Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy holidays!!

Twin and I are scrambling to get on the road -- we're headed to VA to spend Christmas with the family. YAY! But first I must post some pictures of the gingerbread village we made this year (it's becoming a tradition with us).

Town hall.

Shops. Grocer in the middle, barber shop on the end.

This is obviously some kind of posh shop. Dressmakers, maybe.

Townhouses opposite the shops.

Church in the corner of the square. Ice cream cone steeple was a bit tricky.

Beyond the square, there is a lake and my estate--hee hee. It looks sort of like a little farm house.

Minty little house.

Yes, we are a little crazy. But it was all good fun. :)

May you all have a very joyful holiday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sock and Glove by Miyako Kanamori

Title: Sock and Glove
Author: Miyako Kanamori
Published: 2007, Penguin
Category: Crafting

Twin is a member of a crafting circle that meets once a month or so to work on various kinds of projects. We hosted one at our apartment last weekend and decided to have everyone make softies following the directions in this really adorable book. It's all about taking old socks and gloves and turning them into simple stuffed toys. The directions are really very easy and there are lots of ideas about what to do with different sorts of socks and gloves. It's a brilliant idea, because everyone has sad old gloves and socks that they're never going to wear again.

You can look at this review at simplesparrow to see some pictures of the inside of the book. Almost all of us made the simplest glove animal (like the guy on the cover), but there are some other projects in the book that I want to try, especially the elephant and zebra.

Here are our creations:

They come out in varying degrees of wonkiness, but somehow this just adds to their appeal. I did the little red pig with the striped belly. I realized after I was finished that he looks sort of like Piglet on a really, really angry day. ;)

And here's a close-up of the two Julie made--a striped kitty and a little white dog with a matching sweater.

These projects are great because they're quick and don't require any special sewing skills. And you can dress your animal up in all different ways and give him lots of personality. If anyone is scrambling to find a Christmas gift for someone who likes hand crafts, this book would be a good one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Carla Kelly Christmas stories

Title: Four Christmas short stories
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: See bottom of post
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 7.5/10

I went mad ordering all the Christmas anthologies I could find that had Carla Kelly stories in them -- and then I only read the Kelly stories. I am usually very wary of romance short stories, because I can rarely find a good love story that can be told well in such a limited format. But these are just fabulous. They're remarkable because not only was I completely sold on the romance (no mean feat), but they also have lovely, meaningful plots and lots of character development. It's amazing how much Kelly was able to squeeze into these little tales.

"The Christmas Ornament" begins with two old friends visiting. One has a bluestocking of a daughter (Olivia) just coming of age and the other has an Oxford scholar of a son (James) who is nearing the age when he should be settling down and getting married. They plan to throw them together over Christmas and see what comes of it. For a while it seems like nothing will, as James is "mortally shy" and is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, and Olivia has another suitor in the dashing Lord D'Urst, a fact that robs James of all his self-confidence.

This is probably the lightest, most playful story of the lot. Lord D'Urst calls Olivia his "Christmas ornament," and we can only hope that James will get his act together enough to make her a better offer: a partnership of equals.

"No Room at the Inn" sees Mary McIntyre traveling with acquaintances just before Christmas. They are caught in a storm and are forced to stop and stay with Joseph Shepard, a tradesman who is also the son of Mary's aristocratic family's steward. We soon find out, however, that Mary has just been told that she was adopted at birth by her high-born parents, who have now decided to tell the world that she's actually the illegitimate daughter of a servant (or actress or something, I can't quite remember). Joe welcomes them all into his home with cheerful warmth, and he and Mary work together to make the holiday fun and cozy.

Besides the love story here, we get some very interesting class conflict – Mary's just gone way down the ladder, Joe's a tradesman who's made his own fortune.

"Let Nothing You Dismay" is about Lord Trevor Chase, a London solicitor called "the patron saint of lost causes." He's made it his life's work to represent children and keep the poor things from being transported to Australia. Lord Trevor's niece is accompanied home for the Christmas holiday by one of her schoolteachers, Cecilia Ambrose. As Cecilia and Trevor get to know each other, Cecilia discovers that something in Trevor's past is haunting him; he's carrying around feelings of guilt over something he did years ago and is losing hope of ever atoning for it. Cecilia must try to snap him out of it, and help him move forward with his life.

Lots of interesting stuff here – poor Trevor is so admirable, but the crushing guilt was maybe a little gloomy for me. Not the easiest story to read.

And I saved the best for last – "An Object of Charity" was my favorite story. Captain Michael Lynch's ship has been damaged in a fight with the French, so he's come home to England. There he meets Sally Partlow and her brother, who have come from Scotland to live with their uncle. Michael is forced to tell them that their uncle, his first mate, has just been killed in action. Not realizing that they have no money and no where else to go, he sends them on their way. Once he discovers his mistake he feels that it's his duty to help them, but doesn't know what to do with them except to take them home for the holiday. The trouble is that he's been estranged from his family for twenty years.

Captain Lynch reminded me a lot of Horatio Hornblower, which can only be a good thing. Very responsible and a bit too serious, he's sort of forgotten how to live a life on land and at peace. And I thought his reunion with his family was so well done and realistic.

And I must quote the final paragraph of this one, because it's so nice (and it's not like I'm giving away the ending – it is a romance).
"Happy Christmas, Sally," he whispered in her ear, as goodwill settled around him like a benediction, and peace became his second dearest companion.
And I just found one more anthology on PaperBackSwap with a Kelly story in it. I really hope it comes before Christmas.

Publication info:
"No Room at the Inn" in A Regency Christmas, Signet, 2002
"The Christmas Ornament" in A Regency Christmas, Signet, 1998
"An Object of Charity" in A Regency Christmas Present, Signet, 1999
"Let Nothing You Dismay" in Regency Christmas Wishes, Signet 2003

Monday, December 10, 2007

Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers

Title: Have His Carcase
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Published: 1932 originally, 1995 HarperPaperbacks
Category: Mystery
Rating: 7/10

Has anyone noticed that this book's been hanging out on my sidebar under "Up Next" for a few weeks? Yeah, I've been working on this book since October. I love Lord Peter, but this one was a bit of a trial for me. (For those unfamiliar with Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey is an English gentleman detective who appears in an entire series of books, sometimes joined by Harriet Vane.)

Mystery writer Harriet Vane is on holiday in the south of England. One day as she's hiking along the coast, she notices what appears to be a very freshly murdered man resting atop a boulder on the shore. Harriet fearlessly goes up to investigate; she examines and photographs the body, much in the way of the fictitious detective-hero she writes. It turns out that the evidence she's collected comes in very handy because while Harriet is fetching the police, the tide comes in and sweeps the body away. Lord Peter soon arrives on the scene and starts investigating. But with each new piece of evidence the case just gets more and more confusing. They have lots of suspects, some of whom have strong motives but perfect alibis, while others are obviously lying about the evidence but appear to have had nothing to do with the victim.

This is one of those books where I want to give two grades, one for technical merit and the other for how much I enjoyed it. Because who am I to find fault with the great Dorothy Sayers? She was a master of the mystery novel, and I love some of her books to death. But, dear God, this thing was loooong, and so involved with so many, many details that I lost interest about halfway in. I was siding with the provincial policemen when they wanted to proclaim it a suicide and forget the whole thing. I think this is mostly to do with my personal preferences; I can read and enjoy a whodunit, but figuring out who done it is hardly ever what keeps me reading. I read for the characters, and Lord Peter is the reason I managed to get through this at all. He comes across as such a charismatic man, which is something I would imagine would be very hard for an author to accomplish. He is just charming and intelligent and very funny.

We do see a little development in Harriet and Wimsey's relationship (of course, not as much as I might have liked). He keeps proposing and Harriet keeps saying no. My favorite proposal Wimsey sends in a telegram:
But Harriet is re-establishing herself as an independent woman, and Wimsey is trying not to step on her toes as she does this, no matter how much he may want to take care of her. I have to quote the very first paragraph, because it sums up their relationship, and is such an incredible beginning and so brilliantly written:
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.
So it gets a 7 overall (averaging a 9 for technical merit and a 5 for personal entertainment value). But for those who like a really meaty, complex mystery, this one's for you.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Book Binge contest

The ladies at Book Binge are being super generous with their holiday contest -- they're giving away an eBookwise e-Reader. Holy crap! And though they will have to tear my old-fashioned paper books from my cold, dead hands, I am starting to see the allure of e-books.

1. What is your favorite Christmas romance to re-read each year?
I haven't actually read much Christmas romance. But I recently read Marian's Christmas Wish by Carla Kelly, and it just might become a traditional re-read. I also read Dickens's A Christmas Carol every year.

2. What is your favorite Christmas movie/show?
Mickey's Christmas Carol. Really old half-hour Disney version that my brother and sister and I loved as kids. I still love it.

3. What is your favorite Christmas cookie?
Viennese Snowballs. They're walnut cookies rolled in powder sugar. I posted the recipe last year. YUMMY!

4. When do you start Christmas shopping?
Oh. I guess I should get on that soon, huh?

5. Do you re-gift?
Not really. I don't exchange gifts with that wide a group of people, so I usually don't end up getting much crap.

6. What is your favorite Christmas song?
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

7. When do you get your Christmas tree?
Usually the first weekend in December.

8. Wrapping presents: Love it or hate it?
Love it! Pretty paper and ribbon=lotsa fun.

9. Who is the hardest person to buy for?
My uber-non-consumerist father.

10. Christmas tree: Real or artificial?
Both. Twin and I get a little real tree for our apartment. But then we go to our parents' house for the actual holiday, and there we have a gorgeous artificial tree.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Marian's Christmas Wish, Carla Kelly

Title: Marian's Christmas Wish
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 1989, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 8.5/10

I ordered this book because it was on JMC's AAR top romances list – and she's quite the Carla Kelly expert, so I figured it had to be good. And it's a full-length Christmas story, which is pretty hard to find. Yay!

Marian Wynswich is the youngest daughter of a family in trouble. Their father has died recently, leaving them with major financial problems due to his propensity for gambling (badly). Marian's brother Philip thinks that he may be able to save the family by marrying off the eldest Wynswich daughter, Ariadne (who is luckily beautiful and quite biddable), to someone wealthy. So Philip brings Sir William Clinghorn home for Christmas. Sir William turns out to be a silly, vulgar man, but he's rich and looking for a pretty, "proper" little wife. Ariadne is in love with the village's vicar, but she's apparently too weak to put up any protest. Marian, on the other hand, is not at all weak. She's used to saying what she thinks (and she thinks a lot), and what starts out as a passive-aggressive dislike of the toady little man soon turns into a scheme to get rid of him and save Ariadne. She's aided in her plans by her brother Alistair and Lord Gilbert, another friend of Philip's who came home with him for the holiday.

Marian and Gilbert quickly become very good friends. He's a serious man who's highly involved in very secret, very important, apparently dangerous diplomatic work. He was burned badly when a ship he was on caught fire, leaving him with an impressive scar on his cheek. He hasn't wanted to scare his family, which is why he didn't go to his own home for Christmas. Marian sets about trying to change his mind, even making it her wish on the Christmas pudding (an English tradition, apparently).

So that's not even all the plot; it is a lot more action-filled than I have found most of Carla Kelly's books to be. I do think the book has a slightly odd structure; it really felt like two novellas (starring the same characters) jammed together. The first half is your normal, nice Christmas story. The second half of the book is centered on a rather thrilling plot involving Gilbert's diplomatic work. I didn't mind the change, because both parts were really well done, but I still found it a little odd.

Anyway, besides that this book is completely brilliant. It is filled with the pragmatic, intelligent, kind characters that usually populate Kelly's books. Marian is very young (only 16!), so beware if that puts you off. But she is very wise for her age, and she is filled with a youthful enthusiasm that serves to startle Gilbert out of the gloomy oppression of his overactive sense of duty. The story is light and funny at times (Alistair especially is a riot), but it also has a certain gravity that keeps it from being fluffy.

The Christmas elements were lovely. I really have no idea whether they are historically accurate, but I'd bet they are. More importantly, the book has such a nice spirit to it -- the idea of Christmas as a time to appreciate your family, no matter how much they might drive you crazy through most of the year. It left me with fabulous warm fuzzies.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I Google. iGoogle.

Have people heard of iGoogle? They're customizable Google home pages. You pick a banner and what widgets you want to have displayed. I just discovered it, and it is cool.

Here's the banner I picked. The little fox is so cute! And the picture changes according to what time of the day it is for me. Like in the morning, the sun's way over to the left and he's picking oranges. Then at lunchtime he has a little picnic. And then, oh, look! He's fishing in his little boat. And then it gets dark and he sits on his deck. I don't know if he goes to bed or not. If he does, he stays up later than me. Okay, yes, it doesn't take much to amuse me.

But see, look at all my little tools. It has my weather, email, and unread posts on my google reader. A to-do list, a list of top-selling books, news stories, etc., etc. And a John Stewart quote of the day. Hee! And you can drag the tools around to put them exactly like you want.

It's good fun. :)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Castle Waiting, Linda Medley

Title: Castle Waiting
Author: Linda Medley
Published: 2006, Fantagraphics Books
Category: Graphic Novel
Rating: 6.5/10

Believe it or not, this is the first graphic novel I've ever read. I'm so behind the times here. I was never a comic book reader as a kid, so I just never got into them. But there was a piece about graphic novels in a recent Shelf Awareness email, with a recommendation for this one. It sounded interesting.

Castle Waiting starts out with a brief, and relatively standard, retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But after the princess is awakened by the handsome prince, it takes a sharp left turn out of the traditional fairy tale. The princess rides off with her prince, leaving the castle, still surrounded by bramble, without a ruling family. The town around it degrades to nothing, and the castle becomes a sanctuary for all sorts of misfits. The book centers on a young pregnant woman who flees her abusive husband and arrives at Castle Waiting, where she meets the kind, if odd, inhabitants: the three aging ladies-in-waiting, a bearded nun, a man heartbroken by the death of his family, and a jolly housekeeper and her "slow" son, among others.

This is in no way a traditional fairy tale! It presents some great themes that are actually quite anti-fairy tale. Feminism for one -- a couple of the stories show women shaking off bad men to live independently (and much more happily). And the rest of the stories revolve around acceptance of people who are different. The characters are all oddballs in some respect, but they are wise enough to discover that their differences are not something to overcome or do away with, but traits to be appreciated as something that makes them unique.

My one big complaint was that the book can really be divided into two halves: the first dealing with the pregnant woman getting to know everyone at Castle Waiting, the second telling the life story of the bearded nun. I think these stories were originally published as comic books over a period of time, which could explain the disjointedness. But I kept waiting to get back to the story of the people actually living in Castle Waiting. And then the book just ended.

I liked the illustrations, though I'm no great judge. I did get confused a couple times when I couldn't figure out immediately from the drawings which character (especially the women) was being depicted. But maybe the fault is in me, because I read a PW review that praised the book for the opposite thing. I guess I'm too much a words person. ;)

But this was a positive enough experience that I want to read more graphic novels. So if anyone who has recommendations, please share!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now even better archives. Oh yeah.

Exciting news! Okay, not really. But it does make me happy.

I have never been satisfied with the way I was archiving my old reviews. I really liked Rosario's method, so I've copied her a bit. I played around with GoogleDocs and realized that I could keep a spreadsheet there, publish it, and then link to it from the sidebar. So voila, the new and improved archives!

You can see the author, title, category, and rating. It was kind of a big job to put together, but it'll be much easier going forward. And I realized that I have over 150 reviews in my archives! Reviews of admittedly varying degrees of quality, but still. Little bloggy, I'm so proud of you. ;)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simply Magic, Mary Balogh

Title: Simply Magic
Author: Mary Balogh
Published: 2007, Delacorte Press
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6.5/10

I finished this book maybe 5 days ago, and when I sat down to write this review, I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was about! Never a good sign. But I've read the jacket and it's all come flooding back.

This is the third book in Balogh's Simply series about the four teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. Susanna Osbourne is our heroine this time; she's been at the school from the age of 12, first as a charity student, then as a teacher. She goes to spend a holiday with Frances (the heroine of Simply Unforgettable) and meets Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf. (If that name is familiar to you, he appeared briefly as Lauren's cousin at the end of A Summer to Remember.) Susanna dislikes him intensely both because he appears to be a frivolous good-time guy and because his name brings back horrible memories from her childhood. Peter is immediately attracted to her and is thrown to find that he obviously repels her so badly -- he is used to being universally liked. He sets about getting to know her, and Susanna realizes that her first impressions of him were not fair. They become friends, never intending the relationship to go further; Susanna and Peter both know that she is too low on the social scale to be his wife. But after they part, Peter misses her and keeps coming up with excuses to see her again.

Once my memory was jogged about this book, I remembered it quite well, didn't I? But I have to say that it was rather forgettable (I would even say simply unmagical, though that's a horrible joke). Balogh's more recent books have all been comfort reads for me; they are about nice people, who are always honorable and fall in love slowly, with decorum and maturity. I would recommend this book for people who are looking for a quiet love story. The plot line about Susanna's past was interesting when it was finally revealed, but was not exactly thrilling.

But I did enjoy it, though I'm glad I didn't pay hardcover price for it. Of the Simply series, I loved the second one, Simply Love, while Unforgettable and Magic were both just okay. I will probably end up buying this one in mass market when it comes out, because look at the cover!! It's so pretty. Maybe I can resist, but the power of that lush garden landscape might overcome my will power.

Random observation: It makes me feel sort of old when the HEROES of romance novels are younger than me. :(

Simply Perfect, last in the series, is out on March 25.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Affair Before Christmas, Eloisa James

Title: An Affair Before Christmas
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2007, Avon
Category: Historical romance
Rating: 7/10

I am so behind on my reviews. But I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, even though I sprinkled salt instead of sugar onto the top of the apple pie. (Oopsie. It will be a family joke forever. And hey, didn't Anne of Green Gables do the same thing once? I'm in good company.) But onward! (as Cindy says) To the new Eloisa James.

An Affair Before Christmas, of course, begins right before Christmas with Fletch (that's the Duke of Fletcher) and Poppy Selby head over heals in love with each other. They both have stars in their naïve little eyes as they head off to be married. Four years later they find their marriage on the rocks. A large part of the problem appears to be that Poppy can't enjoy sex, no matter what Fletch does. He's gotten more and more bitter about it until one day he makes a horrible joke in front of some friends. Poppy is hurt and doesn't understand her husband and is tired of trying (unsuccessfully) to make him happy, so she leaves him and goes to live with the infamous Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont. Fletch wants to just write her off and go get a mistress, but despite everything he's still very much in love with her. Out on her own, Poppy starts to loosen up and discovers a lot about herself, things she enjoys doing when she's not so obsessed with being the perfect duchess.

I didn't love this plot line, but I think it does point out something that must have happened often back then. Women's sexuality was such a taboo subject that lots of women surely felt as Poppy did – sex is something only men enjoy and you just had to grin and bear it. James always takes a refreshingly grown-up and realistic view of marriage among the aristocracy, and she also somehow manages to make a HEA believable within that setting.

This is the second in James's duchess series (after Desperate Duchesses) and it is more closely connected as a series than you sometimes find. The story of Jemma and her husband, Elijah; the Duke of Villiers; and their chess tournaments started in DD continues. Jemma and Elijah's story doesn't advance too much, but we do learn a lot more about Villiers, who is sick unto death from the sword wound he received at the end of Desperate Duchesses.

Definitely pick this up if you liked Desperate Duchesses, and I'd say skip it if that one didn't do much for you. I loved the Georgian setting and I always enjoy James's clever characters and dialogue. It's another ensemble piece, with lots of jumping around among storylines, but I think it's all really well done.

Next in the series is Duchess by Night, out in April. About Harriet, Duchess of Berrow. Is she the one whose husband killed himself?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm about three books behind on blogging, but no time now. I've got turkey to eat and family to see. ;)

So for all the Americans (stolen from C2 because Pooh is always adorable):

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Coolest program evah!

A friend at work put me on to this really cool downloadable software called Library Books. (Here's a write-up and here's where you can download.) It's a little program that automatically links to your library's catalog and retrieves your account info (what you have checked out and when it's due). It's so cool! And really unobtrusive. Here's a screenshot of my desktop's right upper-hand corner. See the little star and the 4? That means I have 4 books checked out.

Then if you click on the star, a little menu drops down listing all your books and when they're due. The icon apparently turns red when you have items overdue.

And there are links to your library's webpage too.

I may never have to pay fines again. Mom, you might even be able to start using the library again! Or have they banned you for life? ;)

Oh, this program is for Macs only. But apparently there is something called Library Elf for PCs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DNF: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Linda Berdoll

I've been meaning to read Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife forever -- I mean, what Pride and Prejudice fan wouldn't want to see a little bit of Elizabeth and Darcy's HEA? And it seems to be among the more popular P&P sequels. But, I have to say, it didn't do much for me. It seemed like it was all about sex. Really, all about sex -- that title is meant in the literal way (at it like rabbits they are). And as titillating as it is to hear about Darcy's enormous member, it got old really quick.

The writing seemed overly complicated just for the sake of being complicated, if that makes any sense. The constant use of "howbeit" and "compleatly" about drove me mad. I didn't see any new character development, and what new plot lines were introduced didn't interest me all that much. I made it through 100 pages and decided that was enough for me.

But this book did spark a heated debate between Twin and me. I was saying that if Jane Austen had lived today, she probably would have written sex scenes in her books. Twin thinks Austen would be too high class or something. Sheesh. I'm not saying she'd be writing erotica, but I don't think Austen would be at all prudish. Who agrees with me? :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Summers at Castle Auburn, Sharon Shinn

Title: Summers at Castle Auburn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 2001, Ace
Category: YA Fantasy
Rating: 9/10

I've been meaning to try one of Sharon Shinn's YA books, and Li recommended this one. Ack! I loved it. Really a lot.

Young Corie is the illegitimate daughter of now-deceased Lord Halsing, an important aristocrat of Auburn. She's been raised in the country by her grandmother, a wise-woman witch-doctor, who is training Corie as her apprentice. Corie's uncle Jaxon decides that Corie should spend her summers at Auburn castle with her half-sister, Alisandra, who is now engaged to Prince Bryan, the heir to the throne. The book opens when Corie is 14, as she excitedly sets out on a hunting expedition with her uncle Jaxon, Bryan, and the prince's cousin, Kent. They aren't hunting animals, though -- they're hunting aliora, mysterious and magical elf-like creatures that are almost impossible to catch, but once bound by metal shackles they are made into servants for the aristocracy. Corie has always accepted the presence of aliora without much thought, but this trip opens her eyes to the fact that the aliora living among humans are slaves kept against their will. Over the next few years, Corie goes from naive girl to a young woman aware of the many injustices that exist among the political circles of the court of Auburn. She also begins to see that Bryan is not the wonderful, dashing prince of a fairy tale with whom all the girls (including Corie) are in love, but a very flawed man whose arrogance and cruelty make for a dangerous ruler.

Let me count the ways I loved this book! Corie is such a lovable character -- she is one of those lucky people who makes friends wherever she goes, spreading her affection to high- and low-born without discrimination. (Well, actually with excellent discrimination, but based on important things like kindness and good-will rather than money and position.) And she is such a rebel! Strong-willed and intelligent, she refuses to be coerced into acting in any way she does not think is right, even though it sometimes seems like everyone is against her.

This is very much a coming-of-age story, and I loved seeing Corie go from youthful innocence to wise young woman. The theme of slavery (both the literal slavery of the aliora and the more insidious subjugation of women) are handled so well, with a nice light touch. And the romance is so, so lovely. It's a traditional fairy-tale ending turned completely on its head, resolved in a way that was (to me, anyway) very unexpected and wonderful. And while the overall story is fairly simple, it's just full of lovely, thoughtful details of a fantasy world.


I have to say I was not very comfortable with Bryan's sad demise. Obviously he would have been a horrible king, and Alisandra was painted into a difficult corner, but, DUDE, she murdered him! Seems sort of a bad lesson for young adults, which is upsetting because the rest of the book was filled with such admirable things. Kent and Corie both agree that they could never do such a thing, but I don't think that really makes up for it. And Alisandra's calm attitude toward it all was sort of creepy.

I got this from the library, but I've already ordered a copy because it must be MINE! MINE! :)

Monday, November 05, 2007

No books for me. :(

I went to the bookstore yesterday because I had a 30% off coupon burning a hole in my pocket. And I couldn't find anything to buy! Shocking! Twin's eyes bugged out a little when I came home empty-handed. What's wrong with me?

Everything I picked up I put back on the shelf, deciding that I had something similar already in the TBR that sounded better. Maybe that means my TBR is too big... I do have some books in there I just know are going to be fantastic. But that doesn't keep me from wanting to buy more books.

So, anyone bought anything exciting lately?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sexiest Man Alive, Diana Holquist

Title: Sexiest Man Alive
Author: Diana Holquist
Published: 2007, Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 6/10

I picked this up in the bookstore because it got a nice review at Dear Author. When I flipped it open, I noticed that it's dedicated to me! "To everyone who has ever blushed, stuttered, or had their nose twitch like a rabbit's, this book is for you." Okay, I don't think my nose twitches, but I can certainly blush and stutter. Shy heroines are hard to find, so I'm always interested in seeing one get her man. ;)

Jasmine Burns is even shyer than I am (hard to believe), especially around attractive men. She dreams of becoming an important costume designer, but her extreme shyness has made it impossible, so instead she's been running a tailoring business (for women only) out of her Manhattan apartment. But now she's landed an interview with a really important designer to work as his assistant on a production of Romeo and Juliet. She forces herself to go to the interview and makes a sorry mess of it. Luckily, she does manage to leave behind her portfolio, which the designer loves, and Jasmine gets the job. She soon finds out that Romeo will be played by People's sexiest man, super-famous big-screen actor Josh Toby. Josh is trying to do the play incognito so that he can prove that he's not just a pretty face and that he can actually act. Josh begs Jasmine to create costumes that will hide who he is. This is a problem since Jasmine can't be around him without breaking into a cold sweat. And that's compounded by the fact that Jasmine's sister Amy has the power to reveal people's One True Love, and she's declared that Josh is Jasmine's.

So, the premise is a little ridiculous. I had to force my brain to ignore my two biggest problems with this plot: 1)the idea of predestined "One True Love" is a ridiculous notion (sorry, all you romantics out there) and 2) big-name movie stars are actually aliens sent to Earth to make humans feel inadequate (yes, this tin hat I'm wearing is very fashionable, thank you). But this book was obviously written as a bit of fun, and I was able to take it as such and enjoy it. There are some really funny scenes that had me laughing. I also really liked Jasmine's being a costume designer; I just thought it was interesting (plus, she uses the same sewing machine as Twin and I do!)

And Jasmine's shyness was well done. I did at times actually find myself annoyed by the fact that every human interaction Jasmine went through was prefaced by all the nervous hemming and hawing and pepping herself up to behave like a normal person. At times I was like, OMG get over yourself, it's not a big deal! But then I am often irritated by my own shyness, so obviously she's a believable character. ;)

Spoilers whited out:
I wasn't completely sold on the ending, either that these two could actually have an HEA or the way Jasmine's shyness is all but "cured" by lurve. It is mentioned briefly that the real origin of Jasmine's shyness might have been the rejection she felt by her sisters as a teenager – I didn't feel like this got enough emphasis and I thought it undermined the idea that the confidence she gains from Josh's love is what really allows her to lose a lot of her shyness and to manage life in the spotlight as the wife of such a famous person.

But it was a fast, fun read. There is a previous book in the same series about Jasmine's sister Cecilia (Make Me a Match), and Holquist's next book is about the other sister, Amy. (And I'm not sure I can get excited about that, as Amy did not come off as very likable in this book.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Suspense + Romance?

Author Susanna Kearsley answered a question from me on her website! Go see! It's very interesting. I asked how she incorporates romance into her suspense novels, and how she balances the two while writing. Because I would classify her books as romantic suspense, but as she says in her answer, they do not really fit what most readers today think of when they hear "romantic suspense." I guess that's the problem that we get from labeling books and boxing them into these little subgenres. But then "classic suspense with a touch of romance, in a style reminiscent of Mary Stewart and Daphne duMaurier, but also uniquely fresh and different" doesn't really fit on a spine. :)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mine Till Midnight, Lisa Kleypas

Title: Mine Till Midnight
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Published: 2007, St. Martin's
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6.5/10

I have to quote Smart Bitch Sarah here because she nailed my feelings about Kleypas:
Anyway, as I was saying, Kleypas = candy. Not the Malaysian kind or the crapass grocery store chocolate kind, but the kind of candy that you stop and devote a good few minutes to enjoying, doing nothing else but savoring the calories that add nothing to your life nutritionally but make you feel happy and indulgent.
May the many thousands of Kleypas fans forgive me, but I've read and enjoyed several Kleypas books and they just don't stick with me for long. And Mine Till Midnight was the same way.

This is the start of what is to be a new series for her, I think. Amelia Hathaway is the oldest daughter of a slightly disreputable family. Since her parents are dead, Amelia is the one who takes care of everybody--no easy feat. Her older brother has recently inherited a title, which unfortunately comes with a crumbling estate and no money. He's also just lost his fiancee to scarlet fever and seems determined to completely self-destruct. The book opens with Amelia searching the gambling halls of London for him. She finally tracks him to one called Jenner's, where she meets Cam Rohan, the half-gypsy who manages it. Instant attraction as he helps her find and retrieve her brother. It seems like they will never see each other again, but of course they run into each other again when the Hathaways move to their new estate, which happens to lie right beside one of Cam's friends' (Lord Westerwhosit from one of the Wallflower books). Cam comes to the rescue as Amelia struggles more and more to keep her family together.

I think I was having mood swings while reading this book. The first scene (when Cam and Amelia meet) annoyed me, then as I got further into the book I was loving it, and then by the end I was irritated again. The scene in London just seemed so full of treacly romantic cliches: "A little shock ran through her as their gazes met." "A ripple of nervousness went through her, leaving an unfamiliar heat in its wake." "The countenance of an exotic angel..." "He wanted to unwrap her like a long-awaited gift." Blergh. The book almost got tossed. But then I started to be charmed by the quirkiness of the Hathaways. They are a really lovable family: gentle Win, cheerful Poppy, kleptomaniac Beatrix. Even the surly brother was well done -- their feelings of helplessness as he self-destructs seemed the perfect mixture of frustration and sadness.

My irritation at the end was caused by the fact that no-nonsense, take-charge Amelia becomes a complete pushover. SPOILER ALERT!! Cam just decides that they'll be married -- he doesn't even ask her. She resists a bit even though she loves him (and who could blame her -- in those days you would be a social outcast if you married a Gypsy), but he just seduces her and she goes along with it. He fixes everything: the house, Merripen's illness, Beatrix's little problem. Now I can understand that it's nice to have a man who can help out, but does he have to do everything?

And then he goes all possessive: "You are never to be alone with him, or any man, except your brother or Merripen. Unless I give my permission." She is upset by this, but she literally gets half a sentence out, and then he kisses her into submission. Argh! I just couldn't like the ending. It was nice to see Amelia loosen up and learn to share her burdens, but it went way too far out of character for her.

Okay, that was sort of a lot of complaining, though I did enjoy most of the book. And I'm sure I'll read Win's book when it comes out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My AAR list

Here's my first-ever try at compiling a top 100 romances list for AAR's poll. I didn't quite come up with a 100 that I felt were worthy, but I did better than I thought I would. (I haven't been reading romance all that long, plus I'm kind of picky.) Putting together these lists isn't easy, is it?I kept wanting to put non-romance on there (and some of them that did make it on are debatable). And then ordering them was impossible. Is this my 37th favorite or 38th? Hmmm. So really, after a while I just stopped stressing about it. ;)

1 Blue Castle - L.M. Montgomery
2 This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart
3 Persuasion - Jane Austen
4 Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
5 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
6 Venetia - Georgette Heyer
7 Nine Coaches Waiting - Mary Stewart
8 Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand - Carla Kelly
9 Busman's Honeymoon - Dorothy Sayers
10 Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold
11 Windflower - Laura London
12 Anne of the Island - L.M. Montgomery
13 Into the Wilderness - Sara Donati
14 Devil's Cub - Georgette Heyer
15 Faking It - Jennifer Crusie
16 Beguilement - Lois McMaster Bujold
17 Gaudy Night - Dorothy Sayers
18 Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase
19 Moonspinners - Mary Stewart
20 Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
21 Reforming Lord Ragsdale - Carla Kelly
22 Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart
23 Madam, Will You Talk? - Mary Stewart
24 Welcome to Temptation - Jennifer Crusie
25 Kathryn in the Court of Six Queens - Anne Merton Abbey
26 Ivy Tree - Mary Stewart
27 Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer
28 Desiree - Annemarie Selinko
29 Nonesuch - Georgette Heyer
30 Far Pavilions - M.M. Kaye
31 Born in Fire - Nora Roberts
32 Celia Garth - Gwen Bristow
33 Crazy for You - Jennifer Crusie
34 Shadowy Horses - Susanna Kearsley
35 Simply Love - Mary Balogh
36 Mystic and Rider - Sharon Shinn
37 Bitten - Kelley Armstrong
38 Ever After - Elswyth Thane
39 Match Me if You Can - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
40 Montana Sky - Nora Roberts
41 No Humans Involved - Kelley Armstrong
42 Sea Swept - Nora Roberts
43 To Sir Philip, With Love - Julia Quinn
44 My Brother Michael - Mary Stewart
45 Games of Command - Linnea Sinclair
46 Countess Below Stairs - Eva Ibbotson
47 Lord of Danger - Anne Stuart
48 Bridal Season - Connie Brockway
49 Demon Angel - Meljean Brook
50 Mr. Impossible - Loretta Chase
51 Mariana - Susanna Kearsley
52 Mistress Pat - L.M. Montgomery
53 Unacceptable Offer - Mary Balogh
54 Bride of the MacHugh - Jan Cox Speas
55 Dreaming of You - Lisa Kleypas
56 Morning Gift - Eva Ibbotson
57 Wild Pursuit - Eloisa James
58 Slave to Sensation - Nalini Singh
59 Ain't She Sweet - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
60 Finders Keepers - Linnea Sinclair
61 This Heart of Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
62 By Possession - Madeline Hunter
63 Lord Perfect - Loretta Chase
64 Frederica - Georgette Heyer
65 Cordelia's Honor - Lois McMaster Bujold
66 Miss Grimley's Oxford Career - Carla Kelly
67 Slightly Dangerous - Mary Balogh
68 Demon Moon - Meljean Brook
69 My Lady Notorious - Jo Beverley
70 Summer to Remember - Mary Balogh
71 Duke and I - Julia Quinn
72 Manhunting - Jennifer Crusie
73 Rapture in Death - J.D. Robb
74 Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
75 Thornyhold - Mary Stewart
76 Heart of the Sea - Nora Roberts
77 Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder

I tried not to go too fangirl-ish and just add everything by my favorite authors, but it kind of happened anyway. Here are the big winners:
Mary Balogh 4
Lois McMaster Bujold 3
Loretta Chase 3
Jennifer Crusie 5
Georgette Heyer 6
Carla Kelly 3
L.M. Montgomery 3
Susan Elizabeth Phillips 3
Nora Roberts 4
Mary Stewart 8

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, Georgette Heyer

Title: Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1957, Putnam
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7.5/10

I got this from the library, thinking it was a new-to-me Heyer. Turns out, I'd read it before. But no matter, it was good the second time too.

Miss Phoebe Marlow had one disastrous Season in London; a rather plain girl clad in unbecoming dresses, her intelligence and wit suppressed by insults given her by her overbearing stepmother, she failed to make any sort of impression on Society. Phoebe was happy enough to return home to the country and then got the unpleasant experience out of her system by writing a novel ridiculing certain members of the ton who were unkind to her. One of these characters was based Sylvester, Duke of Salford, who had given her the cut direct at Almacks. Meanwhile, Sylvester has decided it's time to secure a wife and has to come look Phoebe over as a prospective bride because their mothers were friends. Phoebe thinks (rightly) that this is a stupid way to pick a wife and dislikes Sylvester's hoity-toity attitude, so, fearful of being forced into an unwanted marriage, she runs away to London. She unfortunately has a mishap on the way, and Sylvester ends up saving the day. So he turns out to be not all bad, but Phoebe's novel is about to be published, and she knows that he'll be made insanely mad by it.

There's very much a Pride & Prejudice sort of theme here: Sylvester thinks that his manners are the model of perfection, but in fact he's so used to being the powerful and petted duke that he is horribly conceited. Phoebe, in her straightforward, blunt way, takes him down a peg or two, which is just what he needed. She, on the other hand, realizes that her first impression of him was not exactly wrong, but definitely not the whole picture.

This is an excellent example of Heyer's comedic plotlines. The characters are running all over, from Phoebe's country home to London to France and back again. Slightly ridiculous, but mostly just funny. The romance is a little less successful, IMO. Sylvester's interest in Phoebe seems to stem from her being the only one who has ever rejected him, and I was never quite convinced that he gained a genuine respect for her good qualities -- at least, not enough to want to marry her.

But it's definitely worth a read just to meet Sir Nugent Fotherby, one of Heyer's funniest, most over-the-top dandies ever. And to hear little Edmund scream for his Button (I can't explain this joke, you'll just have to read the book). :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lime green. Wicked.

As someone who used to work in production for a book publisher, I get ridiculously excited when I see books that have some unusual design or printing element. I was in Borders tonight and saw that the newly released mass-market edition of Wicked has bright, bright fluorescent green page edges (you totally can't tell from this image of the book cover, sadly). You know how really old books sometimes have gilt or red ink around the edges? Classy, right? Imagine it in green.

It's fantastic, because the book really pops out at you if you see a stack of them sitting on a table. So, snaps to HarperCollins. (Though I wonder how much it cost. Probably a pretty penny.) I almost bought a copy, even though I already have a trade paperback -- which I haven't even read yet. ;)

Oh but I did buy some books too (of course): The Runaway Bride by Julie Anne Long, Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist, and Crazy in Love by Lani Diane Rich. Even though they have plain old paper -- no green ink anywhere. LOL. Proving that though I love pretty books, it's the words that really matter. :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Secret to Seduction, Julie Anne Long

Title: The Secret to Seduction
Author: Julie Anne Long
Published: 2007, Warner
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7/10

I first bought this book months ago after Rosina Lippi (aka Sara Donati) mentioned Julie Anne Long on her blog. (God bless Google, here's the link.) Lippi seems to be quite picky about her romance, so when she endorses someone I'm interested to see why. Most of the post is actually devoted to Long's failings at representing dialect correctly -- this didn't bother me, though I wasn't reading the same title that Rosina was talking about (um yeah, plus I don't have a PhD in linguistics or whatever). What finally brought Secret to Seduction out of the TBR was Janine's great review at Dear Author (which is much longer and more complete than my own).

Sabrina Fairchild is in love (a very polite sort of love) with her village's curate. The curate goes to visit his wicked cousin, Rhys, Earl of Rawden, aka The Libertine, rake extraordinaire and author of scandalous poetry. Sabrina finds a way to get invited to the house party, hoping that she can see more of the curate away from the close watch of her father. Rhys is bored; Sabrina is so irritatingly proud of her "even temperament" and immunity to the evils of a passionate nature. Obviously, it's a challenge Rhys can't refuse and he sets about seducing her. They are caught at it in the library, and Rhys is forced to ask her to marry him. They seem to be falling for each other and on the way to HEA when Sabrina learns that Rhys is guilty of a crime -- one that ruined her family's happiness -- and she has to decide whether or not she can forgive him.

Yes, there are some seriously overdone elements here -- the experienced rake introducing the innocent girl to sexual desire, the compromising situation and forced marriage. And this is points against the book, but I was surprised by how fresh it felt here. Sabrina's innocence isn't irritating, as she is really intelligent and we see that she's not so much a prude as just repressed. The subplot of what happened to Anna's mother was my favorite part. Her matter-of-fact acceptance of her troubles and her ability to forgive and forget were great -- a very wise woman and maybe my favorite character in the book.

I also really liked Long's writing style -- I'll definitely be getting more of her books. Secret to Seduction is the last of a trilogy; Sabrina's sisters' stories are told in Beauty and the Spy and Ways to Be Wicked.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Desktop meme

Megan and Nath tagged me for this, so I'd better get on it.

Here's my desktop at work:

I'm not sure why I like this path-through-the-woods picture so much. Scope for the imagination?

At home Twin and I share a Mac, lovingly named MegaMac (as opposed to the ibook we had named MiniMac). My desktop at work is pretty neat, but poor MegaMac doesn't get the same treatment. He's so messy, I won't embarrass him by displaying his desktop. ;)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Named of the Dragon, Susanna Kearsley

Title: Named of the Dragon
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Published: 1999, Berkley
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 7.5/10

I've been having trouble getting into books lately! Boo. You can see I haven't been doing many reviews. I think it has to do with still being in the process of adjusting to all the newness of a new town and new job. I try to read but then feel too antsy to really settle down and get into it. Well, last Sunday I finally had a completely free day, so I curled up on the couch with Named of the Dragon, expecting the same trouble. But no! I spent the whole day completely sucked in and didn't do much of anything else (except eat, I always remember to eat) until I'd finished it. Yay! Thank God. I was worried my reading zen had gone.

Lyn Ravenshaw is a London literary agent who gets invited to spend Christmas with one of her authors in a little town in Wales. Lyn decides that this might be a good distraction, as her own life has been a bit bleak lately; she is recently divorced and, even more importantly, is still being tortured by nightmares following the death of her baby. In Wales, she meets a young woman named Elen, a young widow with a small child, who is convinced that her son is in horrible danger. She is seemingly off her rocker (she thinks a dragon is after him), but Lyn slowly comes to agree that there is something wrong. But where is the danger coming from? Dashing novelist James, the surly playwright Gareth, one of the other villagers -- or is it all in her imagination, a vestige of her guilt over not being able to save her own child?

I think what sucked me in so completely was the incredible mood that was set -- all of Kearsley's novels have a gothic flavor to them, which is done so well. The action itself is not really very fast or dramatic, but each scene builds the suspense slowly, adding to the mystery and setting you up to wonder. The climax was a little underwhelming, but I didn't even mind because I had such fun getting there. The setting too is wonderful; I've always wanted to visit Wales, and now I want to even more.

The other thing I loved were the very smart characters. All authors and agents, full of clever patter, but never snobby about it. And the romance is very subtle, but--the last scene! Ahhh. Lovely.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Book sale loot

Twin and I went to the Durham County Public Library's book sale last weekend. I wasn't expecting much (I'm still a big-city snob in some ways), but it was really decent. I got a great armload of books for $10. Here's most the haul:

Daring Masquerade, Balogh (never heard of this one, but hey, it's Balogh)
The Last Hellion, Loretta Chase
Marrying Stone, Pamela Morsi (I've been meaning to try this author)
Lady of Sin, Madeline Hunter
In the Midnight Rain, Ruth Wind (heard good things about this one)
Busman's Honeymoon, Sayers (okay, I already have a copy of this, but I love it and it was 50 cents!)
Wicked Day, Mary Stewart
Komarr, Lois McMaster Bujold
The Venetian Mask, Rosalind Laker
Possession, A.S. Byatt
Desiree, Annemarie Selinko (this was a great find, because it's one of my favorites and pretty hard to find and this is a beautiful copy with the dust jacket)

And what made me really, really happy were the four old Mary Stewarts I found. Really nice little British mass market editions from the early 70s. I'm completely in love with the illustration on Madam, Will You Talk?

And here's a picture of the Desiree jacket. Gorgeous!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I love widgets!

I've put a new widget on my sidebar -- scroll down to see it. It's a slideshow of some of my most favorite books.

Mesmerizing, isn't it?

If you would like a widget of your own (and you don't mind advertising a little for Amazon), go here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

An odd assortment of info...

News (some of it not so new) from around the web:

AAR is doing another Top 100 romances poll. I'm going to put my list together, but there's no way I'll be able to come up with 100. I'll shoot for 40. I'll post it here---anyone else who does one, please post it! I'm always interested to see people's favorites.

Loretta Chase wrote a little bit about her next book (Your Scandalous Ways--ooh!) on Word Wenches a couple weeks ago. It's set in Venice! Yippee. About a spy and a divorcee. :) Publication is scheduled for June '08.

The other day I got it into my head that I wanted to re-read "Beginnings," Kelley Armstrong's online short story where Elena and Clay meet, so I popped over to her website. Only to find that the story's been taken down because Armstrong has decided to publish the story (along with several others) in book format! The title will be Men of the Otherworld. I will buy.

You can read her explanation here. Basically, she feels bad about pulling content previously available for free online and selling it in a book, but she's giving all her profits from the book to a charity. So that's okay.

Also noticed on Amazon that the cover is up for her next Otherworld book, Personal Demon. Meh. It matches the others, but I'm not a fan. But I can't wait to read it. Out on March 25 (again in hardcover--I guess the switch from mmpb didn't hurt sales too much).

There's a book trailer for Nora Roberts's new trilogy, Sign of Seven here. The first book (Blood Brothers) is out 11/27 (yippee!). But I was disappointed to find that the other two aren't being published a month afterward, like they sometimes do. :(
The Hollow is out in May '08, The Pagan Stone in December '08. C'mon, Nora, you can't write 6 books in one year?! Sheesh. ;)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Agnes and the Hitman, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Title: Agnes and the Hitman
Author: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
Published: 2007, St. Martin's
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 8/10

I was not overly impressed with the first Mayer/Crusie book (though it wasn't bad), so I had planned to get this book from the library. But then I saw these good reviews everywhere. And then I found out that to reserve a book at my new library, you have to pay $1! OMGWTF? I know a buck's not much, but it's a PUBLIC LIBRARY. It's supposed to be free. I used to reserve about 5 books at once and just go pick them up when they had all been nicely set aside for me by those lovely Brooklyn librarians. (AHA! Something I miss about Brooklyn! Take note.)

Sorry for the tangent. Anyway, I ended up buying Agnes and the Hitman and I can't say I'm sorry. Because I had a great time reading it.

Agnes Crandall has just bought the house of her dreams with her fiance. The previous owner gave her a deal, saying that she'd waive the first three months' mortgage payments if Anges let her daughter (who also happens to be a very good friend of Agnes) have her wedding at the house. But then the problems come fast and furious -- people keep breaking in and trying to kidnap her dog; the first of these dog-nappers is accidentally killed by falling into a basement Agnes didn't know existed, which contains a vault that might or might not contain a twenty-years-dead mobster and $5 million; the bride and groom are having mutual cold feet; Agnes's fiance is a putz, and she has a temper that manifests itself in frying pan incidents. The "hitman" of the title is Shane, who is called in to help protect Agnes and ends up all tied up in the craziness.

This book was like Don't Look Down in many ways; any Crusie/Mayer collaboration is going to be a sort of odd combo of Crusie's screwball romantic comedy and Mayer's adventure/boys with toys (and really big guns) suspense. It took a while to get my head around it -- I started out reading happily in Crusie-mode and then . . . someone dies, and I'm all surprised. Twin actually tried to read this and the violence put her off within the first 20 pages. It's not actually very graphic at all, but there are a lot of deaths and those deaths are treated with a levity that is disturbing to me if I think too hard about it. But then the hero is a hit man, so what can you expect?
"We work for a very special organization," Shane said, trying to sound noble.
"That sounds so . . . UNICEF-ish." She looked back toward the kitchen [where a body is being removed]. "It's not UNICEF, is it?"
As screwball comedy it totally worked. Tons of crazy stuff going on, all of it wrapping up really nicely to a surprising ending. It takes place over a short period (4 days, I think), so the action is fast. And the romance worked so, so, so much better in this than in Don't Look Down. The problem in DLD was that you have this very cautious, sensible woman falling into bed and then into love with a man within 48 hours of meeting him. Agnes on the other hand is just the sort of volatile, headstrong woman who could SPOILER! bash her cheating fiance on the head with a frying pan and then be so angry that she has to get it out of her system by boinking her bodyguard. End of spoiler. I loved Cranky Agnes, and I bought in to the romance completely.

And there's really good food in the book. Agnes is a food columnist and there are many scenes that made me want to eat, eat, eat. Mmmphm. Yummy.