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Thursday, March 02, 2006

February 2006 Books

Short month this month, and a shorter reading list--didn't even manage a book a day, but that was more because I read two time-intensive books this month than because I'm feeling healthy. In fact, a nasty cold plopped me right back into a relapse. Hopefully a short-lived one.

  1. ****½ Flesh and Stone by Vickie Taylor. Contemporary paranormal romance. I really like this series. Shocked me, though, when the book started with the hero of this book killing the hero of the previous book! Yikes. Nice conflict for the hero between his way of life, which he fervently believes in, and his heart. ****spoiler****The hero from the previous book isn't really dead--it's all an act.****

  2. **** Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas. Historical romance. Steamier than the usual historical (though not nearly in the league of Passion--more on the level of Emma Holly's historicals). The heroine gets a job as a magistrate's assistant, planning to destroy him for indirectly causing her brother's death, by, among other things, making him fall in love with her and then breaking his heart. Well, we all know plans like that are doomed to fail. A couple of cute twists.

  3. ***** Killing Moon by Rebecca York. Contemporary paranormal romance. In the 2-in-1 volume Full Moon. The first of her werewolf books. Really glad Berkley sent me the omnibus, as these were left in the States. I love this series. Werewolf hero's a detective, looking for a gene therapy answer for his heritage that has all female offspring stillborn and only a small portion of male offspring surviving to adulthood. He meets the genetic researcher heroine when she comes to collect his blood sample and finds him naked, passed out on the floor after being shot in wolf form by a serial killer he's tracking. Ruth's definitely one of my favorite authors.

  4. ***** Time Off for Good Behavior by Lani Diane Rich. Chick Lit. One of the cover blurbs is by Karen Brichoux, which is entirely appropriate. The writing is very similar--fun chick lit overlying a well of pain. From the cover, you really wouldn't expect this much depth. I knew TOFGB would be a good book--I've been hearing about it forever, Lani's a Cherry, etc., but like all books that get raves, I stuck it in my TBR pile & waited for the hype to die down before trying it. The hype was deserved. Really, really good book. The heroine was so different from me in some ways that it's ridiculous--blurting out the first thing that comes into her head? I never do that--in fact, I'm more likely to think something out thoroughly, and not say it even then. But regardless, she was still very real, and damn if she didn't make me recognize bits & pieces of myself anyway--and not the good parts. She made me laugh, cry, & think. And stay up until the book was finished. What more can you ask from a book?

  5. ***** Edge of the Moon by Rebecca York. Contemporary paranormal romance. Re-read. In the 2-in-1 volume Full Moon. While this is in the Moon series, it's not a werewolf story, except that the hero from Killing Moon does make an appearance. Nevertheless, it's again an excellent story, this time about a magician who's trying to summon a "demon", which ends up being a being from another universe/realm/whathaveyou. The only thing I felt wasn't fully explained was why/how the demon fixated on the h/h.

  6. ***** Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Fantasy. OMG. This was completely different from my usual reading, and was one of those rare serendipitous finds. Nobody recommended it, I just picked it up to fill out my 3/$1 stack at the flea market. It's a slow-moving, lazy book. Over 500 pages, and dense prose at that, so it took me nearly 3 days to read. But the words...! You absolutely cannot rush this book. It's like the chocolate mousse of words, and not that sickeningly sweet Jello-pudding-like ersatz mousse with so little chocolate you might as well be eating sweetened cream, either. These words are rich and delicious, and you roll them around on your tongue, savoring the flavor. Not all that filling, but damn, it tastes so good you don't care. :) He uses big fat meaning-rich words, and never uses one word when three will do. Most writers I'd have been skimming by page 3. It takes some doing to make me enjoy slow, wordy prose.

  7. **** Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. Re-read. This one has a different feel from the first in this trilogy, Jewels of the Sun. I think it's that it starts out in omniscient, with a slightly Irish voice. Add to that the fact that I don't like slow deliberate heroes (or perhaps I just don't like them the way Nora writes them)--they always seem a little stupid to me. And I didn't like that Brenna didn't respect Shawn, though that was a conflict between them that was worked out in the course of the story, but still. To me, love without respect is pretty much just lust. And of course, there were the dreams. I hate, hate, hate dreams in fiction. They're just as boring in a book as they are when somebody's telling you about a dream they had once. It's fascinating if it's your own dream, but not otherwise. A couple of other niggles as well--why do all Nora's heroines faint when they're pregnant? I'd be a little worried about that. And what was so freaking urgent about taking flowers to Maude's grave? She was still going to be there tomorrow. Gah. Anyway, most of my quibbles are just matters of taste, so I'm only docking this one a star. Once we get past the beginning with all its 'poetic' language (Not a direct quote, but this sort of thing: "For he was ever a poet." Who talks like that?), then it's typical Nora, with the community relationships, etc. Oh. I also loathed Brenna's sister, and thought Brenna was a twit for letting the little bitch bother her. But again, that's just me.

  8. ****½ My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley. Historical romance. One of the Mallorens I'd missed. This has the oft-used convention of the heroine disguising herself as a boy, but for a change, the hero doesn't buy it. And he's not angry with her about it. He's mostly curious. She and her widowed sister and infant nephew are on the run from their father, who's inexplicably demanding that the heroine marry her loathesome brother-in-law's equally loathesome brother and is prepared to go to any lengths to accomplish the fact, including beating and socially ruining her.

  9. The Queen in Winter --- this is marketed as fantasy romance, but it's mostly just fantasy.

    **** "A Whisper of Spring" by Lynn Kurland. Historical paranormal romance. Literally a fairy tale. It was love at first sight for a mage king and a fairy princess, but fairies don't wed mages. They get their chance when his evil brother captures and imprisons her and her brother asks him to rescue her. It was a nice story, but it felt as if a lot of it had been left out. We learn, for example, that he's one of the most powerful mages, but don't see much evidence of it. We also learn that her mother had betrayed her to the evil brother, but not why or how. It would make sense if it were part of a series, but I couldn't find any evidence of that.

    **** "When Winter Comes" by Sharon Shinn. Fantasy. In a land where magic is distrusted, a young woman tries to protect her sister and infant nephew. The baby's father was a mystic, and the baby himself has magic powers that make it hard for them to stay incognito. They're aided by a man of the nobility and a pair of female mystics. It was interesting, but felt more like the introduction to something than a complete story in itself. The romance is virtually nonexistent, which isn't a bad thing, except that it's marketed as fantasy romance.

    **** "The Kiss of the Snow Queen" by Claire Delacroix. Fantasy. Re-telling of the snow queen fairy tale, but instead of the brother being affected by the snow queen, it's the handsome prince. The heroine's a seer in training, who's been told that she must remain chaste to preserve her power. She's barricaded herself in her room to avoid a forced marriage to a cruel prince, calls for help in her magic mirror, and gets more than she bargained for. In the end, she has to choose between her power and the life of the man who came to her aid. All the sensuality in this one is related to an angel who calls himself Loki, who feeds on sexual energy. ****spoiler****It was a bit of a let-down to discover that the prince, whom we saw hardly at all in the story, was still the hero. The heroine spent all her time with Loki, and had all her emotional/sexual revelations with him. And it was rather unsettling that she surrendered her virginity to Loki, only to have him erase her memories of the event.****

    **** "A Gift of Wings" by Sarah Monette. Fantasy/mystery. Again, light on the romance, which, again, is only a problem because it's marketed as romance, which has nothing to do with the story and everything to do with the publisher. Also again, I felt as if I'd come into the middle of a series, though according to her website, "'A Gift of Wings' takes place in the same world as Mélusine and The Virtu, though it is a standalone story--no overlap with the novels." The h/h are on their way to seek help for him--he was wounded physically and his magic was damaged or destroyed somehow in a war. At an inn, they come across an arrogant wizard who'd told him that his injuries were all in his head, then later that night, they discover the man dead. Being the obvious suspects, the h/h have to find whodunit. Fans of gender reversal will like this one--the heroine is larger & stronger than the hero, and he's very dependent on her. Call me sexist, but I don't find that romantically appealing at all. As a fantasy, though, it's fine. It does turn out that she'd fallen in love with him before his injuries, so that redeems the love story for me--otherwise, I'd be thinking she was more in love with the image of herself as a longsuffering caretaker to an invalid.

  10. ***½ Bedroom Therapy by Rebecca York. Contemporary romance. And I normally LOVE Rebecca York's work. *sigh* The heroine's a psychologist with a PhD in human sexuality who's just started a new job writing a sex advice column for a women's magazine. The hero's a private investigator investigating the suspicious death of her predecessor. Despite her knowledge, she's still a bit of a prude in the bedroom. He's been unable to climax with a partner since his ex-wife was kidnapped. It's a Blaze, in case the subject matter didn't give it away. Extra half point for knocking down, smashing, and stomping on the masturbation taboo in romance. But there were threads that didn't go anywhere, and the characters got kind of tedious after a while. The mystery plot seemed tacked on as a way to force the h/h into close contact.

  11. The MacGregor Grooms by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. Re-read.

    ***** "D.C." I liked this one. Well, except for The MacGregor's "wedded and bedded" phrase that makes me cringe every time he says it. Loved the reverse psychology Daniel used to get D.C. interested in Layna, and the scene when D.C. "rescues" Layna from Daniel's matchmaking. Much fun.

    ***** "Duncan". Now this is an ambitious heroine. (see my rant about Heart of the Sea, below.) And the story fits well into the novella length without making me feel like something was left out.

  12. ***** Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Science fiction. Well, that's what it says on the spine, anyway. It's more contemporary fantasy, but it's kind of hard to call it that when it takes place in 1962, more or less. Anyway, a classic. Heaven only knows what it was I read when I was a teenager--I read sf/f almost exclusively for several years, and yet I seem to have missed almost all of the classics, except Tolkein and Asimov. Weird.

  13. ***** Awaiting the Moon by Donna Lea Simpson. Historical paranormal romance. Set in Germany, which is cool, but the misspellings/grammatical errors in the German are annoying. Frex: sehen means 'to see', not 'to say'. Argh. Still. It's more of a gothic, actually. ****spoiler****we don't actually know for sure that the hero's a werewolf until almost the end of the book, though we can guess--mostly because of the cover art and the back cover blurb--argh again**** But OMG, it's a delicious gothic. The castle, the woods, the mad aunt, the assortment of odd relatives, the heroine who's an outsider, the dark and brooding hero (yes, I know I said I didn't like brooding--he makes up for it, and demonstrates that there's an exception to every rule), and most of all the air of mystery. I've loved gothics since long before I knew they were romances, and this is an excellent one. The excerpt at the back shows a sequel--I've never seen a gothic with a sequel. I can hardly wait.

  14. **** Beyond Paradise by Elizabeth Doyle. Historical romance. Up until halfway through the book, this was a 5-star read. Then my suspension of disbelief started to waver as details that stretched my credulity mounted. The hero's deaf, which was very cool, and treated really well (including one NICE scene when he responds to her saying I love you for the first time). But. He's been deaf since birth, raised in an asylum where he was treated as an animal... how did he learn to speak, and particularly to speak well enough that nobody realizes he's deaf? And then neither of the villains seemed to ring true, particularly at the end, though I do very much appreciate the effort to paint the villains in shades of gray instead of 100% evil. But I did enjoy the story of a young woman prepared to marry a spoiled womanizer for the sake of her family, who takes one last chance at adventure and goes to see a Real Pirate at the jail, and ends up enthralled. If I'd read this in a less critical mood, I'd have rated it more highly.

  15. ****½ The Hunter's Prey by Diane Whiteside. Paranormal erotica. Edging toward literary erotica. And no, I can't explain what I mean by that. It's the tone, I guess, more than anything else. Billed as "Texas vampires," which is true, as far as it goes, but someone who sees this and thinks "sexy vampire romance" is going to be disappointed. It's erotica. Period. No HEA, no world-building, no real character development. However, it's excellent erotica. Follows the same few characters through time. The stories are pretty varied, but they all have a definite erotica tone, not a romance tone, and yet it's not in-your-face crude, either. Very sensual.

  16. ***** The Goodbye Summer by Patricia Gaffney. Women's fiction. This was my TBR challenge book for the month. Reaffirms my belief that Ms. Gaffney is a goddess.

  17. ***½ Heart of the Sea by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. Re-read. Every time I read this, I think that maybe at previous times, I've misjudged Darcy and so I try to see her in a better light. And every time, I dislike her more than ever. Nora dropped the poetic/Irish style for this one, and the writing's fine, but that doesn't make up for a thoroughly unlikeable, materialistic heroine. At the very end, she says she'd have taken Trevor if he didn't have any money, but we see zero evidence of that up until that one statement, and there was plenty of opportunity to show it in her thoughts--we get all sorts of angst from her about having fallen in love before she could manipulate Trevor into falling in love with her, but just saying she's in love doesn't necessarily mean much. At one point, Trevor describes Darcy as being ambitious, but she's not. She's just greedy. Her entire ambition is to have money and luxuries, preferably by having a man give them to her, and when he gives her the chance to make her own money by singing, she's not sure she wants to do that. GAH. Add to that the fact that I couldn't see any evidence of why Trevor would fall in love with her, except that he thinks it's cute that she's so openly materialistic. Once again, neither of them really respects the other. Perhaps my biggest objection to this book, though, is that the entire message of the book seems to be that it's not shameful to be a golddigger. I disagree.

  18. ***** Simplify by Tod Goldberg. Literary fiction, short stories. Unusual for me. I got it because I read his blog regularly. Good, readable stories, mostly "about" the fine line between sanity and not. Loved it, but not sure how to describe it.

  19. *** Another Woman's Lipstick, Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries. Erotica. "Four erotic tales inspired by the sensational television series." Eh. Again, definitely erotica, not romance. But there's a bit of an "oooh, look how very daring we are!" feel to it, kind of like an adolescent boy with a Victoria's Secret catalog. Quite possibly my "meh" reaction to this one is that I didn't find any of the situations very sexy. Two-timing, adultery, causing a car crash... sorry, not my kink at all. So I'll freely admit that YMMV, with the caveat that if I EVER read the phrase "steaming gash" again, the offending book will be hitting the wall.

  20. **** Caribbean by James A. Michener. General fiction. It's a horror story of greed, short-sightedness, and religious, national, & racial hatred--not even intolerance--outright hatred. I must say, he did a good job of showing how the various leaders could be both brilliant in some ways while they're downright evil in others. And he did a good job showing the dark side of all the sides. And I learned a lot. It was just pretty painful to read.

  21. ***** This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Contemporary romance. Thanks, Annie. :) My god, this woman's good. So far, SEP hasn't missed. I do believe I have most of her books in my TBR pile at this point, but I've no urge to read them all right this minute--books this good need to be spread out over time and savored. It's not surprising that SEP & Jenny Crusie are friends--very similar style. Fabulous heroine--a 'good girl' who has a history of periodically 'pulling a fire alarm'--once, literally. And the hero is the only one who sees who she really is. Wonderfully dense love story.

  22. ****½ Sweet Talking Man by Betina Krahn. American historical romance. Qualifying that because it seems 99% of historical romances are set in England, or if they're in America, they're in the old west. This is set in 1890s New York. Quite possibly a mistake reading two books by Crusie buds back to back. I'm going to have to read something mediocre next, which stinks, because I wanted to read either Holliday or Ford next, both of which will no doubt be excellent reads, and too many great books in a row will make my head explode. Heroine's a businesswoman--inherited her elderly husband's businesses. Hero's a politician. Lots about scandals, Tammany Hall, living conditions in NY back then. Laughed aloud in several spots. My only quibble was that the heroine didn't seem to understand that supporting women's rights before the election could cost the hero the election. Realistic characters, realistic conflicts, realistic resolution of the conflicts.

  23. Wildly Winston by Lori Foster.

    ***½ "Tangled Sheets". Contemporary romance. Pretty standard story of shy but hot virgin who pretends to be her own twin to get the hot guy. Cute, but nothing special. The virgin thing was irritating and unnecessary, IMO.

    ***½ "Tangled Dreams". Contemporary paranormal romance. I liked this more and at the same time disliked it more than "Tangled Sheets". Another virgin. ARGH. And a hero who apparently can't get it up unless he's got the woman tied up. Double argh. Hey, I have no problem with a little bondage, particularly as mild as it was in this story, but when the hero won't even look at a woman unless he thinks she'll let him tie her up, then I think he needs to get help. LOL Okay, on to what I DID like about it--the heroine lives with ghosts, who SOMEHOW have made it so that the hero can hear the heroine's thoughts. Much fun.

    *** "Tangled Images". Contemporary romance. At least the heroine isn't a virgin this time. In fact, she's 6 years older than the hero, which is refreshing. In the previous stories, I mostly objected to the story cliches--the writing was fine. In this one, the writing wasn't up to the standard of the previous ones. Sentences seemed choppy and some phrases seemed really out of date (maybe to emphasize that the heroine was older? Please--she's 15 years younger than me, and I don't use them). Heroine's a photographer, taking pix of the hero in men's underwear for an ad for his SILs' store, which is contrived, but it was contrived by the SILs, so that was okay. Annoyed with the heroine's continued insistence that the hero was identical to her ex-husband, and the hero is too good to be true.

  24. *** Jeb Hunter's Bride by Ana Seymour. Western historical romance. Nothing special, nothing horrible, just pretty forgettable. Heroine disguises herself as a boy (have I mentioned before how much I despise this plot point?) so she & her brother can fulfill their recently deceased father's dream of going to California. She's a bit TSTL, in that she refuses to listen to advice. A bit of a love triangle. Hero's got a guilt complex. Some minor drama with Indians & a near-mutiny, but all the conflicts are resolved way too easily.

  25. ***** Blondes Have More Felons by Alesia Holliday. Mystery. Very much fun. December's a lawyer starting her own practice in Florida. Her first big client has a lawsuit against a drug company whose defective insulin killed his wife. No sooner did she meet with him than she starts getting phone calls from lawyers on both sides pressuring her to pass on the case, and then odd and threatening things start happening. Is it related to the case? Is it the crazy woman who's mad because PI Jake has been hanging around? Is it one of the dozens of clients who came in for pro-bono day? I'm hoping this is the first of a long series. The cast of characters is fabulous: December's best friend & office manager, a retirement-community romeo, her SAHM/poker champion neighbor, her mystery-writer uncle, and of course ex-SEAL PI Jake.

  26. ***½ Cradle and All by Rebecca York. Romantic suspense. Well, that's how it's marketed, at least. It's more straight suspense, with a side of a married couple becoming closer. The hero's... well, I'm not exactly sure what he is. His ex-partner, though, has reneged on an arms deal, and the bad guys kidnap the h/h's prematurely-newborn daughter to get the hero to find his ex-partner and deliver the goods. Yeah, I was confused, too. The h/h's emotions were very realistic--he hadn't really wanted children, which made his feelings about the premature birth & then the kidnapping more conflicted. I liked that the heroine helped out in a reasonable way. She wasn't a military/spy expert, but she didn't either blunder around making things worse or exhibit Mad Martial Skillz. Nor did she sit back & wring her hands. Summing it up, I'd say too much story, not enough direction.

  27. ***½ Wild by Lori Foster. Contemporary romance. In the anthology/omnibus Wildly Winston. Re-read. I reread this one because I wanted to see if my initial reaction still held. The long, long sex scene didn't bug me as much this time, because by now, I've read a bunch of books that do the same. Which is not to say it's a great trend. Making sex scenes more detailed and adding more anatomical terms does NOT make them sexier. At least, not for this reader. It just makes me skim faster to see if anything's actually happening. And again with the virgin heroine. Four stories in this volume, and 3 of those are about virgins. This one's never even had an orgasm before, and she's in her mid-20s. *sigh* And of course, the hero's hung like a horse, and yet they can go at it all night long for a few nights in a row without putting her in the hospital. (note: when I was working on the OB/GYN floor at the hospital, a casual acquaintance was admitted for just this reason--at least that was the nurses' scuttlebutt--she'd been married just a couple of days. LOL) Okay, those are complaints that aren't really specific to this book--Foster's not the only culprit. The hero was actually a pretty nice species of alpha--simultaneously take-charge and caring, so I liked that. Enjoyed the whodunit part, and laughed at her relatives until they started to get on my nerves. The verdict: it's not as bad as I thought it was before, but it's still pretty standard. Nothing special enough to make me want to read more.

...the list

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