Letters Written in White

Letters Written in White

I’ll say this about Kathryn Perez’s Letters Written in White: it’s a quick read. Other than that, it is not what I expected. Here’s the back cover blurb.

I’m dead.

I’m cold and alone and I’m dead. There’s no air in my lungs. My chest is as cold and hollow as a cave on a snow-capped mountainside. My heart no longer beats there. Frigid winds whistle through my ribs and the sadness inside me weeps like my favorite tree.

Days ago, I met with death face to face. The mirror, our meeting place. My two darkened green eyes stared deeply into hers. I tilted my head to the side. She did too.

“It’s time,” I whispered.

“It’s time,” she whispered.

And with that I turned away from her, the woman in the mirror who knew all of my secrets and all of my pain. I walked away from her and yet we’d never been closer than we were at that moment. The inner struggle was over. No more arguing with the woman in the mirror. No more arguing with myself. The choice was made. She was the victor. Or was I?

That was the day Riah Winter died.

The blurb certainly pulled me in. And, as I mention above, it was a quick read. This book’s biggest strength is in its emotional description. There are several descriptions of depression and some of them were very moving. This one, for example:

You really don’t see death coming until suddenly, in one deeply dark moment, you’re face to face with it. Then, being worn down, exhausted from swimming in an ocean of despair, you drop at Death’s feet and surrender. Like a sander, it wears you down until there’s nothing left to fight it off. Soon your once strong oak exterior is worn down into a meager pile of sawdust.

I wish my husband knew how many times he’s held the dust of me in the palms of his hands, slipping through his fingers.

I could relate to this passage and many others.

But this book has many weaknesses as well. The main one is that I felt like the author had a message she wanted to convey, and so the characters didn’t feel like real people—just as vehicles that convey that message. This meant that while all sorts of sad things were happening, I felt detached from it all. I kept waiting for something more—a twist, maybe?—and didn’t get it.

When a story is more about message than about the characters, that puts more weight on the message. And there is also a certain aspect of the message I found unsettling. I know that’s vague, but I want to avoid spoilers.

Well, there you have it. I was sucked in by the back cover blurb but the book itself was a disappointment. Letters Written in White: 2-1/2 out of 5.

When the Lights Go Down

A new year, a new TBR challenge: here we go!

This month’s challenge is to read and review a category romance. I chose When the Lights Go Down by Heidi Betts. The copyright is 2005, and I’ve had it a while. Not sure why I picked it up; I suspect it was because of a positive review somewhere, because it doesn’t seem like the kind of book I’d pick up otherwise.

Today is Gwen Thomas’s 31st birthday. She’s given herself T-minus 24 hours to change her life.

8:00 a.m.: Call out sick from library.

8:01 a.m.: Scour phone book for Emergency Beauty Technicians.

10:00-Noon: Hair. Goodbye, mousy. Hello, auburn.

Noon-5:00 p.m.: Nails. Makeup. Clothes. Be bold!

10:00 p.m.: Arrive at The Hot Spot. Pretend you’ve gone clubbing before.

11:00 p.m.: Fight polyester lizard’s advances–and the disappointment of a failed mission.

11:30 p.m.: Revel in being rescued by Ethan banks. Don’t let the sexy club owner’s chivalry prevent mission completion.

When the lights go down: Lose virginity . . . finally.

When the Lights Go Down is a bit of a fairy tale. I’ve said it before—I don’t read romance expecting complete realism, but this book had a significant lack of it. The main problem is Gwen. She’s not easy to relate to from the beginning. It’s not that she has negative qualities like she’s judgmental or bitchy. It’s that her motivations are not well explained. She wants to lose her virginity because she’s turned 31. Really? There’s no buildup; it seems like she just woke up one morning and made the decision. OK . . .

Then, there’s the way she goes about it. She heads to a nightclub (owned by Ethan) and heads out with a creepy polyester-wearing guy. This does not speak well of her judgment. Luckily for her, Ethan intervenes. Gwen then goes home with him. The sizzling sex between them is the best part of the book and the thing that kept me reading.

Gwen falls for Ethan pretty quickly, but somehow decides that her life as a single librarian isn’t interesting enough to keep Ethan’s interest. So she refuses to let Ethan come to her home and see all her cat figurines (I’m not joking), and she tells him that she’s a fashion buyer.

Ethan is a little on the too-good-to-be-true side. He owns a nightclub, picks up women while there, but falls for Gwen. Plus he doesn’t really mind when he finds out that she’s been lying to him.

As you can see, I had some problems with the book, but it was a quick, light read as long as it’s not taken too seriously. When the Lights Go Down: 2.5 out of 5.

TBR: What Do You Say to a Naked Elf?

What Do You Say to a Naked Elf?

When I read the category of this month’s TBR challenge, I knew right away which book I’d read. Cheryl Sterling’s What Do You Say to a Naked Elf? has been languishing on my TBR shelf since I bought it in 2005.

Apart from her being a TV-and-movie junkie and a saleswoman extraordinaire of adult lotions, potions and playthings, plain Jane Drysdale’s life was nothing unusual. That was, until a moment of reckless driving catapulted her into a fairytale world like a J.R.R. Tolkien book on crack. From Walker, Michigan, to a place of wacko wizards, sexually repressed elves and dangerous dwarves, Jane was suddenly fulfilling an epic destiny that held certain death—and even more certain love. Even the newly legible tattoo on her shoulder seemed to proclaim the rightness of her transport: “Forever joined, heart upon heart, world upon world.” Everything started with Jane on trial for her life and her Legolas-lookalike lawyer taking his shirt off, and the first thing she needed to know was . . . What Do You Say To A Naked Elf?

Sterling is a new-to-me author, and I liked her style well enough. The story moves quickly, and the world in which the book is set is an engaging one.

But as a romance, What Do You Say to a Naked Elf? didn’t work for me for a number of reasons. Jane and Charlie (an odd name for an elf) spend a bit of time together and fall in love almost immediately. Their internal conflict feels a bit flimsy, especially when it is resolved with one conversation.

Then there are the coincidences. Paranormal romance automatically requires some suspension of belief. The seemingly endless string of coincidences here, culminating in a deus ex machina, can more accurately be described as a complete shattering of belief. For me, this made it hard to sympathize with the characters because I kept waiting to see what the next coincidence would be.

The end result is this: while I kept reading the book to see what would happen next, I felt distanced from the characters and their situation. My rating for What Do You Say to a Naked Elf? 2.5 out of 5.

TBR Day: Eternal Nights

Eternal Nights 

I’ve had Patti O’Shea’s Eternal Nights about as long as it’s been available. The copyright date is 2006. I loved Through a Crimson Veil by this author, and I hoped I would love this one just as much. I didn’t, but Eternal Nights is a pleasant enough read.

Capt. Kendall Thomas has been plagued by dreams of blood, dreams so horrifying they leave her trembling in the night. Kendall has good reasons to be afraid. She’s discovered thieves are stealing artifacts from the alien city on Jarved Nine, and the smugglers will do anything to protect their lucrative sideline—even commit murder.

The last man Kendall wanted to endanger was her best friend Wyatt Montgomery, but the stubborn Special Ops captain followed her when she went to gather evidence, and the smugglers trapped them both in the city’s ancient pyramid. Now by day, they’re chased through labyrinthine tunnels, deeper and deeper into the heart of the temple. But in the cloak of darkness, they can no longer deny the powerful force drawing them together, the passionate dreams that leave them aching with need, the touch of skin on skin that makes them long for . . . Eternal Nights.

This book has plenty of action, solid writing, and an appealing hero. So why didn’t I love it? I’ll give you three reasons.

One: I haven’t read Ravyn’s Flight, the book that precedes it. I didn’t feel lost with in this story, but I had the strong impression that I didn’t have the background I needed to fully enjoy it. Eternal Nights may stand alone for the most part, but reading it made me feel a little like a stranger sitting down to a meal with a group of friends. I can understand the conversation, but I’m missing the history.

Two: A plot element—reincarnation. Since this is introduced early in the book, I don’t think it’s a spoiler. This is not my favorite plot device, and I wasn’t completely convinced by it. At one point, Wyatt tells Kendall:

I was interested from the get-go, but I had to get to know you, I had to fall in love with you the same way any man falls for any woman. I didn’t take one look and skip the important stuff.

I’m glad this potential problem is addressed. However, I didn’t see him fall in love with her. He’s in love at the beginning of the book, and it would have been nice to see more interaction between them before the artifact plot begins.

Which brings me to point three: I didn’t warm up to the heroine. I get that Kendall’s history prevents her from wanting to become involved. But I just didn’t see what Wyatt obviously saw in her.

The end result is a book I read quickly even though it didn’t cross the line into cherished keeper. Eternal Nights: 2.5 out of 5.

No Man’s Bride

No Man’s Bride 

When I read books, I either like them or dislike them. Sometimes, I’ll have a “meh” reaction, but the books that linger in my memory do so because I feel strongly about them one way or another. Shana Galen’s No Man’s Bride was a unique reading experience: I had strong feelings of both like and dislike.

Catherine Fullbright has vowed never to marry. Growing up with a disreputable father, she witnessed male behavior at its very worst. Unfortunately her ambitious parent refuses to marry off Catie’s pretty, pliable younger sister until the elder is wed—and his underhanded scheming comes to a head when Catie finds herself standing at the altar with her sister’s fiancé.

To achieve his ambitions, Quint Childers, Lord Valentine, needs a wife—some charming, gracious lovely to play the perfect hostess . . . certainly not a brash, stubborn hellion like Catherine Fullbright. Why, then, is he mesmerized by the fiery chit? And when an old man’s deception puts Catie in Quint’s bed, why does the prospect of their union excite the handsome lord so? Winning the remarkable lady’s love will be a trial—she doesn’t even like him! Still, is that a glint of desire he sees flashing in those exquisite hazel eyes?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for a plot about someone who falls for a sibling’s fiancé. I don’t know why I find it so appealing, but it’s one of those plots I enjoy. So when I was rearranging my TBR books after my RWA haul, I set this book aside to read instead of shelving it.

A hundred or so pages into No Man’s Bride, and I wasn’t sure I would finish. In the space of those pages, the heroine had tied up her (admittedly bratty) sister in the garden at a ball, married the hero in a drugged stupor, and stormed out of the house the day after her wedding wearing only a sheet. I wasn’t sure the story would or could improve, but I kept reading, as if the story was a calamity I couldn’t look away from.

Then the story took a surprising turn. Once the hero and heroine retire to the country, a charming romance blossoms between them. It was sweet to see Catie’s opinion shift from skepticism to trust. I truly enjoyed watching this transformation.

Then they return to town, and the drama continues . . .

So while I didn’t exactly enjoy the first part of the story, I did keep reading, and that counts for something. Plus it’s got a great middle section. No Man’s Bride: 2.5 out of 5.

TBR Challenge: No More Lies

No More Lies 

I decided to read another of my TBR books, so I picked up No More Lies by Susan Squires. Though the idea is imaginative, the story didn’t quite work for me: 2.5 out of 5.

Dr. Holland Banks is head of the Century Psychiatric Hospital and president of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation . . . but is she going insane? The rest of the world seems to be. There’s a sniper on the loose, she’s being stalked, her father is conducting deadly experiments, and she’s begun to hear voices: other people’s thoughts. But a man was just admitted to her hospital—one who searched her out, whose touch can make her voices subside. Is he crazy, too, or a solution to her fears? A labyrinth of conspiracy is rising around her, and Holland’s life is about to change forever. Very soon there will be . . . no more lies.

I have to give Squires credit for creating a unique story. The hero and heroine are psychic, but the explanation for it is different than any other I’ve seen. The story took a novel approach to the concept, and it kept me guessing what would come next as I read.

Holland and Jeff’s psychic powers increase as they make love, and I liked how this is handled. Yes, this brings pleasure, but it makes both of them wary as well. It seemed very plausible that two people would worry about preserving a separate sense of self under the circumstances. The initial scenes about their reservations are very nicely done.

At the core of the story, though, is a conspiracy that never quite seemed credible. When it comes to paranormal romance, I can apparently accept vampires, shifters, and demons without a qualm. In this romantic suspense, however, I kept thinking how incredible the whole thing seemed. The story behind the villain just kept getting worse and worse—again to the point where it strained credulity.

I was also a bit bothered by a couple of Holland’s comments about “loons” and being “loony.” These mentioned seemed a bit out of place for a professional, especially one who is the president of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation.

I like Squires, and I’ve read one of her other books, The Companion. I recommend that one over this one.

TBR Day: Shattered Vows

Shattered Vows 

I started reading Maggie Price after reviewing one of her books for The Romance Reader. The book was good, and I’ve picked up several of Price’s books since then. Shattered Vows is one I bought when it was released in 2004, and it’s sat waiting to be read until now.

To: Lieutenant Brandon McCall
Subject: Temporary Assignment

An escaped murderer has vowed revenge against you for killing his cousin on the job, and he has targeted your estranged wife. Due to your familiarity with the convict—and his potential victim—you are hereby assigned to protect Victoria McCall until further notice.

The two of you will move into a safe house ASAP. Spending tension-filled days in such close proximity may lead to the resurrection of powerful feelings long thought dead, but do not let yourselves be distracted by renewed love. Your lives are on the line—and at times like this, desire can be deadly.

This book didn’t quite resonate with me. I got frustrated with the heroine’s I’m-in-danger-but-I-don’t-want-the-hero’s-help attitude. Maybe I’ve seen it once too often in romance. In this case, Victoria is a private investigator, has gun training, etc., so her determination to be self-sufficient is more motivated. Still, there’s a reason law enforcement officers have backup. It was tough to accept she felt that way even after nearly being strangled to death by one of the villain’s goons.

Price has worked in law enforcement, which usually adds a nice layer to her stories. In this case, though, I kept asking whether things would really happen that way. Would someone who is tucked away in a safe house go undercover—and into danger—where she could be recognized? The disguise helps, but the scenario still seemed implausible.

The romance didn’t quite work for me until near the end, partly because I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters. Victoria doesn’t want to rely on anyone; Bran wants someone who needs him. Their persistent attraction is obvious, but I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the characters.

The writing is strong, but the story didn’t engage my emotions. I rate it a 2.5 out of 5. If you’d like to try Maggie Price, I recommend Sure Bet instead.

Endless Enchantment

Endless Enchantment Cover

I picked up Angie Daniels’s Endless Enchantment because I liked the cover, and I love stories where the hero carries a torch for the heroine. Although there’s a sweet love story at its heart, the book had too many things that made me go hmm: 2.5 out of 5.

Former ugly duckling Keelen Brooks has been in love with his best friend Charity Rose since kindergarten. Back in school, he never felt he could measure up to the standards of Charity’s high-school clique, the Cutie Pies, or to the smooth charisma of a man like her ex-husband, Donovan—who’s still trying to get her back. But things have changed . . . Now the CEO of Enchanted Cruise Line, Keelen is ready to show Charity what she’s missed with the reunite for their ten-year class reunion cruise.

Charity Rose has matured into an independent and compassionate woman over the last ten years. Hesitant to face the mistakes of her past, she reluctantly decides to attend her reunion. When she sees Keelen, the attraction is immediate, and they begin to unearth a passion that’s been pent up for over a decade. But someone’s out for revenge against the Cutie Pies—past and present. Keelen vows to protect Charity no matter what the risk, promising that, together, theirs will be a lifetime of endless enchantment . . .

How did this book frustrate me? Let me count the ways.

  1. Half of the graduating class attends the reunion cruise. That’s an amazing turnout when you consider that they had to pay to attend.
  2. The person who wants to take revenge on all the Cutie Pies puts that plan in motion here. There’s a lot of anger here. Why did this person wait ten years before taking action?
  3. At several moments in the story, I felt like they hadn’t come far from high school. There’s a bachelor auction where Charity is taunted to bid on her ex-husband. Why? Because driving up the bid would get back at one of the other Cutie Pies. So she does it and ultimately ends up winning the auction. Naturally. And this results in a misunderstanding between Charity and Keelen. There are misunderstandings galore in this book, many of which would be solved with a conversation.

A number of times throughout the book, I’d run across a phrase that would make me pause.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you again.” The two found themselves embraced in a warm hug.

Um, can’t they just hug each other?

Now, about the good. Keelen’s devotion to Charity is terrific, and their blossoming relationship is an appealing one. It was nice to see him get what he wanted—he deserved it—but it would have been nicer to see their romance develop without the high school antics and revenge plot surrounding them.

The Seduction of Sarah

The Seduction of Sarah 

I have a ridiculous number of unread books in my house, courtesy of RWA conferences 2005, 2006, and 2007. I decided to read some of the books that have been on the shelf for a while. One of these is Cynthia Clement‘s The Seduction of Sarah.

Widowed Sarah Wellsley delights in her daily swim–until she is discovered by an imposing stranger who mistakes her for a harlot. Having escaped the cad’s embrace, she’s mortified to meet him again mere hours later, and shocked to discover he is the long-absent Marquess of Caldern . . . and her cousin Caroline’s intended. But now he only has eyes for Sarah, and will pursue her at any cost. The situation couldn’t be more awkward–particularly because she cannot erase the memory of Alex Caldern’s touch . . .

Alex long ago abandoned dreams of love. His marriage will be a business arrangement to produce an heir. On the eve of his proposal, however, he is seized by a passion he cannot ignore: the need to possess Lady Caroline’s quiet cousin. By turns wanton and demure, Sarah confounds his every instinct and thwarts even his most ingenious attempts to have her. Yet she is by his side, unbidden, especially when he is in danger.

As the attempts on Caldern’s life multiply, Sarah’s deepest feelings slowly makethemselves known. And when Alex finally realizes what she wants, he’s more than prepared to satisfy her . . .

I picked this up at the 2005 RWA signing. The cover is gorgeous. The story itself doesn’t live up to the beauty of the cover. As I read, I found myself thinking, This is extreme. Alex is extremely pushy. He wants Sarah as a lover, so he maneuvers her, has inappropriate conversations with her in public, and wonders why she’s not falling into his arms. Sarah is extremely good. She’s always running around the village helping people with her herbs. Then there’s Caroline, who is extremely spoiled. She browbeats Sarah, acts like a snot, and doesn’t understand why she can’t have what she wants.

If you look for subtlety in these characters, you won’t find much.

There is some good stuff here. Alex does have some nice moments, such as when he realizes he is in love with Sarah. But these moments are not the biggest part of the book.

Clement is a solid writer and this could have been a much better book. Ultimately, there’s a good story here, but it’s overwhelmed by the stereotypical characters. The Seduction of Sarah: 2.5 out of 5.

Intimate Danger

Intimate Danger 

I’ve had a good run of luck with Amy J. Fetzer‘s books in the past. This weekend, I finished Intimate Danger. I guess I was due for one I didn’t love as much as the others.

Clancy McRae is mad as hell. Charged with creating technology-enhanced troops, she’s discovered her top-secret nano-device has been surgically implanted in four U.S. Marines without her approval. Though it makes them smarter, faster, and stronger than any human on earth, in this untested stage it can also drive them insane–or kill them. Now she’s stolen classified data, risking her career–and her life–to go after them.

While recovering from a shoulder wound, Spec Ops leader Mike Gannon learns the rest of his team was dropped into the jungles of Peru to locate a chilling new weapon. Then: nothing, nada. Injured or dead, it’s his duty to bring them home and destroy the threat. But when a scrappy red-haired beauty butts into his rescue mission, insisting the government turned his men into lab rats, Mike doesn’t believe her–till she becomes a moving target.

Keeping Clancy with him keeps her safe, yet as the tropical temperatures rise with their passion, Mike and Clancy are ensnared in a labyrinth of ingenious deceptions concealing a peril no one suspects–and only they can stop. In the dark forgotten Andes, they unearth a deadly plan and an ancient menace that turns a resuce into the crucial fight for their very survival.

And the clock is ticking . . .

There’s always a lot going on in Fetzer’s books. In this case there was too much. Too much time in the beginning of the story when the hero and heroine weren’t together, too many point of view characters, and too many scene jumps that keep the reader from getting engaged in the main story.

I wanted to become invested in Clancy and Mike’s story, but every time I did, the point of view shifted. Now, this isn’t my favorite technique to begin with, but it’s even more difficult when the POVs don’t really add much. In this case, some of them did, but others didn’t. The story would have been better served by focusing more time on the main couple.

Speaking of which, I like Mike and Clancy, but they fell in love very quickly. That’s typical for Fetzer’s stories, but the jump from stranger to in love was a bit too abrupt. A higher page count for their part of the story would have helped with this.

Fetzer is a good writer, and I’m still looking forward to her next book. But this one definitely wasn’t my favorite: 2.5 out of 5.

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