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Currently Reading: “Winter Garden” by Adele Ashworth

5 Sep

Though a celebrated French beauty in 1849, Madeleine DuMais’s cleverness is her greatest asset — and one she puts to good use as a spy for the British. When her expertise is needed in the south of England to break up a smuggling ring, Madeleine willingly puts her life on hold to help the crown…

Arriving in the quaint resort town of Winter Garden, Madeleine meets her partner in subterfuge. Thomas Blackwood is unlike any man she has ever met. His quiet confidence and mysterious intensity send shivers of pleasure coursing through her … shivers that slowly melt into a desperate passion. As duty gives way to desire, surrender holds its reward. And Madeleine will never recover from the touch of Thomas’s hands on her body — and the touch of his heart on her soul…

Although Winter Garden involves spies, it’s one of those books I’ve wanted to read for a very long time. Thanks to a friend I finally got the chance.

I’m five chapters in and although I like the writing, the spy thing is already getting to me. You see, Madeline arrives in Winter Garden to help break up a smuggling ring but without a really thought-out cover to explain her arrival/presence or any thought about how much talk her living alone with a man would create (which very probably could exclude them from society there, making their task much more difficult IMO). She comes to Thomas’s house and they are like “Hmm, what should we say why you’re here…” They decide that she should pose as the translator of his memoirs. So far, so good but of course this doesn’t stifle the talk about them being involved with each other on a much more personal basis. My problem is that I’d thought as spies they wouldn’t want to draw too much attention to themselves but…whatever.

Then Madeline is invited to tea and goes to great lengths to establish herself as a respectable woman. She says she’s the widow of a tea trader whose family goes back several generations in that business, the marriage was of course arranged, and so on. Then at another invitation she goes and says that her mother was an actress, addicted to opium, and that the last time Madeline saw her was several years ago. Huh? How does she imagine that fits with what she told the other women? … But never mind. At least she managed to get the better over the rudeness of her hostess who is a rather nasty piece of work and also an opium addict, right?

As an aside and totally unrelated, what’s up with worrying that Thomas doesn’t notice her as a woman several times but stating near the end of chapter one that she was certain he did notice her as a woman?

Okay, it’s not that I don’t like the novel so far. In fact, I like the writing for example, and I enjoy the intense attraction between Madeline and Thomas and that Madeline seems to be a sexually confident woman, but this spy thing is not working for me so far.

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July 2010 Reads

1 Aug

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon is the first in the fantasy series Codex Alera and I really liked it. It tells the familiar story of an aging king without an heir and a looming war of succession, placed in a world where people bond with elemental furies. The story is told by several characters and it looks like Butcher has some interesting things in store for what’s to come. And while the characters mights be a bit too one/two-dimensional, some at least are capable of being gray (such as a woman on the “bad” side helps a woman on the “good” side). At the moment, I’m most interested in Isana, the aunt of the main protagonist Tavi. It seems she had an interesting and tragic past so I’m looking forward to finding out more.
If there’s one thing I found a bit off-putting, then it’s that Furies of Calderon is a very action-driven novel and the characters always seem to end up in a place even worse than they are at the start of a chapter, following the “what can go wrong, will go wrong” line of thought. It made for a relentless pace for much of the story and that felt a bit exhausting at times.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

YA, set in the world of multiplayer online games. For the Win looks at the economic system of these games and focuses on the lives of “gold farmers,” who work under appalling conditions to get virtual items which their employers then sell for real money. I found this premise interesting, especially because I played such a game for nearly a year until last month.
The story and the characters’ behavior in For the Win are guided by an idea/vision and “lectures” on economy interrupt the novel several times. There’s nearly no character development and because of the many POV characters, I didn’t get a very strong sense of continuity until very late in the book when all the different story lines start converging. So, interesting read in terms of idea/vision/lectures on economy but at times it felt more like a documentary than a novel. Also, I’m not exactly sure why it’s labeled YA. The premise is a big draw probably but the lectures don’t seem to fit.

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

I really enjoyed reading this novel. It was witty and fun and where else do you find a heroine that goads another woman into seducing the heroine’s husband? Really, I like James’s novels mostly for the interesting, non-cardboard characters and I don’t care if I would find them nice or likable in real life. So, I had fun reading this novel. But I’m not sure there is much story underneath all that sparkle.
Jemma and Elijah are married and after years of living apart, it’s time to produce an heir. Good thing they also realized in the previous books of the series that they also want to jump each others bones. So where’s the story eh problem?
Jemma realizes that she doesn’t know what Elijah likes and she thinks she’s only second (third?) best to Elijah’s governmental work and his rivalry with Villiers. Elijah thinks of Jemma as “MINE!” and his honor is very important to him. Hmm…I’m still not sure how all this translated into the coy flirtation and dancing around each other that takes up more than half of the story, especially because they agreed about the need for an heir and time is running short with Elijah illness, but it was fun to read nevertheless. The later part of the novel concerns itself with Elijah’s illness and oh, there are also some interesting developments for Villiers in the story. And that’s what happens.
So, fun to read; looking forward to reading Villiers story next.

Her Sister’s Baby by Janice Kay Johnson

This was a surprise book for two reasons. First, I didn’t know I had this book. It was a bonus book in my edition of Spencer’s Sweet Memories. Second, the story features a baby and I enjoyed reading the novel quite a lot.
The story: “Colleen will do anything for her sister Sheila, including having her baby. Sheila’s husband, Michael, wants a baby, too. When Colleen offers to be a surrogate for his wife, he’s deeply grateful. Then an accident takes Sheila’s life, and Colleen and Michael turn to each other in their sorrow only to discover an unacknowledged attraction.” (quote: Goodreads)

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Smooth Talking Stranger started off great but halfway through it lost the main obstacle for a relationship between Ella and Jack: Ella’s boyfriend left the field.
I say main obstacle because Ella’s insistence that she will never marry and her relationship problems didn’t seem to play too much of a role in the second half of the novel IMO. They came up from time to time then, I even believed them, but I not once had the impression that they would stand in the way of the couple’s HEA. So in my view, Ella’s boyfriend was the main obstacle and I was left with no real tension in the second part of the novel. In addition, Ella’s light bulb re how much Jack means to her comes in the way this so often does in Kleypas’s novels…
I also asked myself: 1) where did Ella get all her fabulous clothes? I thought she left with only a few to look what was the matter with her sister. 2) For two reasons I’m left with the slightly weird impression that Jack is second-best to Luke, Ella’s nephew. 3) It seems to me that Ella is a vegan only because her boyfriend is one, one who has strong views about it. From this I gather: Ella tries to please other people. A lot. And I’m left wondering: what does this say about her relationship with Jack? Jack, he who is of the tribe “MINE!”
Okay, it seems I didn’t like this novel, but that’s actually not true. I thought the way it delineated and constructed gender (roles) very interesting. Just look at that vegan business, for example. And there are things I liked: Kleypas’s contemporary voice, the beginning, Jack’s willingness to do everything for HIS woman (very nice fantasy!) Or how the novel looked at how damaging parents can be to their children. There’s good stuff but I missed something in the second half.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I read the German edition of this novel. Different from other editions I know, it doesn’t reference a character in the title. The German edition is called “Verblendung” (~ delusion). Somehow I thought I would get something along the line of La Femme Nikita (the original, not the US remake) with this novel. Not so. There is a female character, Lisbeth Salander, and she’s not your usual female character, but she’s not the main character (maybe that changes in the other books?). That honor belongs to Mikael Blomkvist, the author stand-in who is in love with brand names and himself and so naturally have all the women fall at his feet; that is jump into bed with him right away.
There are two stories in this novel. The mystery of the missing Harriet (what attracted me to the novel) is solved way before the end and it wasn’t all that difficult to get an idea why Harriet disappeared (helpful little statistics fronting each part of the story) or what happened. The last hundred or so pages are spend on solving Mikael’s problem, the one that made him lose his position at his newspaper and so enabled him take up Harriet’s case in the first place. (You go, Mikael!)
I actually enjoyed the novel in the beginning. It was a bit slow, yes, but I was willing. Then the brand names started to bother me. I swear each time a laptop was mentioned, its brand name was mentioned, too. Same with other things. I was reading that novel on my vacation at the pool (spotted three readers with the same book!) and because the brand names annoyed me, I told my boyfriend each time I encountered one. It was like a game. (Later he knew just by my huff and lowering of the book that I’d found another one.)
Anyway, besides in brand names, the story is bogged down in exposition, unnecessary details and bland characters IMO. Admittedly, Lisbeth is a cool character but she goes the way of the big boobs later in the story, thinking how she likes to have that option or something like that (Who thinks that? Is it really the cool and not-giving-a-damn Lisbeth?) And of course, Lisbeth also realizes she’s in love with Mikael (yeah Mikael!). So no, while Lisbeth is easily the most interesting thing about this novel, she didn’t save it for me.
There is a decent mystery buried underneath that all but it was hard to find. And I think I missed the social criticism completely. The abuse of women was presented too sensational and over-the-top. I couldn’t view that as criticism.

The Shy Bride by Lucy Monroe

I don’t remember much about this one. The heroine is a pianist and a recluse, the hero’s a self-made millionaire. Oh wait, that’s probably billionaire. Anyway, I thought the heroine’s anxiety attacks were done quite well and I liked Monroe’s voice. So I’m actually tempted to read the book that features the hero’s best friend.

Slave to Sensation, Visions of Heat, Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh (re-reads)

I read a review for another novel in this series and I was interested in reading it. But because I’d tried the first three novels in the Psy/Changeling series and we didn’t click, I didn’t. This set me to thinking about why I didn’t enjoy this series as much as most other readers and so I read the three novels I already had again.
I came away with a clearer grasp of why they don’t fit me completely. It’s the characters. They seem too much an illustration of their race traits to be complete individuals to me, with the conflict centered around the Psy/Changeling differences and what kind of Psy is part of the pairing. It makes characters and conflict look like part of the world building which makes the world building and the way it’s done more interesting but it also makes the characters (and story) less so for me. Yeah, I think that’s it.
So, maybe I’ll buy the next one in the series one day to see how the world building goes. After all, I liked Visions of Heat better than the first time so there is hope.

Sweet Memories by LaVyrle Spencer

I found Sweet Memories to be a nice and sweet story about a woman who’s wary of men because if they show interest, they show interest in her big rack. The novel’s a bit dated (not that I minded) and at times it felt slightly too sweet for my taste. Also, the story seemed a bit thin, concerning itself for the most part with Theresa’s anxiety and worry about her big breasts. But at the end Theresa’s made some changes to her life and seemed more grown up, so altogether I was fine and enjoyed reading it.

New Books

27 Jun

On Monday, I didn’t think I would buy books this week but…

New Books

…earlier this week I ordered:

Sarah Mayberry – Her Best Friend

What’s a girl to do when she’s secretly in love with a friend and he’s married to someone else? She gets over it. That’s what Amy Parker has done. Rather than lose her best bud Quinn Whitfield with an ill-timed, crazy confession of affection, she’s taken the smart route. She’s eased away from him. Just enough to get past the unrequited bits. And you know, it’s working.

Until the day Quinn announces he’s now single. That’s right. He’s single. And he wants to hang out. With her. Get reconnected the way they used to be.

Oh, this is so not good for Amy’s equilibrium. Daily doses of Quinn remind her of everything she loves about him. But if he’s free…and she’s free…well, maybe the time has come for one of those crazy confessions.

I like friends-to-lovers stories and I usually like Sarah Mayberry’s novels, so I bought this (and read it already).

…Friday night, while waiting for The Boyfriend to get home from work, I browsed Harlequin’s website. (The first time I did that after I don’t know how many weeks/months.) I ordered these books:

Kristin Hardy – The Boss’s Proposal

He’s good-looking, relentlessly charming—and he’s trouble architect Maxine McBain sure doesn’t need. Even though her new boss Dylan Reynolds has a playboy reputation, he’s working hard to turn a crucial joint company project into his alone. Though she knows the price of mixing business with pleasure, Max has no problem using charm to put Dylan off his game—while keeping herself safely out of passion’s way….

Dylan wanted to wrap up the Portland project quickly to help out his ailing father. But Maxine’s brilliant ideas—and Dylan’s instant attraction to her—are intriguing enough to keep him around for a while. And now he’ll do anything to show her that their sizzling partnership is perfect not only in bed…but for a lifetime.

I like Kristin Hardy’s novels so when I saw she had a new one out I bought it. Simple as that.

Carla Kelly – Marrying the Royal Marine

Illegitimate Polly Brandon has never felt like more than an ugly duckling. So she’s amazed when Hugh Philippe Junot pays her such close attention as they sail for Portugal.

Under ordinary circumstances she knows this distinguished lieutenant colonel of marines would never have looked at her, but having his protection for the journey is comforting—and something more that she’s afraid to give a name to. Should she trust what she sees in Hugh’s eyes—has she turned from an ugly duckling into a beautiful, desirable swan?

I enjoyed the one novel I’ve read by Carla Kelly and when I saw this I thought “Why not?” Also, I like that her characters often are not fabulously titled people.

Lucy Monroe – The Shy Bride

Thrust into the limelight, child star Cassandra timidly enchanted audiences night after night…. But when her parents died, Cass retreated into her own world—too shy to leave her home. Once a year she shares her musical passion by offering lessons in a charity auction…. This year, money talks. The winning bid: $100,000!

Enter Neo Stamos, arrogant Greek tycoon. He wants Cass with a burning desire, though he knows that, shy and sweet, she will need a gentle awakening…. But Neo’s the master of seduction!

Now this one I bought for the author. I wanted to try one of her novels and this is what I got. Dreadful title, btw, especially because reading the blurb, I can’t find the word “bride” – or at least “marriage” – anywhere.

LaVyrle Spencer – Sweet Memories

Ever since Theresa Brubaker had hit adolescence, everyone she met focused on her newly voluptuous body. The unwanted attention made her painfully self-conscious, introverted and shy. Then, one Christmas, her brother arrived home for the holidays with an army buddy.

Brian Scanlon was different; he looked at her eyes, not her chest, and he seemed truly interested in her. With his gentle attention, he brought Theresa out of her shell. She felt alive for the first time in years.

But soon Theresa faced a decision that could free her forever…and tear them apart.

I like LaVyrle Spencer’s novels. Years ago, I read comments about this novel on a forum and when I saw that this one was published again, I bought it. Strange what sticks in one’s brain.

…yesterday, again after work, The Boyfriend stumbled upon a sale – English books for 2,50€ each. He choose these books for me:

  • Sue Grafton – R is for Ricochet
  • Susan Hill – The Vows of Silence
  • Derek Landy – Skulduggery Pleasant – The Faceless One (he bought this because of the cover)

Today (Sunday), I had eight new books, seven of them a total surprise but all the more welcome for it.

June, 18, 2010

18 Jun

Currently Reading: A Fortune Wedding by Kristin Hardy

ONCE, HE WAS HER WHOLE WORLD…

…until Roberto Mendoza left Frannie Fortune and their hometown far behind. But she was no longer the seventeen-year-old in love with the smoldering ranch hand. She was a woman accused of murdering her husband.

When he left Red Rock nineteen years ago, Roberto swore he would never return. But when an unseen enemy threatened the Mendoza clan, he found himself charging to Frannie’s rescue, determined to help her clear her name. And when passion reignited–hotter and more powerful than before–Roberto knew he’d do anything to heal the past and build a future with the woman who’d always belong to him.

The woman he’d never stopped loving.

I like the writing and the voice in this novel (like I usually do with Kristin Hardy’s novels). I think Hardy’s a good writer and she knows how to tell a story. But this time, I have a hard time getting into the story.

The first thing that threw me off was that apparently the police didn’t search the surrounding area where someone was killed. Otherwise I can’t explain why Roberto had to show them where to find the murder weapon nearly two weeks after the murder… And his brother implied that Roberto did something wrong by coming forth with this knowledge. Umm, right.

The other thing I have a problem with is Frannie. After she realizes how dependent she’d been on other people – first her mother, then her husband – and how deep in trouble she’s now because of that, she never wants to be dependent on anyone. I say, good for her and totally understandable.

But she also has a debt of two millions and when Roberto offers to look into the matter of the properties she now owns (she never even had any idea her husband bought them) she refuses, never mind she doesn’t know the first thing about managing properties. In fact, she probably should sell them as fast as possible but she won’t accept Roberto’s help (who knows a thing or two about that because that’s his job) because she has to do it on her own. Umm, right. Well, at least she comes around after Roberto points out that she could pay him – like all his other customers do…

I guess what bothered me was Frannie’s insistence on her independence (I take care of it on my own no matter what) in that situation seemed more stupid than strong to me. Why couldn’t she have taken Robert’s offer of help and said she would pay him? Without him having to point out that possibility? Instead, the way she handles the situation reminds me of the heroines of old who stomp their dainty foot and toss their luscious curls over their shoulder.

Currently Playing: Runes of Magic?

I seriously think about quitting. I think I’ve said that several times already but it gets truer and truer every time.

The rip-off tendencies I saw in the game from the beginning get clearer and clearer with each new offer in the item shop. There are more and more gold sellers on the servers and a lot of bugs that simply don’t get fixed. In addition, the support is…I don’t know what to call it.

Then last week I learned that by signing up for the game, I actually opened three! accounts. One for the game, one for the real money transactions for the game’s item shop and one for the forum to the game. I now play for nearly ten months and didn’t know that. I simply was never told when I signed up. What’s more, all three! accounts use the same login name and the same password… When you change the password, you just type it in one time. You don’t need to type in your current password before you change it; you don’t need to repeat the new password to make sure you didn’t make a typo; you don’t get a email notification;… I changed all my passwords (except the one for the forum; you can’t change that on your own…)

On Monday this week I learned that my login name and my password was transmitted in plain text every time I logged in to play…

I changed my password for the game again.

The last time I played was last weekend. Right now, with that kind of “security” measures and irresponsibility on the comany’s side, I’m not sure I want to play again.