Review: Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl

This book should come with a disclaimer. Something along the lines of this:

WARNING: Do Not Read this Book when you are a) in a public place (you'll laugh too hard and draw attention to yourself) or b)drinking anything (you may end up spraying your drink on yourself when you read some of the passages).

Victoria Dahl's contemporary romance, Talk Me Down,
is easily the funniest contemporary title I've read in years.


Review: The Sweethearts' Knitting Club by Lori Wilde

I am not a fan of what I like to describe as 'cozy romances.' Books that idealize small town life and are border-line family sagas. They are just a little too sugary for my taste. I happen to hail from (and live in) a small town. There is nothing idyllic about them. Looking at the cover of Lori Wilde's newest book, I almost skipped picking it up because the title and cover art so clearly evoked exactly that type of romance. I'm glad I was familiar enough with Wilde's style to give it a chance--despite the obvious attempts by the marketing department to portray this book as one of those sticky sweet books, this is not part of that subgenre.

The Sweethearts' Knitting Club
is indeed a story set in a small town. But that's where the resemblance to those other books ends.

Review: Me and My Shadow by Katie MacAlister

The conclusion to Katie MacAlister's Silver Dragon series was a fun-filled adventure with plenty of snark, craziness, and Jim's smart ass comments.

My only problem, aside from a serious case of lack of concentration, was that it had been so long since I read the previous installments in the series that I had difficulty remembering what had happened when. And as with any series, the back story can be confusing for anyone new to the series.

We continue to see characters from the previous Dragons series (Aisling, Drake, Fiat etc) which adds to nice sense of continuity. Gabriel is nowhere close to the super annoying alpha that Drake is. Just as May is nothing at all like Aisling. It's so nice that the Silver Dragon series has its own flavor--instead of easily falling into the trap of formula.

A fun, new installment in an already excellent series.

My grade: B+


Review: To Tempt a Scotsman by Victoria Dahl

I'm steadily working my way through Victoria Dahl's backlist. So far, I have not been disappointed. To Tempt A Scotsman is incredibly moving with rich, complex characters and a plot that surprised me. Dahl fits a lot into this slender novel.

In a somewhat unusual decision, the author sets this story in the aftermath of a duel. One participant is dead. The other has fled the country. The half-brother of the deceased duelist has come seeking answers from the woman at the heart of the conflict. Expecting to find a harlot, Collin is stunned  to find a young, attractive woman who is clearly another victim of the tragedy--not an instigator.


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-


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-


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.


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?


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-


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+


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


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+


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-


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


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.


Most Wicked of Sins by Kathryn Caskie

I love it when I rediscover an author. I've read and enjoyed Kathryn Caskie books before, but I had forgotten just how good she really is.

The Most Wicked of Sins is part of a series featuring seven siblings from Scotland nicknamed the Seven Deadly Sins.

Fans of early Julia Quinn or Victoria Alexander will love Kathryn Caskie. Her writing is so full of mirth that you find yourself chuckling along. And her characters are nothing short of fantastic. Flawed, believable, complex, and compelling.

The plot device in The Most Wicked of Sins is too silly for words. Very improbable, but it sets up the rest of the book so nicely that I gave it a pass. Essentially, our heroine, Ivy, has 1 month to recover the affections of her wayward suitor (now entranced by an Irish beauty) before her father arrives or risk losing his support, affection, approval etc. So she embarks on a madcapped scheme to win him back by hiring an actor to impersonate a peer--someone who would then both a) charm her rival away from her suitor and b) make her suitor jealous by dancing attendance on Ivy.

The "perfect" plan goes awry, however, when Ivy hires the wrong man to impersonate Lord Counterton. Instead of an actor, she hires...Lord Counterton himself. (Here's where the improbable comes in). Of all of the people to be hanging about the theater at the exact same time Ivy is, it just happens to be the very peer she's determined to have someone impersonate? I think my odds on winning the lotto are better, but as I stated, it DOES make for a fun bit of mischief.

I like that Ivy is flawed. I like that she is more than a little bit shallow. I also like that she's vulnerable to what her family (especially her father) thinks of her. She has that need for approval that many of us can relate to.

I also really like the hero and his cousin. I found his early recognition of his feelings refreshing. Most of the Regency heroes have to be dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledging their feelings. Some don't do so until years after the novel's time line (Devil from Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens for example). Here, our hero articulates what he feels before our heroine does.

I really enjoyed the skillful blend of romance and humor in this book. The dialogue is snappy when it needs to be, subtle when appropriate. The story at times frantic, hysterical, sexy, and even sweet. It's a terrific way to spend a few hours on a fall afternoon.

My grade: A-


Make Her Pay by Roxanne St. Claire

Make Her Pay is romantic suspense at its best: fascinating characters, intriguing locales, danger, steamy sex. Roxanne St. Claire just keeps getting better!

Part of what really works in this book is the hero: Constantine Xenakis. He had a supporting role in Hunt Her Down, but he's given his own story here despite his prior naughty antics.  He's not just a little bit naughty, either. He's a newly reformed, highly talented thief trying to work his way back into the good graces of the Bullet Catchers. He lies with impunity and has no compunctions about taking stuff from others. But what makes me adore Con's character is that he's aware of his personal failings. And he has certain codes, certain innate behaviors, that make him seem more like a good guy caught in the wrong century than a truly bad guy. He would likely have fit right in fighting bad guys in the wild west.

That is not to say that the heroine is a light weight. Lizzie couldn't be wimpy and survive any sort of relationship with Con. Although I liked Lizzie more than the heroine of St. Claire's last book, I still feel like the hero gets more depth than the heroine. I don't dislike her, and she is believable, but she doesn't have the same complexity.

I found the historical backstory very compelling. Treasure, insanity, pirates, exotic islands... It was very well done and obviously well researched. It didn't weigh the story down with details, and it was woven throughout the story seamlessly.

My Grade: B+


My Wicked Vampire by Nina Bangs

I have a soft spot for Nina Bangs's  Cosmic Troublemakers series. I adore Sparkle and Ganymede. I really do. They are incredibly annoying and have no character growth. And they are so dang funny.

My Wicked Vampire takes us back to the Castle of Dark Dreams with a new batch of otherwordly beings hanging around. A few demons, a few vampires, Holgarth--the annoying, and some seriously wacky plants.

Although the plot and characters are fine, I did have a difficult time getting through this one. The pacing is a bit off--which made an ordinarily quick read seem to take forever. Part of this I attribute to a dearth of dialogue. There's far less witty quips in this book than in previous installments in the series.

Another danger for readers is the huge amount of back story involved. Yes, the author does her best to explain the history without rehashing it, but it still crops up far too frequently for someone just starting the series. I know the back story, but a new reader may be completely lost OR completely bored by it.

Lastly, while I think Cinn, the heroine, is believable and fully realized, the hero, Dacian, seems a bit 2 dimensional at times.

Overall I think it was good but not great: well worth the time to revist a favorite group of characters and see what havoc they've been causing.


Dark Slayer by Christine Feehan

I'd given up reading anything new in Christine Feehan's Carpathian series because they were getting so repetitive. The same ritual words. The same characters. The same plots. It was almost as if they were written on autopilot. Fortunately, Dark Slayer takes a significant step towards changing the tenor of the series, as well as providing a welcome respite from super Alpha males and their binding words.

Ms. Feehan surprised the heck out of me with this one. Not only was the main character far, far (FAR) different from her predecessors, she was someone who was strong without being bitchy. And that takes some serious skill to pull off in this type of book.

I'd like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. But truthfully, I only enjoyed about  3/4 of it. The last 1/4 honestly seemed as if the author was struggling to get her page count. She rehashed the same emotions, reactions, mental wanderings so often I had a combined case of whiplash and deja vu. I'm sitting there with a book I was enjoying-- yelling at it. "I get it! Enough already!"  Bad sign for a happy reader. While this book didn't repeat the themes, characters, dialogue, settings etc etc of the rest of the series, it began to seriously repeat ITSELF.

I don't want to go into too much detail, because much of the charm of the book lies in the differences between this book and the rest in the series. Her fans should love this. It's worth reading just to gain the plot points for the next installment, but it could have been so much better.

The Renegade Hunter by Lynsay Sands

I normally adore Lynsay Sands's Argeneau series. They're usually very well done in a genre that is, well, overexposed. The characters are more normal--more human--than characters in most other paranormals. But most of all, they're usually funny.

I have to say I'm horribly disappointed by this book. The hero, Nicholas, was quite intriguing. A definite break from the standard Argeneau guy, although he was a bit too emotionally wimpy for my tastes. But it was the heroine in the novel that irritated me.

She seemed completely clueless with no basic self-preservation instincts. While she was extremely with it in the emotional and critical thinking arenas surrounding Nicholas's crimes, she was otherwise too stupid to be believable. The death knell to her believability was a single paragraph in the novel. One where Nicholas --who is VERY old in typical vampire fashion--references I Love Lucy. And our heroine has no idea what he's talking about.

Now, I understand the point the author was trying to convey. What I object to is two-fold: it had the subtlety of a cast iron skillet to the head AND was wildly improbable. Perhaps Ms. Sands credits the under 30 generation with no pop culture lexicon, but Lucille Ball was NOT just a TV star from the 1950s. She was an icon ala Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and others. She spanned generations. And who has not caught at least a glimpse of her while flipping past Nick at Nite? I understand the dilemma here: you need a reference your reader will get while the heroine does not. But Lucy? C'mon.

It could very well be that the reference sprang from a real world occurrence where a "young" person didn't know who Lucy was. But that person would be in the minority of the population. In any rate, it tossed me completely out of the narrative and soured the entire character for me.

What finished the disappointment was the complete lack of humor in this novel. I buy a Lynsay Sands book expecting to be smiling while reading a portion of it. I didn't find anything funny about this book. Not one thing. Which means Ms. Sands just got dumped off of my auto-buy list.


Hunt Her Down by Roxanne St. Claire

I love romantic suspense. There's something about the blend of mystery, danger, and romance that just does it for me. The exact ratio seems to be what determines whether something gets shelved in the fiction, mystery or romance sections, but any book with that combination is welcome on my TBR pile. And I must say the cover of Ms. St. Claire's novel helped put it on the tippy top of said pile.

Hunt Her Down is typical beach-read romantic suspense. Tropical location, sex scenes, danger. I sometimes felt like I was reading an episode from CSI: Miami.

I found it difficult to connect with the heroine of the story. Her life experience should have resulted in a corresponding depth of character, but I found her rather shallow. The same could not be said of the hero, who I thought was intriguing, mysterious, and just a bit of a jerk.  The best character in the entire novel was the heroine's son, Quinn. The author captured the angst of being a teenager with some serious identity problems quite believably.

The suspense was top-notch, too. I figured out the plot well ahead of time, but the peril faced by the characters in the story was extremely well done and the plot moved at a frantic clip.

While the characters could have used just a bit more depth, this was well worth reading. Compelling enough to have me searching the shelves for backlist titles in the Bullet Catcher series.


Be Still My Vampire Heart by Kerrelyn Sparks

Kerrelyn Sparks is quickly becoming a favorite paranormal romance author. Her series is a wonderful blend of romance, fantasy and humor similar to Lynsay Sands. Her characters in the Love at Stake series are always wonderfully believable and very unique. Each one with his or her own quirks, dreams, weaknesses, and motivations. Be Still My Vampire Heart is no exception.

Because I started the series in the middle (and there is a chronology of sorts), reading backlist titles by Sparks means that I already know who hooks up with whom. I'm not sure if that helps or hurts the book's plot for me. But with Be Still My Vampire Heart, it means that two important characters who appear throughout the series have to have a strong story of their own. And they do.

Angus is one of my favorite characters. A little old-fashioned. Even a little curmudgeon-ish.
Emma is a perfect match for his "antiquated" notions of honor because she follows her own code--one that does not always mesh with modern mores. And she can appreciate Angus's character traits that are often politically incorrect--without taking offense. Because while Angus is protective, overbearing, dictatorial and gruff, he never treats Emma as somehow less than he is. He respects her. And that is a crucial element.

Sparks's story is not frivolous. There are some serious issues being dealt with. But her characterization and dialogue is so funny, that you find yourself smiling along. Particularly when Angus checks under his kilt to make sure his important bits arrived safe and sound during vampire transit.


Storm of Shadows by Christina Dodd

Christina Dodd's second paranormal romance series is perhaps more intriguing than her first. It is a lovely combination of archaeological mystery (a particular favorite of mine) and romance. With a little paranormal Good vs. Evil battle going on as well.

Although I *wish* Ms. Dodd would have strayed a little further from stereotype (must the unworldly, dowdy librarian be a woman?) I concede that it's easier and more marketable to cast the characters in their expected roles.

This is the second in the series, and I have not read the first installment. It's easy to see I would have gotten a bit more from the story by reading the first novel, but it wasn't necessary. This book stands on its own.

While the main characters are well crafted, the secondary characters are not always so vibrant. Some are memorable, others not so much. Presumably we've either already read about them or will read about them, but the other Chosen Ones are often more sketchily drawn than incidental characters who appear throughout the novel.

The story takes some intriguing twists and turns, with multiple changes in pace and plot. I did find myself thrown out of my reading stride, however, by some choice phrases that I sincerely hope the author meant to be humorous.

an erection so big, King Kong could have climbed it holding Fay Wray in his palm.  Aaron could almost see an atomic blue glow coming from his balls.

That was not the only laugh-out-loud line in the book, but it was by far the strangest.

Overall, it was a fun read.  It's definitely a nice change of pace from the many werewolf, demon, vampire books dominating the paranormal genre these days. This is far more spiritual and magical. More elemental. And for that alone, it's worth a read.


Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare

It's rare that I enjoy the first book by a new-to-me author. I don't like change, and I like knowing what to expect. What tone, what kinds of characters, the level of angst. Predictable and safe.

Two words that definitely do not apply to Tessa Dare's novel, Surrender of a Siren.

With this book, I am charting new territory. I read it based solely on recommendations from fellow Tweeters. It's a book (and an author) I discovered on Twitter.com . What makes that unusual is that it wasn't discovered on a blog or printed review. It wasn't discovered propped up on the new release shelves or as a loan from my fellow romance readers. A few mentions scattered in those 140 character bursts convinced me to give it a try despite the extremely unlovely cover.

In a word, it was glorious.

I'm a stickler for well developed characters. I loathe action-heavy books with wimpy two-dimensional characters. No danger of this book letting me down there. Every single character jumps off of the page with emotional intensity. Every single one. Even those you only see for a paragraph or two. It's amazing. And a little exhausting.

Even more amazing is that the tension levels in this book are off the chart. The reader experiences the excruciating hyper awareness between the two main characters in what feels like real time.

And Ms. Dare knows her stuff. Sophia, our heroine, is an artist. And having known more than my fair share of artists, I can honestly say she nailed the compulsive need to express oneself that most artists have.

This is the second book in a series, but I haven't read the preceding novel. Surrender stands alone wonderfully.

I highly recommend this book for anyone sick of cookie cutter characters and plots. This is by far the best historical romance I've read this year!

**edited Oct 1 to correct this as 2nd in series, not 3rd.


The Laird Who Loved Me by Karen Hawkins

The finale for the MacLean series has arrived, and it does not disappoint. Of all of the books, this one was perhaps the most serious. It was definitely less light-hearted than Hawkins's normal style. But given the long history between the two main characters and the serious nature of the oldest MacLean, that's to be expected.

Aside from the extremely yummy cover (<---), what makes this book intriguing for me is the tiny touch of paranormal that is included in the overall plot. The ability to create storms through loss of emotional control or temper is a wonderful plot device--and helps add depth to the heroes throughout this series. I particularly liked how Hawkins manages to make two characters who were unappealing to me in previous stories seem so compelling in this one without changing their overall personalities or providing excuses for their obvious character flaws. Taking place in both England and Scotland, this book also ties the series up in a nice, neat bow. I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse of Honoria and Marcus from Lady in Red. Although it could be read as a stand-alone novel, it would be best served by--at the very least--reading the novel preceding it in the series: Sleepless in Scotland.


Love is Blind by Lynsay Sands

I admit it. I'm usually a spoiled New Release girl. I like fresh-off-the-press books. I like reading things as they come out. But, occasionally, I like to reread a favorite author. It usually has to be a fabulous book for me to keep or pick up again. It definitely has to be light-hearted (I don't keep the sad books). Lynsay Sands is a favorite author, and Love is Blind is one of my all time favorite books.

Sands writes in numerous romance subgenres. She's probably best known for her Argeneau vampire/paranormal series, but she's equally at home in medieval, highland, or Regency historicals. Love is Blind is a solid Regency historical. It is also one of the few books to add a word to my romance vocabulary: piffle. As in 'burnt piffle.'

What makes this story terrific is that the humor is largely slapstick. It is laugh out loud outrageous. Who else would write an historical novel where the heroine--deprived of her MUCH needed spectacles by her evil stepmother--mistakes a suitor's lap for a table and spills scalding hot tea on his---well, piffle? In a subgenre where grace and elegance reign supreme, this clumsiness of the heroine is so endearing.

What also makes this book is the hero. A quasi-Beta hero, he brings a Beauty and the Beast quality to the story. A war veteran whose facial injuries caused polite society to shrink in horror, he's uncommonly understanding, thoughtful and kind. He's also decisive, passionate, and a touch arrogant (which is why he's only quasi-Beta).

It had been a few years (and several hundred books) since my last reading of this novel. I do believe I enjoyed this reading MORE than my initial one.


Bad Moon Rising by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Bad Moon Rising by Kenyon was so disappointing. The biggest flaw for me was the lack of continuity in the narrative and the immense amount of back story that wasn't explained.

Anyone new to the series would be completely lost. As it was, I struggled to remember what happened to which character when. And given that this book takes place concurrently with several other books in the series, it gets quite confusing.

Things I enjoyed:

I was very happy to see another were-hunter book. I'm not a fan of her Dream Hunter books, so this was a welcome change.

I was happy that a secondary character in so many other books was finally granted his own story.

I liked the inclusion of another level of hunting: Thorn, specifically.

The physical relationship between Aimee and Fang was terrific. They don't truly hook up until the very end--something that's unusual these days for most romances.

Things I hated:

The time jumps without any clue on the chapter pages that time was passing

The deep back story that was needed to understand the plot.

I didn't find Aimee's sudden penchant for Daimon hunting to be believable. Nor was the fact that no one seemed to notice?

Overall, it was tolerable (barely), but I couldn't help feeling that this one could have benefited from another hundred pages. It felt too choppy and too pared down.


Mastered by Love by Stephanie Laurens

At long last, Stephanie Laurens has released the conclusion to her popular Bastion Club series. Mastered by Love is the story of Dalziel, aka Royce Varisey. The head spymaster who directed the Bastion club members from Whitehall during the conflict with Napoleon.

For such an aggressive man, I found the story surprisingly passive. Aggressive emotionally--and sexually-- perhaps but passive in terms of the action that normally infuses the Bastion Club novels. The suspense and danger was thrown in at the very end, but the focus was on Royce's struggles to adjust to being a duke--and to convince his bride of choice to accept him.

I have a weakness for finale books and must have the obligatory glimpse of characters from previous installments to make a series feel complete. Laurens delivers that with glimpses not only of Bastion club members but also a few main Cynsters.

Although I really loved Minerva, I found the other characters a little too shallow compared to Laurens's normal characterization. That, combined with the lack of suspense and intrigue normally found in the series, adds to a twinge of disappointment . The romance, though, I considered a bit better--more compelling--than some of the previous installments.

Readers who enjoy the Bastion Club series primarily because of the action will likely be disappointed. But for fans of the series, it's worth reading just to see Royce as himself--and to watch someone normally so supremely confident have to work his way through uncertainty and emotional vulnerability.


What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

Finally! A Julia Quinn novel worth cheering about. What Happens in London is a return to her earlier roots with enough word play, wit and charm to keep you smiling from beginning to end.

There's something magical about Julia Quinn's writing. It's bubbly like champagne without being trite or without substance. It's as if she's smiling the entire time she writes.

There is very little angst in WHIL, but there are some wonderful characters.


Hidden Currents by Christine Feehan

Although initially it seemed as though Ms. Feehan had mistakenly packaged a Ghostwalker book as a Drake sisters novel, Hidden Currents redeemed itself as a terrific finale for a unique series by the queen of paranormal romance.

Followers of the series have been able to watch Elle and Jackson dance around the issue of their relationship--or lack of one--for 4 full length novels and 2 novellas prior to the release of their story, Hidden Currents. So it's no real surprise that the traditional 'learning to love' phase is completely missing from this book. They already know and love each other. It is their struggle to find some common ground and build a real relationship--one that exists outside their heads--that forms the emotional center of the novel.

I'm a little (well a lot) uncomfortable with what happens to Elle in this book. It brings back some of the worst stereotypes of the genre--although admittedly not in the same way. The first 1/4 of the book is ugly and uncomfortable to read. It is far more violent than most of the other Drake series--which is why it seemed more like a Ghostwalker book than a Drake book.

Jackson is one of my favorite characters in the Drake series, and I think Christine Feehan did him justice. And while it may seem rushed to some, I really enjoyed the way she shows the marriages of the sisters. We also see brief appearances by just about every important secondary character as well--which I love for finale books.

So while the violence was a bit off-putting, this was a solid book with great characters, plenty of suspense, plenty of romance, and a compelling read.


Talk of the Ton: Eloisa James, Julia London, Rebecca Hagan Lee, Jacqueline Navin

I am normally quite careful when book shopping to check the 'new release' shelves for reissues. Publishers have a sneaky habit of reissuing older books in new packaging--and they often catch the unwary.

Today, that would be me.

Talk of the Ton is a reissue of a 2005 anthology. To be fair, I KNEW I had read an anthology by that name before with a very different cover. But I was in a hurry and merely glanced at the copyright page, missed the fact that there were 2 copyright dates. I only saw 2009.

The good news is that this is an excellent anthology by Regency romance authors who were just coming into their own back in 2005. And these novellas and short stories are a great deal lighter than some of the more involved historical romances. Eloisa James normally writes historicals that are extremely moving--but are often ones that must be read with tissues close at hand . Her contribution is one of the lightest pieces of writing by her that I've ever read--and just as wonderful as the rest of her stories. In fact, it sets the tone for the general lightheartedness of this collection.

For those who haven't read it and may still be unfamiliar with a few of the authors, it is an excellent choice. For those who have read it, but not recently, it is worth a revist. Even if that revist is unintentional.

Burning Wild by Christine Feehan

Christine Feehan is one of the top paranormal romance authors--period. Her Carpathian series may have catapulted her to super stardom, but it is her other series that have--in the past--held my interest.

Burning Wild, a new installment in the leopard series, started out strongly--very intense, very disturbing. But, sadly, there was a distance in her writing that isn't usually there. A kind of wall between her characters and the readers. I suspect it was a result of her attempts to portray the main character, Jake Bannaconni's, fear of emotion and the lack of control it brings. But in doing that, she somehow cut off the emotional impact of the rest of her characters.

The plot was very interesting, but the characters just weren't compelling.


The Perfect Poison by Amanda Quick

Amanda Quick aka Jayne Ann Krentz's Arcane Society series is unique. She switches from Victorian to Contemporary settings depending upon which name she uses, but the underlying themes and premises remain the same. Two very different styles dealing with the psychic powers and filled with suspense.

The last Quick installment left me a bit bored. The characters seemed overwhelmed by the themes of psychic power, murder and mayhem. And without strong characters, the plot really doesn't matter. This one brings Quick back to the strong heroes and heroines that made me pick up her books in the first place. Even her earliest historicals had suspenseful plot lines, but over time the heroines had succumbed to a high degree of wimpiness.

So, while not perfect--the suspense was not very suspenseful this time--the Perfect Poison is a vast improvement over previous Quick installments in the Arcane Society series.

If you like your Regency or Victorian historicals without the paranormal or psychic aspects, though, you should avoid this one.


Vision in White by Nora Roberts

I took a 2 year break from reading anything Nora Roberts. The books were increasingly disappointing and the characters irritating. I decided it was time to give Vision in White--strangely published in trade format--a chance.

Well...it was a good story. The characters were believable. The romance was actually on the sweet rather than steamy side--something I found refreshing. The plot wasn't all that compelling,but I enjoyed the book. I don't think, however, that it was one deserving of the fancy trade format or the fancy trade price.

And, for those with Nora fatigue, this may not be the best book to start with because it does echo several older Silhouette titles. She doesn't rehash the exact same characters and plots, but there are enough similarities to have you wondering if you have, in fact, read this before. She's written about female photographers before. And the bookish Carter Maguire seems to borrow heavily from MacAlister Booke from Heaven and Earth.

It was a nice change of pace, though, and I really did enjoy Carter Maguire--a nice guy who breaks that dangerous bad boy stereotype and gets his girl.


Don't Bargain with the Devil by Sabrina Jeffries

I adore Jeffries's School for Heiresses Series. They are all a little different, but Don't Bargain with the Devil is of a distinctly different mold than others in the series. I adore the hero--Diego, the magician. Not only was he sexy as hell, he was honorable in his way. And appreciative of Lucinda, our heroine, from the very first.

The shifting locales gave this book a different flavor, and the supporting cast of characters were--as usual--well developed and interesting. I found Lucinda to be unusually immature compared to how I imagined someone used to army camps would act. She seemed a bit too naive for me to fully believe in, but I enjoyed her impulsiveness. At least she wasn't simpering and weak.

Overall, this was a fun, quick read with a few less familiar plot twists and themes. It also sets up the finale quite well. I hope Mrs. Harris's story manages to meet or exceed expectations. We'll all find out next month!

Under Her Skin by Susan Mallery

There are some authors who are dependable. You KNOW that any book you pick up with their name on the cover is going to be terrific. There are others who are less dependable. Susan Mallery is one of the latter.

While I enjoyed her Marcelli sisters series, her Buchanan series was hit and miss. The latest release, Under Her Skin, was both hit and miss. Some parts were REALLY good, other parts were so trite and unconvincing that I almost put the book down. Even the characters weren't uniform in their depth. Some were memorable and believable, others were ho-hum and easily dismissed.

This was the first in a new series, but I doubt I'll be bothered to pick up the installments to follow.


Always a Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch

The Notorious Gentleman series continues with Always a Scoundrel. Unfortunately for me, I can't remember the previous two installments. It's been too long between books or the characters just weren't that memorable. Probably a little of both. I do remember the back to back release of #1 and #2--which begs the question of why the long wait for #3?

Apparently, Avon's marketing department also forgot this was part of a series since the cover of this one bears little resemblance to the almost modern photo look of the other two.

Having read everything Ms. Enoch has written--including that very rare Black Duke's Prize--I have to rank this one as about mediocre. I miss her wit! The characters are still fine (with the villain in this one being particularly evil) but the interplay between the two main characters just doesn't shine as brightly as --say--Georgiana and Dare in the Rake.

It's still an entertaining read, but I wish Enoch would return to the writing style that endeared her to me in the first place.


Tempted at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro

It's a little disconcerting to see Jacquie D's books without the Avon logo, but Berkley did a fine job with the cover. Tempted at Midnight is part of the Ladies Literary Society series and features one of my favorite D'Alessandro characters: Logan Jennsen.

The sparks practically fly off of the page between the two main characters--with D'Alessandro's trademark witty dialogue providing much of the interest.

The only disappointment for me was that her fun, plays on words were missing this time. They always make me smile and inject the story with an oft-needed levity.

D'Alessandro is underrated in my opinion--I find her stories far more fun than Julia Quinn or others of her sales caliber.


To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

I never seem to tire of the old Beauty and the Beast plot lines. I'm not sure why, but I find it--and the Ugly Duckling stories-- to be redeeming in some way. Perhaps it is my innate distaste for the way modern society focuses on appearance, but I really enjoy it when one--or both--characters don't follow the 'they're so beautiful' mold.

This is the first book by Elizabeth Hoyt that I have read, and I must say I wasn't disappointed. She has a fresh approach to historical romance and her characters are well developed--from the servants to the heroes. Every single one of them is memorable.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that the heroine was a 'fallen' woman who didn't fit the 'perfect' heroine mold either.

To Beguile a Beast was a very satisfying book with an even more satisfying theme.


The Virgin's Secret by Victoria Alexander

Alexander's newest book is a wonderful return to her historical romantic comedy roots. Much like the Marriage Lesson, the Virgin's Secret's charm lies in the dialogue and characters rather than the plot. The witty exchanges between the two main characters had me smiling from beginning to end.

I have a weakness for archaeological mysteries--especially those blended with romance--and this one fit the bill nicely. I loved the interplay between the family members, the continuing revelation of each layer of secrecy, and the light hearted way these two discover their feelings for each other.

My sole complaint is the awful title. While it makes sense within the context of the story and does not, in fact, refer to the heroine's sexual experience, it seems to recall the stereotypical and shallow romances of the past--one that most romance authors (including Ms. Alexander) have left far, far behind. It's a disservice to this wonderful book to have any connection to those trite pieces of writing. I nearly passed it by based on the title alone. Boo to the marketing department that let this title stand.


Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward

After blasting through the rest of the series at breakneck speed, I rushed out and bought the newest Black Dagger Brotherhood book in hardcover. It's the story of Rehvenge: drug-dealer, business tycoon, in-law to a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. It's hard to believe, but J.R.Ward continues to reinvent how we view paranormal romance. Each story is different. There is no confusing one character for another. The same plot is not rehashed over and over with minor changes in cast and location. To me, it seems nothing short of miraculous that she's managed to create a world filled with truly unique, believable characters without falling into the plot and character traps so many authors seem to fall victim to.

Rehvenge is an anti-hero. Someone who, in another genre, would be the villain. He's not just a little bit bad. He's ordered assassinations; he's a pimp and a drug dealer. Making the reader sympathize with that sort of character is no mean task, but Ward pulls it off brilliantly. And she doesn't pull any punches with the reality of what Rehvenge does.

One of the best assets a series has is the sense of history created by past installments. This is not a series to read out of order, because Ward uses that historical real estate masterfully. The relationships formed in previous books are shown as they really are: evolving, complex, and needing in maintenance. She makes sure that we know the "optimistic outcome" we've seen isn't set in stone. That the people in those relationships are capable of screwing them up. That just makes everything you've read seem that much more believable in a genre that usually demands a HEA (Happily Ever After.)

I'm also continually impressed by the themes Ward tackles head-on. Racism, sexuality and sexual identity, the concept of evil, domestic violence, drug addiction, medical ethics, freedom of choice, political machinations and the role of wealth. Nothing is off limits.

The subplots and story archs are also compelling--particularly those of John Matthew and Xhex. I love authors who whet the appetite for future installments as much as I hate them for making me wait to find out what happens next. What is really fascinating to me is that if you stripped away the paranormal aspect, this series would still work. You could move the time period, and it would still be compelling. The series would thrive based on the characters and writing alone. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series is one of the best series I've ever read--regardless of genre.


Highland Scandal by Julia London

London's latest Highland romance was a huge disappointment. I'm not quite sure where she went wrong, but what started out as a story with lots of potential humor turned into melodrama material with a rushed ending.

Part of the book's issues lie in the pacing, as most of the book drags on without anything of import occurring. Then, in the last 5o pages, London squeezes travel, intrigue, danger, imprisonment...

I normally enjoy Julia London's books and finish them quite quickly. Usually within a day or two. This one took me nearly a week to finish because I found myself wanting to put it down to read something else.

The characters are terrific, as always, with Newton being a stand-out for me. I just wish the cast had a better plot to play with.


Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands

After finishing a long-awaited historical by Lynsay Sands, I have just one thing to say: What happened to the funny? Sands has always delivered laugh out loud outrageousness, regardless of genre. But although there are a few, small amusing scenes, not one of the made me smile, let alone laugh.

As an historical romance, it's perfectly fine. The characters are fine, if a bit stereotypical, and the plot is predictable and easily figured out. In short--it's just another rubber stamp historical without any of the wit, charm and humor that Sands normally puts in her writing. Bummer.


Lover Eternal: Black Dagger Brotherhood #2

The second installment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series was just as satisfying as the first. The characters continue to be engaging, the plot full of suspense, the narrative voice truly edgy and unique.

My only complaint is that Ward was a little too skimpy on the important details revealed in the previous book, meaning those who start the series with THIS book will likely be a little lost. It's always a tricky balancing act to provide back story without sacrificing the current story's excitement. That's one of the pitfalls of series.

The good news for those with vampire fatigue is that this is not a series where the same character types appear over and over. Each character is VERY distinct. They are not interchangeable and you can't predict the twists and turns based on previous characters and plot lines.

The strangest thing for me is how Ward channels urban male culture here. I'm a rural country girl, so the urban slang and dialogue seems just as foreign as the more formal translated "vampire" language. That's part of what makes this series so engaging though. You can see that Ward has a good grasp on how men really are when they hang out away from women. What's important to them, how they communicate on a minimal level but understand each other nonetheless. In a lot of romance, you really don't get that deep into the men's thought processes. Or, if you do, they have a female-interpreted veneer over them. Ward's men are unfiltered, raw, and utterly believable.


Why I hate eBooks and DRM

Aside from the obvious tactile differences, most mainstream ebooks are saddled with a handicap far more weighty than appearance: DRM or digital rights management.
Those familiar with digital music are likely aware of this issue but it comes down to this:

Downloaded material shackled by DRM licenses are not property of the people who paid to download them. They are considered 'licensed' with restrictions placed on what devices they'll work on, how many devices they can be transferred to etc. Which fundamentally means you don't own the books in your library. I find that completely unacceptable. If I pay for something, I own it. It's mine. First Sale Doctrine should apply to all items--even digital ones.

Intellectual property rights debates have existed for centuries: should lending libraries, used bookstores, etc have the right to lend/sell copies of books? The Supreme Court says yes--copyright owners must get all profits from the FIRST SALE of the book and cannot control what happens further down the stream of commerce.

DRM changes that by treating ebooks as digital items instead of BOOKS. And digital items are governed by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

I refuse to give money to an industry that is fundamentally ruining our access to information. Sure, artists and authors should receive compensation for their efforts. But that should not be able to tell us when and where we can use their work after we have legally paid for access.


#Amazonfail and the dangers of information monopoly

Easter weekend, a firestorm broke out on the social site, Twitter . It was discovered that thousands of books on Amazon.com had lost their sales ranking and were being labeled as 'adult.' The majority of the excised books had Gay or Lesbian themes or characters. Non-explicit books were deranked while heterosexual, explicit books remained accessible with rankings intact. Twitter users used the hashtag of #amazonfail to spread the word, and spread it did. Within hours, it was the #1 search on the site.

Why is this a big deal? Amazon sales rankings are a major factor is exposure for books on the site. They feature in recommendation areas, bestseller lists by category etc. Without a sales ranking, some books are virtually invisible on the site--and hidden in the main search. If people cannot find a book, they cannot buy it. They may not even know that the book exists. And to have that access arbitrarily messed with by a flick of the switch is scary.

Twitter was ablaze with accusations of censorship on Amazon's behalf. While it is still officially being called a glitch, this episode resulted in a HUGE backlash against the Amazon brand as well as an even larger concern for intellectual freedom advocates: what to do when the world's largest bookstore restricts, hides or otherwise impedes our access to books and information. And it also exposes the dangers of allowing one media source grow so big that a book's publishing success is wholly dependent upon it.

Here's hoping that many of the Twitter users so outraged by this glitch take the opportunity to support their local, independent bookstores. Allowing a monopoly for any type of merchandise is unwise--allowing it to happen to books is unthinkable.


Lady Betrayed by Nicole Byrd

Is it light hearted or merely shallow? Not all romances have tortured heroes or heroines in the style of the Bronte sisters, but should they have no real concerns at all? It seems like many authors make the mistake of making their characters a little too shallow and unconcerned. Without angst, they throw plot hurdles at their beleaguered characters and end up with a book not worth reading.

That's what happened to Ms. Byrd in Lady Betrayed. The writing isn't bad, but there is absolutely no depth to either main character. They are not fully realized, are not emotional, are not--well--interesting. The plot, itself, strains credulity as well. Sure, it's a frivilous piece of writing, but it lacks the charm and wit of other light-hearted romance writers.

It's nice to read a story where the characters aren't broken people in need of some serious therapy, but we as readers still have to believe in the reality of those characters. They have to be compelling. Or it won't matter what happens in the plot because we won't care what happens to the characters.


Beyond Heaving Bosoms: the Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels

This is a book on my wish list. I haven't ordered it yet, but I know I'll break down and do so soon.

Written by the duo behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, this looks to be an entirely new take on the Romance genre.

Now, at first glance, the blog may seem to be nothing more than a couple of young kids spouting foul language. But a second look will reveal something startling: these ladies review Romance novels the same way English lit scholars do. They don't pull any punches pointing out when something is just plain stupid, but neither do they denigrate the genre as a whole. Instead, they point out themes, characters, and underlying issues that are present in ALL great literature. And they erase the stigma attached to this booming business.

Now, this is not to say that they don't act a little immature every now and again. But that is part of the fun. Understanding and pointing out the value of what so many women read while not taking themselves or their goal too seriously.

And if the early previews of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: the Smart Bitches Guide to Romance novels are any indication, I will be finding myself laughing out loud through most of it while sagely nodding my agreement to their conclusions.

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters Audio

The Vicky Bliss series by Elizabeth Peters has spanned 20 + years. In that time, a lot has changed. When the first book was written, feminism was new. Vicky was an extremely modern character. Now, her opinions and self-sufficiency are something women tend to take for granted.

There are the political and technological shifts, too, which make rereading (or in this case listening) to the stories seem like peering into a time capsule. Vicky's adventures have taken her from a divided Germany to a world connected by the internet, cell phones and instant communication. From telegraph to email.

It can be a bit disconcerting to hear something that is so dated--it throws me out the narrative every once in awhile--but it is also fun to revisit a series with such terrific, memorable characters. And when listening to Barbara Rosenblat narrate Herr Professor Schmidt, the story just comes alive. No one does accents like Rosenblat.

I think this series is an excellent microcosm of how popular literature can truly reflect the history, culture, values, and technology of a time without us being fully aware of it. It is only when a series spans this length of time (and the characters do not age) that we notice how much our society truly has changed in the last 20 years. It's something we are aware of intellectually, but I don't think we truly understand most of the time.