Monday, March 31, 2008

RITA Finalists Announced

The Romance Writers of America have announced the finalists for the 2008 RITA awards. The awards honor romance fiction published in 2007. There are a dozen categories and over a thousand books and novellas were considered. Winners will be announced at the RWA Annual National Conference on August 2. Check the list to see if any of your favorites were nominated!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

On the Book Cart

Lots to choose from this week! There are several contemporaries set in a variety of locations if you’d like to do a little armchair traveling. Kate Angell’s Strike Zone is set in Richmond and features a hot romance between a professional baseball player and the woman who left him at the alter three years ago and has decided she wants him back. Also set in the South is Elizabeth Bevarly’s Fast and Loose, in which the Kentucky Derby brings together a thoroughbred trainer and a local artist. First You Run, the latest romantic suspense novel in the Bullet Catcher series from Roxanne St. Claire, moves from South Carolina to New York’s Hudson Valley. If you want to go further afield, pick up Jennifer Greene’s Blame It On Paris, and see if a romance begun in the city of love will be nearly as much fun at home in South Bend, Indiana.

There are also several historical romances to choose from. The latest entry in Brenda Joyce’s De Warenne Dynasty is A Dangerous Love, Jane Feather’s Cavendish Square trilogy continues with To Wed a Wicked Prince, and Sally MacKenzie presents The Naked Gentleman, her follow-up to her previous stories of the Naked and titled. All fall into or close to England’s Regency period. Set in the mid-1700’s is Jo Beverley’s A Lady’s Secret, which ranges across much of Europe. Bertrice Small goes back to the War of the Roses in A Dangerous Love (yes, another one! Who knew romance could be so fraught with peril?) Delhi is the setting for Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran, a romance set against a backdrop of political unrest in British ruled India.

Last but not least, Demon's Fire, the newest Tale of the Demon World from Emma Holly has arrived. This paranormal is the follow-up to her well reviewed Prince of Ice, and picks up the story of Prince Pahndir, released from captivity and last seen stowed away in the cargo bay of an airship. This one looks even hotter than the last one!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Historicals Plus: Part II

Wild: the Pack of St. James by Noelle Mack is another historical, this one with a paranormal twist. The hero, Kyril Taruskin, is the leader of a pack of shapeshifters descended from Russian wolves. They handle certain discreet investigations for the Crown, other members of the nobility, and wealthy merchants. The Pack is also engaged in a search for a priceless artifact designed by one of Kyril’s ancestors that has recently been stolen in Russia and is believed to be in England; the theft has triggered renewed interest in Pack activities by a group of Russians led by a man known as “the Wolf Killer.” Complicating the hunt is Kyril’s growing interest in the beautiful Vivienne Sheridan. Vivienne is the former mistress of a duke, a relationship that has left her independently wealthy and in no real hurry to get involved with another man. Kyril has decided to make her his mate, a lifelong bond that will require revealing his true nature to her. However, pursuing the relationship puts them both at risk, as the Pack’s enemies begin to suspect that Vivienne is somehow the key to the missing artifact.

In this book, all the elements work together well. The paranormal world of the Pack is consistent: their history, their shapeshifting abilities, and their social mores all fit within an underlying framework that the author manages to integrate into the action. The secrets that Kyril keeps regarding his abilities and the hunt for the missing treasure create tension in his relationship with Vivienne, as she senses there is more going on than he is admitting to. The chemistry between the two is pretty hot, though I would argue that the lovers spend too much time apart in the course of the book. The historical setting adds to the gothic feel of the story, and again, the author remains consistent without getting mired in detail. Though I have never been a big fan of paranormals, I did enjoy this book, and will take a look at the next in the trilogy when it comes out.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Historicals Plus: When One Genre is Not Enough Part I

Sometimes I think that single subgenre romances are becoming an endangered species. For a while, every new title I picked up had a vampire in it. Sometimes this crossover works pretty well, and sometimes it just muddies the waters, leaving you with a book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. I recently tried two new historicals, each with a crossover element, and found one that worked and one that didn’t.

Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens is subtitled “From the Casebook of Barnaby Adair.” The story features Laurens' usual Regency setting but for the most part abandons social gatherings among the ton in favor of solving a mystery. The book’s hero, Barnaby Adair, is an upper crust amateur sleuth with connections to Scotland Yard. He is recruited by the equally well born Penelope Ashford to help her find some missing boys. Miss Ashford has devoted her considerable intelligence and drive to running an orphanage where children from the most desperate slums in London can come to live and learn a trade. However, several of the youngsters whose dying relatives had arranged form them to go to the Foundling House have disappeared, apparently kidnapped within hours of their parents’ deaths. Penelope fears they are being snatched for some nefarious purpose, and is worried that more kidnappings will follow, so she turns to the only person she knows of that might be willing to help. Barnaby finds both Penelope and her puzzle intriguing, and agrees to investigate.
When I picked up this book, I figured it would be a slam dunk. After all, I like a Regency setting, I like mysteries, I like a strong-willed heroine with a mission other than marriage, I like a hero who has a job, or at least a productive hobby. I also like strong secondary characters, which this book has. So—all the elements are here. And yet.....I just couldn’t get into it. I really tried, but at about page 125 I finally gave up. In spite of all the elements that I liked, I was bored. The mystery didn’t move along quickly enough, bogged down by sleuthing scenes that seemed very contrived. The romance between the main characters lacked any kind of tension. The need to solve the mystery quickly so that no more boys would be kidnapped should have helped, but since the pace of that was so ponderous it didn’t. The budding romance between two of the secondary characters had a little more heat, but you don’t really see enough of them for that plotline to give the rest of the book a lot of traction. So, in spite of all the things that I liked about the premise, this book just didn’t work for me. I can’t say that it’s bad, but I really think that it could have been better executed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Upcoming Library Events

It may not feel like it, but spring is officially here. To usher in the season, the library will be presenting its 10th Annual Harbinger of Spring Concert on Sunday March 30th at 2 p.m. the concert features the Musicians of Ma'alwyck, a classsical trio. The Friends of the Library will be holding their annual meeting during the intermission. Admission is free.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shadows of the Night
By Lydia Joyce

From the cover:
“Fern and Colin Radcliffe had a conventional courtship and expected a conventional marriage. But Fern's wedding night leaves her shaken — and reborn. Driven by a desire to control her own destiny, she strikes out at her new husband in a passionate assertion of independence. In doing so, she awakens a secret craving in the recently bound couple — an exquisite erotic delight that ignites their love and creates an insatiable hunger for more. To encourage this new, forbidden love, they spend their honeymoon alone at Colin's isolated estate — the perfect setting to explore a world of pain, pleasure, and power. But their exploration is interrupted by a devastating secret from Colin's past — a secret that threatens their future together...and their very lives.”
This is one of those book jacket blurbs that make me wonder if whoever was responsible for writing it had actually done more than skim the book. The broad outline is there, but the emphasis is on all the wrong things.
Fern and Colin do, in fact, have a fairly conventional courtship before marrying and decamping to Brighton for what should be a conventional honeymoon. Like many women of the time, Fern is completely ignorant of all things sexual, but her bridegroom has experience to spare. Once he has convinced Fern that what they are doing is both normal and expected, she begins to give herself over to the experience. However, she starts to feel that she is losing a part of herself, and she rebels. Colin has always had things go his way, and expects that Fern will fall willingly into her role as wife, hostess, and mother. His smug complacency is shaken when Fern, who has had enough of being condescended to, delivers a forceful and richly deserved slap to his face. Suddenly, Colin realizes that not only is his wife not exactly the bland, biddable creature he thought she was, but his entire bland, comfortable life is not quite what he thought either.
This is where things really start to get interesting. Unsettled by the new dynamic developing with his wife, and with his world tilting out of orbit, Colin decides to pack up and go to Wrexmere, an ancestral estate he inherited some time ago but one which he has never visited. He has had some difficulty getting information about what, exactly, is going on at there (never a good sign,) so he feels the trip will kill two birds with one stone.
Fast forward two days to the newlyweds’ arrival at Wrexmere. The author has created a setting so fabulously creepy and classically gothic that I half expected to encounter the first Mrs. Rochester creeping around a corner. Due to a combination of thoughtlessness and sheer stubbornness, Fern and Colin are deposited at the ancient estate on the edge of the moors just before nightfall, with no servants of their own and no caretakers in sight. Decidedly odd, given that Colin has been paying a local couple, the Restons, to look after the place in his absence. The two have no choice but to make the best of it, with night falling and a storm coming in, so they begin investigating the old house. The unpleasant surprises start adding up fast: inches of dust, moldy featherbeds, cell-like rooms, apparent bloodstains, and mysterious packets of old letters clearly written by someone not quite in their right mind.
In the face of all this, the couple goes from being relative strangers in a marriage of convenience to passionate lovers united against unknown threats. Though they do eventually find help in the form of the village vicar, the mystery of the letters and the hostile, neglectful caretakers remains. Solving the riddle does unearth secrets from the past, with the most horrific and dangerous of these being centuries old. On a dark and stormy night, everything comes to a head in a classic chase scene that ends on the ruined parapets of the ancient mansion.
This is the closest thing to a true, gothic romance that I have read in a long time. I grew up on the works of Phyllis A. Whitney, and found Shadows in the Night to be a very enjoyable modern interpretation of the classic form. A strong heroine who truly evolves in the course of the story, a hotter, sexier relationship between the two main characters, and the vividly evoked desolate setting make this a real find for those who enjoy a good scare along with their romance. I will definitely read other Lydia Joyce titles, but I have every intention of ignoring the blurb!

Monday, March 17, 2008

New on DVD: No Reservations

If you’re in the mood for a light, enjoyable romance, check out No Reservations.This 2007 release starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart is the story of Kate, a top NYC chef who runs her kitchen and her life with clockwork precision. Both are turned upside down at once when Kate’s niece Zoe comes to stay with her the same week that Nick is hired on as her new sous chef. In contrast to Kate’s cool, controlled style, Nick likes to have fun and belt out his favorite operatic arias while he’s working. Though he could easily be running a kitchen of his own, he wants to learn from Kate, while Kate believes he really just wants to steal her job. Sparks fly between the two on a lot of levels. The always fabulous Patricia Clarkson plays the restaurant owner, and Abigail Breslin does a great job as Zoe. This is a sweet, funny little romance that's nice to unwind with. Click here to place a request.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Real Readers Writing Reviews

As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many good sources to help me narrow down the options on my “To Be Read” list. That’s why I like the Paperback Reader. A group of voracious readers post their honest opinions of what they are reading in a variety of genres, romance included. In addition to a variety of reviews, there are also links to other sites and blogs of interest to readers. Visitors can post comments and even enter the occasional contest. So if you are looking for a new source of information about books or a congenial virtual group of readers, check out the Paperback Reader today.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

On the Book Cart

If you are a fan of Christine Feehan’s Ghostwalker series, you’ll want to pick up Predatory Game. The story features Saber and Jess, two Ghostwalkers who have been damaged in different ways, and have to work through issues from their pasts in order to move forward together. Historicals include the dark, somewhat gothic Shadows of the Night by Lydia Joyce, and Sophia Nash’s more traditional The Kiss. Nash is also the subject of the April Romantic Times cover story. Tumbling through Time, by Gwyn Cready, takes a contemporary heroine and sends her back to an eighteenth century pirate ship, all courtesy of the magical powers of a pair of pink stilettos. And I thought ruby slippers had power! Last but not least is Robin Wells Between the Sheets, the story of a young woman who retreats to her hometown after being mistaken for the call girl who gave the president-elect a fatal heart attack. This one combines plenty of humor within the story of love, sex and politics, and so far as I can tell, there is absolutely no mention of the Mayflower Hotel....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Secrets and Spies

Distracting the Duchess
By Emily Bryan

Distracting the Duchess has all the elements I like in a historical romance: a strong minded heroine, a hero with a real job, eccentric supporting characters, and a masked ball and wild carriage ride or two. Her Grace the Duchess of Southwycke, Artemisia to her friends, is a young widow and an artist of some renown. Artemisia is in the middle of a series of paintings of the gods of Olympus when Trevelyn Deveridge arrives at her door. Mistaking him for a new model, she tells him to take off all his clothes and try a few poses. Trev is actually there looking for information, but as one of Her Majesty’s intelligence officers he has been trained to roll with the punches. So he assumes one of his many false identities, shucks off his clothes, and becomes gainfully employed as Mars, God of War. Baring all for Queen and country was not what he expected to be doing when he came looking for information, but Trev doesn’t have a lot of options and so makes the best of it.
Trev, however, is not the only one with more than one identity. Artemisia has a few secrets of her own. Since her father became mentally incapacitated after an illness, and her elderly husband died, Artemisia has been managing her family’s business and her late husband’s estate. Unfortunately, she needed to create a male alter ego to do so. And so the persona of Josiah Beddington was created. With the help of a loyal clerk who runs Beddington’s office, Artemisia manages to keep her role in the business a secret. All goes swimmingly until her business prowess attracts attention to the elusive Mr. Beddington, and some very rough customers want to find him. So does Trev. But why?
Unbeknownst to Artemisia, her father was also a spy, right up until a serious illness robbed him of his senses and left him somewhat delusional. His last coherent message, sent when he knew he had an illness he might not survive, was “Beddington holds the key.” So everyone is looking for Beddington, convinced he has the elusive key to a vast network of spies on the Indian subcontinent. But Artemisia is Beddington, and she has no idea what the message means.
So, what can a headstrong duchess and a determined spy do? Well, the obvious things:
fall madly, passionately in love; break into the Russian ambassador’s residence; steal a few things; have assignations in inns; threaten, evade and eventually manipulate a member of the press; get abducted, shot at, and generally beaten up; and above all, find the key. All in a day’s work for the intrepid Artemisia and Trev.
This story is a lot of fun. Though I wouldn’t classify it as romantic suspense, the search for the key and the meaning behind the cryptic message add a strong adventure storyline that serves to throw the hero and heroine together in a variety of circumstances, allowing their relationship to develop. The fact that both are passionate about something other than each other adds a nice dimension to the characters and serves to create conflict. The secondary characters, particularly Artemisia’s father, are nicely drawn and are vivid in spite of making brief appearances. If you like historicals with a dose of humor and a fair amount of mayhem, you will enjoy Distracting the Duchess.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

On the Book Cart

There’s a wide variety of romance on the new book cart this week. The first title in Celeste Bradley’s new “Heiress Brides” trilogy, Desperately Seeking a Duke, has arrived; the next two will be coming out in April and May. Other historicals include Distracting the Duchess by Emily Bryan, a tale of art, espionage, and mistaken identity set in Victorian England, and The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall, set in China in the 1920’s. If you prefer paranormal, pick up Vampire Interrupted, the latest Argeneau novel from Lynsay Sands. Romantic suspense fans will enjoy Patricia Potter’s Catch a Shadow, a contemporary story based on the premise that no good deed goes unpunished. Divorced, Desperate and Delicious, by Christie Craig, is a more of a romantic comedy caper. Last but not least, Sherryl Woods Seaview Inn tells the story of two people who find that you can go home again, and may just find love in the process. There’s a little something for everybody, so check the catalog to request the books you want.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

April Romantic Times on the Shelf

Author Sophia Nash is the topic of this month’s RT cover story; her new novel, The Kiss, is a story of unrequited love that was inspired by one of her ancestors. Also featured is an analysis of chick lit past and present, proving that Bridget Jones is alive and well and showing up in some unusual places. Fans of romantic suspense will enjoy an interview with Iris Johansen. If you are counting the days until the dreaded March “mixed precipitation” melts into memory, check out the “Summer Books Preview,” a three month calendar detailing release dates for some great beach reads. And, as always, there are 250 reviews of books in several genres – romance, suspense, paranormal, mystery, and mainstream fiction – that are being released in April. Request your copies now!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Highly Improbable and a Whole Lot of Fun

The Mercenary
By Cherry Adair

Cherry Adair’s T-FLAC operatives are the ultimate alpha males, combining the sexiness of James Bond with the kind of “Mere bullets and bad guys can’t stop me sweetheart” toughness of the classic hardboiled PI novels. Marc Savin, the original, baddest, sexiest operative of them all, is back in an expanded version of The Mercenary, the story that launched T-FLAC in 1994.

The premise is this: Marc has retired from the elite counter-terrorism unit due to personal tragedy. On his last mission, he shot and killed his lover, believing her to be an assassin sent to kill him. He sinks into guilt, believing that it was a case of mistaken identity. For two years he tries to get a grip on his anger and guilt by giving up the spy game and becoming a cattle rancher in Montana. One day Alex Stone, his former protégé, shows with evidence that Savin’s ex had been a rogue agent, and if he hadn’t killed her first she would have killed him. Stone also wants Marc’s help with an assignment: taking out a terrorist cell that has taken over a small Mediterranean island. Still heartbroken and angry, Marc says no, and Alex goes without him. By the time he finally looks at the evidence and is able to acknowledge the truth about his past, he gets word that Alex Stone is dead. Case closed, with yet one more thing to feel guilty about, until Victoria Jones shows up.

Tory Jones claims that she is Alex’s twin sister, and that her brother is still alive and being held captive by the terrorist group. At first Marc doesn’t buy her story, but after she provides him with the kind of information only Alex would have he starts to come around. He agrees to go after her brother, but takes her along as insurance in case she turns out to be part of an elaborate trap. Through rough seas, over rocky beaches, into caves, markets, dungeons, and palaces, and in spite of beatings, bullet wounds, and broken bones, Marc and Tory manage to not only rescue Alex, but fall passionately in love as well. Nothing like a little adrenaline to kick the chemistry into high gear….

Marc and Tory’s adventures in this book are over the top in the same way as Bond and Bourne – you just can’t believe what’s happening but you’re having too much fun to care! Both hero and heroine are appealing, which is more important than ever in this book because the secondary characters are few and far between. This is the biggest giveaway that this story was first published as a category romance. Fortunately, Adair fleshes out the characters and puts in plenty of action. She nearly always manages to show rather then tell, avoiding long winded explanations that would have dragged down the pace. In the few instances where explanation is necessary, such as when she is filling in a character’s back story, she works it in well enough so that it seems like a natural extension of the plot.

Overall, this book is fun and fast-paced with a nice amount of romance to balance the adventure. If you haven’t read any of the T-FLAC books, this is as good a place as any to start. Better yet, if you want to choose your Alpha-Male-Du-Jour from a menu, go to the author’s website and click on “Profiles.” You can view a complete dossier on each operative and get book synopses as well. Adair does a great job of continuing the high tech, guns and gadgets feel of her books right into every element of her website. Even if you’re already familiar with the books it’s fun to visit the site just to play with all the cool features!