommed older Stuart titles in the last year or so, but found none this close in spirit to her Ice series. If you think Stuart’s Ice heroes challenge the power of redemption, you need to meet James McKinley.

The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

Buzz around this title suggested it was good, but not as good as Hoyt’s first book, The Raven Prince. I disagree. The Leopard Prince was equally powerful. It is a historical romance that unfolds beyond the secure confines of aristocracy. Even with the darkest noble hero, traditional historicals provide enough order and protection to let readers enjoy the romance in relative comfort. In The Leopard Prince, Hoyt strips us of that comfort, subjecting reader and heroine both to course language, the filth of poverty and the frightening power of mad aristocrats over those without station in England society. I wonder if it is this discomfort that lessened other’s enjoyment? Personally, I liked the grit. And Hoyt employs some of my favorite items in romance. She has a potent and concise voice; a dry, biting wit; and characters who understand the power of silence over chatter. Harry Pye is one of the most compelling heroes in historical romance I’ve read in a long time. Hoyt’s use of another fairy tale to parallel this book’s romance is unique and, as it was in The Raven Prince, serves only to challenge Harry and Georgina’s sense of what is possible. Again, it was a tool I personally liked and believe sets Hoyt apart from other writers in this genre. She bucks stereotype on more than one front. Beyond all of this praise, there is only one complaint I have for The Leopard Prince. Its heroine steps out of character in one instance, fleeing the country and Harry for London. I had a difficult time believing her capable of being influenced so strongly by a single moment of misunderstanding and subsequent pressure from her family. Hoyt righted this wrong relatively quickly and from there, the story played out to a script I found flawless.

A Lady’s Pleasure by Renee Bernard

The only other historical I’ve read in two months, A Lady’s Pleasure was quite a surprise. A book I picked of my own volition. LOL I’ll admit to a reading list comprised solely of other blogger recs and autobuy authors. I don’t have a bookstore nearby, or the time to browse by blurb. In this case, I was using an Amazon gift cert and going for the buy 3, get one free deal. I’m glad for this random pick. Although not entirely unique, the story was delivered with a voice and heat not readily found in historical romance. Bernard writes well—giving readers an easy balance between characters, setting and plot. IOW, she employs a clean voice that simply carries you through the story without distraction. Her characterization is strong as well; strong enough to support a level of eroticism so hot I kept checking the book’s fine print for warning labels. Bernard also managed to deliver a conflict based on a misunderstanding not easily resolved, one so unjust you want to scream in your head. It was the book’s greatest source of emotion for me. I haven’t yet researched Bernard’s backlist (if she even has one) but will certainly plan on reading all future titles.

Sex, Lies and Online Dating by Rachel Gibson

I mentioned an upcoming review of this one some time ago. Never got to it and I’m sorry for that. At the time, it deserved its own full-length review. Too much time has passed however, and I can’t remember all I wanted to say about it. I do remember my surprise. I don’t typically go for light, contemporary romance. And without knowing the first thing about it, I took in this book’s title, cover and blurb and neatly labeled it fluff. Still, Lori and Anne recommended it and put it in my hands. Thanks Friends. Gibson is another author I will add to my reading list as soon as I have time to look at her backlist and coming soon pages. It was not fluff. Nor was it heavy or dark. It was however, smart and sexy with a bit more bite than say a Lori Foster or Jill Shalvis (both of whom I enjoy on occasion as well). Gibson’s heroine is a single, professional woman living an urban life. Unlike the stereotype I carry in my mind (think chick lit), Gibson’s Lucy harbors little angst, shops no more than I do and exhibits a healthy level of common sense. Her hero, Quinn, is a bit darker than I expected (an obvious plus if you know my preferences) but also enjoys a healthy pragmatism. I easily fell in with these two.

Innocent As Sin by Elizabeth Lowell

I fell in love with Lowell’s Donovan series years ago. Unfortunately, before last year’s The Wrong Hostage, I found little else I liked in her booklist. I’m happy to say that for the second year (release) in a row, she has recaptured my attention. Innocent As Sin was an excellent read. It was my first big name release this summer. Obsession by Karen Robards was the second. Not so good. Not bad, but not a zinger either. Hopefully Evanovich’s newest Plum title and Nora’s High Noon will get me back on the positive track Lowell set.

I’ve also spent time (finally) reading Karen Rose, Lisa Jackson and JoAnn Ross—all authors I’ve been meaning to read more of. While I’m not completely caught up with each of their backlists, I’m well on my way. They account largely for the fact that I’ve read only two historicals in as many months. You could say I’ve enjoyed quite a contemporary binge. LOL

Later on I’ll head over to Let’s Gab and recap my 2007 reads by genre, author, etc. Gennita Low challenged us some time back to chat up our top reads of the year thus far and I’ve been meaning to do that. But first, I have to get my books read list in some kind of order. Tonight, after my boy goes to bed, I’ll get my spreadsheet out and play. Right now, I have a copywriting assignment to do so I’m off to work. Happy reading.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Soul Song by Marjorie M. Liu

If you have not picked this one up yet, go do it now. Like Liu’s previous titles, this one defies genre preferences or biases. Liu’s lyrical prose and mystical view easily transcend any preconceived reader expectation.

Against her will, Kitala Bell foresees the future. Now her own future is in peril. From the ocean’s depths rises an impossible blend of fantasy and danger, a creature whose voice is seduction incarnate, whose song can manipulate lives the way that Kitala herself manipulates the strings of her violin -- even to the point of breaking.
He is a prince of the sea, an enigma -- a captive stretched to the limit of his endurance by a woman intent on using him for the purest evil. And when survival requires he and Kitala form a closer partnership than either has ever known, the price of their bond will threaten not just their lives, but the essence of their very souls.

Although Soul Song is an installment in Liu’s Dirk and Steele series, its characters—their story and history—journey well beyond the agency’s bounds. Their only link a preexisting friendship between heroines past and present and a new addition to the ranks of known shapeshifters. Liu uses the friendship as a means to involve the agency, but limits that involvement primarily to search and rescue. Soul Song’s mysticism stands alone and Liu binds the reader to M’Cal and Kit almost exclusively. For new readers, Soul Song offers a timeless love story, rife with emotion, portrayed through Liu’s unique vision. For established Liu fans, Soul Song is another stunning free fall into the power of belief and love.

An established Liu fan myself, I found Soul Song a more sensory, far richer experience than her earlier titles. Her reliance upon music as the primary vehicle for emotion and power both lulled and disturbed, the water imagery adding to the otherworldness. And, in Liu tradition, good and evil are twined—not simply balanced—cloaked and dancing along a razor thin edge without footing. There are no stereotypes here. And no neat answers in the end. A Liu HEA thrilling in its power, wrung out of sacrifice and founded almost purely on faith.

Liu’s voice and vision are so powerful; it is hard to find words adequate enough to share the experience with other readers. The romance holds all of the tension and promise we love. The mysticism enthralls without crushing the human element. Humor and fear ground both primary and secondary characters. But it is the delivery that defies the typical words of a reviewer. Liu is simply a must read. Then you’ll know.
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