23 October 2013

Significant Others (Tales of the City, Book 5)


Synopsis: Tranquility reigns in the ancient redwood forest until a women-only music festival sets up camp downriver from an all-male retreat for the ruling class. Among those entangled in the ensuing mayhem are a lovesick nurseryman, a panic-stricken philanderer, and the world's most beautiful fat woman. SIGNIFICANT OTHERS is Armistead Maupin's cunningly observed meditation on marriage, friendship, and sexual nostalgia.

First line: Brian's internal clock almost always woke him at four fifty-six, giving him four whole minutes to luxuriate in the naked human body next to him.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1994; 322 pages; bought at Half Price Books.

My thoughts: I read the first three books in this series in 2010, then finally read the fourth book, BABYCAKES, a few months ago. I've enjoyed all of them, and this one was no exception. I finished it awhile back and I don't even know why I've taken so long to write my review, but I may be a little fuzzy on the details now as my memory is not the best.

Of the main characters from previous books, the focus here is on Brian, Michael, DeDe and D'or. Brian and Mary Ann have moved to a fancy high rise up the hill, and I was disappointed in the person Mary Ann had become. As a local celebrity, she's very focused on her career and success, and the move was due to her desire to live in a setting that she deemed more appropriate for a woman in her position. Brian is a stay at home dad, and while he loves taking care of their daughter, he's become a little discontented. Then he learns that an old lover, a woman who he cheated on Mary Ann with in the past, has AIDS, and he becomes a big bundle of stress, worrying that he might be infected, and might have infected Mary Ann, and how to tell her. He decides not to until the results of his test come back, which means he needs to be away from her for those ten days as he has no way to explain to her why he can't have sex with her until he has his test results.

While hanging out with Michael, who is still mourning Jon, they meet Thack, who is in town on vacation. Michael and Thack dance around each other, but in the wake of the burgeoning AIDS epidemic Michael has been hesitant to be intimate with anyone. It's just too risky. However, he's really attracted to Thack, and when he and Brian decide to go to a friend's cabin in the woods, the perfect getaway for Brian, Michael invites Thack to go with them.

Meanwhile, DeDe and D'or head to Wimminwood, a women's music festival out in the middle of nowhere, while DeDe's stepfather, Booter, attends a men's retreat nearby. Pretty much all the women at Wimminwood are lesbians, while the men's retreat is full of rich entitled men where a gay man would probably not be openly welcomed. I never cared much for D'or in the previous books, and I didn't care much for her here either. Her character just grates on me, and she and DeDe seem to squabble a lot. I seriously thought they might end up splitting up.

A new character introduced is Wren Douglas, a plus size woman often referred to as the most beautiful fat woman. She's written a book celebrating being a fat woman in today's (well, the today of that time) world, and is in town to be interviewed by Mary Anne while on her book tour. She was a refreshing addition to the cast, getting involved with Booter, and then with Michael, Brian and Thack when Booter stashes her in a cabin nearby so he can sneak away from his retreat on occasion to visit her.

SIGNIFICANT OTHERS treats the threat of AIDS quite seriously without being heavy handed or too depressing. And at the very end, Mary Anne seemed to soften up a little, so I have hope that in the next book she'll come to her senses and realizes what a snob she's become. Maupin's writing is crisp and involving, and he's wonderful at dialogue. I have the next book, SURE OF YOU, waiting for me, thankfully.

20 October 2013

Ghost Night (The Bone Island Trilogy, Book 2)

Heather Graham

Synopsis: A slasher movie turns real when two young actors are brutally murdered on a remote island film set. Their severed heads and arms are posed in macabre homage to a nineteenth-century pirate massacre.

Two years later, survivor Vanessa Loren is drawn back to South Bimini by a documentary being made about the storied region. Filmmaker Sean O'Hara aches to see how the unsolved crime haunts her...and Sean knows more than a little about ghosts.

Lured by visions of a spectral figurehead, Vanessa discovers authentic pirate treasures that only deepen the mystery. Are the murders the work of modern-day marauders, the Bermuda Triangle or a deadly paranormal echo of the island's violent history? As Vanessa and Sean grow closer, the killer prepares to resume the slaughter...unless the dead can intervene.

First line: The sound of the bloodcurdling scream was as startling as the roar of thunder on a cloudless day.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, published by MIRA Books, 2010; 371 pages; bought at a used book store.

My thoughts: I read the first book in this series, GHOST SHADOW, in January, and I enjoyed it so much that Heather Graham immediately made my list of authors whose back list I obsessively began to collect, and I was particularly eager to acquire the other two books in this series. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in GHOST NIGHT.

Sean O'Hara is the brother of the heroine of the first book. And while he and the female lead were likeable enough, I never really connected with either of them or cared about them as much as I did Katie and David in the first book. I was pleased to learn right from the start that Bartholomew, the ghost of a privateer who lived with Katie, had now attached himself to Sean, as Bartholomew was one of my favorite characters in the first book. Sean had never been able to see or hear Bartholomew until after the events at the end of that book. Bartholomew, however, while involved in the storyline, was not on the page nearly as often as in the first book, and was definitely a secondary character this time.

Vanessa and a small group were filming a horror movie on Haunt Island, when the two leads' severed heads were found on the beach. Now, two years later, Sean and David are about to start filming a documentary about the history and local legends of the area when Vanessa appears and begs Sean to hire her onto the crew. She wants to go back to Haunt Island and try to figure out what exactly happened. Vanessa also just happened to be a childhood friend of Katie's. Sean reluctantly lets her convince him to hire her, and to include the mysterious circumstances of the murders on Haunt Island in the documentary.

Maybe I'm not remembering the first book properly, maybe the story drew me in so much that I didn't notice the writing, but the whole tone, the writing, of this second book just seemed...more amateurish for want of a better description. The plot was more convoluted and a little harder for me to keep up with. Maybe the book just needed better editing. For example, I had to read this part twice, and it just irritated me:
Hey, what's going on?” he asked.
Zoe stared at him without speaking.
Sean,” she said softly. “You need to be quiet and not raise an alarm.” (pg 359)
She can't stare at him without speaking, and then immediately say something, or, you know, speak.

I wasn't sure how it was going to end, and then the ending didn't feel real plausible to me. And yes, I know, we're talking about pirate ghosts here, so no plausibility to begin with, but still.

The third book is about Liam, and since I did like the first book so much, and I already have the next book, I'll still read it, and still look forward to it. I mean, not every book can be a winner for everybody, right?

15 October 2013

Cavelli's Lost Heir (Harlequin Presents No. 2887)


Synopsis: Normally Prince Nico Cavelli would never waste his time visiting the prison cell of a tourist. Except this particular alleged criminal has stolen something very personal to him - his son, heir to the Montebianco throne!

Lily Morgan knew it was a mistake coming to the Mediterranean kingdom, but she'd had no choice. First she was thrown into jail for a crime she didn't commit...now she's been bailed out by the prince - though in return she must become his royal wife!

First line: Crown Prince Nico Cavelli, of the Kingdom of Montebianco, sat at a fourteenth-century antique desk and reviewed a stack of paperwork his assistant had brought him an hour ago.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Harlequin Enterprise Limited, 2010; 183 pages; purchased at a library sale.

My thoughts: The royalty trope is one of my least favorites. I never dreamed about meeting a prince or being a princess. I was a fan of Princess Di and I was devastated when she died. But beyond that, royalty just doesn't do it for me.

Now that I have that confession out of the way...I enjoyed this book, the first title I've read from Ms. Harris.

Lily Morgan is a single mother, struggling to support her 18 month old son, Danny, while working for a newspaper. She doesn't want the assignment in Montebianco, but her boss insists she go as nobody else is available. After buying a trinket at a stand in the market, she is arrested and thrown in jail, on charges of trafficing in stolen antiquities.

Nico Cavelli is a prince, next in line for the throne. He's the younger, illegitimate son, and has always been a playboy with a zest for life. But after his older brother dies, he has to buckle down and become serious about his new role in the future of his country.

Two years ago, Nico met Lily in the US and they had a brief fling, and then he stook her up and she never saw him again. She didn't know he was a prince until later, after she discovered she was pregnant with his child. When she did learn his true identity and began reading all the press about him, she realized she was just another notch on the proverial headboard for him, and she was afraid he would take her baby away from her, so she never tried to contact him to let him know she was pregnant.

Now Nico shows up outside her cell, with a picture of her son taken from her suitcase, demanding to know if the child is his. This part I'm still a little fuzzy about. When Lily was arrested, the police went through her luggage and found the picture and gave it to Nico. But I'm not sure why. Do they always go through every prisoners' belongings? Or maybe only because she was a foreigner? Do they go to Nico and tell him about every prisoner they arrest? Or about every American? Did someone look at the picture of a child less than two years old and think, wow, he looks just like our prince, and put two and two together?

Lily of course is innocent of the charges levied against her, but she has no proof that she did not knowingly purchase stolen treasure. Nico offers her a deal - the charges will be dropped and she will go free, but she must marry him so that he can raise his son the way a prince should be raised. So not really free, she'll just trade one prison for another.

And so it happens. Lily is literally given no choice but to go along with Nico's plans. Plans which mean he breaks off his engagement to the princess of a neighboring country the night before the wedding. But Nico is all about duty, and he won't allow his son to be raised as a bastard away from his father, the way he was raised the first six years of his life. He also won't allow his son to be raised without a mother, as he was after his mother died, so he has no intention of taking the child and sending Lily packing. Marriage is the only proper thing to do, even if it does anger his father and royally piss off his ex-fiance's father. (See what I did there?)

The angst level is high. Nico is brimming over with it. He misses his brother. He's angry that he has a son he didn't know about. He has to deal with his father and the other king, and fix the damage that his broken engagement has caused to the relationship between the two countries. He wants Lily, but he's furious with her for keeping his son from him. But she's his wife now and he's certainly not going to not sleep with his wife.

Lily has her own angst and is miserable in her new life. Her best friend betrayed her. The king and queen hate her. She believes that her marriage to Nico has caused broken hearts for him and the Princess Antonella. She's a Lousisana girl and has no idea how to act like a princess. The only saving grace for her is that she still has her son, and she'll never have to worry about him going hungry or doing without. Though she does worry constantly that Nico will tire of being a husband and divorce her and send her away without her son, or go back to his playboy ways and his mistresses.

It's a slow burn and a long road for both of them. Of course they're attracted to each other, but love? No thank you. Even when it's hitting them on the side of the head and saying "Excuse me, but I'm here whether you want me or not".

My favorite quote:
He smelled like citrus and spice, with the faintest hint of an ocean-scented breeze. To her dismay, she wanted to lick him like a lollipop. (pg 122)
So back to my opening - the royalty trope is one of my least favorite tropes. But this book is an example of why I read them anyway. The characters of Nico and Lily are believable. The angst they go through, their thoughts and actions, seem realistic to me. And the author brought them to life and made me care about them. And while the happy ever after ending was predictable, because, you know, it's a Harlequin, I still wasn't sure how they were going to fnd their way to that ending. And I very much enjoyed the entire experience.

06 October 2013

Spooky Little Girl

Synopsis: Coming home from a Hawaiian vacation with her best girlfriends, Lucy Fisher is stunned to find everything she owns tossed out on her front lawn, the locks changed, and her fiance's phone disconnected – plus she's just lost her job. With her world spinning wildly out of her control, Lucy decides to make a new start and moves upstate to live with her sister and nephew.

But then things take an even more dramatic turn: A fatal encounter with public transportation lands Lucy not in the hereafter but in the nearly hereafter. She's back in school, learning the parameters of spooking and how to become a successful spirit in order to complete a ghostly assignment. If Lucy succeeds, she's guaranteed a spot in the next level of the afterlife – but until then, she's stuck as a ghost in the last place she would ever want to be.

Trying to avoid being trapped on earth for all eternity, Lucy crosses the line between life and death and back again when she returns home. Navigating the perilous channels of the paranormal, she's determined to find out why her life crumbled and why, despite her ghastly death, no one seems to have noticed she's gone. But urgency on the spectral plane – in the departed person of her feisty grandmother, who is risking both their eternal lives – requires attention, and Lucy realizes that you get only one chance to be spectacular in death.

First line: The very moment when the cab pulled up to the curb, Lucy Fisher knew that she was seeing something exceptional.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, published by Villard Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2010; 293 pages; bought at a library sale.

My thoughts: I previously had read only one book by Laurie Notaro, WE THOUGHT YOU WOULD BE PRETTIER: TRUE TALES OF THE DORKIEST GIRL ALIVE, a collection of laugh out loud essays that made me put her on my look-for-everything-else-she's-written list. That was in 2008, and while I don't remember much about it now other than the fact that I really liked it, SPOOKY LITTLE GIRL definitely lived up to that memory. It's not really laugh out loud funny, it's more subtle, but certainly amusing and enjoyable, enough that I sat up past my bedtime last night, fighting the usually welcome effects of a sleeping pill, because I kept wanting to read just one more chapter before setting it aside.

Lucy Fisher has just come home from a vacation in Hawaii with two friends, sort of a last hurrah before getting married, to discover everything she owns in the front yard of the house where she lived with Martin, her fiance. Everything except her dog, Tulip, who is inside, but Lucy can't get to her because the locks have been changed. Martin won't answer the door, even though Lucy thinks she sees him through a window, and won't answer his phone. Less than twenty-four hours later and she's been fired from her job for forgetting to make a deposit and failing a drug test, even though she knows she hasn't taken any drugs. With no other choice besides her best friend's couch, she packs what she can in her truck, leaves the rest in her friend's garage, and drives to her sister's house a couple of hours away. Where soon after she is hit by a bus, and wakes up in a dormitory where she's suddenly in a spectral school, learning how to be a ghost.

Before she can move to her final destination, The State (and not that white light that we've all heard so much about), she must complete an assignment on earth. Under the watchful eye of their teacher, Ruby, Lucy and her classmates learn the fine arts of being a spectral, er, being, such as how to draw energy from electrical appliances and manifest into their corporeal forms, how to move a physical object,etc. She also attends her funeral, which is a huge disappointment. Why aren't her friends and coworkers present and mourning her passing?

Finally it's time for her assignment, and she goes to bed that night eager and excited, convinced she'll be doing something to help her sister. The last place she expects to wake up the next morning is on the couch in her old house, where Martin seems to have completely forgotten she existed and has moved on with another woman.

Lucy doesn't know exactly what her assignment is and all Ruby can tell her is it will eventually come to her. Along the way, she learns about herself and matures as a person, so to speak. Oh, and Tulip! The best part about haunting Martin and his new “domestic partner” is being reunited with her dog, who can actually see and hear her.

I don't want to tell you any more of the plot but this is a wonderfully engaging and enjoyable book. In this age of the internet and everybody being so connected, the idea that the characters are so disconnected was a little hard to fathom, but if you just go with it, it's well worth it in the end.

02 October 2013

Cowboy Trouble

Synopsis: Fleeing her latest love-life disaster, big city journalist Libby Brown's transition to rural living isn't going exactly as planned. Her childhood dream has always been to own a farm - but without the constant help of her charming, sexy cowboy neighbor, she'd never make it through her first Wyoming season.

Handsome rancher Luke Rawlins is impressed by this sassy, independent city girl. But he years to do more than help Libby out with her ranch. He's ready for love, and he wants to go the distance...

Then the two get embroiled in their tiny town's one and only crime story, and Libby discovers that their sizzling hot attraction is going to complicate her life in every way possible...

First line: A chicken will never break your heart.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., 2010; 386 pages; borrowed from my local library.

My thoughts: Over the last year or so I've gotten more and more into the cowboy genre, to the point where I'm actively seeking out and grabbing books that look like they fit that genre. I recently discovered Carolyn Brown who became my favorite new to me author with LOVE DRUNK COWBOY. During my last trip to the library, this book practically jumped off the shelf at me. Well, one of this author's books did, anyway - I had to immediately pull out my phone and look up the author on Fictiondb to check if it was a series so I could be sure to start with the first book. Anyway, to bring my rambling to a point, Joanne Kennedy has now bumped Carolyn Brown down a spot and has taken over as my favorite new author.

I was hooked from the first page. Libby has taken a job with the local newspaper and bought a farm where she plans to raise chickens. She doesn't know anything about farming or ranching or chickens, but she's a journalist, so she knows how to do research, and she figures she can figure it out. As she's unloading her truck on her first day at her new home, her closest neighbor pops in to say hello, a handsome rancher named Luke. Of course Libby is getting over a broken heart and has no interest in dating, hooking up or being in another relationship. Even if he's cute. And such a cliche, she thinks, in his chaps and talking with his cowboy swagger.

Later she meets the local sheriff, Cash, who's even more swagger with his silver star and hero law enforcement vibe. And she actually feels little sparks with Cash. But again, not interested, no more men, on her own, etc.

The book has a lot of humorous dialog and one liners, starting with that opening line and continuing non-stop. One of my favorites:
I'd like to go along,” she said. “But I think we need to talk first.”
Oh, no.” Luke backed away as if she'd suggested they take him over to the veterinary clinic for neutering. “It's okay. We don't need to talk.” (pg 91)
Libby and Luke are both fun characters, Cash is too full of himself, and the supporting cast slide seamlessly into the story, capturing you with their own distinct but rarely over the top personalities.

When Lucy hears about a young girl who disappeared awhile back, her reporter instincts kick in and she's intrigued. After the missing girl's mother approaches her and asks for her help, she begins digging into the story in earnest, trying to trace the girl's last steps, and interviewing her friends. Several of the locals seem like good suspects, including both Luke and Cash at times.

The cast is rounded out by several dogs and a wild chicken. And of course charming cowboys, who may be good guys or may be bad guys. I thought I'd figured out what happened to the missing girl before Libby did, but then a little twist came and I was surprised, so that was good.

A quick, lively and very entertaining read, and I'm now eager to collect the rest of the author's books.