Archive for February, 2008

Lost In Time: Historical or Contemporary?

February 28, 2008

Reading all the praises for Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books on Amazon from those who claimed that reading the genre would not be complete without her novels, I was excited to try for myself. And I was looking forward to read what was considered to be the ‘leading voice.’ But what I found was both enjoyable and disappointing. 

While I know it’s impossible to like every single book written by an author, I’ve yet come to one where I’m split halfway between liking her and hating her. Usually with authors that I continually read from, even the books that I don’t like, there’s an obvious reason for my dislike. Perhaps it’s evident that the author didn’t have sufficient time to plot out their book before their deadline. Or maybe it’s because something about the characters just didn’t appeal to my personal tastes. 

But that is not the case for Phillips. It’s not the characters. It’s not an obvious time rush. It’s just the book itself.

While they are not all winners, not even close, the one that surprised me the most was Kiss An Angel. I remember reading it, about forty or so pages in, and flipping the cover around to check that I was actually reading the correct genre. I had to look for the ‘contemporary’ label on the spine of the book just to make sure. I was so surprised. And not in a good way at first. 


Kiss An Angel has a plot straight out of a historical novel. Daisy Devreaux, the rich socialite, is arranged into a marriage by her father. She’s never laid eyes on this guy and doesn’t even know his name when she recites her vows. Alex Markov doesn’t want Daisy. He doesn’t want a wife. But he agrees for personal reasons and makes it clear to Daisy that they will stay married only long enough to satisfy her father and after that, they part ways. No engaging of feelings, just a business agreement, through and through.

As if that plot isn’t taken right out of a Regency novel, did I mention that Alex comes from a circus family and has taken Daisy to live, work, and breathe in the Ringling Bros-esque environment? Let’s not forget the fact that Daisy’s afraid of animals…

I thought that this book was a joke. A total waste of paper. And not to mention, a waste of my time. My only consolation was that I didn’t actually purchase it for retail price. But even after reading hundred pages, I thought that the library bookstore overcharged me by pricing the book at fifty cents. 

Good thing I was stuck with a large block of time in which I had nothing to do but read the only book I had on hand. Good thing I stuck it out. Once I got over the feeling that I was reading a historical novel where the characters just so happened to have contemporary jargon and wore jeans and t-shirts instead of corsets and knee-high riding boots, I did find that there was something unique, if not misplaced, in this book. 

There are the typical misunderstandings in the book. Alex has pulled Daisy along, letting her think that the circus is actually his profession and life. He has brought her along because he has his own agenda, but also because he knows that the rich girl won’t stand for doing manual labor. And he’s right. At first. Daisy balks at having to wake up at the crack of dawn to tend to the animals and living on the constant go. Alex is relentless. He wants Daisy to work and he doesn’t take no for an answer. 

It’s terribly hard not to feel for Daisy’s character. She’s vulnerable and definitely not the spoiled rich girl that Alex thinks she is. When Daisy realizes that she has no choice but to accept her surroundings, she constantly tries and fails. She tries harder and fails greater. Phillips definitely pulls heart strings when Daisy takes hit after hit from Alex, the animals, and the other circus members. But at the same time, the reader doesn’t hate Alex. It’s apparent from the beginning that Alex is the type of hero that has a hard exterior. It’s in the quiet moments between him and Daisy, when they’re not fighting, that readers see his tender side. When Daisy is injured time after time, it’s Alex who comes to her aid, though he does so reluctantly mostly. But there are plenty of behind the scenes moments where Alex shows that even though he’s trying to maintain his distance from Daisy, he can’t help but slowly admire her inner strength. The circumstances in which the reader comes to feel for both characters must be read to fully understand. Sometimes I think Phillips went a bit overboard with gathering sympathy, but I’ve come to realize that it’s an almost standard with her writing. 

It’s all in the characters. Especially towards the end, when the final blow is given, the way that the characters are in a sense, reversed, just breaks the reader’s heart. I for one, no matter how many times I’ve picked it up, cannot help but be immensely moved by Daisy and Alex. 

The equal growth of the characters and their very slow evolution of trust and admiration of each other made for a good read. Once I got over the feeling that it was more suited as a historical novel, I found that the little things really did make this one of my top Phillips. 

—–
3.5 out of 5: A general feeling of a plot anachronism, but if that can be overlooked in the eyes of the reader, there is genuine feelings to be experienced with the characters. The larger plot itself is not that fantastic. It’s the characters that move the story instead. Keeper copy. Reread when in the mood for emotional character trials.
—–

Kiss An Angel
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Genre: Defined

February 27, 2008
Those who are familiar with the paranormal sub-genre probably have heard, if not already read, J.R. Ward. Ward has undoubtedly defined the genre and in doing so, has gained a legion of loyal readers. Not only has she, in my opinion, defined the genre but she is the leading voice in this new age of vampire fiction. Move over Rice, Ward has taken over and her brothers are marking their new turf.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood. 

The series is something to be experienced for yourself and I will not go in depth with every book simply because there’s so much to say, so little room, and the brothers’ books should not be spoiled. They should be read by anyone interested in the romance genre. But bigger than that, they’re not simply romance. They’re action with interconnected plots and characters that will feel so real that they eventually become not just characters, but beings in their own right. 

I came across a review once for a Ward book and the critic said that you know you’re in trouble when the book contains its own dictionary. Laughingly, I would have to agree, but probably not in the way the critic intended. The series itself is so complex that even if I were to reread the series multiple times, there would be something new to pick up each and every time. Not only is there a dictionary of defined terminology, but there is a separate culture that becomes deeper with each novel. 

—–
When the sun sets on the streets of Caldwell, New York, there is an endless war that wages between the vampires and those who seek their extinction. Arising from centuries of specific breeding, honing the finer skills of the race, the Brotherhood signifies the qualities that are desirable in warriors. Armed with quick reflexes, superior physical strength, and intelligence 
that foils their enemies, the Black Dagger Brotherhood are the defenders of their race.

While they live amongst humans, they are a separate species all together. As long as humans keep to themselves, the war that the brothers fight do not concern them. But once in a while, a human crosses into the world it’s every man for themselves. The Brotherhood will let nothing and no one get in their way as they defend their community and their loved ones. 

Let’s take a brief look at the general Brotherhood members. (Fans will recognize the fact that there are more to the list, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s keep it to the ‘original’ brothers and the books that are published so far).

—–

Wrath: The Blind King. Wrath is the reluctant king of the race and the last pure blooded vampire alive. He has no intentions of taking the throne but the death of a brother prompts Wrath to carry out a last request. Darius had pleaded Wrath to aid in his half-vampire daughter’s transition before his death. Half blooded vampires are rare and Darius knows that once his daughter hits the age of twenty-five, her chances of surviving the change will greatly increase with Wrath’s pure blood. Though Wrath initially refuses the plea, once Darius is dead, he has no choice but to look after Beth himself. From there readers are introduced into the world and the end of the book sees Wrath ascend to the throne and really bring the brothers together. The Black Dagger Brotherhood will ultimately live together, bonded in a way that they hadn’t before. And so the journey begins…


Rhage: The legend among the race. Known for his voracious appetites for women, his story is passed down from fathers to sons at the right time. The one that’s nicknamed Hollywood, the blindingly handsome brother who knows how to party is saddled with a vicious curse. Whenever his emotions are out of control, his beast emerges. A fearsome thing for anyone or anything to behold, Rhage worries constantly about hurting those around him. When a human enters into his world, it becomes a battleground for survival. Mary soothes him in a way that Rhage craves. And when the mighty fall, they fall hard. Rhage knows without a doubt that Mary’s his destined mate. He bonds hard and quick with her but he knows that her entry into his world brings danger to her front door step. For Mary, there’s nothing Rhage won’t do to ensure her safety. But Mary’s living on a ticking clock. Her days are numbered and while her world is indeed turned upside down by Rhage, she can’t engage her heart. She knows there will be no time for them together. When Rhage is determined to keep her close for as long as they have, Mary must learn to trust him.


Zsadist: The scarred one. The one whose past is so dark he radiates blackness around him. Zsadist has never known softness, has never experienced a bit of relief in his constant personal hell. When Bella enters into his life and is in danger, Z does not know the reason why he can’t seem to withdraw from her. But he won’t because she’s in danger. Though Bella eventually is saved, it’s Z who is in need of rescuing. Bella will show him the joys of life that have been long missing in his life. The scars that he carry will be soothed by Bella. However, it’s not an easy road. When Bella tries, Z will bite. But when Bella gives up, Zsadist finally realizes that Bella is the only one for him, his mate and his life. 


Butch: The human. The only male human to live with the brothers, Butch has abandoned his life willingly to be surrounded by a new world. There is only one vampire for Butch. Marissa. Graceful and beautiful with a caring heart, Marissa represents everything that Butch can never begin to wish for. Marissa is his unattainable goal, his mirage. A great divide separates them. He’s human. She’s not. As the whole BDB plot begins to be more complex, Butch discovers that maybe he does belong into his new world. Maybe there is a place for him besides the brothers and ultimately, besides Marissa. Butch will discover that he’s not just the poor kid who became a cop. His life is intertwined with that of the brotherhood. Finally, he’s found his family. 


Vishous: The one who is destined for a greater purpose within the race has accepted his destiny. He has nothing else besides the brothers and allows his fate to occur. But when he is injured and rescued by a special human, V suddenly wants something he can’t have. He wants Jane. Jane is thrown into the world of the brothers, taken from her life because V senses something. Though V is gifted with the special ability to see into the future, he has lost it and cannot see anything. But when Jane appears, he cannot deny the fact that something must connect him to this human. When V must give up Jane, he cannot believe that his life will end up empty once again. As danger steps in and plays with Jane and her life, V will stop at nothing to see that she’s safe.


Phury: The sacrificial one. The celibate. He is Zsasdist’s twin who searched many long years for his lost brother. And when Z was found, Phury willingly shot off his own leg to rescue his brother. Phury is the one who has stepped into the background for Z. Even after Z found Bella, Phury cannot help but long for his twin’s mate. But because of the happiness that Bella brought into Z’s life, Phury once again sacrificed everything for his beloved brother. When Vishious is trapped with a sacred role for the race, Phury stands in his stead. Now Phury must take responsibility for seeing that their blood continues for generations to come. But when Cormia sees her fate, she wants Phury’s love for himself. 

Tohrment: The level-headed one. Tohr has found happiness, only to have destiny rob him of it. Given the precious gift of a mate whom he would have chosen with his heart even though it was arranged for them, he and Wellise have lived a life together. But one day, in one moment, his heart is taken away from him. Pitted in utter despair and grief, Thor disappears. 

—–
So far, the books have been published up to V’s with Phury’s to be released June. There is so much to be revealed about the brothers with Ward brilliantly peeling layer after layer with each successive novel. While I don’t think every book is a 5 out of 5, they each serve their purpose even if readers are inclined to favor one character over another. For example, while I like Butch, I think his story served a greater plot purpose. Butch and Marissa are not my favorite BDB couple, but Butch’s story is integral in moving along the general Brotherhood story as a whole. Same with V’s. As a general consensus, readers have found that V’s story is left lacking. The relationship of him and Jane is not as developed as it could have been, space sacrificed to another smaller developing plots. However, V’s book as a whole will push the Brotherhood story further, same as Butch. Every book not only tells the tale of a specific pair of hero/heroine, it also very clearly moves the entire overall brotherhood story forward. With each new novel, we find out new information about the brothers and about their world as a whole.

Ward’s heroes are alpha males. All the way. Leather wearing, dagger and gun toting, hardcore rap listening, males. To read the brothers is to be drunk on a testosterone overload. Though each male has their own distinctive qualities, it’s hard to not fall in love with every one of them. Every reader can find a favorite among these males and their females are equally engaging to read. Each heroine has her own strength and weakness that perfectly couples with that of her male. 

Though it’s obviously vampire fiction, these novels could very easily be read as action/romance instead. I can safely recommend that while it’s definite romance, it can also appeal to a male audience. With insanely engaging characters, it’s hard to say no to these brothers. Take my advice, read them and you’ll be singing their praises as well. Don’t believe me? Just pop on by Amazon and take a look at the multitude of high reviews. There’s something to be said when each book has at least 160 reviews (some many more) and still the overall rating is at a high 4.5 out of 5. Haven’t tried out the paranormal sub-genre, or perhaps you have and found it lacking? Go read the Black Dagger Brotherhood before you dismiss the genre. If the top rung of the ladder still doesn’t do it for you, then you have sufficient reason to turn away.

Guaranteed: If you end up liking the brothers, you can’t help but compare every other book in a similar vein to it. Ward has created not only a string of interconnected novels, it’s a new world. Complete with language, customs, and rituals. The brothers are simply more than what can be crammed into a 400 plus paged novel. 

The Black Dagger Brotherhood has set the bar for the genre. And it’s high.

Daisy Pickings: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

February 27, 2008
The last and final Wallflower book, Scandal in the Spring. A good way to wrap up the series, it’s Lillian’s younger sister, Daisy’s turn for her happily ever after. As stated in previous novels, the Bowman sisters are in England to find titled husbands to match their American money. However, for Daisy, that husband doesn’t turn out to be titled after all…

Daisy might not be the shyest wallflower, for that title goes to Evie, but she’s the one who likes to keep to herself. She’d rather be in the company of the library and her novels instead of attending gatherings and balls. But she knows that she needs to find a husband, she’s just not in a hurry. So when her father tells her that she has to marry his business partner, Matthew Swift, she remembers the gangly young man who occasionally had dinner with the family and quickly dismisses the idea. 

Matthew is hiding a secret. A family secret that will surely ruin all that he worked for. So after the initial shock of finding out that Daisy’s father wants him to marry his youngest daughter wears off, Matthew tries his best to find a replacement. It’s not that Matthew doesn’t want Daisy, no, that’s certainly not the case. Matthew’s spent years longing for the quiet Bowman daughter and if his circumstances were changed, he’d jumped at the opportunity to make Daisy his. But the secret will undoubtedly rip them apart. For Daisy, he lets go of the idea of being together and puts a wall between them, hoping to find another man for Daisy during his stay at Westcliff’s home. 

Slowly, one clue after another, it becomes apparent to Daisy that perhaps Matthew isn’t the ogre that she once thought. Even more so, it seems that he might be in love with her. So why on earth is he pushing her towards another man but glowering at them at the same time? Daisy takes things into her own hands. She’s got to seduce Matthew Swift into confessing his feelings. Once they finally get together, Matthew will do all that he can to hold onto her and not let his secret tear them apart. 

I felt that Daisy and Matthew’s story was a great way to bookend the series. It was sweet and funny with a bit of a plot twist towards the end. The dynamics between the hero/heroine was definite chemistry especially since Daisy has no idea Matthew feels anything towards her in the beginning. They have a lot of fun back and forth scenes where they antagonize each other for separate reasons. At first, Daisy annoys Matthew because she doesn’t like him and Matthew does so in turn to keep her at bay. What really made the story for me was the fact that Matthew has secretly longed for Daisy for quite a while. The scene with Lillian’s labor and Daisy’s discovery that Matthew has been keeping a lock her her hair encased in an old button was definitely sweet enough to make the reader want to melt into a puddle of mush. While the secret wasn’t all that fantastic, the twist at the end with what happens to Matthew was well done. It pulled enough heart strings for the reader to really wonder about the fates of the characters.

—–
4 out of 5: Great way to end the series. Daisy’s character is witty and Matthew’s quiet but constant love of her is enough to make it a reread kind of book. Definite keeper copy. 
—–

Scandal in the Spring

Tamed by the Shyest Wallflower

February 26, 2008

My favorite Wallflower novel, Evie and St. Vincent. 

A fan favorite among the series, this is classic Kleypas at her best. The plot is constantly weaving in and out both in the fore and background while the characters both equally grow and discover their feelings. The evolution of their relationship is a slow blossom, but is undeniable once it happens. By far, Devil in Winter ranks in my top three for all the hundreds of historicals I’ve read. 

Evangeline Jenner, the daughter of a gaming club owner, is by far the shyest wallflower. So much so that she stutters and trips over her words when she’s nervous. But that part of her personality easily fools people into thinking that she’s just a rug you can walk all over. But she’s not. Determined to get away from her family who’s basically forcing her hand into marriage with her cousin because of her inheritance, Evie flees to Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent and proposes an arrangement. 

Fresh from the incident in which St. Vincent kidnapped Lillian Bowman and still sporting a black eye from his childhood friend, Westcliff, St. Vincent is out of options. He’s a penniless peer whose only worth is his title. But it’s not the title that Evie wants. It’s protection of having a husband. So when the shy wallflower with the flaming red hair shows up at his home offering immediately marriage, St. Vincent agrees and off they go to Gretna Green.

The terms of the marriage are clear: sex will occur only once to solidify the marriage and never again. St. Vincent can have use of Evie’s money but Evie will retain a certain amount of freedom. It is an obvious marriage of convenience. Or is it? 

When the ‘one night sex’ blows St. Vincent’s mind, he’s determined to have Evie in his bed again. And again. When Evie sees the softer side of St. Vincent early on, such as him cradling her in the carriage while they make the long journey to Scotland to get married, she’s hesitant to write him off as the unrepentant rake. As they return to London, Evie wants to take care of her dying father. St. Vincent stays at the gaming club with her and his urge to reform and spruce up the club is an unsettling feeling for him. He’s never worked a day in his life but suddenly he’s up to his elbows in account books and other matters. 

As tensions flair along with emotions, St. Vincent strikes a deal of his own with Evie. He’ll remain celibate for a period of three months with a promise of being monogamous with the stipulation that when he succeeds, Evie will be in his bed whenever he wants in the future. Evie agrees. 

—–
I really cannot begin to describe how Devil in Winter is truly Kleypas at her best. It’s as if all the stars aligned for the plot to run smoothly, the characterizations to be perfect, and the emotions to peek at just the right time. Whatever it is, it’s perfect.

The characters of Evie and St. Vincent both grow equally, though St. Vincent does most of it. Evie learns to assert herself as well as trusting St. Vincent to take care of her both physically and emotionally. St. Vincent discovers the experience in letting someone not only into his life but his heart and the rewards of doing so. There are very few characters who can start as low as St. Vincent and end up as the hero that readers will willingly cheer for. 

The evolution of their relationship is well done. It’s gradual, with little hints along the way. Even when Sebastian’s promise of celibacy and monogamy is given, it’s evident that he hasn’t truly fallen in love yet. Or at least, not fully. But when the final plot twist shows its hand, that’s when most of St. Vincent’s growth occurs. 

Truly, the book is well thought out and plotted accordingly. The conversation is paired nicely and the characters never seem out of place. Personally, Evie and St. Vincent are my favorite Kleypas couple and I was sorry to see the story end.

—–
5 out of 5: It’s a definite and big 5 out of 5. Great read, cannot recommend enough. If you only chose to read one of the wallflowers, this is the one to choose!
—–

Devil in Winter

The Straight Laced Becomes Undone

February 24, 2008
Second in the Wallflower series is It Happened One Autumn. We obviously meet Lillian Bowman along with the other wallflowers in the first book, but we’re also introduced to Marcus, Lord Westcliff. In Annabelle and Simon’s story we meet Westcliff through Simon, as Marcus is a business associate of Simon’s. So, the majority of the first novel takes place at a gathering on Westcliff’s home as he hosts a number of people to come and stay for a while. 

There are a pair of sisters within the wallflowers and Lillian is the older sister. The Bowmans are rich Americans who have come across the ocean to seek a titled husband for their daughters. Westcliff is one of the oldest titles in England, not to mention wealthy as well. In the first book, we’ve already seen Westcliff and Lillian butt heads, repeatedly. Lillian is outspoken, much more so than is considered polite for the day. She also likes to have her fun and is the most opinionated of all the wallflowers. If something’s on her mind, she won’t hesitate to tell you, even if it’s guaranteed to piss you off. Westcliff can’t get over how brash and unladylike Lillian is. Westcliff likes order. It’s apparent in the way he carries himself and the burden of being the head of the family. Already, they set up for a delicious attraction of opposites. 

As predicted, the characters continue to butt heads throughout the story before their attraction is really noticed between the two. The beginnings where they’re just fuming at one another is a really fun read. But complications arise. When Westcliff wants to make Lillian his bride, his mother refuses to sit back and see that the old Westcliff title be sullied by the loud American girl. Westcliff’s mother pulls some plot strings behind the scenes and we see the character of Sebastian, Viscount St. Vincent, take a larger role in the outcome of the story. St. Vincent is a childhood friend of Westcliff’s and while they might not see eye to eye on everything as adults, the childhood bond they’ve forged is still important to Westcliff. While at the party, we know that St.Vincent needs a wealthy heiress to marry, and that’s where Lillian comes in and the story gets complicated.

St. Vincent sniffs around Lillian in the beginning when Westcliff is still sorting through his feelings. And St. Vincent is a notorious rake. While St. Vincent is charming Lillian, we see the growing affection between Lillian and Westcliff. So when Westcliff wants to marry Lillian, his mother urges St. Vincent to kidnap Lillian into marriage. The story proceeds from there.

I must admit, It Happened One Autumn is not my favorite Wallflower book. It actually ranks the last. And it could be because I read them out of order. In fact, I know for sure it’s because I read them out of order. Though looking back, even if I read them in series, I still think I would rank them the same. But the thing is that I read Sebastian’s story before I read Lillian and Westcliff’s. So to see Sebastian made out as the villain after I’ve seen him as the hero doesn’t jive with my thoughts and feelings about his character. Kleypas herself noted that she wasn’t looking to give Sebastian his own novel because of how deplorable he acted in It Happened One Autumn. She thought it’d be way to hard to redeem his character after what had happened. 

However, there are other reasons in which I rank this book the last of the series. While I enjoyed Lillian’s antics and her outspoken behavior, it didn’t match with the others who really are wallflowers in the sense of the term. Especially the last two books, the girls really are shy girls. To me, Lillian belonged outside of the series where it wasn’t entitled, Wallflowers. The hero/heroine don’t go through the emotional wringer like the other characters do either. Even though there are really strong feelings between the two, the plot doesn’t pull as much emotions as with the other Wallflowers. But to be fair, Lillian and Westcliff’s relationship is wonderful because of Westcliff’s journey into realizing that proper isn’t always what’s fun. Westcliff is very much a Darcy character. And while this book might not be my favorite, it does have very stiff competition and I can’t say that it’s a bad book in any sense. Besides, who can resist a character who’s like Darcy, anyways?

—–
3.5 out of 5: Not my favorite of the Wallflowers for reasons explained above, but it is a worthwhile read nonetheless. Keeper copy, time to time reread.
—–

It Happened One Autumn

Simon Says He Wants the Wallflower

February 24, 2008
After the discovery of Sabrina Jeffries back in my infant stage of reading romances, it was Lisa Kleypas that cropped up next. Specifically, her Wallflower series. Still, after all the numerous historicals I’ve read afterwards, the Wallflowers are at the top of my list. There’s something so inherently charming and smack in the middle of what’s considered to be romance reading about the women who are overlooked but whom somehow end up with the handsome and wealthy man. 

The series is quite closely knit together and while it is possible, as I did, reading out of order, it flows much smoother if done in order. The general story is that four wallflowers band together and become friends. They each have their own reasons to get married and while they don’t all attract the same kind of man, they do however, end up happily married. 

—–

Secrets of a Summer Night: Annabelle must marry. Her family has no money and she has her younger brother to think of as well as her mother. Debts are piling and Annabelle is forced to see her mother go to extremes to keep their family afloat. Simon has money. But he has no title. Instead, he has risen from the son of a butcher to be a wealthy and successful business man. The men around Annabelle know of her situation, and though she is beautiful, they rather wait for her to be desperate enough to become a mistress instead of the bothersome notion of making her a wife. Simon has asked repeatedly for Annabelle to dance at gatherings but has been turned down. So, when Simon realizes the seriousness of Annabelle’s financial situation, why not offer her a place in his bed? At first the offer is that of a mistress, but as the story goes on, and attachments begin to form, it becomes marriage. 

This was a good start to the series. The foundation is laid for all the rest of the wallflowers and we see how the characters will be. Simon is a wonderful read. He’s handsome, wealthy, and extremely charming in the humorous sense. He has a devilish sense of humor and isn’t thwarted by Annabelle’s refusal. However, it was also great to see Simon’s softer side even when the feelings they shared weren’t exactly love yet. When Annabelle is injured, Simon is frantically worried and the scene with him buying her custom made boots just makes the reader want to melt. Annabelle is a strong female character. She has a lot on her shoulders and knowing that she needs to attract a husband with no money is a constant weight pressing on her. But she pushes forward, not knowing that she’s also slowly but surely falling in love with Simon along the way. 

Personally, I think that readers might feel more sympathetic towards Simon’s character. Simon straddles the social ladder. He has no title, but he has money. And he knows that people look down on him. Annabelle as well. When that really becomes a problem between them, it hurts to see Simon rejected like that. Simon definitely knows what he wants, gets it no matter the consequences, and he doesn’t let go. Annabelle on the other hand, is less sympathetic in some ways. Her constant need to searching for the wealthy and titled husband can get in the way of really liking her character a hundred percent all the way through. While in the end, when she does redeem herself by showing what she truly is willing to sacrifice for Simon, it comes perhaps too late. Readers see Simon’s love for Annabelle so soon in the story that I think Simon’s a natural choice between whom to like better.

The plot itself is not that intricate. It’s very simple. Annabelle needs a husband. Simon wants Annabelle. And it goes from there. Nothing too fancy. The majority of the books is really Simon winning Annabelle and the sweet moments in between. After their marriage there’s an adjustment period for the both of them and the problems with her family. Additionally, the scene at the very end where Annabelle really does prove her love for Simon was unexpected but needed to really wrap up the plot. Overall, it was a good beginning and it does it job of setting up the rest of the characters and how their lives intertwine. 

—–
4 out of 5: Good job in showing the slow evolution of Simon and Annabelle’s relationship. Heavy on characters, thiner on plot. However, does set up the rest of the series and the little moments and conversations between the characters make up for any lack of plot. Conversation is witty and very Kleypas. Definite keeper and reread. 
—–

Secrets of A Summer Night

Big Reading, Small Budget

February 24, 2008

BookMooch.

Have you heard it of? If you like to read, you might have seen articles that have been written about it. And if you’ve heard of it, I urge you to join.

Not a book club. It’s more of a book swapping club. And I must say, it’s fantastic.

Here’s how it works: It’s a network of readers. Free to join. You list all the books that you are willing to part with. For every book added into your inventory, you receive a tenth of a point. So to start things off, you need to at least add ten books if you want to start getting books from others right away. When someone wants something in your inventory, a request is sent. The request costs them one point and you receive their point. Once you receive and accept the request, you wrap up the book(s) and pay for postage. Within the U.S. for media mail, it costs about $2.13. Some of the lighter trade paperbacks are light enough that first class mail might be cheaper. But generally, it’s $2.13 for media and the weight requirement is sometimes enough to mail out two paperbacks for the same price as one. The only money you spend is postage. And that’s basically it.

There are some other facets of the system: Every time you receive a book successfully, once you leave feedback, you receive another tenth of a point. That’s a great bonus with the system. Other members can see and therefore choose accordingly whom to mooch from based on the point system. And since members receive an extra tenth of a point for acknowledging the receive, it guarantees feedback will be given. Unlike eBay where feedback is just good conduct, here on BookMooch, it’s in the best interest of both parties to utilize the feedback feature. Another extra thing is mailing outside of your country. If you choose to mail outside of your country, you receive three points for every mooch while it costs the requester two points. That way, it makes it worth the while to pay a bit extra for postage.

Condition: Members have the ability to notate a condition on books. In my experience, it makes for a good mooch. When I’m looking for a book and it has multiple copies, the member who has high feedback and/or who lists a condition will always be the one for me. On the flip side, I’ve found out that setting a condition also helps in getting rid of my books. Especially for the really popular ones that have a lot of copies available to mooch. Writing a condition is important and just in good taste.

It’s really the best book swapping system out there. The site is extremely easy to navigate, things are clear, and members are generally very nice. It’s also very compatible with Amazon. Download the easy widget for BookMooch that can sit right in your bookmarks tab and when surfing Amazon, just click the widget and BookMooch will let you know if there’s a copy available for mooching.

Great system. Can’t get enough of it. Saves money and I’ve received plenty of so-called used books that have un-cracked spines that are practically brand new.

Go check it out. If you like to read, have copies of books you want to get rid of, and want to save money…go.

Sneaking One Past the Goalie

February 24, 2008
Wallflowers are so misunderstood. Yes, they’re usually shy, but they’re not always doormats. Bad boys are misunderstood too. Yes, they’re usually arrogant and fiercely good looking, but they’re not always as tough as the armor they wear. 

Jane lives a quiet life. She writes a column about living the single life. What no one else knows is that Jane also writes erotic stories for men’s magazines where her heroine serves her own brand of delicious justice. Luc is looking for a comeback. The goalie is deemed the bad boy of hockey but this bad boy just might have to hang up his skates if he doesn’t prove that his past injury isn’t going to affect his game. 

When Jane is given the chance to cover the newspaper’s sports column, she has to travel with the Chinooks. Too bad she doesn’t know a thing about hockey. No matter, she can survive with her Dummy’s Guide to Hockey. Only things aren’t going to be easy. Hard enough she has to write about something she doesn’t know, but the team is convinced that she’s bad luck. As if being the only woman with a traveling team of hockey players wasn’t enough, she has to contend with crank phone calls and dead animals in front of her hotel room. Oh, and don’t forget about Luc.

Luc does not like reporters. And he doesn’t like this one traveling with them. He doesn’t need some small woman digging around his past and pestering him for an interview. 

—–

See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson is my all time favorite Gibson. It even ranks in the top five of my contemporary novels. While Gibson is not always a win for me, she does “score” with this one. 

The plot is not all that original. The plain Jane mixed up with the bad boy. But the little things make it special. Jane is not the typical wallflower. Sure, she can’t dress herself and is constantly wearing black because the color matches itself, but she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Oh, she might blush violently as she interviews the players in their locker room, but she toughs it out. 

This book is just sprinkled with delightful comedy. It’s the characters and their conversation that makes it great. The conflict, however, isn’t all that strong. But let’s start with the characters.

Jane Alcott: Everyone can relate to at least something about Jane. She’s not painfully shy, but she’s not the life of the party either. She has internal strength and isn’t afraid to speak up when something bothers her. For example, when she questions Luc about his old drug habit, he sees her cup of coffee and sarcastically asks if she would like a urine sample. Jane replies, “No thanks, I like my coffee black.” It was wonderfully refreshing to read the typical wallflower character twisted with a sense of witty humor. Jane might be shy and considered not really attractive, but there’s a bite to her bark, and it’s hilarious when she lands in some embarrassing antics with the Chinooks. For example, when she finds out that the team maneuvered to have her fired, Luc especially, her speech in the locker room that results is really laugh out loud material. 

“Lucky” Luc Martineau: The typical bad boy. The one who’s attractive, sarcastic humor, with a history of ‘love ’em and leave them’ relationships. Oh, let’s not forget the sinfully sexy lucky horseshoe tattoo that sits dangerously close on his lower abs. Luc has a lot on his plate. He needs to make it known that he might be thirty-two, but he can still stop the pucks from between the pipes. He’s not too old and his injuries are not a problem. He also needs to take care of his young half-sister now that he’s her only family. It doesn’t help that she’s a teenager who’s finding her way in life and that he’s the bachelor that knows nothing about how to take care of a young girl. But once you add Jane, the mousy reporter who’s constantly getting in the way, well…Luc just can’t seem to catch a break.

When it comes to the main conflict of the story, I can see how there are differing opinions. Some don’t like it because they claim that it’s not fully resolved. I, on the other hand, like it because it’s quite reflective of real life. There isn’t really an explanation on the reason why other than, “I was just upset and my emotions got the best of me.” Sure, it’s not entirely satisfying, but sometimes in life, things just happen. Critics are disapproving of how Luc just overlooks it, but I think the reason behind it is lovely. He loves her and he knows that people make mistakes. No matter how much it might have hurt him, he doesn’t want to loose Jane.

It’s the little moments that make See Jane Score a good read. I found the conversation delightful. But the main reason that I liked it is because of the slow but steady evolution of Jane and Luc’s relationship. Unlike some other wallflower/bad boy stories where though the heroine might not be attractive, the hero still finds something interesting about her. Not here. Luc really doesn’t find anything attractive about Jane at all in the beginning. There is very very little sexual chemistry besides Luc wondering for a brief moment what the hell Jane was trying to cover up with her ugly clothing. Until the ugly duckling transformation scene, the relationship really does begin with genuine dislike for one another. Luc is rude to Jane in the beginning, in hopes of getting rid of her by scaring her off. Their relationship builds slowly and it feels so natural when they finally do spark things up. 

—–
5 out of 5: One of my first contemporaries, it has a special place on my bookshelf. It also has a nice ability to be one of those comfort stories where I can just pick up and read when I want to. I don’t have to be in the mood for a certain kind of read when I open this book. The conversation really has the ability to make a reader laugh out loud and the characters are a wonderful match in temper and humor. Definitely a keeper and a reread. 
—–

See Jane Score

Normal? No, Paranormal.

February 22, 2008
Always having been an avid reader, I never thought the journey would lead me here. Romance. It began as a joke. Someone at work was reading one and I picked it up to tease her. She said, “Take it home.” And I did. I finished it that night. It wasn’t the best, but it was the first. We passed it around the office, skipping pages and reading out loud the steamy stuff. When the co-worker was moving, I went to the local library bookstore to get some for her as a joke for her going away gift. I read them first to see if it was the kind of sub-genre she would like.

And I was hooked.

I started out safely, for a lack of a better term. Historical. After I cleaned out all the authors that I liked, I went carefully wading into the contemporary genre. When I ran out of things to read, I found Lora Leigh and her Breeds series. But even though I knew the paranormal and subsequently, the vampire sub-genre was a growing trend, I vowed to stay away. Vampires were not for me. Paranormal was not for me. They just weren’t my thing.

But then I ran out of books to read and I was itching for something.

On Amazon, I came across J.R. Ward and I saw that practically every review was high. Three hundred some reviewers and all of her books still rated 4.5 stars out of 5. That’s remarkable. But I still resisted. Vampires were not my bag. Blood, ick.

So I searched for something else to read. And came up empty handed. When I was at the library bookstore, Jacob was on the shelf. I picked it up, turned it around and read the back. Sounded interesting enough and for fifty cents, what did I have to loose? Besides, the pile of books I was buying that day was at least six and this paranormal one could be read last. 

But it wasn’t. It was read first.

Then the next day when I stopped by Borders, J.R. Ward’s first book of her Brotherhood series was rereleased and I saw that it was only $4.99. I took the plunge. Besides, I swore I would never read Romance, and now I was already two hundred plus novels in the historicals and contemporaries under my belt. How could I rip into the paranormal sub-genre without reading it first?

I bought it, took it home, finished it in under four hours. I was hooked. 

There’s something very different about the paranormal genre. No, not the magic, the vampires, and the super long life spans. It was the characters. Specifically, the males. The heroes. 

There’s much more room for paranormal heroes to be larger than life. More arrogant. More assured. More everything. Especially with the growing trend of writing the element of ‘mates.’ While a lot of authors are jumping into the boat of giving their characters a sense of lifelong mates, only a few have done so with a deft hand. The concept of mates have unleashed a new category in my opinion, and it really defines an important facet of paranormal writing. 

It allows for the characters to know without a shadow of a doubt that they belong together. Most of the time they know before they fall in love. It frees up the readers to accept the harder qualities of the males. Perhaps the males are more possessive, protective, etc. Everything that you can’t write into a contemporary non-paranormal male character because it makes them into jerks, you can write into your paranormal hero and get away with it.

I came across a J.R. Ward interview where she was asked why she believed that the paranormal sub-genre was growing like it is. She replied that the genre allowed the male characters to be super alphas. Beyond the norm. It was okay and that it appealed to the female psyche. 

I agree. There’s something freer about reading the paranormal sub-genre. You can get away with more in terms of characters. Your males can be that much harder and the readers will allow it because of the setting. But the plot is equally important. Like any other book, the two must go hand in hand. Characters and plot.

While I can’t say that I enjoy all paranormal, I can’t say that I don’t see the appeal either. I see it. And there’s no going back.

High School Never Ends

February 21, 2008
Getting What You Want, Wanting What You Get, Wanting Something More.

The brainiac, the ‘chubby’ one, the supermodel.
The dyslexic, the alcoholic, the amnesiac.

Kathy Love’s Stepp series has its own spin on what would be considered a rather overdone plot line. As Love’s debut series, the Stepp sisters’ stories center around high school pains and the guys who eventually make up for it.

—–
I remember coming across Kathy Love’s books as Amazon recommended them based on my other purchases. The reviews were good and so I ordered them. Somehow, the order was mixed up and I ended up reading them out of order. The second one first, then the first, and the last. Though connected through the sisters, the stories are easily read out of order. But it wasn’t the ordering that bothered me when I put the books down, it was something intangible, but I knew something was off. I couldn’t say that I didn’t like them, but there was something there that made me hesitant to read more of Love’s work.

Then after I completed all three, I realized what it was. It was Love’s writing. Specifically, it was the way she wrote her men. It’s not uncommon for the hero to have some sort of barrier that keeps him from love, and ultimately, the heroine until the very end. It’s usually a fear of commitment, perhaps he was burned in the past, or maybe there’s some sort of deceit that serves as the undercurrent for the plot. It’s kind of the case with Love, only I found it more interesting.

Her men have problems. Relatable, yet not always seen problems in romance novels. Or perhaps, not written in a way that’s always seen. The men’s problems quite easily overshadow the main love plot of the book. Especially for the second book, Wanting What You Get, it’s the male’s problem and not the relationship, that takes center stage.

Let’s take a look at each novel…

—–
Getting What You Want: Abby, the oldest, has come home to work at a research lab. She’s the brainy Stepp. The quintessential geek. After high school, she bolts for bigger and better things, working as a scientist and dating the safe guy. Chase Jordan, the high school bad boy, has stayed in his hometown and now works as a successful carpenter and his work leans more towards architecture. When Abby comes home, she runs into Chase. He’s still the same bad boy who she saw as a wounded individual back in high school that has the uncanny ability to make her tongue tied and freeze up.

Misunderstandings run amuck…Abby sees Chase as still the guy who’s still so cool. Rumors run rampant about Chase and his old high school girlfriend, Summer. And Abby can’t help but wonder what happened between the two when Summer obviously wants Chase again. Chase sees Abby and is blown away. The nerdy girl has come back and she’s obviously grown into herself. But when he approaches conversation, Abby is too shy but comes off as aloof. Chase thinks that Abby still feels that she’s too good for everyone in the small town and he can’t help but feel that she’s behaving snobby.

And Abby’s behavior is her largest stumbling block. She comes off cold and distant and the reader feels for her because you know she’s just shy and unsure of herself. She’s surrounded by Chase and his friends, the same people who wouldn’t give her a second look in high school. When she finally realizes how her misunderstandings and clinging onto the past is hurting her present, it’s a good resolution.

So, the plot is farirly typical. The geeky brain is thrown together with the bad boy from high school. But there are differences that Love makes for herself. First, there’s the secret of Summer’s son and the rumors that surround Chase being the father. But the thing that makes Chase weary of letting Abby too close is the fact that he’s hiding something. He’s dyslexic. So much so that when readers find out in the end, they can see how Love wove that into the beginning that made their misunderstandings worst. For example, when Chase takes Abby out to dinner, she points to her menu and asks Chase if it’s good. Chase can’t read it and just takes a shot in the dark. While Abby gently corrects him with the correct dish, Chase brushes it off because he’s already embarrassed. But, for Abby, she fears that Chase is irritated by her actions. She misunderstands him and thinks that reading the menu is not the thing to do because she noticed that Chase didn’t even glance at his.

The fact that Chase is so embarrassed by his dyslexia is endearing and heartbreaking. He hides the truth because he feels that when Abby finds out, there’s no way in hell the super smart girl will stay with the guy who can’t even read his own name. That alone, makes his novel my favorite of the three. There are also many cute scenes that pepper the book. The scene where Chase teaches Abby to swim, the funny antics of his dog’s perchance of stealing his clothes and ultimately bringing Abby boxers that belong to Chase…all, very sweet.

The combination of Chase and Abby was a good choice in characters. Plus, I have a soft spot for the brainy girl/bad boy combo. Who doesn’t?

—–
Wanting What You Get: Ellie, the chubby one, is the one Stepp sister who has stayed home. As the town librarian, she keeps the company of books and the other library employees. And that’s it. She definitely does not have the social life of the town mayor, Mason Sweet. When Mason starts to notice Ellie, he proposes an affair. Too little, too late does he realize that Ellie is not the kind of woman that he should be having a casual relationship with. But Ellie is determined to do it because of Mason, no matter the cost to her heart. When Mason sees that he wants Ellie more seriously, it’s Ellie to put on the brakes because she realizes that there’s more to Mason than meets the eye. But without Mason’s acceptance of his problem, no one can win in a loosing battle.

Here, in the second book, Love takes a bit of a turn. In Abby and Chase’s story, they each had their own insecurities that contributed to misunderstandings and therefore, they each had something to apologize for. In the case of Mason and Ellie, the story is definitely all about Mason. That is what made this series stand out for me. Love choose to make her story focus not really about the budding relationship, but on Mason and his problems. Ironically, though Ellie is the ‘chubby’ sister, her weight is on the back burner of topics as Mason takes the stage.

Mason, the town mayor, is an alcoholic. It’s not really that apparent at first. A drink here, a drink there. Then it escalates. When Ellie and Mason have problems, Mason drowns his anger in the bottle. When they go away for the weekend to reconcile, Ellie notices that Mason has practically polished off the entire bottle of wine himself before their dinner arrives. When Ellie confronts him, Mason denies it. And as Ellie bravely leaves him even because she can’t stand to see him hurt himself, Mason continues to delude himself into think that Ellie simply can’t accept him and love him the way he is. When Mason finally realizes that he’s gone over the deep end, he also finds out that Ellie is pregnant and while she’s happy for him, she doesn’t want to take him back. She wants him to get sober for the right reasons, not to pin them on her or the baby.

As mentioned, the entire story centers around the growing evidence that Mason is an alcoholic. It’s not really about Ellie and her embarrassment over her weight, though we do see a few scenes about her insecurities. It’s all about Mason. And that stood out for me. I still like Abby and Chase’s story better because there’s a balance of problems between the leads, but I can respect Love’s decision to spotlight Mason and his problem in the second novel.

—–
Wanting Something More: The third, in my opinion, is a poor way to end the series. It’s almost good enough to read the first two and leave it at that. Marty, the girl who was too skinny and too tall is now a supermodel. The guy who used her as a practical joke is now the Chief of Police. Oh, and let’s not forget that Nathaniel was attacked and can’t remember his past with Marty, therefore he doesn’t recall ever being so mean to her.

This was Love’s weak attempt of continuing the Stepp story but it turned out too contrived. It was stretching not enough plot to last the length of the novel. Marty’s insecurities were not handled well and the little sub-plot of action and the threat of another attack on Nathaniel was pithy. When I finished, I could hardly believe that this was the same author who wrote the previous two.

——
Getting What You Want: 4 out of 5: A good balance of problems, tenderness, and sexiness from both characters.

Wanting What You Get: 3 out of 5: Brave departure from the norm by focusing solely on the hero instead of the couple as a whole. However, the imbalance left much to be desired in terms of seeing Ellie really grow throughout the story.

Wanting Something More: 1.5 out of 5: Nice try, but obviously ran out of steam by the end. Characters were not engaging enough to truly care for them like the previous two.

Good contemporary covers. Bright colors. No cringe-worthy models that make you embarrassed to be caught reading them in public.