Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Book Review: Happy Ever After

You know that old saying about the definition of insanity? That it's doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results?

Well, when it comes to Nora Roberts' Bride Quarter, I am certifiably insane.

You may recall how I felt about Savor the Moment. And Bed of Roses. So a very legitimate question would be, why do I keep buying the books in this series?

The short answer is because I don't realize how intensely I dislike the women in this series until I read their individual stories. After reading the previous three books, I thought that I'd like Parker's story best of all, mostly because she seems to be considerably less annoying than the other women. Also, I really liked Malcolm in the previous books, the man who was obviously going to be Parker's match. But once again, Nora Roberts managed to disappoint me in this asinine, asinine quartet.

I'm sure there are a lot of readers out there who just love hearing about all the weddings that these women plan, but I am not one of them. I'm reading these books because I want to know about the characters, whether I like them or not. I don't give a shit about some minor, insignificant character's wedding. And yet Roberts spends so. much. time. on these wedding details. It's so boring.

But once again, my real complaint is how the romance/relationship of the story does not feel genuine and has no real substance, which just feel like an excuse to write about wedding after wedding after wedding. Did Roberts elope or something, and how she's full of regret? Why's she so obsessed?

The schtick with Parker and Malcolm is pretty simple: they are attracted to each other, so they eventually hook up. But upon closer examination, there are just so many things that don't make a lot of sense. For example, Malcolm pursues Parker. He wants to be with her. When his friend, her brother Del, tells him, "If you hurt her or screw with her..." he tells Del, "I'll let you." And when Del says it again after Malcolm and Parker have started sleeping together, Malcolm says, "If I hurt her or screw with her, she'll hit me herself," or something to that extent.

Now to me, if man makes those representations, is attracted to the woman inside and out and is willing to start fucking her even though she's his close friend's sister, it would seem that he's viewing their involvement as more than a roll in the hay, right? Wouldn't you think that there was a chance for a deeper involvement? Yet when Malcolm starts to really feel something for Parker, he's taken aback as if he never considered it. Are men that dumb? Maybe they are, because I don't understand how a guy could not realize how he felt. It is extra confusing because Malcolm is very perceptive and sensitive to things.

That issue aside, Happy Ever After just confirmed for me that you cannot write a romance novel that is centered solely on a standard, run-of-the-mill relationship. It's so dull. As dull as Laurel, the heroine from Savor the Moment, who in this book continues to have no thought that doesn't relate to her fiance, Del. (Seriously, every other sentence out of her mouth is "Del says" or "Del thinks." GET A LIFE, LOSER.)

And finally, I just got really tired of hearing about how Malcolm "grabbed" Parker and pushed his mouth on her. I mean seriously. Once can be sexy. Twice is tiresome. Every single time he kisses her is manhandling. Not cool.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: Perfect

What did I think of this book?


I don't like romance novel heroes that are movie stars. Who would want to get with a famous actor? Not me! But apparently I'm in the minority because there are a lot of romance novels about movie stars. So, this book had a knock against it from the start.

What's that? I'm sorry? This movie star is also a convicted murderer who escapes from prison and takes the heroine hostage? Make that two knocks.

Seriously, romance novelists. Being taken hostage at gunpoint is not sexy. I don't care if he is a movie star.

The third and final knock is the heroine. There's nothing wrong with her, but the reasons why the hero falls in love with her are annoying. She's pure! A minister's daughter! And, she's not too into her career. SHE WANTS BABIES! His evil ex-wife DIDN'T WANT BABIES! She wanted a career most of all. HOW DARE SHE NOT WANT TO GIVE IT ALL UP AND HAVE HIS BABIES!

Lame. The worst McNaught book I've read.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Okay, so I take back anything negative I might have said about Sandra Brown in my previous two posts. I don't care how wacky her storylines are, I LOVE IT. She always comes up with these ridiculous plots and manages to write them in a way that make them seem not-so-ridiculous. I'm reading Smash Cut right now. It doesn't disappoint.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oh, Sandra

I love Sandra Brown books. These days I'm kind of over buying them in hardcover, but I still feel the need to take a peek at the book jacket whenever I see a new release. If for no other reason than to see what whacked-out hero name she has come up with this time. Here are a few examples:

The Crush - Wick
White Hot - Beck
Chill Factor - Dutch
Smoke Screen - Raley
Play Dirty - Griff
Where There's Smoke - Key
Exclusive - Grey
The Switch - Chief

Sure enough, her latest release Tough Customer did not disappoint. The hero's name? Dodge.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Hindsight Is 20/20

Do you have any favorite books from years ago? Have you ever reread them?

This is exactly where I am with Mirror Image by Sandra Brown. The first time I read this book, I freakin' loved it. I thought it was so awesome. Granted, I was really young at the time, probably around fourteen. (I know.) But still, I thought the characters were so cool. Now I realize that the entire plot is just completely ridiculous.

If you've never heard of this book, let me give you a brief synopsis: the heroine is a television reporter who is in a plane crash. She happened to be sitting next to the wife and daughter of a senatorial candidate. The heroine and the wife look a lot alike, so when the plane crashes and the heroine saves the daughter and is found holding daughter, everyone assumes she's the wife. Oh yeah, and she's badly injured in the face. Before she can recover enough to speak, they've already given her reconstructive surgery to make her look like the wife. AND someone comes into her hospital room while she's recovering and talks about a death plot this person and the wife are in on... to kill the husband/candidate. SO OF COURSE the heroine decides that she will pretend to be the wife until she can find out who is trying to kill the candidate.

It is such bullshit. She and the husband start getting it on, and he never figures out she's not his wife until the very end of the book. Back in the day I guess I believed that everyone looked the same naked, but clearly that's not the case.

Anyway, it's ridiculous. And it got me thinking about other books that cause the same reaction. Danielle Steele's The Promise is another.

What about you? Do you have any books that you feel the same way about?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: An Unforgettable Lady

What a unfulfilling book. I picked it up at Target while I was out of town and bored in my hotel room. It was the only book there that I cared to read, and since I've read some of J.R. Ward's books and thought they were alright, I gave it a shot.

I didn't even finish it. Just completely lost interest.

Book Review: One Dance With a Duke & Twice Tempted By a Rogue

I was really impressed with Tessa Dare's debut series, and so I thought I'd give her new series, The Stud Club (she makes fun of that name herself, don't worry), a chance. Well, as far as the first book, One Dance With a Dukegoes, I wasn't disappointed. This is a great book!

Spencer is a duke who grew up in the wilds of Canada until his uncle summoned him back to England to prepare him to take over the duchal responsibilities. He is not particularly sociable, and thus he has developed quite a reputation. His mysterious reputation increases due to the fact that he shows up at ton events precisely at midnight and then selects one young woman to dance a single dance with.

Amelia is the only daughter in a family of poor aristocrats. Her brother Jack is four hundred pounds in debt to the duke, and so when he arrives at a ball one night, Amelia takes matters into her own hands and essentially forces him to dance with her so that she can discuss her brother's debt. Except that happens to be the night that the leader of the Stud Club, Leo, is murdered. The Stud Club is rather simple. There are ten tokens that represent ten ownership shares to a valuable stallion. Each token holder has breeding rights to the stallion. Tokens can only be transferred by gambling them away. As it turns out, Spencer has been making it his mission to win all ten tokens. When Leo is murdered, there are only three other owners: Spencer, Rhys, and Julian. When Rhys and Julian show up at the ball to tell Spencer that he has to help them break the news to Leo's sister Lily, Amelia is present and insists on accompanying to give Lily some female support. By the end of their evening together, Spencer has decided that he wants to marry Amelia.

What I liked about this book was this: it was a speedy marriage, but it wasn't a marriage of convenience. Spencer asked for Amelia's hand because he was immediately attracted to her. And Amelia accepted because she was a spinster and because she was attracted to Spencer, too. Not only that, but Spencer is simply a nice guy. A really good guy. It can be hard for authors to create a hero that is both an alpha male and not a jerk. But Dare did a great job, here. The way that Spencer's history and character is revealed as the book goes on makes it so there is no need for silly plot devices.

Admittedly, the book falters a bit at the end and wanders into cliched territory. But that doesn't negate what came before. A simple, enjoyable little romance novel.

Because I liked One Dance With a Duke so much, I was excited to read Twice Tempted by a Rogue. But it just didn't deliver.

This book is about Rhys, a scarred war hero who inherits his father's baroncy. The book begins when he goes back to his lands, which are not much considering that the manor house burned down over a decade ago and the family abandoned the area. When Rhys returns, he meets Meredith, the daughter of his family's former stablemaster. Meredith is a widow who married the local innskeeper and now runs the inn in an effort to bring more commerce to her struggling community. Rhys believes in fate because, as he sees it, he's tried to kill himself for years by getting into fights, charging the front lines during battle, etc, and he's stil alive. It is his fate to survive. And when he sees Meredith, he figures that it's his fate to marry her. He tells her that a lot.

Now, Meredith is attracted to Rhys. She's had a crush on him her entire life, and she'd like nothing more than to jump into bed with him. But she's not interested in marriage because she doesn't want to give up her inn, and she thinks Rhys won't stay in the area despite his assurances otherwise.

And... there you have it. That's about it as far as the compelling story goes. Somewhere along the line, however, Rhys and Meredith's roles reverse, and to me, that felt very sudden. Rhys gives up on fate and Meredith decides she wants to be with him. To be honest, I just kind of raced through the last fourth of this book, so I don't really know what was behind this switch. All I know is that I found it very confusing.

The biggest problem, though, was the lack of chemistry between the characters. Spencer and Amelia from One Dance With a Duke had plenty of chemistry, but I just didn't feel it between Rhys and Meredith. As a result, I didn't care about what happened to them. Oh well, even the best writers have to stumble sometimes. There was nothing wrong with the writing in this book, though.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Book Review: The Brazen Bride

Well, for the first time in Stephanie Laurens' Black Cobra quartet, the name of the book actually makes sense. (This was not the case in either The Untamed Bride or The Elusive Bride.) As it turns out, the heroine in this book was a little brazen.

The whole premise of this Black Cobra quartet is pretty ridiculous, really. Which is too bad, because although these books are romance novels, the reader can't forget that the main point of each book is to further the overarching story. That story being that the four heroes are attempting to return to England so they can bring down the evil mastermind (the Black Cobra) who has been wreaking havoc in the Indian colony through the sadistic Black Cobra cult. The first book started out more like a traditional romance novel, but as the series has progressed, the relationship seems to take a bit of a backseat.

I feel like Laurens tried to counter that a bit in The Brazen Bride, because the first third of the book is removed from the whole Black Cobra controversy. This was accomplished through the magic of... AMNESIA! The hero, Logan Montheith, was shipwrecked on his journey back to England and washed ashore on the Channel island of Guernsey, where he was found and nursed back to health by Linnet Trevission. Of course, it takes him like a week to remember who he is, but the week is not wasted because it takes Logan and Linnet like a freakin' day to start getting it on, in true Stephanie Laurens style.

As cliched as the amnesia was, and as overloaded with sex scenes as any Laurens book is, I think this format worked well for a book in the Black Cobra series. It was a nice change of pace from the constant traveling and fighting that was present in the previous book. And I genuinely liked Linnet. Laurens generally writes female characters that I like, but I felt like Linnet actually got the opportunity to live out the potential that is always there in Laurens heroines, but rarely realized. For me, she didn't disappoint.

We learn a little bit more about who is behind the Black Cobra cult, but I still have a hard time giving a shit. I mean, really, at this point, the reader gets it. The Black Cobra is evil. The cultists want to kill the four men who are trying to bring the evidence of the mastermind back to England. Blah blah blah. Once the initial romance stuff is covered, Laurens just writes the same fight scene again and again. IT'S SO BORING. I skipped over most of them.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book Review: Insatiable

I was so excited to read Meg Cabot's Insatiable when I heard that it was kind of a spoof on the current vampire craze in pop culture. Meg Cabot is one of my favorite humor writers; her Boy series is so funny. Maybe my expectations were too high, because I didn't really think that Insatiable was all that great.

Meena Harper is a dialogue writer for a soap opera called Insatiable. She also happens to have a supernatural ability to know how a person is going to die when she meets them. (Although what she sees can change if they change their course, which they often do based upon advice that she doles out.) Obviously this makes relationships of all types difficult.

Here's one more fact about Meena--she is sick and tired of the vampire craze. A rival soap opera, Lust, features a vampire plot that is killing in the ratings. So when the higher-ups tell Meena that they are going to incorporate vampires into their storyline, she's even extra pissed.

On the bright side, she meets a Romanian prince named Lucian, and she doesn't have any visions regarding his death! Amazing! Well, there's a reason for that; she can't see how he dies because he's already dead. He's a vampire. But Meena doesn't find this out until after she's slept with him. Oops. And she learns this tidbit from a Vatican-employed vampire hunter named Alaric.

To me, the storyline was pretty average. If she was spoofing the current vampire craze, I didn't really get it. She employed most of the same plot tricks that vampire writers use. Only at this point, it's all been done before.

Even worse, I didn't feel that the humor in this book was anywhere near the level that it was in The Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl, or Every Boy's Got One. I don't remember laughing out loud even once, something that is pretty rare for a Meg Cabot novel.

All in all, I'd say that this book is worth the read, because it is mostly lighthearted and fun, but I'd wait until it is out in paperback. Especially because there is a sequel, which of course made this book disappointingly lack closure.

Book Review: The Endless Forest

After reading five books in the Wilderness series, reading The Endless Forest was a little bittersweet. And while it was glad to have some closure, overall I felt a little let down by this book.

The Endless Forest tells Daniel Bonner's story, and to be honest, most of it felt like a romance novel. Except there wasn't much tension. Unlike a lot of other books in the series, you know right away that his match is Martha Kirby, a girl from Paradise whose parents have played significant roles in previous books. Not only that, but Daniel and Martha get married pretty early on. I think that was part of the reason why I felt like there wasn't much conflict between the two main characters. There was conflict among the secondary characters, but it just didn't feel like enough to keep me really invested in the book.

I enjoyed reading about Daniel and Martha, though, I won't deny it. But most of what I wanted from this book was, as I said, closure. Most of the closure here comes in the form of newspaper articles placed at the end of the book. The articles are snippets from the future, years after the text of the text of the book has ended. That's when you find out who has had children, who has died, and when they have died. A couple of the choices Donati made there were upsetting. I would have preferred that she just ended the book where the text/story ended and left the rest to our imagination.

I hate to say it, but in a lot of ways, this story could have ended with Queen of Swords...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Genre Switch

I'm pretty much a life-long romance reader, but lately I find that I've grown rather tired of the books set in early 19th century England. (Basically a huge sub-genre in modern romance.) I used to love those books. But in the past few months I've passed on two new Mary Balogh books and a Julia Quinn book, authors who I used to count among my favorites. I've enjoyed discovering new authors like Tessa Dare, but all in all I'm tired of the English regency era novel.

After reading Sara Donati's Wilderness series, what I find myself really wanting to read are books set in America, especially the American west. For instance, I have gotten a little bored waiting for The Endless Forest and Insatiable to arrive, so I dug through storage for some of my old romance novels. My top choices were those classic Westerns from Elizabeth Lowell (Only His, Only Mine, Only You, Only Love, Autumn Lover, and Winter Fire). I've always loved that series. Another top choice was the Clayborne series from Julie Garwood (For the Roses, One Pink Rose, One White Rose, One Red Rose, and Come the Spring).

I wish I knew of other great western romances, but it's not a sub-genre I'm familiar with other than those that I've listed. Any recommendations?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: Queen of Swords

Queen of Swords is a bit of a departure from the other books in Sara Donati's Wilderness series because none of the book takes place in New York state. In fact, most of the action in this book takes place in New Orleans during the War of 1812.

At the end of Fire Along the Sky Jennet had been kidnapped by some bad dude, and her lover Luke Bonner set off to find her. When he didn't find her right away, he recruited his half-sister Hannah, a half-Mohawk physician, to come with him. It takes a year, but they eventually track her down to the Caribbean, to an island in the French Antilles. Unfortunately, their reunion is not complete because Jennet had given birth to Luke's son three months prior, but had been forced to smuggle him away out of fear for his life. As it turns out, she chose a poor foster parent, because the man's family claims the child for their own and takes him to New Orleans. So Luke, Jennet, and Hannah follow.

Now, this book is slightly annoying because I never felt like I got a satisfactory answer as to why Jennet was abducted. Maybe I skimmed over that part, but it just felt like some cheap plot device in order for Donati to write a book set in New Orleans. But whatever, I got over that.

Really this book belongs to Hannah. Luke and Jennet are reunited, and I have to say, a little too conveniently. They both have issues from the year-old abduction, and Donati doesn't try to sweep it under the rug, but at the same time I just felt like, realistically, that would be too much strain for any relationship. But again, whatever, I got over that.

And again, Donati surprises the readers in Queen of Swords. I felt like I couldn't predict what was going to happen. I gotta hand it to her, though, she is not afraid to rake her characters over the coals. I mean, hell, poor Jennet was abducted and forced to give her child away. Luke spent a whole year chasing her down only to learn that he had a son who was now missing, too. But Hannah really gets it in this book. It's extra sad, too, because she's already had a rough go of it.

Luckily for Hannah, there's a hunky man who is perfect for her. Donati can write a sexy hero, I will give her that. Both Hannah's mate and Lily's mate in Fire Along the Sky were well done.

I felt like this book just dragged on and on and on at times. I'm not sure that it was really necessary, either. But it was still enjoyable to read. I find that I'm anticipating the next book The Endless Forest more, however, because I like the books that are set back in Paradise, New York. Although I liked Hannah's story, I also like when there are multiple protagonists and antagonists going on.

Book Review: Fire Along the Sky

So, it's pretty obvious from my recent posts that I'm charging through Sara Donati's Wilderness series. It was a slow start, but things really got moving in Lake in the Clouds. And I'm happy to report that Fire Along the Sky is my favor of the series thus far.

Here's a quick synopsis: the whole series centers around Elizabeth Middleton Bonner, a late 18th century Englishwoman who was raised by her aunt in England. When she's in her late 20s she moves to Paradise, New York, a small town founded by her father, the local judge. Her father intends her to marry Richard Todd, the local doctor, but she falls for woodsman Nathanial Bonner instead. Nathanial is the son of Hawkeye and Cora (basically like Last of the Mohicans). Hawkeye was raised Mohawk, so Nathanial kind of was, too. His first wife was Mohawk, and they had a daughter, Hannah, before his wife died. Into the Wilderness centers around Elizabeth's marriage to Nathanial, through which they save the Bonner's home, Lake in the Clouds, from Richard Todd's clutches. At the end of that book, the family learns that Hawkeye's birth father was the brother of a Scottish earl. That connection brings the family to Scotland shortly after Elizabeth gives birth to her twins, Daniel and Lily, all of which takes place in Dawn on a Distant Shore. In that book we learn that Nathanial has a son, Luke, that he never knew about from a short relationship he had when he was only about 17 or 18. Luke ends up staying in Scotland with the family there. Lake in the Clouds picks up eight years later, and mostly centers on hijinks that take place in Paradise. Hannah is now 18, and Richard Todd has been mentoring her as a physician. He sends her to Manhattan to study smallpox vaccinations so she can come home to vaccinate the people in Paradise. I hesitate to say more because I don't want to give stuff away.

Fire Along the Sky picks up about ten years after Lake in the Clouds ended. Elizabeth and Nathanial have another son, Gabriel, and the twins are now 18. Lily is desperate to leave Paradise to study art somewhere, but mostly she wants to leave because she's fallen in love with a married farmer in Paradise. Daniel is eager to join the American forces against the British in the War of 1812. Luke has been back from Scotland for a number of years, and he left because he was in love with the earl's daughter, Jennet, who was forced to marry a man she didn't love. (Jennet and Hannah became good friends as girls in Dawn on a Distant Shore. Once Jennet's husband dies, she sets off for Montreal (and Luke), and Luke brings her to Paradise. I forget why. Anyway, Lily goes back to Montreal with her half-brother, and Daniel joins the war. Hannah has returned to Paradise, but she is wrestling with inner demons.

The most enjoyable parts of the book, for me, were about Lily. What I love about Sara Donati is that she's unpredictable; you don't know what is going to happen. Even when it comes to the romances in the series, you don't really know who is going to end up with who. I've been wrong a number of times. I like that she allows her characters to fall in love more than once in their lifetimes, because it feels really realistic, especially when they make mistakes. Lily's love life came as a surprise, but a pleasant one. I really liked it. Also, she's not afraid to let the villains win a few. There is one Paradise woman, Jemima Southern, who causes trouble in Lake in the Clouds and in this book. It's maddening for someone who is used to the good guys always winning, but at the same time, it makes things more believable and more interesting.

Luke and Jennet's relationship is enjoyable, too, but it's less of a focus in the book. Hannah's medical practice is really emphasized, but that's okay, because I like Hannah, even though it is sad to see the change in her from when she was a girl. (She's been through a lot.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review: Lake in the Clouds

Okay, so I'm finally hooked on Sara Donati's Wilderness series. Why? Well, as it turns out, Nathanial and Elizabeth Bonner's offspring are more interesting than their parents.

Lake in the Clouds itself feels a bit like a space-filler book, because there's not a lot of significant action going on. However, I get the feeling that it sets up the rest of the series. This is the first book where Nathanial's half-Mohawk daughter Hannah is an adult. I get the impression that Hannah is going to play a significant role in the rest of the books.

Like I said, there's not a whole lot of action going here, per se. Elizabeth and Nathanial get caught up in operation that helps runaway slaves escape to Canada while Hannah goes to Manhattan to study smallpox inoculation, and then they all return to Paradise where trouble brews. One prominent character is Liam Kirby, a man who was taken in by the Bonner's as a young boy in In the Wilderness but who disappeared while the family was in Scotland during Dawn on a Distant Shore. It was always obvious that there was a special friendship/relationship between Hannah and Liam, and it's obvious in this book that Liam is still in love with Hannah. What I like best about this book is the way that Donati makes the reader uncomfortable. There is some complicated shit going on between Hannah and Liam, stuff that made me mad, but I still can't help but feel that someday it's all going to come full circle. I look forward to reading the other books to find out how this all plays out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Review: Dawn on a Distant Shore

If anyone pays attention to the "What We Are Reading" box on the right side of this blog, they'd know that it took me a long time to read Dawn on a Distant Shore. Mostly it took me a while because the book starts off kind of slow, and I just kept encountering other books that I would rather read.

I still had mixed feelings about Sara Donati's Wilderness series after reading this book. Like I mentioned in my review of Into the Wilderness, I like Elizabeth and Nathantial Bonner, but there's just something that keeps me from loving them. Even though I do genuinely like Elizabeth's character, there is something off-putting about her. She's just a little too perfect for my liking. But, that could be said of all the Bonners.

But the story in this book was more likeable than I thought it would be based on the book's description. The story does take the Bonners from upstate New York to Scotland, but it doesn't force a separation on Elizabeth and Nathanial like I thought it would. (There is a separation, though.) Actually, I think I ended up liking it better than if the story had been set in Paradise, where most of Into the Wilderness took place.

I say that because I'm currently reading Lake in the Clouds, the next book in the series, and damn if those Paradise people aren't driving me crazy. But in a strange way, that is good, because finally I am having strong reactions to the characters. That was lacking in the first two books.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: Practice Makes Perfect

Man, I am super impressed with Julie James. The first book of hers that I read, Something About You, was really good. And I think her previous book Practice Makes Perfect is even better.

One of the things I liked best about Something About You was how the hero and heroine had a history prior to the book's beginning. In other words, their relationship was believable because it didn't feel like something that just developed overnight. The same is true in Practice Makes Perfect. Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson are both eighth-year associates in the litigation group at a big Chicago law firm. Both are up for partner, but because their firm has always been about giving partnership to worthy attorneys, there's really no competition. They both put in a lot of hours, and they both excel in their specialties--his is class action lawsuits and hers is labor law and discrimination suits. Because they work on different kinds of cases, they rarely have to work together. And that's a good thing, because the two of them don't get along. Payton is a vegetarian, feminist liberal, and J.D. is a Harvard-educated, country-club member conservative.

But then their firm gets the chance to land a big corporate class-action gender discrimination lawsuit, and their boss orders them to work together to lure the client in. It is only after Payton and J.D. suck it up to do just that that they learn only one of them will be promoted to partner--all because the firm is worried about age-discrimination lawsuits (because other firms have been sued for forcing older attorneys out to make room for new partners).

Hijinks ensure. Well, not really, because Payton and J.D. are pretty professional, but they do get the occasional petty digs and acts in. And all the forced interaction starts to make them realize what was really the root of all the tension they'd had for eight years.

What I like about James' books is that it's clear she's smart enough to write smart characters. No dumb bimbos for her, no one-dimensional chauvinists. Payton is smart and funny, and J.D. is charming and nuanced. It was just fun to read about them. Sure, the ending was a little predictable because, really, there was only one way it could end. But she did throw in a few things to spice things up. I really enjoyed reading this book. I have only two problems. The first being how depressed this book make me about working in a law firm. We don't really know much of anything about Payton and J.D. outside of their work... and there's a reason for that. Neither of them really have a life outside of their work. Sounds awful. And second, I'm not a fan of the names James uses for her heroines. They all seem really yuppie/preppy to me. In this book it was Payton (obviously). In Something About You it was Cameron. And in her other book Just the Sexiest Man Alive, it's Taylor. I don't have a problem with any of those names individually, but collectively, they just seem too trendy. Throw in a Claire or a Liz or something.

I kind of want to read Just the Sexiest Man Alive on account of how much I've liked James' other two books, but the hero in that book is an actor (who was voted Sexiest Man Alive), and I just never like books where the characters are Hollywood stars. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is always writing about celebrities, and the ones where they are actors/actresses are always my least favorite.

Book Review: Surrender of a Siren

Well, it's finals week, which of course means that I have been prodigiously reading romance novels. This is what I do people. We all have our avoidance/stress management methods. Some people drink, some people smoke pot. I read romance novels.

And this romance novel was special, because it was the first full-size ebook I read! How exciting! I read the whole thing on my iPhone! I initially resisted this whole ebook phenomena because I really like print books, but I gotta tell you, this is some awesome shit. No going to the bookstore, no searching all over town for a particular book. I can be at home, in my apartment, wearing no pants, and instantly have a book at my disposal. Amazing. (Not so amazing are the ebooks that expect you to pay full (print) prices. Nice try, assholes.)

Anyway, onto the substance of the book. Surrender of a Siren is the "sequel" to Goddess of the Hunt." I put sequel in quotation marks because they are independent stories even though the heroine shows up in both books. At the end of Goddess, Sophia Hathaway had jilted her fiance and ran off to God knows where. Siren picks up with Sophia boarding a ship bound for the West Indies with six hundred pounds of her inheritance strapped to her chest. She books passage on the Aphrodite owned by Mr. Grayson, known as "Gray." Of course, Gray is hunky.

Most of this book takes place on the ship between London and the West Indies. It's a pretty common romance novel scène à faire, and it reminded me of one of my favorite modern romance classics, The Gift by Julie Garwood. Gray and Sophia are attracted to each other, but it takes them a while to act on. Gray is reluctant to take a move because he promised his brother, the ship's captain, that he wouldn't touch her. Turns out, Gray and his brother were privateers during the Napoleonic wars, and now they are attempting to set up a respectable shipping business. The last thing they need is for Gray to seduce a young passenger. Oh yeah, did I mention that Sophia is traveling under an assumed identity? Probably because she conned a bank out of giving her an advance on her inheritance and dumped a man a few weeks before their wedding. She doesn't want to be found.

I just read this book less than a week ago, but I'm having a hard time conjuring up any strong impressions. Maybe that is an impression in itself. I liked this book. Tessa Dare's writing is good enough to keep your interest, and the characters are all likable. Gray was a nice romantic hero. Manly, but also vulnerable, but not an asshole on account of his vulnerabilities. You genuinely believe that he fell for Sophia. Sophia is a fun little character, too, mostly because of the stuff she starts in Goddess that carries over to Siren in part.

At the end things get kind of annoying because no one just TALKS to each other. But that's to be expected because otherwise where would the conflict be? However, I actually kind of believe the obstacles standing in their way. At least I believed that the characters believed them. So, well done.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Book Review: Goddess of the Hunt

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare is a fun little book. It is lighthearted without being silly, but it also has a serious side. And best of all, it's just a straight-up romance novel. There's no mystery or whatnot to distract from the story.

The story centers around Lucy Walthram, younger sister to Harry. For eight years, Harry and his three best friends have been spending holidays at Harry's family home. Because Harry and Lucy are orphans with only a senile old aunt to watch after Lucy, Lucy has been following after the men for much of her life. She fancies herself in love with Toby, but everyone knows that Toby will soon become engaged to Sophia, sister-in-law of Felix. Lucy decides that she has to seduce Toby into falling for her, but first she needs to practice on Jeremy, the only other bachelor in the group. And of course, you can guess what happens.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the conflict, which is pretty much centered around Jeremy's past. I love me a tormented hero as much as the next girl, but I didn't completely buy Jeremy's torment here. Parts of it felt contrived, but not so much that I couldn't enjoy the story. Besides, the writing was good enough that I didn't really care about the flaws. Good writing is such a delight to stumble across in a romance novel!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Book Review: Married by Morning

Le sigh...

It's really not Lisa Kleypas's fault. It was bound to happen eventually. It's like me and country music; I used to love it and listen to it almost exclusively. But after a number of years, listening to a genre that doesn't change or evolve is just bound to get tiring. I'm starting to feel this way about my old bastion of go-to historical romance authors. They're just not cutting it for me anymore.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Married by Morning, but there's nothing particularly right about it, either. This book is the fourth book in Kleypas's Hathaway siblings series, which, full disclosure, I have not enjoyed. I was thinking this book would be different, though, because there is more back story. The hero is Leo, the only Hathaway brother. At the beginning of the series he inherits a title and lands extremely unexpectedly, but he is a total reprobate and has been since he lost his childhood love to scarlet fever. At some point he comes to terms with those demons and starts living a better life.

The heroine is Catharine Marks, paid companion/governess to the youngest two Hathaway sisters. And, as we learn in the third book, half-sister to hotelier Harry Rutledge (who marries Poppy Hathaway). We find out in the third book that Catherine is hiding her true identity, but we don't know why. What we do know is that Leo and Catharine pester each other and bicker a lot. So naturally that means they will eventually fall in love.

And course that's what happens in Married by Morning. Everything is exactly as you would expect. She's got a problem, and he (being the titled, rich male) will fix it for her.

You know what? I take back what I said about it not being Lisa Kleypas's fault. It is her fault, really, for just relying on the tired, standard formula of a damsel in distress. And I am really tired of it. I'm tired of the virginal heroine being rescued (in some way or another) by the hero. I'm tired of the heroine who relies on the hero for her sexual awakening instead of taking charge of it herself. IT'S BEEN DONE.

Now that I think about it, I can understand why there has been an explosion of paranormal, urban fantasy, and even male-male romance novels lately. We are all tired of just reading the same thing again and again.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. A standard genre plot can be done with a compelling emotional story, humor, or excellent writing. Authors like Lisa Kleypas have this ability. Her book Again the Magic is one of my favorites. This is why I am all the more intolerant when good writers get lazy and rely on their name to sell books. As a reader, that is really frustrating.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New Jane Eyre Movie

I am very intrigued by this new Jane Eyre movie that is supposed to come out next year. So far I like the casting news:

Jamie Bell (a.k.a. Billy Elliot) as St. John Rivers

Seems a little young, but it could definitely work.

Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed

I love Sally Hawkins! Have you seen Happy-Go-Lucky? You should; it is an utterly charming film. She is also seems a bit young, but I think it will be great.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre

I don't know much about this actress (I didn't see Alice in Wonderland. But from the pictures I've seen of her, I think she's got the look! She's the right age, too.

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester

As we all know, the casting of Mr. Rochester is the most important part of any Jane Eyre film adaptation. From the looks of this photo, I approve!

Book Review: Wicked Becomes You

This was the third Meredith Duran book I've heard. I read her first book, Duke of Shadows, after hearing so many gushing reviews. But I wasn't crazy about it. Duran continued to get so much praise that I decided to try again with Written On Your Skin. Again, I just didn't connect. There was something about her writing and her storylines that I found... confusing. I always felt like I was missing something, like there was more there to the story, but for some reason it wasn't getting across to me.

Well, finally, after Wicked Becomes You, I can relate to why Meredith Duran gets so much praise in the romance genre. This book is simply a great genre book. It follows the basic formula, but at the same time, it feels original. And the characters are just plain likable.

The heroine, Gwen, was born to a very wealthy merchant family. Her parents wanted Gwen and her brother Richard to be able to move around in high society, so they essentially farmed out their children to ensure that that occurred. Gwen devoted her life to being the perfect young lady, and finding a titled man to marry and start her own family with. After her parents and brother die, she's left as the heiress to a $3 million pound fortune (in 1890, at that). It would seem that any number of fortune hunters would be all too eager to marry her, except that she's been left at the alter not once, but twice.

Alex, Richard's best friend, always saw through Gwen's act. (Basically he saw that it was an act, even when she didn't.) For that and other reasons, he's long been somewhat attracted to her. But because he works in trade, he's rarely at home. He is home in London to witness Gwen's second jilting, however. And he's there when she proclaims that she's done being the good girl.

The plot doesn't sound all that original, but it works, mostly because it's all believable. Gwen's actions and motivations are particularly believable. And the story moves from London, to Paris, to Monte Carlo, and back to London. Along the way a real relationship develops between Gwen and Alex.

Mostly I liked this book because I liked the characters. They were flawed, but not too flawed. And they are both simply good people. It didn't rock my world, but it did provide a nice day of entertainment. I do believe I will give Duran's other book a try now.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review: Savor The Moment

Sometimes when I finish a book, I can't help but feel that the experience has made me better in some way.  Maybe that sounds really cheesy, but it's true.  That's one of my favorite things about reading great classic literature: it just leaves you awestruck.  I loved the wildness of Wuthering Heights, the subtle, brilliant emotions of Jane Eyre, the intricate story of A Tale of Two Cities, and the straight-up genius wit of Les Liaisons dangereuse.  There are modern writers who can move me, too, like in My Sister's Keeper.  Avid readers know this.  This is why we read.

And then there are some books that, after you read them, you feel like part of your brain has been lobotomized.  I give you Nora Roberts' Savor the Moment
Maybe that sounds harsh, but I think it's justified.  I like Nora Roberts, I really do.  I've read almost all of her books.  I've come to expect a formulaic, predictable story from her, but I'm okay with that.  Hell, that's precisely why I read the romance genre in general.  What I'm not okay with her trying to sell me shit.  And I'm sorry, but that's what she's doing in this Brides Quartet.

I wasn't particularly kind to the last installment in this series, Bed of Roses, but again, I was justified.  Emma was effing annoying, and the way that Roberts expected the reader to accept that her behavior was rational and not insulting to all women was insulting to all women.  I had hopes that the rest of the books would be better because my biggest problem with Bed of Roses was Emma's perfect life.  Laurel, the heroine in Savor the Moment, is not perfect.  But does Roberts delve into Laurel's issues in any depth?  Does Roberts show us ANYTHING about Laurel outside of her love for the hero, Del?  No.  Seriously, guys, she doesn't.   Laurel apparently has a background that I would have liked to learn about.  But I never got that chance.

(I will now segue into a letter to Nora Roberts.)

Come ON, Nora.  It's bad enough that you're writing four books about freakin' weddings.  As if the wedding industry in this country isn't absolutely ridiculous in the way that they put all the focus on ONE DAY, you give us four women that make their livelihood out of catering to these self-absorbed people.

**SIDE RANT**  Not only that, but you present them in a REALLY annoying way.  These women never make freakin' mistakes.  EVER.  They always know exactly how to talk down a bride, or exactly which flowers they'll like, or exactly what cake they'll want.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Throw in some screw-ups every once in a while and we'll talk.  The worst is Mac, the photographer.  This woman sounds like the kind of photographer that makes me hulk out.  In the first book she did a pregnancy session where she made the pregnant lady get naked.  Anyone who knows me knows I hate those kind of pictures with a passion that will never die.  And I'm sorry, Nora, but it sounds like Mac has little to no imagination as a photographer.  The bride is a florist?  Let's shoot her in a garden!  The groom is an English teacher?  Let's shoot him with books!  The couple met as children and shared a fondness for cookies?  Let's shoot them with cookies!  Please.  I know wedding photographers that do amazing, amazing work and never result to that unimaginative shit.

But your worst transgression is the complete and utter failure to portray these women in a real way.  They are obsessed with weddings, and in Savor the Moment particularly, there is nothing to Laurel other than her love of Del.  Even when the four friends are together, all they talk about is work or relationships.  Oh, yeah, and sex.  These bitches NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT SEX.  When they have it, they have to make mention of it.  When they're not having it, they make mention of the others having it.  Seriously, I don't know women like this.  Don't they ever talk about important stuff?  Current events, the economy, feminism, celebrity gossip, books they've read, etc?  Nope.  Just men.  And weddings.  And sex with men.  This is an insult to women, Nora.

Look, I get that you've got a theme here.  Each woman in this series needs to get a man in each installment of the series.  But for the love of God, what is wrong with dating for a while?  Emma and Laurel were with their respective men for about two months tops before they're distraught over whether or not the men want to be with them forever.  For fuck's sake, what is the rush?  And why can't a couple admit that they're in love more than five minutes before a marriage proposal?

As you can tell, I did not like this book.  At all.  But I will still read the last book, because I'm a masochist.  And an optimist.  Parker, the last heroine to be paired up, has the potential to be more multi-dimensional than all her friends. She also comes across as truly independent and strong, unlike her man-crazy friends.

But Nora, you've gotta step it up.  You're getting lazy, here.  Don't think we haven't noticed.

Lindsey's Grade: D

Movie Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

All of you readers out there: how often is it that you go see the movie version of a book you've read (and liked) and leave the theatre thinking, "Wow, that was great?" 

I don't know about you, but that is not a common occurrence for me.  What is even more rare is enjoying the book better because of the movie.  But that is exactly what happened when I walked out of the theatre after seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I had mixed feelings about that book.  I like it, liked the story, but I wasn't crazy about the writing.  I didn't connect to the characters as much as I would have liked.  If you had a similar experience with this book, then you need to see the movie as well.  Because there are some things that have to be seen and not read.

There are some pretty intense things that happen in the book, mostly to Lisbeth Salander.  Lisbeth is a really unique character, but I had problems connecting with her because she seemed like an automatron a lot of the time.  As a result, I read these intense scenes with kind of a detached attitude.  The movie makes that impossible.  Seeing what happens to Lisbeth in such graphic detail really enhanced her character for me.

Also, the movie (it is a Swedish production, so subtitled in the U.S.) does an excellent job of sticking to the book.  Sure, there are things that are omitted and changed, but nothing that detracts from the story.  And all the important details are still there, I think.  Because they got that right, the movie ends up being a wonderful complement to the book.  Honestly, I think you need to see the movie to fully appreciate the book.

What pissed me off, though, are the rumors that Hollywood is going to do a version of the story.  There is even an imdb entry that has Carey Mulligen rumored to be playing Lisbeth Salander. 

No.  No, no, no.  That is just wrong.  WTF, Hollywood?  Lainey over at Lainey Gossip put it best.  Just leave it alone, Hollywood.  The Swedes already did it, and they knocked it out of the park. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Okay, Stieg Larsson fans, was anyone else pissed about the ending of this book?  I'm sorry, but if I'm going to spend my entire morning finishing a book instead of doing all the homework and writing all the papers I need to, then I expect to get some fucking closure.  (Pardon my French.) (Also, didn't you used to be able to wrap text around images on Blogger?  What am I doing wrong?  I cannot figure this out for the life of me.)
As far as the Millennium books go, I am torn on which one I like better.  I don't think I would necessarily say that The Girl Who Played with Fire is a better book, or even a more interesting book.  I much preferred the mystery of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  But at the same time, I found this book more enjoyable to read.  

I gotta tell you, though, I'm a little worried for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest or whatever the heck the third book is called.  If it ends as abruptly as this book, I am going to be pissed, because Larsson is dead, that's the last book he wrote, and I need my goddamn closure.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

There is hardly a literary bandwagon I don't jump on at some point in time.  I may not have read Harry Potter until long after Deadly Deathly Hallows was published, but I got there eventually.  Same goes for Twilight.  So of course I had to jump on the current Millennium trilogy bandwagon, too.  

I used that book cover because that is what my copy of the book looked like.  I bought my copy in the Amsterdam airport because I'm just THAT cool.  Okay, not really.  If I were really cool, I would have known that I should have bought the last book in the trilogy because it was just sitting there on the table in the airport shop, available for purchase.  Because guess what?  The third book is not available in the United States yet.  Damn it!  I lost my chance.  

Oh well.  It's not such a bad thing because, to be honest, I'm not nuts about this series.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I didn't guess the ending (which is always nice in a mystery).  I'm even reading the second book right now, The Girl Who Played with Fire.  But I'm not really having any kind of emotional reaction or attachment to these books or to the characters.

I think part of the problem is the language barrier.  My favorite books tend to be ones written by American, British, or Australian authors, mostly because I like to read books in their original language, and I am embarrassingly monolingual.  Nevertheless, some books are beautifully, effortlessly translated.  Les Liaisons Dangereuse blew me away; I never would have guessed it wasn't originally an English-language book (other than the fact that that author is French, it is entirely set in France, and the characters are all French, of course).  But other times translated books come across as dry.  Sadly, I'm putting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in this category.  In my opinion, it read like a book translated into another language.

But aside from the translation, I think that I'm just not a big fan of the mystery genre.  I like characters and character-driven stories.  I think that mystery novels are, by their nature, more plot-driven.  Even though the two main characters of the Millennium trilogy, Mikel Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, certainly are three-dimensional and interesting, I just feel like thus far in the series it's been more about what they do than who they are.  Maybe that will improve as I continue with The Girl Who Played with Fire.  I'm slightly optimistic.

Also, did anyone else who read this book feel like it took more than half of the book to really get the story moving?  I felt that way. 

Friday, April 02, 2010

2010 so far + A poll

Hey there! It's Jen! I'm not much of reviewer, so I'm going to keep this short.

Books I've read so far in 2010, and a one word review:

1. Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl GREAT!
2. Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus Eh...
3. The Greatest Disaster Stories Ever Told Terrifying!
4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood Strangegood
5. The Believers by Zoe Heller Overworked
6. I Drink for a Reason by David Cross Egotistical
7. Speak Up by Cyndi Maxey Informative
8. The Little Book by Seldon Edwards Betterthanithoughtitmightbebasedonthedescription
9. Forever by Pete Hammil Interesting
10. Man or Mango? A Lament by Lucy Ellmann Quirky

Currently reading:
Man out of Time by Michael Hogan

Now, the poll: (which I expect at least ONE person to reply to?)
Last year about this time I dove into Les Miserable - so I'm thinking it's time to hit the classics again. I'm debating between two longish ones, and thought I'd get an opinion, if anyone has read them both.

(side note, anytime i delete anything and then start typing again, it's in BOLD. i'm getting sick of changing it.)

Anyway: Option one is Vanity Fair, and option two is The Count of Monte Cristo. The thing is, I've already read the second one, but really really liked it, so I kind of want to read it again. But, should I try something different? Anyone?

Alright. Happy "spring" (she says as it snows outside for the second straight day in APRIL.)

Ta ta!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton

I'll just come out and say it: The Monsters of Templeton is an enjoyable book, and I recommend it.  I found it engaging and easy to stick with from beginning to end.  The book is essentially the story of Willie Upton, a young woman who returns home to Templeton, New York, after she has an affair with one of the married professors in her graduate program.  While she's home, she learns for the first time that her father is not who she thought he was.  Well, she never knew her father, but she had always been told that it was one of three men that her hippie, teenage mother slept with in a San Francisco commune.  As it turns out, that was a lie.  Her real father is someone from Templeton.  While she's biding her time back home, Willie decides to set out and find out who her real father is.  All her mother will tell her is that he is a descendant of Marmaduke Temple, the founder of the town.

A little background: Groff is from Cooperstown, and she essentially models Templeton on Cooperstown.  I've never read any of James Fennimore Cooper's work, but apparently some of it is set in Templeton?  I don't really know, but I think it was very clever of Groff to write about her hometown in this way.  Willie and her mother are legitimate descendants of Marmaduke Temple and his son, the famous American author Jacob Franklin Temple (Fennimore Cooper's fictional counterpart, obviously).  They're also illegitimate descendants through the slave that Marmaduke fathered a child with.  When Willie finds out that her biological father is also an illegitimate descendant of Marmaduke, she understandably wants to find out where that branch of the family tree budded from---if for no other reason than to assure herself that's she's not a complete inbred.  So Willie devotes her summer to researching the family history and finding which adulterous ancestor spawned her father's lineage, hoping to work her way down in order to identify her father.  

From that point on, the book alternates between historical accounts, diaries, letters, etc, of various Temple ancestors.  There are a number of interesting stories that are told along the way.  All very entertaining.  the only downside was that Willie was very hard for me to relate to, but she was still very likable.  I think that is attributable to Groff's skill as a writer.  I think I read in the reading guide at the back of the book how Groff wrote Willie thinking of the kind of wild, adventurous girls she always admired from afar.  After reading that, I was able to view Willie in a more favorable light.  I don't know why, but that made a difference.  I guess I could accept Willie's faults easier knowing that Groff wasn't necessarily advocating or condoning her actions, just writing about a character.  (Funny how that's hard to do.  I think that's what sets me apart from writers.  I have a hard time writing about things I don't know or don't like.  Again, a testament to Groff's talent.)

Book Review: Something About You

I first heard about Julie James's Something About You through the "Save the Contemporary" promotion over at Smart Bitches.  I kept hearing all sorts of positive reviews so I decided to give it a try.  I actually really like contemporary romance novels---when they're done right.  And this one was done right.  (I don't know how to fix this space...)
The heroine, Cameron, is an Assistant United States Attorney.  As a lawyer myself, it is sometimes frustrating to read about characters who are also lawyers because sometimes it is just so poorly done.  See Christina Dodd, Trouble in High HeelsHowever, I think Julie James is a lawyer herself, so she knows what she's doing.  And as someone who worked for a federal public defenders office for a year, I can attest that she knows what she's doing with an AUSA.

Hero, Jack, is an FBI agent who used to work with Cameron years ago until she dismissed one of his cases and he bad-mouthed her to the media.  His punishment was to be transferred from Chicago to Nebraska for three years.  But when he moves back to the Chicago office, the two of them run into each other again.

The way Jack and Cameron's story was set up really worked for me.  I like that they have a history together.  Too often in romance novels the relationship moves so quickly that it is hard to believe it.  By assuring the reader that the characters know each other well from a multi-year professional working relationship, it makes their eventual romance seem genuine and believable.  

Also, the action/mystery aspect of this book never overshadowed the romantic relationship; it flawlessly moved it along, however.  I've read enough books to know that that is not always easy to do.  For all of these reasons, I'm really impressed with Julie James.  My biggest complaint about contemporary romance novels is that the heroines are usually not very intelligent.  I think that Nora Roberts' success is due in large part to the fact that she knows how to write an intelligent female character.  Even though I really like Rachel Gibson's writing, I usually don't like her heroines because we usually hear more about their shopping and clothes habits than their smarts.  Cameron is a great balance.  I think that's due in large part to Julie James's own education and intelligence.  Jack is great, too.  A fun book!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Mullet City!

I would really like to know what Lynsay Sands did to piss off the art department at Avon.  Seriously, look at the hairdos on those men.  Mullet.  City.  I wish I could find the inside cover art online, so you could see how much worse it gets.  Taming the Highland Bride's inside cover doesn't escape the horror, either.

I don't get it.  Is there some kind of historical record that establishes the popularity of the mullet in 13th century Scotland?  (Or whatever century these books are set in?)

It's really a shame.  I've only read one of Sands' books (Devil of the Highlands), and it was pretty good!  Poor lady doesn't deserve the awful cover art.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: Testimony

Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors, and I bought Testimony shortly after it was released, but I didn't get aroudn to reading it until now.

Each chapter of this book is written from the perspective of one of the multiple characters.  Most chapters are written in first person, some in third person, and there's even one written in second person.  Each character is giving their testimony of the events that surrounded a sex scandal at a private secondary academy in Vermont.

The problem with this book centers on the sex scandal. It starts when Mike, the principal, is given a videotape that was filmed in one of the dorm rooms.  In the video, a fourteen year-old female student performs oral sex on an eighteen year-old male student, then she has sex with another male student (who is either seventeen or eighteen), while a nineteen year-old males student watches and masterbates.  Everyone appears to be drunk.

Yes, it is statutory rape, and that is a crime, but I just had a really hard time accepting the magnitude of this scandal.  Shreve describes it as so big and receiving so much media attention that Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams types camp out at the school.  One characters recalls that the small town of one thousand doubled in population.

Come on.  Even if the scandal was compounded by the school's attempt to keep it quiet, I don't think a reader can reasonably be expected to believe in all this.  I went to a private boarding academy, and sexual stuff went on all the time.  There were even some crimes committed, and we didn't even get local news attention.

This was disappointing to me, because it really affected my ability to enjoy this book.  What I love about Shreve is how much she can convey with her simple style of writing.  Body Surfing is an excellent example of this.  Also, I just had a hard time connecting with her characters in Testimony.  I didn't feel the emotional connection like I did in Light on Snow, for instance.  This is not one of her best works, in my opinion.  If you've never read Shreve before I would recommend starting with Body Surfing, Light on Snow, Resistance, or Fortune's Rocks.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review: Ravishing In Red

Oh, yeah, I forgot that I read this book, too.  Not bad, but not great, either.  The plot is coherent and kinda interesting, so that's a plus.  The characters are believable and likable, another plus.  But for me, no emotional connection.  Bummer.  I'm kind of intrigued by the next book in the series though, Provacative In Pearls.  (I know, ridiculous titles.)

Book Review: A Reliable Wife

This book... confuses me.  I wish I could take a picture of the back cover so you could see the description and reviews that made me super eager to buy this book.  "Thrilling," "suspenseful," "intoxicating," etc, etc, etc.

Seriously?  No.  (And I'm not alone.  The customer reviews at Amazon.com are all over the map.  Some love it and some, like me, thought it was pretty bad.)

The description is what sucked me in.  Ralph Truitt is a lonely man who places an add for "a reliable wife."  The woman who responds, unbeknown to him, plans on killing him and taking his money after they wed.

I'm a sucker for shit like that, what can I say?  And in the hands of one of my favorite romance novelists, I think it could have been a damn good story.

But this was not.  The writing, my God, the writing.  It is praised and praised and praised, but I thought it was not very good.  It just felt forced, like the author was trying really hard.  A lot of the negative customer reviews at Amazon.com point out that it is repetitive, and YES, it is!  And really, this book is ALL about sex.

Ralph is simultaneously obsessed with sex and celibate for twenty years.  Maybe that's not so contradictory, but the way Goolrick writes it, it seems that way.  We hear all about what a libertine Ralph was as a young man.  But we also hear all about how he is convinced that his lust is evil because he uber-religious, crazy mother told him so as a child.  Now that I thought made no sense.  There's no indication that Ralph believes anything else his mother ever told him, or anything else about religion, yet for some reason he's had this skewed view of sex his whole life.  But even though he thinks it's evil and will only hurt people, I wasn't sure how that supposedly affected him.  He's promiscuous as a young man, then goes completely celibate after losing his wife.  Then when Catherine, his new wife, arrives he is again obsessed with sex.  I don't know, it just all felt very disorganized and contradictory to me.

Catherine was certainly more likable, but she was utterly predictable.  As was the plot.  There were no shocking twists and turns, despite what the reviews say.  There were a few things held back from the reader, but they didn't blow my mind when they were revealed.   

Let me just give you an example of what I'm talking about as far as the sexual obsession and not-so-good writing goes:

He wanted to slice her open and lie inside the warm blood of her body.

Jesus.  What the fuck is that?  That shit is straight out of Star Wars.

In the end, I guess I just can't enjoy a book that's essentially about the constant sexual thoughts of a fifty-some year old man.  Ick.  This book is not very original and not well-written.  I'm really, really pissed that I bought this one instead of Roses.

Book Review: Into The Wilderness

When I first started reading this book, I was really excited.  I went to the bookstore in the mood to read an epic romance, and this book pretty much fit the bill.  As a bonus, it's loosely based on The Last of the Mohicans, and who doesn't wish they were Cora to Daniel Day-Lewis's Hawkeye?  I DO.

Into the Wilderness is the story of Elizabeth Middleton and Nathaniel Bonner.  The book is set in late eighteenth century New York state. Elizabeth's father is a judge and landowner in the small town of Paradise.  Elizabeth was raised in England by her father's sister, but she and her brother move to America to live with their father when Elizabeth is twenty-nine.  She plans on starting a school in the town, but until she arrives she doesn't know that her father plans on her marrying Richard Todd, a wealthy doctor.  The judge has worked out a plan that when Elizabeth marries Richard, he'll deed a portion of his land in return for Richard paying off the judge's debts.  But Elizabeth isn't too keen on that plan, especially after she meets hunky Nathaniel Bonner.

Nathaniel's father's name is Daniel Bonner, but he goes by Hawkeye.  His wife was Cora, and his father is Chingachgook.  That's about it as far as The Last of the Mohicans go.  But from the physical descriptions of Nathaniel, I think it's safe to say that Sara Donati had Daniel Day-Lewis in mind.  Anyhoo, the Bonners and their Mohican family happen to live on the parcel of land that is at issue in the wedding plans.  When Elizabeth and Nathaniel develop feelings for each other, they hatch a plan to pull a fast-one on the judge and Richard: Elizabeth will pretend to agree to marry Richard, and thus she'll sign the deed giving her the land.  But in the small window between the conveyance and her wedding, she'll elope with Nathaniel.  After their marriage, the land will go to her husband.

I'm not giving anything away by telling you that they carry out their plan.  And then the book goes on.  And on.  And on.

Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.  I was certainly interested and entertained the entire time I was reading.  There is plenty of action moving the plot along.  But I was a little disappointed because I never really became attached to Elizabeth and Nathaniel.  I cared about them, but their love story didn't move me.  Elizabeth comes very close to being too perfect to like.  She does have one MAJOR screw-up that I think was well done on Donati's part.  (It makes me think she knew readers were going to dislike this lady if she continued being perfect.)  But all in all the book is well-written, consistent, and enjoyable.  It just didn't capture my emotions.  Bummer.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Book Review: The Elusive Bride

Stephanie Laurens is an auto-buy author for me.  I buy her books no matter what they are about.  Her books aren't always great or the kind of story that I will remember and re-read, but I pretty much always enjoy the reading experience.  There are some romance novelists that seem like lazy writers to me, and I would never put Laurens in that category.  Her books may be very similar to each other, but I can usually tell that she has put serious thought into the plot.

So I'm a little disappointed to discover that I didn't really enjoy reading The Elusive Bride.  It's a bummer because I was really looking forward to it as it is the second in her Black Cobra quartet and the sequel to The Untamed Bride, which I enjoyed.

Laurens does step outside of her formula a bit in The Elusive Bride, so maybe that's what did it.  Instead of being set entirely in England, the books spans the characters' journey from India to England by land and by sea, and thus there was considerable focus on the journey and events along the journey instead of the romantic relationship.

I gave a synopsis of the basic plot of the quartet when I reviewed The Untamed Bride, so I won't repeat it.  Suffice to say that the Black Cobra cultists are chasing the heroes of the books because the heroes have something they want.  That's fine, I get it, but The Elusive Bride is pretty much nothing but cultists attacking the traveling party again and again and again, always unsuccessfully.  Not a single member of the traveling party perishes and only one is ever injured.  Boooring.

There were a few deviations from the standard Laurens' formula when it came to the characters, I suppose.  Gareth, the hero, came across as a little more vulnerable than her traditional alpha hero.  He was not the pursuer, the way Laurens' heroes usually are.  That should have worked for me, but I don't think Laurens fully exploited the opportunities she set up there.  Something about it just didn't feel right.  I think it might have been that the reader didn't know enough about Gareth to really connect with or understand him.  The heroine, Emily, was very likable, I thought.  And the reader got to know her well.  But again, something was missing, and I think it was genuine conflict.

This is a romance novel, as such, standard genre elements should be followed (I think.)  The conflict in this book was all about the traveling party being attacked by cultists.  Any conflict between Gareth and Emily felt forced or contrived.  Definitely not genuine.  Also, Laurens kind of deviated from her usual sex scenes, too.  They seemed much shorter than usual.  That's not necessarily a bad thing (as she tends to overdo it in that department), but it just made it feel even less like a Laurens' book.

Finally, after reading The Untamed Bride, my sister complained about the misleading title.  The same thing happens here!  Emily is the pursuer in the romance, no question about it.  The whole relationship aspect is predicated on her determination to discover if Gareth is "The One" for her and then convincing him that she is "The One" for him.  Not exactly my definition of "elusive."

Some Thoughts On Series and Sequels

A week or so ago I found myself wanting to read a book but not just any book.  I wanted to read an epic or adventure story.  One that spans time, geography, etc.  And of course, one that features some kind of love story.

It was kind of a weird urge to suddenly have such a specific desire for a book, but I had just finished re-reading Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and that book is kind of epic.  I freakin' love it, and wanted something similar.

The problem is, those kinds of books are hard to find in the romance section of a book store.  Historical romances these days tend to be pretty limited to the courtship stage, and they're usually all set in England, where the characters stay.  Besides, it's been a while since I read a genre romance that I really enjoyed.  So when I went down to my local Barnes & Nobles looking for something, I just walked around the Fiction & Literature section until something caught my eye.  I ended up with Sara Donati's In the Wilderness, which was pretty much exactly what I was looking for.  Yay!

Now, I'm still reading the book so I will review it later, but since starting it I've discovered that there are at least five other books in this "series."  And for some reason, that bothers me a little bit.

I'm not sure how to explain it exactly, but sometimes the knowledge that the story is going to go on and on is kind of . . . disappointing.  Sometimes it's better to introduce a reader to the characters and then end the story somewhere, after which the reader's imagination can take over.  The more an author tells us about them after the initial happily ever after, the more likely it is that the author will take the characters somewhere I don't want to go.

Does that make sense?  It's almost like a soap opera in some ways.  The best example I can think of comes from Days of Our Lives.  I used to watch that show a lot.  And for years one of the big stories was Austin and Carrie.  Austin and Carrie loved each other, but Carrie's sister Sami tricked Austin into bed and got pregnant.  After that, Carrie had to watch the man she loved with her sister, and Austin was stuck with a woman he didn't love.  This went on and on, and viewers like me just wanted Austin and Carrie to get together, until finally it was revealed that Austin's brother Lucas was the real father of Sami's baby.  Sami was a rotten liar, and Austin and Carrie could finally get together.  But it's a soap opera, so happily ever afters aren't allowed.  Conflict is interesting, so no long after Austin and Carrie's love story was finally realized, Carrie leaves Austin for Mike Horton.  WTF?

The same goes with books.  If an author is going to continue his/her characters' story into another book, then he/she is going to have to put some conflict in there in order to make it worth the read.  But then that just makes the previous books' happily-ever-after feel . . . ruined, to some extent.  See Meg Cabot, Queen of Babble in the Big CityI just feel like the more details you add to the sequel, the more you take away from the original reading experience.

This is one reason why I think many epilogues in romance novels are limited to showing how the hero and heroine have gotten married and had children.  There was a very legitimate commentary on Smart Bitches about how happily-ever-afters in romance novels are often conditional on having children (looked for the post but couldn't find it to link to), but in some ways, that's not such a bad way for an author to go.  It shows the reader that the characters' lives are evolving, but it is generic enough that it doesn't restrain imagination.

For me, it just comes down to less being more.  When I finish this story about Elizabeth and Nathaniel, I'd like to believe that they are able to live out their lives happily.  But from what I've read of the next book, it sounds like there's a whole lot more hardships for them to go through.  Ugh.

Finally, I will just add that I think this is in part what is being my disgust of Pride and Prejudice sequels.  I'd like to leave Darcy and Elizabeth's life together to my imagination, thanks.  I don't want anyone writing about how it turns out he's a vampire or whatever.  That just takes away from the original.  And, it's dumb.  (Don't even get me started on this shit.  If ever there was a need for perpetual moral rights in artistic works, THIS IS IT.)