I've started 2005 on a reading jag, having completed two single titles in 3 days. Trust me, that's very good for yours truly. Both were good reads with some issues, but they were still quite entertaining.
First up was The Legend Of Banzai Maguire by Susan Grant. I had the pleasure of reviewing Grant's debut many moons ago, loved it, and vowed to follow her career. Then I met her at an RWA conference in Denver and dang if she just wasn't the nicest person. So I've been buying all of her books brand spanking new the minute they hit the bookstores. Of course, each of these books has been languishing in my massive TBR - but hey! I've been buying them! Since one of my resolutions for 2005 is to get through some backlists, I decided Grant was a good place to start.
This is the first book in the multi-author 2176 series. It's a really neat concept actually. In the year 2176 the USA is no more and is actually an imperialist empire called The United Colonies Of Earth. There are rebels who want independence and are agitating for democracy. Sounds vaguely familiar doesn't it? Grant's heroine, Bree "Banzai" Maguire has her F-16 fighter jet shot down over the demilitarized zone of North Korea in 2006. While searching for her wingman (who was also shot down) she falls into the hands of a scientist. She is soon doing the Rip Van Winkle act for the next 170 years. When she wakes up she doesn't know who she can trust - is it the handsome Prince Kyber of the Kingdom of Asia or her would-be rescuer, the UCE Navy SEAL, Ty Armstrong?
I really enjoy the way Grant writes heroines. They are tough women, but they never come off as carcitures. They are multi-faceted; tough yet feminine. The issue I had here was pacing. At times the book feels more like a set-up for the series than an self-contained story. This is further illustrated by the romance - our hero and heroine are separated for a long time, and when they finally have scenes together they're outrunning bad guys. Not a lot of time to fall madly in love.
Still, it's a very interesting premise and Grant is a skilled writer. I'm really looking forward to her follow-up entry in the series, The Scarlet Empress.
I also zipped through a debut western today, Loving Mercy by Teresa Bodwell. Besides having the sexiest damn cover ever (I'm not a big beefcake girl, but this mystery man is hot!), it's also a very good story.
The widowed heroine is driving her cattle to Kansas from Colorado hoping for a good price. In a calculated business risk, she imported bulls from England to breed with her cows. Of course, she had to borrow money from the neighboring rancher to do it, and now she has to pay him off in one lump sum. In Kansas, she gets her good price and also meets the hero - a former Confederate soldier turned gambler. He's working his way west playing poker to be reunited with his older sister in Colorado. The trouble is he needs to find a guide, and no one seems to be heading that way - until he learns about the heroine. Turns out she happens to live near the very town where his sister and brother-in-law run a store.
The conflict here is mostly internal. The heroine's first marriage, while a love match, was not without problems and she feels guilt over her husband's death. She also wants to be taken seriously as a businesswoman, but the opinion of the times suggests that women shouldn't worry their pretty little heads over such lofty matters. And frankly, she likes her independence. She can run her ranch how she wants, and doesn't have to defer to a man.
The hero is still haunted by the war (although he doesn't brood), and the lose of the family farm. He's hoping to start fresh out west, meet the widow his sister thinks is perfect for him, and start a family. Then he meets the heroine and is immediately intrigued and perpelxed. She's pretty as all get out, but man is her stubborn streak wide.
There's also some external conflict tossed in to keep the story moving, most it involving bad guys who want to relieve the heroine of her cattle earnings. It's a fine debut, although after a while the internal conflict begins to feel redundant. The heroine's desire for independence is understandable, but it takes her a long time to realize that true partnerships don't mean giving up your own thoughts and dreams. Also, while the hero is a sweet Beta guy with Alpha leanings for the majority of the novel, his stupid male ego gets in the way at the end. While the author explains it by saying the hero is angry (and understandably he is), it's still a bit annoying.
Still, it's a very strong debut. Bodwell writes her characters well, and by the end I had begun to think of them as real people. I'm looking forward to her follow-up book about the heroine's sister.