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What Jaclyn Is Reading, September 2011

I read a lot in September, like holy-guacamole a lot. There is a letterpress broad side on the wall of my office with a quote from Erasmus that reads, “When I get a little money I buy BOOKS; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” I think Erasmus and I would have understood one another. I wonder if he would have enjoyed reading romances?

Curio by Cara McKenna. Over in Twitter-land Ms. McKenna’s story, Willing Victim, was much discussed earlier in the year. Since I read it last December I’ve gone on to read about two-thirds of Ms. McKenna’s backlist. There’s something that I find so compelling about her books, even when I don’t really like the stories themselves. When I read Skin Game, which I did not like—it read like a series of character sketches set amidst a weird Survivor-like game—I finally understood that Ms. McKenna writes her characters with so much compassion and clarity; she treats them with respect and they shine regardless of what’s going on in the story. Back to Curio. Didier is a former model turned prostitute who is patronized by Caroly, a 29-year-old virgin who wishes to finally have sex. The story is told over five encounters as they begin to form a friendship and become lovers. Ms. McKenna is masterful at using the sexual encounters of her characters to further the emotional drama she’s woven and I continue to be utterly compelled by her books. Curio has a hope filled HEA and I was charmed.

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Summons: A Goblin King Prequel by Shona Husk. The pissy reviews on Amazon made me want to read this. A couple readers were bugged that this is essentially a short lead in—more like a prologue—to the book, Goblin King. I find these little shorts are a great way to sample if I like the characters and the author’s writing style. I’m glad I read this before reading Goblin King because the start of that book made more sense for having read this.

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Goblin King by Shona Husk. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Goblin King features and heiress trying to escape her abusive, black-mailing, cheating boyfriend and some sort of Celtic warrior cursed by a Druid. I generally like these stories where the heroine grows a pair and tells her abusive boyfriend where to stick it before finding love with a decent guy. The story wanders in places which led me to skim read from time to time and the police were very sympathetic to the heroine despite the evidence that has been used to blackmail her for a couple of years. Basically some of the plot points are too convenient. But the love story is sweet and the angst lasts until the final five pages.

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Taken by the Cowboy by Julianne MacLean. Oh time travel, you offer so many opportunities for wacky stories. Heroine is in car accident, flung back in time, mistaken for a gun-slinging badass, meets a fellow time-traveler, falls for the Sherriff (and vice versa), is accused of murder, and wants to find a way to get back home. Some of the events are too convenient; for instance, she meets a fellow time-traveler who just happens to be the attorney she demands after being jailed? Really? Uh-huh. At times I just wasn’t compelled to keep reading and I picked up a couple other books while meandering through this one, but I did finish it and found the ending bittersweet. I’d be curious if others who’ve read this also read Jude Deveraux’s Knight in Shining Armor and what you thought of the endings in comparison to one another. I hate with stabby-eye-rays-of-death the ending of KISA; Taken by the Cowboy doesn’t evoke that sort of strong hateration but like KISA, it’s tinged with sadness.

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Bound to the Prince by Deborah Court. Ms. Court emailed Dear Author asking if anyone wanted to review her book. I like fae stories so I bought a copy and started reading. I’m about 2/3 of the way through this book and just not sure if I’m going to continue. The heroine is a doormat and the story is bloated. I kept thinking it needed a ruthless substantive edit to remove extraneous scenes that probably don’t feel extraneous to the author but bogged down the pace and caused my attention to wander. There’s something not bad buried in here, but I’m just not sure it’s worth the time of skimming through the bloat to find it. DNF for now.

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Future Tense by Carolyn Jewel. I’m a glom reader for the My Immortals series. I like that demons are the “good” guys, it fits my philosophy that in life there’s often no clear demarcation between good and bad, we’re all constantly moving on the gray spectrum; sometimes we’re better or worse than others. One of the things about paranormals in general that I like (and in sf and fantasy, too) is the mythology that comes with the world-building. What these people believe in fascinates me. I hope Lys, the heroine, shows up in future books, I’d like to see what happens with her witchy power of connecting to the future—the ending of this short story left me with a lot of questions.

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Good Girls Don’t by Victoria Dahl. Ms. Dahl shatters my heart with pretty much every book, and she does it while delivering humor, insight, drama, and love. Tessa and Luke both have Issues. Their lives collide when Tessa’s family business is vandalized and police detective Luke is sent to investigate. Tessa’s manic drive to keep her family together was emotionally wrenching. I felt her fear and despair when she thought it was all unraveling around her.

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Bad Boys Do by Victoria Dahl. I often hear women say ‘it’s the quiet ones you need to watch out for’, but Jamie Donovan proves that the smooth, easy-going, laughing ones might have hidden depths, too, if you bother to look. Olivia is a woman finally breaking out of the mold created by her parents, and then her controlling husband. Watching a shy/repressed/timid lady evolve into a woman of confidence (whether it’s quiet or brash confidence) is something I like best about romance novels.

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To Tempt a Scotsman by Victoria Dahl Yeah, so I maybe glommed on Ms. Dahl’s books in September. Lucky me. J I hated the hero for a good part of this book. What a dumbass. The heroine is a woman of intelligence and courage and she deserves better than she got from all the men in her life; it all worked out in the end and as long as the hero doesn’t revert to his dumbassery then I’m happy for the heroine to get her HEA with her hero. But by God he had better spend the rest of their lives proving he’s worthy of her. Humph.

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I froth at the mouth waiting for the next time I can have my heart smashed to pieces and put back together by Victoria Dahl. I’m already getting a little manic for Real Men Will. Only a couple weeks to go. Alas.

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Trouble in Paradise by Susan Connell. I came across this book while scrolling through page after page of books online. It’s a breezy, entertaining, sexy story set in a Central American rainforest. I enjoyed it but I never became wrapped up or emotionally invested in the characters.

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Silver Shark (Kinsmen Series) by Ilona Andrews. I’m fascinated with this world Ms. Andrews has imagined. The characters are part of a rare group of humans known as psychers—they live as much in a mental world (accessed through technology, I imagine sort of like in the Matrix) as they do in the physical world. Claire, the heroine, is hiding her true identity and enormous power in the wake of a war that her side lost. When she’s transported to another planet she continues to hide for fear that she’d be deported or executed if discovered. She’s hired by Venturo as his secretary and events conspire to reveal Claire’s true identity leaving Venturo with a dilemma about what to do with Claire. I hope there are more Kinsmen books coming.

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When in Rio by Delphine Dryden. Jack and Katie work together, in fact, he’s her boss. And on a business trip to Rio he becomes her Dom, though Jack is mostly into the D/s thing for the spanking. If we set aside the problem of doing the horizontal mambo with your boss, then this is a satisfying emotional story about two people who’ve grown to respect and admire one another over two years of close association and have decided to add sex and emotional intimacy to their relationship. At the end, when their fledgling couple hood is tested by Jack’s past I found myself irritated by the assumptions Katie made and the very easy resolution to the misunderstanding. But overall this was a good story about friends becoming (kinky) lovers. (Reviewed by Jane here)

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Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh. Janine has already reviewed this for Dear Author. I bring it up only because the more time passes since I’ve read this book the more dissatisfied I become with the truth about Honor’s identity and Dmitri’s evolution through the story. The violence is staggering and I just don’t see how the woman Honor is today and the woman she once was meld into a unified whole. At the same time I don’t know if I believe that Dmitri loves Honor—that is, the woman she is today. I might need to read this again; certainly I can’t stop thinking about it.

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Angels of Darkness by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, and Sharon Shinn. I’m writing a review of this for Dear Author.

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Believe it or not, dear readers, there are more, but this is probably more than enough for this post, yes? Have you read any of these? Did you like/dislike them? I hope someone has read Curio and will tell me if they found Didier and Caroly as compelling as I did.

Happy reading,

Jaclyn

The first book Jaclyn can recall reading all by herself was Cinderella (a pink Disney edition) and all these years later she remains an avid reader of fairy tales, myths, and historical romances. Jaclyn's TBR also overflows with science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, thrillers, and mystery. During the workday she can be found navigating the digital transformation at a university press.

26 Comments

  1. Mandi
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 10:34:51

    I read Curio and really liked it. She did a great job with turning it into such a believable romance. She made Didier such a warm hero. I love that I never quite know what I’m going to get with her books…I had no idea how she was going to turn this story into a HEA – or at least on a road towards a HEA..but she did. And it worked :)

  2. SHZ
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 11:04:34

    I’m not a fan of historical romance generally, nor have I really read any Western romance (I’m not American, so not especially drawn to it), and I can see all the flaws in Taken by the Cowboy. Yet I gave it a four star review. Weird, I know. In fact, the reason I gave it that high rating was because of the sadness. I despise most time travel romance because everything works out so perfectly, and I find it stupid.
    I can’t stand Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander books. The copout endings ruin everything for me (as well as the massacre of historical accuracy, and the weird preaching).
    Maclean’s book might be short on the explanation, but the ending completely worked for me because it wasn’t too perfect.

  3. Janice
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 11:07:50

    Thank you Jaclyn! I’ve been wondering about the Goblin King so with the info you’ve given me, I’ll buy the prequel and see if I like it. By the way, I love your word “badassery.” Now, I just need to figure out a way to start using it in my everyday vocabulary. Have a wonderful Friday.

  4. JL
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 11:21:22

    I’m so jealous of everyone who’s read Curio. I’m a Canadian using a Kobo reader and it’s not available yet (not sure if it’s not released yet or just delayed for some reason).

    I agree that McKenna/Maguire’s books are compelling even when the stories don’t work. I read Trespass (which was discussed but not reviewed here), and thought the ending was a wee bit lame, but that doesn’t stop me from auto-buying all her books.

    I don’t review books anywhere, but if I did I think I would give awesome stories with tight plots and characters a 4, and stories like McKenna’s that completely engross me despite major problems in the story a 5. I’m an escapist reader, so that’s ultimately what I’m looking for. Probably a good thing I’m not a reviewer :)

  5. Estara
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 11:39:43

    Jaclyn, did you know that the Samhain release Silent Blade from a few years ago was the first Kinsmen book? You even met heroine and hero in Silver Shark.

    The Andrews Team have said that this series is various versions of their attempt at category romance in the style they write. Silent Blade is shorter than Silver Shark, I believe – but I totally adored it.

    From a blog post about Silent Blade on the Ilona Andrews site:

    “The world is very lush, a place of bright flowers, pink wine, and too many pastries. The people are tan and dark-haired, this odd mix of Spanish, Italian, and Mexican cultures. Socially, it’s a mafia in SF setting: biologically enhanced families battling for influence. The plot is HP (Harlequin Presents). There is an alpha male, who is an ass, and a wronged woman who will make him grovel in the end.”

  6. Jaclyn
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 12:30:14

    @Estara: I did not know about Silent Blade. Thanks so much for pointing me to it, I’ll go take a look.

    @JL: Curio is available directly from the publisher and you can download an epub file from their site, which I believe works on the Kobo reader. I’m not sure if you can do this from Canada, but if you can…. :)

    @Janice: The only thing I’ll add is that prequel is short and doesn’t meander in the same way that the full book did; it’s a good means to judge if you like the writing style.

    @SHZ: Taken by a Cowboy had too many elements that didn’t come together. The combo of sometimes losing my attention, too convenient plot turns, and the ending all merged into making it a lukewarm read. Did the sadness make it a higher grade for you because it succeeded in harnessing your emotions?

    @Mandi: Curio is one of those books that got under my skin. Both Didier and Caroly have deep emotional flaws that triggered my compassion. Glad you enjoyed it, too. :)

  7. Lily
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 12:49:14

    I adore Victoria Dahl’s books too. I haven’t gotten to Bad Boys Do yet because I’m saving it. There are a few authors where I buy the books and can’t bring myself to read them because once I do, it makes me sad to know I have to wait a long time until she writes a new one. Lisa Kleypas is the other one I hoard for months before I read.

    Now that I think of it, this is eerily similar to how I treated my favorite Halloween Candy as a kid. I’d eat all the stuff I didn’t like first and save my faves for months until I could bring myself to dig in. Victoria Dahl is like Snickers to me.

  8. JL
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 13:12:28

    @Lily:
    I do the same thing! It’s like a mad rush to get to the bookstore, then the book just sit there on the shelf. It took me 3 months to read Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews. I like knowing that I have a guaranteed winner for when I’m in a reading or emotional slump. I also need to read those books at the **perfect** time. No distractions, a full day or night to get through the whole thing, and a glass of wine (or 3 or 4).

  9. Sarah Frantz
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 13:23:20

    Real Men Will is amazing. You’ll love it! :) (I was beta-reader, lucky lucky me.)

  10. library addict
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 13:54:50

    Looking forward to reading Dahl’s trilogy. I bought The Guys Next Door anthology when it came out, but have been not-so-patiently waiting for all the books before I start reading.

  11. Jaclyn
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:03:19

    @Sarah Frantz: I want to call you all sorts of profane and abusive names in a fit of envy, but that won’t bring me any closer to the pub date so I’ll restrain myself. :)

    @JL: @Lily: I wonder how many readers do this? I’ve occasionally saved a book until the weekend (although not very often), but I can never wait more than a couple days.

  12. Cara Ellison
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:05:13

    This is the second time in as many days that someone has referred to the end of Knight In Shining Amour. That is on my TBR pile, and I’m seriously developing a complex about the end of this book and I haven’t even picked it up yet. Can I just ask what happens? Why is the end so controversial? (I don’t mind knowing what happens; it doesn’t spoil it for me. Before I buy books in a store, I always read the first para and the last.) So if you’re so inclined, please enlighten me!

  13. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:23:50

    I just read Good Girls Don’t and loved it. Dahl’s best book yet.

    To Tempt a Scotsman is my favorite of her historicals. I haven’t kept up with those as well as the contemps, but I’ve been off historicals in general.

    I keep meaning to read McKenna…

  14. MaryK
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:27:01

    SPOILER for KISA

    @Cara Ellison: The heroine falls in love with a guy in the past and then ends up returning to the present alone. In the last scenes of the book, she meets a descendant of his who is apparently the hero reincarnated. For quite a lot of readers, that didn’t cut it as an HEA. I suppose if you believe in reincarnation it could work.

  15. Cara Ellison
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:38:09

    @MaryK: Oh, yes, I can see why that would not be quite a solid HEA. Thanks for letting me know!

  16. MaryK
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:40:55

    SPOILER for KISA

    @MaryK: He was just a different guy. The hero was a knight in medieval England and had a reputation of some kind. I’m fuzzy on the details because it’s been years since I read it so let’s just say he wasn’t a nobody. When she comes back to the present, he’s the guy next door (literally, I think). It wasn’t the same.

    You know in Beauty and the Beast when the Beast changes back into the Prince, and you miss the Beast and are kind of suspicious of the Prince? It was like that only worse, like it wasn’t even the Prince but a cousin of his who’d been dreaming the whole thing.

  17. Jaclyn
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:50:58

    This is a big KISA spoiler for those who don’t want to read further….

    @Cara Ellison: Like @MaryK said, in KISA it wasn’t the same guy but rather a descendent who ends up with the heroine, and IIRC the descendent didn’t have memories of her, though he was drawn to her.

    The real hero, the one stuck in medieval times, died alone and without her because he couldn’t be a part of the future. I didn’t find it HEA that the Hero lived his life and died alone, without his lady-love.

  18. Kristal
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:51:47

    Future Tense is a free read on Carolyn Jewel’s site. You can even download a pdf.

  19. MaryK
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 15:01:46

    SPOILER for KISA

    @Jaclyn: In the present, the hero is associated with a stately home so there’s a “visit his historic home, see his historic grave” aspect. Gah!

  20. JL
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 15:04:59

    @Jaclyn:
    Jaclyn, thanks for the advice. I’m the most technophobic person I know and haven’t yet figured out how to get library e-books or books direct from the publisher onto my Kobo. For McKenna, though, I’m willing to learn :)

  21. Cara Ellison
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 15:24:13

    @Jaclyn: Ouch. The fact that he lived and died alone without the heroine kind of nixes it as an HEA for me. I’ll read the book, since obviously it is a standard for the genre, but I know right now I’m not going to love that ending.

  22. Carin
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 16:16:02

    Thanks for the mini-reviews. Cara McKenna is now on my want list. I’m looking forward to reading the Victoria Dahl books, too. She’s a favorite for me!

    Count me in the “didn’t like the ending” camp for KISA. Although it may be that I’ve come to realize I’m not a fan of time travel, so I’m biased. Still not a HEA for me.

  23. Teresa
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 20:54:24

    I read Archangel’s Blade and I think you made an interesting point about whether Dimitri loves Honor. Thinking back on the book, it seems that Dimitri could only love her because of who she was. The violence seems almost the only way to bring them both together and in such a way that he was sympathetic and admiring of her strength. I think it also goes to explain how she survived her experience.

  24. Janine
    Oct 08, 2011 @ 00:31:08

    I definitely felt that Dmitri loved Honor by the end of the book, even before he knew about who she was. He wanted to exclude her from parts of his life but as time went on he was less and less able to do so until finally it was only lip service and barely even that. To me Honor’s reincarnation was mostly there so we would have a window into the old Dmitri, the person he had once been.

    Re. AKISA, I don’t believe in reincarnation, but the ending totally worked for me, because in the world of the book, reincarnation clearly did exist. The heroine had encountered other people in the past whose reincarnations she knew well in the present, and they were the way they were in the present because of events in the past, so clearly, there was evidence that reincarnation was real in that world.

    Also, the hero’s reincarnation (whom the heroine met on the plane home, not next door) had been obsessed with a miniature the hero had painted of the heroine since his childhood. Totally obsessed. On the back of the picture the hero had written, “My soul will find yours.” So while he never remarried and died alone, he believed he would be reunited with the heroine in another life. And he had a son from a previous relationship, so it’s not like his life was completely empty. It was very poignant, but not depressing.

    But then, I read the book when it first came out, which I think was around 1990. Books in the genre were pretty different back then, so likely my expectations were different too. I loved the book and the last time I read it I was still totally charmed by it. There is some terrific humor in the story, a lot of charm, and a setting we don’t see too often (Elizabethan England).

  25. willaful
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 22:50:02

    I liked Good Girls Don’t but really liked Bad Boys Do. It’s got such interesting characters. Wonderful to read contemporaries with some depth to them.

  26. Jane
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 08:35:16

    @willaful I actually thought these Dahl books were fairly superficial but I will admit I had a hard time with the family. They all seemed to hate each other but once they got their own books, underwent a character change so that the characters could be appealing to the readers. They were all readable but I didn’t feel very connected.

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