Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Title: Gladiator's Honor
Author: Michelle Styles
Published: 2006, Harlequin
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7/10

I bought this book last year when it came out because I was really excited by the idea of a romance novel set in Ancient Rome. You just don't see that. And I have been interested in all things Roman ever since I took Latin in high school. (It's not just a dead language, people. It's awesome.) Anyway, Gladiator's Honor has been languishing in the TBR for ages. Then Smart Bitch Sarah reviewed it and gave it an A-, and they don't give out good grades like that to just anything. And the second season of Rome on HBO started. (I love that show, though it's been a bit depressing and way bloody this year.) So I was inspired to get me some Roman lovin'.

Julia Antonia is a young divorced Roman matron. She's living with her father again after leaving an abusive husband. Valens the Thracian is a famous gladiator in Rome for a lavish set of games put on by Caesar. The Senate has decided that it's dangerous for the gladiators to be housed together (they don't want anymore slave revolts), so Caesar asks his supportors to lodge a gladiator in their homes. Valens gets housed with Julia's family. He is hoping to win a wooden sword--the highest honor for a gladiator, and a symbol to show that he is freed from slavery. Valens was actually born to the patrician class, but was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. No matter what his family was or how great a fighter he is, the stigma of being a gladiator is insurmountable. This obviously causes some problems for Valens and the very respectable Julia as they fall in love.

While I didn't think this was as great as Sarah did, I did enjoy it. Mostly because of the setting, which is done quite well. There's a lot of interesting information about Roman life. And I liked the way the plot played out true to the customs of the period--there were a couple times when I was worried the author was going to take the easy way out by allowing the characters to disregard Roman customs, but she didn't and the book is much the better for it.

One thing that did bother me was how lightly the violence was all taken. Valens was a gladiator and the Romans were seriously bloodthirsty folks--you know any successful gladiator must have had scores of kills under his belt. I never felt like Valens could be that person. Even the final scene when he kills the baddie, he's forced into it by the villain's cheating. Not that I really want to read about a hardened killer. I guess my point is that a true Roman gladiator might not be the best sort of hero for our modern-day sensibilities (especially my very non-violent self).

jmc did post a few weeks ago that Harlequin is doing another Roman book--but it's another gladiator story! AHH! I've been searching on eHarlequin but I can't find any mention of the book now. It was called Gladiatorix, or something like. Why can't we have a nice story about a . . . mosaic-layer?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Another book meme! Yay.

Life is still hectic, but I miss my bloggy. So I'll do something easy. Like a meme!

Contemporary, Historical, or Paranormal?
Historicals are my first love. Books are just more interesting set in the past. But I like a good contemporary to mix things up. I really just don't get the whole paranormal craze.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?

If it's a book I adore, I want a hardcover. Otherwise mass markets are easiest to carry and my young eyes still have no problems. And they're cheaper. I like cheaper.

Heyer or Austen?
Okay, I love Heyer, but come on. Austen, obviously.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
Brick and mortar=instant gratification. Yes.

Barnes & Noble or Borders? Whatever is closest.

Woodiwiss or Lindsay? Shame on me, but I've never read either. (And I call myself a romance reader.) I bought The Flame and the Flower a while ago, but haven't gotten to it yet.

First romance novel you ever remember reading?
A Julie Garwood highlander historical. I've just spent 10 minutes on Amazon trying to figure out which one, but the memory is too fuzzy. Maybe Ransom.

Alphabetize by author, Alphabetize by title, or random?
Alphabetizing my books by author makes me shiver with delight. (No really, I'm serious.)

Keep, Throw Away or Sell? Everyone seems a bit disturbed by this question and I agree. Who throws away books?? I keep everything I didn't dislike and the rest I either swap on PBS or give to the library.

Read with dustjacket or remove it?
Remove. Unless the caseside is white or cream because then it gets fingerprinty and that's gross.

Sookie Stackhouse or Anita Blake?
I've read and enjoyed Sookie. Anita's too bad-girl for me.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
I generally stop reading when the guilt about how groggy I'll be at work the next day overpowers my desire to keep reading.

It was a dark and stormy night or Once upon a time? I like fairy tales. Cuz life is dark enough, yeah?

Crusie or SEP? Love them both. But Crusie is better.

Buy or Borrow? I'd buy everything I read if I had enough money. As I don't, I buy some and get a lot from the library.

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?
Browsing is nearly pointless for me. Cover copy is often too misleading. Most everything I buy is on recommendation from friends (real-life and internet).

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger? Must have closure!

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?
What is this question? I don't understand. I read whenever I have time.

Series or standalone?
I like a good series. I like them even more when they're all already pub'd and I don't have to wait for them. And I like a good standalone.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

Kathryn in the Court of Six Queens
by Anne Merton Abbey. Kathryn is lady-in-waiting to all the wives of Henry VIII. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. I learn history from my romances. Maybe boiled-down, simplistic history, but still. Can you name all 6 wives?

Monday, January 22, 2007

When life goes kaplooey

Why is it that my life goes quietly along for months at a time and then five things happen all at once and I go into OVERLOAD!! Really, I can't take all this stress. :)

But I have good news to share. I got a new job today! Actually it's at the same company, doing the same kind of work. Really kind of just a promotion but also dealing with a different imprint (mass market books this time--ooh!). More money and an office! An office! With a door! A door that shuts! After 4 years of working in a tiny, overflowing cubicle this is a big deal.

The bad news is that now I have to 1)train on new job 2)start new job 3)keep doing old job until they hire a new person 4)catch up on all the work that I've let slide so poor new person doesn't hate me 5)train new person on old job. So if my web presence is a bit spotty here for a while, I hope you'll all forgive me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Title: Ceremony in Death
Author: J.D. Robb
Published: 1997, Berkley
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 6/10

In Death #5: The one with the kinky witches.

What's going on: A retired cop dies, apparently from a heart attack. But Eve gets suspicious when the cop's granddaughter confesses to being involved in a satanic cult. When the granddaughter dies under suspicious circumstances too, Eve is convinced that something's going on.

What's yay: We get to see the way that Eve is letting herself depend on Roarke more and more. For a character that started out completely isolated and independent, this is a big deal. We also see more development of Eve and Feeney's relationship.

What's blah: A bit too much violence in this one for me. You all should know that I'm a complete wimp about violence. I can't watch horror movies or any TV with graphic violence. It just makes me sick to my stomach. So while the violence in this one would probably not bother most people, it was off-putting to me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Title: As You Desire
Author: Connie Brockway
Published: 1997, Dell
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7/10

I have been looking forward to this book for a while. It seems to be on a lot of people's favorites list. Brockway is a recent find for me, and this one's set in Egypt. Yay!

Desdemona Carlisle is a young woman living in Egypt with her grandfather. Since she was a very small child, she has been incredibly gifted with languages--so now she can translate a dozen languages, but she's never had a normal social life. She's also in love with Harry Braxton, the handsome, swaggering Englishman who has made a career of dealing in ancient antiquities. Desdemona threw herself at Harry a few years previously, but Harry rejected her (he thinks he's not worthy--he has a BIG SECRET). Now Harry's cousin, Blake Ravenscroft [wasn't there a Blake Ravenscroft in a Julia Quinn book?] has come to stay and he's tall, dark, and handsome. Desdemona's romantic sensibilities are awoken and she tries to convince herself that she could love Blake.

I really enjoyed this, but it didn't quite make "keeper" status for me. I think part of the problem is the conditions I read it under--in the twenty-minute lulls during my jury duty. Trapped for hours in a dank room with 22 strangers is not really conducive to reading, ya know? What with Smoker's Cough on my right and Chatty Cellphone on my left, it's not really surprising that I couldn't quite get into it.

I always enjoy Brockway's sense of humor. In this book, she pokes fun at melodramatic romance a bit. An example is the very first scene in which Desdemona is kidnapped by Arabs, but when Harry comes to "rescue" her, it turns out that they're paying him to get her out of their hair because she's been such a bother. Desdemona is at heart a very practical person, but at the same time she sort of yearns for drama. A lot of the book is really about her realizing that the ideas she has about men (Blake and Harry) are just romantic illusions that she's created in her own head. So much of the book is light and funny that when I came to the serious bits, I found it hard to take them seriously.

That said, it was really romantic. I loved when Harry's trying to outdo Blake's trite compliments to Desdemona. Harry comes up with something much better: "You are my country, Desdemona. . . My Egypt. My hot, harrowing desert and my cool, verdant Nile, infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining." Um, yeah, that's a little better than being called an English rose. :)

Big sigh of relief

Today I finished a two-week stint on Brooklyn's Grand Jury. Two weeks! Yeah, sure I'll put my life on hold for two weeks, no problem. It was a learning experience though. I had no idea that in New York people who are arrested have to be indicted by a jury. My naive little self had almost no knowledge of the criminal justice system. I don't even watch Law & Order.

I kept reminding myself, "Civic duty. Civic duty. Democracy in action. This is a good thing."

So, yes, it was mind-numbingly repetitive and boring sometimes (I never want to hear the phrase "legally sufficient evidence and reasonable cause to believe" ever again), but now I'm free of jury duty for six years. So that's something. And I got quite a lot of reading in between cases.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Title: Beguilement
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 2006, Eos
Category: Fantasy
Rating: 8/10

This is Volume 1 of The Sharing Knife, which I believe is to be a duology. (Does anyone else think the word duology is kind of dumb? Trilogy, I get. Duology? Meh.) I have read a few Bujolds and really enjoyed them all, and I liked this one too, even though it seemed quite different in some ways.

Fawn Bluefield runs away from home because she's pregnant after an ill-advised and regretted tumble in the haystacks with a boy from her hometown. Her family has never really understood her, and she knows that they will be disappointed in her. She's heading for the nearest town when she's set upon by a bandit and a mud-man. These mud-men are fantastical beasts which are created by a malice, some sort of strange embodiment of evil that sprouts up occasionally. Malices are hunted and killed by a group of people called the Lakewalkers. Dag, a Lakewalker patroller, catches up to the mudman who has attacked Fawn and together they must fight the monster.

That action only covers maybe the first half of the book. The second half really centers on the romance between Dag and Fawn (which is lovely!). They are from different worlds (she from a farmer family, he from the Lakewalkers) and they must try to figure out if a relationship between the two of them would ever work. I loved the romance--it was so sweet. Bujold does sweet without the sap, which always makes me happy. The characters are great and Dag reminded me of the hero in The Curse of Chalion--older, wiser, self-sacrificing.

People who are put off by age differences should be warned--major May/December thing going on here. It usually bothers me, but it doesn't in this case, I think because it's fantasy.

I mentioned earlier that this seemed different from the other Bujolds I've read. And the difference I think is just the simplicity of this book. And I don't mean that in a bad way. The other Bujolds I've read had lots and lots of layers of plot--the romance, political intrigue, adventure. This one has a smaller cast characters and the majority of the plot simply revolves around Fawn and Dag's relationship. Great for romance readers like me, though other Fantasy readers may be disappointed. Even though it did seem simpler, it definitely was not boring to me. The characters were interesting enough to hold up the book on their own.

The second installment, Legacy, is due out in July, I think.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ooooh! Pretty!

Amazon says on sale 3/1. Must preorder.
Title: Season of Storms
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Published: 2001, Jove
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 8/10

I read Kearsley's The Shadowy Horses recently and loved it so that I jumped right on my library's website to see what they had by Kearsley. Season of the Storms is the only one they currently have in circulation. Bad Brooklyn Public Library! They don't disappoint me very often. Well, at least they had this one.

Celia Sands is a young actress living in London, struggling to get her career off the ground. She was named after a very famous actress who lived in the early 1900s. This first Celia had a tragic love affair with a well-known playwright named Galeazzo D'Ascanio. D'Ascanio wrote his most famous play for Celia, but on the night the show was to open Celia disappeared. Now, Galeazzo's grandson has decided to put on a production of the same play and he wants Celia Sands (the second, our heroine) to play the leading role. It's the chance of a lifetime, but Celia is hesitant to take the part because she thinks that she's only wanted because her name will be a good publicity trick. Her friend, Rupert, who has always been as good as a father to her and will be directing the play, talks her into accepting the role. So she and Rupert head out for northern Italy to the palatial home of Galeazzo D'Ascanio. But the bad luck attached to the play seems to be still present and things quickly become dangerous.

I really enjoy Kearsley's writing style--sort of elegant and moody, and very full of description and setting. A lovely Italian setting too. The ghostly elements serve to give you just a little delicious shiver and add to the mood. And Celia is a great character--very young and maybe inexperienced, but sensible and practical. Her relationship with her two father-figures was fantastic.

The plot was good. Suspenseful and cleverly entwined with the story of the first Celia and what happened to her. The book takes place over the few weeks that they are putting the play together and I found that process very interesting.

Only two complaints: one, that the romance didn't quite get off the ground for me. I liked Alex (the playwright's grandson) but we saw very little of him. I would have liked to see more interaction between him and Celia. And the second complaint is a major spoiler, so I'll white it out: WHY oh WHY did Rupert have to die?! I always hate it when characters I like die, but I can usually handle it when their death is necessary for the plot or the development of another character. But Rupert's death did not seem to serve any purpose other than to make me SAD! SO SAD!! I loved Roo and I don't care if he had that disease, he still shouldn't have died.

I got two Kearsley books for Christmas--Mariana and The Splendour Falls. Mariana has actually been held captive by my mother since Christmas. She's read it twice and says it's fantastic, so I think I'll read it next.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Stolen from C2 cuz it's wicked cool...

More Pirate Talk E A D Boggle Letter I N - Age of Innocence G

Ii S

S - Sabatino\ E X Yy

Spell your own words with flickr here.
Title: White Lies
Author: Jayne Ann Krentz
Published: 2007, Putnam
Category: Contemporary/Paranormal Romance
Rating: 7/10

This is my first Jayne Ann Krentz novel. Surprising, since she has about a million books out. I had read a historical (she publishes her historicals under the name Amanda Quick) by her years ago and remember being not at all impressed. But then recently I ran across Quick's Second Sight and was sucked right on in. Enjoyed it quite a lot. Second Sight introduced a new series--the Arcane Society, which is a secret society of paranormal "sensitives." She's going to be doing both historicals and contemporaries in the series, and White Lies is the first contemp Arcane book.

Clare Lancaster is a very powerful sensitive--her particular power is being able to tell when people are lying. She's always absolutely sure and is a sort of human lie detector. It's caused her a lot of trouble in the past, as she can't really have a normal social life. But it comes in handy sometimes, too, like when her estranged half-sister, Elizabeth, is being manipulated and abused by her husband. Clare is the only one who believes that Elizabeth's seemingly perfect husband is actually quite a baddie. When the husband is then murdered, things get sticky. Jake Salter is an investigator brought in by the Arcane Society to figure out what's going on.

This was quite a page-turner for me. Very suspenseful. And the paranormal elements were interesting and original, and not so over-the-top as they sometimes are, which was refreshing for me. It's like paranormal-lite. I think I like her JAK contemps more than her historicals. Her writing style seems to fit a little more naturally for contemps.

I loved Clare's theory on lying: "Lying is a universal talent...When you look at it objectively it seems obvious that the ability to lie is part of everyone's kit of survival tools, a side effect of possessing language skills...The way I see it, if people couldn't lie, they probably wouldn't be able to lie together in groups, at least not for very long or with any degree of sociability." I'd never really thought about it, but it's true. People lie all the time, and often for good reason. I actually often wish I was a better liar. Really, I would be the worst Poker player ever.

I have an older JAK in the tbr--Trust Me. It's been sitting there a while, but it might just get bumped up now. :)

Monday, January 08, 2007

The year I became brave.

I forgot to say in my 2006 wrap-up that I tried 36 new-to-me authors last year. That's 36 out of 86, or 42%. YAY me! Really that is seriously amazing for someone who used to re-read books by the same four people over and over. I used to be scared. Now not so much.

New-to-me authors I discovered this year that I'm looking forward to glomming in 2007: Jo Beverley, Anne Stuart, Connie Brockway, Carla Kelly, and J.D. Robb. All with lovely big backlists.

Anyone else have any good author discoveries this year?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

2006 in Review

Before I started blogging last February, I never kept any sort of record of what I read. That was actually one of the reasons I started blogging--to keep a reading log for myself. So I would never have to rack my brain over the name of that author I read six months ago and loved/hated/whatever. It's probably not the reason that I've actually kept it up for almost a year. (I can't believe it's been that long!) The reason I keep blogging is because I have so much fun reading other people's blogs and getting book recommendations. And I like being able to chat with other people who are as crazy about their books as I am about mine. Twin will only take so much blathering about the books I read before she'll just stop listening and start saying "mmm-hmmm" whenever I pause.

But now I'm really glad that I kept track because it is a lot of fun to look back on all the books you've read in a year. I've kept a spreadsheet too and it satisfies the compulsive geek in me to sort by all the categories and make some judgments about the year. I've read and blogged about 86 books. I thought this was a lot, but not compared to some. I don't know how all you people who read 200-300 books a year do it. You're making me feel insufficient in some way. :p I think I must be a slower reader than you. Ah, well. I can still feel better read and superior to the average person.

Here's how the ratings break down:
10: 1
9: 7
8: 14
7: 24
6: 23
5: 9
4: 5
3: 2
1-2: 0 (If I was hating a book that much, why on earth would I ever keep reading to the end? So I doubt you'll ever see me give a 1 or 2.)

Yes, only one 10. I think of a 10 as perfection. I'll probably only ever give 10s to re-reads of old beloved favorites. Because getting better with each subsequent reading is the ultimate test for books. The 10 for 2006 was The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Probably my favorite book of all time. And my first blog post, which completely does not do it justice. But my writing, no matter how gushing, could never do it justice.

The seven books that got 9s are:
Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Poison Study and Magic Study, by Maria V. Snyder
Lord of Danger, by Anne Stuart
Venetia, by Georgette Heyer
Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, by Carla Kelly
The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley

Some 8s that I especially liked (and looking back, maybe deserve 9s)
Here Be Dragons, by Sharon Kay Penman
Lord of Scoundrels and Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase
Bridal Favors, by Connie Brockway

Oh, so many good discoveries this year. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. :p Here's hoping 2007 will be even better.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Title: The Wedding Journey
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 2002, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 7/10

I got a few Carla Kelly books in my Christmas stash, including this one. These books are so sweet (without being at all sappy, which is quite a feat) that now whenever I'm feeling a little down, I reach for one.

Captain Jesse Randall is a surgeon attached to a corp of the British military stationed in Spain during the Napoleonic wars. He has been in love with Nell Mason for years, but has always been too shy and busy to do anything about it. Now Nell's good-for-nothing father has agreed to let a smarmy officer named Bones basically "have" her in exchange for voiding his gambling debts. Bones doesn't even say he'll marry her, and Jesse and Nell fear that Bones will just ruin her and then disappear. So Jesse decides to save Nell by marrying her himself. This makes quite an enemy of Bones, who then orders that the hospital be abandoned by the corp as they retreat. Jesse is left all alone, unprotected, with a bunch of sick men and his new bride, in the middle of war-torn Spain with the French bearing down on them.

What I love about Carla Kelly books are her lovely sensitive, intelligent characters. Shy Jesse who is so often second-guessing his medical decisions, working so hard to help his patients. It's quite a change from all the alpha males who dominate the romance genre. (Y'all know I like shy guys!)

My only complaint here is that it was just a tad gloomy for me. Not nearly as sad as Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind, but lacking a lot of the humor that I've liked so much in some of Kelly's earlier books.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Title: Sun Kissed
Author: Catherine Anderson
Published: 2006, Signet
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 6/10

This is the most recent in Anderson's Coulter family series. I think I've read them all except the historical one (Summer Breeze, I think it's titled). I'm not exactly sure why I'm still reading them. I was getting sick of her disabled heroines. Parapalegic. Blind. Brain-damaged. But the heroine in this one is surprisingly disability-free. Working legs. Fully operating senses. Phew.

Samantha Harrigan is the owner of a ranch, where she raises quarter horses. When one of her most valuable horses becomes sick, she calls in hunky vet, Tucker Coulter. (He's the last unmarried Coulter sibling. What will Anderson do next?!) Tucker takes oh-so-good care of her horsies, and discovers that someone has been poisoning them. He also decides that he'd like to take oh-so-good care of Samantha. Forever and ever. Samantha, however, is afraid of falling in love because she had an abusive first husband, who she also suspects of being the one to poison her prize horses.

The Coulters are a family of good 'ol boys who made good on the American dream. The rich, strong, simple man who just wants to take care of the little lady. I'm trying to convince myself that's not the reason I've kept reading them. I am woman! I can take care of myself!

Ahem. This one is not my favorites of the series. They're all a little cheesy and overly sentimental and this one follows the trend. The ending was not exactly a surprise. And there's a healthy dose of Catholic guilt there at the end which I found off-putting, to say the least.

But with that said, I do keep reading. I guess the strong cowboy-type still holds a lot of appeal for me. And Anderson's writing is very fluid and well-constructed. She's a long-time romance writer, and I think she's got her formula down pat. Makes for very easy reading.