Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - 5 - Book Review - Wanderlust by Shelley Munro

As I've blogged my way through cyberspace these past two years, I've had the pleasure of meeting several people who I now consider to be friends I have yet to meet in person. Shelley Munro is one of them.

1 - Shelley is a fabulous blogger. You can find her at Adventure Into Romance With Shelley Munro. She posts engaging writers'-life commentary without fail, even while she's on a mega trek with her intrepid husband for 6 weeks. Not only is she a prolific author - 32 e-books and counting - not only does she post regularly and unfailingly, but she visits her blog friends faithfully. My heart always brightens when I see her name in my comments page.

2 - Shelley also blogs at Danger Zone with:

Denise Agnew
Lise Fuller
N.D. Hansen-Hill
Marianne LaCroix
and Charlene Leatherman

3 - Wanderlust is written in first person, and when you keep in mind how much of the world Shelley has seen personally, you'll understand why that was a natural fit for this novel.

4 - Part of Cerridwen Press's Romantic Suspense category, Wanderlust gives us a heroine who lives her dreams of travelling the world while keeping a safe distance from her parents, who can't seem to live with or without each other. The hero is a man who gets dangerous jobs done, whatever border needs to be crossed. Even if that border is the line around a woman's heart.

5 - We meet Anna Tietjens, a mid-twenties woman who shepherds tourists across overland routes in less-discovered areas like India. It's her birthday, which would be nice to celebrate - but her co-driver has just come down with malaria, more passengers are about to join the tour, including her dear sister who makes her teeth grind at the best of times, several male passengers are convinced they'd make beautiful music with Anna if they refined their come-ons slightly, not to mention having already lost one of her tourists to a fatal accident in Syria. Happy birthday, indeed.

6 - Sebastian Brady wisely made his reservation with Wanderlust Adventures under a different name. Otherwise Anna would never have agreed to take him aboard. He knew she relished their passionate rendezvous but kept him at arms' length - which fit in with his line of work rather nicely. Accountants' briefcases being such a fine place to stash guns, and New Delhi so perfect to slide through unnoticed in the marketplaces.

7 - Anna's home is always packed with fellow travellers, since she may as well call the modified Mercedes truck she uses for Wanderlust Adventures home.

Or she could call it Alice. Which she does.

8 - Anna's attraction to Sebastian spikes well out of her comfort zone with his unscheduled appearance. Her parents' miserable track record, and her own insatiable desire to see wildebeest migrating and cheetahs loping turns this tour into an emotional pressure cooker. Especially since this is the first time they've spent so much time upright and clothed in each others' company.

9 - One of the passengers suggests a game of murder to play along the route. Which seems like a good idea to a distracted Anna - until the accident victim back in Syria becomes only the first of her passengers to meet with an untimely end. Now murder is far from a movable parlour game. And Anna's mystery lover with the accountants' briefcase might be more than just a surprise booking on her ill-fated overland tour.

10 - Shelley really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'You're good at teasing.'

'You can talk,' Sebastian said. 'Weren’t you the one who tied my hands so I couldn’t touch you?'

Okay, he had me there. I’d done that once in a hotel. 'I didn’t realize this was about payback. Besides, you didn’t stay tied up for long. You freed yourself before I finished.' My knots hadn’t stood up to mercenary training.

'You tie knots like a girl,' he said, shaking his head and chuckling at the memory.

'In case you haven’t noticed, I am a girl.' I ran my fingers across his nipples until they stood out small and tight. The groan I dragged from him was an added reward. I loved to know I could tease him, get him to react. 'You know what I think?'

'Nah, but you’re going to tell me,' he said, his lips quirking in a touch of humor.

I grabbed his ears and tugged lightly. 'Smart-ass.'

Sebastian laughed. 'Maybe I should make love to you more often.'

Yeah, good idea. I thought it, but I didn’t say it. 'Why?'

'Keep you under control,' he said. 'You purr like a kitten after we’ve made love.'

'I do not.' Indignant, I pulled away.

His brows rose but the grin never faded. 'And when we’re not making love, you’re like a wild cat. Unpredictable. I never know how you’re going to react. It makes for an exciting relationship.'

My mouth flapped like a fish but wisely I kept my thoughts to myself. We weren’t in a romantic relationship. I didn’t do relationships at all."

11 - Shelley's personal experience travelling through India gives every moment of this novel an authoritative voice. The noise, the crowds, the colors, the smells, the mannerisms of the locals - everything and everyone is blissfully authentic.

12 - Wanderlust has a large cast of characters and a Miss Marple vibe to further complicate the lovers' relationship. This story is as dense and vibrant as the Indian tour stops, while Shelley keeps Anna's romance with Sebastian simmering in the foreground and the suspense storyline humming to the very end.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt from Wanderlust. Enjoy!

"We arrived late and set up camp up few miles from the World Heritage-listed Ellora cave temples just before dusk. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, the bush telegraph worked efficiently and locals appeared, silently slipping up to our newly claimed campsite to watch. By the time we’d set up the tents and the cooks had dragged out the tables and started to prepare the evening meal, there was a semicircle of mainly males watching us intently.

'I feel like a goldfish in a bowl,' Elizabeth said. 'Shoo. Shoo! Don’t they have homes to go to?'

'Part of the overseas experience is interacting with the local people,' I said.

'Maybe yours,' Elizabeth snapped.

'Yeah, Elizabeth travels to shop,' Carmichael said, ruffling her hair in an affectionate manner.

'There’s nothing wrong with shopping,' Elizabeth said, her tone defensive.

'Sweetheart, of course there isn’t.' Jack grinned and reached over to snatch a quick kiss. I watched in fascination when all the fight seeped out of her.

'Not when you have two males to carry parcels for you.' Rosa gripped the knife she was using to chop potatoes a little more firmly, her snide tone not carrying past her fellow cooks and me. She used so much force in her chopping that one of pieces shot off the table and hit AJ in the back of the head.

'Ow!' she howled, rubbing the back of her head. 'What did you do that for?'

'Sorry! I didn’t do it on purpose,' Rosa said.

'Oh, oh! She got me.' Elizabeth dropped to the ground in a ladylike swoon. 'I’m dead,' she said before closing her eyes.

'I wish,' Rosa snapped. Another potato shot off the table, this one falling to the ground.

'I heard that,' Elizabeth said, opening her eyes and extending a hand to both Jack and Carmichael to pull her up. 'I don’t think that’s very nice considering what happened to Guy.'

'Oh, and you’d know all about nice,' Rosa sneered.

'That’s enough,' I said hastily. The last thing I wanted to deal with tonight was a catfight. 'Do you think it’s a good idea to continue with the murder game?' I asked, in a feeble attempt to change the subject. Murder wasn’t a good topic either.

'It’s just a game,' Elizabeth said.

'I agree with Anna,' Lloyd said. 'It’s hardly good taste after Guy snuffed it.'

I closed my eyes, my heart pounding. Jeez, did he have to put it quite that way?
Snuffed it.

Rosa tossed her head and the silver blade of the knife flashed in the lights we’d set up so the cooks could see what they were doing. 'Two murders if you count Sam. And of course Antonia, but that was a bit different.'

'The trip is cursed,' Suki said. 'That’s obvious.'

'Rubbish,' I said. 'That’s superstitious nonsense.'

'Maybe it’s a clever advertising ploy on behalf of Wanderlust Adventures,' Lloyd dropped into the sudden silence.

'Killing passengers as a publicity stunt?' Stanley asked, his brows shooting upward in disbelief.

'Don’t think it will catch on,' Sebastian drawled, his tanned face a picture of lazy humor."

- Shelley Munro, 2008

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - 4 - Book Review - When a Stranger Loves Me by Julianne MacLean

This is my third book review for my cousin's latest release. As I'm nearing my second blogiversary on Feb. 5th, this means she's had three books come out in that time.

I know. She is amazing.

1 - You can check out all three reviews in My Book Reviews archive.

2 - When a Stranger Loves Me is the third book in Julianne's Pembroke Palace series. The hero is part of an English ducal family driven to act by the deranged requirements of the patriarch. The current duke is going mad, and believes a flood will wipe out their ancestral home - unless all four of his sons marry before Christmas. If they fail to find wives in that time, the entire fortune will go to the Horticultural Society.

3 - Part of Avon's Historical Romance category, When a Stranger Loves Me gives us a heroine who tried to follow her own passions as a young woman, was hauled away from her elopement by her prominent father and promptly became the outrageous scandal of London. The hero survives a shipwreck in the English Channel, washing ashore upon the Jersey Island where the heroine has lived in exile.

4 - We meet Lady Chelsea Campion, a woman whose exile from society turned into the kind of freedom that allowed her to blossom. Chelsea lives in the summer home of her family's estate year round, along with her mother, brother and sister-in-law. Chelsea is deeply attached to her island home. She knows how to read the skies, she knows every ridge and hollow of the island, and spends her days crafting stories.

5 - Luckily for the hero, Chelsea takes a walk along the shore after a wild storm, ending up in the sea caves. There she finds an unconscious naked man thrown onto the jagged rocks. When he finally awakes, it is only to discover he can remember nothing of how he got there. Not the circumstances of his discovery, not any circumstances - he has no memory of anything that happened before he was discovered in the cave. Including his own identity.

6 - Chelsea dubs him Jack so he can have a name, at least. Jack's abilities remain intact - his aristocratic manners, his knack of tying a cravat and especially his exceptional talent for drawing. Among other pastimes, Chelsea and Jack spend many fulfilling hours while she writes and Jack sketches.

7 - But at night, Chelsea joins him in his room, giving in to the frightening passion she feels for this complete stranger. For he may not know who he is, but Jack can see inside of Chelsea in a way no one else has ever done - not even the lover she'd tried to marry before her family put a stop to it.

8 - Jack tells Chelsea she is his whole world now - the only person who knows him in a world he can't recall. But the gnawing sensation of letting someone down, of something urgent that needs him to act intrudes upon his Jersey Island idyll. And why can't he remember being stabbed? When Chelsea found him in the cave, he was bleeding from a puncture wound. Was it simply from the shipwreck? Or did someone want him dead?

9 - A thread of rebellion against the weight of duty runs strongly throughout this book. Charged with being the reason for her family's exile, Chelsea feels compelled to bear the burden of her loved ones' future, with her father passed on and a marriage proposal made by a man willing to overlook her ruination. Is it so wrong to allow herself a few days of pleasure with a stranger before shackling herself to Lord Carruthers?

As for Jack - why does his heart sink when he's finally located by his family? Why must he leave Chelsea behind and face the crushing expectations of 'loved ones' for whom he has no feelings?

10 - Julianne really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Chelsea sat for a long time, listening to the steady ticking of the clock on the mantel and the constant murmur of the sea. The sun had disappeared below the horizon, and outside the window, high in the sky, the stars appeared, one by one.

Rising to her feet, she strolled to the bedside, put a hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn, then leaned over the man. He would no doubt be very weak when he opened his eyes, perhaps too weak to even speak.

Feeling a sudden wave of compassion for his suffering, she laid her open hand upon his forearm. Gently, with the tip of her finger, she traced a path around all the little scrapes and cuts, as if she were following a maze. He was warm to her touch, but so very still and lifeless.

Her eyes traveled down the length of his body. She could see the outline of his firm torso and long legs, and remembered again his naked form in the cave. Her belly swirled with fascination and arousal, which shamed her for a moment, until she remembered that she was a flesh and blood woman - a woman who had once known passion and desire for a brief time before this seven-year exile. There was a time she'd wanted nothing more than to know a man's body, and to be made love to by someone she adored.

Suddenly, without warning, the man's arm snapped up. He grabbed her wrist.

Panic flared in her stomach. She gasped, but before she could even comprehend the pain in her arm, he was scrambling out of the bed like a wild animal, coming at her with raging fury in his eyes.

She screamed as he threw her to the floor. Her head hit the rug and she squeezed her eyes shut. All the air sailed out of her lungs.

The man pinned her down, tossed a leg over her hips and straddled her. When she opened her eyes, he was sitting on top of her, holding a brass candlestick over his head. It gleamed in the firelight, just like the ferocity in his wild blue eyes.

'Aaah!' he yelled as he drew the weapon back and swung."

11 - As always, Julianne excels at the dialogue between her hero and heroine. Julianne never fails to take a scene I think is going in one direction - and then flips it on its ear. She's the master of getting to the deeper emotions between lovers. Their raw feelings create true conflict, twisting the reader's heart into the same knots as the lovers'.

12 - Julianne moves to St. Martin's Press for her next release. Here's her announcement on her website:

"Julianne just accepted a three book deal to write for St. Martins Press. The contract is for a historical romance trilogy set in the Scottish Highlands. Release dates to be announced soon!"

She's wearing her fingers out at the keyboard on the first of the trilogy. My writers' chapter already got a sneak peek at the opening scene. Ladies, this is a hero to die for.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt from When a Stranger Loves Me. Enjoy!

" 'So you've forgiven me, then?' Jack asked as he refastened his trousers.

They had made love standing up against the door of his bedchamber. She had not seemed to mind the base carnality of it, nor suggested they move to a quieter spot on the bed. Perhaps she knew there was no one nearby to hear, for clearly she'd come here with one thing on her mind, and they got down to business without any of the usual genteel preliminaries.

He nuzzled her cheek and stepped back. Chelsea pushed away from the door.

'We already agreed that there is nothing to forgive,' she said. 'You were right when we spoke outside earlier today. You have not kept anything from me. I knew what I was getting myself into when I came to you the other night, and I have indeed been more than satisfied.'

He watched her for a strange moment, as she walked seductively to the window.

'But there is something different about you,' he said, narrowing his eyes. 'You're closed off. You're not acting like yourself.'

'That's ridiculous.'

'Is it? I think you are still angry about what happened in bed this morning.' He hesitated. 'Or perhaps...

'I am neither,' she quickly asserted as she pulled the curtain aside with one finger and looked out. 'I am simply trying to be realistic.'

'How so?'

She faced him. He had the distinct impression she was giving a great deal of consideration to her answer, almost as if she were plotting one of her stories, deciding upon the most effective piece of dialogue for her protagonist.

'I don't want to become too attached to you,' she said at last.

He studied her eyes and saw a hint of vulnerability there, mixed possibly with some melancholy.

But it was an honest answer - at least he believed it to be so - and it gave him some reassurance that he had not lost her completely. She was still being open with him.

He approached her. 'And is there a danger of you becoming too attached?'

'There is a danger of anything. You are very pleasant to be around.
Most of the time,' she added playfully.

'When I am not calling you by other women's names, I suppose.'


'I'll try not to do it again.'

'I would appreciate that.'

For a moment more they stood without talking, merely looking at each other while the waves rolled up onto the shoreline outside the window. Here in the room, the clock ticked steadily on the mantel.

Jack noticed the heavy beat of his heart. He felt restless, filled with a yearning that seemed to have no cure - for he could not close the space between them. How could he, when he did not know who he was, or if he was even free to care for her the way he wanted to?

Then, for some unknown reason, he remembered the urgency he'd felt the night before, and felt again that he was letting someone down. The feeling dropped into his stomach like a stone. Someone needed him. Of that, he was certain. There was a duty he was expected to fulfill.

was there a wife?

He looked down at the floor.

'So until we know more about you,' Chelsea said, her voice more forceful now, almost as if she had read his thoughts, 'I will simply keep my heart out of it, as you should do as well.'

'That's probably wise,' he heard himself saying, without looking up, because he was not in a position to offer his heart, or any kind of promise that involved the future. As things stood, he could offer Chelsea nothing, and she knew it."

- Julianne MacLean, 2009

Join me next week when I review Wanderlust by Shelley Munro.