Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I thought I'd get my Christmas wishes in early before the crazy hits.  Thank you to everyone who has visited or commented this year.  My Christmas blessing for you: May your presents be large and your cakes be chocolate.  Happy Holidays!  Catch you in 2011!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts

Why I read it:   I really like Nora Roberts' books and I've read the first three in the series.  So of course, I had to read this one.

What it's about:  This is Parker and Mal's story - those people who have not read at least the first book in the series will miss out, so if you don't know who Parker is, read Vision in White first.   In a nutshell for the uninitiated, there are four friends who run Vows, a wedding business.  Mac is the photographer (Vision in White), Emma is the florist (Bed of Roses), Laurel is the creator of amazing wedding cakes (baker seems too mundane a word for her artistry) (Savour the Moment) and Parker is the wedding planner and the glue that holds them all together.  Interspersed between the highs and lows of weddings at Vows, is the friendship of the girls and their love stories.

What worked for me:  I liked Mal very much.  He was a take charge kind of guy and wasn't fazed at all by either Parker's wealth or by the "go away vibe" she uses to put people at a distance and keep them in line (which is just as well because Parker really needed to be steam rolled - she's an "over-thinker" and really impresses Mac, Emma and Laurel as he is the only one who has managed it). The usually calm organised Parker is ruffled by Mal and it was nice to see.  The *sexy times* in the utility cupboard was just one time when Mal got Parker good and... "ruffled".  :)  (Housekeeper Mrs. G describes him as a "bad boy who is also a good man" which I thought described not just Mal but a type of hero I'm pretty happy to read about.)  The strength of the series I think has been the banter between the four girlfriends and it was present here too. The other 3 didn't let Parker off telling her SBS (sexy breakfast story) when she had one to tell.
Plus, we got to see Mac and Carter's wedding (which is why you really need to read at least Vision in White first to truly understand and enjoy the book I think).

What didn't:  I would have liked to have seen more of Mal. I felt the way he hid his deeper feelings was told rather than shown and I would have liked to have seen more of that, particularly from Mal's point of view.  But not just that, more of Mal in general would have been great!  The book finished kind of abruptly IMO.  I needed just a little more of Mal and Parker being happy to soak in the love.

What else:  I enjoyed this book better than Savour the Moment (which I felt lacked conflict between the h/h) but I think my favourite is still Vision in White, very closely followed by Bed of Roses. We didn't see Jack and Emma's wedding or Del and Laurel's or, of course Parker and Mal's.  Here's hoping that Ms. Roberts will write some (hopefully free!) shorts which tell us those stories!!

Grade:  B-

Sunday, December 5, 2010

November Reads

On paper/ebook

Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry -  B-.  I usually enjoy Ms. Mayberry's books and this one was no exception.  Hannah is a mechanic who was dumped by her fiance nearly at the altar for her sister (what!) and is living with her mother when Joe Lawson, widower, and his two children (Ben 13, and Ruby, 10) move next door.  You'd think that would be enough wouldn't you?  But no!  Once they get over all those hurdles, the author hurtles another disaster upon them - one I totally was not expecting, but once there, one I would have liked a LOT more detail about. I thought that Hannah's lifelong dream of travelling around Australia on her motorcycle was brushed away fairly easily and I'm not sure I could have been anywhere near so forgiving of the man-stealing-cow sister and the asshat sleezebag former-fiance (but that's just me :D!)

Her Secret Fling by Sarah Mayberry - C+.  I had a bit more trouble than usual getting into this one.  Perhaps it's is because I am Australian and I'm familiar with various ex-Olympic swimming stars who have taken up a role in the media after their retirement and I kept trying to work out which one Poppy was based on.  I had to take 2 goes at it which is unusual for me but after finishing Home for the Holidays I thought I'd pick it up again.  The book nearly became a wallbanger for me when Poppy and hero Jake are in BRISBANE (Queensland) for the AFL GRAND FINAL where 40,000 people attend.   Um, sorry but not just no, HELL NO!  Sure, the Gabba (which is where the Brisbane Lions play their home games has a maximum capacity of 40,000 so, as far as that went, that was accurate) but any self-respecting Australian (or any non-self respecting Australian with, you know, GOOGLE) KNOWS that the AFL Grand Final is ALWAYS and HAS ONLY EVER BEEN at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground - yeah, I know, but they play footy there too).  The AFL Grand Final is a massive big deal (in fact, this year, such a big deal they played it twice) and attracts a capacity crowd to the MCG well in excess of 100,000 - and that's only because they can't fit any more people in.  I understand that the author needed to get the characters interstate to further the plot, but could they not have been attending a preliminary final instead?   For any other author, I would have thrown the book at the wall (except that would have ruined my Reader, so not really) but I decided to give her a pass this time - but I still marked the book down a bit.  Grand Final in Brisbane?  As. If.
As for the rest of the story, it was a pleasant but fairly standard story of a committment phobic hero and a young ingenue - I thought the conflict was resolved too quickly at the end and Jake started to lose some of his alpha mystique in the doing of it.  Not my favourite Mayberry.
ETA:  I commented on DA recently about this and Ms. Mayberry replied.  She told me that she had meant to put an explanation in the reader letter at the front of the book. She wanted the characters in Brisbane and particularly wanted to use the AFL Grand Final - I think the preliminary final or the NRL Grand Final (rugby league) would have worked better - they could both have legitimately been in Brisbane.  I appreciated her taking the time to comment though.

 Her Kind of Hero by Kathleen Dienne - C.  I picked this one up from NetGalley because (thankfully) Carina Press loves me now - previous requests had been refused but now I'm in!!  I think it's because I've been a lot more active on Goodreads but whatever the reason, I'm glad.  I found this book quite hard to grade.  The premise is interesting.  Widow and dead husband's best friend + stalker.  DHBF has a "secret" which I picked pretty early on and the identity of the stalker was pretty obvious too.  It came in at 112 pages on my Reader so it was quite a short story and I felt it had too much going on in it for the length.   The stalker aspect could easily have been dropped to give more time to the developing romance, or the book could have been longer.  On the other hand, Vanessa and Derek (aka DHBF) were engaging, I liked the humour and the writing style so I will probably take another look at this author's offerings in future.

Aint Misbehaving by Jennifer Greene - B.  I picked this one up from NetGalley too.  This is a better example of, in a lot of ways, where the previous author was going with Her Kind of Hero (minus the stalker) - both heroes have the same "secret".  As I understand it, this was published some time ago and the author has now updated some of the references so the book isn't dated and re-published it with Carina Press.  I'm usually wary of such books - I've been bitten by books being "updated" but I think this one was truly just tweaked so that obvious references which would have aged the book were removed/brought into 2010ish.  I thought the ending conflict was just a little silly but overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  I've already picked up a couple of others by this author - good characters, style and humour = win.

Inside Out by Lauren Dane - C-.  First, isn't that a lovely cover!  Pity we ebook readers don't get the full glory. Plus it's an agency title so I had to pay the full cover price (plus tax! horrors!).  Agency pricing.  Grrr.
I wanted to love this book and I feel sad that I didn't.  It was just okay for me.  Not horrible but not as good as the first 2 books in this series - Laid Bare and Coming Undone.  I found some of the dialogue between the guys too unbelievable.  For example here, where Brody is talking to Cope
"I said something earlier that bugged you.  I'm sorry about that.  You've been my friend a really long time. I've never doubted you, or that you were a good guy.  I was being protective of Ella, but I went about it wrong."
"It's fine. No harm done."  But he appreciated the apology nonethless.  
"Always harm done when you hurt a friend.  You're changing.  Not that you were an ass with women in the past, so get that look out of your eyes.  You look at her differently.  Different than the way you looked at other women you've been with before.  I know what that is.  Elise changed everything for me.  It's hard and sort of scary sometimes.  Hard to let go of who you were to make room for who you can be.  And I didn't make that any easier with the way I acted."
These are manly alpha guys but you wouldn't know it from some of their conversations sadly. I mean, I could feel the testosterone leaching out of them.
There seemed to be too much of the previous "couples" - one is a menage a trois and not enough time spent on the main romance and there didn't seem to be much conflict - Ella and Andrew or "Cope" as he is called, like each other from the beginning and don't have far to go to fall all the way in love.  Even though there is a brutal assault and an abusive marriage in Ella's past, she is mainly over it - at least in the sense that it doesn't form a barrier to their relationship.  There is a conflict with Andrew and Ben's (one of the menage members) - they are brothers - dad but that doesn't form a barrier to the main relationship either.   I do like these characters and the sex was hot (even though there wasn't as much of it as in previous books - Andrew and Ella take it slow) but, while in real life people falling in love and living HEA is great, it doesn't make a great romance novel - as I read on (I think Smart Bitches Trashy Books, sorry if I got that wrong) recently, a good romance novel is the story of a couple falling in love and working through a conflict to get their HEA - and the conflict part seemed light on for me.  Did I say I wanted to like this?  I really did, but....  Still, book 4 is about Adrian and I'm hoping it will be a return to the ++ WIN of books 1 and 2 for me.

Believe by Lauren Dane - C+/B-.  I read this novella in the Naughty & Nice anthology from Carina Press.  There are 3 other stories but I haven't gotten to them yet.  Sadly *kicks self* this is a sequel novella to Second Chances - which I have on my reader but I haven't read it yet.  I would probably have enjoyed the story quite a bit more had I read Second Chances first... *kicks self again*.   However, it was a cute sexy short and I plan on revisting it when I read the SC.

Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman - B+.  See my review here.
Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg - B-. This is one of the novellas in His for the Holidays, a m/m anthology from Carina Press.  So far, I've only read this one.  This author is one of those talented writers who can make you care about 2 characters in a very short word count and pack enough in to make the HEA totally believable.  There were a few little niggles I had about how things came together but it could well have been that I missed a sentence here or there when I was reading -  (ie, How did Meg and Ryan know each other?  Are they dating?) - it's probably there and I missed it.  A really good short story and Owen's family was a hoot - especially his irreverent brother Ryan!  (Also, nice cover!).

Harley Street (Richard & Rose Book 4) by Lynne Connolly B+. I took a short break from my glom on this series and was glad I did.   I really like the series and the characters but I've found that reading too much of them at once is a bit like having too much chocolate - and what a waste of chocolate that is!  This book is set a few months after Venice and Richard and Rose have returned from their honeymoon in Europe and are settling back in London.  There is a murder and a secret from Richard's past is revealed (so secret in fact that even Richard didn't know) and some happy news for our favourite couple.  I will say that Ms. Connolly writes unusual (to me at least) plots and not everything works out all hearts and flowers (even though R&R are still madly in love of course).  The story surrounding one of the secondary (or third-ary? - hey look, I made up a word) characters, Susan is a case in point.  No deus ex machina.  I have the others in the series in my reader ready to go and I think I'll pick up the next one sometime next month - I don't need a long break but it's best for me not to read them all one after the other.  I like this series so much, I've even picked up another of Ms. Connolly's to try - the Secrets Trilogy - note to publishers - including extracts of books from the author's backlist really do work.

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh - B+/A-. I love Mary Balogh. I swear she could write a shopping list and I'd want to read it.  I like her style and I like the spare and precise way she writes which is so suited to the (in this case) Regency and Georgian time periods in which her books are set.  This is a marriage of convenience story - there's a great review over at Dear Author - Eleanor (a "cit") marries into the aristocracy - to Randolph the Earl of Falloden after Eleanor's dying father buys up all of the earldom's debts and, essentially, forces the marriage.  Apart from that Eleanor annoyed me occasionally by continually jumping to erroneous conclusions and not TALKING about what was happening (which would have, you know, cleared things up), I really enjoyed this one.  Randolph was a delight - I liked the way he managed to compromise (and thank God for him because it wasn't coming from her!).  Balogh's writing always packs a punch for me.  There were actual tears.  Twice.

The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh - A+ After reading The Christmas Promise, I decided to go back to some of my old (and now sadly out of print) Balogh Signet regencies.  They are gradually being reissued (see above) and I hope this one does so more people can feel the love.  I have it and I'd buy another copy.  I loved it loved it loved it.  My favourite Balogh ever is Heartless, closely followed by Irresistible.  But there is a new rival for the throne.  I think Heartless still wins out but only barely.
Lord Edmond Waite is the notorious rake of the title and he is a rake.  For the previous 15 years he has been scandalising the ton and is only accepted where he is because of his title.  He's had an estrangement from his family and has been living up to what he felt were their expectations ever since.  Mary is a widow who has an understandable phobia about thunderstorms - when following the drum with her husband, during a storm lightning struck the next door tent, killing the men in it - she can still smell the scent of burning flesh.  Waite and Mary are caught alone in a thunderstorm at Vauxhall and in the course of comforting her, they become lovers.    Waite wants to pursue a relationship but Mary does not.  He skirts perilously close to stalking, but in my view, manages to keep to just the side of the line.  I wonder whether some would think that the scene at Vauxhall to be some kind of unsavoury seduction - I think it isn't because the scene is mainly told from Mary's POV - she was just about climbing into him in fear and desperately searching for comfort.  She was willing and didn't say "no" at any stage.  Also, in the part of the scene told from Waite's POV, it was clear that he did not set out to seduce - he had not even thought he was attracted to her. In the hands of a less skilled author however, I could easily see how Waite's character would have been just too black at the start.    It is an excellent book following the theme of people not always being what they seem on first (or even subsequent) impressions.  Waite even manfully tries to keep away from Mary in the end because he loves her so much and he feels he is irredeemable.  He manages to do this without being too martyrish.  The plan falls apart however when a relative of his tries to bring about a family reconciliation.  The scenes with the two brothers:-
"I think we had better go and find the ladies," his brother said, "before we do something that would embarrass us both, like falling into each other's arms or something."
and between Waite and his father are very very good.  (see above re my comments on Inside Out about male interaction and talking about feelings).  

A Counterfeit Betrothal by Mary Balogh - B+/A-  I picked this one up next because the two books are loosely related (except this one is set before the Notorious Rake).  I want to watch the movie of this book.  There are two stories - Sophia and Francis plan a counterfeit betrothal in an attempt to reconcile Sophia's estranged parents Marcus and Olivia.  Sophia and Francis's story is funny and romantic and Marc and Livy's story is poignant and romantic.  I thought the happy ending for the latter pair was a little drawn out so it wasn't an A, but otherwise it was an excellent book.  The interplay between Sophia and Francis was hilarious.  I don't think I'm giving anything away in saying that Sophia and Frank end up together but for most of the book the plan is for them to have a completely fake engagement - Sophia keeps getting caught up in the plan of getting her parents back together and there are many funny conversations where she says that if that doesn't work then they could try again at Christmas and Frank has to repeatedly remind her that they're not supposed to actually GET MARRIED.  It would make a great movie farce - sort of like the Importance of Being Earnest ...but completely different really.  :)

Snow Angel by Mary Balogh - A-Another excellent Balogh story.  Widowed Rosamund Hunter has an argument with her brother and stalks off in a snowstorm.  (He was going to turn around after a little while and pick her up but his carriage lost a wheel).  She is rescued by Justin Halliday, Earl of Wetherby who is on his way to a friend's hunting box alone, his mistress having been struck down by the flu.  They share an instant attraction and a 3 day idyll.  Once the snowstorm breaks they each go back to their lives.  Justin's was having a last fling - he was about to become betrothed (a long-standing family arrangement) and he believed in marital fidelity so there'd be none of that after the formal announcement.   Imagine his surprise when Rosa turns out to be related to his fiancee-to-be.  It is a delightfully angsty book.  Both Rosa and Justin resolve to do the right thing but they suffer while they try.  In fact, the characters were such that they would actually have done the right thing and stayed apart except that serendipity intervenes (as it does in romance novels) and it was particularly that, that I enjoyed - they were not selfish but were committed to their families and obligations previously made, despite their feelings for each other.

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh - A.  (The Balogh binge continued into early December but this is the last one for November).  I do love a tortured hero rescued by the love of a good woman and this book is just that.  Anthony Earheart, Marquess of Staunton is estranged from his family.  His father, the Duke of Withingsby is in poor health and recalls him home to complete become betrothed to the daughter of a friend - an arrangement that has been in place between the two fathers since the birth of the daughter 17 years before.  Staunton advertises for a governess and meets Charity Duncan - a "brown mouse" and offers her instead, the position of wife.  She will marry him and go to Enfield (the family home) with him and thoroughly piss of the father and then he will set her up in her own house with a generous annual allowance for the rest of her life and not bother her further.  He has no wish for heirs of his body and no belief in love.  Charity, of course, is no brown mouse - she merely is pretending because she's desperate for the job.   What happens at Enfield and how Staunton falls in love with her and comes to depend on her - well that is the heart of the book.  The scenes with Staunton and the Duke are well done and at the last, very emotional.   And, as so often happens in romance novels (although probably not in real life) the bitter, cynical and closed man of the beginning of the novel, becomes the most romantic and delightful of heroes.
The moon was shining in a broad band across the water of the lake.  They stopped walking when they were close to the bank.
"Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?" she asked with a sigh after a lengthy, perfectly comfortable silence.
"Yes," he said.  "I have only to turn my head to see it." 

On audio

This month was all Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson, all the time.  I had a total listening glom on the series to date:-
Moon Called  A
Blood Bound  A-/B+
Iron Kissed   A
Bone Crossed B+/A-
Silver Borne.  A-
They are all narrated by Lorelie King who does great male voices - seriously, they sound like actual men - I don't know how she does it (esp. without giving herself a really sore throat).  The only thing that bugged me was that the narrator called Aurielle, one of the secondary characters, "Or-ree-ell-ee" instead of "Or-ree-el" and I'd always internally pronounced Stefan's name in the European way with the emphasis on the last syllable and Marrok was always with the emphasis on the first syllable (think "carrot") but I got over it :)
I've raved about Mercy in previous posts, so I'll give it a rest here.  Great books, great on audio too.  Highly recommended. 

I'm planning on listening to Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs soon - what a pity that the prequel novella Alpha & Omega isn't available on audio - it really is essential to the story.

But, just for a chance of pace, I've started listening to Suzanne Brockmann's Heart Throb. As much as this was my favourite Brockmann novel, the audio unfortunately didn't work as well for me and overall, was a bit of a disappointment.  The narrator Ralph Lowenstein didn't (in my opinion) get Jed right - when I was expecting low and sexy, I got light and wishy-washy.  There were quite a few times in the story when I thought - that's not how he says it!  In the end, on audio, I gave this one a B-/C+.

And that was November.  Whew!