Wednesday, January 12, 2011

December Reads

Hello everyone and welcome to 2011!  My family and I have just come back from holiday in Queensland where, believe it or not, it hardly rained where we were and we had a lovely time and added many $$ to the economy. However, sadly, much of the state is suffering from catastrophic floods; the death toll is rising and there is a huge loss of infrastructure and property.   My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.

On paper/ebook

The Ungrateful Governess by Mary Balogh -B-  The Earl of Rutherford causes Jessica Moore to lose her position without a character and, feeling guilty, offers her 2 solutions - a position as his mistress or the assistance of his grandmother to find an alternative position.  I liked very much the interplay between Jessica and Rutherford but the book was a little lacking in tension and angst compared to some of my favourite Baloghs.

The Obedient Bride by Mary Balogh - B.  This is a story about a marriage of convenience between Arabella and Viscount Astor.  Astor things he can just go about his normal life and keep his wife in the country - not from maliciousness but from cluelessness.  He was a beta hero who wasn't very self-aware and it was interesting to see his eyes open.    There was a secondary thread (so small it could hardly be called a story) about Mr. Hubbard and his estranged wife (who had run off with another man, taking Hubbard's son with her).  Hubbard decides to forgive his wife and try and sort things out when she writes asking for a reconciliation - I would have loved more of that story and how they would have gotten on in society and if it would have worked out etc.

An Unacceptable Offer by Mary Balogh - B.  Viscount Fairfax is a widower with 2 young daughters who comes to town at the urging of his friend Sedgeworth to find a new wife and mother for his children.  He decides to choose with his head and not his heart, having gotten it wrong the first time.  Jane Matthews is in town for a season having fallen in love with Viscount Fairfax from afar some 5 years earlier (but then he went and married someone else) and she's determined not to pine away for something that can never be and accept an offer of marriage from someone suitable.   Fairfax decides that Jane would be suitable and much to her surprise, Jane turns him down - she, after all, wants to be wanted for herself.  Jane's cousin, Honor, has set her cap for Fairfax because he's a handsome devil and somehow Jane ends up betrothed to Sedgworth instead.  Then there's a house party.
No sex :(   -  sometimes I barely notice its absence but I did this time.  I really liked Fairfax, Jane and Sedgeworth and was prepared to detest Honor. But Balogh has a way of making secondary characters more nuanced than that and not quite what one might initially expect.   So, in the end, I really liked Honor too.

An Unlikely Duchess by Mary Balogh - B-.  This was a farce.  A story of a very silly girl (Jo) and a Duke who'd been very dutiful and staid until he met her.  You kind of have to go with it because she really is very very silly.  So,  if you don't think too much about why on earth Paul fell for her, it's a bit of a hoot.  Again with the light on in the sex department.

At Last Comes Love (Huxtable Quintet #3) by Mary Balogh - B+/A-.  Really really good.  After all the Balogh categories, I felt like something more substantial and then remembered I hadn't read bks 3 and 4 for the Huxtable series yet.    I really loved Duncan.  Again, first impressions can be deceptive - there was much more going on than met the eye and than most people ever knew.  He is a very very good man.  With a terrible reputation. But, as Duncan's mother says:
But he is thirty years old.  Multiply those years by three hundred and sixty-five and even if you ignore the leap years, that is a large number of days in which he has not behaved in a dastardly manner.  Find out about those days Margaret.  Find my son.  Marry him if you can.  Love him if you will.
Margart deserved her HEA and it was so nice to see her get such a wonderful man.  I liked the way they dealt with each other - communicating openly and directly and giving each other a chance to explain.    I did think the bit at the end where Meg doesn't talk to Duncan for a week or so was a bit contrived - that just didn't seem to be how they'd dealt with each other up to then and it was pretty quickly resolved - which just proved to me that it wasn't necessary.  The external conflict was quite enough for a satisfying ending.
I highlighted quite a few passages in this book where I was impressed with Balogh's turn of phrase and the way she can sketch a character so well with a few sentences - like here:
Norman fixed him with a stern stare - something he had perfected at the age of eight or so.  His shirt points waited hopefully a scant inch from his eyeballs.

Seducing an Angel (Huxtable Quintet #4) by Mary Balogh - A.  Somewhat surprisingly, I enjoyed Stephen's story - I had thought that a 25 year old hero would be a bit young for me.  But, Stephen has grown up well and is a mature 25 year old.  Once again, the looks can be deceiving theme is part of this story and it is once again done very well.  Cassandra is a worthy heroine (with an awful, but thankfully, dead husband - there are rumours she killed him in fact), also well deserving of her HEA.  Plus it is nice to see an older woman/younger man story - she's 28 (hardly ancient, but still).
There is a part in the book where Stephen is feeling very angry and gives his valet a scathing set down - he apologises later and he's not generally mean or anything but I was struck by the language and tone and I could just see it in a Pride and Prejudice type tv show/movie to show aristocratic arrogance:-
"Pardon me if I have misunderstood the situation Philbin," he said.  "But are you not employed to serve my  needs? Are you not employed to care for my clothes, among other duties?  To have them clean and ironed and ready when I need them?  I will expect these clothes to be all three when I next call for them.  In the meantime you may have bathwater brought up for me and set out my riding clothes while I bathe.  You may then shave me and help me dress.  If, in your deepest fantasies you imagine that one of your duties is to talk to me while you work and offer your opinion on my behaviour and the condition of my clothes when I return them to you care, then you must be forced to face reality - and forced to seek employment with someone who is foolish enough to allow such daydreams to flourish.  Do I make myself clear?" 
Looking back, it was this and other scenes which helped me to believe that Stephen was no longer a boy but a fully grown man and it was important in this book to believe that was the case or otherwise it would have been.... unsatisfying.
The other thing about these 2 books is that the other siblings and their partners all have parts to play but do not appear for no reason at all. They are also, the same distinct characters. Elliott is still a little stiff and austere to appearances but has mellowed some without having a character transplant.  Jasper is still a teaser with a twinkle in his eye.  I enjoyed them so much I went back and read their books too.

First Comes Marriage (Huxtable Quintet #1) by Mary Balogh -B+.  This one holds up very well on a re-read.  I wasn't grading back when I first read it so I can't properly compare but I certainly didn't have any trouble getting through it again.  Balogh captures very well the bafflement men can feel regarding women and emotions and I enjoyed Elliott getting in touch with his feelings.  I also loved how Vanessa became truly beautiful to Elliott - I think everyone needs to be beautiful to someone.
Then Comes Seduction (Hutxtable Quintext #2) by Mary Balogh -B+.  Again with the re-read and the holding up well.  I enjoyed seeing there was more to Jasper than a wastrel who didn't care about others.  I enjoyed his humour and I liked how Kate and he were absurd and laughed together often - that was very much a feature of their relationship and a connection they had almost from the start.  I also liked how Balogh didn't let Jasper off the hook - he had to truly apologise to Kate for his reprehensible actions with the wager (the cad!) and she had to forgive him for them to be truly happy together.

Con's story (A Secret Affair) is out in MMP in January so I thought I'd save some cash and wait a few weeks (I can manage that but it's probably just as well it took me so long to read these books or otherwise I would probably have been forced to pay hardback prices for the ebook - which is just plain sad.)  I'm looking forward to finding out that Elliott was wrong and I'm hoping that there will be a sufficient explanation that I understand why Con didn't tell him sooner.  Fingers crossed!

And thus, ended (at least temporarily) my Balogh glom. I felt in the mood for something more contemporary so I turned to

Second Chances by Lauren Dane - B-*spoilers ahoy* I must admit I found this book hard to grade.  It is a re-vamped, revised, re-published early work from Ms. Dane and it kinda shows.  I thought it was strangely structured and I can't really explain why without giving away some spoilers.  Sorry. The story is ultimately about Rori and Jude and starts off being about Rori and Jude and ends up being about Rori and Jude but half of the book (in the middle) is about Rori and Zach and it was that part that totally got me. Jude was an asshole at the beginning - he knew it but it didn't make me feel very warm towards him even later. Zach on the other hand, was lovely. I cried like a girl when he died (well, there was a spoiler warning, don't say I didn't mention it :)

In the end, I based my grade on my emotional reaction overall to the story so I gave it a B- - and that was all up to Zach.

Beyond Reckless by Ava March - C+.  Cute Regency m/m short.  I think these characters have been in earlier books (but I haven't read them).  24 pages isn't really enough to get to know 2 men but I am interested enough to check out the earlier books. If I had read the earlier books first I suspect this one would have meant more to me. 

Faith and Fidelity by Tere Michaels - A-.  The minus is because it ended a bit soon.  This was friends to lovers, gay-for-you story, with angst, hotness and children.    Evan Cerelli is a widower cop with 4 children.  Matt Haight is a former policeman with friends in common with Evan.  The book starts off at Evan's wife's funeral so I was crying before the end of the prologue.  Which shows that the writing was so good I was hooked right away.  Neither Matt nor Evan have previously been into men before.  At one point, Matt was wondering to himself what he'd say if anyone asked him why he was so cheerful:-
Uh, let's see... he's about six feet tall, muscular - with these silver-blue eyes that frankly make me harder than any rack I've ever laid eyes on.  Go figure.  I'm an eye man.  And, apparently, a "man" man. 
Every once in a while he'd stare at the phone wonder what kind of day Evan was having.  Good Christ, Matt, you've suddenly wound up in a fucking romance novel.
Plus, there are children to consider and weird in-laws.  Both men are well drawn and likeable.  I liked the exploration of where both were at and how they got to their HEA - I would have liked just a little more at the end... but,  really, excellent.

Love and Loyalty by Tere Michaels- A-.  This is the second book in the Faith, Love & Devotion series and is about Jim (a character who has a brief but important interaction with Matt in bk1) and Griffin.  Jim is a cop and Griffin is a screenwriter who wants to write a screenplay about a case close to Jim's heart.  The relationship between Jim and Ed Kelly (a father-type figure) is particularly touching.  Both characters are gay and comfortable with it from the start, so it is quite a different book to bk1 - which is a good thing of course.  I really enjoy this lady's writing.
Duty and Devotion by Tere Michaels - B.  The final book in the series (so far? ever?), it is also the shortest and least satisfying.  Both couples from bk1 appear here but the story is more about Matt and Evan continuing to work out their HEA.   I think I would have liked it better if it had been a little longer but I as much as I enjoyed it, I felt a tiny bit short changed.
Like Pizza and Beer by Elle Parker - B-.  This is the sequel to Like Coffee and Doughnuts and follows the relationship between Dino Martini (private investigator) and Seth Donnelly (best friend and mechanic) who wound up in a romantic relationship in book 1.  Before Seth, Dino was only into women, so Seth feels threatened when Dino's ex, Gigi turns up asking for help.  This series has a really nice film noir feel to it - the way it is written in the first person just adds to that atmosphere.  I thought book 1 had more to it but this one was still an enjoyable read.
Also, thanks to my Secret Santa Ivandort for this one!

Not Knowing Jack by KA Mitchell - B+/A-. *spoilers ahoy, kind of*. This is the story of Jack and Tony, who were secondary characters in Regularly Scheduled Life (my equal favourite KA Mitchell book so far).  Jack and Tony are happy together but they don't really talk.  They communicate through (hawt!) sex *fans self* and food.  They haven't faced any major problems in their relationship so the lack of talking hasn't been a big issue. But, when Tony finds out that Jack had a former wife and has 2 children things get rocky.  I liked the way the children were portrayed but I struggled a little with how they had been left basically alone at school for so long.  But then, so did Tony.  Jack feels like a failure with nothing to offer anyone and that if Tony finds out about the "real Jack" he would leave - so he doesn't share.  I, as the reader, knew that Jack was thinking this but I'm not entirely sure that Tony ever understood that was what was going on.   I graded it on my emotional reaction when I finished the book but the more I think about it, there really were things missing that I wanted to know. Probably just another chapter would have done the trick for me and tipped this over into awesome territory.  Where exactly did they end up working and living?  What were the arrangements for the kids' school?  Why did we miss the wedding? (oh why?).  What happened with the ex?  Surely she just didn't disappear?  Did Tony go back to work?  Did he become a "house-husband" and was everyone okay with that?  Did Jack get some help/get past feeling like a failure?  Did he actually start opening up to Tony?  In the end, the last 2 were probably the biggest questions I had - I had to just believe it would happen/had happened rather than being shown that it did.    Still, even with all the questions, this story was really good and I still love Jack and Tony - I just wanted more!

Promises by Marie Sexton - B+.  A really good story with well drawn characters.  Matt is a cop who moves to Coda, Colorado where Jared lives. Jared and Matt connect instantly - Jared is gay but Matt is straight - or is he?  No surprises to find out that he is, at least, gay-for-Jared. :)  I was however, kind of surprised that Matt coped so well once he came out but then again, like he said in the book, once he makes up his mind about something, that's it - no turning back.  Matt's dad is a piece of work, with homophobia only the tip of the iceberg.  Are there really dads like Joseph?  Maybe, but I can't figure why you'd have anything to do with him if that's what he was like.   I liked this book so much, I went on an immediate glom of the rest of the series.

A to Z by Marie Sexton - B+.  This story starts in Denver where Zach owns a video store and Angelo comes to work for him and helps him to improve and ultimately, save, his business.  They become friends with Matt and Jared from Coda when they meet at a music festival.  This story is told in alternating first person perspective, first Zach and then Angelo and I quite liked getting both points of view (Promises was told solely in Jared's POV).  The beginning in particular is really funny and had me laughing out loud and my husband querying why I was snorting soft drink out of my nose - Zach is the definition of clueless - he's not mean, but he's just unaware.  He owns a video store but he doesn't really like movies and he doesn't watch them.  The scene where Angelo is talking to him about movies is a hoot.  Zach has a number of regular customers, who he recognises but he doesn't know their names - he gives them names himself in his head for reference though.  There is one customer who rents the same video every time (why I don't know) and he spends hours in the store - Zach needs Angelo to tell him that because Zach doesn't know movies and has no organisational system and so just puts the dvds wherever, the customer spends all that time searching for the video each time and thinks Zach is just "fucking with him".  Angelo is organised where Zach is not and knows movies where Zach does not but Angelo needs Zach too - just in different ways.  I didn't get a complete handle on Angelo so I was a little confused as to why he needed separate rooms and separate space for so long - I mean, I know he had scars but I guess I needed a little more exposition to connect a bit more deeply with him.  That said, I did connect with both of them (just not as much with Angelo).  The book has funny bits all the way through, but most of the humour is at the beginning.  Once Zach and Angelo start their relationship, things become more serious and some heavier themes are introduced.  I thought Angelo and Zach made a great pair and it was nice to catch up with Matt and Jared again too.

The Letter Z by Marie Sexton - B+ This is a shorter story about all four of the previous characters who go to Vegas together for a weekend (and no, it's not a foursome - get your minds out of the gutter dear readers!!) and is told in alternating perspective of Matt (which is nice because we haven't had that before) and Angelo.  It is more about the evolution of Zach and Angelo's relationship and it was a welcome addition as it helped to "finish off" their story I think.  Also, we get to meet Zach's ex - Jonathon, who features in the next book (although he's not shown in a very favourable light...).  

Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton - A.  As can be seen from the grade, I liked this one the best out of all four stories.  Cole is a flamboyant gay boy who is independently wealthy and flits about the globe, hooking up semi-regularly with semi-boyfriends as he doesn't like casual sex but can't handle a relationship - or rather, doesn't think a relationship can handle him (although it takes a while for the reader to get to know him enough to see that).  One of his semi-regular hook ups used to be Jared (from Promises) and he sets up Zach's ex Jonathon with Cole for a blind date as they both live in Phoenix, Arizona, at least some of the time.  The first date doesn't go well - Jonathon is very career driven and is on the phone a lot of the time (rude!) but they decide to try it again and then settle into a more-than-semi-regular hookup - eventually both stop sleeping with anyone else (not that they tell each other that at the time or anything - they both kind of independently decide to do it because they are satisfied with each other and don't want to look elsewhere - which was actually kind of nice if, perhaps, unconventional).  They fall in love and Cole is terrified - he doesn't believe he can be in a successful long term relationship.  I liked how I got to slowly get glimpses of Cole's fragility - because he is very fragile (I connected much better with him than with Angelo from A to Z, even despite this one being told in Jonathon's 1st person POV except for brief excerpts of emails from Cole to Jared at the beginning of each chapter). I liked how the story  seemed to slowly unfold - I say seemed to because it was only 153 pages long so it's not like it was an opus or anything, but something in the tone and voice made it seem like a slow reveal (but not at all boring).  I liked how I saw Jonathon grow and change (he was a bit of an asshat in The Letter Z so I had to have some time and space to change my view, as well as a reason to do so.  I found myself thinking about these characters long after I closed the book and I hope that Ms. Sexton will feature these guys in future books - maybe that means I'm not totally sold on the HEA?  I'm not sure, I certainly wanted to believe but Cole is so very fragile and their relationship was about to go into a whole new phase - so maybe it's just that I think there's more of the story to tell.    Anyway, I have definitely found a new m/m author - all four of the books I have read have been solid winners, especially this one.  Personally, I think reading them in order is best but I don't think it is necessary to read Strawberries for Dessert last - if you like dessert first, go right ahead!

On audio

Vision in White (Bride Quartet #1) by Nora Roberts, narrated by Emily Durante - A-.  I really enjoyed the novel and I enjoyed the audio too. The banter between the characters is the sort that I felt would work really well on audio with the right narrator. Emily Durante didn't have a great deal of pitch difference with the male characters but she caught the snap and sparkle and humour of the characters perfectly. I do love Carter Maguire! 

Bed of Roses (Bride Quartet #2) by Nora Roberts, narrated by Angela Dawe - B+. It's a toss up between Vision in White and this one (both in print and audio) as to which one is my favourite.
I still don't get quite what Emma went off the deep end about though. So he hadn't given her a key - they'd only been going out for 2-3 months. And she really didn't give him a chance to explain. When I really think about it, Emma had all these worries but she never spoke to Jack about them before that fight. I wondered if Jack did the turnaround a little quickly but then, I wasn't all that convinced there was anything to turn around - I didn't see him do all that much wrong. Anyway, the fact that I've analysed the characters and their responses just goes to show how engaged I was with the story which means it was a really good book.
I think I liked Emily Durante's narration slightly better than Angela Dawe's.

Bet Me by Jenny Crusie, narrated by Deanna Hurst - A+. This is my favourite Crusie (closely followed by Welcome to Temptation). Excellent in both paper and audio formats. I love Cal and Min! I was a bit worried that it was better in my memory than in reality but I needn't have been concerned.  The narrator picks up on the snark and the snappy humour of the characters and gets it just right I think.  Min is a plus sized heroine and Cal loves her just the way she is.  What's not to love?  (I'm fairly sure that only Jenny Crusie can make an actuary an interesting and wonderful romance heroine!).

High Noon by Nora Roberts, narrated by Susan Ericksen - B- Because Susan Ericksen narrates the In Death series also, I had some trouble with differentiating Phoebe from Eve Dallas and is it just me or did Liz Alberta sound suspiciously like Roarke?
It is, however, a million times better than the Lifetime movie... :)

Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh, narrated by Justine Eyre - B+.  Now I want to read the book too! I was a bit reluctant to listen to this one because I wasn't sure how the angels mythology in this book would fit with my own beliefs - but this world is not the Christian world and angels don't mean the same thing as they do in the Christian belief system so I didn't have any conflict thankfully.
Having got over that minor hurdle, I didn't have any trouble following the world building and got into the story pretty quickly.  Elena is a kick-ass heroine and Raphael isn't a pushover either.  It is oft-stated that he isn't human; he's an archangel but in my head, that doesn't mean much - is it just me?  I can't really imagine anything other than human, frankly....!!  Having said that, angel smex is hawt!!
My only slight dilemma was working out how angels wear shirts - do they have wing-holes?  Maybe my answer will be in the next book.
I'm looking forward to the next instalment of Raphael & Elena (in fact I'm listening to it now).


Chris said...

Whew! You got a lot of reading done. Nope, the characters in Beyond Reckless haven't been in anything else yet...

Sounds like things are horrific in Queensland. :(

Lori said...

Wow, a serious Mary Balogh glom! I admit, I've never been into her books. Not sure why.

And as unrealistic as they are, I do love the GFY books. You read a lot that have been on my TBR for a while now. Good incentive to get off my butt and read!