Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart

Title: The Crystal Cave
Author: Mary Stewart
Published: 1970, William Morrow
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 8/10

I've just posted a review of this one on the Mary Stewart blog.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

With This Ring, Carla Kelly

Title: With This Ring
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 1997, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 6/10

I am still working my way through Carla Kelly's backlist. :)

Lydia Perkins comes to London with her (horrible!) family so that her younger sister can have a Season and hopefully snag herself a rich husband. Her sister is the spoiled beauty, while Lydia is the sensible spinster who is a bit martyred as she deals with her overbearing mother, demanding sister, and weak father. One day she goes to help nurse wounded soldiers and meets Major Sam Reed. She earns everyone's gratitude and goodwill by being such a steady and caring nurse--Sam is especially smitten. Soon after, Lydia manages to disgrace herself in the eyes of polite society (by offending an amoral young lord), and her family practically kicks her out. Sam has the perfect solution: marry him, as he has great need of a wife anyway.

I have to say this one didn't work for me quite as well of most of Kelly's books. I liked the characters--the H/H are a standard Kelly couple: Sam is very honorable and a bit world-weary; Lydia is pragmatic and sensitive. My problem with the book is some of the incredibility (is that a word?) of the plot.

What I generally love about most Kelly books is that they are so real (by romance novel standards). The characters are normal, everyday people--not your lords and ladies of most Regencies. The problems that befall them are problems that normal people have, and they deal with those problems in realistic ways. But Sam and Lydia did the most incredible things! Sam has been lying to his mother for two years, making up stories about how he's been married and had a baby. He actually expects Lydia to play along with this story once they've returned to his home--lying to his mother forever about who she is. And she agrees to it! Then they just drop by an orphanage one day and pick up a child, like it's not one of the biggest decisions you could possibly make. Are these the actions of rational people?

So, yes, the plot annoyed me. In anyone else's hands the book would have been a total loss. But it was saved by the interesting historical detail and nice characters. I did enjoy it, just not as much as the other Kelly books I've read.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Finally! Hawaii pix.

Julie (Twin) and I finally got our Hawaii pix on flickr. It took us long enough, didn't it? Julie is the photographer, so I can't take credit for them. I'll post some here, but if you want you can view the full set here.

One of our favorite places we went was The Garden of Eden, which is on the western coast of Maui. Amazing plants and beautiful views. Here's the whole fam (except Julie, who's taking the picture). From left to right is Mirth (my brother's girlfriend), Justin (my brother), Mom, Dad, and me.

Twins! (I think we look pretty different here. Julie's started wearing her contacts again, which helps.)

The town of Lahaina was near where we stayed and a really cool place. Mostly tourist shops and restaurants, but still neat. And there is a completely fabulous used bookstore called the Old Lahaina Book Emporium.

And here's me at my future place of employment (in my dreams).

We had this really nice condo that was right on the ocean, with a great deck that was literally a few yards from the beach. Here's me and my big brother doing a crossword there.

And chatting with my dad.

Beautiful sunsets!

And everyone who goes to Maui has to drive up Mt. Haleakala, the 10,000-foot, active volcano on the island. You're supposed to go at sunrise for the best views, but that just wasn't happening. :) Still amazing views, though.

Me pretending to fall into the crater erosional valley (the park rangers corrected us).

Hawaii really is an amazing place. It's also a reeeeaaaallly long way from the East Coast, but totally worth it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

Title: The Tea Rose
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Published: 2002, St. Martin's Press
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 7.5/10

I almost always read series in order (I think most avid readers are careful about this), but this is an exception. I read The Winter Rose a couple months ago and loved it, so it was obvious I needed to read this book, which is the first in the trilogy.

Fiona Finnegan is a very young girl living in Whitechapel, one of the poorer areas of London, around the turn of the 20th century. Her life isn't easy, but her fortunes seem to be on the rise: she's in love with Joe Bristow, a bright and irresistible young man, they're saving up to get married and open a store, and they just know that happiness is right around the corner. Then a series of horrible events leaves her orphaned and penniless, abandoned by her lover and with no one to turn to. She jumps on a ship for New York and starts again there, determined to make her dreams come true.

This is one of those beefy historical novels that I love. It is epic at 557 pages, and it is a big story that spans over a decade. I found it intensely readable--jam-packed with lovable characters, as well as some truly hate-worthy villains.

At one point Fiona is likened to the tea rose, a rare kind of rose that smells of tea. I can't find the exact quote now (I flagged it, but my post-it fell off!) but it was something about how tea roses can seem delicate, but in fact are extremely tenacious and hard to kill. In the middle there when Fiona's life is falling apart, I was a little annoyed by the seemingly never-ending tragedies that happen to her. But they are not dwelled on too much, and Fiona's ability to pick herself up and move on with her life does make her a very admirable character. I think if all that happened to me I'd just whimper and expire. ;)

I did like The Winter Rose a bit better because I found India and Sid to be more interesting main characters than Fiona and Joe. Their motivations in life are more admirable (helping the poor vs. revenge and making a lot of money), and the impediment to their relationship is more exciting (Sid's gangsta past vs. Joe's big mistake).

I do wish that I had read this one before The Winter Rose -- one of the final scenes that should have been really surprising was not because I knew an important fact from the 2nd book. So I'd recommend reading these in order, though they do stand alone very well. I will definitely be reading the third in the trilogy when it comes out. Does anyone know the title, or when it will be published?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Personal Demon, Kelley Armstrong

Title: Personal Demon
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Published: 2008, Bantam Spectra
Category: Paranormal Suspense
Rating: 7.5/10

New Kelley Armstrong! Yay. She's still an autobuy for me, even though she made the jump to hardcover.

This is the 8th in her Otherworld series, which is a set of books narrated alternately by characters with different paranormal powers. This one is told from the POV of Hope Adams, a half-demon who can sense chaos, and Lucas Cortez, a sorcerer. We start off with Hope getting a request from Benicio Cortez, the head of the Cortez cabal (think supernatural mob, sort of), to go undercover and join a gang of supernaturals who appear to be gearing up for some sort of attack on the cabal. Hope owes Benicio a favor, so she doesn't have much choice. Plus, she knows that it will help satisfy her secret need for chaos, which is sort of like a drug to her--she knows it's not really good for her, but she can't help herself. At first, the gang appears pretty harmless, until they start getting murdered one by one. Lucas arrives on the scene to help figure out exactly what's going on.

This book seems to be getting less enthusiastic reviews than some of Armstrong's others, and I agree that she hit a real high on her last one (No Humans Involved) that's hard to match, but I really enjoyed this book. I think Hope's fascinating -- she's a very conflicted person, from her struggle to keep her powers under control to her tumultuous relationship with werewolf jewel-thief Karl Marsten. It made her a refreshingly complex heroine. She's also my complete opposite -- I am risk-averse in the extreme, so it was great to find a character who was so different from myself who I still was able to relate to. Really, that must be a sign of a good author.

I'm thinking romance readers might be a bit less enthusiastic about this one, though I thought Hope and Karl's story was great. That scene were Karl explains why he dumped Hope? Adorable. Even if he was kind of an ass. But see? Interesting and realistic characters. :)

This is the first book in the series where the story has alternated between two narrators. And I didn't feel like it worked all that well. I love Lucas to death (he's one of my favorite characters of the whole series), but the sections narrated by him seemed to chop up the story a bit unnaturally. To me, it felt very much like Hope's book--she's the new character we're learning about, and I found it jarring to be jumping into Lucas's head, especially since Hope and Lucas didn't even know each other very well. But then, as I say, I love Lucas, so it didn't bother me overmuch.

The next installment of the series, Living with the Dead, is due out in November. Yippee.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

TBR Day: My Lord Monleigh, Jan Cox Speas

Title: My Lord Monleigh
Author: Jan Cox Speas
Published: 1956, Avon
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7.5/10

TBR Wednesday! See AvidReader to join the fun.

I've been meaning to read this book since I read Speas' Bride of the MacHugh and loved it. I needed a guaranteed good read for the longest plane ride ever (okay, not really, but the longest plane ride I've ever been on), so I finally got around to it.

My Lord Monleigh is set in Scotland during the mid-17th century. My English history is a bit shaky, but this is the time when Cromwell was in control of the government and radical puritanism was the order of the day. Anne Lindsey is a poor relation who is forced to live with Margaret Clennon and her brother Walter, a pair of withered and strait-laced religious zealots. Anne is in the unenviable position of being almost a servant, forced to cater to petulant Margaret's every demand. One day she escapes and wanders into the Scottish countryside and meets Simon, the earl of Monleigh. Simon is notoriously wicked--he's a royalist, he plays the lute, he (gasp!) knows how to have a good time. Anne has been forced by her hard life to take her security where she can get it, but now she's tempted to throw her lot in with this rebel.

This was lovely. Very good historical detail and a very mature love story. Anne and Simon have a lot of fantastic dialogue--really smart and at times very funny. Anne is no young miss, discovering that love solves all her problems. Realistically, it changes her outlook on life, but at the same time disrupts her precariously peaceful existence. She must make some tough decisions, and she makes them all on her own.

The ending is just great. The first chapter is Anne finding out that Monleigh has been sentenced to hang for treason, and the majority of the rest of the book is done in a flashback. So there's lots of star-crossed lovers, how-is-it-going-to-work-out tension throughout the book. I loved the way it all came out in the end.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm home!

We had a fabulous time. I'll post lots of pictures soon. In the meantime, what on earth made me think that one weekend and 2 work days would be enough time to get over my jet lag, proofread a book, and do my taxes? Ugh. My time management skills need some work. I will resurface on Wednesday. :)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Gone to Hawaii!

I'm on my way! Yippee!

Of course the hardest bit of packing was deciding what books to take. Plus, my mom (who if left to her own devices would read the same 10 books over and over for an eternity) asked me to bring some things she might like. And then my brother asked me to bring a Carl Hiaasen for him. It's like I'm their personal librarian or something. ;)

The Tea Rose, Jennifer Connelly
Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri
The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner
My Lord Monleigh, Jan Cox Speas
Daughter of the Game, Tracy Grant
Sick Puppy, Carl Hiaasen

Of course that's way too many. I probably won't have all that much time for reading anyway. But you have to be prepared. And there is that 9-hour plane ride. ;)

Everyone have a good week! I'll post some pictures when I get home.