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.