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_Naked in Death_
_Glory in Death_
_Immortal in Death_

I don't know why, but I didn't read these as they were coming out, even tho I was aware of the author. I don't know if I knew they were set in the future (2060, give or take). And I don't know if that would have made them more or less interesting to me at the time.

Anyway. Random things to be aware of. J.D. Robb is also Nora Roberts. The first three books in this 40+ book series are a fairly straightforwardly arranged romantic arc: book 1 gets them together, book 2 gets them engaged, they are married in book 3. The future is definitely a future from the 1990s: everyone has electronic stuff, including what is more or less a cell phone, but every bit of electronic stuff has a specific purpose -- and the other gadgets are not necessarily connected to any kind of net or database outside itself. If you want to extra information from gadgets (including call logs from the phones) you get a disk or a hard copy of some sort. Very 1990s! The only thing missing is the PC at the center of this gadget universe, but while there are desktop computer type things, they are not obviously the hub of the peripheral universe a la the 1990s. But while the gadgets are free floating they are also not connected to the cloud as in our current world. Weird stuff. I love the futures of the past that will never be.

There are space colonies. You can call them. There isn't any obvious lag (that is, by about book 3, Robb is mentioning irritating delay, but it is not apparent in the back-and-forth, and honestly, given the apparent location of the colonies, I'm unconvinced the delay makes any sense in even its limited depiction). People go back and forth to various colonies off world the way they might travel now to Dubai or whatever -- it's kind of a long flight and there are time differences, but that's about it.

At least in this early part of the series, there are people who have same sex relationships (or at least sex), but there is no depiction of long standing, stable same sex relationships (I could have missed something in a background character, so don't hesitate to point it out!).

Roark is a billionaire! But like, low order single digits billionaire, which makes no sense at all given how much of Manhattan he supposedly owns. So that's weird. *shrug* But the dollar amounts mentioned don't cohere well at all, beyond apparently Real Meat and Real Coffee are incredibly expensive. I wish it were more obvious what an AutoChef was -- as it is, I kept visualizing the thing Batman cooks his lobster in in The Lego Batman Movie. Which is clearly not right, but it isn't clear what _is_ right.

In the first book, a serial murderer is killing Licensed Companions (yeah, about what you think -- they've legalized and regulated sex work, and there are men and women who do that work and their clients are men and women) with various 20th century projectile weapons. Politics, conservatism, hypocrisy and incestuous molestation of family members play a big role.

In the second book, high powered women (a lawyer, an actress and someone who was mistaken for a tele-journalist) are being killed by a single knife swipe to the throat. Background characters from book 1 repeat, which is nice.

In the third book, a variety of people are dying after taking a new drug with a bunch of kind of awesome effects and a couple of really bad effects. Again, background characters from book 2 show up in book 3, along with more from book 1. The female lead Eve starts actively mentoring another woman cop.

The protagonists (Eve, the cop, and Roark, the businessman) come from complex backgrounds full of abuse and deprivation. Eve has blocked a lot of her first 8 years out, and the police psychologist (who becomes such a close friend she attends Eve's bachelorette party by book 3, so you know, no conflict issues there!) is an important plot element dragging Eve and the reader through memory lanes via icky flashback dreams. All kinds of trigger issues here, and a whole lot of questions that don't even seem to occur to people.


Maybe not, but whatever. I mentioned what I did above to give you structure flavor without spoilers and to warn about possible triggers. But there are particular problems with Eve's backstory that really bother me. She basically enters social services with no name or identifying information at age 8, after being found naked, shivering, broken arm, etc. in an alley in Dallas (her last name now). Really? We're in 204x and no one thinks to pull a blood sample and run DNA on her? Foot prints? No?

OK, how about this. When Eve remembers I DID MENTION SPOILERS I KNOW I DID that her "daddy" routinely raped her and they moved around a lot and he locked her up and didn't feed her and so forth, why does no one ask, was "daddy" her actual bio father ... or did he maybe kidnap her, and her actual loving family, siblings, etc. are somewhere out there still wondering what happened to their darling 2, 3, 4, etc. year old who was stolen from them? I mean, _it happens_. I'd want to know. Eve doesn't need to ever know, but hell, you could _still_ pull the DNA, and run it against all the DNA of unsolved murders, and find "daddy" that way. And whether he was bio-dad or not. And maybe find out if he murdered "mommy" or mom or whatever and when. Or if maybe she's still out there having kids with awful fathers and maybe needs to be stopped (probably not -- Eve is 30ish). Eve remembers and immediately feels like she's guilty. I'm going, no, but there are crimes here, that maybe need to be wrapped up.

I don't know whether I'll keep reading. There's a lot to enjoy in these books, and I am compelled in some ways by the possibility that Roark is the bridge between old-skool romantic heroes who were merely rich and the billionaire sub-genre that has so taken over romance today.

Also, the puzzles are above average as mysteries.
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JAK has been steadily reissuing her older contemporaries as eBooks. Generally speaking, these are unchanged (altho there have been unfortunate exceptions). I noticed that _Private Eye_ and _Silver Linings_ are out in eBook format.

_Silver Linings_ starts out as an island adventure with some backstory. There is a classic she discovers dead body of older man she was supposed to meet followed by an encounter with him, then a run through the jungle to a cave and some of the backstory starts to come out. On the second island, they meet a hooker with a heart of gold and there's a pretty classic misunderstanding as well as a bar fight. Then they are back to Seattle -- her home base where she has her business, an art gallery. She has crazy artist family. He has a business in the islands. Where will they live? Along the way, he is trying to figure out who is responsible for the dead body, and problems from his past resurface. The backstory continues to get ever more convoluted with her as the rescuer of multiple damaged men from her sister's past (he is an ex fiancee of the sister as well). So, all kinds of fun here, a pretty long book. Hooker with a heart of gold winds up playing an ongoing role, and retires to design clothing (a little Seattle seamstress reference, there, I think!).

_Private Eye_ takes place on a Not Tropical Island. She's running a b&b with some permanent residents who were friends of the great aunt who left the place to her. There are Problems and various theories as to the source of the problems. She "hires" him not for money but a month's free stay at the currently closed inn. He takes the opportunity to recover from a sprained ankle and other damages from a case, and to work on a novel as he contemplates a career transition. The permanent residents include "the Colonel" who is also an Inventor, the shabby chic woman who owns some (worthless) stock, and the former moll of a gangster long imprisoned -- clearly, JAK was having fun with some tropes here. All the various theories are neatly tied up. This one is a lot shorter and very, very funny.

I think I owned these both in paper at various points, but I'm very happy to see them out in eBook form, if only because it is so very much fun to see "contemporaries" become accidental "historicals".
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I've been sick for over 10 days now -- I have been getting better for a while, but it was bad. It was respiratory, and I suspect it was the flu, because it started with horrible bone and joint pain. Maybe I _will_ get the flu shot next year. I don't often get this sick.

Anyway, I have pretty well defined phases of Being Sick, one of which is Too Sick to Read, and then there's Only Beloved Rereads and next is Trashy Fiction from a Reliable Source. After that is Trashy Fiction But Willing to Take a Small Risk and after that is healthy and back to walking and too tired to do much more than play Farmville 2: Country Escape. (It's a sad, sad life, but I enjoy it so.)


I tried to read JAK's _Smoke in Mirrors_, but I was pretty ill and I had reread it too recently so I did not finish it as I started to recover.

Here's what I read during the Trashy Fiction from a Reliable Source phase.

_Eye of the Beholder_ This and the next one were JAK novels that I liked from the 1990s (and at this point, I have bought them new in hardcover, in paperback, used in paperback and in kindle. Nuts!), but had such a high price in kindle form that I just couldn't bring myself to buy them. I was waiting in hopes they would drop in price but they never did. Oh well. Good news: I hadn't read it for probably 10 years. There's some high quality banter.

_Flash_ Neither this one or the previous is quite old enough to be a "historical contemporary" (a contemporary with enough age on it to qualify as historical fiction). But I can see that it is only going to take another few years for that to happen.

_Stormy Challenge_ I didn't buy this one for a long time because I had read it in paper (probably close to 20 years ago now) and the reviews were pretty negative (it is perceived as rape-y and there is definitely a lot of ambiguous consent in the book, altho I think it falls firmly on the right side of the line once you factor in all the non-verbals being described. Not everyone is going to be okay with that). Definitely a historical contemporary. It got me rethinking a lot of other books which start with a deception and then proceed through a couple hundred pages of arguments interrupted by sexual activity that isn't every fully consummated (if you're thinking this feels like a reworking of Taming of the Shrew you are Not Wrong). Reading these three in a row and thinking about the depiction of women running their own small businesses in contemporary romances during the 1980s and 1990s is really, really thought provoking.

_Legacy_ Again, deception and arguments, altho the arguing is not quite as sustained. This is another one of JAK's (possibly the original one of JAK's) books in which the offspring of business partners who may or may not have betrayed and/or killed one another get together, figure out what happened, figure out who each other is, etc. With horses. The small business run by the woman in this novel is so in the background you might miss it entirely.

_Serpent in Paradise_ Vacation fling, HQN structure (So, a couple weeks together temporarily, separate, are reunited, work through difficulties, family formed -- this is a really well defined structure and widely discussed in the industry so if you are reading one of these books and are surprised by anything, you are clearly new to this game). Because the woman is on vacation, her business is very backgrounded for the tropical part of the story. Then she's back, but has a lot on her mind, so honestly the party gets more paragraphs than the business (I'm not complaining). When they ultimately move back to paradise (HEY I WARNED YOU GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE), there is no contemplation of the fact that kiddo might need to go to school in a few years. I don't mind that dad's job won over mom's job (I think it was a good call, given what was gonna happen to the rent in SF for mom's lingerie stores), and I like that mom had plans for opening boutiques to cater to the cruise liner trade. I don't know if I ever thought about things like, where is the kid gonna go to school, when I read this sort of stuff 20 years ago. I was probably too busy being mad at mom giving up her gig in favor of paradise. Oh, and if you are thinking homeschooling, or the whole school thing is overrated until the kid is 10 or so, I don't disagree, I just don't see how homeschooling is compatible with running a bar AND a shop, unless you take a child labor approach or a real hands' off approach, both of which could actually work out really well if you've got the right kind of kid. This book also has the Grotto Ambush sequence that appears in various forms in many JAK novels AND the Must Hike Across Country to Save Ourselves sequence. These are great sequences, and it is fun seeing them in their original, historical contemporary setting, after having seen them more recently in various Rainshadow books.

At about this point, I was looking at some JAK historical contemporaries that had even worse reviews, and I was feeling better. So I switched to reading Thea Harrison's Elder Races series, which has been, IMO, very uneven. I found it an incredible slog to get through book 3 (Carling's story, _Serpent's Kiss_). But I figured I'd give it a shot.

_Oracle's Moon_ File under Calgon Take Me Away. The Oracle, currently living in a run down house in Louisville, KY, with her young niece and infant nephew, is still grieving over the death of her sister and brother-in-law, and her own near miss with death which left her with significant movement problems. The story begins right after Carling and Rune show up and talk to the serpent lady through the Oracle, so the Djinn is hanging around feeling contemptuous. Another book with a lot of arguments in it. I felt like the whole trucker with lapsed insurance, mean witches not being very helpful and so forth felt a little off and it turned out that was intentional. Harrison did an interesting thing, in which she took a plausible situation In Real Life, which is NOT plausible in a powered context, and used the disconnect to create a mystery in need of solving to catch the bad guy. It's bizarrely satisfying. Along the way, the Calgon Take Me Away thing is the Djinn falling first for the kiddos and then for mum (so this is Ready Made Family, also), and calling on his significant resources to make her life more fun. Also, a truly excellent bar fight. A lot of the elements of Harrison's books are hackneyed in form, but she does a really nice job breathing life and color into some old structure.

_Lord's Fall_ is Pia and Dragos separated for part of the book. Pia is becoming a leader of her own team within the Wyr demesne; that is depicted in just about the right amount of detail and with a lot of humor. I guess you could ask, how did Pia get smart enough to do this given how much of a loner she is/was growing up, but that's the worst thing I would say about that. I LOVE the basic joke of having actual objects in the storyline called God Machines, and one of the God Machines in the hands of an elf with a lot of power is the central problem that must be solved. Hilarious! Which is good, because this is a very dark story of a charismatic leader dragging an entire race? culture group? off to destruction. Ends with (HEY WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE) the wedding, honeymoon, and Liam's birth.

_Kinked_ is the harpy and Quentin (old sentinel and new sentinel) getting sent off to check up on Numenlaur (emptied out land from previous book), because their fighting has gotten completely out of control. A little light DS, lots of psychoanalytical speak associated with it. They rescue Linwe and a couple others (and are helped in turn by them) and then go after a magic user after a resurrection spell. They take a lot of damage (a LOT of damage) along the way but survive, so part of this is about the difficulty of surviving the aftermath of physical trauma. But because this is an HEA and because this is fantasy, the harpy does get to fly again, which of course IRL maybe not so much. I got a huge kick out of this, because it felt like a weird mashup of postapocalyptic hellscape/bombed out After the Fall fantasy landscape -- but a two day's hike back to your iphone working again. Dark and still fun.

There's more in the series. I'm not sure if I'll be reading more now, since I'm back to walking again.
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My sister and I share an ebooks account, but there is limited overlap in our reading preferences: a few non fiction books, slightly more numerically but even fewer percentage wise romance novels. But Linda Howard is definitely in the overlapping area, so I thought, it's short, I'll give it a try.

This is part of the "snowbound with a stranger" subgenre (yes, there is one). Some romance novels -- often longer -- have a huge cast including secondary romances. Some romance novels -- generally shorter -- have an incredibly abbreviated cast and basically lock up the couple-to-be until they get their shit together. As one does. In this case, it isn't precisely _snow_, rather an ice storm on a hill in Maine.


This is also a romantic suspense novel, which means that in addition to the budding romance, there is someone chasing/attacking/threatening The Good People. Here, it is a couple of meth addicts attempting to rob Lolly. They follow her home and lock her in her room.

The male romantic lead is an MP home to visit his son over the winter holidays. His dad, the local law, has sent him to find Lolly, who is in town to pack up the remaining family belongings (everyone moved -- it's not tragic or anything), out of cell phone coverage and may not be aware of the incoming ice storm. Antics ensue.

Did I mention the shared childhood history in town? She is/was kind of a nerd; he enjoyed tormenting her.

Good things. It was short. It moved along well.

Bad things. Why is it that every ladder in every book has its rungs break at a crucial moment? Why would anyone who lived in Maine be wearing non-weatherproof shoes and anything other than wool socks in December? She spends her time in Portland, but still. He's down in North Carolina for his job, but again, _he grew up here_.

I'm still trying to figure out what I think of the meth addict bad guys. On the one hand, I feel like this indicates that suburbia, or at any rate Northeastern exurbia, has gotten so safe (in a criminal sense, not in a weather sense -- it continues to be treacherous in a weather sense) that authors are stuck using characters like meth addicts just to have _someone_ attack someone to drive the plot forward. On the other hand, I felt like these meth addicts were way too persistent and had too complex thinking/goal orientation to actually be believable. Also, there is sort of this disturbing privilege issue, when you start thinking about who tends to wind up spiraling down into meth, vs. the daughter of (once) rich parents.

This isn't going to make me run right out and read more Linda Howard. On the other hand, this is approximately what I expect from Howard, so it's not likely to make me avoid her any more in the future than I already do. And it enabled me to avoid reading more of _Wild_, which was getting on my Last Nerve.

For those paying attention, once the kids were in bed, I watched Captain America: Winter Soldier. It was really good, just like everyone told me.
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I _think_ this is a reread, but honestly I am not sure.

In any event, set in the San Juans/Anacortes (wooot! Home turf, baby! My people, oh, fucking never mind, you do not care. But I like books set in the San Juans), Honor Donovan is trying to find her brother Kyle. She thinks he is hiding somewhere in the San Juans, on a tiny little island -- not sure which one -- not served by the ferry system. Alas, as a result of a traumatic boat ride as a young person, she never learned how to drive a boat, so she has to hire someone to teach her.

Jake Mallory is about to lose the business he worked so hard to build, because the Russian Federation thinks he stole something. Jake thinks it must have been his partner/liaison Kyle. Jake doesn't tell Honor this when he takes the job driving the boat for her.

Antics ensue. Lots of people show up looking for Kyle. They follow Honor and Jake around. Honor and Jake are attracted to each other but Honor is stressed and Jake figures Honor is gonna be way mad when she figures out he isn't just some random boat driver.

The thing which was stolen is possibly a panel from the Amber Room, or maybe a copy of same, so, basically a very similar plot to _Tell Me No Lies_, altho not identical. On a political level, identical: random groups of people sneaking around with weapons in the dark AND different parties benefit depending on whether the panel exists, where it is found and whether it is a fake or not. On a personal level, a little different: Honor isn't obsessed with honesty, and Jake lies to her at least through omission.


Yes, Honor gets to whack someone on the head with a half pound weight that she casts. All through the book, if you're like me, you're going, oh, please please please let her hit someone really hard with one of these things. And she gets to. Yay! I wish it had been a man instead of a woman; make of that what you will.

While this book is not as old as _Tell Me No Lies_, the date on it is pretty damn clear. R. and I are engaged in a discussion of how possible is it to date the time frame in which a novel is written vs. when it is putatively set, and the implications for teaching literature in a world in which there are approximately equal numbers of readily available historicals and "contemporaries" set in a given decade.
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My sister recommended this after I reviewed _Shadow Woman_, as better romantic suspense albeit dated. I haven't read Elizabeth Lowell novels for a long while, probably the early 2000s. I think I read the Donovan series (_Pearl Cove_, etc.). As near as I can tell from the author website, _Tell Me No Lies_ was a paperback original in 1986, reissued in hardcover in 2001. A mid-1980s date is compatible with the internals of the text. Unlike some reprints of Jayne Ann Krentz works from a comparable time period, no efforts have been made to deal with the massive technological changes that have occurred since the original writing/publication. Thus, making calls from pay phones using coins is a crucial plot element, and the only cell phone to make an appearance fills a briefcase.


The plot, while complex, is straight out of the 1980s. Young career woman (early 30s) with a failed starter marriage in her past has devoted herself entirely to her work, in this case, she works at a museum and as a consultant authenticating Chinese bronzes. Lindsay Danner was an only child and recently her American missionary to China mother died. Lindsay was born and grew up for several years in China (her dad also a missionary, altho he was from Canada). Lowell handwaves around the problem of the dates; Danner's childhood would make a lot more sense if she were born ten years earlier. She has nightmares which have returned since her mother died, involving a mostly forgotten childhood event when she saw someone die.

Catlin (who has a first and middle name), formerly dba as Rousseau in Indochina, is "hired" by Chen Yi to protect Lindsay Danner. The hiring is somewhat coercive, in that Chen is calling in an old debt that Catlin/Rousseau owed someone who saved him from his own bad judgment (and at the cost of his savior's life). Rousseau, at the time, was a deep cover CIA agent.

Brad Stone, FBI counter espionage guy, leans on Danner's boss at the museum to get her to participate in an undercover operation. Her role is to be a credible authenticator of a Chinese bronze charioteer that may or may not exist and may or may not have been smuggled from China to the US. If it does exist and is real, it is a crucial element of a series of plots, and Stone in particular is worried that significant damage might be done to the then-blossoming trade relationship between the PRC and the US.

There's a whole morass of additional elements to the plot: the guy who hired the hit on Catlin shows up, an old friend of the Danner family gets involved, there are layers of double agents and blah blah bleeping blah. But the major plot elements are pretty much the three people above, and a whole lot of people machinating around the bronzes. The suspense of the book does not actually involve a lot of danger: there are no chase scenes (beyond the FBI setting up surveillance nets and so forth, which hardly count). There are no gun battles. There's a little bit of kung fu fighting, which Lowell persists in calling karate, which makes approximately zero sense, possibly negative sense. (There is one way it might make sense, if Catlin really did learn it from the CIA guys, maybe in Japan? But why? And why would anyone stick to that, if they were spending a bunch of time in Vietnam and trying to fit in there?) There's a little bit of looking for bugs and car bombs and dealing with them, but it is very much in the background. The suspense derives instead from the emotional and psychic pressure on Lindsay Danner as she acts the part of a woman of integrity who is so in love with a Bad Guy that she is willing to give up on her morality/integrity/ethics/professionalism/wtf.

It's totally not believable. Lowell writes it _beautifully_, but I was unable to believe it. At all. If it freaks you out that much to have the people around you Think Bad Things Of You, then you actually are not a person of integrity. You are a person who is a complete tool, concerned only with the thoughts and opinions of others. Yeah, no. It might have worked a bit better if it were presented more explicitly as a cultural conflict, but it really and truly wasn't. It might have worked a bit better if it were presented more explicitly as a levels of loyalty conflict (loyalty to profession vs. patriotism). Lowell did actually do a nice job of presenting Lindsay as a kind of aspie-level Can't Tolerate the Lying person. That I believed.

In general, I don't like this kind of wheels within wheels plotting, because I just don't really believe that anything that convoluted happens in the real world. Or, if it does, any reality based person who encounters it should run away. No matter how much the participants believe in this kind of crap, no one outside the inner circles knows or cares, but a participant nutty enough to believe in this is nutty enough to do all kinds of random shit and there's no point in sticking around to get caught in the crossfire.

That said, Lindsay Danner turned out to have some seriously awesome instincts. While not drawn to this game for the usual reasons (Fun! Which I think _is_ a valid reason to participate), she turned out to have a lot of personal connections to the game, and her limited participation allowed her to work through her personal history in a therapeutic way. She didn't die. She learned a lot. Also, picked up a hot dude.

Reading mid-1980s genre fiction that was written as skillfully as _Tell Me No Lies_ (or, similarly, _The Desperate Game_, which isn't as good but has some of the same attributes, altho it got butchered trying to fix the payphone/cell phone problem) is an interesting experience. 30 years on, it is more like a historical novel than a contemporary, but of course the background details tend to be more accurate in a contemporary than in a historical. It differs from a historical, in that it _really is like the 1980s_. It isn't like a 2014ish perspective on the 1980s. So there's a whole lot of stuff going on that is deeply irritating because the 1980s kind of sucked. Among other things, smoking indoors, in a work context, etc. Also, 1980s ideas about how to present a Chinese character are really shudder inducing now.

I've tried to capture my extremely mixed feelings about this book. I almost certainly will go back and reread some of the Donovan books, because now I'm curious about how those have aged. They were written later, but in the last couple of years I've really started noticing how romance authors tend to write to their cohort. The years may pass, and the heroine may stay 25-35 years of age, but as the authors get up into their 50s, 60s and 70s, the gap in values and perspective between a author born in the 1940s or 1950s or 1960s and the viewpoint character born in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s becomes painfully obvious. I don't think I'd have any trouble writing a character who was 25 and exploring a new romantic relationship. I'm pretty sure that no amount of effort on my part could convince a discerning reader that that 25 year old was born after, say, 1979. And in a contemporary set in 2014, she'd be born ... somewhat later than 1979.

TL;DR? I really don't blame you. I liked it. I'll read more Lowell (again). But it's kind of a specialized taste at this point.

ETA: Here's a probably unintentionally humorous blog post saying that historicals set in the 1980s are yawn-inducing. *blink*


I feel like I probably should go read a few of these. *pause* Yeah, no. It'll set off all my, but that's not what it was like!!!! issues.
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I picked this up based on a positive review over on Smart Bitches and indeed, it is quite excellent. There are weak moments: facial recognition is taken entirely too seriously, and honestly there's just way too much concern about being tracked quickly on security cameras. The main character doesn't at any point entertain simple things like wearing hijab as a way of making it difficult/impossible for people to figure out where she's gone. She doesn't make any use of public transportation options. Even granting being overly concerned about cameras, she makes absolutely no effort to use any DC area bus system -- she goes all the way out to Charlottesville (well, she tries anyway) and steals cars rather than getting on a frickin' bus. She is worried about hitchhiking, which given her training makes zero sense. She wanders all over the place shopping, but it doesn't seem to occur to her that she could, in fact, just walk a dozen or so miles, get on a curbside bus (Megabus, say) and go wherever the hell she wants. Nor does she call for car service. It is mysterious. Given that she doesn't make any concerted effort to get rid of everything that might have been bugged, it sort of doesn't matter, but then the hero is really impressed when she buys a bike. *sigh* Honestly, I'd have been more impressed if she had stolen one. Also, if you're going any distance at all on a bike, a backpack is a bad choice.

So the middle of the book suffers from a whole lot of technical issues, and this is characteristic for the author -- it's a major contributor to me Not Reading Linda Howard very often. That said, large sections of the rest of the book are actually quite compelling. Howard doesn't get into much detail on the chemical brainwashing treatment to which Lizzy/Lizette was subjected. And that's _great_. I was really impressed by that. It's very hard to recognize that you should just assert the existence of something and build it into your world without explanation and I'm always impressed when people Just Do It. It is so much better than a bunch of hand-wavy, boring, pseudo scientific explanation.

The political backstory is weak.


Fortunately, the political backstory is mostly relegated to the last quarter or less of the book and is run through very quickly, thus minimizing the pain of: the heroine used to look JUST LIKE the first lady, but no one knew the first lady until she was the first lady. Seems implausible to me, but I'm a news junkie, so I know what a lot of powerful people look and sound like -- and frequently discover that no one else remembers ever seeing them on TV so I guess believable. On the other hand, FLOTUS in the story is supposedly a member of a very famous political family. And yet still unknown in appearance? *shrug* The surname Thorndike. The idea that the President was selling military secrets to the Chinese for lots of money and FLOTUS was the go-between for the financial transaction. Just No. The idea that the group had clear cut evidence of treason at all. POTUS and FLOTUS confronting our heroine with a gun, instead of deploying someone else against her. Just, weird. Seriously weird.

To sum up: weak backstory. Big technical FAILS in the middle of the book. A really nice McGuffin with the chemical brainwashing. An enjoyable erotic/romantic relationship between the two main characters. Kind of claustrophobic -- everyone onstage is involved, with the exception of some people at WalMart and the drunk guy -- but that actually is a positive in some ways, because it helps contribute to the How Big Is This Conspiracy Anyway? feeling. I doubt I will reread it. I doubt I will go search out more Linda Howard. However, if I read very positive reviews of other books by this author, this won't stop me from trying another one of hers in the future.
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JAK = Jayne Ann Krentz (contemporary), Amanda Quick (historical) and Jayne Castle (futuristic/scifi)

With the exception of a _Deep Waters_ reread, which I'm not going to describe in any detail here, all of the recent rereads and new reads are part of her Arcane Society universe. If you read a ton of these back to back, a couple of things happen. First, you really, really, really notice some plotting tics. I don't mean the character tics -- you really cannot read more than two JAK novels without noticing those. But the plotting tics (what is _with_ all the murderous realtors?) are something else again. Second, there are some minor themes throughout that you can really miss if you just read these things as they come out: genealogy/surnames are really important in these books (especially within trilogies, but also throughout the universe) AND she has reused surnames of characters from standalone contemporaries (Elias Winters from _Deep Waters_ is depicted in a way utterly compatible with the Winters men in general, and not necessarily so compatible as with the Sweetwaters, Sebastians, etc.). Given the subtler presence of intuition in those standalone contemporaries, it's a tough call whether this was something that JAK always wanted to do, but was prevented from doing until she became powerful enough to tell her editors what she was going to do and not get any backtalk -- or whether this is something that evolved over time through incremental reuse. Does not really matter.

I've assembled a bunch of mini-reviews into one long post, so you only have to TL;DR once. These have been fantastic holiday season/I am sick/I am working out reads, because they are so highly structured, and because they are so predictably rewarding, especially if you are from Seattle (well, excepting the Amanda Quick entries and a few of the desert ones). There are a bit more than a dozen novels represented here. I think there is at least one JAK I still haven't read (of the recent ones -- there are several classics I haven't read. And the Guinevere Jones books are now available on kindle! I don't think I've read any of those.) -- _Copper Beach_.

Arcane Society

Sizzle and Burn: Another niece with a dead aunt plot line, in which the niece is pursued by someone who it turns out killed her aunt. There are a lot of these in JAK books. In any event, she runs a costume shop. There’s another scary realtor. Zack Jones is a Jones & Jones PI who regularly defies Fallon to do what he thinks is best (this is fine, since he ultimately winds up in charge of Arcane, IIRC). Nightshade is making trouble, and not fully on Arcane’s radar until towards the end of the book.

White Lies: Clare Lancaster is a human lie detector. She helps rescue her half sister from a nutty husband — and then discovers his murdered corpse. The mother, because this is a JAK novel, then blames Clare and spreads vicious gossip causing her to lose her job and be unable to find another. Dear Old Dad steps in with a job offer, which Clare (predictably) declines, but she is stuck in Arizona long enough to get involved with Jake Salter — and to find another body and herself be nearly murdered a few times. Once again, Fallon Jones totally gets it wrong, repeatedly. It is sort of funny, how almost every time he is wrong, it is because he is unwilling to be a total conspiracy nut job — and yet the people around him think he is too willing to see conspiracies everywhere. It’s either terrible writing or a really funny running gag. I’m going with (b).

Running Hot: Luther Malone lives in Hawaii, working as a private investigator, sometimes for Fallon Jones of Jones & Jones. Fallon sends him Grace Renquist to help out on an assignment. They are trying to crack Nightshade, another cabal attempting to recreate the Founder’s Formula that started the long line of Jones with psychic talents. The Sweetwater clan makes an early appearance here, and there’s a hilarious subplot involving an opera singer with a deadly voice.

Scargill Cove Case Files: novella involving Fallon Jones suggesting that some of the nuttier background characters in Scargill Cove actually aren’t nutty at all. Probably not worth reading if you aren’t really crazy deep in this universe already.

Dreamlight Trilogy: Arcane Universe trilogy involving dream light talents. As above, first entry is contemporary, second is Victorian London, third is set on Harmony. In all these entries, the male Winters must find a female dream light talent to help him use the Burning Lamp artifact to stabilize his developing talent

Fired Up: Jack Winters is having a spot of trouble involving what seem to be blackouts. Little does he know what’s really causing those. He hires Chloe Harper to help him out. Unusual twists in this story include, IIRC, a female stalker (that isn’t a mom avenging the death of her son, which is the usual form that takes in JAK books). I think this is the book that caused me to quit reading JAK for a few years. I had trouble even figuring out why, but I have concluded the issue is the can’t-sleep-in-the-same-bed/room theme. I was okay with the idea that a woman who couldn’t sleep in the same bed/room as someone else might have relationship troubles as a result, altho I also felt like these were kind of oversold. I had a ton of trouble with the magical The One who she could sleep in a room/bed with. That I just found irritating. Really, really, really irritating.

Burning Lamp: Griffin Winters, underworld boss, hooks up with Adelaide Pyne, who already _has_ the Burning Lamp. Convenient. Pyne’s goal is to rescue women from prostitution. Fortunately, that’s not one of the criminal trades that Winters specializes in.

Midnight Crystal: Adam Winters is running the ghost hunter guild. Marlowe Jones is running Jones & Jones. He hires her to not only work the Burning Lamp to stabilize his developing talent, but also to stabilize the Mirror Maze in the Rainforest on Harmony — or the whole planet, well, all the cities and ruins could be destroyed!!! Also, dust bunnies. Marlowe rides a motorcycle.

Lookingglass Trilogy: Arcane Universe trilogy involving glass reading talents and Bridewell devices which are unique artifacts that store this kind of paranormal energy and are uniquely deadly. As above, first entry is contemporary, second is Victorian London, third is set on Harmony.

In Too Deep: Fallon gets an assistant and a girlfriend/fiance/wife. Isabella is on the run, wanted for possible criminal activities in conjunction with paranormal artifacts. She winds up in Scargill Cove, and decides that she and Fallon can help each other out with their respective problems. Many conspiracy theories involved. Also, nutty people in Scargill Cove, some backstory involving a cult, and a stash of Bridewell machines. Did I mention the serial murderer? Also, seriously, you _never_ want to trust a realtor in a JAK novel. (Highly reminiscent of _Deep Waters_ in parts involving the cult backstory.)

Quicksilver: Owen Sweetwater helps Virginia Dean get out of a really sticky situation involving a mirrored room and a dead body. They must deal with a Bridewell creation on the way out, as they also rescue another young woman waiting her fate in a cell. It only gets more complex from there. Unusually well developed secondary romance. Nice development of the alternative, mostly fraudulent psychical society.

Confusingly, the third entry in this trilogy is ALSO the first entry in the next trilogy (Rainshadow Trilogy: Canyons of Night). See below.

Rainshadow Trilogy: on future Harmony, in the Arcane Universe, minimal Arcane Society involvement. I read these as if they were set on turn of the 21st century century Orcas Island with some fantastical elements and it was a ton of fun. If you haven’t spent time on Orcas, it might not work out so well for you.

Canyons of Night: Charlotte and Slade met as teenagers, briefly, on Rainshadow and they are both back now after more than a decade. He had a bad accident while working for the FPBI. Charlotte is running an antique store she inherited from her aunt and has combined with stock from her own successful shop on the mainland. Her neighbor is overwhelming everyone except the dust bunnies with zucchini bread (the dust bunnies _love_ the stuff). A guy who was stalking Charlotte drops dead in her shop and it’s all really a puzzle. Of course, all those seemingly useless and/or damaged talents Are Not.

The Lost Night: Rachel's great-aunts retired and left her their book store. Harry Sebastian has arrived to try to figure out why things are going so wacky in the Preserve. Rachel had a weird experience in the Preserve (doesn’t really remember much if any of it) and he thinks she’s connected to what is going on inside. Creepy psi-path Marcus has been stalking Rachel for a while (longer than she realizes, actually), and at first it looks like there are two sets of bad guys involved. But no, this is a JAK novel so it is all connected.

Deception Cove: Alice, a descendant of Pirate North, has fallen upon hard times. A light talent who can make herself and other people/things invisible by bending light around them, she’s on the run from the mother of the (MC) husband. Husband is dead (he tried to kill her and things sort of went south for him from there) and mom blames her. She hooks up with Drake Sebastian, whose fiancé (supposedly dead, but you know how these things go) blinded him with an alien weapon. So he wears mirrored sunglasses everywhere, unless all the normal lights are off. They have to save the increasingly isolated Rainshadow Island from the increasingly unstable energies leaking out of the preserve. Alice has a dust bunny.

Ladies of Lantern Street: in the Arcane Universe, Victorian London, with psychical powers, but without actual Arcane Society involvement

Crystal Gardens: Evangeline’s story. As a Paid Companion available through the Flint and Marsh agency, Evangeline exposed a Fortune Hunter who then came after her. She was able to dispatch him; alas, that was not the end of her troubles. She retires to the countryside renting a cottage on the cheap from the owner of Crystal Gardens. She is attacked again, and the owner and the titular Gardens deal with him. She moves into the psi-soaked mansion with Lucas Sebastian and his man Stone, dragging with her her housekeeper Molly and Molly’s extended family. Obviously, Lucas supplies some additional Sebastians to keep up appearances. The crystals which will wreak so much havoc on Rainshadow Island on future Harmony have their origin story here (well, their origin story with the Sebastian family at any rate). I’m a little bummed that the bookseller had such low morals.

The Mystery Woman: Beatrice’s story. She was Miranda the Clairvoyant until Ronald Fleming was killed by the Bone Man. Then she becomes a Paid Companion/discreet investigator and Fixer for Flint and Marsh. Her romantic interest, Joshua Gage, was injured a yearish ago when he trusted someone he should not have. Also, has psychical abilities, but doesn’t believe in them. He’s a finder. He was working for a strat. His sister is being blackmailed and Beatrice is implicated. It all gets more complicated from there. On the one hand, it’s a little disappointing in terms of how far into the book the first sex scene occurs. On the other hand, it was a decent plot line in many respects and the development of the relationship was above average for JAK. The whole scarred face thing is way overdone, and JAK presents the idea of using the cane as a weapon as a surprise to people who it _really_ should not be surprising to. I paid more for this than any of the others, but it was still within the $9.99 envelope. 2nd in this trilogy, set in Victorian London. The events occur slightly before some of the Victorian Arcane novels — Weaver dies in this book. Flint and Marsh appear on screen for a few pages in this entry. This is not, strictly speaking, an Arcane novel but clearly shares the same universe.
walkitout: (Default)
I had some problems with this book. But first: SPOILERS!!!! Run away in fear! Bye! Especially if you haven't read two books prior to this, because everything about this book is a spoiler for stuff in previous books.

The biggest, most difficult to ignore problem was a technical error that was pervasive throughout the book. Spessard Higgie and his wife Marilee are important characters: Jack and the Bullet Catchers know that Higgie is the father of the triplets, and believe that he is also the person engaging in violence and murder to make sure no one ever figures that out. I was predicting that someone named "Higgins" would turn out to be the father of the triplets and/or general bad guy, based on the two tattoos that had appeared on the necks of the two woman who had been found. Altho I also recognized that Higgins, while probable, would be a little weird, since it is seven letters long, and so far each girl had two characters on her tattoo. "Higgie" was an ingenious solution and Spessard Higgie a wonderfully ridiculous Southern name (there was a Florida Governor named Spessard Holland). So it was incredibly annoying that something like a third to half the times that Marilee or Spessard's last name is mentioned, it appears as "Higgins" and the rest of the time as "Higgie". Sometimes both appear in the same paragraph. Gaaaah! I did report it to Amazon through the link towards the bottom of the detail page for that purpose; hopefully they will fix it so if you decide to read the book it won't drive you nuts, too.

There was less banter and humor in this than in the two books immediately before this one in the Bullet Catchers series. The hero, Jack, and heroine, Lucy, have more shared history, and they both have the usual intimacy/trust issues only much worse. It's just really kind of boring listening to them be unpleasant to each other. I had a lot more fun reading Fletch and Miranda, and Wade and Vanessa spar.

Vanessa's bone marrow cures her mom of leukemia, which is nice. There's a really ridiculous subplot involving Spessard, a blowjob, the woman sex worker who delivers the blowjob snarking at Marilee, and then going to the police to accuse the Higgies of setting the fire in the Carpenter's apartment -- and inevitably being murdered, but then smearing Higgie in blood at the scene, which is promptly erased. I mean, wow, that's just a ridiculous subplot, but as bad as all that is, the interaction between Jack and various bystanders is _so badly written_ that it makes the rest of it seem really quite fine by comparison.

I will probably take a break on St. Claire again for another few years. I also seem to be mostly over the cold or whatever it was that had me so ground down I had no energy for anything other than trashy novels.
walkitout: (Default)
Hedge fund VP Vanessa Porter is one of Miranda Lang's sisters. Wade Cordell, who had a bit part in the previous book, goes down to the Caribbean to convince her to come up to South Carolina and donate blood marrow. She's a tough sell, because she, in turn, is looking for her former co-worker who went on vacation and disappeared. They wander Nevis, arguing, and having a variety of unpleasant encounters with trucks that try to drive them off the road, people who yell at them or shoot at them, and so forth. Vanessa's friend is a gay man, but St Clair keeps the walk-into-a-gay-bar-antics-ensue to a minimum, altho the resolution of the story line is awfully melodramatic.

Vanessa's adoptive parents were an implausible mess. Why would they have resorted to an illegal adoption, if 10 years later it was still possible for her mother to get pregnant? They should have been able to swing a legal adoption, if she was 35 or younger. Very confusing. The story with Miranda's parents was more coherent, however, both back stories seem designed to provide the women with psychological issues that were clearly a result of "nurture" rather than "nature".

I did laugh a bunch at the description of breaking into Palm Grove Villas at the Four Seasons Nevis. Then I spent way too much time looking at pictures of Caribbean resorts with similar kinds of housing, and then contemplating a romantic suspense novel with a chase scene on the monorail at Disney World. *snicker* Books do weird things to my head.

In the larger arc, more deaths are attributed to the Big Bad Guy in the Background, and a lot is made of the tattoos on the back of the babies necks. With "66" and "hi" or "14" as the first two found (and the other triplet dead a couple months ago), I'm betting something like "Higgins" for our Big Bad guy.
walkitout: (Default)
Maybe number 4 in Bullet Catchers? I read the first entry about three years ago (and reviewed it); it was okay. This one was much, much better.

There's a subgenre of romance/romantic suspense where an author writes a whole series of novels in which the men are ex-military and then go work for an Elite [Adjective] Agency where they protect people, investigate stuff, contract out to do dangerous work, etc. It is a solution to a problem characteristic of fiction with action/violence/dead bodies: how do we explain the nice little old lady who keeps running across dead bodies is the Agatha Christie problem. These days, it's, how do we get a Big, Strong Man to do Big Strong Stuff for the lovely heroine, with the minimum amount of paperwork (because paperwork is Boring). Police procedurals are fun and all, but there's a limit.

The Bullet Catchers version has several things going for it. The Person Who Runs It is a woman, so that's a plus. And a lot of their bills are paid by fairly boring assignments (body guard the person carrying around valuable stuff), which adds a background element of realism for the ridiculous shenanigans which constitute the plot. It's important, when the plot is a bunch of ridiculous shenanigans, that the author let the reader know that they recognize this is all kind of nuts, without completely undermining the integrity of the story. In this outing, at any rate, St Clair strikes a good balance.

So what's the story? A young woman with an academic background (now an assistant professor) has written a popular book debunking the World Ends in 2012 According to Maya Calendar. (_First You Run_ has a 2008 pub date.) And now, crazy people are attacking her. The other half of the story is, a former member of the Bullet Catchers is trying to track down someone who was illegally adopted as a baby -- and Miranda might be that baby. A current member of the Bullet Catches, while on his own time, is trying to figure out if Miranda is that baby, as part of a longer list of women. (She is -- but she's not the only one. And if you think this is a silly twins thing, you are almost right.)

The hero is the usual tall, fit, quirky Alpha Male with an unpleasant childhood that he has (mostly) overcome. The quirks in this case are former Tasmanian Special Ops Police force, abusive dad, mom was a drug addicted hooker who took off when he was quite small. Hero ran away in his teens and lived with some Aboriginals for a while. (<-- I'm a little unclear on whether this is an offensive plot point or not. It's clearly _intended_ to be cool to have a connection to a marginalized group and _often_ that is exploitative, but I defer to those who might know more.) The heroine has a bunch of phobias that she was more or less trained into by her mother, and which she spends the book overcoming in a not entirely realistic way. There is substantial delay in the sexxorrring because the hero realizes he really likes her, and realizes he has a disclosure problem.

All in all, a fun romp; I've already downloaded the next in the trilogy (this is book 1 of a trilogy _within_ the Bullet Catchers series, as near as I can tell).
walkitout: (Default)
This is the first entry in a long series of connected-but-can-standalone romantic suspense novels featuring the "Bullet Catchers", run by Lucy, an ex-CIA agent with deep tragedy in the backstory, who recruits people to act as part of a team that provides "executive protection". In this first outing, Alex, who is Cuban-American, is assigned to protect Jessica, a Miami anchor woman who has set her sights on The Network. When he arrives, however, "Jessica" is being impersonated by Jasmine, her identical twin sister who got out of the TV business a while ago and recently got her PI license in California. Jessica asked Jasmine to pretend to be Jessica while Jessica pursued a Hot Story. The plan was for Jessica to brief Jasmine, but Jessica's already gone without leaving a note when Jasmine arrives. Nevertheless, Jasmine goes through with the plan, woefully underprepared. Alex decides to play along and does not initially tell his boss.

The "clues" that convince Jasmine that Jessica really is still on the story and really is still okay were utterly unconvincing to me. However, there was some effort on the part of St. Claire to provide a psychodynamic between the twins that would explain Jasmine's decision to cover for her missing twin. St. Claire does a _nice_ job of providing a lot of possible suspects in Jessica's disappearance. A _really_ nice job. Lucy presents the job to Alex as having an official client, Kimball (new owner), but also an unofficial client that Lucy isn't going to tell Alex about. This struck me as incredibly poor judgment, and turned out to be incredibly poor judgment. St. Claire's efforts to provide an explanation for that were substantially weaker.

On a previous job, Alex chose to become sexually involved with a principal's (person being protected) spouse as a way of protecting the principal (the spouse found out the principal was having a same sex liaison and was going to carve him up). Alex's outrageous behavior (apparently of a piece with a long history of less than wise hookups) has resulted in Lucy banning Alex from getting it on with the principal in this case, telling him he'll lose his job at Bullet Catchers if he does. This being a romance novel, obviously, he'll break that rule. Equally obviously, it won't be enforced.

Slightly less than halfway through this novel, I almost abandoned it. I really thought everyone in it was being Too Stupid to Live. I went and did some baking, thought about it, and concluded that I was sufficiently wrapped up in both the characters and the plot to have trouble walking away; I finished it and don't regret doing so. But if you have a sensitive TSTL meter, you may want to steer clear of this book. The other reason I stuck it out is because later entries in the series got really favorable reviews over on SBTB. I know from other experience that early series entries can be weak, but useful to read to better understand later entries. I will (probably) be reading more in this series. St. Claire explored the Capable Woman Who Wants to Take Care of Herself But Hooks Up With Hot, Controlly Guy theme and instead of coming out the usual, Oh, Gosh, Someone To Watch Over Me exit the way that usually goes, went out the door marked, Okay, Can I Hang Out With You While You So Competently Take Care of Yourself? I liked that. It would have made up for a much, much worse book.

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