Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie was my top romance read of 2009. I had extraordinarily high expectations of Ashley’s second Mackenzie book. Although I don’t think Mac and Isabella’s story quite measures up to Ian’s, I still thought it was an exceptional read. Reunion stories are among my favorites, and when they show why love alone is not enough to guarantee an HEA, I think they are even better. Before the story opens, Mac has realized what he lost when Isabella left him and has reformed. LISM is the story of a second-chance courtship and of Isabella’s coming to trust the man she has never stopped loving. The presence of the other Mackenzies was an extra gift, and Ashley makes them integral to the story rather than affixing them like so many seals on an already wrapped package. I loved LISM and can’t wait for the next Mackenzie book.

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

I've read that laughter reduces stress and boosts the immune system. If this is true, reading Kristan Higgins is good for my health, physically and mentally. When I read Higgins, I smile, I giggle, I chortle, I even guffaw. All I Ever Wanted followed the pattern in this respect and in providing some lovely, poignant moments as well. The central love story in this one was a winner for me. I found Callie--short for Calliope--likeable and sympathetic. She celebrates her 30th birthday early in the story, the same day she is forced to realize that her dream of an HEA with Mark, her boss and the man she believes to be the LOVE OF HER LIFE, is never going to happen. Most women have a Mark in their past, the charmer who won't commit but wants to leave you still a little bit in love with him. Ian, the vet who becomes the new love interest, is Mark's opposite, a wounded hero with a curmudgeonly facade who prefers animals to people. I think Callie's lucky Ian turns out to be her hero. This is a Higgins book, so, of course, there are quirky secondary characters and a scene-stealing animal (Callie's always shedding husky, Bowie). My one quibble with the book was one of Callie’s internal mentors. Every mention of Betty Boop brought me out of the story, pausing for the "boo boo, be do."

Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

I’ve read this one twice, and it was even better on the second reading. I think winding up a popular series must be an amazingly difficult task, and Kleypas does it superbly with this book. I especially appreciated the Cyrano de Bergerac touch. I’ve loved all of the Hathaways, and I’ve wondered from the beginning what Kleypas would do with Beatrix, one of the most unusual and endearing characters I’ve encountered. In Christopher, Kleypas created a hero who is a perfect mate for the eccentric Beatrix, one who comes to appreciate all that she is and the unorthodox family she comes from. Theirs is a sweet and passionate love story. One of the moments I loved most, however, was a tender one between Leo and his youngest sister: "Bending his head over hers, Leo murmured, "When I give you away at the altar, Bea, I want you to remember something. I'm not really giving you away. I'm merely allowing him the chance to love you as much as the rest of us do." I felt as if Leo were speaking not only for the family but also for the reader.

One Season of Sunshine by Julia London

I’m one of those readers who was hoping London’s next contemporary would give Wyatt Clark, the loser in the love triangle in last year’s Summer of Two Wishes, his HEA. The bad news is that One Season of Sunshine is not Wyatt’s book. The good news is that it is the same kind of emotionally intense book with characters that fully engage the reader. It is as much women’s fiction as romance with Jane Aaron’s search for her birth mother as central to the book as her relationship with widower Asher Price. Jane particularly is a fully realized character with clearly and credibly delineated strengths and weaknesses. I was uncomfortable with the pairing of the nanny and her boss initially, but the characters’ own awareness of the cliché rendered the relationship acceptable. London includes a large cast of secondary characters, but she gives dimension to them all. I loved Jane’s family, and I thought Riley, Asher’s daughter, was one of the best portrayals of an adolescent that I’ve seen in romance fiction. I worried briefly about an ick-factor ending, but that fear proved groundless. My one remaining concern is that the bipolarism of Asher’s wife is one individual’s story, not a representative picture of the disorder. I would like to have seen that information included, if not in the novel itself, then in an author’s note.

Finding Perfect by Susan Mallory

Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Golds books are shaping up to be my favorite Mallery series since the Buchanans. Finding Perfect, the third book in the series, focuses on characters introduced earlier in the series, Pia O’Brian, planner of Fool’s Gold’s year-round schedule of festivals, and Raoul Moreno, former Dallas football star and new resident of Fool’s Gold. Raoul connects this series to an earlier Mallery series, specifically Sweet Spot, the second of the Keyes sisters books. I loved seeing Raoul grownup, and I loved the cameos of Nicole and Hawk. It was also great to see the HEAs of Charity and Josh (Chasing Perfect) and Liz and Ethan (Almost Perfect) in progress. But it was the character of Pia who moved this book to the five-star category for me. First, she's a reformed "mean girl," and that reformation occurs before the story arc of the Fool's Gold books begins. Then, she chooses to have implanted the embryos left to her by her friend who died of cancer. I rejoice in these tweaks to the conventions of romance fiction. I’ve read many romances featuring heroines who gave children up for adoption and several with heroines who served as surrogates, but Pia’s situation was a new one for me. I particularly appreciated the recognition that Crystal was wrong not to tell Pia that she was leaving the embryos to her. That acknowledgement and Pia’s miscarrying one of the embryos rooted the story in reality. Pia and Raoul’s romance is sweet and sexy, if rather predictable, and Fool’s Gold with its cast of quirky, caring characters is a place I’d return to in a heartbeat. Mallery has said she’s writing stories for the Hendrix triplets, Montana, Dakota, and Nevada. I’m looking forward to their stories.

Money, Honey by Susan Sey

One of the reasons I’m selective about the romantic suspense I read is that I prefer the emphasis to fall heavily on the first part of the term. Susan Sey’s debut novel succeeds admirably in this respect. The suspense plot is present, but it never gets in the way of the relationship between Patrick O’Connor, reformed jewel thief turned successful writer, and Liz Brynn, up-tight FBI agent. Both Patrick and Liz have complicated pasts that intrude on their present. The attraction between them is powerful, but each has her/his reasons for being wary. The dialogue is lively, the sexual tension is steamy (but without the fire of a hot romance), and the secondary characters are interesting. Money, Honey reads more like the second book in a series than a debut novel. I’d love to read a prequel or a sequel that gave a bit more back story. But whatever Sey writes next, I look forward to reading it. Light but with more weight than froth is one of my favorite kinds of romances, and Sey has clearly mastered the recipe.

CaddyGirls by V.K. Sykes (historical romance novelist Vanessa Kelly and her husband Randall Sykes)

Golf bores me, tycoon heroes irritate me, and Las Vegas would be in last place among 500 cities I want to visit. Despite these prejudices, I enjoyed this novella that featured a golfer heroine, a self-made billionaire hero, and a Las Vegas setting. Both Torrey Green and Julian Grant are interesting, likeable characters with histories and baggage and passions. Given who they are, their choices to keep their secrets seemed reasonable, and ultimately they both prove they are grown-ups whose hearts are in the right places. The love scenes sizzle, and the ending satisfies a romance-loving reader. CaddyGirls is a stellar debut and a romance that offers something different from the same-old same-old. I expect more terrific reads from this husband and wife duo.

What have you been reading? What quibbles can you move beyond and still rank a book highly?

NOTE: I read free ebooks of All I Ever Wanted (HQN), Finding Perfect (HQN), and CaddyGirls (Carina Press) courtesy of NetGalley and the publishers. I won Money, Honey (Berkley Sensation) at Romance Bandits, where Sey is one of the bloggers. Parts of this blog were first posted as reviews on Goodreads. I don't think self-plagiarism is unethical or illegal.


MsHellion said...

I loved Love in the Afternoon. (After yet another kidnapping in the previous novel of the series, I was wary. Okay, cynical and paranoid, but fortunately all my worries were for not. Great, great novel.)

I knew you'd ask what we'd been reading lately. Crap. I've been going through so many (and not writing them down) I've sorta forgotten.

Garrett (2nd in the McKendrick series, by Linda Lael Miller)--very good.

The Improper Lady (long ass title) by Suzanne Enoch--it was really good. I loved Tolly; and I love her heroes. I think I have some backreading to do on Enoch's stuff.

Remember Me (Sophie Kinsella) a reread but even funnier this time. Looking forward to her new book.

Most of the stuff I've been reading lately has been very good. I'm finally reading now the Black Dress story by Elizabeth Boyle--I love that series. I did abandon the 7 Secrets of Seduction by mid-chapter 1 because the character didn't feel authentic to the period for me. (But I hear it's good!)

MsHellion said...

Ooops, now I see where I heard the 7 Secrets was good. You recommended it. *LOL*

irisheyes said...

I totally agree with you on Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage and Love In The Afternoon. Read both and thoroughly enjoyed them.

I've tried Kristan Higgins several times and just can't connect, but still have her books and am going to re-visit them.

One Season of Sunshine looks like it is right up my alley. I found out it has the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon so I'm going to read a bit of it and see if it clicks.

I just finished Barely A Lady and liked it a lot. It was one of those books you talk about having a quibble with here and there but overall I thought it was a good read. And I especially can't wait for the 2nd and 3rd in the trilogy.

I won Money, Honey from RWR so I'm looking forward to diving into that one.

I've been in a slump the past week or so. I read so many awesome books in a row last month I think I got a little spoiled. The ones I'm picking up now are just not grabbing my attention very quickly.

Janga said...

Hellie, there's lots of love for LITA in the romance community. It didn't replace my top two Kleypas reads, Lady Sophia's Lover and Dreaming of You, but I'd probably rank it #3.

I really like Boyle's Bachelor Chronicles. The first one, Something About Emmaline, was my first Boyle, and it was such a fun read that I've followed the series ever since. If you're only up to the Black Gown, you still have two to go with a new one schedule for fall release. :)

And yes to Suzanne Enoch. She's an autobuy author for me, and Englands's Perfect Hero is on my top 100 list.

Janga said...

Irish, there are some July 27 releases that should cure your reading blahs--EJ's A Kiss at Midnight, Loretta Chase's Last Night's Scandal, and Tessa Dare's Three Nights with a Scandal, to name my top three. And the first book in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, Wicked Intentions, releases August 1.

Let me know what you think of the London. I've enjoyed her historicals, but I like her contemporaries even better. I loved the Lear books a few years ago, and I'm hooked on the Cedar Springs series. I think the next one, A Light at Winter's End (March 2011) will be Wyatt's book.

vi said...

As much as I loved Leo's book, it's Beatrix's book that I cannot stop thinking about. The romance, the wit, the humor and the lack of a kidnapping is all there. This book made me smile. I own and have read every book Kleypas wrote, including the ones published by NAL. Just when I thought Kleypas couldn't surprise me anymore, she did with this delightful book.

I have also read the new Ashley. I liked it but seemed kinda ordinary after Ian's book. I can't believe we have to wait a year between books.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Sey's book. Her website is so cute.

quantum said...

I want to read more Kleypas and 'Love in the Afternoon' sounds good, especially as I have access to an audio version. Is it a standalone book, or would it be better to start with the first of the Hathaway series?

I am also interested to try Kristan Higgins, especially as her publisher is one of the enlightened band that recognize a global market place! I love humor in romance, but note from Irish's comment that it can be very reader specific. I guess humor takes many forms and some drive me nuts as well. I'll have to suck it and see.

That's probably all I can cope with for now.

Over the past month I have been getting more into Sophie Kinsella. Like Helli I loved 'Remember Me' and am now in to 'Sleeping Arrangements'. I have an audio version and the narrator has the voices off pat ... quite brilliant! I also started the Shopaholic series but was not really taken with the first. It had some amusing scenes but on the whole I didn't really feel engaged with shopping mad heroine. I will try the second 'Shopaholic abroad ' before giving up.

I also read the first of Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. I liked it a lot but found all the babies a bit much to cope with. It was quite natural and understandable given the heroine's profession though. I am definitely going to try the second book 'Shelter Mountain'.

Great Blog Janga
I love your reviews!

Janga said...

Vi, you've read more Kleypas than I have. There are a couple I missed. LITA was exceptional, and I'm really looking forwatd to her new contemporary series too. But I'm hoping for more Travis books as well.

Wasn't Money, Honey fun? I love Susan Sey's voice!

Janga said...

Q, there are more babies to come in the Carr series. Virgin River is a fertile place. LOL! But it's a great place to visit, babies and all.

I'm glad you like my comments. I'm not sure they really qualify as reviews, but I do love taling about books.

MsHellion said...

Q, I wasn't all into the Confessions of a Shopaholic either--I don't like fashion or shopping that much (if at all) and I found Becky rather shallow because that was ALL she did. But I found later books to be more engaging...or maybe I got used to the shallowness of that particular character. *LOL*

PJ said...

This week I read Married by Morning and Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas. I was a bit disappointed in Leo's story. It just didn't capture my interest like the rest of the Hathaway's had done. On the other hand, I adored LITA! It was wonderful!

Yesterday, I started - and finished - Last Night's Scandal by Loretta Chase. I loved this book so much! Chase made us wait four years for this story but I couldn't have asked for more. Olivia and Lisle (Peregrine), as adults, were exactly as I had hoped and their book is going straight to my keeper shelf...after I read it again. It's much too good to not go back for seconds. *g*

Janga said...

PJ, I felt the same way about MBM and LITA. I liked MBM, but it wasn't the "book I'll never forget" that I wanted Leo's story to be. LITA was.

I've been haunting the local booksellers hoping I'd find Last Night's Scandal early. I am so eager to read Olivia and Peregrine's story--and have been since Lord Perfect, which was my favorite of the Carsington books.

Deb said...

I've been working on Suzanne Enoch's backlist; they are hard to find books! I loved A Lady's Guide, so hence the backlist. Suzanne can take a really bad hero (like Saint/Michael) and turn him completely around while making the H/H interaction witty and hot.

I just started The Irish Warrior this morning. Only on chapter 2 and can tell the villain is really b-a-d. The H/H haven't met yet. There are a few Irish words in the back of the book that give meanings, but it's driving me nuts not to know what some other words mean.

I read a Shirley Busbee (Passion Becomes Her) and didn't care for it. H/H weren't too believable with no depth and the plot was just boring. Unless there are sterling reviews of others, she isn't an author I will read again.

I haven't read many new releases this week because of SE's backlist (6 of them were in my TBR stash).

Next will be Tessa Dare's Twice Tempted. She's an auto-buy for me, but I did start TT 2 weeks ago and had some problems getting into it. So, will try it again this next week.

I've read more this summer than ever before, but once school starts in mid-August, it will be back to a book or two a week instead of a book a day.

vi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vi said...

Quantum, if you like Kinsella, don't forget she did/ does write under the name Madeline Wickham. The near- ending of Remember Me had me teary-eyed. It's my favorite book by her.

Janga, I hope one of these days Sey writes about the sister and her husband. I want to know how their love story came to be. I also agree with Quantum, you have a lovely blog and I am glad I discovered it.

Janga said...

Deb, I agree that Suzanne Enoch is a terrific writer. She's one of my autobuys, and England's Perfect Hero is one of my all-time faves, one I've reread a number of times.

And both of Kris Kennedy's books have been extraordinary. I can't wait to see what she has in store for us next.

Janga said...

Thanks for the kind words, Vi. I'm glad you discovered the blog too.

By the way, did you see the note that you won a free book a couple of weeks ago. Send me your contact info, and I'll send it to you.