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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

January 2006 Books

JANUARY BOOKS

  1. ****½ Hello, Gorgeous! by MaryJanice Davidson. Contemporary romance is what it says on the spine, but it's more chick lit/paranormal. Heroine is in an accident & would have died, except she's picked up by a shadowy government agency and transformed into the Bionic Woman. There are actually two romances in the book, but they take a back seat to the humor and action.

  2. Christmas Revels by Mary Jo Putney.

    ****½ "A Holiday Fling". Contemporary romance. Characters from The Spiral Path get their own story--a 30-something British actress and an Oscar-winning American cinematographer get together to film a traditional Christmas production to save a historic building. Very sweet story--they both think so highly of each other that they can't imagine the other would want more than just 'a holiday fling.'

    ****½ "The Christmas Cuckoo." Historical romance. New earl, recently an army major, escapes from his aunt's machinations and ends up being mistaken for the heroine's brother's friend who's coming for Christmas: an army captain with the same, common name. I docked it a half star because the Big Secret that the characters is just about to reveal only to have it revealed for them is such a cliche, & rather tedious.

    *** "Sunshine for Christmas." Historical romance. Pretty standard story about an English nobleman with SAD who goes to Italy for Christmas and meets an English governess/artist. It's probably shallow of me, but while I like tormented heroes and deeply flawed heroes, I'm not fond of pitiful ones, or of depressed characters in general.

    *** "The Christmas Tart." Historical romance. Another fairly standard story. Heroine is a destitute, displaced Frenchwoman who's mistaken for a prostitute by the hero's friends, who give her as a gift to him. I really did not buy that they fell in love.

    ****½ "The Black Beast of Belleterre." Historical romance. Beauty & the Beast. In fact, reading Beauty & the Beast is what makes the heroine realize how to fix things at the end of the story. Ugly and scarred hero shuts himself away from people. He's made a substantial loan to the heroine's father, who tries to force her to marry a vile old man to get more money, so the hero offers her a marriage of convenience in exchange for doubling and then cancelling the loan.

  3. The MacGregor Brides by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. I read the first story last year.

    ***** "Gwendolyn." She's an ER doc, he's a writer. Respect on both sides, Daniel of course throws them together. Probably my favorite of this anthology.

    ****½ "Julia." She's.... well, I think she's in real estate. And she has political ambitions. He's a contractor, works with his dad. The standard plot of they snipe at each other but they're attracted, and she wants "rules" for the relationship. Fun stuff when both of them are waiting for the other to say "I love you" first. I know it's not fair of me, but this one doesn't get 5 stars because I'm just so tired of that plot.

  4. ***** The Paths of the Dead by Steven Brust. Fantasy. It's all about the writing style. I mean, how can I resist a book that contains such exchanges as:
    "Well, there is a question I would wish to ask you, if it is no trouble. Do you know a place where a traveler such as myself might secure lodgings in this charming village?"
    "How, lodgings?"
    "Yes,. That is, a place where I might spend the night, enjoying more or less of comfort."
    "Ah, yes, I see. Well, I must consider this question."
    "Yes, I understand that. You, then, consider the question, and I will wait while you do so."
    "And you are right to wait," said Erik promptly, "for I have even now begun considering."
    "And I," said the young warlock, "have begun waiting."

    !! The whole book is like this. Just wonderful.
    I've got to add Steven Brust's First Theory here: "All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool." And I agree very much with what Steven Brust thinks is cool in this book.

  5. *** Crime Brulee by Nancy Fairbanks in an omnibus called Three Course Murder. Mystery. *yawn* I really don't like mysteries with gimmicks. The mystery is just an excuse to pontificate in an exceptionally boring manner about food and recipes. The amateur sleuth's "best friend" goes missing during a scientific convention in New Orleans, but nobody's concerned except the sleuth. I didn't care about any of the characters, and the solution of the mystery was an anti-climax.

  6. *** Wedding Spell by Donna Fletcher. Contemporary paranormal romance. The bones of this story were good, but it just wasn't fleshed out right. The heroine's a 300-year-old witch who needs a mate to rejuvenate her powers. The hero's CEO of a security company, deeply grounded in logic and rationality. It could have been really good, and I wish I could put my finger on why it isn't. The characters didn't grab me, the conflicts just didn't seem to play out. Reminds me of Linda Howard's books, in the way I feel like I should love the stories, but I don't. Could be the problem's the same: the author's telling me what the characters are feeling rather than showing me.

  7. **½ Truffled Feathers by Nancy Fairbanks in an omnibus called Three Course Murder. Mystery. Some humorous moments, which garnered this an extra half star. But otherwise, ho-hum. This time, the first person narration goes back and forth between the chemist husband and the food writer wife. The only problem with this is that they have identical voices. The husband drones on just as boringly about food as the wife does. Did I already mention how much I despise mysteries with a gimmick? Not only is the mystery in this one just an excuse to give excruciatingly long descriptions of every single bite of food they ate in a week, but also for obscure and pointless trivia. If that weren't bad enough, one clue hinges on the heroine being able to distinguish between Russian and Czech in an overheard phone conversation based on helping her college roommate with vocabulary words 20 years ago. I don't think so. And amazingly, everyone in NYC knows everyone else. The scientists the husband is meeting and the publishing people the wife is meeting all know each other, as do sundry waitresses and limo drivers.

  8. ****½ Red Lily by Nora Roberts. Paranormal romance. More about finding out what the ghost wants than about the romance, though the romance part was very sweet.

  9. ** Death a l'Orange by Nancy Fairbanks, the last book in the omnibus Three Course Murder. Mystery. I probably should have waited to read this--I'm so tired of these tedious characters, and the errors irritated me. You don't wear a "broach." And in 2002, why would you bring along a printer and a fax machine to send columns to a newspaper editor instead of just emailing them? And why would a group of college professors, of all people, be shocked by statues of naked people, or not know/be shocked by beef tartare being raw? And on losing their luggage, the heroine's main complaint was that she was going to have to sleep in... *gasp* a T-shirt. I was hoping somebody'd come along and just murder the lot of them. And that's not even getting to the story, which was a series of fairly minor "accidents," each one dissected after the fact--with charts!, interspersed with complaining, excruciatingly detailed descriptions of food.

  10. ***** Thieves' World, ed. by Robert Lynn Asprin & Lynn Abbey. Fantasy. I'd read later books in this series--this is the first one. Anthology by different authors, but all set in the same world. Fun, & clever. I've got a few more in my TBR pile. This was my TBR Challenge read.

  11. **** Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps by Lara Rios. Chick lit. Marcela finds out that she's half white, the result of an affair her mother had. Add to that her family's assertions that she's a sell-out, and not Mexican enough, and she's questioning her identity. So she, with the help of her best friend, makes a list of 10 steps that will help her discover her inner Latina and in the process find her self and get her family off her back. Really good story about a journey of self-discovery. My only quibble was that... *semi-spoiler: **** it took me more than half the book to realize that her best friend Jackson wasn't going to be the romantic hero, and that I didn't really like George all that much, though he grew on me.****

  12. ****½ After Caroline by Kay Hooper. Romantic suspense. This, IMO, would have worked better as straight suspense. I had trouble completely buying the romance. But the suspense was great. The heroine and Caroline were virtually doubles, and died at the exact same time, though the heroine was revived. After the accident, the heroine started having dreams and a sense of urgency that led her to Caroline's home town.

  13. **** Caught in Crystal by Patricia C. Wrede. Fantasy. Pretty standard fantasy. I'm thinking it's in the middle of a series. Though I don't feel particularly compelled to search out others, if I run across them, I'll read them. Something's interfering with the Star sisters' magic, something that's related to the Twisted Tower where Kayl had gone on a quest years before, when she was a member of the Sisters. Now they want her help, but she has an inn, and children, and friends, and the Sisters can't let go of their ethnocentrism.

  14. *** The Switch by Diane Whiteside. Erotica. It purports to be "romantic erotica," but while there is a romance of sorts, and a HEA, it's obviously just there to form a backdrop for a multitude of D/s sex scenes. Some of them were pretty good, but mostly they were rather boring, particularly without having a solid emotional attachment to the characters. The BDSM Scene details were obviously well-researched and seemed forced, and the dialogue stilted & scripted. Though that could just be because that level of formality/artificiality isn't my kink. And I admit to being irritated because ****spoilers****I couldn't believe in a romance based solely on whether he conformed to her narrow definition of what she wanted sexually, with love an unconsidered afterthought. Argh. Fercrissakes, he was submissive at first because that's what she said she wanted, and newsflash! he's a guy, and one who's gone without for a while. He's going to do whatever he has to to get some. So then when he shows his dominant side, she refuses to believe he really means it. Stupid cow.**** The military details at the beginning of the book, though, were perfect. I'm a bit taken aback by the uniform raves for this one on Amazon. (Note: when I first read this, there were a good half dozen 5-star reviews on Amazon for The Switch. All were maybe 100 words long, and each of the reviewers had written only this one review. Those reviews are all gone now.)

  15. ***½ 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. Science fiction. I was going to give this one 3 stars--then I read the afterword and changed my mind. Strictly speaking, that's not part of the book, but it did change my mind about what I thought of the book, so it counts, right? My main quibble is the preachiness. Yes, a LOT of science fiction is preachy, but it doesn't have to be in your face about it. And the fact that I agreed with much of what he was preaching about didn't help. It was still annoying. What I changed my mind about was the ending. ****Spoilers****Killing a computerized villain by using computer viruses? It's been done, and at this point seems like a cliche to me. But the book came out in 1997, and in the afterword, he mentions the movie Independence Day had the same solution, and came out between the time the book was written & the time it was published. So I buy that, I guess.****

  16. ****½ Heiress for Hire by Erin McCarthy. Contemporary romance. I approached this one with skepticism. Poor little rich girl who's cut off by her father takes a job babysitting a hot farmer's 8-year-old daughter that he just found out about. I expected Paris Hilton & The Simple Life, with sex and "romance." I expected cheap laughs and cheap sentiment, but she made it work. Not that I know any heiresses, but Amanda's personality certainly felt real. She had compassion and insecurity overlain with bravado and a slightly brittle carefree attitude. I really enjoyed the parallels between herself and the little girl, Piper: though their circumstances couldn't have been different, they had a lot in common. And Danny and Amanda both thinking the other is too good for them is classic romance. My only quibble is that there were several abrupt jumps in time of a couple weeks or so--on the one hand, it makes the development of the romance more believable, but the transitions were clunky and left me mildly disoriented after each one. I'm suspecting there's at least one previous book that's connected to this one. I'll have to look for it.

  17. **** Going for It by Jo Leigh. Contemporary category romance. Bitter reporter challenges a radio sexpert to prove her theory that nobody can be seduced against her will, and enlists a hunky race car driver and well-known ladies man to try to seduce her. Surprisingly good--I was pretty well grabbed by this one. My only problem was that I couldn't get over the premise. I did like the sexpert's message reminding women that it is a choice, but it seems to me that all decisions to have sex involve seduction in some way. Just an unfortunate choice of words, but because it was such a big part of the story, I spent the first half of the book pondering that rather than the story itself.

  18. Fever by Christine Feehan. Paranormal romance.

    ***** "The Awakening." re-read. This is the first of her leopard stories, and I'm still impressed by her lush prose. You can just sink into the jungle in this one. There might have been problems with the story--I don't know, because I was completely distracted by the descriptions, and you know me & descriptions--normally I just skim them. Feehan's are a notable exception. For that, I can forgive her any number of cliches.

    ****½ Wild Rain. re-read. Still excellent, but in the longer format, there's something about the dialogue that bugs me. I tried really hard to figure out what it was. Partly, I think it's that everyone sounds alike. The non-dialogue writing just flows beautifully, but it's like someone else wrote the dialogue. Everyone speaks in simple, complete, declarative sentences with no transitions--kind of the way Stephen King writes, or those horrible abridged Disney storybooks I bought a set of for my kids when they were little and could never bring myself to read to them because the writing clunked so badly. Anyway. It's rather disorienting for me, to read every word of the descriptions and skim the dialogue, instead of the other way around. Good story, though--tortured hero, strong heroine, danger, intrigue, and some characters I hope will show up in later books.

  19. ****½ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling. Contemporary fantasy/YA. Re-read with the boys--we just finished it. Always nice reading aloud with the boys--the slower pace makes me notice things I missed the first time around.

  20. **** Snapshot by Linda Barnes. Mystery. Mysterious photographs lead to a grieving mother who may or may not have seen something suspicious when her daughter died. Add in medical intrigue, problems with P.I. Carlotta's Little Sister, seemingly unrelated murders, and, weirdly, the theft of her full trash cans, and the result is a mystery full of twists and turns and surprises. One quibble I had is that all the men in the book seem to find Carlotta irresistible. Irritating.

  21. ***** Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. I'm not calling this paranormal romance, even with Carrick & Gwen, because the bulk of it isn't paranormal. In this book, at least, the ghost & the faerie are well-done. Any scenes with them also include and have something to do with Jude, which is the way it should be. This is really Jude's story. Aidan is just there for her to fall in love with--he's already fixed his life, though he did stumble a few times falling in love. But Jude's transformation was lovely to see.

  22. **** Flight Lessons by Patricia Gaffney. Women's fiction. I'm giving this one 5 stars for the writing, which is flawless, but 3 stars for enjoyment, so it evens out to 4 stars. I'm reminded again why I don't read women's fiction. I was so freaking depressed through the whole book. The heroine comes back to her hometown after breaking up with her boyfriend, who she caught in bed with her boss, and agrees to help her aunt by taking over the management of the family restaurant. She's never forgiven her aunt for having an affair with her father, so there's that issue. And the aunt's boyfriend has a degenerative disease which provides another issue. And the aunt's boyfriend's stepson is the mysterious bird photographer who provides the love interest. The people were all very real, but the heroine's attitude toward her aunt irritated the heck out of me, even though I believed it. My main problem, though, was that the book made me feel like I was a horrible person. In fact, every time I'd put down the book to go do something else, a little voice in my head said "Darla, you're a horrible person." Gah. Who needs that?

  23. ***½ Double Feature by Emma Bull & Will Shetterly. Fantasy anthology, plus a couple of essays. I really like Emma Bull, and I like fantasy, but in general, fantasy short stories don't do the trick. Several of the stories were from the Liavek world, which is similar to the Thieves' World that I liked so much, but they were all about the same thing. I tried to figure out what it is about fantasy short stories that makes them so hard to read. I think it's that the author's trying to create an entire world and explain all the rules of magic within a short story when they'd normally have an entire book to do it in. At least Bull & Shetterly didn't use unpronounceable names, but names were a problem, too--there were just too many characters in some of these stories. I really liked the essays, though.

  24. ****½ Beyond Innocence by Emma Holly, in the 2-in-1 volume Beyond Desire. Historical romance. An earl finds a young woman he hopes will marry his younger brother but falls in love with her himself. The twist is that the younger brother is gay. Written with a lot of affection for the characters, and Holly's trademark sensuality.

  25. ****½ Ultra Violet by Ellen Henderson. Contemporary paranormal romance. Violet wakes up, missing 5 days of her life, with enhanced abilities, and discovers different groups of people are out to get her. She doesn't know who to trust, but clearly needs some answers. The action & adventure are fun, and Violet's reactions & emotions are great. The romance part, though, didn't really click for me.

  26. ***** Beyond Seduction by Emma Holly, in the 2-in-1 volume Beyond Desire. Historical romance. Merry's being coerced into marrying (her mother's being blackmailed, unbeknownst to Merry), and when Merry, dressed as a maid, is rescued by the rakish & intriguing painter Nicolas who asks her to pose for him, she sees a way out of her difficulties. The romance & sensuality is great, of course, but there's a lot more to this--Merry's mother, Nicolas's illegitimate son, his hedonistic friends, and Merry's insecurity.

  27. **** Undead and Unappreciated by MaryJanice Davidson. Contemporary fantasy. Hmmm. You know, much as I like MJD's humor, I'm not so sure I like this as a series. The first book was fabulous, wonderful, but it seems to be floundering. I'm getting tired of Betsy's continued hot/cold reactions to Sinclair, and her ****spoiler****revelation that she loved him was the typical romance-novel cliche of "realizing you're in love in a moment of fury," and didn't ring true at all. And what? All she needed to go from loathing him to a gooey romantic pile of mush was for him to agree to a wedding ceremony? Please.**** The 4 stars is mostly for the snark and because I like MJD's writing in general. I did enjoy the sister and the club employees' rebellion, but both plot threads were resolved way too easily. It's not necessary to sacrifice plot or depth for humor, and it feels as though that's what happened here. I'll still continue reading this series, but I'm going to start waiting for the paperbacks. It's just not worth getting in hardcover for me.

  28. ***** The Winning Hand by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. Re-read. Fun. Loved Darcy, loved Mac. Thought they were both very realistic. She was naive but not stupid; he was unintentionally patronizing--it made for good conflict, and was completely understandable.

  29. ***½ Paradise by Judith McNaught. Contemporary romance. This felt like it was written a couple of decades before it was (1991)--the style was similar to a Jackie Collins or Jacqueline Susann novel from the 70s. There was a distance between the characters and the reader, so I was always aware I was Reading A Book rather than being involved in the characters' lives. I'd seen all the plot elements before--rich girl falls for bad but ambitious boy, pregnancy, rich girl's father tries to pay off the boy, boy leaves to make good, father prevents their letters from reaching each other, miscarriage that he's told is abortion, etc., etc. Right up until practically the very last page, the heroine is believing her father's lies about the hero, even though she's discovered he's lied over and over again. I wanted the hero to say the hell with her. I did like that the hero was proud of the heroine's business accomplishments. But all in all, I really couldn't see what the fuss was about for this one. Sorry.

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Comments:
Darla, I don't know how you do it. I think I managed to finish ONE book in January (PBW's first StarDoc novel). Of course, the only time I read is when I'm about to go to sleep, or when I'm at the gym doing the elliptical thingie.

I wouldn't cut Clarke that much slack. He has always been preachy, and, Independence Day or not, that ending is cliche. I suspect it would have been cliche back in 1980. If you think about the ending of War of the Worlds, the "kill 'em with a pathogen" ending goes back to the 19th century.

Clarke. Feh.
 
LOL, Doug. Okay, I'll stop feeling guilty about not loving 3001.

As for reading a lot... It's the damn chronic fatigue, mostly. That and the fact that I quit watching TV. I'm finding it encouraging that I'm actually reading less than a book a day lately. It's the best sign I have that I'm finally coming out of this last relapse.
 
I didn't know -- is it CFS, or something different?

Hope you feel better ;)
 
Yes, CFS. I feel fine--just exhausted. But thanks. :)
 
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