TBR Day: PN Elrod’s “Bloodlist”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

This month’s challenge theme: Urban fantasy, paranormal, SFR or fantasy

ETA:  This was meant to go up on Thursday 16 April, the official TBR Day; however, I am apparently useless when it comes to scheduling posts.  Ah well.

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51J5KGRF82L._SL160_ Book: Bloodlist (urban fantasy)

Author: PN Elrod

Copyright Date: 1990 (re-released in 2003 as part of “The Vampire Files 1” omnibus, featuring the first three books in this series)

Me and… Urban Fantasy: It’s probably fairly obvious that I read a lot of UF nowadays.  Heck, I used to read it even when it wasn’t known as UF.  However, I’ve realised that I rarely start new UF series nowadays.  It used to be “oh look, a new book featuring [insert supernatural-creature-of-choice here], gimme that now!”.  Now it’s more like “hmm… okay, interesting cover, what’s the blurb” *reads first few pages* “mmm…. not sure, let me think about it” *puts down, wanders away*.  I tend to stick to series I already know and love, or new books by authors I already read.

Why did I buy this book? PN Elrod’s name was familiar to me as an editor of various anthologies, including the “Big Fat Supernatural…” ones with Charlaine Harris.  I’ve also read a couple of her short stories featuring Jack Fleming, the vampire PI in this series, and liked them, so was curious about this series.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? Well, you know, yet another vampire series.  I just wasn’t inspired to start reading a new-to-me UF series.  However, the twelfth book in this series, “Dark Road Rising”, has just been released, so I remembered I had this in my TBR pile, and it fit in quite nicely with April’s TBR Day theme.

What is it about? From Ms Elrod’s website:

Vampire detective Jack Fleming’s first case: solving his OWN murder! Waking up on the shores of Lake Michigan with no memory of how he got there is the least of Jack’s worries as he comes to realize reports of his death were not exaggerated. But there’s a positive side to suddenly being thrust into the ranks of the undead: you’re always young, you live forever, and best of all–you can hunt down your own killer….

So what did I think of it?  In short, I liked but didn’t love.

I enjoyed the setting – “Bloodlist” is set in Depression-era 1930s Chicago and I found the period details fascinating.  I also got a sort of film noir feeling from the book, what with the gangsters and their molls.

My favourite sections were the ones where Jack comes to grips with the fact he’s a vampire and tries to figure out his vampiric powers.  For some reason, these passages struck me as being realistic – err… well, as realistic as you can get with vampires!  Jack is easy to like, there’s no “why me”-type whining, and he just gets on with things.  However, equally, I must say that I never really felt that invested in him nor the mystery of who killed him and why.

I somewhat lost my interest in the plot towards the end, and I suspect that if it wasn’t for the TBR Day deadline, I’m not sure I would have finished this in two days.  This was, however, one of the first books written by Ms Elrod, and I’m pretty sure she gets better over the years, especially if her short stories I’ve read recently are representative of current work.

My conclusion?  Not the most addictive book I’ve read, but good enough to get me to continue with the series (obviously, it helps that my omnibus version also has books two and three).  B- for me.

TBR Day: Lynne Graham’s “The Boss’s Valentine”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

This month’s challenge theme: Category romance

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51DdmZ5dzPL._SL160_ Book: The Boss’s Valentine (category romance)

Author: Lynne Graham

Copyright Date: 2003 (re-released in 2008 )

Me and… Category Romance: I used to read tons of Mills & Boons (or Harlequins for those in the States) back in my university days, primarily because they formed the majority of the local library’s romance collection.  And then I moved to the big city and suddenly, there were bookstores!  With proper romance sections!  With American imports!  So I gradually started cutting back on the number of M&Bs I read, and started buying based on the author instead of the back cover blurb.  Now, only one author remains a M&B autobuy for me: Lynne Graham.  I’m a sucker for her innocent English heroine and ruthless Mediterranean hero plots.

Why did I buy this book? It’s a Lynne Graham.  Refer to previous paragraph.  Plus the fact they were re-releasing this with the old-fashioned covers.  Ah, nostalgia.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? The downside of only reading one M&B author is that the books begin to feel very formulaic after a while.  And unfortunately the opening chapter of this one were so clichéd, I never got past the first few pages.

What is it about? Naive ditzy heroine, who secretly would prefer to be a nanny but forced by circumstances to do a nine-to-five job in Marketing.  A very alpha, very handsome Italian boss, who despite his best efforts, can’t help noticing the junior that constantly messes up in Marketing.  Company do.  Alcohol.  What else but a secret baby plot?  With a Big Misunderstanding for good measure.

So what did I think of it?  Okay, I hate to say this because it is a Lynne Graham and some of her books are on my keeper shelf, but the first half of this book bored me.  I skimmed through most of it, though once Santino figured out he had a baby, things got interesting.

The whole nanny-turned-incompetent-office-worker and super-powerful-and-rich-businessman setup felt dated, and then the bitchy secretary setting up the Big Misunderstanding didn’t make it feel any fresher. 

But then, Poppy developed a backbone and faced life as a single mum, Poppy and Santino bumped into each other again, and then I got into the story.  And there were bits that made me smile: Security turning a blind eye to Poppy trying to get out of the office the morning after, Santino sneaking upstairs to see his daughter for the first time, etc.

This really felt like a story of two halves to me, and I suspect part of it is due to me working in an office environment as well and rolling my eyes at Poppy’s fumbling around with computers and coffee, etc, in the first few chapters.

My conclusion? Not one of Ms Graham’s best, but I must admit I wasn’t quite in the right mood for it.  And my own experience may have influenced my reaction to the plot.  I’m going to read her latest release and see if I feel differently or if I just need to take a break from her books for a while. 

As an aside, what’s happened to titles like “The Boss’s Valentine”?  Now we have “The Greek Tycoon’s Disobedient Bride” and “The Ruthless Magnate’s Virgin Mistress”.

TBR Day: Donna Andrew’s “Murder with Peacocks”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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51863G4YZPL._SL160_ Book: Murder with Peacocks (cosy mystery) – excerpt here

Author: Donna Andrews

Copyright Date: 1999

Why did I buy this book?  I’m always on the lookout for new cosy mysteries.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Because my last couple of impulse buys in this subgenre have been, well, shall we say more miss than hit?  But I read the anthology “Unusual Suspects” a couple of weeks ago, liked Donna Andrews’ contribution, looked her up and realised that she wrote cosy mysteries.  So I made a mental note to check out her books, then thought a bit harder, and delved into the depths of my TBR pile.  Sure enough, Ms Andrews’ “Murder with Peacocks” was there.

What is it about?  Meg Langslow is going to have a rather busy summer, she’s maid of honour for three weddings – her mum’s, best friend’s, and sister-in-law-to-be’s.  She heads back to her hometown to help organise the weddings, and finds herself involved in a series of possible homicides and near-fatal accidents.

So what did I think of it?  This book won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel back when it first came out, according to the front cover.  So after enjoying her short story in “Unusual Suspects” and seeing that award, it’s probably fair to say I had rather high expectations for this one.

Unusually for a cosy mystery, there isn’t much focus on Meg’s profession – she’s an ornamental blacksmith, but seeing she takes the summer off, I suppose there wasn’t much scope for exploring the ins and outs of blacksmithing.  The focus instead is very much on wedding preparations together with Meg’s family and friends.  Her hometown is populated with a whole cast of eccentric characters, of which her family are probably the craziest.  It’s not quite slapstick, but close to it, and sometimes it worked for me, and other times it didn’t.

I thought the pacing was too slow at the beginning, though it picked up once the first murder occurred.  The trying-to-throw-suspicion-on-everyone conversations were slightly boring, mainly because a lot of suspects just didn’t feel plausible.  Meg doesn’t really play amateur sleuth in this one – it’s her dad that takes up the investigation with gusto, and Meg just gets dragged into his various madcap schemes.

Character-wise, I liked Meg, but I felt as though she was rather doormat-ish in the way she just agreed to do everything for the three brides-to-be.  I mean, she was doing them a favour in the first place.  If it had been me, I’d told them exactly where to get off.  And there could have been a tad bit more chemistry between Meg and her romantic interest.  I wasn’t really feeling the attraction on her part nor the frustration on his part.  Having said that, I did like their blossoming relationship, and the ending made me want to read the next book.

My conclusion?  I’m wondering whether my OCD-ish need to start series from the beginning means that I start with books where the author hasn’t really hit his or her stride yet.  Despite my issues with this book, I thought there was some promise here, so I’m planning on picking up more books in this series.  B- for me.

TBR Day: Tara Janzen’s “On the Loose”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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512T3f22wkL._SL160_ Book: On the Loose (romantic suspense) – excerpt here

Author: Tara Janzen

Copyright Date: 2007

Why did I buy this book?  I first stumbled upon Tara Janzen’s Steele Street books a good few years ago.  Centred around a super-secret Denver-based special forces group, there was fast-paced action, lots of testosterone, and super-alpha heroes matched up with feisty heroines.  Oh, and cars.  They were fun entertaining reads – sure, they required some suspension of disbelief, but I was hooked.  “On the Loose” is the seventh book in this series, and I picked it up a while back.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Well, as much I loved the earlier books, this series went horribly off-course in the fifth and sixth books, “Crazy Love” and “Crazy Sweet”, IMO.  The characters underwent dramatic personality changes between one book and the next, the plots became off-the-wall crazy (and not in a good way), and I lost interest in finding out what would happen next.

What is it about?  C Smith Rydell and Honoria “Honey” York-Lytton were the secondary h/h characters in “Crazy Sweet”, and to be honest, they were the one redeeming factor in that book for me.  Coming from totally opposite worlds, Smith is the hardened Special Defense Forces agent, and Honey the East Coast heiress and socialite.  Reunited in this book, Smith has to escort Honey to the depths of the El Savadoran jungles, deliver a few million dollars and some gunpower to the rebels, and get them out safely again.  All in a day’s work for a man like Smith…

So what did I think of it?  I’ve always mentally grouped Ms Janzen’s books under the “If you like Suzanne Brockmann, you’ll probably enjoy the Steele Street books”, and to some extent, that still holds true.  There are a lot of similarities between the books, not least being we spend a lot of the book in the hero’s POV, and there’s usually a secondary couple that ends up being the h/h of an upcoming book.  Where it differs is that here, having a masculine POV appears to mainly consist of swearing and lusting after the heroine’s body, and the plot tends to be weak and cobweb thin. 

The plot in this book largely went over my head, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to try and keep up with the twists and turns.  Everything, and I mean everything, was thrown in there as justification for the implausible storyline that had Honey trotting off to El Salvador with her Louis Vuitton suitcases – drugs, US political maneuvering, local governments, guerillas, blackmail, double-crosses, misunderstandings.  Did I care?  Not really.

I must admit to feeling some ambiguity when it came to the political aspects because I’m unfamiliar with South American politics and don’t know which cause I’m meant to identify with – the government or the rebels?  Maybe Ms Janzen is making a point that it’s not black and white, and that there are grey areas, but I do like feeling that I know where things are in relation to my personal views.  Perhaps this is where using an actual country as opposed to a fictional one makes it more difficult for a reader.

Okay, so I didn’t care for the plot.  But it wasn’t all bad, I liked C Smith and Honey.  I liked finally getting to know what the C stood for.  I liked the humour.  And I very much liked the intriguing Alejandro Campos that Ms Janzen introduced.  So much that I may even buy the next book if it’s his story.  And I guess this is where Ms Janzen excels, she makes certain characters so compelling that you really really want to read their story.

My conclusion?  Not the best book in this series, but not the worst either.  It had some of the magic of the earlier books, and I may, just may, get the next book “Cutting Loose”.  C+ for me.

TBR Day: India Grey’s “The Italian’s Defiant Mistress”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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51ZUCDyoG6L._SL160_Book: The Italian’s Defiant Mistress (contemporary romance)

Author: India Grey

Copyright Date: 2007

Why did I buy this book? I heard good things about India Grey’s debut novel on the various review sites, so added it to my Amazon cart when shopping one day.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? The only Mills & Boon’s author I read with any regularity is Lynne Graham – for some reason, I’m a sucker for her stories.  So Ms Grey’s book kept on being pushed to the bottom of my TBR pile… until I needed a slim book for TBR Day (yes, this is a very last-minute thing).

What is it about?  Standard M&B back-cover blurb:

The Italian billionaire’s inexperienced mistress Eve Middlemiss has come to Florence desperate for information.  And only darkly good-looking multimillionaire Raphael di Lazaro, heir to the Lazaro Fashion House, holds the answers she’s searching for.  Surrounded by glamour and decadence, Eve is totally out of her depth – until she realises she is the one Raphael wants! If becoming the Italian’s mistress is what it takes to find out the truth about her family, Eve realises she must feign the sophistication and experience she’s sure Raphael is accustomed to – but that means making herself available to his every desire…

So what did I think of it?  Standard M&B title, standard M&B back cover blurb, standard M&B characters and plotline?  Pretty much so – Eve is an inexperienced virgin who just happens to be incredibly sexy and beautiful, Raphael a drop-dead gorgeous Italian billionaire.  Having said that, I think when you pick up an M&B, you expect a certain type of story, and this definitely ticked all the boxes.

My main bugbear with this story was the plot.  I hate the Big MIS plot device, which provided the main conflict in this story – Eve thinks Raphael is a drug-dealer, while Raphael thinks Eve is a not-to-be-trusted journalist.  And towards the end, even more misunderstandings ensue.

However, I thought Ms Grey’s writing was strong and I loved the background and settings.  I thought it had a very British feel to the story – it’s hard to pin down exactly why, but I definitely knew Eve was British.  Not knowing many Italians myself, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Italian characters and settings, but certainly they felt real to me!

My conclusion?  Despite using the Big MIS plotline, I thought the writing was strong and the characters believable.  I’m always impressed by how much story M&B authors manage to cram into a 200-page book.  All in all, it was an enjoyable quick read and I will probably be looking out for Ms Grey’s next books.

TBR Day: Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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5126P1XE2QL__SL160_ Book: Stardust (fantasy)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Copyright Date: 1999

Why did I buy this book?  My sister had a bit of a Gaiman glom some time back, and insisted that I read this one.  We more or less share the same tastes when it comes to reading, so I took her word that this was a good one.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  I read the first couple of chapters about a year ago now, just before the movie came out.  While I thought his writing had a certain charm, I just wasn’t in the right mood.  And once I’ve started a book and not continued, I have a very bad habit of not returning to it!

What is it about?  From the back-cover blurb:

In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall.  Young Tristan Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is as cold and distant as the star she and Tristan see fall from the sky one evening.  For the prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristan vows to retrieve the star for his beloved.  It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town’s ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

So what did I think of it?  Once I made up my mind to read this, I was totally engrossed.  I thought it read like a charming fairy tale for adults.  And for such a slim book (194 pages in my version), it packs so much story and is wonderfully-plotted.  All the subplots somehow tie themselves in with the main thread and come together beautifully at the end.  I say “somehow”, because it’s not at all obvious how they’re going to fit together or resolve themselves, yet everything works out perfectly!

It’s full of whimsical gems; this sentence describing the size of Fairie is a lovely example:

But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, but the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain).

Character-wise, Tristan, the protagonist, is a very engaging young man, and watching him grow into himself throughout the book was completely satisfying.  All the secondary characters are nicely fleshed-out, and for a story that reads like a lighthearted fairy-tale at first, the evil characters do radiate a proper sense of menace and danger.  Which makes it all the more gratifying when they get their come-uppance.  And yes, there’s humour – there were some bits that made me snicker.

The only thing that kept niggling at me – and this is very much just me – is that because I knew that there was a movie (sigh, I held off on watching the movie because I wanted to read the books first… time to hit the DVD rentals, I think), I kept on trying to visualise how a scene would transfer onto the big screen!  Arrghh.  I did try to stop myself, but I would catch myself doing it.  Very annoying.

My conclusion?  A very strong B+ and I think I’ll have to track down more of Mr Gaiman’s backlist.  Does anyone know if his other books are written in the same style?

TBR Day: Anne Stuart’s "Night of the Phantom"

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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Book: Night of the Phantom (contemporary romance)

Author: Anne Stuart

Copyright Date: 1991

Why did I buy this book?  I read a couple of Anne Stuart’s older books last year and really liked them, so have been keeping my eye out for more of the same.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  I need to be in the right mood for reading contemporaries, because it’s not one of my favourite genres.

What is it about?  Ms Stuart describes this one as “…a dreamy, erotic take on Phantom of the Opera crossed with Beauty and the Beast, with ghosts and crazed fundamentalists thrown in for good measure.”  And that’s a pretty spot-on description!

Megan Carey discovers her father, a construction business owner, has been cutting corners and using substandard materials using designs by a famed but reclusive architect.  Somehow, the architect, Ethan Winslowe, has discovered this, and is threatening to turn her father in unless he turns up in person at his house.  Megan lets her father persuade her to go in his place and plead his case.  What she hasn’t counted on is the fact Ethan lives in the middle of nowhere, the nearest town is populated with hostile people, and oh, he lives in complete darkness due to some sort of unspecified disability… or is it deformity?

So what did I think about it?  I loved the gothic-ness of the storyline.  How Ethan lives in complete isolation with only his faithful manservant for company, and how he hides himself away in darkness.  And the build-up to Megan wearing Ethan down and him finally revealing himself – I was dying of curiosity to find out exactly how he looked!

Ms Stuart said in the foreword that she just let herself go OTT with this one, and the story did have some pretty fantastical elements.  For instance, Megan is constantly moved between different rooms, each with a different theme – she starts off in a medieval dungeon-like room, is then moved to a castle room, a Southwestern-styled room, a Park Avenue penthouse, etc, etc.  And the townspeople were just plain creepy.

What didn’t work for me though was the mystical connection between Ethan and Megan, and how they could hear the other “calling” them.  It was working very well as a straight contemporary (obviously suspending your disbelief to some extent!), but once the paranormal elements came in, it changed the story somehow, and I just found myself flipping through the pages to get to the end.

Finally, as a side-note, although this is a contemporary, it was written in the early 1990s, so some elements felt slightly dated.  For instance, there was mention of items not really used nowadays, such as traveller’s cheques, and lack of reference to everyday items, for instance, no mobile phones!  This didn’t bother me, but it made me realise how many changes there have been to everyday life in the past decade or so.

My conclusion?  I loved the atmospheric set-up, but the mystical parts didn’t work.  I’ll still look out for more of Ms Stuart’s backlist, but this one wasn’t a keeper for me.  C+.

TBR Day: Nora Roberts’ “Blood Brothers”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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Book: Blood Brothers (paranormal romance)

Author: Nora Roberts

Copyright Date: 2007

Why did I buy this book?  Err I didn’t.  I nicked it off my sister ages ago… and never quite got around to reading it.  See next question.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  I’ve read practically all of Ms Roberts’ backlist, and while I still enjoy her writing, I’ve felt that there has been a bit of a same-ness about her recent books.  Also, her previous “Circle” trilogy, which had paranormal elements, really didn’t work for me – so when I heard that this one also had a paranormal storyline, I just couldn’t get excited about reading it.

What is it about?  The first in Ms Roberts’ latest trilogy, “Blood Brothers” starts off with three boys, Cal, Fox, and Gage, swearing blood brothership on their tenth birthdays and accidentally unleashing a demon that brings chaos and murder to their small town every seven years.   Fast forward 21 years, and Quinn, a writer (and obviously the heroine of Book 1), turns up to investigate the phenomenon.

So what did I think about it?  Well, first off, this is very much a NR trilogy – if you’ve read a couple, you’ll be very familiar with the set-up in this book.  Three men, three women, each of a certain “type” (the clever one, the quiet one, etc), all end up in the same place and relationships develop.  And as I alluded to earlier, unfortunately this just didn’t feel fresh to me.  It reminded me a lot of previous trilogies, especially the Chesapeake Bay series – an association not helped by the fact the heroine’s name is Quinn, which is the name of the main family in that series!

Having said that, it is a Nora Roberts, and it has her characteristically smooth flowing writing style.  The background is deftly sketched in and the secondary characters nicely brought to life.  I did like the relationship between Cal and Quinn, and I loved the male viewpoints and dialogue.  For instance, this had me smiling – when Fox’s secretary suggests he refer a problematic client to someone else:

“You can’t refer off the first girl you got to second base with when she’s filing for divorce.  It’s against the laws of God and Man.”

And then the plot, well.  Okay, I’m not a huge fan of horror, and I think this book veers towards the horror side of the scale.  Not massively, but horror’s really not my thing.  And maybe I missed something, but what I just don’t grasp is why anyone is still living in this town.  I mean, if I knew my neighbours went mad and started murdering everyone every seven years, there is no way I’d still be living there.  Yes, the period’s a bit of a blur to anyone actually experiencing it, but if the phenomenon has been written up so much that a writer comes to town to find out more about it, it’s hardly a secret.  So I did think there were a few logical gaps in the plot.

And finally, my other main bugbear with the plot is the ending.  Yes, I know it’s the first in a trilogy, but the plot climax really came across as a letdown and I felt as though the book didn’t really have a proper ending.  Definitely not a standalone at all, which irked me.

My conclusion?  I think that someone fresh to Ms Roberts’ writing would probably rate it higher, but this book didn’t wow me.  And the ending?  Just plain disappointing.  However, I still enjoyed the humour and the writing flowed well, so a B- for me.

TBR Day: Linda Lael Miller’s “Shotgun Bride”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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Book: Shotgun Bride

Author: Linda Lael Miller

Copyright Date: 2003

Why did I buy this book?  You know how sometimes you just feel like reading a particular genre?  Well, I was browsing Amazon one day, and was trying to make it to the £15 threshold for free shipping, and I thought “Oooh, it’s been a while since I read a Western…”.  Linda Lael Miller is probably the first name that comes to my mind when I think of Western historicals – I’ve read a couple of Julie Garwoods and Mary Jo Putneys with this setting, but no one else really.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Because by the time the Amazon delivery arrived, I didn’t feel like reading a Western.  Yes, I am fickle.

What is it about?  This is the second book in this particular series – I checked Ms Miller’s website and she actually writes about the McKettrick family a lot.  Anyway, the patriarch has to decide which son gets to inherit his ranch, and so sets up a competition.  No, the winner isn’t the first son who gets married (because that would be too easy – and this is a series, after all), instead the winner is the first son who gets married and produces an heir.  To complicate matters, in the first book (I think), a previously-unknown fourth son turns up and promptly buys a rival ranch…

So this is Kade McKettrick’s story – he’s annoyed because his elder brother has beaten him to the punch and gotten married (also, he had a bit of a thing for his now sister-in-law).  Somehow or other, he’s also ended up with a whole gaggle of mail-order brides – but does he fall for one of them?  Of course not.  His heroine is “Sister Mandy”, a woman disguising herself as a nun for some mysterious (and he suspects dubious) reason…

So what did I think about it?  The primary reason I read Westerns is because I like the setting – I love the frontier atmosphere, the pioneering spirit of the people, a look at what it was like trying to set up a whole new community from scratch.  And this book did deliver on these.  I will say that this is not a gritty realistic story, instead it’s a cleaned-up sanitised view of what it may have been like back then. 

For a second book, I didn’t feel lost at all – Ms Miller filled in the background very nicely.  I’m normally quite anal about reading a series in order, but I didn’t really mind not reading the first book in this one, but more on that later… 

Ms Miller writes sweet romances, with humorous touches.  I loved the interplay between the brothers, and how Kade slowly gets to know his newfound brother a bit better – as you can imagine, he’s not been welcomed with open arms.  There are also some sad scenes in this book and I admit I sniffled a bit at certain parts!  The villain was a bit obvious, and probably a bit too blatantly evil.  But they generally are in Ms Miller’s books, IIRC.

However, I’m trying to decide why this book wasn’t really a keeper for me, and the best I can come up with was that it just felt bland.  I liked Kade and Mandy, but I never felt completely invested in their relationship.  It wasn’t a struggle to finish the book, but equally, I could have happily closed the book halfway and not finished it.  I said earlier that I didn’t really mind not reading the first book in the series, and I think part of that has to do with the fact I didn’t think I was missing a must-read.  Although it is debatable whether I would have enjoyed this book a bit more if I had read the first one?

My conclusion?  This book’s a B for me, because it was pretty much what I expected from a Linda Lael Miller.  Not more and not less.  While I’m not going to rush out and get the other books in this series, I will probably return to this series when I feel like another historical Western.  I probably want to read Holt’s story (he’s the fourth son), because I suspect there will be a lot of angst in that one…

TBR Day: Mary Jo Putney’s “The Diabolical Baron”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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Book: “The Diabolical Baron” (note that this is published with another story in “Dangerous to Know” – the other one is a novella “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know”, which I’m not reviewing here)

Author: Mary Jo Putney

Copyright Date:1987

Why did I buy this book?  Mary Jo Putney was one of the first historical romance authors I stumbled across.  I loved her Fallen Angels series (not so much her newer paranormal romances, so I cheered when i heard she was moving back to straight historical romances).  Anyway, I picked up this copy for old times’ sake when I spotted it on the sales rack (and yes, the cover played a part).

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Because I thought I had already read it!  I bought this book mainly for the novella, thinking that the blurb for “The Diabolical Baron” sounded familiar.  But when I picked up the book a couple of nights ago and started skimming through the main story, I thought “hey, this doesn’t feel familiar”…

What is it about?  It’s a Regency-set romance, and starts off with Jason Kincaid, nicknamed the Diabolical Baron, picking the name of his bride out of a hat.  He’s reached the age when he really should get married and he doesn’t quite care who he actually marries as long as she’s suitable.  So he ends up with Caroline Hanscombe, a young girl who meets all his criteria – well-bred, reasonably good-looking, etc, etc.  The only thing Jason hasn’t realised – and won’t until he invites them to his house – is that Caroline’s widowed aunt and chaperone, Jessica, was his first love.  Oh, and there’s Captain Richard Dalton, who at first sight appears completely unrelated to the main storyline, but ends up playing a major role in the story.

So what did I think about it?  “The Diabolical Baron” is not an unpredictable read – you pretty much figure out the entire storyline and who ends up with who after the first couple of chapters.  Having said that, the characters and their interactions were enough to keep me flipping the pages.

I liked Jessica – she was a refreshingly strong older heroine.  This isn’t one of the stories where the heroine sits around mourning the loss of her first love – instead, Jessica married someone else and had a good marriage.  She’s a typical Putney military wife heroine – an independent and strong-minded woman, following the drum with her husband.  I could see the attraction between herself and Jason, and their relationship was definitely the main thing that held my interest in this book.  There is also a secondary romance, which was sweet – actually, some of the scenes with Caroline and her music were lovely.

Secondary characters?  Well, you have the standard outspoken aunt with a heart of gold, a best friend who works at being a dandy, the ambitious stepmama, etc, etc.  The most interesting character is Reggie Davenport, who is cast in the role of the heir-apparent to the abandoned Wargrave estate.  A gambler, a drunk, and a bit of a letch, he actually has some of the best lines in the book.  He’s attractive because you get the feeling he’s not completely lost beyond all hope, and I’m pretty sure MJP redeemed him in a later book (ETA: have checked, and yes, he is the hero in “The Rake”).  The ambiguity in most characters is something I liked about this book – for instance, Caroline’s stepmother, while being wildly ambitious and not really caring about her stepdaughter, also has a strong honest streak.

What I didn’t like was the ending – the reason for Jason and Jessica’s original breakup really frustrated me.  It just felt like too trivial a reason for something that completely changed their lives.  And the last third of the book felt padded out and slightly lazy – a lot of assumptions by all the four main characters that typified the big MIS being used as a plot device.

My conclusion? It’s not one of Ms Putney’s best books – it’s one of her earlier ones and it shows.  It’s interesting because you can see hints of her later style peeking out, but as it is, it feels clumsy in places.  I couldn’t help but think it would have been a much better book if she had written it now.  I’m sort of torn between a B and a C for my grade – for sentimental reasons let’s call it B-.