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Books And Games 2009

31 Dec

Books

According to my spreadsheet, I read 86 books this years. I probably missed one or two but all the same, it would still be less than year. Considering my “slump” the last few months, it’s not surprising though.

Favorite novel 2009

Looking at the grades and leaving aside the re-reads, there are two novels I graded 5/5:

  • Anne Stuart – Black Ice (2005)
  • Meredith Duran – Bound By Your Touch (2009)

Like last year, a novel by Meredith Duran is in the running for my favorite novel of the year. Like last year, her novel was published that year whereas the other novel was not. And like last year, I’m going to name the other novel as my favorite novel of the year. Reason: I still remember reading it so vividly.

So my favorite novel 2009:

Black Ice by Anne Stuart

(Here’s what I wrote back then.)

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Reading Challenges

TBR Challenge hosted by Keishon

I missed two out of twelve dates for this challenge. Which means, I managed to read ten out of twelve possible books. Overall, I read some good books in this challenge. I read some books who are favorite with many readers but didn’t really work for me, like Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night for example. I read some books I thought well written and saw the appeal but which still didn’t end up on my favorite list, like Suzanne Brockmann’s The Unsung Hero for example. I read some books by authors I’ve already read. I read some books whose authors where new to me and are now on my list of authors to read. And yes, I read some books that didn’t work for me at all.

Overall and although I missed it two times, I had a lot of fun with this challenge and I thought the monthly themes added a nice twist to the whole challenge. I found interesting new authors and I enjoyed myself.

Thanks to Keishon for coming up with the idea and organizing this challenge!

Re-Read Challenge hosted by nath

My sign-up for this challenge was the first time I ever posted on nath’s blog and I think it was a good idea. I had lots of fun with this challenge and I only missed one out of twelve dates for this challenge. I’m also happy to say that most of my favorite novels stood the test of time for me although I wasn’t brave enough to tackle the novel I think of as my favorite romance novel and which I only read one time for fear of finding it lacking the second time: Black Silk by Judith Ivory.

Maybe some day.

When I look at the novels I read for this challenge, I think for a re-read, I prefer a fun and humorous story to a more somber novel although I’m usually more interested in the latter when I think about buying a novel. Go figure.

Overall, a fun and interesting challenge, one I enjoyed very much.

Thanks to nath for coming up with the idea and organizing this challenge!

~ * * * ~

Games

I can’t say I have a favorite game this year. I played less than usual and I finished less games than usual.

2009 was the year I made real steps in my online gaming.

  • There’s the browser game I started in 2008 and still play: I joined a guild in February this year. My character is still doing good. She went from #1000 the last time I mentioned her to #163 in the ranking (status this afternoon).

  • And there’s Runes of Magic, a MMORPG. I started to play that several months ago and I still have fun although some of my worries about what could bother me have been confirmed. Anyway, I have three characters, a mage/priest (level 51/49), a priest/knight (41/39) and a scout/priest (level 20-30), and I joined a guild with my mage/priest character two months back.

    (No pics here due to the problems with our video card/computer – I can’t play at the moment).

~ * * * ~

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2010!

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Re-Read Challenge: “Tiger’s Eye” By Karen Robards

31 Dec

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009

This month:Re-Read Challenge: December!

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon, 1989

Lady Isabella St. Just is shocked to learn the identity of the daring champion who comes to her aid–for the man who rescues her from desperate felons is none other than Alec Tyron, the notorious king of London’s underworld. Now she is beholden to an outlaw who is repected and feared throughout the city and stunned by her own intense desire for this dark man of mystery. Fate has united these strangers from opposite lives–the beautiful aristocrate and the brazen criminal outlaw. And now that the flame has been lit, no power on Earth will quench the fire of their passion…or destroy a love that society cannot allow.

Then

This was the second novel I read by Karen Robards (the first being One Summer). I think the main attraction was the huge difference in the main characters’ position in society (think “the lady and the gutter rat”). I really liked it, the first half better than the last, and thought it interesting that it featured a married woman who commits adultery.

Now

Isabella is the (much) younger and unwanted-except-for-her-money wife of an earl. She spends her life on the country estate of her husband who’s in London most of the time and pretty much neglects her, something she’s used to from her family. Isabella herself has never been to London so the summons from her husband to come to London immediately is very surprising but something Isabella doesn’t hesitate to comply with. Her marriage is no love match but she knows her duties as a wife. She thinks of herself as sensible, possessing a good deal of common sense, and no real beauty.

Alec is the “king of the London underworld” which means that nothing goes on without him knowing about it. If someone dares to cut him out of a deal…Alec’s punishment is swift and merciless. He’s a gutter rat who pulled himself up in the only way and to the only position he could. But he strives to improve and educate himself, working on his language, speech, and manners. So it’s not much of a wonder that he’s fascinated with Isabella when they meet, who’s the image of a real and proper lady.

This unlikely pair meet because Isabella is kidnapped on her way to London and held for ransom in a cottage. The kidnappers acted without Alec’s knowing so Alec shows up one night. It’s the night Isabella flees because she has reason to suspect her kidnappers mean to kill her after they have the ransom. In all the confusion that night, both Isabella and Alec are shot and wounded. They are taken to a brothel Alec owns and which is run by his mistress, Pearl, and there they are confined to two connected rooms to recuperate. It’s there that their fascination with the complete difference of the other person gets the better of them and they start to fall for each other. And it’s there that Isabella learns the fact that her kidnapping wasn’t by chance, that it was planned and that she indeed should have been killed by her kidnappers. She has to accept the fact that someone she knows wants her dead, the someone presumably being her husband.

Tiger’s Eye is a story that spans more than a year and moves from London to the country to France, clearly dividing the story in distinct parts. The first part, set in London, shows how Isabella and Alec meet and how they slowly fall in love with each other. Then the story moves to Alec’s country house where Isabella and Alec truly get to know each other. Their time there is even more of an escape from the reality of their different lives than the first part so of course this idyll gets interrupted and the story moves to France. Isabella and Alec can’t hide from reality forever.

I still love the first part, the part in London, best. But then there’s a lull. Alec and Isabella need around 70 pages to get from London to the country house. On their way, there is a lot of action like more shooting, but I’m afraid that despite that and advancing the story and Isabella and Alec’s relationship in general, I thought it a bit boring. Probably mostly because I thought Isabella lost some of her common sense. At the country house, my interest in the romance writing conventions at play increased – Alec turning Isabella in a real beauty (dresses and educating her about sex) and Isabella taming Alec (teaching him to be a gentleman) – while my interest in the story decreased even more. The pace did pick up again for the last few chapters, dealing with reality, positions in society and Isabella’s husband, it also cranked up the drama a bit again but I’m afraid, reading Tiger’s Eye this time, it wasn’t enough to draw me in completely again after having lost me in the middle.

I didn’t have a problem with it but there are real-life concerns that could spoil the reading enjoyment, mainly the fact that the heroine is an adulteress (addressed as an issue only near the end of the story) and Alec’s background. Alec isn’t a benevolent Robin-Hood type of criminal, he’s the real deal (or so the reader is told). Yet apart from Alec telling Isabella

“I would have let Parren kill you if he hadn’t taken the job under the table. The fact that your life was saved in the process of protecting my turf was just bloody coincidence.” (227)

this reality of his life – that he accept(ed) harming innocents – is blanked out completely in the story. Isabella never asks herself the legitimate question if she could live with someone like that. Alec is kind to her, he’s the only one who really cares about her, he’s so beautiful, and he showed her how it can be between a man and a woman in bed – “she had no idea!” – so all is well.

Alec as the hero has to be all. He has to have all the power, trappings and dark allure the position as leader of the underworld gives him but to be a romance hero, the implications of what this actually means has to be played down into near non-existence. Because if you let yourself think about the reality of Alec’s background, the things that are not addressed in the story, he’s a rather unsavory character and not exactly hero material. The way it is, he’s a fantasy character.

I realize all this probably sounds worse than it actually is. The reason that I go on about Alec’s character so long when I went for the fantasy of his character is because it points in the same direction than my issues with the middle part of the novel. After promising a more unconventional story with a married heroine, Tiger’s Eye ignores most of the questions connected with that premise and instead turns to romance conventions and the path romances usually follow. If read for the fantasy of an utterly gorgeous man madly in love with a woman who was not really appreciated for much of her life, for the fantasy of a man willing to do all for a woman, Tiger’s Eye is a good and satisfying read.

Verdict: 4/5

TBR Challenge: “A Reason To Live” By Maureen McKade

16 Dec

tbr-challenge-2009

Info: TBR Challenge 2009

Theme for the month: not sure if there is one
In my TBR pile since: May 2007

Genre: western romance
Published: Berkley Sensation, 2006

Availability: oop

Monthly theme?: ?

Why I bought this novel: lots of other readers like this novel

How could I refuse the wish of a dying man?

May 30, 1865: During the War, I watched over too many young boys in the hospital, comforting them as they cried out for those they loved, as they whispered their final thoughts to me. Keepng a record of their names, families, and last words seemed a small tribute to their sacrifice — until the war ended, and I found a new mission in life.

I would visit the loved ones of those poor soldiers and deliver their messages so that some comfort could be found even in grief…

But Laurel Covey never expected to find a man like Creede Forrester — an ex-gunslinger who rode all the way from Texas to Virginia in the hope of finding his son and ended up saving her from a band of ruffians. It pains her deeply to tell him of his boy’s death, and she believes that in his heart, Creede blames himself for driving his son away. But there is something more to this rugged, weary man. Something that draws Laurel closer to him … something she cannot resist…

[word in bold were in italic in original]

A Reason to Live is my first novel by Maureen McKade so I don’t know if it’s typical for her. What I know is that it’s not a typical fluffy romance. A Reason to Live is aptly named. It tells the story of two people who are both not sure for what, how or why they should continue to live.

Laurel Covey is a widow and was a nurse in the Civil war. Now that the war is over, the only thing that keeps her going is her promise to deliver the last messages of soldiers to their loved ones. She’s estranged from her family because of her marriage, her husband is dead, and her sanity is slowly giving way.

Creede Forrester is an ex-gunslinger who reformed when he met his wife. But his wife is now dead for some years and his son, who signed up as a soldier in the war, seems to have died. The only thing Creede has left is his farm and he now no longer cares. He leaves to find out what happened to his son. That’s how he meets Laurel.

Laurel is an intensely caring woman. As a nurse, she was given the task to decide which wounded soldiers had the best chances to live and therefore were the first the doctors would look at. This and all the other things she saw during the war is haunting her more and more now and she fears she’s slowly but surely losing her mind. She wants to keep her promise to the dead soldiers and then she doesn’t care (and knows) what will happen. There isn’t room for something or someone else.

This is why she isn’t happy about Creede’s insistence to accompany her on her journey. But accompany her he does and slowly he falls in love with her. And Laurel, despite her best intentions to keep others out and her fear of her growing insanity, starts to care for Creede, too.

I liked the slow development of the love story. Both Laurel and Creede are people deeply scarred by their experiences. They are both different now from what they were like when they were twenty. But it’s this difference that gives them a chance to fall in love with each other.

Although handsome, Creede was someone she wouldn’t have looked at twice five years ago, but after everything she’d gone through, she’d learned to see beyond a man’s appearance. And she’d come to respect and appreciate Creede’s kindness and integrity. (168)

By the way, isn’t it nice that the heroine isn’t so blown away by her attraction to the hero’s appearance that she can’t think straight? Equally nice I thought the fact that they could sleep beside each other without giving in to their attraction all the time.

So yes, I liked the love story and thought it convincing. But I also thought it suffered a bit under the frame of the story. The frame of a journey was fitting for Laurel’s (and Creede’s) character development but it also made the different stops of the journey appear more episodic in that each stop showed a different facet of how the war had ravaged the land and its people. Laurel and Creede meet ex-slaves, ex-soldiers, women who lost their husbands and had to fight for themselves, and so on. Each encounter added something new to Laurel and Creede’s character development but still, it also seemed slightly too episodic and educational in a “let’s mention/show/check off this” kind of way to me.

But as much as I thought the portrayal of a war’s impact on the population too educational in that way, it were these parts that touched me the most. In these parts, A Reason to Live isn’t easy to read. War is horrible. But it also shows that amidst all these horrors it’s possible to find love and a reason to live.

As did both Laurel and Creede in the end.

Verdict: A very strong 4/5.

Re-Read Challenge: “Where Dreams Begin” By Lisa Kleypas

2 Dec

[edit: formatting]

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009

This month:Re-Read Challenge: November!


GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: , 2000

AVAILABILITY: still available

Zachary Bronson has built an empire of wealth and power–now he needed a wife to help secure his position in society…and warm his bed in private. But not just any woman will do for a man whom all of London knows is not a gentleman. Then he unexpectedly swept Lady Holly Taylor into his arms for an unasked for–but very alluring–kiss, and suddenly he knew he had found a woman whose fierce passions matched his own.

Lady Holly Taylor was beautiful, generous, and, as a widow, destined to spend her life playing by society’s rules, even when they went against her bolder instincts. But Zachary’s kiss had aroused her, and though the shocking offer he made didn’t include marriage, she was compelled to risk everything and follow him to the place where dreams begin.

Then

Where Dreams Begin was the second novel I read by Kleypas. To say that is my favorite historical romance by Kleypas doesn’t tell you much because I only read six of her historicals. To say that it is a historical I like and admire a lot is more meaningful, I think.

(see here my first comment)

Now

I still like Where Dreams Begin a lot. The only thing that mars my enjoyment, now and back then, comes near the end of the novel. I could have done without [Spoiler; highlight to read]Holly meeting her first husband in a near-death scene[/Spoiler]. I guess it just seems too fantastical to all that goes before to me. But other than that, I like Where Dreams Begin a lot.

Where Dreams Begin is a slow-paced story despite that it begins with a kiss between the heroine, Holly, and the hero, Zachery. It takes a few months before that happens again. It’s a slow build-up but the attraction is steadily growing and palpable.

Holly is a widow just out of the three-year period of mourning her husband, George, a man who everybody saw as the epitome of a true gentleman. A man Holly loved very much. She meets Zachary at a ball. Or more precisely: at a ball Holly wants to escape, she gets kissed by a man in a dark room. It’s only later she learns his identity.

Up until then, Holly led a very sheltered life. First her family took care of her and protected her from the harsher things in life, then her husband, and after his death, his husband’s family. The kiss is different from what Holly knows and what she is like and believes about herself. But it’s the first step for what is to come: Holly will slowly turn into a woman who does no longer rely on others to make decisions for her and take care of her. She’ll change:

Her actions of the past four months had proved that she was no longer the sheltered young matron, or the virtuous, circumspect widow that family and friends had approved of. She was becoming another woman entirely. (206)

Zachary is totally different than Holly’s late husband in many (outward) things. He wasn’t born to privileges and riches, he – literally for the first years – fought his way up in society. When he wants something, he tries everything in his power to get it. He isn’t above manipulation and at first, he thinks Holly will be no difference.

But then he slowly falls in love with her. One of the things I liked best in this novel (because it created lots of tension) is that Zach knows that as soon as he gets what he wants – Holly in his bed – she’ll be gone from his life. So he does all he can do to resist. He knows Holly is not for him. Too huge are the differences between them, in their position in society and in their character.

Where Dreams Begin looks at positions in society, on what social standing relies.

The idea that a man like Zachary Bronson might be inherently equal to a man like…well, like one of the Taylors, or even her dear George…it was a provocative notion. The great majority of aristocrat’s would immediately dismiss the idea. Some men were born with blue blood, with generations of noble ancestors behind them and this made them better, finer than ordinary men. This was what Holly had always been taught. But Zachary Bronson had started in life with no advantage whatsoever, and he had made himself into a man to be reckoned with. And he was trying very hard to better himself and his family, and soften the coarseness of his own character. Was he really so inferior to the Taylors? Or to herself? (101/102)

Where Dreams Begin is IMO a carefully constructed battle between traditional notions and modern notions of a person’s worth packed into a romance. And because of that, it’s still my favorite historical romance by Kleypas and still one of my best liked and admired historical romances.

Verdict: 4,5/5