Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sealed With a Curse by Cecy Robson

Sealed with a Curse (Weird Girls, #1)Sealed with a Curse by Cecy Robson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sealed With a Curse starts out in medias res, and that pace pretty much matches what is found throughout this novel. I was a bit clueless at first as to what was going on, but I got sucked into the narrative and the Wird sisters' story almost immediately. There is more or less nonstop action, and the cool thing, is the heroine and her sisters are the main ones kicking butt and taking names. Along with laugh-out-loud humor and wonderful sisterly bonding, with a touch of romance, that adds up to a very enjoyable book.

Celia and her sisters were cursed before birth, but the curse backfired into a blessing. They are all gifted with unusual abilities. Despite the strangeness of the four Wird sisters' abilities, three of them manage to have busy dating lives and all four fulfilling careers as a nurse. Celia had a big issue that precluded dating a lot. She has an inner tigress that makes her one tough woman. Most men can't handle that. Celia fears that she never will meet that guy. Until she sees a hunky werewolf running with his pack. Their gazes connect, but that doesn't mean that they will "connect". And there is an epidemic of vampires turning into feral, bloodthirsty killers, so they might not get the chance to 'connect' anyway. Aric Connor might be the man of Celia's dreams, but as a purebred werewolf, she might not be a good partner to settle down with on his end. However, master vampire, Misha Aleksandr thinks Celia is pretty awesome, wooing her with expensive gifts and his supernatural vampire allure, which Celia is a lot more immune to it than she would have thought. Instead, her heart beats for Aric.

I loved the sister camaraderie the most in this book. They really had each others' backs. I liked how each sister had a distinct personality. They were individuals, but they worked and lived together in harmony. I also enjoyed the humor a lot (although it is sometimes of the raunchy, foul-mouthed variety). At first, I thought that would book would be too silly for me, but Robson proved she could hang with the Grade A Kickbutt Action Writers crew with her seriously intense action scenes. Readers who don't like gory description should be warned, because the author doesn't skimp on these. But seeing the Wird sisters kick butt and hold their own against a slew of powerful immortals makes up for some icktastic moments.

I thought it was cute how Celia's sisters all found romance with other weres associated with Aric. Although I didn't like the assumption that sleeping with them that fast was 'normal' whereas Celia was weird because she didn't get physical with guys like her sisters did. Sort of an inherent value judgment against people who choose a celibate lifestyle, for whatever reason. Granted, Celia did tend to be very self-pitying about her lack of a love life. I do think she could have dated more if she wanted to. And it's perfectly fine if she didn't date much, if she was okay with it. The fact that Misha definitely found her sexy and appealing from the beginning of the book (even before she met Aric) was proof that there was nothing wrong with Celia. Misha thought she was better than sliced bread, and he could have any woman he wanted. A man who couldn't handle her wasn't worth it anyway. I think deep down, Celia didn't want to settle for a Mr. Now when she could have Mr. Right.

Overall, this was a very good book. Lots of action, hilarious humor, great sister bonding. I liked that there is good ethnic diversity in this novel. The Wird sisters have Latin descent on their mother's side, and numerous characters are of different ethnic/racial backgrounds. The world-building was good, with some interesting takes on vampires, werewolves, witches, and other paranormals. Personally, the romance wasn't the biggest draw for me, although it was good. I liked the sister bond the most and the action, but the romance is pretty good (for an urban fantasy book). But there is definitely good chemistry and romantic promise for those who want that in the urban fantasy. This is a series I look forward to continuing.

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Hajar's Hidden Legacy by Maisey Yates

Hajar's Hidden LegacyHajar's Hidden Legacy by Maisey Yates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hajar's Hidden Legacy is a book for fans of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.  It plays out a lot like that much-loved story, although that is not to say there is no innovation or unique touch here.  Maisey Yates careful touch with writing romance and the manner in which she builds a layered, emotional story is evident here.  Her characters are real life, both struggling with emotional wounds from their past.

Zahir is a tough nut to crack. He doesn't want to be married to Katharine, and he definitely doesn't want to love her. He's afraid to let her in, and he is unable to let go of his guilt about surviving the attacks against his family. He hates himself, and that is very evident. He also fears his life is over. He exists because he must protect his country.  But he is in a world of pain.  At first, I wondered why if he thought his scars were so hideous, he didn't get plastic surgery. I came to realize that his disgust with his appearance was more about his disgust about how he survived when his parents and brother didn't.   He felt like he was the unworthy one who lived. His truly believes he is unable to heal emotionally.  He is like a lion with a thorn in his paw, and that requires some real nurturing and persistence from Katharine.  Katharine was just the heroine to soothe his savage breast.

While Zahir has the bulk of torment, I liked that Katharine had her own angst to deal with. She was dismissed, sidelined, and marginalized by her father. He truly does not value her, and he shows it.  But she craves his approval and moves mountains to get it. I loved how Zahir stood up for Katharine to her father.  I also loved how Zahir helps to validate Katharine and build up her self-esteem, despite his own struggles. 

Yates carefully builds the tension, both romantic and sensual.  The love scenes are quite steamy, but it's very natural to the story.  You can see that the connection between Zahir and Katharine has entwined itself between them on many levels.  Before they both know it, their match is very much one of love and devotion, as well as a marriage of state.  Their mutual fears of not being enough are assuaged by the fact that they are just what each other needs. 

Hajar's Hidden Legacy is very much a novel about the healing of emotional wounds and the development of love between two hurting people. It lacks the drama of some book in this category series. Instead, it's more of an introspective novel about the development of a relationship that turns into a deep love between two people who weren't even looking for love, but needed it the whole time.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with ChildrenThe Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

I picked this up because it was recommended to readers who enjoyed A Tale Dark & Grimm on Amazon. I loved the humor and the quirky twist on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel in A Tale Dark and Grimm, and I just plain love fairy tales, so I am looking for innovative, interesting retellings of these classic stories.  I'm glad my library had this on audio. It was a fun and quick read, about 3 hours (It took me longer because I listened in spurts).

Initially, I was very drawn in.  The characters of Sol and Connie are captivating, their story was somewhat poignant.  I definitely felt for these kids.  If you're familiar with Hansel and Gretel, you can get a head start on the storyline, although McGowan throws in some novel touches that were fun.  I won't say which, because that's the fun of reading it.  Sol is a young genius and inventor who gets a huge blow to his confidence that he has to work through. His mischievous, free-sprited, and intuitive sister Connie carries a burden of guilt related to Sol's greatest failure.  This is a pivotal element of this story, and the author does carry it through successfully to the end.  The story shows what the child-eating witch is up to in the modern age, and she's definitely streamlined her operation. 

The child-eating witch is truly heinous.  What makes it even more harrowing is that people actually volunteer their kids to be eaten because of the manifold failings of those kids! Definitely folks who shouldn't have reproduced!  It's humorous, but on one level it's really kind of disturbing that parents would set their children up to be eaten by a witch just because they misbehave or fail to live up to certain standards.  I think that they are even worse than the witch, honestly.

This is one of those books that won't appeal if you don't like a dark and kind of twisted sense of humor.  Let me just say that here and now. But I think readers who like the Hansel and Gretel story won't find anything here that countermands the original story.  Instead, this is just a modern update with more humor.

If there was anything I was underwhelmed with, it was the use of the secondary character who happened to be a witch as well, but she's a good witch. I understand why she couldn't help the kids very much, but I still feel she was underutilized in the story.  I also wished there was some sort of confrontation between her and the evil witch.  Also, I feel the ending was too abrupt.  I know this is supposed to be a short book, but I wasn't fully satisfied with the ending. I definitely wanted more story and more closure.

Overall, this was pretty good. It's hard to rate it higher or to perform a very intensive analysis, because it's very short.  I am glad this was recommended to me because I liked A Tale Dark and Grimm. However, it doesn't live up to the excellence of that book, and that's one caveat I would give any reader who is investigating humorous, middle grade/juvenile fairy tale retellings.

As far as suitability for young readers, I think it's fine for kids who are 8-12 (or older readers who like J/MG fiction). However, this would be too scary for a younger reader.  Not that much is described, but the idea of a witch eating bad kids or even worse, their parents giving them away to the witch, is pretty disturbing, even for a much older reader like myself.

If you are able to get this on audiobook, I recommend it. I liked the narrator.

Overall rating:  3.25/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fated by Benedict Jacka

Fated (Alex Verus, #1)Fated by Benedict Jacka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fated is a fantastic debut novel.  This is what urban fantasy can accomplish, taking fantasy concepts and giving them a new spin in a modern setting.  Jacka uses the concept of an age-old war between Dark and Light Mages and sets it in contemporary London.  While many will think of Dresden and recommend this to fans of that great series, I don't even think it's fair to compare them outside of the fact that they are both male POV urban fantasy novels with magical protagonists.  Jacka writes his own book here, and I loved him for it.  Yes, it does have the somewhat smart-alecky, down on his luck magical protagonist, but actually Alex Verus and Harry Dresden couldn't be more different.

While I am not a big fan of witchcraft themes in urban fantasy, I love the idea of modern-day mages and magic-users.  This book is for those who like to see the magical battles without all the spellwork and spellcasting along with it.   And the one thing that felt so refreshing and delightfully distinct was the fact that Alex is a Diviner. His main ability is to see the future and shift through possible outcomes and choose the best one for his situation.  This makes Alex more of a thinking man hero as opposed to a reactive/shoot first and ask questions last hero.  His strength is his ability to assess the situation and choose wisely.  He will be the first to admit that he's often out-numbered and our-powered by his adversaries, but that just makes me more loyal and root for him all the more.  Because of the fact that he has been the punching bag, Alex has a lot of humility and grace for those who aren't strong.  I respected his sense of right and wrong, even if he's not exactly what you'd call a Boy Scout.

Luna is an interesting secondary character.  I felt for her situation, and I have a feeling that her relationship with Alex will continue to be pivotal in this series.  In some ways, they aren't that different. Both isolated and ostracized for being different.  They have a strong connection, even just on that level.

I found the storyline very interesting.  Alex having to navigate through shark-infested waters of political and physically violent power struggles between Dark and Light Mages.  Jacka endows his world with a lot of weight and texture.  He takes the urban fantasy genre is a much needed different direction.  Instead of treading on the overtrodden territory of vampires, werewolves and even faerie, he focuses on magic users and not the kind you usually see in urban fantasy novels.  I found his insights into the social dynamics of Dark Mages quite enlightening and it felt very realistic. Although he doesn't dwell on it, there are some very disturbing and dark (no pun intended) aspects to their concept of power and how it's obtained and used.

This took a while to read because the print in my copy was tiny!  But that doesn't mean I was bored. I was too sucked in to feel boredom. Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres, so I do have high expectations, but this one exceeded those nicely.  I was drawn into this world whenever I picked up the book to read, and I will definitely read more of this series. 

I highly recommend this to fans of urban fantasy, especially those looking for something different!

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Leopard's Prey by Christine Feehan

Leopard's Prey (Leopard People, #6)Leopard's Prey by Christine Feehan

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Leopard's Prey is Remy Boudreaux's story and he lives up to the anticipation he built when he entered the scene the first time in Savage Nature.   It's been a year since I read a Feehan book, so Remy's book is a great way to break my fast.  I knew Remy would be 'something else,' the kind of hero only Feehan can write.  With Bijou, he gets the story and the heroine that I wished for. 

I will freely admit that the GhostWalkers is my favorite series by Feehan, and the others pale in comparison, so I make sure my expectations reflect the fact that all the redoubtable Ms. Feehan's writing gets measured against this series, because of my inestimable love for it. However, I am always very happy to get my hands on another book by her, since I just plain enjoy her writing. She has some interesting stories with characters I fall for and burning hot and emotional love stories.  That's what this romance fan loves.

Anyway, Leopard's Prey is steeped in Louisiana bayou atmosphere.  The characters are almost all natives of this region, and based on my short visits to this part of the United States, I felt like I was taking another trip down there and enjoying it, taking in the sights and sounds.  Additionally, the feel of family is strong in this novel.  The Boudreaux clan of brothers and sister, along with the larger Leopard Clan, are tightly bonded to each other, loving and teasing each other, sometimes in mean ways (but it's all in fun).  Bijou, who had just about the most dysfunctional childhood ever, needs a family like this, full of people who watch out for each other, even as they give each other a hard time.  

Bijou is the daughter of a notorious, yet beloved rock star.  This is very important to the story because it affects everything in Bijou's adult life and all her relationships. He failed her beyond measure as a parent, scarring her self-esteem and sense of confidence, despite her incredibly beautiful looks and formidable musical talent of her own. I really liked her character.  Despite her awful start in life, she's grown into a wonderful woman with a generous heart and a strong core, despite her insecurities.   Remy and Bijou have a long-standing and deep bond from an event a long time ago, when he saves her life as an eight-year-old, but their lives go in different directions. Remy is quite older than Bijou, but in some ways, she has as much to teach him and he does her.  Remy needs to learn the language of love that Bijou speaks. He takes it for granted that she night not understand how special she is, when she doesn't have that frame of reference at all.  Growing up the way she did, how could she? Remy knows intellectually that Bijou is clueless on their shared leopard heritage. However, he doesn't get that she might interpret the strong sexual attraction they share as merely a function of the Leopards' sexual needs and not any higher bond between them, or that she is special to Remy.  So a good chunk of the book is about them exploring their relationship and coming to understand just what it means on both sides to be together (paired to the murder mystery). 

Bijou and Remy had great chemistry. The love scenes are quite scorching.  Feehan makes a big deal about the leopard's need for rough sex, and it does veer in that direction, but nothing too out there or tasteless, in my mind.  I do roll my eyes a bit at the whole 'dominating' aspect of the love scenes, 'cause that's not my thing at all.  There is no question that Remy is a sexy beast though!  I like how Feehan uses the love scenes to show the different aspects of their relationship:  primal, affectionate, deeply emotional and fiercely intimate, and even playful.  I also appreciated how Feehan presents the leopard nature.  She gets the aspect of this big cat right, and it fits in with this story of human leopard shapeshifters. In some ways, this story reminded me of the film Cat People, but with a much happier ending that I always wished for.

I can only give this in the four stars region because I feel like this story could have been longer.   I felt like I missed something when it ended.  Maybe I am just very rapacious when it comes to books by this author.  She gets me hooked and I hate when the ride is over too soon. The story moves along at an expansive pace, and before I knew it, things were wrapping up.  For those who are following the Leopard storyline, this doesn't add a whole lot to the overall Leopard shapeshifter species arc from the beginning. It focuses on the Boudreaux family and the specific group in the Louisiana bayou.  Some of the original guys show up in cameos, which was cool. As far as the storyline, it was more of a murder mystery/romantic suspense with paranormal romance, and lacks as much action as some of Feehan's books.  I did think the mystery was quite suspenseful and the aspects of the murder was kind of gruesome and disturbing. The killer was not the person I expected at all (Well, I got this sick suspicion later on in the story and was hoping I was wrong). The reasons were very chilling for that person's actions, although there could be no palatable reason for what the murderer was doing.  

Although not a five star book, it was higher in the four star range, because I enjoyed reading it immensely, and I tried to savor reading it.  I could have done with more book, as I said earlier, so that takes off from my rating.  I couldn't subtract too much because of the high enjoyment factor.  I have so much fun visiting with Feehan's characters in the various series, and I admit the Leopard series did sneak up on me.  I loved Bijou as much if not more than Remy, which is saying something. She's a sweet woman, and you just want her to have her happy ever after. I'm glad that her prince is Remy and she's going to be a part of the Boudreaux clan and will get the family she missed out on.  I'm curious to see what Feehan comes up with next in this series.

Overall rating:  4.25/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Crystal Gardens by Amanda Quick

Crystal Gardens [With Earbuds]Crystal Gardens [With Earbuds] by Amanda Quick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crystal Gardens is for readers who enjoy their historical romance with strong paranormal elements. In this case, a huge part of the story is the concept of 'psychical energies.'  Both Evangeline and Lucas have paranormal abilities, and they are drawn to Crystal Gardens, Lucas' deceased uncle's estate by no accident. In the case of Lucas, he comes to investigate his uncle's murder. Evangeline comes to soak up the atmosphere and work on her series of serial novels, and also to investigate the place that her father (a man who studied psychical energies and invented machines that ran on these energies) was obsessed with.  Evangeline is also fleeing a murderer and ends up running right into Lucas' arms, which is a very good thing!  Lucas is just the knight in tarnished armor to keep her safe.

I enjoyed listening to this book on audio but it did fall short overall. The narrator has a very dramatic way of reading it.  Sometimes, her voice sounded a little odd (especially when she narrated the male characters), but I loved her British accent, and that each character sounded distinctive.  I think that Quick's books lend themselves very well to audiobooks.  Her style is very focused on the mystery components, and the romance seems to take a bit of a back seat at times. This would probably bother me more if I was reading than when I listen to books. That is not to say that the romance wasn't good. It was. I just could have used more than I got.  I do feel that she emphasized the paranormal elements too much.  She used the term 'psychical' excessively.  I think that the reader gets the point about the paranormal energies and she could have spent time on building up the story in other ways. I do think Quick excelled in her descriptions of the Gardens and its otherworldly atmosphere.  I felt like I was there in the Gardens, which might be a very strange experience indeed.

Unfortunately, the characters didn't feel as well-developed as I would have liked.  I found Evangeline and Lucas likable and intriguing, but I don't feel that I knew them as well as I wanted. I feel that Quick did more telling about them than showing. Maybe she could have caused their characterization come to light more organically if she had spent more time on revealing who they were than explaining about the paranormal elements of the Crystal Gardens.  At the end of the story, I could feel their attraction and feelings for each other, but I didn't get to explore this powerful love that supposedly had developed between them. Since this is a romance, that is crucial.  I found the love scenes well written and passionate, and I really liked this about the book.  I did feel the attraction between Evangeline and Lucas, although Quick sort of stole its impact by implying it was related to the psychical energies.  Lucas is the kind of hero I love, strong, intelligent, compelling, and dangerous in an appealing way, but something was missing from his portrayal. Evangeline was a good person, a sweet woman who is independent and intelligent, and I wanted things to work out for her, but she wasn't distinctive as a character.  The secondary character were barely fleshed out.  I did like Evangeline's friends Clarissa and Beatrice, as well as Lucas' siblings, Beth and Tony. I also like Molly, Evangeline's maid, and Stone, Lucas' manservant, but they weren't as vivid as I would have liked.  Judith, Lucas' stepmother seemed more lively in her characterization, especially with her feelings of antipathy towards Lucas and the reasons for them. The way Lucas treated Judith endeared me to him. He was respectful and he took his responsibilities for her very seriously even though she had never treated him well.  The villain was quite cardboard, and his motivations were shallow.  He shows up just in time for a thrilling climax, but he spends very little time in this book overall.

I guess it's clear I wanted to like this book more than I did. I liked it, but I think that this author is capable of writing a better book than this. I say that with all respect for her.  I hope that the next books in the Ladies of Mystery have the spark that this book was lacking, because I think this series really has potential. And I am a sucker for the Victorian Gothic romance!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Honeyed Seduction by Diana Hamilton

A Honeyed SeductionA Honeyed Seduction by Diana Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Honeyed Seduction seemed to mirror another Harlequin Presents I recently read in the same weekend, which is a very cool coincidence. Like the heroine in the other book, Chelsea is the product of divorced parents who had a bad marriage.  She has avoided emotional and physical entanglements, and has focused on her career. Unlike the other heroine, she knows that a sexual relationship without emotional involvement wouldn't work for her.  In this novel, Quinn is another hero who is pursuing a reluctant heroine.  In this case, the dynamic turns out very differently.

Chelsea's boss is sexually harassing her.  In order to get recommended for a promotion, she has to sleep with him.  Chelsea seizes on the idea of getting her neighbor, Quinn (who as far as she knows is the rich, aimless playboy son of the billionaire Ryder Gem empire), to pretend to be her fiance'.  Quinn agrees, but he starts being very touchy feely at the public function they are both attending, so the word gets out in a big way about their engagement.  As a result, Quinn manipulates Chelsea into agreeing to be engaged publicly for a lot longer than she wanted and going to stay at his family home for two weeks.  He claims he is using the engagement to discourage a girlfriend who is trying to get him to marry her.

Chelsea is clearly in over her head.  She has plenty of feelings towards Quinn.  He's attractive and sexy, and deep down, she is not immune to him.  He comes on pretty strongly.  He is actually quite predatory.  For Chelsea, that's an issue, because she doesn't want sex without a commitment, and she doesn't want to be married.  And the more time she spends with Quinn, it's getting harder to say no to his appeal and to keep from falling in love.

I can't really say why I gave this book four stars. I think I just felt more enjoyment as I read than the other books I read this weekend.  I liked Chelsea a lot.  I could understand where she was coming from.  Quinn acted a little too much like a billionaire playboy for my tastes, even though he was actually hard-working and had in fact, saved their company.  He lived down to the ideas that Chelsea had of him, which was unfortunate, because that made her more wary of him emotionally.  I think that Quinn should have been more honest about his feelings, and Chelsea would have trusted him more and have been more willing to go with her feelings towards him.  Instead, he was playing along with her ideas, and that made him seem kind of like the oily playboy type, think young Hugh Hefner (gag!).  That rubbed me the wrong way, and that would have been a turnoff for me if I was Chelsea.  On a lighter note, it was amusing how he was always trying to undress Chelsea.  A recurring motif of this novel.

Maybe this book was a little more fun and I needed a fun read when I read it. Maybe that's why it feels more like a four star read to me.  Plus, I do like the whole pretend engagement/lovers storyline. It's a good opportunity for the characters to spend time together and fall in love.    I can't seem to talk myself out of the four star rating, so I'll leave it be.  A good, quick, entertaining story when I needed it.

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Mistress At A Price by Sara Craven

Mistress At A Price (Harlequin Presents, #2471)Mistress At A Price by Sara Craven

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Mistress At a Price is perfect for my Dangerous Hero Addict Support Group movie challenge, because it has a 9 1/2 Weeks feel. I needed a book for that movie, and I got one here.  This is quite different for a Sara Craven book, IMO.  The heroine is a more 'worldly' woman than she usually writes. She's the one who wants a no-strings attached sexual relationship with the hero. The reasons are quite interesting. She is deathly afraid of emotional attachment, because of her parents' disastrous marriage and the subsequent string of marriage and affairs they have both had afterwards.  She feels that she's better off staying single and focusing on making a life for herself and a career outside of emotional attachments with men.  While she's not inexperienced, it's clear that she is also not a serial 'hit it and quit it' dater.  She has some vulnerability that isn't quite as well-hidden as she thinks.  She uses brittle armor to try to keep Liam at a distance, and she's not very nice to him at times. 

We don't get Liam's point of view, so one has to guess how he feels about everything, but I suspected that he always had strong feelings towards her, and he was taking it slow so she wouldn't be scared off.  I think that backfires, because he gives her the impression he is just after sex with her and seems almost predatory in that sense. I think that even when he shows objections initially to Cat's plan, she felt it was because he wasn't in control of their relationship parameters, not because he could have wanted more from the relationship.  This is one of those books that I wish the characters would stop playing games.  I don't have a lot of patience for that, honestly. This dynamic is not romantic to me.   For me, a romance book has to show the emotions and the bond between the characters that goes beyond physical to the emotional/mental level.  Otherwise, it's empty for me. I'm not saying that Craven doesn't bring that to the table.  You get the impression that there is a lot more going on, but I was frustrated at Cat because she should have just been real and told Liam that she wanted more than what she originally suggested.  While she enjoyed making love with him and spending time with him, deep down, she felt rejected and unfulfilled because she wasn't getting what she needed emotionally.  It was kind of like when you get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese Large Size meal from McDonalds. It might satisfy at the time, but afterwards, the regrets surface. I realize she was afraid, but it was clear she wasn't happy with what she was getting with their 'no-strings' fling.

One thing I liked about this book was how it showed the change for the better in Cat's relationships with both her parents.  Those old wounds were being healed in the best way possible.  She was seeing her parents' regrets about their broken relationship and their efforts to make amends and to fix that relationship, because they still loved each other. Also they worked on seeding love into their relationship with Cat. I think they could finally see how damaging their antics were to their oldest daughter.  The ending was very poignant, and that definitely enhanced my opinion of the book overall.  A good way to end things, and felt almost like full circle.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as most of the others I've read by Sara Craven. I know it's a 'me' thing. I am not big on the no strings attached/affair theme, so of course, I'm not going to get as much out of this as someone who is more attracted to this storyline. I did like that Craven delves into the emotional impact of this kind of relationship on a person who is not jaded about relationships and believes in sex without emotional involvement. I don't look at sex that way, so for me, anytime I read books where sex is treated as something that can be indulged in without an emotional impact, I don't feel it's truthful, at least in my perception.

The writing was good, and I felt the emotions and the poignancy of Cat's situation.  I didn't see as much romantic payout, which is why I read romance, so that's part of why I couldn't rate this higher.

Overall rating:  3.5/5.0 stars.

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Deadly Angel by Sarah Holland

Deadly AngelDeadly Angel by Sarah Holland
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Deadly Angel was an entertaining read, and it definitely had plenty of tension and emotion to it. When I read Harlequin Presents, those are some of my biggest criteria, so the book scores in that way. However, I couldn't give it high marks because of some issues that were too serious to overlook. Let's discuss those first.

Nick is a bully. He is used to throwing his weight around and using his sinister reputation to get what he wants. I like tough, scary heroes, but I don't like bullies. I thought he was way too physically intimidating with Olivia. He forces her to kiss him and pushes her around in a way that felt uncomfortable to me. He does not rape her, Thank God. However, his behavior was still hard to swallow. I think I would have flung the book against the wall if Olivia hadn't been a courageous woman who didn't bow to his intimidation (any more than she could avoid). I don't quite understand why she fell in love with him though. He wasn't nice to her. He didn't treat her that well. He didn't show her much gentleness. Even with the scary, sexy, cool literary men I love, I need to see and to feel that he is a man the heroine could love. I didn't quite feel that with Deadly Angel. Yes, he's sexy if you like a domineering, rough, demanding hero who threatens her constantly.... But all of a sudden, she realizes she is deeply in love with him? Huh? I did appreciate his loyalty to his family and that he worked hard to bring his family business back from the edge of oblivion. Some of his methods, not so much.

Another aspect I struggled with is the almost stereotypical presentation of Sicilians as violent, dangerous people. Maybe I don't know much about Sicilians, but I don't think it's right to label a group of people some way. People have done plenty of that with black people, and I'm not having that. I really dislike movies/books about the Italian/Sicilian mafia, and this book sort of took me too close to that perception. If I was Sicilian, I think I'd be a bit offended. I'd be curious to see what a person of Sicilian ancestry thinks about it. Maybe I am taking it too seriously....

I liked Olivia. I felt for her situation. You can't help if you don't love someone, and what Greg did was not her fault. But she did was right in that she went to him to help him when he was in the hospital and recovering. I didn't quite get her actions towards the end of the book though. Why would she get in the car with that slug? I would have kept on walking and I probably would have started screaming to draw attention to myself. But I guess it gave Nick the chance to be protective....

Anyway, I give some points for dramaticism, emotion, and the fact that this book kept my interest, but I have to subtract points for Nick's brutish nature and the stereotyping of Sicilians. I think 3.5/5.0 stars is a fair rating.

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Friday, June 07, 2013

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Thin ManThe Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will freely admit that part of why I read this book was that I enjoyed what I have seen of the movie so much. I actually didn't get to watch all of it, as I caught it on Turner Classic Movies after it started and wasn't able to watch the whole movie. I made a note that I wanted to read the book and get the whole movie set on DVD at some point. Additionally, I am interested in the roots of the detective novel. You can't explore detective fiction without reading Dashiell Hammett. So here we go....

I liked this book. It starts out very well. I was instantly drawn into the story from the first sentence. The writing is crisp and ripe with that heady atmosphere of the early 20th Century (1930s). There is a cynicism apparent in the characterization and the dialogue that speaks of its noir tone. That makes sense in light of the fact that it takes place during The Great Depression and right at the end of the Prohibition years. I was quite surprised at the frank elements of sex, drug/alcohol abuse, and crime, and a hint of police corruption (clearly I haven't read much pulp/noir classic fiction). Sadly, the 'n' word was used, which I could have done without. I have to say I appreciated the unsympathetic portrayal of human nature more than the actual mystery. Hammett's lens of humanity (via Nick) is not at all rose colored, but it's very astute and the characters were well-drawn. Overall, this was very good. While it did have some good twists and turns, it was rather anticlimactic in the end.

Nick Charles is a suitably amiable narrator. He seems experienced and wise to the ways of the world, nobody's fool. Yet he isn't completely jaded or lacking in integrity and honor. People seems to like him and open up to him, but he's not a man to take advantage of. While Nick is now retired from private investigation, his acquaintances draw him into a case unwillingly. I think Nick's nose for a mystery leads him the rest of the way. Nick proves that his investigative skills have not weakened in his retirement. I must say that I enjoyed the fact that Nora's a very perceptive woman with a good brain for investigation as well, even though she serves in the capacity of a part-time sidekick to Nick. Available to give a helping hand and a word to point him in the right direction. Hammett teaches me how to write a novel in which the mystery is tag-teamed by two instead of where the main character works alone and always knows more than anyone else.

This novel had me laughing a lot initially. Hammett's writing was quite witty, albeit cynical. Nick and Nora definitely like their booze, and have strong opinions on good quality alcohol. Their constant drinking was a source of humor to me, although I did wonder what effects it had on their liver.

Not one of the characters in this book is what I would consider well-adjusted, outside of Nora, and possibly Nick. Nora as seen through Nick's eyes doesn't reveal a whole lot about her except that she is very observant and has a nurturing nature (shown in the way she cared for and fussed over Dorothy). She also seems to lack patience for gossipy types, considering her dislike of Tip, a hostess in their social circle. She clearly loves Nick and feels comfortable with him to say what she thinks. She doesn't coddle him, although she does see to his comfort and is affectionate. She keeps things real with him and tells him the truth when he needs to hear it. I enjoyed their banter. Nora seems like a woman of her times, but is neither overly submissive or dominant in a way that would be unlikely for her times. In comparison to other women in the book, she comes off as the ideal mate to a seasoned man of the world--attractive, accepting, intelligent, socially graced, and fun-loving. I found it amusing how captivated the police detective, Guild was with Nora.

Mimi, the ex-wife of the missing man that starts the case that this novel revolves around, is a negative contrast. She is calculating and emotionally unstable. Her cruelty towards her daughter and her tendency to manipulate others cancels out her clearly considerable beauty and physical charms. Nick's narrative suggests that she is envious of her daughter (who is described as gorgeous and beautiful for her young years by few of the male characters). Despite these negative traits, she's not quite the quintessential femme fatale one expects to encounter in noir fiction. Dorothy herself was hard to read. She seems to lack emotional stability, but that makes sense in light of the abuse she suffers with her mother, and the fact that she probably gets far too much and unwanted attention from men for her young age. She latches onto Nick and Nora as a substitute parental unit, as they represent stability that she has lacked in her family life. Other characters also have a rather vivid life, despite the shorter length of this novel. As any good mystery writer, Hammett gives the reader a healthy list of suspects from which to choose the culprit, and I didn't guess who it was until Nick reveals the murderer.

As I said earlier, I found the denouement rather lacking in tension, which did dim my enjoyment a bit. Additionally, this book falls into periods of expansive dialogue towards the end that felt a bit tedious. Despite those shortcomings, this was still an enjoyable book. I would have to agree that this book is quite different in feel from the movie. I wonder if that is because of the Movie Codes. I don't think they could have gotten away with putting some of the more frank elements in this novel in the movie version, so they played up the witty banter and humorous elements from the novel.

All in all, I enjoyed my first exposure to Dashiell Hammett. I felt truly immersed in this time period and I liked Nick and Nora as main detectives. I like reading about main characters who are married, and this is definitely one to recommend to readers who enjoy this theme. I will be reading The Maltese Falcon in the near future.

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Monday, June 03, 2013

Bride by Design by Leigh Michaels

Bride By Design  (Contract Brides) (Harlequin Romance, No. 3720)Bride By Design  (Contract Brides) by Leigh Michaels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was hoping for a good, older Harlequin goodie when I picked this up, but I didn't get my fix that I wanted.  Reading this was like swimming through molasses. I don't know if it was my mood or if the story just didn't do it for me. I suspect it was a bit of both.  Now I am not the girl who thinks every book she reads needs to have descriptive sex, so that wasn't my problem with this book. It was that I didn't feel the love between David and Eve.  Eve was fighting tooth and nail not to feel anything, I do get.  She was recovering from a damaging relationship with a man who turned out to be married, which I can respect. However, the execution on that was poor. I never felt that Eve had an ethical dilemma with the adultery so much as that he was thinking of leaving his wife for her, and specifically his kids.  Yes, taking a man away from his children is bad, but it's also bad to participate in an adulterous relationship and contributing to a man betraying his wife is equally bad.  I didn't expect Eve to wear a scarlet letter 'A', but she didn't seem to have any angst about the actual act of cheating.  The author threw in a casual 'he said he was separated', which means nothing to me. He's still married.  So, yes, that was an issue with this book.

The other issue is just that it felt mediocre.  No passions were stirred in the slightest.  I didn't care about the love story.  David was mildly appealing. He was a nice guy, he was attractive, but he was bland to me. I liked him, and that was as deep as it got.  Eve was bland as well, when she wasn't abrasive.  I didn't care about her that much. I normally like when the heroine is slow to fall for the hero and he has to work to woo her, when it's done well, but in the case of this book, it didn't work for me. As far as Eve, I didn't feel any sympathy for her and I don't think David did that much wooing.

End verdict:  This was disappointing for a book of my favorite theme: marriage of convenience.  I guess my needs for a good and quick romance were too great for this book to satisfy. I give it three stars because it wasn't a bad book, but it was just okay.  Lukewarm is a good word for it.  One thing I did like was the fact that David was a jewelry designer, and his creations sounded beautiful! Oh, and it was set in Chicago, a much beloved city to me.  There was even a scene where David had ordered pizza.  Chicago style pizza---sigh!

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