Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quick Looks at New Books

By Kate Angell
Contemporary Romance

The Premise: The Richmond Rogues, baseball's sexiest major league team, are favorites for the World Series right up until their pre-season Media Day, when the three top power hitters get involved in a brawl so damaging to the team’s image and roster that the owner benches them for the first thirteen games. Collectively known as “The Bat Pack,” Cody “Psycho” McMillan, Jesse “Romeo” Bellisaro, and Chase “Chaser” Tallon find themselves with time on their hands and a lot of angry attitude to work off. Nothing like a lengthy suspension to throw your personal life into focus. Psycho has a gutted landmark Colonial, two badly behaved Newfoundland puppies, and the obsessive Daughters of Richmond historic preservation committee to deal with when Keely Douglas shows up at his door. She is trying to bluff her way into a renovation job; Psycho can smell a con but once Keely sweet talks her way past the Daughters, he hires her, and gets a whole lot more than he bargained for. Romeo, so nicknamed because of his way with the ladies and his title of “Sexiest Man in Baseball,” is trying to make amends to Emerson Kent, the reporter he knocked over during the Media Day brawl, and comes up against one woman who remains unmoved by his legendary charm. Meanwhile, Chaser accidently locks lips with childhood friend Jen Reid, and realizes the girl next door may mean more to him than he had guessed.

What I liked: I enjoyed the whole Richmond Rogues scenario in Strike Zone, and I like it just as much here. The team is full of quirky characters, and the professional sports background is fun. The stories unfold over the length of a baseball season, so the pace is good and the development of the relationships doesn’t seem rushed. The heroines are all different types in terms of looks, background, and attitude, but all likeable and believable.

What I didn’t like: The Chaser/Jen storyline was not as developed as the other two, and just didn’t hold my interest to the same degree. Having the three stories in one volume also means you don’t get quite as much detail on the characters background.

Overall: I think Curveball, along with Strike Zone and Squeeze Play, are well executed and enjoyable romances, perfect for the season and a lot of fun whether or not you are a baseball fan.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quick Looks at Some New Books

Positive I.D.
By Kathleen Long
Romantic Suspense
The premise:
This is the first of a new series called The Body Hunters from Harlequin Intrigue. The Body Hunters are a group of private citizens with great investigative skills who work together to find missing persons when law enforcement either gets no results or gives up. In this installment, Will Connor, one of the founders of the firm, goes back into the field to try to find his missing daughter Jordan. The tricky part of the equation is that both Jordan and Will’s wife Maggie believe that he died seventeen years previously in an explosion. One of the criminals Will helped bring down had threatened to kill both his wife and his infant daughter, so Will faked his own death to save them. Now his old nemesis appears to have figured out that Will is still among the living, and so he used Jordan and Maggie to lure him out of hiding. Now Will not only has to save his daughter but win back the wife who feels he abandoned her all those years ago, and whom he has never stopped loving.

What I liked:
I thought nearly all of the characters were well drawn, which is no mean feat within the length constraints of a category romance. Even the secondary characters were pretty vivid. I liked the missing person angle as well, particularly the Body Hunters desire to follow a trail, no matter how cold it might be, in order to help the families of the missing find some kind of closure. The suspense element and the love story were pretty well balanced and worked well together, and the pace was good.

What I didn’t like:
Will’s back story and that of the Body Hunters in general, didn’t really hang together for me all that well. Maybe I am being too nitpicky, but how is it that a couple of guys with no training – either law enforcement, military or P.I. – managed to put together this crack team of investigators? Also, if the goal is to find missing persons, how did Will end up breaking up a heroin ring and earning the enmity of the guy who threatened to kill his family? If these details were explained, I missed them. The villain was also fairly easy to peg early on, and was a little less meaty than I would have liked. Again, length constraints probably contributed to this. I also felt that Maggie gave in and forgave Will for his deception rather quickly. One brisk slap in the face and some tears wouldn’t really work for me for a faked death and the accompanying sense of abandonment – I think I might require some thrown crockery and a lot of screaming. But then, I might just be a grudge holder....

I think this is an enjoyable, quick read, great for a lazy afternoon. I would read other titles by this author.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Romantic Times Convention Recap

RT held its annual convention in Pittsburgh last week, and if the coverage on its website is any indication, a good time was had by all. The gathering includes all kinds of events, with author signings, contests, workshops for writers and booksellers, and costume balls. If you want to see what it's all about, you can read articles and see videos at the Romantic Times site under News.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On the Book Cart

There’s a wide variety to choose from on the cart this week, from series romance to classic historicals. Positive I.D. by Kathleen Long offers a quick shot of romantic suspense with the story of a government agent who had to fake his own death to escape a criminal vendetta and who is forced to reveal himself years later to save his wife and daughter. There’s also a bit of suspense in Dianne Castell’s Hot and Bothered, when a Savannah hotel magnate hires a sexy private investigator to help find the missing heir to the family fortune. In When She Was Bad, Cindy Kirk’s heroine Jenny Carman decides that since playing by the rules has gotten her nowhere, she’s going to play the bad girl and play the field, but she has a little problem with her double identity when she meets Mr. Right. Jackie Laurens is Flirting with Forty, recently divorced, and beginning a new romance with her surfing instructor in Jane Porter’s novel of mid-life love and reinvention. This week’s historicals include a retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew” set in 19th century Scotland in Hope Tarr’s Untamed. Elizabeth Hoyt begins a new four volume series called “Legend of the Four Soldiers” with To Taste Temptation, in which an “uncivilized” American businessman and former military man woos one of London’s most sophisticated ladies. Another commoner is the hero of Sylvia Day’s Don’t Tempt Me; mercenary Simon Quinn doesn’t quite know what hit him when he gets involved with identical twins, each with her own reason for keeping him in the dark. Last but not least, Amanda Quick’s latest Arcane Society novel, The Third Circle, has arrived. In this story, mesmerist Thaddeus Ware is sent by the Society to steal a powerful crystal, only to find that lovely Leona Hewitt has beaten him to it, and he must protect both of them to complete his mission. Reserve any or all by checking the catalog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Crossing Genres: Meet Bailey Weggins

As you know, I’m a real sucker for a mystery/romance combination, and Kate White’s Bailey Weggins novels fit the bill. Bailey is a thirtyish, recently divorced true crime writer who lives in Manhattan and works for a high profile women’s magazine. Her ex-husband, the rat, had a rather serious gambling problem, the fact of which totally blindsided her. Given that she’s a crime reporter, her cluelessness made her feel pretty stupid as well. But Bailey forges onward, both in dating and detecting, and her adventures make for some really fun reading. Author Kate White is editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and her knowledge of the industry makes her portrayal of Bailey’s work life both vivid and interesting. White also does an admirable job of conveying the atmosphere of New York City without sounding like a travel guide.
I’ve enjoyed pounding the pavement along with Bailey as she investigates, flirts, shops, and solves crimes through five different books. I read them (mostly) in order, but each one is enjoyable on its own. Synopses below; pick out one or all for a little armchair travel and adventure!

If Looks Could Kill: Cat Jones, Bailey’s editor at Gloss, calls early one morning in a panic – her nanny is missing and she fears foul play. Bailey leaves her bed -- and the cute boy in it – to help Cat. She expects to find a tempest in a teapot, and instead finds a dead body and a possible plot to kill her old friend and current boss. Traveling from city townhouses to country getaways, Bailey interviews nannies, philandering husbands, back stabbing magazine employees, and a sexy psychologist while hunting down a cunning killer.

A Body to Die For: Bailey heads out of town for some much needed rest and relaxation at an inn and spa owned by a family friend. Unfortunately, murder is not far behind, and Bailey is once again hot on the trail of a killer. With her handsome psychologist back in Manhattan, and a sexy homicide detective at the inn, Bailey has her hands full juggling men and mysteries.

Til Death Do Us Part: The life of a domestic diva is not all sunshine and radish roses, as Bailey discovers when she comes to the aid of a friend. It seems that members of the bridal party for a rising food and entertaining star are starting to die under suspicious circumstances. The really bad news is that Bailey was a bridesmaid and doesn’t want to end up dying for the honor. She braves the New England winter to investigate the nefarious goings-on in Greenwich and hunts down a killer who is both well dressed and well versed in the art of arranging convenient freak accidents.

Over Her Dead Body: Everyone thinks their job will be the death of them some days, but when Bailey starts a new gig at the celebrity gossip magazine Buzz, she finds out that sometimes work can kill you. Only a few days into her job, she finds the bludgeoned body of her much reviled editor while leaving the office one night. She soon finds that there are more people who wanted the woman dead than one intrepid true crime reporter can count. Her investigation takes her all over the city and out to the Hamptons, and introduces her to Beau Regan, a hot film producer that Bailey thinks she might just want to marry someday – that is, if she lives through the investigation.

Lethally Blond: Bailey gets a behind the scenes look at the hot new TV show Morgue when a former flame asks her to investigate the disappearance of a friend. Next thing you know, Bailey finds herself juggling the attentions of two handsome men and a crazed stalker. When the missing person becomes a murder victim, the stakes go up, and she races to find the killer before she ends up in the morgue for real.

Friday, April 18, 2008

eHarlequin – Not Just for Shopping!

I was noodling around online planning the summer paperback collection the other day when I decided to visit the cyber-home of Harlequin. Given the tremendous number of imprints and lines they have, I figured this was a great spot to find a mother lode of romance titles and authors. Well, I did find a wide variety of authors and series and new titles, but I also found a lot more. In addition to traditional shopping functions, eHarlequin also offers an area where you can read stories and excerpts with daily “Online Reads.” What a great way to test drive new authors or series! For those of who close many a romance novel with the words “I could do this!” there is a “Learn to Write” section, which includes helpful articles, writer’s guidelines for each imprint, new author profiles, checklists for the mechanics of submitting manuscripts, a forum for aspiring and published authors, and a fee-based individual manuscript critique service. You can also sign up for newsletters and publication alerts. Overall, this site has a lot to offer for romance fans, and is fairly easy to navigate. Whether or not you are a regular reader of Harlequin imprints, it’s worth checking out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the Book Cart

Some new titles and some old favorites on the cart this week. Nora Roberts old Silhouette romances are often reissued in multi-volume sets; Cordina’s Royal Family: Gabriella and Alexander follow the romantic exploits of a brother and sister from the ruling family of a small Mediterranean monarchy. Janelle Denison’s Born to be Wilde continues her Wilde family saga with the story of Joel, an ex-Marine turned security specialist who finds the woman he has been hired to protect is a little too hot to handle. Curveball by Kate Angell is another story featuring the Richmond Rogues, fiction’s sexiest Major League Baseball team. Another contemporary, Bikini Season by Sheila Roberts, introduces us to a heroine who goes back to her hometown to plan her wedding, but starts questioning her decision when she continuously runs into the object of a childhood crush, and the stress makes her eat so much that she can’t fit into her wedding dress. Historicals include Sharon Page’s Black Silk, a very hot, suspenseful Regency that is also a Romantic Times Top Pick, and a medieval romance between a beautiful, quick-witted thief and the sheriff who is honor bound to help her right a past wrong in Sarah McKerrigan’s Danger’s Kiss. Check the catalog to request your favorites.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Raintree Trilogy: Three Books, One RITA Nominee

While perusing my list of RITA finalists last week, I noticed that Raintree: Haunted by Linda Winstead Jones has been nominated in the Best Paranormal category. I was glad to see this, because I find that this subgenre is very heavy on vampires and light on everything else. The Raintree Trilogy is a refreshing change. Featuring three siblings who each display a different paranormal talent, the stories take place concurrently in different parts of the country during the week leading up to the Summer Solstice. Each book is written by a different author; each author takes their characters through fairly intricate individual storylines that intersect periodically with the storylines in the other books. For example, we hear conversations between the Raintree siblings from one side in one book, and the other side in a later book. This could have been a real mess, but these writers executed it extremely well. Though all three stories run along parallel lines, the difference in the main characters’ abilities and back stories lends plenty variety.
In Raintree: Inferno by Linda Howard we meet Dante Raintree, casino owner. As the eldest member of the Raintree clan’s royal family, he has multiple powers, not the least of which is his ability to control fire. He can also recognize psychic abilities in others, so when Lorna Clay is brought to his office, suspected of somehow cheating at the blackjack tables, he realizes immediately that she is no ordinary casino crook. The attraction between them is instantaneous, but since the casino is torched within minutes of their meeting, and for some inexplicable reason Dante is unable to control the flames, Lorna becomes guilty until proven innocent. Suspecting that she may be a member of the Ansara clan, Raintree enemies from centuries back, Dante decides that he can’t let her out of his sight until he figures out what’s going on. Sparks of all sorts fly as the two try to avoid what quickly becomes an ongoing series of assassination attempts.
Meanwhile, back in Wilmington, North Caroline, Dante’s younger brother Gideon is grappling with his own problems in Raintree: Haunted. Gideon is the town’s one and only homicide detective. He has an exceptionally high case clearance rate due to one of his particular gifts: he doesn’t just see dead people, dead people chat him up on a regular basis. Particularly murder victims, though Gideon has learned that he has to work fast to gather information before the ghostly energy of the victim moves on. This skill is not something he lets anyone know about, so when he is assigned a new partner he’s not too happy. Hope Malory will not be brushed off however, and pretty soon figures out that all is not quite what it seems with her new mentor. So the two dance around each other, Hope trying to snoop without seeming to snoop, and Gideon being evasive while trying to appear very upfront. That the two are attracted to one another is a given. When someone tries to murder Gideon’s cousin Echo, and then starts targeting both he and Hope, everyone’s secrets must come out into the open.
While her brothers are dodging arsonists, sharpshooters, and serial killers, Mercy Raintree, the heroine of Beberly Barton's Raintree: Sanctuary, is keeping an eye on the family homestead in the Smoky Mountains. Heavily protected, Sanctuary serves as a safe haven to any member of the Raintree clan in need. As Guardian, Mercy’s job is to watch over the place and its residents. With her gift of empathy, she also serves as a healer for both her extended family and the local community. Mercy also has a six year old daughter named Eve. Much to her older brothers’ dismay, she has adamantly refused to name the father of her child. However, when an attempt is made on her life and the boundaries of Sanctuary are threatened, Mercy is forced to reconsider whether keeping her secret will help or hurt Eve in the long run. Enter Judah Blackstone, head of the Ansara clan and Mercy’s former lover. He bears the unwelcome news that the attack on Mercy may well be the work of a rogue member of his own clan, and that in order to protect Eve they will have to work together in spite of being sworn enemies with a checkered, if passionate, history. It is in this final volume that the siblings are reunited and forced to make some hard choices regarding the future of their clan.
Though all three of these books are enjoyable, I can see why Haunted received the RITA nomination. The romantic suspense element in the middle book of the trilogy is stronger than in the other two, and is balanced nicely by the budding romance between Gideon and Hope. The secondary characters are fully realized and enjoyable, particularly Hope’s rather bohemian family. Though I really enjoyed the attitude Lorna displays in Inferno, and thought that Judah was a great sexy bad boy in Sanctuary, Haunted remains my favorite. If you are looking for a fast paced paranormal any or all of the Raintree books will do the trick.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The (Dark) Truth Hurts

Dark Truth
By Lindsay McKenna

What do you get when an evil sorcerer bent on world domination mates with a disguised shapeshifter who has devoted her life to saving the world from his nefarious plots? Meet Ana Elena Rafael, Our Lady of Perpetual Anguish. Ana is a heroine so continuously overwrought that I felt she either needed a strong dose of Xanax or a brisk slap and a firm “Snap out of it!” Unfortunately, neither is delivered, leaving Ana to gasp, sob, vow, cry out, moan, and generally hyperventilate her way through the rest of the book. This is a real shame, given that Dark Truth is the follow-up to McKenna’s Unforgiven, a book with nicely developed characters, a well thought out paranormal storyline and a reasonable amount of action. Dark Truth suffers by comparison and also seems to be a victim of the length constraints of a category romance.

When we first meet Ana, she is on a plane bound for a small city in Peru, where she hopes to learn more about her parentage. Having been orphaned at an early age under mysterious circumstances, she has decided to go in search of her roots, and is returning to the orphanage where she lived for several years as a young child. Little does she know that she is actually the daughter of Victor, the “Dark Lord” whose quest for power has long been prophesied, and who needs to either enlist the help of his daughter or get rid of her. Also on the plane is shapeshifter Mace Ridfort, representing the good guys, on a mission to keep Ana from joining forces with her evil father. Ana, of course, is clueless, and after literally falling into Mace’s arms exiting the plane, decides that he is a really great guy. Mace decides to keep an eye on Ana rather than offing her at the first opportunity, hoping she will lead him to her father. Since she spills her guts at the drop of a hat, this seems like a reasonable plan. Meanwhile, the two must fight their growing attraction to each other.

Between Ana’s quest to find out about her past, and the fact that both her father and Mace are trying to decide whether or not to let her live, there is great potential for action in this story. Unfortunately, the author does a lot more telling than showing. With the exception of a couple of action sequences, we have to suffer through a great deal of tortured thought from both Ana and Mace. When we’re not privy to someone’s internal dialogue, we get to sit through lectures on everything from Ana’s family tree to metaphysics. Most of the secondary characters seem to have been introduced for this very purpose. The result is a cast of two dimensional characters who elicit very little sympathy or interest. If this were a longer book, McKenna would have had the time to flesh out her characters. More interaction between the hero and heroine would have allowed for more emotional development and thus a more believable relationship. The paranormal elements could then also have been demonstrated rather than discussed. The author has developed a consistent framework for the shapeshifting and quest elements, but there is too much shoved into too little space. The result is an unsatisfying novel that serves as nothing more than a bridge between a promising opening volume and what will hopefully be a better executed conclusion to the trilogy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

You may have noticed some empty shelves in the paperback area recently. Fear not! We are not shrinking the Romance and paperback collections – we are expanding them! Due to their popularity, we have decided to give more space to ALL of our paperback groups. By mid-April, both spin racks will be devoted to Romance, while our Book Discussion and general genre fiction paperbacks are moving onto shelves in the same aisle as new Non-Fiction. The increased space will allow us to add more titles and make the collections easier to browse through. If you need help finding anything, please stop at the Reference Desk and ask for help.

Monday, April 7, 2008

May Romantic Times Magazine has arrived!

This month’s RT features a cover story on the new series by Gena Showalter – Lords of the Underworld—and includes an excerpt from The Darkest Night. Other feature articles include a discussion of redeeming despicable characters, an interview with cover model Jason Santiago, and a memorial tribute to Phyllis A. Whitney. Author spotlights include Jeri Smith-Ready, Heather Thomas, and Kerry Reichs, daughter of bestselling author Kathy Reichs. And as always, there are over 250 reviews to help you choose your spring into summer reading.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

On the Book Cart

Lots of romantic suspense this week, with hardcovers from Heather Graham, Karen Robards, and Lisa Jackson. Graham’s The Death Dealer is a spooky story complete with ghosts that revolves around the killings of the members of (appropriately enough) the Poe Society. Robards’ Guilty features a prosecutor forced to confront the guilty secrets in her past, while fending off blackmail attempts and death threats with the help of a sexy detective. The heroine of Jackson’s Lost Souls has escaped a serial killer twice, but when she begins to investigate some disappearances at All Saints College, she finds that she may not be so lucky a third time. A little less chilling is Lisa Kleypas’ Blue-Eyed Devil, a tale of love and vengeance set in Texas oil country. More traditional fare is available in paperback, with the latest entry in Susan Wiggs Lakeshore Chronicles, Snowfall at Willow Lake, and Samantha James historical Seduction of an Unknown Lady.
Click here to request your favorites.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Batting a Thousand

Strike Zone
By Kate Angell

When I plucked Strike Zone off the book cart last week, I wasn’t really sure I could commit to it. As far as I was concerned, it had a couple strikes against it going in. First, it’s baseball themed, and I’m a hard core hockey girl. Second, the heroine, Taylor Hannah, is described as a “gutsy blonde thrill-seeking adventure guide.” In other words, the type of romance heroine I am least likely to relate to, as she represents the type of woman most likely to make me feel inadequate. But I liked the premise: on the day she was supposed to marry baseball player Brek Stryker, Taylor panicked and left the country without giving any explanation; three years later she finds out he’s engaged and realizes he’s the love of her life. So, in honor of opening day, I decided to give it a try out.
And I’m glad I did.
The prologue begins with Taylor doing some Xtreme skiing in France, something you’ll never catch me attempting. It ends with Taylor receiving a copy of Brek’s engagement announcement, which makes her feel physically ill and causes her to realize that she did something incredibly stupid in terms of her love life.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can certainly relate to that last part. At this point I decided I might be able to like Taylor after all. When next we see our intrepid heroine, she is sweating bullets while dressed as a giant, fuzzy baseball, and has wandered into the team locker room instead of the mascot dressing room. Here she gets an eyeful of mostly naked professional baseball team, and after a few minutes decides that discretion is the better part of valor and closes her eyes.
The fact that she didn’t close her eyes immediately made me decide I definitely liked her.
Eventually, her ex figures out that something is not quite right with the mascot and he and Taylor have a brief confrontation. She would like to make an explanation, if not amends, but Brek is having none of it. He is now engaged to a woman who is her complete opposite in every way, and will not give her the chance to hurt him again.
So they go their separate ways, trying hard to ignore the chemistry that still sparks between them. Eventually, after a few chance meetings and a couple of personal crises for each of them, they are forced to try to find some way to mend their relationship in spite of the hurt and uncertainty that lingers from their breakup.
What I like about Strike Zone is the fact that Taylor and Brek’s road to reconciliation is a long and bumpy one. In spite of being a quick read with a strong subplot, I never felt that the story was rushed along. The plot unfolds over the better part of a baseball season, with relationships progressing in fits and starts, much as they do in real life. The secondary romance between Taylor’s sister Eve and relief pitcher Sloan McCaffrey is well developed and enjoyable, as Eve’s anxieties and Sloan’s over-the-top personality provide quite a bit of comic relief. In addition there are a couple of characters who are integral to the early stages of the plot and so deliciously kinky and loathsome I was sorry to see them go midway through the book.
Overall, this was fun and satisfying, light and quick and perfect for a spring afternoon. I’ll be ordering the author’s other two baseball books, Curveball and Squeeze Play, for those of you who decide you just can’t get enough of the boys of summer....