Tag Archives: would-buy-again

Re-Read Challenge: “Gabriel’s Ghost” By Linnea Sinclair

30 Apr


Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: April!

GENRE: Romance / Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: Bantam Spectra, 2005

SERIES: “Dock Five” series, #1

AVAILABILITY: still available

The back blurb:
“After a decade of piloting interstellar patrol ships, former captain Chasidah Bergren, onetime pride of the Sixth Fleet, finds herself court-martialed for a crime she didn’t commit–-and shipped off to a remote prison planet from which no one ever escapes. But when she kills a brutal guard in an act of self-defense, someone even more dangerous emerges from the shadows.

Gabriel Sullivan-–alpha mercenary, smuggler, and rogue–-is supposed to be dead. Yet now this seductive ghost from Chaz’s past is offering her a ticket to freedom–for a price. Someone in the Empire is secretly breeding jukors: vicious and uncontrollable killing machines that have long been outlawed. Gabriel needs Chaz to help him stop the practice before it decimates Imperial space. The mission means putting their lives on the line–-but the tensions that heat up between them may be the riskiest part of all.”


Gabriel’s Ghost was the first book I read by Linnea Sinclair. It also was one of the first romances I’ve read written in first person POV and I really liked how Sinclair made it clear that Sully was in love with Chaz even though I didn’t get his POV (my comment then). This was around Christmas 2006. After I finished it, I went on my first author glom.

It was a few weeks later that I read the author’s note and learned that “Gabriel’s Ghost was inspired by and written to “Put Your Lights On” featuring Everlast on Santana’s album Supernatural, one of my favorite songs on that album.

More important and way cooler (though not surprising): song and book are a great fit.


The first sentence in Gabriel’s Ghost reads: “Only fools boast they have no fears.”

Gabriel’s Ghost is a story about fears – fears of rejection and fears of the unknown and unexplained. And it’s a story about trust – trust that someone will still love you even knowing all your hideous secrets and trust in someone who asks you:

“Can you accept me as I am now, on faith? With what you know, and nothing more?” He paused. “I fear that your need for facts, your need for explanations, for things that perhaps can never be explained, will destroy the only chance we have. And I’ll lose you.” (154)

Chashida Bergren, Chaz, is a woman who operates on facts. It’s what she was trained to do as Fleet, it’s what she does when she feels stressed: she gathers and analyzes facts to keep unwanted emotions or thoughts at bay until she is ready to deal with them. She’s confident and sure of her skills as a pilot. She does what she must do and she knows that it’s important to keep personal feelings from influencing a task that needs to be done. She wouldn’t withhold information just because she’s in a spat with someone. She’s a strong woman but she also knows fears because “only fools boast they have no fears.”

Gabriel Sullivan, Sully, is a ghost. He was believed dead for two years when he and Chaz meet again. He’s a man with many identities, although he is far from at peace with himself:

I’m already damned, consigned to a Hell I can never escape. It haunts me, consumes me. Until all that’s left are things that make me feel a pain I hope to God you never have to feel. Anger and pain are very valid reasons for what I do. Remember that. (64)

He wants to stop the jukor breeding and he needs Chaz’s help for that.

There are quite a few secondary characters in Gabriel’s Ghost, most important the crew of Sully’s ship the Boru Karn and there most important Ren. Ren is a Stolorth, a race with a humanoid form and feared, or at least viewed with wariness, by humans because of their mind talents. They are also known as mind-fuckers, and it’s widely assumed that meeting a Stolorth means he/she will play with your mind.

Besides Stolorths, there’s another non-human race in Gabriel’s Ghost, Takans. I pictured them like Wookiees though they can talk. Takan females are used for the breeding of jukors. Jukors are more like animals, once breed to combat the mind skills of the Stolorths. They are vicious, have wings, and smell like garbage. They also only have one spot where they are vulnerable. Some years before the events in Gabriel’s Ghost, it became clear that jukors couldn’t be controlled so they were all ordered to be destroyed. That someone seems to have taken up the breeding again in secret is bad news.

Gabriel’s Ghost is science fiction. It’s a world with a different society, with its own politics, different groups vying for power and influence, and a religion that centers around mythical beasts with the mind talents of the Stolorths and a shape-shifting form jukors are supposed to resemble.

Gabriel’s Ghost might sound like a action-driven novel and in a way, it is: the mission to destroy the jukor labs delivers the frame for the story: what Chaz and Sully do and where they go. But the story isn’t how they go about destroying the labs, it’s about a secret, darkness, and identity. And as often in such stories, there is an angel.

The action forces the secret out into the open step by step but Gabriel’s Ghost isn’t one of the stories where you want to bash the characters over the head because they just don’t talk with each other. No. The reasons for keeping things secret are vital. In Gabriel’s Ghost, the secret has to do with identity. Revealing it means being shunned, probably hunted, throughout the known world for what you are, for the darkness in you. Revealing it probably means losing the love of your life, your angel. Gabriel’s Ghost is a story about prejudice and about taking risks.

At the beginning of the story, Chaz knows Sully as a mercenary and smuggler who loves to play with words. She knows him as someone she hunted for six years because as Fleet that was her job. She interrupted his illegal escapades and shared conversations laced with innuendos with him then. She also knows him as someone she shared a few passionate kisses with in a seedy bar one night.

A short time later, she knows and says this about Sully:

Known terrorist, smuggler, mercenary. A passionate, volatile man. Angry, for valid reasons, he’d said. Gabriel Ross Sullivan. Poet. Warrior. Lover. (130)

But that is not the end of her discoveries. Discoveries hindered by her promise not to ask questions, to accept Sully on faith and to trust him; discoveries helped along by the mission to stop the jukor breeding. With Sully, it seems that for every question answered, several new ones pop up. Her discoveries – the revealing of the secret – are reflected in the list of words she uses to characterize Sully. Each discovery adds to or alters words on the list. Until Chaz knows all, she’s in for more than one big surprise and test of her trust. Then, her words for Sully differ greatly from the two she had in the beginning: mercenary and smuggler.

And all along the way, your heart will break for Sully. Chaz wants truths and facts, and in Gabriel’s Ghost she is thrown into a situation she is asked to base her decisions not on facts but on trust. Sully wants Chaz, and in Gabriel’s Ghost telling Chaz the truth about himself might mean losing her. Gabriel’s Ghost is a story about truth and lies.

Chasidah. Angel. I have lost those words that used to come so easily to me. They have all fled, shamed to be in my company. I’m left now with only a few simple ones. They are inadequate. They cannot begin to convey all that I feel. But they are all I have.
Chasidah. Angel. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.
Chasidah. Angel. The grievous wrong isn’t as much in the questions you couldn’t ask, but in the only real truth that I could tell, and did not.
Chasidah. Angel. I love you beyond all measure. That is the only real truth. (207, 208)

Reading Gabriel’s Ghost again for the challenge, there were two things I really noticed: 1) allusions and hints to the secret are present from the first chapter on; 2) the masterful way the different elements come together in this story – Gabriel’s Ghost is a rather layered story. I also think it’s neat that though Gabriel’s Ghost is written in first person and told from Chaz’s POV, it almost seems more like it’s Sully’s story rather than Chaz’s story.

One more thing, the most important one: most of all, Gabriel’s Ghost is a story about love. Love sometimes asks you to trust without knowing all the facts, love sometimes can be destroyed by keeping facts to oneself, love means opening yourself up to someone else with your whole self, trusting that you still will be loved with all your hideous secrets and darkness out in the open. Gabriel’s Ghost explores all this.

The last sentence of the novel reads: “Only fools underestimate the power of love.”

Verdict: The more often I read the novel, the more I appreciate it. Gabriel’s Ghost only gets better with each read for me. 5/5

Listen to Put Your Lights On, listen for the words darkness, fear, and angel, and you’ll have an idea what Gabriel’s Ghost is like.

Re-Read Challenge: “The Love Potion” By Sandra Hill

31 Jan


Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: January!

GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: Love Spell, 1999

SERIES: Cajuns, book #1

Availability: still available

The back blurb:
“A love potion in a jelly bean?
Yep! Fame and fortune are surely only a swallow away when Dr. Sylvie Fontaine discovers a chemical formula guaranteed to attract the opposite sex. Though her own love life is purely hypothetical, the shy chemist’s professional future is assured… as soon as she can find a human guinea pig.
The only problem is the wrong man has swallowed Sylvie’s love potion. Bad boy Lucien LeDeux is more than she can handle even before he’s dosed with the Jelly Bean Fix. The wildly virile lawyer is the last person she’d choose to subject to the scientific method.
When the dust settles, Sylvie and Luc have the answers to some burning questions–Can a man die of testosterone overload? Can a straight-laced female lose every single one of her inhibitions?–and they learn that old-fashioned romance is still the best catalyst for love.”


The Love Potion is one of the first contemporary romances I read in English. The following quote (The Romance Reader) looks like something that likely induced me to buy it then:

When Sylvie Fontaine was twelve years old, swamp rat Lucien LeDeux asked her to dance. Painfully shy, she refused — and Luc has been the plague of her life ever since. Hiding his feelings for Sylvie under a veneer of swaggering Cajun confidence, Luc can’t help teasing her whenever their paths cross.

Unrequited love + nemesis-turned-lover = Yay!

I bought The Love Potion in January, 2001, thought it a hoot and since then, I’ve at least read it twice, although the last time was several years ago. But I still remember I was mightily impressed by the scene under the tree when I first read this novel. I recently mentioned this novel in a comment on a blog and well, I had to re-read it then.


The premise of The Love Potion has one difficulty you just have to accept to enjoy the story: Sylvie’s discovery of the love potion. Also, in the beginning Sylvie’s unconcern about the ethical implications of a pill that make you fall in love with the person whose enzymes happen to be in that pill (or jelly beans) might make you feel uncomfortable. But later, these implications turn into one of the main plot elements. So if you swallow (haha) these, The Love Potion shows itself to be a often fast-paced, tightly plotted and well-structured story.

Sylvie and Luc know each other since they were young children. Nearly as long they are what Sylvie’s friend Blanche calls “archenemies.”

It all began like this:

[Houma, Louisiana, 1978]
“You wanna dance?”
“No!” Sylvie looked with horror at a red-faced Lucien LeDeux. He stood before her, cowlick standing at attention, in his shiny Sunday Mass suit.
“No?” he asked, the blush of embarrassment on his dark-skinned face deepening to anger. “Why? Sylvie Fontaine is too good for me?” He made a derisive tsk-ing sound by clicking his tongue against his teeth. “A high-class cat and a Cajun swamp rat? Talk about!”
Oh, it was just like that awful Luc to single her out at her first boy-girl dance at Our Lady of the Bayou School! Painfully shy, she glanced quickly around the crepe-paper-festooned cafeteria to see if any of her classmates, or Sister Colette, was watching as the wickedest boy in the whole parish asked her to dance. “You are to bad for anyone, Luc LeDeux. But not because you’re Cajun. Because you are too…too…bad.”
“His lips curved into a nasty smirk. “And you are too goody-goody, Sylvie-chatte. Here, kitty, here, kitty. meow.” He danced around her in a teasing Acadian shuffle.
“Go away.” she urged in a mortified whisper.
He stared at her for a long moment, then turned to walk away. Over his shoulder he tossed a parting shot. “Ah well, I ain’t gonna die of a broken heart. But someday, Sylvie, you’re gonna beg me to dance with you, I guar-an-tee.”
“And it’s gonna be real close and slooow. And…and it will prob’ly be sexy, too. Yep, we’ll dance together…naked.”

Now it’s 1999, both Sylvie and Luc are thirty-three, and Luc’s question for a “slooow dance” has turned nearly into a standard greeting whenever they meet. Sylvie works as a chemist, Luc is a lawyer and is known as the “Swamp Solicitor,” famous for taking on cases every other lawyer wouldn’t dream of touching.

The story starts when Luc wants Sylvie to test a water sample for one of his cases. Sylvie is running the last tests on her “love potion” with lab rats – her most favorite pair of rats, Samson and Delilah, nearly seem like a blueprint for her relationship with Luc in the course of the story – when Luc comes by to ask for her help. To begin with, Luc catches Sylvie observing Samson and Delilah going at it again, and then:

Luc was tossing jelly beans up into the air, one at a time, like peanuts, and catching them in his mouth. She looked quickly at the petri dish at the other end of the table. It was only half full.
Oh, my God!

and all hell breaks loose. The love potion kicks in big time; both stories – Luc’s case and Sylvie’s love potion – make the news; because of that, everyone and their dog seems to be after Sylvie – or is it Luc? – and Sylvie and Luc go into hiding to figure out what the hell is going on. Throw in some voodoo, Samson and Delilah, Luc’s Tante Lulu – a hope-chest-and-St.-Jude-statuette maniac where Luc is concerned – plus a host of other quirky secondary characters and Luc’s hot brothers, and you’re in for quite some fun. And some hot loving.

In short: The Love Potion is a hilarious romp. Or as Remy to his brother Luc says: “Do the words voodoo, live chicken, a love potion, and two dingbat females riding a Harley mean anything to you?”

Sometimes, but only sometimes, the story falters a bit when teh FUNNY seems to take precedence over the plot and scenes turn out longer than needed. IMO, of course, because I should say that usually, the kind of humor used in this story seldom works for me. I tried other novels by Hill and I didn’t like them as much as in this one.

But then, these other novels didn’t have Sylvie and Luc. Luc especially. He’s hot, and he’s such a wonderful combination of crude and vulnerable, particularly where Sylvie is concerned. For example, he’s not above telling Sylvie that he doesn’t want her along when he goes into hiding while at the same time feeling he’s not good enough for her (wrong side of the tracks and all that). Yumm.

Overall, The Love Potion is more propelled by humor and action than by character development although both Sylvie and Luc have their personal baggage. But Hill deals with these things in a lighthearted and humorous way which makes it easy to dismiss the rather serious background of their characters. Sylvie comes from a family of over-achieving and cold women and her severe shyness (complete with panic attacks) doesn’t make things easier. She hopes that her discovery of the “love potion” takes care of both problems: give her a chance with a man and make her no longer feel inadequate in the eyes of her family. And Luc, he has a very difficult non-relationship with his father and does his best to live down to his “bad boy of the bayou” appellation. I especially appreciated how Sylvie’s shyness problem makes the story come full circle with the prologue at the end. For that, I even put up with the silly misunderstanding that was needed so that Sylvie could address this problem.

And needless to say, Luc gets his dance with Sylvie. Sexy. Naked. And no, I actually don’t mean the horizontal variation.

Verdict: I still think The Love Potion is a hoot and the scene under the tree is still OMG, IMO, and Luc’s character totally works for me in this story and – looking at my grading system – I’m undecided between calling it a very good read and an amazing read because I would say I love this story.
Hmm. 5/5 because I love Sylvie’s and Luc’s story so much for its poignant memories and laugh-out-loud and tender now-moments, and 4,5/5 for the parts teh FUNNY took slightly over the plot. Since I’m afraid I have my nostalgic lenses on too firmly, I’ll go with 4,5/5.
But this is definitely a book I would buy again if I somehow lost my copy. And it was a great choice for a re-read. I’m sure I won’t wait years before I read it again.

Stephanie Laurens – “A Secret Love”

14 Jan

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon Books, 2000

SERIES: “Bar Cynster” series, book 5

WHY THIS NOVEL: I read Suzanne Brockmann’s Kiss and Tell and it reminded me of this novel, one of my favorite novels with a nemesis-turned-lover story. So I read it.

Further info: I only read two novels by Laurens – this one and Devil’s Bride.

The back blurb:
“She was desperate for his help…
When a mysterious lady, her face hidden by a black veil, begs Gabriel Cynster for his help, he cannot refuse her plea. For despite her disguise, Gabriel finds the woman alluring and he is powerless to deny her. But he exacts payment as only a Cynster would demand: with each piece of information he uncovers, she must pay him–in the form of a kiss.
He was powerless to resist…
Lady Alathea Morwellan knows Gabriel is intrigued, but despite the sparks that fly between them, they have never passed a civil moment together. Yet as the stakes get higher, so does Gabriel’s desire for payment. And with each overpowering kiss, each passionate embrace, Alathea knows that she will not be able to resist his ultimate seduction…but what will happen when she reveals the truth?”

This book is one of my favorite re-reads despite the fact that its premise – the disguise – is rather contrived, IMO, and that it’s a story featuring a few “well-loved” romance clichés.

Alathea forgoes her own season to rescue her family from certain bankruptcy (her father is a dear but just so BAD with money) and spends the following eleven years working to ensure the bright future of her step siblings (which, I think, are actually her half-siblings). She loves her family dearly, father, stepmother and step siblings and all, but the servants are more her confidants than her parents in the current crisis. She also has to lose her intelligence and levelheadedness to get to the conclusion of the story, there’s the necessary mystery, a real whopper of a wallpaper situation at the end and some rather flowery written passages (love scenes). In some way, you could even say this story has a “virgin widow” as Alathea pretends to be a widow while in fact she has never even been kissed.

And if I let myself think about it, there’s a subtle undercurrent and imbalance to the man-woman dynamic, and the roles ascribed to men and women, that leaves me slightly uneasy like in the following quote:

She wasn’t hypocrite enough to pretend she hadn’t enjoyed it, that the bliss she found in giving to him, whenever, however, brought the sweetest, deepest joy she’d ever known. In satisfying him she found fulfillment. There was no other word, none that came close to describing the breadth and depth of what she felt. He’d labeled her a “giver;” she had to accept he was right.

even if what the undercurrent implies might be a rather accurate sentiment for the time the story takes place. It’s supported by words like “drawbridge,” “staff,” or “ride” used in the love scenes and reinforced by a possessive – “mine!” – and “obsessively protective” hero.

And yet, this is one of my favorite romance novels.

A Secret Love is a story of disguises. The most visible, of course, is Alathea’s disguise as a widowed and veiled countess to enlist Gabriel’s help with saving her family from certain ruin. Laurens takes care to list several reason for Alathea doing it that way and why it works although, as I said, I didn’t buy it completely. The second “disguise” is the mystery part of the story (which works rather well) and the reason why Alathea needs Gabriel’s help: Alathea’s father signed a promissory note for a company which seems questionable to Alathea and which would mean bankruptcy if the note gets called in. Her hope is that she can prove, with Gabriel’s help, that the company is a fraud (which is where the disguise thing comes in), so making the note invalid.

But the most important disguise of the story, and the least visible, is the disguise of the true feelings between Alathea and Gabriel. Alathea and Gabriel know each other from earliest childhood. They are neighbors, and Alathea grew up together with Gabriel and his brother Lucifer as a sister. At one point, she says: “[O]ur association was decided for us, not by us.” More importantly, not just their association was decided for them, their kind of relationship was decided for them which led to their life-long problem with each other: they literally can’t stand each other. Being in each others company makes them both very uncomfortable, a feeling that developed when they were teenagers. Gabriel describes it as “feeling like a cat whose fur gets rubbed the wrong way.” It’s the unacknowledged sexual attraction between them speaking but because they were raised as brother and sister, they never saw each other as potential love interests and interpreted the feeling wrong. And yet, as Gabriel says, “I always graviated to your side” – never understanding why he did it when he felt all prickly near her. Alathea’s disguise as the countess enables them to explore another kind of relationship, setting in motion something that was always meant to be.

The main point of the story is for Alathea and Gabriel to realize that they are more than brother and sister; that, in fact, they are in love. This is present in the plot structure – it takes the first two disguises to un-disguise and discover Alathea’s and Gabriel’s true feelings for each other – but I also liked that the change is also shown with small things. For example, the use of the two names. Alathea calls Gabriel by his given name, Rupert. As the countess, she calls him Gabriel. Or the cap Alathea has started to wear as a sign of her age and spinsterhood. The cap sets Gabriel off whenever he sees it on Alathea’s head and it drives him to disparaging remarks at every meeting. In a poignant and ingenious turn at the end of the story, the cap issue is used to show the change in their relationship.

My favorite things about this story, besides thinking it well-paced and well-structured, are Alathea’s and Gabriel’s scenes together. These scenes are characterized by a sense of profound awareness of the other, be it Alathea meeting Gabriel as the sisterly childhood friend, and Alathea meeting Gabriel as the countess, that is very well done and which I liked a lot.

The first kind of situation is governed by their uncomfortable feelings mentioned above. These situations are getting more and more complicated for Alathea as she has more and more problems to keep her two personas apart and to keep her intimate knowledge of Gabriel in check. Gabriel on his side, feels oddly conflicted about Alathea. For example, he certainly doesn’t want to dance with Alathea (the fur thing), but others shouldn’t, too. Or there is the scene where he protects her from being kicked by a horse by shielding her with his body and holding Alathea in his arms, he gets seriously aroused. The situations between the countess and Gabriel are marked by strong sexual attraction which leads to quite a few steamy (despite the language) and rather long love scenes. Alathea is quite taken with the man she discovers as the countess while Gabriel falls hard for the countess and is resolved to marry her. Put together, this makes for a nice and also poignant mix of scenes between them.

Of course, when Gabriel realizes that Alathea and the countess are one and the same, one hell of a scene ensues which is the major turning point of the story and which changes everything. There are a lot of hurt and conflicting feelings, then it ends like this:

The music ended. They halted. She stood silent and still in his arms, her expression unyielding yet her whole being vibrating with suppressed emotion.
She met his gaze unflinchingly. Beyond the sheen of her tears, he saw his fury and hurt reflected back at him, over and over again.
[…] Before he could react, she pulled roughly from his arms, caught her breath, turned, and swept away.
Leaving him alone in the middle of the dance floor.
Still furious. Still hurt.
Still aroused. (202)

For the rest of the story, Alathea and Gabriel have to deal with the ramifications of Alathea’s disguise as the countess – the un-disguise of their feelings for each other. As a kind of reversal of how it was before, the work on the mystery as Gabriel and Alathea goes well (something Alathea thought could never be), whereas the intimate relationship, without problems between Gabriel and Alathea as the countess, gets nowhere (at first). Gabriel wants a marriage but Alathea suspects he’s manipulating her to get his way and that he just wants the marriage to protect her while she’s afraid she is in love with him. Their life-long knowing each other is now a major obstacle on the way to their HEA. It enables them to see through each other and at the same time, it shows again and again how well suited they are as a couple and gives depth to their relationship, making this part very interesting.

At one point, Gabriel asks Alathea:

“Don’t you think we’ve wasted enough years?”

The poignancy expressed in this question, and variations of it, is characteristic of the whole story. It’s what makes A Secret Love a favorite re-read of mine and one of my most favorite romance novels. A Secret Love is an “emotional keeper” and a book I certainly would buy again if I lost my copy.

Verdict: I really like it. (4,5/5)

Books I Would Buy Again

8 Jan

I’ve yet to see a dedicated e-book reader in RL. Just walking into a store and looking at the thing is out of the question here. The closest I came to it was a few days ago when I saw this leaflet:


in a book store, announcing Sony’s Reader to be available in spring (no price announced…). There is also talk about the Kindle coming to Europe.

Anyway, with all the talk about readers and Christmas recently on some blogs, I thought about which romance novels I would buy again if I had a device for reading ebooks (disregarding DRM for now). The titles I came up with are not necessarily all books I consider “perfect” or 5/5 but all are books I would want to have with me for some reason.

Here’s my list of books I would probably buy first for a second time:

  • Judith Ivory – Black Silk
  • Laura Kinsale – The Prince of Midnight
  • Stephanie Laurens – A Secret Love
  • Linnea Sinclair – Gabriel’s Ghost
  • J. R. Ward – Lover Eternal

I wanted to keep the list short. I mean, paying for those five books is quite some money already. And most of all, I would want to get “new” books.

Of course, there are other books that came to mind. Some other titles, like Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows, for example. But I read this one only recently and I need some more time. Or authors: Megan Hart’s novels; Linnea Sinclair’s other novels; Meljean Brook. Some more – all? I know myself, I would want my collection to be as complete as possible if I had several titles by one author – novels by Judith Ivory and Laura Kinsale. Or Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters trilogy or George R. R. Martin’s hope-it-ever-gets-finished “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (for something non-romance).

Just to name a few.

Would you do this, too? Which books would be on your list?