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Monday, May 01, 2006

April 2006 Books

  1. ***** Lord of Danger by Anne Stuart. Historical romance. Master magician and master of intrigue is offered his pick of the convent-raised sisters of a man he might help to put on the throne. He picks the elder, plainer, cleverer one. The younger sister's obnoxiously thoughtless narcissism made me say WTF a few times, but the rest of the book was so good I really didn't care.

  2. ****½ Master of Wolves by Angela Knight. Contemporary paranormal romance. What if a cop finds out that her police dog... is actually a werewolf, who's undercover trying to find out who killed his friend. Throw in the Arthurian vampires, some bad vampires, a fairy king, a rogue werewolf, and an overly cautious werewolf chieftan. Mix well. Stay up reading until you've finished. My only quibble is that the story is so extremely busy. A reader who hasn't read previous books in this series might well get lost.

  3. ***** Ex and the Single Girl by Lani Diane Rich. Chick lit/women's fiction/romance. A little more meaty/serious than your average chick lit. PhD candidate Portia is conned into returning to her hometown for the summer, where she deals with her 'barmy' family, who refuse to explain themselves at all, her recent break-up and the sudden reappearance of her ex, her stalled dissertation, the father she hasn't seen since she was 2, a British writer she might be falling in love with, and the Penis Teflon effect that prevents men from sticking to the women of her family. I don't know how she put up with her family. I'd have washed my hands of the lot of them. Guess she's used to it.

  4. ***** Hot Ice by Nora Roberts. Romantic suspense. Re-read. I always think of this as Nora's caper book. Unfortunately, I don't think this is one of the books that's being considered as a movie. Which is just as well--they're making Lifetime movies out of them, and this would make a good mainstream movie. The bored but plucky heiress, the daring jewel thief, action, adventure, crocodiles, caves, chases, drama, an evil villain and his creepy henchmen, even a pig. Somebody should contact the producers who made The Italian Job. Seriously.

  5. **** Ablaze: The Story of the Heroes and victims of Chernobyl by Piers Paul Read. Non-fiction. Fascinating. The human story. A little hard to follow in places, though, because it bounced around in time.

  6. **** Love and Mayhem by Nicole Cody. Historical romance. Arsenic and Old Lace crossed with a medieval Scottish romance. Lots of fun. I do think, though, that the authors' note should have been at the front of the book, because I kept thinking "what?? this is Arsenic and Old Lace! What were they thinking??" Once I read the note though, I thought it was cool and fun. Perceptions and expectations make all the difference.

  7. ***** Sweet Myth-Tery of Life by Robert Asprin. Fantasy. Okay, that does it. I'm looking for this series IN ORDER. This is the second Myth book I've read, both of them from somewhere in the middle of the series, and they're hilarious, and well-written enough that I wasn't lost at all, but I really want to see how it all started and read them in order now. In this one, Skeeve's caught between a rock and a hard place: either marry Queen Hemlock, or she'll abdicate, leaving him her throne. In the meantime, he's been hired to balance the kingdom's budget. The puns are relentless, and yet there's a bunch of serious stuff in there about love, marriage, and accounting.

  8. Dead and Loving It by MaryJanice Davidson. Contemporary paranormal romance.

    • ***** "Santa Claws". Scottish werewolf in town to pay tribute to the new heir runs across a woman dressed as Santa. Great blend of humor and burning-hot steam. Plus, there's a shout-out to Emma Holly, which is way cool.
    • ***** "Monster Love". Ooooh, a combo! Betsy-vamp meets Wyndham werewolf. Hot and hilarious, and daring. Not many authors can write a bondage & rape scenario and still make me root for the hero.
    • ***** "There's No Such Thing as a Werewolf". A blind werewolf doctor meets a younger woman who just has this feeling that she should be able to fly, and he can suddenly see her.
    • ***** "A Fiend in Need". Yes! Another combo! Antonia, the seer, non-Changing werewolf from Derik's Bane, and George the Fiend from the Betsy books.

  9. **½ Wild Child by Suzanne Forster. Contemporary romance. I swear, these two have so many visions/flashbacks/hallucinations that they need psychiatric care. And every conversation has l o n g pauses in it while the characters reminisce and go off on tangents in their heads. Other than that, it's a pretty predictable reunion story (and to think I normally love reunion stories--shows there are exceptions to every rule) about the town bad girl coming home and the district attorney who, as a young prosecutor, had put her in jail at 16.

  10. ***** Naked in Death by J. D. Robb. Futuristic romantic suspense. Re-read. What can I say about this that I haven't said before? Great beginning to a terrific series.

  11. **½ The Scottish Bride by Catherine Coulter. Historical romance. I was apprehensive about this one--it had been in my TBR pile forever, and the last book I read by Coulter was pretty much unreadable. This one wasn't as bad, but you can see the development of the unreadable style--abrupt transitions and dialogue in which the characters don't seem to be actually speaking to each other, as their statements are unrelated (not an actual example, but this sort of thing: "Nice weather out today." "My dress is blue."). I wonder if it's her writing that's just continued along this path, or if it's always been like this and she has a new editor that doesn't keep it in check. Anyway, despite it being more comprehensible, there's not much of a story. This is one of those rare occasions when a full-length book would probably work better as a novella. It's ostensibly about a serious, widowed (widowered?) vicar who unexpectedly inherits a Scottish barony, travels to it, meets a woman who brings light & laughter back into his life, marries her, his congregation objects to the change in him, and he has to somehow reconcile his serious faith with his newfound happiness. It's a good premise. But the story completely loses sight of the goal. Long, long passages, chapters even, are devoted to really dull minutiae, including visiting every single couple from what has apparently been a pretty long series, and listing every one of their innumerable offspring, while the plot's off in the corner somewhere taking a snooze.

  12. *** Beyond the Wild Wind by Sasha Lord. Historical romance. Possibly a mistake reading two historicals back to back. The heroine's a naval Robin Hood, who's asked her cousin, a famed warrior, to help her get back Something an outlaw took from her. The cousin wants to stay in a monastery for 2 more months, so he sends another warrior in his place, but she thinks it's her cousin. She's both too good to be true and occasionally TSTL. And he can sleep with her under an assumed name, but when it comes to saving her life, he's just too honest to lie about his name. Really made me want to *smack* him upside the head. I liked the previous books in this series much better, & will probably check out future ones.

  13. ***** Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane. Mystery. Just what I needed. A complete change--no (well, okay, minimal) romance, no historical setting, and Lehane's wonderful way with words. A missing child pulls Patrick & Angie into a dark, intense story full of suspense and intrigue, with personal complications for them. Fascinating cast of characters--all varying shades of gray. Clever and chilling mystery. And the series is as much about Patrick & Angie as it is about the cases.

  14. **** In the Thrill of the Night by Candice Hern. Historical romance, Regency. Group of widows decide to take lovers. Heroine is a widow who'd loved her husband but didn't realize he wasn't very good in bed. She asks her male best friend, who's just gotten betrothed, to give her pointers on finding a lover. It's a fairly common Regency plot--with the twist that the heroine's just looking for a lover, not a husband, but it's done well, and the characters are fun and convincing. Start of a series about the "Merry Widows."

  15. **** Cruel and Unusual Puns by Don Hauptman. Non-fiction, humor. Dissecting them takes some of the fun out of it, and the book was limited to one type of pun (transposition puns), but it was interesting & entertaining.

  16. ** The Tooth of Time by Sue Henry. Mystery. I know I liked the last book I read by her, but this one.... Nothing happened until 100 pages into the story, and since the book was only 243 pages long, that's a big chunk of the book. And even then, the death mentioned was an article in the paper, and it was just a curiosity, not something the characters were concerned about or investigated or anything. And at the end, one of the mysteries wasn't even conclusively solved. To make matters worse, the book started out in the present, went back in time a little way, then went back in time again to the start of the story. That can work, if something's actually happening, but nothing was. Prologue: look at a mountain, reminisce~~>Chapter 1: walk through some sand dunes, decide to go back to where she'd just come from, reminisce~~~>Chapter 2: a few days earlier. No suspense or anything at all to make the reader go "ooh, I wonder what brought her to this point" which is, IMO, what you need to do that sort of jumping back in time. The book was more a slice of life story than a mystery, which may indeed be what was intended, even though it's subtitled "a Maxie and Stretch mystery", and I'm trying to not let expectations color my opinion of a book, but I find slice of life stories boring. And did I mention the mystery? Not completely solved? Bah.

  17. ***** Don't Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Romantic adventure. :) I've been anticipating this book for far too long to let it sit in my TBR pile. The difference between this one and one that I really, really want to read that ends up in the TBR pile anyway is that this one is in my face daily--on the Crusie list, the Cherry boards, the He Wrote/She Wrote blog, etc. I think it probably helped that I knew about the book ahead of time--so many people seemed thrown by the collaboration. It was fast-paced, fun, exciting, hard to put down. It even had that changing-your-life stuff and the layers that Crusie is famous for.

  18. *****+ Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. Fantasy. Breaking my own rule of not reading really good books back to back. I tried to pick up something a little less exciting after finishing DLD, but I didn't want to lose the high just yet. Absolutely wonderful, as expected. Vetinari hires a con artist to take over the Post Office.

  19. ***** Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams. Science fiction. Morning read-aloud with the boys. Possibly my least favorite of the series--all that stuff about Krikkit might have resonated more if I knew more about the game of cricket. Still a 5-star read anyway.

  20. **½ Did You Declare the Corpse? by Patricia Sprinkle. Mystery. Another mystery that starts at one time, then jumps back to the past. It's a technique that can work--like the one and only Murder She Wrote mystery I liked--but only if you give the reader a reason to care, to wonder how and why the character(s) got into the predicament you first see them in. In this case, it begins with a mystery about coffins delivered to the wrong chapel that nobody apparently ordered, and a body found in one of them, but we don't know who. Then it jumps back in time to tell us all the details of a tour to Scotland, complete with accents: a Canadian woman who ends every statement with "eh?" and the Scottish characters all find reason to say "fit ye deein'" at least once in every conversation. The tour is dull, the characters unlikeable, crimes that are eventually uncovered are just ignored at the end, and the mystery that starts the book, the coffins being delivered to the wrong chapel, is solved, but makes no sense.

  21. *** Pure Chance by Julie Elizabeth Leto. Contemporary romance. Self-consciously "steamy". Frex, the heroine has an "erotic garden" that exists for no other reason than to have her pose on various parts of a marble fountain while they have sex. It was quite obviously supposed to be really daring. But cold, wet, marble? Not sexy. And also dangerous. Bah. Besides which, it has nothing to do with the story, nor does it fit with the character. I'd overlook that--way too many romances are self-conscious about the sex scenes--if the rest of the book were better. The heroine, the hero, and the man who's pressuring her to marry him used to be best buddies in school, then after a drunken and rejected pass at graduation, the h/h, both believing the other hated them, separated. Now, years later, the hero's back in town, "retired" from his military "regiment" (and would it hurt authors to do a teeny tiny bit of research??) and opening a bodyguard business, and the other friend has started pressuring her to marry him. So the heroine gets the bright idea to hire him for a bogus threat that becomes real. Complicating matters, she's vowed never to marry, and he thinks he wants to marry a woman who'll keep him grounded (both the h/h are risk-takers). Great premise, but then it doesn't follow through. First, the heroine for no good reason says she needs to hire him for "a friend." (Yes, I know this is standard when asking advice, but she wasn't asking advice, she was hiring a bodyguard.) Then their reactions flip-flop. Rather than stick to the original premise of "I want you, but you're not what I need and I'm not what you need," they're all over the place. In places, it appears that they think she's the one who wants the white picket fence and 2.7 kids, and he's the one eschewing marriage. Again, this could work if it were explored/explained. But instead, it just looks like a mess. And the motivation for the friend's proposal doesn't make much sense, either. IMO, this could have been an excellent book with a bit more editing, which is why I wrote so much about it--it's more frustrating to read a book that could have been great but wasn't than one that's just ordinary.

  22. ***** Glory in Death by J. D. Robb. Futuristic romantic suspense. Re-read. Absolutely wonderful. Excellent. One of the best of the series. Deeply emotional, it's almost painful to re-read. Great balance between the romance and the suspense, and the emotions are spread out through the entire cast of the book. The characters, and not just the main ones, are well-developed, and the main characters themselves are so real in this one that it makes them seem somewhat flat in other books. Eve and Roarke go through so much emotional pain to connect, and Roarke is unusually vulnerable and human here.

  23. ***** A Christmas Marriage by Dallas Schulze. Contemporary romance. In the omnibus Christmas Delivery. An excellent example of why I enjoy Dallas's books so much. She writes straightforward romance, takes the cliches and tilts them, just a bit, to make them fresh. A reunion story, one of my favorite types. A divorced couple reunites. She'd asked for the divorce because she was afraid of losing her identity, and has to learn to balance a relationship with being her own person.

  24. ***** Nest by Douglas Hoffman. Fantasy. Can't say anything, but it was a fascinating world, and there was lots of intrigue--I'm a sucker for good intrigue.

  25. ****½ Dear Santa by Margaret St. George. Contemporary romance. In the omnibus Christmas Delivery. Perfect example of "never say never". I still maintain that in general, kids do not belong in romance novels. But this one works. A separated couple with two kids and one on the way, with seemingly irreconcilable differences. He's a workaholic investment banker, and so was she, until they had children. Now they have plenty of money, and she wants to move back to her hometown to give the kids a more relaxed life. He wants things to stay the same in Los Angeles. He takes a long-overdue vacation and comes to stay with them in hopes of a reconciliation, while she's fallen into the workaholic trap in her new job. The role reversal causes both of them to reevaluate. The characters are very, very real.

  26. **** Three Waifs and a Daddy by Margot Dalton. Contemporary romance. In the omnibus Christmas Delivery. This one gets docked a bit because I kept being concerned about the legality--I'm not sure how plausible the scenario was. Also, the title made me cringe. But aside from that, it's another excellent story. Thanks for the book, Annie! A scientist (I love brainy heroines!) wants a baby and has chosen the perfect father--an ex-football player. They have a one-night stand on a night when she's determined her chances for conception were greatest, and on the way back from the motel, they're mugged by a kid who's trying to take care of his younger siblings. She wants to avoid further involvement with him, fearing he &/or his family will try to claim her baby, but can't resist the kids who he's taken under his wing. Lots about family dynamics and loneliness.

  27. **** Smoky Mountain Tracks by Donna Ball. Mystery. Search-and-rescue dogs are the theme, & the cover promises this is the first in a series. Interesting info about SAR dogs, a chilling mystery about a murder and a missing child all tangled up with small town politics, and a cast of well-developed, individual characters.

  28. ***** Speaks the Nightbird, vol. 1: Judgment of the Witch by Robert McCammon. Suspense. Or mystery. It's not really horror, which surprised me from McCammon. Excellent story, though, about a magistrate and a clerk who travel to a small town in 1699 to try a witch. Most everyone in the town is convinced she's a witch, but the clerk, who's curious by nature, has a lot of questions, and things aren't adding up. Good characterization.

  29. *** The Old Contemptibles by Martha Grimes. Mystery. Intriguing mystery, with members of a household getting picked off one by one and attributed to accident or suicide, but I'm just not a fan of this series. I get awfully tired of the ubiquitous precocious children. In this one, an 11-year-old girl is working as a cook, living in the household after her mother's death instead of going to live with her aunt, so she can investigate her mother's death. Uh-huh. If you go by this series, English children pretty much run things, and all the adults are idiots or obsessed by weird things or otherwise unworldly. Except for Richard Jury, of course, who sees all, knows all, and is irresistible to all women. Like I said. I just don't like the series.

the rest of the list:

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Hey, Darla! Discovered your blog recently and have been enjoying it.

I noticed you listed a Denise Lehane - I've just loved everything he's written. I only wish he wrote a little faster!
Hi, Miki! I think I have all Lehane's books--at least all the ones that are out in paperback--but I've been spreading them out. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed them.
Wow, what great reviews of all these books!! You read quite a LOT! :) I will have to check some of these out. I love Nora Roberts too. She also writes as JD Robbs, and has some great books out there
Well, they're not actually reviews--it's just whatever comments come to mind when I finish reading the books--but thanks. Yes, I do read quite a lot. That's why I'm so opinionated & picky. :)

I've actually just started re-reading the In Death series to discuss with an email list, at a rate of one every other week. We just finished Glory in Death.
The Asprin book sounds reminiscent of Piers Anthony's Xanth books. I'll have to find it.

I'm not sure you ever answered this question, but -- what are you, a speed reader or something? How do you read so many books?
In that case, I'll have to look for Piers Anthony's Xanth books. (yes, I know. I've only read A Spell for Chameleon, and that recently. It's hard to believe there was a period of time when I read nothing but sf/f--I have no idea how I missed so many staples of the genre.

I used to speed read until I realized I was missing--not the stories, but the nuances. It's much more ordinary an explanation: I have CFS, and have to spend a lot of time horizontal. I'm not fond of TV, so I read.
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