25 April 2013

Code Name: Princess (Code Name, Book 2)


Synopsis: Two FBI agents are dead. A top-secret government lab animal has been stolen. Now Hawk MacKenzie just walked in on a naked woman in his hotel shower. She says she’s royalty and has the attitude to match. Whether this arousing female is a true blue-blood or not, the combat-trained Navy SEAL isn’t letting her out of his sight.

Actually a hotel investigator in disguise, Jess Mulcahey can’t believe she’s being held against her will by this gorgeous commando who’s about to blow her cover. Lucky for her, she’s good at narrow escapes. But just when she hits the road, dodging bullets and outwitting cold-blooded pursuers, her luck bottoms out…and Hawk is her only hope of protection. A few stolen hours in a stalled elevator show Jess a different, more sensual side to the hard-edged SEAL. Now the two are closing in on their missing government secrets and trying to hard to ignore their memories…But they’re about to discover that the most dangerous revelations come from an unguarded heart…

First line: Something was wrong.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Dell Books, 2004; 256 pages (not including excerpt in back); purchased at Half Price Books.

My thoughts: I read CODE NAME: NANNY back in 2010, before I started blogging, and the only note I made about it at the time was:

I really enjoyed this. I gather there are a lot of romances now about CIA agents and Navy SEALS and the like, sort of a new mini genre, but this is the first one I've read. I picked up a couple more books in the series though and plan to continue it, as well as keep an eye out for other books by the author. 

The heroine in CODE NAME: PRINCESS is the twin sister of the heroine from the first book, but the girls are very different. Summer is an FBI agent, while Jess is a civilian. Though Jess is only a few minutes younger than her sister, Summer has always mothered and worried over Jess, trying to take care of her. The girls were put in the foster care system as teenagers, but their paths diverged there, with Jess having behavioral issues and being sent off to have them worked on. That experience had a profound impact on her life and her character.

Hawk is a Navy SEAL, recovering from broken ribs earned on his last mission, and on a new mission to help rescue a very valuable stolen lab animal. There was a side plotline about Hawk being given experimental drugs for his broken ribs, which cause his hormones to go crazy, likening him to a horny fifteen year old. I thought this part of the story was a bit stupid and unrealistic and didn’t really contribute any worth to the story, but others may disagree.

Jess finds herself thrown into the middle of Hawk’s mission, and they part company more than once, only to have circumstances thrust them back together. I loved both Jess and Hawk. I don’t know people like Hawk in real life, but I felt I got a look at how hard it would be to be involved with someone who can’t talk about his work or share his day with you. Hawk has always been a loner, indulging occasionally in casual sex but never in a real relationship, and seeing him have to put his feelings and emotions aside to focus on his mission and his orders, I could understand why he chose to live that way.

By the middle of the book I was in don’t-want-to-put-it-down mode, and last night, even after taking Nyquil around 10:30, I stayed up past midnight to finish the book. While I felt the resolution was a little too drawn out, it was very satisfying.

22 April 2013

The Twilight Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series

Synopsis: Everyone's in love with vampires, and if the vampire's name happens to be Edward Cullen, then readers of the wildly popular Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer can't help but be crazy about him. For all those who adore Bella Swan, Edward, and the rest of the Cullen family and can't get enough, this companion guide is a must.

The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer follows an unlikely couple: Bella, a teenager, and her boyfriend, Edward, a vampire who has sworn off human blood. Added to the mix is Jacob Black, a werewolf who also loves Bella. Seductive and compelling, the four-book series has become a worldwide phenomenon.

With legends and lore about vampires and werewolves throughout history, insight into the series, quizzes, and heaps of fascinating facts, this companion guide will give millions of readers the information that they've been hungering for since book one! And as a special bonus, the companion guide helps readers to determine if the are compatible with a guy like Edward!

First line: Throughout the first three books of Stephenie Meyer's extremely popular Twilight Saga, heroine Isabella, aka Bella Swan, desperately wants vampire Edward Cullen to suck her blood.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, St. Martin's Press, 2008; 242 pages, purchased at a thrift store.

My thoughts: I have a confession – I've not read any of the Twilight books, although I did buy the books as they came out for my daughter, who loved them. My sister is also a huge Twihard, and so is my mother. And many of my friends and colleagues. I do have the first two books in my own enormous TBR pile, but have never really had any desire to read them. As for the movies, I only saw the first two, and I didn't particularly care for them. A small group of us go to our local discount theater every Tuesday night, which is dollar night, whether there is anything good playing or not. Our motto is “We'd rather see a bad movie than no movie”. But on the Tuesday that the movie was the last Twilight movie, I skipped it and stayed home.

When I was browsing at the thrift store and came across this book, I decided to get it, not for myself, but for my mom and/or sister. After skimming through a few pages, I thought that it might be amusing and slightly irreverent and not take itself too seriously, so I decided to go ahead and read it before handing it off.

And it was amusing, and just slightly irreverent, though the author did take Twilight and Bella and Edward very seriously. In fact, every time she mentioned how Edward was so gorgeous and tall and muscular (really?), I would recoil, and then have to remind myself that she was describing the book Edward, not the skinny little movie Edward. Personally, while I don't consider myself Team anyone, if I were forced to choose I would be Team Jacob. Though really I'm much more Team someone my own age, or at least closer to my own age. Unless it's Bones – I'm team Bones all the way.

While talking about the Twilight phenomenon, the author also goes into detail about vampire and werewolf lore, recounting old legends and beliefs, including a very interesting section about the real “Dracula”, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, and another section focusing on vampire bats.

And now in case you require further proof of the author's skill – reading this book almost makes me want to read the Twilight series. Almost. And I had to look the author up to see what else she's written, and may have to search out some of her other fan books, such as "Exploring Lemony Snicket", "The Science of Stephen King", "The Science of James Bond", and "The Hunger Games Companion".

For Twilight fans, the book is probably a must read. For non-twilight fans like myself, I still recommend this book if you have any interest in vampires and/or werewolves, and/or pop culture.

19 April 2013

Big Boned (A Heather Wells Mystery, Book 3)


Synopsis: Life is reasonably rosy for plus-size ex-pop star turned Assistant Dormitory Director and sometimes sleuth Heather Wells. Her freeloading ex-con dad is finally moving out. She still yearns for her hot landlord, Cooper Cartwright, but her relationship with “rebound beau”, vigorous vegan math professor Tad Tocco, is more than satisfactory. Best of all, nobody has died lately in “Death Dorm”, the aptly nicknamed student residence that Heather assistant-directs. Of course every silver lining ultimately has some black cloud attached. And when the latest murdered corpse to clutter up her jurisdiction turns out to be her exceedingly unlovable boss, Heather finds herself on the shortlist of prime suspects – along with the rabble-rousing boyfriend of her high-strung student assistant and an indecently handsome young campus minister who’s been accused of taking liberties with certain girls’ choir members.

With fame beckoning her back into show business (as the star of a new kids’ show!) it’s a really bad time to get wrapped up in another homicide. Plus Tad’s been working himself up to ask her a Big Question, which Heather’s not sure she has an answer for…

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, published by Avon, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2007; 280 pages; received through Book Mooch.

My thoughts: It’s been nearly two years since I read the second book in this series, but the characters and events of the past books came back to me fairly quickly, Heather and Cooper especially. In fact, I particularly remembered how much I liked Cooper and how badly I wanted he and Heather to get together.

This book opens with Heather still living in Cooper’s brownstone, along with her father and her dog, Lucy. Her dad is getting back on his feet and is about to move out, and Heather is realizing that she might actually miss having him around, especially when it’s time to walk the dog. Heather is dating her remedial math professor, and while she’s definitely not crazy about Owen, her new boss, she’s not happy to walk into his office and find him dead.

Thus begins the third Heather Wells mystery, as the residence hall is invaded by detectives trying to figure out who killed Owen, while the grad-student workers are protesting for the right to unionize and a student claims the new reverend on campus is a perv who feels up the girls in the choir. Even though Heather promises Cooper she won’t launch her own investigation into who killed her boss, she of course is unintentionally drawn into everything.
As always with Meg Cabot, there is lots of snarky humor. My only complaint - Cooper was not on near enough pages as I would have liked. But a quick and fun read with a satisfying resolution.

11 April 2013

Born Free


Synopsis: This is the original story of Elsa, the famous lioness who was raised as a pet by Kenya Game Warden George Adamson and his wife Joy Adamson, and then trained by them to fend for herself in the wild. By allowing her always to be free, the Adamsons enabled Elsa to live a natural lion’s life, to mate and produce a litter of cubs in the jungle, and still remain on affectionate terms with man.

First line: For many years my home has been in the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya, that vast stretch of semi-arid thornbush, covering some hundred and twenty-thousand square miles, which extends from Mount Kenya to the Abyssinian border.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, 1974; 222 pages; purchased at a library book sale.

My thoughts: The author’s husband, in his duties as a game warden, was forced to shoot a lioness as she attacked. He then found her three young cubs (and felt great remorse at having killed their mother) and took them home. Two of the cubs were eventually sent to a zoo, but the smallest, Elsa, stayed on as a member of the household.

The bond between Elsa and the Adamsons is incredible. While raising Elsa as a pet, they rarely kept her penned up or chained and gave her a lot of freedom to still act like a lion. She was very loving and affectionate to them, and to other people who came into contact with her. You can almost feel the love that Joy and Elsa shared, and Elsa’s personality comes through very clearly. The descriptions of her playful antics are amusing, and it’s an interesting peek also at life in the bush.

When the time inevitably came, Joy and George made the hard decision to release Elsa into the wild. After finding a suitable location, they spent a lot of time teaching Elsa to hunt for herself. They would make camp, spend time with Elsa, and then leave her on her own for a day, then a couple of days, then a week at a time. She was always happy to see them on their return, while at the same time growing more and more self-sufficient.

Even after being in the wild on her own for several months, Elsa would still get very excited when George and Joy visited her, showing them much affection and wanting to play with them. But she also grew more independent, and began to show signs of wanting them to leave her alone, and her transition from family pet to wild lioness was successful.

A heartwarming and well written story, with lots of pictures (in my edition of the book anyway), and now I want to watch the movie again.

07 April 2013

What She Wants


Synopsis: Earl Hugh Dulonget of Hillcrest was a formidable knight, used to getting what he wanted. This time, he got himself into a bind. His uncle's will had a codicil: He must marry. And Hugh had just insulted his would-be bride by calling her a peasant! How could he win back her esteem – and her hand?

Everyone seemed to have advice. Some men-at-arms thought that Hugh could win the fair Willa's love by buying her baubles. The old witch who was her guardian wanted Hugh to crawl back on his belly. And his castle priest proffered "De Secretis Mulierum", a book on the secrets of women. But Hugh had ideas of his own. He would overcome every hindrance – and all his friends' help – to show Willa that he had not only what she needed, but what she wanted. And that the two of them were meant for a lifetime of happiness.

First line of chapter one: The door flew open, slamming into the cottage with what would have been a crash if it had been made of stronger material.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc., 2002; 357 pages; received through BookCrossing.

My thoughts: Lynsay Sands is one of my favorite authors, thanks to her Argeneau Vampire series, of which I've read – in order – through Book 13 so far. I've only read two of her non-Argeneau books, The Highland Bride, which was still a vampire story and which I enjoyed, and The Brat, an historical, which I loved. Two of Ms. Sands' trademarks are sassy humor and comical situations, and she employs both in WHAT SHE WANTS.

The beginning was a little slow and didn't really engage me. Hugh has just learned that his uncle's will decrees that he marry Willa, whom he's never heard of and whom he assumes is his uncle’s “by-blow” - illegitimate child. He rushes off in a fit to Willa's home to announce to her that he has no intention of marrying her, insulting her in the process. Later he learns that Willa is not quite who he thought she was, and that while he inherits his uncle's property, Willa inherits the money needed to run the estate. Back he goes, this time in an attempt to convince Willa that he does want to marry her after all.

Once this part of the story has been resolved and Hugh and Willa travel to their new home to be married, the story picks up tremendously. Willa has a mind of her own, and Hugh often finds her maddeningly frustrating. And consummating their new marriage – let's just say events keep happening to delay that, and both parties are the victims of bad advice from others, much to their dismay and our reading enjoyment.

There are several supporting characters, most of whom are wonderful, creating at times a kind of screwball movie type effect, running in and out of the scene. And there's a mystery afoot, as someone keeps attempting to kill Willa.

All in all, a quite enjoyable romp, and I'm very happy to have several more of this author's books, both Argeneau and non-Argeneau, waiting in my TBR pile.

03 April 2013

Finders Keepers, by Fern Michaels


Synopsis: Raised in a magnificent Charleston house, Jessie Roland wants for nothing. But as she grows into young adulthood, all she feels is loss and a desperate need to break free from the stifling possessiveness of her “parents”. Somewhere, in the deepest part of herself, Jessie believes that the world she has always lived in is not the one she came from…or belongs in.

Now, at age nineteen, she has escaped to Washington, D.C., where no one knows her, and where she is swept into a whirlwind marriage to a Texas senator’s son. But the past will not release Jessie, who is once again haunted by a sense of lost happiness, of simple, tender gestures buried in her memory. Only in Lucas Palmer, a reclusive rancher, will she discover the strength to penetrate the darkness and find her way back to the place she can call home.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, a Zebra Book, published by Kensington Publishing Corp., 1998; 411 pages; received from a BookCrossing member.

My thoughts: About a year ago I read my first Fern Michaels book, LATE BLOOMER, and I loved it. It was an emotional roller coaster. It made me want to find everything else she’s written, and I’ve been steadily collecting her books ever since, though I didn’t read another one until this one. And I’m sorry to say if FINDERS KEEPERS had been the first one I read instead of the second, I probably would not have bothered to look for any others.

The story itself was good. It was an interesting premise. We meet Jessie as a child, growing up within a rich and affluent family, but terribly unhappy. As soon as she is of age, she drives away, and with Sophie’s help, creates a new identity for herself so that her parents won’t be able to find her. That aspect was a little unbelievable to me, and was glossed over. We don’t know how Sophie got this new identity for her, but Sophie is rich and knows people and can get anything done. Despite the fact that Jessie has a new social security number and a fake background to tell people about, she still uses her real name.

Through Sophie’s connections, Jessie gets a job working for a senator, whom she comes to be very fond of and vice versa. One year, knowing she will be alone for Christmas, he invites her to spend the holiday at his ranch in Texas, where she meets his son, Tanner, and Luke, a neighboring rancher. (One little nitpick I had here – the back cover copy says “Lucas Palmer”, but his last name in the book is Holt and the name Palmer never appears.)

Towards the end of the book I stayed up way past my bedtime because I didn’t want to close the book without finding out what happened next. But the writing. Or rather the writing style I guess. There was a lot of dialogue. Which is fine, characters talking to each other is great. The first scene where Jessie meets Tanner and converses with him was hilarious and made me want to see them get together. But often one character would talk and just ramble on. For instance, Jessie would answer the phone and hold a conversation, and we would only get her side of the conversation. Instead of a back and forth, she says something, the other person says something, we only heard her side of it, but she would repeat what the other person said, almost as if narrating the other person’s side so we, the reader, wouldn’t be lost. It was annoying. Even in person though, sometimes one character would begin talking and go on and on, and you know the other person is responding, but instead of that person’s dialog being written down for us to read, the first character would almost narrate the conversation.

And the mothers in this book! They are all over the top! Jessie has grown up with a mother who is incredibly overbearing. She ran every aspect of Jessie’s childhood, and made all of her decision, right down to what clothes to wear, what to eat for her snack, what to do with practically every minute of her time. Growing up, Jessie only had one friend. Sophie’s mother and Jessie’s mother used to be best friends, but apparently drifted apart after Jessie’s family moved away from Georgia. Jessie and Sophie, however, maintained their close friendship, seeing each other during the summer and whenever else they could. While Jessie was at school every day her mother would go through her room. Her father knew she did this, wondering what she could be searching for, but not interfering. When Jessie would come home, she was expected to change into the clothes her mother had laid out on her bed, and then instead of playing like a normal kid, she played games with her mother or did some activity with her. When Jessie’s father gave her a pair of overalls, her mother had a cow, insisting that Jessie take them off and that she cannot possibly appear at the dinner table dressed like that. And on and on and on, until Jessie could not wait to get away.

Then there’s Sophie’s mother, who roamed around the world with her latest boy toy, leaving her daughter home with the household staff. She missed birthdays, Christmas, even her daughter’s college graduation. And the senator’s wife was also incredibly overbearing with her children, but whereas Jessie’s mother loved her to pieces, smothered her with that love and seemed to live only for and to be with Jessie, Tanner’s mother was distant and formal and lived to put on a good appearance for all the neighbors.

Overall, I liked the book, liked the story, despite how implausible it all was. The synopsis hints at a secret about Jessie’s parents, and even though that secret is revealed to us, the reader, in the prologue, I don’t want to say what it is, but it is the driving force of the book, right up to the last chapter.

I will say one last thing that some might construe as a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you want: I was disappointed when I read the epilogue. I don’t like the way it ended, and how one of the two men just seemed to disappear from Jessie’s life without any explanation.

Oh, and one other comment – if Sandra Brown had taken this plot idea and written the book, I probably would have loved it rather than just liked it. Yeah, I think about stuff like that.