Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saphhire, by Rosemary Rogers - Review

Old-Skool Done Right
Oh. My. God. How much do I love this book? Up to the moon and back, that's how much.*

Ms. Rogers and I go way back. From Sweet Savage Love to The Crowd Pleasers, that woman wrote some OUTRAGEOUS stuff. And I loved every single page.

Her classic books pretty much epitomize the Old Skool romance, from the punishing kisses to the spoiled and tempestuous but also sweetly virginal eighteen year old heroine; up to and including the kidnapping raping hero.

I've been aware that she's published some new stuff recently, but I hadn't gotten around to trying any of them. However, I feel a glom coming on because I have to tell you, this book has everything I love about Old Skool, stuff you don't see much any more, but has left the raping to to the bad guys where it belongs.

My Favorite Part... Is a Secret
This is one of those occasions where my no-spoiler policy is really inhibiting because it makes discussing my very favorite part of the story a little bit problematic: one of the reasons I loved it so much is because it took me completely by surprise, and I don't want to spoil it for you. In this book is a really extended battle of wills between the couple -- really really. And at the point where another heroine might have done something different, Sapphire's choice-- and more particularly, its execution-- is 1) brilliant; 2) exactly perfect; 3) difficult -- so freakin' difficult I could hardly believe she did it. I wanted to jump up and cheer at one particular moment when I knew she was going to make it work.

But I can't tell you what it was. I'm afraid even a hint would give it away.

These are a Few of My Favorite [Old Skool] Things
Stuff I've missed about the 70s and 80s romances that hooked me forever on the genre -- you could practically go down a checklist, and it's all here. (Except the spanking. Ah well, can't have everything, I suppose.)

Loooonnnger adventures. I'm not talking page count. I'm talking months or even years in the storylines, where the characters butt heads, develop and change.

The tropics. So many of the older romances included sections in the Carribbean or other tropical and exotic locales. Sapphire starts out in Martinique and comes complete with the amoral, free-lovin' alter-ego island girl character to advise our heroine on those strange, disturbingly tingly feelings.

A hero who is actually still getting some at the start of the book. I'm not sure this is something I've missed, exactly, but when you see it in a book published after 1990, you suddenly realize, you haven't actually seen it in a really long time. Or at least if you're me, that's what happens. There's a scene where he bangs a society woman up against a wall on a balcony before she even quite realizes it's happening -- a bit shocking these days but a textbook example of showing and not telling us quite a lot about his character:
Only afterward, as he fastened his wool trousers and smoothed her silk skirts and bodice, did he see a single tear slip down her pale face."

"Don't cry," he murmured as he kissed her cheek.

"I-I've never done this before," she said breathlessly.

...[snip - at this point, they're interrupted by the lady's elderly husband]

The hem of her gown almost brushed Blake's polished boot as she glided past him. Either Mr. Williams didn't see him or he didn't care what his wife did on balconies with strangers.

Blake smiled. Yet another reason to be in no hurry to wed.
Brrr. Cold much?

A book with British society stuff set in an historical period other than Regency. Rumors abound that Victorian is the next Regency, and I think it's already here. I like the mobility people had and the feeling that change is about to bust wide open everywhere.

Protagonists that travel. From Martinique to London to Boston to New York. Love it.

Cross-dressing heroine. OK, so this isn't actually one of my particular buttons, but it is for some people, so PSA, this book haz it.

The whore with the heart of gold. Actually, there are several in this book. Why stop at one? It's not like Rogers got famous because of her restraint.

My Only Regret
The ending felt kind of rushed to me. The turning point where they come back to each other just... well, to be honest it didn't work very well at all for me. How can I still love the book if this didn't work? Wish I knew. I just wished there were about 50 more pages and that Blake had had to work a little harder once they were re-united. But it was such a damn good ride getting to the point I can't bring myself to hate on it because of that.

*Couple things: yeah, I'm living under a rock right now, which is how come I just found out about the western rodeo round-up git-along thing going on over at Ramblings... can't participate right now but I may do a belated post and link back. Also, the exact rock I'm living under is named Natalie-- she's my newest niece and I'm out of town helping out my sister with childcare, which I hope partially explains a) my general absenteeism from Blogland (yours, mine, and Kristie's) and b) the reference to the Psychotically Competitive Nutbrown Hare (hope they've got a nut-brown therapy fund going).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer of Two Wishes, by Julia London - Review

The Facts:
Release Date: Today! (Aug 18, 2009)
Publisher: Pocket
Page Count: 401
Series: appears to be #1 of a new series.
Misc: Book club guide in back, themed recipes from the author.
Julia London's Website
Buy It!

Short Answer:
Very enjoyable, great characters, sweet and romantic. This one is a multiple-tissue read.

Same As Hint of Wicked?
OK, so. Same set up, right? War widow remarries, soldier husband returns, what should she do? Two Wishes is a contemporary, with a US soldier returning from Afghanistan to Texas, versus a Regency Napoleonic vet returning to Jolly Old England.

The parallels in the heroine's dilemma are striking. She's a little afraid of her first husband, that his experiences have changed him beyond her knowing. She's guilty and remorseful about abandoning his memory, though she knows rationally that it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, given the evidence: Sophie threw significant resources at an exhaustive personal search for Garrett, while Macy receives Finn's dogtags and is told there was DNA evidence of his death.

And yet both women refuse to leave their second husbands out of hand. These are good men, for neither heroine is TSTL and they've got good taste. Both women withdraw from the situation and take the time they need to process their feelings.

Both books even have a rather weak subplot to help move through the last quarter or so of the book, after the heroine has made up her mind, but to heighten the drama-- and perhaps the page count. Which I actually don't mind too much, because it's always nice to see the HEA couple in action under duress, and in both cases it helped resolve the situation for the odd man out.

Only Different, Because...
The sex is plenty hot in Two Wishes, but somehow it's a sweeter story; maybe it's the down-home setting of the small town and the cast of gossipy secondary characters that might put you in mind of this:

(I love how she says "BALLLLLL-zac!")


Sorry, was that distracting? You're welcome for the earworm. Where was I? Right, secondary characters --

Secondary characters were a little hit and miss. I particularly liked Milo (the dog who must be very confused by now), Laru (the helpful and freespirited aunt), Linda Gail (one of those fabulous admin assistants that also frets about the boss) and Karen (the MIL from hell but you can't help feeling for her). (Sorry for all the parenthesis).

There were another half a dozen or so that didn't quite hit the mark for me -- the sister seemed unnecessary, the mother and best friend were cardboardy and others weren't even important enough to be secondary. Tertiary, maybe. The author's website mentions that it's the beginning of a series, so my money's on clumsier-than-you'd-expect sequel-baiting.

Of course, the twists and turns that the two books take are different and appropriate for the time. While London ratchets up the tension with a seriously Excruciating Turn, she also telegraphs the "winner" in the triangle far more obviously than Haymore. The ending isn't really going to surprise you, but the getting-there is a great ride, with all the drama and romance you could want.

The Zing
Although I thought one character was a little all over the map, I could see how maybe that would be the case given the circumstances. At times I thought all three characters were behaving pretty immaturely, and I liked how London brought them all through their respective arcs. You'll find the epiphany involving the hippy quoting 1970's airbrushed T-shirts everywhere either deeply touching (probably not), tongue-in-cheek ironic (maybe) or eye-rollingly silly (also maybe). Personally, I'm undecided between options b & c.

But the main thing is, London built up the romance between the HEA couple and made it irresistible. Irresistible: I'll say it twice. It was painful and sweet and then *really* painful and then sweet again and they are a couple you will pull for and cry with and cheer on.

All in all, a perfect read to cap off the summer, whether that means the beach, a backyard hammock with a pitcher of lemonade, or tucked in a comfy chair in the a/c (heh).

The Blog Tour
For other takes on the book, check out the tour, one-day only!

My Book Views
Book Soulmates
A Journey of Books
Just Jennifer Reading
All About {n}
My Guilty Pleasures
Bookin’ with Bingo
Starting Fresh
Booksie’s Blog
The Tome Traveller
Cheryl’s Book Nook
Bella’s Novella
Frugal Plus
Eclectic Book Lover
One Person’s Journey Through A World Of Books
Foreign Circus Library
My Own Little Corner of the World
Pudgy Penguin Perusals
Seductive Musings
Bibliophiles ‘R Us

Park Avenue Princess
Power in the Blog
Books and Needlepoint

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Seduce Me, by Robyn DeHart - Review

The Facts
Title: Seduce Me
Author: Robyn DeHart
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Subgenre: Historical (Victorian), Paranormal
Page Count: 297

The Premise
Mercenary treasure hunter Fielding Grey snatches legendary treasure from bad guy; unexpectedly acquires beautiful, brainy damsel in distress along with it.

The Good Stuff
This is a very well-done love story. The outstanding element here is the way the characters struggle against forces they don't understand, both internal and external, to figure out whether the feelings they have for each other are real or based on illusion. The characters are interesting, 3-dimensional, believable. The love story tends to be a little overshadowed by the adventure and the constant threat of the Bad Guys, but the way it unfolds-- quietly, gradually-- is a nice counterpart.

DeHart's writing is smooth and completely professional. It flows, and the setting, the characters, and the action all come to life effortlessly.

Things That Make Me Say Hmmm

Suspension of disbelief is an elusive and sometimes fickle thing. I picked up Seduce Me right after finishing The Fire King, which involved a three-thousand-year-old being who could take the form of a man, a dragon, or a lion; a heroine who can understand and speak any language she comes into contact with; assorted secondary characters with a range of fictional superpowers--and I loved it.

So why did have trouble with a story revolving around Pandora's Box?

Honestly, I think this story would have been better without any paranormal manifestations. The things that did happen could easily have been written as superstitions vs. demonstrably paranormal events (*/spoiler-avoiding contortions*).

Then there were significant liberties taken with the legend, at least the legend that I know: Like Eve, Pandora is offered a temptation she can't resist. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, while Pandora unleashed all the ills of the world -- Bad Things such as disease, famine, etc., though *hope* remains. Right? So several centuries or millenia later, the box should be empty. I mean, the cat has been out of the bag for a long time, right? (This is probably where someone smarter than me will leap in with scholarly information about how there are other theories... anyone?)

However, DeHart's plot revolves around anyone opening the box being cursed with one of those original Bad Things, and then figuring out how to break the curse. I'm sorry to say that the world-building on this point was muddy and inconsistent-- tattoos? full moon? severed hand? whaaaa??

Bottom Line
I'd put this book in the average category. I will forgive a lot of plot sins--which this had-- in return for good characters and good romance-- which this had. If you are intrigued by the notion of hunting not just ordinary mortal treasure, but legendary, mythical treasure, it should have extra appeal-- not to mention that it's pretty easy to insert a young Harrison Ford into your mental landscape for this book.

I think ultimately it was the story itself that didn't appeal very much to me-- which is good in a way, because that means that the next story could work out just fine. It did seem that the set up for future books such that future books could be fairly stand-alone.

The Blog Tour
The next two weeks will see a flurry of activity around this book, with reviews, interviews, and giveaways, and there are sure to be some alternate opinions, so be sure to check them out. And I'd like to extend my thanks to Hachette for providing the review copy.

Participating Blogs: - Aug. 1 - 14 review and giveaway - Aug. 1 - 14 giveaway and review - Aug. 2 guest blog and giveaway - Aug. 3 Q&A, review, and giveaway - Aug. 4 giveaway - Aug. 4 Q&A, review and giveaway - Aug. 5 giveaway - Aug. 5 guest blog, review and giveaway - Aug. 6 Q&A, review, and giveaway - Aug. 6 giveaway - Aug. 7 Q&A, review, and giveaway - Aug. 7 giveaway - Aug. 9 Q&A, review and giveaway - Aug. 10 review and giveaway - Aug. 10 review and giveaway - Aug. 11 review and giveaway. - Aug. 11 giveaway - Aug. 12 guest blog and giveaway - Aug. 12 - Aug. 12 review and giveaway - Aug. 13 review and giveaway - Aug. 13 Q&A, review and giveaway - Aug. 14 guest blog and giveaway - Aug. 14 review and giveaway - Aug. 14 review and giveaway - Aug. 14 review and giveaway

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Broken Wing, by Judith James - Review

Late on the Bandwagon, As Usual
Between Orannia's Challenge and Kristie J's tireless promotion, it was only a matter of time before I picked up Broken Wing by Judith James. As it happens, I was offered a review copy so of course I jumped on it!

The book has been out for quite a while now and if you'd like to see a long, long list of reviews, do check out Kristie and Kati's sidebar at Ramblings. Most reactions have been positive, ranging from "pretty good" to OVER-THE-FREAKIN'-MOON.

I think one reason this book falls out of the ordinary fare is in its scope. In my opinion, it's equal parts adventure, coming-of-age, and romance, and in many ways reminds me of a more old-fashioned genre-less mainstream novel.

The Premise
I think most people by now know the basic setup -- Gabriel is sold into prostitution as a child, and escapes as a young adult by grace of the heroine and her family, because he has been instrumental in protecting their young sibling. Broken Wing shocks the readers' sensibilities with its graphic portrayal of the cruelty and hopelessness of Gabriel's life up to the opening moments of the book.

Short Answer
I liked this book very much, though I didn't fall into the paroxysms of delight that its most ardent supporters experienced, and sticklers for the rule that the romance must be the main focus of the book may have more trouble with it. I'd recommend it, but be forewarned that it is not at all light or breezy. I did think it dragged a bit here and there but overall a great read.

"Do Go On," you say...
Well. If you insist. I've skimmed quite a few reviews and I could probably do nothing more that string together eight or ten paragraphs from my favorite reviewers along with a lot of head-bobbing. But where's the fun in that? So, since there are a huge number of excellent reviews out there already, I'm just going to ramble a bit about some perhaps slightly random things that this story stirred up for me.

First off, I particularly liked the way that the interest in star-gazing brought the hero and heroine together. My all-time favorite bit:
He came often after that, no longer hesitant of her welcome. He stayed for hours on her balcony, watching the stately dance of constellations as they spun slowly overhead. It struck him that there had always been other worlds surrounding him, just outside his reach, unexpected and unseen.

However, it was a little disappointing to me that after bringing them together in such a deeply romantic way, the whole astronomy/stargazing thing was more or less dropped once the Big Adventures got going. There were a few things like that, little threads that I found especially moving or interesting that were dropped without too much ceremony.

Swashbuckles Ahoy
Right from the beginning, there are hints that this is a different kind of romance. Even the cover of this book looks more like an old-fashioned adventure than a current romance. Compare:

If you're a romance purist, you might not love this story. My feeling though, is that it really is a HELLuva good story, and without the sexual nature of Gabriel's harsh past, would be very similar to the classics like Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe. In fact, the story that it most reminded me of is A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter. It's a bit obscure, I think, but I discovered GSP around 5th or 6th grade and devoured as many as I could find. In this book, Elnora was raised by an emotionally damaged single mother. The story takes us through her high school years and into a romantic HEA, so it's sort of a cross between young adult and romance.

Do You Ever Wonder
...about things like cutting, that seem to be a recent phenomenon, but then you think, they probably aren't recent; they probably just weren't much spoken of before a certain time. Some things like Aspergers' Syndrome,* I think we only recently have the language and the tools to see them as a type of pathology vs. someone being unintelligent or willfully ass-hole-ish.

I was first introduced to the problem of young people cutting in the early 90's, when my roommate's son was diagnosed. One lay explanation that I got from people who loved him was that cutting was a way of "making the physical pain match the emotional pain" that he was in. Another, with more physiological roots, is that the rush of endorphins act as an anaesthetic -- and I can believe in the 19th century, that might be far preferrable to pain remedies available from the medical community. The song Iris, by the Goo Goo Dolls came out around that same time frame, and the line "you bleed just to know you're alive" always had particular meaning when I thought about my roommate and his family.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I have certain curiousity about how things like this were handled before doctors and professionals had any frame of reference to help, and I think James presented a sensitive and shall we say, sufficiently believable scenario here.

*I bring up Aspergers' because The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is high up on my TBR list.


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