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What Janine is Reading, 8/4/11-8/20/11

I’m a slow reader, and rarely read more than a book a week. In the past two weeks, I managed to read one third of a novella, half a novel, and one book from start to finish. Here’s a recap.

A Paris Affair by Adelaide Cole

This erotic Harlequin Spice Brief begins with Valerie, the forty-something Parisian wife of a diplomat, battling indifferent passerby, a bureaucratic receptionist, a snagging turnstile and dog poop to bring her developmentally delayed son Mathieu to the doctor. After returning home Valerie is too tired for more than a glass of wine with her husband.

Then Philippe tells her he is thinking of taking the kids to visit his parents in the country for a few days, in order to give Valerie a break, time to rest. Shortly afterward Valerie receives a call from Oscar, a married man she once met and was attracted to. Even as she’s packing for Philippe and the kids, Valerie is contemplating sleeping with Oscar.

This is where the story lost me. It’s not like Valerie was married to an asshole, or as though Philippe was going to enjoy her sleeping with Oscar. Valerie’s unsuspecting husband loved her, and it was only the exhausting efforts involved in raising Mathieu that had depleted the couple’s energy for sex. Am I supposed to enjoy reading about the hot sexxoring between Valerie and Oscar knowing that it is all being made possible by poor Philippe’s thoughtfulness toward his wife? At one third of the way through, I don’t think I’ll finish A Paris Affair.

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The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

This novel with two storylines – an intrepid college student travels to the time of the Black Plague, while the professor who worries about her grapples with a pandemic virus in the future — started out with some promise, but then the story took a long time to get where it was going. Two pandemics, and a third of the way in no one had died. It probably says something sad about the evolution (or should I say devolution) of my attention span, but I got impatient and started skimming the future storyline.

But the thing is, I hate spoilers, and the first time I read a book, I really don’t want to know where it’s going, even when I think I want to know. So once I’d read ahead, I was even more impatient with the slow development of the story, and finally I decided to give up. Unlike some of my fellow reviewers here at DA, I don’t care for most spoilers. They really can spoil a book for me. Lesson learned: resist the temptation to peek.

(My husband, who finished this one, thinks it may be just as well: “Because it’s a sad story, and you don’t like sad stories.”)

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Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase

While I liked the Duke of Clevedon, the hero of this book, it was the heroine, Marcelline, whom I adored. I loved her. Loved loved loved her. I loved that she was a dressmaker, part French, part English, and all gambler. I loved the way she lived by her wits, the way she bested Clevedon and put him in a tailspin. The first third of the book, which took place in Paris, was incredible.

Once the action moved to England, the book became a bit more conventional with Marcelline dependent on Clevedon’s help more than once. Certain things did not ring entirely true: the way it took Clevedon so long to recognize that his feelings for his fiancée, Clara, were brotherly; Clara’s colorlessness and lack of charisma; and Marcelline’s rather annoying, overly-conscious-of-her-own-cuteness daughter.

Still, there was a love scene that was so poignant as well as passionate, there was Paris, and did I mention the amazing Marcelline? This one has a good shot at ending up on my annual top ten list.

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So tell me, what have you read recently? And if you’ve read any of the above, what did you think of them? If you haven’t, would you like to? Why or why not?

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.

34 Comments

  1. Alley
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 10:12:40

    If I’m in the mood for a romance after I finish my current book (Beauty Queens by Libba Bray–adorable and hilarious), Silk is for Seduction is the one I’m going to read. I’ve had the sample on my Kindle for awhile; just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    The Doomsday Book is one of my favorite Willis books, but yes, the ending is very, very sad. You might like her To Say Nothing of the Dog better, as it’s still time travel, but much lighter and funnier, with a bit of romance to it.

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  2. LG
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:05:00

    I haven’t read The Doomsday Book, but I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog. I don’t know if you’d like the pacing any better (actually, I can’t remember much about the pacing), but it was so funny there were times I laughed until I hurt.

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  3. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:15:58

    @Alley: I hope you enjoy Silk is for Seduction. Marcelline was a fabulous character. As per the hero/heroine discussion we are having today, she was relatively morally ambiguous, yet I felt she had heroic qualities too.

    @LG: Thanks for the rec (and you too, Alley!). I have some interest in To Say Nothing of the Dog.

    My attention span has definitely shortened in the past decade and I think it’s kind of sad. There are books I used to love that I struggle to finish now.

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  4. Darlynne
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:38:16

    I, too, loved The Doomsday Book, as well as To Say Nothing of the Dog. Ms. Willis does take her time. You might consider listening to TSNotD; the narration really enhanced the quiet humor of the story.

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  5. Melanie J.
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:26:38

    I love Doomsday Book, but the ending made me sob. I agree with the recommendations for To Say Nothing of the Dog, especially if you’ve read Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat.”

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  6. Ariel/Sycorax Pine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:53:23

    I don’t mind a sad story at all, but I had the same experience with the much-acclaimed Doomsday Book. Profound meh. I’ve heard amazing things about To Say Nothing of the Dog, though.

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  7. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:59:23

    @Darlynne: Thanks for the rec.

    @Melanie J.: I haven’t read the Jerome, but I have some interest in reading it.

    @Ariel/Sycorax Pine: I’m glad I’m not the only one. I’ve heard so many people praise The Doomsday Book that it is hard not to feel like there is something wrong with me for not liking it better.

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  8. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:00:26

    Has anyone else read the Adelaide Cole novella? If so, what did you think?

    Also, what have you guys been reading recently?

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  9. Maili
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:20:45

    I enjoyed Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog.

    For some odd reason, your summary of Loretta Chase’s Silk is for Seduction makes me think of Adele Ashworth’s Winter Garden. Very weird because, as far as I can see, SIFS and WG have almost nothing in common.

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  10. cayenne
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:29:02

    I tried reading the Adelaide Cole novella. I was so completely exhausted by the setup that I barely got past the doctor’s office before giving up. It’s not really compelling and will probably sit on my e-reader until I finish it or the e-reader dies

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  11. Karenmc
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:30:59

    I thoroughly enjoyed Silk is for Seduction. Marcelline is so pragmatic, and her sisters also have their individual strengths (looking forward to the other books).

    Last week I read two Heyers, due to the bargain prices on her books: Faro’s Daughter, which was pretty good (but the heroine annoyed me at times), and The Grand Sophy, which was hilarious and splendid (thankfully, I’d been warned about the one big puddle of anti-Semitism, so I jumped over it and kept on reading).

    On Sunday I skimmed through The Outlaw Bride by Jenna Kernan, an okay, predictable Western that somehow moved the Cascade Mountains from the Pacific Northwest to California. When I say skimmed, I mean really skimmed.

    Now I’m almost through My Favorite Countess by Vanessa Kelly. It has a pretty unlikeable heroine, although there are reasons given for her snarkiness. Also, the hero has told her at least three times that she is making him behave in an ungentlemanly fashion, which is a cop-out. The book’s coming off my Kindle as soon as I finish it.

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  12. Sunita
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:34:40

    On Sunday I skimmed through The Outlaw Bride by Jenna Kernan, an okay, predictable Western that somehow moved the Cascade Mountains from the Pacific Northwest to California.

    The whole mountain range? That would be a problem. But the southern end of it *is* in California. Mt. Shasta is part of the Cascades.

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  13. Barb in Maryland
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:41:29

    Hi Janine–
    I loved Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. (I confess to being a Connie Willis fangirl). By all means, read Three Men in a Boat–I laughed so hard I cried–and then read To Say Nothing of the Dog, which has some marvelous riffs straight from the Jerome book.
    I quite enjoyed the Loretta Chase, too. And you are so right about the too, too precious daughter. I liked Clara and it was fun watching her come out from under her mother’s thumb. I hope we get an HEA for her somewhere in this series, even if she won’t get her own book.

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  14. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 14:16:06

    @Maili: I tried to read Winter Garden once and couldn’t get into it. What I read of it wasn’t at all similar to the Chase.

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  15. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 14:28:02

    @cayenne: LOL! I actually didn’t mind that part of the Cole. It has a realism I appreciated. But once Valerie started thinking of boinking Oscar in the time her husband was thoughtfully taking the kids away so she could have a breather, I lost all interest in the story. Though I suppose that kind of selfishness is realistic too, it was a big turnoff for me.

    @Karenmc: Of Marcelline’s sisters, I thought Sophie had the most potential. Leonie doesn’t interest me that much yet, but that could change.

    Heyer’s prejudices are deeply problematic to me, but that aside, there’s no one who mixes humor and romance better.

    I have not read the Kernan and the Kelly but it was interesting to hear about them, so thank you for sharing your recent reading!

    @Barb in Maryland: A friend warned me that Marcelline’s daughter was an irritant, but the warning didn’t keep me from being, well, irritated.

    Re. Clara, I liked her too but the problem I had was that I didn’t find her characterization wholly consistent. We were told multiple times about how men flocked to her and surrounded her at balls, and what a trend-setter she would be if she dressed well, but that created an expectation of more personal charisma from the character that just wasn’t there on the page in her scenes with Marcelline and Clevedon. Most of the time Clara faded into the woodwork. Perhaps this was done so she would contrast with Marcelline but the result was that I didn’t find her totally believable as a character.

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  16. Ann G
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 14:41:02

    I recently read JUST LIKE HEAVEN by Julia Quinn (the first book about the Smythe-Smiths and their musicales in the Bridgerton universe). I liked Honoria and her hero, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the Smythe-Smiths.

    I’m currently reading DICK VAN DYKE: MY LUCKY LIFE IN AND OUT OF SHOW BUSINESS. This memoir is very interesting so far.

    I have the Vanessa Kelly e-book bundle on my Kindle (including MY FAVORITE COUNTESS). I haven’t read any of the stories yet, but I’ll be reading them in order.

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  17. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:25:56

    @Ann G: Show business autobiographies can be fun and very interesting. I wish there were more romances set in that milieu.

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  18. Lindsey
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:33:45

    I’ve just finished re-reading all my Patricia Briggs books set in the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega universe. Damn, she really is a fine writer.

    I also just finished Sinful Surrender by Beverly Kendall, which I got when it was on sale on Amazon. It was okay, though I spent most of it wanting to punch the hero in the face, as IMO, he had very little redeeming qualities, even during the scenes in his POV, until the very end of the book. The epilogue also has some of the most blatant sequel bait I’ve ever read, which was disappointing.

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  19. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:42:28

    @Lindsey: I was just thinking of Charles from the Alpha and Omega series during the discussion in the hero/heroine thread. He is an assassin but not too much of an anti-hero for me. I think it is the fact that he hates his position as the wolf pack’s assassin/enforcer and the way it isolates him that make him so much more sympathetic to me than many other assassins in fiction.

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  20. MaryK
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:45:16

    I’ve heard that about The Doomsday Book and have resisted reading it even though I actually have it. There are so many happy books on my TBR pile I can’t bring myself to make time for a sad one.

    A Paris Affair – That’s a seriously unsympathetic heroine. I’ve been put off Spice books by that post about some of the storylines in the Briefs.

    I’ve become a slow reader and it’s pretty much shut down my reading altogether because I’ve always preferred to read a book in one sitting if possible. It’s to the point where I’m going to have to start assigning myself a particular book to read each week or I’ll never make any progress on my TBR pile.

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  21. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:54:35

    @MaryK: Sorry to hear about your reading slump!

    I think if I had loved The Doomsday Book as so many readers do, I might have been more willing to take the chance. But it progressed slowly for me.

    A Paris Affair – That’s a seriously unsympathetic heroine.

    The thing that’s really too bad is that before Valerie began to contemplate the affair, she was pretty sympathetic to me. I think there are a lot of women who are exhausted by parenthood, and Valerie had a child with special needs. She and Philippe seemed to love each other and Valerie had suffered some kind of breakdown.

    I would have loved a story about Valerie and Philippe rediscovering their sex life and revitalizing their marriage, instead of one about Valerie having an affair. Or even a story about the aftermath of Valerie’s affair. I’m not opposed to all adultery in my reading — but this was such casual, thoughtless and selfish adultery, in the face of Philippe’s kindness, that I could not relate to Valerie at all.

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  22. MaryK
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:55:10

    @Janine: Oh dear. I wouldn’t consider Charles to be an anti-hero at all. :) In my view, there’s a big difference between a sanctioned executioner and an amoral assassin for hire. I’m dying (heh) to get into that post but I don’t really have the time or energy.

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  23. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:58:18

    @MaryK: I don’t consider Charles an antihero either but I do think he’s a morally ambiguous character. He doesn’t fully sanction the executions he deals out himself, does he? And I think that’s a large part of what makes him so fascinating and sympathetic.

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  24. MaryK
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:58:58

    @Janine:

    this was such casual, thoughtless and selfish adultery, in the face of Philippe’s kindness

    That was exactly my thought when I read your summary of the setup. He’s arranging for her to have a break and she’s going to turn around and stab him in the back by using that time to cheat on him? No thanks.

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  25. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 16:05:28

    @MaryK:

    He’s arranging for her to have a break and she’s going to turn around and stab him in the back by using that time to cheat on him? No thanks.

    Exactly. And the crux of the problem is that we readers are intended to enjoy the sex between Valerie and Oscar that follows and which the story centers on.

    I do think Adelaide Cole is a good writer from a technical standpoint, and the Paris setting was intriguing, so I was doubly disappointed.

    Where is Alison Richardson when I need her?

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  26. Lindsey
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 17:04:10

    @Janine We must be sharing some brain waves then, because I was of the same mind, especially after reading through the comments section. Charles immediately popped into my head as well, because though he acts as Bran’s assassin, as you noted, he also engenders some sympathy among readers, which makes him more easy to relate to. It also helps that though we are aware of his position as the Marrok’s enforcer, we don’t really see a lot of it, as the focus of the series is not Charles’ position within the pack, but rather, the dynamics of his relationship with Anna.

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  27. Karenmc
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 20:06:21

    @Sunita: They left Sacramento, went into the hills, where they met a miner who’d struck a rich vein (maybe it was a vein of salmon?), then continued right into the mountains. Sacramento + Cascades = Huh?

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  28. Karenmc
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 20:10:59

    @Ann G:

    I’ve finished My Favorite Countess now, and there are some positives in it: the hero’s work, the scenes in the east end of London, and the writing is fine. I just had a problem with the heroine and a tendency to avoid talking out issues by having sex instead.

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  29. Sunita
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 21:33:18

    @Karenmc: Ah yes, that would be Gold Country. Definitely not Cascades!

    Your description rang a bell, so I went to AAR. Rike reviewed this book a while ago and I remember thinking WTF? about the Cascades replacing the Sierra Nevada range back when the review came out. Same book! It’s especially odd since the story apparently draws on the Donner Party experience.

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  30. Bettie
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 15:55:13

    I adored Doomsday Book, but I am a big fan of both Connie Willis, and the black plague, so it really couldn’t go wrong. I also loved Silk is for Seduction (Errol, excepted) both as a great Loretta Chase book, and a love letter to fashion and fabric.

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  31. msaggie
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 09:20:27

    I loved both Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I usually hate sad books,and Doomsday book is very sad indeed – there are a lot of deaths, and it really must have felt like Doomsday for those living through the plague. However, the book is so well-written that I still love the story – although in my mind I pretend the characters I loved didn’t die.

    I really liked Silk is for Seduction too – and had the gripes you had. Marcelline is a wonderful heroine. Here is a book where the heroine really outshines the hero!

    I read two wonderful books in the last week – (1) Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, which is lovely in a sweet and subtle way. It’s a bit of an eye-opener for the heroine as to what a real hero should be like. (2) Ilona Andrews’ Silent Blade – this is a novella, and my only complaint is that I wish it was longer! I like the world-building (this is not set in the Kate Daniels world, nor is it the world of the Edge), and would recommend it highly (like all other Ilona Andrews books)

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  32. Janine
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 13:12:29

    @Lindsey: Agreed. We are definitely on the same wavelength re. Charles.

    @Bettie: I don’t think I enjoyed the fashion stuff quite as much as you did. I could have done with one less gown description.

    @msaggie: Good to see you here! And thanks for the Heyer and Ilona Andrews recs! I will have to check the Andrews out, and maybe the Heyer too.

    BTW do you follow Megan Whalen Turner’s thief series? I was thinking of The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia just before I saw your comment here and it popped into my mind that I should recommend them to you. I think they are exactly the kind of books you would enjoy.

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  33. msaggie
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:44:34

    Janine, I hope you like Ilona Andrews’ books – the series should be read in chronological order. I have read Megan Whalen Turner’s books (they were initially recommended to me by my teenage niece!) – they were OK, but perhaps I expected too much. I far prefer Sharon Shinn (Samaria and Twelve Houses books) and Lois McMaster Bujold (The Sharing Knife and Vorkosigan series) .

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  34. Janine
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 11:33:02

    @msaggie: I’ve read the two books in the Edge series and enjoyed them very much. Haven’t tried the Kate Daniels books yet, but based on the Edge books, I expect I’ll like Silent Blade.

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