Uh, okay?

Aug. 15th, 2011 09:43 pm
jmc_bks: (star fort kinsale)
+  Posted over at WordPress for SBD.

+  Bought two Kindle books by Georgette Heyer.  Probably wouldn't have but for the anniversary sale ($1.99 each!).  Otherwise, I can respect her place in the development of the modern genre romance, but have not been impressed by the books I've read.  Regency trads aren't my thing for the most part, Carla Kelly being the notable exception.  And she seems to have left the subgenre behind.

-  Why is Cobra Starship touring with Bieber?  Granted, it's the South American leg of his tour, but still, I didn't realize they had a significant overlap of fans; I though CS's average fan was several years older.  Eh, whatever sells tickets, I guess.

-  Dear IT peeps: saying that I'm the SysAdmin for that system?  Fine.  But as a practical matter, I am only acting/holding the position until a new higher up is hired.  I have NO IDEA how to do what you want.  When I asked the retired person who used to do it, she said that task was explicitly given to IT.  I'm sorry the person responsible is on vacation in Montana during your critical testing period, but that doesn't make me any more able to do what you want.  No love, me.

~  Looking at the line up of authors who'll be attending the National Book Festival next month, there are very few (3 or 4) that I might be willing to wait in long lines to meet or have autograph books.  And genre fiction is extremely poorly represented, as usual.

~  The BIA essentially said last week that aliens in custody don't have to get the immigration equivalent of Miranda.  I...am not sure what I think about this.  And while I'm probably conflating a lot of things, I'm curious about how this works in conjunction with Padilla.

jmc_bks: (GK_Bradabs)
A while back Jane at Dear Author blogged that she often bought Mills & Boon Modern releases, and specifically mentioned Caitlin Crews’ Katrakis’s Last Mistress. It will be re-issued by Harlequin as a Presents in 2011, but I ordered a copy from Book Depository (love the free shipping!).

It arrived last week and languished on my coffee table until today.

Payback . . . delivered on a silver platter

Notorious Nikos Katrakis was looking for a new mistress when, out of the blue, heiress Tristanne Barbery offered herself to him. Could satisfaction and revenge really be that easy to obtain?

Tristanne knew better than to play games with a man of such devastatingly lethal charisma as Nikos. But, though she had a good idea of the kind of sacrifice she was offering, she had no choice.

To Nikos’s surprise, Tristanne was not the weak, biddable good-time girl he’d expected . . . and soon his plans for vengeance came crumbling down around him.

The cover art: Quite appropriate in this case – I am impressed! There is a scene in the book in which the heroine wears a scanty red dress while the hero is in formal attire, and while this dress looks longer than the dress described in that scene, it comes pretty close.

The book opens with Tristanne joining a party on Nikos’s yacht and asking him for a kiss, then following that up with an offer to be his new mistress. They’ve never met before or even been introduced, but each is aware of who the other is: Tristanne saw Nikos once ten years before and never forgot him, struck by his air and looks, while Nikos has been plotting revenge against the Barbery family because Tristanne’s brother, Peter, ruined his sister and nearly toppled the family business. Underlying Tristanne’s proposition is Peter’s blackmail: he won’t release her trust fund or pay for her mother’s medical treatment unless she more or less whores herself out for his business interests. Tristanne sees Nikos as an attractive target who will please her sleazy brother but has no intention of there being any sex involved. [Yeah, I’m not sure what mistressing entails other than sex, but the no sex part didn’t seem realistic to me. :shrug:]

Anyway, after some verbal fencing and internal bemusement, they eventually succumb to their attraction and have loads of hot sex while vacationing on the Mediterranean. The hot sex is followed by the successful execution of Nikos’s plan to humiliate and ruin the Barbery family, which breaks Tristanne’s heart but also leaves him feeling empty and blighted. Since this is a category romance, there must be a happily ever after, so after drowning his regrets in whiskey and feeling sorry for himself, Nikos hunts Tristanne down and grovels appropriately, apologizing for his revenge and ruination of their relationship. Et voila, all is well again.

KLM has many of the standard HP tropes, but is better than most, I think. I really liked that Tristanne stood up to Nikos and didn’t let him walk all over her during their relationship. Their banter and debates worked really well to demonstrate how their minds matched. Also liked that the hero really did seem to recognize the wrong he was doing, even as he did it, and regretted it later: so often the alpha heroes of romance novels blunder over things and never apologize for the damage they do.

The only things that really made me roll my eyes were: 1) the utter sleaze of the bad guy of the book, Tristanne’s half brother, Peter; and 2) the weak use/excuse of Tristanne’s mother. Her illness (and I’m not really clear on what the illness is or why she doesn’t qualify for government subsidized medicine, since she seems to live in Europe) is what is forcing the entire plot, yet Tristanne spends zero time with her and she has no page space. Further, she apparently let Tristanne essentially be disowned as a teenager but now is expecting her to provide for her care?

This was a quick, fun read, and I look forward to reading more from Ms. Crews.
jmc_bks: (title2)
I've gotten out of the habit of scanning category releases. Too many virgins, mistresses, billionaires, greeks, sheikhs and secret babies. But while browsing at B&N last week (or the week before? it all blurs together), I saw that Robyn Donald, perhaps my favorite Harlequin Presents author, had a new book out. Even better, it is set in New Zealand; I've harped on this before, but I think one of the best things about Donald's books is the way setting is almost a character itself. Princes from made up European countries? Meh.

Title: Powerful Greek, Housekeeper Wife (There still had to be a Greek billionaire in the mix somewhere, of course!)

Cover art: fairly standard HP stuff. Somewhat relevant, since as housekeeper/nanny, Iona does spend time in a swimsuit.

The blurb: With the body of a Greek god, a tycoon's wealth and all the emotion of cold, hard marble, Luke Michelakis is an enigma. Intimidated and out of her depth in his glamorous world, Iona Guthrie has consigned their brief passionate affair to the recesses of her secret memories.

But two years later the powerful Greek and the housekeeper find themselves together again under the same roof, and Luke has a startling proposition: he's looking for a wife and, as he discovered once before, Iona meets all his requirements....

As usual, not entirely accurate. Iona and Luke had a vacation fling on Tahiti, and Iona basically dumped Luke when he asked her to go back to Europe with him. [He asked her to go, she said no, then he said he'd "look after her" and was looking forward to making her change her mind. Yeah, at that point, the arrogant ass factor was pretty high.] Anyway, they meet again years later when she is organizing the guest apartment he'll be staying in, helping her sister out with her housekeeping business. Iona herself is a nursery school teacher. [Seriously, housekeeper and nursery school teacher? Could there be any more traditionally gendered jobs for a heroine?]

Luke's adopted daughter (actually his half-sister) is in need of care, as her nanny has a family emergency, and Luke more or less blackmails Iona into the job. Following that, they end up in a marriage of convenience for purposes of strengthening Luke's case for custody of his sister/daughter. Add in some comments about women being naturally treacherous, and being unable to speak to other men without being accused of flirting and making promises with her smile, and you have their dysfunctional romance.

I spent the entire time I was reading the book rolling my eyes at the hero's jerky behavior, which is only slightly mitigated by the fact that readers get snippets of Luke's POV, and see how much he wants -and loves- Iona. He admits the love part early on, which is a relative rarity.

As an HP, this was slightly better than average. But I probably would not recommend it as an intro to the subgenre for readers new to HPs.

One thing that always perplexes me about HPs is the mistressing. What makes a mistress? Is it being unmarried and having an on-going sexual relationship? Must money change hands? It makes sense to me as a historical construct but loses something in modern relationships for me. Beyond that, I found Luke's musing that he wasn't foolish enough to tall in love with his mistresses to be confusing because Iona was never his mistress. Vacation fling /= mistress. When offered the role, she declined. Then employee (nanny, without sex involved). Where then was the mistressing?

Semi-related: Donald's backlist is gradually being digitized and sold over at eHarlequin. There are several new/old books out this month and next, including...[sorry, meant to put a list here but got sidetracked.]
jmc_bks: (flaming june)

This past Wednesday was TBR Challenge day.  I've been negligent about the TBR Challenge lately, but I did pull a book off the TBR this month, so here's my belated report.

Title:  The Bellini Bride
Author:  Michelle Reid
(c)2001 Harlequin/Mills & Boon

Why this book?  I bought a bunch of used Harlequin Presents a while back, part of the backlist of my favorite HP authors:  Robyn Donald, Michelle Reid, Helen Bianchin. Reading them in bulk is a bad idea, though, because too much of a particular trope (rich Greeks! vengeful Spaniards! secret babies and virgin mistresses!) wears out fast.  So a bunch of these were languishing on my bookshelves until Jane at Dear Author reviewed The Bellini Bride and reminded me of what was sitting there.

Wanted: a suitable bride...

Marco Bellini thinks he has it all: success, wealth...and Antonia -- his beautiful, sensual mistress.Then his father becomes ill, and Marco feels bound to marry and produce an heir to the famous Bellini fortune.

But who should Marco choose as a bride? Antonia isn't suitable, but she's the only woman he wants in his life and his bed. Dare he take his mistress to be his lawful wedded wife?

What do I think about the cover art?  It's pretty standard Harlequin Presents cover art fare.  More interesting to me is the title: although it has bride, at least it doesn't include virgin, lover or mistress.  Which sort of makes sense, because I believe they became much more common title elements after 2001.

What did I think of the book?  It was pretty good on the Presents scale.  Set among the uber wealthy, with an emphasis on social class and the propriety of place that seems alien and kind of ridiculous to me but is nevertheless the standard European HP milieu.  Secrets and failure to communicate.  But the heroine wasn't a doormat: she recognized when the hero was being an asshat and called him on it.  Often HP heroes never really apologize for their asshatery, but in this case he did and he acknowledged it in public.

Would I read this author again? Sure.  I've read her books before, I'm sure I'll read more in the future.

Keep or pass on?  Eh, I don't know.  Although I enjoyed it, I'm probably not going to read it again, so in an effort to reduce clutter, I'll probably donate it in my next big UBS/PBS/GoodWill purge.


jmc_bks: (Stupid)
The date for posting about your February read for Avid Reader's TBR Challenge was last Wednesday, but I missed it.   Better late than never, right?

The proposed theme for February was virgin heroes, but I couldn't find one on my TBR shelves.  It's possible that he could've been hiding there, but I didn't feel like making a huge effort to find one.  Instead, I pulled Kathleen O'Reilly's August 2009 Harlequin Blaze Hot Under Pressure from the shelf.

She hates flying... Until he gives her a reason not to!

Boutique owner Ashley Taylor hates flying.  Especially when there's a sugar-fueled little hellion on board.  But then David McLean (sexy!) sits next to her, and suddenly Ashley finds herself hoping the delay will last forever -- and that 

David won't notice her comfy pink bunny slippers (sadly, the opposite of sexy).

does notice Ashley, and when the flight is delayed overnight, they can't get to the airport hotel fast enough.  Off with the slippers and in with the zing!  Fortunately, America is filled with cities -- L.A., New York, Miami -- and nothing says "smoking-hot passion" like an intercontinental affair.

Why this book?  Because I have read and enjoyed a couple of O'Reilly's earlier Blazes.

What did I think of this book?  Only the fact that I was reading it while on a plane kept it from being a wallbanger.  Seriously, if the entertainment choices offered by the airline had been better, I would've abandoned this book.  But I was a captive audience.  The problem wasn't the writing, it was the characters and the set up.  I thought the heroine was a spineless enabler, and long before I knew what her sister's problem was I despised them both.  The hero...I liked him only marginally better. 

Also, in what world do khakis and a white shirt equal copier repair guy?  I've spent my entire adult life working in offices and I have NEVER seen a copier repair guy in khakis and a white shirt.  Ever.


And for the love all of all things fraternal, would contemporary authors PLEASE stop having characters hook up with the siblings of their partners!?!  Dumping your fiancee for her sister?  Not on.  Being friends with benefits with your dead husband's brother?  Also not on.  Sleeping with your husband's brother and then divorcing him to marry the brother?  That's family wrecking, and it belongs in lit fiction, not category genre romance, please.

Three times in the span of a month just pushes all of my squick buttons.  

The only thing I really appreciated about the book was the easter egg of seeing Jamie and Andrew Brooks from an earlier book.


jmc_bks: (jediowl's LMB bafflement)
I've broken down and fallen back on an uninspired but reliable topic for tomorrow's Readers Gab post: holiday reading.

Of course, I haven't been inspired for a while. I struggle to write something timely and interesting when my spot on the calendar comes around, but I feel a bit stale. I just don't have anything new or different to say about Romanceland. Half the time I just want to shrug when a new kerfluffle comes along. It's not so much that I don't care as feeling there's nothing new I can contribute to the dialogue.

Anyway, as I thought about my favorite holiday reads, I was reminded of a holiday-themed category (or maybe novella in an anthology) I read years ago. Have long since forgot the title or even the line, although it seems like it would appropriate for a Harlequin Superromance. All I remember is that the heroine was named Carole Chapman. An orphan, she was a strictly business kind of woman, successful and (I think) happily childless. Enter a baby abandoned on her doorstep as Christmas approached, and a foster father for the baby -- I think he may have been the detective to work on the case, too -- who wants her to be his new baby mama. I remember loving this story when I read it (hey, I was a teenager!) but I think today I would be offended by the implicit message that Carole's life was incomplete without children.

Reminded again how conservative category romance is in some ways, and how pro-baby/family it is.

ETA: I googled "Carole Chapman" and found it! Silhouette Christmas Stories 1989, "A Christmas for Carole" by Bay Matthews. OOP but available here. Dear Gravity, but I would absolutely NOT pick up that book today. However, when I check for other Bay Matthews books, it looks like she isn't writing any longer, at least not under that name. She does have a book in her backlist titled Amarillo by Morning which I would like to read by virtue of the name alone, because I love the George Strait song of the same name.

ETA again: Well, maybe not. I just read the blurb and am not thrilled by it, because it seems to contain another romance trope that I hate: country living embodies all that is good about American life, and city life is BAD! The heroine will, of course, be convinced of this by living on a ranch for a week!

Chasing big-city dreams, Amarillo Corbett had tried to forget rough-and-tumble rodeo man Russ Wheeler. But their paths kept crossing... and proximity always led to passion. Amy feared she'd never get over Russ - unless she finally married another.

Enraged at Amy's sudden engagement, Russ stormed her slick Dallas digs to strike a deal. He'd dust off his dungarees and spend seven days in her world if she'd while away a week on the range. Once and for all he'd prove they could make it. Russ may have been thrown before, but this time he was holding on - forever.

Also, slick digs? And dungarees? Very dated. I'm not sure I could get over that, even knowing that the book was published 21 years ago.
jmc_bks: (flaming june)

Yes, I'm still stuck on the Top 16 Winsor lists, and will post on the top yet again for SBD.

If you check out all of the lists and links that accumulated at Racy Romance Reviews, you'll find a preponderance of historicals.  Which isn't a huge surprise, given some of the posters.  [I'm looking at you in particular, KristieJ, SuperWendy and Maili.]  The names Heyer, Chase, Gabaldon, Balogh, Kinsale, Gaffney, Ivory, and James appear repeatedly.

You know what didn't appear?  Category romances.  Even though thousands of category romances are sold every month, and categories are both a gateway drug for romance readers and a feeder route for a lot of authors, they don't seem to be memorable for a lot of readers.

As my list narrowed, a few memorable categories were scratched off.  Here they are as honorable mentions:

Bad For Each Other by Kate Hathaway.  This is an older Silhouette Intimate Moments by an author who seems to have stopped writing.  (Or perhaps just stopped being published?)  It includes a secret baby, reunited lovers, and a heroine whose bag of sexual issues make me want to scream.  Yet I still love this book.

A Forbidden Desire by Robyn Donald.  My first Robyn Donald book, this one hooked me with the description of the heroine, likening her to Flaming June, one of my favorite paintings (see icon above, pls).

Reckless Conduct by Susan Napier.  Napier's early Harlequin Presents are peopled by alpha men and distinctive women.  Her later ones (picked up after a hiatus due to family issues, I've heard) don't thrill me, but this one has a comedic feel that I enjoyed.  Check out Rosario's review.

Marriage Meltdown by Emma Darcy.  Marriage in trouble!  In a Harlequin Presents, no less!  I liked that the heroine confronted her marital problems head on.  The hero...well, his grovel was fairly good, as was his lightbulb moment about the dishonesty of what he was *thinking* about doing.

Ultimate Betrayal by Michelle Reid.  Another marriage in trouble.  The heroine begins as a bit of a doormat but grows a spine during the course of the book. 

Night Shield by Nora Roberts.  This was a belated addition to Roberts' early Night Tale series, being the story of the next generation.  Unlike a couple of the original Night Tale books, there was no paranormal here, just a straight-up romance between a detective and a nightclub owner.  On the surface, that sounds a little like Eve/Roarke compressed to category-length, but it's not.

jmc_bks: (title2)
As I mentioned yesterday, I downloaded several ebooks based on people I met or chatted with at RWA.  I read one of them today, a Silhouette Nocturne Bite, Savage Dragon by Anna Hackett.

They call him the Savage Dragon: Rordan Sarkany, knight of the Order of the Dragon, charged with tracking and destroying those who let their dragon blood turn them into beasts. In the wilds of Hungary, Rordan hunts one such creature—along with fellow warrior Kira Bethlen.

Both Rordan and his inner dragon desire Kira...and she can't resist Rordan's dangerous allure. But even if she succumbs to their attraction, can she ever forgive him for slaying her beloved brother?


This is the first Nocturne Bite that I've read; I can't tell how it compares to others in terms of pacing and content. 

What did I like about this book?  Well, it's got dragons in it.  How could I not like it?  .

What was the downside of this book?  The fact that it is a novella.  It felt like there was a lot of backstory and worldbuilding that just didn't fit within the word count. Based on the info at Hackett's website, it looks like more books and/or stories will be coming, and the backstory may eventually be filled in.  But in this first installment, a lot of the relationship development was skipped; in order to get around it, the hero and heroine have a backstory, physical attraction, and a fated mates thing. 

jmc_bks: (title2)

Monday again.  Ho hum.  Beth has rung the bell on SBD.  She's reading more of the Twilight series.  After her post last week, I went hunting for my copy of Twilight and pulled it out for this month's TBR Challenge.  Sadly, I haven't cracked the book open yet.  Instead, I've read other stuff.  Such as...

I read Erin McCarthy’s Hard and Fast last week. It wasn’t bad. The pacing was a little uneven if you compare the first half and second halves, but still, not bad at all. The hero and heroine had great chemistry, and their dialogue sparkled. (It’s such a cliché, but it really did.  They clearly enjoyed talking to each other and listening to each other, and playing some word games.) The Big Conflict was not a huge surprise, but I though the heroine really stuck her foot in her mouth. In fact, I thought she needed to grovel, and that never really happened. SPOILER: see, the hero is dyslexic and she’s Smart and Educated, and when he reveals his disability, she immediately announces how she’s going to help him. What the hell? He’s been successful at helping himself; frankly, the way she wanted to “help” him (fix him, really) struck me as a little patronizing and judgmental, and outright ignorant in terms of the treatment, if that’s the right word, of dyslexia. Still, they apologized to each other and went off to live happily ever after.  

As I read, I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what the heroine was doing as an academic, and what she did, if anything, before becoming at teaching assistant in North Carolina. She works for another character, who was an instructor of some sort at the local university. I say instructor because the other character has “only” a Master’s Degree, and I believe “professor” is reserved for those with Ph.D.’s, no? There’s such a variety of labels in academia: lecturer, instructor, adjunct, assistant, professor. I know there’s a hierarchy applied to them, but I’m not entirely sure how both education, longevity, employer/employee relationship with the university, etc., apply.  Anyhow, the heroine is an assistant to this instructor. She talks about her thesis project, but her work is also referred to as a dissertation project and/or doctoral research.  I thought thesis = Masters, dissertation = Ph.D. Yes? No? Despite the confusion in terminology, it becomes clear that the heroine is working on her M.A. in Sociology.  Which leads back to my original question:  she’s twenty eight years old and has been presented as a career academic, studying in New York; what has she been doing for 6 years that she is only working on her thesis now? That seems like an awfully long time for a dedicated student to still be M.A.-less. Was she working, and this is a return to academia? Was she working on a degree in some other field of study? Inquiring minds want to know.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book; really I did.   I’m just distracted by a detail.

Unrelated sidenote: my copy of Joseph McAleer’s Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon has arrived at last – only took a month and a half! The cover is gorgeous, composed of the cover art of old M&B books. I’m going to have to look for copies to read, based entirely on the art and titles.  There's even another book cover on the back cover, Roberta Leigh's Too Young To Love.

And the back cover copy: 

The fascinating story behind Mills & Boon, the household name for romantic fiction, and twentieth century cultural phenomenon.

An animated account of the establishment and development of the company, exposing the personalities who played a part in Mills & Boon's often dramatic past.

Draws upon a long-lost archive of over 50,000 remarkable letters to reveal the intimate relationship between editorial policy, sales and morality.

An entertaining look at the famous Mills & Boon 'formula', and a lively investigation into the ingredients which make the novels so addictive.

Right now I'm reading L. Jon Wertheim's Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, but Passion's Fortune is next on the TBR, along with Dru Pagliassotti's Clockwork Heart.
jmc_bks: (Default)
While on vacation, I finally read the second of the Old Skool Harlequin romance novels I found at the local used bookstore.  It...was interesting in a train-wreck sort of way.

Man of the Islands by Henrietta Reid

(c) 1967

The back cover copy:  Greg Hallam's name was a legend among the islands, and when his schooner put into Yara, Verity fell in love with the man as well as the legend.  But what chance had Verity when Stella also was on Yara?

Man of the Islands opens with Verity angsting about what to do with herself:  her father, who abandoned a career as a doctor in England to become an artist (unsuccessfully), has died, leaving her alone and without support.  Her paternal aunt has declined to take her in, and she's more or less obliged to take a job working for Stella Fenton on Magena Plantation.  At the same time, the Allamanda pulls in to port, having suffered serious damage in the last big storm.  Stella and Greg, captain of the Allamanda, have a history of some sort, and she manages to talk him into coming to Magena, in theory to teach her younger brother how to properly manage the plantation.  Of course, really she's just maneuvering to have him around, hoping to eventually seduce him into something, presumably marriage since he appears to have been The One Who Got Away.   

Poor Verity, stuck on Magena doing a job that it never really described except as office work, is sure that Greg is an arrogant user, and wants nothing to do with him.  But the reader is told of her gradual obsession and attraction to him.  Told, not shown, because they are seldom on the page together.  He rescues her a couple of times, then announces abruptly that he loves her, then goes back to ignoring and doubting her.  Eventually, the volcano on the island erupts, forcing them into proximity again, and there is a big confrontation between Stella and another character which Verity overhears, then another scene that Greg overhears, and finally Verity deigns to trust him and say The Words.  Eh.  In the end, the denouement seemed rather lame.  It also didn't make much sense, since Greg has suddenly become a plantation owner -- did he buy Magena?  with what money?  even though the island had just erupted and was probably not workable?

Okay, first of all, where's Yara?  What is Yara?  In the beginning, I thought it was Australia, because of the Yarra River.  But no. Ultimately I figured out that Yara is part of Papua New Guinea, based on mentions of going to Rabaul, which appears to be the nearest large port.

Next question:  what does Magena Plantation produce?  I don't know.  Maybe I wasn't reading carefully enough, but it was never really clear to me.  The plantation is a successful one, and the source of Stella's wealth, though.

Stella.  She's a woman who likes men and money.  Which of course makes her the Evil Other Woman in this book.  Which her constant machinations and manipulations got a little tiresome -- there seemed to be an awful lot of them for such a short book -- the caricature-ish nature of her character was a bit of a disappointment.

Greg?  The reader never gets his perspective, everything is filtered entirely through Verity, who doesn't seem like the most reliable of narrators, frankly.   Ultimately we learn that he pulled in to Yara for repairs because he'd heard rumors about Verity and her father, and was more or less in love with her based on those, long before he ever met her.  Yeah, no, not believable.

And Verity.  What a dish rag.  Except apparently she was a magnet for men, since both Greg and Stella's brother and yet a third male character in the book were attracted to her.  Mostly I wondered about her lack of independence -- maybe this is just a modern sensibility, but her lack of initiative in going to look for a job to support herself, her utter reliance on her father and then hoping for rescue by her aunt made me wonder about her.  She was supposed to be an adult, but that reliance on others seemed naive and childish to me.

In a lot of ways, this book seemed rather Victorian to me, with the worrying about chaperones and complaints about the "heathen" indigenous tribes of the island.  Gentility, Verity's excess of it and Stella's lack, was hammered on.  As I read, I kept thinking of the English in India, and their imposition of Britishisms on the population, mostly because that seems like what has happened at Magena.  As a romance novel, this book flat out did not work for me for the reasons I've mentioned:  told not shown, and what was told wasn't believable.  The only vaguely interesting thing about the book was its minimal value as a narrative about 20th century colonialism. 
jmc_bks: (Default)

AvidReader's TBR Challenge carries on!  This year is slightly different, with a suggested sub-genre for each month.  January's selection:  category romance.

Thunder Mountain by Rachel Lee
(c) 1994

Why did I select this book?  Although it has been awhile (several years), I've read and enjoyed several books in Lee's Conard County series, and this book is set there.  I wasn't sure if it was part of that loosely connected series or just geographically located in the same area.

Thunder Mountain speaks . . .

It was scarcely possible to believe, but Mercy Kendrick could not escape the sensation that the storm-racked mountain looking down on Conard County was a living, breathing entity -- something so powerful it could destry an unwelcome mortal in an instant. . . .

And none of the mountain's dangers was more terrifying that Gray Cloud -- silent guardian of a place that had been sacred to his people since the beginning of time.  And yet, despite whispered warnings -- and her own trembling heart -- she could not keep away from this seductively sinister man. . . .

What did I think of the book?  Well, I finished the book feeling rather ambivalent about it.  I didn't really care about the hero or heroine or their HEA.  But I was interested in the idea of the book:  the mountain as a character, as a living being with the power to damage invaders on its slopes.  In some ways, it reminded me of Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series, which includes the earth and mother nature as a sentient being, awakening from a long, long nap and angered by the use to which humans have put her.  I suppose, given the copyright information, that it would be better described as a predecessor of some sort.

In terms of being a Conard County book, a few characters who seemed vaguely familiar (the sheriff, a rancher) were mentioned but were not part of the plot.

Keep or pass on?  Pass on.

Read Lee again?  Maybe.  Although I'm not sure if she is still writing romance. 

Some other information that may interest readers:  The edition in my library dates back to a re-issue in late 2000 or early 2001 if I go by the other Harlequin books and their sale dates.  I'm not sure which line TM originally was part of, but the re-issue was as part of Silhouette's Dreamscapes, a paranormal line.

More trivia:  Lee has also written single titles as Sue Civil-Brown.

jmc_bks: (Book on table)

The Pride You Trampled by Juliet Armstrong

A Harlequin Romance, #51136

(c) 1967 to Simon & Schuster, originally published by Mills & Boon Limited

That last intrigued me, and sent me off on a hunt for corporate information. I thought that Mills & Boon was the parent company to Harlequin, since M&B seems to have a longer history -- imagine my surprise to learn that Hqn was not a spin off of M&B, but a partner that eventually bought M&B in 1971. But I'm still curious about how/where Simon & Schuster fits in to the early publishing and distribution relationship between the two. And I've put in an interlibrary loan request for Passion's Fortune: the Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer. (Holy moly, a new copy costs $110; used is still $58.)


At their first meeting, Julian accused Sylvia of being a common little adventuress. He soon realized his mistake, and tried to make amends. But it was too late. The damage was done, and Sylvia's pride bitterly hurt. Would he ever be able to make her see him in a more favorable light?

TPYT is both wonderful and awful, mostly for the exact same reasons.

Sylvia Freyne is the rock of her family, the eldest sister to three younger siblings who have been orphaned by a tragic auto accident on the Great North Road. [I recognize that name from historical romance novels, and didn't realize that the name was still in use. But why wouldn't it be? Duh.] Anyway, they live with their philanthropist uncle, who is distant but nice enough. The family is wealthy, or at the very least comfortable, since at the opening of the book, Sylvia wears a mink coat, her brother attends an exclusive private (public?) school, and they live in a house in London (in Piccadilly Circus?) with several servants and a butler.

The action begins with Sylvia's return from some sort of world tour for the uncle-by-marriage's philanthropy. On the journey, she met and fell in love with Hugh Merring, a somewhat frail young man who lives with his domineering mother in genteel poverty. A reader conversant in the tropes of category romance can recognize what is going to happen right off, right? Interfering mother involved at some point. After settling back in at home, Sylvia traipses off to visit Hugh and meet his mother. At the same time, Sylvia meets Julian, Hugh's cousin, a wealthy businessman who warns Sylvia off rather brutally. Her uncle has a reputation as a swindler, y'see. Shades of Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi. Sylvia, being innocent and self-righteous, flounces off, peeved at the way he has spoken to her, only to be very rudely awakened to the reality of her uncle's fraud when he commits suicide as his losses and embezzlement come to light. Eventually, Sylvia learns that her own family's wealth has been embezzled and frittered away, leaving the family more or less destitute. Having realized Sylvia's innocence in the whole scheme, Julian admits his misjudgment (while never actually apologizing for what he said to her or how he said it), and offers to assist Sylvia and her family in finding some sort of situation for them to work and live. Being rather prideful, Sylvia declines in a rather snooty way. The plot proceeds this way for 190 pages, with Sylvia basically cutting off her nose to spite her face.

Frankly, Sylvia's bitterness and her self-imposed martyrdom became rather tiresome, in part because the POV is entirely hers, without any relief via the POV of another character (hero or secondary character). While I could understand her resentment of Julian's assumptions, she is rather ungracious and foolish about refusing to accept help. If she'd been on her own, that wouldn't have bothered me, but refusing freely offered assistance when one has three dependents seems TSTL to me, rather like the heroine who refuses child support and instead lives hand to mouth with her child out of some misplaced pride. There's independence and there's stupidity. Hot button there, sorry. OTOH, she has a valid point when she says to Julian that he never actually apologized for the nasty things he said to her upon their first meeting.

TPYT as a category romance novel has many of the same tropes that a reader can find in today's categories -- proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite being a "kisses only" and rather conservative romance by today's standards, a reader can find a great many similarities with modern day Harlequin novels:

  • Wealthy business man hero
  • Martyring heroine
  • Big Misunderstanding
  • Scheming Other Woman
  • Melodramatic external event prompting confrontation of feelings

The hero and heroine fall in love with each other despite most of their contact being abrasive and adversarial. Until the very end of the book, their only physical contact is a "punishing" kiss, which the heroine is embarrassed to admit to herself that she enjoyed. The two characters spent very little time together on the page, and their love is mostly told rather than shown by her angsting and talking to herself and by his declarations. The asshat to doormat ratio is fairly even here: the assumptions and judgments Sylvia and Julian make, and the way they treat each other, are equally prideful and hard-hearted. At the end of the book, they seem fairly well-matched in terms of temperament and world-view.

Unlike more modern categories, which are set in a world that I understand even if I don't live in it (never having being a virgin secretary to an Italian billionaire), TPYT is set in a world that seems idyllic, innocent, far away and long gone. Traveling by boat to and from Australia and South Africa, rather than by plane. Are there still village tea shops in England like the one she decides to run? Is that just another name for the equivalent of a local cafe? Hunt balls. Trousseaus. Professional models as scandalous creatures. In some ways, TPYT is as different or unreal to me as a vampire novel because of that setting. As I read the book I wondered, was this considered racy at the time of publication?

The title of the book comes from a W.E. Henley poem quoted at Sylvia by Julian on one occasion when he is fraught by what he calls her wretched pride:

The pride I trampled is now my scathe,
For it tramples me again
The old resentment lasts like death,
For you love, yet you refrain.
I break my heart on your hard unfaith,
And I break my heart in vain.

All in all, TPYT was an engrossing read for me. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book, especially to a reader who is unfamiliar with or does not like categories, but I think anyone interested in looking at the development of categories as a subgenre would be entertained by it. Certainly it held my interest, and I'm looking forward to reading the next old school Harlequin Romance.

jmc_bks: (title2)

I found a cache of old Harlequin Romance novels at the UBS in my neighborhood.  This is rather remarkable for two reasons:  1) because genre romance is not a staple of their offerings, and 2) when I say old, I mean, published back in 1967.  Which means these little bits of paper and glue are 42 years old, which in book life span is ancient -- mass market paperbacks are very disposable.

So, the books I bought were:

Man of the Islands by Henrietta Reid. 
Greg Hallam's name was a legend among the islands, and when his schooner put into Yara, Verity fell in love with the man as well as the legend.  But what chance had Verity when Stella was also on Yara.

Where's Yara?  I don't know, and I really don't care.  Which islands?  Ditto.  There's a schooner, which means sailing, which can be romantic.

The Courageous Heart by Jane Marnay
Barry Kane is the moon and the stars to Carey Howes.  Then he marries Zoe and Carey's cherished dreams crash about her feet.  By the time Barry's marriage ends in tragedy, Carey is empty of all feeling and her only tomorrow is dancing.  When an accident takes away this one consolation, the courage to overcome sucha a cruel blow seems unattainable.  Doctor Simon Forrest brings her back to life, but Carey is not ready for the love her offers her.  Later, Carey's feelings begin to reawaken, but it looks as though once again she has lost the man of her dreams.  Just in time, Barry clears the way for the happiness of the girl he has always loved.

Doctor-hero!  Betrayal!  Professions denied!  Oh, the melodrama.  It reminds me of Betty Neel...on steroids.

And I've saved the best for last.

The Pride You Trampled by Juliet Armstrong.
At first meeting, Julian accused Sylvia of being a common little adventuress.  He soon realised his mistake, and tried to make amends.  But it was too late.  The damage was done, and Sylvia's pride bitterly hurt.  Would he ever be able to make her see him in a more favorable light?

Okay, seriously, that title?  Rocks.  The heart break!  The drama!  The groveling implied in the blurb!

I know y'all are jealous that I have such delicious stuff to read.  Aren't you?

Unrelated: I think Tennyson is rolling over in his grave at Blago's use of his "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."

Also, is there really an audience for a memoir from the shrub?  Despite the hints of historical reconstruction, I'm thinking it would just be a fictionalized, whitewashed account of his occupation of the WH.

ETA: And here's the cover art for two of the books -- how very 50s and 60s!

jmc_bks: (star fort kinsale)

Yesterday I read a category novel that caused the most visceral reaction to a book that I've had in a while.  Profound disgust, which I'm sure was not what the author was going for.  Yet I finished reading it, rather like a rubbernecker who can't look away from an accident scene. I've been trying to decide which bothered me most about the purported hero and heroine: 

  • That they were both cheating skanks who fucked a total stranger in an airplane bathroom, one just a month before her wedding?  And, dude, seriously, an airplane bathroom?  I know the mile high club turns some people on, but that's a public toilet.  Didn't you grow out of public bathroom sex after college?
  • The huge honking hypocrisy of the heroine?  "Fidelity was very important to her.  On the other hand, they weren't married yet...She hadn't taken any vows.  Kevin never had to know."     Yeah, sure fidelity was important to her; and fidelity can apparently be defined in her mind as including sex with someone other than her fiance, as long as her fiance doesn't know about it. 
  • That the heroine was a spineless wimp who let her mother run her life, especially with respect to the wedding?  Was the fact that planning a wedding is stressful supposed to make the heroine more sympathetic?  Mostly it just made her more pathetic, that she was unable to stand up for what she wanted (or didn't) with respect to her wedding and future marriage.
  • The the heroine never bothered to talk to her fiance about what she wanted sexually, then decided that since she wasn't getting what she wanted from him that it was okay to screw someone else before the wedding, as long as she didn't ever tell him about it?  "He wouldn't understand.  His mind doesn't go there."  Right.  You don't know unless you bring the subject up, and if you can't bring the subject up, you probably shouldn't be marrying him.
  • That the hero, while not engaged, is dating someone exclusively, and also thinks it's okay to fuck another woman before getting engaged?  And is then surprised when a business partner (his girlfriend's brother) expresses reservations about doing business with him if he's going to be cheating on his sister. 
  • The dumping at the altar -- because she obviously had no other POSSIBLE opportunity to change her mind, and had to hurt and humiliate the groom on the wedding day?  I agree that it's better to not get married than to get married just to save face, but there are better ways to call off the wedding than by announcing after the Wedding March has begun playing.
  • The substitution of one groom for another -- after all, you've got the cake and the dress, let's just swap men out?  Setting aside, of course, the fact that in most states, licenses are issued with respect to specific parties, so one groom actually can't be legally substituted for another.

By the time I finished, I thought the "hero" and "heroine" both deserved a virulent case of clap and the opposite of an HEA. 

I am seriously tempted to ask for my money back for this book.

jmc_bks: (title2)
Monday! Columbus Day! And SBD!

Also, belated Thanksgiving wishes to my friends in Canada. Hope your turkey wasn't dry, your family didn't make you crazy, and that there were no scary surprises dropped when everyone gathered around the table. (Whew, that probably tells you something about my family's Thanx, doesn't it?)

This weekend I read Robyn Donald's October Harlequin Presents, His Majesty's Mistress. <sigh> Hate the title. Hate it. There's no mistressing going on within the book, so I'm guessing that particular title was selected because it had to contain a certain number of the HP good sale buzz words. Y'know, billionaire, virgin, tycoon, mistress, pregnant, royal title of some sort.

Anyhow, HMM was not a bad book at all. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. As I've repeated ad nauseum, Robyn Donald's older HPs are favorites. Her more recent releases have become typical HPs, which disappoints me a bit. The made up kingdom of Illyria, and all of the ancillary royals, don't come across on the page as well as New Zealand (her typical older setting), I think. They seem rather generic, while Donald's details about New Zealand are concrete enough to ground the story with a very particular sense of place. In HMM, the hero is an Illyrian prince (must have royalty to sell HPs today!) but the book itself is set almost entirely in New Zealand, on the heroine's farm/station on the North Island. The two meet on holiday and have a fling there, but then the plot move into their real lives. Although the mechanism used for the Big Misunderstanding is kind of irritating -- could the heroine not talk to the hero? confront the Other Woman? Of course not, because communicating instead of jumping to conclusions would end the story too soon -- the story itself was alright. [Meet on holiday, fall in lust, have Big Mis, hiss and spit at each other for awhile, finally break tension and make up.] As Jane might say, the ass to doormat ratio was fairly good. The hero, while very alpha, wasn't painfully overbearing, and the heroine had no problem whatsoever standing up to him. In fact, one of the things that intrigued him about her most was that she gave him his walking papers, rather than being clingy. B /B-from me.

It's a good thing that I bought a copy automatically when I saw Donald's name on the cover, because reading the back blurb would've had me dropping the book like a hot potato:

The prince's bride -- by royal decree!

On the idyllic Pacific island of Fala'isi, Giselle Foster is swept off her feet and into the bed of a devastatingly gorgeous stranger -- only to discover she's given away her purity to renowned playboy Prince Roman Magnati!

Giselle knows she can never be part of Roman's glamorous existence, and decides to end their torrid affair. But her inexperience and refusal to succumb to his touch make Roman more determined to claim her -- as his royal bride!

Oh, where to start.

+ There was no sweeping. Giselle was attracted and decided to have a vacation fling.
+ He wasn't a total stranger by the time they made sheet music.
+ Purity? The idea that a woman's value or innocence or whatever lies between her legs drives me insane. Please.
+ In the story, Roman didn't come across as a playboy, for all that he had appeared in tabloids.
+ The torrid affair was scheduled to last only 4 days, while they were on vacation. There was no angst about lifestyles or big drama when the fling ended. (That all came later.)

The very last sentence about the hero being attracted to the heroine's backbone is true...but even he wasn't sure what he wanted from her (other than sex) until nearly the end of the book.

The writing of a back blurb is an art -- how does one condense >180 pages of plot into <100 words, and use certain buzz words at the same time? But it is also an exercise in salesmanship -- how can this book be dressed up to appeal to the highest number of consumers? Sometimes, though, it seems like in the effort to appeal to the average HP reader (whoever that is), the blurb writers lose the actual plot of the book at hand. Or exaggerate it out of existence.

The blurb I would paste onto the back of this book? Well, something like this:

On the idyllic Pacific island of Fala'isi, Giselle and Roman are swept off their feet and into a passionate holiday relationship -- only to discover that conflicting business interests put them on separate sides of a bargaining table.

Disturbed by hints of a personal conflict for Roman, not just a business one, Giselle ends their tryst early and returns home to clean up the aftermath of a family disaster. Roman, attracted by Giselle's strong will and work ethic, refuses to accept her dismissal, and sparks fly.

No, I'm not a writer of any sort, so feel free to savage that suggestion.  But the first sentence makes the attraction seem less one-sided, and the second paragraph is less about social status and more about their actual conflict than the original version.

But what do I know? I just read the books...although fewer now than I used to.

TBR day

Apr. 16th, 2008 09:54 am
jmc_bks: (TDS)
Whereas today is the third Wednesday of the month,

And whereas I am participating in Keishon's TBR challenge,

It is encumbent upon me to post about the books I dug out of the TBR pile.

Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light )

Beyond Breathless )

P.S. I'm borrowing the format for Angie's older TBR challenge, because it is easy to use and I'm lazy.
jmc_bks: (title)
I sketched out a nutshell review of Kathleen O'Reilly's Sex, Straight Up two weeks ago, right after I finished reading it, but never got around to posting. So here it is.

Meeting a handsome loner on a deserted beach in the Hamptons was like being hit by lightning. One steamy weekend in bed with Daniel O'Sullivan and Catherine Montefiore was marvelously woozy from a delicious cocktail of sun, sand and superhot sex.

Abruptly, though, Catherine's forty-eight hours of fun are at an end when her family's exclusive auction house is hit by a very public scandal. She's ready to step in and save the day, but she's hoping Daniel, her hot Irish hunk, will lend a hand. After all, he's got the necessary skills and, straight up or not, Catherine wants another long drink of Daniel before another forty-eight hours are up and her legacy is lost forever!

Take that blurb with a grain of salt. Or more, since it really isn't entirely accurate. Although a 48 hour period is involved at the start of their relationship, it doesn't have anything to do with the scandal at the auction house.

SSU is the second book in the "Those Sexy O'Sullivans" Harlequin Blaze trilogy from O'Reilly. Although I didn't post a full review of the first book, Shaken and Stirred, I mentioned here that I liked but didn't love it; the conflict felt forced and the heroine seemed very immature to me. I had no such problems with SSU.

O'Reilly did a fabulous job with the heroine, Catherine -- she's smart, she's good at her job, she loves her family and friends while not being blind to their weaknesses, but she has her own tender spots. Daniel, the hero, is the brother I liked best when I first began the series. Because accountants rock. The conflict between them is all about whether or not Daniel is able and willing to move past the death of his first wife, who died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As Catherine observes, even if Daniel wants to move on, the city won't let him. [Aside: as someone who occasionally visits NYC, I appreciated the glimpse into daily life for Manhattan residents, as well as pall that omnipresent 9/11 reminders casts over many. It made me wonder how many people would like to move on or at least past that day, but are unable to because the city and other residents won't let them.]

Here's the thing: my reading of Daniel is that, regardless of 9/11, he isn't ready to move on at the beginning of the book. In his mind, love is forever, and he is neither willing nor able to make room for another woman in his life or his heart. I do believe that he wants to make that change by the end of the book, though, so I can buy into the HEA.

Because so much of the conflict was about grieving for a dead spouse, the book was rather melancholy. More melancholy than most Harlequin Blazes usually are, IMO.

I do have a quibble with some of the pacing, and the way time is used. One scene occurs on a Wednesday night, and somehow two days later it is a Wednesday again. Unless more time past without being marked very clearly. *shrugs* It's a minor complaint. Another minor complaint: I noticed a lot of typos in this book, and in Shaken and Stirred.

All in all, this was a book I enjoyed (B+) but not necessarily a keeper for me.

I have at least one earlier Blaze by O'Reilly in my TBR pile, so I'm going to dig it out for Keishon's TBR Challenge this month. Note: I have done so, and will post about it on Wednesday.
jmc_bks: (daffs)
It's spring again. And Monday again. Time to SBD, if you have anything to share.

Shaken and Stirred by Kathleen O'Reilly )

Baseball returns to Balmer today. My expectations for the season are pathetically low. Is a .500 season too much to ask of the Orioles? Sadly, yes, too much to ask for the past 9 or 10 seasons. Yet I will hope for it again. Hope springs eternal and all that...
jmc_bks: (Default)
I have a couple dozen Silhouette Bombshell books in my TBR.  I *think* I've read at least one before (Something Phoenix?  Phoenix Something?, maybe), but couldn't swear that was the case.  I found a copy of Evelyn Vaughn's Contact on the library sale shelf; remembered hearing good things about it, so I bought it.   Why read this one instead of any of the books in Mt. TBR?  Why do I do anything?  It was an act of random, capricious choice.

The verdict:  it was okay.  I liked the adventure of it, the suspense aspect.  I was a little put off by the young age of the heroine (22) since heroine ages seem to be rising...or maybe that's just my imagination?  Maybe they are only rising in my sample of reading materials.  (Seems like the average heroine is 26-29 these days.)  I felt like I was missing something the whole time I read though.  And when the whole Athena Academy thing was brought in to explain the heroine's "powers"?  Eh.  Too little, too late.  Not interested.  Especially when it screams "series bait" to me.  C+.  

Contact was an early Bombshell, I'm pretty sure.  And I can totally see why Harlequin readers were upset with this line.  There is no HEA, per se.  There's an implication or hint that a relationship may come, but nothing more.  If I were a faithful Hqn category/line reader who picked the book up because it was something new from Hqn, relying on the Hqn reputation and it's standards in other category lines, I'd've been right irritated to get to the end and have no HEA.


jmc_bks: (Default)

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