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Friday, December 02, 2005

November 2005 Books

You can tell what a busy month it's been by the fact that I haven't written anything here in two weeks, and by the very short list of books I've read this month.

It's been pointed out to me that 24 books in one month would be considered by most people to be a lot of books, but it's all relative, isn't it?

  1. *** Tug of Love_ by Penny Jordan. Contemporary category romance. Thanks, Geets! Pretty typically of older romances, it had only the heroine's POV, which made the hero seem like a real jerk until the end when they finally talk. And I suppose it's common IRL, but I get so annoyed by conflicts caused by the characters not talking to each other. ARGH. However, this is one of those exceptions to my kids-in-romances rule. The 12-year-old son in this one was very realistic. Idolized his father, until his father came back to town and tried to resume a relationship with his mother.

  2. **** Dying in Style_ by Elaine Viets. Mystery. A NEW series. I was disappointed it wasn't another Dead End Jobs story, but I had a hard time putting it down anyway. I suspect that EV researched "mystery shopper" as a Dead End Job, but discovered it had more potential than just one book, so decided to make a new series with it. Single mother Josie is a mystery shopper. When she gives a chain of upscale boutiques a poor review, it garners first threats from the owner, then the threat of arrest when the owner is murdered. Pretty good, but not quite up to the Dead End Jobs books. Her sidekick socialite friend is a great character, but her shopaholic mother is really annoying.

  3. ***** The Gift of Fear_ by Gavin DeBecker. Non-fiction. Trusting your intuition, risk assessment, taking responsibility for yourself. Billed as being about safety, the implications go further than that. Very readable for non-fiction.

  4. **** Tempting Fate _by Nora Roberts. Contemporary category romance. This is Diana's story. Caine's a nice guy, but he's just... there. He has no character arc. Also, I have trouble relating to Diana. Yeah, it's sad that she grew up with that nasty aunt and feeling that Justin had abandoned her, but I'm so impatient with characters who stay out of relationships for fear of being abandoned. Like love is so trivial you can just throw it away on the off chance it won't last? Bah. Nora's writing saved this one.

  5. **** Just Perfect_ by Julie Ortolon. Contemporary romance. The reading gods are trying to tell me something--I'm not sure what. The heroine in this one has an awful lot of similarities with Diana Blade. Which is what made this only 4 stars. ER doc Christine hires a private ski instructor for a week to improve her skiing skills so she can best her brother on the slopes and force her father to admit that there's one area where she excels. The instructor is Alec, head of search & rescue, who's on vacation and instructing Christine as a favor to the resort manager. Christine has a history of hooking up with losers, so she jumps to conclusions and assumes Alec is an unemployed ski bum giving lessons for beer money. Obnoxious families, well-meaning but insistent friends. Several things that usually make me hate a book. But I picked this one up, intending to read a chapter or two before bed, and didn't put it down until it was finished. Despite the things about the plot that I hated, Julie Ortolon made me love the characters, even when I didn't agree with them. It appears that this book is part of a series, so I'll probably have to check the others out at some point. I met this author some years ago at a signing in San Antonio, but apparently wasn't too impressed with the book I bought there--Falling for You. The jury's out on whether she's improved as a writer or whether one of the books was a fluke, and which one it was.

  6. ***** Heat Stroke _by Rachel Caine. Contemporary fantasy. This month's TBR challenge (to read a book that begins with a description of the weather) was a perfect excuse to catch up on this series. Love this series. This one's about the consequences of the end of Ill Wind, which has ****spoilers Joanne being turned into a Djinn.**** There are one or two things left hanging at the end that I'm trusting will show up in the 3rd book, which is waiting for me. Hopefully I'll get to it this month yet.

  7. ***** Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone_ by J. K. Rowling. Audiobook. I forgot to put this one in the list when we finished listening to it, but it's excellent, of course. Well, the narrator made all the female voices sound really whiny, but I'm not holding that against the book itself.

    8. Wedding Survivor_ by Julia London. Contemporary romance. ARGH. Another book with 50 pages missing in the middle. Fortunately, I have the packing slip for this one, so I'm sending it back. The first 88 pages were great, though.

  8. **** Courting Midnight_ by Emma Holly. Paranormal romance. This one's about Lucius, the mysterious elder who was in the first book. He takes over the identity of a human, and fellow upyr Edmund poses as his servant. This is basically a regency romance with vampires. There's the less attractive but spirited & talented heroine, her beautiful & sweet sister, the beautiful but seemingly empty-headed young woman and her scheming mother.

  9. **** Dance Upon the Air_ by Nora Roberts. Paranormal romance. Re-read. I never like the victim heroines. At least Nell did fight back and escape, so that helped somewhat. I also didn't like that Zack was more upset that Nell was still legally married than he was that she hadn't confided in him. The Trust Issue isn't my favorite romance plot, but in this one it was okay--Zack & Nell had been together long enough for it to make sense. And since the witch stuff was plot-related, that was okay, but paranormal is right up there with math--not Nora's strong point. I winced every time they said a spell--it was so cheesy. But other than that... I sounds like I hate the book. I don't. Nice characters, nice family/friend relationships. Good dialogue. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I expect all those things when I read a Nora. That's probably why I'm so picky about the parts I don't like.

  10. *** Fatal Attraction_ by Alicia Fields. Mythology. Re-telling of the story of Aphrodite, and Troy, and Eros and.... Very much like this spring's Love Underground. I enjoy the retelling of the myths, giving the gods & goddesses personalities, but there's no focus at all to the story. It just rambles on, goes off on tangents, and then stops. It's like driving around looking at fall leaves. It's a pleasant enough trip, but you don't get anywhere.

  11. ***** Midshipman's Hope_ by David Feintuch. Science fiction. It did start a little slow, but it's All About Command, which is very cool. This one was so good, though, that I'm hesitant to get the sequel. The hero's already had all the emotional pain & growth of learning to deal with command--I'm afraid the sequel will just be About fighting aliens. Of course, I was worried about the same thing with Carol Berg's first trilogy, and that one didn't let me down, so maybe I'll put the sequel on my list after all.

  12. A Stockingful of Joy. Historical romance.

    ** "The Snow Rose" by Susan King. Bad, bad, bad. A paint-by-numbers historical romance. The writing itself didn't suck, which is why it got an extra star. But mix the 3 most cliched plots in historical romances--a heroine who's being forced to marry against her will, feuding clans, and being snowbound. Throw in a "quirk"--a cat named "dog." Make sure the heroine's a saint: add a houseful of orphans that the heroine takes care of. And then kind of throw it all in a book without trying to actually make any of it, you know, make sense. Frex, the heroine has no qualms about asking the hero's family to attack the castle to take it away from her evil uncle, BUT she won't marry the hero because there's a 50/50 chance her uncle will renew the feud because of it. And she can't stay with the orphans because her little cottage isn't big enough, so she worries about them constantly--but it never occurs to her to move into their large house. And.... ARGH. This story feels like it was written by a committee of about a dozen people who weren't talking to each other. Oddly, a couple of the Amazon reviewers cited this as their favorite of the anthology.

    ***** "The Best Husband Money Can Buy" by Mary Jo Putney. There's a reason why MJP is famous. She knows what she's doing. The heroine unexpectedly comes into a huge inheritance and decides that what she wants most to do with it is to have a home and family of her own. And luckily enough, the man she's had a crush on since childhood is single and in need of funds. She's smart, and there were so many times in this book where the cliches could have taken over, but didn't. In fact, in response to a secondary plot about a troubled marriage, the heroine asks "don't they ever talk to each other?" I laughed aloud. Excellent example of a story that fits the novella length--it didn't feel incomplete at all.

    *** "A Light in the Window" by Justine Dare. Pretty standard Christmas novella, with a trio of orphans (the hero, heroine, and her young nephew), and a *maybe* Christmas angel. Magic of the Christmas season healing wounded hearts & all that. Not horrible, not great either.

    *** "Boxing Day" by Jill Barnett. This might have been a pretty good story, of a 40-year-old spinster in 1893 NYC and a 32-year-old boxer, but the story kept getting interrupted by laundry lists of "this is how things were in 1893 NYC." It's like the author did a bunch of research, and damn it, it was hard work, so she was going to cram all of it in whether it fit the story or not.

  13. ***** Sex, Lies, and Vampires_ by Katie MacAlister. Paranormal romance. Hilarious, fun. It occurs to me that I wouldn't want to read too many KatieMac books back to back--the heroines have a certain similarity which could get wearing after a while. But in small doses, it's a fun character. The heroine is a 'charmer'--that is, she can charm spells and wards--undo evil spells, things like that. But the last time she tried, it left her best friend dead and her in the hospital for 3 months with a stroke. She's hired to rescue a young boy, and ends up in the middle of feuding vampires and back up against the very demon lord responsible for her previous disaster. Treachery, a misunderstood hero, just all around fun.

  14. ***** Wedding Survivor_ by Julia London. Contemporary romance. Take 2. This one has all the pages. Have I already mentioned how much I love Julia London's writing? The heroine's a wedding planner, though she's never actually planned a wedding on her own. Dot com casualty, she's living with her parents. Hired by Thrillseekers Anonymous to plan the wedding of two big Hollywood stars in a remote mountain area. Funny, poignant, great characters.

  15. **** All the Possibilities_ by Nora Roberts. Contemporary category romance. Re-read. I liked this one much better when I read it before. Now Alan comes across as a pretty serious stalker. Yeah, *I* know Shelby had feelings for him that she was denying because she was afraid of what happened to her father, and Alan can guess that, too, but it just made me really uncomfortable to read. Still has the absolute best proposal acceptance I've ever seen anywhere. Spoiler**** she had a goldfish delivered to him with this note: "Senator, If you can take life in the goldfish bowl, so can I." **** *sigh*

  16. True Colors_ by Jayne Ann Krentz. Contemporary category romance. No, I didn't actually read two contemporary category romances in a row--the last of the stories from A Stockingful of Joy_ was in between. Good lord. I checked and re-checked the copyright date of this one several times, and it remained 1986. I can only believe it came from some time warp at least 30 years earlier. Peanut-butter (yes, with the hyphen) is a delicacy and comes in a carton in the refrigerator. Toasters are such high-tech and presumably expensive items that the heroine's wealthy (and not otherwise eccentric) employer doesn't have one and instead uses a 'toast rack' in the oven. Self-serve gas pumps are annoying and rare. A clue to the mystery is some "recording tapes" and apparently the "machines" for listening to them are pretty high-tech/expensive/otherwise rare because only the wealthy employer has one. Those are just the things I remember off the top of my head. I'm a contemporary of the heroine--that is, in 1986, I was 25, about the same as the heroine. We'd had toasters and peanut butter in jars ever since I was a small child. We also had 'cassette tapes' and 'tape recorders', and believe me, my family was firmly lower-middle-class. No cutting edge technology in our house. Self-serve pumps were around ever since I learned to drive--though some privately owned stations still had full-service pumps, you didn't see them often. The anachronisms were bad/confusing enough, then you had the characters. I admit, this was a novelty: BOTH the hero and the heroine were TSTL. Obviously, they were meant for each other. The hero persists in believing that the heroine is pregnant despite ALL evidence to the contrary. The heroine hires him to find out if her employer's brother really did commit suicide, but then refuses to let him see the letter the brother sent her employer THE FREAKIN' DAY BEFORE HIS 'DEATH' because 'it might be private.' ::headdesk:: And then there was the straw that broke this camel's back: the incessant whining from both of them about 'you don't TRUST me.' GAH. The only reason this gets an extra half-star is that the writing--that is, the way the words were put together--was okay.

  17. Regency Christmas Courtship._ Regency romance.

    ****½ "Wooing the Wolf" by Barbara Metzger. Fun, cute. Our heroine, a lady's companion, unexpectedly inherits her two nieces and temporarily moves with them into the house next door, which is owned by an absent viscount, whose servants assure her he won't mind. The viscount returns home unexpectedly and the nieces set about trying to matchmake between him and their aunt so they'll be able to stay in the house they like so much.

    **** "The Dogstar" by Edith Layton. Another cute one. Both the h/h have promised to look after a little boy home from school for Christmas. She's a down on her luck governess, he's a viscount. The boy finds a puppy when he arrives in London, and the dog is more than it seems.

    ***½ "Lost and Found" by Andrea Pickens. Both the h/h have been recalled to London for Christmas, under orders from family--his father, her uncle--to make a politically expedient match. Both end up taking a wrong turn and being stranded in a snowstorm at the same inn. You can see where this is going, can't you? Still, it's not obnoxious in its cliches, so it gets an extra half star for that.

    *** "Christmas with Dora Davenport" by Nancy Butler. I usually really like Nancy Butler's writing, but this one was merely okay. Perhaps it's because both elements of the story--the hero who helps the heroine in her quest to snag another man, and the heroine who's secretly a writer--have been done to death. Not bad, just nothing new or exciting.

    "Christmas Cheer" by Gayle Buck. Oh, gak. The characters in this one are newlyweds who can't be bothered to actually, you know, TALK to each other, so they each think the other doesn't love them. So the hero gets this brainstorm that he'll act even more indifferent toward the heroine and then secretly invite her family to visit for Christmas, thus proving his love for her. You might think this might make for an interesting story, with amusing misdirection, etc. You'd be wrong.

  18. ***** Strata_ by Terry Pratchett. Science fiction. Quite obviously Pterry's first Discworld ideas showed up in this early s.f. novel. Mild humor, but nothing like you see in his later books. Think Discworld combined with the Creators from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Aliens, robots.

  19. **½ Mrs. Malory and No Cure for Death_ by Hazel Holt. Mystery. This one got docked a half star for the plethora of characters. Quite possibly if I'd read all 15 books in the series, instead of having previously read only one of them, it wouldn't be so overwhelming. That's always a problem coming into the middle of a series. However, if the book had grabbed me, it wouldn't have bugged me so much--I'd just feel compelled to start at the beginning. But this was such a rambling story--we get treated to discussions of the main character cleaning out her closets, frex--that I lost track of what the mystery was supposed to be for chapters at a time.

  20. ***** Mortal Danger_ by Eileen Wilks. Paranormal romance. I've heard some people say this one wasn't as good as the first one, but I have to disagree. It was excellent. Although that 'paranormal romance' on the spine is a bit misleading, which may be what they were responding to. This is much heavier on the paranormal than on the romance bit. In fact, the romance between Lily & Rule is pretty much a given, and it's just a matter of them adjusting to it. The story is more about Lily being attacked by a demon, and About the nature of identity. More of Cullen, from the first book, and an introduction of Cynna, who I think will end up with him, from the sparks they strike off each other. I LOVE this series, and think it's one of the best of the several new paranormal series I've read. Can't wait for the next one.

  21. ***** The Official Nora Roberts Companion, ed. by Denise Little and Laura Hayden. Non-fiction. I'd only just looked things up in this, never actually read it all the way through. Quite comprehensive. And hey, there are quotes from lots of really cool people in it--including me.

  22. ****½ Heaven and Earth_ by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. Re-read. I liked that the heroine actually consciously reevaluated her reactions--it struck me as something characters in books rarely do--they generally (and maybe people generally) tend to view their emotions as fixed and immutable. Docking it a half star because of the prologue & dream sequences--*yawn*. Also, could we please have a character who's intelligent without them being also scatter-brained? I seems like it's intentional so readers who aren't that intelligent can still feel superior.

  23. ***** Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham. Mystery. I confess, the five stars for this one is primarily for the character, Campion. O. M. G. He's rather Lymond-esqe. Made my little heart go pitty-pat. Must find more books about him--the list inside the front cover says there are 22. Lovely.

  24. ***** Night Game_ by Christine Feehan. Paranormal romance. Christine's outdone herself with this one. The thing that really struck me was that there were no simple answers, only complex issues. I loved that.

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