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.
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.
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.