Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Summer of Two Wishes / Julia London. 2009.


In what can only be a wild coincidence, 2009 has brought us a second book with a hero who comes back from the dead after his wife has remarried. In Jennifer Haymore's A Hint of Wicked (which was a Phave back in June) we had the story of Sophie who presumably lost her first husband at Waterloo. She remarries years later and shortly after the marriage her first husband returns. In this new book by Julia London we have Macy in a contemporary story of a woman whose husband is presumed killed in Afghanistan when all that is left are his dogtags after an attack on his vehicle. Turns out that Finn was captured by the Taliban and escapes only to find that his wife had remarried just 7 months previous to his escape.

Despite the disparity in time and setting, not to mention the legal situation, both books are eerily similar. They do not tell the romantic journeys of the protagonists in what might be considered traditional romance fashion. Instead they focus on the decision the heroines must make when faced with the fact they they love both the men in their lives, but must choose to be with only one. I was rather reluctant to read SoTW because I knew there would be a "loser" in the Macy stakes. In order to like and sympathize with Macy, I had to assume that both men in her life would be sympathetic characters. And for the most part they were.

Initially I was wary, especially on the heels of AHoW, but I do think London makes it work. In addition, because this book is a contemporary and the legal situation is much different, it necessarily reads very differently than AHoW. I did not spend my time comparing the two books. What I liked about the contemporary setting was London's ability to deal with PTSD as an identified, named disorder that Finn had to deal with. Also, I could appreciate the way Wyatt goes a little off the deep end when he is faced with the fact that he could very well lose the woman he loves because Finn has reappeared. Both men act a little crazy and it was believable. Macy gets pressure from all sides and many people in her life assume that she's going to make a specific choice and are stunned when it doesn't seem as easy to her as it does to them.

There's a wealth of interesting secondary characters here--most of them have very definite opinions about Macy's choice. I read this at the same time there was some discussion going on elsewhere (see here and here) about mothers in romance novels. I didn't actually follow those discussions, but I believe they talked about how often mothers are portrayed as bad or obnoxious. Finn's mother and Macy's mother aren't "evil" mothers, but they do have their moments. Part of Macy's growth in the books is finding the ability to stand up for herself and her choice, and that includes standing up to these two mothers.

I do think this is one of those books that would have benefited from a slightly higher word count. Mostly because I wanted to read more. London created a fine cast of secondary characters. I also wanted to read more about Finn coming to grips with his PTSD and the steps he'd need to take to function normally. That issue is certainly covered, but not with a lot of depth. Because the book does have a full cast of characters and a very compelling conflict, this was an easy, rapid read. I have to admit it was everything I could do to keep from looking in the back to find out who Macy chooses. When I found myself with about 75 pages to go and a meeting to attend, I caved and peeked. It was well worth it so I could go to my meeting and not fret about the time. And so if you'd like to read something a little different, do give this one a try. I recommend it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from August

I was going to write this up on Tuesday, but then I started reading Jo Goodman's Never Love a Lawman and, well, I just had to finish that first!

5. Never Romance a Rake by Liz Carlyle. This was one from my TBR pile that I've had for a year now. The hero, Rothewell, is one of those heroes who is about as dark as they come. A horrific childhood combined with a boatload of guilt over the circumstances of his older brother's death have filled him with a lot of self-hatred. He gambles with some very disreputable people and finds himself agreeing to a wager that, should he win, commits him to marry the illegitimate daughter of his gambling partner. Camille is desperate to be married, period, and makes it clear she supports this wager. The two are drawn to one another immediately, and must learn to make their marriage work, despite their secrets and their pasts. This was another beautifully drawn book by Carlyle that focused on the relationship between Rothewell and Camille. Camille tells Rothewell her secrets from the start, but Rothewell needs to learn to both trust and hope.

4. The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal. Despite the fact that this book received numerous excellent reviews when it was released last year, I wasn't too interested in reading it. For some reason the plot description didn't excite me. However, it won the RITA in July and then I saw it at the library, so I decided to give it a try. I'm happy to say I'm glad to have read it. Marina & Jasper's relationship begins as a purely sexual one and they are committed to not being committed. But as that resolve begins to fade, they face problems based on the secrets they've been keeping. I thought the writing was just lovely and I think it's quite evident why this book won the RITA.

3. A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James. This was the final book in James' "Desperate Duchesses" series and well worth the wait. I did enjoy all 6 books in the series, especially this one and When the Duke Returns. And while I think this book could be read on its own, I do not recommend it. The hero, Villiers, was a strong secondary character throughout the preceding books. He had a story arc that was important to understanding his character in this book and his choices. I simply do not think he would have been as interesting a character if I had not known him better. Nell, the heroine, is a practical, down to earth woman and the perfect foil for the heretofore selfish, aloof Duke. As always, James tells her stories with plenty of humor; I laughed out loud more than once.

2. My Wicked Fantasy by Karen Ranney. This is an older book by Ranney that I found on Fictionwise last month. (How nice to find out-of-print books republished as ebooks!) The story includes a ghost. Considering that it was originally published in 1998, before paranormals became big, it was probably unusual for its time. It's being re-published in 2010, so if you don't read ebooks, keep your eyes peeled for this. In a nutshell, heroine Mary Kate is injured in a carriage accident involving hero, the Earl of Sandhurst. When she awakes, she has visions and hears a voice telling her to protect the Earl. While she doesn't understand what she's seeing and hearing, the Earl recognizes things only his long-missing wife, Alice, would know. Being a logical male, he assumes Mary Kate is conspiring with his missing wife and he carries Mary Kate home to force her to tell him where Alice is. Mary Kate does not understand the source of her visions, but she cannot ignore what she sees and hears. I found the first half of the book fairly slow going, but as the tension of the mystery of Alice ratcheted up, and the tension between St. John & Mary Kate grew, I was more and more engrossed. What really fascinated me about this was the counterpoint between St. John's logic and Mary Kate's faith. St. John is a straightforward logical male. I could sympathize with his inability to believe that there's a supernatural explanation for what Mary Kate knew even though he really wanted to believe it. This is a book about faith, and hope, and trust, and well worth seeking out.

1. I Can See You by Karen Rose. The heroine of this book, Evie, was a secondary character in one of Rose's early books, Don't Tell, that I read back in June. So quite a few of the secondary characters were familiar, although their roles were small enough that it's not necessary to have read Don't Tell before reading this one. There is an extremely sick serial killer on the loose in Minneapolis. Evie is a psychology graduate student who notices that some women involved in her research project have become the killer's victims. Her research is a key and she approaches the Minneapolis detectives with what she knows. One of the detectives is the very tired, but determined Noah Webster. Together they race the clock to find him. Meanwhile, Noah is having problems with his partner and Evie herself becomes a target. And of course, Noah & Evie fall in love. This is the first book in a new series and we get a nice introduction to the other detectives in Noah's squad who will be having their own books. Another tightly plotted and engrossing read by Rose. A bit gruesome, though, so reader beware!