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What Janine is Reading: September 2012

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 NevilleOnce 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 MayberryHot 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 MayberryHer 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 KleypasDream 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 ChaseScandal 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.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. 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.


  1. Tinabelle
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 21:03:41

    I appreciated your comments on Chase’s Scandal Wears Satin. I usually enjoy Chase’s work but this one really fell flat for me. I was baffled by all of the positive reviews so was happy to see that I was not completely alone in giving it a low grade. I slogged thru it but it was a challenge. I was bored with the story and the characters, found it totally unrealistic even for a romance novel, and just never really cared about any of the characters in the story or what happened to them. I couldn’t buy that Sophie and Longmore were really in love either; perhaps that is because I didn’t like them at all.

  2. Readsalot81
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 00:46:35

    @Janine : Well you’re not alone in regards to Sarah Mayberry – Her Best Worst Mistake. I bought it a couple of days just based on the rave reviews I’d heard.. and my initial reactions pretty much matched yours. For the first half, I really wasn’t impressed. It did seem to be all lust, sex, and arguments.. and I felt myself getting bored. Perhaps since I *didn’t * read Hot Island Nights first, my impression of Martin wasn’t as strong as yours, but even at the end of the book, he never got past “mildly ok dude” per my inner hero thermometer. Nonetheless, I’m willing to try more books.. as I did like the last half quite a bit better than the first.

    Congrats on finishing Once Upon a Ballroom. I never got that far. I believe I made it through a story and a half before calling it quits. I can’t remember which stories I read if I’m being honest. Hmmm. So yeah.

  3. LeeF
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 01:14:25

    Jeepers- I hope October got better for you! :-o I actually enjoyed both Mayberry books- a little different than the standard chick-lit

  4. Janine
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 11:35:21

    @Tinabelle: It sounds like we had a very similar response to Scandal Wears Satin. Honestly I was surprised by my reaction to the book, because I’ve enjoyed everything Chase has written since Miss Wonderful, even Don’t Tempt Me, the one with harem escapee, which so many readers didn’t care for.

    For me this one was weaker, because as unbelievable as the story in Don’t Tempt Me was, at least Lucien was a wonderful character. This one had an unbelievable storyline and characters that did almost nothing for me. I really hope the next one is stronger.

  5. Janine
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 11:45:06


    Re. Her Best Worst Mistake, I’m so glad I’m not alone. Every single comment or review I’ve seen about it has been very positive.

    Martin wasn’t a total villain in Hot Island Nights, but still a lousy fiance to Elizabeth, and seeing him clearly attracted to Violet even while engaged to Elizabeth in Her Best Worst Mistake didn’t help me like him better.

    You know, Martin and Violet both kept thinking they would not have slept together had Martin married Elizabeth, but I wasn’t convinced. They clearly couldn’t stop themselves even when they resolved to stay away, and I don’t see how they could know what they would or wouldn’t have done in a hypothetical situation that didn’t happen.

    Have you read her Mayberry’s other works? I’m wondering if you’d have a rec for me.

    @LeeF: Thanks, October did get some better reading-wise, for the first three weeks anyway.

  6. Lorenda Christensen
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 09:07:29

    Darn. I was really hoping the Loretta Chase was totally different, since I had trouble getting into the first seamstress novel. That and I haven’t read a really great historical since Sherry Thomas’s latest. That being said, I read Moriah Densley’s Song for Sophia a few months ago and really liked it. It’s hero is a musical savant and reminded me somewhat of The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie. If you haven’t read it and like interesting heroes (the heroine was a run of the mill escaped heiress), you might give it a try.

  7. Janine
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 13:17:56

    @Lorenda Christensen: Thanks for the rec. I’ll take a look at the kindle sample and see what I think.

  8. Bronte
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 19:56:38

    @Janine: I haven’t read hot island nights but I actually quite enjoyed Her Worst Best Mistake. I felt like I could really understand Martin. I grew up on the Australian equivalent of an English Council Estate, and was the first in my family to make it through University so I felt like I could see how his family background influenced his motivations. I like that he examined where he went wrong and corrected it. Because of my background I found it much harder to understand Violet, and for me she was the one I didn’t connect with as much. As far as other Mayberry’s, I really enjoyed All Over You and Can’t Get Enough. I’m still making my way through her backlist as I’ve only discovered her recently.

  9. Janine
    Nov 05, 2012 @ 00:23:08

    @Bronte: I liked Violet not because of her socio-economic background but because she was so clearly starved for approval. That made it hard for me to see Martin reject her peace offering so rudely early on.

    I did get what Mayberry was trying to do with Martin’s character, but it just wasn’t enough for me. Again, if I hadn’t been introduced to Martin through Hot Island Nights then quite possibly it would have been. I think you’d have to read the earlier book to have a chance at understanding why I viewed Martin as I did. He was a real douche to Elizabeth, in a way that his background didn’t do enough to support, at least IMO.

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