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Reading Lists

Reading/Watching List by Jayne for the last few weeks

Reading/Watching List by Jayne for the last few weeks

My PlanetMy Planet by Mary Roach

From acclaimed, New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach comes the complete collection of her “My Planet” articles published in Reader’s Digest. She was a hit columnist in the magazine, and this book features the articles she wrote in that time. Insightful and hilarious, Mary explores the ins and outs of the modern world: marriage, friends, family, food, technology, customer service, dental floss, and ants—she leaves no element of the American experience unchecked for its inherent paradoxes, pleasures, and foibles.

Since these articles were written for Reader’s Digest, they’re the perfect length for tucking into those small reading times you might have throughout the day. Roach often features her husband in them giving a view on modern, middle aged married life. Though the title has Planet, note that she’s usually looking more at the American view of America. B

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Meet Me At the Castle by Denise A. AgnewMeet Me at the Castle by Denise A Agnew

A ruined castle, a young woman’s obsession, an alluring and mysterious man. The past and present are about to collide in Meet Me At the Castle, Denise A. Agnew’s haunting tale of passion and romance. Nothing will ever be the same again!

Elizabeth Albright lives a simple life at Penham Manor under the watchful and disapproving eye of her father and stepmother. They think she’s odd for loving to paint Cromar Castle, a ruin on the hill. Even Elizabeth doesn’t understand why she insists on painting the structure over and over. Yet her compulsion demands it—there is something alive and beautiful about the castle that she cannot resist. When she meets the devilishly handsome Damian, more than her interest is piqued, for he engages her like no other has. But her stepmother has plans that will take her away from Cromar—and Damian—forever.

Marykate wrote a review on this earlier which is what made me want to give it a try. Unfortunately I found it rather stiff and melodramatic. Elizabeth’s obsession with the castle is, quite frankly, almost freaky. And while her father and stepmother might not understand it and handle the situation badly, I found myself almost agreeing with their motivation. I shouldn’t expect to be sympathizing with villains in a romance. I skimmed – a lot – to it. D

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always rayneAlways Rayne by Sierra Avalon

Would you spend ten days traveling the country with someone you despised if he promised to pay off your student loans?
Recent college graduate, Harper Leigh, can barely make ends meet working as the books editor for a new online entertainment magazine, Chatter. With $85,000 of student loan debt about to go into repayment, she has no idea how she’ll get by.

Just when she thinks things couldn’t get worse, Harper’s boss decides to embed her in the North American tour for the hot rock band, Always Rayne. Ten days on the road with the band for her to get an exclusive story. But Harper’s a homebody and the last thing she wants to do is go on the road with a rock band. And she definitely doesn’t want to spend ten days with the notorious bad boy and band front man, Nic Rayne.

When Nic proves to be too much for Harper to handle and she threatens to quit the assignment, Nic decides to sweeten the pot. If she stays with the tour for all ten days, he’ll pay off all of her student loan debt….but there’s one small catch.

Harper also has to sleep in his bed every night.

I wanted to like this one. I really did. The idea of a smart heroine who isn’t fazed, who in fact is turned off, by the hero’s fame x with incentive to pay off her debts sounded like an interesting conflict. The first chapter or two were this, what I was expecting and wanting.

Then it began to slip into a Mary Sue heroine who is beautiful under her Hippy Library Chick clothes x moody, angsty rock star hero who is desperately searching for his intellectual mate and thinks he’s immediately found her after a 5 minute conversation.

Everyone including the hero tells the heroine that he loves her, wants her and she’s The One for him but the supposedly intelligent heroine remains clueless to her beauty and The One-ness for ages.

Plus there’s enough one night sex hookups going on among the three band members (one of the duties of the manager/gofer is to get the girls they hook up with post-concert to sign non disclosure contracts before the sexing) – including the hero even after he’s found the heroine – to make me want to wear a hazmat suit while reading it.

But wait – the emo hero really, really loves the heroine. Maybe but this was coming off as way to close to teenage fanfiction for me to continue.

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monsoon mistsMonsoon Mists by Christina Courtenay

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought…

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled past – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

In India he starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”. Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

But when it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot, he begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

I was excited to try this novel as I’d been eyeing this author’s works at Choc Lit for a while. Historical India and historical Japan? Yay rah and bring it. Unfortunately this one doesn’t work for me.

Jamie starts out with my sympathy. “Something” awful has happened in his past personal life and while I don’t know what it is, I’m ready to root for him. Until he starts acting like an ass from the moment he meets Zarmina. He takes her don’t mess with me attitude as a personal affront and gets all “how dare she judge all men, how dare she act all haughty, I’m going to put her in her place.” It’s like reading modern male gamers views of “uppity women.” Okay so it’s probably actually period correct – and there are other men who have derogatory or dismissive views of Zarmina as well – but here’s the hero acting like this. And it’s only when another male has filled Jamie in on why Zarmina might have the right to act as she does that he admits maybe he was too quick to judge her.

Can he be turned around in my opinion? At the 40% point, no and skimming forward he didn’t seem to improve much.

Zarmina thinks her mixed race blood helps her deal with Indian weather. Really? The attitudes of the English about her living in England are also sadly probably period correct. She’s okay for India but don’t bring the half-caste home. I do really get a feel for her aloneness and fear of how her stepson could order her around and ruin her life. I can’t blame her for wanting to hang on to her agency – being a widow in control of her money – for as long as she can. I was disappointed that we get the “widow who’s only had bad sex” trope leading to the “hero’s sexing is the bestest” trope.

The set-up for the criminal plot that brings Jamie to Surat is convoluted and seemingly unnecessarily complicated to say the least. I have lots of questions about what the heck is going on.

The Indian ruler comes off as a buffoonish clown. But then we’ve only seen him from the POV of someone who obviously hates him. Jamie’s Indian mentor has to be saved by the white man. Grrr.

Lots of detail. There’s a wealth of detail here and I can’t tell lots of effort when into finding it and utilizing it. But in places I have to ask, why? It’s an interesting tidbit that Surat had two city walls and what their names were but is it relevant to the story? No.

I continued to past the 40% point and after skimming some, didn’t see things improving much so sadly I called it quits.

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TheDuplicitousDebutanteSideThe Duplicitous Debutante by Becky Lower

In 1859, ladies of New York society were expected to do three things well: find a husband, organize a smooth-running household, and have children.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick’s agenda is very different. As the author of the popular Harry Hawk dime novels, she must hide her true identity from her new publisher, who assumes the person behind the F. P. Elliott pen name is male. She must pose as his secretary in order to ensure the continuation of her series. And in the midst of all this subterfuge, her mother is insisting that she become a debutante this year.

Henry Cooper is not the typical Boston Brahmin. Nor is he a typical publisher. He’s entranced by Mr. Elliott’s secretary the moment they meet, and wonders how his traditional-thinking father will react when he brings a working class woman into the family. Because his intentions are to marry her, regardless.

Rosemary’s deception begins to unravel at the Cotillion ball, when Henry recognizes her. The secretarial mask must come off, now that he knows she is a member of New York society. But she can’t yet confess who she truly is until she knows if Henry will accept her as F. P. Elliott.

The more time they spend together, the closer they become. But when Rosemary reveals her true identity to him, will Henry be able to forgive her or has her deceit cost her the man she loves?

This is another submission made to DA and again, I wanted to like it due to the fact that it’s got an author heroine. Alas, it was not to be as I felt there is some awkward exposition in the first two chapters about debuts and female writers. Reading Amazon reviews of other books in this series, it seems like this is an ongoing issue for Lower. The next chapter features a family dinner scene that has more than a whiff of modernity to it but I gritted my teeth and kept going.

Sadly, once the hero and heroine meet, the book sunk into a haze of lustful daydreams wherein Henry and Rosemary’s thoughts always drifted into passionate kisses, caresses, skin, lips, hair being let loose over breasts, etc, etc. Every third page these two float off into blissful contemplation of the others attributes only to shake themselves back into the present. I made it to the 1/3 mark and realized I was skimming to get that far.

Please note that each chapter starts with a header from Rosemary’s latest novel and while the plot and the way the characters are handled are probably period correct, they would be deemed offensive to NA/American Indians today.

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black widow witchBlack Widow Witch by A.J Locke

A deadly curse, a dangerous assassin, and one shot to save everyone she loves…
Malachi Erami can’t fall in love. After she’s caught with Knave, the witch Queen’s favorite lover, she’s cursed to savagely butcher any man she falls for. Exiled to live among humans, Malachi runs a bar that serves magic-laced drinks, but since her curse labels her high risk, she’s also closely monitored. Julian Vira is her latest babysitter, but he’s also the first man since Knave that she’s been attracted to. Good-looking and nonjudgmental of her horrible curse? Yeah, he’s hard to resist.

But when Malachi finds a body behind her bar, she knows she’s in trouble. If the Witches Control Council gets wind of it, she’ll be accused of murder and sent to her death. And when her friends start getting framed for murder, she realizes she’s not the only target. Malachi and Julian dig into the evidence to clear her name, but the closer they get to answers, the closer the curse comes to taking over. So when Malachi uncovers a plot to kill the witch Queen, she finds herself suddenly recruited into service, with the promise of having her curse lifted and a reunion with Knave as well. But if she fails, Knave will die. And she and Julian might not live long enough to see that happen.

I saw in our submissions section and thought, hey that looks interesting. Heroine who is cursed to rip apart any man she’s interested in? Yeah, that’s a definite issue that she’d have to work out to be a couple. Then I start it and it drags and drags and drags with tons of backstory. Her story, the backstory of all the witches she hangs with, a usual night at her bar, etc. Did I mention there’s a lot of initial backstory?

Then she is worried about being set-up due to the hatred humans have for witches and she needs to keep the ripped apart body found behind her bar a secret. So does she keep it to herself? No, she tells about 5 people within 12 hours. Most witches but then she also mentions there’s a witch snitch among the witch population in NYC so how secret will this remain? Less so now that she’s blabbed, I bet.

She also gets a new WCC minder – I took this to be like a probation officer. One of her dear friends is hauled in on possible murder charges and she charges down to the station because she just knows the woman is innocent. What is she going to do at the WCC? Well, just tell her minder that she just knows the woman is innocent and then … dunno.

So she heads out to investigate and who shows up at the same place but her minder. Why is he there if this isn’t his case? He saw the woman and thought she looked sweet and innocent. Ted Bundy looked innocent, too. Yeah, it’s great he believes in the woman’s innocence but really?

At this point, over 1/4 of the way into the book I looked at my ereader, sighed at the thought of reading anymore and said, I’m done here.

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Delhi BellyDelhi Belly

Three young and somewhat clueless flatmates get involved in the shady and dangerous business belonging to one roomie’s fiancee. Each buddy manages to make things worse until they discover that a global crime syndicate is gunning for them.

When I finished this I thought it’s “Cohn brothers go to India.” But note this is not a Bollywood film as it has no song and dance set pieces. It’s a strict action/comedy with a romance thread running through it. Also note that if you liked Monsoon Wedding, Vijay Raaz (who played the wedding planner) has the role of the gangster villain here.


The No 1 LadiesThe No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I just started this series and am enjoying it so far. Precious Ramotswe is a marvelous character as a woman with big dreams and the guts to go after them. Her typist Mma Makutsi and potential romance Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni back her efforts to become a successful private investigator in Botswana but most importantly, helper of those in need. One of the sweetest parts of the initial story is how Precious’s father helps her to “see” the world around her and gifts her with the “capital” she needs to get started. I need to get back to this one soon.



the shadow of the towerThe Shadow of the Tower

I reported on this before when I was halfway through the early 1970s British series on Henry VII and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The second half was a bit slower and spent a lot – and I mean a LOT – of time showing Henry dealing with all the pretenders to the crown. It’s really only in the last show that we get back to more about the family itself and see Arthur marry and die thus setting the stage for Henry VIII and his marital issues. In sets, the series is obviously a product of its time but I enjoyed it nonetheless.


The ArtistThe Artist

Winner of five Oscars, this artful black-and-white silent film follows the romance between a silent-era superstar on a downward spiral and a rising young starlet who embraces the future of cinema at the dawn of the “talkies.”

This was on my radar ever since Roger Ebert gave it such a great review but for some reason I kept moving other DVDs ahead of it in my Netflix queue. Big mistake on my part. It stars two wonderful French actors – the hot and sexy Jean Dujardin and the impish Bérénice Bejo plus a darling Jack Russell terrier. I happen to like silent films but if you don’t think you do, please don’t let that put you off. The acting style is modern and it’s easy to follow the plot.

What Janine is Reading and Watching in Midsummer 2014

What Janine is Reading and Watching in Midsummer 2014

Gosh, it’s been forever since I’ve done one of these lists. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

gilded lilyGilded Lily by Delphine Dryden

I like steampunk and I’ve heard good things about Dryden’s Steam and Seduction series, so I decided to give Gilded Lily a try. The premise of the story is that the aristocratic heroine, Frederique aka Freddie, has a secret identity as a mechanic of sorts, and her butler masquerades alongside her to make sure she doesn’t come to harm.

Barnabas, our hero, hails from North America which in this world is an extension of Britain. Barnabas’ brother was a spy for Freddie’s father, a spymaster, and he disappeared. Rumor has it that was due to addiction issues, but Barnabas does not believe this rumor, so he volunteers to do espionage work for Freddie’s father as well.Unfortunately, the spymaster wants Barnabas to first prove himself—by following Freddie and reporting on what she gets up to.

Barnabas tries, but Freddie realizes immediately what he’s doing. They strike a deal—she’ll allow him to tag along if he doesn’t interfere with whatever she wants to do. Meanwhile, there are mysterious goings on involving other disappearances, a submersible, and a dangerous gangster, who may or may not be involved with Barnabas’ brother.

The characters are likable and the world fairly well-developed. I was also glad there was no instalust, but rather, that Freddie and Barnabas only gradually discovered their attraction. But I’ve been stuck at the 24% mark and I don’t feel compelled to read on. The reason is an absence of romantic conflict.

What I mean by this is that there’s no hint of anything that will keep these characters apart down the line, or even cause bumps in their road to romance. There’s external plot conflict aplenty, but at this point it affects Barnabas’ relationship with his brother, and Freddie’s relationship with her father, far more than their own relationship. Without a romantic conflict, the relationship feels perfectly nice, but not that interesting to read about. I may continue, or it may stay a DNF.

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Prisoner Lia SilverPrisoner by Lia Silver

Jane recently reviewed this paranormal romance, in which marine and werewolf DJ Torres (a hero who happens to be Filipino) is captured by a secret government group and held in their hidden facility in the middle of the desert. The agency wants to study DJ and threaten him into acting as their assassin. DJ’s wounded friend Roy is held elsewhere and he will be killed if DJ doesn’t cooperate.

The agency already has one assassin, Echo, whom they use in a similar way. Echo was genetically engineered by the organization as was her sister Charlie. But Charlie is being kept alive by medical treatments the secret organization provides and if Echo ceases to cooperate the agency will withhold Charlie’s treatments.

For this reason, Echo foils DJ’s escape attempt. But although she has tried to harden her heart and numb her feelings to survive her situation, she can’t help liking DJ. The organization is a common enemy to them both, but one that has the power to set them at cross purposes, so Echo fears trusting DJ and becoming involved with him.

As a werewolf, DJ needs to be touched and to feel connected, and he is attracted to Echo. Neither of them realizes the other’s feelings for a long time, and I liked the slow build up. I also really appreciated the absence of fated mates from the worldbuilding. And while DJ’s need for physical contact is nothing new in werewolf romance, I liked that the emphasis here wasn’t on sexual need, but on trust and affection.

Echo’s character was a little less well-developed. Her childhood sounded sterile, and there was little information given on which adults raised her and Charlie. Considering the people who ran the program were creepy and cold, it was amazing (and a little less than fully believable) that she and Charlie turned out as well as they did. Still, I enjoyed this romance, and the nice meta-humor that was sprinkled through the book via Charlie’s hobby of romance reading.

Prisoner is only part one of a three-part storyline, but I give it a B-.

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Night’s Slow Poison by Ann Leckie

Night’s Slow Poison, a short story available free of charge on Tor.com, provides another angle into Leckie’s world of the Imperial Radch. The science fiction story is written in third person and narrated by Inarakhat Kels, a security guard aboard a ship from the planet of Ghaon which is crossing a part of space known as the Crawl, which only the Ghaonians know how to navigate. The navigation techniques are a closely guarded secret which protects the planet from colonization.

Boarding the ship at the story’s beginning is Awt Emnys from the Gerentate, the grandson of an important Ghaonish matriarch who seeks to meet his illustrious grandmother. The Ghanoians aboard the ship, Kels included, know that the matriarch isn’t likely to give her non-Ghaonish grandson the time of day. Kels himself has been rejected by the upper classes of his world, to which he once belonged. Complicating the situation are Kels’ feelings for Awt Emnys, feelings driven by Awt Emnys’ resemblance to a girl Kels once loved.

For such a short story (around 6000 words), Night’s Slow Poison packs in a lot of elements. The worldbuilding includes ethnographic, sociological and mythic elements, and even a hint of romanticism and sentiment. It’s not a feel-good story though, and I’m not sure if readers who haven’t read Ancillary Justice will understand all the implications of the ending. Still, Leckie’s command of the short form is good, even if not at the stellar heights of the novel writing virtuosity she showed with Ancillary Justice. As short stories go, I’d give this one a B.

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And now, moving on to what has been on my TV screen:

game of thronesthPRCXYI02Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 1 – “Winter is Coming”

So, after multiple recommendations from a good friend, I finally decided to start watching Game of Thrones. Hold my hand, readers, I’m scared! In the first episode alone we have murder by way of dismemberment, execution by way of decapitation, conspiracy by way of incest, acquiring an army by way of forcing your young sister to marry against her wishes and be raped on her wedding night, and getting rid of an eyewitness by way of shoving a small child from a tall tower.

I’m not yet terribly taken with any merits this show might have, but I’ve heard from a couple people that it will get much better (yet worse) if I keep watching.



americansThe Americans, Season 1, Episode 1 – “Comrades”

Now this show is more like it, at least the first episode. In this early 1980s-set series, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play a seemingly all-American suburban DC married couple named Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. In reality they are deep cover Soviet operatives, but even their two kids don’t realize this, nor do Philip and Elizabeth know each other’s real names and backstories, even after a decade and a half in America.

Philip is in love with his wife, likes the US, and dreams of defecting, but Elizabeth is deeply loyal to the USSR and doesn’t return Philip’s feelings. This conflict comes to a head when they capture a Kremlin operative who defected and whom a disguised Elizabeth seduced as part of the capture assignment, but fail to deliver him to the ship that was to take him to Russia on time. Now the government is on alert, so Elizabeth and Philip hide this man in the trunk of their car.

The captured man offers them millions if they free him, defect, and reveal all they know about secret Soviet operations in the US. Philip is tempted, but Elizabeth would rather kill the man. Philip doesn’t know it, but long ago, when she was a cadet in Russia, the man raped her.

I will not reveal what happens, but despite the fact that we know there would be no show if they were exposed or if they defected in this first episode, “Comrades” manages to be taut and suspenseful, as well as romantic. The acting is strong and so is the plotting. The 1980s soundtrack is also a nice touch. I’m interested in seeing where  this show goes.


outlanderPOutlander, Season 1, Episode 1—”Sassenach”

I must be one of the few in Romancelandia who was not a fan of the book (I quit around page 750) , but I decided to give the first episode a chance because I did like some of writer-producer Ron Moore’s earlier work, most notably on Battlestar Galactica.

What I liked:

(1) Catriona Balfe as Claire. I felt that the actress captured Claire’s better qualities, like her interest in medicine and her desire to make her marriage to Frank work, while minimizing the knowing smugness of the book’s Claire. The English accent and period clothing also helped make Claire a more persuasive character—I never bought her as a 1940s Englishwoman in the book, and I still don’t entirely, but she convinced me a bit better here.

(2) The cinematography. The show had a great look partly due to the landscape of Scotland, where it was filmed.  The only scene that looked cheesy to me was the one where the druids danced at the standing stones.

The jury is still out on:

(1) Whether the show can make me care about its eighteenth century Scottish world—because honestly Claire’s relationship with Frank was interesting enough that I’d rather it stayed in the 1940s.

(2) Sam Heughan as Jamie. To be fair to Heughan, he doesn’t have that much screen time in“Sassenach.” He looks the part (gorgeous), but so far the character doesn’t have much in the way of complexity. Eye candy is nice but not enough by itself to sustain my interest. I’m hoping for some added depth from the writing and Heughan’s performance as the series continues.

My conclusion after watching the first episode is that while I still don’t love the storyline, I’ll probably tune in to the second episode.