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Monday, April 03, 2006

March 2006 Books


I've noticed a distinct increase in the average number of stars my reading has gotten lately. I think the reason is that there are fewer and fewer books in my TBR pile that I haven't deliberately chosen because I really want to read them. The books that were flea market purchases just to try out an author are dwindling in number, and even with the recent package from NAL, there still aren't as many wild cards in the mix.

Perversely, I'm starting to miss that, and I'm starting to worry that I'll get stale, reading only things I want to read.

the list:
  1. ***** Dead Heat by Jacey Ford. Romantic suspense. I knew I was going to like this one. Interesting, though--it's not easy to like a protagonist who's depressed, and Daphne is depressed, cutting herself off from emotions and life after 9/11--she's a former FBI agent & feels guilty for not preventing it. Overlapping, interwoven plot threads have Daphne following a woman whose boyfriend suspects her of infidelity to a business called Rules of Engagement, a counseling service that claims to show women how to get the men in their lives to propose. She meets the son of the owner and breaks all the rules, and a simple, boring assignment turns into an investigation of murder, possible terrorism, and leads her to a man who can understand and help her heal. Dense, emotional, exciting--all things I've come to expect from this author.

  2. ***** The Darkest Hours: A Spider-Man Novel by Jim Butcher. Superhero action/adventure. Spidey learns teamwork. Can't give anything away, but I trust nobody's surprised I gave this one 5 stars. I'm sure you can hear the fangirly squeeing from here. :)

  3. ***** Son of Avonar by Carol Berg. Fantasy. Not as intense as her Transformation trilogy, but emotional, dense fantasy that really sucks you into the world. I love this woman's writing.

  4. ***** No Regrets by Shannon K. Butcher. Romantic suspense. Can't give anything away, but it has a brainy heroine and an alpha hero and it's obvious Jim's not the only talent in that house.

  5. ****½ Memory in Death by J. D. Robb. Futuristic romantic suspense. Very good. I've been expecting a story like this one for a long time. Loved Eve's growth as a wife and a friend. Loved Peabody & McNab's crisis & how Eve ended up helping. Solid story. I knew whodunit nearly from the moment they were introduced--guess Eve's gut instinct came through on the page.

  6. ** Free Spirit by Penny Jordan. Contemporary romance. Back story up the wazoo. It made my eyes cross. If there were a scene where someone knocks on the door, there'd be pages & pages of descriptions of the door, other doors the heroine has seen, other people who've knocked at the door, their histories and how the heroine felt about them, speculations about who might possibly be at the door now, a side trip to what the heroine ate for breakfast three days ago, what she's wearing, the other occasions on which she wore this outfit, and what she thinks about the political ramifications of this type of outfit, and a discussion of how she doesn't want anything to get in the way of her being a career woman before she opens the door. Between the knock and opening the door will be possibly 3 or 4 chapters. If you got rid of all the extraneous stuff, this book might be 10 pages long. And on those 10 pages, 4 would be devoted to the heroine jumping to conclusions, 5 would be devoted to reminding us of her absolute dedication to her career, and 1 would be the romance. This was written in 1989, so some of that might be the prevailing style at the time (and why I didn't like romance when I tried it then). But in 1989, I was 28 years old--older than the heroine is. And the idea of an employer who gave the "girls" in the office and extra half hour off a week so they could get their hair done... maybe 1969, not 1989.

  7. **** Duchess of Fifth Avenue by Ruth Ryan Langan. American historical romance. Hmm. Just setting up the premise takes an awful lot of time. Suffice it to say that the heroine decides to pose as English nobility in order to secure guardianship of the child of a friend who's died, and to accomplish that, she gives her savings to a man she met first playing poker in a cheap tavern and later in the house of her wealthy employers being introduced as an English duke. A bit of a My Fair Lady flavor, though she's the one who instigates the transformation, and a nice twist that I initially suspected, then decided I was wrong.

  8. **** Ransom by Julie Garwood. Historical romance. I read this while I was really, really sick, so my first complaint is that the book (I have the hardcover) was WAY too heavy. LOL But that does lead me to an actual complaint--it was a good story, but it dragged on too long, and got repetitious in spots. I loved the interaction between the h/h, but they had the same argument with nothing resolved too many times--I accept that people do this in real life, but in a book, showing it to the readers once should do the trick. It was also two romances in one, and the two stories weren't well intertwined. Although we're told that the two heroes were friends, and we see the two heroines become friends, there's not much interaction between the pairs. My other complaint is that, oddly though it seems from my complaint that the book was too long, there was a lot left out. For example, we jump from the heroine's escape to someone informing the hero's men that his bride has arrived. It yanked me out of the story for a page or two while I surmised that that must have been the heroine's plan to enlist his aid, though why or how she came up with that plan is never explained, and since the rest of the story hinges on that, it's a real weak spot. That's not the only time I felt that way, either. It's obviously a sequel, because when several characters were introduced, I swear I could read "pause for applause" between the lines. Complaints out of the way, it was a good story. A little too complex to easily sum up here, but the main heroine is strong and brave and honorable and never once disguises herself as a boy, and the hero just makes me grin. Clueless, gruff, and--get this!--he falls in love with her because he's impressed with her, not because she's "the most beeeyouteeful woman he's ever seen." For that, I'll forgive a book a lot. Like her sister, who just disgusted me no end--I couldn't believe they shared genes. The secondary story was cute but predictable, and could have been developed better, IMO.

  9. ****½ The Tiara Club by Beverly Brandt. Chick lit. Beverly Brandt = Jacey Ford, in case you didn't know. This one's All About Secrets. Heroine Georgia is an ex-beauty queen and secret inventor. She and her friends call each other the Tiara Club, as they're all veterans of the beauty contest circuit--all except one. On the day everything changes, Daniel, the host of a TV cooking show reads a letter from Georgia's friend Callie praising the Miracle Chef and he announces a cook-off to test it. The problem is, Georgia invented the Miracle Chef and the reason why nobody can find another is that Georgia only had two made--one for herself and one for Callie. When Daniel shows up on her doorstep wanting to speak to the inventor, the fabric of all their lives starts unraveling. It's funny and poignant, examining family and friendships, and asking the question whether secrets keep people apart or allow them to remain friends. Oh, and there's a nice, steamy romance, too. My only complaint is that I had a hard time swallowing the mother's rationalization.

  10. ****½ Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Fantasy. This is the kind of fantasy I like, with tons of intrigue and behind-the-scenes machinations. Swords & quests & dragons & elves don't interest me nearly as much. It's been in my TBR pile for a very long while. Partly because it's a big fat doorstop of a book, and partly because of all the raves surrounding it. Since mostly everyone focused on the erotic aspects, I was expecting something like LKH's Anita-Does-Everyone books. It wasn't. At all. The heroine is a born masochist (which is what "Kushiel's Dart" refers to--she was born with a red speck in her eye, the sign of someone for whom pain = pleasure), and a trained spy. I docked it a half star because the story meandered around for the first quarter of the book (and at 900+ pages, a quarter is a lot) before it settled down into something coherent, and several times I was tempted to put it down. Books like this are a major reason why I don't quit reading if I don't like a book at first. I'm hoping that now that the character's introduced, and Carey has some more experience, the sequel won't have the same problem.

  11. ** A New Leaf by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer. General fiction. I actually read this last month, just forgot to put it in the list. Which kind of tells you something about the book--very forgettable. Not unlike Thomas Kinkade's painting, IMO. This is the 4th book in the series about the town of Cape Light (geddit? Cape Light?), so I was missing some things about what had happened in previous books. This one--I haven't read the others, nor will I, so I don't know if they have similar themes--is About Second Chances. Two main story threads--a bitter divorced mom and the new doctor in town (who's moved, by the way, to give his daughter a second chance--she has a "horrible" stuttering problem which seems to be nonexistent except in his mind), and a long-lost black-sheep brother who comes home. And there was a man who dies and his widow wants to keep their orchard. The stories were uninspired, the characters cardboard cut-outs, and the resolutions of the problems too easy and sugar-sweet--all it takes is a little chat with saintly Reverend Ben. *gag*

  12. **** Night's Kiss by Amanda Ashley. Contemporary paranormal romance. This is my TBR challenge book. Nice fluff, combining vampires and time travel and witches.

  13. ***** The Sea Hunters by Clive Cussler & Craig Dirgo. Non-fiction. Fascinating accounts of shipwrecks and how NUMA discovered them. Very readable, with just enough detail to make it interesting, not enough detail to get you bogged down in trivialities.

  14. ** Jordan by Lori Foster. Contemporary romance. Hopefully this is the last Foster in my TBR pile. Two-dimensional characters, over-dramatic, unbelievable situations, and the stereotypical heroine who hates all men that I thought had gone out of fashion in the 80s. Its only saving grace was that it was short.

  15. ***** Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden. Contemporary fantasy. What if vampires weren't necessarily evil--they've only been brainwashed to think they are? And what if all their traditional weaknesses: sunlight, holy water, crosses, aren't actually weaknesses at all, but also the result of brainwashing? What if they're even more powerful than they realize, but the Church has used superstition to keep these Defiant Ones under control? That's the premise of Of Saints and Shadows, as it follows renegade vampire Peter Octavian on his search for the truth and his efforts to save his fellow vampires on the eve of the Blessed Event, when the Vatican's secret army intends to wipe out the Defiant Ones once and for all. Excellent story. I'll be getting the sequel.

  16. ***** "Ian" in The MacGregor Grooms by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. This one is About how what someone is thinking and what you think they're thinking can be vastly different things. Well, not completely, but it's certainly a theme throughout the story. (note: I read the previous two stories in this anthology last month)

  17. **** Involuntary Daddy by Rachel Lee. Contemporary romance. Really pretty good story about two people whose lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out. He's an undercover DEA agent who only finds out that his tryst with a drug supplier's sister resulted in pregnancy when he's presented with a baby whose mother's dying wish was that he take care of the child. She's a burned-out bank loan officer with out-of-control diabetes exacerbated by the stress of her job. They both end up living at the same friends' home. It was a pretty realistic portrayal of two people at the end of their ropes, struggling to make some sense of their lives, unable to trust or let someone else in. I got a bit impatient with them toward the end of the book, and they did seem to stay at the friends' house way too long, but other than that, it was a good story.

  18. **** Summer Breeze by Catherine Anderson. American historical romance. A prequel to her contemporary Coulter family stories, and very much in the same style. This time the heroine is agoraphobic. As usual, she presents the disabled character with realism and affection. Rachel has been barricaded inside her kitchen for 5 years, since barely surviving the massacre of her family, aided only by her laconic ranch hand Darby. When Darby is shot in the back and suspects the killer has returned, he enlists Joseph, a neighboring rancher, to watch over Rachel. The townspeople are a little too sweet and everyone's just a little too understanding of her need for walls and security, particularly in a time when psychology was not common knowledge.

  19. **** Micah by Laurell K. Hamilton. Contemporary fantasy. Yes, I'm surprised by the 4 stars, too. Particularly after reading Mrs. Giggles' review, I expected more of the same dreck we've been getting from LKH for the past several books. And there was still some of that tone of juvenile snickering about sex which gets on my last nerve, and some of her way-over-used phrases (spill, frex). But the angst is considerably reduced, and Anita's actually doing her job instead of bed-hopping. The POTM* escalation didn't bug me, because that's been happening all along in the series. I'll still never like Micah--I absolutely cannot stand a yes-man. Seriously, something about the whole concept just creeps me out, and makes me want to hurt them. I suppose I can accept that that's what Anita wants--or maybe I'm just so relieved she's not whining about it that I don't care anymore. Anyway. I do understand the people who felt cheated for paying $8 for a novella, but I bought it used, and I'd already been warned about the length. So I'll get the next book. Not the new, full-price hardcover, but I'll get it. Maybe used again, or maybe from Zooba.
    * POTM = Power of the Month--a frequent complaint on the LKH email list, referring to Anita's habit of exhibiting new powers suddenly and inexplicably.

  20. ****½ Goddess by Mistake by P.C. Cast. Contemporary paranormal romance. Her first book. Wonderful story about an Oklahoma high school teacher who ends up changing places with Rhiannon, the high priestess of the goddess Epona, just in time for her political marriage to a centaur, an epidemic of smallpox, and a war against an army of vampire-like creatures. Fun stuff.

  21. ***½ The Heart's Victory by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. It's an old book, and it shows, but it's actually one of the better books of her very oldest ones. Some nice characterization with Foxy & her brother--his dedication to racing, her dedication to him, despite the terror his racing induced in her. Lance is a nice guy, but a pretty typical paternalistic hero of the genre at that time. I didn't get what the rush was for them to get married--Lance does at least try to explain near the very end. And Lance's mother was a 2-dimensional motivationless stock character. Add to that the near-rape Lance used to shut Foxy up in an argument, and the fact that I cringed every time I read her name (WTF was Nora thinking? FOXY? I've gotta say, I actually agreed with Lance's mother when she first heard the name. It sounds like a name for a sleazy stripper in a cheap strip joint in 1975.)

  22. ***** Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore. Contemporary fantasy. Oh, what fun. Now I see why everyone keeps recommending him. A demon, a genie, a witch, & star-crossed lovers all converge in a small town with hilarious and unpredictable results. Between the story and the voice, I can't decide which I like better. Just perfect.

  23. **** The Rogue's Return by Jo Beverley. Historical romance. Speaking of unusual settings--most of this historical takes place in Canada. I think the only other time I've seen that is when Sara Donati's characters were traveling through Canada. In the Rogues series, Simon has been in Canada in search of adventure, and finds it--he's in the middle of a duel instigated because he accused a man of corruption, when Jane, the niece of the friend with whom he's been residing, interrupts, saying that her uncle is dying. Uncle Isaiah, on his deathbed, begs the two to wed, for his niece's protection. Unfortunately, Jane isn't really Jane--she's her illegitimate sister Nan, also known as Jancy. They plan to settle Isaiah's estate, then return to England, but there's the matter of the aborted duel and the associated corruption, the secret hanging over Jancy's head, and the impending death of Simon's uncle and cousin, putting him unexpectedly in line for an earldom. Lots of romance and adventure, and a really nice portrayal of how keeping a big secret (Jancy's true identity) can eat at you.

  24. ***½ You Only Love Once by Tori Carrington. Contemporary romance. This is obviously part of a series--no doubt I'd have liked it better if I'd been acquainted with the other characters. Take out all the obscure references to previous books, though, and it would have been a solid 4-star story. H/h meet in a bar & have a one-night stand--she's just back in D.C. & feeling reckless. The next morning, they discover they're new partners on the metro P.D. And that their fathers loathe each other (Hatfield & McCoy--literally: that's their names). Some back & forth, with the heroine doing that thing that bugs me so much: they argue, they (seemingly) resolve the argument, then the next day, they have the identical argument. Again. And again. I know people do this in real life--I don't like it any better in fiction. :) But the characters are engaging, and it's a cute story.

  25. Bump in the Night.

    ****½ "Haunted in Death" by J. D. Robb. Futuristic paranormal romantic suspense. I'm not sure how I feel about the introduction of a ghost into the series. It feels a bit like the magical healing in Ceremony in Death, but not quite as intrusive. I think how you feel about the introduction of paranormal elements into a series (or book) that's otherwise not paranormal, depends on whether you think those things do exist in real life. I'll buy the psychic in Visions in Death, but while I think there is something to psychic healing, I don't think it takes the form of magically making injuries disappear. The same with ghosts--I'll buy a feeling, and maybe a sighting, but not the elaborate production the ghost put on here. I thought Eve's reaction was exactly right, thought the killer's motivation was idiotic, Roarke was his usual credulous self, and Peabody was star-struck, also as usual.

    *** "Poppy's Coin" by Mary Blayney. Historical romance. Pretty standard story about a magic coin that grants the holder one wish. Hero's a major who was at Waterloo, guardian of two young children, no way to support them until he sells his commission, which is hard to do now that the war's mostly over. He wishes for lucrative & enjoyable employment, and the heroine, a well-off widow, hires him to be her escort. Entirely predictable, but not horrible.

    **** "The Passenger" by Ruth Ryan Langan. Contemporary romance. You could call it paranormal, I suppose, since a ghost/guardian angel brought the h/h together, and there was some time distortion, but that was only on the periphery of the story about two loners/adventurers who find each other in the wilderness.

    ***½ "Mellow Lemon Yellow" by Mary Kay McComas. Women's fiction. I'm not going to call this romance because, while the heroine does get married at the end, we don't see her falling in love. What we do see is her changing her life with the help of her childhood imaginary friend, a product of her imagination. "Mel" seemed to waffle between being an independent person and being only what she imagined, consciously or subconsciously. If I tried to think about it too much, it just got confusing. Pretty standard story of a woman changing her life and getting a HEA as a result.

  26. *****+ Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett. Historical fiction. Just. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Lump in my throat the whole time, edge of my seat. This one's a lot more personal than the previous books, with Lymond trying to rescue his son from Gabriel. Could Gabriel be any more evil? I don't think so. And O. M. G. I can't believe she DID that!! (If you've read the book, you'll instantly know what I mean. If you haven't, there's no way I'm going to spoil it.) Loved Philippa. Seriously intrigued by Marthe. *whew* Exhausting book.

  27. ***** Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Science fiction. Read this to the boys over breakfast last month and forgot to add it to the list. Still just as much fun, if not more, than the first time I read it.

  28. ***** The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. Science fiction. Second of the series, again a breakfast read-aloud. It's a great start to the day if you've got the kids not only laughing but discussing complex stuff. Camden's using a page from this for his read-aloud assignment in school. He's practiced enough so he doesn't burst into laughter in the middle of it, though he can't quite keep from grinning.

  29. **** Dark Demon by Christine Feehan. Contemporary paranormal romance. A true guilty pleasure. In this one, the heroine is part Carpathian, and a mage, and can turn herself into a tiger. She knows about Carpathians, but Carpathian hunters killed her brother, so when a hunter announces she's his lifemate, she's not particularly enthused by the idea. Intriguing mystery re: what really happened to her brother, and her grandfather, with missing memories. And what I really, really liked about this was how Vik not only accepted her strength and ability, but loved it. He's still got the instinctual imperative to keep her safe, but it doesn't keep him from feeling exhilarated fighting at her side.

  30. *****+ Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale. Historical romance. I'm a little hesitant to read this so recently after Dunnett, but it was on the top of the TBR pile, where it got in a perfectly fair and random manner. If my head explodes from too much exceptional writing.... It's either an insult to call this "just" a historical romance, or it elevates the whole genre. A duke who has a stroke and a Quaker spinster. Could they be any more unsuited? Kinsale has a knack for really, really getting you deep into the characters' heads. The intensity just doesn't let up, and there aren't any easy answers.

  31. ***** The Perfect Neighbor by Nora Roberts. Contemporary romance. Re-read. This one, IMO, was just right. Nice characterization, light, quick read. Shades of Cybil's parents' romance, but not as exaggerated. In fact, Cybil realizes at one point that Preston reminds her of her father, which is a nice bit of characterization there--women do frequently fall in love with men who remind them of their fathers.

  32. ***** Thief of Lives by Barb & J.C. Hendee. Fantasy. Sequel to Dhampir, and in the way all good series do, it didn't just repeat the same story, but rather expanded on it. Some nice emotional stuff between Magiere and Leesil, very realistic. Resolution of things left hanging from the previous book, new developments and intrigue, and some things left hanging for the next book. I couldn't ask for more.

  33. *** Bon Bon Voyage by Nancy Fairbanks. Mystery. Have I mentioned how much I don't like mysteries with gimmicks? I should also mention that I don't like books with inconsistent characterization. Why would a woman who's a staunch feminist blame another woman when a man makes a pass at her? And why would that same feminist continually tell this other woman (and not in a sarcastic manner) that she shouldn't do something because her husband wouldn't like it? Gah. Also, it bounced around between 3 different first-person POV characters, as well as sections written in 3rd person from the POVs of the villains. And then there were the sterotypical & cliched accents and two-dimensional stock characters. This wasn't so much a mystery as it was an adventure--we always know whodunit and why and how. The heroine/sleuth is a food writer, taking a free cruise so she can write about the food, and she has her friend (cue stereotypes: hispanic ex-cop) and mother-in-law (the pseudo-feminist) along. The cruise ship gets hijacked, and she saves the day, with the help of various passengers and members of the crew. So why three stars? It did get entertaining, particularly toward the end.

  34. **** Night Rhythms by Elda Minger. Contemporary romance. Overdone, but you can see the bones of a good story here. Quibbles first: as I said, it's overdone, and needs a good editing. Or maybe a ham-handed editor is responsible for this. Ice cream isn't just ice cream, it's a "cool dessert" (no, I'm not getting over that one any time soon). It sounds as if I'm dissing the whole book based on one phrase, but I'm not--that's just the best example of how the whole book is. There's a great story there, but for me, it kind of got lost under an avalanche of superfluous adjectives, adverbs, and descriptive passages. The story, though, was excellent. It's a reunion story, which you know I love anyway, and there are twists. Outsider returns to small town for her high school reunion where everyone thinks she's a huge success because of some embellishment from her friends. She's an author, sold her first book, but hasn't been able to sell another. So she encounters a whole host of reactions: from excitement and pride to envy and resentment. And there's the man she came back for: a rancher, whose life has been taking care of the ranch and his younger brothers and his psychologically ill mother after his father died. Both of them are harboring feelings for each other from the past, and both of them are afraid they're not good enough for the other and don't want to tie them down/cause them pain. This book's from 1997, and it's easy to see how a few years later she's become such a good author. I have her latest in my TBR pile.

  35. **½ The Instant When Everything Is Perfect by Jessica Barksdale Inclan. Women's fiction. Written in third person present, which is disconcerting. The plot is the same as 90% of women's fiction: 40-something heroine in a boring marriage whose mother has cancer. The answer to all her problems, of course, is a divorce and a new man, not necessarily in that order. I freely admit that the low score on this one is due primarily to my dislike of the genre, the characters, and the style--that is, it's more a matter of personal taste than the quality of the writing.

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