Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Daring a Duke" by Claudia Dain

I had read one of the earlier installments in the author's Courtesan series ("How to Dazzle a Duke (The Courtesan Series)") and thought it was OK. Had I read this book first, I don't think I'd have picked up another. It wasn't very romantic and generally disappointed me.

The first point about this book will be a plus for some readers and a complete turn-off for others: there are no sex scenes. The most the couple does is one make-out session. So if you hate sex scenes, you'll like that and if you want your romances steamy, it's another reason to avoid this one.

This book follows shortly after "How to Dazzle a Duke" and most of the action takes place at the wedding of the hero and heroine of that book. The time frame is one of the biggest flaws of the book for me. A one-day romance doesn't feel romantic to me. I want my hero and heroine to get to know each other and to feel love build over the course of the book. By the end of the book, I wasn't convinced the couple even liked each other much less were in love.

Not only did I not think the couple liked each other, I didn't really like them. The heroine Jane Elliott was immature and often thoughtless or rude. The hero didn't seem to have much personality at all and decided he had "fallen in love" just by looking at the heroine.

And finally, there was too much other distraction going on with minor characters flirting with and trying to set up seductions with other minor characters. They may turn into the main characters of future books but their scenes took up pages that should have been used to create a hero and heroine the reader would cheer for and a relationship between the hero and heroine that feels romantic.

There are many better romances out there, even if you want one without steamy sex scenes. Mary Balogh's most recent Huxtable romance ("A Secret Affair") is a much better romance and also not very steamy.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Chains of Ice" by Christina Dodd

This is not my favorite so far of The Chosen Ones series. Part of it is because the Chosen Ones group from the first two books is not in the first two-thirds of this book. John Powell and Genny Valente are completely new characters. Both have roots in the Gypsy Travel Agency and John had once been part of the Chosen Ones team.

Genny is not my ideal heroine because she lets others, her father in particular, bully or persuade her into doing things she doesn't want. Rather than follow her interests, she lets her father convince her to study pre-law undergrad, go to business school and take a job with a brokerage account firm. Her education is paid for under a contract that requires her to do a favor for her benefactors. For graduation her father gives her a dream trip to observe the Ural lynx but there is a catch. She is supposed to meet John Powell and convince him to come back to New York.

The largest part of the book takes place in Russia, the habitat of the lynx and where John Powell has come to hide since he left the Gypsy Travel Agency. I liked the way the romance started and developed. But after John believes Genny has lied to him, it got a little uncomfortable. There was a sex scene that started out in anger and with Genny unwilling and I just don't like those at all. And John used his gift to influence Genny re sex so that felt like sexual manipulation. That one small part was enough to reduce my enjoyment of the book. Ms. Dodd, this is the 21st century -- forced sex, even sex where the woman doesn't want it but the man pushes it until she is aroused, is not romantic.

The last third of the book takes place in New York with the whole Chosen One team. For people who haven't read the first two books ("Storm of Visions (Chosen Ones, Book 1)" and "Storm of Shadows (Chosen Ones, Book 2)"), the author includes a description of the Chosen Ones and their friends and enemies. So you don't need to have read the first two books to understand this one. I like the group aspect of the Chosen Ones series so the last third was my favorite part. The next book in the series ("Chains of Fire: The Chosen Ones") goes back to some of the familiar Chosen Ones and I am looking forward to that one.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Crashers" by Dana Haynes

I enjoyed reading "Crashers" but it wasn't my favorite thriller of the month, much less the year.   I'd give it 3 1/2 stars.

With a little introduction to set the stage, the book opens with a passenger jet crash. The reader knows (or can assume) it has something to do with one of the characters from the introduction. After the crash, the NTSB assembles a Go Team to investigate. The first person on the crash scene is technically not part of the team because he quit after an unsuccessful investigation. (The unsuccessful investigation gets mentioned by a number of different people on the Go Team. I found the repetition a bit tedious.) The Go Team ultimately has seven different people, each with a different specialty.

Interwoven in the investigation is a parallel plot involving an FBI agent, his (possibly) flaky informant, and a group of Irish terrorists.

With the number of people on the Go Team and the Irish terrorist side plot, I found the story a bit busy and near the end the "crashers" did some things that pushed my ability to suspend disbelief a little farther than necessary. Telling what it was would spoil the story for people who have a greater ability to suspend disbelief, but you will recognize it when it gets there.

This book was generally enjoyable to read but it wasn't a great thriller. It would make a good beach read.   I see on the author's web site that he is working on the sequel.  A second book would benefit from the introduction of the crash team in this book.

I received this book from Amazon Vine in exchange for writing a review.  My opinion is my own.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Ten Things I Love About You" by Julia Quinn

I really enjoyed reading this book because the author made it more about the romance than the sex. A caution for those readers who want their romances steamy hot -- the hero and heroine don't have sex until almost the end of the book.

Annabel and Sebastian are fun and quirky characters and the author did a great job of building the story. Annabel feels pressured (by family financial circumstances) to marry an aging but wealthy earl who wants an heir to keep his nephew from inheriting the title. Sebastian is the nephew and doesn't know his uncle is interested in Annabel the first few times they meet. Without a sex scene every 10 pages or so, she uses the time to develop the characters and make their budding romance feel believable. This book is related to "What Happens in London" because Sebastian is related to Harry from that book and spends a lot of time with Harry and Olivia. The purple prose gothic novel from the earlier book also factors into the plot of this book.

This romance is sweet, fun and romantic but not very steamy. I liked it.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

"The Brazen Bride" by Stephanie Laurens

It's been awhile since I read the first two books in this series (The Untamed Bride (Black Cobra Quartet) and The Elusive Bride (The Black Cobra Quartet)) but I don't recall either of them being quite as steamy as this one was.

Linnet, the heroine, has sex with Logan before she even knows his name (and not just because he has amnesia and doesn't remember it himself) and while he is only semi-conscious. And when Logan regains consciousness and has regrets, she is the one to keep pushing them into ever steamier sexual encounters.   It was all a bit much for me.

I'm the first one to applaud a strong heroine in a romance but the character of Linnet felt like overkill to me. Between her various authority roles on the island and her sexual appetite, she was just too too much for me. And with all the pages dedicated to sex scenes, I felt like the sense of developing romance suffered a little.

There was another "relationship" in the book that had an incestuous "ick" factor. Saying anything more about it would spoil part of the plot, but you'll know it when you get to it.

I have enjoyed reading the series (though not nearly as much as the Cynster series or the Bastion Club series), but this was my least favorite so far. Probably my favorite part of this book was the "guest appearances" of a number of Cynster and Bastion Club characters.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Moscow Sting" by Alex Dryden 3 1/2 stars

This is the sequel to "Red to Black," which I had not read. You don't need to have read the first book to understand this one, but reading Moscow Sting likely will spoil the events of Red to Black. (For that matter, reading the plot summary of the second book probably spoils the first one.)

Anna is a former KGB colonel who defected to marry the British spy she was assigned to monitor. Her husband was killed by the KGB before the opening of the book and she is in hiding with her young son. The British, Americans and Russians all want her because they believe she is the only one who knows the identity of "Mikhail," who provided her late husband with Russian intelligence. An American private intelligence company gets to her first and a significant portion of the book involves the process of working her to disclose his identity and contact him to make him an American intelligence asset.

This book was OK for me but it didn't have the suspenseful tension that makes for a truly compelling espionage novel. The author has filled it with a lot of information about the politics of the spy business -- the use of private intelligence companies, the KGB's control of Russian business enterprises, political "horse trading" between the countries. But he tells it to the reader in a way that makes it just so many facts. (I'm assuming he has done the research to make it accurate.) Another thing that made the book less exciting is that it felt fairly believable. The Americans holding Anna didn't torture or drug her to get the information -- they interviewed her. Endlessly. And, with one exception, there aren't gun battles or wild chase scenes.

Believable action scenes that would be too tame for the typical blockbuster spy movie need something more to draw the reader in -- an emotional tie to the character. This book has so many different characters and points of view that it is difficult to get emotionally involved with any of them. Anna is the obvious center of the book but the author puts in too much extra stuff -- a subplot involving an assassin named Lars was an unnecessary distraction from the central story -- and the connection with Anna suffers.

Finally, some of the details make little sense in the context of the story. Anna's handler suggests she take a gun to a meeting where she will be otherwise unprotected. Of all the handgun possibilities, she improbably requests a single shot pistol with a very long barrel to hide under her clothes. And unless this is covered in the earlier book, Anna is much more familiar with New York City than she should be.

Fans of the espionage genre who like a lot of information in the story and don't need page-turning action should enjoy this book. For me, I wanted action or emotional connection to the characters and didn't feel either one.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for writing a review.  My opinions are my own.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Deception" by Jonathan Kellerman: 4 stars

I have to start by saying I enjoyed the book. I didn't love it but I enjoyed it. Even so, I didn't feel like I was reading an Alex Delaware novel -- at least not the kind Kellerman used to write. As I read this book, I felt that Delaware wasn't acting as a psychologist but more of a ridealong sidekick to Milo. Other than the periodic references to Robin and his French bulldog, I felt it could have any been another detective with Milo and the book would have been the same. Delaware even did internet searches that any rookie cop could have done.

As a basic detective mystery, I enjoyed it. The plot had plenty of twists and turns that kept me from guessing the killer. Just when you think it is one kind of murder mystery, things change and you start to think it is something else and then it changes again. That kept things interesting.

The book didn't have as strong a sense of place as previous novels in the series, but I did learn a new architectual term -- dingbat. When an apartment building was described as being a dingbat, I had to go online to see what kind of building that was -- and it must be a fairly California type because I've never seen anything like that in Minnesota.

I hope Kellerman brings back more psychological aspects to future books in the series, but at least it was an interesting and entertaining read.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Deeper Than The Dead" by Tami Hoag: 3 1/2 stars

The "romance" in this book isn't a full-fledged romance but it is enough to distract a little from suspense part of the book. Without it, the book could have been a stronger period police procedural. "Period" because the book is set in 1985 and the science of crime fighting has come a long way in 25 years. As the author notes in the introduction, DNA is not yet a standard part of the investigation, fingerprint evidence is compared manually, not by computer, and the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI is not yet popular enough to have its own TV show.

A series of murders in a small California town leads the police to suspect they may have a serial killer in their midst and they call the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. There isn't enough evidence for the BSU to send a team but injured agent/profiler Vince Leone offers to go help on his own. His injury was distraction enough, the romance he starts with a local teacher pushed the distraction a little too far for me, and a troubled child brought it too close to soap opera to be a really good mystery. With the various other local detectives, I didn't get a strong enough feeling for any of the characters to really care about them.

I thought the killer's identity was telegraphed a little too much (though the author gives the reader a few obvious options); I like to be surprised and learn who it is along with the investigators. Even so, it was a pleasant summer hammock read.

There is a second book coming out later this winter, "Secrets to the Grave."  I will probably read that book just to see where the series is going but it won't be at the top of my reading list.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris: 3 1/2 stars

I started reading this series long before the TV series and the main reason I liked it was because it wasn't the dark and broody kind of vampire story. There was humor and a lot more lightness. The last couple books have become so dark, I don't think I would have kept reading if the first books had been like this.

"Dead in the Family" picks up shortly after the ending of "Dead and Gone." If you haven't read that one, you probably should wait to read this book because it will spoil the ending of the earlier book. Even though the ending of Dead and Gone was pretty traumatic, there isn't much emotional continuity with this book -- new events come into play and dominate the story.

I don't want to say too much about the plot because I don't want to spoil it but on both the vampire and Were sides, the stuff that happens is dark and unhappy. And on the vampire front, it is pretty far out there with another historic figure as vampire. I think the idea of Bubba is hilarious. This particular vampire is just weird and icky.

I want more lightness and humor back in the stories. The TV series seems darker than the books on which they were based and I hope that is not steering the author away from the humor that was present in the earlier books. Sookie needs a break from the drama and, as a longtime fan of the series, I do too.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"The Taking of Libbie, SD" by David Housewright

This is the 7th book in the McKenzie series of mystery thrillers and it is one of the most enjoyable, in part because it is such a change of pace for the character. The series starts with "Dead Boyfriends" but if you haven't been reading the series all along, this would be a very good place to jump in.

Rushmore McKenzie is a former cop who left the St. Paul police force so he could collect a multi-million dollar reward for catching an embezzler. He has a deep sense of justice and chivalry and keeps himself busy doing favors for friends. Up to now, all the books have been set in the Twin Cities area -- and many are set in St. Paul. I love Minnesota mysteries by Minnesota authors so I have enjoyed the whole series, even if the last couple books came a little close to being travelogues.

The reason this would be a good book to try and see if you like the series is that the people and places that fill the other books are present mostly by phone -- and even then only occasionally. So the reader doesn't have to know the emotional nature of the relationships. McKenzie is completely out of his comfort zone (and out of the Twin Cities) in this book. The book starts as intruders break into his home, kidnap him and drive him in the trunk of a car to a small town in South Dakota.

A con man has used McKenzie's name and character to swindle the town and they sent bounty hunters to bring him back. They soon realize McKenzie is not the con man and ask him to help them find him and their money. McKenzie is angry at the treatment he received but eventually decides to do this, as much to learn why the con man chose to impersonate him as to help the town.

This is one of my favorite of the series, even though it isn't set in Minnesota, because the focus of the story is on the people -- McKenzie and the people of Libbie, SD -- rather than on geographical landmarks. It was fun following along as McKenzie talks to people to see what he can learn about the imposter in order to find him. There is plenty of action as well -- McKenzie hates bullies and he comes in contact with a couple of them in this small town.

I enjoyed this book a lot and recommend it. If you read this one, you will want to read the rest of the series!

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!