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.