Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pamela Clare 'Untamed'

Visiting the library a couple of days ago I came across this book. The cover is hard not to notice and then I remembered it had been reviewed favorably so I picked it up.

It might have a lot to do with timing, I've been in a reading slump lately, not enjoying my historical romances the way I usually do. Regardless, Untamed has re-innervated my love for historical romance novels. I loved the movie The Last of the Mohicans and in atmosphere the book is right there. The MacKinnion Rangers are suitably legendary and while I usually prefer an intrepid heroine, Amalie's character is true to her upbringing and very believable without being entirely a victim. Instead of being annoyed that Connor and Joseph were so obviously going to be sequals, I found myself looking forward to their stories.

I was impressed by the author's ability to wind this love story through the realities of the French and Indian War, or any war for that matter. The uncertainty of times of war make for high emotion but not for believable development of loving relationships, and Ms. Clare manages to use both to her advantage. Although the final plot developments were a little over the top for me. Small complaint.

Historical Romance 2008: 5 of 5 Satan's arses.

*giggle* did you notice 'taut' and 'sensual' are placed right in his bellybutton *giggle*

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stieg Larsson 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

Minerva has been a muddled, useless, exhausted mess all day today, and it's entirely the fault of this book. Once she began reading, it was impossible to put it down. And even after it ended -- sometime around 3 AM -- it was impossible to go to sleep. How can anyone sleep with eyes staring, muscles clenched, and mind churning? All Minerva really wanted to do was turn the bedside lamp back on and read the whole thing again, just to make sure she understood how all the pieces fit. That's how good a thriller this is.

It starts out slowly. Indeed, for the first four chapters, it appears that "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is going to be an interesting (but not particularly thrilling) tale of a mildly swashbuckling investigative journalist, Mikael Blomqvist, who gets caught up in a labyrinth of corporate malfeasance and trickery. Three things hint otherwise: the tantalizing prologue; the grim statistics on the title pages of each section; and the gradual emergence of a thoroughly unlikely heroine, the diminutive, punked-out, utterly asocial yet brilliantly competent investigator Lisbeth Salander -- the girl with the dragon tattoo.

The book's original title is "Män som hatar kvinnor" -- Swedish for "Men Who Hate Women" -- and as the story unfolds, this central theme comes to the fore. Blomqvist, his career shattered by a libel suit, turns his investigative talents to the unsolved case of a girl who vanished -- presumably murdered -- thirty-six years earlier. Meanwhile, Salander, whose mysterious past was clearly a nightmare of violence and abuse, contends with an authority figure who seeks to further victimize her. And when Blomqvist and Salander join forces to probe into a grisly series of unsolved murders -- all women, all horribly brutalized -- well, that's when Minerva got out of bed, went downstairs, and triple-locked the front door. And that's the last word she's going to tell you about the plot.

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is translated from the Swedish, apparently by an exceedingly competent robot. Occasionally there is the slightest slip -- as when Blomkvist asks Salander if he may "burn" a cigarette -- but for the most part, the writing is correct, in a coldly mechanical, faintly inhuman way. Perhaps the original text had the same iciness (Minerva will never know, Swedish not being a language she has any intention of learning), or perhaps it came about accidentally in translation. Either way, its chilling tone is extremely effective.

Minerva fully intends to read the next two books in the trilogy -- "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest" -- but is in no particular hurry to do so. Her shattered nerves demand a soothing dose of Austen or Trollope.

Rating: 5 out of 5 sets of cold steel handcuffs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Megan Hart 'Stranger'

Can I say that I loved a book if I skipped about 80 pages in the middle. I suppose if I'm worth my salt as a reviewer I'm going to have to analyze it. I will apologize slightly for the fact that my reading choices lately have felt like catch-up with the rest of romancelandia (or the small part of it I allow myself to follow so as not to neglect my family entirely.) I apologize only because as Jessica discussed lately, it feels like I'm just following and not really adding anything new or interesting to the romance review world out there. So here I go again with the "following" thing.

I love, love, love the premise of Stranger. The heroine has decided that she doesn't want to put out the effort for a real relationship (for a lot of reasons) and so has developed the habit of paying for her dates and her sex. She has a reliable service, she's had some reliable providers from that service so why mess with a good thing. But one night she mistakes Sam for her latest 'date' and the convenience of what she's doing comes into question. If she's doing this, it doesn't just take the place of a conventional relationship, it acts in many ways to prevent her from having a conventional relationship.

I skipped the Sam chasing her part. I have to guess that there were some important moments in there since the author is definitely a character driven writer/thinker. But I came back in where they get together and with the characters' discussions of their relationship, I didn't feel like I needed to go back to fill things in. Am I a very bad, bad, reader or should I conclude that the author could tighten up the book a bit. I suppose a little of both (like on most moral dilemmas I come down in the boring middle).

I read all the rest of the book, I loved them together, I loved the author's strong actualized woman throw ins and I liked Sam a lot. Their struggle felt basically realistic and I was glad they got together in the end. :) This author can write some awesome sex and the characters really jump off the page. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the character flaws are a little simple. Interesting and thought out, but what stops this from being a work of literature (which is not usually a standard I even bring up) besides the genre rules, is slightly simplistic character flaws. Overall, awesome book if you don't mind having to hide it from your kids.

Contemporary Erotic Novel 2009: 4.5 out of 5 embalmed bodies.

Friday, August 14, 2009

CNET and Smart Bitches Rumble!

Had to link to this! I will guarantee my husband will be telling me about the CNET kindle hints (even though he hasn't decided I need one, yet). Well, the Smart Bitches have said it all for us.

And although I have yet to have a use for the term, can I tell you how much I love WTFery.

What picture should I attach with this post? Oh, yes, the stern romance nurse! "CNET, you get back into bed this minute!"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Curtis Sittenfeld 'American Wife'

This is Minerva's first Bodice Ripper Review, and she's more than a little nervous. All this blog stuff is new to her, and she's fairly certain she'll screw up the formatting. What's more, Heloise's trenchant brilliance is a tough act to follow. And finally, Minerva has a difficult confession to make in this particular setting .......... she really, truly does not like romance novels. Not at all.

Or does she?

Minerva has spent the past few days unabashedly wallowing in the voyeuristic pleasures of 'American Wife'. The book -- which Sittenfeld says she wrote in a frenzy of haste in order to release it during the 2008 Republican Convention -- is a fictionalized account of the life and marriage of former First Lady Laura Bush. It is simply overflowing with graphic, steamy, and occasionally sordid sex.

Graphic, sordid sex is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Laura Bush. But with this book, Sittenfeld takes on the question that troubled so many of us during the Bush years: how on earth did a modest, intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, liberal-leaning, pro-choice lady like Laura end up hitched to a guy like Dubya?

As the romance novelists knew all along, the answer apparently lies in a potent cocktail of true love and hot sex.

Each of the book's four sections is built upon actual events from Laura Bush's life, fleshed out with plenty of pure fiction, and set -- delightfully! -- in Wisconsin rather than Texas. The first section is by far the best. In it, the 17-year-old heroine (Alice Lindgren) accidentally runs a stop sign, causing the death of a classmate who is almost, but not quite, her boyfriend. In a few seconds of inattention and bad luck, the course of her life is changed forever. It's powerful stuff. Minerva is trying to avoid using the word "poignant" ..... but there it is.

The second section is also quite engaging, as Alice, now in her early 30s, is swept off her feet by the cocky, charming ne'er-do-well rich boy Charlie Blackwell. Her first encounter with his no-holds-barred family is unforgettable for many reasons, not least the limerick beginning "Nymphomaniacal Alice." Minerva would love to tell you the whole thing, but that would be a spoiler. Most of the hot sex scenes appear during this section.

From there, unfortunately, it's all downhill: alcoholism, bad behavior, evangelical Christianity, Republican politics, Karl Rove, and the war in Iraq. By the end, even though Alice has (unlike Laura) dared to publicly assert her personal views on a highly controversial issue, it feels like she is simply maundering on, alternately blaming and excusing herself for the path her life has taken. The hot sex has also dropped off considerably by this point in the book ... but Minerva supposes that's what happens when a romance novel loses its way and drags on for 30 years of marriage.

It's still a terrific read, and well worth your while. Especially that limerick.

Rating: 4 out of 5 toots of your own horn.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Joanna Bourne 'The Spymaster's Lady'

Yes, yes, I loved this book. I loved Annique, the little intrepid hoyden, I loved Grey, because Gerard Butler would be perfect as him in the movie. I loved the author's ability to write french in english. I loved the tub scene, I loved the secondary characters who say the things I want to say to the hero. It's a great book.

*mild spoiler/rant alert*

Okay, here's the rub. She really didn't recognize him for a fourth of the book? I don't want to give away too much, but really. He's trying to avoid touching her but they ride on a horse together.....

Fine, fine, I'll let you go back to your starry eyed enjoyment of the book. I made my best friend from college read it, and she said, "What does he do exactly? He doesn't seem to really do anything! And why the hell does she keep leaving Henri alive, that seems very stupid if you ask me." Yes well, we don't want to have to invent new bad guys for the end of the book, do we. :)

Historical Romance 2008: 4.5 of 5 sloshing tubs.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sarah Vowell 'The Wordy Shipmates'

Not only did I find The Wordy Shipmates again but I finally finished it. I also went away to Brooklyn for the week-end to visit my best friend from college and helped my husband put together the kids school supplies, so I've been busy. :)

The Wordy Shipmates lives up to its title, it's wordy. I couldn't help it! It was too good to pass up. Seriously, Ms. Vowell managed to get me involved in the theological hair splitting of the Boston Puritans (not the Plymouth Rock Puritans, but the 'city on a hill' Puritans) She's funny and irreverent enough to keep you going through the seemingly endless pamphlet wars and the names that all start with J. She is also a good enough historian to draw out interesting strands of our modern day cultural and political inheritance from these original settlers. It helps me to like the book that I'm pretty darn sure I agree with her modern politics; in a word, liberal.

However, slightly past the half way point in the book, it lost a lot of the humor and when I expected the historical narrative to make up for it, it didn't. I did not find Anne Hutchinson's story so riveting that it could carry me through to the end. Nor were Ms. Vowell's insights so fascinating or so humourous that I couldn't put the book down. I put it down. A lot. I finished it, but more to be able to tell Kate that I finished it, than on the merits of the book itself.

I liked the book, it's an interesting read, I'm glad I know more about the pilgrims and their American legacy. However, unless you really enjoy reading history for it's own sake, you'll enjoy the first half more, and skipping the second half is not going to appreciably negatively impact your life.

4 of 5 exiled visible saints.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pamela Clare 'Carnal Gift'

Other than some exceptional books (SpyMaster's Lady, yes I finally read it), I haven't been reading much historical romance lately. But I've had this one around for a while so I picked it up. I hate to say it but Ireland is so done for me. River Dance and the 1990's revival of Celtic mysticism has burned me out. And this from a person who's attended Milwaukee's Irish Fest since High School (largest Irish Festival outside of Ireland). It's extremely difficult to write characters set into Irish history without it feeling like a well known cliche before you're even out of the gate.

This book includes enough historical details to validate the author's knowledge of the time period. The heroine grew on me, although both of these characters border on serious Mary Sue personalities. Overall the writing was decent, the sex was sparse but decent, the history was accurate, the plot was well paced and the characters were wooden.

Historical Romance 2008: 2.5 of 5 bloody sheets.