Making a Guest Appearance

I’m blogging over at Jessica’s place today, Read, React, Review, on the subject of NetGalley. Come on over!

TBR Challenge/DABWAHA Review

I’ve been rummaging through my TBR lists & piles for books among the 64 in the DABWAHA tournament. At the time finalists were announced, I had read 16 books, many of which I had reviewed or commented upon, Posted about those earlier this week. I finished another book & two more reviews yesterday. Last night I started reading another from the list, which I’ve had TBR for a while, Dark Road to Darjeeling, by Deanna Raybourn. Conveniently it won its first round match-up and will be moving on in the competition. (Ms.Raybourn reached at least the round of 16 last year. She is also a RITA winner for a previous book in this series.)

DRD is the fourth book in the Lady Julia Grey series. I have not read the first three. I have had the first one for ages, thinking I’d read in order. (I only skipped ahead because of the tournament!) I seem to have entered at a good turning point, however. The two main characters, both detective types, spent the earlier books falling in love and getting married. This is their first case as husband and wife, and the dynamic of that is very interesting.

I love the setting of this book. I have a dear friend who is from Sikkim, the Himalayan country/province (its status has changed through history) where most of the book takes place. It is a gorgeous location, and Raybourn describes it well, through the eyes of a character to whom it is new. She also works the geography into the story effectively; the landscape helps to shape the action, and the background of the place and its native people are important elements so far.

Husband and wife detective teams are hardly unusual in mystery fiction. In historical settings they offer definite advantages to a writer wanting to feature a female character, providing a mechanism that allows her more social latitude than a single woman, or a woman working without her husband’s direct support, would have. Of the ones with which I’m most familiar, the couple in this book reminds me most of Amelia Peabody and her husband in Elizabeth Peters’ books. Raybourn’s writing style also bears some similarity to Peters’, particularly in the way the romance elements fit into the text.

So far I’m enjoying the book a lot. I’m glad, because I picked it to advance into the fourth round. There it would encounter the winning historical romance, a category with strong contenders.

Another DABWAHA Review

One of the best books I read last year, and that’s saying a lot, was His At Night by Sherry Thomas. I’m devastated that it’s up against Courtney Milan’s Trial By Desire in the very first round of DABWAHA, because I would have backed either of them against most other books in the genre.

I reviewed Sherry’s book back in the days of my Vox blog, and it’s one of the many posts that I didn’t copy and move before Vox turned up its toes. Lost, alas, and let this be a warning! But I did review it on Goodreads, and I’m reproducing those thoughts here:
I purely loved this book; as soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again. It’s an excellent romance, in that the focus is very much about the main characters figuring out how to love each other, but like Sherry’s previous books, the characters are unusual. She describes them as “a man who isn’t as dumb as he looks and a woman who isn’t as sweet as she appears.” Vere is wonderfully complex, and there’s both terrific humor and pathos in his masquerade and how people deal with him. Elissande also has a façade to maintain, a role to play. Finding and revealing their true selves, while maintaining their illusions for the rest of the world, becomes an intricate dance that engrossed me. Thomas is a fine writer, and here she writes with both wit and passion — sometimes simultaneously. There’s even a nod to Judith Ivory in the book, a bit of fun that’s just one more reason to love this incredibly satisfying book.

I will admit that I picked this book to win it all this year, and that’s pretty much been the kiss of death in the tournament in previous years. I like to think of it as doing Courtney a favor, because her book also deserves huge recognition.

More DABWAHA Input

I have finished two more books from the DABWAHA list, both of which I had TBR before the lists were announced. I want to get my comments up now, while people are still picking their brackets.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, is nominated in the cross-over category. It is a lovely novel about an retired British military officer and his unexpected romance with the owner of the village shop, a middle-aged widow of Pakistani descent. It has an almost chick-lit feel to it, light and funny with patches of the serious, but it’s told from the Major’s point of view (third person, not first). There’s a lot of good stuff in this relatively short novel, and I highly recommend it. It’s also a New York Times bestseller. WIN

The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne. We all know from her previous books that this lady can write romantic spy stories that just knock your socks off. Here’s another one. This one is set earlier than her other books (1794, think Robespierre) and takes place exclusively in France. It won the AAR poll for best historical romance not set in England. (I voted for Jo Goodman’s Marry Me, which didn’t even make the DABWAHA cut.) I really enjoyed this book; the romance was special and the historical/political plot was really interesting. There were some excellent twists in the story, and as always Bourne’s characters are distinct and unique, with wonderful secondary characters. I don’t understand the title, though. WIN


It’s March, and that means madness! I’m excited for the fourth year of DABWAHA, the Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors, put on by the amazing Jane of Dear Author and Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Mirroring the college basketball tournament, 64 books go head-to-head in single elimination voting, eventually leading to a winner.  Every year it seems that I have read more of the books competing, which makes it harder to pick my favorites. Plus there are prizes for accurately predicting the winners, and I’m always torn between predicting with my heart and with my head.

This year the eight categories are Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance, GLBT Romance, Series Romance,  Sc-Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal Romance, Young Adult, Novella/Short Story, and Cross-Over. There will be eight books in each, all published in 2010.  At least one book in each group is selected in a popularity contest this year, while the rest are chosen by Sarah and Jane with input from other reviewers. The books are paired up against each other in brackets.  The last three years I had not read either of the two final books or most of the final four, and my overall picks weren’t very good. I actually tried to pick books I thought OTHER people would vote for (accepting that I’m often a minority taste), but that didn’t work very well either.  Fortunately it’s all so much fun that I don’t really care (although the prizes — did I mention prizes? — get better every year).

For what it’s worth, here are the books in each category. They all have “buy” links, because I copied them straight from the tournament site. The ones I’ve read are followed by a link to my comments about them. The titles not in italics were selected by reader voting.  I have some of these books in my TBR pile, and I’ll be hoping to read some of them before the voting gets too far along. Bracket selection is this Sunday. The first round of voting starts March 15.

Contemporary Romance





Young Adult


Novella/Short Story

Wot I Read in February

There were some definite highs and lows in my reading last month.  Not as many new books as I’d like, but that’s because I did a couple of re-reads.  Depending on how you count, I read 15 books. I bought eight of those new, but five were e-books, so I only added three paperbacks to the pile for which there is no shelf space. The rest were ARCs or loans — mostly from the library, although I did get my first Kindle loan this month.

Historical Romance

To Love a Thief, by Julie Anne Long: This is an early title by the author of the fabulous Pennyroyal Green series; the rights reverted and she made it available on Kindle for quite a good price. I really enjoyed it; it’s a wonderful Pygmalion/My Fair Lady story. For a while it really seemed that this couple would not get together, which usually makes a romance more satisfying for me. WIN.

Ravished, by Amanda Quick: This was my first Amanda Quick romance, and it won’t be my last, but it may always be my favorite. I loved the intellectual, bossy heroine, unashamedly pursuing her academic interest. I always cheer for romances that involve falling for the geek; how nice that the geek is a girl. Having her intellect and logic work for the relationship rather than against it was a nice twist. WIN.

Seducing the Governess, by Margo Maguire: Another new-to-me author, another satisfying read. The basic set-up of this book felt a little contrived at first, but once I got into the spirit of it, I enjoyed it.  The hero has a young niece to raise, and he was believably confused about what that entailed. The heroine, hired as the niece’s governess, overcomes a repressive upbringing and really asserts herself by the end of the novel. Another reviewer on Amazon said she didn’t finish this book because it was just “a steamier retelling of Jane Eyre.” Another reason I liked it! By the end I was eager for the next book, hooked on the ongoing plot that I said felt contrived. WIN.

When Beauty Tamed the Beast, by Eloisa James: I tend to think of James as lighter romance, forgetting that in some books she goes deeper and darker than in others. This is one that goes darker. I love fairy tales re-worked, and this is one that’s been done really well by other authors (notably Robin McKinley). James writes of how a proud, disfigured man could earn and accept the love of a truly beautiful woman, and it’s not easy. On anybody, including the reader, but it’s worth it. WIN.

An Imprudent Lady, by Elaine Golden: This debut short romance is a great example of the kind of stories that can be told well in shorter form. There was history between the main characters which was revealed deftly and with emotion, and the characters themselves were clearly depicted in quick, effective strokes. I’m glad there will be more e-releases by this author soon in the Historicals Undone line. WIN.

Tempting Fortune by Jo Beverley: The second of the Malloren books didn’t work as well for me as the first one did, despite Beverley’s really excellent way with words.  I was put off by the basic premise (I am not fond of the “he gambled away his sister” plot), and I don’t think I ever got over that. I liked the hero, Bryght, and I was glad to have the Malloren family story developed and to get a bit more of the infamous Rothgar, but I never really connected with the heroine, Portia.  I’m glad I read it, however, and I will definitely be continuing with this well-loved series. PASS.

The Countess Trilogy (The Countess’ Client,  An Impolite Seduction, The Birthday Present) by Alison Richardson (erotic historical romance): I’ve hear these books recommended by quite a few people, but they were only okay for me. I didn’t care for the style of narration, and I didn’t find them all that erotic. I did want the main characters to end up together, but mostly because I felt they deserved each other, and not in a good way.  PASS.

Contemporary Romance

To Tempt a Sheik, by Olivia Gates: I crossed way out of my comfort zone buying a sheik romance, but I figured it was for a good cause. The author lives in Egypt, and her book was released during the upheaval before Mubarak resigned, when most people there couldn’t get reliable internet access. Other authors worked to promote the book on Gates’ behalf; I love how the romance community can pull together when it counts and exhibit so much generosity of spirit. Having the main characters struggling for survival in a desert really showcases the alpha sheik, but the doctor heroine held her own with him. This book explores different kinds of strength and the importance of trust to love.  WIN.

Naked Edge, by Pamela Clare (romantic suspense): I met Pamela at RomCon and bought this book so she could sign it. I read and reviewed it as my TBR Challenge book in February. WIN.

Animal Magnetism, by Jill Shalvis: I had to buy this book because of the cover. The puppy reminds me a lot of the newest member of our family, a mixed-breed puppy that my son adopted.  Shalvis writes sexy romance, often featuring men too caught up in their careers to have time for or interest in long-term relationships. But her women aren’t exactly perfect either, and that’s why they work for me.  The two give each other the motivation to mature, and it’s clear that both are better and stronger people because of their relationship. Of course a book with animals is going to have some silly scenes and odd characters, but that dimension made the book fun for me. WIN.

My One and Only, by Kristan Higgins: This book made me mad for several reasons. I thought the hero was a manipulative jerk, and I wanted him to have to grovel HARD to get the heroine back (they are divorced when the book begins). Instead, she’s the one who makes the grand gesture to get him back, and the only place where their (very real) issues are actually resolved is in the epilogue. There’s also a subplot that rubbed me the wrong way, because it seemed to endorse dishonesty with one’s spouse, and I generally felt that the book was validating some dysfunctional behavior in relationships. Higgins tells a story well, but I wasn’t pulling for any couple in this book. PASS.

Second Chances, by Lauren Dane (erotic romance): Speaking of books that made me mad — well, I can’t really, because of my policy against spoilers in reviews.  But the title sort of says it. Think what has to happen for a romance heroine to get a second chance at love with one guy AFTER she has fallen in love with and married someone else — someone good to her and for her, who she truly loves and who loves her. I can deal with that if it happens outside the main time frame of the novel, in flashbacks or whatever, but having both romances developed as the central plot didn’t work for me.  There were also a couple of places where I felt like I was reading a basic BDSM operator’s manual, but clearly YMMV. PASS.

La Bonne, by Michel de Lully (erotic romance): A friend loaned me this novella on Kindle; that’s a nice feature, although most of the big New York publishers don’t allow it. It is the sweetest erotic romance I think I’ve ever read, and I liked the way it riffed on elements familiar to anyone who has read a few Harlequin Presents. Also, the romance world needs more girl-on-girl action. WIN.

A Bad Day for Sorry, by Sophie Littlefield (crime fiction): How could I not love this book?  The main character is a middle-aged woman who has a calling as a sort of domestic violence vigilante; she is irreverent, forceful and funny, which helps to balance the inevitable violence and bloodshed in the genre. There’s the definite beginning of a romance arc too; I like middle-aged romance (go figure, since I’m living one).  WIN


Songs of Love and Death, edited by Gardener Dozois and George R.R. Martin, with stories by Peter S. Beagle, Jo Beverley, Jim Butcher, Jacqueline Carey, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Yasmine Galenorn, M.L.N. Hanover, Robin Hobb, Cecelia Holland, Tanith Lee, Marjorie M. Liu, Mary Jo Putney, Linnea Sinclair, Melinda Snodgrass, Lisa Tuttle, and Carrie Vaughn. What an all-star list, right?  Most of these stories were good; I found myself preferring the ones that are connected to an author’s series, particularly a series I have enjoyed. The Carey story, in particular, is a missing piece from the Kushiel series that I was very happy to read. There are some names here whose work I have meant to read for a while, and this makes me more likely to do so. I may be over my Harry Dresden burn-out, too.  What a great cross-over experiment! WIN.