Friday, December 24, 2010

Deep Christmas Eve thoughts

So what do you do if you like the looks of the romance hero on the cover of your book, but have no idea who he is? Like, this guy.

Assuming, of course, that he isn't John De Salvo, Nathan Kamp, or Fabio...

Is there some sort of database somewhere that tells you who these people are?

Your only hope, I guess, is if you're out shopping at, say, Borders and you happen to notice:

And you shriek to your husband: "It's him! It's the same guy!"

After much debate, squinting and cover comparisons, you are 98% positive that Brandon Thomas from First Night is totally David Goddard from State Secrets.

Now that's some holiday luck.

Have a wonderful, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First Night

The title: First Night
The author: Debra Webb
Publication: Harlequin, 2009
Got it from: The Bookworm, Westdale, Hamilton

It's been a looong time since I finished a book, although I've had about ten on the go for the past month. But in between visiting my baby niece last month and moving into our first-ever house, I haven't had any time to read. Luckily this book came into my possession at just the right time and provided the escape I needed for two evenings in a row.

First Night is part of the "Colby Agency" Private Investigators series, which based on my research currently has 1, 353 titles.* In this one, Merrilee "Merri" Walters is a rather different sort of PI - she's deaf and has to do her job entirely by reading lips. I found this to be an interesting plot device for the heroine - it's her one vulnerability, as she's otherwise tough as nails. Her story takes place just before Christmas, when one Brandon Thomas stumbles into the agency covered in blood and determined to prove that he didn't kill his roommate. And it seems that he may be hiding a secret of his own.**

Unlike most romances, the primary focus of the story is on the action and the mystery rather than the relationship between the protagonists. I actually liked that a lot. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate on a book when you've got a million things on your mind, and you just want stuff to happen rather than endless naval-gazing and angst. Plus, it gives you a chance to learn about the characters through their actions rather than their words. I loved the fact that the action was rapid and the pages turned lightning fast, with the romance jumping in for a cameo every chapter or so. Actually, it's a lot like your typical action movie. It's got car chases, fistfights, murder, sexy times. Why don't more men read these?

*I kid. So far there's only 29 in the series. But that's a lot.
**I don't want to give it away, since it's a bit of a secret. But it does rhyme with the ailment Zap Brannigan is afflicted with - "sexslexia, the sexiest learning disorder."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Over Sea, Under Stone

The title: Over Sea, Under Stone
The author: Susan Cooper
Publication: Aladdin paperback, 1965
Got it from: Amazon, c.1998

There are times in your life when you need to read a Harlequin Blaze. And then there are other times when you need to read an amazing, stupendous and completely wonderful childhood series. Oh Dark is Rising series, how I love thee in so many ways. I'm kind of sad that I read The Dark is Rising last Christmas, only because it means I probably shouldn't read it so soon and it's my favourite. But I did get to go back and re-read the first book in the series, which takes place in Cornwall and involves three children who find a treasure map and follow the clues to a very special treasure. It sounds simple, but it's not, because there's so many layers and so much going on here that eventually comes out in the rest of the series. I love that it was written in 1965 and is so much in its era in some ways and so timeless in others. It's summer holidays spent by the sea without TV or computers or cell phones, when kids could just run around by themselves and have fun.

Why are the best books written for kids? There's so much adventure, so much suspense, so much charm that the 243 pages of my edition can hardly contain it. I will never, ever get tired of these books. Reading them is like giving myself a secret present that gives me delight every day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I thought I was getting a paramedic but I got a gigolo! or; Heated Rush

The title: Heated Rush
The author: Leslie Kelly
Publication: Harlequin Blaze, 2008
Got it from: The Sony Store

Back in March of last year, I gushed about how much I adored Leslie's Kelly's Slow Hands, where the bios of two bachelors at auction get mixed up and Maddie Turner ends up with a guy who she thinks is a gigolo, but is actually a paramedic. Now we get to see the flip side, where wholesome Annie Davis needs a nice paramedic to take home to meet her parents and ends up with suave -ahem- international businessman Sean Murphy.

I had my doubts that the sequel could live up to its predecessor. I loved hunky-but-wholesome Jake and smart, curvy Maddie because it was an atypical role reversal: she was the world-weary, rich business type and he was the down-to-earth one. But I'm happy to report that Heated Rush was fun and sexy with loveable characters and sparkling dialogue. Leslie Kelly is fast becoming one of my favourite writers of contemporary romances. If all the Harlequin Blaze books were this good, I'd go broke.

Annie Davis is a Chicago daycare owner who has just gotten out a relationship where she was burned - badly. She goes to the bachelor auction on a whim, hoping to find a suitable replacement boyfriend to take home to her traditional farm family. Seeing Sean Murphy's picture in the program, she instantly falls in love. What she doesn't know is that he isn't a paramedic at all. He's an international businessman who runs an escort service and was once an escort himself. She ends up bidding all her life savings on him and they experience immediate sparks on their first meet-and-greet. But Annie quickly realizes that there's more to Sean than meets the eye.

Leslie Kelly does a nice job of not letting the "big secrets" become a big issue in the plot and they get resolved well before the end, where the big crisis is whether Sean will be able to compromise his lifestyle for this woman. I love how Sean's struggle for independence from his overbearing aristocratic Irish father is juxtaposed with Annie's struggle to prove to her family she can thrive in the big city. It's the key element in bringing them together - because they get one another in a way nobody else can. Yes, there's definite sexual attraction (an erotic encounter in a ball pit comes to mind) but despite major lifestyle differences, they're not so different that Annie can't appreciate his travel bug and he can't appreciate her need for home - because they both share those qualities. They are also each mature enough to address their concerns in a straightforward way, rather than doing the passive-aggressive dance so prevalent in romance.

It's well-rounded characters like these that elevate this Harlequin beyond just marshmallow fluff and create something so much more satisfying.

The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

The title: The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise
The author: Julia Stewart
Publication: Doubleday, 2010
Got it from: The library

Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater in the Tower of London, living with his Greek wife Hebe and their 106-year-old tortoise (the oldest in the world, so they've heard). Husband and wife are still grieving the loss of their son Milo when Balthazar is given the chance to be caretaker of the Queen's animals, who are being moved to the Tower for safekeeping. Meanwhile, Hebe is busy working in the London Underground's Lost Property Office while her co-worker Valerie is falling in love with a ticket inspector. Other characters rounding out this zany tale are the tower's resident clergyman, who secretly writes principled erotica under a female pseudenom and is in love; Ruby, the barkeeper who was born and raised within the tower and has just discovered she's pregnant; and the wicked Ravenmaster who's as shifty-eyed and sneaky as the birds he keeps.

This book is more fast-paced and kookier than Amelie, with tons of quirky historical asides and amusing back stories of minor characters, like the tower doctor who was so intent on playing Monopoly that the baby he's supposed to be delivering just shoots out and slides across the floor. There were many genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and it's clear the author has carefully crafted her work. However, there was something about this book that I just couldn't warm up to. The protagonist of the story, Balthazar, was the most uninteresting character and I found I couldn't bring myself to emotionally respond to the loss he and his wife are experiencing. There was so much insanity, so many little asides and back stories, that the main characters just got muddled up in the narrative. I almost would have preferred if it had been a bird's eye view of the tower's kooks without ever really touching too much on one particular couple. I found the periodic heaviness of the death of the son jarring compared to the lighthearted whimsy of the rest of the story. But I would not shy away from recommending this book to anyone with an interest in the Tower of London and an amusing read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The magic of reading

It was early on a Saturday morning in late winter years ago. Breakfast was just over but a girl of ten had withdrawn to the parlor with a book...Then followed one never-to-be-forgotten day, a day filled to the brim with bliss, surprise and high excitement. The reading of this book was a revelation. She had not known before that one could by reading be transported so deeply into another world.

The book was
Little Women. That special joy and delight have been had since from books, and from books only. There has been deep pleasure in solitary places in woods, near the sea, or in the country. There has been joy in friendship and love, and satisfaction in creative work. But the joy and delight in books have gathered all these other joys and carried one into a wider, richer, freer existence; they have re-vitalized life.

Bertha Mahony Miller
Horn Book November/December 1935 Editorial

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard

The title: Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard
The author: Richard B. Wright
Publication: Phyllis Bruce Books, 2010
Got it from: The library

I found this book interesting because I'm not usually a big fan of the Tudor era - too many beheadings for my liking. But I read this because I knew I was going to meet the author through my job and I wanted to prepare myself. I actually ended up being pleasantly surprised. The story was far more gentle and far less gritty than I was bracing myself for.

This tale is really about two women. The first is Aerlene, an old woman living around the time of the Restoration, who is telling her life story and how she is secretly Shakespeare's daughter. The second woman is Aerlene's mother Elizabeth and through Aerlene we hear how Elizabeth met and had an affair with Shakespeare as a young woman in London. Reading this book, I almost felt that I was dealing with characters who possessed Victorian sensibilities - I had to keep reminding myself that everything was taking place in the 17th century, not the 19th. It certainly provided a more refreshing and realistic portrayal of humanity than the oversexed and overbloody depictions of the era in current media (think the Tudors TV show). It is also far superior to the movie Shakespeare in Love, which of course the storyline is similar to. I can't help disliking Shakespeare in Love more and more with each passing year for the whole "sexy Shakespeare" trend it started. Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard is a nice anecdote for those weary of the blood-and-sex Tudors and looking for more complex and well-rounded Elizabethan characters.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Grand Design

The title: The Grand Design
The author: Stephen Hawking (and Leonard Mlodinow)
Publication: Bantam, 2010
Got it from: The library

Ha! I just realized this book and my last one I reviewed start with "The Grand." And two very dissimilar books, too. Funny!

Stephen Hawking's newest book promises to answer the "ultimate questions of life," such as: how did the universe begin? Why are we here? Does the grand design of the universe prove there is a creator? Not bad for a book less than 200 pages long, and that includes the index and glossary too!

Does he answer these questions so fundamental to human life? The answer is yes - as far as we know. And don't read too quickly, or you'll miss it. Perhaps a disappointing answer, but then if you read this book, you'll learn that the easy answer - or the most obvious - is not always right. I was repeatedly reminded of the quotation from the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington: "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." Even though Stephen Hawking states in this book that the universe is not actually so difficult to understand, I'd like to add, "yes - if you're Stephen Hawking."

Believe me, reading this book is a total head trip. If it makes sense to you, you're probably either insane or an astrophysicist. Not that I don't believe every word is true, I just can't wrap my mind around it. For instance, did you know there are actually believed to be eleven - eleven! - dimensions? That time did not exist before the Big Bang but was created by it? Or - hold on to your seats, because this is going to get weirder than you've ever thought possible - not only are there alternate histories, but that every single alternate history exists, simultaneously, right now. Seriously. For real.

Don't let the big ideas scare you. This is important stuff, but it's good stuff, and even if you can't follow everything you can at least be amused by Hawking's writing style and sense of humour. Just when you think an analogy is going to be dry, he comes out with gems like these: "In physics a system is said to have symmetry if its properties are unaffected by a certain transformation such as rotating it in space or taking a mirror image. For example, if you flip a donut over, it looks exactly the same (unless it has a chocolate topping, in which case it is better just to eat it)." Scientists have such a great sense of humour. That's why everyone laughed at a Neil deGrasse Tyson talk I attended when he said, "the universe is trying to kill you." It would be scary if it wasn't so funny.

To sum up:
Universe - crazy to puny humans and our puny minds
Stephen Hawking - brilliant and funny
Chocolate donuts - delicious

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Grand Sophy

The title: The Grand Sophy
The author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Sourcebooks, 2009 (originally 1950)
Got it from: Jane Austen Today/Sourcebooks

Last year I was the lucky winner of The Grand Sophy giveaway from Sourcebooks via the excellent website Jane Austen Today (see sidebar for link). And I must say, Sourcebooks totally rocks my world! Not only have they redesigned all the Georgette Heyers with beautiful new covers, they were also awesome enough to send me a copy of The Grand Sophy in the mail, for free! Maybe other book reviewers get free books all the time, but it was a totally novel (heh) experience for me. Believe me, the only thing better than reading this book was having it delivered to my home without having to do a thing.

The Grand Sophy is considered one of Heyer's finest works, and it's easy to understand why. Sophy Stanton-Lacy is one of those fearless heroines, similar to Mma Ramotswe in The #1 Ladies Detective Agency or Amelia Peabody, who will let nothing stand in her way and cares little about the opinion of others. Sophy's hoydenish ways can be largely attributed to her father's careless upbringing on the Continent, and when she arrives on English soil she finds that the rules of propriety in that country are much more restrictive than she's used to.

The story revolves around the Rivenhalls, Sophy's aunt's family, and their various romantic and financial entanglements. Of course, only Sophy has what it takes to straighten them out and she does so in unconventional and hilarious ways. If you can get used to the idea of the hero of the story being Sophy's cousin (it was acceptable at the time!) you will enjoy this. I particularly enjoyed a passage that so perfectly explains the difference between one of her cousin's suitors, a poet, and another more prosy but far more suitable man:

Mr. Fawnhope's handsome face and engaging smile might dazzle the female eye, but Mr. Fawnhope had not yet learned the art of conveying to a lady the gratifying impression that he considered her a fragile creature, to be cherished, and in every way considered. Lord Charlbury might be constitutionally incapable of addressing her as Nymph, or of comparing bluebells unfavourably with her eyes, but Lord Charlbury would infallibly provide a cloak for her if the weather was inclement, lift her over obstacles she could well climb without assistance, and in every way convince her that in his eyes she was a precious being whom it was impossible to guard too carefully. - p.269

Of course, this sort of cherishing applies far more to delicate Cecilia than to Sophy herself, whose temperament is far more suited to her cousin Charles' headstrong and argumentative personality, and it's with particular glee that we see how Sophy wins his affections away from Eugenia, Charles' prissy, boring and self-righteous fiancee (a long-lost twin of Mary Bennett from Pride and Prejudice?). It's the well-drawn characters, more than anything, that make this story come alive. Long after the book is done and the plot forgotten, you'll remember Sophy, and no author could ask more of her heroine.

A Little Book of Language

The title: A Little Book of Language
The author: David Crystal
Publication: Yale University Press, 2010
Got it from: The library

Two years ago I read another book by linguist David Crystal that I thoroughly enjoyed, so I thought I would pick this up for a skim-through. In the end the book caught my interest so much I read it the whole way through.

This book is written as an introduction to language for young people, but anybody who is curious about language can read it. I loved Crystal's charming, unpretentious writing and after reading it, I walked away with a better appreciation for speech and language. I have encountered many things in this book before, but the way he wrote gave me a different perspective. For instance, I hadn't thought much about what an amazing thing it is for a baby to learn language, yet most are fluent within two years - and the first two years of life, no less!

As usual, I was most fascinated by the history of language, and Crystal does a good job hypothesizing how speech developed and what the first languages would have sounded like. He makes the interesting point that language is about more than communication. It actually shapes the way we think and allows us to tell stories from the past as well as predict the future. I was also interested in his take on spelling. Crystal is a big proponent of the philosophy that language is fluid, and that it is pointless to try to "preserve" language. In that respect, he is fascinated by the speech of the younger generations and the language of texting, which he sees not as a deterioration of spelling but as a new and important branch. In fact, he theorizes that texters can spell just as well as everyone else, and to create shorthand such as "C U L8R" requires an advanced understanding of language that can then be played with.

While some readers may balk at the idea of the evolution of language, Crystal is quick to point out that before the printing press, spellings were more or less arbitrary. Because of the written word, we have ended up spelling things as they were pronounced hundreds of years ago - for instance, we once said the "k" in "knife." As the rules of English were chosen randomly by various printers over the centuries, there is no need to cling so dogmatically to spelling and grammar. What is right for one person at one time need not apply to all English speakers for all time. If that were the case, we'd all be speaking Shakespeare's language - or the language of Chaucer, for that matter!

Random postscript - you may have noticed that the header on this blog has been changing a lot lately. It's because I have been playing around with it, trying to find something I can live with. I've finally decided to stick to something simple, in keeping with my philosophy that my blog shouldn't be weighted down with weird fonts, tons of graphics or general clutter. I hope that this works for everyone and that you continue to enjoy reading my reviews as much as I enjoy writing them!

ETA: I've updated the links for my favourite book websites with some new sites, including a few of my favourite e-book stores. Please check them out!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Noble Captive

The title: A Noble Captive
The author: Michelle Styles
Publication: Harlequin, 2010
Got it from: The library

Author Michelle Styles has bemoaned the fact that historical romances are extremely limited in time settings and that the golden age of Rome, so rich is possibility, is barely ever used as a setting. Man, I hear that. For a hormonal woman focused university student like me, my Roman history classes in university were made all the sweeter thinking about hunky centurions. Plus, they have those awesome helmets that can double as brooms if you turn them upside down.

So that is why I think it's awesome that Michelle Styles is writing romances set in the Roman world. Her research and attention to detail is extraordinary, and while the characters do sometimes slip into modern speech, it doesn't detract from the story at all.

The hero of A Noble Captive, as you may have guessed from the cover, is a centurion named Marcus Livius Tullio, who is simply called Tullio in the Roman fashion. He and the men he leads have been captured by pirates - this is the age of the Republic, a more wild and lawless time before the Augustan Empire (I knew those university classes would come in handy some day! Thank you Dr. Goud!*) The island where the pirates come from is also the home of the sibyl, a priestess of the goddess Kybele and a powerful religious leader who the pirates (mostly) respect. When Tullio and his men arrive as captives, exhausted and near death, he is able to invoke the protection of the sibyl. What he doesn't know is that the "sibyl" is actually the real priestesses' beautiful niece Helena, taking the place of her sick aunt to fool the suspicious pirates.

There's a lot of political maneuvering and historical detail here, so don't expect this to be one of those romances where you can just turn your brain off and be done. The pace of the book is also slow - sometimes too slow - and there isn't a whole lot of action, at least until the very end. The primary conflict of the book is if Helena will trust Tullio, a hated Roman. Of course we, the readers, know Tullio is really an honorable and noble man. But screaming, "What's the matter with you woman? Are you blind?" at the heroine seems to be di rigeur these days. Not my favourite book this year by any means, but hopefully this augurs the start of many more Roman-themed romances.

*I also felt extremely proud that I knew the difference between a tribute, a tribune and a trireme before reading this. I think I deserve a cookie.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The author: Alan Bradley
Publication: Doubleday, 2009
Got it from: The library

This book has been getting a lot of buzz in the past year and I'm probably the last person I know who's read it. 11-year-old Flavia de Luce is a precocious - and I do mean precocious - girl living in rural 1950's England. Living in a big old ramshackle family estate, she loves to indulge in her passion for chemistry in a lab abandoned by a long-dead ancestor. Her mother is dead and her father is a reclusive stamp collector who seldom talks to his daughters. Sister Ophelia (Feely) is obsessed with boys and makeup and Daphne (Daffy) likes to read big books with difficult words. Both enjoy tormenting Flavia.

The story begins when a dead jack snipe turns up on the kitchen porch with a stamp impaled on its bill. If that isn't strange enough, Flavia finds a dying man in the cucumber patch who breathes his last words to her before promptly expiring. Flavia sets out to solve the case with pigtails swinging, cycling around the town of Bishop's Lacey on her trusted bike Gladys and gathering evidence.

This is a mystery as comforting as tea on Sunday. One can't help wondering if Flavia is still out there somewhere in an English village, 7o years old and solving crime Miss Marple-style. It's light and enjoyable, easy to read and a lot of fun.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Frozen Thames

The title: The Frozen Thames
The author: Helen Humphries
Publication: McClelland and Stewart, 2007
Got it from: Hannelore's, July 2010

Between 1142 and 1895, the River Thames froze numerous times. This short book, so small you can almost fit it in your pocket, documents each of these freezings in
little vignettes. Each story is almost like poetry, a "long meditation on the nature of ice." Some are told in first person and some in third, and almost all of them are based on real life historical fact or anecdotes. In one, Queen Elizabeth practices her bow and arrow with a maid, in another lovers meet upon the ice in a time of plague, and in many frost fairs and fun are sobered by tales of unlucky people falling through the ice.

One can't help feeling sad that the Thames will never freeze again. Pollution, global warming, a new London Bridge and alteration of the river bed have all worked to ensure the Thames remains open even in cold winters. Still, I can't help being fascinated by the thought that at one time, whole villages were constructed on the ice, even if for just a short time (the main street was called - what else?- Freezeland Street). With descriptions of beds so cold the sheets froze solid, this is a book best read in the summer for a dose of chilliness.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Things I haven't been reviewing

It's been a rough summer for book reviewing. First there were the visitors, followed by the new job. Then there was the heat wave, where the only thing any of us were good for was lying on the couch, staring at our popsicles. There was also the weekend with the unfortunate food poisoning incident, which I will not get into because this is a nice blog. I also took up leading one of the library's book clubs, so there's an extra book a month. And for some reason, all the books I'm reading now seem terribly long and the end is nowhere in sight. Here are some of the things I've been reading/seeing in the meantime, but haven't been review material:

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne - One of the nice things about my Kobo is the 100 free preloaded classics. I was looking for a fun travel adventure and I really enjoyed reading this on my breaks at work. It didn't take too long to finish.

Death on the Nile and 4:5o From Paddington - I watched both of these movies based on Agatha Christie books in July. They're fairly recent versions from the past couple of years. Death on the Nile had some great shots of Egypt and 4:50 From Paddington was a fun "cozy" mystery.

 Jane Urquhart's biography of L.M. Montgomery. One of my favourite people from history, but her life is so sad to read about.

Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker - Disappointing. Some of the stories were interesting, but many were boring and it took me months to get through this. The characters seemed stereotyped and I didn't feel like the author was really bringing a fresh perspective on real feminist issues.

Ramona and Beezus - What a fantastic movie! This is exactly the sort of film I would have watched 100 times if I was eight. Alright, maybe I'll buy it and watch it over and over anyway. I loved the books but haven't read them in probably twenty years, but even still I remembered so many things from the books - Susan's boing-boing curls, Ramona's commercial aspirations, Willa Jean and her tricycle, the egg incident, etc. And the little girl who plays Ramona - so frigging cute! They really got it right with this one.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones - Not a book I would have picked up on my own, but it was for book club and it wasn't too bad. It's set in the Solomon Islands near Papua New Guinea in the early 1990's and it's about a girl whose schoolteacher only has one book to read to the class - Great Expectations. This is really a novel about the power of words and storytelling and how they can transform a person.

The 1900 House - I've been watching this on YouTube, slowly, so I can savour this. So far I've loved watching the house being renovated to Edwardian specifications. I was fascinated when they tore off the wallpaper to find the original decorating underneath and when they took out a wall to find the old hearth. It kind of makes me wonder what's lurking around the 1860's house I now live in.

The Supersizers. Currently my favourite show. If you haven't seen it, it's about two British people who try to eat and live through different eras (Victorian, Roman, medieval, etc.) The hosts, Giles and Sue, are hysterical. "Don't come running to me if you get rickets!" Since there's only a limited number of shows, I've been careful about watching them sparingly but I have found myself watching some of them twice just to revel in the history and hilarity. See it on YouTube or the Food Network on Saturday afternoons.

I've also downloaded All About Romance's Top 100 Romance Novels, compiled in November 2007, and was horrified that I've read only a paltry seven, even though I own another five more that I have yet to read. Time to get cracking on the romance front, methinks...

Have a safe and happy August and hopefully I will be back with more reviews sooner rather than later!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dear Pen Pal

The title: Dear Pen Pal 
The author: Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: Simon and Shuster, 2009

 Got it from: Kobo Books

The gals are back reading Jean Webster's Daddy Long-Legs in this third book in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series. The story kicks off with Jess being accepted to an exclusive Concord boarding school, which of course parallels the story they're reading. They also begin writing to pen pals in Wyoming, each of course having similar character traits to their Concord counterparts (Summer loves quilting, Megan's into fashion; Winky is an outdoors ranch girl, Cassidy loves being a tomboy into sports, etc.) Having now accepted their arch-nemesis Becca into the group during the last installment, their new enemy is Savannah Sinclair, a snobby senator's daughter who is rooming with Jess at boarding school. Things are also getting interesting in the romance department, as Emma and Stuart's relationship grows, Jess is almost ready to admit her feelings for Emma's older brother, and even Cassidy has an unwanted admirer.

Daddy Long-Legs is the only one of the four book club books I haven't read (a fourth novel, where they read Pride and Prejudice, is due to be published later this year). I didn't find this book to be as fun as the first two. The timeline also seems to jump in great leaps and bounds: someone mentions a class trip to Washington and presto! - a few pages later they're there. I really wish I had been in this book club when I was younger, as everything always seems to work out so magically for everyone and spontaneous field trips to faraway places frequently crop up (ten bucks says they go to England in the next book). Also, I had a difficult time keeping the huge cast of characters straight toward the end. Overall, though, I did enjoy this book and it kept me turning pages late at night. I am looking forward to the next and last installment, as I suspect it will be romance-heavy as their book of choice indicates. And I can't wait for Jess and Darcy Hawthorne to get together. I mean, come on. With a name like Darcy, how could he not end up being the real romantic hero of the series?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will post soon

Updates coming soon, I PROMISE! Things have just been too crazy 'round here to read any books worth blogging about. But I will definitely get back to it as soon as humanly possible.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crossed Quills

The title: Crossed Quills
The author: Carola Dunn
Publication: Zebra, 1998
Got it from: Hannelore's, c. spring 2008

I finished this book ages ago and I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to review it before now. Never mind the 80's-looking cover with David Hasselhoff, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a romance novel more.

Wynn Selworth has recently inherited his great-uncle's riches and viscount title. Being passionate about the plight of the poor in England, he longs to make a speech in the House of Lords that will make people sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, Wynn has a secret. For years he wrote Gothic romances under the pen name Valentine Dred. Now he can't write his speech without using the melodramatic metaphors of his romances. As a fan of the radical political newspaper writer "Prometheus," Wynn goes to engage this man's service to help his writing.

What he doesn't know is that "Prometheus" is actually a young woman who took up writing radical reform speeches when her father died (he was the original Prometheus.) Pippa Lisle agrees to act as the "go-between" for Wynn and Prometheus if he agrees to sponsor her younger sister's coming-out in London. As Wynn himself has a younger sister coming out that season, he agrees. Pippa is dismayed when her mother also gets Wynn to sponsor Pippa herself, as she would far rather be home reading the latest political news than attending dinner parties and dances.

Carola Dunn does an excellent job of handling a story that could have easily veered into silly or preachy territory. Instead, it is the perfect blend of romance, humor and sweetness. Being a traditional Regency, there's not so much as a chaste kiss, but there is nonetheless wonderful sexual tension, particularly when Pippa imagines being Wynn's wife. Both the protagonists are extremely likable, intelligent and average-looking. Wynn is not your typical rakish Regency viscount, but a kind and considerate man who respects women and finds himself falling in love quite unexpectedly. Pippa does not plan on getting married because of her independence, and there's some nice feminist moments when she muses on the plight of women in her society:

Why were unmarried ladies supposed to be kept in ignorance of so much that was going on in the world? Surely the more they knew the better they could deal with life.

If women were properly educated, they would want to run their own lives. Men would have to give up their authority - which was the answer to her question. They set the rules, and in their determination to keep hold of the reins, they dictated what respectable young ladies should or should not know.

It's refreshing to read a romance that's a true meeting on minds; where you feel the hero and heroine are really equals. The tension is held perfectly - are they or aren't they finally going to admit their feelings for each other? - right up until the very last paragraph. I also liked how the secondary characters were equally enjoyable when they could have so easily been caricatures. There's a nice secondary romance with Pippa's younger sister and one of Wynn's friends. We're also introduced to another of Wynn's sisters, who's a longtime friend of Pippa's and has married before the story begins. I'm sorely disappointed that Dunn never wrote their story, because they seemed like a wonderful match too. Since I don't usually care for series romance, that's a huge compliment to the author that I liked her secondary characters enough to want to read more about them.

I was very sorry to finish this book. Highly recommended, especially if you're looking for a comfort read. This is the perfect book for relaxing in the bath, on a cold evening, or if you're sick and don't want to get out of bed. A-

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Home in Time for Christmas

The title: Home in Time for Christmas
The author: Heather Graham
Publication: Mira, 2009
Got it from: MC, Xmas 2009


I know - a Christmas book in May? What was I thinking? Actually, we've been having a heat wave here with 36 degrees Celsius being the high (that's oh, about a million degrees Fahrenheit for you American readers). I thought reading about snowstorms might cool me off a bit.

This book had a very promising premise. Jake Mallory is an American Patriot about to be executed for treason by the British. Just as the noose is about to drop, his adopted sister, who practices witchcraft, arrives and says a spell that makes him disappear. Jake lands in the middle of a Massachusetts road and is nearly run down by the story's heroine, Melody Tarleton. She takes him home to her kooky family and they have to figure out what to do with Jake.

My friend, who gave me this book last Christmas, wrote, "feel free to despise it," worried that the story's far-fetchedness would bother even my time-travel loving self. So I'm going to take her up on her offer, though not because the story is far-fetched - of course it is, why would anyone buy a time-traveling soldier book thinking otherwise? I despise it because it sucks. Hardcore. I usually think of nice things to say about books I don't like, but I just can't for this one. How do I despise it? Let me count the ways:

10. Poor copy editing. This may or may not be poor Heather Graham's fault, but since she's going to take the flack for the rest of my criticism, I'll let her off the hook. Maybe this book was rushed out in time for the holiday season, but I have never seen so many typos in a commercially printed book in my life. Sentences where key words were left out, the dreaded it's/its mixup and too many others to count marred my reading experience.

9. Poor editing, period. This was the read deal-breaker for me. Again, this may be because the book was rushed out for the holidays, but nobody - not even mega bestselling authors with years of publishing history - should be let off the hook from close editing. If I didn't have the finished book in my hands, I'd say this was just a rough draft. The narrative flow was awful, jumping here and there all over the place without any semblance of coherence. It was as if I were reading pieces of the author's first draft, before she had a chance to link scenes together.

8. Wooden dialogue. The dialogue in this book had all the finesse of an eighth grade short story competition. Now, I don't have any serious writing classes under my belt, but even I know that you can't just keep saying "he said/she said." It's amateurish. Even, "he pontificated, she burbled, the thing bloviated" is a more creative approach. And the way people spoke in this book - ouch. It sounded so unrealistic, so forced, so expository, that I cringed the whole way through. Just listen to this "bantering" between Melody's parents as an example:

"We have been married since time began," he said with a sigh.

She was no longer completely concentrating. She gave him a good jab in the ribs.*


"Speak for yourself, my love. I am not that old."


"And, my dear husband, you do recall that you might be considered an alchemist."

"Right. Just like Merlin. Where's the sword? I can pull it out of a stone."

See how kooky they are? See how they playfully banter with each other? See how the author is forcing them to be cah-razy and making no sense at all?

7. Poor characterization. Every single character in this book is two-dimensional. Jake is (I think) supposed to come across as mysteriously enigmatic, but really, I think it's because the author couldn't be bothered giving him a personality other than "random Patriot" and he's really just very boring. Melody is gratingly annoying, always flying off the handle at her family. Her "trait" is that she's an artist, which I didn't realize until 3/4 of the way through the book, when we learn that Jake is teh one, not her boyfriend Mark, because he recognizes her true artistic spirit. At one point, Jake realizes Mark is not right for Melody because he doesn't recognize that she's "so much more" than Mark thinks she is. Really? I think Mark has her spot on.

The rest of Melody's family can be lumped into a sort of, "oh, you wacky people, you" category. Her mother is a sort of hippy-dippy free spirit (gag) who believes in women's freedom but nevertheless spends the whole book slaving away in the kitchen and smothering her family. Melody's dad is an absent-minded blob who does - well, I'm not sure what he does, but it's vaguely science-y. He contributes very little to the story. Melody's brother bickers with her like they're both seven and is creepy enough to have a thing for strippers, which is what he wants to introduce Jake to as part of his twenty-first century experience. Then there's Mark, Melody's boyfriend, who serves as Jake's foil because he's so uptight and old-fashioned and...oh, wait. Jake's like that too. Never mind.

6. Cliches ahoy! I've already mentioned the kooky family. How about the lovable deformed pets? The overprotective brother? (you actually get two in this story!) The magical wishing well? The old diary that provides all the answers? The notes sealed in the fireplace? The "years later" epilogue where everybody finds true love, there's a passel of kids named after other characters and everybody's gotten successful and found their true calling?

5. Serious anachronisms. Other reviewers have pointed out that Jake mentions the U.S. constitution even though he time-traveled before it was even written, but I won't touch that. My main problem is Jake's handling of being in the twenty-first century. I'm reminded of a line from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (a movie that deals with time travel in a much more fun, creative way) when Ted, after hauling historical figures through time, commends Socrates for handling time travel, "with the greatest of ease." Jake understands and accepts everything so completely that I almost shrieked, "Are you serious!?" In mere days, he talks 21st century slang and words like cell phone, the Internet, etc. roll off his lips easily. He's so adept at picking up our language that his sister, still living in the 18th century, starts to say words like "seriously," too. Amazing! He also instantly knows how to run appliances and groom himself 21st-century style. What a guy.

4. Where's the good times? Think of all the fun you can have writing a story about somebody from the Revolutionary War arriving in the 21st century, and you can bet Heather Graham didn't write about it. Jake's "education" in modern times consists of him watching lots of DVDs like Full Metal Jacket and learning words like "dickhead." Yes, you heard that right. When Jake's announced he's learned this, Melody's mother says, "Wonderful. We've taught him all the right stuff." I found this to be the most unintentionally hilarious line in the book. Old Jake would have probably been better off if he'd dropped into, say, the middle of Siberia rather than with these nuts.

3. Mystical mumbo-jumbo. A book can have magic, but it has to have rules. A book can beat you over the head with a moral message, but it has to figure out what it's saying first. This book did neither.

Despite people hurling back and forth through time like paper airplanes toward the end, it was never clearly explained how this all worked, despite the fact that Melody's dad's work supposedly helped it all. It was some sort of combination of black holes, electo-magnetic waves, magic herbal potion and rose petals. Look, everybody knows if you're going to time-travel only one thing does it, like a phone booth or a DeLorean or a hot tub. Not five!

And what the hey was this book trying to say about religion? It was all over the place. Melody's mom went on and on about acceptance and understanding and they all attended some sort of Wiccan all-inclusive party, but the characters kept mentioning Jesus and there was a mystical priest thrown in for good measure. With no overarching theme or message, all I could get from this book is love your family, be true to yourself, there is no "I" in we, accept all religions, worship God, women should work outside the home except when they have to cook for their families, women should be traditional and stay home and make lots of babies, love each other for ourselves, miracles happen at Christmas, if you wish for something hard enough it can come true, don't choose that traditional man choose the other one, love your brother even when he's an asshole, bring home stray things you find on the side of the road, the world hasn't changed in two hundred years except it has....I could go on, but I'm afraid I'd start making as much sense as this book.

2. It's weird. That's the one word I can use to sum up this book, and I can't think of a better one. It's like something you would see a night you were up sick and couldn't sleep and you turned on the TV at 5 am and this was on, and you watched it and got a little creeped out and then afterward you're never quite sure you saw it or it actually existed because you can't find it on IMDB.

1. It's boring. This really saddened me. It wasn't even so bad it was hilarious and entertaining, it was just bad. About halfway through I kept wishing it would end. It wasn't even that long but it felt way too long. I wouldn't have finished it except that I felt like I had to because a friend gave it to me.

Usually I end my unfavourable reviews by saying, "I didn't like it, but here's why you might." But I can't. I really can't recommend this book to anybody and I wish to warn you away from it right now. Please save yourself or your loved one the $20.00 and stay as far away from this book as possible. If you value your reading time (and I know you do) avoid Home in Time for Christmas because there is nothing worthwhile about this book. I am giving it a D, and it's spared the F only because I still like the concept.

*This is an example of the bad writing right here. If she really wasn't concentrating, she wouldn't have heard him and wouldn't have elbowed him in the ribs. But don't expect this book to make that much sense.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Too Much Happiness

The title: Too Much Happiness 
The author: Alice Munro
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 2009 

Got it from: DC, Xmas 2009

Having never read any Alice Munro stories, and hearing so many great things about this author, I was curious to read her latest acclaimed book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this is probably my most different reading experience of the past five years.

Munro's writing is technically brilliant, and she takes you to places you don't expect. "Dimensions" is the story of a young woman visiting her husband in jail for committing a crime that you don't discover until the end, so repulsive that it makes you visibly uncomfortable. "Wenlock Edge" starts out as a seemingly normal story of a girl and her roommate, only to evolve into something bizarre as the narrator is invited into a dinner party where she is asked to strip naked for an older man and read him stories. I found this story to be the "humorous" one of the bunch and I mean humorous in a weirdly creepy sort of way. "Free Radicals" had me on edge, worried as a killer on the loose dines with a widowed old lady whose home he had broken into. The most interesting story (for me), "Child's Play," deals with two girls and their obsession with a mentally challenged girl decades ago and how fear of the unknown can lead to terrible consequences.

Don't read these stories if you are looking for a light read, where everything is spelled out for you and the endings are happy. I'm going to be honest and say that I didn't like this book. It wasn't my cup of tea at all, but I do appreciated that it made me think and I still can't figure out all the hidden symbolism and meaning in these stories. My only suggestion is that if you do read this book, it is with an open mind and no expectations.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Little Miss Red

The title: Little Miss Red
The author: Robin Palmer
Publication: Speak, 2010
Got it from: The Library

High school student Sophie Greene is bored with her boyfriend of three years and wants to lead a more glamorous life, like the star of her favourite romance books, Devon Devoreaux, in this modern spin on the Little Red Riding Hood tale. On the plane to Grandma's house (a Florida condo, not a cabin in the woods) bringing family heirloom menorahs in place of the basket of goodies, she meets bad-boy Jack, a wannabe rock star motorcycle-riding kind of guy. But will Sophie give up her practical life in California for Jack's big bad wolf ways?

The problem with this book, as other reviewers have mentioned, is that Sophie is pretty shallow. Her naive views of what love should be could give Twilight's Bella a run for her money. In the end she of course realizes how self-absorbed and self-interested Jack is, but I didn't feel that Sophie herself was much better. Added to that, both Jack and Michael, Sophie's emo boyfriend, are pretty lame. Jack isn't a wolf so much as a mooching flirt and only a girl as airheaded as Sophie would fall for his act for even a second. Michael seems lazy and neglectful, and his claim to Sophie's love is that he's good at helping her pick out outfits. Sophie's tracksuit-wearing Grandma provided some amusement, as well as Sophie's references to the ultra-cheesy Devon Devoreaux novels. But overall this book doesn't rate much more than a middling "C".

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Make Your Move

The title: Make Your Move
The author: Samantha Hunter
Publication: Harlequin, 2010
Got it from: Kobo Books

This is the first book I read on my brand-new Kobo eReader, and I bought it for one reason only: the hero is a nerd!

Jodie Patterson is the owner of a Chicago bakery, Just Eat It (heh), which specializes in cookies with special frosting that enhance women's sexual attractiveness. The frosting was developed by Jodie's friend and business partner, Dr. Dan Ellison, a scientist at the local university. Jodie and Dan have had a thing for each other for years, but neither one has had the guts to make the first move: he because he's too shy, she because she's afraid of commitment. She's so afraid of commitment, in fact, that she's had too many one-night stands to count. One night, after bringing home Dan's colleague and rival Jason, Jodie realizes that Dan is the reason she's into nerds and Dan realizes that he's jealous and wants to be more than friends with Jodie.

Reading books like this reminds me of why I love contemporary romance and nerdy heroes. I don't know any firefighters, Navy SEALs, special ops agents, cowboys or viscounts in real life, but professors? I think I probably know more men who teach at universities than don't. So guys who save the world with their brain power? I'm so there. Maybe they're not dodging bullets and engaging in high-speed car chases, but damnit, they have a paper to deliver and they've got to defend their thesis against that jerk who always wants to talk about his own research. And why join the NRA when you can be the member of a chess club, baby? When I read this book, I thought: here's an author who really gets that men with glasses are sexy. Can I just beat this dead horse one more time and bemoan the fact that there aren't nearly enough nerd heroes in romance?

Oh yes, the book. I'm supposed to talk about that. I'm afraid I can't give an objective review because I was so enthralled by the fact that the hero was an honest-to-goodness nerd. Or maybe that's the point. The book was incredibly silly. The villain was over-the-top. The obstacles facing the hero and heroine were almost non-existent. The plot was so light it could float away on a morning breeze. But I loved it. LOVED IT. End of story.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Behind a Mask

The title: Behind a Mask; Or, A Woman's PowerThe author: Louisa May Alcott
Publication: Wildside Press, 2005 (originally 1866)Got it from: SC, Xmas 2009

If you only know Louisa May Alcott from Little Women, you'd be surprised to discover this novella (published here as a single volume rather than in an anthology) about "romance and sexual intrigue." I certainly had a hard time remembering it was Alcott. It almost seemed like Austen in its writing, with a healthy dose of Bronte manipulation and head games thrown in for good measure.

Jean Muir is the catalyst of the whole story, a seemingly innocent, meek young woman who arrives at the Coventry household as governess only to cause jealousy and strife amongst the once peaceful household. She manages to deceive everybody in the family, but the reader of course knows better, having caught a glimpse of Jean's true self in the first chapter: "a haggard, worn and moody woman of thirty at least" (ouch). She manages to have both the Coventry brothers fight over her in a jealous rage - and I do mean fight, with knife wounds and all. But what is her true purpose? I won't spoil the story, but it certainly took an interesting and unexpected turn at the end. A must read for anybody interested in women's social standings in the 19th century.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New York: the Novel

The title: New York: the Novel
The author: Edward Rutherfurd
Publication: Doubleday, 2009
Got it from: La Library

You can forgive me for not posting anything new in nearly a month when you realize I've been trying to get through this close-to-900 pages bad boy. I've been a fan of Rutherfurd's since Sarum and when this book was announced, I looked forward to it with much anticipation. I love New York, I love Rutherfurd, I love long historical family epochs that explore a city's history. What more could you ask for?

So, was it worth it? For me, yes. I knew enough about New York and its history to anticipate key moments, but not enough so that some moments came as a surprise. As ever with Rutherfurd's books, they're as much history as narrative fiction. (Hint - if you're not a fan of the info dump, I suggest you skip this one). New York follows the lives of a handful of New York families, and because it's such a multicultural city, we get families of several different nationalities: Native, Dutch, English, Irish, African, Italian, Puerto Rican, Jewish. The main family are the Masters, descended from a somewhat rascally Englishman (another Rutherfurd trope) who goes on to found a wealthy, prosperous New York clan.

The Masters are the only family that survive the entire narrative, from the time of the 17th century Dutch settlers through to the World Trade Center attacks and beyond. I was a bit disappointed that the histories of some families never got picked up again: the story of a black slave family named Hudson never gets re-introduced and we're only given a teasing glimpse of an illegitimate Native American branch of the Master family. But the new characters that Rutrherfurd introduces are so interesting that it's not hard to forgive him. Particularly exciting are the stories of the Civil War draft riots, the 19th century robber barons and the building of skyscrapers like the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in the 1920's and 30's.

This book definitely requires a lot of attention and patience to fully appreciate, and it does slow down in some parts, particularly the descriptions of battles in the Revolutionary War. But if you have the time to devote to it, and don't mind your histories with a little action and romance thrown in, New York is a very rewarding use of your reading time.

4 1/2 Statue of Liberties out of 5.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Street of the Five Moons (Vicky Bliss #2)

The title: Street of the Five Moons
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: HarperCollins, 1978
Got it from: DC, Aug 2009

I've been on such an EP kick lately. I've been gobbling up her books and have to force myself to slow down or I'll burn through them too quickly. Right now I'm alternating between Amelia Peabody and Vicky Bliss. Street of the Five Moons falls second in the Vicky Bliss series, after Borrower of the Night. It's an important one in the series because it introduces gentleman thief Sir John Smythe, who will become Vicky's main love interest.

Beautiful and blonde Dr. Victoria Bliss takes a holiday from her museum in Munich and goes hunting for art forgers in Rome (a favourite locale of EP's, also seen in the Amelia Peabody and Jacqueline Kirby books). Of course, she meets up with a cast of extremely quirky characters and there is non-stop action, starting with when Vicky is drugged and kidnapped from the Forum and is rescued by an unknown member of the smuggling ring (Sir John), who employs one or two or several shut up kisses in the process. (She does talk a lot, but to be fair Vicky also points out that John himself is a "long-winded devil.") Of course Vicky manages to stumble right into the thick of things, as Elizabeth Peters heroines always do, and everybody goes off to the palazzo of the very rich Count Caravaggio. It's the kind of house party setup - where everybody has lots of motivation and nothing is as it seems - that would make Agatha Christie weep with joy. The plot moves along nicely with more turns than a carousel until it's discovered Vicky is out to expose them all. I can't say too much, but she and Sir John do undertake what may be the longest escape scene in the history of literature. I counted about 40 pages. It's all good fun, tongue-in-cheek stuff, of course. I won't remember the details six months from now but it was all very entertaining, I assure you.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance

Poor Lars here is a refugee from the Waxed Shirtless Era

The title: The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance
The author: Trisha Telep (editor)
Publication: Running Press, 2009
Got it from: MEC, Xmas 2009

Ah, time travel romance. When done right, it's so thoroughly enjoyable. When done wrong, it's oh so wrong.

I feel like I've been reading a lot of romantic short stories lately, and I have to say it's not an easy thing to do well. In the space of about a twenty or so pages you have to introduce your characters and make the reader believe in them and root for their romance. What makes a romance short story really excellent is making the reader feel as though she's seeing all the necessary parts. For instance, there were a number of stories in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance that I read last year that were part of a full-length series, and they all fell flat because of the confusing number of characters and unexplained world-building. An author should always assume that the reader is coming to the short story fresh, with no previous history of the characters or the world they inhabit. Short stories should always be able to stand on their own, even if the characters appear in fifty other novels. [End of two cents]

The twenty or so stories in this anthology varied in quality, from good to mediocre to huh? I didn't feel that any of them were worthy of my re-read list, but I did find a lot to amuse me. The hands-down best-written of the bunch was "Stepping Back" by Sara Mackenzie, who proves she's got more writing experience than many of the other authors in this anthology. Her story involves a woman in rural Australia (interesting location!) who is trying to piece together her connection to an abused woman living in the area in 1905. Interestingly, her short story barely has any romance in it and feels like it belongs more in a paranormal or straight time-travel anthology. Jean Johnson's "Steam" was my favourite, a lighthearted and funny steampunk story about a man who discovers sexy pictures of a bespectacled, Edwardian-era woman in his attic and puts together a time machine to meet her, with hilariously predictable results. Another highlight was "Future Date" by A.J. Menden about a kindergarten teacher who can't find a good man and is forced to join an online dating service where men from the future date women from the past. This was the only story that I wish had been book-length because I thought the logistical details would have been fun to tease out. The most truly romantic award definitely has to go to Gwyn Cready's "The Key to Happiness," and I can see why it was chosen to open the book. A woman at a wedding meets a mysterious older man who claims to have been in love with her all his life and that his younger self has, in fact, just been introduced to her as her future husband's best friend. The man has come to warn her about her future if she doesn't follow her heart.

Other stories, like Michelle Maddox's "The Eleventh Hour" have interesting concepts (a woman who helps a little boy is saved by his older self traveling from the future) but the stories fall flat on weak characterizations. Some stories get mired by too much technical jargon or would have been better suited to paranormal fantasies ("Time Trails," "The Walled Garden," "Iron and Hemlock.") "Lost and Found" by Maureen McGowan, about an acid-tripping hippie who keeps waking up on the same day in different years
introduced me to the only romance "hero" I've ever been repulsed by and the "romance" in the story felt genuinely creepy.

Overall, I was left with the impression that the book as a whole could have been a lot better. For starters, I wish authors would consider doing time-travel romance set in different eras besides the already oversaturated market of 18th-century Scotland (can you say Outlander rip-off?) and the 19th century American West. One of the best time-travel short stories I've ever read was set in Puritian New England - now that's unusual! I also wish the stories had dealt strictly with time-travel. That seems like enough to deal with without having to throw in all kinds of other elements like fairies and shape-shifters. Still, I'm willing to forge ahead with The Mammoth Book of Irish Romance (a recent purchase) and am seriously eying The Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance. One thing you can say about me as a reader is that I'm eternally optimistic that next time things will be better.

If not, I can always go back in time a few months and fix things, right?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pondering the reader-heroine

Lately I have been so busy that I haven't had a lot of time for concentrated reading. Alas, then, not a lot of updates here. However, I have a couple of things in the works and there should be a new review up in the next day or so.

What I have been doing mostly the past few weeks is skim-reading a few things and re-reading favourite passages just before I go to bed because my head can't process any new information. One thing I have been enjoying skimming again for the umpteenth time is Beyond Heaving Bosoms. One of the passages, in particular, has been bouncing around in my head for the past few days and has given me much ponderating potential.

From "Chapter Corset: An In-Depth Investigation of the Romance Heroine, Emphasis, Obviously on 'Depth'":

"[Lisa] Kleypas's experience leads her to believe that readers engage in a symbiotic role-play with the heroine to the point where decisions made by the heroine that the reader disagrees with take on a very personal tone; the rigid code of conduct enforced on heroines points at the level to which readers put themselves in the heroine's place, whether or not they actually identify with the particular heroine herself. When the heroine behaves in ways that the reader approves of, she is able to immerse herself as the heroine, and the world of the story is smooth. When the heroine behaves in a way the reader finds unacceptable, however, that particular heroine suddenly stops being strictly a placeholder, and instead becomes a rival for the hero's affections." [emphasis mine]

I think this ties in quite nicely with a realization I had earlier this year, about the make-or-break for a romance novel for me is whether the heroine is more or less intelligent than I am. When a heroine is as smart or smarter than me, I immediately warm to her and enjoy the book thoroughly, with few exceptions. However, when the heroine is quite a few points down the I.Q. scale from me, I quickly become exasperated and lose all patience with the book. And when I say I.Q., I don't necessarily mean strictly book smarts, but social smarts as well. This is one of the reasons why I detested Dizzy from Connie Brockway's As You Desire, despite her being a so-called child prodigy fluent in a bazillion languages: I thought she was a moron.

What I found particularly fascinating is the notion of the heroine being a rival for the reader of the hero's affections. I think this is particularly true in cases where the hero is truly worthy. Dizzy's physical and mental perfection in As You Desire is indeed nauseating, but it would have been even worse if I thought Harry had been worth it (and considering his taste in women, he definitely wasn't). On the other hand, I had to continually fight stabbing pains of jealousy while reading Pride and Prejudice, despite the fact that I loved Lizzy as a heroine. Whether this may in fact be caused by the considerable similarities between myself and Jane Austen's heroine is an interesting notion to ponder.

I think there's definitely something to be said about the reader's identification with the heroine. We seem to be searching for a heroine who walks the fine line between being intelligent but not intimidatingly so. She can't be an idiot (that would disgust both the reader and the hero) but she can't be too perfect, either, or else the placeholder fantasy is broken. For me, romance novel reading isn't so much wish-fulfillment as trying out my own personality in different situations and with different heroes. The flawed heroine must lie somewhere between the impossible perfections of Dizzy and the bumbling foolishness of Bridget Jones (admit it - you'd like everything to work out for you like it did for her, but you sure as heck wouldn't want to be her). There's a reason why Jennifer Cruisie's average-looking, smart heroines are so popular* but the virginal, flawless beauties of old romances are not.

If anybody is reading this, I'd be curious to know: does having a heroine who's too different from you turn you off? Have you ever felt jealous of a heroine who's both wonderful and gets a wonderful hero? Have you ever felt the heroine just didn't deserve the hero (or vice versa)? Am I the only one who wishes the women in romance would behave with the same sense as smart women in real life?

*Although I still cannot see what all the fuss is about and have never warmed to her books.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Drive Me Crazy

The title: Drive Me Crazy
The author: Nancy Warren
Publication: Kensington, 2004
Got it from:

Alex Forrest is the town librarian in sleepy Swiftcurrent, Oregon. She loves her library and being organized and efficient, but her man prospects are dim. Enter rumpled, devil-may-care art professor Duncan Forbes. Duncan is in town ostensibly to work on a book, but this "Indiana Jones of the Art World" is really trying to track down a missing Van Gogh that may have been stolen by Alex's grandfather. Naturally, the professor and the librarian immediately dislike each other despite the sparks flying between them. On his first day in the library, Alex charges Duncan two hundred dollars for underlining in a book - ten dollars for the book, one hundred and ninety for defacing public property.

Things get more complicated the next day when Alex shows up to work and finds a dead body in the stacks - the art section. Naturally, Alex and Duncan have to put aside their differences to solve the mystery together. There's also a side plot involving Alex's troubled cousin Gillian and the town cop Tom Perkins, who was her high school crush.

While the book was fun and light, none of the characters seemed particularly memorable. I found myself not really warming to Duncan and Alex. Duncan seemed too pushy at times and bordered on being an a**hole. Warren played up Alex's prissy-but-dresses-like-a-hooker schtick a little too much. What I found more interesting was Gillian's relationship with Tom and their romance do-over. It seemed more natural and sweeter than Duncan and Alex's immediately hopping into bed routine.
My other problem was the obviousness of the solution to the mystery. You could spot it from so far away you'd have time to do your taxes and go out for coffee before it arrived.* I did enjoy this book, but I can't see myself re-reading it.

*Hint: Alex's key-shaped necklace that she got as a present from her grandfather is mentioned in the opening chapters.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Men of Mystery

The title(s): Men of Mystery: The Bride's Protector; The Stranger She Knew; Her Baby, His Secret
The author: Gayle Wilson
Publication: Harlequin, 1999
Got it from: Freemont Books, 2009

I picked this 3-in-1 book up in a pile of 25 cent romances at the local used bookstore, and I gotta say that for approximately 8 1/2 cents each, they were quite the bargain. I reluctant to post the covers, though, since they're kind of 1990's awful although strangely the more I look at them, the more bizarrely compelling they become. (Hawk looks like Mark Harmon, and Jordan looks like a really young Patrick Duffy, and Griff just has a lot of chest hair going on).

Each of these books can be read on their own, but like a Nora Roberts trilogy it's much more satisfying and everything makes a lot more sense if you read them all together, in order. The three heroes in the series are ex-CIA agents, part of an elite team that assassinates terrorists and other assorted baddies.

The first story, The Bride's Protector, opens shortly after the death of the team's leader, Griff Cabot (or is he dead...? Dun dun dun!) Hawk, who's the team's sniper, has just returned from Baghdad after taking out Griff's killer. Since he's gone all rogue, the feds are on his behind. Meanwhile, ex-model Taylor Stewart is preparing for her wedding to a foreign sheik's son. Having doubts about her wedding, she goes into her fiancee's hotel suite only to see his bodyguards assassinate somebody. She escapes and ends up in Hawk's hotel room. Suddenly he's being accused of the assassination and the two have to go on the run together. The story was very well done, suspenseful and exciting - although the romance took a backseat to the plot.

The second story, The Stranger She Knew features Jordan Cross, who helped Hawk at the end of the last story and now has to change his face to avoid his enemies. Unfortunately the face he ends up with is exactly the same as one Rob Sorrel, who's wanted by the mafia for stealing 16 million. Jordan ends up finding Rob's wife Kathleen and her two small kids and protecting them. At first Kathleen thinks it's her ex-husband, but Wilson thankfully doesn't let the deception linger and Jordan's true identity is revealed. Of all the stories, this one was my favourite. The romance took a much bigger role than the other two stories, but the suspense was top-notch.

The last story, Her Baby, His Secret features Griff's girlfriend, Claire Haywood, who made appearances in the first two stories to help Hawk and Jordan. Claire's secret is that she became pregnant shortly before Griff's "death." When her baby is kidnapped, Griff comes out of hiding to help save their child. I didn't like this story as much as the first two - I found it too suspenseful and the romance wasn't as interesting. But still, for 8 1/2 cents, it was a pretty good read!

There are other books in the "Men of Mystery" series (with much better covers, I'll add) and I wouldn't hesitate to pick them up from another used book store. It's easy to see why Gayle Wilson has won so many RITAs - her books are extremely well-written with interesting plots and characters.