Wot I Read In November

This was not a good month for numbers; it has been a very busy time at work and at home, I started two major crochet projects, and I took two trips, all of which cut into my reading time.  But it was an excellent month for quality; there wasn’t a single thing  this month that I regretted taking time to read.  The total came to 12 full-length novels, of which one was a re-read, and two shorter works.  Six of 14 were e-books, four were from the library and the other four were mass market paperbacks.  Four books were ARCs, one was loaned by a friend, which means I bought five of the 13; three digital and only two in print. (I bought more than that, of course, but I haven’t read them yet.)

This are, as usual, pretty brief reactions. I’m happy to discuss any of these books further if you’re interested!

Historical Romance

Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase.  I loved Chase’s Lord Perfect for a lot of reasons, but two of them were the kids, Olivia and Peregrine. They were not your typical romance “plot moppets,” and their relationship was nicely developed for their age.  Friends to lovers is one of my favorite romance plots anyway, and having an entire book in which that friendship was developed made the “to lovers” part even better. WIN

Forever In My Heart by Jo Goodman. This book, originally released in 1994, is the third about the Dennehy sisters. It starts on the East Coast, but about half of it takes place in Colorado; I purely love Goodman’s Western settings and characters.  She also develops some standard romance elements with a unique spin. WIN

Marry Me by Jo Goodman.  I re-read this book cover to cover when I thought I’d just be skimming through it for my review over at Dear Author. It sucked me right back in, and I loved every page. WIN

Unveiled by Courtney Milan.  Courtney is one of my favorite new romance authors.  She writes unique and engaging characters and fascinating situations, usually resolved with an interesting legal twist.  This book will be released early next year; expect to hear a lot more about it then. WIN

Contemporary Romance

Trust Me On This and Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie.  Both of these books are vintage Crusie — some screwball comic elements, a few wacky characters, even dogs.  (Crusie confirmed in a SmartBitches book club chat that the dog in Trust Me was added for the re-release; a major retailer wouldn’t stock the book unless it had a dog on the cover, and she didn’t want a dog on the cover unless there was one in the story.) I enjoyed both books; Bradley features slightly deeper main characters and better dogs, but the secondary romance in Trust Me is terrific. WIN

Happily Ever After by Nora Roberts.  I’ve enjoyed La Nora’s return to the straight contemporary romance, and this series ended up being very satisfying for me.  I’ve realized recently that while her romances are always good, it’s her world building that makes each new set of books a delight.  Her research into settings and careers makes each new place and set of people fascinating to explore.  Also, she does friendship, male and female, better than many writers.  WIN

“Midnight Assignment” by Victoria Dahl.  This is in the Midnight Kiss anthology; I haven’t read the other stories yet, but this one was terrific.  Another triumph of interesting setting — these characters work for the federal government, investigating banks, and even in such a short piece, the glimpse of what that entails really informed the story.  Plus, of course, there’s a flawed heroine and some hot sex — hey, it’s Victoria Dahl!  WIN

Paranormal Romance

Angel’s Pawn by Nalini Singh.  This novella features minor characters from Nalini’s Guild Hunters series, and it was fun and refreshing to see that world through the eyes of a different hunter and the vampire who is her favorite prey.  WIN

Archangel’s Consort by Nalini Singh.  This is an ARC of a book that will be released early next year, and I was excited to get to read it. It features the same couple, Raphael and Elena, as the two previous novels in the series; their continuing place at the center of the series reminds me of Nora Roberts’ In Death books written as J.D. Robb, with Eve and Roarke.  Not at all a bad model to follow! Expect more about this book as its release date nears. WIN

Blood Spells by Jessica Andersen.  This latest installment in the Mayan apocalypse series (The Final Prophecy books) is especially crack-tastic.  It features a marriage in trouble (another of my favorite romance plots!), which is a good twist on the fated mates device that’s at the center of the magical power in Andersen’s universe.  The troubled marriage in question has been around for four books already, so there was an extra depth to the romantic resolution here.  WIN

Romantic Suspense

The Search by Nora Roberts.  I don’t read a lot in this genre, but I read La Nora’s.  Yes, the villain POV freaks me out, but it’s always worth it.  And there’s her way with setting and character — I want to go live with these people!   Also,  dog rescue is fascinating, and it was a nice twist to have the heroine be the expert.  WIN

Mystery

The Last Camel Died At Noon by Elizabeth Peters.  I read the early books in this series when they were new, and I read this one for a Twitter chat. I think taking a break from the series (a LONG break) has been good; even so, the main characters came right back to me.  The mix of humor, suspense and Egyptology in these books is great.  WIN

Fantasy

The Bird of the River by Kage Baker.  Reading this book was bittersweet for me. Kage Baker, one of my favorite fantasy and science fiction authors who was also just a terrific person, died of cancer just a few weeks before my father did this year. I think this is her last full-length book. As always, her writing is wonderful, her storytelling is engrossing, her characters are complex and fascinating, and her world is rich and fascinating.  This story, a young woman’s coming of age tale, is sweet and funny. It is set in the world of her earlier fantasy novels The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, to which I was glad to return for one last adventure.  WIN

Playing In the Big Pool

I wrote a guest review of Jo Goodman’s fabulous December release, Marry Me, for Dear Author.  There’s also a giveaway of 8 advance copies of the book. That review will soon have more comments than this blog has ever had.  I’m pleased about that, because I really want readers to discover this book.

November TBR is OOP, But Not For Long

This 2002 release from author Carolyn Jewel has been on my TBR list ever since I read her RITA-nominated Scandal in early 2009.  It is out of print and I had trouble finding a used copy; eventually it became the only book of hers that I hadn’t read.  (Disclosure, as always, that Carolyn is a personal friend, although my fondness for her writing pre-dated that.) But it was totally worth the wait.

Anne Sinclair is a wonderful heroine. The oldest daughter of the house, she’s the only one who’s not drop-dead gorgeous; she rather expects to remain a spinster, care for her aging parents and eventually live with one of her sisters (who will all make brilliant marriages, of course).  She has a tendré, as they say, for  a man who wanted to marry her a few years before the book starts, but her father rejected him as unsuitable, and Anne did not put up much of a fight.  This former suitor is now rich and titled, but Anne doesn’t expect him to still be interested in her. Until he starts showing signs that he is.

But Devon, the faithful suitor, is not our hero.  That’s clear early on in the book; point of view and romance convention let the reader know that’s the brooding, womanizing Ruan, Duke of Cynsser.  A series of mistakes and coincidences lands Cynsser and Anne in a forced marriage, and that’s where most of the conventional romance runs out.

Cynsser and Anne really have to work at finding happiness in their marriage — great sex is all they have for most of the book (and they have quite a bit of it).  Their feelings for others (Anne’s for Devon, Cynsser’s for his sometime mistress, Kate) don’t just vanish, nor do the other man and other woman have to be demonized to validate the main characters’ feelings.  It’s messy, not neat and tidy, and I love that.

Experienced heroes (rakes, womanizers and the like) don’t always work for me.  I wasn’t sure Lord Ruin (as Ruan is nicknamed) was going to prove strong enough to accept what Anne had to offer, and that tension is what I like best in a forced marriage plot.  Where I would expect any woman with an ounce of self-respect to walk away from a man who can’t appreciate her, the marriage gives her a reason to stay.

Anne has backbone and stands up to Cynsser, but the constraints of their circumstances (and their powerful mutual attraction) keep them together long enough for him to come to his senses and prove to her that he has.  That dimension sometimes gets neglected in historical romance; I don’t like it when all the hero has to do is say “Oh I get it, I love you!” and all his previous bad treatment of her is forgiven.  I was pleased at Anne’s quiet strength and how her sense of self-worth developed in response to her situation and her feelings for Cynsser — married to Devon, I doubt she would have discovered such inner strength.  I do love a romance where the characters challenge each other and make each other better, stronger people.

My used copy of the book had this delightful notation:

"to much sex"

I took it as a recommendation, but your mileage may vary!

Carolyn posted this same picture on her blog, where she also announced that she has the rights back to Lord Ruin and will be making it available as a digital download early in 2011.

WIN!

Google Bomb Ahoy!

I’m joining a movement here, shaming Cooks Source magazine editor Judith Griggs for her VERY mistaken insistence that everything on the internet is public domain. Wrong, Judy baby, wrong.  People like you cause a lot of trouble for teachers like me, trying to get our students to respect things like copyright, rules of attribution, and fair use.

Wot I Read in October

No, I didn’t read a WOT book (Wheel of Time, for you non-fantasy readers) last month, but I did read a substantial chunk of Leigh Butler’s delighful re-read blog of the first eleven books in that series.  And my partner thinks it’s funny when I use English slang spellings, because he is by birth an Essex boy. Go figure.

I read 15 books in October; it was a long month, and I’ve fallen behind on my grading. I should say that I attempted to read 15 books, because there are two DNFs in that count, as well as a novella that I quite literally finished in one sitting. Those three and one re-read are the only things I read on the iPad this month; I read a couple of older books that I bought used, one book from the library, and one book that I won in a contest (Gay Writes Week at Dear Author). Of the remaining, one was from my RomCon pile, but the others were all purchased new, in print — four mass market paperbacks, one trade paper, and two hardcovers. But there were reasons.  Good ones.

Historical Romance

As usual, I read a lot of historical romance this month, and there was quite a variety of quality, length and setting. There were also a number of historical romances with paranormal elements and vice-versa, so the categories are a little jumbled up at the end of this section.

The Taming of Mei Lin by Jeannie Lin. This is a Harlequin Historical Undone, which means short and pretty sexy. I was eager to read it because the heroine is the grandmother of An Li, the heroine in Butterfly Swords. Lin manages to evoke the wonderful Chinese setting even in this shorter form, and she manages interesting and relatively complex characters, too. I read this waiting for my son at his taekwondo class, and then I read it again when I got home.  I hope there are more books set in China coming from this talented author. WIN

A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure by Victoria Dahl. This was a re-read, because I had it on my iPad, was stuck waiting somewhere, and I remembered liking it the first time I read it.  I’m really glad I read it again. because this time I didn’t like it — I loved it.  I don’t know what the difference was for me, but wow, it was great.  I laughed, I cried, I — well, let’s just say that the romance is hot without being at all predictable or repetitive, even in the sex scenes. Also, this is the only book I’ve read in quite some time where I found myself longing for an epilogue.  (I didn’t get one.) WIN

Wild Sweet Ecstasy by Jo Goodman.  I reviewed this for the TBR Challenge here.  WIN

Lord Ruin by Carolyn Jewel. Carolyn is a friend, as I have mentioned before, but this is one of her early titles that I didn’t own until recently.  It’s a fun, involving story, but more than that, there’s some really astute observation here about the relationship between love, sex and gender. I expect that from Carolyn’s historicals, and it always makes me happy when I get what I want.  WIN

One Touch of Scandal by Liz Carlyle. I was very curious about this book; I have liked the author’s two books just before this, which are the only ones of hers I’ve read, but I knew from on-line buzz that this book had a paranormal element, which the others did not.  Not that I mind that idea, since many of my favorite books are cross-genre works, but I was curious to see how she would handle it.  The book wasn’t bad, but the paranormal world-building didn’t work very well for me, and I didn’t find myself really invested in the characters or their story. PASS

Countess of Scandal by Laurel McKee. This is from my RomCon stash; I met the author in Denver and really enjoyed her company.  This book also has a paranormal dimension, and that part was weaker for me than the rest of the book, but overall I found it a compelling read.  It’s set in Ireland, with a hero and heroine on opposite sides of the “Irish question,” although they are of the same class and heritage.  The historical dimension really came to life for me in this book; I’m eager for more books so that I can continue to follow the events as well as the characters.  WIN

Bespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balogh et al. This properly belongs in paranormal romance, but it seems to fit here with the other historical/PNR cross-over books.  I found the first story in this collection, inspired by Persuasion , to be creepy rather than romantic — reincarnated fated mates isn’t one of my favorite devices, and this story is exactly why.  Even when beautifully written, as of course it is in Balogh’s hands, it can be hard for me to find the romance beneath the compulsion. The second story was a take on Northanger Abbey that I could not bring myself to finish; I found it to be silly, and not in a good way. I will attempt the other two stories someday, but for now this is DNF.

White Tigress by Jade Lee.  This is my second attempt to read a book by this author, and I’m beginning to think she’s just not my type.  In both books I have found the relationship to be exploitative rather than romantic, and thus I haven’t been able to invest in the couple or want them to be together.  I can’t spend half a book screaming “run! Get away from him!” and then feel good about the “happy” ending.  This book seemed to have paranormal elements in it, but whether they developed into anything more than delusion on the part of the hero, I don’t know. DNF

Paranormal Romance & Urban Fantasy

Only two books in this category, each second in a series where I loved the first book, both authors I met at RomCon.

Double Cross by Carolyn Crane.  Like the book before it, this grabbed me and took me on a crazy roller-coaster ride, and I really wasn’t sure where we’d end up. Not at all where I expected — the author takes a HUGE risk at the end of this book, but I have high hopes it will pay off in the final volume, sometime next year. WIN

Archangel’s Kiss by Nalini Singh. This book is an excellent example of a necessary sequel; the world-building and character development in the first book just couldn’t fulfill their potential without more pages.  I needed to see this character stretch her wings (literally) and to see that this couple could succeed in the changed circumstances created at the end of Angel’s Blood. She did, they could, and I am eager for the next one. WIN

Fantasy

I used to read as much or more fantasy by male writers as by female, but not lately. (I think the last one was Under Heaven, by the incomparable Guy Gavriel Kay.)  I’m waiting on a number of BIG releases by BIG men in the field, and there are a couple in my partner’s hands that will eventually make their way into mine. But the fantasy ladies kicked butt this month! Most of these are alternate reality versions of our own world, historical or modern; those dratted genre lines keep tripping me up.

Dreadnaught by Cherie Priest.  Oh how I love steampunk, and Priest does it sooooo well.  I also love alternate Civil War history (check) and trains (check) and — well, much as I liked the other books in the Clockwork Century, this one’s my favorite. WIN

Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund. Killer unicorns, virgin hunters, complex ethical dilemmas — this book is even more gut-wrenching than the one before it. It really exploits what you can do with urban fantasy to illuminate issues relevant to our own not-so-fantastic world. Plus Peterfreund is a great storyteller. I’m wishing very hard for a third book to complete the trilogy. WIN

Five Odd Honors by Jane Lindskold. This is the third book of the Breaking the Wall fantasy series where the magic system is based on mah jong — or rather, in the world of the books, mah jong is based on this magic system.  Lindskold is an excellent writer; I’m enjoying reading a series of her books and watching her develop characters over time.  WIN

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal.  Some books are just beautiful. This is one. Set in an alternate Regency England, where magic abilities are used to beautify lives and homes, and are thus another “accomplishment” to be considered in weighing a woman’s marital prospects, it’s a Regency fantasy that delighted me from beginning to end.  And the romance is one that Austen herself could have written.  WIN

Crossing Swords by Kirsten Saell. I won this book, as I mentioned earlier, in the Gay Writes Week giveaway at Dear Author.  It was donated by author Jill Sorenson, and I was interested in it because it is fantasy with lesbian elements — not a combination I’ve seen much of.  This is erotic fantasy romance; there’s a lot of sex, and it has the same sort of predictable variety that I find in most erotica (oh, we haven’t put that appendage in that orifice yet, must be time for it…). But it IS romance, so it doesn’t feel like gratuitous sex. It’s a short book, short enough that I thought the plot was a little rushed or predictable at times. But Saell writes well, I got involved in the characters, and the world-building had some interesting elements.  There are two books after this one, following up with some of the same characters, and I liked this enough that I’ll be adding those to my list.  It’s refreshing to see lesbian relationships depicted as romance, even though the main couple in this book is m/f.  WIN

Contemporary Romance

His Virgin Acquisition by Maisey Yates.  This is a Mills & Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents, and those short books are usually problematic for me. I often feel that the relationship is rushed, as well as the resolution, and this book was pretty typical for me in that regard. In particular, I thought the hero didn’t have to work nearly hard enough to make up for his treatment of the heroine when he was suffering the obligatory misunderstanding of her motives and behavior.  The bottom line of relationships for me as a reader is trust, and this short format rarely combines with the high level of drama these books require in a way that convinces me. That said, the writing is good, the characters have a level of reality about them that is sometimes missing among the tycoon set, and the heroine has real goals, skills and ambitions. Maisey is a delightful, energetic young woman with a very handsome husband (I met her on a recent road trip), and I’m looking forward to more of her books. PASS

Fabulous Adventures Continue

Make room on the bookshelf, here’s volume three of The Blades of the Rose! This is Astrid’s book, and she’s my favorite Blades heroine. (That’s saying a lot, because I love these kick-ass smart women.)  Astrid’s a little older, always a selling point for this reader, and a lot wiser than many romance heroines. She’s smart and self-sufficient, living alone on the Canadian frontier, having been badly hurt by the death of her husband at the hands of the evil Heirs of Avalon.  Of course you just know she’s going to get drawn back into the work of the Blades, and she does, thanks primarily to our hero, Nathan Lesperance.

Nathan is a Native American attorney, which is as unusual in this fictional historical world as it would have been in ours.  He is not a Blade, but he has a connection (of which he’s unaware) to magic Sources that the Heirs are anxious to exploit.  He and Astrid, and eventually other Blades (including Catullus Graves, the Black inventor, making a more than cameo appearance!), fight for the freedom of natural magic and the cultural traditions that the Heirs would like to assimilate into the British Empire and then destroy.  (Why yes, the Heirs DO remind me of the Borg.)

Some of what I love about this book is what I love about this whole series — the action, the adventure, the hot romance, the terrific world building, the powerful archetypes of good and evil, and the excitement of a group of interesting, diverse heroic characters working together.  Although I said the Heirs remind me of the Borg, I could as easily have said the Galactic Empire; Rebel, in particular reminds me of  The Empire Stikes Back (the best of the Star Wars movies, right?).

What I love about this book as distinct from the others has a lot to do with the central couple.  While this is a world of instant sexual attraction, part of the way Zoe Archer writes romance in this series, Astrid fights against it in a way previous characters haven’t.  She actively does NOT want a relationship, because she had a good one and it almost killed her when her husband died.  (I loved that Archer didn’t need to denigrate Astrid’s first marriage in order to make her romance with Nathan seem right.) Also, Nathan is younger than Astrid — that isn’t a match that often works for me, but in this case,  I was completely convinced that they were right together.  Watching this couple form a partnership, watching them learn to trust each other and even to let each other go into danger, was really powerful for me.

In this book, unlike the previous ones, each of the two main characters is the rebel of the title; I think it’s fitting that this book shows the two of them on the cover, because they have a lot of work to do to make themselves a couple, far beyond the recognition and acceptance required of the couples in the previous books.  Once they get it worked out, Astrid and Nathan are a formidable team, and it was a real joy for me to read about them in action.

These books are a lot of fun to read, too — again, like watching adventure fantasy movies.  I suck at hierarchical thinking, so I have a terrible time picking “best” or “favorite” anything, but at least when I’m reading it, Rebel is my favorite book by one of my favorite authors.