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Remittance Girl

What Janine is Reading — April and May 2012

What Janine is Reading — April and May 2012

My hot reading streak in February and March turned into a reading slump in April. For a little while there, I couldn’t get more than a few pages into anything I picked up. I couldn’t even tell you guys what I tried to read at that time, because I didn’t make it far into anything and everything seemed forgettable.

Eventually I had enough of that and decided to try to see if I could revive my enthusiasm for reading by rereading books that had been hard to put down in the past. I picked two of my favorite Nalini Singhs, Caressed by Ice and Archangel’s Blade, and while neither one was as enjoyable as they’d been the first time around, they were still fun enough to restore my enthusiasm for reading.

Back in my reading groove, I read the following books:

Rainshadow Road Lisa KleypasRainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

This was my first full-length Kleypas in years (I really need to backtrack and read her Travis series sometime). I had read Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, but before that, nothing since Devil in Winter. Rainshadow Road, the story of a glass artist dumped by her boyfriend for her younger sister and a commitment-shy vintner, was enjoyable and different, though not perfect.

I liked the quirky community in which the story was situated. Details like the bikers and their church, the house being renovated, and the heroine’s brusque innkeeper friend, made this book come alive in a way that many contemporaries don’t manage to do for me. I agree with those who said that the magical realism was not always well-integrated into the story, and I also felt the romance itself was rushed. On the whole though, this book was quite enjoyable. C+/B-

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The Shape of Desire by Sharon ShinnThe Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

I have a hard time articulating why, but I couldn’t progress more than a chapter or two into this book, and I am a huge fan of Sharon Shinn’s earlier works. This happened to me once before with another of her books, Fortune and Fate. If I had to pin down a reason, I would say it has a lot to do with both the characters, and the lack of a strong plot hook.

The Shape of Desire, Shinn’s first urban fantasy, opens with a reunion between Maria and her boyfriend, the shape-changing Dante. Dante, we learn, has no control over his shape changing and for that reason his life and Maria’s are far from normal. For most of the time Dante roams the wild, and Maria worries about him. He can’t hold a normal job, and she can’t introduce him to her friends. We also see Maria with those friends, discussing relationships.

I liked the friends and their lunchtime away from work milieu, but I didn’t feel a connection to Maria or Dante. They were nice enough people, just not interesting. They had some problems, true, but these were not serious enough to make me feel I should care. According to the back blurb a string of murders would make their problems worse, but there was not enough ominous sense of that in the writing. Maria’s happiness that Dante had resurfaced made it hard for me to feel worried for them or even uneasy, so I put this down unfinished. DNF.

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Gaijin by Remittance GirlGaijin by Remittance Girl

Set in Japan, Gaijin is the story of an English waitress kidnapped and raped by a Japanese mobster. The novella focuses on Jennifer’s captivity and her struggle to survive it. We had an interesting discussion in the comment thread when I reviewed it. Some readers were offended by the idea of such a story, but I felt it examined the fascinating issue of cultural differences and ethnocentrism without in any way justifying or romanticizing rape. Despite feeling more like a slice-of-life vignette than a full-fledged story, Gaijin has stuck with me. Review here.

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This was an enjoyable enough Spice Brief from Harlequin, but it didn’t stay with me. The heroine who works on Wall Street, arrives at the hero’s Mexican resort for a brief getaway. He observes her plagued by the phone, sends her a drink at the bar, and later seduces her, all without saying a word. But why won’t he speak?

It was interesting to read a story with so little dialogue and I could almost hear the silence myself. The characters were sympathetic and likable, the writing lovely at times but awkward at other times. This was nice, but not memorable, especially when compared to Hancock’s post-apocalyptic romance novella Ghost in the Machine. Review here.

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Dancing on the Wind by Mary Jo PutneyDancing on the Wind by Mary Jo Putney

Recently I reread Putney’s Thunder and Roses, and though I didn’t enjoy it, I decided to see if I could reread the rest of the Fallen Angels series. After all, I used to love these books and also, they’ve been rereleased in electronic editions. It would be good to review them, or so I thought.

Dancing on the Wind is the second book in the series, featuring Lucien and Kit, who meet while he is investigating a group called the Hellions (modeled after the Hellfire Club) in search of a traitor and she is doing the same in order to find her sister’s kidnapper.

I’ve been reading this book for a month and so far I’m at the halfway point. The problem is that as Kit keeps disguising herself and Lucien finds her again and again, each time in a new identity, and each time without pinning down how to find her again, so their relationship is proceeding at a glacial pace. On the upside, I like them both better than I liked the protagonists of Thunder and Roses. Review to come when I finish, or give up on finishing.

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Moon Over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second book in Aaronovitch’s delightful urban fantasy/police procedural series about Peter Grant, a London constable investigating paranormal crimes. In this one Peter is faced with the death of a string of jazzmen, just as his musician father decides to resume his jazz playing career.

Meanwhile, Peter gets involved with the former girlfriend of one of the dead men, investigates the violent death of a magical practitioner, trades witty quips with his supervisor and makes snarky remarks about London architecture and history. This series is adorable. If you haven’t tried them yet, what are you waiting for? Midnight Riot is the first book. As for Moon Over Soho, the review can be found here.

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Overseas by Beatriz Williams

This time travel was, as Jane has said, nothing if not romantic, but at the same time, it felt like a flight of wish-fulfillment fantasy. The pages turned very quickly as I kept reading to get to the bottom of the mystery of what was keeping the protagonists apart. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time but at the end, was left wishing for a little more substance and grounding in the World War I era.

Part of the problem was that the hero was just too perfect – a viscount, a brilliant student, athletic, gorgeous, chivalrous, a wall street titan, and a poet of literary greatness as well? Where do they make them like this, except in women’s fantasies? With all that going for him, it was difficult to understand why he fell so hard for the heroine. Still, he was lovely, and I like a Cinderella story as much as the next person. The romanticism and sheer fun of this book isn’t to be denied. B.

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh BardugoShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

This historical fantasy set in an alternate Russia started off wonderfully. Alina, an orphan who was raised with her best friend Mal, is plucked from obscurity when it’s discovered that she is a Sun Summoner – the only person who can free her country from the dark and horrifying rift known as the Shadow Fold.

Separated from Mal and brought to the stronghold of the Grisha, powerful magic users, she is trained in using her abilities, a task made difficult by her own suppression of her gifts. Alina misses Mal horribly, and wonders if he’s forgotten about her, even as she’s drawn to the leader of the Grisha, a fascinating man known as the Darkling.

Bardugo has a very engaging voice and I was loving this book until two thirds of the way through when a turn was taken in the story that sucked a lot of the complexity out of it. I kept reading to the end, but wished this one thing could be undone because it was so disappointing and without it, the book could have been marvelous. Review here.

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Fire by Kristin CashoreFire by Kristin Cashore

Cashore’s follow-up to Graceling was less engaging than its predecessor. Whereas Katsa was an active character with a mission, Fire, the heroine of the novel of the same name, was more passive and aimless. True, she had interesting mental powers tied to her matchless beauty, a good backstory and a great deal of selflessness, but none of that was enough to make me turn the pages as fast as I did with Graceling, and reading the story made me feel melancholy and even morose. Cashore’s writing is lovely, but also has a youthful innocence to it that didn’t fit the subject matter well here. All in all, I could take or leave this one. C.

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Bitterblue by Kristin CashoreBitterblue by Kristin Cashore

This is the third book in the same YA fantasy series and I thought it was better than either Graceling or Fire. It’s the story of an eighteen year old queen trying to take control of her reign and heal her kingdom from the national trauma inflicted by her late father when he was king.

There’s also a romantic subplot — Bitterblue sneaks out at night and befriends two young men while pretending to be a baker girl. One of them is a thief whom she spies stealing one of her castle’s gargoyles. She starts to fall for him, but he doesn’t know who she really is and she doesn’t know if he’s an enemy of hers.

Bitterblue discovers in the process that someone is harming her kingdom’s “truthseekers,” people who want to uncover the truth about her father’s misdeeds, and there’s a mystery over who it is that is trying to suppress the truth and what that person has to hide.

The themes of truth vs. lies, memory vs. moving on, discoveries and concealments, and the healing power of storytelling were so well integrated into this book. The characters were sympathetic yet real and the mystery at the center of the plot was compelling. The melancholy was leavened with humor. It is one of the most impressive YA novels I’ve read. Review to come.

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What are you guys reading? If you’ve read any of the books I mention above, what did you think of them? And when you have reading slumps, what do you do to break out of them?

Reading List of What Dabney read in April and May

Reading List of What Dabney read in April and May

Modern Love by edited by Daniel JonesModern Love by edited by Daniel Jones

I’m a long-time fan of the New York Time’s Modern Love column. I recently picked up this book which is a collection of some of the best posts from the past fifteen years. Some of them will break your heart–the now famous ones by Ann Hood are almost too hard to read–and others remind you how great it is to be alive and connected to people you love. I really enjoyed them all. If I had to pick my favorite essays, I’d choose Abby Sher’s “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?,” Brendan Halpin’s “Dedicated to Two Women, Only One of Them Alive,” and Aylet Waldman’s infamous “Truly, Madly, Guiltily.”

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The Governess AffairThe Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

I adored this novella. I don’t love it quite as much as I love This Wicked Gift, published by Ms. Milan in 2009, but I really enjoyed it tremendously. I thought the heroine, hero, and their love story were all wonderful. The novella is a prequel to a new series by Ms. Milan called The Brothers Sinister, the first book of which, The Duchess Wars, is to be released this summer. I can’t wait. (You can read Jane’s review here.)

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Lucky in Love by Jill Shalvis  Lucky in Love by Jill Shalvis

This book was a fun read. It’s the first of a trilogy featuring three women who bond, in a storm, over chocolate. Just like the three sisters from Ms. Shalvis’s last trilogy, the women live in the tiny town of Lucky Harbor, Washington, where everyone knows everything about everybody and, just in case anyone missed anything, a octogenarian named Lucille publishes a steady stream of gossip on the town’s Facebook page. The heroine of this book, Mallory Quinn, is a good girl who falls for a (slightly) bad boy. He’s super hot, their romance is smokin’, and, as usual, Ms. Shalvis’s writing is often laugh out loud funny. One thing I like a lot about Ms. Shalvis’s work is how strong she makes the bonds between women. This is a story about a good girl falling for a bad boy, but it’s also the story of how Mallory and her two friends, Amy and Grace, support each other. All three books will be released this summer. The next one up, At Last, is Amy’s story. (Amy is the waitress at Lucky Harbor’s hilariously named Eat Me diner.)

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Rake with a Frozen Heart by Marguerite KayeRake with a Frozen Heart by Marguerite Kaye

I could barely get through this book. It’s a Regency with every trite cliché imaginable. There’s a virginal governess, a widowed rake who has vowed never to love again, a slutty villainess, a far-fetched plot, and way too much syrupy writing. It reminded me of the bad Regencies I read as a teen in the 1970′s.

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The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

All of Mr. Lang’s fairy books are free eBooks on Amazon; I’ve been paging through them and happily reading fairy tales. The “Coloured” Fairy Books were published between 1889 and 1910 and are filled with tales from different cultures and countries. My favorite story in the Blue book is “Toads and Diamonds” in which there are two sisters–a nice one and a mean one–both of whom are “cursed” by a fairy. Things do not go well for the cruel sister!

“Well, then, since you have so little breeding, and are so disobliging, I give you for a gift that at every word you speak there shall come out of your mouth a snake or a toad.”
So soon as her mother saw her coming she cried out:
“Well, daughter?”
“Well, mother?” answered the pert hussy, throwing out of her mouth two vipers and two toads.

I read many of Lang’s books when I was young and have really enjoyed sampling them again.

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Hot Island Nights by Sarah MayberryHot Island Nights by Sarah Mayberry

I so loved Ms. Mayberry’s latest (my review is here), I’ve been gobbling up her earlier books. Thus far I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Hot Island Nights , Hot for Him, She’s Got it Bad (I love the bad girl heroine of this one! Jayne’s review is here.) and Take on Me. Ms. Mayberry has been reviewed here at DA positively several times and there’s a reason for that. Her books are engaging, moving, and sexy. I’m looking forward to reading her next one, Within Reach, which comes out this August.

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The End of Wasp Season by Denise Mina  The End of Wasp Season by Denise Mina

I’ve been a fan of Scottish mystery writer Denise Mina ever since I read her gripping and deeply depressing debut, Garnethill. She’s written two stellar earlier trilogies; The End of Wasp Season is the second book in her third. This trilogy features a detective mom, Alex Morrow. In this book, Alex is trying to figure out who brutally murdered an upper-class woman in Glasgow. Ms. Mina is extraordinarily good at creating a sense of place in her work and, in this novel, modern-day Scotland leaps off the page. I like all of her books, but my favorite is her stand-alone, Deception. If you’re looking for a psychological thriller you’ll think about long after you’ve finished it, check it out. It’s really good.

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Gaijin by Remittance GirlGaijin by Remittance Girl

After reading Janine’s review, I felt compelled to read this. I’m glad I did. I found it compelling. I didn’t exactly like it–it left me feeling unsettled–but this story of a British girl taken as a sexual slave by a Japanese mafioso was fascinating, well-written, and thought-provoking. I read it in one sitting.

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