This month, for a change of pace, we read two series (category) romances from two different lines. First up is Rules of Engagement by Jamie Denton, Harlequin Temptation #793, to be published in August. ROE brings us the story of an attorney, Jill Cassidy and her just for the weekend fiancé, Morgan Price, and the rules they make, and break for their fake engagement.
Our second book is the much awaited The Temptation of Sean MacNeill by Virginia Kantra. TTOSM, available in September as Silhouette Intimate Moments #1032, is the story of Sean MacNeill, a determined to remain footloose and fancy-free construction worker and Rachel Fuller, an older than Sean, single mother who is trying to escape her troubled past.
Linda: Blythe, I guess these two category books were a change of pace for you?
Blythe: Yes, they were! I have read very few series books in the past; some Brockmann, some Roberts, and a handful of books for review. You definitely wouldn't call me a regular series reader. The two we read this month are kind of like candy - short and sweet but not particularly satisfying. Both have some interesting ideas, but there's not a lot of substance here. You are a more frequent category reader; what did you think?
Linda: I read a lot of the series books; I call them popcorn books - last about the same length of time as a movie. I am continually amazed at the quality many of the authors give us within the limitations of the form. As far as meat, these books in many ways are like half hour TV shows. The Father Knows Best-type where a problem gets solved in 22 minutes plus commercials. There just isn't time for deep character development but on the other hand series books rarely drag either.
There have been many complaints about the surfeit of cowboys and secret babies in the series books, but we may have stumbled onto a new icon in these two books - the construction worker with the heart of gold and the bod made for sin. <g>
Blythe: Now that you mention it, both these heroes were involved in the construction industry. Morgan Price, the hero of Rules of Engagement, owns a drywall company. Sean O'Neill, the hero of The Temptation of Sean MacNeill, is a carpenter. Actually, I'd take both of them over a cowboy any day.
Linda: They were very nice heroes indeed. Actually I think Jamie Denton was very canny with her choice of Morgan. He is a construction worker - with the body to go with it - but he also owns the company, and to top it off, he gave up his college education to raise his brother and sister. This guy is practically a saint! But, he is also very human and sensual as well. I liked this story a lot. Jill Cassidy is a fun heroine - she is a driven lawyer who portrays her parents to Morgan as being very rigid and controlling people who don't accept her life choices. He agrees to accompany her to her sister's wedding as her fake fiancÚ in return for her legal services for one of his workers. I thought Morgan's reactions when he met her parents were really funny. They were nothing like Jill described. I think many of us see our family in certain ways and the way we see them, may not actually be true. Morgan was shocked at how nice Jill's family was.
Blythe: What I liked most about this one was the conflict. Jill has worked hard for her career, and Morgan wants a wife who will put family first. The choices that Jill faces are very real for most women. At some point many of us have to decide how to balance career and family - or whether we can juggle both at all. I did have a problem with the way Morgan approached the dilemma though. Right away he decides that Jill is a career woman, and he knows that's not what he's looking for. But I think most women have careers before they have children. It almost sounded to me like his perfect candidate was waiting at home with her parents, watching soap operas and sewing doilies for her hope chest.
Linda: LOL, let's hope she isn't eating bon-bons too or he may find her too large for his perfect wife! <g> Morgan was carrying some past baggage that clouded his view about "career women" and I think at first he saw Jill as a stereotype rather than a person. But, I liked the way the story developed and that they both realized what is important. What was really nice was that Denton didn't wrap this up in a pretty bow - this couple is going to have to work hard and compromise to make their marriage work. The immediate problem of where they were going to live and who was going to commute was very apt and I thought realistic. This book also introduced us to Jill's sister Carly, whose wedding Jill and Morgan were attending. We will meet Carly in her own book, Breaking the Rules in September.
One of the things I like best about category books is the on-going series. It is lots of fun to meet and read the stories of several members of a family and see old friends. Diana Palmer's Long, Tall Texans and Suzanne Brockmann'sTall, Dark and Dangerous Navy Seals series are two that are quite popular. I just read a new Palmer and she mentions nearly a dozen characters that we have met before in her fictional town of Jacobsville, Texas. It's lots of fun catching up with old "friends."
Blythe: I have to admit that I am always more interested in books when they are part of a series. I started the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series a few months ago, and I just love it. I've also read Nora Roberts'MacGregor series and Star series. I think both of these authors do a great job, and catching up with characters from past books is the best part. While I enjoyed parts of Rules of Engagement, I'm not sure I'm committed enough to seek out Carly's story. Do you think you'll read it?
Linda: Yes, I definitely will. I loved the teaser at the end of this one and that particular storyline is a favorite of mine.
The Kantra book was a complete change of pace from the Denton. The Temptation of Sean MacNeill is very much a "woman in jeopardy" story, with two very realistic kids and a ditzy grandmother thrown in. I liked Sean MacNeill and his family quite a bit and I didn't realize until I started reading this one that it was part of a series. As soon as we met his family, I was sure there were more stories there and will be hunting them up. But, I did think that this one stood well on its own. I liked Rachel quite a bit and in a very short time she is really put through a great deal of misery thanks to her deceased by suicide hubby and his gambling problems. I thought Kantra gave a very real feeling of menace throughout the book.
Blythe: It is the third in the series. The first is The Passion of Patrick MacNeill and the second is The Comeback of Con MacNeill, which featured Sean's older brothers. I found this one to be a so-so read. On one hand, it has a great hook. The story begins with Rachel discovering Sean naked in her bed! Most series books have to get your attention quickly since the format is so short. This opening is an attention grabber for sure. I also liked that the hero was a full five years younger than the heroine. On the other hand, I had trouble buying into the whole woman in jeopardy plot, mostly because I didn't see why she would keep her problems from her family, or the police.
Linda: I think that the bad guys and her husband's suicide had so thoroughly traumatized her - remember her home was also trashed - that she was really only reacting in fear and not thinking clearly. I loved the fact Sean was younger than her and I thought the children were portrayed realistically. I liked his rapport with her kids. I also liked our introduction to Sean, wearing nothing but his pirate earring!! As you say, it got your attention right away. The villains were so evil, but one of the negatives in a short book like this, is that the author has to use "shorthand" and so these guys are Italian small time Mafia. Which generates a sense of menace before we even meet them. I liked the love story between Rachel and Sean and this book was an enjoyable story.
Blythe: I can see your point about shorthand. I think the relationship between the hero and heroine also has to start very quickly in category romances. It can be tough to pull it off without giving that "rushed" feeling. But I seldom find it believable when a character won't turn to the cops or the FBI. Maybe I am naive, but if I were being hassled by the mob that is the first place I would turn. I also felt that she was putting Sean in jeopardy by refusing to tell him what was going on. If I were living with someone who had problems with the mob, I'd want to know!
Linda: Yes, in series books the hero and heroine normally fall in love very quickly for obvious reasons, either that or they fight all the way thru the book and then realize it was love, which can be fun if handled right, too. Some readers have a problem with people falling in love so quickly, not me - I will have been married 30 years in December and got engaged and married within 3 months of meeting my husband. I think we both knew on our first date that we had met someone who was going to be special! I liked Kantra's writing style a lot. She kept the story moving and there was certainly no "drag" in the story. Quick and jam-packed storylines is one of the things I like about series books. They fill a definite place on my reading shelf.
Blythe: I used to be a lot more rigid in my reading tastes. When I first started reading romance I read only historicals. Then I discovered Judith McNaught and decided I would read her contemporaries also. Then one day my librarian told me I had to read Nora Roberts (she was right!) and I discovered category romances from there. While I still don't read very many, I like that they are quick reads. They usually move at a fast clip, and I can read an entire book in the evening after I get my kids to bed. When they are well done, they can be great. But what about all those baby and cowboy books everyone complains about? Do these bother you?
Linda: I traveled a similar path to the category books. I had a negative impression of Harlequins from the media, but discovered Jayne Ann Krentz had written a bunch and started reading them. I also discovered some authors who wrote only for categories and I loved their books. People like Dixie Browning, Leanne Banks, and the idiosyncratic Jennifer Greene. They became auto-buys for me.
I used to buy 6 Silhouette Desires a month and usually a few Temptations. I realized recently that I haven't bought any author, that wasn't an autobuy, for some time. I now maybe buy two or three a month. So, yes the cowboys and secret babies have turned me off quite a bit. I guess these books are selling well, but not to me. Although Jennifer Greene did a cowboy sheriff in her Christmas book, Her Holiday Secret and I liked him quite a bit. I keep wondering where in Texas are all these gorgeous Cowboys and Cowboy sheriffs? The only Cowboy sheriffs I see on the local news usually have beer bellies and wouldn't be anybody's idea of a Romance hero <g>. But, I guess these are fantasy cowboys and sheriffs. I liked the construction worker with a heart of gold, but hope that this was just a coincidence we picked two with that type of hero and not a new stereotype to be run into the ground.
Blythe: I have absolutely no interest in reading about cowboys, so I avoid them like the plague. I don't necessarily mind children as much, as long as they are portrayed in a realistic way. I think Virginia Kantra did a good job of that in TTOSM, btw. Both the children in this book are school age, so they're not the stereotypical cute, lisping urchins more common to romance. I have read a couple of series books with children who appear when they need to look cute and completely disappear when things turn amorous. I wish that happened in real life, but that sure hasn't been my experience.
Linda: LOL, my experience with children is that they appear at the least opportune times! Particularly when they are teens. I thought Kantra made the children very realistic as well. I was thinking about your comments about going to the police and realized that after that thug Frank had accosted my kids, I would have bought a gun to defend them at the very least. Certainly would have made for a different story with Frank, wouldn't it? <g>.
Blythe: A very different story!
I'm curious - which of these books did you enjoy more? I have read more Silhouette books, so I was surprised to find that I slightly preferred the Denton book, which is a Harlequin Temptation. Neither was really a standout read for me, but I found Denton's characters and conflict more interesting.
Linda: I think I liked the Denton book a bit more, too. They are both quick, enjoyable reads that I would recommend to anyone looking for a pleasant evening's reading. Actually, I think that the series books often provide a quick, enjoyable read and that is not a bad thing at all. What worries me is the proliferation of one or two particular themes and perhaps I am missing some good stories because I just can't get past the picture of the cowboy holding a baby and a pair of mini-cowboy boots on the cover!
I will definitely look for Carly's story, Breaking the Rules, in September.
Blythe:Rules of Engagement has a spin-off, and The Temptation of Sean MacNeill is part of a series. Do you think this is a growing trend in series romance also?
Linda: I think this has always been common in the series books. I have a lot of interconnected series titles and some of these "sets" are quite exceptional - usually they will be three or four books and not the open-ended series like Palmer's Long, Tall Texans. A series worth hunting up is Elizabeth Bevarly'sThe Family McCormick, which deals with three adults looking for their siblings who had been put in foster care, three great stories and very touching, too. I also just finished Jennifer Greene's Stanford Sisters series and enjoyed it a lot, too. The nice thing about interconnected series titles is that they are often easy to find either at UBS's or through on-line used book sources. Some of them can be very tough to find and/or can go for big bucks. But I find most I'm looking for pretty easy to find and when I read one like the Kantra, I often end up hunting up and reading the others in the series.
We are making a departure from our usual schedule of one Pandora's Box a month because of the vocal interest in Dara Joy's High Intensity. Robin Uncapher will fill in for Blythe later this month; she and I will talk about Tyber and Zanita's latest adventure.
Next month Blythe will return and we'll have yet another change of pace because we plan to tackle rising star Tracy Fobes new book Daughter of Destiny. I enjoyed Fobes' Touch Not the Cat, which I thought had the all time best cover of a romance novel - John DeSalvo in a kilt sitting with a gorgeous cougar; romantic and mysterious. Plus I loved John in the kilt!
Blythe: I think that cover is a favorite with many readers. Fobes is a new author for me, so I'm eager to give this book a try.
Linda: Well, see you next month - Happy Reading!
Blythe: Till next month!
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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