Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian

Unbelievably tame and somewhat dated. Midnight Awakening reads like an average series romance. Perfunctory is the word I would use to describe it. I cannot believe this novel comes from the same pen what wrote in the lurid tattoo-sucking scene in Kiss of Crimson. And the author has so obviously been on a trip to continental Europe.

‘Widow’ romances are rarely much good and this is no exception. The heroine Elise subjects Tegan to one of the most outrageous teases I've ever read. First she comes on to him like she's ready to do the deed. Then at the last moment she changes her mind, runs away, and then comes back to finish the business! I thought her actions at the time almost amounted to the sadistic torture of a guy who admits he hasn't had sex for 500 years through anger at the death of his first wife. I don't like that kind of thing.

And lookee. The Order has got it’s very own groupie, hanger-on. Chase. Just like Butch in the BDB. And he’s just as much of a pain-in-the-ass. I want him to die. Or turn into the first Rogue to infiltrate the compound. But I just know he’s going to get his own story some time in the future. I’ll be giving that a miss for sure. No author is going to sucker me a second time.

After the multi-layered romances of Tara Janzen and the outrageous plotting of Lora Leigh, I found Midnight Awakening to be such an eeeeasy read. However. Be aware that the story still has the quota of soft-core and violence required by the genre. But not too much of either. Neither is the heroine brutalized by the baddies. I think that's what I found a bit much in Crimson. When Tess got munched by the Rogues. Not to mention the imagery of blood that was thrust into the tattoo-sucking scene. All a bit too much for me. But. Wow! What an imagination on someone's part. Nothing like that in Midnight Awakening. Thank goodness. Sort of.

What is good is the non-romance plot. Something about a book and an ancient alien vampire. Marek gets his just deserts but something worse is due to take his place. However like so often, the thrills and tension do not make any appearance until well over half way into the book. In fact. If you start reading at page 295 you will get all of the plot and 90% of the hotness. There's just a lot of toing and froing in the earlier parts of the novel. And 'will they, won't they' stuff. The multiple scenes set in the sanitorium were just a total waste of reading time. It was wonderful how all the riddles get solved by the females in the story. Just me personally. I enjoyed all the 'elongating fangs' all over the novel. But in defense of humans. I'd like to say that I often think beautiful thoughts during the course of the day. 'Beautiful sky; great personality; lovely garden; nice piece of lamb; delicious ice-cream; my friends baby girl would love that as a gift.' Nothing special. Just everyday nice thoughts.

And now a word about the next book in the series. Ok, the guys of the Order were betrayed by Rio’s girl. And understandably he’s bitter about it. But what he needs to remember is that HE’s alive but SHE’s dead. By her own hand when Lucan didn’t die. So I hope the next novel isn’t going to be all Rio whining about Eva’s treachery. Because there is no doubt that Eva’s actions were down to the fact that she loved him. So Rio needs to be careful about how he remembers her or he’s going end up sounding like a petulant child. Or a Lowell man from the 80s. And oops. The heroine has a relative involved in a battle against cancer. Almost like with Mary and Rhage. Just fancy that.

But the funniest thing in the whole book is the quote on the front cover. By J R Ward. Saying how much she likes the story. That is so funny.

I absolutely did not get the character of Andreas. I kept expecting that continental creep and his floosie to turn bad. He takes up far too much of the novel for what is essentially a cipher role.

Absolutely not a patch on Kiss of Crimson. But perfectly acceptable nonetheless. And it was Tegan who turned out to be a cardboard cutout not Elise. He was too much of a gentleman. In the previous 2 novels, one hero, Lucan, fraudulently portrayed himself as a cop to the heroine and the other, Dante, lied his head off to his intended. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by Tara Janzen, Lora Leigh and Anne Stuart. But I found it all a bit one-dimensional and…simple.

In many ways this is just the type of book that annoys me intensely. Readers wait 6 months for it to be published and it's easily read in just one day. What a let down. Please don't tell me that an experienced author can't write about 4 of these in one year. Some people are just i.d.l.e. Or. Have pretensions to literary greatness. Then again. I remember one of my absolutely favorite romance authors. Vanessa James. Wrote about 6 love-stories in 18 months. Her agent got her a great deal. And she wrote highly lucrative pot-boilers about sluts for the next ten years. Using a different pen-name. (I know this because she used to boast about her success in the Sunday papers). Unfortunately I was one of the readers she left behind. I never read even one of the hard-cover novels. (They had different paramenters from standard romances). For a while I felt somewhat betrayed. Now. Of course I understand. Families, houses, cars. That sort of thing.

p.s. Don't think I won't be lining up for Rio's story. If only to discover the new baddie. His name even. Will Kassia's grown-up baby turn out to be a good-guy? I hope so. After Rio, I can't see who's next. Please god, not that ho-loving dork Sterling. I can't believe he thought he ever had the slightest chance with Elise.

btw. Isn't the artwork for the covers of this series totally beautiful? Now why didn't Tara Janzen get the same loving attention for her just-as-good Crazy books?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Tanner's Scheme by Lora Leigh

Smut with plot. A very good read. Basically for the characters of the main couple. Both of whom are quite interesting.

Tanner, the hero, repeatedly comes second best in the mind of the heroine (not that the author actually lets her admit it though) when compared to her first great love, the treacherous Chazz, who is offed without regret in the opening chapters. Sorry. Tanner is one big weirdo. He has watched Scheme have sex with other men for 10 years and has convinced himself she didn’t really, really enjoy herself and that he is the one true guy she needs. Poor Scheme cannot even tell Tanner he's a sick psycho stalker because for the first third of the novel she's his prisoner and has to be very careful how she talks to his ego.

What to make of Scheme, the heroine. Here’s what she says about herself:

“All Tanner had to do was withhold one orgasm. Made her wait and then asked her anything. The lives she would have betrayed would be gone forever, because she was weak.” (p160)

So by her own admission. Scheme lives through her twat. And everything else. Loyalty, honor, is secondary to that.

But her behaviour is somewhat understandable because ; ‘she was caving bad where Tanner was concerned. She was falling in love with him.” And the reason for her enamoration. He can give her the pounding she craves, needs. Trouble is. The reader gets the feeling that if Tanner keeled over dead tomorrow, Scheme would soon ‘fall in love’ with the next guy who showed her a bit of warmth or gave her sexual satisfaction.

And then amazingly. A few pages later we get. “Her taste in men sucked. “ She goes on to list why her relationships sucked. All 5 of them, in 10 years. As many people might say. Anyone might make the mistakes she did with her men. But I would like to tell her that she is continuing the pattern with Tanner.

But no way can I condemn or hate or despise Scheme. When you consider the way her father raised her, she’s made the best she can of her life. She works against her father, but she can’t bring herself to leave his sphere of influence and has probably built him up to be more of a monster than he really is. Consider the fact that not only is she betraying him, so is his second-in-command, John Bollen, and so, amazingly, is his chief enforcer, Dog. So how effective could Cyrus Tallent’s machinations and plots really be?

The scene with Dog was the only really ridiculous plot hole in the whole story. The author builds him up to be this big cold-blooded killer and then he turns out to be working for Jonas too. I don’t think the author can bring herself to write in a baddie Breed character. So why give him a personality at all? (Other than that he will get his own novel some time in the future…and that is a pussy reason.)

A fundamental flaw in this novel is this. I don’t think the author makes her case that Scheme is one of the good guys. Ok. Scheme deliberately made mistakes to save lives. But as is clearly stated in the book. Her signature is present on orders to kill innocent Breeds. Scheme has to answer for those actions in a court of law. A Human Rights court. She would fail and be convicted if her only defence was ‘I had no choice; my father forced me to sign.’ Playing the numbers game of ‘I killed some in order to save others.’ is also not a clear defence. The morally correct action for Scheme to have taken would have been to leave her father’s organisation completely.

But of course. Scheme was quite happy with her Dad and the upscale lifestyle he provided until he drugged her to abort her child, which happened when she was about 22 yo. Hmm. So all the Breed suffering in the labs meant nothing to her. See what I mean. If some of my pride siblings had been killed with Scheme’s consent, and she turned up at Sanctuary, I would make one big fuss, mating heat or not.

Presumably that’s why there are so many references to Scheme being ‘punished’ whenever she made one of those mistakes. Because otherwise she would have had too nice a life. I mean. ‘Relationships that sucked’ cannot on any level be compared to Breeds of both genders and all ages being systematically brutalized and routinely murdered through the orders of Cyrus Tallent and his daughter, Scheme.

In a way. The author knows Scheme is a relatively unsympathetic heroine because of one amazing little conversation between Scheme and Tanner where they try to outdo each other in tales of suffering. Apparently, Scheme’s father, buried her alive with a limited supply of oxygen and only released her 2 minutes after her oxygen ran out when she was already unconscious. ‘I survived. I always survived.’ She tells Tanner. He replies ‘You survived. It was your father’s favorite mode of punishment, burying Breeds alive. He released you. He never released a Breed.’ Top that dearie.

But she can’t. In fact. It’s like she never heard those words at all. She just carries on relating her own suffering. And then they have sex. Which they do all through the novel. Repeatedly. So I thought I’d mention that fact. Lovely. There’s a good quota of totally gratuitous and voyeuristic female nudity too. For those that are interested in that sort of thing. At some level. I wish this author had been co-opted to write the romance between Z and Bella in Lover Awakened. Maybe then the central relationship would have taken up more than 5 chapters of a 40 chapter book. But I digress.

The problem with the big, tough hero, Tanner, is that by around page 178 of a 350 page novel, he is just limp putty in the hands of a slut. Or should that be, a hard dick in the hands of a woman who knows how to work her men. Metaphorically and literally speaking of course. Omg! The way Scheme tried to play Tanner when he brought her back to the cave after her stupid escape attempt. Omg! That woman has no shame (or sincerity). And he almost fell for it, hook, line and sinker. I thought this guy could ’smell’ deceit?? The only thing that stopped him succumbing was that he thought he had to hand her over to her ‘true mate,’ his brother, Cabal. tee hee. I just laughed out loud at the scenes that followed. And as a reader, it wouldn’t have made much difference if Scheme had had sex with both the brothers. After all, she’d done something similar before. It’s not like normal parameters count for much with this series. On the other hand. I also felt total love for Scheme when she chastised herself for believing that anyone could ever love her. Ahh. Plus. I’d like to point out that at no time does Scheme have screaming hysterics, unlike that moron, Harmony. But the two women do have one thing in common. Their fertility is decided by the men in their lives. With Harmony, her men just discuss her fertility like she wasn’t there. But with Scheme. Her father drugged her, then had her unborn child terminated, and sterilized Scheme. A recurrent theme in both books. How weird is that. Like female conception and birth is still an issue. In the western world! Now that is much more contentious than Breed ‘mating heat.’ Which, btw, sets in about page 205. For a while, after that, the novel goes downhill imo. I just cringe as all the personal details of the heat between Tanner and Scheme are openly discussed by the complete strangers who sit on the Breed Cabinet. And yes. I know that's pretty much what happens when you go for IVF. But do I want to read a novel about IVF. En. Oh.

I just ate this story up during the first read. But the plot falls apart through its stupidity on a 2nd and 3rd reading. Every twist has a counter twist. But it keeps on going, like a roller-coaster until the very end. And suddenly the story finishes. Just like that.

I'm a reader who finds the Breed mythos more offensive than the smut. Of which there is tons and tons in this novel. However. No way would I read this ridiculous series without the smut scenes. This is another author who turns out about 6 or 7 novels a year. More power to her.

Finally. I'd like to do something only a serious reader of romantic trash can do. Which is. Compare heroines. Katya and Scheme. Both are about 31 yo. Poor Scheme gets criticised a lot for her sexual activities. But up against the prom queen she looks rather tame. Katya, by her own admission has had a lot of men. Including a rock-star. And we all know what that entails. The reader gets told that Superman taught her just about everything there is to know. It's just that the reader gets much more details in Scheme's book. Whilst with Katya's story, feelings and sensations (and shame, tee hee) are discussed more, and the details are left to the reader's imagination. Happy Christmas to both of these wonderful american women!

Crazy Cool by Tara Janzen

I enjoyed my first time read of this novel. And the 2nd and 3rd readings were even more pleasurable. The romance plot for me was just as sensuous as the more graphic encounters in the Breed series.

But the murder plot is just too complicated and internecine for me to get my head round. And the way Marilyn Dekker turns out to be a loving mother who is forgiven all her sins against her daughter was just too ridiculous for words as well as being a complete injustice.

As far as I can figure. The catalyst for all the up-to-date events was Katya’s decision to buy an art gallery in her home town of Denver. That stirred up the latent hatred of Big Jon Traynor. But why did he (or Marilyn Dekker or Albert Thorpe) choose to involve Hawkins again? Just didn’t make sense. So the motivations of the bad guys are too sketchily drawn to understand. The scenes that involved the bad guys talking conveyed more their incompetence rather than their ability to control events.

The murder plot was so anti-climactical. And that includes the fact that the big showdown scene occurs without ANY of the SDF being present. And it’s Katya who rescues Hawkins from the pool. Just to show that on any day an American Princess is better than an ordinary joe.

And why on earth does Katya defend the characters of the gang who tried to rape her to Hawkins? A gang is a gang is a gang. Taken individually, I’m sure most of them were ‘nice boys’ but the whole point of a gang is that it allows the nasty part of a person’s character to reign. imo. I’m not speaking from any personal experience.

There are a lot of romance scenes in this book. Some readers might get tired of them all because essentially many of then don’t do anything for the plot. But I enjoyed them. I enjoyed the memories the main couple have of their first fling together and I liked all the current scenes. Particularly the ‘sex in the car’ scenes…and the ‘drunk on one margherita’ scene. I even liked the ‘mess in the car’ scene.’ And the 'hour and a half in the bathroom' scenes.

I didn’t mind too much the fact that the heroine really did let an innocent man go to jail for a crime that he did not commit. In fact I thought the heroine was a lovely character. She even admits she could live in Hawkins’s loft long before she admits she is in love with him. That’s just like Pride and Prejudice. However. She’s also deeply flawed in that it was obvious that she could be assertive, even with her mother, when she wanted to be. But I’ll be generous and consider that is a skill that came with age and success. Also. Although Katya apologises to Hawkins (13 years after the event), I didn’t really get the impression that she had ever been exactly eaten up with guilt. Still. Being locked up and drugged up in an insane asylum can’t be very nice for anyone, especially a young woman. So as a reader, I accommodated her less pleasant characteristics.

In addition for me, the romance between the main couple sometimes became so intense that I was actually quite glad for the secondary couple’s inclusion. I loved being inside Hawkins' head as he works through his memories and feelings for Katya. And I wondered whether Tara might be a guy, you know. Because men used write quite good romances under female pen-names. Being inside Katya's head was totally different. Because she tended to avoid some memories. Which was understandable really. Seeing how she herself said she used to be somewhat cowardly. A heroine who hyper-ventilates in stressful situations. A heroine who says that a few years ago she couldn't live with herself 7 days out of 7. Hmm. It totally worked for me.

And let’s talk about nick-names. Usually I hate it when the main couple have nick-names for one another. But I thought ‘Bad-Luck’ and the sarcastic ‘Tinkerbell’ suited Katya down to the ground.

I also had a good hard look at the horrible, historically sexist cover. That’s a kid’s water pistol in Hawkins’s hand isn’t it? The legs of the female are just totally 1960s. Beautiful young modern women’s legs have a completely different profile. Their knees are much slimmer and the calf muscles have much less fat on them than the model on the front cover.

I think this series is excellent. Especially since apparently about 6 novels were written in under 2 years. I totally appreciate authors who ‘churn’ out books. It’s a dying skill. But many romance authors used to do it years ago. Strangely, one of the quirks I enjoy in these novels is that important events take place out-of-story. Very unusual that. And of course. I absolutely love love love the writing style.

Do I believe in the HEA. Probably. Mainly because Katya does not have to give up anything by becoming Mrs Christian Hawkins. And she likes his home. But whether messy and tidy can exist together forever. Now that’s a poser. But. Although I don't watch slasher movies. I can totally understand why one of the first people to die is always the Prom Queen.

I'd love to add this novel to my recommendations list but no way am I putting that ghastly cover on my blog. Sorry folks.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Ice Storm by Ann Stuart

This is one of those ‘You are my one true love but in the meantime I’ve got married to another man, had affairs but I’ve been frigid with all of them except you’ romances. Isn’t that Danielle Steele territory? Except that this isn’t a romance at all. There’s absolutely no kissy-wissy at all in the first half of the story. Only memory of kissy-wissy and that doesn’t really count. In the second half of the novel there’s some cursory sex for about the duration of one page. So if I was a newcomer to the Ice series I wouldn’t be that impressed.

However I am an Ice aficionado. So I quite liked this novel. Amazingly the second half of the novel contains a cracking good spy plot. I loved it. I loved that it took the whole team of Isobel, Bastian and Peter to bring about the denouement. It was lovely to see that Bastian had totally settled down to family life but still retained his skills. Of course, Chloe, his wife, had seen him kill previously so it was great that she didn’t have stupid hysterics when the bad guys come after Bastian in their home. However my absolutely favourite scene was Harry and Peter’s gay sniping at each other. Despite being Peter’s boss for many years, Thomason, didn’t have a clue what he was really like. One minute he wanted to kill Peter, the next he acknowledged that he would be useful in his new organisation. Thomason kept thinking of Peter as an emotionless, mercenary ‘street rat’. Yet in Peter’s own novel, he was clearly described as having gone to a private school. My favourite kind of character; the sneaky killer toff. Thomason had no idea that Peter’s loyalties had completely changed. His wife and friends were actually important to him nowadays. Particularly now that he was ‘well fucked.’ Like I said. I loved the spy plot. Much better than the Bourne novels.

But hey. I’m way off base here. This novel is supposed to be about Isobel and Killian. Unfortunately on that level it just didn’t work as it should have. I don’t even think that the reader gets to know Killian’s first name throughout the whole novel. ‘Josef’, his alias, will not do. (Think Joe Stalin, or Joe Tito) For me there were some scenes between Isobel and Killian that just didn’t work. I ask you. If someone kept you in a semi-drugged state for the purposes of having sex with you, would you ‘fall in love’ with them? That’s a bit reminiscent of an abusive relationship imo. Also when Killian tells Isobel about his 3 marriages, and he says each wife was called Maria. Isobel doesn’t understand that he was just generalizing and that each wife was totally anonymous. She actually thinks each wife was named Maria. She comes across as a bit thick. Killian was using spy talk and she completely misunderstood it.

There’s a significant tease at the start of the book. When Killian, the hero, is described as having thinning hair and a paunch. I almost fell for it…I almost stopped reading. Because, yes, I don’t want to read about old, ugly, unhealthy heroes and heroines. There’s a whole raft of writers who write stories like that, but I choose not to read them. My free will. Also what the hell is the purpose of Mahmoud? Other than the Ice character who spends significant amounts of time in a drugged state. There’s got to be at least one in every novel.

I don’t know why Isobel has to give up leading the Committee. No-one could have predicted that Harry would turn bad. I think it was a brilliant decision to bring him back. It would have been much better if she and Killian had headed it together. Their relationship isn’t based on normal parameters and he definitely has the mind-set for the job. But he obviously wants to be with Isobel.

I sincerely hope Fire and Ice isn’t about Reno. He’s too much of a child. And one of the best things about the Ice series for me is that it features adults making adult decisions and adult mistakes.

btw. People might be interested in knowing that I have arrived at a little plateau of reading contentment. For a while at least. I will read all the Ice series as they get published. I love re-reading the previous novels too. I'm also buying the whole Crazy series. Plus picking and choosing which Breed books to read next. And last but not least. I also like the Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian. So that's me sorted for the near future. Consequently, reviews will slow down and their nature may change. Please remember. I like all the above series mentioned no matter how many criticisms I include in the reviews.

Don't Look Back by Amanda Quick

Don’t bother to read this book unless you are at least 99 years old.

I can’t make up my mind. Did I like this book or not? The plot is completely inconsequential. Something to do with a piece of jewellery and mesmerism. As per a hundred other Quick novels. The romances between both the main and the subsidiary couple also don't matter a bean. So what is left to comment upon?

Well for me, two things. The relationship detail between the main couple and the eating habits described in the book. By both these criteria the story fails to truly entertain.

I expect there are some people in the world who view petty bickering between a couple as a sign of a lasting love. Not me though. I tend to think that a couple who bicker stay together only out of habit because it would be too much trouble, social and economic, to separate; or they stay together out of desperation because they know they would each struggle to find new partners. I have seen couples bicker in public and as an outsider looking on, I see mutual disrespect, not love or even affection. I like a peaceful, happy relationship between the hero and heroine.

Lavinia and Tobias bicker. Almost constantly. Also the heroine, although generally likeable, can be a mean shrew. Unnecessarily complaining about the cost of feeding the hero his breakfast and often having an argument with him for the sake of having an argument. I found it all a little wearing at times. There is a younger couple in the story but they do absolutely nothing except exist as a younger couple. And when I thought about their respective relationships to Lavinia and Tobias, I found their romance just a little, well, distasteful.

To give the author some credit she’s obviously tried to write about a couple who are not titled or super-rich. Nor are they dirt poor. Just ordinary people trying to make a living. Unfortunately it all becomes very mundane. And I ask myself. Why doesn’t Tobias buy a shoppe? Or support a more able person in the trade?

Don’t Look Back is an historical novel. How did I work that out? The heroine wears long dresses and the hero wears boots and breeches. The only mode of transport is horses. And to be honest I need very little more in the way of authenticity.

But for this story the author has obviously done some research on the dietary habits of the age. So we get plates of eggs and potatoes for breakfast, salmon and potato pie for lunch and current jam ad nauseum. How disgusting and stodgy is that? Not a single green vegetable makes an appearance. Do you know what a person who eats that sort of stuff on a regular basis looks like? Well. Round to put it politely. Very very round. So probably we have a podgy hero and heroine.

Strangely the author can do a lot better. In a much earlier novel set in medieval times, the author has the heroine going to a lot of bother and trouble in order to give the hero healthy green vegetables. Ok. It wasn’t particular authentic but it made the hero and heroine attractive to a modern readership. We all know in times past, most diets were rubbish as were the sanitary arrangements. That doesn’t mean we want to read all about them in every lightweight romance.

The emphasis on unhealthy food, plus the ache of an old wound for the hero puts this romance firmly in the geriatric genre. Although I expect the heroine is around 30 yo and the hero just about 40. But they read much older.

This is one of those rom-sus where all the crimes and suspects have a connection to the heroine’s past. How incredibly coincidental. I didn’t buy into any of it for one minute.

I recommend earlier Amanda Quick romances such as the fantastic Rendevous and the redeeming Dangerous. Both of which are infinitely better than Don’t Look Back.