Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Love Irresistibly by Julie James

I haven't had a lot of luck with 2013 books so far - but this one was at least promising...

Love Irresistibly by Julie James
(2013, Contemporary)  6/18/13
Grade: 4

Brooke Parker is the general counsel for a restaurant chain, and usually she enjoys her work - even though she spends most of her time answering emails and putting out fires.  But when she meets Assistant U.S. Attorney Cade Morgan, she begins to wonder if career is all there is - or if she needs more balance in her life.

Like all of Julie James’s books, this one felt refreshingly modern.  It was nice to read a book set in a city, with characters who love their jobs and don’t feel that they have to apologize for that.  Brooke eventually looks for more balance in her life, but it’s not so she can be a “better woman”.  Cade likes her just as she is - ambitions and all.  The only negative was that the book felt fairly predictable.  There just wasn’t much conflict between the hero and heroine, and the hero’s father issues, and the heroine’s career issues, felt a bit predictable - the outcome wasn’t a question.  I enjoyed it, but it didn’t exactly keep me guessing.  

I want more contemporary books that feel fresh and modern, but sometimes it's hard to keep the conflict going in those cases!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Vacation Reading

I read several Regencies when I was on vacation - none of them really outstanding.

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly
(2013, Regency)  6/10/13
Grade: 3.5

Susanna Hopkins left an abusive husband and fled West to a garrison town in Montana.  She plans to serve as a schoolteacher to the officers’ children.  But she is intrigued by surgeon Major Joe Randolph, who is one of the few people at the fort to show her compassion.  She must learn to get along with the others at the fort, despite her scandalous past, and find her place in this new world.

This was a well written book by Carla Kelly but the romance seemed so inevitable, I found myself impatient with everything else in the book.  There were so many secondary characters, I found myself slightly overwhelmed.  I just found the whole book a little dull.  

The Wicked Wager by Margaret Summerville
(1987, Regency)  6/11/13
Grade: 4

Olivia Dunbar is one of the most delectable beauties in London, but she has refused one suitor after another.  She make a wager with friends to marry the next man who walks by - who turns out to be Lord Ramsay, a reclusive and scholarly man from Northumberland.  Olivia soon forgets the wager, especially once she learns more about Lord Ramsay, but can she convince him her feelings are real?

A charming Regency - nothing all that groundbreaking but the characters were well drawn and interesting.  Lady Olivia is quick to dismiss the wager and finds Lord Ramsay is more interesting than her more conventional suitors.  Ramsay is more of a cipher but he’s willing to become more social if it means spending time with Olivia.  A trifle but an amusing one.

The Ramshackle Suitor by Nancy Butler
(2000, Regency)  6/12/13
Grade: 4

Lucy Parnell has escaped from her stepbrother and is working as a governess, but is spending a few weeks on the Isle of Man searching for a child who might be her sister’s daughter.  She stumbles upon Roderick Kempthorne, one of a roguish group of friends who decide to help her.  She soon finds that Roderick will defend her from her stepbrother - and help her with her myseterious quest.

This was an entertaining and well written Regency.  The mystery of the lost child was well done and kept me guessing throughout the book.  Roderick was a fun rogue hero.  This wasn’t one of Nancy Butler’s best books, but it kept me turning the pages.

I also read a couple of Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn, which were enjoyable.  Surprisingly, no great reads from my vacation reading.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Way Home by Megan Chance

Since I haven't found very many 2013 books that I want to buy, I'm trying to read some of the older books in my TBR.  I first read Megan Chance back in 1996, when I read The Portrait.  Since then I've bought her books, but only read one other (A Season in Eden).  I was glad to see that her books have been reissued as ebooks.

The Way Home by Megan Chance
(1997, Western)  5/30/13
Grade: 4

Eliza Beaudry is afraid she’ll spend the rest of her life as a sharecropper’s wife, never leaving the small shack where she grew up.  So she throws herself at Cole Wallace, a gambler who seems exciting.  But soon he’s gone - and Eliza is pregnant.  When her father tracks him down, Cole offers a trade - Eliza can marry his shy brother Aaron who lives on the family farm.  Aaron reluctantly agrees - but he has no idea what to do with a wife. 

This was an intriguing book that suffered from some pacing problems.  The author starts with a traditional setup - the small town girl who wants more, and ends up pregnant - but then she twists the story in unexpected ways.  The hero of the love triangle is shy and awkward Aaron, instead of the more conventional hero Cole.  The heroine doesn’t instantly fall in love with Aaron, or magically solve all of his problems with love.  However, there were some issues with the way the book was structured.  The author spent a lot of time devoted to Cole, and not enough time devoted to Eliza and Aaron (particularly Aaron).  She withholds crucial information about Aaron until almost the end of the book, which makes Aaron a cipher for much of the book.  And once we begin to see the connection between Eliza and Aaron, we get a dramatic fire scene and then the book ends.  If the author had included just a few more scenes that explored Eliza and Aaron’s relationship, the book would have felt more complete.  Still, this book was well worth reading.  I’m glad I bought it - twice!  

I debated how to rate this book - the good parts were exceptionally good, but the book still felt incomplete.  Good, but not great. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry

I've really enjoyed Sarah Mayberry as a new Harlequin author.  (Well, she's not so new any more.)  I usually prefer her Harlequin Superromances to her Blazes, but I always find her books worth reading.  And it's fun to read a book set in Australia!

The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry
(2013, Contemporary Series)  5/30/13
Grade: 4

Oliver has escaped to his late aunt’s beach house to get away from his pending divorce.  Mackenzie has been recuperating at her beach cottage since a car accident left her with serious injuries.  Neither one is looking for a relationship, but their dogs have other ideas.  Once they’ve become friends, it’s only a short step to lovers - but is either one ready for a relationship?

This is a very low key, realistic book.  With all the trauma in the hero and heroine’s pasts, it could have been an angst fest - but instead, it was a quiet and down to earth story.  The relationship between Oliver and Mackenzie developed slowly - they were friends first, and there wasn’t a lot of the mental lusting that you get in so many books these days.  Eventually they did become involved (and there were quite a few sex scenes - I got a little bored with them after a while) but the characters remained grounded and down to earth.  Even the barriers between the characters were realistic ones - Oliver’s hesitation to get involved so soon after separating from his wife, Mackenzie’s concern about her injuries and uncertainty about her career.  In the end, the book may have been a little too realistic - it didn’t transport me or thrill me, and there were a few points in the first half when I got a little bored - but it was refreshing to read a book that wasn’t over-the-top, and I got a little misty at the end.  One of the best Mayberry books I’ve read so far.

The cover is pretty but doesn't match the book at all!  Mackenzie had short hair - it was a major plot point!  I guess Harlequin has done a poll and figured out that long hair sells more books.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Countess by Christmas by Annie Burrows

I miss Regencies - even when they weren't perfect, they had a certain charm.  Thankfully Harlequin Historical is still publishing a few of them.

A Countess by Christmas by Annie Burrows
(2010, Regency)  5/25/2013
Grade: 3.5

Helen Forrest has accompanied her aunt to the Christmas house party of the Earl of Bridgemere.  Her aunt has lost all of her money and is hoping for help from the Earl, despite his aloof reputation.  The Earl finds Helen a breath of fresh air - so different from his grasping, money-hungry relatives - but can he persuade her to give up her plans for an independent life and become his countess?

Although this is a Harlequin Historical, it felt very much like an old school Signet Regency.  I always enjoy a good Christmas house party story, and this included all of the usual elements - frost covered lakes, gathering greenery, charming children, kissing under the mistletoe.  The problem was there wasn’t much to the story beyond the Christmas background.  There was no real reason for the hero and heroine not to be together, so the book had to depend on the characters - and these characters had some flaws.  The heroine, in particular, was quick to jump to conclusions and lose her temper for no apparent reason.  The hero was more appealing, but he was also quick to jump to conclusions.  It seemed like the author couldn’t find a reason to keep the hero and heroine apart, so she threw in a bunch of misunderstandings.  This didn’t completely spoil the book - it still had a lot of charm - but it could have been so much better.  

I had to read a book on my birthday - too bad it wasn't a great one.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

I've heard a lot of good things about Karina Bliss, but this is the first book I've read by her.  It's always interesting to read a book set somewhere different - in this case, New Zealand.

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss
(2013, Contemporary Series)  5/18/13
Grade: 3.5

After two years, SAS soldier Lee Davis is finally coming home.  His family and friends thought he was dead.  Things have changed since he left, but the most surprising change is that his supposed fiancĂ©e, Juliet Browne, has become a part of his circle of friends - except that they broke up just before he left on his last mission.  Lee decides to feign amnesia to find out what’s really going on - but he finds himself drawn to Jules all over again.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  There were many moments that were emotional and lovely.  Karina Bliss is an excellent writer and she did a great job depicting Lee’s struggles to adjust to normal life again.  However, the fake amnesia storyline was a gimmick that went on too long.  And even after that part of the story was resolved, there were a lot of characters from other books that played a big part in the story.  I felt a little lost.  I enjoyed the book, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

If I'd written this review immediately after reading the book, I might have graded it a little more highly.  But a day later, I can barely remember the good parts, while the negatives stand out more.  So I downgraded it from 4 to 3.5.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

Although I like some of Jo Beverley's books, her Malloren books have never worked quite as well for me as her Regencies.  There is always more focus on the external over the internal.  But I picked this one up because I love a marriage of convenience story.

An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley
(2011, Georgian)  5/12/13
Grade: 4

Prudence has spent most of her life sacrificing for her brother - and now that he has a career and a wealthy wife, he ignores Prudence’s poverty.  One bright moment in Prudence’s life is when she shares a few moments with Cate Burgoyne.  But then he’s gone - until months later when he rescues her from a bad marriage.  He’s now an Earl, and although their marriage is unlikely, they are determined to make the best of it. 

This was an unusual book.  The hero and heroine spend a short time together in the first chapter, but then they are separated for almost a third of the book.  When they are reunited and forced to marry, they spend more time together - but the focus of the book is on the practical aspects of their marriage, rather than the development of their relationship.  There are far more paragraphs devoted to Prudence’s clothes than there are on her emotions.  The Georgian background was interesting, but I just didn’t feel much of a connection between the hero and heroine.  The writing was excellent, as always, and the story was interesting, but I just didn’t find it as compelling as some of Jo Beverley’s other books.  

Jo Beverley always finds an excuse to drop Rothgar into her Malloren books.  (Or in this case, Diana, Rothgar's wife.)  Although it always seems believable to have them appear, I get the impression that I'm supposed to be ooohing and aahhing like Rothgar is Justin Bieber - "oooh, it's so exciting to see him".  Maybe that's what her fans want - a glimpse of Rothgar in every book.  But I find it a little silly.  I didn't think those characters really needed to be there. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox

So far I've been impressed by Ruthie Knox, although this short story is probably my least favorite of the ones I've read so far. 

How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox
(2013, Contemporary)  5/9/13
Grade: 3.5

Good girl Amber Clark has been admiring contractor Tony Mazzano from afar, but when the tornado warning siren goes off, she and Tony are stuck together in a dark basement.  It gives them a chance to get to know each other - and give in to their attraction.

This was a cute novella.  At first I was afraid it would just be one long sex scene, but things improved in the second half.  Both Amber and Tony have interesting backgrounds, and I thought the author managed to establish their connection beyond their sexual attraction.  I’m not sure I was convinced this was a happy ever after - it was just too short - but it worked well for what it was.  

I used to enjoy Regency novellas, but I think contemporary novellas are harder to write since a large portion of the page count is necessarily taken up by love scenes.  When you only have a few pages to work with, I'd rather focus on emotional connections rather than body connections. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

I'm having such a hard time finding historicals this year!  This is one of only two historicals I've bought so far this year (the other one is the Carla Kelly book).  Is this the death of the historical?  (Or am I just being picky?)

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee
(2013, Turn of the Century)  5/8/13
Grade: 3.5

Betsey Dobson has survived on her wits, and she has advanced from being a typewriter girl to the excursions manager at the seaside resort of Idensea.  She enjoys her work and the unexpected freedom it brings her - but she is intrigued by John Jones, the Welsh engineer who is building the resort’s pleasure fair.  She and John begin an affair, but Betsey must guard her heart, because she knows their relationship can’t last.

The characters and setting of this book were intriguing, but I struggled with the writing.  I enjoyed reading about this unusual setting, and the heroine’s advance from a typewriter girl to a manager.  The author did a good job depicting the heroine’s pleasure in her work and how she became better at it over time.  But the relationship between the hero and heroine was less successful.  The book alternates between the heroine’s perspective and the hero’s, but the language feels stilted and unemotional.  Maybe this is supposed to be “literary fiction” but it just felt tedious and hard to read.  The first half of the book was a chore to get through.  Things improved in the second half, but still, I found myself more frustrated by this book than I expected.  Too bad, since the premise was quite intriguing.

Sometimes I feel shallow because I prefer romance to more literary fiction - but trying to parse out the meaning of sentences just doesn't appeal to me any more.  If I have to read a sentence three times to figure out what it means, then it's too much for my brain - I read enough complex documents for work. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Her Ladyship's Companion by Joanna Bourne

It's always fun to read an old book by an author who became famous later.  Evidently Joanna Bourne didn't write any books between 1983 and 2008 so it's fun to see how her writing developed.

Her Ladyship's Companion by Joanna Bourne
(1983, Regency)  4/28/13
Grade: 3.5

French teacher Melissa Rivenwood leaves her school in London to take a job as a companion in remote northern England.  She finds an intriguing cast of characters - her imperious employer, Lady Dorothy, the 7 year old earl, Robbie, and his mysterious uncle, Giles.  There are also several other relatives who are also living in the house.  Everything seems well at first, until mysterious accidents start to threaten Robbie.  Who can she trust?

This was a fairly by-the-numbers gothic, but it was well written enough to keep me turning the pages.  All of the characters were straight out of gothic central casting.  Especially in the first half, it was hard to keep track of everyone.  But despite all this, the story and characters were interesting.  I enjoy a good gothic, even if the story is predictable.  It was worth reading despite the problems.

Gothics are out of fashion, but they're fun to read occasionally.

Stay at Home Dead by Jeffrey Allen

Although I don't read mysteries very often, every now and then I enjoy something light and funny (the complete opposite of what I read in romance).  Leanne recommended this one.

Stay at Home Dead by Jeffrey Allen
(2012, Contemporary Mystery)  4/28/13
Grade: 3.5

Stay at home Dad Deuce Winters is making his usual trip to the grocery store when he finds a dead body in his minivan.  The victim is his high school nemesis, Benny Barnes, and soon everyone in Rose Petal, Texas, thinks Deuce is the killer.  So Deuce decides to do a little investigating of his own...

This was a quick and fun read, although it didn’t quite hold up when thinking about it later.  The book was very easy to read, with short chapters and an engaging writing style.  The main characters (Deuce and his wife Julianne, the midget investigator Victor) were fun and well written.  But the plot had a lot of holes, and some things didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  This was a book with a lot of style, but not much substance.  Still, it was fun to read.

My review sounds a little harsh, but still, I enjoyed it enough to buy the next book in the series.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

Mmm, this is a book that will make you hungry!

The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
(2012, Contemporary)  4/16/13
Grade: 4

Cade Corey, the heir to the Corey chocolate fortune, is in Paris in hopes of starting a gourmet chocolate line - and she wants the best chocolatier in Paris, Sylvain Marquis, to work with her.  But Sylvain has no interest in working for a company that sells cheap chocolate bars at supermarkets.  Cade and Sylvain begin to play a cat and mouse game, but the game isn’t for chocolate - it’s for love.

This was a charming, fun book.  It had a “fairy tale” aspect to it so I couldn’t take the story too seriously.  I especially liked the heroine - I know enough about the history of Hershey to enjoy this fictionalized version.  Sylvain was more of a stereotypical alpha hero, albeit one with an interesting career, but he improved in the second half of the book.  My one complaint is that the ending felt rushed - the hero and heroine go from thinking it won’t work out to Cade deciding to leave her entire life and move to Paris in just a couple of pages.  It really needed more time to feel real (especially since Cade seems to enjoy her job for most of the book so her sudden decision to drop everything seemed a little forced).  But the charming feel of the book, and the luscious descriptions of the chocolate, kept me turning the pages despite its flaws. 

I found the background of Corey chocolate so interesting - especially since I visited the Hershey museum a couple of years ago - that I'd love to see another book with that history as a backdrop.  But it doesn't seem like Laura Florand's other chocolate books have anything to do with that. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lady Meg's Gamble by Martha Schroeder

Still working on the last of the paperbacks in my Regency collection.

Lady Meg's Gamble by Martha Schroeder
(1998, Regency)  3/22/13
Grade: 3.5

Lady Margaret Enfield is desperate to save her home, but after she is left penniless, she sees no way out.  Then a neighbor introduces her to Captain James Sheridan, a wealthy Navy captain who is looking for a home of his own.  They agree to a marriage of convenience - but can they get past each others’ faults and make a happy life together?

I always enjoy a marriage of convenience story.  This one worked well at first.  The characters were well written - both of them were quick to make assumptions and tended to act before they thought, but their actions made sense based on their personalities.  It was a nice change to read about a hero who wasn’t titled and a heroine who had no interest in society and the ton.  But the misunderstandings between the hero and heroine went on too long.  What seemed natural for the characters in the first two thirds of the book became frustrating and tedious in the last third.  Although this wasn’t a bad book, I ended up feeling a bit disappointed.

Martha Schroeder wrote one book that I loved (A Merry Little Christmas) but her other books have been a bit disappointing.  She doesn't seem to be writing any more - which is too bad, since her best book seems to have been her last one.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Ice King by Dinah Dean

Dinah Dean is known for her unusual settings - and for her books that are nearly impossible to find.  I have found a few of them over the years, and I was curious to read one.

The Ice King by Dinah Dean
(1980, Regency-era Russia)  3/17/13
Grade: 3.5

After the death of her uncle, Tanya is afraid she will spend the rest of her life as a companion in a remote village, but distant relatives offer her a season in St. Petersburg before she leaves.  She is soon caught up in the social life of the city, and drawn to the mysterious Prince Nikolai.  Nikolai has been known as the emotionless Ice King since the death of his wife years earlier, but perhaps Tanya’s influence will help him thaw...

It was interesting to read a book with such an unusual setting, but most of the book was more focused on the setting than the characters.  The author spent a lot of time describing St. Petersburg and Russian society in great detail, but the characters (particularly Nikolai) remained cyphers.  This was a little bit frustrating, especially in such a short book.  The characters started to come to life in the last 50 pages or so, but overall this book was more notable for its setting than for its character development.  

I'm not sure what to do with this book - it's in terrible condition (so yellowed it's practically brown) but I hate to throw it out when Dean's books are so hard to find! 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Matchmaker's Christmas by Donna Simpson

Although I have a cache of Regency romances left on my TBR shelves, they haven't been doing much for me lately.  I'm hoping there are a few gems left in there, since I miss a good Regency.

A Matchmaker's Christmas by Donna Simpson
(2002, Regency)  3/16/13
Grade: 3

For her last Christmas, Lady Bournaud invites friends and relatives to her home for a house party, but the pairings don’t go according to plan.  The well born Lady Silvia is attracted to the penniless vicar, and spirited Canadian Verity is drawn to the careless Lord Vaughn.  Lady Bournaud’s godson David Chappell was intended for her companion Beatrice, but they share a dark past that may be too much for them to overcome.

This book had a lot of promise, but it just had too much going on for one Regency.  Although the main couple was supposed to be David and Beatrice, the romances between the other two couples were often more interesting.  We get pages of Beatrice worrying about her secret past, but the final reveal felt anticlimactic - and their great love rather bloodless.  It was a nice Regency but it lacked any great feeling.

This wasn't a bad book, just a little boring and predictable. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb

I still keep reading the In Death books by J.D. Robb, but the characters have become so familiar by now that there needs to also be a strong mystery to keep my attention.  The books in the series that work the best have a good mix of plot and character.  This one had the characters but the plot was lacking.

Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb
(2013, Suspense)  3/6/13
Grade: 3

It looks like a mugging gone wrong, but Eve realizes there’s more to the murder of Marta Dickenson, an accountant who may have audited the wrong account.  As more bodies pile up, Eve and Roarke have to search for clues among the financial elite.

This wasn’t one of J.D. Robb’s best books.  The characters are still interesting, but there were too many similar suspects in this case.  The potential murderers didn’t have much personality, and I spent over half the book confused about which one was which.  They just seemed blah and interchangeable.  The book picked up in the last third, and I always appreciate seeing Peabody and the other secondary characters, but this book just didn’t stand out compared to others in the series.  

It's hard to find a good police procedural, and even rarer to find one with interesting characters (and a happy ending - it seems like most police detectives in fiction are depressive loners).  So I keep reading the J.D. Robb books even though they are outrageously pricey and don't hit every time. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Muscling Through by J. L. Merrow

M/M romance isn't usually my thing - I miss the female perspective - but I've enjoyed a few M/M stories.  I pulled this one out after the recent discussions of M/M on the romance blogs.

Muscling Through by J. L. Merrow
(2011, Contemporary)  2/20/13
Grade: 4

Al may not have a degree or a fancy job, but he’s intrigued by college professor Larry Morton - even after Larry mistakes him for a mugger.  Everyone around Al and Larry see their relationship as unequal, but Larry sees something in Al that no one else can see - his kind heart.

This was an intriguing writing experiment that mostly worked.  The story is told from the perspective of Al, who isn’t particularly perceptive or self-aware.  But the reader starts to understand Al by seeing how other people react to him - we get a perspective on Larry based on his actions, even though we don’t get to hear his thoughts.  I sometimes found this frustrating, because I wanted to know more - Al is a nice enough character but he’s limited as a narrator - but in the context of a novella it worked.  The frequent sex scenes also limited the character development - at first they helped explain the relationship but after a while they just became repetitive.  If the book had been longer I think I would have given up but at this length, it worked.  It was interesting to read a book with such a different perspective.

I read this book on my Kindle and I didn't see the cover art until after I finished the book.  I think the cover would have added to my reading experience - I had a hard time visualizing Al and the cover definitely makes him more intriguing.  More Larry's view of Al rather than his own. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Autumn Rose by Marjorie Farrell

I went a few weeks without reading anything, then tried a couple of Regencies without success.  I hope I can find something worth reading soon - I had such a great run of books over the last few months!

Autumn Rose by Marjorie Farrell
(1991, Regency)  2/19/13
Grade: 3

Honora Dillon has lived an unassuming life in Hampstead with her daughter since she ran away with a scoundrel as a young girl.  But their quiet life is changed when Nora’s daughter Miranda falls in love with Jeremy, the Earl of Alverstone.  The marriage seems impossible because of the differences in their stations - but when Nora starts spending more time with Jeremy’s godfather, Viscount Marcus Vane, she begins to wonder...

I’ve read several books by Marjorie Farrell and enjoyed all of them, but this one just didn’t measure up.  It was refreshing to read about an older heroine who had to come to terms with her daughter growing up and the choices she had made in her life, but the romance between Nora and Marcus felt like an afterthought.  They barely spent any time together and had no chemistry whatsoever.  It left the book feeling flat and kind of dull.  

I wonder if reading the more fast paced books that are being published now has ruined me for a good Regency.  I still have quite a few in my TBR pile so I hope not!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Hollow House by Janis Patterson

I ran across this book in one of Dear Author's deal of the day posts, and it sounded so intriguing I decided to give it a try.  I used to love Gothics, although it's hard to find a good one these days.

The Hollow House by Janis Patterson
(2011, Historical Mystery)  2/1/13
Grade: 4

I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton. It's not the name I was born with, nor the name I married, but it will hide who I really am...and what I have done.  I've taken a job as companion to wealthy invalid Emmaline Stubbs, whose fragile exterior hides a will of iron. Despite its opulence, the Stubbs household is not a happy one. Emmaline's equally stubborn daughter and charismatic, untrustworthy son-in-law want control...

This was an intriguing gothic mystery that kept me turning the pages late into the night.  The book is set in Denver just after WWI, and there were a lot of interesting details about the setting and time period.  The heroine is a typical Gothic heroine, who comes to a dark and mysterious house hiding secrets of her own, although Geraldine is a lot more savvy and tough than many of those old Gothic heroines.  The book is also lacking any romance - it’s purely a mystery.  At first I liked this, because it made sense for the heroine to avoid men and to stay away from anyone who might guess her secret.  But as the book continued, it started to get a little repetitive, and a little flirtation might have added some spark.  This was the main problem with the book - the author ratcheted up the tension in the first half of the book, but once the murder took place, the tension couldn’t be sustained.  There weren’t enough suspects to keep the reader guessing.  I still kept reading but it just didn’t quite live up to the terrific first half.  Still, I liked it overall - 4 stars. 

I've been trying to expand my horizons and read more books outside of romance.  It's just as hard to find a good mystery as it is to find a good romance. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Illicit Temptation by Jeannie Lin

After reading My Fair Concubine (one of my favorite books from last year), I was curious to see if the author had written a book about Dao, the servant girl who ends up as a princess.  I found out that she had, but it was a Harlequin Undone - their line of short, sexy ebooks.  I figured it was worth a try.

An Illicit Temptation by Jeannie Lin
(2012, Medieval China)  1/29/13
Grade: 3

Dao is a house servant masquerading as a princess on her way to marry a powerful chieftain. As a lowly commoner with no prospects, she is content to be an alliance bride until an encounter with Kwan-Li, her enigmatic escort, tempts her with the promise of forbidden love. On their adventure through the wild Khitan steppe, Dao discovers Kwan-Li has secrets of his own...  Sequel to My Fair Concubine.

This novella had its moments, but in the end it was just too short.  The setting of this story (medieval China and the steppes) was fascinating, but there wasn’t enough space to really explore it fully.  The first half of the book was interesting, but just when I wanted to know more about the characters, the author switched the focus to the love scenes.  They were fine, but having multiple love scenes in such a short book meant that other aspects of the story were neglected.  The novella was fine as a quick follow-up to My Fair Concubine, but it just wasn’t long enough to stand alone.  I think the author could have written a full length book about these characters, and I wish she had.   

I wish the author had done more to explore the steppe setting in this story - I just finished listening to a five part podcast about the Mongols and I was eager to read a romance with that setting.  But maybe that's too foreign for romance readers.  (It works for Game of Thrones!)