Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Reading List by Jennie for April and May

Tangle of Need by Nalini SinghTangle of Need by Nalini Singh

This series is becoming a bit like the J.R. Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood series for me: I continue to read the books even though they irritate me quite a bit. I will say that the BDB books are at least 50% more ridiculous, but that’s more a reflection of how ridiculous those books are rather than the Psy/Changeling series’ non-ridiculousness. Epic joint review with Janine here.

AmazonBNSonyKobo

 


jenny-lawson-lets-pretend-this-never-happenedLet’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Better known as The Bloggess, because, um, she has this blog, Lawson’s written a “mostly true” memoir detailing her unconventional childhood, adventures in taxidermy (an enthusiasm/profession of her father’s), her current life with her husband and daughter in West Texas, and struggles with depression, severe social anxiety and rheumatoid arthritis. Entertaining, funny and an easy read, but I’ve discovered I prefer this author in fairly small doses. (One of my favorite posts by her can be found here.)

AmazonBNSonyKobo


Sons and Lovers by D.H. LawrenceSons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

This is the first book I’ve read by Lawrence. I would’ve gone with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but I was limited by what was available through Kindle for free. It’s okay, I guess. I’ll steal this blurb from Wikipedia to encapsulate the story: “Semi-autobiographical…an evocative portrayal of working-class life in a mining community, but also an intense study of family, class and early sexual relationships.” My uncultured take would be that it’s about the clash between high-minded ideals and the drudgery of daily living, with a fair amount of angst centered around base earthly appetites (specifically, lust) which at the time had to be dressed up (as undefined “passions”) rather than addressed head-on.

AmazonBNSonyKobo


Game of Thrones by George R.R. MartinGame of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I got into the HBO miniseries rather late, watching the first season after it had ended its initial run. I was pretty absorbed by it (as I have been by the second season), and had heard good things about the books, so I picked the first one up. So far, it’s okay (it’s taking me a long time to read), but it suffers a bit for the fact that I’ve already seen on screen everything that is happening or about to happen in the book. Maybe I’ll be more involved once I get past that part (I’m not sure when that’ll be, though). I’m mostly in it for Daenerys, whom I LOVE.

AmazonBNSonyKobo


Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy SchiffCleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Popular, Pulitzer-prize winning biography. Pretty good stuff. I often find bios of people who lived before, say, the 19th century lacking a bit, simply because of the dearth of reliable and detailed information about their lives. This is the case with Cleopatra, obviously, but I have to say Schiff does a good job with what she has to work with. She includes interesting details about what *was* known of life at that time, and presents various perspectives on the notorious queen with enough background to let the reader know if the source needs to be taken with a grain of salt (as most of them do). Worth reading.

AmazonBNSonyKobo


Deadlocked by Charlaine HarrisDeadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Review to come. I think I’ve said before that I have a hard time evaluating this series, for several reasons. One is that the series is special to me and even a sub-par entry into it engages me in a way that a lot of books don’t, maybe because I know the characters so well at this point. Also, though each book more or less has a plot and various subplots that are at least semi-resolved by the end, the books really flow into each other quite a bit (for one thing, not much time passes in Bon Temps between one book and the next, usually). So at times it feels like one really long story with sort of arbitrary start and stop points, making it more difficult for me to see each book as a discrete story. Anyway, that said, I’ve had a moment or two of Sookie fatigue over the past several books. But for some reason I felt sort of an uptick in my interest in this one. I’ll have to see if I can work out why in my review. My short synopsis: there are those trying to make trouble for Sookie (what else is new?), which in this case involves killing a woman at a party at Eric’s house and trying to pin it on Eric. Eric and Sookie are also having big problems, and there’s a fair amount happening with the fae, too.

AmazonBNSonyKobo


Beguiling the Beauty Sherry ThomasBeguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas

I pretty much always love Sherry Thomas, and this book was no exception (I gave it an A-/B+). I think what I liked most about it, besides the homage to Judith Ivory’s Beast, is that it featured a beautiful heroine and really made her beauty something that set her apart and even caused her problems at times. Beautiful heroines are a dime a dozen in romance (actually, it’s probably more like a penny a pound), but generally their beauty is not treated as something unusual or something that actually affects their lives, and I really appreciate it when a book does. You can read Jane’s review here.

AmazonBNSonyKobo


A gentleman undone grantA Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant

I commented on Dabney’s review, but I just want to reiterate that I loved, loved, loved this book. My favorite book so far this year, and Grant has, with two books, shot up the list of my favorite romance writers. I am eagerly awaiting her next book. This book was a straight A for me.

AmazonBNSonyKobo


Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsMockingjay Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I reread these in preparation for seeing the The Hunger Games on the big screen (I liked it quite well, by the way). These were just as compelling as the first time I read them. I can’t wait for the next film! (And I wonder what Suzanne Collins is up to these days?)

AmazonBNSonyKobo

 

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

11 Comments

  1. Janine
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 11:19:03

    I’m dying to discuss A Gentleman Undone with someone else who has read it, and since my comment on Robin’s review was posted after the discussion had for the most part died down, I’ll repost an edited version of it here, with some new thoughts added in parentheses:

    I didn’t mind the leisurely pacing of the first half, which bothered Robin more, partly because it contained the introduction to Lydia, and she fascinated me so much in that section, and partly because the second half of A Lady Awakened also felt slow to me, so my expectations were adjusted for that.

    I did read the first half more slowly, but I savored it, picking up the book and putting it down after half an hour, not for lack of engagement, but rather because it was so rich and thought provoking that I didn’t want to go too fast. I wasn’t bored at any point.

    The second half was more eventful and read faster, but in some ways I liked it a little less, because there the characters became more conventional.

    (ETA: Thinking further about this now that it’s been a few days, I like the second half at least as much as the first, but I liked the characters better in the first half, if that makes sense).

    I loved Lydia so much when she was first introduced — her unsentimental cold ruthlessness, her reveling in the pleasures of sex, her inscrutable gaze, her focus on the cards, added up to this sharp and powerful person. I wanted more of that in the second half, and didn’t get as much as I was greedy for, but I still so appreciate her character.

    (ETA: When I say she was powerful, I don’t mean in a social context. I mean she was powerful to Will, and since we saw her through his eyes, that impression also held with me. She was a survivor, one with self-knowledge when it came to her sexuality, and she was sharp, and I loved all that).

    As she recovered her heart, to use the novel’s language, Lydia lost some of the edges that made her so fascinating to me. Her backstory, when it was revealed, wasn’t as original as the rest of her, and didn’t completely suit the person she’d become. She was like a phenoix risen from the ashes, and that made it hard to believe she’d ever wallowed in guilt to such a degree that she’d wanted to destroy herself in the way she had in the past.

    (ETA: I can see this better now, with some perspective on the book, more than I could right after I’d finished it. But I still feel Lydia was at her most fascinating in the beginning).

    There were also some times, when she opened up to Will about her past, when I felt that it wasn’t entirely in her character to do so. I think it might have worked better for me to have him be the one to open up about what tortured him first, although maybe I’m wrong about that. He generally seemed like the one more willing to make himself vulnerable, of the two of them.

    As for Will, I agree with Robin that he wasn’t as complex or interesting as Lydia, but I still appreciated that honor-gone-awry aspect of his character. There was something almost quixotic about him, and in that way, he reminded me a little of Ruck from Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart. It is always interesting to come across a couple in romance in which the heroine is the more cynical one. I can only think of a few books that fit that description.

    I do so love Grant’s voice, and that may be why I loved the ending, though I agreed with Robin that it felt a bit rushed. I just adored the writing in (to stay way from spoilers) that last scene with Roanoke. It worked for me better than the ending of A Lady Awakened although on the whole I think ALA is the stronger novel.

    One of the things that was so present in ALA but not in this book was a strong sense of place. Although perhaps that’s harder to evoke in a novel set in Regency London, which after all has been the setting of so many historical romances, than in one set in the countryside around the same period.

    (ETA: It may be unfair to compare but I can’t help it. In AGU I really missed that strong sense of place that ALA had. In ALA the characters’ milieu came alive for me and that was part of the magic of that book. That didn’t happen with AGU to the same degree.)

    Even with the caveats I have, I can’t grade this any lower than a B+. For one thing, whether or not it’s fair, any novel with an infertile heroine and no miracle pregnancy wins automatic bonus points from me.

    For another, there was so much to appreciate in this book — for me, practically on every page. Grant is a master prose stylist and her characters are both real and fresh. I love the way her heroines, in particular, don’t strive to ingratiate themselves with readers right off the bat. Instead you have to peel back layers.

    Part of me would have loved to see Lydia paired with someone just as complex and ruthless as she. That would have been an amazing book, but this was still a very good one.

    ReplyReply

  2. DS
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 12:53:28

    A friend has been reading the Cleopatra book. We’ve been discussing it on our daily walks. My contribution is all of the archaeology/ancient history stuff I have read and watched. It sounds like a pretty reliable, entertaining biography. We’ve been alternating with Steven Saylor’s Seven Wonders, an entertaining travel fiction set in 92 BC, which is also a good read.

    ReplyReply

  3. Jennie
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 14:36:29

    @DS: I may check out the Saylor book; it’s rare to find good fiction set in antiquity!

    ReplyReply

  4. Jennie
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 18:48:44

    I didn’t mind the leisurely pacing of the first half, which bothered Robin more, partly because it contained the introduction to Lydia, and she fascinated me so much in that section, and partly because the second half of A Lady Awakenedalso felt slow to me, so my expectations were adjusted for that.

    I really didn’t notice the pacing issues Robin mentioned. Even the information about Lydia’s card system interested me (though I didn’t totally understand it at times). I was just so absorbed by the characters that pretty much everything they did interested me.

    The second half was more eventful and read faster, but in some ways I liked it a little less, because there the characters became more conventional.

    Can I ask, conventional in what way? I didn’t feel like the characters were wholly unconventional, but I felt that they were given enough shading to make them unique.

    I loved Lydia so much when she was first introduced — her unsentimental cold ruthlessness, her reveling in the pleasures of sex, her inscrutable gaze, her focus on the cards, added up to this sharp and powerful person. I wanted more of that in the second half, and didn’t get as much as I was greedy for, but I still so appreciate her character.

    I think I understand what you mean, but at the same time, part of Lydia’s growth involved allowing herself to be more vulnerable, which necessitated her losing a little of that edge that I think we both loved.

    As she recovered her heart, to use the novel’s language, Lydia lost some of the edges
    that made her so fascinating to me. Her backstory, when it was revealed, wasn’t as original as the rest of her, and didn’t completely suit the person she’d become. She was like a phenoix risen from the ashes, and that made it hard to believe she’d ever wallowed in guilt to such a degree that she’d wanted to destroy herself in the way she had in the past.

    Lydia’s journey to the brothel wasn’t entirely realistic/believable, I don’t think. As a reader I didn’t “know” her during the time she made those choices, so the thinking behind it was kind of a cipher to me. So I guess I thought that she was a somewhat different person from the one who’d chosen such a self-destructive path.

    I didn’t really have a problem with the backstory being unoriginal; it struck me as realistic (at least, in context). Maybe I’m not entirely understanding what would be more original, but I preferred this one to a more “high concept” storyline.

    (ETA: I can see this better now, with some perspective on the book, more than I could right after I’d finished it. But I still feel Lydia was at her most fascinating in the beginning).

    I can agree with that; again, to some degree I think it was necessary for her to soften and thus become perhaps a bit less interesting as a character.

    There were also some times, when she opened up to Will about her past, when I felt that it wasn’t entirely in her character to do so. I think it might have worked better for me to have him be the one to open up about what tortured him first, although maybe I’m wrong about that. He generally seemed like the one more willing to make himself vulnerable, of the two of them.

    Hmm. You may be right there. Though I could argue that Will was way more ashamed of his past, thinking it made him anathema, than Lydia was of hers. I do remember thinking that he was a lot more open than she was, and he should just tell her his secret already.

    As for Will, I agree with Robin that he wasn’t as complex or interesting as Lydia, but I still appreciated that honor-gone-awry aspect of his character. There was something almost quixotic about him, and in that way, he reminded me a little of Ruck from Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart. It is always interesting to come across a couple in romance in which the heroine is the more cynical one. I can only think of a few books that fit that description.

    Yes, I really liked that about him. I think the comparison to Ruck is a good one, though I remember Ruck as more naïve than Will. I do like heros with an edge (like most romance readers, I’m guessing), but once in while it’s nice to read a well-written incredibly decent hero.

    For another, there was so much to appreciate in this book — for me, practically on every page. Grant is a master prose stylist and her characters are both real and fresh. I love the way her heroines, in particular, don’t strive to ingratiate themselves with readers right off the bat. Instead you have to peel back layers.

    Yes. What it comes down to for me is that Grant’s writing and her vivid characterization are enough to win me over, never mind the plot or anything else.

    Part of me would have loved to see Lydia paired with someone just as complex and ruthless as she. That would have been an amazing book, but this was still a very good one.

    It’s an intriguing idea. I think it’s most common in romances to have one harder character (almost always the man) that the softer character softens. I’m trying to remember if I can even think of a romance with two genuinely ruthless protagonists. I’ve read ones where both are extremely damaged (some of Megan Chance’s books come to mind), but not necessarily ruthless or hard in the way I think you’re talking about.

    ReplyReply

  5. Jen
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 02:27:13

    @Jennie: Regarding the idea of a hero as hard as Lydia: one book that comes to mind is Dangerous Liaisons. That’s definitely an interesting idea. But I didn’t find Will to be lacking in A Gentleman Unbound. I thought he was wonderful for Lydia, and I felt happy for her- that she finally got to love and be loved by someone noble and kind, after living a life that had made her so hard.

    I loved the book, by the way. It’s been a long time since I’ve found a book to be engrossing and beautifully-written.

    ReplyReply

  6. JB Hunt
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 05:38:06

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for introducing me to Copernicus, the homicidal monkey. Made. My. Day.

    ReplyReply

  7. Janine
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 09:53:00

    @Jennie:

    I really didn’t notice the pacing issues Robin mentioned. Even the information about Lydia’s card system interested me (though I didn’t totally understand it at times). I was just so absorbed by the characters that pretty much everything they did interested me.

    I did get a little bored during one of the explanations of the card system, but that was maybe one page out of the whole book. The rest of the time, I was absorbed as well.

    Can I ask, conventional in what way? I didn’t feel like the characters were wholly unconventional, but I felt that they were given enough shading to make them unique.

    SPOILERS
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    Mostly what I said about Lydia. She seemed so unashamed of her sexuality to begin with that I wasn’t happy to see her feeling so filled with shame and to blame for what happened to her parents. The only thing she did wrong in the past was sleep with a man who didn’t love her enough to stand up to his parents and marry her. If sex is nothing to be ashamed of, then she really did nothing wrong.

    I realize that’s contemporary attitude and not a Victorian one, but I would have liked for her to have already reflected on this and forgiven herself for the past. I do also understand that self-forgiveness was the journey that she and Will both had to undertake in the book, and perhaps it would have been a lesser book if she had already let go of that shame. Certainly it would have been less emotional.

    But I thought it was contradictory for her to enjoy sex so much if she was so tortured about having given her virginity away. It didn’t fit, so I would have preferred for her to be someone who let go of all that self-blame. I suppose I say she became “more conventional” because it’s so rare for heroines in this genre to feel completely unashamed of their sexuality.

    As for Will, it was less pronounced with him, but the more vulnerable and tortured Lydia became, the more he was able to step into the role of someone who could help her and even rescue her from her misery and her life. I’m not sure if the book would have worked otherwise, so it may be silly of me to complain about but I liked the early dynamic, in which Will was lost and Lydia was strong, so much, that when the book shifted into them into greater equality by having her be the one to open up about her past (when I felt it would have been more in character for him to do so), part of me was disappointed, even though that scene was so well written and moved me deeply.

    I didn’t really have a problem with the backstory being unoriginal; it struck me as realistic (at least, in context). Maybe I’m not entirely understanding what would be more original, but I preferred this one to a more “high concept” storyline.

    What would have been more original? Hmm. Perhaps for Lydia’s fall to have happened not because she’d fallen in love with a man who wouldn’t marry her, but because she’d tried sex out of curiosity or attraction? My issue is that on the occasion when romance heroines aren’t virginal, it’s typically presented as not their fault. It’s almost always because the man they slept with made promises he didn’t keep.

    I guess I didn’t want that to have been Lydia’s route. I would have preferred the incident to have been unsentimental on her part, as that would have suited the way she was initially presented. Lydia said she wasn’t a victim in that situation, but she still read like one to me, because of the false promises. The genre takes such pains to make its heroines blameless for sex in the reader’s eyes that when I find a heroine who takes what she wants in bed the way Lydia did, I get my hopes up that sex will not be treated as something blameworthy.
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    END OF SPOILERS

    to some degree I think it was necessary for her to soften and thus become perhaps a bit less interesting as a character.

    Yes, you’re right about the necessity of softening. I would have liked to see her soften less though, or soften differently. But maybe that isn’t possible. Grant’s writing is so good that it raises the bar of my expectations so that I want things from her that I don’t expect of most authors.

    Yes, I really liked that about him. I think the comparison to Ruck is a good one, though I remember Ruck as more naïve than Will.

    Agreed, or at least, Ruck was more trusting.

    I do like heros with an edge (like most romance readers, I’m guessing), but once in while it’s nice to read a well-written incredibly decent hero.

    Yes, especially when there’s complexity to the decency.

    Yes. What it comes down to for me is that Grant’s writing and her vivid characterization are enough to win me over, never mind the plot or anything else.

    Agreed.

    I think it’s most common in romances to have one harder character (almost always the man) that the softer character softens. I’m trying to remember if I can even think of a romance with two genuinely ruthless protagonists. I’ve read ones where both are extremely damaged (some of Megan Chance’s books come to mind), but not necessarily ruthless or hard in the way I think you’re talking about.

    For me McCaffrey’s SFR, Dragonflight and Monson’s historical romance Rangoon come to mind. I found the former more satisfying than the latter but I first read it in my teens and I don’t know how I’d feel about it now if I had first approached it as an adult. The Monson was a B or B- read for me, very interesting but it didn’t capture my heart.

    ReplyReply

  8. Rebecca (Another One)
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 20:25:28

    I listened to an audiobook of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I thought it was great, but listening while doing other things might make a difference.

    ReplyReply

  9. Jennie
    Jun 09, 2012 @ 01:08:33

    @JB Hunt: You’re welcome! I’m always happy to create a new fan for Copernicus.

    ReplyReply

  10. Readsalot81
    Jun 09, 2012 @ 18:17:25

    @Jennie : It took me a LONG while to get into Martin’s books. My mom actually had to cajole me into starting and not stopping because I did that frequently with Game of Thrones. I read his books solely for the overall plot arcs, the characters I really don’t give much of a damn about (with the sole exception being Tyrion Lannister). But then, I do have a problem with a pivotal, if not THE main plot point of the entire series. (ie: the incest and resulting births) I’m willing to accept that this is my issue and other people can accept this readily and move forward within the books. I absolutely adore the HBO show and convinced my family to purchase season 1. We haven’t seen season 2 yet, and I’m very much looking forward to watching it. I know they renewed for season 3 and Storm of Swords is probably my favorite book within the entire set of completed novels thus far.

    ReplyReply

  11. Jennie
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 18:01:29

    @Readsalot81: Thanks for the info. I am going to persevere with the books if only so I can spoil myself for the HBO series! Glad to hear that the third book is your favorite – I’m already looking forward to next season.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: