Sunday, January 22, 2006

Two Little Lies and The Romantic

After several weeks of not really being interested in reading anything new, I picked up a couple of titles this past week that got me going. I breezed through a couple of them rather quickly actually. The first was Two Little Lies by Liz Carlyle. I have enjoyed the books I've read by her in the past. I think she has a very distinct voice. Her characters and plotlines seem to have more of a edgy, darker feel. Her heroines are a particularly refreshing bunch, even if young and virginal they tend to have a self-awareness and strength that distinguishes them from the usual feisty, impetuous regency yet self delusional miss. TLL is the story of Viviana Alessandri, an Italian opera singer, and Quinten, the Earl of Wynwood, who have a tumultuous, passionate affair which ends abruptly when Viviana returns to Italy, taking a piece of Wynwood with her (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Ten years later, they meet upon the now-widowed Viviana's return, along with her pops and three kids, to England. Still bitter over what he perceives as her betrayal, Wynwood soon realizes he's not over Viviana. She still loves him as well, but is torn because of the lies she has told him and the big secret she's been keeping (I'll give you one guess...) Can these two crazy kids find their way back to each other? Quin and Viviana were two very passionate people and the tension and the emotion were pretty smoking hot. I'm even willing to forgive the secret baby plot, as I am more apt to do with historicals, because I actually felt the reasons for keeping the secret were compelling ones for the time and place. The 20 y.o. heir to an earldom was not likely to marry his Italian opera singing mistress. This was sexy, fast read. The one lingering problem that I had was that both the first and second time around, the overriding thing that drew them together was their passionate physical connection. They never seemed to get to know each other that well.

The Romantic was my first book by Hunter, and stylistically, she reminded me of Carlyle. This is not shiny, happy Bridgerton England, y'know what I mean. As in Carlyle's books, the ever-present constraints of class, gender and ethnicity figure prominently in the characters lives. The Romantic was the last in a series, apparently and it features Julian Hampton, a solicitor and friend to the titled and wealthy. He is very reserved and inscrutable, but of course still waters run deep and he has long nursed a secret passion for Pen. Pen is a longtime friend and client, and he has spent a long time helping her extricate herself from the evil clutches of her husband, the disgusting, sadistic Earl of Glasbury. Now the Earl is looking for his conjugal rights, and Julian and Pen will take the risky step of embarking on an affair to try and force a divorce. This book really pulled me in the first couple of pages, wherein Julian mentally dictates letters to his hostess concerning the guests seated on either side of them, then he goes home and writes this passionate letter to his love, only to put it into a drawer filled with letters and poems. It was great and I love the set-up: the idea of this totally controlled, reserved guy just eaten up with love inside, now putting himself into such proximity. I liked the plot, which moved along nicely, but I can't quite put my finger on what was missing. There was some sort of distance there, I just never felt the passion or tension. I don't know, I wanted it to be more intense.
Maybe that reserved Englishness came across too strong. I just wasn't feeling it. I'm going to give Hunter another try, though. I've got The Charmer, and Lady of Sin,out in February, looks good and features two characters that stood out for me in this book.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Brokeback Mountain, Upcoming Reads

So I went to see Brokeback Mountain with one of my sisters and a friend. I enjoyed it. It was a lovely, sweeping tragic love story. Excellent performances all around. But I can't wonder if all of the slavering over this film is just b/c of the, well, gay thing. Like I said, the acting was great but it's just acting. I know that it is oh so, so difficult to play gay, when you are a really, really, seriously, oh so straight actor, but the fact that you are able to do so convincingly? Dude, it's part of your job. Stop talking about it, already. And really, neither Jake Gyllenhaal nor Heath Ledger are super masculine. They're like a couple of liberal arts college grads you'd meet in a bar in Wlliamsburgh. And Jakey's got the biggest set of doe eyes since Audrey Hepburn. Seriously, I was more impressed by their ability to convince me that they were cowboys. It's not like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a gay cowboy love story or something. And I don't understand why Heath is getting SO much attention. I have never particularly liked Jake before, and I thought that not only was he excellent, but that he had the more uncomfortable role, as the more self-aware "gay" one and the one who makes the advances. I'm just blabbing though. Everyone was good. As for the love scenes, I know that everyone has a different comfort level, but I thought it was quite mild, and since I was enjoying the movie and involved, it didn't take me out of the story at all. The (implied) sex scene was super fast and they were fully clothed. However we did get to see the boobies of the two female leads, which...weird. I guess that was for the three straight guys in the audience. The theater must have been like 80% women. Anyhow, a sad, touching love story.

Anyway, I've been really unmotivated to read my TBR pile. I keep returning stuff to the library. I'm in the winter blahs, I'm just going to read old favorites mood. So I thought I'd compile list to get me excited for Spring releases.

The Devil in Winter

Lover Eternal

Lord Perfect

The Taming of the Duke


Dates From Hell

Dead and Loving It

Definitely Dead

Captives of the Night

An embarassment of riches. I read "The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase, recently re-issued. I haven't had time to write about it, but good. Unusual hero, unusual heroine, unusual setting. Neither was particularly heroic, but good people, and I liked the fish out of water thing, first in Albania, then in England. I am eagerly awaiting Ismal's story, I liked the glimpses of him in Lord of Scoundrels, now am ultra curious to read his evolution.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

You say potato...

There has been a fascinating and amusing discussion? argument? war? going on in the romance blog community. It began over at Romancing the Blog with a column about reviews. It sparked a lot of discussion over who has the right to review as well as what they have the right to say. It moved over to this blog, where things seem to get a bit heated. I first read about it at the Smart Bitches. At all sites, the thread was enlivened by the presence of MaryJanice Davidson, who appeared to be taking a break from her very busy writing schedule in order to either piss people off or amuse them mightily all day long. Count me in the amused camp, but I think that the reactions to her comments illustrate an important point. Readers read things differently. There is never just one interpretation, no matter how sure you are that yours is the right one.

I love reading reviews. I usually read them after I’ve read a book , to see if people picked up on the same things I liked or disliked. And you know what, often they haven’t. Since I am always right, I am often dismayed to see how seriously some of these reviewers have misread the book. But that’s my just opinion (though seriously, sometimes it’s like we haven’t even read the same book). And it’s also my opinion that most readers are intelligent enough to tell the difference between a decent review and a piece of crap. A piece of crap, for example, is that review which, with no reference to the text, tells you that [this title] is wonderful or awful because it is just like/not at all like [this title or author]. Sorry, stupid and not helpful. Or, even worse, just I wuvved, wuvved, wuvved it so much. Think why, people, why. Make just a tiny reference or two to the actual book, please? Poorly written reviews and the few well written ones (on Amazon) do provide hours of reading entertainment though. Readers and Authors should take most of them with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'll stop the world and melt with you....

Warning spoilers ahead...

Disclaimer: Sherrilyn Kenyon is the author that got me back into reading romance and I am a big ol' fangirl of hers. I think she's got a great imagination, and I love the world she's created, with its roots in mythology and history. In addition, I saw her at Borders and I thought she seemed like a kind and gracious woman. And she really appreciates her fans.

However, that doesn't mean that I can't read her books critically. Her characters' quips and "wit" sometimes makes me cringe, she often repeats the same cliches over and over in describing her characters, and can sometimes be awfully light on character development,particularly of heroines. I really didn't like Sins of the Night. I felt SK was trying to give a lot more information about the Dark Hunter world at the expense of the romance, which was virtually nonexistent. The reviews for Amazon for Unleash the Night (henceforth known as UTN) were pretty bleh. So it actually took 3 days after it came out to get me into the bookstore, and I approached UTN with some trepidation.

Not without reason. About 35 pages into UTN, I decided some fanwanking was in order.
For those of you who don't know fanwanking is when the reader/viewer/fan fills in the blanks or otherwise makes something that's ridiculous or strange make sense. You know you've done it. Anyhow, this particular heroine is the daughter of a US Senator and so is surrounded by friends who are like nothing like anything I have seen outside of a John Hughes movie. Cardboard cutouts of preppy snobs. Complete with names like Blaine ("Is that a name or a major appliance"), Todd, and Whitney. They way they talked was out of control. I grew up in Preppyland, went to Super Expensive University with many New England preppies and children of senators, governors and Martin Scorsese and I've never heard anybody talk like this. Plus they're supposed to be in LAW SCHOOL, not high school, so one would think they'd be old enough have a bit of restraint. I found it so annoying that I decided that in order to enjoy this book, I would have to accept the fact that this scene was intended to be a homage to the teen movies of the eighties, and as such was tongue in cheek. I retained this mind set throughout the rest of the book, which was especially important when the evil Blaine returned and in scenes with blowhard Senator Dad, and even grumpy Mama Bear. It was fun too, to picture James Spader and Craig Sheffer or the Blond guy from Karate Kid as different characters (although Blaine should have been named Stef). And I felt especially rewarded when Wren and Maggie went back in time to 1981. Coincidence? You decide.

All in all, it was way better than Sins. Wren was a typical Kenyon hero: misunderstood, unloved, surly but secretly sweet and sexy and loving. Typically delicious, in other words. And Maggie, despite her poor taste in friends, was refreshingly practical and straightforward. Unlike, say, Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink or Deborah Foreman in Valley Girl, she remained nonjudgmental and steadfast in her feelings for Wren. And I mean, really they weren't just facing the popular kids who wanted to keep them from being Prom King and Queen, but the wrath of the whole were-hunter population! Seriously though, the action moved and the romance was hot! Some reviewers complained that too many characters were introduced. I could see that but this was obviously the Were-Hunter exposition book, like Kiss of the Night was the Daimon exposition book. It was all right with me, I don't think it halted the story that much. I'm sure it is better if, like me, you know more of the back stories. Then again, I'll bet most of the readers do.

Something just occurred to me. Wasn't Nicolas Cage's character in Valley Girl named Ren? I really think I'm onto something here. UTN is a fun, fast read, but a lot more fun if you read it as a paranormal takeoff of all those good girl/misunderstood boy vs. the cruel world/cafeteria movies. Does such a thing as a tigard exist? Oh, who cares...he's hot. I'm off to check IMDB. If you've never read any Kenyon, going in order is best. Technically, the DH series begins with Fantasy Lover, which is a very skippable book, so feel free to begin with Night Pleasures. My personal favorites are Dance With the Devil and Seize the Night.

ETA: Ren was Kevin Bacon in "Footloose." Excellent teen angst.


I can't believe a forgot to mention Liz Carlyle. I really like her. I think she's a got a very distinctive and a bit dark style. I particularly liked The Devil You Know. Good, good stuff. I want to get my hands on more.

Part 2: More things from 2005

In the spirit of kindness and semi-professionalism, I have decided to keep the things I really didn't like to myself. So here are some more pretty good things:

Author I never really liked that much but now can't wait for her next one: Kim Harrison. Lots of people love her, but I feel she really hit her stride with Every Which Way But Dead. I found the other books a bit draggy. I'm really looking forward to the next one due next summer.

Other 2005 titles which were pretty good:
Much Ado About You and Kiss Me Annabel (Eloisa James), It Happened One Autumn (Lisa Kleypas), After Midnight (Teresa Medeiros), and Haunted (Kelley Armstrong)

Best Romantica:
So this year I discovered my inner perv at Ellora's Cave. I oh-so cautiously looked around the site, reading excerpts, looking over my shoulder the whole time. Then I finally got up the nerve to buy something. Why not, I told myself. You're a grown woman, a mother of two, and a feminist. Own your sexuality, woman! So, anyway, woo-hoo! Good stuff. Well, some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some baaaad stuff. And much to my surprise, it turns out I've got a particular fondness for the bdsm stuff. Who knew? So best of the bunch is definitely Natural Law by Joey Hill. Best written, best developed characters, most believable romance. I'll definitely have to get around to reading her other stuff. I greatly enjoyed Full Ride by Gail Faulkner, also. Caution: These two books contain D/S practices and lots of explicit sex.

Favorite new websites:
I perennially suffer from being the only one I know who likes the books I do. I love to discuss books (side effect from being a former English major, I guess), but I've got no one to discuss them with. So I was pleased to discover some sites where I could find information, suggestions, and some fun snark. I pretty much just lurk, and it's much more fun than reading reviews on Amazon:

All About Romance

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

It's Not Porn, Really

Squawk Radio

Books I'm most looking forward to in 2006:
Lover Eternal (JR Ward), Devil in Winter (Lisa Kleypas), Broken (Kelley Armstrong), Taming of the Duke (Eloisa James), The one by Sherrilyn Kenyon that's a takeoff on Arthurian Myths, the other one by JR Ward that's coming out in September,and the next Kim Harrison. I've got lots to look forward to. Whee!!!!

So I'm not really qualified to comment about music, because I barely listen to anything that's come out after 1998. And I can't really comment about movies because I saw exactly one in the theater (Wedding Crashers, hilarious!), but nothing I saw on DVD stands out in my mind, so I'm thinking it was a mediocre year. As for television, all I have to say is : Watch Veronica Mars!!!! Please!!! They've already gotten rid of Arrested Development. Don't let me lose another show.

Next up, we begin the new year with Sherrilyn Kenyon's tribute to the ouevre of John Hughes--Unleash the Night.