Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Why I read it:  I was provided with a review copy by the publisher, which meant I got to read it early. Release date is 13th April 2011 in Australia.

What it's about: Rowan Tripp is a "Zulie" a Missoula Smoke-Jumper - which is a kind of fire fighter who parachutes into wilderness fires.  The story starts with the new summer fire pre-season training of new recruits, where she meets Gulliver ("Gull") Curry - a former "hotshot" (another type of firefighter but with no jumping out of a plane).  Rowan doesn't do relationships and she doesn't do sex with other Zulies but Gull, well... let's just say he's persuasive.
The season before, Rowan's jump partner Jim had had a bad jump and went into the trees during a wilderness fire and died.  Those of the team who had been around that season still bear the scars and pretty soon, it is clear that something related to Jim's death is causing trouble for the Zulies this year. 

What worked for me: Well, Gull was pretty awesome (even if he does have a bit of a strange name!).  Actually, both Rowan and Gull were very engaging characters.  Rowan was a kick-ass, tell-you-as-she-sees-it kind of girl. That can be annoying in some cases but Rowan was very likeable - tough, but not mean. She cares very much about her colleagues and is a very dedicated, hard-working and skilled firefighter.  Gull decides to go after Rowan right from the start- he's a man with a plan and it was fun to watch the execution.
Due to her family history (her mother left when she was a baby) Rowan needed someone who could prove he'd stick before she could fully trust her heart to him.  The relationship arc was about Rowan softening and learn to open up and trust Gull with her heart.  Gull didn't really have to change or grow - which might bother some but I was fine with it.  Gull was open and frank with Rowan - sometimes telling her things she didn't want to hear, but always with humour and caring at the heart of it.  He didn't have any trouble taking direction from her in a firefight, yet, he was all alpha protective male when it came to Rowan being endangered by the person who was out to cause mayhem for the Zulies.  He was happy to let her fight her own battles (watching in case she needed him of course!) and  fight fire side-by-side with her but he (amusingly) drew the line ("there's a line") at letting her carry their picnic basket (men!).  Rowan, for the first time, had a man around who'd not only stick but who could also keep up with her.
The highlight of the book, for me, was the sexy banter between Rowan and Gull - it made me smile or chuckle all the way through the story.  Like this

"You can sleep in my room tonight."  He hitched a bandanna out of his pocket, used it to wipe blood from her face.  "But everybody who sleeps in my room has to be naked."
She huffed out a tired breath.  "I'll bunk with Janis until I get it cleaned up.  She has the naked rule too."
"Now that was just mean."
 or this
"...Enough fire and chocolate and I can go all season without sex."
"Don't be surprised if the supply of chocolate disappears in a fifty-mile radius."
There was also a sweet secondary romance between Lucas "Iron Man" Tripp and a high school teacher/principal named Ella.
The close relationship between Rowan and her dad was another feature of the story - Rowan had a bit of a difficult time accepting that her dad was dating (and Gull didn't cut her any slack about it - which was amusing) but she wised up pretty quickly.
Roberts is, I think, very good at writing dialogue - both for male and female characters and also very good at fleshing out secondary characters without making them either too focal or one dimensional.  There were quite a few secondary characters - mostly other smoke-jumpers but they weren't hard to distinguish.

What didn't:  There was a lot of jargon related to being a smoke-jumper in this book and, I felt, not all of it was explained. I guess it's hard to explain so many concepts without a big info-dump but there were quite a few things that I had to guess at or gloss over because I didn't really understand the terminology.  Some of it I pieced together from the context but it wasn't always clear.  A little more explanation of some of the concepts (eg, what is a "Smitty bag?", more explanation of a "shake and bake") would have been helpful. I anticipate some time on Wikipedia in my future satisfying my curiosity!  However, I have already learned enough to know that being a smoke-jumper is not my ideal career. Probably everyone should be glad of that. *grin*

What else:  The suspense aspect of the story was weaker than the relationship part, but as I read for the relationship anyway, that wasn't a huge deal for me. If I say much more, I might give away spoilers.  I will say there was a difference I appreciated in that the violence wasn't necessarily (or always) directed at Rowan personally - it was mostly directed at the Zulies themselves of which Rowan was a member.
Also, a note to the cover designers - my copy has a long haired brunette on the front - Rowan is a Nordic-looking blonde with a short cap of easily managed hair.  Just sayin'. 
One other little niggle, there was no mention of safe sex/condoms in the book at all - it seemed a bit strange considering the contemporary setting and the nature of the characters.

Fans of Roberts will, I think, like this book. It has all the trademarks of vintage Nora Roberts, while being a fresh new story with an interesting backdrop and is a very enjoyable read.

Grade:  B

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Indulgence in Death by JD Robb

Short version:  I really liked it.  I know others are a bit tired of the series or think that there hasn't been much growth in Eve & Roarke's relationship for a while but that's not my experience.  I like these characters and enjoy coming back to them. I enjoy watching the growth in the other characters, how Peabody is becoming a more confident detective.  I'm hoping for a new love for Morris one of these days as he's still so sad about losing Amaryllis - the whole community that Robb created just works for me.  I liked this book, I enjoyed the police-y parts (this is one where you know who did it quite early on and it's mostly about how to catch him - or her or them, not giving anything away here!).  While not riveting, it was a solid story and definitely engaging.  The suspense aspects aren't really what I read the series for anyway.  For me, it's about the relationship, mainly between Eve and Roarke, but the other secondary characters have become important too after all this time.
I chuckled often at the banter between Eve and her colleagues or Roarke. Like this exchange between Eve and Roarke and her grasp of idiom.

"You need more sleep."

"Skillet, pan."


You know, the skillet says the pan's the same deal."

He thought a moment, "I believe that's the pot calling the kettle black."

Whatever, kitchen stuff can't talk anyway."

or here
"It's Major Ketchup in the bathroom with the laser scalpel."

"...Obviously we were meant for each other as I can interpret that as you meaning something more like Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick."

"Whatever, it's that game..."


"You always know this crap."

I actually highlighted quite a bit of text in this book, funny banter between the characters that sounds so much like them that you don't need dialogue tags to know, after 30some books, who is speaking.   I love it. :)  Can't hardly wait until Treachery in Death comes out in MMP.

The only thing I'm dark on is that the UK publisher who does the Australian releases has not only changed the cover designs of the in Death books but also the size.  Grrr.  So I have the first 27 or so in a uniform design and colour, like this:-
and then the next one in the same size but a different design and the last two with a bigger size - not trade paperback but bigger than MMP.  So now my collection looks crappy.  And, I've decided to buy the US release from the Book Depository in future - they're cheaper, I get them earlier (by about a year) and they are at least MMP size.  So there.  Take that KMart and Piatkus.

Grade:  B+

(Publisher Grade:  D)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

March Reads

I had a fairly quiet reading month this month.  I listened to my usual amount of books, but much of my reading time was taken up in finally updating my Goodreads shelves with all of my books - I put another 1000 or so books up - audio, ebooks and paperbacks, all nicely shelved and sorted.   I have a sense of accomplisment from doing it but I can see it really affected the number of books I was able to get through in March. 

On paper/ebook

You Belong to Me by Karen Rose - B-  see my full review here.

The Trap by Indigo Wren - B+.  Confession time.  I actually read this in February but it got missed when I was doing my Feb reads post so I'm putting it in now.   This is  a really good story about David and Ethan who were best friends and about to start a tech business together when "something" happened and one David took off without a by your leave.  The other went on to (very successfully) start the business.   Fast forward a few years and David books a well deserved holiday on a tropical island.  Only, he gets there and finds out he's alone with Ethan, who's set the whole thing up to work out their relationship.   I must admit I was a little uncomfortable with the whole kidnap thing.  But, putting that aside, I otherwise really enjoyed the story and how Ethan was trying to demonstrate to David he could be trusted in the only way he thought would work.  While I didn't think much of abduction and false imprisonment as a method, it was clear that Ethan cared deeply for David and that they both had a very strong connection.  The latter part of the story, off the island, worked a little less well for me.  I didn't quite understand what took so long to resolve things and felt it was unncessarily drawn out.     All up though, this was a good story with good characters and, oh my, smokin sexxoring.  I think this is Ms. Wren's debut book so I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from her.

Curran by Gordon Andrews - B.  Cute free short with scenes from the first 3 books from Curran's perspective. It's not very well edited but then hey, it's a FREE short. I did like seeing Curran's perspective - here's hoping we get more of it - I think that's a fair bet, after all, it says Vol 1 on the cover!  :)
ETA:  There are actually a couple more free scenes from Curran's POV on the authors website.  If you're a fan of the series, you will enjoy.  

My One and Only by Kristan Higgins - C- This is hard.  I wanted to like this one a lot more than I actualy did.  Higgins has become a favourite contemporary romance author for me and I adored her previous release, All I Ever Wanted. But, in this book, I found it hard to warm to the heroine (although I did after a while) and very difficult to like the hero.   There are some amusing moments - especially the scenes in New York where Harper is chasing down a demented old man and some of the secondary characters (Dennis, BeverLee and Kim in particular) were very engaging.
Harper James is a divorce attorney who begins the book by unromantically proposing to her hot firefighter boyfriend (HFFBF) Dennis.  She actually treats him poorly in the book - he's arm candy and she clearly thinks she's better than he is.  I appreciate that Higgins took a bit of a risk with this character in making her not terribly likeable at the beginning.  I did warm to Harper later in the book and she does realise that Dennis deserved better, thankfully. Harper's younger sister is set to marry the brother of Harper's ex-husband Nick and as this will be her 3rd trip down the aisle, Harper is worried that the decision is too hasty.  Harper and Nick meet up at the wedding. As the book progresses, Harper and Nick are forced to spend time in each other's company.  The old attraction is still there but there were real problems in their marriage - can they work them out and find their HEA the second time around?     
When Nick and Harper were married, Nick worked all the time and Harper, alone in a new city with no friends, felt increasingly isolated and discontent.  She got a job in a bar and made some friends but, embarrassed that her husband was absent, doesn't tell her co-workers she's married.  When Nick finds out he goes ballistic, they have a fight and he leaves.   As Harper's mother (who is a real piece of work let me tell you) left her on her 13th birthday (because Harper was prettier than her mother o-0), Harper understandably has abandonment issues, so Nick taking off like that hit all her hot buttons.
What is surprising in this scenario is that for most of the book, the marriage breakup is portrayed as Harper's fault.  In what universe?  I mean it always takes two and certainly Nick wasn't doing his bit.
Now, Nick had his own family issues; his dad had treated him very poorly, favouring his step children over Nick in the worst way.  I didn't really understand how Nick could be so forgiving of the hurts his father and step brother inflicted but was so very unforgiving of Harper - and this in the face of not taking (very much) responsibility for his own behaviour.
Like I said earlier, I didn’t like Harper much in the beginning and it took me quite a while to warm to her – her HFFBF deserved better and I wondered what she was doing with him in the first place because she seemed so contemptuous of him (which is not attractive). I did quite like Harper's stepmother, BeverLee but I thought the conflict between her and Harper’s dad was contrived and unrealistic (once the mystery of it was revealed). As for Nick, I thought he was an ass at the beginning and he only marginally redeemed himself. I wasn’t convinced by the HEA – what had really changed?   I needed more of how it was going to work out or better yet, showing me how it was actually working out to convince me that Nick had really changed. To be honest, I don’t know how Nick had managed to delude himself that their marriage breakup was all Harper’s fault and  his “apology” when it came wasn’t really good enough.  Jane has an interesting review of the book over at Dear Author - she was less forgiving than me and gave it a D.

The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie  - C.  An okay read about an impoverished gentlewoman who rescues a stranger with a head injury (and consequent amnesia).  It was enjoyable enough but I wouldn't rave about it. 

**pick of the month**

The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne - B+.  I've had this one on my TBR for ages and I really don't know what took me so long to read it.  However, inspired by the DABWAHA tournament, I decided to pick it up.  I'm very glad I did.
This is kind of a prequel to Bourne's first book, The Spymaster's Lady.   Set shortly after the revolution in France, it follows the story of English spy Doyle and French aristocrat Marguerite.  Bourne has such a wonderful touch with prose.  You can tell when the point of view is from an Englishman or a Frenchwoman - there's just something in the way the words are placed which make it obvious.  And her phrasing, the pictures painted with words are just beautiful.  Here's a couple I particularly noted:

She could become lost in this man, in territories of amazement, countries of sensation. 
She did not rush to fill the silence up, in case LeBreton might have a use for it.

The connection between the characters, how they related to one another and saw through one another and did not jump to misplaced conclusions about one another was refreshing and much appreciated.  At the start of the book, both the hero and heroine are pretending to be someone else - but rather than making it the obvious "Big Mis" story, Ms. Bourne told another (and much more satisfying) tale.    I was so inspired, afterwards, I went and read The Spymaster's Lady again and then I ordered My Lord & Spymaster too.  When I checked the author's website, I was happy to see that Adrian's story is coming out later this year.  I'm very much looking forward to his story - we meet Justine (his lady) in TFR.  This one is my **pick of the month**.

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne - A-.  I read this book shortly after it came out and loved the beautiful way it was written as well as the sexy Spymaster Grey and how he was caught (in the romantice sense) by the Fox Cub Annique.  Having read The Forbidden Rose this month, I went back and re-read this one.  TFR was written after TSL but I found there was an extra layer added with the background story found in TFR in my mind when I re-read, particularly in relation to Doyle, Maggie and Adrian.  Grey and Annique aren't in TFR at all (although I'm pretty sure Annique's mother was the the spy/madam at the brothel where we met Adrian's Justine.)  This book holds up very well on a re-read.   Once again, where we are in Annique's head, there is a different phraseology that is entirely French which I really enjoyed.

 Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran - CNot my favourite Duran - it was okay but it seemed less... dense and lush than her earlier books and not quite what I expected. The plot was a bit thin and there were some anachronisms (or at least it seemed so to me - it's quite possible I'm wrong about this and it's more that I couldn't get my head around the Victorian setting but did they really say "no take-backs" in the 1890's?).

Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh - B+/A-.  I was impatiently waiting for River Marked to arrive in the post so I thought I'd pick up an old favourite - I say old favourite but I'd actually only read it once before.  I admit to skimming the scenes where Wulf and Christine weren't together but not out of any lack in the book - it's just that I could because I'd read it before and knew the story.  I love Christine -she is perfect for Wulf and I loved revisiting the way he opened himself up to her while staying the Wulf I'd known and loved in the previous 4 books.  Definitely a comfort read. :)

River Marked by Patricia Briggs - B. I liked it but I don't think it was as good as earlier books.  It's possible I suffered from "too much anticipation-itis" on this one.  Still, a solid B and the ending was very good. Maybe it was lacking in angst and conflict in the middle and that made it less compelling for me? An enjoyable addition to the series nevertheless.
Also, Adam and Mercy were on their honeymoon and they were clearly gettin it on fairly regularly - sadly the bedroom door was firmly shut in this book. (why oh why?)
I think I will enjoy this more on audio as I get to hear Adam speak.

On audio

Magic Bleeeds by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman - B+. I was getting a little bit impatient with Kate and Curran in the beginning of this one - there was a bit of they're together/they're not together going on and I felt a bit manipulated (like: sort it out already will you!!) - fortunately, it wasn't too long til I was put out of my misery - I am sincerely hoping that their relationship doesn't become an on again/off again thing - that would drive me batty.

Otherwise, another excellent (and excellently narrated) installment to the series. I've decided to buy them in print now and I'm looking forward to Magic Slays in May. 

Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas, narrated by Rosalyn Landor - B-  This is the story of single mother Lily Lawson (the child is not only a secret but has been abducted by her evil cad father – boo hiss), who, in trying to stop the marriage of her sister  Penny to Lord Alex Raiford, Earl of Wolverton, finds herself the object of his attentions instead.  Raiford and Penny don’t love each other – Penny is in love with an unfortunately poor, childhood friend, Zachary.
Lily has an outrageous reputation.  She rides to hounds, astride no less, she gambles at Cravens and is the only female member and she’s always up for adventure.  Zachary enlists her aid to stop the marriage of his love top Raiford.  Much to Alex’s initial dismay, he finds Lily fascinating and lovely.  What is a very nice change in this story  is that Alex falls in love first and he acknowledges his feelings, at least to himself, quite early.  It’s Lily who’s the holdout.  Lily is desperate to find her daughter but has run out of money for the search.    Can she trust Alex and tell him she has a bastard daughter?  Will she find her daughter? Will they all live HEA?  (well, it is a romance so, you’d be safe in your guess here!).
This is only my second Kleypas on audio and the first historical.  My only other experience with a Lisa Kleypas historical wasn’t all that successful so I went into this one hoping I’d like it but not sure  I would.   
TCY is also my second audio narrated by Rosalyn Landor.  In fact, it was my pick for the “give a less than favoured narrator another try” category for the SOA Listening Challenge.
Good news:  I liked it!  I don’t know that Landor will ever be a favourite narrator but I think this book suited her better than the other one I listened to (What Happens in London by Julia Quinn).  I think it is because there isn’t much humour in TCY whereas What Happens in London was a farce.  Landor’s style is slowish and kind of toffy and I don’t think she does humour very well.  But, Then Came You is mostly an angsty story and suits her much better.  Personally, I don’t find Landor’s narrator voice super pleasing to the ear but her male voices are easily discernable from the female ones (which I quite liked actually) and I didn’t struggle to identify who was talking.  I didn’t like Derek Craven’s voice much BUT – I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be – cockney with many “h’s” dropped.  I’ve heard others bemoan the voice Landor uses for Craven, who (I gather) is the hero in Dreaming of You and is a secondary character in this book.  Listening to the story however, it is clear that Derek isn’t well spoken – he’s a street child who managed to make money and owns a gaming hell/brothel.  He’s not an aristocrat.  I think if I read him I would unconsciously make his voice nicer on the ear but I can’t fault Landor for the voice she used – it isn’t sexy or hero-ish (to me anyway!) though so I don’t think I’ll be listening to Dreaming of You (– I may read it though).
I found the story quite engaging and although Landor isn’t my favourite narrator, she did a good job with this one I think.  
(ETA - a friend of mine has said she didn't object to the cockney in Landor's Derek Craven voice but more that he sounded like an old man - I didn't find his voice to be "old" in TCY but it may be different in DOY - another reason to read but not listen to that one I think.)

Ruthless by Anne Stuart, narrated by Susan Ericksen - C+ I liked it but Susan Ericksen didn't work so well for me as narrator. For a start, I think I identify too strongly with her in the In Death books (- the audiobook version of typecasting!) but also, the English accent wasn't super great for me - real English people don't say "garther" when they mean "gather" or "faht" for "fat" for example. It sounds picky when I write it but it happened often enough that it grated. I loved the book but the audio wasn't a rolicking success. Book = A- and C+ for narration.

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - B.  I've become a Cat & Bones fan! Narrator Tavia Gilbert does a great job. Her voice for Bones is a little higher pitched than I'd truly love but the characterisations are very well done. I really enjoy listening to her.  
This also meets my SOA Listening Challenge category for a listening to a book with a new-to-you narrator.

One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - B. I actually listened to the first hour or two of this one before I worked out it was the second one in the series, so then I stopped and listened to the first and came back to this one.
First: It made much more sense once I'd listened to the first book.
Second: I'm kind of glad that I did it in this order or the first part of this book would have driven me even more batty. It was very episodic and entirely about setting the scene to get to where Bones makes his entrance. The bits prior to Bones being in it were little short vignettes which didn't interconnect well and just when they started to get interesting, they stopped. However, once Bones made his appearance, things looked up and the book went from Hmm... to Yay! (esp. ch32! - Now I know what everyone was talking about!)

At Grave's End by Jeaniene Frost, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - B. I do like the way this series is evolving.  It's not just the same story with different bad guys - Cat is growing and changing - I'm looking forward to seeing where this series can go.

Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - B-  I kind of did it again with this one too - I started listening to First Drop of Crimson (which is Book 1 in the Night Huntress World books but fits between Book 4 and 5 in the Cat & Bones books - but I thought it was between 3 and 4 at first.  When I realised I was listening out of order again, I stopped and went back to this one.  What is it about this series that I find it hard to work out the reading/listening order?
Anyhoo, I liked this one but not quite as much as earlier instalments.  Maybe it was because Cat was only 16 when Gregor took her to France?  That was a bit squicky and it was never really addressed in the book.   Also, I didn't quite buy the estrangement between Cat and Bones in this one - really, Cat should know better! 

Hope you all had a good reading March!