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What Janine is Reading, January through March of 2014

What Janine is Reading, January through March of 2014

Because most of the books I’ve read this year so far have been given the full-length review treatment, there are only two covered in detail in this column. My other reviews for this time period are linked at the bottom of this post.

Married for Christmas by Noelle AdamsMarried for Christmas by Noelle Adams

Back in December Kelly raved about this short book, which features a friends to lovers marriage of convenience between a computer programmer heroine and a pastor hero. I was drawn in by the premise, that although this book featured a hero who was a minister, it was not a Christian romance. I prefer books that don’t preach about Christianity, but at the same time I have a fondness for characters whose faiths are in evidence.

Marriage for Christmas is a simple story and for me the simplicity was both part of its charm but also occasionally a source of frustration.

Best friends Jessica and Daniel already love each other as friends when Jessica proposes that they marry to help Daniel secure the position of minister in their hometown. Daniel resists the idea at first, telling Jess he doesn’t plan on falling into romantic love again after the loss of his first wife. But Jessica wears him down with her explanation that she wants kids and their friendship-love will be enough for her. What Daniel doesn’t know is that Jessica has been in love with him for years.

The relationship development in this one is lovely and romantic. There is sex and it is sexy. though Jessica is a virgin which is unusual for her age and explained by her love for Daniel. Thankfully, Daniel is not a rake.

There is humor and it is funny, involving disagreements over Jessica’s dog. There is emotion as Jess gradually breaks down Daniel’s stubborn emotional barriers. These two are already friends so when Daniel tries to shut her out, it’s difficult for him to accomplish but also hurts Jessica. A good thing Jessica is even more stubborn than Daniel and there is a happy ending for this sweet couple.

Still, while I enjoyed the book I didn’t love it as much as Kelly did. One thing that bothered me was that there was a lot of emphasis in the story (mostly from Jess herself) on her lack of domestic skills like cooking. This struck me as a little too 1950s.

Another issue was that Daniel suffers a crisis of faith yet this seems to have no impact at all on his ability to do his job as a pastor. I didn’t find that believable.

I also wanted to know when Daniel first fell for Jess romantically, as well as when he realized it, but these questions were left unanswered. B-.

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jade-temptressThe Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin

I adored the first novel in this two book series, The Lotus Palace, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed The Jade Temptress as well. We have a great group review by Jayne, Sunita and Willaful. Sunita and Jayne gave this one a straight A and Willaful rated it a B+. My own grade is the same as Willaful’s but that still puts this book head and shoulders above most historical romances I’ve read recently.

The Jade Temptress takes place in Tang Dynasty (specifically 848 AD) China centers on the lovely, enigmatic and famed courtesan Mingyu, and on Wu Kaifeng, a strong, straightforward police constable.

When Mingyu stumbles on the dead and headless body of her “protector,” General Deng, she summons Kaifeng to the scene of the crime. As he investigates the murder, Kaifeng encounters again and again the woman who has secretly fascinated him since he arrested her the previous year.

Gradually—very gradually—Mingyu and Kaifeng get to know each other, but after a powerful bureaucrat obsessed with Mingyu crosses paths with them both, things come to a head on several fronts.

Mingyu falls into a type of heroine I really appreciate – the sort who may appear cold on the outside, but it’s because she’s walled off parts of herself that the hero can reach. I loved her elegance and wit, as well as her loyalty to herself and her appreciation of the value of her skills as much as I did her loyalty to Kaifeng and to her sister, Yue Ying.

Kaifeng is what some might call the strong, silent type. He doesn’t speak unless he has something important to say, and like Mingyu, he doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. In fact, he’s so solid and dependable partly because his emotional reactions are often more muted than those of other people, which makes it all the more moving when he recognizes his feelings.

The mystery is well-executed, with procedural elements like forensics and interesting clues.I would say the mystery aspect is handled better here than in The Lotus Palace, but for me, The Lotus Palace was more romantic.

The reason for the latter is this: I desperately wanted Mingyu and Kaifeng to share something of their past heartaches with each other earlier than they did. Neither of these two had an easy childhood and I wanted that to come to the surface of their relationship a bit more and a bit sooner than it did.

It takes three-quarters of the book for Kaifeng to open up to Mingyu about what he suffered, while Mingyu never shares her own painful past with him. It would have been out of character for Kaifeng or Mingyu to navel gaze or cry, and I would not have wanted that, but I did want a greater sense of emotional intimacy between them and just a little bit more in the way of shared confidences could have fulfilled that for me and edged the book into A level terrain. B+.

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Here are the other books I’ve reviewed between January and March:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones — B-

The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin — A-

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett — C+

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – A

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh — C-

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard (Joint review with Kaetrin) — C+/B- for me and B-/C+/B for Kaetrin

Reading List by Jennie for November and December

Reading List by Jennie for November and December

 

I also read and reviewed Addicted to You, Ricochet and Fallingand read The Luckiest Lady in London (review by Willaful; I gave it a slightly higher grade than she did, a B+).

babyitscold_200Baby, It’s Cold Outside by HelenKay Dimon

I’d never read this author but I must have come across this book in Daily Deals or somewhere cheap enough to tempt me to try her. I was influenced by the book blurb, which sounded vaguely old-school Linda Howard-ish, and the sort-of holiday theme hit the spot as well. The plot concerns a CEO and his assistant who hook up (very hotly, I might add); almost immediately after he discovers that she has been involved in passing company secrets to a rival (at least so he thinks), fires her and has her escorted off company property. From there the story unfolds in a rather typical old-fashioned way – he has second thoughts, goes to find her, discovers that there was a consequence to their tryst. I thought the writing and characterization were both kind of weak and gave it a C+.

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pictureThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I’ve only ever read The Importance of Being Earnest by Wilde, and liked it rather well; it was very funny. The Picture of Dorian Gray is of course, quite different, being really a sort of horror novel. The plot is familiar to most, but to summarize: Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man in London who makes an idle wish that the recently finished portrait of him ages in his stead. The wish is mysteriously granted. The horrifying part is not so much that the portrait ages in Gray’s place (though certainly the fear of aging is a theme in the story), but that Gray himself becomes more and more corrupt and evil, perhaps in part as a consequence of the fact that his dissipation never shows on his face or body. I thought this story was very effective psychological horror, and gave it a B+. The one quibble I had was that I think in real life being around people who speak constantly in epigrams and bon mots would be exhausting and actually really annoying after a while.

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book thief 2The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’m not sure what I expected from this book, but somehow I was left vaguely dissatisfied. I had heard of it for years but forgot until I started it that its conceit is that it’s narrated by Death. I found Death an irritating narrator at first and his constant interjections distracting. Eventually I did get used to the device, but it took maybe a quarter of the book. The story concerns Liesel Meminger, a young girl in Germany before and during World War II. It begins with Liesel traveling with her mother and brother to Molching, a town outside Munich. Her mother is giving her children up to foster care because she’s not able to take care of them. Liesel’s sick younger brother dies on the journey. It’s implied that her father, arrested earlier as a Communist, is already dead, and that her mother soon will be, arrested herself or done in by grief and loss. Liesel slowly fits in with her foster parents the Heubermanns – the kindly Hans and the stern (actually, stern is probably too faint a word; she’s really kind of abusive) but ultimately solid Rosa. She finds a place in the neighborhood, playing soccer with Rudy, her eventual best friend and first love, and the other neighborhood children. As war clouds gather, the Heubermanns make a dangerous decision that puts the whole family in jeopardy.

There was a lot I liked about The Book Thief – as I said, I eventually got used to the unusual prose style and actually came to appreciate it. I liked the characters – Death makes for an interesting narrator, skillfully balancing a sorrowful pity for the foibles of humans with an ironic and detached air. Liesel is lovely, tough and intelligent, Rudy is a charming partner in crime, and the Heubermanns are appealing as well, even Rosa who constantly insults her husband and Liesel. So what didn’t work? I guess I was expecting the book to work up to a denouement that was somehow more dramatically satisfying. Instead, it’s depressingly prosaic and honestly, just plain depressing. Somehow it didn’t feel right to me. My grade was a B.

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let'sLet’s Spend the Night Together by Pamela Des Barres

Long, long ago I read Des Barres’ groupie memoir I’m with the Band, and I’ve always remembered it with fondness. It’s a trashily entertaining depiction of the 1960s and 1970s rock star lifestyle from the point of view of one of the most famous groupies of the era, and details Des Barres’ tortured romances with, among others, Jimmy Page, as well as flings with Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger. (She was also Don Johnson’s girlfriend until he dumped her for a 14-year-old Melanie Griffith. Yuck.) This book covers a number of other groupies, both from Des Barres’ age of prominence and other eras, up to the present day. I had a couple of major problems with Let’s Spend the Night Together. The first was Des Barres’ prose style, which is godawful overwritten and flowery. I don’t remember having that issue before, but again, I read I’m with the Band back in the Paleozoic Age. The other issue is perhaps also a by-product of my advanced age: several of the stories are less entertainingly seamy and more just kind of gross. Despite protestations to the contrary (which are numerous and plentiful from a number of the subjects Des Barres interviewed and the author herself) groupiedom comes off as less like being a noble “band-aid” (ala Kate Hudson in Almost Famous), and more, well, pathetic. That isn’t true in all of the stories, but certainly a number of them, particularly the interviews with more contemporary groupies. I’m not sure if that’s because the ’60s and ’70s groupies are able to gild their reminiscences with the passage of time, or it really was a more innocent era (even given all the sex and drugs). I just know that some of the younger or current groupies seem troubled, beset by drug, mental health and self-esteem issues. It ended up kind of depressing to read about. I gave this a C.

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