Archive | December, 2008

Best Of 2008: Books and Games (And More)

31 Dec

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Film: “North and South” – My Second Take

Books

I read (= recorded as read) 101 books this year. I know there are some I didn’t catch (mostly non-fiction) and nearly 40 of the books are category novels, but all in all, and thanks to the huge effort in December, I managed to read over 100 books. Yeah!

My favorite reads by grade:

Top Ten of Books read in 2008:

  • Meljean Brook – Demon Bound
  • Kresley Cole – Dark Needs at Night’s Edge
  • Jennifer Crusie – Manhunting
  • Meredith Duran – The Duke of Shadows
  • Susan Fromberg Schaeffer – The Madness of a Seduced Woman
  • Laura Kinsale – The Prince of Midnight
  • Lisa Kleypas – Sugar Daddy
  • Kathleen O’Reilly – Sex, Straight Up
  • Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn
  • Linnea Sinclair – Shades of Dark
  • Special Mention:
    – Joanna Bourne (for the writing)
    – Kristin Hardy
    – Caroline Linden
    – Sherry Thomas

My favorite novel 2008:

This is really difficult because you’re comparing apples to oranges and depending on mood and day and whatnot, this changes but anyway, here goes:
I was a really close decision between Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows and Laura Kinsale’s The Prince of Midnight, with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire a close third. In the end, I decided on

kinsale-laura-prince-of-midnight

Laura Kinsale – The Prince of Midnight

The fact that decided it was that I didn’t think I would like The Prince of Midnight all that much before I started to read it (the cross-dressing heroine).

This makes
Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows
my favorite of the books published in 2008
(that I read).

Additional thoughts:

  • I had to read my comments about Karen Rose’s You Can’t Hide again. I didn’t remember…
  • I also don’t remember much about Jennifer Crusie’s Manhunting. But I gave it a 5/5 so it’s on the list.
  • I got really into category novels this year. I like that they are fast to read and focused on the romance – a good way to fix my contemporary romance cravings. But most of all, I really appreciate how authors manage to turn out good stories with all the constraints on this format.
  • The most pleasant surprise: that I like Kresley Cole’s “Immortals After Dark” series after all.
  • Looking at all the books and the grades, I have really a lot of books graded in the 4/5 range. Maybe I’m too generous, I don’t know, but grading is probably something I have to think about (once more).

~ * ~

Games

I finished 4 games:

and started/played ? number of others, most notably Civilization IV (PC), Divine Divinity (PC), Spell Force (PC), Puzzle Quest (PS2), and some Diablo 2 (PC) and Civilization III (PC).

My favorite game:

Okami (PS2)

okami

It’s one of my most favorite games on the PS2. It’s beautiful and original.

Music

Usually, this is not part of my end-of-the-year post, but this year, there are two CDs I listened to a lot:

  • James Blunt – Back to Bedlam
  • Any MacDonald – This Is the Life

I already wrote about the significance of James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam so I want to conclude this year with a video by Amy MacDonald. I really like every song on her album This Is the Life, and since I already linked my favorite of her songs, Let’s Start a Band, I chose the title song of her album, This is the Life, as the last thing to post this year:

Amy MacDonald – This Is the Life

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

December 2008

31 Dec

Books bought / ordered:
Suzanne Brockmann – Body Language
Helen Brooks – Ruthless Tycoon, Innocent Wife
Justine Davis – Backstreet Hero
Meredith Duran – The Duke of Shadows
Kristin Hardy – Bad Behaviour
Kristin Hardy – Under His Spell
Larissa Ione – Pleasure Unbound
Julie James – Just the Sexiest Man Alive
Lisa Kleypas – Devil in Winter
Lisa Kleypas – It Happened One Autumn
Lisa Kleypas – Secrets of a Summer Night
Carrie Lofty – What a Scoundrel Wants
Susan Mallery – Sweet Trouble
Deanna Raybourn – Silent in the Grave
Anne Stuart – Black Ice

Books read:
Ann Aguirre – Grimspace
Jo Beverley – Christmas Angel
Joanna Bourne- The Spymaster’s Lady
Suzanne Brockmann – Body Language
Pamela Clare – Ride the Fire
Meredith Duran – The Duke of Shadows
Sarah Gabriel – Keeping Kate
Kristin Hardy – Bad Behaviour
Kristin Hardy – Hot Moves
Julie James – Just the Sexiest Man Alive
Lisa Kleypas – Devil in Winter
Lisa Kleypas – It Happened One Autumn
Lisa Kleypas – Secrets of a Summer Night
Stephanie Laurens – A Secret Love (re-read)
Sherry Thomas – Private Arrangements

Favourite novel:
Duran, Meredith – The Duke of Shadows

New-to-me authors: Ann Aguirre, Joanna Bourne, Meredith Duran, Pamela Clare, Julie James, Sherry Thomas

New-to-me authors I would read again: Ann Aguirre, Joanna Bourne, Meredith Duran, Pamela Clare, Julie James, Sherry Thomas

Comments: Books
Jo Beverley – Christmas Angel*
Joanna Bourne – The Spymaster’s Lady
Suzanne Brockmann – Body Language*
Suzanne Brockmann – Kiss and Tell
Pamela Clare – Ride the Fire
Meredith Duran – The Duke of Shadows
Sarah Gabriel – Keeping Kate
Kristin Hardy – Bad Behaviour*
Kristin Hardy – Hot Moves*
Julie James –The Sexiest Man Alive
Lisa Kleypas – It Happened One Autumn*
Lisa Kleypas – Secrets of a Summer Night

* see: December 2008: Some Comments

* * *

Games bought:

Games played:
Civilization III (PC)
Titan Quest (PC)
Shadow Hearts: From the New World (PS2)

Comments: Games
Currently Playing: “Shadow Hearts – From the New World” (PS2)

December 2008: Some Comments

31 Dec

Books

  • Jo Beverley – Christmas Angel
  • Suzanne Brockmann – Body Language
  • Kristin Hardy – Bad Behaviour
  • Kristin Hardy – Hot Moves
  • Julie James – Just the Sexiest Man Alive

beverley-jo-christmas-angelJo Beverley – Christmas Angel

A marriage of convenience
This is book # 3 in the “Company of Rogues” series and while some of the characters from the previous novels appear 1) they are actually integral to the story and 2) Christmas Angel is well able to stand on its own. It’s the story of Leander, Earl of Charrington, who “wants a home, a wife and a good old-fashioned English Christmas.” Thanks to the marriage of his parents, he’s afraid to fall in love – he honestly believes he just can’t – and so he looks for a sensible wife who isn’t likely to fall in love with him either. Enter Judith Rossiter, a impoverished widow with two young children. She has a reputation for having loved her late husband a lot and after his death, she is known as the “Weeping Widow.” Judith can’t turn down Leander’s proposal for the sake of her children, and they enter into a marriage of convenience.
I enjoyed reading how the characters adjusted to each other. Leander is a few years younger than Judith for example (not much of an issue but I liked it), and Judith worries about doing the right thing. After all, marriage means giving someone a lot of power over herself and her children. I liked this part of the story the most. Later, the focus shifts to the mystery surrounding Leander’s inheritance, and there are more revelations about Judith’s poet husband. But despite the title, it’s only at the end that the “Christmas spirit” invades the story a bit much.

Grade: 4 / 5

~ * ~

brockmann-suzanne-body-languageSuzanne Brockmann – Body Language

Friends-turned-lovers
I bought this one because I liked Kiss and Tell. It’s a friends-turned-lovers story and it’s quite sweet. If there is one drawback, it’s that both characters are actually in love before the story starts. One of them for years, while the other realized it only recently. So the realization part is actually over before the story starts. But there are still quite a few awh!-moments to be had because before Clint can say anything, Sandy tells him she’s in love with someone (figuring she would always just be seen as a good friend by Clint). He agrees to help her get that man, wanting the best for her, and so he teaches her about body language. There are quite a few fun scenes and despite Clint being and expert on body language, the mis-communications continue. At the end, they got a bit much and I wondered why they didn’t talk about what was happening. I mean, they ruined their friendship with pretending to be lovers and I don’t think they once voiced concerns about the potential for that when they got into it. But all in all, a good and nice read.

Grade: 4 / 5

~ * ~

hardy-kristin-bad-behaviourKristin Hardy – Bad Behaviour

Second chance at love
This is the sixth and the last book in the mini-series “Sex and the Supper Club” by Kristin Hardy about six girlfriends making their way in life and finding love. Delaney Phillips held out the longest of the women, always on the lookout for fun and leaving the men before it could get ugly or hurtful. On a vacation, she meets her first boyfriend, Dom Gordon, by accident (and you could make the case that her way to deal with men comes in part from that time). They spent a few wonderful days full of fun and sex, and for Delaney, that’s all that it is supposed to be. But Dom, even though he has a lot on his plate with his expanding business, doesn’t want it to end just like that, so after some time, they resume their affair again back home.
This was a fun read. I probably liked it a bit less than Hot Moves but this could easily have to do with the fact that I read them both on the same day and Hot Moves was the first that I read. Incidentally, the heroines are nearly opposites in the way they deal with men. Delaney, always the one to leave, and Thea, the heroine from Hot Moves, always the one unable to leave.

Grade: 4 / 5

~ * ~

hardy-kristin-hot-movesKristin Hardy – Hot Moves

A one-night stand turned into something more
This is the fifth entry in Kristin Hardy’s “Sex and the Supper Club.” As always, the other women of the “Sex and Supper Club” are part of the story, but it’s not like you need to have read the previous novels to read this one. Thea just turned thirty and her one wish is for her to get her life back on track. She worked as a model in her past but something happened in New York, and she turned her back on that life and now works “Mcjobs” to keep her occupied even though she doesn’t need the money. A call from a friend leads her to Portland to help that friend with her dance studio. Dancing was the first and is now the only passion of Thea’s life. There she meets Brady and – totally blown away by the instant attraction between them – she has a one-night stand. Only, Brady doesn’t see it that way, for that it was way too good. But there is something in Thea’s past that made her swear off men – she has a clean record of always picking the wrong man and Brady shows all the signs to be one of those controlling assholes.
I really liked this story. Their first meeting and their instant attraction – very good. And despite the short page count, there was enough room to deal with Thea’s issues with men in an satisfying way.

Grade: 4 / 5

~ * ~

james-julie-just-the-sexiest-man-aliveJulie James – Just The Sexiest Man Alive

Lawyer meets movie star
Overall, I liked this story. I had a few problems with Taylor. Her sarcasm seemed too forced at times and in general, I felt there was a bit too much “nudge-nudge, look-look” going on with Taylor’s character (especially for the first half). I also wondered a bit about her willingness (and having the time) to be seen repeatedly with several celebrities when she’s in trail.
That said, I loved the beginning of the novel. The cross-examination scene of Jason is great. Taylor’s reluctance to be impressed by Jason was understandable – she had already done the womanizing-man thing, so no. I thought the middle part a bit sagging and off. But the last few chapters, reminiscent of Notting Hill IMO, made up for that. Jason’s line, “Not this time, Taylor. No sarcasm.” Awwh.

Grade: 3,5 / 5 (for the sagging middle part)

~ * ~

Comments planned*:
– Ann Aguirre – Grimspace
– Lisa Kleypas – Devil in Winter
– Sherry Thomas – Private Arrangements
– and look at this:

laurens-stephanie-a-secret-love_draft

Stephanie Laurens – A Secret Love – draft written on December, 4!

If A Secret Love wouldn’t be a re-read, I probably would need to read it again to finish writing that draft.

* We’ll see how that turns out!

Games

Shadow Hearts: From the New World (PS2)

see: Currently Playing: “Shadow Hearts – From the New World”

~ * ~

Civilization 3

Yes, I’m trying for a Deity game in Civ 3. So far, no chance because I don’t even manage to get a decent starting location. I have started over 10 games now and I always – always – end up with the worst starting location for my civilization compared to the AI’s starting locations. No water, no iron, no luxury in my immediate surroundings. I play til the Middle Ages come around and then I’m so ticked off that I quit and start new. I mean, is it too much to ask for at least a decent starting location and not the worst when I’m already heavily handicapped on this difficulty level? Bah!

~ * ~

Titan Quest

Finished this game on the first difficulty level. I don’t think I’ll play the other two. I liked it but (at the moment) I don’t want to take the time to really get into it like I did with the similar Diablo 2. Titan Quest is more comfortable in the gameplay than Diablo 2 (it’s also not as “old”) but something is missing. I don’t know. My Grade would probably be 4/5 or 4+/5.

Also:

titan-quest-next-difficulty-level

For all my troubles I just get this measly info window informing me I made the next difficulty level?
Meh!

Lisa Kleypas – “It Happened One Autumn”

28 Dec

kleypas-lisa-it-happened-one-autumn
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED:

SERIES: “Wallflower” series, book 2

WHY THIS NOVEL: I want to read Devil in Winter


The back blurb:
“Four young ladies enter London society with one necessary goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband. So they band together, and a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.

Where beautiful but bold Lillian Bowman quickly learned that her independent American ways weren’t entirely ‘the thing.’ And most disapproving of all was insufferable, snobbish, and impossible Marcus, Lord Westcliff, London’s most eligible aristocrat.
When Marcus shockingly–and dangerously–swept her into his arms, Lillian was overcome with a consuming passion for a man she didn’t even like. Time stood still; it was as if no one else existed…thank goodness they weren’t caught very nearly in the act!
Marcus was a man in charge of his own emotions, a bedrock of stability. But with Lillian, every touch was exquisite torture, every kiss an enticement for more. Yet how could he consider taking a woman so blatantly unsuitable…as his bride?”


Opposites-attract stories often are fun to read, but there is also room for some more poignant moments. It Happened One Autumn delivers this, especially in the beginning, with Marcus as the straitlaced hero and Lillian as the unconventional heroine.

I liked Lillian’s and Marcus’s encounters. They have some laugh-out-loud scenes together such as when Marcus apologizes to Lillian for kissing her for example. And Lillian’s ” ‘Then I suppose this waltz will be our first and our last’ ” – oh my! Marcus’s consternation about his attraction to Lillian was fun to read and I appreciated that their clashes actually seemed much more based on their characters than is often the case with that premise. I liked Marcus so much, that I’m tempted to read the other novels in which he appears and I thought Lillian a fun and vibrant yet also vulnerable character underneath all her brashness who is just the right person to tangle Marcus’s set ways. I also liked the look at what was considered proper behavior and I liked how Marcus’s and Lillian’s first time together came about because it was unexpected. Such scenes usually end another way.

But then, while I cheered that Marcus did something unexpected when he finds Lillian in the library drunk, I still felt a bit uneasy about it because I think it’s questionable in terms of honor. And while I found Lillian’s vibrancy very engaging, coupled with some other things that struck me as not fitting for the time period, she seemed a rather too modern character. Marcus’s mother was a cardboard evil character (maybe not as much with the previous books), that Lillian wouldn’t saying anything to her sister about where she went – leading to her abduction – seemed not really believable for her character, and while the story line about the perfume led to some funny antics, it petered out compared to the importance Lillian’s ability seemed to have in the prologue. In general, I found the allusions to magic (perfume, wishing well) a bit corny in the way they were implemented into the story.

I thought the observations on proper behavior and the clash between American and English views were interesting but not extensive enough to really add a story layer on its own like the social commentary in Secrets of a Summer Night did. As a result, I felt the romantic conflict fell a bit flat. The romance depended on the humor and tension generated by Lillian’s and Marcus’s opposites-attract personalities, and while this succeeded, the romance followed other stories with a similar premise in its scenes and development and felt less “fresh” than the romance in Secrets of a Summer Night, IMO.

Since I bought this novel to get a better perspective on Devil in Winter, here’s an intriguing characterization of Sebastian form Lillian’s perspective:

St. Vincent was the most engaging man that Lillian had ever met. Beneath the layers of silken gentility, however, there was a hardness, an impenetrability, that could only have belonged to a very cold man. Or perhaps an extremely guarded one. Either way, Lillian knew intuitively that whatever kind of soul lurked inside this elegant creature, she would never find out. He was as beautiful and inscrutable as a sphinx. (231)

And of course, there’s the question of how Sebastian’s action later in this story is redeemed in Devil in Winter.

To conclude, I’m glad I read It Happened One Autumn to see more of Sebastian’s character, but despite my liking of Lillian’s and Marcus’s sparing in the first half of the novel, It Happened One Autumn didn’t convince me completely in regard to character and plot development.


Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably yes.

Grade: 3,5 / 5