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

Carolyn Jewel

What Jaclyn Is Reading, September 2011

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

GUEST REVIEW: Fault Line by Barry Eisler

GUEST REVIEW: Fault Line by Barry Eisler

cover image of Fault Line by Barry EislerDear Mr. Eisler:

Fault Line was the first book of yours that I’d read. I’ve since read more, by the way. In the past, I have worked at Intellectual Property law firms as well as in the legal department of a Bio-Tech firm, so I am intimate with the portion of Fault Line that deals with patent prosecution and the highly educated and degreed men and women who do this kind of work. I am also currently employed in the technology sector and while I do not work directly in the security end of IT, my job daily involves many of the issues involved with the security software that is at the heart of the plot of Fault Line. Lastly, I live in the Bay Area and have been to most of the Northern California areas where Fault Line takes place. I found Fault Line to be quite accurate in those respects and I say this with the painful experience of having read books in which authors did not do any research worthy of the noun into the technology they decided to write about. So thank you, Mr. Eisler, for getting it right.

Alex Treven is an intellectual property attorney who’s brought on a client of his own to the firm where he hopes to make partner. The client’s product, a computer security software application, has the potential for immense profits. His hopes unravel when his client is murdered. When the murders continue, it’s clear someone is eliminating everyone assoiciated with the software. Alex and Sarah Hossieni, a beautiful junior associate of Iranian heritage assigned to work with him on the patent application, are the obvious next targets. Correctly afraid he’s in over his head, Alex is left with no choice but to ask his estranged military-operative brother for help.

I confess I was a bit put off by the opening of Fault Lines. A great deal of backstory gets laid down in the first twenty to thirty pages (an estimate, since I was reading on my iPhone) and I started feeling anxious for things to get started.

Two main backstory lines are important to Fault Line; the security software program for which people are being killed on page one and throughout the book, and the family history between the two male protagonists, brothers Alex and Ben Treven.

Initially I was puzzled by Alex who I mistook for the protagonist and found to be oddly beta for the hero of a political thriller. Alex is quickly in physical peril, and for a bit I wasn’t at all sure how this guy was going to survive his story. Patent attorneys do not typically learn the skills required to survive attempted assassinations.

To an experienced reader of Romance (which I am) Alex’s brother Ben is immediately identifiable as Hero Material. In fact, Ben was so precisely the kind of man who is the protagonist of a military Romance that I briefly floundered a bit as I tried to figure out what kind of book I was reading. A traditional political military thriller or a Romance? Or was Fault Line going to be a book that attempted a fusion? Oh, how I have been dying for someone to do this!

Ben Treven is a shooter for US government-sponsored Black Ops, and we meet him as he is carrying out the assassination of two Iranian nuclear scientists. He’s emotionally isolated and (to a romance reader) desperately in need of the love of a good woman. But wait! Isn’t Alex in love with Sarah, the only possible Heroine of any romance that might take place? Why, yes, he is! Very interesting, Mr. Eisler. Gotta keep turning pages to find out how that works out.

Fortunately, I got myself properly oriented to the story -’ that is, open minded about where Alex and Ben were headed as dual protagonists and absorbed in the many fascinating dynamics laid out on the pages. Alex and Sarah have the smarts and knowledge required to solve the mystery surrounding the security software while Ben has what it takes to keep them alive and investiate just who is behind the killings while the software mystery is being solved. The various story lines bend back around, intertwine and intersect in intriguing and chilling ways up to and including the ending.

Ben eventually takes over as the protagonist of the story, but Alex remains a strong second protagonist who is vital to the resolution. Ben thinks he’s safe in his tightly controlled world only to gradually suspect betrayal of the worst and potentially fatal sort. Alex and Ben have a truckload of childhood issues to either resolve or figure out how to keep from igniting before the past ends up getting them killed in the present. Alex wants Sarah. Ben wants Sarah and wishes he didn’t. Sarah knows her own mind but really, what woman can resist the likes of Ben after he proves there’s a softer side under that damaged exterior? It’s this portion of the book that is most strongly a Romance. With a capital R.

Most female readers of military thrillers (we are legion, just ask Lee Child) are familiar with the traditional fate of the woman unfortunate enough to fall for the hero. At best, she’s doomed to be dumped while the hero moves on with hardly a regret. Often, however, she’s doomed to die. Fault Line breaks with this tradition. Sarah has scenes in her point of view, which means readers get a direct line to her doubts about Ben and her eventual resolution of most of them. These scenes make Sarah a more fully realized female character than is usual for a thriller.

The romance element of this story is wonderfully done and done without sacrificing the unraveling mystery and resolution as the disparate plot lines come together. Unlike Alex and Ben, however, Sarah is not in a situation that requires her personal or emotional transformation in order to survive. Ultimately, the story is not about the relationship between her and Ben. For this reason, Fault Line is not a romance. That isn’t a criticism, by the way. It’s merely an observation.

I suspect that for readers of military thrillers the deeper focus on Sarah and the relationship between Sarah and Ben must seem novel. Ben is challenged and transformed (in part) by his relationship with Sarah. And yet, she’s not there just so Ben gets to have sex. In fact, I’d even say that in at least one key scene, Ben is there so Sarah gets to have sex. The focus given to the sex scenes and their unusal flip from the male-centric to the female-centric is refreshing. For readers familiar with romance, of course, this is nothing new.

Fault Line is a gripping political/military thriller that moves quickly and features one of the more fully dimensional female characters I’ve seen in the genre. I thoroughly enjoyed Fault Line for all the reasons I enjoy military thrillers and for many of the reasons I enjoy romance.

A-

~Carolyn Jewel

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.