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What Janine is Reading in the First Half of 2013

Readers, I feel I owe you an apology. It is June as I write this, and I have not done a single one of these reading list posts since last year! Perhaps the title of this post should be “What Janine Has Not Read in 2013″ because I feel I have to be missing out on some of the good 2013 books. Or maybe it should be “What Janine Managed to Finish Reading in 2013.” I had a lot of DNFs I didn’t list here because I didn’t get far enough to write much about them. If you have recommendations of books you loved which were published this year, shoot ‘em my way, please.

In addition to the ten or so books I’ve reviewed this year, here’s what else I read in 2013:

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Not Proper Enough by Carolyn Jewel

This sexy historical (reviewed here by Dabney) was all about hero Marquess of Fenris’s pursuit of the widowed Ginny, whom he had mocked as a girl before she married his friend. Ginny resisted, and resisted, and resisted. Fenris, in his longing for her, was very appealing, Jewel’s writing was lovely as always, and some of the sex was hot.

So why didn’t I love this one? Because Ginny’s ambivalence toward Fenris was not sufficiently supported in the text. Her reasons for refusing him were repeated, but not really explored. I wanted to understand them better, and as the book went on the conflict began to feel like it was being dragged out. Also, at some point, the sex began to seem like filler to me. I wanted more development of their relationship outside the bedroom. This one gets a C+.

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Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

This Regency which Jennie liked much better than I did dealt with an arranged marriage in which the husband abandoned and cheated on his wife. It was very readable and angsty, but I ended up feeling that the characters fell in love with each other because the plot required it, not because they knew each other. The heroine’s helpless feelings for her cad of a husband were particularly inexplicable.

I felt that the hero, Gil, was so immature he would likely never man up. Even at the end of the book, he had to be prodded into reuniting with Rose (the heroine) by a third party. Yes, the book wrung tears for me and I appreciated its willingness to revisit 1990s tropes (I loved that era of angsty historical) but I needed more growth than I got from Gil’s character. C.

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Declaration of Courtship
by Nalini Singh

This novella appeared in Singh’s anthology Wild Invitation, along with two older novellas and a new story about Walker and Lara which I still need to read. Declaration of Courtship is about the powerful attraction between the dominant SnowDance lieutenant Cooper and the very submissive Grace. Both are wolf changelings, but their places in the hierarchy make the courtship a difficult one. Though Grace is intensely attracted to Cooper, her wolf is terrified of him.

As usual, Singh sets up a strong conflict here and kept me turning the pages easily. Still, I ended up less enchanted with the novella than I am with most of her novels. I liked both characters but I was annoyed by the fact that Grace’s timidity only existed due to her place in the hierarchy. Had Grace had a traumatic experience with a dominant wolf, like Anna in Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, this would have been more successful. As it was, I was conscious of the fact that the changeling world had been set up in such a way as to make Grace afraid of Cooper, but we’d never see a reversal of that – a male protagonist who feared the dominance of the woman with whom he was paired. C+.

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The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

I finally got around to reading this one this spring, and then I kicked myself for not reading it sooner. In this one, Minerva Lane, a young lady with a secret that could ruin her threatens to expose a duke whose clandestine worker-organizing activities she has erroneously come under suspicion for. Robert Blaisdell, that duke, offers to solve her problem by pretending to court her publicly and thus ensuring that she make a successful marriage.

After reading The Duchess War and The Governess Affair, I’m in awe of the way Milan crafts her conflicts, as well as the way she makes her heroines so sympathetic and yet so real. Jayne commented that there was too much mystery around the heroine’s background, and I should note that I had read a spoiler so I knew Minnie’s secret before I read the book. This may have enhanced my reading experience; I really can’t know since I can’t read it without knowing the spoiler.

Sunita made some good points in her review about the ignorant nature of the hero’s activism. I understand why this bothered Sunita, but it didn’t bother me much. Instead, I found the couple and their courtship endearing, and I loved the novel’s climactic courtroom scene. B+.

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A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

Years before the main story begins, Lydia was impregnated by a cad and lost her baby due to a doctor’s dangerous medical advice. She does not know what led to her miscarriage, but Jonas, then the doctor’s assistant, does. So when Jonas falls in love with Lydia all those years later, that truth becomes an obstacle, as does Lydia’s resistance—she is sure Jonas believes he can treat her with less than full respect because he is one of the few who knows about her out of wedlock pregnancy.

This novella (reviewed by Dabney) isn’t just about Jonas overcoming Lydia’s resistance – which he does via a wager that if she accompanies him on three visits to his patients, he will stop his pursuit of her. It is also about bringing the truths to life, truths about the human heart, and the human body.

Jonas and Lydia were both sympathetic, and their courtship was moving, I was touched by the way they slowly opened up to each other, and by Lydia’s very gradual (after a lot of denial, some of which was frustrating) realization of her feelings. There were times when the message this novella delivered felt heavy-handed, but I loved the sense of community and the wintry atmosphere. B.

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Big Boy by Ruthie Knox

This is a novella that seems to be many readers’ favorite Knox but for me it lacked the buoyancy of some of her other works. I liked the premise of characters who meet at a train museum on anonymous dates where they role play characters from past decades. The narrator’s love interest, who suggested this, seemed like an oddball at first and while that, as well as his aloofness, did not completely appeal to me, I didn’t like how easily these were waved away (A point Sunita also made in her review). The heroine’s backstory had much potential but wasn’t explored.

In this story, the heroine becomes the mother of her late sister’s baby and this changes her life completely, but the story is set after she has already fallen in love with her new son. As with Kleypas’ introductory Friday Harbor novella, I wished the story had covered the adoption itself, because the adjustment process to being a new parent when you weren’t expecting to become one (as well as while grieving a sibling) seems so much more interesting to me than a romance that comes afterward. C/C+

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

12 Comments

  1. Liz H.
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 11:53:50

    Wow. You pegged my reactions to all of those. (Except the Knox and Duchess War, which I haven’t read yet.) Feels like you’ve been reading over my shoulder.

    I was particularly disapointed by Chambers. It was a solid C, but I really enjoyed her first book and was hoping for continuing improvement, but felt it went backwards a bit.

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  2. Janine
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 12:03:25

    @Liz H.: That’s cool. Do you have a blog or a Goodreads account? I am always looking for recommendations from readers whose reactions are in tune with mine.

    I haven’t read Joanna Chambers’ first book but she has an interesting sounding m/m historical series coming out soon. I was thinking I may give the first of those a whirl.

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  3. Stephanie Scott
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 12:39:40

    Courtney Milan made me like regency and victorian era historical romance. which I was barely interested in before. Her characters and the storytelling are just superb.

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  4. Janine
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 12:56:23

    @Stephanie Scott: Milan’s first couple of books didn’t do that much for me but I eat her more recent stuff with a spoon. Her writing has grown a lot in a few years and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

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  5. Tanya
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 14:17:46

    I have a Milan in one of my e-readers but I’m not tempted to read it just yet. It’s coming though. I feel it. I am reading mostly YA and non-fiction right now, but nothing has blown my hair back in a few months, or I’d send a rec.

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  6. Janine
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 14:50:26

    @Tanya: Thanks Tanya. I’m rereading Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold right now in preparation for the second Wyckerley trilogy review, so at least there’s that.

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  7. MaryK
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 15:03:51

  8. Janine
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 15:08:25

    @MaryK: Cool! You know I love that Ben Aaronovitch series. Not sure if I’ll watch the TV show, because when I love a book, I rarely enjoy the film version.

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  9. Willaful
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 15:32:18

    @Janine: I was just about to recommend [EDIT] Chamber’s new one to you — it also uses some older tropes, somewhat intriguing in the m/m context. I agree with you about Unforgivable.

    I’ve been dying to read Not Proper Enough but just can’t bring myself to pay $8 for an ebook….

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  10. Janine
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 15:42:47

    @Willaful: Do you mean Chambers’ new one? Or does Susanna Fraser have an m/m too?

    I’m really sympathetic on ebook prices since these days I find it hard to justify spending $7.99 on an ebook even if it’s one I really want to read. Carolyn Jewel has talked about doing more self-publishing in the future. I expect chances are those e-books will be more affordable.

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  11. Willaful
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 15:48:05

    @Janine: D’oh! I meant Chambers. I keep mixing their names up for some reason, though not their books. Fraser’s new book is m/f but interracial historical!

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  12. Janine
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 15:57:19

    @Willaful: Well, they debuted around the same time, write out of the box historicals, and are published by ebook only publishing houses. So it’s perfectly understandable to me. Especially when you throw in the similar sounding first names Joanna and Susanna!

    It’s good to hear you liked Chambers’ m/m. I want to try that Fraser too, since I don’t come across many interracial regencies.

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