Friday, June 25, 2010

Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Autumn Twilight: A
Fantasy; fiction
Dragonlance Chronicles #1

Lifelong friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales of strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a sorrowful woman, who bears a magic crystal staff, draws the companions deeper into the shadows, forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world. No one expected them to be heroes. Least of all, themselves.
(back cover)

It's sad that fantasy and sci-fi books have such a bad rep because I think if written well, such stories are super fun to read. Besides, I don't discriminate: if the book tells a good story, I read!

The citizens of Krynn believe that their True Gods have abandoned them and in the True Gods' place, rises the Seekers and a group of friends are out to set right all the wrongs. This includes creepy Raistlin with hour-glass shaped eyes, the noble half-elf Tanis, the silly Tas, and the grumpy but fierce dwarf, Flint.

In pursuing this journey, they struggle with questions of honor, of love, of doing the right versus the wrong.. they go up and down mountains, meet elves, fight the evil draconian and reptilian Seekers, and essentially takes you through four hundred and something pages of adventure.

Apparently, the Dragonlance Chronicles inspired 90+ books to create this magical world of dragons. I don't think I'll read all ninety books just yet, but I do plan on reading the other three in this series.

Hooray for fantastical reads!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Karen Robards: Shameless

Shameless: C
Elizabeth Banning & Neil Severin
The Banning Sisters Trilogy #3
Historical - Regency

Lady Elizabeth, the youngest and most headstrong of the three Banning sisters, has been engaged three times, and has most scandalously broken off all three engagements. Her fear of becoming any man's property has kept her from marriage and earned a reputation in the ton as a heartbreaking flirt. Neil Severin is a wicked rogue, black of heart and black of reputation. A man of no morals, devoid of compassion, he is a government-sanctioned assassin. And his newest target is a man Beth holds dear. When the flame-haired beauty thwarts his plan, Neil exacts his own brand of spicy revenge. Beth despises him. Neil doesn't care. But circumstances most unexpectedly throw them together, and with Beth's life in danger, Neil finds himself in the unexpected role of hero, racing to save her before it's too late... (back cover)

Here are some facts:
  1. I have read all three of the stories about the Banning sisters.
  2. I loved the first one: Scandalous.
  3. The second one, Irresistible, was pretty cliched and uninteresting.
  4. The third - this story - is slightly more interesting but still pretty cliched.
OK. End of review.

Just kidding... sort of.

What more to say about this novel other than the fact that I've been waiting years and years for Beth's story only to have it sort of peak and then plateau into an abyss of semi-blandness?

I liked Beth, though I couldn't really relate with her unwillingness to have any man be her master. I mean, I knew she was headstrong and stubborn, but when I read Scandalous (book 1), she was but 15. What 15 year old isn't headstrong and stubborn? Ms. Robards neglects to delve into Beth's psyche as to why she dislikes marriage. What we know about Beth's cruddy family situation is from past books... and authors cannot rely on back information from other books to support the current story. Besides, I never got Beth's perspective on it. (In this aspect, Meredith Durant did a better job in explaining Mina's absolute insistence on being her own person in Written on Your Skin. )

And I liked Neil, but only in the most vague and superficial manner possible. As in, he fulfilled the part of the cold, heartless assassin in a manner that was most expected. Cliched, I suppose.

Surprisingly, the adventure was enough to keep me reading without sighing in irritation and without copious amounts of eye-rolling.


The way Ms. Robards ended the novel was bad. As in, without the epilogue, there would be no happily-ever-after. In essence, she didn't end the story: the epilogue was the last chapter of the novel. Why she labeled it as an epilogue is beyond me.

Authors, 'epilogues' are not used as last-chapters. It is a step beyond the end of the story. It's the "what happened after the happily-ever-after? Where are they now?" chapter, not a "let me finish the story."

Let me explain myself another way.

An epilogue is a bonus feature that can be taken out without adversely affecting the story. The story will still have an ending without the epilogue.

Without the epilogue at the end of Shameless, it would have felt unfinished and would have been highly unsatisfying. This is the point I would add in the WTHeck?! This is Ms. Robard's, like, twentieth book. I would think she knows all this already......

Regardless, the entire story proves to be a most average sort of story.

Bottom line: Read, I suppose, but don't buy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Joanne Harris: Chocolat

Chocolat: A

When beautiful, unmarried Vianne Rocher sweeps into the pinched little French town of Lansquenet on the heels of the carnical and opens a gem of a chocolate shop across fro the square form the church, she begins to wreak havoc with the town's Lenten vows. Her uncanny ability to perceive her customers' private discontents and alleviate them with just the right confection coaxes the villagers to abandon themselves to temptation and happiness, but enrages Pere Reynaud, the local priest. Certain only a witch could stir such sinful indulgence and devise such clever cures, Reynaud pits himself against Vianne and vows to block the chocolate festival she plans for Easter Sunday, and to run her out of town forever. Witch or not (she'll never tell), Vianne soon sparks a dramatic confrontation between those who prefer the cold comforts of the church and those who revel in their newly discovered taste for pleasure... (back cover)

I must say that this book was a gem to read. Ms. Harris' words are itself like warm, sweetened confections and completely succeed in making your insides tingle. She is one I would consider to be a poetic writer, with such beautiful taste and style.

The story is also very delightful, with the church pitted against Vianne's chocolate shop. Is it all right for one to indulge in their passions and desires? And what to do when one in a position of authority leads the people (or the congregation, in this case) in a direction that does not have so much to do with the people's well-being but has to do entirely with obtaining power? Are there absolute black and whites with no grays?

Oh, the questions! (And you know how much I like books that ask thoughtful questions..!)

Besides that, the entire book was about Vianne preparing delicious goodies that literally made my mouth water. Mmm..

If anything, read to see how Ms. Harris' sculpts her words to simply create a wonderful read.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Meredith Duran: Written On Your Skin

Written On Your Skin: C+
Mina Masters & Phineas Granville, Earl of Ashmore
Historical - Victorian

The society beauty who saved his life...
Beauty, charm, wealthy admirers: Mina Masters enjoys every luxury but freedom. To save herself from an unwanted marriage, she turns her wiles on a darkly handsome stranger. But Mina's would-be hero is playing his own deceptive game. A British spy, Phin Granville has no interest in emotional entanglements... until the night Mina saves his life by gambling her own.

The jaded spy who vowed to forget her...
Four years later, Phin inherits a title that frees him from the bloody game of espionage. But memories of the woman who saved him won't let Phin go. When he learns that Mina needs his aid, honor forces him back into the world of his nightmares.

In lives built on lies, love is the darkest secret of all...
Deception has ruled Mina's life just as it has Phin's. But as the beauty and the spy math wits in a dangerous dance, their practiced masks begin to slip, revealing a perilous attraction. And the greatest threat they face may not be traitors or murderous conspiracies, but their own dark desires... (back cover)

This is the sequel to Bound By Your Touch and Ms. Duran's third novel. I have only read her first, The Duke of Shadows, and if I'm remembering correctly, it was an enjoyable read.

This one was a little harder for me to get through.

Sometimes, I read something and I wonder if I'm just not smart enough to comprehend what's happening. There were times when I was reading this story and I thought, my goodness, what on Earth is happening?

Essentially, Ms. Duran's writing is complex and all-together good, but is sometimes a little superfluous. The narration is roundabout and I'm not quite sure if this is because the characters happen to be super complex and I am just... not. This is highly plausible, and if this is the case, it's no wonder the wording of the novel took me a while to get through.

Whether this is the case or not is rather irrelevant here. When it comes down to it, the superfluous writing made it hard for me to truly get into the story and more importantly, to stay with the story. Most of the time, I manage to finish romances in one-sitting. This story took me days to get through, and even though everything else was fine, I cannot say that I felt a kinship with the story.

In the end, that's what matters to me. I want to feel as though I'm walking away knowing the characters and their story without a haze of mild confusion.

Bottom line: Read but only if you're smart.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Liz Carlyle: Beauty Like the Night

Beauty Like the Night: A-
Helene de Severs & Camden Rutledge, Earl of Treyhern
Historical -British Regency

The daughter of London's wickedest widow, Helene de Severs left England in disgrace and has struggled to overcome her heritage. Renowned within Europe's emerging psychiatric field for her gift for healing children, she returns to England confident she has learned to govern her reckless emotions. A disastrous marriage left notoriously ruthless Camden Rutledge, Earl of Treyhern, with a traumatized child and he decides to hire a governess so that he can concentrate on other family fires. Yet the moment Helene arrives, Treyhern's cold reserve is melted by desire he long thought dead. With her elegant clothing and mountain of luggage, the woman is not who he expected. Or is she? Sometimes the workings of the mind are as dangerous as those of the heart. And soon, danger is truly everywhere... (back cover)

I like Ms. Carlyle. I feel that she stays true to the dialogue and the nuances of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain.

I also happen to love reunion stories. You know, the cheesy first-love, you're-the-only-one-for-me stories where years have passed and yet, the hero and heroine are still in love with each other. What is more romantic than that? (answer: nothing!)

As a novel with the two above-mentioned aspects, I devoured this rather lengthy (419 pgs) story in a matter of hours.

Helene and Cam grew up with each other due to the affair between Helene's mother and Cam's father. Both adult figures were less than stellar parents. Cam's father was inebriated most of the time, flitting from woman to woman while Helene's mother - well, she was a demimondaine.

They fell in love in the wild, unrestrained way that seventeen/eighteen year olds do. But it was more than mere teenage histrionics; lo behold, eleven long years have passed since Helene and Cam were separated and when they meet - Helene is hired as Cam's daughter's special governess - it is hard for them to control their emotions. Whatever happened in the past the past... right? (Wrong!)

The angst that Helene and Cam face, I feel, is founded on realistic doubts and insecurities: both people work hard to avoid turning out like his/her respective parent, but at the same time, they struggle with the depths of their feelings they have for one another.

As I've stated in previous blog entries, I'm not fond of kids that play a vital part in the romance equation because the focus is then not on the hero and heroine, but on the child as well. And dammit, those children need a lot of attention! Though Beauty Like the Night featured Cam's little daughter, she played a cool and un-bratty character. I had no desire to, like, smack the child upside the head.

There is also a tiny little mystery-adventure at the end. It's as adventurous and thrilling as one might expect an adventure in a romance novel to be. (I mean, how can it be super duper mysterious if you know all's going to turn out well in the end?) I realize I'm being somewhat vague with the plot, but I can't help it. I dislike spoilers and so I will leave you with:

Read. Be happy. Ignore the giggle-inducing cover.
(Really, were gentlemen's breeches that tight? Because... uh... IthinkIseemalecoverartmodel'sbuttcrack. I can't ignore it, really - it's smack-dab front-center! See for yourselves!)

on a completely off-topic note

I laughed so hard while I watched this... and then thought, We're fucked.

Um, I still can't figure out how to embed videos here. Alice, you are smarter than e-blogger. You are smarter than e-blogger.

Who'm I kidding? E-blogger is completely smarter than me.

But I figured it out! Hooray!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: A+
YA fiction

Oh man, this book was good. It was really good. It was really, really good.

The United States is no longer and has given way to a nation called Panem, split into twelve districts and its Capitol. In order to have the citizens of Panem remember the cost of rebellion, the Capitol hosts The Hunger Games annually, where two kids (ages 12-18) are sent from each district to fight to the death.

Our heroine is Katniss, sixteen and toughened from the harsh conditions of living in Disctrict 12, a coal mining district. Her father passed away when she was young and when her mother went into serious depression, she took over as the head of the household, working hard to support her family. She adores Prim, her sister younger by four years.

It is time for The Reaping, and out of all applicants, Prim is the female tribute selected and Katniss quickly volunteers to go in her stead.

So starts The Hunger Games, a story that will really have you on your toes, but even greater is how it makes you think ...about life. What is love? What is death? And what do you do when you have to survive? Katniss sees the indulgence and excess in the Capitol - what is overindulgence and what is compassion? Of course, what had me in tangles was the love angle of this entire affair.

Simply put, it is quite a grand read. I rushed to Borders the next day, consumed the sequel in three-and-a-half short (but glorious) hours, and am counting down until the third is released.

It's the kind of book that makes me remember why I love reading.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sabrina Jeffries: Never Seduce a Scoundrel

Never Seduce a Scoundrel: D-
Lady Amelia Plume & Major Lucas Winter
Historical - British Regency
The School for Ladies series

Sometimes when books are bad, I finish reading it... just to see how the ends turns out. Usually, the end isn't enough for what I consider to "redeem" the book. As in, the end might be all right, but I still close the book thinking, whaaa?

I think this book failed me on two different levels: the love scenes were pretty laughable and the plot was lame.

Amelia Plume is a decently wealthy young lady looking to get married. She dreams of adventures and passion: she spends her time reading raunchy romance novels (insert laugh here, LOL) and wants to get awaaaaay from England.

Major Lucas Winter comes to her in his completely tall, dark, and handsome form, but Amelia suspects Lucas to be up to something so she plays the part of a henwit (read: ditz). He is, in fact, looking to solve a mystery and to clear his name while at that. Some person has stolen all of his family fortunes, ruined his good family name, and Lucas wants to come down to the mystery for the sake of his family honor and for closure.

Bad news: Lucas suspects Amelia's step-mother is the bad person.

And then they go about trying to solve the mystery and then fall in love.

So, here enters the bad love scenes. Not that I'm looking for anything grand or special, but gads, the things they say to each other as they... uh... "pleasure" each other... just.. is really laughable. It's silly enough for me to be thrown out of the nice, romance-y feeling and into a what just happened here? mood.

And also enters the overly long solving the mystery plot. I lost track of what was happening and then just read it, hoping that something magnificent would happen so that I would be... oh, I don't know... romanced? But that didn't happen.

Bottom line: don't read.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jane Austen: Persuasion

Persuasion: A+
Anne Elliot & Captain Frederick Wentworth
Historical - British Regency

It would be untrue for me to say that I am a huge fan of Ms. Austen because the only other book of hers that I've read is... yes, you've guessed it: Pride and Prejudice. And while I love Mr. Darcy with all my heart, I couldn't bring myself to read any other of her novels for the same reason I dislike reading classic literature (the whole hard, heavy, dramatic, and stiff issue).

But I seem to have forgotten how delightful Ms. Austen's writing really is. It is witty. It is genuine. And she really speaks of the matters of the heart: real feelings, honest emotions, and humor.

I finished Persuasion over the weekend and I have pretty much made up my mind to go out all her other works (read: massive glommage).

Persuasion in a nutshell would be as follows: Anne and Wentworth ("Wentworth" sounds so much better than "Frederick" to me. hehe..) were young loves, she nineteen and he twenty-three when he proposed to her. Because of Anne's snobbish and utterly idiotic family opposed the match (he was poor and was not of significant social standing), Anne turned Wentworth down.

Heartbroken, betrayed, and angry, Wentworth departed for the navy where he worked up to the prestigious rank of Captain.

Eight years have now passed. Anne is a spinster, living underneath the shadows of her shallow father and older sister. Her younger sister, Mary, has married (a surprise to us all since she is completely whiny and annoying). Anne's father mismanaged his finances and the Elliots are required to move out of their home and put it up for rent. Surprisingly, Wentworth's sister and her husband move in.

And so! Wentworth comes back to town, to stay with his sister... and then! Anne and Wentworth meet again.

With Austen, a happily-ever-after cannot be guaranteed. Her stories, though focused on love and relationships, are not category romances... which makes it even more delicious. Austen realized, two hundred something years ago, that a happily-ever-after is not what is important, it is the love story between the hero and heroine that make the story worthwhile.

I lurve it!

Bottom line: Read!

Friday, June 4, 2010

review roundup

Instead of having an individual post for each average novel, I have decided to lump them together. For books that I felt were better or worse than average, I will have a separate entry.

Candace Camp: Swept Away
Grade: C+
Historical - British Regency
Julia Armiger & Deverel Grey, Lord Stonehaven

Deverel wrongly accuses Julia's brother of stealing funds from a trustee fund. After her brother's death, she is determined to clear his name by getting close to Stonehaven. Of course, the only way she can do this is to seduce him.

Though the mystery and Julia's pursuit to clear her brother's name wasn't an eyesore to read, the relationship between Julia and Deverel was slow and superfluous. It took so long for Julia to convince Deverel of her brother's innocence that I had already given up on the mystery: who cares about the mystery? Let's just get this show on the road. This, of course, is never a good feeling to have while reading a happy romance.

Bottom line: read if bored.

Elizabeth Boyle: This Rake of Mine
Grade: C
Historical - British Regency
Miranda Mabberly & Lord Jack Tremont

Jack mistakes Miranda for his mistress, and in a very public place, kisses her, succeeding in ruining her. She disappears and comes back nine years later with as a decorum teacher with a new name at an academy for young ladies. She is given the responsibility of escorting three students home when they find themselves stranded at Jack's rundown estate.

The three girls try to set Jack and Miranda up, Miranda suspects Jack of being involved in some shady business, and then a lot of things happen in which they discover their love for each other anyway.

I'm not especially fond of Ms. Boyle's writing style, but it was readable. What I am interested in are the books to follow this one. Clearly, each of Miranda's charges will get their own book and I'm curious about their story.

Karen Hawkins: An Affair to Remember
Grade: C
Historical - British Regency
Anna Thraxton & Anthony Elliott, Earl of Greyley

I read this a month ago and I cannot really remember what happened... I think something about Anthony inheriting five unruly orphans and he hires Anna as their governess. She, who was once a peer, has to now work her for her wages since her grandfather (I think grandfather... some male figure) has wasted it away.

I actually can't remember why Anna and Anthony are at odds with each other and why they don't just hop together in bed at the very beginning. It might have been Anna's independent and stubborn nature and it might be Anthony's.... I can totally be making this up.

Seeing that I can't remember what happened a mere couple weeks after having read it, the read itself wasn't entirely thrilling.

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Laura Lee Guhrke: The Marriage Bed

The Marriage Bed: A-
historical - Victorian
Lady Viola Hammond & Viscount John Hammond

The third book in an unofficial series, we have seen Lady Viola's estrangement from her husband in the books Guilty Pleasures and His Every Kiss.

On Ms. Guhrke's blog, she stated that she had received many inquiries about Viola and her story. When was she going to kill off John (the lowly scumbag!) so that Viola would be able to get her own story? Ms. Guhrke decided to rekindle the romance between the two, something this blogger feels she did successfully.

After eight and a half long years of separation, John is in desperate need of a legitimate heir. His cousin, Percy, whom had been responsible for producing an heir, suddenly passes and John realizes he must make amends with his wife.

One problem.
She absolutely hates him.

When they had married, she was a naive and innocent girl of seventeen who was madly in love with John. After all, he was charming, handsome, and paid the kind of attention to women that they desired. Unfortunately for Viola, John needed to marry someone with a large dowry, something Viola was in possession of with her older brother being a duke and all.

They have six months of happiness.
Then Viola realized John married her for her money, that he had never loved her, and he had even had a mistress until the day of their wedding.

She shuts him out, devastated, and John found comfort in the arms of other women.

By the start of the novel, John has had numerous (but not an excessive number) of mistresses. Viola has created a new life for herself. And society knew that Viola and John were to never be invited to the same social functions. Ever.

And so begins this surprisingly emotional novel.

Emotional for me because I completely felt for Viola. I have the greatest of admiration for any author who manages to make the main conflict of the book less than idiotic. (Like the heroes who are traumatized by a bee sting from their childhood, heroines who refuse to get with the hero because of, oh I don't know, something stupid). Had I been in Viola's situation, I would have been equally as appalled and devastated, but at the same time, I empathized for John.

I also felt this novel managed to capture a sense of realism that a romance is generally unable to do.

I did, however, have some disagreements with the way the author managed to end the book. Thirty pages left and she managed to throw some unnecessary stuff in that bungled the complete happiness I would've felt otherwise.

Bottom line: a worthwhile read, disregarding the last two (stupid) chapters.

PS: I'm totally sneaking into Borders to read Lisa Kleypas' new novel, Married by Morning. I refuse to buy it unless I know I like it. Yes, I'm cheap like that. That's how I roll. *dust shoulders off*


Happy Tuesday!
I hope your Memorial Day was safe and filled with fun.

Mine was awesome:

Pro: managed to get a tan
Con: only from mid-thigh to the knees. I'll extraordinarily tan (and hot!) thighs. Ooh yes, just call me sexy....