jmc_bks: (star fort kinsale)

Originally posted at WordPress.


Bear, Otter and the Kid by T.J. Klune

© 2011, published by Dreamspinner Press

Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.

Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone.

I’m not entirely certain how this book came to my attention.  Maybe a give away, or a review online somewhere?  The blurb reminded me a great deal of the plot of the movie Shelter, and it prompted me to see how a novel might treat the same general plot.

As the blurb indicates, Derrick (aka Bear) is acting in loco parentis for his mother, who abandoned his young half-brother, Tyson (aka the Kid) to him just as Bear finished high school, putting the kibosh on any plans Bear had for a college education or escaping her white trash ethos.  He’s lucky, though, in that he has a strong support network made up of his childhood friends and their families, who stick with him for emotional and financial support as he raises the Kid, a “vegetarian eco-terrorist-in-training”.  In addition to Creed, his BFF, and Anna, his girlfriend and other BFF,  who have been physically present for the last three years, there is Oliver (aka Otter), Creed’s older brother  who was an original part of the support network but who disappeared abruptly for reasons that are made clear very early – there’s huge tension between Bear and Otter because Bear, ostensibly straight, kissed Otter, out and gay, while upset and drunk.  Otter disappeared, more or less, for three years because of his guilt over Bear kissing him and feeling he took advantage.  Until the beginning of the book, when he returns and all the tension comes to a head.  And that is just the set up of the book and the first couple of chapters! 

 With Otter’s return, the two of them have to negotiate some sort of truce or ruin their extended family unit.  Creed and Anna both notice the tension, and bug them to figure things out while not really understanding what the problem is.  The vast majority of what follows is Bear realizing he loves Otter, despite the fact that he is not gay and is not attracted to any other men.  In fact, he dismisses the idea of being “gay for you” as being impossible but for the fact that he does love and physically want Otter.  Otter is kind of a doormat, indulging Bear in whatever he wants relationship-wise and keeping everything on the down low in front of his brother and Anna.  Just as the two of them have begun to figure that out and are ready for the big reveal to Creed and Anna (who have a surprise of their own), potential disaster strikes, pushing them and their relationship back to square one.

There are the bones of a potentially good book buried here.  But the bones are buried deep.   The book read like a rough first draft, one that had not yet been betaed or reviewed by a crit group, let alone a content editor. Pacing, narration, and some language usage need tightening or review in the book.

Vacuous Minx, SarahFrantz, and I, among others, have noted on Twitter and elsewhere that many of Dreamspinner’s works need better content editing.  Even one of our mutual favorites, Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils, could have been just a little bit better (from A- to A) with some words trimmed and the pacing tightened up.  And that is very much the case here.  BOatK was a Kindle book for me, and it had more than 9,000 “locations”; in comparison, an average mass market paperback usually has between 4,000 and 6,000.  Parts of the book dragged incredibly, and there was a great deal of repetitive angst that served no larger purpose.  Cutting a good third of the book would have been a mercy.

The Kid as a narrative device is both original and unoriginal.  He’s the center that Bear rotates around, and he’s essential to the plot.  And yet he’s conveniently absent or able to entertain himself through large chunks of the book, reappearing to give sage relationship advice to his older brother and to take care of him.  He’s quirky and different in his fascination with eco-terrorism, and his abandonment issues are realistic and very well done.  And yet his emotional intelligence is unrealistic for a child his age – having an eight year old give romantic advice to a twenty-one year old is just plain weird and kind of creepy.

The narration is by Bear in first person for the entire book, but for an epilogue narrated by Otter.  And in many places, the narrative style is extremely awkward and self-conscious.  Parts of the book scream for the POV of the other characters, but instead of changing POV, those passages are narrated by Bear in a “tell tell tell” fashion, filtered entirely through him and retold by him, even when dialogue or other stylistic devices could be used to better convey the events or speech/opinions/actions of the other characters.

The Gay4U trope and the relationship dynamic between Bear and Otter left me feeling uncomfortable, and I’m struggling to identify and articulate why.  I noted in a comment over at Vacuous Minx’s that a couple of the issues were: 1) failure to address the Gay4U issue other than to dismiss it out of hand completely while acknowledging that is exactly what Bear is for Otter – what a waste of an opportunity to actually explore the trope; and 2) the history of the relationship between Bear and Otter and the hints of very early attraction told via flashback, which seems a little squicky to me as it falls a little too closely into the gay=pedo smear.

The nicknames?   Cute for a minute and then irritating.

Bear comes perilously close to being a self-sacrificing Mary Sue.  And he spends large chunks of the book being an asshat, too.

Some words were used oddly.  For example, machismo for macho, tact for tack or tactic, etc.  At one point, Bear describes his eyes as being “tacky and crass” after crying himself to sleep; while I grasp what he meant, there is no usage of “crass” that makes sense in that context.

The ending is simultaneously delayed, in the sense that it should have come at least 10,000 words earlier, and abrupt in the sense that the HEA feels manufactured and way too soon for where Bear and Otter are in their relationship.

Someone on Twitter mentioned that the author is planning a sequel to this book, where some of the lingering questions and issues may be resolved, and that better pacing would come with practice and experience.  That’s a charitable position to take, but as a reader and consumer, I don’t appreciate being the testing or practice run for an author; if I’m paying full price for a book, I expect it to be polished and produced appropriately by the publisher, with the best efforts of both the author and the publisher.  The time for learning your craft is before you start asking people to pay for your work IMO.  (Yes, writers learn continuously and continue to hone their craft, but readers should be able to have minimum expectations of the books they buy, in terms of what the authors and publisher bring to the table and charge them for.)

As I read the book, I enjoyed it even as I noted all the things that were awkward or clunky or should have been fixed by a good editor.  But ultimately, I can’t really recommend this book to other readers without a huge caveat or warning.


jmc_bks: (title2)
Happy Valentine's Day.  Or not, depending on your perspective.  FWIW, I think of the holiday as Love Sucks Day, because one of my roommates used to wear black and refuse to participate in the whole thing.  How about happy Monday instead?  

Today's SBD is brought to you by Groupon and its awesome $20 for $10 Barnes & Noble gift certificate.  Otherwise, I would not have bought The Perfect Play, no matter how pretty the cover art is, because the Kindle sample I downloaded kind of irritated me.

Football pro Mick Riley is an All-Star. Both on the field and in the bedroom.  But a sexy, determinedly single mom just might be the one to throw him off his game...

For years Mick has been taking full advantage of the life available to a pro athlete: fame, fortune and a different girl in every city.  But when he meets and beds confident, beautiful event planner Tara Lincoln, he wants much more than the typical one-night stand.  Too bad Tara's not interested in getting to know football's most notorious playboy any better.

As the single mother of a teenage son, the last thing Tara needs is the jet-set lifestyle of Mick Riley, even though their steamy and passionate one-night stand was unforgettable.  her life is complicated enough without being thrust into the spotlight as Mick's latest girl du jour.  Tara played the game of love once and lost big, and she doesn't intend to put herself out there again, especially with a heartbreaker like Mick.

But when Mick sets his sights to win, nothing will stop him.  And he has the perfect play in mind.


Objectively, this book is fine.  Its prose isn't particularly fluid or artist, but it is steady and serviceable.  The plot advances evenly and is well-paced.  And I wanted to love it -- the cover is gorgeous and it's a sports romance!

But it just didn't work for me.  Let me count the ways it did not work for me:
  • "I don't do this kind of thing."  Bitch, please, you're having a one night stand with a total stranger: obviously you *do*.  Own what you are doing.
  • Thin world building, in terms of Tara's history and family, which is given a huge weight in terms of why she is who she is and justifying or explaining her situation and parenting approach, but is explained late and is somewhat hollow.
  • Mick's constant denigration of the women he dated and screwed before meeting Tara: it reflects poorly on him that he thinks so badly of them, yet he continued to date them and have sex with them because it was convenient.  
  • The also constant effort to show that Tara was both sophisticated and an aww-shucks down to earth gal.
  • The wibbling about whether or not they were in a relationship.  Dude, the instant you introduced Mick to your son, it became a relationship, because you do NOT introduce your children to your booty call.  So either it's a relationship or you are the trashiest person ever.
  • The big conflict at the end, which required the vilification of an otherwise interesting character, did not impress me.  Yes, yes, that character gets to be redeemed in the next book of the series.  But that brings up another point:  female sports agents are rare, and in a male-dominated industry, under a huge amount of scrutiny.  Having your female sports agent sleep with one of her clients?  Instantly kills her credibility and reputation; even if she ends up marrying him later, it is potentially career sinking if they get caught or when news of it leaks, unless it's totally on the down low until they announce their marriage.  
  • Also, what appears to be a trend in this series:  slutty heroes and heroines who haven't had sex in years.  
This is the second or third Burton book that I've tried; I think that perhaps she's just not an author to my taste.  Which is a shame (for me), because I appreciate her online persona and professional demeanor.
jmc_bks: (Nadasco - 08 Spain Davis Cup)
His for the Holidays anthology from Carina Press

Pre-order and other information here.

Source: Net Galley eARC

Release date: December 6, 2010

Josh Lanyon is the anchor author of this anthology, followed by Z.A. Maxfield and LB Gregg, who are established authors, plus relative new-comer Harper Fox. Each story is available individually, or bundled as the anthology.

Spicing Up the Season
Hope brightens a bleak Edinburgh December. A man gets a second chance with his high school crush. A decade-long game of cat and mouse comes to a passionate conclusion. And Santa Claus drives a red muscle car. Heat up your holidays with this collection of four festive tales from some of the top talent in the male/male genre.


The cover art is generic but also accurate: the guys kissing on the cover signal gay romance, and the snow flakes are a signal for the winter settings.

Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg
Owen McKenzie has traveled to Vermont to spend an old-fashioned Christmas with his family when he finds himself staying at the same inn as his first love. Owen is disconcerted to realize he’s still attracted to Caleb Black but refuses to pursue him. Caleb left him once, and Owen’s not going down that road again.

Caleb is ready for a second chance when Owen and gets it when fate and the matchmaking McKenzies conspire to strand the two men in a rustic cabin during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Can Caleb convince Owen to rekindle their romance so they can stop spending their holidays apart?

What did I think? I think this blurb is not very accurate. Owen has moved to Vermont, is not just visiting for the holiday; readers have no idea what Caleb wants since we don’t get his POV; the stranding was due to weather not the family; etc.  Beyond that, I found the extended separation to be a little silly in the age of facebook and google to find long lost friends and lovers.

Having said that, I really enjoyed Owen’s interactions with his family and the secondary characters, and the story worked well within its format constraints. (B)

Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox
Detective Inspector James McBride is riding high on the belief that he’s about to bust a human-trafficking ring. But just five days before Christmas, his unorthodox methods catch up with him and his world comes crashing down.

McBride tries to concentrate on his new day job as security for the visiting Israeli ambassador. He even starts to feel a renewed sense of self-worth when the leader of the Israeli team, the aristocratic Tobias Leitner, takes a bullet for him in the lien of duty. But he can’t forget the trafficking case, especially when his investigations result in the kidnapping of his own daughter! McBride has no one to turn to for help – no one, except Toby.

Can these two very different men work together to bring about a holiday miracle – and heal one another’s heart in the process?


What did I think? I think Harper Fox loves to pour on the angst, which is not my favorite seasoning for romance. Human trafficking, alcoholism, grief, loss of lover, loss of family, closeted homosexuality, all of them are wedged into this short story. I wanted to like the story, which is well-written, but it just felt over-wrought to me. So much time was spent on the outside conflict and on showing how damaged McBride and Toby are that I didn’t really trust their rapid HEA/HFN. (C)

I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield
Who likes a skinny Santa?

Steve Adam’s heart hasn’t been in the Christmas spriti ever since doctors put a stent in it and order him to clean up his act. No longer filling out his Santa suit or allowed to make merry, he’s forgoing the holidays this year and heading to Vegas to indulge in the few vices left to him: gambling and anonymous sex.

His road trip takes a detour when he encounters Chandler Tracy, who’s just inherited guardianship of his five-year-old niece. Overwhelmed, Chandler’s on his way to deliver Poppy to his parents. But fate has other plans and, after car trouble, Chandler and Poppy accept a ride home with Steve. Though the heat between the two men is obvious, they put it on simmer while they band together to make Poppy’s Christmas as perfect as possible.

Steve soon comes to believe that while Chandler is the right person to look after Poppy, someone needs to look after Chandler. Fortunately, Steve knows just the man for the job.


What did I think? My perspective of Santa is now permanently skewed: forget the jolly old man, he’s now a burly bear who's got an eye out for twinkish elves. No, really, I enjoyed this story – it is a fairy tale in the Calgon-take-me-away sense. Chandler’s at the end of his rope, suddenly a parent and unprepared to be so, broken down on the way to Christmas with his parents, when his Santa/savior arrives on the scene. Steve is very much a Prince Charming in a Santa suit: he fixes the car temporarily and then gives them a ride when the fix doesn’t hold; he invites them into his home and his family; he’s basically perfect, with a perfect extended family who welcome Chandler and Poppy into the fold without question or hesitation. The holiday theme is integrated into the story pretty well, too; I loved the family obsession and decoration detail. (B)

Icecapade by Josh Lanyon
On the eve of the new millennium, diamond thief Noel Snow seduced FBI special agent Robert Cuffe, then fled into the dawn.  Now a successful novelist, Noel uses his capers as fodder for his books, and has modeled his hero's nemesis (and potential love interest) on Cuffe.  Though he leaves Robert a drunken phone message every New Year's Eve, Noel hasn't seen or heard from him in a decade.

So he's thrilled when his former lover shows up at his upstate farm one Christmas Eve.  Elation quickly turns to alarm when Robert acuses Novel of being responsible for a recent rash of diamond heists.  Robert is all business and as cold as ice: it seems his only interest in Noel is to put him behind bars.

Innocent of the crimes, and still as attracted as ever to the oh-so-serious lawman, Noel plans a second seduction -- providing he can stay out of jail long enough!


What did I think? Josh Lanyon is the author I’m most familiar with in this anthology, and as a general rule, I enjoy his style. This story is an INYIM (TM to KristieJ) story: it did not work for me for reasons unrelated to the writing quality or style. Thieves as romance heroes are a very hard sell, and Lanyon didn’t close the sale for me. The unrepentant ex-thief narrator whined about the unintended consequences of his actions, which got old. A cast of secondary characters assured me that the narrator really was reformed and a nice guy despite his chosen profession, and Lanyon chose to have him suffer from a physical injury that was probably intended to garner more sympathy. Eh, no, especially when the narrator excuses himself since he was never violent and hadn’t carried a weapon when he was out and about burgling people but apparently not harming or victimizing them. Potential suspect and cop relationships are a staple in genre romance, but this one just didn’t work for me. (DNF)

Overall, I enjoyed the anthology. Two of the stories worked extremely well for me, while the other two were less successful because of my tastes as a reader and through no fault of the authors.

Edited for typos.
jmc_bks: (Default)

Firstly, Josh Lanyon's A Vintage Affair.  The cover art is full of man-titty, but also kind of fits the story.  Well, but for the bowtie and tuxedo shirt, which never appear....okay, maybe not.  But, hey, there's a bottle of wine at least!

The blurb:

Somewhere in the cobwebbed cellar of the decrepit antebellum mansion known as Ballineen are the legendary Lee bottles -- and Austin Gillespie is there to find them. The last thing on his mind is a hot and heavy romance with handsome bad boy Jeff Brady. But Jeff has other ideas and, after one intoxicating night, so does Austin.

The only problem is they have different ideas. Jeff doesn’t believe in love at first sight, and even if he did, he’s buried more deeply in the closet than those famous missing bottles of vintage Madeira. Popping a cork or two is one thing. Popping the question? No way. No how.

Unless Austin is ready to give up on another dream, he’s going to have to figure out how to make sure the lights go on -- and stay on -- in Georgia.
 

A pun about lights going out in Georgia.  How very original.  /sarcasm  

Having a narrator/hero who is a wine auctioneer is original -- forget doctors and cops!  Tasting wine for a living seems like it would be awesome...except for the whole spitting-it-out, which is just a waste IMO.  Anyway, Austin arrives in Georgia intent on cataloging the cellar at Ballineen and perhaps finding the Lee Madeira.  He's worried professionally because the boss's fiancee wants his job, and personally because he feels like he's not living up to his father's expectations.  Not long into the cataloging he finds a body in the cellar.  Given Lanyon's mystery writing history, I expected Austin to become involved in the sleuthing here, helping to figure out who the dead man was and why he was killed.  But the dead body didn't really serve much purpose, plot wise.  Readers are told who he is and then the mystery drops off the page.  We're told whodunnit at the very end in a lackluster way.

Much more time is spent on the one night interlude between Austin and Jeff, the closet case.  That doesn't sound sympathetic toward Jeff, intentionally so.  Actually, I was very sympathetic to him and how he handled the one night with Austin: he was honest about himself and how he dealt with living in a small, conservative community.  But he lost my sympathy through his behavior on Austin's return to Georgia; to avoid spoilers, I'll just say that he ignored Austin's opinions and objections, and there is a scene that skirts close to dubious consent for me.  His grovel at the end sort of softens me up and makes me think maybe the HFN will be an HEA eventually.

It felt like this book wasn't sure what it wanted to be: romance? mysery?  romantic suspense?  It read quickly and was a pleasant beach read (Hairball the Kindle on the beach!) but is not Lanyon's best work.  If you like Lanyon's voice, you'll probably enjoy it, but it isn't as memorable as the Adrien English mysteries.

Second, Meljean Brook's Demon Forged.  Am about half way through it.  Love her world building and the plotting.  What I'm realizing, though, is that I have little patience with internally driven separations.  Irena and Alejandro are In Love but have been separated for four hundred years.  Why? Because of pride and a Failure to Communicate.   When I say separated, I mean that they work together and see each other regularly...but they aren't lovers anymore and talk only of superficial things, the way you do with a colleague at the office rather than The Love of Your Life.  Which makes the failure to communicate even more frustrating for me.  Have I always felt this way?  I don't know.  Maybe.  Brook does a good job of showing why they are this way and it works with the plot, it's just frustrating for my reading tastes.  

Actually, now that I think about it, this was the same problem I had with the beginning of Ilona Andrews' Magic Bleeds, although it was slightly less frustrating there since the not talking only went on for three week and was grounded in characters/behaviors established in earlier books.

Um, also, the cover art for Demon Forged is very pretty, but the woman is missing something -- where are the tattoos?  I know, art department and marketing completely separate from writing.

 

jmc_bks: (Default)
Title:  Such A Pretty Face
Author:  Cathy Lamb
(c) 2010
Author/Book website here.

Why this book?
I was looking for something to read while away from home and away from my Kindle. Thus, paper book browsing occurred. When I saw this cover, I remembered it being on a "books I'm looking forward to" list on one of the reader/reviewer blogs I subscribe to, although I can't remember which one. Book Binge, maybe? Or the Bookpushers?

What about the cover art? It did its job, captured my attention. Probably on its own, the cover art would not have been enough for me to buy the book, but between the cover art and the vaguely-remembered sort of recommendation-slash-heads-up, it was enough.

Two years and 170 pounds ago, Stevie Barrett was wheeled into an operating room for surgery that most likely saved her life.  Since that day, a new Stevie has emerged, one who walks without wheezing, plants a garden for self-therapy, and builds and paints fantastical wooden chairs.  At thirty-five, Stevie is the one thing she never thought she'd be: thin.

But for everything that's changed, some things remain the same.  Stevie's shyness refuses to melt away.  She still can't look her gorgeous neighbor in the eye.  The Portland law office where she works remains utterly dysfunctional, as does her family -- the aunt, uncle and cousins who took her in when she was a child.  To to it off, her once supportive best friend clearly resents her weight loss.

By far the biggest challenge in Stevie's new life lies in figuring out how to define her new self.  Collaborating with her cousins to plan her aunt and uncle's problematic fortieth anniversary party, Stevie starts to find some surprising answers -- about who she is, who she wants to be, and how the old Stevie evolved in the first place.  And with each revelation, she realizes the most important part of her transformation may not be what she's lost but the courage and confidence she's gathering, day by day.

How is the story told?  First person POV from Stevie; no other POV included.  The narrative structure is divided into alternating chapters of present-day Stevie and child-Stevie, with present-day Stevie also relating large chunks of her adult history.  

What did I think?  Very early on, readers are presented with the family trauma that is the core of Stevie's neuroses and food pathology.  To be honest, if I had read the first few pages of the book while in the store, this book would not have come home with me, because the drama and heartbreak introduced early on are not my favorite subjects for reading.  They make for great women's fiction, though, which is what Such A Pretty Face is.  

Even reading with the WF filter, I feel rather ambivalent about SAPF, really.  Stevie's ultimate control over her life and her history and her future make for an uplifting ending.  But the constant ladling on of problems, some dictated by Stevie's life choices and some not, was often Too Much.

One of the hallmarks of women's fiction (I thought) was that there is no perfect HEA, that problems still exist but the main character is better able to cope and make her way at the end of the novel.  Stevie is better able to cope at the end of SAPF, but mostly because all the hard or bad things have suddenly been erased with a wave of her fairy godmother's wand:  Evil Uncle's villainy has been revealed; toxic best friend has been vanquished (without ever really acknowledging that Stevie *chose* to be her friend for years); Stevie has been absorbed into the extended family that disappeared 25 years ago and been given her rightful inheritance; her cousins are both on their way out of dysfunction; etc.  Essentially, thirty five years of familial dysfunction have been wiped away, which seems...not as realistic as women's fiction usually is.  Is this a women's fiction fairy tale?  

Would I read this author again?  No, probably not, because I tend to avoid women's fiction unless it comes very highly recommended by another reader I trust.

Keep or pass on?  Pass on.  Anyone want it?  Otherwise it's going to the UBS or PBS.


jmc_bks: (Nadasco - 08 Spain Davis Cup)
Over the weekend I read Harper Fox's gay romance, Driftwood.  

What the tide washes in, the past can sweep away.

All Dr. Tom Penrose wants is his old life back. He’s home in Cornwall after a hellish tour of duty in Afghanistan, but while the village is the same, he isn’t. His grip on his control is fragile, and it slips dangerously when Flynn Summers explodes into his life. The vision in tight neoprene nearly wipes them both out in a surfing mishap—and shatters Tom’s lonely peace.

Flynn is a crash-and-burn in progress, one of only two survivors of a devastating rescue helicopter crash that killed his crew. His carefree charm is merely a cover for the messed-up soul within. The sparks between him and Tom are the first light he’s seen in a long, dark tunnel of self-recrimination, which includes living in sexual thrall to fellow crash survivor and former co-pilot, Robert.

As their attraction burns through spring and into summer, Tom must confront not only his own shadows, but Flynn’s—before the past rises up to swallow his lover whole.


This is Fox's second book; the first was Life After Joe, which I talked about a little here.  

I enjoyed this book a bit more than LAJ, but think that Ms. Fox's writing is just not for me: she ladles the angst on with a very heavy hand, and angst is not my favorite flavor.  

Tom is a functioning alcoholic; he's  sober for most of the book binges periodically when things get to be too much.  He's drinking to forget Afghanistan and personal mistakes he made there.  Flynn...is a bit of a mystery.  Beautiful, suicidal, masochist, his POV probably would have made him more sympathetic; as it was, he verged on TSTL.  Once again, the rush to HEA felt premature to me.  Love can work wonders, but AA and therapy probably would be good for Tom and Flynn, too.   

I do appreciate that unique settings are used, and the settings are important for how the plot develops.  Cornwall in this case, Cumbria and North Sea oil rigs in LAJ.


Actually, after I finished LAJ, I mentally compared it to Brockmann's Infamous, which also as an alcoholic hero.  TBH, the idea of a HEA/HFN seems more believable for AJ/Infamous than for Tom and Flynn, maybe because AJ is in a different phase of dealing with his illness.  
jmc_bks: (Chocolate)
Infamous by Suzanne Brockmann

© 2010, Ballantine Books

Stand alone contemporary romantic suspense


When history professor Alison Carter became a consultant to the film version of the Wild West legend she’d dedicated her career to researching, she couldn’t possibly know that she would not only get a front row seat to a full-blown Hollywood circus, but that she would innocently witness something that would put her life in danger. Nor did she expect that a tall stranger in a cowboy hat would turn the movie -- and her world -- completely upside down…

A.J. Gallagher didn’t crash the set in dusty Arizona to rub elbows with Hollywood’s elite. Unable to ignore ghosts from the past that refuse to stay buried, A.J. came to put an end to the false legend that has tarnished the reputation of his family. But when he confronts Alison, sparks fly. And when she becomes targeted by ruthless criminals, suddenly she and A.J. must face the intense attraction that threatens to consume them, in order to survive the danger that threatens their very lives.


Why this book? I’m a long time reader of Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series and her early category novels. I’ve become a bit jaded by her series books for a variety of reasons, but thought I’d check this one out since it’s different. [Except there are even SeALs in this book peripherally.]

There was relatively little buzz about this book on the internet, and I haven’t seen many reviews at all. The reviews at Amazon are generally negative for a variety of reasons.

Potential spoiler: one of the main characters, not the hero, but a significant character, is a ghost. I had serious reservations about this gimmick: a ghost visible only to one the hero, a ghost with his own first person POV in the book. The ghost thing probably seems obvious, since “ghosts of the past” are mentioned in the back blurb, but that’s pretty generic romance blurb language so it could be taken as metaphor.

Alison Carter is a history professor whose specialty is the American west; she’s written the definitive history of Silas Quinn, U.S. marshal and hero, and is consultant on the film about him. In her book, Quinn is nearly god-like, and kills Kid Gallagher, bank robbing kidnapper. A.J. is an Army veteran who hit rock bottom, ending up addicted and homeless, before struggling back to equilibrium of sort. He’s living quietly in Heaven, Alaska, and dealing with the sudden appearance of his great grandfather in ghost form. No one else can see him, which is problematic for A.J., who was discharged due to mental issues. The two meet when A.J. shows up on the movie set and attempts to set the record straight about who was the hero and who was the villain back at the turn of the century in Jubilation, Arizona. A.J. has more or less been driven there by the ghost of his great grandfather. What follows is their immediate attraction, followed by a getting-to-know you period that includes A.J. attempting to convince Alison about the real history of Quinn and Kid (who prefers to be called Jamie, thank you). Mixed in is a suspense thread that involves a threat to an actor, a dead body in a burned car, and FBI agents undercover in craft services.

What did I think of the book? It had so many good elements, but somehow they failed to coalesce into a great read. Brockmann’s voice is distinctive and remains so here. She has a wonderful turn of phrase and writes great dialogue. But. There was a great deal of telling rather than showing. The characters were flat. It’s explained that Alison’s mother was an alcoholic and her home life was dysfunctional, but otherwise she’s kind of vague on the page but for her reluctance to trust and her attraction to the hero. A.J. fares slightly better, in part because readers get the POVof his ghostly grandfather, who shares a lot of information about him. I do appreciate that Brockmann took a risk with him, because often in romance the big issues for the heroes are not as permanent or damaging as PTSD or addiction. Ultimately, I found Jamie, the ghost narrator, to be the most interesting of the characters. I wasn’t thrilled with the gimmick, but readers have the opportunity to get to know him best between his narration, his interaction with his great-grandson, and the information revealed through the diary snippets and storytelling by A.J.

The paranormal aspect of the ghost character felt poorly planned. What were the rules of Jamie’s appearance to A.J.? He didn’t know, no one knew. No one else could see him or knew he was there until suddenly he could make his presence felt to others…and then suddenly Alison can see him.

The suspense felt disconnected from the conflict between A.J. and Alison, and a bit tacked on. I found the personal conflict and the details about filming a movie to be much more engaging than the mystery thread. As the suspense ramped up toward the end of the book, I felt less and less interested and it took several days to get through the last hundred pages or so. The Scooby Doo recitation of who, what, why, where, when, at the end of the book was disappointing; why not integrate all that information into the plot better rather than telling it?

Would I recommend this book to others? Generally, I think if readers like Brockmann’s style and voice, they’ll probably enjoy this book. However, the Amazon reviews seem to indicate otherwise. For me, the book was fine; not great, and likely not a reread, but it was an okay read on the train ride home over a week or so. C+

Anything else? I enjoyed the diary entries written by Jamie’s wife, Melody.

Keep or pass on? Probably pass on eventually.

jmc_bks: (Imperfect 2 by LJ Ase)
Monday and I actually have something to SBD about!  Or at least to write about. 

Okay, so the romance author whose books take up the most space on my shelves?  Nora Roberts.  But the majority of her keeper books on my shelves were written by her alter ego, J.D. Robb.  I <3 Eve Dallas.  A lot of readers love that series because of Roarke, Eve's gazillionaire husband who butts into all of her investigations.  I happen to love the series in spite of Roarke, whose presence sometimes feels forced or shoe-horned into the plot.

Back to La Nora.  I haven't read her entire backlist, although I know most of it is available via Harlequin's reissuance of all her old Silhouette categories.  But I do still have what I believe is my first La Nora book:  Luring A Lady, one of the Stanislaski sibling series.  Generally, I like her single title romantic suspense novels , but the last several have been kind of ~meh~ for me.  And her trilogies or series haven't been hitting the spot either, so I was a little leery of her new release, The Search.  

To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life -- a quaint house on an island off Seattle's coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare.

Several years ago, she was the only survivor of a serial killer -- a madman who stalked and abducted young women, strangled them and left them buried with a red scarf on their bodies.  As authorities were closing in on the Red Scarf Killer, he shot and killed Fiona's cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. Yet all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He's the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon's house, and he's at his wit's end.

To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can't handle. Simon is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he's a rugged and in-tensely private artist, known for creating exquisite furniture. Simon never wanted a puppy, and he most definitely doesn't want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But tell that to the laws of attraction.

As Fiona embarks on training Jaws and as Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona's life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the woman who slipped out of his hands....


What do I think of the cover art?  It suits the story, includes elements of it.  I don't know that it would necessarily catch my eye or draw my attention, though, if I were randomly scanning a bunch of books that were face up/out.  But I suppose that the more important thing to note is that the title font is smaller than the font for the author's name, which is a signal of her Big Name Author Status.

Why this book?  Despite reservations, I downloaded a sample via Kindle.  Then I had to go buy a hard copy on my lunch break -- it was release day, you see.  [Hard copy price with discount was cheaper than Kindle price.  Will not pay more for an ebook than I can for a paper book.  Just will not.]  

What did I think?  I was quite pleased with the book overall.  While I enjoy suspense and mysteries, my primary criticism of the romantic suspense subgenre is the over-emphasis of suspense to the detriment of the romance.  Not a problem here.  There is no mystery about who the Big Bad is; the question is when/how will he be caught.  Instead, the focus is on Fiona and Simon, and their relationship.  

Plus the dogs.  Don't forget the dogs.  I'm not a dog person -- they are fun to play with but too high maintenance for me -- but I really enjoyed the search and rescue portions of the book, along with the bits and pieces of training that go on.  It's fascinating how Roberts' showed the personality of pet owners influencing the personality and behavior of dogs.  

One of the reasons I keep reading Roberts' books, despite the occasional clunker and use of certain stock characters and tropes, is her handle on dialog.  The conversations between characters feel real and unforced, like things that my friends might say to each other.  And her characters are human, not perfect.  (Except Roarke, who's not my favorite anyway.)  I can't think of a single TSTL heroine that Roberts has written.  Which is saying something, since she's written more than 180 books and I've read at least half of them.

The only knock I have is the noticeable, repeated lack of commas in short, declarative sentences (example: "No it's not").  It was a little irritating, but that's a relatively minor complaint compared to some of the typos I've seen lately.

Keep or pass on?  Keep.  It's the best NR single title I've read in the last several years, since Midnight Bayou or Northern Lights, which were both keepers for me.

Random observation:  Have you looked at any of the older publicity photos of Nora Roberts?  It's fascinating to see the change in styles.  I see the same thing when I look through family photo albums, it just really struck me as I looked at the new photo on the back cover -- same smile, but different hair and styling. Also fascinating to compare the different photos used for the different types of books she writes. Edgier styling and photographs for the Eve Dallas books, homier looks for the paperback series. All very classy, but with different tones.
jmc_bks: (Seagull)
It's Wednesday, which is way, way late for the habitual SBD. I meant to post this timely but didn't get around to it.   Anyway, here it is.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is widely admired for her contemporary romances.  Her sports heroes and awesome heroines.  A couple of her books are on my keeper shelf, and I've enjoyed most of her earlier (pre-2005 or so, maybe?) books.  Starting with This Heart of Mine, though, I've generally lost interest.  But then there was Natural Born Charmer, featuring Dean Robillard, a football hero.  Yeah, no, I tried it and discarded it back in 2007.  Why?  I couldn't really remember.

Flash forward to last weekend, when I found a remaindered copy at B&N.  SEP?  Sure, I'll pay $2.98 for a hardback.

This time around I finished the book, but now that I've finished, I remember why I abandoned it in the first place:  the secondary storyline.  A huge part of the book is the reconciliation of Dean with his parents, who were disasters as parents.  

Did I have a problem with the groupie mom?  Not with the groupie part of it.  She owned her sexual history without apology.  I was kinda peeved that the rockstar father (no monk himself) was judgmental and grudging about  it (hello, pot, meet kettle).  Addiction?  Eh, that piece was kind of glossed over.  But the abandonment or abdication of parenthood because it was inconvenient in their youths?  That really pissed me off.  Yes, yes, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and in their older years they both realized what they'd done; one was considerably pushier about suddenly being a parent and involved in Dean's life, but both of them irritated me.  I get that getting over the childhood and whatever damage  idiot parents may have done is often a milestone in the emotional development of protagonists in fiction (and in real life, of course).  I also get that this is a hot button for me on a personal level, and other readers surely find the family reunion to be touching.  

But seriously.  Decorating a house and building a porch suddenly resolve decades of silence, disappointment and absence?  I don't think so.

Now, if the family redemption had played a smaller part in this book, I could've enjoyed it more.  From a technical standpoint, SEP writes well.  Her characters are consistent, the dialogue is smart and funny, lots of sexual tension, etc.

But the parents.  Ugh.
jmc_bks: (seagull)
That squeal you heard coming from the DC metro area? That was me, expressing my delight with No Souvenirs by K.A. Mitchell.

A vacation fling. No complications. No connections. And no regrets.

Trauma surgeon Jae Sun Kim has just lost the job he wanted more than anything else in his life. Looking for a way to hit the reset button, he takes a scuba vacation. He didn’t plan on seasickness, or a dive master who is sex-on-the-beach personified.

Shane McCormack’s tendency to drift away from complicated situations has landed him a job as a dive master in Belize, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. But with the big three-oh looming, asking his parents to bail him out again isn’t an option. The job isn’t without its perks, though, and as soon as he figures a way to keep that hot but arrogant ass of a doctor from tossing his cookies over the side of the boat, he plans to flirt the control freak out of his brittle shell.

The close quarters on the ship generate more heat than either expects, but a vacation fling is all that’s in the plans. An unexpected adventure leaves them changed in ways that make it impossible to go back to their old lives. The risks they’ll both have to take could leave them with nothing but more scars, or the best souvenir of all.


Excerpt here

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways.

Well, before I begin the recitation of things I loved, I should first share this disclaimer: I am an unabashed fan of K.A. Mitchell. Her Collision Course was my favorite read for 2008. I have all of her backlist in e-format, and print editions of those books that have made it to paper.

I downloaded a copy of this book in the wee hours on Tuesday and tore through it like a lion pouncing on a gazelle. Were there details that I missed on the first read? Absolutely. But I felt compelled to consume the book as quickly as possible. And then after that first gulping read, I went back for a more leisurely re-reading to savor the details.

Back to how I loved this specific book:

First, the main characters, Jae Sun Kim and Shane McCormack. Jae Sun Kim is an arrogant, sarcastic bastard. As Mitchell tweeted once, he’s cuddly as a cactus. His interactions with others are primarily professional; he keeps his family at a distance (even though they are not that far away, geographically) and potential friends at bay. Shane McCormack is a laid-back scuba diving drifter, who comes across as careless and lackadaisical at first, but as the story develops, it becomes clear that he isn’t careless, despite his tumbleweed existence. For the vast majority of the book, the focus is on the two of them. Yes, they interact with others, and there are scenes with other characters, but most of the page space is devoted to them: all Kim & Shane, all the time.

Second, the conflict: it’s all internal. Yes, there’re adventure and risk early on, but the relationship conflict (the important stuff) arises because of flaws or characteristics in each character’s personality; both are aware of these flaws and struggle with them. Shane’s flaw is his tendency to drift, to find the perfect thing and then screw it up. Kim’s is his distrust of emotion and inability to share or communicate his emotions.

Third, voice/POV: when the story is in Jae Sun’s head, the voice is distinctly different from Shane’s. The language is more formal and longer words are used: the tone is scientific and a little detached. Even Kim’s emotions are filtered and expressed more easily through his medical background and its terminology than by simpler phrases or behavior. In contrast, Shane is all right there on the surface; not uneducated, but also not as formal. Ex: “Kim’s vomeronasal organ was doing battle with his olfactory bulb, trying to push pheromones over stench.” How Shane might’ve narrated that same thought: the sight of him turned Kim on and nearly drowned out the smell of decay.

Fourth, the language: Mitchell just has a way with words. Her writing is not necessarily lyrical a la Laura Kinsale or other (beloved, mainstream) writers, but she possesses a turn of phrase that tickles my ear. For example, at one point, Jae Sun compares Shane to eating Cheetos: “a mistake to begin with, because then you want the whole bag.” Wrapped up in that metaphor is all you need to know about how the relationship started: with some gluttony, some self-delusion, and serious attraction.

And last but not least: Joey and Aaron. (Sorry, had to include them.) They appear in a couple of scenes, and their presence feels natural and unforced. There's no shoe-horning of past books’ characters as part of some unnecessary reunion; to the extent that Jae Sun has any sort of chosen family, Joey and Aaron are it. (Also, was very entertained by the “If Joey ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy." Poor Aaron :P)

Lest you think I’m a completely uncritical and unthinking reader, I admit to reading a few things that niggled, general and specific. Generally, there were some missing commas. Did the lack make the book unreadable? Nope. I’m just a comma-fiend, and I notice when they ought to be used but aren’t. More specifically, the bit about Kim’s calculation of Shane’s age didn’t make sense and seemed out of character for someone who, however uncommunicative, is fairly observant. If Shane spent 9 years in school, he’d have to be more than 25 by the time he met Kim…or have started university a little early. But really, that’s all. Pretty minor stuff.

This ebook is going on my “keeper” shelf, and I’ll be buying a print copy when it is released. It’s early in the year, but right now this is the top contender for favorite book of 2010. A from me.
jmc_bks: (title2)
So, I read two books this weekend, and I'll share my impressions for SBD:

Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

It’s not easy to tread lightly wearing steel-toed boots.

Sirantha Jax isn’t known for diplomatic finesse. As a “Jumper” who navigates ships through grimspace, she’s used to kicking ass first and taking names later—much later. Not exactly the obvious choice to sell the Conglomerate to the Ithtorians, a people whose opinions of humans are as hard as their exoskeletons.

And Ithiss-Tor council meetings aren’t the only place where Ambassador Jax needs to maneuver carefully. Her lover, March, is frozen in permanent “kill” mode, and his hair-trigger threatens to sabotage the talks—not to mention their relationship.

But Jax won’t give up on the man or the mission. With the Outskirts beleaguered by raiders, pirates, and the flesh-eating Morgut, an
alliance with Ithiss-Tor may be humanity’s only hope. Which has Jax wondering why a notorious troublemaker like her was given the job…
 

The Sirantha Jax series is a scifi fantasy series published by Ace, the most recent release is the third of the series so far.  I'm feeling rather ambivalent about the series, have from the start, and have a hard time figuring out just why.  I love Ms. Aguirre's writing; her Corine Solomon series is an autobuy for me now after only one book.  But I'm just not warming to Sirantha Jax.  My notes in LibraryThing for the second book of the series (Wanderlust) read, This series works much better for me as straight SFF; it works least when the narrative is focused on the relationship between Jax and March, which I just don’t buy.

I could say the same thing about this third book.  The world building is complex and layered.  The conflict is believable on the large and small scale.  I love that all of the inhabitants on this universe are NOT humanoid.  I just don't care about Sirantha Jax, which is problematic since she's the narrator.  When she stuck to the politcal things, to observations about what was going on in the negotiations, I was fine.  But I just didn't care about her relationship with March.  It's a trainwreck waiting to happen.  She walked away once, so I don't believe her as she vows not to walk away again.  More than that, I thought the way she handled homicidal March was TSTL, and wouldn't have mourned if he'd killed her when he had the chance. 

Much more interesting to me was the political maneuvering and the entire construct of the Ithiss-Tor world and culture.  Vel, a secondary character whose importance to the series seem to grow with each book, was in the spotlight, and I found him *much* more intriguing than March.  The sidetrack in the end to rescue March? Eh.

B- from me.

Thank You, Mrs. M. by Kate Rothwell
 

“You want honesty. An hour’s worth a day of normal speech, nothing prepared is necessary. Yeah, okay. But I’m pretty certain I’m not supposed to talk normally. No fucking way, because every other fucking word is fuck… I’ll tone it down for you, okay? I assume you’re an old lady with some style. For you, I can stop.”

I just wanted that effing college education and you said you’d pay for it…along with just about everything else. The cost—my effing life’s story jabbered into a digital recorder just for you. How screwed is that? The thing is, I wasn’t the only one telling a story. You tried to hide from me. Too bad I’m smart, Mrs. Moneybags, and I got you figured. But know what? I can keep your secrets. You and me—we made it work.

Note: A reverse take on the classic story Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster.

Okay, just to be compliant with the new FTC rule (which I guess applies to me?), I won a free copy of this ebook in a contest at Kate Rothwell's blog.  And some M&M's.  I'll share my opinion of the book, but not the M&M's 'cause I'm selfish when it comes to chocolate.  Especially since according to Jonathan Ross, the Achocolypse is upon us.

I've never read the story Daddy Long Legs, so I had no idea what to expect from this book.  Which was fine, because I selected it at random from the PDFs that Kate sent me.

TYMM is a year in the life of Ben, a slightly older student who is raising his sister and brother.  He's very rough around the edges.  He narrates a year of his life plus some of his history in one hour increments for Mrs. Moneybags, who is funding his education in exchange for his time and voice. 

I loved observing the changes in Ben as the year progressed and things changed in his life.  Changing neighborhoods, changing crowds (even though he held on to some of his old friends), changing his outlook from the the past to the future. 

The ending came too soon, because I wanted to stay a voyeur, reading Ben's monologues about his past and his present, and I wasn't ready for the wrap up.  I guessed who Mrs. M was early on, but am still confused about how/why she did what she did: random chance?  altruism?  If I take a step back and think about it, it makes me vaguely uncomfortable and I'm not entirely sure why.  Maybe because it reminds me of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle?

There is a sweet thread of romance in the book, but it is not a traditional genre romance.  Maybe in a larger sense it is a love story?  I'm not sure.  If pressed, I would say that it was closer to lad lit than romance.

B+ from me.

Off to read more.
 

jmc_bks: (Nadasco - 08 Spain Davis Cup)

Title: Regularly Scheduled Life

Author: The excellent K.A. Mitchell

Why this book? I bought the ebook not long after I read Mitchell’s Collision Course, which was one of my favorite reads for 2008. At RWA, I won the raffle/drawing she held, which included hard copies of her books in print and a beach bag of goodies. I brought the bag o’ stuff with me to the beach, along with the books, and pulled this one out to reread. [FWIW, the other contents of the bag were quite handy, and I especially loved the bubble wand :).]

Cover art: Well…generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of man-titty covers. But Mitchell lucked out with this one, because it is gorgeous. The fellow in the background looks a little young to be either of the characters (35 and 31), but still, very pretty.

 It’s a long way back to happily ever after.

Sean and Kyle have enjoyed six perfect years of what their friends called a “disgustingly happy” relationship. But what happens one sunny Tuesday morning in October might be more than even the most loving couple can survive.

When the bell rings that morning in chemistry teacher Sean Farnham’s first-period class, a terrifying sound fills the halls – gunshots. Without considering the consequences, Sean runs to tackle the shooter, sustaining a bullet wound to his leg. Despite his actions, he is unable to save the lives of the principal and two students.

Architect Kyle DeRusso hears about the shooting on the radio and in the flash of an instant finds his life irrevocably altered. Everything – especially his heart – hands suspended in a nightmare until he finds out Sean is alive. It doesn’t matter that Sean will be left with a permanent limp. Kyle’s just relieved the worst is over.

Or is it? Putting that day behind them isn’t as simple as it sounds. As Sean struggles to make something positive out of the tragedy, Kyle fights to save their relationship from the dangers of publicity – and Sean’s unwillingness to face how the crisis has changed him.

What did I think? Well, for starters, this book has much more angst and seriousness than any of Mitchell’s other books to date. It would have to, since it touches on such a tender topic, violence in schools. I found the angst and the subject matter on the whole much easier to assimilate on the re-read than the original read. My struggle the first time through was entirely my own fault: I didn’t read the blurb, just bought the ebook based on the author, and was startled by the difference in tone and the conflict presented in comparison to the two other books I’d already read by her. Mistake on my part.

There are two conflicts within the storyline: one is the two heroes struggling to redefine their world in the aftermath of the shooting, and the other is their struggle (or lack thereof) to communicate with each other about those changes. Kyle just wants to make it all go away, to pretend it didn’t happen and go on as they were. Sean wants it to mean something, to make a difference, and doesn’t understand why Kyle doesn’t feel the same way. 

Sex as part of their communication or lack is a skillfully used tool. (One of my complaints about m/m romance is that the plot is all too often interrupted by sex that doesn’t drive the story but sidelines it.) While there is some sex in RSL, there is comparatively little, and its appearance is used to highlight how they miss each other but also how they distract each other from things that matter. It’s easier to have sex than to talk, but in doing so they end up pushing each other away further.

It’s a stereotype, but half the time I wanted to roll my eyes and sigh, “oh, boys,” wishing someone would smack them both in the head and then make them sit down and actually talk to each other instead of around each other. 

Was there anything that didn’t work for me? The end of the book came fairly quickly, and felt a little rushed. Sean’s grudging visits to a therapist seemed like a huge turning point (IMO) but they occur off the page and were never really addressed but for his acknowledgement that he went and was angry and had unresolved issues. It would’ve been nice to see him discuss and work out those issues with Kyle.

Ultimately, this was a pretty good book, although it isn’t my favorite by Mitchell. B/B+

Keep or pass on? Keep, of course.

Read other books by this author? Absolutely. I’m waiting impatiently for her next contemporary, and a historical.

Anything else relevant? If you go to her LJ, you’ll find prequel scenes for this book and her other books.

Piddly thing: the law suit. I get why Sean was named as a co-defendant and the suit's importance to the plot, but after the school’s insurer settled, what was the cause of action remaining with respect to him?  I’m not sure I believe that he (or any teacher) has a duty to know about a kid coming to school armed, or a duty to throw himself in front of a bullet for any of the students.   I know, thinking too much, and not accepting that grieving parents do things that are not reasonable or logic-based. Also not a litigator or tort claims specialist, so what do I know?

jmc_bks: (Default)

After reading Brockmann's Dark of Night back in February, I said that I would not be buying Hot Pursuit when it was released, because I wasn't interested in reading more San & Alyssa, and also because I just didn't care anymore.  Frankly, my attention span is not that vast, and the TSI series has held it remarkably, but the last few books haven't really suited me.  I wasn't abandoning Brockmann or mad about where she was going as a writer, just not interested in following any longer. 

Fast forward to July.  After attending Brockmann's chat/workshop, I felt intrigued about Hot Pursuit.  Plus, I had a gift certificate for Books on Board, so I downloaded it for MMP price rather than hardback price (cost matters).

Am not entirely certain how this book is being labeled, marketed and shelved.  Brockmann's website makes it clear that this is a Trouble Shooters book but not a straight romance.  There is a romance subplot, but the main story is suspense.  The bookflap blurb is fairly clear about the suspense, so I had no expectations on that front; in fact, I was a bit surprised by its appearance and by its hero.  In retrospect, I shouldn't have been:  SB tends to torture her romance heroes, and Gillman has been getting gradually more page space.

Over two evenings in late July, I twittered as I read, fully intending to write a post about the book.  I haven't managed to get that done, but here are the tweets.

Tweets behind the cut )
jmc_bks: (flaming june)

First let me say that Linda Howard used to be an auto-buy for me.  A couple of years ago she fell off my auto-buy list; since then the only book of hers I've read is the second Blair-Wyatt installment. 

The release of Burn tempted me, since it was on sale for $9.95 at ereader.com.  With rebates, I ended up paying mass market price for the book, which would be a bargain since it is out in hardback right now.  Except not really, because I can't pass the ebook on the way I would a paper book.

What did I think?  Well, I enjoyed Burn more than Killing Time and Cover of Night, which were both DNFs.  I've read a couple of comments in which Burn is described as more like her older stuff.  It felt a little recycled to me, but not in a greener, good for the Earth kind of way.

General observations:
  • Standard LH sex scene including immediate penetration without foreplay, but which somehow results in amazing orgasm nonetheless.
  • Mishmash of plot and characters that have been seen before
    • Morally ambiguous hero
    • Plucky, pain in the ass heroine
    • Cartoon villain who was both treasonous and crazy.  (Because one possible suspense issue was not enough? Or is the implicit message there than only the crazy can be treasonous?)
    • Bomb on a boat?  (Speed 2)
    • Boat evacuation and rush? (Titanic) 
Stuff I liked:
  • Heroine's relationship with her friend Syd
  • Secondary characters (not in a series bait kind of way, but the way they interacted)
  • Early chapters of the book, in which the heroine's life changes immensely and she negotiates those changes fairly wisely
Stuff I didn't like:
  • If prologue had been the excerpt I read, I would not have bought this book.  If I had realized that the hero was the mastermind of a kidnap plot of two other characters in the book, I would not have been interested.  Kidnapping is kidnapping, regardless of "good cause".
  • Also, using "money laundering" in the hero's mental meanderings about himself?  Off-putting since it is fraud. 
  • Lesbian financial planner felt like a huge stereotype, tossed in to be politically correct.  How was her sexuality relevant?
  • Heroine with trust issues (harped on) immediately drops trusts issues, bonding with her kidnapper and deciding he must be a Good Guy. (Because she couldn't want to do a Bad Guy?)
  • Hot sexxoring turns to True Love at the moment lives were threatened, no mention of emotion/feelings other than physical attraction til that point, even in the character's internal monologues.  (Did they even say the words?  I can't remember.  It's okay if they don't, but it hadn't really been shown either IMO.)
Afterthought:  the heroine moves to the South.  Is Palm Beach the South?  I mean, yes, geographically speaking, but is it Southern in the full sense of the word? 
jmc_bks: (Book on table)

Cutting Loose by Susan Andersen (2008), appears to the be the first of a trilogy

Jane thinks nothing can make her lose her cool

But the princess of propriety blows a gasket the night she meets the contactor restoring the Wolcott
mansion. Devlin Kavanagh;s rugged sex appeal may buckle her knees, but the man is out of control! 
Jane had to deal with theatrics growing up – she won’t tolerate them in someone hired to work on the
house she and her two best friends have just inherited. 

Dev could renovate the mansion in his sleep. But ever since the prissy owner spotted him jet-lagged,
exhausted and hit hard by a couple of welcome-home drinks, she’s been on his case. Yet there’s
something about her. Jane hides behind conservative clothes and a frosty manner, but her seductive
blue eyes and leopard-print heels hint at a woman just dying to cut loose.

I enjoyed this book a lot, although there were some things that just rubbed me wrong, mostly from a professional perspective. B/B-.

Okay, here are the things I liked:

  • Straight contemporary (dying breed?)
  • Great chemistry between h/h

Things I didn’t like:

  • Judgmental and downright bitchy Jane, when bitchiness is based on her misjudgments
  • Categorization of museum quality assets being done after probate has been cleared/closed. How could the value of the estate have been properly fixed if the assets hadn’t been inventoried earlier? Add the throwaway comment from Jane that the appraisal of the vintage clothing collection was low because the appraiser thought they were rags, and I was cringing. The estate is obliged to provide an accurate assessment of the value of the estate; having someone whose expertise is real estate appraise vintage clothing is a Bad Idea.
  • Failure of the estate administrator to properly secure the assets of the estate. All those collections in an old, unoccupied home with a crappy security system…again, the administrator has an obligation to maximize and protect the assets.  
  • Ava bitching about paying estate taxes. None of that money was hers to begin with; and the alternative could have been much worse worse. (In the 1930s through the 70s, the estate tax rate was nearly 80%; the whole point of it was to prevent vast amounts of capital being locked up in the hands of a few wealthy families. Beyond that, it is a tax on one’s right to control the disposition of assets after death: getting your money where you want it to go isn’t free. )
The second book of the trilogy, Bending the Rules, featuring one of Jane's co-owners and a character introduced in Cutting Loose was released on June 30, 2009.
jmc_bks: (TCR Word WTH)
I have lost my reading mojo and cannot find it. I'm searching for it desperately, hunting high and low.  Nothing I read appeals -- most are abandoned before 50 pages have passed. The few that do make it beyond the 50 page mark? Eh.

My ability to suspend disbelief, to let slide reality within the books...it is gone. Half the time I read, the little voice in my head is saying, "That's not sexy, that's sexual harassment." Or "She was unconscious -- it doesn't matter if you "gave" her an orgasm, she was a stranger, passed out, and you molested her. There was no consent, that's rape."  

The most recent occurence for this was yesterday's read. In romantic suspense you always have cops of some sort falling in lust with either the victim or the suspect. And somehow, there are seldom any serious professional repercussions, or even any lip service paid to the rules by the supervisors or managers. The only (recent) exception to this that I can think of is in James Buchanan's Hard Fall, in which the hero is suspended; eventually he is reinstated, but at a lower grade.  His supervisor went to bat for him, but also made his disappointment clear.  In yesterday's read?  Not so much.  Despite the fact that the supervisor and another cop caught the heroine in bed with her serial killer suspect when they arrived to take him in for questioning, there were zero repercussions for her professionally.  Zilch.  Instead, her supervisor went out of his way to make this easy for her professionally, in terms of her career in the HEA. 

Of course, my perspective is a little skewed, because I really disliked the heroine, who spent the entire book lying to, deceiving and manipulating everyone, not just the hero.  Also, I must've missed the passage in which the actual serial killer's original alibi was shredded, because it was originally "rock solid" when the heroine was going through the cast of characters and potential suspects. 
jmc_bks: (title2)

Monday again.  Ho hum.  Beth has rung the bell on SBD.  She's reading more of the Twilight series.  After her post last week, I went hunting for my copy of Twilight and pulled it out for this month's TBR Challenge.  Sadly, I haven't cracked the book open yet.  Instead, I've read other stuff.  Such as...

I read Erin McCarthy’s Hard and Fast last week. It wasn’t bad. The pacing was a little uneven if you compare the first half and second halves, but still, not bad at all. The hero and heroine had great chemistry, and their dialogue sparkled. (It’s such a cliché, but it really did.  They clearly enjoyed talking to each other and listening to each other, and playing some word games.) The Big Conflict was not a huge surprise, but I though the heroine really stuck her foot in her mouth. In fact, I thought she needed to grovel, and that never really happened. SPOILER: see, the hero is dyslexic and she’s Smart and Educated, and when he reveals his disability, she immediately announces how she’s going to help him. What the hell? He’s been successful at helping himself; frankly, the way she wanted to “help” him (fix him, really) struck me as a little patronizing and judgmental, and outright ignorant in terms of the treatment, if that’s the right word, of dyslexia. Still, they apologized to each other and went off to live happily ever after.  

As I read, I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what the heroine was doing as an academic, and what she did, if anything, before becoming at teaching assistant in North Carolina. She works for another character, who was an instructor of some sort at the local university. I say instructor because the other character has “only” a Master’s Degree, and I believe “professor” is reserved for those with Ph.D.’s, no? There’s such a variety of labels in academia: lecturer, instructor, adjunct, assistant, professor. I know there’s a hierarchy applied to them, but I’m not entirely sure how both education, longevity, employer/employee relationship with the university, etc., apply.  Anyhow, the heroine is an assistant to this instructor. She talks about her thesis project, but her work is also referred to as a dissertation project and/or doctoral research.  I thought thesis = Masters, dissertation = Ph.D. Yes? No? Despite the confusion in terminology, it becomes clear that the heroine is working on her M.A. in Sociology.  Which leads back to my original question:  she’s twenty eight years old and has been presented as a career academic, studying in New York; what has she been doing for 6 years that she is only working on her thesis now? That seems like an awfully long time for a dedicated student to still be M.A.-less. Was she working, and this is a return to academia? Was she working on a degree in some other field of study? Inquiring minds want to know.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book; really I did.   I’m just distracted by a detail.

Unrelated sidenote: my copy of Joseph McAleer’s Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon has arrived at last – only took a month and a half! The cover is gorgeous, composed of the cover art of old M&B books. I’m going to have to look for copies to read, based entirely on the art and titles.  There's even another book cover on the back cover, Roberta Leigh's Too Young To Love.

And the back cover copy: 

The fascinating story behind Mills & Boon, the household name for romantic fiction, and twentieth century cultural phenomenon.

An animated account of the establishment and development of the company, exposing the personalities who played a part in Mills & Boon's often dramatic past.

Draws upon a long-lost archive of over 50,000 remarkable letters to reveal the intimate relationship between editorial policy, sales and morality.

An entertaining look at the famous Mills & Boon 'formula', and a lively investigation into the ingredients which make the novels so addictive.

Right now I'm reading L. Jon Wertheim's Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, but Passion's Fortune is next on the TBR, along with Dru Pagliassotti's Clockwork Heart.
jmc_bks: (daffs)

Beyond Heaving Bosoms:  The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels.  
 
Enjoyed the analysis of genre romance, which was critical but not written in academic-ese.  I think this is a valuable resource both for romance readers and for anyone interested in popular culture and/or lit studies.  Content-wise, the contemporary romance got very little attention in comparison to historicals and paranormals, which sort of makes sense given current publishing trends, but makes less so when looking at the broader picture of genre romance.  My biggest quibble:  the selection of The Flame and the Flower in 1972 as predecessor of the modern romance novel ignores the Mills & Boon/Harlequin romances were published decades before, with tropes and formulae that can still be found in modern romance.  Mills&Boon/Hqn got relatively little page space, which was suprising given their influence in the genre, historically speaking. 

On a personal level, I loved the Old/New Skool flowchart and other tables, but occasionally found the formatting (flowing over mulitple pages and non-facing pages) a little distracting.  And the voice/tone that entertains for a blog post grew wearing after 100 pages or so.  Appreciated the Bujold/Miles love when talking about the appeal of paranormal/fantasy romance for cross-over audiences, although I'm not sure that the Vorkosigan series really fits either category.  YMMV, though.  B/B+.



Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James.  

I like James's voice.  This was a funny, well-paced book.  Wasn't sure about the heroine at first, but she grew on me; the hero began to -- he seemed like an immature jerk for most of the book, edged toward being likeable, then turned into a total asshat.  The Big Gesture at the end?  Too late (for me, obviously not for the heroine or a lot of other readers). 

It was interesting that Payton supposedly could be quite a bitch, at least according to herself and to JD, but she never actually was -- maybe she had been in the past, but not so on these pages.  Any bitchery plotted or planned was always forestalled by the needs of a disinterested third party (can't let an innocent be harmed!) or a lameass apology from JD.  Because romance heroines can't be bitchy?  They aren't allowed to intentionally do truly nasty things?  Because heroines aren't supposed to be anything but nice?  Can't have her do something mean without provocation and with premeditation, even if it is retaliatory?  Only heroes can? 

Despite the fact that I never warmed to JD, the book was a B until almost the end; the ending gets a solid D, which averages out to a C, I guess. 
 

Unrelated:  Does someone on Nole's team think the smurf shoes are flattering?  Blue shoes should be left to Elvis. 

Edited -- holy SpellCheck, Batman, what a lot of typos I found!
jmc_bks: (daffs)

As I’ve already mentioned, I was not a Sophia/Decker ‘shipper…although Brockmann probably could have sold me on the relationship if that was where she decided to go. I thought it would be Dave for Sophia – and I liked that Dave was not a super hero but kind of a geek, and a guy who just put his head down and ground through things, like being ill but helping, being freezing but still ready to defend, walking through the cold for help with a broken wrist. No a he-man, but human, with faults and flaws and doubts about himself.

The pairing of Tracy and Decker surprised me a bit, not in a bad way though. I suppose the hotel room scene in Into the Storm may have been a hint about their potential, even though it was vague. Really, I expected Decker’s heroine to be Dr. Jo Heissman for a couple of reasons – the tension between them about The Agency would’ve made a good external issue for them to deal with, and it would’ve been nice to see a slightly older hero (Decker’s in his mid 40s, I think) matched up with an older heroine. I would love to read Brockmann’s take on an older heroine – not just one who is a few years older than the hero (like Meg in The Defiant Hero and Joan in Into the Night), but a woman who is at or beyond the midpoint of her life. Usually readers only get those stories in Women’s Fiction, and I would love to see it in straight genre romance.

Okay, things I liked about Dark of Night:

  • Overall, I enjoyed the story as I read it, and the way the story arc was wrapped up.
  • Pacing – the book moved quickly, and never bogged down in one part or another
  • Scenes with Robin and Jules

 What I was kind of ~meh~ about

  • Multiple POVs – Dave, Sophia, Decker, Tracy, Jimmy, Tess, Jules. Am I missing any? On one hand, the multiple POVs facilitate in the storytelling and help with the pacing. On the other hand, it comes perilously close to head hopping for me. Some readers like the POV shifts, but it is something that I usually try to ignore.
  • The shift from regular Dave to SuperDave. 
  • How does TSI stay in the black if half the office is either on vacation or taking lost time? Even if they aren’t pulling salaries, they are still not doing anything billable, leaving contracts unfulfilled.
  • The reappearance of Sam and Alyssa. I know there are lots of Brockmann fans who just adore them, but I’m ready for them go on with their HEA off the page somewhere, leaving page space for other, newer characters.

Things that really bothered me -- this part is a function of my my view on politics and law, things of reality, which is supposed to be suspended while reading fiction.  Here’s the thing – I can only suspend disbelief so far, and these things are pushing beyond that boundary. YMMV.

  • The utter disregard for criminal and constitutional law by both individuals and quasi-government agencies. Hello, Decker SHOT someone. In broad day light. In a public place. And it was caught on video.  Now, maybe there were consequences in Brockmann’s fictional world that were handled off the page or edited out, maybe it was arguably self defense. But that is homicide or manslaughter at the very least, and the fact that it was never addressed bothered me. And breaking and entering? Also a crime. The fact that a federal agent doesn’t help since there was no freaking warrant. Hello? 
  • Jules going off the books bothered me, too, a lot. And yes, I can absolutely see that his career with might be over now.
  • The Agency. No doubt the CIA and DIA and NSA have done and continue to do things that make my ACLU-loving soul cringe, but the entire premise of The Agency makes my skin crawl.
  • TSI running its own independent operations within the United States, without law enforcement accompaniment really bothered me. Body guarding? Okay. Security? Okay. Contracts with the government? Okay.   Involved in a mission with the FBI – mmm, okay, slightly harder sell. But independent operations? No.  It felt like the Wild West, and not in a good way.

Actually, that last is my biggest problem and it extends beyond just this book. I’m getting uncomfortable with what TSI is. The more the series focuses on TSI rather than the U.S. Navy or other armed forces, the further out of my comfort zone it goes.  Because TSI reminds me of Blackwater, KBR and Halliburton, none of which are happy comparisons in my mind, frankly.

As I mentioned in a thread over at Dear Author, Dark of Night is the last Brockmann book that I will pre-order from the library.  Not because I didn’t enjoy the book – I did. I’m just tired of waiting for older characters to appear as heroes in books of their own – Jazz, Duke, Silverman, BigMac, George, etc. were introduced before Sophia, Decker, James and Tess, but they seem to be stuck as background characters. And I'm tired of waiting around to read their stories.  The characters who'll be heroes in the next story arc?  I'm guessing Lopez, Gillman, Zanella, and Koehl.  Maybe Yashi.  All nice characters, but I don't feel all that invested in them. 

Afterthought: I get that Brockmann has gotten a lot of flack online from readers about “misleading” them about Sophia and Decker. I don’t necessarily think that she did mislead readers, but I'm sure others would disagree with me. In any case, I’m of the school of thought that no publicity is bad publicity when one has a new book out, and I think the brouhaha has sold more books for Brockmann rather than less. Skimming through the book club chat over at B&N while trying to gather my thoughts to write this post, I thought Brockmann was remarkably patient and polite to disgruntled readers, if a little condescending at times. Until this post, in which she seems to be saying that the people who are unhappy with Dark of Night are homophobes.

 And I know that the people who disapprove of me and DARK OF NIGHT (and probably Jules Cassidy, too.  Let's be honest about what this is about, at least for some of these disproportionately angry folks) are a small portion of the online romance reading population.  (Talk about limited!)

I don’t know if that is the case. In fact, I think that while there may be some overlap of the anti-DoN readers and anti-ATTN readers, it’s unlikely that all of the Sophia/Decker ‘shippers are Jules and Robin haters. That kind of blanket statement seems incongruous coming from the keyboard of a woman who is all about inclusion. It also seems kind of condescending to people for whom the book just didn’t work, which is the complete opposite of what she said earlier in the post, which was that it sometimes a book doesn't work for a reader, and that was okay.  I dunno, it just leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  Again, YMMV.

Ultimately, this book was worth the $1 hold fee from my library.  And I'll probably buy a copy of the book when it is released in paperback, just so I have the series through this last book.  B/B-.

jmc_bks: (TDS)
Title: Talk Me Down

Author: Victoria Dahl

© 2009 HQN

Why this book? Dear Author and Smart Bitch Sarah reviewed the book, then ran a contest for it as part of the on-going Save the Contemporary. Since I am always on the look out for straight contemporaries, I picked up a copy on Tuesday. [I confess, I bought something for myself during the holiday season. My excuse is that all gifts were purchased, if not wrapped.]

What about the cover art?

The cover suited the contents. It wasn’t particularly distinctive, but it worked.

What happens with the girl next door isn’t so innocent?

Molly Jennings has one naughty little secret: her job as an bestselling erotic fiction author. Until her inspiration runs dry – thanks to a creepy ex – and it’s time to skip town and move back to tiny Tumble Creek, Colorado.

One look at former high school hunk chief of police Ben Lawson and Molly is back in business. The town gossip is buzzing at her door and, worse still, a stalker seems to be watching her every move. Thankfully, her very own lawman has taken to coming over, often. The only problem now is that Molly may have to let the cat out of the bad about her chosen profession, and straitlaced Ben will definitely not approve . . .


What did I think? As usual, the backblurb bent things a little out of shape. Ben isn’t straitlaced, really, as much as he is averse to being the subject of gossip, due to an ugly family situation that exposed him to gossip in his youth. It is hard to be a public servant in a small town that knows all of your family’s dirty laundry, and he wants to make sure that none of his is ever aired.

The book read very quickly. The prose was engaging and flowed well. The plot moved easily and was never clunky.

There’s still a big “but” coming, though. Molly bothered me. A lot. On one hand, I appreciate a character who feels real and contemporary . Molly is a sexual being and not shy about it. She has a job that she’s good at, in which she has gained success. What’s the problem then? Well, first, the huge secret about her writing got very old, very fast, and felt like a gag left running too long. Her reasons for keeping it secret screamed of shame and embarrassment to me, which was disappointing and not consistent with Molly’s character otherwise, not to mention that it felt dishonest. The attempt to make it about the family pressures just flopped for me. Second, she came across as manipulative -- this is a result in part of her Big Mystery, but is also specific to how she interacted with Ben.

I could’ve gotten over both of these characteristics, but the biggest problem was that she was Too Stupid To Live. If you have moved because your stalker ex-boyfriend has made your life miserable and suddenly stalkery things start happening again, wouldn’t you mention the problem to the cop you were dating? Molly blowing her ex off as a risk seemed about as dumb as a scream queen going into the basement to investigate a thumping noise in a slasher movie. TSTL.

Keep or pass on? I might keep my copy for a bit, see if it works better for me upon a second reading. If not, it’ll be passed on.

Would I read this author again? Sure. While Molly grated on my nerves, I liked the author’s voice and style, so I’ll be checking out future releases. I’ll also be checking her website to see what sort of backlist she has, NY-published or e-published.

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