11/30/09

Review: Seduce Me By Christmas by Deborah Raleigh


Every so often, I enjoy a sweet story rather than a story filled with emotionally damaged heroes and uncoventional heroines. Seduce Me by Christmas is just such a book. In short: a pleasant way to while away a few hours in front of the fire.

I really enjoyed Raoul and Sarah in this story. They weren't broken or filled with angst. They weren't misunderstood. They weren't in need of the "healing power of love." Instead, they were merely two lonely people who found each other during the holiday season.

There are a few problems with the book. The most egregious being a glaringly obvious grammatical uh-oh in the second line. I had a few problems with the characters, too. In particular, the fact that the heroine, Sarah, is supposed to be an artist yet we never really see or experience her creating any art. I also had some issues with the lack of suspense. Sure, the author throws a few dangerous incidents in there, but the suspense that should have accompanied them was absolutely missing.

Overall, though, it was still a pleasant holiday read. No real emotional depth, perhaps, but I enjoyed the sweet nature of the story anyway.

My Grade: B-

11/27/09

Buy Books for the Holidays! Suggestions for Kids

Books are the best gift for any occasion as far as I'm concerned. If chosen correctly, they are the gift that never stops giving. And they show the recipient that the person giving them the book knows them well. Or wants to share something personal that they love with them. It's an intimate kind of gift if you do it right. Books as gifts epitomize 'it's the thought that counts.'

Picking books for young children can be tricky. There is a definite difference between what parents like (pretty illustrations, great story) and what children like (great characters and engaging language). There's nothing wrong with giving a PARENT a book to read for their child if you think they will enjoy it. And there's everything right about giving a child a book that will hopefully stay with them forever.

Review: Tiles and Tribulations by Tamar Myers


(And you thought I never reviewed mysteries...)

It's officially mystery reading weather (brrrrr) so I thought I'd dig out one of my older books on the TBR pile. This is book #10 in the Den of Antiquity series featuring antique shop owner Abby Timberlake Washburn. It was originally published back in 2002 (or 2003) so it's definitely not a new release.

If you're looking for hard boiled detective novels or seriously complex whodunnits, this book is not for you. It's a solid cozy. Which means there's very little foul language, the characters are nearly all in the 40 and up age range, and the story is short on peril and long on characters. The mystery in this one isn't all that compelling. But I kept reading it anyway because the narrator (told in the 1st person by Abby) is so hysterically funny.

The book is set in Charleston, SC and the story is steeped in the culture of that city. And of the south in general.  Myers nails the genteel snobbiness and snarkiness that is so uniquely southern. I could not put the book down after being introduced to "Apparition Americans." (Ghosts).

I'd honestly classify this as a caper rather than a mystery because the charm and appeal is mainly due to the crazy, wacky characters that populate the novel. Still, it's a cute, quick read that is perfect for snuggling up with by the fire on a rainy or snowy evening.

My grade: B-

11/21/09

Review: With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke

I'm always fascinated when authors write about characters who are authors. It gives me the feeling that they're incorporating a little bit of themselves into the character. After all, they know what it feels like to write. What kinds of emotions that evokes. What difficulties it can present.  So while there's no doubt the characters are fictional, I always feel like I'm getting a secret glimpse into their hopes, dreams, fears, triumphs.

In the case of Laura Lee Guhrke's newest book, With Seduction in Mind, both the hero and heroine are authors. One is an aspiring, unpublished author; the other is a burned-out formerly successful one. They could not be more different in temperament, experience, or style, but the author uses those differences wisely.

I love Laura Lee Guhrke's writing. No one writes romantic tension better than Guhrke. She manages to make it suspenseful without dragging down the pacing of the novel. The seduction of Daisy is a genuine seduction. A step by step heightening of desire. You can feel Daisy's resistance melt without feeling as if she were coerced or manipulated. And you can sense, as well, the unexpected way Sebastian finds himself seduced by someone who shouldn't challenge him at all, but clearly does.

11/19/09

Harlequin creates Vanity Publishing division

The romance world was abuzz with the news that Harlequin has created a new vanity publishing wing, Harlequin Horizons. So far, the reaction in the romance world has been overwhelmingly negative--with good reason.

Vanity publishing has long been a scourge among the writing and publishing community. Its business model is to charge for a book's publication rather than paying for it to be published--something directly opposite of the traditional publishing model. And vanity publishers have also been considered on the shady side of ethical because they tend to promise rose-colored visions of a successful publishing career when the reality is that most authors who choose the vanity published route never make a profit.

Essentially, an author pays the vanity publisher (in this case Harlequin Horizons ) a fee for them to produce a book. Depending on which options the buyer chooses, this can result in thousands of dollars in expenses prior to publication. And the author is still wholly responsible for marketing their book without any of the support a traditionally published author has: bookstore placement being an important one.

There are legitimate reasons for an author to choose the vanity or self publishing route. Often, a good writer has written a book that doesn't fit in with any current publisher. Or it has a tiny niche that can't justify a larger publisher's investment. Cookbooks or local histories are good examples. But a romance novel?

11/17/09

Review: Captive of Sin by Anna Campbell


It's always an adventure starting a book by a new-to-me author. I never know quite what to expect. I would like to say that I loved Captive of Sin, but unfortunately, the writer's voice just didn't connect with me. Her writing style REALLY bothered me.

The characters start the book as interesting, believable characters, but show very little growth during the course of the novel. Instead of feeling as if the characters were more real, they became less so as the narrative progressed.

Part of the problem lies in their almost overwhelming self analysis. We spend way too much time in the heads of the hero and heroine. And there is a huge reliance on telling rather than showing. It's also painfully melodramatic.

There were parts of the book that really connected with me, but they were buried under a mountain of empty, pretty phrases and inward castigation by the characters. The plot seemed unevenly paced, the finale rushed.

Most egregious to me was the insta-cure for Gideon's psychological trauma. I just didn't buy that he would be fixed by getting it on with the heroine for a week or two. Not realistic at all.

Overall, I felt it was a tad worse than your standard Avon fare.
My grade: C-

11/15/09

The Holiday Spirit: Bibliophile style


It's that time of year again. Time to be thankful for our blessings and to think about sharing a little with those who are less fortunate.

In that spirit, here are a few ideas for those who find their bookshelves overfloweth!

  • Sign up as a volunteer shipper for Operation Paperback .  OP is a registered non-profit that ships paperback books (and a few other odds and ends) to our troops overseas. 
  • Sell those books online and donate all or a portion of the sales price to the charity of your choice. eBay has recently reduced the minimum donation amount, so selling books for a good cause just got better!
  • Donate your old books to the Friends of the Library or to your local library's collection. I have quite a few book club edition romances that I've grown tired of. Our local library doesn't have a big romance selection, so I think I'll offer them to them first.
  • Donate to First Book, a site that provides free children's books to kids in need.
Anyone else have some bibliophile ways to share the holiday spirit this season?

Review: What the Duke Desires by Jenna Petersen

Jenna Petersen's newest takes a tried and true romance plot and flips it in this neat little historical romance.

The hero of What the Duke Desires probably ranks as one of the nicest, most decent heroes in all of the historical romances I've read over the years. Just to-the-bone honorable.

The same cannot be said of the heroine, who lies, snoops, cheats, and is--to me at least--not a good person.

Sure, she has a *good* reason to show up wanting to exact revenge against the current duke's deceased father by going after his family. But it becomes quite clear early on that the current duke is nothing like his father. Time after time she chooses deception over honesty. Even when given tailor-made opportunities to spill her guts. She knows she's acting in bad faith and continues to do it anyway. 

I had a difficult time with Lillian in this book. I REALLY didn't like her. Liked her friend, loved the Duke, hated her. I actually liked the mean, rude dowager duchess and the pompous, elitist best friend better than the heroine. I guess it says something about Ms. Petersen's writing that she can create a character real enough for me to actively dislike.

Even so, I found the plot twists quite clever. And the conclusion at the end quite unexpected. This is the first in a new series by Petersen, and I'm impatiently waiting for the next installment.

My Grade: B+

11/14/09

When Seducing a Duke by Kathryn Smith


It isn't often that an Avon romance surprises me. Kathryn Smith's newest historical certainly did, though.

Instead of somewhat standard Regency fare, When Seducing a Duke is more along the lines of historical erotica. Which could explain why I didn't like it very much.

There's nothing at all wrong with the writing, itself. The plot and characters are interesting and memorable. I do have a huge issue with the sex scenes, though. Sure, they're explicit. But my complaint is that they take up way too much of the book. The characters have very little interaction outside of various bedrooms--which isn't all that romantic to me.

I also had some serious issues with the hero of the story. He never did seem redeemed to me. Started and ended the story as a world class jerk.  And I had some problems believing that Rose would act as she does throughout the story. Her character seemed a bit inconsistent.

Maybe I'd have liked this one more if the quantity of sex hadn't caught me by surprise, but somehow I doubt it.

My grade: C

11/8/09

A Highlander Christmas by Janet Chapman


I am having trouble gauging my reaction to this book. I enjoyed reading it. It wasn't bad. It was, in fact, quite fun at times. And yet, the entire time I was reading it, I was aware of how silly it was. How seat-of-the-pants unscientific.

Part of my problem lies in the fact that the paranormal-ish aspects are often left as hints. Something observed in the background of the story until the last 1/3 of the novel. The other part of the problem for me seems to be that the main character whose name already escapes me (...oh yeah, Camry, like the car) doesn't seem to be all that capable.

Which, quite frankly, irritates the hell out of me.

I know quite a few scientists--men and women. In all kinds of different fields. Some are so cerebral that they can barely tie their shoes, but most are extremely well rounded individuals who are also extremely practical. They wouldn't have made it through their doctoral programs otherwise.

Maybe I'm expecting too much out of a book that is obviously geared towards being holiday fluff, but I just don't think Camry's character is all that believable. And if I don't buy Camry as a scientist, the rest of the book doesn't work so well.

Okay...giving the scientist issues a pass...

A Highlander Christmas is fun to read. I enjoyed the dialogue enormously. I enjoyed the secondary characters. But I had some serious suspension of disbelief issues that messed with my enjoyment of the plot, the hero, and the heroine.

Not the best paranormal/contemporary/holiday book I've ever read, but it's definitely a light hearted read.

My grade: C+

11/4/09

At Home in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller


As a disclaimer, I should probably admit that I am not much of a Harlequin/Silhouette type of reader. I find the stories too short to truly develop memorable characters with any complexity or depth. It takes a rare author (like Nora Roberts) to make that particular line appeal to me. Linda Lael Miller is one of those authors.

At Home in Stone Creek is a Silhouette Special edition which is connected through secondary characters to previous books in the Silhouette line. And despite the fact that the author is REALLY good at what she does, it fell short of really engaging me. I love the characters. I love the overall plot. But as usual with the length-constrained format, there were parts of the book that felt rushed. In this case, the entire  confrontation with the bad guy felt incredibly contrived and not at all suspenseful. There was no tension in the scene (that's right, singular) at all.

And while I understand the fact that we're dealing with characters interwoven throughout several previous stories, the secondary characters literally overwhelmed this tiny book. They weren't really necessary, and the main characters would have benefited from those extra pages.
 
Still, it's a nice, quick read in typical Silhouette fashion. And it does add one more piece to the O'Ballivan (and McKettrick) world. I just think that there was a little too much going on for the page count.

My Grade: B-

11/3/09

One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl


I adore the friends turned lovers theme. Something about it just works for me. Another thing I adore is an historical romance written with a large dose of humor. Victoria Dahl's One Week As Lovers delivers on both counts.

While One Week as Lovers IS quite funny, it also deals with some pretty serious issues. The emotional scars (and physical ones) aren't trivialized. They aren't glossed over. But the witty dialogue keeps those serious issues from overwhelming the tone of the book.

I also really love the homage to the gothic novels (predecessor of the modern romance and horror genres) that Dahl includes here. We have the haunted house, the hidden treasure, the evil stepfather, the monstrous fiance. All melodramatic elements that blend together to create an incredibly believable and entertaining tale.

Highly recommended for fans of Julia Quinn, Jacquie D'Alessandro, and Victoria Alexander.

My Grade: A

11/2/09

The Untamed Bride by Stephanie Laurens


I am dumbfounded that I am having to write a less than stellar review of the Untamed Bride. Not because I didn't like the story. But because I didn't like the writing! Stephanie Laurens's writing is usually so palpably different from other authors. It is convoluted, yet flows easily. Not so this book. The sentences are too complex. Semi-colons, commas, and dashes extend her sentences to paragraph length. And the intensity she normally conveys through her writing is missing. Her normal writing cadence is off somehow. I've read my fair share of 19th century literature, but these sentences honestly rivaled Thoreau's Civil Disobedience for their length and complexity. Not something appropriate for a modern romance novel at any rate. She corrects this tendency about 1/3 of the way through, but the damage is done.

The characterization also fails to really develop as quickly as it usually does. There is a superficiality to the characters that is very unusual for this author. I don't know if it's due to the need to set up the entire series with a long prologue or if it's merely the inherent difficulties of switching series, but there was a real distance between the reader and the characters that surprised and disappointed me. Del's character eventually evolves into a more realistic character, as does Deliah's, but having to compete with so many other established characters makes them seem less vibrant than they should have.

Gifts for the Baker