Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YotH: Royal's Bride and Reese's Bride by Kat Martin

Yay! Another year, another challenge. This month for the challenge, I read the first book in the Dewar bride trilogy.

Royal's Bride is the story of Royal Dewar, who came back to England when his father was on his deathbed. He makes a promise to his father to marry Jocelyn, a wealthy heiress whose dowry would help restore the family's wealth. The day of Jocelyn's arrival, she has a carriage accident and Royal rides to her rescue. He begins to believe that marriage to Jocelyn won't be too bad - he is attracted to her, and she feels good in his arms. Once awakened, it's revealed that the woman is Lily, Jocelyn's cousin, serving in the companion role.

What I liked so much about this book was that Royal and Lily are truly determined to do the right thing. Although they are tremendously attracted to one another, and are falling in love, they try so hard to stay away from each other. They just can't. I liked that Royal was completely honest in his feelings toward Lily - with her, his friends, and most importantly, himself. His sense of honor wouldn't allow him to go back on his word and his father's wish that he marry Jocelyn. Of course, that didn't mean that he could keep his hands off Lily - he couldn't.

For her part, Jocelyn is a selfish girl - out only for herself and her own pleasure. She begins a sexual relationship with another man; one who dominates her in bed and refuses to be ruled by her out of it. She discovers that she really wants him, not her fiance.

In the interim, Lily helps Royal to find the man who defrauded his father and stole the family fortune. Her uncle and his cronies, from the stews, are con artists, and Lily used to be, too. They concoct a plan and it goes well until the very end, when they are found out. In the end, of course, it all works out, Jocelyn jilts Royal, and they all live happily ever after.

There was a great dynamic between Royal, his brothers, and his friends. Lily was a terrific heroine. Although the ending was a little cliched with the climax of the money scheme, the majority of the book was filled with good, strong emotions, and good characters I really liked.

ETA: I was planning on reviewing both books 1 & 2, but got lazy *g*

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is it me? Judging books by their covers: UF

Is it me, or is Bella from the Twilight movies now gracing a ton of UF covers? And I don't mean the actress necessarily, I mean the look. Young, dark-haired teenage girl holding a big-ass knife in a dreary, dark setting. Is Bella, that sulky, unhappy teenager, becoming the poster child for UF?  

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with UF as a genre. In fact, just the opposite. I think the worlds these authors build are amazing, complex, and interesting places. Ditto for many of the characters. But as a consumer, it makes it hard to tell the books apart, makes me think there's a cookie-cutter profile for the heroines, especially (since they usually grace the covers). So do the art departments do a disservice to these books by making them all look interchangeable? Like I said, I'm well aware that the cookie-cutter heroine isn't the case, it's just my own perception based upon what I'm seeing. And yes, I realize that the same could likely be said about almost any genre (hello - historicals!). I may do a cover post for other genres, too. Unless of course, I'm lambasted for this post, and I really hope not. Cause I'm just posting my own stream-of-consciousness  perceptions. Cover design trends come and go - it's why they're called trends.

So here's my disclosure about UF books (and my own self-psychoanalysis): I don't usually read them. Except those times when I do. I like a good, dark story as much as the next person, but in general, I think I'm more likely to pick up an emotionally complex book based in a world that I am comfortable in rather than read a book set in a complex world that, while there are deep emotions and well written characters, I really have to concentrate at first in order to grasp the importance of each and every piece of information. I'd rather absorb than study. Perhaps it's why I don't care for many of the paranormals out there either. If I need a glossary at the end of the book in order to grasp what's going on, it's probably not the escape I'm after. Again, like I said, just me. Because I know that if I try to have something insightful to say when I review a book, then yes, a certain amount of thinking is obviously involved. Otherwise you all would get a series of "Uhhh... I really liked it" posts. But I like to be free to examine the impact of the character's interactions without having to place it in the context of an unfamiliar world. Does that make any sort of sense?

What did all that have to do with cover art? Not a lot, but I like to ramble, and it's my prerogative.

Back to the topic at hand. For the purposes of this post, I just grabbed 3 covers. Please do not infer that I'm picking on these 3 books or these authors. And yes, I do realize that not ALL UF covers look like this. It's just that lately almost every time I read a review or see a post about a book in the UF genre, the cover will look very similar to these. And while I have to say that I really, really like the cover art in general for these books, in fact I actually think they're quite beautiful and sometimes haunting when well done (looking at the top 2 here, in particular), and they likely convey the general feeling of the book, to me they all pretty much look the same. Or is it just that the cover model is the same?

So is it just me?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ooooh, Lookie

Don't you just love it when you preorder something and forget about it? Then one day, out of the blue, comes a tiny package. What could it be? Oh, yeah! Woohoo!

Here's what came in my mail on Saturday.

I love me some Sabrina Jeffries. Yay me! And I know I preordered something else, but I'm not gonna go look to see what it was, so I can have another exciting day soon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Doing our part for Haiti... give a little, get a lot!

My husband's multitude of bands is giving all their proceeds between now and 15 February to the American Red Cross for Haiti earthquake relief. Here's the message that went out:

"We're blown away by the devastation in Haiti. We're giving 100% of all music sales from now to Feb 15 on iTunes, Napster, Amazon, etc. to the American Red Cross for aid in Haiti. If you spend 9.99, we give a 9.99 donation. Search Sunday Night Gospel, Mary Carves the Chicken, Page Jackson, Muddflaps, and our buds, The Bowlwinders (comedy). This is what our music is all about.

You can search up their music on iTunes, Amazon, or almost any of the music sites.

I love their music, and yeah, I'm biased. You can check out samples of their stuff at:
www.marycarvesthechicken.com (uh, yeah. The site's a little out of date, but hey. I'm their webmaster, and I've been busy! All the albums and a full song sample from each are there, so my work is done for the day)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Reading Goals and other assorted stuff

As you probably know by now, if you've read our blog for any length of time, I've never tracked my books. Each year, I try, and I can only seem to get through February before I give it up as just too much of a hassle. I also never set a goal for myself on the number of books I want to read. I just read, and the number is what it is.

However, this year, when I put my "Best of" post together, I forgot two books I really wanted to mention. (Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight and Daring Time by Beth Kery). Because I couldn't possibly review every book I read (waving to Jill), and I don't have a tracking system, it's really difficult for me to look backwards to remember all the books I read come EOY synopsis time.

So, this year, I'm taking a page from Holly's book. Since I'm already on Goodreads, I decided to make a bookshelf for books read each month, and an overarching one for books read each year. There's no way I could ever go backwards, so I'm just moving forward, especially since I'm still adding books from long ago as I come across them. Hopefully, that will help me at the end of the year not to determine how many books I read, but which ones I loved. I'd hate not to mention a book that really struck me simply because I'm lazy, LOL.

So if you happen to be on Goodreads, and don't see anything in the monthly reads bookshelves, leave a comment here and bug me, k?

In other news, the So Cal Bloggers got together again this weekend, minus Nikki who was feeling poorly (hope you're better soon!). We started off at Renee's with general book chat, and then moved on to the local UBS, where I bought more than I needed. I picked up The Prey, The Hunt, and The Kill by Allison Brennan (note to self - don't get rid of books you're going to want to read again!); Joe's Wife by Cheryl St. John (since it got such great buzz in the re-read challenge); an old historical from Anne Stuart, and one other that I can't remember (see? I need a tracking system!).

We had lunch at a cute (read tiny) yummy Mexican restaurant, where among other things, we proceeded to gossip about all of you (it's all good, I swear!). General consensus on other topics was that we all wanted to lose more weight. Ugh.

Another great day with Renee, Wendy, Holly, Tracy, and Rosie

Friday, January 08, 2010

Bookwatch... Broken by Shiloh Walker

I absolutely loved Fragile from Shiloh Walker, and now we'll get Quinn's book! My heart broke for him when I read Fragile.

Broken releases on March 2.

Read a sneak peek. So good!

Click on the cover to preorder. As of the writing of this post, it's on sale for 30% off, as is Fragile.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A brief, random look back

Just a few thoughts on last year's reading and blogging.

One very marked difference...many, many more DNFs. If the writing is poor or the characters unbelievable, I'm done. No matter the author, no matter the promise of the book's premise. I put down over a dozen books last year. And when I look at them written there in my little calendar book, I've no desire to try them again.

The new authors or discoveries on my list weren't really new, LOL. (Though I think Carolyn Jewel and Julie James were still relatively new in 2009--loved them both to pieces.) The rest were big or buzz names I finally got around to reading--Jeannie Frost, Deana Raybourne, Lauren Dane and Patricia Briggs. All worthy of the big and the buzz.

Not sure if I will continue reading them however. Frost read very young to me, so I'm not sure. I think I'd rather pick back up with Colleen Gleason's series--also young, but maybe not as. Brigg's was a well-paced, well-written, completely engaging kitchen sink. Not unlike Kresley Cole in its busy, and like I said, very engaging. But it didn't snare me like Cole did. Raybourne is another hmmmm. Enjoyed her first title very much and I really enjoy her blog, but I may put reconnecting with Maria Snyder ahead of continuing Raybourne's series. As for Dane, let's just say I'm glad her backlist is long. I've years of good reading ahead.

Other buzz...Not being an e-reader (yet), or a noticeable Harlequin consumer (at least I don't notice), or a conference attendee (some day)...I remained pretty much on the discussion sidelines this year. Not unlike other years, LOL. In 'reading' news however, I will say that I was impacted by Walmart's book-buying changes--and not in a good way. I couldn't even get Singh's Blaze Of Memory last month. Very frustrating. In other 'news', I was also disappointed to learn that Brockmann plans to break from her Troubleshooters and SEALs. So fewer glimpses of Cosmo in my reading future, sigh. Time to let him go I suppose.

Reading and blogging resolutions...for 2009. I did good. I wanted to read more from my TBR list. I wanted to read at least one new or current release a month. And I wanted to get flush with my fave series. Check, check and check. I may have read fewer books overall (again), but I didn't 'miss' anything this year. (If I did, please do not tell me.)

For 2010, I really would like to review more, no question. I enjoy reviewing books. But like 2009, I expect that parenting a busy kid and working the day job will again trump reading and writing. Like Lori, I'll keep posting--totally committed but with zero rhythm, zero discipline.

(Do have to say, seriously, you would not believe the number of times a post drifts through my head. Sometimes making it to a post it note or my planner. But rarely making it to Blogger. I'm talking to you all way more often than you know. Can you hear me? Like yesterday, when I wondered at the phenomenon of flip flops (bare feet, yes) in the snowy, below 10 degrees winter conditions. Or the day before, when I recognized my contentment as I dropped G off to school and drove to work. Contentment, cuz we're doing fine. Or the night before that, when I was pressured into paying obscene money for a Party Lite candle. BTW, does anyone want this? I don't burn candles.)

Which leads me to ask, how many online communities do you support? Cuz that last bit, about the candle? I can't post that on FB because my friend who hosted the candle party is there. But here? I can. Just another reason I need you. So did FB, Twitter, etc. steal you away from blogland? For me, it was Facebook that squirreled some of my 2009 online time. And because it comprises the same audience I had for my son's online journal, it pretty much sealed the demise of that online journal as well. We're back to long-hand, but it's all here and there--just not cohesive (just like my blogs-on-post-it-notes). So there's probably my biggest goal for 2010--figure out the journal thing for him and just do it. And, remind, remind, remind myself of the need for my own journal...of book reviews. ;-)

Starting with one for Skin Game by Ava Grey. I read that before the holidays and because it was wow, stunning, f'ing fab...my journal demands an entry. I'll attempt a review this weekend.

Happy New Year Ladies

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Great author giveaways and interviews this week...

I just found out that author Stephanie Tyler is giving away an ARC of the 3rd book in her new series (release date Jan 26) over at Seductive Musings. She gave a great interview also. I found out she also writes as Sydney Croft. I had no idea! Head on over and check it out.

Here's the lineup of guest authors this week. You have a chance to win any of these author's books. Awesome.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A different kind of "Best of"...

I listed my favorite reads of 2009 here, but I want to also highlight a few books and authors.

Favorite new author: This is a three-way tie between Julie James, Tessa Dare, and Leslie Parrish. I read all of each of their offerings, and wasn’t disappointed in anything. Seriously looking forward to the next book from all three.

Most controversial: Last year, I chose a Brockmann, and she gets the pick again this year. Dark of Night didn’t pair Decker with Sophia as so many were hoping. Nope, Deck got himself a feisty heroine with… a personality. (Sorry, Sophia, but you’ve gone downhill since your terrific introduction.) Many were outraged, but I was thrilled. Plus, I got to see that little bit of submission in the bedroom that Decker has going on. Very hot *g*. And I did my first buddy review with JenniferB. Finally. It only took us 4 years *g*.

Most disappointing read: This one is a tie. The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. I never did review this one (JenniferB did here), but I found it a disappointing read. I think that so much was made of the portrayal of Asperger’s that when I read it, I was unimpressed. Given that my husband works with students with emotional disturbance, and Asperger’s is the diagnosis of the decade, I hear a lot about how people with Asperger’s interact. This just didn’t quite fit with my hubby’s experience (much to his annoyance, I kept asking him if certain passages fit as I was reading it), and that threw me. Not to say that it’s not an accurate portrayal; it just didn’t work all that well for me. Overall, it was a fairly good book. It just failed to live up to the hype for me.

Then there was Broken Wing. Hyped to the hilt by KristieJ, I wanted to love it. I really did. Parts of it were outstanding, but the overall impression it left me with was just meh.

Worst ending: Fall Into Me. I loved every last little thing about this book until literally the very last page. If it wasn’t in my ereader at the time, I’d have thrown it against the wall. I absolutely love the Hearts of the South series (it earned my best series award last year), and the ending of this book just pissed me off.

Most redeemed character: Tick from the Hearts of the South series. Winfree had started to make him such an asshole, that some of us in blogland gave him the nickname "Tick the Dick." I blogged about it here. However, with Uncovered, Winfree finally brought some resolution to his character’s disturbing dickishness.

Best Series: In Death. Nuff said. I’m up to book 9 so far and kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

Most fascinating read: Rage Against the Meshugenah. This was an in-depth exploration of men’s depression written by an amazingly funny, self-deprecating, honest man. A serious topic, for sure, but Evans’ handling of it made me laugh and cry, and root for him all the way.

Most beautiful cover art: Once again, I have to give it to Winfree’s Hearts of the South series. Not that great covers are an indication of a good read, but it sure helps on the shelf! Winfree released two books in this series in 2009, and both carried on the amazingly gorgeous cover art that all the predecessors had (ok, with the exception of His Ordinary Life – I have no idea why this one has a different theme than the rest of the series, but oh well. Almost all the covers for this series were done by Anne Cain at Samhain. Just beautiful.

Lori's Best of 2009

Well, I read about 200 books more than I reviewed. Wow. I don’t have stats for you, cause I just can’t be bothered, but I average about 4-5 books a week, so I’m guessing I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 225-250 books this year. Just knowing my preferences, I’d guess the majority were either historical or romantic suspense.

What were my favorites? In no particular order…

Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James: James also makes my list of 2 new to me favorite authors. While I really loved Just the Sexiest Man Alive, I absolutely loveloved Practice Makes Perfect. Such a great hero, and James writes fabulous, witty, intelligent banter, even if the characters are sometimes completely juvenile. Heh. Wishing now I’d gotten around to reviewing them both.

Rapture in Death by JD Robb: Thanks to Christine, I finally broke down and began reading the In Death books. While I’ve loved them all, Rapture in Death has to be my favorite. It’s the first time we really see Roarke truly vulnerable, and Eve shows tremendous growth when she has to be the strong, supportive one. I’m currently on book 9. I blame Christine.

Relentless by Lauren Dane: OMG – such a touching (and hot) romance against incredible world-building. There was not a page of this book that I didn’t adore.

One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl: Everyone is putting her contemps on their “Best of” lists, but I much preferred her historicals. This one made me say Wow when I read it.

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare: Dare gets the tie vote with Julie James as my favorite new (and new to me) author. While her trilogy was fabulous, it was this first one that really made me sit up and take notice. Fantastic hero, heroine, and story. And I’ll never look at an armoire the same way again ☺
Gray, the hero of book 2 made it a tough choice, though…

Rage Against the Meshugenah by Danny Evans: This non-fiction, self-deprecating, hysterical look at depression was absolutely wonderful. Of course, I went into it expecting great things. Evans’ blog is fantastic, and he grew up with two of my good friends, in my city. I recommend it to anyone who needs a good look at depression, or anyone who wants a funny read.

Fade to Black by Leslie Parrish: The perfect mix of romance and suspense, IMO. Grisly enough to keep my interest, and romantic enough to satisfy.Parrish reminds me very much of Karen Rose (before she turned super-grisly *g*). The first book by Blaze author Leslie Kelly's alter ego. Parrish goes into the auto-buy favorite author category as well.

A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore: While I abhor love triangle stories, somehow this one managed to worm its way into my heart. I felt so bad for all the characters, and really wanted everyone to be happy in the end (darn, no three-way marriage *g*). If it wasn’t for the conclusion of the villain story, this would have been absolutely perfect.

Mercy Street by Mariah Stewart: This was Stewart’s return to wonderful romantic suspense. Her recent books have been heavy on the suspense/thriller and too light on the romance. While I love me a good grisly thriller (Lisa Jackson, anyone?), somehow, Stewart’s books do better for me with romance added to the mix. The next two in the series were great as well, but this one realy stood out for me.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Another non-romance to make my best reads this year. Holy cow – amazingly powerful! Simply a must-read for those who want to understand how Afghanistan got to be the place it is today. The follow-up, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was equally as riveting.

Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann: While some were outraged by the pairing of Decker and Tracy, I loved it. Not being a Sophia fan, I thought Tracy a much better match for Deck. Plus, this book gave JenniferB and me the chance to do our first buddy review together!

Honorable mention to Coming Undone (although it doesn’t release till January 2010, I got an ARC – thanks, Lauren!): All I’m saying is go buy this one now! It’s coming out this week. I’m a huge Lauren Dane ho.

Honorable mention to The Education of Madeline by Beth Williamson: I first read this in ebook format years ago. Williamson got a contract with Brava and re-released this and wrote two more. Absolutely wonderful western historical romance author.

Honorable mention to
Instant Gratification by Jill Shalvis: Shalvis always delivers smart, sexy contemporaries with humor, sensitive but strong heroes and heroines and a delightful afternoon of reading. This one was no exception – from the juvenile antics of the brothers to the sparkling banter, to the tender love, Shalvis had me at hello.

I think this is the first year that I've had two non-romances on my "best of" list.  I'm happy to see a good mix of contemporary, romantic suspense, and historicals. I'm sure that I read far more historicals this year than anything else (although I probably read about 30 Harlequins), but I'm really pleased that I obviously enjoyed romance across the genre, and outside of it, too.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Re-read challenge: Tapestry by Karen Ranney

Tapestry by Karen RanneyTheir Destinies were bound by a shimmering thread of desire...

For Lady Laura Blake, there is only one man in the world: Alex, the Earl of Cardiff. Yet ever since he was wounded in battle, Alex has locked himself away in his great stone castle at Heddon Hall. Believing himself to be less than a man, he conceals his ravaged face behind a leather mask... and hides his scarred soul beneath an icy aloofness.

A mere child when he went off to war, Laura has blossomed into a beautiful young woman Alex scarecely recognizes. The compassion and desire he sees shining out of her eyes tempts him to ease his pain in her sweet, sensual embrace. But as need flames into uncontrollable passion, an evil fate comspires against them both, weaving a web of treachery and betrayal that could bring heartbreak or happiness to those who dare to love...


I first read this book several years back, and was blown away by it. It reminded me very much of a Judith McNaught book, in the wide-eyed innocence of the heroine and the jaded hero just waiting for the one who can "see" him as he really is. First published in 1995, it was Ranney's first published book.

I love Laura's optimistic view, and once Alex lets down his defenses, he's just wonderful. I love them together. There was sort of an innocent, awakening type of love they shared.

I hated that he didn't have the nerve to say goodbye to her in person when he left for the war. And that Laura didn't want to let him know she was pregnant before he left, trying to lessen his burdens. In typical romance "big misunderstanding" fashion, when Alex returns, he takes the evil stepmother's word for Laura's infidelity and betrayal, never stopping to think about who was giving him the information.

For Laura's part, I thought her journey into and out of her deep grief was very well done, and fairly realistic, especially for the time. I can't imagine losing my husband and child all in one day. Some of the scenes written about Laura's grief made my heart hurt.

The extra touches, like using William Pitt himself as Alex's superior, makes it more plausible that he would go off again to a war that left him disfigured and miserable.

This book is definitely written in an early-mid 90's fashion, with descriptive prose and a grand, sweeping, epic-type feel. I adore Ranney's early works - this and the Highland Lords series are absolutely fantastic.

I will say that I enjoyed it just a little less this time, simply because my tastes have evolved slightly. I likely won't reread this again for a long time for the same reason I'm afraid to reread McNaught. I don't want my changing tastes to overshadow the memories of how much I love the book.

If you're a Ranney and a McNaught (historical) fan, you'll likely really enjoy this book. If you're more jaded, maybe not so much.

And now a huge thank you to Nath for hosting the Re-Read Challenge for 2009 (and into 2010). I took another look at so many books that I enjoyed. And I also noticed that almost all of my rereads were historicals. I think that's because my comfort reads are historicals. Maybe next year I'll have to look at trying to reread some contemps. But then again, maybe not...
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