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Reading List by Jennie for January and February

Reading List by Jennie for January and February

I also read and reviewed VilletteThrown for a CurveThe Countess Conspiracy and Freeing during these months.

dance with dragonsA Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

This is the fifth and, for now, the last book in the A Song of Ice and Fire (otherwise known as Game of Thrones) series. It’s also long. Really, really long. I’ve been reading it since the first of the year and have just now reached the 50% mark. I guess on the plus side there will be less of a lapse between this book and The Winds of Winter for me, which is definitely a good thing; I have enough trouble keeping characters straight as it is, without a five-year wait between books. Anyway, I’m enjoying seeing some of the perspectives missing from book four, A Feast for Crows (books four and five were originally one book, split when it became too unwieldy). It’s especially nice to see Daenerys again. Though things are going so bad for Dany, it’s almost hard to read about. Who knew being the Mother of Dragons would be such a drag? Anyway, someday I’ll finish this and then be as caught up as I can be with doings in Westeros and such (the main advantage of which is that I can’t be inadvertently spoiled).

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six womenSix Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach

I heard about this book earlier this year (I believe the author was on The Daily Show) and was intrigued. I’ve long had a bit of a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials, dating back to reading The Crucible in middle school. This book focuses on six women central to the witch trials: the slave Tituba, both accused and accuser, the tragic accused, elderly Rebecca Nurse, accusers Ann Putnam and Mary Warren (Putnam especially doesn’t come off sympathetically at all) and accused Bridget Bishop and Mary English. I thought this was smart as these women really represented a cross-section of Salem society. I was a little hesitant about the author’s conceit of interjecting italicized passages in which she imagines the women’s thoughts and speaks from their points of view, but ultimately the device is used judiciously and sparingly, and it didn’t feel like Roach went too far in her speculation. I gave this book a B+.

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sweetSweet by Erin McCarthy

Reviewed here. I really liked True, the first book in the series, even though it’s an over the top mish-mash of new adult/romance cliches (okay, perhaps BECAUSE it’s an OTT mish-mash of NA/romance cliches, but well done). I was intrigued by the pairing of Jessica and Riley; I’m not sure why I waited to buy and read this one. It turned out to be slightly less intense than the first book; Riley is less of a bad boy than Tyler, and Jessica, predictably, is not as much of a bad girl as previously advertised. I wish McCarthy had let her be; I was particularly irritated that despite Jessica’s party girl rep and Riley’s habitual monkishness, we just had to have a scene in which it’s made clear that he’s had more sexual partners than her. Because heaven forbid it be the other way around. Sigh. Also, the rather superficial depiction of the poverty of Riley’s family was a little distasteful. Still, this was entertaining enough to earn a B from me.

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believeBelieve by Erin McCarthy

I think it was actually the review here that made me get around to buying and reading Sweet, and I liked that book enough to buy Believe after I finished it, in spite of the issues that the review outlines. I feel like this series has gotten increasingly married to traditional gender depictions in a way that doesn’t really thrill me. The romance between Robin and Phoenix is actually rather sweet and low-conflict. But putting aside the question of whether Robin’s sexual encounter with Nathan was or was not rape (it certainly reads like it, but since she doesn’t believe it is, I’m hesitant to call it that), the way she “reforms” after it occurs has a fair helping of (subtle and not-so-subtle) slut shaming. I mean, if a person wants to start dressing differently and wearing less makeup, well, that’s a personal choice. It’s not a reflection on her worth as a person or how “real” she’s being. I think McCarthy’s pulled back a bit on the realistic depiction of college culture, with its hookups, drinking and drugging.  Robin’s whole drinking drama was a bit uneven and preachy;  her decision to stop drinking after the incident was understandable, but I never got the sense that she was actually an alcoholic until late in the book, when things turn abruptly after-school-specialish. Anyway, I gave this a B-. I will likely read the next book, if only to see some deeper resolution between Robin and Kylie.

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Nicole Camden Nekkid TruthThe Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden

I got this from the Daily Deals based on the strong recommendation; plus, the price was unbeatable. It’s reviewed here. I ended up finding it a little strange. The heroine’s disability wasn’t well-explained (or at least not to my satisfaction), and I couldn’t help but wonder why the people who knew her didn’t identify themselves immediately upon greeting her, which is what I’d do if I ever encountered someone with that condition. (And if, heaven forbid, I ever suffered from such a condition, I’d immediately instruct/nag/beg everyone I knew to do the same with me.) The romance was hot, but suffered a little for me from having so much backstory that we only got in dribs and drabs. I did like the characters, and the writing, though rough in spots, worked well for me. I’d try this author again. My grade was B.

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Zelda: A Biography by Nancy MilfordZelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford

Continuing (sort of) my habit of reading about writers whose works I haven’t even read (I’m embarrassed; I’ve never made it through The Great Gatsby, though I do intend to someday!), I picked up this biography of Zelda Fitzgerald (though it really covers Scott and Zelda almost equally). What can I say about it? It was depressing. It’s depressing to read about alcoholics and the mentally ill. And then they die young. (Side note: Is this like complaining that the food at the restaurant was terrible, and the portions were skimpy?) Anyway, I guess I was hoping for a little more Jazz Age glamor, and we do get some of that, but the monsters are always lurking underneath the surface. The author is fairly even-handed in presenting both “sides”, if you’re inclined to take a side in Scott v. Zelda. He definitely used a lot of their lives in his writing, and so in a sense used her, while being terribly jealous and controlling about her own writing efforts. On the other hand, he was more patient than one would expect a self-absorbed genius to be of the vagaries of her illness. Her obsessive mid-life attempt to be a ballerina just about drove ME crazy, and I was just reading about it. This was a B.

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What Janine is Reading, January through March of 2014

What Janine is Reading, January through March of 2014

Because most of the books I’ve read this year so far have been given the full-length review treatment, there are only two covered in detail in this column. My other reviews for this time period are linked at the bottom of this post.

Married for Christmas by Noelle AdamsMarried for Christmas by Noelle Adams

Back in December Kelly raved about this short book, which features a friends to lovers marriage of convenience between a computer programmer heroine and a pastor hero. I was drawn in by the premise, that although this book featured a hero who was a minister, it was not a Christian romance. I prefer books that don’t preach about Christianity, but at the same time I have a fondness for characters whose faiths are in evidence.

Marriage for Christmas is a simple story and for me the simplicity was both part of its charm but also occasionally a source of frustration.

Best friends Jessica and Daniel already love each other as friends when Jessica proposes that they marry to help Daniel secure the position of minister in their hometown. Daniel resists the idea at first, telling Jess he doesn’t plan on falling into romantic love again after the loss of his first wife. But Jessica wears him down with her explanation that she wants kids and their friendship-love will be enough for her. What Daniel doesn’t know is that Jessica has been in love with him for years.

The relationship development in this one is lovely and romantic. There is sex and it is sexy. though Jessica is a virgin which is unusual for her age and explained by her love for Daniel. Thankfully, Daniel is not a rake.

There is humor and it is funny, involving disagreements over Jessica’s dog. There is emotion as Jess gradually breaks down Daniel’s stubborn emotional barriers. These two are already friends so when Daniel tries to shut her out, it’s difficult for him to accomplish but also hurts Jessica. A good thing Jessica is even more stubborn than Daniel and there is a happy ending for this sweet couple.

Still, while I enjoyed the book I didn’t love it as much as Kelly did. One thing that bothered me was that there was a lot of emphasis in the story (mostly from Jess herself) on her lack of domestic skills like cooking. This struck me as a little too 1950s.

Another issue was that Daniel suffers a crisis of faith yet this seems to have no impact at all on his ability to do his job as a pastor. I didn’t find that believable.

I also wanted to know when Daniel first fell for Jess romantically, as well as when he realized it, but these questions were left unanswered. B-.

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jade-temptressThe Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin

I adored the first novel in this two book series, The Lotus Palace, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed The Jade Temptress as well. We have a great group review by Jayne, Sunita and Willaful. Sunita and Jayne gave this one a straight A and Willaful rated it a B+. My own grade is the same as Willaful’s but that still puts this book head and shoulders above most historical romances I’ve read recently.

The Jade Temptress takes place in Tang Dynasty (specifically 848 AD) China centers on the lovely, enigmatic and famed courtesan Mingyu, and on Wu Kaifeng, a strong, straightforward police constable.

When Mingyu stumbles on the dead and headless body of her “protector,” General Deng, she summons Kaifeng to the scene of the crime. As he investigates the murder, Kaifeng encounters again and again the woman who has secretly fascinated him since he arrested her the previous year.

Gradually—very gradually—Mingyu and Kaifeng get to know each other, but after a powerful bureaucrat obsessed with Mingyu crosses paths with them both, things come to a head on several fronts.

Mingyu falls into a type of heroine I really appreciate – the sort who may appear cold on the outside, but it’s because she’s walled off parts of herself that the hero can reach. I loved her elegance and wit, as well as her loyalty to herself and her appreciation of the value of her skills as much as I did her loyalty to Kaifeng and to her sister, Yue Ying.

Kaifeng is what some might call the strong, silent type. He doesn’t speak unless he has something important to say, and like Mingyu, he doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. In fact, he’s so solid and dependable partly because his emotional reactions are often more muted than those of other people, which makes it all the more moving when he recognizes his feelings.

The mystery is well-executed, with procedural elements like forensics and interesting clues.I would say the mystery aspect is handled better here than in The Lotus Palace, but for me, The Lotus Palace was more romantic.

The reason for the latter is this: I desperately wanted Mingyu and Kaifeng to share something of their past heartaches with each other earlier than they did. Neither of these two had an easy childhood and I wanted that to come to the surface of their relationship a bit more and a bit sooner than it did.

It takes three-quarters of the book for Kaifeng to open up to Mingyu about what he suffered, while Mingyu never shares her own painful past with him. It would have been out of character for Kaifeng or Mingyu to navel gaze or cry, and I would not have wanted that, but I did want a greater sense of emotional intimacy between them and just a little bit more in the way of shared confidences could have fulfilled that for me and edged the book into A level terrain. B+.

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Here are the other books I’ve reviewed between January and March:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones — B-

The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin — A-

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett — C+

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – A

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh — C-

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard (Joint review with Kaetrin) — C+/B- for me and B-/C+/B for Kaetrin