Saturday, August 23, 2008

Loretta Chase 'Your Scandalous Ways'

What I love about this book is the hero. Francesca is smart and witty so I like her too, but James is smart, funny, physically commanding and can laugh at himself. He doesn't think he's immediately in love with Francesca, he's certainly in lust, but when he does admit he loves her, he's not tortured by it either.

Francesca was divorced by her terrible husband for adultery. She fled to Paris and eventually became the most sought after courtesan of her time. Now she is in Venice, currently between lovers. James is a British operative sent to retrieve some incriminating letters her former husband wrote. But he's not the only one after them, and the other party isn't as reluctant to kill to get them.

I have heard some criticism of the book because the heroine is a courtesan. Besides violating the basic tenet that romance novel heroines must not have had sex that they liked, I thought the author navigated the pitfalls rather well. Neither character is insecure about the other's past lovers. If the author had introduced that issue I think it would have bothered me more. Let's face it, James has slept with a lot of women in the name of duty, what is that but a patriotic whore.

The sex was great, the plot believable, the characters smart and funny, and the hero puts on the heroine's dress to deflect the killer's attention. I loved it.

Historical Romance 2008: 5 of 5 condums.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Naomi Novik 'Throne of Jade'

I have drunk the kool aid with these books. I've read some people are less pleased with the second book than the first. I can't imagine any series where the second lives up to the first, but I thought Novik does a credible job of keeping the plot moving along during the long sea voyage. I was transfixed by the attacking mob scene but did think the reason for the attack seemed generated out of whole cloth. Where does that expression come from anyway?

I still like Laurence, though his dogged 'serving his country' mindset, at the same time being willing to be court marshaled for Temeraire is a bit contradictory. I still like Temeraire, who wouldn't, although his naivete is making me worry for his future with the English.

I was a bit disappointed to have the political intrigue turn out to be relatively simple, but it's a second book. Bring on the third!

Historical Fiction 2006: 4.5 of 5 sea serpents.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Edith Layton 'His Dark and Dangerous Ways'

More alliteration. I liked this book but didn't love it. Simon is a former spy and he engages Jane to report the gossip she overhears where she teaches dance to young society children. I liked Jane but Simon was a bit verbose for a spy. Their dinners at a local inn are wonderfully atmospheric.

Writing was good, plot was basically reasonable, although I would have liked it if Simon had taken better care of her, he lived in France, why doesn't he have sheep guts...Character motivation was pretty realistic. If I had fallen more in love with Simon, I would have been raving about this one.

Historical Romance 2008: 4 of 5 rat catching sacks.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hannah Howell 'Highland Wolf'

I have a five year old in my house that I've mentioned before. She talks non-stop and has a habit, when I murmur Uh huh, to repeat herself, apparently guessing that I'm not really listening. Today the resemblance between living with a very talkative five year old and this book struck me full force. Ugh. "James suspected that when she felt she or some one she cared about was in danger, Annora could tell a complete lie without blinking, not just one of those ones where she just did not tell the whole truth or even failed to actually answer the question."

James has been on the run for three years after being accused of killing his wife and being declared an outlaw. His wife's cousin has taken over his keep and lands and is claiming James' small daughter as his own. Annora has been brought to the keep to take care of Meggie, James' daughter. She suspects all is not as it seems at Dunncraig and then falls for the mysterious woodcarver who has recently come to the keep to work.

Besides the scene where they run into each other in the ledger room, and Annora never thinks to question why this wood carver is sneaking around the laird's chamber, the plot is fine. The sex scenes are decent, other than James grabbing her in a dark hallway hours after he saves her from being raped in another dark hallway. I would assume that would be a slight turn-off. But it's the writer's verbose redundant style that drove me insane.

Okay, okay, other than being set in Scotland, this book is terrible. I read an earlier book by Howell and this one was an improvement, but that ain't saying much.

Historical Romance 2008: 1 out of 5 loose braes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nicole Jordan 'To Seduce a Bride'

With genre fiction it's my experience that if you fall out of the lovely suspension-of-disbelief bubble more than once or twice, the book becomes open to regular book criticisms and will fail miserably. This can happen due to bad writing, crazy plot twists, poor characterization, etc. I think this is what makes reviewing romance novels more prone to personal opinion than reviewing non-genre fiction. What keeps you in that bubble can be very idiosyncratic.

Anyway, To Seduce A Bride was terrible. I'm a sucker for the feisty independent heroine who rides and shoots and likes books. But Heath Griffin is so unbelievably condescending and smug, yikes. He tries to convince Lily to marry him for the entire book and when he finally figures out that he can't force her to TRUST him (emphasis mine) his last ditch effort is to publish his betrothal to a female friend to jolt Lily into coming after him. NICE! I lost interest way before this point, the endless telling, instead of showing, how wonderful these two were just wore me down.

There is a relatively uninteresting subplot concerning the demi-monde of Regency London. I think the author was very excited to discover all the different terms Regency Britain had for this group.

Historical Romance 2008: 2 of 5 Cyprians.

image by Greg Tucker stolen from

Thursday, August 7, 2008

P.C. Cast 'Warrior Rising'

Fun, lighthearted, lots of snarky girlfriend scenes. It's not going to win any pulitzer's, and if Kat said "I'm not your typical ancient world woman, I am WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR...." (cue Helen Reddy) one more time I really would have had to complain. Actually, I am complaining. She keeps explaining her actions as those of a independent, take care of herself kind of woman, but really some of them are just stupid and risky (of herself and the poor slobs helping her across an active battlefield.)

What I liked? Achilles: intelligent, emotionally wounded, muscle bound hero. The depiction of the goddesses: Hera, Athena and Venus, fun but also capricious enough to be true to my memory of them in my highschool Myths & Legends class. Kat's best friend Jacky who is very funny. The sex scenes, and P.C. Cast's focus on woman power. And the cover art; I'm okay with a little man titty when it's done this tastefully (other than the placement of the word Rising, of course!).

Plot synopsis, Achilles is fated to die in the last year of the Trojan War. Venus, Hera and Athena decide the war has been going on too long and if they could just get Achilles off the battlefield, the Trojan's could win and end it. They decide they need a modern woman for the job, Venus finds Kat in the modern world just before she and her best friend are killed in a traffic accident, grabs their souls and transports them into bodies in ancient Greece.

The writing in this book is very informal, it's not a deal breaker for me but I know it is for some people. It almost feels like the writer paints herself into a corner, then has a little plot epiphany and fudges her way out again. Overall, if you aren't expecting too much, it's a fun ride.

Historical Mythology Romance 2008: 4 of 5 bersecker rages.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ed Park 'Personal Days'

At long last, I've completed Personal Days by Ed Park. Trying to review this book makes it clear to me that what I blog here are not really professional, objective reviews, but more my own likes and dislikes in books. I think you could argue that there is no such thing as objective reviewing, but I suppose I'm farther off the spectrum then say, NYT review of books. (gasp, say it's not so!) I do think I'm helping readers avoid truly terrible books, and pointing out really great books with enough info that readers can make their own evaluations about whether the book would be up their alley.....after all, I'd like to think this site is worth something. :)

Personal Days is a book about an office that is being restructured. The author dives deep into the dadaistic nature of business theory books, and the paranoia and weird relationships that develop in a sinking ship office. He creates a funny, surreal atmosphere that's close enough to reality that it's scary. This is a smart funny book.

But it's style was jarring and lacked a narrative that undercut my ability to like reading it. Problem with book, or problem with me? The last section of the book where all is revealed was crazy but my favorite part. It redeemed this book for me to a large extent.

Novel 2008: 3.5 of 5 CRO's.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Kate DiCamillo 'The Tale of Despereaux'

If you have children between the ages of 5 and 80, you should read this book out loud to them. A self aware take on fairy tales that revels in the beauty of stories and hope and dreaming. If you don't have children you should read this book to remind yourself why you started reading books.

My husband said, "I think the ending was pretty lame." I will admit it was subtle and maybe didn't live up to the promise of the beginning of the book but I think his pronouncement was a bit harsh, and perhaps if he had heard the complete book he would have been more swept up in the characters.

Children's romance, in the best sense of the word. 5 of 5 red eyed rats.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Naomi Novik 'His Majesty's Dragon'

This one is not a romance novel, definitely a fantasy novel, and totally kick-ass. I saw The Smart Bitches give it a good review a couple months ago, maybe longer, and I kept thinking, dragons and Napoleon? I just don't think I'd like it. If you liked the movie Master and Commander at all, if honor and brotherhood under fire turns your crank in the least, you have got to read this book. Really.

A friend of mine is a collector of hardcover versions of her favorite books. I like the feel of a hardcover book, but never felt the need to search them out. After finishing this book, I immediately went to see if I could buy all the series in hardcover. Captain Laurence is a British naval officer, he captures a rapidly hardening dragon egg from a French frigate and they know it will hatch before they reach land. If no one attempts to harness the dragon it will turn feral, a great loss to the aerial corps of his Majesty's army. None of the sailors wants to be the one to harness it because an aviator can never 'retire' from service to a normal life. They draw lots and Laurence is relieved when he does not draw the short straw. When the dragon hatches however it ignores the assigned harnessor, makes a b-line for Laurence and asks him why he is frowning. Thus starts their journey together.

Historical Fantasy Novel 2006: 5 of 5 acid spitting longwing dragons.