Monday, March 30

Review: The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

A few years ago, there was quite a buzz about the Black Jewels trilogy. That's how I discovered Anne Bishop. Ever since, I've become a fan of this series. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by Tangled Webs. While it was fun to catch up with beloved characters, there was nothing new... that's why I haven't been in a hurry to read The Shadow Queen. I knew this was the start of a new trilogy, but could it live up to the previous trilogy?

Well only one way to find out, right? To buddy review this book, I asked Li from Me and My Books to join me, because I know she was looking forward to this book as well :)

The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop
published by ROC in March 2009 (Hardcover)

Dena Nehele is a land decimated by its past. Once it was ruled by corrupt Queens who were wiped out when the land was cleansed of tainted Blood. Now, only one hundred Warlord Princes stand—without a leader and without hope…

Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line, desperate to find the key that reveals a treasure great enough to restore Dena Nehele. But first he needs to find a Queen who knows Protocol, remembers the Blood’s code of honor, and lives by the Old Ways.

Languishing in the Shadow Realm, Lady Cassidy is a Queen without a court, a castoff. She is not beautiful. She thinks she is not strong. But when she is chosen to rule Dena Nehele, she must convince bitter men to serve once again.

Theran’s cousin Gray is a Warlord Prince who was damaged in mind and body by the vicious Queens who once ruled Dena Nehele. Yet something about Cassidy makes him want to serve—and makes him believe he can be made whole once again.

And only Cassidy can prove to Gray—and to herself—that wounds can heal and even the whisper of a promise can be fulfilled…

Genre: fantasy
Series: Black Jewels series, book #6

Nath: What did you think of The Shadow Queen, Li? I thought The Shadow Queen was a great set-up for the new trilogy.

Li: Is it a trilogy? I know there's definitely a sequel out this time next year, but didn't know there would be one more.

Nath: Yeah, it's going to be a trilogy. All I know is that the next book is titled The Shalador Lady and is supposed to come out around the same time in 2010. Then, the third book in 2011.

What did you enjoy best in The Shadow Queen? I really liked Cassidy's character as well as Gray.

Li: Right... let me gather my thoughts...

Okay, I was actually slightly squicked out by the Cassie-Gray romance, mainly because I figured his mental age for around early teens and Cassie's 31. Sure, am all for the older woman-younger man thing, but the operative word is "man", and he's still very much a teenager inside. So I felt slightly uncomfortable reading those scenes, especially with Daemon and Lucivar giving him advice on how to seduce Cassie! I just flipped through my book, and Gray was captured at 15, so I'm assuming he sort of stayed at that age mentally.

Nath: I actually enjoyed the Cassie-Gray romance! It was so sweet and definitively one of the highlights of the book! Gray's character was just endearing and sweet.

I have to admit though, in any other situations, I would have felt like you, Li, and be put off by Cassie-Gray's romance. However, I think that Ms Bishop handled it very well. Yes, when we first meet Gray, it is the 15 y.o. boy that dominates... However, as the book progresses and Gray falls in love with Cassie, we see him try to overcome his fears and become the man he should have been... and we get quite a few glimpses of the man :)

What is interesting about your comment though is that Ms Bishop didn't ignore this fact and as a result, the heroine even shares your opinion! LOL! :) It's mentioned in the book after the moon-time episode that she was wary because she didn't know who she would have to deal with: Gray the boy or Gray the man. Also, near the end, she reflects how uncomfortable she is sometimes when she feels she is kissing Gray the boy. I guess that my mind is already made up :) I'm just assuming that at the end of the trilogy, Cassie is going to get her HEA ending with Gray and that Gray will have recovered emotionally.

I also have to add that Cassie didn't feel like 31. Deep inside, she is so vulnerable and she's been hurt so badly... She feels younger... and LOL, I thought it was cute Lucivar and Daemon giving him advices LOL :P

Li: I liked Cassie and I would love to see her grow more in confidence in the next book. I also liked how she is one of the more ordinary people in this world - not everyone is as all-powerful as Jaenelle, or even Daeman or Saetan.

Nath: I get what you're saying and I agree with you. Indeed, it's nice that Cassie is sooo normal. Actually, when you think about it, everyone in Jaenelle's entourage seems so powerful. Jaenelle's First Court, the scelties... even the butler! LOL :) In contrast though, the characters in Cassie's court all seems quite weak ^_^; However, I thought they were quite likable... all with the exception of Theran. He was such a PITA ^_^;

Li: I didn't find Theran a sympathetic character at all, but can sort of see where he's coming from. He wants an incredibly charismatic queen to rule his people and he sort of assumes he needs someone with a strong and powerful aura, and he ends up with this gawky-looking female. I think what Ms Bishop is trying to convey is the "don't judge a book by its cover" message, I'm not sure Theran was completely won over at the end though. Maybe that's for the sequel :-)

Nath: My problem with Theran is that he just keeps assuming things and jumping to conclusions. He didn't even try to get to know Cassie. Yes, he wants to save his people, but how can you do it with such a small mind? Also, like Saetan said, he's setting a bad example and people are following his lead. Luckily, Cassie is a strong woman... and hopefully, Theran will change after reading the letter. I think it'd be fun to see Theran coming off his high horse and be humbled a bit. I'll admit though, his love for Gray is definitively a point in his favor.

Li: I'm hoping Theran gets more time in the next book, I would love a redemption-type plot for him.

Nath: I would too.

Li: Have you read the sort-of prequel to this one, The Invisible Ring? I have, but it's been a few years since I've read it, and because she had so many references to previous characters, who I only recall faintly, that it almost distracted from this book. I was trying to remember who Jared was and why Daemon would owe him a favor, and Shira's ancestors were, and so on, that I couldn't get into the story properly.

Nath: I did, but like you, it's been a number of years and I couldn't remember much. Took me a while to put back everything in place - I was quite confused at first. I believe The Shadow Queen will be more enjoyable for someone who still have the Black Jewels background and storyline fresh in mind.

Li: Also, and I'm not sure completely sure how to describe it, but when I read The Invisible Ring, I don't remember wondering why Daemon (who made a cameo appearance) was so feared. Whereas in this one, it's almost as though Ms Bishop is so familiar with Daemon, Jaenelle, and co that she doesn't bother to flesh them properly out, which may leave readers new to the series wondering just what is so special about them. Does that make sense?

Nath: I can't remember if The Invisible Ring was written before and after the ending of the trilogy... but the feel I get from reading The Shadow Queen is that Ms Bishop assumes that everything is fresh in our memory and therefore, takes our knowledge for granted. As a result, Ms Bishop goes forward and doesn't spend time reminding us the basics. What's unfortunate is though is that I don't feel like Daemon, Saetan, Jaenelle characters are growing or moving. It's the same issues once again :(

Li: Oh and what did you think about the Saetan subplot? Did that seem out of place to you?

Nath: Personally, I would have done without all the Daemon and Saetan subplots. I mean, it was sweet to get a better glimpse of the father-sons relationship, especially the part where Saetan read to Daemon, but I think it distracts the reader from the main plotline. I think that Ms Bishop has difficulty parting with those characters. I have no problem for casual/cameo appearances, but it was more than that.

Although I could have done without the subplots and would have preferred the book to focus on Cassie and her court, I did enjoy them a lot. There were many funny and sweet moments :) The Shadow Queen wasn't perfect, but I'm giving a B+... because I enjoyed it a lot and it caught my interest.

Li: I agree that if the book had focused more on Cassie/Gray/Theran, it would have been a stronger read for me. I think I gave it a B- after finishing it. It stays in the B range for me because of my love for Ms Bishop's Black Jewels world, but I would not rec this at all for readers new to her world. I'm not sure whether I'm outgrowing this series - the last book I loved was Dreams Made Flesh, the anthology - and it's been years since I've re-read the original trilogy, it would be interesting to re-read it at some point and see whether it captures my imagination in the same way.

Nath: Definitively not the right book to start this series. As for outgrowing the series, I think not. The problem is that since Dreams Made Flesh, the books that have been published are simply not as good as the rest of the series. In my opinion, Tangled Webs and The Shadow Queen would have been much better if Daemon and cie didn't have such major "screen time." Still, there is potential for The Shadalor Lady... Just too bad we have to wait a year to find out ^_^;

Friday, March 20

Lady be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I'm on SEP kick. As someone who is new to her books I am doing my best to catch up on her entire back list. It's been very fun. SEP has many novels, and they all sound so good that I never know which one to read next. I've been asking people which is their favourite and going from there. Lady be Good is the one Rowena suggested and she agreed to re read it so that we could buddy review together. Thanks Wena :)

Lady Emma Wells-Finch, the oh-so-proper headmistressof England's St. Gertrude's School for Girls, is a woman on a mission - she has two weeks to lose her reputation. Arriving in Texas with skirts flying, umbrella pointing, and beautiful mouth issuing orders, she knows only one thing will save her from losing everything she holds dear: complete and utter disgrace!

World-famous playboy-athlete Kenny Traveler has kickedup his boot heels one too many times, and now he's suspended from the sport he loves. Only one thing will restore his career:complete and utter respectability! Unfortunately, he's been blackmailed into chauffeuring bossy, single-minded Lady Emma, and she's hell-bent on visiting honkytonks,chasing down tattoo parlors, and worse.. lots worse.

When a gorgeous man who can't afford another scandal meets a hardheaded woman who's determined to cause one, anything can happen. But love? Oh, dear. That's impossible.That's outrageous. That's... inevitable!

Chantal: Lady Be Good was fun, you picked a good one for me. A British Lady getting together with an American golf pro. Very interesting coupling, but it worked out perfectly.

Rowena: I thought so too. Oh man oh man, this book definitely stood the test of time for me and SEP has Kenny Traveler to thank for that. That man is just something else, don't you think? His lazy personality and just the way that he was made for one entertaining read if ever there was one.

Chantal: Oh, yes, he is a mans man. Tough and strong and alpha but not a jerk. My two favourite parts are when he beat up the Duke, and this part right here,
“Now, this is where I draw the line! It’s bad enough everybody in town’s going to be thinkin’ I’m sleeping with a depressed, lice-ridden, hemorrhoidal foreigner who likes to be tied up and might be pregnant, although—since she’s just about cornered the market on condoms—I don’t know how that could have happened. But I will not—you listen to me, Emma!—I absolutely will not have anybody thinkin’ a woman of mine needs a vaginal moisturizer, do you hear me?”
Omg, LOL. it makes me laugh and laugh!

Rowena: Oh gosh, I LOVED IT when Kenny beat up the Duke. Gosh the Duke got on my nerves. And yeah, there were many laugh out loud moments throughout this entire book and that was definitely one of them. I laughed really, really hard when Emma woke up with her new tattoo. LMAO!

What did you think of Emma?

Chantal:Good question. I thought she was a tad foolish in her plans to ruin herself. You could tell right off the bat that it would not work and it didn't make much sense to go about it the way she did. I can let her foolishness slide on the fact that she was pretty sheltered and didn't have much life experiences or get the chance to learn any street smarts in her life.Other than that I found her to be rather charming. It was good that she stuck to her guns with her silly plan. There is nothing like I less than an inconsistent heroine, but Emma was nothing but consistent. Did you like her?

Rowena: I thought she was quite charming. She had a wealth of knowledge that told you she was extremely smart but at the same time, she was so street dumb that you couldn't help but think, how in the world did she ever think any of that stuff she planned would work. I enjoyed getting to know her and I enjoyed the situations she got herself into and I really enjoyed seeing her fall in love with Kenny.

Chantal:I enjoyed when she pretended to be a lesbian. That was unexpected but so crazy that it suited her to try it.

Rowena: I loved Kenny and Emma together. They remind me of that one song by Jack Jackson, Better Together. That's how I thought of them. They were just too cute.

Chantal: I can picture them well as a real life couple. Her accent, his humour. They fit together.

Rowena: What did you think of the one scene where Kenny is at the baby race?

Chantal:The baby race was an interesting scene. At first I thought it was comical, but then when the baby started to cry and Kenny still acted very pushy and win win win, it became uncomfortable. That scene showed an entire new vulnerable side to Kenny. I think we needed to see that. A little less perfection made him seem all the more real. It made me like him even more. Yeah, he had a bad moment, but he made up for it, and he'll never do it again.

Gosh, I love this author.

Rowena: Exactly, I couldn't have said it any better. I think I needed to see that scene where Kenny loses his shit over something so small to get to know the real Kenny. After that scene, I understood Kenny more and I saw where his issues stemmed from and I admired him all the more. I knew that the front he showed the world was just that....a front.

I love SEP too. She is definitely one of my auto buy authors because she writes my favorite kinds of books, funny books with witty characters and some depth. They're not always easy reads but they're just right for me and this book was no exception. It remains one of my favorite SEP books that I've ever read and no amount of rereading has changed that. I think the more that I read this book, the more that I love it. Kenny and Emma are like old friends of mine and I never get tired of reading about them. This book packed so much in it, a lively set of characters, a strong hero and heroine, secondary stories that keep you wanting more and scenes that jump right off the pages. This book is a great read and I think everyone should read it.

Chantal: Oh, yes, and all of her books, so far, have been like that for me. I get sucked into them, I become part of the story. She weaves magic in her writing. I love her!

I know you do the number rating rather than a lettered system. What do you give it?

Rowena: Hmmm, I'd give it an A. It entertained the socks right off of me and for me, it just gets better with each reread. I always forget something from the time before and I always fall right back in love with these characters so yeah, I'm confident with that. I give it an A.

Chantal: Right on. An A from me. Like you, I will re read this one time and time again :)

Tuesday, March 3

Review: Talk of the Town by Karen Hawkins

Whew... All right, so I read this book back when it was just released... which means last November ^_^; Then, I waited for Lori to read it so we could buddy review it... which we did, back in November, and once we were done discussing it, I put the review together as I usually do... in January ^_^; and well, it's been sitting in my mailbox ever since ^_^; Sad no? I'm usually much better when it comes to buddy review, but for some reason, this one just kept slipping past me.

However, I'm glad I kept it, because I can post it now!

Talk of the Town by Karen Hawkins
published by Simon & Schuster in November 2008
Do Blondes Have More Fun?

Newly divorced Roxie Treymayne is dying to find out. After years of being the perfect Southern lady, all she ended up with was a cheating husband. So she goes bombshell blond, gets a provocatively placed tattoo, and prepares to live it up as a Bad Girl. But then her mother falls ill...and Roxie is forced to return to Glory, North Carolina.

He'd Love to Know

Once the town bad boy, Nick Sheppard is now Glory's highly respected sheriff. When the hot blonde he stops for speeding turns out to be formerly prim Homecoming Queen Roxanne Treymayne, Nick doesn't quite know where to look -- though he'd like a much closer one at the tattoo peeking from her shorts.

But It Takes Two to Tango

Roxie and Nick had a steamy fling in high school, but a love affair between a Southern princess and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks was doomed from the start. Now they have a second chance. Can they get it right? Or will they just end up...the talk of the town?

Genre: contemporary romance
Series: none so far

The Story: Roxie Tremayne has just divorced her husband after finding him cheating... with another man. She has come to the realization that she's wasted all those years being the perfect wife instead of living and is determined to do so now. Which explains the new hairdo, clothes, tattoo and ticket to Paris. However, her plans are disrupted when her brother Mark tells her that their mother has suffered a heart attack. Now, both have to show up at the familial house in Glory.

Nick Sheppard has left the big city to become sheriff in Glory. He's not expecting any trouble till Roxie comes back to town. The others know Roxie as the Ice Queen, but Nick knows better. However, the new Roxie is trouble and all Nick wants is quiet... his body just won't listen to him.

Nath: What did you think of Talk of the Town by Karen Hawkins, Lori? Personally, I liked the storyline and the characters very much. Unfortunately, the ending was not as good and was very rushed.

Lori: I loved the first half, loved the humor, loved the secondary characters. I loved her relationship with her brother. The 2nd half fell kind of flat for me. I thought the romance fell short in the 2nd half, then she had to rush it at the end.

Nath: Let’s talk about the H/H first, since this is after all, a romance :)

I liked Roxie and I thought she was an interesting heroine. I was afraid that she’d be the helpless kind of woman after a divorce, but she wasn’t. She was independent, could think for herself and wasn’t disillusioned. You know how some of the divorcees don’t know anything about reality? That definitively wasn’t the case with Roxie and I liked that she wasn’t a Stepford wife, all nice and proper.

Nick was an interesting hero. I liked his background story... and it made it believable why he'd want to come back to such a small town to work. However, I don’t know, he was overshadowed by Roxie I think. Ms Hawkins spent too much time writing about how he lusted after Roxie and why he shouldn’t instead of developing his character.

Lori: I loved Nick in the first half, then I thought he was a totally different guy in the 2nd half. The worry about having a relationship with Roxie was just too much, even given his background, considering their past together. I felt like... enough already! Didn't you?

Anyway... as I said, I loved the 1st half, but thought the 2nd half fell quite flat for me. I thought the humor took a leave of absence in the 2nd half of the book, the love story fell flat after they slept together - once you've done someone on your desk, you don't get to have the "I don't think we should be together" conversation, IMO.

Even the old folks murder mystery fell kind of flat, although I thought it was really funny that they were smoking pot unknowingly. That cracked me up! Those Dorito munchies? Been there, done that. I loved how Nick and Roxie were so thoughtful with them. Most people wouldn't give a bunch of elderly people the time of day.

Nath: I have to say, the whole idea of a third-age group looking for adventures and trying to solve a murder was entertaining. Though I can't see Roxie and Mark's mother fitting in that group :P

Also, I do agree with you. Nick’s hesitation at having a relationship with Roxie did go on for too long. See, I think the second half would have been better if Ms Hawkins focused on the romance between Roxie and Nick. I actually didn’t like the way Roxie and Nick came together and didn’t deal with their past.

It seems to me Ms Hawkins spent too much time in the first half building up everything: the sexual tension between Roxie and Nick, the old folks group and their mischief, the whole blackmail scheme. Then, she ran out of time and pages to keep up the humor and the storyline and had to rush to give Roxie and Nick an HEA ending. Don’t you think there are many loose ends? For example, what happened to the mayor and Robin? Did they get what they deserve?

Lori: I agree that there were lots of loose ends as well. I wasn't sure if they ever solved the murder till you told me.

Nath: LOL :) I actually thought the mystery was quite clever and it was a nice twist at the end. I do think there could have been more foreshadowing about the baddie. Oh well.


Lori: All in all, I thought Ms Hawkins wrote a really funny book. I wasn't surprised that it was humorous, because her historicals have a great sense of humor and the absurd sometimes, but I was surprised at how slapstick funny it was while still maintaining a great sense of family, community, and romance.

A+ for the first half, C+ for the second half. How about you?

Nath: As you said, first half was excellent, the second half meh... I do have to say that I’m surprised my favorite part was the sibling relationship between Roxie and Mark.

Overall, this was a good first attempt at contemporary romance. Ms Hawkins handled the transition from historical to contemporary really well and has me wishing for more – particularly a sequel. That’s why I am giving Talk of the Town a B.