Saturday, May 31, 2008

REVIEW: The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

SETTING/TYPE: Regency Historical
PAGES: 373
COPYRIGHT: 2008

THOUGHTS/OPINIONS:

Last year I swore off reading any more books with Regency spies after reading one that really bored and annoyed me (I can't even remember the title right now). So I resisted reading this book for months. But all the high acclaim and reviews filled with glowing praise finally wore me down. I am a notorious spoiler-reader and usually I pore over reviews before finally making my decision. But this time I only skimmed the reviews (because, heck, the title had the word "spy" so I wasn't going to read it anyway). What a ding-dong I am because this book just blew me away. Just goes to show you can't stereotype a book by it's cover OR title.

So I picked up this book not knowing a thing about the plot, and became immediately immersed in the story. Annique Villiers is French and a spy for France since she was a small child. As the story begins she has been captured by another spy named Leblanc, and has landed in a French prison because it is believed she has the Albion plans which detail Napoleon's plans for the invasion of England. Two British spies share her prison cell, Robert Grey and Adrian, who is seriously wounded.

Grey is the Head of Section for the British Service, otherwise known as the Spymaster of England. Annique is brilliant, clever and cunning and no prison can hold her for long. She escapes and decides to help the two British spies to escape as well, hating to leave anyone in the hands of Leblanc. Grey is anxious to capture her himself since he suspects she has a part in the death of some of his men at Bourges. Annique knows how to play the "Game" and Grey has a difficult time with her but he gets lucky. But it takes 3 men and he has to drug her to do it which I thought was thoroughly despicable. But Annique never makes it easy for him even when he thinks he has won. She shows him that intelligence, wit and craftiness eventually wins out over physical strength. The tension between Annique and Grey was palpable and I adored every scene with them. All the characters were multi-layered and well-defined.

This story is a rousing adventure and there are so many twists and turns and mouth-dropping surprises that I had a hard time catching my breath sometimes. Bourne reveals each secret when the reader needs to know it and each one blew me away.

I have read many other reviews that describe this book as a triumph in dialog and language dialects and I have to agree. Annique is French and although every word Bourne writes is in English, the reader knows she is French from every word, every phrase, every sentence she speaks or thinks. Grey is English and he sounds like upper crust British. Every language has its own rhythm and cadence and translating that into English is quite a feat. In fact, sentence tags aren't necessary for us to figure out who is speaking. It takes quite a bit of writing talent to pull this off, and Bourne has got it.

This book is a delight from cover to cover. I'm betting that it will appear repeatedly in my 2008 AAR Reader poll. Go forth and read!

GRADE: A

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TBR Day: REVIEW: Sex, Straight Up by Kathleen O'Reilly

SETTING: Contemporary - NYC
TYPE: Category Romance (Harlequin Blaze #388)
COPYRIGHT: April 2008
SERIES: Book #2 in "Those Sexy O'Sullivans" miniseries

THOUGHTS/OPINION:
This is my first book by this author and I was so pleased with it, I'm sure it won't be my last. I picked this up because of a glowing review over at DearAuthor. I don't read many of the new categories much anymore because most of them are pretty light on plot with very little sex. Harlequin Blaze are supposed to be sizzling hot and they generally are but most of them have silly or unbelievable plots (like virgin sex therapists - please, give me a break).

This series is about three brothers who own a bar in NYC. SSU is Daniel's story, the oldest brother, who is an accountant. Now if you are one of those (like me) that think that a book with an accountant for a hero would be boring, you'd be wrong. Daniel is an incredibly sexy, but tortured hero. Not angsty, but more sad and his story broke my heart. Six years ago his wife was killed on September 11th. They had both worked at an accounting firm in the twin towers and he had stopped that morning to get that special latte she liked at her favorite coffee shop. He was still inside the coffee shop when he heard the first boom. Now he stills suffers from survivors guilt and can't get over the pain of her loss.

His brothers pressure him into attending a weekend party at the beach in the Hamptons. But he doesn't want to be there so rather than participate in the partying, he sits on the beach instead. Next door in her grandfather's beach house, Catherine Montefiore observes a lonely but sexy man sitting on her beach motionless for hours and gets the urges to draw him so she pulls out her sketchpad and sits on the deck to draw. Catherine loves to sketch but she's not an artist. Her real job is assistant appraiser at Montefiore Auction House which is owned by her grandfather. Eventually they introduce themselves. Later that weekend they spend an incredibly hot evening together but it ends badly when Catherine catches him putting his wedding ring back on and doesn't realize he is widowed. Daniel and Catherine eventually meet again when a serious problem arises at the auction house involving commissions which could destroy their business. So Daniel's firm is called in to perform an audit.

Daniel and Catherine are wonderful 3-dimensional characters and the plot was handled very realistically. So many Blazes have silly plots but I found this one was refreshingly believable and heart wrenching. There were many sizzling sex scenes but they were integral to the plot and not just tacked on to up the heat level. Their relationship and growing love for each over develops slowly which was very believable. When Daniel is finally able to remove his old wedding ring we know that he is finally healing. Catherine is a special character and is no doormat. In the end she comes to believe in herself when she helps Daniel solve the mystery about the commissions. The dialog and plot move along very smoothly and I found it very easy to read but deeply emotional as well.

Book #1 (Shaken and Stirred) and Book #3 (Nightcap) maybe worth looking into.

GRADE: B+

Friday, May 16, 2008

REVIEW: Netherwood by Michele Lang

SETTING: Futuristic Romance
PAGES: 303
COPYRIGHT: 2008

THOUGHTS/OPINION:

It's taken me a long time to write this review because Netherwood is one of the most unusual and unique books I have read in quite awhile. This book takes place in the future where the lines between the real world and virtual reality are blurred. Talia Fortune is the heir apparent and major shareholder of FortuneCorp, a mega-conglomerate that acts more like a government than a business. She has just been appointed sheriff of Fresh Havens, a planet colonized by FortuneCorp employees, and dispatched to Fresh Havens to catch the rebels who have sabotaged computers on the "grid", a kind of intergalactic internet, which is used to communicate and distribute information to all humans across the galaxy.

Talia has a secret passion to participate in virtual reality role playing games in the cyber-world called Netherwood. In this world her avatar is Amazonia and she battles with Avenger, her cyber-lover. Kinda cool! But she suspects that Avenger is Kovner in the Real world and is responsible for the sabotage on Fresh Havens. I'm a little unclear as to how she knew this but that's a minor quibble. Another peculiar thing about this world is that a person can download their consciousness onto a chip to become a part of the computer hive mind and thus attain "immortality". Talia's grandmother, Violet, did this before she died and Talia carries around her consciousness on her handheld PC.

Lieutenant Robert Kovner is a rebel and freedom fighter on Fresh Havens. He knows that the FortuneCorp computers are trying to take over the galaxy and get rid of humans (Singularity) and it is imperative that he gain Talia's trust and convince her that the Singularity has started.

I'll stop right there in my description of the plot and let you all find out what happens. The blend of science fiction and non-stop action made this book a real page-turner. The world building was very well done and I wouldn't mind visiting it again if Lang ever writes a sequel. Kovner and Talia are good strong characters and it takes awhile for him to convince her that the FortuneCorp is completely evil. Their romance blended with the action very well. The secondary characters were also well developed. This was a fast read and the first person POV never slowed me down. If you like SF/Futuristic, this book is a great one to try.

GRADE: B

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Dress



Another wedding update.... I bought a dress! I posted a picture of it here (it's dress #1) but I wasn't crazy about the color selections that Nordstrom online carried. So I kept searching and found the exact same dress at Macy's online in the exact color I wanted (aquamarine).

It's a silk halter dress by Maggy London which leaves my back partially bare. I may chicken out and try to find some kind of jacket or sweater to wear over it. Also I'll need to go buy a halter bra since my boobs aren't quite as perky as they should be (never have been even when I was a young thing). Also need shoes.... *sigh*.... the shopping continues....

Thursday, May 08, 2008

REVIEW: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas

COPYRIGHT: 2008
SETTINGS: Contemporary - Texas
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Sequel to Sugar Daddy
SENSUALITY: Very hot!

REASON FOR READING: Loved Sugar Daddy. Love Lisa Kleypas.

SUMMARY: [From the Publisher]
MEET THE BLUE-EYED DEVIL
His name is Hardy Cates. He's a self-made millionaire who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. He's made enemies in the rough-and-tumble ride to the top of Houston's oil industry. He's got hot blood in his veins. And vengeance on his mind.
MEET THE HEIRESS
She's Haven Travis. Despite her family's money, she refuses to set out on the path they've chosen for her. But when Haven marries a man her family disapproves of, her life is set on a new and dangerous course. Two years later, Haven comes home, determined to guard her heart. And Hardy Cates, a family enemy, is the last person she needs darkening her door or setting her soul on fire.
WATCH THE SPARKS FLY....
Filled with Lisa Kleypas's trademark sensuality, filled with characters you love to hate and men you love to love, Blue-Eyed Devil will hold you captive in its storytelling power as the destiny of two people unfolds with every magical word.
THOUGHTS / OPINION:

I was prepared not to like this book. In Sugar Daddy, Hardy was a real jerk sometimes and not exactly hero material. He grew up dirt poor living in a trailer park in the small town of Welcome, Texas. His main goal in life was to get out of town and make something of himself. Liberty Jones (heroine of SD) was desperately in love with him but he leaves her behind to face her troubles alone after her mother died and never looked back. Liberty goes on to find her own HEA with Gage Travis although Hardy tries to screw that up (but doesn't succeed) at the end of SD.

BED begins at Liberty and Gage's wedding which Hardy has crashed. He is a millionaire now and since he failed to win Liberty back, he can't resist showing up at her wedding as an unwelcome guest to poke a stick in the eye of the wealthy Travis family. He escapes to the wine cellar where he has a memorable encounter with Gage Travis's sister, Haven. The story is told in the first person POV of Haven. She is embarrassed to discover that the man she had shared passionate kisses with is not her boyfriend Nick, but the scoundrel Hardy, her brother's enemy.

Haven has two sides to her character that seem to get her into trouble at different times. She is supposed to be the rebel of the family but she is also a pleaser, which seem like opposite characteristics. Being the youngest of the family and the only female with domineering brothers and overprotective father, I could buy how she was always trying to please everyone. But when pushed too far she would eventually rebel. Her father disapproves of her choice of husband so she elopes with Nick and her father cuts her off without a cent. Things go drastically downhill from there. Her life with Nick was extremely painful to read. The rebellious side of Haven is beaten down (literally) until she doesn't trust her own judgment anymore. She eventually escapes the abuse thankfully with the help of her brothers. But she has a long road ahead to get her self confidence back.

This is Haven's story and Hardy doesn't make another appearance until the last half of the book. But I really came to care about her and cheered her on when she makes progress in her social and business life. And I yelled at her (yes, right out loud) when I saw how wimpy she behaved sometimes. Her progress was agonizingly slow, two steps forward and one step back. It takes Haven a long time to learn to trust again. But Hardy is very patient with her. When Hardy and Haven finally make love the sex was very steamy but touching. Kleypas writes wonderful hot sexy love scenes that you want to read over and over. Yum!

This book is not an easy read and the characters were realistically portrayed. I think Kleypas has done her research on abuse victims and how they recover. Hardy has his own demons to overcome since he was physically abused by his drunken father who he is still dealing with. This is a story about the healing power of love. So run, don't walk, to get your hands on a copy. Mine was from the library (I don't buy hardback) but when it comes out in PB, I'm adding this to my Kleypas collection.

GRADE: A-

Saturday, May 03, 2008

REVIEW: All or Nothing by Claire Cross

COPYRIGHT: 2007
SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Straight Romance
PAGES: 372
SERIES: Coxwell family series

REASON FOR READING: I read and enjoyed one of her previous books, Double Trouble. In fact, it was a keeper for me. OK, I admit it, I also loved the dog on the cover.

SUMMARY:
Jen Maitland never had any use for handsome guys with easy charm until she met Zach. He's the perfect fake date to end her mother's matchmaking scheme before it starts. The only problem is that Zach isn't as predictable as he appears...

Zach Coxwell hates commitment, but loves a challenge. Like the pretty bar waitress who turned him down flat for a date-only to invite him to her family's Thanksgiving dinner. Zach knows he can make Jen smile, and he's betting that he can unravel her mysteries.

Despite Thanksgiving dinner becoming a familial nightmare for Jen, Zach has the time of his life and finds that Jen may be worth a commitment after all-even if he has to convince her by any means necessary.
THOUGHTS/OPINION:
Both Jen and Zach have serious issues but AoN manages to avoid sinking the reader into a dark depression by dealing with them in a realistic and yet upbeat way. Although Jen is young she is a breast cancer survivor. Naturally this fact has had a profound effect on her and she finds herself unable to make any long term commitments because she's afraid she has no future.

Jen's family loves her and wants to see her happy. Her matchmaking mother is determined to set her up on a date unless she finds one herself for Thanksgiving dinner. Her plan is to bring someone she knows her mother will hate. Jen meets Zach at the restaurant where she waits tables and figures he fits her requirements perfectly. So she invites Zach to Thanksgiving dinner for a 'fake' date.

Zach has serious commitments issues of his own, so a 'fake' date sounds fine to him. Zach is the black sheep of a wealthy family and was wild and reckless in his youth. He did some pretty bad things (some involving illegal drugs) and when his father committed suicide, he blamed himself.

The relationship between Jen and Zach develops slowly and there are some painful scenes when they both reveal their hangups due to their past. Jen and Zach are likable characters and the other characters were well developed. This story about the healing power of love is one of my favorite themes. The plot moved a bit slowly in places but overall the humor and characters made this book an enjoyable read.

GRADE: B

Friday, May 02, 2008

New template

Here's my new look. Different configuration than my last one. Main-Sidebar-Sidebar, instead of Sidebar-Main-Sidebar. It's very plain and simple which is all I want for now. Let me know if you have problems loading it (like my last one) but I'm hoping this one will load faster.

Update: Hmmmm, I noticed I need a bit of padding between the main column and the sidebar over there ---->. Must go tweak some code.

Update2: Yup, that's better. Damn, I'm getting better at this :)

I credited the blog designer at the bottom, but I tweaked it with an different image and changed some text colors. Some of my 'widgets' may be lost temporarily but I backed them up so I will slowly be adding them back. Blogger needs to fix this issue because you cannot save some widgets like HTML/Java code and Link Lists and that's kinda irritating for non-programmers and programmers alike.

I found several websites to get free excellent blog header images. I found the image above at Dreamstime.com and cropped it to a reasonable header size using Paint.NET (love this free program - much better than MS Paint).

There are also lots of tutorials and information out there on creating and editing blog templates. If anyone wants me to share links to websites for free templates, blogger tips and tricks and free images, let me know and I will write a post on them.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

What I have been doing in my spare time

Hi, I'm still alive.

In my last post I told you I was looking for a new blog template. Well, that set me off on a loooonnnnggg adventure in blogland. I found hundreds of free blogger templates but none of them were exactly right. Too dark, too narrow, only two columns, etc. Somewhere along the way I came up with the brilliant (?) idea of writing my own template. My revised plan was to find a simple template with the basic structure I wanted and revise the code to add a custom header and change fonts and colors.

After much searching I found a simple template that had three columns and was easy to widen. All of the templates out there required some math to widen each element of the blog structure (i.e., outer-wrapper, header, content-wrapper, sidebar-wrapper, etc.) and the more I delved into it the more complicated things got with all attributes that needed adjusting. But this new simple template only required adjusting one attribute. The rest of the elements had widths in percentages thereby keeping everything correctly proportioned automatically. Okay, I won't bore you with more technical details.

Anyway with this new template, I can swap out the header whenever I get the urge for change (which is often) to overhaul the look of my blog without a completely new template. I also discovered something else.... I really enjoy coding. I found several very helpful websites on learning how to create and change template CSS and XML code. I confess, I'm a geek. I got my degree in computer science about 10 years ago and loved computer programming. But since I test software now I get no time to write code.

My only complaint about my new template is that the two sidebar columns are both on the right side of the main post column, but one website with blogging tips says that having your posts on the left makes your blog much more 'searchable' by search engine robots.

So I have the template mostly tweaked with a pretty header and I will publish tomorrow.

Blogger Update News:
Scheduled post publishing has now been implemented in Blogger. Woohoo! I have been using this feature through Blogger in draft and it's really cool. You can publish a post for a future date and it will be published when that date arrives. This is great if you want to post while you are on vacation or can't get access to a computer. You can get a bunch of posts completed and pick the date in the future that you want them published.

Wedding Update: Last Saturday was the bridal shower! Very fun. I have pictures that I haven't downloaded. Must go look for my camera. I helped Angie finish stuffing wedding invitations in envelopes and putting on stamps. We are already getting the RSVP cards back. I still have to finish the favors. Time is running out.

Reading now: I got an ARC for a hot new book and it's good so far. I know lots of you get ARCs all the time, but I rarely get them so I'm excited.