Thursday, September 27, 2007

Agnes and the Hitman, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Title: Agnes and the Hitman
Author: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
Published: 2007, St. Martin's
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 8/10

I was not overly impressed with the first Mayer/Crusie book (though it wasn't bad), so I had planned to get this book from the library. But then I saw these good reviews everywhere. And then I found out that to reserve a book at my new library, you have to pay $1! OMGWTF? I know a buck's not much, but it's a PUBLIC LIBRARY. It's supposed to be free. I used to reserve about 5 books at once and just go pick them up when they had all been nicely set aside for me by those lovely Brooklyn librarians. (AHA! Something I miss about Brooklyn! Take note.)

Sorry for the tangent. Anyway, I ended up buying Agnes and the Hitman and I can't say I'm sorry. Because I had a great time reading it.

Agnes Crandall has just bought the house of her dreams with her fiance. The previous owner gave her a deal, saying that she'd waive the first three months' mortgage payments if Anges let her daughter (who also happens to be a very good friend of Agnes) have her wedding at the house. But then the problems come fast and furious -- people keep breaking in and trying to kidnap her dog; the first of these dog-nappers is accidentally killed by falling into a basement Agnes didn't know existed, which contains a vault that might or might not contain a twenty-years-dead mobster and $5 million; the bride and groom are having mutual cold feet; Agnes's fiance is a putz, and she has a temper that manifests itself in frying pan incidents. The "hitman" of the title is Shane, who is called in to help protect Agnes and ends up all tied up in the craziness.

This book was like Don't Look Down in many ways; any Crusie/Mayer collaboration is going to be a sort of odd combo of Crusie's screwball romantic comedy and Mayer's adventure/boys with toys (and really big guns) suspense. It took a while to get my head around it -- I started out reading happily in Crusie-mode and then . . . someone dies, and I'm all surprised. Twin actually tried to read this and the violence put her off within the first 20 pages. It's not actually very graphic at all, but there are a lot of deaths and those deaths are treated with a levity that is disturbing to me if I think too hard about it. But then the hero is a hit man, so what can you expect?
"We work for a very special organization," Shane said, trying to sound noble.
"That sounds so . . . UNICEF-ish." She looked back toward the kitchen [where a body is being removed]. "It's not UNICEF, is it?"
As screwball comedy it totally worked. Tons of crazy stuff going on, all of it wrapping up really nicely to a surprising ending. It takes place over a short period (4 days, I think), so the action is fast. And the romance worked so, so, so much better in this than in Don't Look Down. The problem in DLD was that you have this very cautious, sensible woman falling into bed and then into love with a man within 48 hours of meeting him. Agnes on the other hand is just the sort of volatile, headstrong woman who could SPOILER! bash her cheating fiance on the head with a frying pan and then be so angry that she has to get it out of her system by boinking her bodyguard. End of spoiler. I loved Cranky Agnes, and I bought in to the romance completely.

And there's really good food in the book. Agnes is a food columnist and there are many scenes that made me want to eat, eat, eat. Mmmphm. Yummy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lightning Reviews

The books I want to write about are piling up here, and the poor blog has been so neglected. Its feelings are hurt, I think. So here are a few quickies:

Title: A Wild Pursuit
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2004, Avon
Category: Historical romance
Rating: 7.5/10

It is whispered behind the fans of London's dowagers and in the corners of fashionable ballrooms that scandal follows willfully wild Lady Beatrix Lennox wherever she goes. Three years before, the debutante created a sensation by being found in a distinctly compromising position. Now, the ton has branded her as unmarriageable, her family has called her a vixen, and Beatrix sees no reason not to go after what -- and who -- she wishes.

And she wants Stephen Fairfax-Lacy, the handsome Earl of Spade. Beatrix, with her brazen suggestions and irresistibly sensuous allure, couldn't be more different from the earl's ideal future bride. Yet Beatrix brings out a wildness in the earl he has tried to deny far too long. Still, he's not about to play love's game by Lady Beatrix's rules. She may be used to being on top in affairs of the heart, but that will soon change.

Eloisa James's characters are so much more flawed than you often find in romance novels. I always start out disliking her heroines a bit, but then they grow on me so much that by the end I'm rooting for them wholeheartedly. And this one was just really funny. It's the one with the goat, some of you may remember the scene. It is quite memorable. I ordered a few more James books right after reading this one. :)

Title: Kidnapped!
Author: Jo Leigh
Published: 2007, Harlequin Blaze
Category: Category romance
Rating: 5/10

Okay, it's certainly an unconventional way for Manhattan heiress Tate Baxter to conquer her fears. But when your whole life takes place behind the tinted windows of a limo and your household staff are all gun-toting ex-CIA, drastic measures have to be taken. Especially when one member of that staff has got her all hot and bothered.

Chauffeur Michael Caulfield has just one assignment—keeping Tate safe. But when she's kidnapped for real, the only way he can save her is to become a prisoner with her. He may be just "the help," but as her take-charge protector, he's the Michael of her sexual fantasies. Maybe a man she can trust and even dare to love? Except once out of his uniform, he isn't exactly laying bare all his secrets…to Tate.
I really am trying to get past my prejudice against categories. But this one didn't do much for me, even just as a quick, easy read. But it might be a INYIM, as Kristie says. The whole kidnapping fantasy is really not exciting to me. I was a bit bored.

Title: The Morning Gift
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Published: 1993, St. Martin's (Reissued 2007, Penguin)
Category: Romantic Fiction
Rating: 8/10

Twenty-year-old Ruth Berger is desperate. The daughter of a Jewish-Austrian professor, she was supposed to have escaped Vienna before the Nazis marched into the city. Yet the plan went completely wrong, and while her family and fiancĂ© are waiting for her in safety, Ruth is stuck in Vienna with no way to escape. Then she encounters her father's young college professor, the dashing British paleontologist Quin Sommerville. Together, they strike a bargain: a marriage of convenience, to be annulled as soon as they return to safety. But dissolving the marriage proves to be more difficult than either of them thought—not the least because of the undeniable attraction Quin and Ruth share. To make matters worse, Ruth is enrolled in Quin's university, in his very classes. Can their secret survive, or will circumstances destroy their love?

I hereby officially deem Eva Ibbotson a Favorite Author! Hee! (Such an honor.) This is currently my second favorite Ibbotson, right after A Countess Below Stairs. The whole academic flavor of this book was very appealing to me--Ruth is a graduate student and Quin is an important professor and scholar. Nothing makes my little heart beat like a scholarly hero. ;) And though the book is set during a rather depressing time, there's a lot of humor in it too. I loved when Ruth loses the annulment papers and she gets mad at her friend who "dares to talk to [her] about Freud and what he said about losing things." ... "That we lose what we want to lose...and forget what we want to forget."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bride of the MacHugh, Jan Cox Speas

Title: Bride of the MacHugh
Author: Jan Cox Speas
Published: 1954, Avon
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 8/10

Getting book recommendations from people can be really hit-or-miss -- a person's taste in books is so personal, that if you don't know the person very well, you can find yourself buying a book that may light their fire but does absolutely nothing for you. One of the places that I have found some of the best (and consistently good) recommendations is by finding out what books are some of my favorite authors' favorites. I love to find authors answering the question, "Who are your favorite authors?" Bride of the MacHugh is a favorite of author Susanna Kearsley, whose books I discovered recently and have really enjoyed.

I loved this book and I wanted to do a really good review of it, but then life intruded and now it's been about a month since I read it. *sigh* So I'm going to do a synopsis, but it's going to be a bit vague because some of the details have already floated away from me. But I refuse to post the cover blurb that's on the back of my edition because it is melodramatic idiocy. "Her love was rebellion against family and rank, and his was a sword made reckless by desire!" (In gold foil, too! Wow.) It gives you a completely wrong impression of the book. Anyway...

Elspeth Lamond is Scottish by birth but has been raised in London as a ward of King James. As her mother lies dying, she makes Elspeth promise to go to Scotland and meet her father, Robert Lamond. She travels there under the protection of her kinsman the Earl of Argyll, a powerful Scot who has strong ties to the king. But she is soon kidnapped by Alexander MacHugh, The MacHugh (chief of the MacHugh clan). Some complicated political scheming goes on (here's where I'm forgetting), but basically, Argyl has arranged a marriage for Elspeth with a rich Englishman, a marriage that will bring him the connections and gold he needs to amass even greater power in Scotland. Elspeth has no real power to object, but she has found in Alexander a man whose fiery temper matches her own. But what sort of dangers would they run if they defied Argyll and the English king?

This is great historical fiction -- it really captures the feeling of a different age and incorporates all the interesting historical details without feeling clunky. All the characters are fabulous; Alexander is the powerful and fiery Scot, whose domineering ways could have been irritating if Elspeth hadn't been perfectly able to stand up for herself. Her passion and intelligence matches his, so it's wonderful to see the two of them fight their way to love. :)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why I don't have the brainpower to blog...

I'm in week two of my library job, and it's going really well. I'm slowly getting the hang of the intricacies of cataloging (okay, well, really I'm just learning the basics, but hey, you have to start somewhere).

So here's my excuse for my lack of posts lately--

Take a look at the online catalog page for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

Fairly easy to read, very straightforward, right? Doesn't look like creating a catalog record and entering it into the online catalog would be so hard. But we don't get to use such a pretty, user-friendly interface. Oh, no. We get to do it in MARC (machine-readable cataloging):

Yeah, looks like a bunch of gobbeldy-gook. And that's for a simple book. Nonfiction can get even hairier, with extra authors, series information, many more subject headings. Then you get to do it for a book in German. Or Croatian. Or Bicol. (I'd never heard of Bicol until today. It's an area of the Philippines, don't you know.)

Okay, I'm complaining, but actually it's kind of fun. Like a puzzle to figure out (yes, I am a dork). If anyone else is a dork, you can learn about MARC here. Or if you really want a headache, check this out.

But after cramming this stuff into my head all day, writing a book review that manages in any way to be at all thoughtful has proved impossible. But I will get back to it soon. ;)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hanging Rock, NC

It's been so long since I posted! I'm slowly adjusting to working full-time again. I have about 5 books to catch up on, but first I'll share a few pictures from our camping trip last weekend. (Credit for all the pics goes to Twin, who is a much better photographer than I am.) We stayed at Hanging Rock State Park, near Winston-Salem. It was a really nice park (and I've seen a lot of them), good hiking and beautiful scenery.

The CCC built the park in the 1930s, including a dam to create a nice little lake. There's boating and swimming---plenty of people were swimming, though they must be heartier than me. I was watching from the shore in jeans and a sweatshirt.

The CCC also built some really beautiful stone buildings---this is the bathhouse, right on the lake.

And here's me and my dad at the top of Hanging Rock. (BTW, french braid pigtails are really the only way to go when camping. LOL)