Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Rugged Loner by Bronwyn Jameson

The Rugged Loner The Rugged Loner by Bronwyn Jameson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was underwhelmed with this book. It's the case of good premise, poor execution for me.

What I loved:
* I loved that Tomas, the hero, was celibate after his wife died, and his wife was his first and only lover prior to the heroine.
* I loved that Angie was determined to get her man. I am a sucker for an unrequited love story.
* Cowboy/rancher hero

What I didn't like:
* I didn't like that Tomas was so closed off from Angie, and I never felt connected to his emotional anguish about losing his wife. It seemed more like an excuse not to fall in love, instead of manifesting as cold, hard fear about losing a woman he loved.
* I didn't like how Angie was pretty much chasing after Tomas. It just felt too desperate and kind of sad--with a heroine who came off as really needy, doing all the giving, but getting nothing back. Fundamentally, I'm not a huge fan of books where the heroine does the chasing, although The Magic of You is a book where this was done exceptionally well. This book was not a good execution of that theme. Deep down, I think every woman deserves for a man to court her. If an author strays from that, I like to see it done where the heroine doesn't read as desperate and giving the hero all the emotional power. I don't like unequal power dynamics in my romance books, and this felt way unbalanced. I can understand it more if the hero is obviously crazy about the heroine, but he's fighting his feelings. But Tomas really didn't seem that 'into' Angie for most of the book, other than lust.
* The sudden reversal of Tomas at the end felt unconvincing to me. I was reading the book and realizing I only had a few pages, and all of a sudden, in the last couple pages, he gets the lightbulb about loving Angie. It just didn't feel authentic to me.
* This book just didn't get to me emotionally, and it really should have, with the concepts of a widower mourning his wife and his friend who had been so in love with him for many years. It felt superficial to me. I have the feeling this would have been better as a Harlequin Presents--with a healthy helping of drama to give it that powerful zing. Or maybe if someone like Nalini Singh wrote it, someone who can bring on the emotional intensity.

Final Verdict:

I was disappointed with this book, and that makes me sad, because it had the kind of hero I would love to read more about. The good thing is it was a short book. Now I can move onto other books in my tbr pile. Onward and upward!

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill

The Inconvenient DuchessThe Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you marry a person, you marry their family, bad and good. Both Miranda and Marcus take their share of family baggage into their marriage. Miranda's family is not good ton at all, with some quite shocking scandal in their background, and Marcus' family is full of ugly secrets and betrayal. Honestly, this book has some dark aspects to it. Marcus' brother was a real piece of work. He starts trying to destroy Marcus and Miranda's marriage from the beginning, and Miranda is naive to his schemes, and just lonely enough and unacquainted with her husband to fall into his trap. I didn't particularly like that Marcus and Miranda spend a chunk of time apart for the 1st part of this book, but I understand why this was done, in light of the plot device of St. John's machinations against the newly wedded couple. I hadn't made up my mind about my feelings about Miranda being attracted to and somewhat susceptible to St. John's charms. When the reveal comes at the end, that makes sense as well. And in a way, it made me love Marcus and respect Miranda more. She was just a normal woman, with all the feelings that women feel, and a neglected bride. And Marcus for fighting to overcome his understandable fears and insecurities due to his disastrous first marriage, and St. John's role in destroying it. In light of those aspects of realistically flawed humanity evident and a very tangled web woven around her, and how she does try to be honorable about it, I couldn't really hold what happens against her. Admittedly, I was glad that things didn't go too far, although there were some uncomfortable moments where I yelled at the page, my stomach clenched into a knot.

Overall, I think the elements that challenged me about this book made it a stronger read for me. This book falls into the darker regency category just because of the emotional tangles that exist between Marcus and St. John, and how Miranda gets caught in that trap, but untangles both herself and Marcus from it with the power of her love and loyalty for him, her strong nature tested by a rocky life prior to becoming Marcus' duchess, and her determination to stand by her husband and honor her vows, even if that was harder than she thought it would be.

I'd have to give this book four stars because it packed a punch, and I really did enjoy the journey of strangers coerced into marriage to a couple deeply in love with each other.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Once Touched, Never Forgotten by Natasha Tate

Once Touched, Never Forgotten (Harlequin Presents #3034)Once Touched, Never Forgotten by Natasha Tate

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a very good book. From the first page, I was sucked in. There was so much emotional intensity and sizzle in every interaction between Colette and Stephen. Tension in all the good ways when it comes to a romance book. I liked how I continued to discover more about Colette and Stephen. I was not able to hold onto judgments about their behaviors or their personalities.

Stephen captivated me. I don't like player heroes, and he challenged my perceptions of him. I admit that I liked him intensely. I could see that he felt so much for Colette, even if he didn't want to, and he didn't understand how. I loved that he never got over her. He pursued her out of love from the beginning, even if he didn't think he was capable of love. I love that he was tough and strong, an alpha hero (and in a vital way that I don't always feel with the Harlequin Presents businessmen heroes). He has that air that draws me to a hero like superglue. I think he's a great dad, and I loved his interactions with Emma. Stephen doesn't think much of himself, but I do, and I can totally see what Colette fell in love with him. He was sexy and utterly appealing in a way that I don't always feel with the average Harlequin Presents hero. He had a 'dangerous to a woman's heart' air that really spoke to me as I read, and I imagine that he would be irresistible to a woman, even a woman so wary of involvement as Colette. Colette was a good person. She had some self-esteem issues that turn out to be perfectly understandable. I felt I couldn't judge her for running away, and I really respected her for apologizing and facing the music for not telling Stephen about their child together. She was a good mix of tough yet vulnerable. She was a realistic woman with a depth that made me feel for her. I think for what she experienced as a child, she should be proud of herself and what she's accomplished in life, building a career for herself and raising a healthy, happy daughter despite events that could have damaged her completely as a person.

With both Colette and Stephen, Natasha Tate did such a great job of crafting their characters. I could see why they had their commitment/fears of love issues because of their childhoods. That kind of emotional trauma can undermine a child's sense of self and their ability to bond and form relationships. I'm not a big fan of the secret baby theme, but this book serves as an example of a theme that you don't like being used to good effect in a skilled author's hands. I believe that the reason why Colette got pregnant with Emma, despite their using contraception. was that they were meant to be together, because they truly were soul-mates with love for each other that was capable of healing them, and together they are stronger. It wasn't an easy journey, but the results were so worthwhile in the end.

Something drew me to reading this book, even with the blurb having aspects that would normally turn me off a book. I have to say that I am impressed with Natasha Tate's writing. She created a compelling, sexy, intense, emotional book that I thoroughly enjoyed. That makes for a 4.5/5.0 star rating, a place on my keeper's shelf, and makes her an author to watch out for. I look forward to reading more of her books.


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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ice Blue by Anne Stuart

Ice Blue (Ice, #3)Ice Blue by Anne Stuart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book in the Ice series gives us the beautiful and deadly angel, Takashi O’Brien. His mission is to secure an ancient Japanese urn and to eliminate a young woman who knows how to lead a group of doomsday terrorists to a shrine where they plan to start Armageddon. But the man who never fails to carry through on his orders ends up falling in love with the woman he’s supposed to kill.

Honestly, I didn’t like the whole doomsday cult aspect. The bad guy was a loser, and I don’t like lazy, ineffectual bad guys. I can’t stand a villain who gets others to do all his dirty work and mainly stands around posturing. That’s definitely Shirosama. However, I loved the Japanese aspects, and this is the book where I meet my delicious bad boy Reno, who is Taka’s cousin. Taka takes a while to get a handle on. He’s all business, and he seems almost robotic at first. However, it becomes apparent that he can’t maintain that demeanor around Summer. For some reason, she just finds the chinks in his armor. And the more I read, the more I wanted to lick Taka, beautiful scoundrel that he was.

Anne Stuart doesn’t always write the most likable heroines. I don’t hate them, but sometimes I just kind of overlook them and focus on the heroes. Maybe she does that on purpose. I do like that she writes flawed, ordinary girls, because you can relate more to them, then the perfect angel heroines (if any author can get away with those, it’s Julie Garwood). I admit I liked Summer the most out of the heroines in the first three books. She was a reasonable girl, and her reactions and decisions make sense, considering. I think that she’s more mature than Chloe and more logical than Genevieve, but honestly, all the heroines fit their heroes in different ways. I couldn’t see Taka falling for any other heroine the way he does Summer.

If I continue my analogies from the first two Ice books reviews, I’d have to say that Taka is the katana. No, don’t think I’m just saying that because Taka is Japanese. When I think of deadly edged weapons, the most beautiful to be found is the katana. So, if Bastien is the Bowie knife, and Peter is the stiletto, then Taka is the katana.

See and admire:

I searched my heart and asked myself if I could give this book five stars if I didn’t really like the whole bad guy scenario, and if I felt a distance from Taka initially. Ultimately, I feel that this one is a five star book for me. I guess I just go there into ‘the zone’ when I read these books, and even if I have levels of five star-ness in comparison to other books, I can’t give it less. Let’s be honest. If I could imagine being trapped in a scenario with a guy who initially was going to kill me, and still might if the mission requires it (although he’d feel bad about) and still find it hot, I guess I have to say I bought this story, so that’s five stars for me.

Casting Wish List:

Daniel Henney as Taka O’Brien

Kate Winslet as Dr. Summer Hawthorne

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Night that Changed Everything by Anne McAllister

The Night that Changed EverythingThe Night that Changed Everything by Anne McAllister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very enjoyable book with a realistic heroine that I bonded with. Edie is like the girl next door, someone you probably went to college or high school with. I liked how she was an intelligent woman who didn't make stupid decisions with her love life because she felt like doing it or out of desperation. I could understand her not wanting to date for a while after her husband died. She wanted to cherish what she had with him, and she gave herself time to mourn him. I loved that her relationship with her deceased husband had been fulfilling and loving. Ben seemed like a really good guy. It was interesting how she took what he'd taught her about love and caring for someone and applied it to her relationship with Nick, in a good way. I believe being loved teaches us how to love others. And I'm not talking about sex--a whole different issue.

Nick had never gotten over his fiancee' dying a few days prior to their wedding. He blamed himself that he put off getting married to build Amy the house of her dreams. Since then, he's sworn off on relationships other than one night stands. Nick is the sort of hero that gets on my nerves. He thinks it's perfectly okay to have sex with a stranger (which is a serious risk), but not to take the chance to have a real relationship. Relationships are not the kiss of death. They can be what you want them to be. Instead of realizing that he couldn't control what happens in life, he became more of a control freak when it came to emotions. His angst didn't really translate to me. More than anything, it felt more like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. One could surmise that he feared being hurt, but when he met Edie and felt such a strong attraction to her, one that grew into a deep bond that he wanted to deny, he turned into a real chump. It would be fine if he was with a woman who felt the same way, but since he sought out Edie, then he should have realized that he was playing emotional games, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. It doesn't feel good to put one's heart out there and fall on one's face, and that's what he did to Edie, even after he'd had to work so hard to get her to trust him. In his mind, he never promised anything, but his actions showed that he wanted more. He was the King of Mixed Signals.

On the good side, I enjoyed the fact that Nick was a house restorer, as house flipping is a subject I have a keen interest in. I've been doing a lot of DIY Network watching, with its share of hunky contractors and craftsmen, so this story fit in thematically with what's going on in my TV viewing life. I liked that more about Nick than his personality. I felt he needed to do some growing up. I can't help being hard on the guy. He showed me some traits that makes me want to slap him on the head and tell him to "Man Up." He does come around, which is good. I just wish that he had shown a little more maturity earlier on when it counted. I think he did realize what a gem he has in Edie, so that's for the win.

So, I liked this book more for Edie, the handyman/contractor hero motif, and the smooth flow of McAllister's storytelling. Her books go by at a nice pace and make me feel like I'm relaxing on the porch drinking iced tea and enjoying myself. That's a good feeling. It keeps me coming back to her.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do the ends justify the means?

What if the only way to save your planet from certain annihilation is to ruthlessly manipulate a young child into becoming a solder who is skilled enough to destroy billions of your enemy, to make him into a killer?

With Ender's Game, the reader gets to ponder this question. I had many thoughts as I read this story. I didn't always understand what was going on. Like Ender, I questioned where the game ended and reality began. Children in the environment of this book don't get to be kids for long at all, especially when they are genius children. Instead, they become soldiers, training day in and day out to be the best, to win, to conquer their enemies. All for the purpose of defeating the alien race that Earth views as a deadly enemy (called Buggers) in the coming war. I questioned how a six-year-old kid could even grasp this. Even a genius child. As I read, I questioned the ruthlessness of adults who would put a child through these experiences. It takes a certain personality, a particular mindset to able to justify one's actions. It's hard not to judge, but then, I'm not in the same situation. And I was grateful for that.

I just wanted Ender to have some peace and be able to just be a child. I cheered for him to find his way past the many mazes he was manipulated through. I didn't ever lose faith in him, because he had proven himself worthy of my faith. Even though I wondered what was the whole point of everything, I didn't stop believing in Ender. I was glad that Ender managed to find that light that kept him moving forward. Sometimes it was in the form of his beloved sister, Valentine, and other times, it was his fellow students, and sometimes it was the determination not to let them see him sweat. Whatever it was, this kid didn't break. I liked that about the book.

Some things didn't sit well with me as I read. I couldn't always visualize the game setup at Battle School as clearly as I would have liked. Instead of letting this throw me out of the read, I just managed to fill in the blanks around my lack of understanding and keep reading. Maybe Card meant it that way, but it was interesting how warfare became an experience that felt more like playing a video game than a face to face meeting of enemies. I wondered where that was going, but I soon found out, and I was like, "Are you serious?" I don't care much for mind games and boy was there some serious mind-screwing going on in this book. Perhaps his point was that as technology advances, warfare becomes more and more dehumanized, and it takes away the immediacy of the moral questions of taking a life, and using soldiers like pawns on a board to do so. As above expressed, the ruthless treatment of children and its effects hit me hard. They did not make for easy reading for me. On one level, I understand that a lot of psychology goes into training soldiers, and I know that some of it is necessary. I just wonder where the line gets drawn. The aspects of Peter and Valentine's political experiment left me a bit cold. I wasn't sure what Card was trying to get across here. Is the political arena just a big elaborate game in and of itself, a game that has the potential to have very disastrous and wide-reaching effects? Or was he trying to say that age is just a number? Kids aren't really kids, depending on the society and the situation that the child inhabits. Still not sure about either of those conclusions I drew. As close as I can get, anyway. Lastly, the ending got a bit strange. While I appreciated the aspects about Ender gaining an appreciation for the mind (the human-like aspects) of the Bugger civilizations, things got a bit weird and abstract when Ender's empathy with the Buggers became a philosophy that turned into a religion. It felt disconnected from the story to me, and added to a certain lack of satisfaction I felt overall. I appreciate the fact that he examined how war, differing philosophies, external differences, what have you, can separate entities in a way that if we strip down all the differences, there is a lot more alike than we think.

Final Thoughts:

Ender's Game is a well-written work of science fiction that has a lot to say about subjects that can make for hairy discussion. Subjects that I tend to avoid discussing with a ten-foot pole. War is as old as mankind. Literature is a good sounding board to explore those questions of war and humanity. Overall, I think that this novel does a good job of staying in the story and not just acting as a soundboard for the author's opinion. I am sure that others may disagree. For myself, I didn't necessarily feel that it was a preachy work. If it was, I think both sides of the questions were adequately presented in such a manner as for me to feel that this was a book with a story that had some themes that could get a reader thinking. Not mere propaganda for espousing one person's beliefs.

I liked this book a lot, but I felt the ending took it down from a five star rating for me. Also, my sense of disconnection at not quite getting some of the gaming aspects. I'm sure that others better versed in gaming or military strategy, or better read in science fiction might have visualized and understood those elements better than this reader. For what it was, this was a good book, and I can say that I gained a lot from reading it. I still have some philosophical questions running through my head now, and I feel that I have yet to make up my mind about those things, as there are always two sides to every story. So for me, that's a good experience, getting a good story and something to think about in the end.

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Rafe's Redemption by Annie West

Rafe's RedemptionRafe's Redemption by Annie West

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Revenge is a dish best served cold, but what's a man to do when he feels irresistible passion for the instrument of his revenge?

Rafe sees Antonia and he wants her instantly. He believes that's mainly because his deadbeat dad is sniffing around her, and he wants to take away his lowlife father's would-be sex toy. However, Rafe has some intense feelings for Antonia that complicate things. Is he cold-blooded enough to go through with his plan to make her his mistress for six months and use her to bring down not-so-dear old dad?

Antonia is reeling from her father's death when drop-dead gorgeous Australian Rafe Benton approaches her with a business offer. He will pay off all her debts if she'll be his mistress for six months. Antonia's appalled. She doesn't even know this man, and she'd never sell herself for money. However, money turns up missing from her father's foundation for cancer research in honor of his beloved deceased wife. Fingers will point towards her father. She can't bear the thought of her father's reputation being tarnished. She agrees to Rafe's proposition, asking for an immediate cash bonus, money that she'll put back into the foundation's accounts. Rafe just takes that as a sign that she's just the gold digger he pegged her for. But there's no reason why he can't enjoy their time together. He doesn't realize that she's going to steal his most closely guarded treasure, his heart.

My Thoughts:

I'm not a big fan of the mistress storyline in general. I admit that the drama-hound in me does like the themes of blackmail sex, revenge and enemies becoming lovers that come with this theme in some books. (I can be honest in my reviews!) And I love Annie West's writing. It was intriguing to see what she could do with it. She does a good job. She gives Rafe some heart and depth that make him more than the sexy bully he appears to be. I can see his vulnerability and understand why vengeance dug its claws deep in him and wouldn't let go. I like that he had to fight to keep Antonia out of his heart from the beginning, and she continually amazed and charmed him with her complexity and generous heart. He saw that she was a good woman, with a lot more integrity that he thought possible when he first saw her. He didn't understand the relationship (or lack thereof) she had with his father, his perceptions flawed as he viewed the situation through the rage at a father who abandoned him and his mother instead of meeting his responsibilities, and the subsequent slow decline in his mother's life until she died prematurely. On top of that were the feelings he had for Antonia, something he'd never experienced in the past with his lovers.

Annie West writes a passionate, involving romance that made for a quick, satisfying read. I liked seeing the evolution of Antonia and Rafe's relationship, and I admired Antonia. She's a principled, strong, loving woman. I had no troubling believing that Rafe would fall hard and fast for her. And I could see why Rafe appealed to Antonia and why she fell in love with him, despite fighting so hard against it, in light of the circumstances of their relationship.

This isn't my favorite book by Annie West, but I really enjoyed it. I'm glad I didn't kick it to the side because of my typical distaste for this theme, because she did it very well. She had all the emotional complexity that takes the typical Harlequin Presents storylines to the next level. I'd recommend it to Harlequin Presents readers.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Undercover Man by Merline Lovelace

Undercover Man  (Code Name: Danger) (Silhouette Intimate Moments #669)Undercover Man (Code Name: Danger) by Merline Lovelace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a most enjoyable spy romance. Lighthearted but also convincing in the spy dynamics (bringing to mind a bit of the James Bond meets Scarecrow and Mrs. King vibe). Even the villain brings to mind the iconic super-villains of the Bond world. I liked Paige's realization of what she was capable of, and that David truly did love her. I also liked that he realized that he had underestimated Paige in his desire to keep her safe and secure in a crazy world. Paige really comes into her own. I also liked that David was a nerd, and a very sexy one! I loved the young French boy, Henri, who becomes a part of the OMEGA family. Paige does exactly what I'd hoped she would do as far as Henri. Maggie, David's partner, has a strong role in this book, and I expect that sparks will fly between her and the head of OMEGA, Adam.

This one earns a healthy four stars and a thumbs up from a fan of the spy genre. Spy + romance.....even better!

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

Bloodfever (Fever, #2)Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Granted, Bloodfever seems to have less forward momentum than Darkfever, but I still loved it. I like this voyage of self-discovery that Mac is on. She is growing up the hard way. I think the first person POV works beautifully, because this is fundamentally Mac's story. Of course, Barrons is a huge draw. He's delightfully enigmatic, querulous, and his feelings for Mac come through clearly, even though Mac doesn't really get it. I think Barrons is crazy about Mac. He is very possessive of her, and it's not just because she's his OOP detector. All the simmering jealousy pheromones are turning the air around Mac bright red and screaming "MINE". I could put a Supreme Court-winning case together about Barrons' feelings for Mac, but I won't belabor the point. Yes, he's a bit of a jerk, but I have to say I love him! He's a hard man, so he loves hard. I think I'm okay with that. Mac can handle it. I'm glad that KMM writes this series (thus far) in such a way that Barrons is compelling and desirable as a character, but he doesn't quite steal the show from Mac.

I like the writing here, with some elegance, but not overwritten. Emotions are conveyed through imagery and the intensity carries through to my heart as I read. I feel Mac's anguish over her sister, and it takes me to that dark place where I am sure I would live if something horrible happened to my own sister. It helps me to identify with Mac in a way that I probably wouldn't normally, since we don't have a whole lot in common. That's the sign of a good writer for me.

If there are any downpoints, I feel that some aspects are a bit too oblique. We get the whole "wink, wink, keep reading treatment" that I find irksome when it comes to series reading. Let's face it, I'm going to keep reading the books, so you don't have to lead me on. At the same time, I do think a little mystery is good, but maybe not so much mystery.

I won't go on and on about the faerie stuff. If you know me, you know already that I have a huge fascination with all things fae, so it's a forgone conclusion that I would love those aspects of this book. I believe that KMM and I share a kindred love for faerie legends, and this is lovingly inscribed throughout this series and her Highlander series to a lesser extent.

This won't be a long review like Darkfever. I think I've said enough about my feelings for this book. There were some parts that didn't really propel the story forward, but the writing, the characters of Mac and Barrons, and the city of Dublin are so engaging, that this one is a fiver for me. The emotional elements of Mac's story truly draw me in and don't let me go. And I'm totally down for more Barrons! I don't know when I'll get to Faefever, but I know I will be looking forward to spending more time with Mac and Barrons in the meantime.

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