Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh My! Another Fun Book -- Hard And Fast by Erin McCarthy

An experiement in romance . . . New to Charlotte, North Carolina, stock car racing country, graduate student Imogen Wilson meets Ty McCordle, a driver who inexplicably has her pulse racing. After an encounter at the track with a woman whose main goal in life is to marry a driver, Imogen realizes she's hit on the perfect topic for her sociology thesis. If she follows "the rules" on how to get a man, can she steer her way into the hearts of the drivers and establish their dating and mating patterns?

That's testing the limits of passion . . . Although sexy and reckless Ty is the ideal test subject, Imogen knows she can't pursue him for the sake of science. Yet he's the one who's chasing after her, and Imogen realizes that she actually wants to be caught. A Southern gentleman like Ty won't disappoint--he will satisfy her curiosity and make all the risks worthwhile.

I had to chuckle when I first saw this book and read the title -- pictured with a gorgeous male in low-rider jeans, one of those models that made the title have new meaning! And the author, like one of the main characters, doesn't disappoint either. It is a funny, funny book with a studious, beautiful, sociology student who is friend of and teaching assistant to Professor Tamara Briggs as one of the main characters. She is not sexually inexperienced having had a somewhat extended affair while in college but has been focused on her academic pursuits while getting her master's degree. She encounters Ty McCordle at a party and who is squiring one classic empty-headed female,a woman obsessed with her figure and is interested only in money and celebrity. Ty breaks up with her at the beginning of our story and is almost immediately attracted to Imogen and who reciprocates with her own vibes. But the truly humorous part of their repartee is Imogen's almost incessant curiosity and the nearly endless flow of questions, questions, questions. Ty breaks the flow by engaging her in hours of heart-stopping, breath-arresting sex. There's alot of that in their relationship.

McCarthy is an author, though, that builds a parallel story consisting of their personal stories and their burgeoning emotional involvement. Ty is a very smart man who is insecure over his limited educational background, while Imogen is almost hamstrung in relating to others because she lets her scientific side interfere with expressing her feelings. Together they learn mutual giving and sharing, not only physically but in really talking and listening to one another. Imogen is fascinated with the world of stock car racing and while at the beginning she is seeking to make their culture and lifestyle the subject of her master's thesis, she ultimately abandons that idea because of her own emotional involvement with so many of the people in that world. She has a number of interviews with couples who have met and married within the racing world, and ultimately she uses this material to begin a book about racing relationships.

Ty, on the other hand, is bent on expanding Imogen's "real life" experiences with some down-home cooking, in addition to camping and hiking and fishing in the wonderful North Carolina country. Imagine a 28 year old, Manhattan born and bred Yankee who is learning to fish with earthworm bait (and the whole hilarious discussion of whether to kill the worm before putting it on the hook), swimming in the refreshing lakes of the south, learning the joy of expressing her desires in the remote confines of a tent at the end of the trail, and so on and so forth. It is fun and full of the joy of discovery. Ty shows us that he is a man of infinite patience who is slowly but surely realizing that there is not much on this earth nearly as sexy as a really smart woman. McCarthy intertwines Ty & Imogen's story with others who have become familiar to the reader if they have read her first book, Flat-Out Sexy, and further develops those personalities as a background scenario in this novel.

This is one of those books that is fun and easy to read. The people are real and warm and their private lives are removed from the celebrity that accompanies the adrenalin-saturated racing clime. This is not one of those multilayered, multi-situational novels that we sometimes love to read when we want something that demands all our attention and mental comprehension. This story is warm and funny, full of generous people, so well-written that it seems the characters are just folks like us, and who we would love to know in real life.

I like the fact that McCarthy fills her stories with men who are sensitive and generous with the people in their lives, who love their women wholeheartedly, and who, by virtue of their profession, are risk-takers to the max. But their risk-taking is not limited to their driving. They are open to emotional challenge and are smart enough to recognize authentic loving on those rare occasions when it surfaces in the sea of counterfeit emotion that swirls around public figures, perpetrated by those who would use sex to gain their own selfish goals.

This is a good book and a fun way to spend some time. And you'll love the guy on the cover, too. I give this book a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review -- Flat-out Sexy by Erin McCarthy

She met him at the racetrack which was the last place Tamara Briggs wanted to find a man, even a deeply intriguing, seductively sexy man like Elec Monroe. Tamara's a single mother now after losing her daredevil husband in an accident--and she's not about to get involved with another driver and put her kids, or herself, through that again. Besides, Elec's young enough to be her younger brother.

Now things are moving a little too fast. But he sure does get her heart racing. And after she's tricked into a blind date with him, Tamara gives in to her passion. Things screech to a halt, thought, when he asks to meet her children. Whatever happened to "wham-bam-thank-you-m'am? Suddenly Tamara has to decide how big a risk she's willing to take to experience the thrilling, terrifying power of true love.

Erin McCarthy has written a fast-paced, hot and heavy novel that embraces the peculiar and death-defying culture of stock car racing. Tamara Briggs is the widow of one of the racing legends and holder of many of stock car racing's records. She has been alone for two years and her loneliness has become a constant companion. As much as she loves her children and wants to honor their father's memory, she is more and more aware that she is still young and is not prepared to spend the rest of her life alone. The flip side of that situation is the presence of her husband's family and the young age of her son and daughter. She has ventured out into the world of adult dating only to find that her first attempt at dating a "safe and steady" person has nearly crushed her with boredom and the awareness that there is no zing or tingle, a condition that gives her a distinct loathing to continue the relationship with a fellow professor, a person she learns later even her children and her mother-in-law don't like very much.

Enter Elec Monroe, a "rookie" race car driver who is about six years younger than Tamara but who electrifies her immediately when she literally and physically bumps into him at a charity event and manages to spill an entire glass of wine on his shirt. She is swamped with the feelings she has buried for two years since her husband's death, and while she is totally unwilling to form any kind of enduring connection with anyone in the racing community, most especially a driver, Elec manages to make her body come alive in less time than it takes to imagine it. Circumstances beyond Tamara's control contrive to put Elec & Tamara in the same cab bound for the mobile park where the coaches for the drivers are parked. A tentative kiss ignites them both and Tamara says "Yes" to needs which have long been denied.

There's lots and lots of sizzle in this book, but the foundation of the story is the tender tale of a man who is mature beyond his years and who is weary beyond telling of the groupies who follow the racing drivers and who really care for the money and the publicity more than they do the men themselves. In Tamara he perceives he has found a woman who has the capacity to love deeply and truly, and who engages his heart long before he is aware that it is well and truly lost to her. Tamara is a woman who loves her children beyond all else and yet knows that loving them and caring for them can never be enough. She experiences surprise at many of Elec's kindnesses and his willingness to be a true friend to her children, to be a hands-on part of their lives, and who is completely sensitive to her feelings and concerns about dating and being involved with a member of a family with whom the father of her dead husband has a long-standing feud. Elec just simply wants to be with her and is willing to do whatever it takes. As much as she had loved her husband, it had always been about him. With Elec, Tamara is aware that he is focused on her in a way she has not experienced in the past. The underlying conflict really persists throughout this novel--can Tamara reach beyond her fears to allow Elec's love for her to be permanent?

McCarthy has peppered her story with colorful characters: the two drivers who are godparents to her kids, her dead husband's parents, a bimbo or two, a lovely but studious and otherwise focused teaching assistant, a best friend who can sometimes be more trouble than needed, and the winsome and delightful son and daughter. Love and caring are everywhere along with humor and genuine friendship. McCarthy has a proven ability to tell a great story and keeps the energy flowing without any lessening of the sexual tension. There are complications galore, but there always are in a good story. Her characters are real, flesh-and-blood people, celebraties possibly, but trying to live in a way that keeps them earth-bound. This is not a story with lots of complex situations or one that requires a great deal of energy to read, but if you like a great tale with lots of fun and bed-sport, you'll love this book! I give this book a 4.75 rating out of 5.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Challenge for 2010

I have just been to and signed up for the challenge: 144 Books in 2010. I was a little concerned because, after all, that is 12 books a month. But I relaxed considerably when I made a list of what I had already read and realized that I have a total of 17 books so far in January. Now I think the challenge is do-able. Would love to hear from some of you about your goals for 2010 -- how many? what kind or what genre? a particular author or authors? I also have some further work to do on my doctoral dissertation -- am still trying to get that ready for a publisher so that will also have to take some time in addition to my regular responsibilities. Good thing I speed read, but I have to confess that there are some in that list of 17 that I really enjoyed to the extent that even though I read faster than some folks, I "slowed" down in order to savor the writing style, use of language, thinking more about the characters and taking in the historical context in greater detail. I am now reading O Juliet by Robin Maxwell in order to review it for Book Binge. And I also am so blessed in that I have been reading books for review since December 2009 and that has introduced me to some wonderful books and some marvelous writers. And, of course, there is my daughter's absolutely magnificent book shelves.

I also find myself thinking of those early years in my life when I "discovered" books. I can remember the curious "drive" to be reading every moment I wasn't doing something else. I have always been blessed with the ability to keep four or five books "going" on at a time -- I would have them stashed under the living room furniture so that when I was doing the vacuuming on Saturday (that was always my job) I would have a book under whatever chair or sofa to which I was closest as I moved about the room. Then when I was done with that room, I would collect the books and move on to the next room. My mother thought I was crazy but she realized that was the best way to keep me working. My husband learned early on that there was always a stack of books by my bed or in various places throughout our home or apartment. I think there were times in my life that books kept me sane and kept me in touch with the wider world. Living in northern Illinois with four little kids -- 5, 3-1/2, 2-1/2, & 3 mos. -- in the middle of winter, with snow and ice up to the window sills, reading was my way of keeping in touch and exploring historical times and places that could only live in my imagination.

This is one of the major reasons that I am saddened that so many youngsters today are struggling with reading and have not discovered the rapture of a great book. I think we read outloud in school in my day, and we learned the wonder of words to an extent that many have not shared in their life. I was fortunate to have a couple of English and literature teachers that shared their own love of reading and language, not so much in what they said particularly, but in their demeanor and their excitement when leading discussions and introducing new genres of literature their classes.

So we read on . . . I intend to re-read Kathryn by Anya Seton as well as several of her other books. She is such a superb writer and her historicals are some of the best that have ever been written. I hope to share some of those here in future days.

Until next time . . .

Review: The Dream Thief by Shana Abe

Buried deep within the bowels of the Carpathian Mountains lies the legendary dreaming diamond know as "Draumr;" the only gem with the power to enslave the "drakon." Since childhood, Lady Amalia Langford, daughter of the Marquess & Marchoness Langford, the clan Alphas, has heard its haunting ballad but kept it secret, along with another rare Gift.

Lia (as she is known to her family) can hear the future, much in the way she hears the call of this diamond. And in that future, she realizes that the diamond, along with the fate of the "drakon," rests in the hands of a human man, one who straddles two worlds.

Ruthlessly clever, Zane has risen through London's criminal underworld to become its ruler. Once a street urchin saved by Lia's mother, Zane is also privy to the secrets of the tribe--and is the only human they trust to bring them "Draumr." But he does nothing selflessly.

Zane's hunt for the gem takes him to Hungary where he is shocked to encounter a bold, beautiful young noblewoman: the Lady Amalia. She has broken every rule of the "drakon" to join him, driven by the urgent song of the diamond and her visions of Zane. In one future, he is her ally. In another, her overlord. In both, he is her lover. Now, to protect her tribe, Lia must tie her fate to Zane's, to the one man capable of stealing her future and destroying her heart!

This story is the second in a series of tales involving shape-shifters who can live as humans, Turn to smoke and then to brilliant and and awe-inspiring dragons, beings that have lived in hiding for hundreds of years but whose tribe continues on as they closely guard the secret of their existence. The original tribe of "drakon" have split as a means of protecting their existence with a portion of the "drakon" remaining in Yorkshire and another portion of the tribe having settled in the Carpathian Mountains of Hungary. From the dim reaches of the depths of the earth, the song of "Draumr" continues to call to the Lady Amalia incessantly. She thinks she is the one member of the Langford family that has not inherited any gifts. In fact, she is seen as a "plain Jane" by her family and the tribe as a whole. She lives with the awareness of their silent pity. Little did they know that Lia's Gift is yet to be revealed--her ability to dream the future--and perhaps even greater Gifts than originally imagined.

Zane is the street urchin whose life was saved by Lia's mother in the back alleys of London and trained to assist her during her years as the Smoke Thief. With a loyalty to the Marchioness that is non-negotiable, Zane has continued to serve the "drakon" as he grows into London's most notorious criminal. Completely trusted by the tribe, he is sent to Hungary to retrieve "Draumr" and bring it to England. But Lady Amalia has her own plan and shocks Zane as she appears, five years grown older since he has last seen her, and changed into a creature of unworldly beauty who curls his toes with need and wanting.

Zane has always been in Lia's dreams and as her dreams always come true, she is never in doubt to the outcome of this adventure. But Zane is one who has been raised with the betrayal and self-interest of the streets and he sees Lia as a tantalizing woman for whom his desires run wild, but with whom he cannot envision any future. He is, after all, a marked man, and even when he owns up to his growing attachment to this stubborn and mercurial female, he can think only of the thousands of pounds he will gain when he places "Draumr" in the hands of Lia's father.

The hardships of the journey to the "drakon" castle, located in a totally remote part of the Carpathians, forms the backdrop of this merging of hearts, goals, and bodies. The tenderness of their growing love seems to slowly but surely transform Zane from the hardened, cynical and self-motivated boy of the back alleys into a man who is dedicated to Lia's survival and well-being. And in addition to all the other lovely parts of this great story, there are surprises in connection with Lia's future as a full member of the "drakon."

Shana Abe really knows how to tell a story in such a way as to captivate with beautiful language and the mystery of which legends are made. Her irrepressible imagination has contrived to bring us a tale that is full of color and light, dark motives and actions, human greed and the magic of love. There is the flawless historical backgrounds of 18th century England and Hungary paired with the fantasy of smoke and dragons and singing diamonds. (I have to own up to hearing the "song" of diamonds singing to me as I pass the jewelry stores in the Mall. LOL) If you like mystery and fantasy and the beauty of a superb love story, this is the book for you. I absolutely love it. And from a writing perspective, this novel is crafted by an expert and one who takes writing seriously. She has done her homework and out of the reality of the 18th century has emerged a tale kissed with the dark mysteries of the unrecorded past. I give this book a rating of 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I've Been Reading -- What a Great Book!!

Here's a review for The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe.

Dubbed the Smoke Thief, a daring jewel thief is confounding the London police. His wealthy victims claim the master burglar can walk through walls and vanish into thin air. But Christoff, the charismatic Marquess of Langford, knows the truth: the thief is no ordinary human but a "runner" who's fled Darkfrith without permission. As Alpha leader of the "drakon," it is Kit's duty to capture the fugitive before the secrets of the tribe are revealed to mortals. But not even Kit suspects that the Smoke Thief could be a woman.

Clarissa Rue Hawthorne knew her dangerous exploits would attrract the attention of the "drakon." But she didn't expect Christoff himself to come to London, dangling the tribe's most valuable jewel--the Lanford Diamond--as bait. For as long as she could remember, Rue had lived the life of a halfling--half "drakon" and half mortal--and an outcast in both worlds. She'd always loved the handsome and willful Kit from the only place it was safe: from afar. But now she was no longer the shy, timid girl she'd once been. She was the first woman capable of making the Turn in four generations. So why did she still feel the same dizzying sense of vulnerability when he was near?

From the moment he saw her, Kit knew that the alluring and powerful beauty was every bit his Alpha equal and destined to be his bride. And by the harsh laws of the "drakon" Rue knew that she was the property of the marquess. But they will risk banishment and worse for a chance at something greater. For now Rue is his prisoner, the diamond has disappeared, and she's made the kind of dangerous propositon a man like Kit cannot resist.

Author Shana Abe is a writer of great experience and one who has written in a wide variety of genres. I checked out this book from the public library on the recommendation of my daughter so they were in hardback edition and it seemed shorter. However, at 292 pages it would have probably translated into a 350 plus pages in paperback. Having read Singh's Psi-Changling series, I had experienced that sort of paranormal romance, but this book has a different feel to it. A dragon that assumes human form, then changes to smoke and then to a dragon -- what a kick!! And I have to add that I appreciate the author's giving the reader the background pages that put one squarely in the center of this mystical and mysterious world right from the beginning.

I have always appreciated those gifted people who have learned to treasure their imaginations and who allow themselves a true and extended flight of fancy. Creating this wonderful and colorful world has to have been not only a labor of love but positively great fun. I know from personal experience that writing is hard work and involves lots of careful crafting if the author wants to transmit the story carefully and well. This author has done so with great aplomb and it shows. The story moves from the past to the present smoothly and leads the reader into Rue's shadow world in such a way that one is not only watching the main characters as they move through the story but it also feels in some sort of way like the reader is part of the scenario. Rue is a strong woman who has determined that the prejudices and hurts of her childhood are not to be the guiding principles of her adult existence and she leaves Darkfrith (set in the northern forests of Yorkshire) by staging her own death. Her secret life embraces many disguises and her expertise as a jewel thief have allowed her nine years of treasured freedom and acquired wealth sufficient to live as she pleases.

There is a sense that she knows that this life will come to an end eventually but she is not prepared to give in easily. She has the strength of character and her own sense of personhood (what we would call it today) to withstand the "drakon" Council and its feudal rules in order to keep her freedom until the very last. However, the other tension in the story is her life-long love for Cristoff. Yet, in spite of her longing to be first in his heart and knowing that he is now, has always been, and always will be the person she loves most in the world, she is not prepared to surrender to him in any way until she knows that he loves her for herself and not as the Alpha female the tribe ordains he marry. This is one plucky lady!! She stands up to everyone and the best part is that she really knows how to carry it off. That kind of character inevitably "hooks" me. She has surrounded herself with a kind of "family" in her urchin apprentice Zane and her courtesan friend Mim. The motley crew make an imposing set of personalities that march through this novel.

But I like Cristoff as well. He is the Alpha male in a paranormal culture that is rooted in the millenia of the past, guided by laws that would have made William the Conqueror proud, but he is also a man who desires to see the old ways moderated and made more humane. He has a marvelous sense of humor -- what is more sexy in a man? -- while knowing within himself that this mysterious woman has snagged his interest and enveloped his heart in a way that he could have never dreamed. His "mouse" (as he has called Rue since her childhood) has become a tantalizing and engaging woman whose depths he can never cease exploring. Their love story is intense, push-pull, love-hate, drawn into the past and forced into the present. It pulled me along relentlessly.

This is a great book!! It is the first in a series about this dragon tribe and I, for one, am looking forward to the upcoming additions to Kit and Rue's story and those who are a part of their tribe. I give this book a 5 out of 5 rating.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sorry to Have Been Missing for Awhile

I have indeed been doing a whole lot of reading in order to write a number of guest reviews for The Book Binge. My daughter got me started with the reading-for-review thing and out of that grew this blog. It has really been fun, but it does take time. There are some books that are fairly "light weight" and those are fun reads but don't take much time to get through. Others are more substantive and they are more of a reading challenge. To be honest, those are the most satisfying for me. I love to wade through some pretty in-depth historical stuff. It always seems to give more scope and breadth to the story. And even though historical romance is fiction, it grows out of a time and place that is real and within which it is possible to imagine the experiences of the fictional characters. I was an English language teacher for a number of years and was privileged to help elementary and high school students explore their writing talents, albeit on a very beginning level. I guess I still look at some of these books with that same eye, and I have to admit that when reading lots of books, it becomes obvious which writers are good and which writers are really good and which writers are over the top! Those are authentic treasures and are the books I never tire of re-reading. The Border Lord & the Lady is one of those books. I'll be happy to re-read that next year at this time.

So I'll be posting some reviews soon -- once I work through the Book Binge pile. My daughter is sharing some of her paranormal romance with me and those are strange but, for the most part, really wonderful stories. I also have a couple of books I borrowed from the library that were recommended, so I will need to get started on them to avoid overdue fees. I really hate those because they may support one's local library, but I would rather just let my tax dollars do that. My kids did that often enough in years past, so hopefully I can get these books returned on time.

Keep coming back and also, why not list some of the books that you are reading or perhaps some that these reviews call to mind. Until next time . . .

My Guest Review has Posted

I've been doing some book reviews for The Book Binge recently and my latest review for The Border Lord and The Lady by Bertrice Small is now up.

Lady Cicely Bowen, daughter of the Earl of Leighton, is sent away by her doting father when her jealous stepmother presents a threat to her safety. Raised by a royal widow, Cicely becomes best friends with Lady Joan Beaufort, the king's cousin. When Joan is married to King James I of Scotland, she chooses Cicely as one of the ladies to accompany her north.

At the Scot's court, Cicely finds herself pursued by two men: elegant Andrew Gordon, the lair of Braemor, and Ian Douglas, the laird of Glengorm, a rougn-spoken border lord. When Ian kidnaps Cicely just as Andrew is about to propose to her, the royal court is sent into an uproar. The queen demands the return of her friend and the Gordons threaten to set the border aflame, even as Ian Douglas attempts to win Cicely's love. But the border lord is difficult to tame, and the lady's heart is even harder to claim.

This is a wonderful historical romance—and I do mean “historical”--in that Bertrice Small has done outstanding research on the culture and times which forms the backdrop of this intriguing love story. But don't let that put you off: this story is so skillfully told that the historical context never interferes with the telling of the complicated loves of Lady Cicely. The heroine is quite unusual for her time: a young woman of great personal honesty and integrity, a true friend to Lady Joan Beaufort, a woman who knows her own mind and is not afraid to stand up for herself even in a culture that looks upon women, especially women with large dowries, as brood mares and chattel for sealing political alliances. Read more

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thoughts on Sexuality in Romance Literature

I am aware that some people really like romance novels but are very reluctant to deal with overt sexual content. I just thought to post some thoughts.

First, the world has changed and the world of publishing fiction has also changed drastically in the past 20 years. There was a time not too long ago that strong sexual content would have been considered pornographic. Not so these days. I think there are some boundaries that authors are willing to observe.

One of those boundaries is what I refer to as "gratuitous" sex -- sex for its own sake and put in the story in order to sell books. It's done and unfortunately it is done often by authors who don't necessarily write very good stories or take the time and effort to develop their characters. Now I have to admit there are a few books I have read where it seems that the sex is oozing out the spine of the book. But on closer examination, it is a part of the story in a very legitimate way. Still, there are times that these are just a little overwhelming ( you know -- wiping the sweat off your brow --).

For the most part, I have found that the sexual encounters in most of these romance novels that I have been reading recently are very beautifully crafted and are a seamless part of the story. Adult romantic relationships usually involve sexuality on some level. But as in real life, it is the relationship that is the authentic framework of human encounter and not just sex for the sake of sex alone. Obviously every sexual encounter has the possibility of being beautiful, fulfilling, and a valued part of what binds people together romantically, but it can also be purilent, hurtful, or destructive. It is up to the author to be faithful in making a sick relationship obvious as well as writing the sexual scene in a way that is healthy and beautiful.

I happen to believe that sex is a part of being normal, healthy, and loving. However, like all relational possibilities, it can be turned ugly and destructive. We all know, too, that . . . "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Just rambling . . .

Friday, January 15, 2010

This & That . . .Reviews of The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie and Rapture's Tempest

Well, I finally finished the load of books I pilfered from Tracy's bookshelf on the 30th of December and took back two grocery bags of books. In exchange she gave me a couple of bags of books she knew I would probably like and sent me to the library for two she had read and really liked. I got the books yesterday and have finished three of them. Us post-menopausal women with our irratic sleep habits have found reading to very helpful in getting a few more zzzz's.

Anyway . . . here's a review of Rapture's Tempest by Bobbi Smith.

When her new stepfather tried to visit her bedchamber, Delight de Vriues knew she had no choice but to leave St. Louis and her mother behind. So she cut her dark curls, bound her breasts, and hired on as a cabin boy for Captain James WEstlake. Her disguise fooled the crew, but Delight could hardly keep from betraying herself; the gentleness in her captain's eyes and the strange yearning she felt when she saw his muscled body were almost more than she could bear. He'd been a bit liberal with the scotch that evening, so when his cabin boy tossed aside a flannel nightshirt to reveal ivory skin and womanly curves, James decided his questions could wait 'til morning. Her innocent surrender touched his heart even as her siren's body begged him to enjolf her in his passion, to bring her to the peak of rapture's tempest.

Set in the time of the American Civil War, this book is loaded with romance, betrayal, spies, relational manipulation and true familial respect and love. The Westlake brothers, their sister and sister-in-law are a delightful family and together with some of their colleagues in the Mississippi river boat circles, form a truly good background for an interesting story. How Delight managed to keep her true gender and identity secret mystifies me -- I just can't believe that someone who is a beautiful as it is claimed she is could be mistaken for a young boy. Oh well . . . so it goes in romance fiction. Anyway, the love that springs from their mutual attraction is true love and and is contrasted with the genuine lust throughout this book, with authentic "snakes in the grass" in the persons of the stepfather, the original fiance and her love, and her father as well. As we all know from the John Jakes book -- North & South -- the Civil War provides an unlimited number of scenarios for good stories. This book is no different. The author is very skilled in keeping the plotters just out of reach of the good guys and that makes for good tension throughout the tale. I have to own up that I think naming a main character Delight really sounds crazy -- and I think some of the women in this book are kind of weepy, but I know that is the persona encouraged of women in the 19th century. Still there is pluck there as well and I liked the loyalty that Delight and her mother possessed, a love and loyalty that made it possible for Delight's mother to identify the true nature of her husband--a man she had initially loved but who she recognized had betrayed his marriage vows as well as her trust.

Lots going on in this book and that's very good. It gets ponderous in some parts and I didn't like that at all, but true love and true justice win out in the end. Now that's always a good ending!! I give this book 3.75 out of 5.

Lastly, I encountered The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley. It was whispered all through London Society that he was a murderer, that he'd spent his youth in an asylum and was not to be trusted--especially with a lady. Any womjan caught in his presence was immediately ruined. Yet Beth found herself inexorably drawn to the Sottish lord whose hint of a brogue wrapped around her like silk and whose touch could draw her into a world of ecstasy. Despite his decadence and intimidating intelligence, she could see he needed help. Her help. Because suddenly the only thing that made sense to her was . . . The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie.

OMG, what a really fun book to read. The Mackenzie clan are all a little mad in a nice sort of way and the dynamics among the brothers is a fascinating backdrop to a really engaging love story. As has been the case throughout the centuries, people who are different are often just classified as "mad." Lord Ian, with his retentive memory, his difficulties with focus and other problems (which all strike me as being symptoms of autism) was simply institutionalized when he was a lad, largely to keep him quiet about the circumstances of his mother's death at the hands of his father. Wrapped in fear and abused by society's prejudice, he believed himself to be incapable of love in any form. Yet his relationship with his brothers and his nephew give the lie to this perception. Into his life walks a lady who is independent and who knows her own mind and who is not afraid to break an engagement once she is made aware of the true nature and intentions of her betrothed. She is honest about her own physical attraction to Lord Ian and begins to realize that while her physical response to him is overwhelming, she has also become emotionally drawn to him, so much so that she has given him her heart. The secondary story of the supposed involvement of the Mackenzie brothers in two murders is skillfully woven into the main love story between Beth and Lord Ian. I was especially drawn to her because she was a person who was not afraid to own up to her roots, to the character flaws in her parents and her successful drive to survive and flourish in spite of her humble beginnings. I really got a kick out of the spirit voice of her benefactress which seemed to go off in her head at inopportune times throughout the story. Jennifer Ashley writes a mean story and I hope I have an opportunity to read some of her other books.

I really like this book. I almost missed out on it, or at least would have not read it right now except for the fact that I found it hiding on the floor of my car behind the driver's seat. I had borrowed it from Tracy a while ago and hadn't realized it had fallen out of the bag onto the car floor. What a happy day when I found it -- almost like finding buried treasure (with emphasis on the "buried" part when it comes to my car.) I most heartily rate this book a 5 out of 5.

Thanks for your comments -- I do find them engaging and I hope that you all remember how much I appreciate your adding to the conversation.

Until next time . . .

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Couple of Book Reviews

Have just finished Vision in White by Nora Roberts. Started it last night and couldn't put it down.

Mackensie Elliot is a professional photographer who is in business with her three best friends and with whom she played the "Wedding Day" game multiple times while they were all growing up. He parents essentially abandoned her emotionally when they abandoned each other when Mackensie was four years old, and she bears the emotional scars of that neglect. The only people she has ever let into her life are her three partners. Now she encounters an old school acquaintance -- can't really say they were friends -- who begins to turn her life upside down and who is now a teacher at their old school.

Nora Roberts has done it again. Once more she demonstrates that she is a story teller par excellence and she engages each reader in this wonderful, delightful, funny, breathtaking romance between two very intelligent people, one of whom knows what he wants and whom he loves, and the other trying her best to avoid repeating the pain and disasters of her parents' relationship. The women who own and operate "Vows" are strong individuals who know their own skills and are proud of them; they are able to tolerate and even encourage the open exchange that can become frayed with the stress of owning and running a business such as a wedding planning service, but who have decided that nothing on the planet can destroy their friendships. The romance is warm, engaging, sensual, respectful, and it sizzles as it embraces the the reader in this journey of emotional discovery, a journey that encounters the potholes and pitfalls of old hurts, past relationships, and the self-centered demands of Mackensie's mother. The dialogue is poignant at times and genuinely funny at others. The book is filled with interesting people, all of whom I would love to know for real.

This is a great book!! I give it a wholehearted rating of 5. Thanks, Tracy, for sharing it with me! Love, Mom+

And now, Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh. Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux know she is the best--but she does not know if even she is good enough for this job. Hired by the dangerously beautiful archangel Raphael, a being so lethal that no mortal wants his attention, Elena knows failure is not an option--even if the task is impossible. Because this time, it's not a wayward vamp she has to track, it's an archangel gone bad. The job will put Elena in the midst of a killing spree like no other--and pull her to the razor's edge of passion. Even if the hunt does not destroy her, succumbing to Raphael's seductive touch just might. For when archangels play, mortals break . . .

Nalini Singh knows how to write novels and she tells a mean story! But the characters one encounters in this novel are a surprise. Even in the world of the paranormal there are differing views of vampires and angels, and this book is no different. Singh writes of a world where archangels are the governing forces of the earth--the Cadre of Ten have divided the continents among themselves and they rule with undiluted power and, often, cruelty. They hold the lives of humans as well as vampires--humans Made into vampires in order to serve the archangels--completely in their control. And as a vampire hunter--one who is born a hunter and not just a human who decides to hunt vampires--Elena Deveraux is one of a rare breed, considered the best of her kind. She is a warrior and as such she attracts the attention of the archangel Raphael, not only to facilitate the tracking of the archangel Uram who has gone bad, but as a woman who interests him because she breaks into his centuries-long boredom from being "on top" of the power grid.

This is a fascinating read, not only because Singh knows how to develop a story with skill, but because the characters are gritty and uncomfortable at times, challenging the reader to see beyond the surface "push/pull" of Elena & Raphael. Elena is a character of great depth and is a complicated and often uncomfortable person. But she feels deeply while guarding carefully her personal space and her emotional independence. She does not enter into emotional relationships easily, having been spurned by her father as a "monster," thus leaving her without family support. Her close friendship with other hunters have effectively replaced her family. She also is reluctant to enter into any sexual relationship because her physical abilities, considerably greater than most humans, have been cause for injury to sexual partners in the past. She is drawn to Raphael sexually but she is not going into any relationship with one of the most powerful beings on the planet without boundaries, without defining the lines which must not be crossed in order to preserve her sense of herself.

As in all the Singh novels I have read (the Psy-Changeling series), she brings alive characters that move across the pages with strength and fortitude, owning up to their weaknesses but fully aware of their strengths, not afraid to admit that they are needing the touch of another both physically and emotionally. Gentleness and genuine regard and respect are not easily discerned in this book; but beneath the raw clashes and encounters between Elena and Raphael, there are fascinating glimpses of neediness which it seems they slowly begin to recognize can only be met by giving in to the attraction which seems to hold them both in thrall.

I wasn't sure I liked this book at first. But it grew on me and I kept on reading. I'm very glad I did! I would give this book a rating of 5.

Until Next time . . .

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gee -- what a nice welcome to Blog Land!

How nice to be so welcomed to Blog Land. For someone like me who started life learning how to give a phone number to an operator (because there weren't even any rotary dial phones then) and who has seen so much change in the world, this computer thing has been quite a journey. I have done pretty well -- Tracy will tell you all that I have forged ahead to try to remain contemporary even though I'm a little late doing it -- and to now have a book blog is really something I have never anticipated. All your comments of welcome and on the reading list are really great to read and I truly appreciate your sharing your comments. I am reading Nalini Singh's Angel's Blood right now so will review that when I finish -- in about 45 minutes. I'm traveling to Tracy's tomorrow AM to pick up another "bag o' books" and returning the 15 or so I have been reading since New Year's day.

A further word about Eloisa James' book: There are some books with multiple stories woven together that I find truly fascinating. I don't doubt that Ms James has the skill to do that. I just don't think she pulled it off very well in this particular novel. I did a guest review of Spider-Touched by Jory Strong, and that was a very intense effort to bring multiple experiences and stories into one beautiful "web" of fiction. Strong did it beautifully. In fact, I think I commented, if I remember correctly, that it should be required reading in every college course on the American novel. As a former English/Literature teacher, I think it would be a blast to have Strong's novel as class material to teach creative writing as well.

Thanks, again, for all your kind words of welcome.

Books I've been reading . . .

Just recently I have been raiding my daughter's book shelves and since she was the one in my family that caught the "reading" bug better than anyone else, she has quite a collection. The list of books I have read since the New Year are:Italic

Winterbourne by Susan Carroll
The Reluctant Reformer by Lynsay Sands
Love is Blind by Lynsay Sands

Three books by Suzanne Enoch (in order)
After the Scandal
Before the Kiss
Always a Scoundrel

Silver Nights by Jane Feather
The Angel and the Highlander by Donna Fletcher
Lord of the Highlands by Veronica Wolff
Highland Jewel by Lois Greiman

and finally, An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James

I enjoyed all of these books with my favorites being Silver Nights (set in Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great), the three books by Suzanne Enoch, and the Scottish Highlander books. All the titles above, with the exception of the last one, are in the 3.75-5 rating range.

I liked An Affair Before Christmas the least. In fact, I really didn't like it very much at all. There are two, possibly three stories competing for the reader's attention. Way too much going on to keep it all straight. The main story is quite appealing and James would have been wise to bring in the other characters as supporting characters and not main characters in their own story, unless, of course, she would have written this as an anthology and not as a single novel. That's a choice authors must make, but I think her effort to put all three stories into a single novel detracted from all three. I would have to rate this book 2.

It is obvious I like historical romance and find they are a delightful way to spend time. Since I speed-read, it is not difficult to plow through a substantial stack. But for that same reason it is not always easy to keep my attention. So I recommend these titles as being worth the time and trouble.

Book I will re-read in 2010: Katherine by Anya Seton. Absolutely a great historical and very romantic novel!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Welcome, Everyone who loves to read!

Welcome! I love to read and although I am a professional with a lot of responsibilities, reading is one of the ways I visit other worlds, other places, and alternative realities. I primarily love historical fiction, but I read a lot of other kinds of books. I will be publishing my reviews on some of the books I read and would welcome any comments you may have. Just keep it clean and free of profanity. All opinions are welcome, but please be respectful of others, especially those with whom you may disagree. Looking forward to hearing from lots of avid readers.