Monday, November 29, 2010

Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman

Why I read it:  I really like Jo Goodman's books - I bought this one shortly after it came out but for some reason, it languished on my TBR until recently.  Marry Me, Reidsville #2 is just out and it's winging its way to me as I write.  I thought I'd better read book 1 first.  The only other Jo Goodman books I've read have been mainly set in England and I haven't read a lot of historical Westerns so that's maybe why it took me so long.

What it's about: The book starts off with a mysterious prologue told from a mystery male's point of view, then flashes forward some 18 months to where Rachel Bailey is living alone in Reidsville, Colorado and working as a seamstress.  She is beautiful and the town's gentlemen are quite taken with her but she keeps pretty much to herself, rarely inviting anyone into her house and not making much by way of small talk.  The local sheriff is Wyatt Cooper. He signed a contract some years before agreeing to marry Rachel on the death of one Clinton Maddox, rich railway owner.  (Clearly Clinton is someone from Rachel's past but just who he was to her isn't clear at the beginning.)  Rachel of course doesn't know anything about this contract.  Cue sparks.  Rachel [reluctantly] agrees to marriage - but in name only - no funny stuff. Cue more sparks.  Reidsville sits at the end of a rail spur and has a gold/silver mine which is very prosperous but the town keeps it fairly secret, managing the sale of bullion in small regular amounts so that no-one gets suspicious.  Turns out, Clinton (and now , via a bequest, Rachel), Wyatt and the town are each 1/3 owners of the mine.  The rail spur (which Rachel will inherit if she agrees to marry Wyatt) is the only way for goods (including bullion) in/out of Reidsville.  If the evil Foster Maddox (grandson of Clinton) inherits the spur, he will probably close it down which will kill the town. If he finds out how prosperous the mine is, there is a risk to Rachel and her inheritance.

What worked for me: It's been quite a while since I've read a Jo Goodman book, but I have participated in various blog threads about her books.  There seems to be a commonly held view that her books are serious, slow and character-driven.  I've never found her books particularly slow (although I'm apparently in the minority).  Certainly her villains are usually pretty dark and some of the topics covered are very serious.   She is also certainly a writer who is heavily character-driven.  That's good.  I like.  It may be that I'm mis-remembering but I think this book had more "lightness" to it than others.  There seemed to me to be more snappy banter and humour in the book than I remember being in others (but truthfully, it might just be that I've been influenced by semi-recent blog discussions and have forgotten the actual content and what I thought of it at the time).  In any event, this one does have a delightful humour to it.  The inhabitants of Reidsville are nicely drawn without becoming caricatures and well enough developed to give flavour to the story without overtaking it.  I loved the story of how "that no account Beatty boy" got his name - what a hoot!  But, it is the banter between Rachel and Wyatt in particular that I enjoyed.  From the first they strike sparks off one another.  However, Rachel is desperately trying to maintain her status quo and doesn't much appreciate Wyatt's intrusion into her life.  I liked Wyatt - not only gorgeous, he is cheeky and sneaky (in the best possible way) and clever and witty and hard to offend - which is just as well because Rachel is defensive (for good reason), acerbic, secretive and prickly (he calls her a "hedgehog").  Wyatt has a lot of work to do to get under Rachel's defenses to the real, vulnerable and lovely woman underneath.  What is especially nice is that he never doubts that she is there and what made me smile is that he never doubted he'd get to her.
The interplay between the two is funny, quick and clever and shows the reader very clearly the attraction and humour of the two characters.  Like this where Rachel says to Wyatt:
 "You shouldn't sneak up on people."
"I didn't know I was.  I thought I heard you tell me to come in."
"Now, that's just a lie, plain and simple."
"Oh, he doesn't lie, Miss Bailey. He's the sheriff." [Molly, part time domestic]
Wyatt nodded once at Molly. "Thank you for that stout defense."  He then regarded Rachel with a slip of a smile. "See?  I don't lie. I'm the sheriff."
"I thought you were going to stab me with those shears" he said conversationally.
Rachel didn't look up from cutting.  "I thought I was, too.  What's the penalty for killing a lawman?"
"Hanging, most likely.  Of course, if there're mitigating circumstances - "
"Oh, there are, since you sneaked up on me."
"A jury would have to decide that, but let's say they're sympathetic to the defense's explanation., then you might only have to spend the rest of your days in jail.  Folks around here are partial to me, so I think you'd hang."
"I'll try to keep that in mind."

Much of the book is the two characters getting to know each other and gradually falling in love and that is the part of the book I enjoyed the best.

What didn't work for me:  The suspense part of the plot - ie, evil Foster Maddox  was the weakest part of the story for me.  I thought it was a bit convoluted and unrealistic and stopped the book from being an A read.

What else? There is a cute secondary romance involving "that no account Beatty boy" and the local madam, Rose.  I would have been happy for that aspect of the story to be expanded further.

Grade: B+

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October Reads

On paper/ebook
Keeping Promise Rock by Amy Lane - B+  I love an angsty read and this one sure was that.  Carrick (Crick) and Deacon are close friends as boys (Deacon is a few years older and he and his father take Crick in because his own mother and step-Bob (that's what they call him) are scummy) and that develops into something more.  When they finally admit their feelings to each other (way past time they're legal - it's not squicky), Crick misunderstands something Deacon says and enlists in the Army and goes to the Middle East.  Although they are apart for a lot of the book, there was plenty going on and enough flashbacks and emails/tweets/phone calls/texts so that I didn't feel deprived (as I often do when the 2 main characters spend a lot of time apart - hated Sleepless in Seattle - what was up with that?).  Crick and Deacon make a family out of best friends, one of Crick's sisters and one or two other surprise additions along the way.   I really liked the family they created for themselves and the solidarity of that unit.  There's another book in the Promises series already out and I heard today that the author has just started writing another. Yay!

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis - B+.  I reviewed this one near the end of October, so I won't go into much detail here - a funny sexy contemporary and my favourite Jill Shalvis book so far.

Flashback and Flashpoint by Jill Shalvis (both) - C.  These are 2 Harlequin Blaze's from 2008 set in fictional Santa Rey California and based on characters from Fire Station #34.  I enjoyed the romance aspect (who doesn't love a hot, sexy, firefighter?) but was impatient with the suspense plot involving a serial arsonist, which spread across both books (which doesn't really make sense, especially in the case of the second book because it was kind of integral to the relationship but still...)

True Vision by Joyce Lamb - C.  I won this book and it had an interesting premise - out of town cop is investigating the death of his friend, the witness is a woman who bears a striking resemblance to said dead friend (except he wants some smexxing with this one and didn't have those sort of feelings for the friend 0-o), who has suddenly developed some psychic powers - when she touches someone, she relives their most recent traumatic/passionate experience (makes for interesting smexxing!).  But, overall, it was, meh.  Okay but not great.  I mostly skimmed it but, I did finish it.

Resistance by LM Turner - B- Ryan is not into relationships and when he hooks up with the gorgeous Jayden one night he's flabbergasted when Jayden stays over!  Ryan doesn't do sleepovers or dates but there's some amazing chemistry with Jayden and he can't resist a repeat.  But, just when Ryan decides to give a relationship a go Jayden decides enough is enough and bails so Ryan has to open up and explain those messy things called *shudder* feelings (Ryan doesn't do feelings) in order to try and get Jayden back. (It might sound like I didn't like Ryan but actually I did, even if he was a bit of a jerk at the beginning.) Very good story but present tense isn't my favourite and I found it odd/mildly annoying that there was no description of the character in whose POV the story was told.  

The Subtle Build of Perfection by LM Turner - B- Very good not very explicit ebook short story about a video store clerk and the customer who falls for him.   Shows the early development of a relationship and the "does he like me?" very well.

Hers for the Evening by Jasmine Haynes - C+ - I've only read the first 2 stories so far.  (There are 3 in total.) Both are hot little reads but suspension of disbelief is pretty necessary as they are based on the use of "Courtesans" an escort service and I imagine real life is vastly different!  

Last Night's Scandal by Loretta Chase - C+.  I don't know why, but I just wasn't feeling the love. The story and characterisations just felt thin to me.  I know I'm in a minority and others have just plain adored Lisle and Olivia's story.   I mostly love Ms. Chase's books but this one was a bit on the meh side for me.   :(

Diving in Deep by KA Mitchell  - B-.  I continued my KA Mitchell glom this month.  This is Cameron and Noah's story.  It wasn't as strong on plot, IMO as other books in the series - it seemed more a series of hook-ups (which was Cameron's comfort zone) which over time developed into a relationship (where Noah wanted things to be).  Still, KA Mitchell writes engaging characters, sometimes humorous, sometimes angsty and then, there's the hotness, so still an enjoyable read.

Collision Course by KA Mitchell- A-.  This was a re-read as I realised during Diving in Deep that Joey (who is one of the main characters in this book) appears in the earlier story.  Joey is a sweetheart and Aaron is a hardass but together - they're smokin'.  There's more to this story than meets the eye - Aaron has had a difficult family life and has basically raised his younger siblings - dodging Social Services for some of that time because he was under age.  As attracted as he is to Joey, he doesn't love that Joey is a social worker.  Joey has to learn to try not to manipulate and Aaron has to learn to let him in. 

No Souvenirs by KA Mitchell - A.  This is the story of Shane ("Scuba Cowboy") and Dr. Jae Sun Kim (who, first appears in Collision Course and who Shane charmingly calls "Jay").  I liked this one even better than Collision Course and it ranks right up there with my other favourite KA Mitchell book, Regularly Scheduled Life.  This was also a re-read and I enjoyed it just as much as when I read it the first time.  There is kind of an "Open Water" experience toward the beginning of the book which brings the characters together emotionally and which I found gripping - even though it was a romance and therefore had a HEA (why would I read it otherwise?) I was really worried about what was going to happen to these guys.  It's no surprise they survive the ordeal and the rest of the book is about seeing if the holiday fling + trauma can be translated to everyday life.  The conflict is mostly internal - Kim struggles with letting someone in and Shane is afraid he's too much of a free spirit and won't stick around.  I really enjoyed this couple and I believed their HEA - they worked hard for it.  Seriously, I wanna hang around with Joey, Aaron, Shane and Kim.  

Hot Ticket by KA Mitchell - B-.  Cute sexy short story about two guys who meet while doing some community service.

Life, Over Easy by KA Mitchell - B-.This story is a bit different from KA Mitchell's other works.  For starters, there's a paranormal aspect to the story (a ghost) and then there's that the main characters are both much younger - I think they're both 21 or 22 and in college.  John Andrews was an Olympic diver who had a bad fall and now cannot dive anymore.  He has to work out what to do with the rest of his life and learn how to deal with people - he's been practicing/diving 12 hours a day for most of his life and he's inexperienced in the social department.  Mason, the other main character, lost his true love the year before and his struggling to come to grips with being alive.  (Guess who's the ghost?)   I did enjoy this book (especially the angsty bits), (even though it wasn't my favourite KA Mitchell) and I'm looking forward to the next one in this series.

Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan - A.  This is another re-read for me - after I finished reading/re-reading all of KA Mitchell's books I wanted to stay with the m/m genre but I didn't feel like trying anything new.  I only read this for the first time a few months ago but I still enjoyed the re-read.  Mitch (another Mitch!) Tedsoe is a trucker who passes through the town Sam Keller lives, they hook up and Sam goes on the road with Mitch to get away from his evil witch of an aunt and needs-to-grow-a-spine uncle.  They end up in Vegas where they meet up with Randy - Mitch's kind-of ex.  This story is emotional, there's a full on marriage proposal (gay marriage is legal in Iowa, where Sam is from) and there's angst and smexxin'.   I especially liked how Sam grew up, faced what he needed to do and didn't let Mitch fix all his problems, while at the same time realising that he couldn't/didn't have to do it all on his own.  Randy is an interesting character - starts off as a total asshat but develops into something quite different.  (He gets his own story, with Ethan in Double Blind, which also features Mitch and Sam in supporting roles.  Ms. Cullinan is busy writing the third book in the series, where apparently they 4 go on a road trip searching for Mitch's half-brother.)  Sarah Franz has a more detailed review of Special Delivery (and indeed, Double Blind) over at Dear Author.  

I mentioned Moon Called in my September Reads post.  I'd had Moon Called in my TBR for a while, having heard so much about this series and having read and enjoyed Alpha and Omega and Cry Wolf  (the spin-off series about Charles & Anna) but had been a bit reluctant to try it because I was worried there wasn't enough romance for me. What was I thinking?  After I read Moon Called I went a bit crazy.  About half way in I knew I wanted to read the rest of the series but they took over 2 whole weeks to arrive from the Book Depository and I couldn't wait, so I haunted various libraries and borrowed them so I could glom.

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs - A- This is the second installment in the Mercy Thompson series and where Mercy helps Stefan , her vampire friend (to whom she owes a favour because of events in book1) with a problem he's having with a vampire demon who eats people and messes with people's memories.  He's hoping Mercy's resistance to magic will be an advantage.   On the personal front, both Samuel and Adam want her as their mate and even Stefan harbours romantic feelings for her.

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs - A. Oh the angst! Someone is killing fae and they call in a favour (on account of events in book 2 - a pattern is emerging here...)The "love triangle" is resolved - it was just a little bit convenient but no-one gets hurt which is good because I like both Adam and Samuel and Mercy's just about to act on her choice when something awful happens and even though I knew it was coming (on account of that I read a spoiler by accident a while back) I was shocked, appalled, traumatised and heartbroken by osmosis.  Mercy kicks ass anyway (cause she rocks and is teh awesome) and  Adam, like a true hero, comes through big time but I went a bit nuts to get my hands on the next book immediately because I just couldn't leave it where the book finished - I would have been certifiable if I had read this when it was first released and had to wait for for the next installment.  Because of how involved and attached I was in this story, this one is the best so far but I needed book 4 like sorbet...

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs - B+/A-. From the grade, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was a bit of a let down compared to the earlier books. Not true.  It wasn't as angsty (which was just as well as I don't think my heart could have taken it) but there was still trauma and threat and Mercy kicking ass (of course).  I'd describe it as the story that had to come after the rollercoaster that was Iron Kissed - the impact that book had on me, well this one was never going to get to the same heights (and I wouldn't have wanted it to - then I would have thought that the author was just being mean to her character.)  In this story, the vampires are mad at (ie, have a death wish for) Mercy, having realised what actually happened in book 2 and Mercy is getting over (or trying to) events in book 3 so she getting out of town seems like a good idea - Mercy goes to help a friend with a ghost problem in Spokane (which is unfortunately controlled by a single nasty vampire, who naturally zeroes in on Mercy).  Adam is divine. I want one.  
Silver Borne (book 5) in the series arrived a few days after I finished Bone Crossed but it is the last one for a while so I thought I'd save it.  I'm reading it now and I'm trying to read slowly but so far, it's not working.  I might have to listen to the audio versions once I finish reading the books because I think I have a bit of a wait for the next instalment in the series. An excellent, excellent series.  

ETA - Less than 90 days until River Marked is released... can't wait (and yes, it's already pre-ordered!).

On audio

Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts, narrated by Tom Stechschulte - B-. I enjoyed the narration and Tucker Longstreet was a gorgeous sexy lazy Southern charmer but the plot had too much going on and it wasn't my favourite NR.  (Is is just me or did Tucker sometimes sound a bit too much like Foghorn Leghorn? *shrugs guiltily*)

After the Night by Linda Howard, narrated by Natalie Ross - DNF.  I stopped listening after a few hours.  The narration was fine but I was just not into the story.  It's a family saga with dark secrets kind of story and not my favourite.  I have so many other things to listen to and I'd rather be listening to something I enjoy.  Having listened to the first few hours, I remembered that while I did finish the book, I didn't love it either.
Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, narrated by Anna Fields - A.  Great book, excellent audiobook.  I wasn't one of those who thought Blue was annoying and abrasive (I only just found out that some people thought that). I liked her from the beginning - she reminded me a little of Heaven, Texas' Gracie Snow.  Plus, Dean Robillard.  Yum.  Anna Fields, was excellent as usual. 

Dream Man by Linda Howard, narrated by Phil Gigante A-  Classic Linda Howard, excellently narrated by Phil Gigante.  Dane Hollister (what a cool name) is a cop investigating (what will become) a series of murders and Marlie Keen is a psychic who sees through the eyes of the killer when he's doing the deed.  Great book, better on audio.  (Although, I think Lisa Marie Rice may have got the idea for her heroes - and I mean this in the nicest possible way -  from this one - big alpha male, just about stalkerish behaviour with a constant hard-on for the heroine - sound familiar?)

Now You See Her by Linda Howard, narrated by Laurel Lefkow - B-.  This was one of the first Linda Howard books I read and it didn't hold up as well on re-read (listen?).  It wasn't helped that the copy I had was faint and hard to hear (this is hard to get and I picked it up from a kind friend - not her fault that the quality was a bit down as it had been transferred from audio cassette).  Dream Man was better.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Infamous by Suzanne Brockmann

I've finally found some time to do this review - which I have been promising myself would be done this month (which I only did if I'm using US time, but still...)

Why I read it:  Are you kidding me?  Dude - Suzanne Brockmann!

What it's about:  (Here's the blurb from the author's website.) When history professor Alison Carter became a consultant to the film version of the Wild West legend she’d dedicated her career to researching, she couldn’t possibly know that she would not only get a front row seat to a full-blown Hollywood circus, but that she would innocently witness something that would put her life in danger. Nor did she expect that a tall stranger in a cowboy hat would turn the movie -- and her world -- completely upside down…
AJ Gallagher didn’t crash the set in dusty Arizona to rub elbows with Hollywood’s elite. Unable to ignore ghosts from the past that refuse to stay buried, AJ came to put an end to the false legend that has tarnished the reputation of his family. But when he confronts Alison, sparks fly.   And when she becomes targeted by ruthless criminals, suddenly she and AJ must face the  intense attraction that threatens to consume them, in order to survive the danger that threatens their very lives. 

What worked for me: I "discovered" Suzanne Brockmann's books a few years back when I was starting to get back into reading romance and her Troubleshooters series was recommended to my by the kind ladies at Temptation, The Romance Bookstore.  Since then, I've devoured everything she's written.  My favourite of all of her books so far is Hearthrob, so I have a soft spot for her stand alone novels.  Ms. Brockmann writes engaging characters and she's especially good at writing men (IMO) - there's an obvious difference between the female POV and the male POV
That was the word she's used to describe herself - fit. AJ would've used other words. Like holy shit and sweet baby Jesus.
Case in point.
Jamie (the ghost) could have almost had his own book.  What a hero!! He was a true white knight, even though he wore a black hat and the way he loved his Mel and his children - all of them.  There is something VERY sexy about a man who loves his children and isn't afraid to show it.  I was touched by the legacy he left behind - all his family adored and respected him.  (It made it necessary to suspend my disbelief a little that, having such devoted and numerous descendants, how the false story about Jamie Gallagher had survived as long as it had...) 
I liked how Alison didn't get all snotty about someone challenging her previously held beliefs about Jamie Gallagher. She just wanted the truth and didn't let her ego get in the way. 
As much as I enjoyed Alison, what made the book for me, was AJ.  I loved reading about this hurting, lonely, flawed man, who was trying to do the best he could.  I was glad that he stopped accepting isolation and embraced being with Alison. He put himself out there for her a number of times and oh, there's just something special about a vulnerable manly man. 
Suzanne Brockmann writes great characters, witty banter and sexy love scenes but every now and then, there are little gems which pop up.  When I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, a good friend gave me the best advice evah and it was quite similar to this:
This was all he had to do, right here, right now.  In this moment.  He had to breathe. Just breathe. One heartbeat at a time.
Eventually, that crisis led me to my own question which AJ also asked Jamie a while later in the book:
"But how do you know," AJ whispered, "when it's finally time to surrender?..."
I guess because I related very well to those sentiments, I found AJ particularly appealing and I was even more committed to him getting his HEA (which probably explains why I was occasionally annoyed by Alison!).
This book has a number of romantic threads - there's AJ and Alison, Jamie and Mel (told in flashback from Jamie's 1st person POV) and even a little romance between 2 FBI agents who are undercover on the movie set - although, sadly Jules, my very favourite FBI agent in the Brockmann stable didn't make a cameo... :(  I didn't feel it was too much - there was a very satisfying amount of each story.

What didn't work for me:  There was a bit of soap-boxing in this book.   Gay rights and anti-smoking.  While both of those things are worthy of a campaign, there was something a little heavy-handed about how they were handled in the book and, the best way I can describe it is that it felt like it was coming from the author rather than the character and for that reason, those bits threw me out of the story.  Fortunately, they were mostly in the first half of the book and by the time I'd finished it, all was forgiven.
I would have liked to have a little more information about the paranormal aspects of the story.  There really wasn't very much in the book at all about it - Jamie was a ghost who could appear to only one person because of "the rules" but I didn't know if he was with his beloved Mel when he was wherever he was when he wasn't on Earth.  I'd like to think he was :)
Even though I understood Alison's fears about being with an alcoholic, having grown up with her alcoholic mother, I thought she will still too slow to board the AJ train (which I boarded pretty much straight away...).  He'd been sober for years after all.  But then, it might be I trusted him more because I knew what was going on in his head...

What else:  This is vintage Brockmann.  Those who like her earlier stand-alones will lap this one up.  I know I did.

Grade: A-