Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Winter Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

Title: The Winter Rose
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Published: 2008, Hyperion
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 7.5/10

In the name of full disclosure, I feel like I have to tell you all that I got this book as a free review copy. It's probably silly. I doubt you care, but I'm compelled to tell you anyway. I usually refuse all offers of ARCs and review copies because my TBR anxiety is bad enough without adding a bunch of stuff that I'm not 100% sure I want to read but that I will feel obligated to review. I said yes to this book because I'd already heard great things about it (from Marg mostly). But I'll still be completely honest in my review, I promise. :)

India Selwyn Jones graduates from the London Medical School for Women in the year 1900 (btw, I couldn't believe that women were doctors this early, but they totally were--so cool). Full of rather naive ideas about how she can help the poor of London, she takes a job in a clinic in Whitechapel. Her interactions with her patients show her that the state of things among the poor are much worse than she had ever imagined, especially among women and children, and she begins to dream of founding a free clinic for women. Meanwhile, her aristocratic fiance, Freddie, is pushing her to set a date, though India is beginning to have doubts about her feelings and his reasons for marrying. One reason for these doubts is her meeting Sid Malone, a notorious gangster and the head of an organized crime ring. Though Sid is a criminal, he's also a bit of a Robin Hood, and his and India's shared efforts to help the destitute bring them together. But can a mobster and an aristocratic doctor find a way to be together?

Okay, that synopsis is my attempt to sum up an EPIC book without going on forever and ever. But this is one fat, looong, epic historical novel of a kind that is hard to find these days but which I have always loved. PW's review described it as "overstuffed," which I think is a very good adjective, though I don't mean that in a bad way. Huge cast of characters, long-ish time frame, great big family saga. And for those people who also like that kind of book, I highly recommend this one.

I was completely enthralled. Really. I'd come home from work and sit down with it "just for a few minutes" before I started on my evening to-do list. Seven hours later I'm still frantically reading, hating the fact that my life is getting in the way of finishing this book. The characters are lovable, the villain wonderfully hateful, the action very dramatic. I found both India and Sid really compelling characters and their forbidden, impossible, passionate love just fabulous (I could hear Tony and Maria crooning, "There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us" in my head--sniff, sniff). The historical details were so well done that I had a really vivid visual for everything. And the very progressive political elements (down with the nobs!! up with the worker!!) were heart-wrenchingly uplifting.

The reason this book doesn't get a higher grade is the last bit. I was completely loving it until page 500 or so, and then I started to get frustrated. When the action moved to Africa, the slew of incredibly unbelievable coincidences and endless trials and tribulations began to wear on me. In the same way that I couldn't read the later books in the Outlander series, I just thought, "What else could possibly happen to these poor people??" I sort of wish that the whole thing had wrapped up in London. But, the conclusion (when we finally got there) was very satisfying.

This is the second book in a trilogy. The first, The Tea Rose, centers around Fiona, Sid's sister (Fiona and her husband also appear throughout this book). I have already bought it. And we seem to be set up for the final book about Fiona and Sid's little brother, Seamie.

I will leave you with this quote from Mrs. Moscowitz, the hilarious, bossy mother of India's Jewish coworker and one of my favorite characters:
"God gives the nuts; He doesn't crack them."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Many books to buy in 2008.

I've been fixing up my bookmarks on my new computer, so I'm more up-to-date on my favorite authors' publishing schedules than I usually am. ;) Here's what was news to me:

Kelley Armstrong is having a prolific year: I'm excited about the two Otherworld books being released in 2008: Personal Demon (due in April, narrated by Hope) and Living with the Dead (scheduled for December--anyone know who the narrator is on this one? I'm afraid it's going to be Cass). In August we'll get The Summoning, first in a YA trilogy set in the Otherworld universe but with different characters.

Jennifer Crusie's WIP page lists a solo Crusie book due sometime in 2009 titled Always Kiss Me Goodnight. Woohooo! I can't believe it! Sadly, no blurb or any information beyond the title. Another Crusie/Mayer also due in 2009. In 2008, her collaboration (titled Dogs and Goddesses) with Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich will be released. They have a blog about the book here. Apparently they've finished a first draft. I wasn't crazy about her last three-person collaboration (Unfortunate Miss Fortunes) but I'll take what I can get.

Very sad news from Jasper Fforde: he won't have a book out in 2008. Shades of Grey is the first book in a new series (not Thursday Next or Nursery Crime) and will be out summer 2009. Don't know what it's about but this is hilarious: "Fforde has bravely branched out into new territory: Books that are not metafiction. In a shocking statement to the world's media, British author and former teenager Jasper Fforde announced that he would be 'making up all his own characters' for a three-part saga..." He is contracted for another Thursday Next. Thank goodness, though it looks like it won't be out until 2010. (Can that be right? That date looks like something out of SciFi.)

Eloisa James: Duchess by Night due in July (third in Duchess series)

Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea (due out March 24 in the UK and Canada) has a cover. Very pretty!
SEP says she's working on a new book (not in the Stars series), but no other info. I have to say that the covers of her new mmpb reissues are awful. Especially It Had to Be You. I was going to post it here, but I just can't let it defile my blog. If you haven't seen it and don't know what I'm talking about, click here. What woman would want to carry that around??

Nora Roberts's summer hardcover release is titled Tribute. Anyone know anything about it? Books 2 and 3 of her Sign of the Seven trilogy are due in May and December. I have the first one, but I can't decide if I should read it now or wait until all three are out.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sorcerers and Secretaries, Amy Kim Ganter

Title: Sorcerers and Secretaries (2 vol.)
Author: Amy Kim Ganter
Published: 2006, Tokyopop
Category: Manga
Rating: 6/10

My first manga! I'm so hip (not). I chose this one because it was mentioned at Dear Author.

Nicole is a young woman living in New York, going to business school and working as a secretary. She's not that into school, though; she'd rather be writing and drawing her stories of a sorcerer named Ellon (we see snippets of this story too). She meets Josh, a young hottie who likes to make all the girls he meets fall in love with him. Nicole's not interested, and of course Josh is intrigued. They finally become friends and Josh encourages Nicole's writing.

Now, I tried really hard to appreciate these books. Graphic novels of any kind are quite a new experience for me; my first instinct is for my eyes to zoom to the bits of text and hardly notice the illustrations. So I made myself read slowly and actually let the pictures tell some of the story. But, yeah. Just not happening. The story just felt so shallow. Compared with the depth of characterization and plotting that I'm used to in regular novels, this just seemed like nothing at all. Obviously I have no frame of reference, as this is my first manga, so I don't know if I would feel this way about other manga books. Maybe manga's just not for me.

Question: I guess I am showing my ignorance here, but is all manga intended for a YA audience?

The story is very sweet, and I did like the drawings. So I was mildly amused, but I do sort of wish I hadn't shelled out $20 for the 2-volume set. That's really pricey for something I can read in a couple hours.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sandalwood Princess and Knaves' Wager, Loretta Chase

Title: The Sandalwood Princess and Knaves' Wager
Author: Loretta Chase
Published: 1990, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 7/10 for Sandalwood, 8/10 for Knaves' Wager

I read these two books weeks and weeks ago, before Christmas. I meant to blog about them and just never got around to it. But I liked them so much I wanted to at least mention them. I'm definitely not feeling up to writing a plot summary, but here's the back cover copy:
The Sandalwood Princess
Determined to uncover who stole her sandalwood statue, Amanda Cavencourt is shocked to learn the culprit is a notorious rogue known as the Falcon. Why would a man renowned for his dangerous and delicate missions indulge in petty thievery? Intrigued by the mystery--and rumors of the Falcon's devilish charm and good looks--Amanda sets out on the trail of the brazen blackguard. But what she stumbles upon is a man who just may be her perfect match.
This book was a lot of fun--it starts out in India, then they're on a boat for months traveling to England. The Falcon steals the statue from Amanda, then she steals it back. Lots of trickery and running around. The couple is constantly lying to each other, but somehow they manage to actually get to know each other and fall in love.
Knaves' Wager
Lilith Davenant's sensibilities are appropriately offended. How dare Lord Julian Brandon kiss her when he knows full well the man she is to marry is in the very next room! She never imagines that his amorous pursuit is the result of a wager that will sully her flawless reputation--or that one day she will yearn for Julian's irresistible embrace...
I was actually shocked that I liked (really liked) this one--a wager plot and a reformed rake, meh. But I should have known that Chase could pull it off. The dialogue between the hero and heroine is just so snappy and delightful. Lilith is very "respectable" and is engaged to a boring old suitor, even though she's fallen in love with Julian. She thinks he'll just break her heart. I loved when Julian sends her a copy of Mansfield Park with a note that says, "May life with your 'Edmond Bertram' be, truly, happily ever after." Mansfield Park is by far my least favorite Austen--I always sort of wished Fanny weren't quite such a sanctimonious little twerp and ad lived it up a bit with Henry Crawford. I found the ending of Knaves' Wager much more satisfying. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Meet m3, my brand-new MacBook. Eeeee! m3 is short for minimegaMac, and to understand the name you have to know Twin's and my Mac history. Eons ago (like, 5 years) we had an iBook, which we called miniMac. Then we got a G5 that we called megaMac. And my new MacBook has great colossal power and is itty bitty. So he's minimegaMac. (Okay, he's not as itty bitty as the new MacBook Air, but I didn't feel like paying an extra $500 to not have an optical drive, you know?)

And I don't even have to feel guilty about buying it, because I have to have a laptop for grad school next fall. He's beautiful and I love him. We had some trouble installing our wireless router (20 min. on hold with Mac, 15 min. on hold with D-Link, and a visit from the cable provider=one good time). But he's working beautifully now. Yippee!! And now I am blogging from the comfort of my couch. Ahh.

Little Pinkie, my iPod mini, is in awe.

Here's m3 with some books I just bought. Just because.

Is it weird that I name my computer?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Classic Romance Challenge 2008

In the last couple of years, since I really got to be a serious romance reader, I've been collecting books that are considered classics of the genre. And I always mean to read them, because everyone says they're good. And if people are still talking about them, in some cases decades after they were published (rare for a romance novel), then they must be good.

But then I love to buy and read new books too. Shiny! New! Must read now! And these older books get lost in my enormous TBR. To get myself motivated to finally read some of them, I am challenging myself: 12 classics. 12 months.

I can do it! Here are the titles I've chosen:

1. To Have and To Hold, Patricia Gaffney
2. The Shadow and the Star, Laura Kinsale
3. Thunder and Roses, Mary Jo Putney
4. A Rose at Midnight, Anne Stuart
5. Knight in Shining Armor, Jude Deveraux
6. The Flame and the Flower, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
7. The Last Hellion, Loretta Chase
8. Bliss, Judy Cuevas
9. Morning Glory, LaVyrle Spencer
10. Annie's Song, Catherine Anderson
11. All Through the Night, Connie Brockway
12. The Bride, Julie Garwood

If anyone would like to join in, please do. Choose your own neglected classics. You don't have to do 12; do 4, or 30. I don't care. :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn

Title: Silent in the Grave
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Published: 2007, Mira
Category: Mystery/Suspense
Rating: 7/10

Silent in the Grave opens with Julia March's husband dropping dead while hosting a party. Julia is bereaved, but the death is not unexpected, as his health has been poor all life. So she is surprised when Nicholas Brisbane comes to call and tells her that he suspects foul play. Apparently Mr. March had hired Brisbane, who is a private investigator, shortly before his death because he was receiving notes that amounted to death threats. Julia cannot believe it, gets snippy with Brisbane, and sends him on his way. A year later, when she is just starting to put off her widow's weeds, she finds one of the notes that Brisbane told her of while she is clearing out her husband's office; it contains a line from the Bible:
Let me not be ashamed, O Lord; for I have called upon Thee; let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
Julia contacts Brisbane and asks that he take up the case, even though now that a year has passed he has little hope of discovering anything. She's not content to let him do all the work, however, and she takes an active part in the investigation.

I started this book one day at work when I realized that I'd left the book I was in the middle of at home. I had no lunch plans and no book to read. Quelle nightmare! Good thing I work in a library. ;) I noticed this one among the new gifts and decided to give it a try. It's a bit of a tome in hardcover, but it was one of those books that once I'd started, the pages just flew by.

The Victorian setting was really well done. Julia is an aristocrat (her father is an Earl), so her life is very restricted by social conventions, but her family is also known for being quite liberal, and consequently a bit risqué. Julia struggles with what she feels is her inherent March "wildness" and her desire for a normal, traditional life. I loved the interaction of Julia with her family—there were some really funny parts.

The suspense was great--lots of surprising revelations that had Julia (and me) quite shocked. HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER! I was disappointed by who the murderer was, though. Simon had been so angelically good through the whole book, and then at the end he was just evil all of a sudden. No warning or clues to lead up to it. It was a little too abrupt for me.

I was not a huge fan of the brooding, mysterious Brisbane and the romantic elements of the story. (This is surprising, yes? I am nearly always a fan of the romantic bits.) Though he seems to be an interesting character, I definitely never felt like I got a grip on him (which was maybe intentional, as he is supposed to be mysterious). Anyway, I'm planning on getting the sequel, Silent in the Sanctuary, so maybe he will grow on me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Go visit RtB

1. I have a column up at Romancing the Blog.

2. Who saw the new Persuasion last night on Masterpiece Theater? I thought: lovely Captain Wentworth, otherwise not as good as the Amanda Root version. They really mangled the end (JMC--the letter scene, they destroyed it! Noooo!).

3. Why is it Monday? Ugh.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Madensky Square, Eva Ibbotson

Title: Madensky Square
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Published: 1988, St. Martin's Press
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 7.5/10

I'm almost through all of Eva Ibbotson's books! (At least all those written for adults.) I am so sad.

Susanna Weber is the proprietor of a dressmaker's shop nestled in charming Madensky Square of Vienna. This book is a journal of her life from the year 1911, describing her day-to-day existence, as well as those of her clients and neighbors. And we meet quite an assortment of characters: Susanna's Anarchist employee Nini; a jolly pork-sausage magnate from Linz whose young, devout fiancé seems disconcertingly more interested in the saints than in her gorgeous trousseau (or the pork-sausage man); a tiny polish boy who's being pushed into becoming a piano virtuoso by his desperate uncle; and the family across the way with six daughters and a seventh child on the way whose father can not believe he could possibly be cursed with yet another girl. Along the way, we find out about Susanna as well – how her warm-hearted generosity, which draws all these people to her and her shop, overlays a troubled past.

I always try my best not to include spoilers in my reviews, but I have to give a little one here, just because I can't really talk about this book without it. (And it is revealed very early in the book.) Madensky Square is partly a romance, but not at all a typical one. Because Susanna is an Other Woman. She has been the mistress of Gernot von Linenberg for over a decade. I know this is a hot button for a lot of people, and I would usually agree. Only Ibbotson could make it not sordid. There is some justification for the relationship: the time period, the fact that Gernot is an aristocrat who married young for reasons of wealth and status. Susanna does feel guilty about it, no question about that; but she loves him and can't give him up.

It's a very sophisticated story, really, about the importance of taking your happiness where you can find it and making the most of it. Susanna has had a lot of heartache in her life, but she still manages to enjoy life; her spirit is never crushed. That's why the book gets a tear icon, because I usually like my HEAs completely unfettered by any bits of sad reality. And maybe this makes me horribly naïve, but it's hard for me to imagine making do with this sort of existence.

Despite the weighty subjects, the book still manages to be joyful and charming. Her descriptions are so wonderful. Here's an example--she's describing the dog who lives across the street and lords over the square. "He has the large, square-muzzled head of a schnauzer and the tail of a muskrat, but his dreams, like his little legs, are Napoleonic."

I think her characterizations are perfect and just hilarious. Ibbotson's ability to flesh out secondary characters amazes me. There's a huge cast of characters here, and I ended up caring about every single one.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Carla Kelly news!

Carla Kelly popped up last week on AAR's message board to post this:
My next manuscript, Worthy, was given the OK by Harlequin Historicals and should be out in a year. It's set in Plymouth in 1808-1809, when the Channel Fleet's "wooden walls" were keeping Napoleon out.

Usually my favorite book is the one I'm currently working on, but Worthy is my favorite one since Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand.

And it's the first of a trilogy. More sea, more sailors to come, and not a royal in the bunch. Yarr!


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007 in Review

I love doing these wrap-ups! I keep track of all my reads on a spreadsheet (built by Rosario) and I have great fun looking at the results at the end of the year and analyzing them.

The Numbers

I read a total of 111 books in 2007, which is up a bit from 2006. Now, this includes the 30 books that I proofread (holy crap, that makes me tired just thinking about it). I have a strict no-blogging rule on books I'm paid to read; unless I had 100% good things to say about them (very rare), then I'd be biting the hand that fed me. And I like to eat. So you'll see no details on them, but I still like to add them to my stats.

Anyway, that's an average of about 9 a month, with a high in August (13) when I was blissfully unemployed and a low in September (6) when I was (of course) happily re-employed. ;) Total page count over 40,000, or about 110 pages a day. Twin's comment: "Good lord. You're such a dork." She loves me, she really does.

The Ratings
My average rating went up a little this year, to 6.9. Maybe I'm getting better at choosing books. Or maybe I'm getting soft.

My Favorite Reads of 2007

**I'm not going to link to my reviews, because that's just too much work. But you can find them all in the archives.**

10/10 (Perfection)
Harry Potter 3 & 4
The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery (This was the only book I gave a 10 last year.)
A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold (I originally gave this a 9 last year, but bumped it up on re-read.)

Only one new-to-me book got a 10:
The Windflower, Laura London (IMO, the best of classic romance. Not for everyone, though, as evidenced by my mother who read it on my rec and was a bit WTF?)

9/10 (Fangirl-worthy)
Harry Potter 1-2, 5-6
Thornyhold, Mary Stewart

New reads:
Harry Potter 7
Memory, Lois McMaster Bujold
Devil's Cub, Georgette Heyer
Summers at Castle Auburn, Sharon Shinn

8/10 (Highly recommended)
Demon Angel and Demon Moon, Meljean Brook. (And I will make everyone jealous and say that I already got to read Demon Night [out in Feb.] and it's my favorite yet. Will definitely get a 9 when I review it.)
Season of Storms and Mariana, Susanna Kearsley
Beguilement, Lois McMaster Bujold
Reforming Lord Ragsdale and Marian's Christmas Wish, Carla Kelly
Games of Command, Linnea Sinclair
Not Quite a Lady and Knaves' Wager, Loretta Chase
No Humans Involved, Kelley Armstrong
Simply Love, Mary Balogh
High Noon, Nora Roberts
Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson
Mystic and Rider and Dark Moon Defender, Sharon Shinn
Bride of the MacHugh, Jan Cox Speas
Agnes and the Hitman, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Favorite new (or new-to-me) authors this year were Meljean Brook, Eloisa James, Eva Ibbotson, and Sharon Shinn.
A most excellent year. :)

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Spymaster's Lady, Joanna Bourne

Title: The Spymaster's Lady
Author: Joanna Bourne
Published: 2008, Berkley
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8.5/10
My first read of 2008 – and it's a great one! Yippee. I hope this sets a trend for the whole year. ;) I had to run my little self out to the bookstore on Jan. 2 (the book's exact on-sale date), because I'd heard such phenomenal squeeing at SBTB and DA. Yes, when Sarah and Jane BOTH squee simultaneously, I run for the bookstore.

Annique Villiers has been spying for France about since she learned crawl. Her most recent assignment has landed her with a copy of the Albion plans, the detailed plans of Napoleon's proposed invasion of Britain. As the book opens, Annique is trapped in a French prison, being bullied into giving them up. Annique and two Englishmen also being held in the prison manage to escape and head for England. Annique is dismayed to discover that one of the men is Grey, the Head of Section of the British Service, i.e. the Spymaster for all England. Out of the griddle and into the fire. Grey also needs those Albion plans, but he has quite a time keeping Annique in his control.

That's the basic plot, but there's a ton more that I won't go into because I don't want to ruin anything for anyone. The story has several really clever twists – the kind of thing where you're reading along and go, "D'oh!!" and think back and see all the clues but you're still completely blindsided. Very exciting. Lots of fabulous historical detail, portraying the very complex political situation of post-Revolutionary, early Napoleonic France (but not BORING politics).

And as everyone else has mentioned, I too will go crazy over Bourne's use of dialog and accents. Annique's attitudes are very French, but she could be talking about doing the laundry and still sound French. Grey, on the other hand, sounds perfectly English. And when you have all this (very wonderful) dialog between these two characters, the effect is phenomenal. This is especially comment-worthy because it's something that is so often ignored (or done badly) in popular fiction, especially romance.

Definitely a book I will re-read a-plenty. I heard that the next book in the series is due out in July. I will be running to the bookstore again then. :)

But, I have to say, that cover? A crime!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

North & South Crusade -- me too, me too!

I think most everyone who visits here must be aware of Kristie's great North & South Crusade -- she seems to have infected most of us with her enthusiasm for this movie. ;) I was, of course, curious, so Twin and I rented it a few weeks ago. We watched it, loved it, watched it again the next day, and reluctantly returned it. One of us made the comment that we should buy it, but then we remembered that these mini-series things usually cost about a gazillion dollars. (But, psst, it's only $22 on Amazon!)

So a few days before Christmas, we were struggling through that last week of work and decided one night that we really ought to open one of our presents for each other. You know, to ramp up for the big day. So I open mine, and it's North & South!! Yippee!! And she opens hers, and it's North & South too!! Hee. Great minds. (We ended up giving the extra copy to our mom.)

I love a lot of mini-series, but this one is especially great. Fabulous story, pretty cinematography and costumes, love the theme song, and I was really impressed by the acting -- Richard Armitage, obviously (besides being completely gorgeous and DELICIOUS). But Mrs. Thornton and Nicholas Higgins were also great. I even liked Fanny Thornton, because she's so wonderfully silly. The woman who plays Margaret Hale is not quite as good (she ends up looking confused and a bit dense when I think she's going for sad), but she's okay.

It's hard to say what exactly makes me like the story so well. But I think it's the fact that you have this great romance (sort of P&P-ish in that she dislikes him at first because she doesn't understand him), and you also have this really interesting time period -- the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when so many things were changing in society. It makes for some fabulous conflict.

Twin also got me a copy of the book, which she then proceeded to read first (sheesh!). But she says that the movie is fairly faithful to the original story, and that it does a good job of condensing the book and updating it just a tad for modern audiences (you know that kiss at the end's not going to happen in the book, lovely as it is).

One of my favorite lines (which refers to the hard working conditions in the cotton mills):
"I believe I have seen hell. And it is white. It is snow white."

Thanks to Kristie for bringing N&S to our attention! :D