It’s hard to believe November is here already, and I’m just now getting around to posting my September reading list. Where did the time go?
Once Upon a Ballroom by Caroline Linden, Katharine Ashe, Maya Rodale, and Miranda Neville
This anthology has been priced between free and 99 cents since it came out, and because I’ve enjoyed Miranda Neville and Caroline Linden in the past, I decided to try it. Turns out that over 20% of it is excerpts from upcoming books and “About the Authors” content. The rest of it, four stories, ranged from a waste of time to very good, with most on the disappointing side of the equation. The stories are also shorter than I expected: by my estimate each is between 28 and 36 pages long.
The Linden story had a lovely heroine whose love for her husband is tested when he is away from home and rumors fly that he has been cheating on her. The hero shows up at the very end of the story for a couple or so pages, and that wasn’t enough for me. C-/C.
The Ashe story had a moody atmosphere and good chemistry between the hero and heroine, but was weighed down by purple language. The hero and heroine got over huge baggage in no time, stretching my credulity. C-.
I don’t know what to make of the Rodale story, since two-thirds of it was the h/h literally dreaming about each other, and the final third rushed the resolution. Since these two characters are the protagonist of Rodale’s upcoming novel, I was left wondering whether the whole thing was a cobbling together of excerpts or outtakes. Regardless, it left me indifferent. D.
The Neville story was wonderful, with loveable characters whose quest to win each other’s heart led to a humorous mix up. The warmth between them was palpable, and both of them felt genuine and real. On the downside, the story was too short, and the emotional payoff felt abbreviated. Still, well worth reading. B.
Overall though, this anthology seemed like less of a bargain after I finished reading it than it had when I first snapped it up. Three of the four stories disappointed me, with the Rodale story eroding my desire to read. The way each story was followed by an excerpt promoting its author’s next book didn’t help. This anthology struck me as being as much author promotion as entertainment. Full review here.
Hot Island Nights by Sarah Mayberry
This was my first Mayberry and I enjoyed it. Elizabeth, the heroine, is described as a cool English beauty, but there’s kindness and empathy beneath that surface. Nate, the hero, is numbing himself with alcohol to escape the aftermath of a horrible trauma. The two rub each other the wrong way when they meet – and then they begin to rub each other the right way.
There was good chemistry between them, and each of them was appealing. The sex was steamy, too. My one problem, though, was a significant one – I wasn’t convinced that taking on Nate and his issues would allow Elizabeth to continue to work on her own issue – burying her wants and needs in the process of pleasing others.
Nate carried so much baggage that it was hard to imagine Elizabeth figuring out her likes, dislikes and who she was within this relationship. In fact, Elizabeth’s arc mostly got dropped to accommodate Nate’s toward the end of the book. Still, the book was a sexy, emotional page turner and I will gladly read this author again. Review to come.
Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry
Ironically (since I mainly read Hot Island Nights because I was interested in Her Best Worst Mistake) I wonder if I would have liked this book better had I not read Hot Island Nights first. A big part of the problem was that I liked Elizabeth, the heroine of Hot Island Nights so much. This book was about the relationship that develops between Violet, Elizabeth’s best friend, and Martin, Elizabeth’s fiancé, within days after Elizabeth breaks up with Martin.
I think that if I weren’t more familiar with Elizabeth at the start of this book than I was with either Violet and Martin, I might have sided with them a lot faster. As it was, it was hard to relax into the fun aspects of this book and enjoy their relationship, especially since I was inclined to dislike Martin for having been a jerk to Elizabeth in the past. It didn’t help that early on in Her Best Worst Mistake, he was a jerk to Violet as well. I liked Violet, so I thought she deserved better.
Instead of reading like a hot story of opposites (free spirited girl and starchy, repressed guy) attracting, the first half of the book read like nothing more than lust, sex and sniping. I was curiously detached from the characters’ relationship, and wished Violet would take page from Elizabeth’s book and give Martin the boot.
Then Christmas arrived and Martin was so nice to Violet that I finally started caring about them as a couple. I couldn’t reconcile the nice Martin with the jerk Martin, but the last 40% of the book and Violet’s emotional journey got to me. Even though I knew from having read Hot Island Nights that it would take Violet six months to confess to Elizabeth that she as sleeping with Martin, that delay felt like it was being dragged out via contrivances. Still, Violet captured my heart, so this gets a C.
Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
Jane has an excellent review of this book. The interesting thing to me in reading her review was that I agreed with all her points, but I still enjoyed reading the book, even though it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The ghost was, as Jane said, a sentimental, sometimes maudlin character. His voice did, as she said keep shifting from old fashioned to contemporary, and it was hard to get a handle on his character as a result.
Zoe, the heroine, could have been more interesting than she was. For me this character lacked a spark. In fact I would have loved to see Alex paired with someone more flawed – perhaps even his ex-wife, Darcy. Alex had enough potential in Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor that the love story could have had more complexity and zing if he’d been matched with someone less idealized. I also wished his childhood and its effect on him had been explored more. I would have loved more character psychology.
Some parts of the book struck me as sappy and overly sentimental, but in other places I bought into the sentiment of the ghost’s past and even got a little teary eyed over the changes in Alex. Later I wondered why I was able to read this book with absorption, despite all its clichés, occasionally weak language, and a ridiculous ending. Maybe it was the alchemy of Zoe’s recipes (I am a foodie) or more likely the way the story involved healing on Alex and the ghost’s part? Sometimes I’m easy to manipulate. C-.
Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase
I’m a big fan of Chase’s Carsington series and enjoyed her previous book in this dressmaker series, Silk is for Seduction, despite some quibbles. This one though… The heroine, Sophy, though one of the Noirot sisters, is bland. The hero, Longmore, seems cool and distant, and not in an entertaining way. Neither of them engaged me.
The plot centered more on Longmore’s sister Clara than on either Longmore or Sophy. A fortune hunter arranges to be caught in a compromising position with Clara in order to get his hands on her dowry. Clara does not want to marry him, and the Noirot sisters agree. Clara is the best patroness of their dress shop, and they don’t want to lose her custom after her funds are drained by a feckless husband. While Sophy tries to save the business from a rival, Clara lands in worse trouble, necessitating Longmore and Sophy’s teamwork.
Perhaps because I didn’t care that much about either Sophy or Longmore, Scandal Wears Satin struck me as a patchwork of other Chase novels. Longmore bears some similarity to Rupert Carsington from Mr. Impossible, but isn’t half as charming. Sophy is as “tricky” as her sister Marcelline from Silk is for Seduction, but not a quarter as interesting. A road trip in pursuit of Clara reminds me of the plot of Lord Perfect, and a kiss at an inn reminds me of Last Night’s Scandal.
On top of all that, some aspects of the book are difficult to credit (the Duchess of Clevedon serving a customer at her dress shop? Sophy changing identities over and over without being recognized?). I was bored enough that I had to skim parts of the book to get to the end. What I read rates a C-, but since I didn’t read the book in its entirety and won’t backtrack to read the rest, I have to give Scandal Wears Satin a DNF.
September wasn’t the best reading month for me as you can see, and “Best of 2012” lists aren’t that far away, so I would love to get some recommendations for 2012 books you loved.
I’d also love to hear your thoughts on any of the books I mention above.