Friday, July 26, 2013

A Lady By Midnight by Tessa Dare

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥
This book started at a 4-5 ♥ for me and sort of held there for the first 2/3rds of the book. I was thrilled and prepared to settle in for a nice Sunday Funday of just me, Tessa and a bottle of something cheap and red! But THEN. Oooooh then. Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you that the last third just stretched my patience a LITTLE too far and just brought the whole thing down to an average of 3 . Sigh.

Here's the lowdown.

He: Corporal Thorne's militia unit is stationed in Spindle Cove, a quaint little seaside town inhabited by an abundance of unusual and interesting ladies. He's quiet and surly and not much of a conversationalist. We find out that he's had a wretched childhood and his taciturnity is partly a result of a lifetime of getting kicked in the cojones by Life. He's also just a reserved guy.

She: Kate is the village piano teacher. She is sweet and kind, a well-liked member of the village. Underneath her sweetness, she is masking her loneliness and an almost desperate need to find her family. She is an orphan who had the good fortune to be left at a school for girls where she was relatively well treated but she still pines to discover what she can about her own roots.

Conflict: He is wildly attracted to her, but feels so beneath her that he can't allow himself to touch her. She always feels intimidated by his dark scowls and moodiness. The main reason he won't allow himself to be near her is because he knows something about where she comes from, something bad, and that information could potentially destroy the nice little life she has built for herself. And he likes her so much he just can't bring himself to ruin everything for her no matter how much she thinks she wants to find out about her past.

So...The first bit starts out really nicely - classic Tessa Dare. Witty, sweet, fun. All the elements of a cozy love story all lined up like a bunch of yellow duckies toddling along behind their mom. The right amount of longing and lusting and broody staring. All great stuff and I was all set to 5 heart this puppy. 

But THEN... there is a series of what I shall call Hysterical Events (including an idiotic sword fight / impromptu duel at a house party, a marriage proposal from someone who is a good guy but basically needs to marry her because he needs her inheritance, the constant self-denial of the hero because he just Wants Her to Be Happy even though she keeps telling him she will be Happy Only With Him). 

And as much as I dislike hysteria perpetrated by the heroine, I equally don't like it when it's perpetrated by the hero. The hero's problem is that because of his painful childhood he feels alone and unlovable and has experienced all sorts of terrible violence. But the way he tries to do what's best for her is always this overly dramatic, operatic nonsense that leaves me feeling like "huh?" Is this a full grown man? Because he's kind of acting like a 16 year old girl...

I'm being very harsh. I know that. I did like the H. He was a really decent dude who was only trying to do what's best for her. But I feel like his insecurity just made him behave in ways that I didn't find rational or even sensible. So I didn't fall for him and that just made believing the whole HEA that much harder for me.

Anyway. Having said that, I think this was a sweet story with all the hallmarks of a good Tessa Dare read - humor, wit, some spiciness - so it wasn't a total loss. I just wished I connected with the H more.

Dudes in England Will Now Deal With Our Main Girl Jane Austen on a Daily Basis, And They'll LIKE IT

This is why I love the UK so much. My girl Jane Austen is going to be on MONEY now.

Can you see what else is printed on this mock up 10 pound bank note? "I declare after all there is no employment like reading." Who puts that on MONEY?? The les Anglais do, that's who. I salute you, you crazy geniuses. 

Now I will love money even more than I already do. Ausome.

This is the cool article from the BBC which talks about the campaign to get more women on banknotes.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Moonlight Road by Robyn Carr

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

Here's how it went down - H & h meet under less than auspicious circumstances, then for 20% of the book they don't appear on the same page together. Then they meet again and decide they like each other. Then they meet some more and REALLY like each other. Then there's this whole drama with his ex-wife that goes on until the last 10 pages and then H & h live happily ever after. The end.

He: Aiden is a retired ex-navy doctor who is hanging out in the small town of Virgin River while he tries to figure out what he wants to do next in his life. He's a nice guy who's just happy tooling around in the garden and hanging in the great outdoors.

She: Erin is a somewhat uptight lady who's come to "relax" in the isolated town - her first vacation in 25 years. She's an extremely hardworking lawyer who's been responsible for her younger siblings from a really young age. Now that her brother and sister are out of the house and don't really need her anymore, she's suffering a bit of empty nest syndrome.

Conflict: The romance between the Erin and Aiden is actually fairly uncomplicated but there is this whole other story of Aiden's ex-wife who creates a bunch of drama that interferes with the two of them and lends to some of the tension between Erin and Aiden.

What I liked:
1) Robyn Carr writes really NICE people. Her heroes are decent, upstanding, no-games-playing lads, and her ladies are mature and sensible so you never feel like hitting your head against the wall because of some totally stoopid thing either the H or h does. 

What was only "meh":
1) SO slow. So so so slow. I just couldn't keep my mind on the story because it just moved along like molasses in January.

2) Just too much going on at once. This is a weird thing for me to say given my point above about the SLOWNESS with which the story moved. 

Because the main romantic story of Aiden and Erin didn't really have any built-in conflict (except for the psycho stalker ex-wife) it seemed like the author sort of just piled in a bunch of side stories and entanglements that made the whole thing seem a bit too busy and scattered.

For example, one character was dealing with the inability to have more children and she and her husband were trying to work through her difficulty fully coping with that stress. Then there was the H's mother who was in a new relationship and was rediscovering herself and her interests. Then there was some story about a man with Down's syndrome and how he forms a special bond with a lady with some other disabilities. 

Carr deals with each of these relationships really sympathetically and sweetly, but honestly, I didn't see how any of it contributed to the MAIN story, which is why I was reading the book in the first place. Personal preference, I guess, but it felt like a lot of sound and fury.

Skeptic's last word: It was a sweet story, I guess. Just way too slow and I think I prefer Robyn Carr's other stories.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Redwood Bend by Robyn Carr

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥ 

What would it look like if two really sensible people met and fell in love? Also, what if they communicated all there feelings and hopes properly and made sure they avoided gross misunderstanding at every turn in their relationship? 

Well, what would happen is what did happen in Redwood Bend. A nice, sweet romance between two people who fall in love despite not having it All Figured Out in their own lives and who still find a way to make it work. Winner.

He: Ex-movie star, current owner and operator of a small struggling airport

She: A widowed single mother of twin boys who, after suffering through a few tough situations in the last few years, just wants a nice, stable life for her sons.

Conflict: His life is the very definition of unstable, his business is on the brink, he's from a horribly unstable family and was kind of a wild-child super star in his youth - not exactly the best resume for someone she might pick to be with. Also, he doesn't even live in the same state as she does. He even admits (actually, he insists) that he's a terrible bet and that they definitely shouldn't take their fling any further.

What I liked:
1) Both characters were rational, "with-it" folks. I don't have another good word to describe what I mean. I don't mean that they were tweedy and boring. More that they just communicated properly, both were mature and genuinely nice people whose only real trouble was that they seemed all wrong for one another at first glance. 

2) I am a big fan of characters having to overcome a big source of tension before giving in to their Big Love. Often authors will create this weird, contrived source of tension (evil villain, stalkers, crazy exes, Big Misunderstanding) as if readers won't be able to feel any urgency unless there's a crazysauce baddie to overcome. Here though, there is a great deal of tension and all of it feels totally relatable and REAL. It comes from the fact that both H & h need to decide how they want to create their lives and how they can fit the other person into it. Both end up giving something and getting something (wow! like Real Life, mom!) and it's all really nicely done.

What I thought was meh:
1) *Spoiler!* So it was all nipping along nicely, I was feeling some heart strings being played like a fiddle, everything was nice and realistic and then...dum dum dum daaaaaah! The Ruh-roh Baby Plot emerged. How, in this day and age of birth control technology, are there so many ineffective prophylactics out there!!!?? And I thought we left the Ruh-roh Baby Plot behind in the 90s!! I thought it was actually a totally unnecessary lever to pull to create urgency and tension between the characters - there was enough already without this little excursion down 90s Plot Nostalgia Avenue! Anyway, I thought it was dumb, but the book went on fine and in the end we got our little HEA Epilogue with the bouncing mini-me and Happy Family scenario. *End of Spoiler* 

Skeptic's last word: I really liked Robyn Carr's style. It felt natural and easy to read. The plot wasn't really new or anything but sometimes you just want some easy-readin'.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

Good time read. It was light and fun and did the trick for a few hours. It was well written for the most part but there was a lot of inner monologue going on in the girl's head (very little from the male POV) so it got a little noisy.

Question to self - WHY do writers like to write out every lame thought that goes through the chick's mind - Is he into me? Weally, weally, weeeallly?? What about his sordid sexual past? What about the ex-wife/girlfriend on whom he may still be hung up? Will he choose me over his career/ex/past?? 

And then there are cliches of the dude's inevitable issues...commitment phobia due to a) difficult childhood and daddy issues, b) difficult past relationship or c) he's just not a settlin' down kinda guy. But wait! what's this? This incredibly hot woman (competent and classy, but vulnerable in a way that inspires his thus far dormant protective instincts) somehow burrows her way into his hardened heart in a matter of 10 pages? what the what...

I'm being harsh and somewhat unfair to heap this criticism on this book. All the above points make their inevitable appearance of course, but Phillipa Ashley writes a decent sentence so it elevates the story safely above the sludge pile.

Anyway here's the 2 minute summary.

He: Volunteer on the local mountain rescue team (Read: burley and capable, with shoulders as wide as Russia). He's also a property developer so you know he's got some cheese.

She: City girl PR consultant who is somewhat out of her element in the rugged outdoorness in which she finds herself. But with a nice hunk of burnin' love by her side...

Conflict: Mainly the tension drew from the fact that each has relationship hang ups due to past disasters and neither wants a repeat performance of what they have previously experienced. There is some head-butting initially because in her PR work with the mountain rescue team she makes some proposals that he totally hates (having all the men pose for a Mr. December calendar), but that stuff is all for show. The real tension is the backstory stuff about their pasts. Nothing new here. We get it. He doesn't want commitment, she doesn't want to get cheated on again.

Skeptic's last word: All in all a decent read. I like brit romances. There is something a little different about the tone that I do like to read once in a while so I'd recommend this if you just wanted some time-pass fun for a few hours and didn't feel inspired by your existing To Read list.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mr. Unforgettable by Karina Bliss

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

This was a CLASSIC romance. Like one of those that I used to read and sigh dreamily over when I was 16: Handsome, ex-champion swimmer dude, lovely (but sad) lady who are thrown together for some contrived reason, and then wham! they're doing it. And whoosh! it's love. If I read one of those early 90s romances today, I'd be all "sistuh, please" and act like I was too good for that crap now. But then this little gem, WONDERFULLY executed, brings back the classic formula is this awesome, modern way (well 2000s, anyway).

She: The mayor of a beach town in New Zealand. She's the widow of an older man, the love of her life, who was the mayor before her. Her deceased husband was also the favorite son of the town so she's kind of living a little in his shadow.

He: A property developer who is fighting with the city council to get all the permits for his beachfront property so that he can finally get his camp for underprivileged youths started. He's gun shy about getting into a relationship because of a rather traumatic childhood and then an ugly divorce so even though he's attracted to the h, he tries to keep it casual.

Conflict: They are both attracted to one another but there are a zillion issues keeping them apart - not least of which is that she's the mayor running in a highly contested re-election race and his property development is a hotbed issue for her campaign. They both also have a ton of difficult issues in their pasts that they need to overcome before really letting go.

What I really loved:
1) She's in a position of "power" and is awesome at it. She's the mayor and she's been a good mayor. Even though she's lived under her husband's shadow and even though she's been grieving for the loss of a man she loved. She's tireless, she works hard, and she's focused. But she's not a Hot Bitch. Which is what a lot of career women in romance are portrayed to be. 

When she's vulnerable, she's not pathetic. She is still able to manage her life and you figure even if he was not around, she'd figure it out. Yeah! <First pump in the air.>

2) The dialogue was so non-cheesy I had to do a double-take once in a while. I mean, this story is as old as the worm living in Eve's apple, and Karina Bliss manages to make it all sound NEW and FUN. My hat off to you, Madam!

3) SO much going on. The book is packed. In a short amount of time we learn about their respective childhoods, their past relationships, their past lives, their current friendships, their likes and dislikes and their vision for their future. I mean, that is hella good storytelling.

4) Their romance is so sweet. He was a darling. Not beta exactly. But a dignified alpha - one who is confident of himself and gentle with others and just totally owns being a MAN. <Shivers>.

Skeptic's last word: This was awesome. Apparently, Karina Bliss has written a whole bunch of other HQN Super Romances which I shall be digging up NOW! 

Picture Perfect by Lucie Simone

Skeptic scale: Unf 

I didn't hate it. Writing was good. I kind of liked the h. She is a big shot Hollywood producer who has a roller coaster of scandal going on in her private life. In the midst of an Hollywood-style divorce with her husband, she meets this nice, up and coming star who she needs to cast in the latest big time movie.

My main problem with this (and granted I only read a third of the way in) was that I found the H just too weird. He's supposed to be a rising It Man in Hollywood. He is quirky and offbeat and waaaaaay too young. He behaves like a little boy in love for the first time. And call me a tard for getting too "real" with my involvement in what is essentially a fantasy, but I just don't buy the HEA when anyone from Hollywood is involved. I mean, you're essentially asking me to suspend disbelief in the (heavily botoxed) face of OVERWHELMING evidence that there IS no such thing as HEA in Hollywood. Skeptical much? 

I don't think I'll be finishing it. Not really because it was a terrible book, I'm sure if I stuck with it it would be sweet. But I can't do it. Hollywood theme is a no-no for me. It was my own fault for not reading the blurb before picking this up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Love Unlisted by Stephanie Haddad

Skeptic scale: ♥♥

Hmmm... I do I approach this review?

Let me begin by saying that I didn't hate it. Ms. Haddad obviously can wield her pen and write a cogent sentence. I think I had more of an issue with the heroine than the actual writing.

She: Obsessive list-writer with other entertaining but highly anal retentive quirks.

He: Free wheeling, perpetually tousled musician.

Conflict: See "He" and "She"

What I liked:
1) Well-written, snappy dialogue, 

2) Not terribly original, but still interesting supporting cast.

3) I'm not a fan of beta heroes but this one was ok. He seemed like a sweet guy and was appropriately knight-in-shining-armor-ish

What I disliked
1) In the end it was just one thing really... the heroine. She's a compulsive listmaker who has a borderline personality disorder. She is controlling, incompetent, so mired in her own neurosis that she is selfish and unsympathetic to everyone else including her best friend who had hand-held her through what sounded like a mountain of inglorious romantic endings. I just couldn't muster up any affection for her, and I really couldn't figure out why anyone would care for her given that she was just so difficult to care for. 

I see that phobias and quirks make a character "interesting". And I did find her interesting. But I would find someone like her incredibly exhausting to know in real life. 

She never expresses any true selflessness and sense of empathy for anyone else - for her best friend, for her widowed mother, for the H... sorry to say, I would NOT want to be friends with this chick.

But I would read something else by the author. She's on my list.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

Awwwwwwwwwwwww (how many w's am I allowed). God this woman is SO good at dialogue. And her h's are always so wonderful.

I loved, loved, LOVED that the h was tall, strong, kickass and good at sports. I love that she beat everyone at running and could defend herself in various physical and other situations. I like how Kristan Higgins always has her heroines doing stuff they love. And that there's always an adorable poochie in the story who plays a "main character" role. She always makes her ladies this awesome, full people, with hobbies and interests and SO much more than a whiny little where's-my-man type. 

As always my only "complaint" about KH's stuff is that I'm just a quivering mass of yearning and I want more together-time for the h&H. But they only ever really get together AT THE VERY END. But that's the ticket, I guess. To make us want him as bad as the h does. So bad you almost can't TAKE it anymore. 

Somehow all the little plot holes and occasional irrationality of the H's actions never quite matter. For example, KH is such a magician, I simply ACCEPT the fact that the H never, NEVER acts on his apparently deep feelings for the h - we're talking radio silence for the better part of a decade. 

Why, was the phone broken that whole time? You can't write an email or a letter, buddy? NO INTERACTION AT ALL AND WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE YOU LOVED HER THE WHOLE TIME???? Sigh. But we do. KH makes sure we bloody well believe it all. Because she's a genius.


Side note on the re-read: So... I knew a moment (a mere NANOSECOND, really) of panic at the HEA here...A comment on another blog got me thinking...Why doesn't the hero just move his (hot) ass and do something about his apparently deep, abiding love for her? He never really makes the first move whenever they look like they MAY get together. He actually pursues (or is pursued by) other women when the h is perfectly unattached and available. He seems sort of passive a lot of the time. Like he waits for her to make a declaration before he actually FINALLY does something decisive. And even then until he finds out she IS unattached for reals, he was going to keep mum about it!? WTF?? Come on dude. Reach out and grab the girl. Just earn a man point, will you!!?? 

Anyway... KH fan-girl that I am, I can't straight out CRITICIZE the H - or be impartial in any way. But I will say that this element of his beta-ness is somewhat less than awesome. Argh. It hurts too much! Don't care. Still loved the book.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes

Skeptic scale: ♥♥
I think Ms. Burrowes is a superb writer so it pains my to say how incredibly bored I was by this book. Usually, I cannot WAIT to take myself and my book to a quiet place where I can read in peace, but I found that I actually avoided opening my kindle because I knew I had to finish this thing and it was just too dull a prospect to bear. Sigh...

Anyway, now that I have finished it, let me explain why I was so underwhelmed. But first, a short summary.

He: A knight who has come back from fighting the war (bravely and honorably) with a limp. He isn't from a grand family, and only became knighted because of his performance in the war. In fact, he was so impressive he is endorsed by the great man himself - Wellington. Oh, and he's in line for a "proper" title of Baron but he really doesn't want it.

He has some secrets. Lots of illegitimate children that he has fostered. There is some attempt to make it seem like they are actually his bastards but that was SUCH a weak attempt at mystery that I won't even bother to keep the spoiler a secret. Because you'll see through it anyway in half a second if you do read this. Anyway, he's a decent, honorable chap who reads poetry to his pig and has long rambling chats with his horse. 

She: Daughter of a powerful duke who is just bored. With everything - society, her life, her routine. She's supposed to be quite a polymath - poet, mathematician, strategy expert, bruising horsewoman and excellent dancer. She's beautiful and kind and everything genteel and proper. With a hidden passion, that he uncovers, of course. 

She's got this terrible secret, that if exposed, will destroy her reputation so she stays away from men in general.

What was nice:
1) The writing is very Georgette Heyer-ish. There is a keen sense of time and place and absolutely correct usage of Regency language. 

What I did not like at all:
1) The pace was slumberous. I mean, it took 15 pages for ONE thing to happen. I think I've gotten used to more "modern" historical romances that are written with quicker pacing, with a structure that gives the characters more "tension".

I think we were supposed to feel urgency due to the fact that these two characters had these secrets that they were withholding from each other. But then it turns out they both find out about each other's terrible secrets before actually the other reveals it to them. Then we see that they're both just ok with those secrets. I mean, what was the point then? Where's the tension? What do they really have to overcome?

They have these made up internal struggles and then everything falls flat like a badly made souffle in this big "reveal" scene with a villain (who was a weak, pathetic person who had no real power over anyone). I felt a bit cheated that I struggled through the whole series of (extremely slow) events only to be treated to this weak climax scene.

2) Dull sex scenes. It's all just too proper to be really hot. Again, I think this is because I'm used to raunchier language in the more recently written historicals, but these two talk like they are at a tea party while doing it. In fact, there's just too much TALKING. Long, witty sentences that are fine when they're building the tension, but then when we're supposed to feel their passion, there is all this noise from their yammering that I was like SHUT UP AND DO IT ALREADY!

The weird thing is that the proper talk is juxtaposed with this incredibly clinical description of his bits and her bits and their bits mashing together. It just felt really strange and not very sexy at all. Like sex between the Queen (forgive me, Your Highness) and her consort. Shivers.

3) No tension. At all. None. And that was surprising. I mean there was a duel, some improper behavior, clandestine smooches, scandalous secrets in both their pasts, a villain... but it all was like a bunch of milky porridge with no texture or grit or sense of urgency. I just didn't give a fig by the end of it. Maybe the pace was intentional since this was a "Christmas" romance and maybe there was the feeling that readers want a nice, slow read for the winter days but I would have been annoyed if I wasted my Christmas break on this.

Skeptic's last word: I still think Grace Burrowes is a solid writer and I'm definitely reading her again. This one was simply too slow for me. Also, I need to be more strategic about when I read her. I need to be in the mood for a Heyer-type read with lots of fun language and less romp.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hot Wheels and High Heels by Jane Graves

Skeptic scale: ♥♥

He: An ex-cop, now a repo man. Loner. Tough guy.

She: Blonde. High maintenance. Ex-trophy wife to an embezzling jerk who has absconded and left her holding the bag. 

Conflict: He's just doing his job when he comes to repossess her fancy car, but she's not taking it lying down. She's seen everything she owns be taken away from her in front of her eyes and she just wants to keep ONE thing - her beautiful car. And maybe also a bottle of outrageously expensive wine. They are at cross purposes but she needs a job and he needs a secretary and boom! It's on.

Sooo... I liked the general premise of the book. It was pretty fun, fast paced and a little different from the usual stuff. 

Specifically, I liked:
1) Blue-collar hero who's plenty alpha, but also a nice guy. I don't get to read a lot of blue collar hero stories - and the ones I do, I usually find a bit silly, because the hero can never just be a regular middle-class guy - he's always a contractor who owns his own business, or a chef who owns his own restaurant, or a hot shot detective who doesn't play by the rules. This guy is a repo man - NOT a typical career choice for your dream man (and come to think of it, yeah, he does own his own business), but he's not necessarily running this smooth, money-making enterprise. It's just a regular business, making a regular living. So that was definitely new.

2) I liked that the story focuses on older people falling in love. Again, not something I typically read, so it was something interesting and different for me.

What I thought was dumb: 
1) There was a real lost opportunity here with the poor little rich girl + blue collar working dude interaction. I feel like because the characters were a bit older (in their 40s), we could have maybe seen something a little more nuanced about how the differences in their relative wealth had guided their life-choices. Like, maybe she could have done something useful while being a trophy wife of some rich finance type? Instead, she is just the same old spoiled, vapid creature we hear about on the Real Housewives of Everywhere Hot and Sultry. Meh. 

And maybe the story could have shown how, even though he wasn't necessarily rich, he is still doing something valuable with his life. He also seems sort of defensive about how he isn't filthy rich like her ex-husband. Defensiveness is not hot, my man.

2) I thought the writing, while snappy, was a little on the sit-commy side. Lots of situational stuff that was supposed to be funny, but I think I prefer humor that comes from language rather than a "comedic" situation. Personal preference.

Skeptic's last word: So I liked the writing, liked the plot and kinda liked the characters, but I just thought it was all too silly. The tone was a little too hammy for me to really engage with the characters and I spent most of the time rolling my eyes and how dumb the female lead was. But I have another one of Jane Graves' that will give a read and see whether I still feel that was about the style.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bridesmaid Lotto by Rachel Astor

Skeptic scale: UNF

Couldn't finish it. It was incredibly 2-dimensional and silly. I don't have the energy to say any more. But I will.

The premise was great actually! The main character wins a lottery to become the bridesmaid of a famous socialite. I'm actually shocked this isn't an actual concept for a reality show. 

America's Next Top Kardashian?
The Real Blondes of Shotgun Island?
Snooki's Next Top Cat Fight?

Unfortunately, it was like all the originality got used up in the premise and the rest of it reads like a amalgam of every girly girl cliche ever written - gay best friend, endless gossippy passages on clothes and makeup, wedding, wedding, wedding stuff. I should have figured, given the title but honestly, I was just WRUNG OUT.

I also found the writing and grammar to be appalling. All stuff that a good edit should have caught...

Skeptic's last word: I guess this was a nice, fluffy read for a person who enjoys a lot of girly stuff. I don't know if this is the BEST example of chick lit, but I guess it may work for some readers.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Austenland (2013) - coming soon!

Jane Austen + Rom com + British actor candy = Oooooh mama.

Austenland is about a girl who is so obsessed with the world created by Jane Austen that she books herself on an immersive Regency holiday at a beautiful English manor to meet the Darcy of her dreams.

This showed at Sundance at the beginning of the year and was directed by the co-writer of Napoleon Dynamite (so you know it's going to have some mad quirk.)

Here are the release dates (all 2013):
Jan 18 - Sundance (premiere)
Jun 29 - Nantucket Film Festival
Jul 13 - Maine Int'l Film Festival
Aug 16 - LA & NY
Sep 27 - UK

I feel kinda bad for the producers of films like this. I mean, you're milking the teat of the Darcy archetype to feed a seemingly never-ending appetite for all things Jane (and Colin Firth, obvi). Like taut-bellied piglets, we feed hungrily at the swollen udders of mommy pig, squealing with hysterical joy, our hopes, like our curly tails, impossibly high. 

At best, when we're done with a movie like this, we feel a sense of pleasant satisfaction, rolling over like overfilled sacks of barley, sated (for the moment) and placid. At worst, if the movie doesn't deliver the movie producers can expect some severely chapped nipples. There's nothing worse than a bad Jane movie.

Given the risk of grave disappointment, will I still watch this? Um, am I a living, breathing female with some unresolved Darcy fantasies?

Here is the eye candy and potential love interests for Keri Russell's main character:

I Do (But I Don't) by Cara Lockwood

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

She: Junior wedding planner with a terrible hag of a boss

He: Firefighter

Conflict: Hmmm... not really sure it was a conflict. More like a "omg, I really like him, does he like me too?" Cue: series of misunderstandings that keep H & h apart for much of the story.

What I liked:
1) This is the exact kind of book publisher blurbs call "beach reads" and that's exactly what it was - lighthearted, easy peasy fun where I didn't have to think too hard

2) This is a weird thing to call out, but I really liked the fact that the story was set in a city other than NYC/LA or Generic Small Town in the Heartland. Instead, it was set in Austin, Texas - a nice sized, interesting city that we don't get to see all that often in these books. The NYC/Generic Small Town thing always leads to these caricatures of Big Bad City Gal/Perfect Wonderful Heartland Folk that have begun to really irritate me. And the Big City romances always show this bitch/career woman pairing that I find tiresome and unfair to career woman, nay ALL women. So this was nice.

3) First person was used well. You get enough of an idea about the H because of their conversations and we were not at all left in the dark about his motives, wants and hopes. It was generally entertaining to get to see the romance unfold through her eyes. Having said that though, I need to mention that Kristen Higgins does such an amazing job of first person that everyone else's looks like watery porridge next to hers. Still it wasn't terrible.

What was meh:
1) What would you think if I told you that this was a story about a wedding planner who has a crush on this dude but it looks like she might be planning his wedding thereby making their love impossibly impossible? 

Right? Obviously. J-to-the-Lo co-opted this story and even if this book came out before the movie did (not sure if it did), the inescapable truth is that this is the image that popped into my mind the second I figured she was a wedding planner. Unfortunately, my regard for Ms. Lopez does not extend to her acting skills, so this was a terribly unfortunate image lurking around in the background.

2) You can't base an entire story on a series of misunderstandings. You just can't. I think readers just want more. When the entire "conflict  can be solved with a single conversation/voicemail, I feel like it's a little silly that the Scooby Doo stuff continues for so long. 

*Spoiler* In "I Do (But I Don't)" it's cute in the beginning but then the h & H spend a whole weekend together and it never once comes up that "hey pretty lady, I'm not the one getting married, here's my deal and we're free to get it on?" *End of Spoiler*

Lack of communication is bad for relationships. Dr. Phil would be so disappointed.

3) I thought it was weird but cool but then weird again that the hero is described as being Too Good To Be True (and what did our mom's tell us about things that look too good to be true?) Turns out that this hot, amazing dude is also SUPER nice is because he used to be fat. Oh, I know it doesn't say that explicitly! It's more like the h wondering, hmm HOW COME this guy is so awesome? And then she find out this fact about his prior chunkiness and then it all makes sense and she's like oooooh, he must be for real then. 

Shorthand way of saying he's nice because he was insecure once and doesn't inflict that shit on anyone else. You see? It's nice. But kind of also weird.

Final word: Nice, time pass book, with some amusing bits and and ok setting/premise. Just be warned that it's pretty heavy on the cliched storylines and characters, but I didn't hate myself after reading it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrow

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

What a lovely little book. I call it "little" only  because it made me feel like I was in a cozy little world containing just me and the 15 odd characters from the book writing each other letters and chatting over our knitting.

The story is revealed through letters and telegrams to and from the "narrator", the journalist and author, Juliet Ashton. There are a few bits of correspondence between other characters in the book talking directly to one another, but mainly the story is about how Juliet learns of the experience of the inhabitants of the Channel Islands during German Occupation of the islands during WWII. She grows to love the people with whom she corresponds and even moves there to immerse herself in the Guernsey experience.

There were several things I thought were a little odd about the book:
1) The fact that all the letters are written in the same "voice" - the pig farmer's letter sound almost exactly like those Juliet writes, and those bear strong resemblance to the letters written by the Juliet's publisher.

2) Juliet ends up adopting a 4 year old child after knowing her for what seems like a matter of months. Not sure how that would even come to pass...

3) Spoiler! The main "romance" happens between Juliet and a pig farmer. But apart from their initial correspondence where they talk about poets, and then their casual talks about the history of the Guernsey and books, they don't really seem to really know a whole lot about each other.
That's the trouble with this "letter and note" format - everything we know about the characters is confined to these snippets and anecdotes - which can get frustrating if you want to get a real sense of character and motivation. End of spoiler.

4) I was expecting a lot more trauma and angst in the characters. I mean, these people just 
spent a few rather horrific years being imprisoned in their own home and treated like slaves, they know close friends who have been brutalized by the Nazi campaign. But everyone seems to have suffered nothing more lasting that a general sense of sadness and melancholy. There are a couple characters who are worse affected, but those seems like outliers rather than the norm.

5) The characters all seem a bit "caricatur-ish" - like there a meddlesome old woman, a stoic and stalwart farmer, a drunk, a termagant spinster who hates "fun", a crass and confident American, a lovely and appealing main character who seems to be universally adored and who effortlessly attracts men wherever she goes. And so on...

6) There is reference to this one "special" character from the island - Elizabeth - who is painted as some sort of saintly Madonna that I found to be rather a stretch. I think we are supposed to feel EXTRA sad about how she was sent to a Nazi prison camp because she was such a wonderful person. But I thought she was a little too perfect to be a believable character and you almost feel like it was unnecessary to show her as such. It would have been sad enough that she was sent to a camp if she were just a regular person - she didn't need to be a saint for me to feel bad.

Ultimately though, these things didn't change the fact that I did enjoy reading this book. The writing was witty and easy to digest and despite some of my criticisms above, I did begin to care for the characters.

What I liked:
1) What I enjoyed most of all was the writing. There were some wonderful, easy-on-the-ear snippets and clever little turns of phrase that had me smiling often.

2) I didn't know much about the Channel Islands and the islanders' experience during WWII so I learned something new about the war and it gives one good perspective of how far reaching the effects of that horrible time were.

3) I thought the love story (although a little unbelievable) was really sweet.

4) I liked the contained little universe created by the letter writers - it makes you feel like you're on an island yourself, far away from everything "real", like bombed out buildings or concentration camps. 

Friendly little quotes that I highlighted while I was reading: 
"That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book , and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment"

"I much prefer whining to counting my blessings"

"I can imagine their entire lives from a glimpse of a bookshelves, or desks, or lit candles, or bright sofa cushions."

(Of bookshop owners) "...clever customers ask for a recommendation...whereupon we frog-march them over to a particular volume and command them to read it."

 (Of a character's trophy shelf) "There were statues for everything a man could jump over, either by himself or on a horse."

" a token of our long friendship, you do not need to comment on this story - not ever. In fact, I'd far prefer it if you didn't."

(On the efforts of a particularly persistent suitor) "So far, his blandishments are entirely floral"

"'Life goes on.' What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't. It's death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever."

"The Mind will make friends with any thing."

"I sat; arms crossed, hands tucked under my armpits, glaring like a molting eagle, looking around for someone to hate."

"Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb." Quote from Roman philosopher Seneca

"[She] believes in breaking the ice by stomping on it."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

He: James is the rakish heir to the Earl of Moreland whose sole aim in life is to infuriate his father in order to "punish" him for this terrible thing his father did in the past. James never forgives his father for abandoning his sister during her most difficult time because of the Earl's obsession with being dignified in the eyes of society. 

She: Lydia is a proper, spinsterish miss who for lack of a "better" occupation (i.e. marriage) is her father's right hand man in his business affairs in the trade of Egyptian antiquities. She doesn't seem to have any special passion for antiquities for all she writes papers about them, but she does do her duty to her father admirably.

Conflict: Both H & h are loyal to a fault. Lydia is loyal to her father, despite the fact that he basically abandons her and her sisters to hare off to Egypt to dig up artifacts. James is loyal to his sister even when it means ruining his relationship with his father, ruining his own reputation in society and generally living with his sweltering bitterness and guilt. 

Eventually both are made to see that loyalty and faith, while excellent attributes, cannot be given indiscriminately. Lydia and James each need to give up a little of their stubbornness in order to face reality and finally learn to be happy.

What I liked: 
1) I liked the psychological complications of relationships between fathers and their children. It shows how those initial key relationships with one's father/mother teach people to love and trust in future relationships. When those initial relationships go wrong, it can have devastating effects on the person's ability to really achieve true peace of mind until they resolve the conflicts with their own families.

In the story, it is imperative for both Lydia and James to achieve some sort of closure with their respective fathers before they can truly be free to forge a new, healthy relationship with one another. I appreciated the fact that the author didn't try to resolve everything with a pretty ribbon at the end, but left in a little of the messiness that a real life family with internal troubles might have.

2) The writing was amazing. Sometimes. 
MD would write these beautifully complicated sentences, witty dialogue and some lovely, wrenching internal character monologues, and then she would have a sentence like "you, sir, are a cad!" Huh? Seems a little trite, no? Then there were these awful, awful, awful American-isms ("bully for you") that just made me wince. And many times characters refer to James as "Viscount" rather than "My lord". There should be a proper editor who edits this kind of stuff out. I mean, I know it's not THAT big a deal, but if you're writing a period book, why not just treat the topic with respect and do it properly?

Anyway, MD is clearly a wonderful writer. But I thought this was only good when it could have been edited to be superb.

What I grew super annoyed with:
1) Lydia spends a whole lot of the book chastising the poor man for being a "cad", being useless, being a rake, being a bad son etc etc. Get over it, lady. It was especially annoying because she seems to go overboard criticizing him because she herself is such an insecure bundle of nerves (she's insecure about her looks, her standing in society, her desirability). And anyway, who was she to criticize someone so roundly? She was plenty damaged herself.

2) Although everything was really well written, I felt like the internal monologue just went on and on and ON. There were some points where one character would say something, and before the other responds there would be 3 PAGES of internal monologue - so I had pretty much forgotten what the last bit of dialogue even was by the time the other person responds. 

3) Throwaway secondary characters. Lydia's sisters, James' friend Phin and certain other secondary characters are mentioned, play some role in the story and then sort of just disappear. We don't get a sense of the "world" Lydia and James live in because we don't really know the people in their world. We know a lot about their relationships with their respective fathers, but very little about their relationships with other people. Even Lydia's relationship with her sisters seem a bit two-dimensional. All I know is that one sister sucks and one is nice. And that's about it. MD probably set it up that way to write other books about these other characters, but I thought their roles were a bit unsatisfying in this particular book.

Skeptic's last word: I think MD is a super writer - she seems to be someone I would normally love reading. I am going to pick up another of her books to see if I perhaps just picked wrong this time since this seemed to miss somewhat with me. 

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Skeptic scale♥♥♥♥

He: the wastrel son of a baronet who's been banished to the Sussex countryside to behave himself. He's a good-natured, affectionate sort who misses his uncomplicated London life of fun and easy manners. But to end his banishment, he needs to prove to his father's steward, and by extension his father, that he has become a respectable land-owning gentleman and has left the life of dissipation behind him. 

The task becomes especially hard when his very pretty, very widowed neighbor makes him an offer impossible for a cad like him to refuse. Not that he wants to refuse.

She: The widow of a man who was rather careless of his lands and responsibilities while he was alive. She took on all the responsibility of running the household and oversaw the duties to their tenants and lands. But now that her husband has died without an heir, the land and life she regards so highly will be lost to her dead husband's villainous brother. She cooks up a plan to find an "heir" in a month by recruiting the H to be her hired stud. Wha whaaaat!

Conflict: She's prickly, proper to the point of being tedious, and entirely without the capacity to charm. She's single-minded in her goal to fake an heir because she knows if the property gets into the nasty old lech of her brother-in-law's hands, he will be a threat to the virtue of every female servant and she just can't let that happen. She thinks the H is vain and silly and has little respect for him, even though she needs his help to conceive. She hires him to be her "stud" for a month in the wild hope that she can keep the property but remains entirely aloof to his charms.

What I liked:
1) Considering that the construction of the story required 30 days of sex scenes I was worried that it would all get a bit comme ci comme ca by the nth description of their heaving bosoms and trembling nerves. 

Noting could have further from that expectation! In fact, for most of the book there were no heaving bosoms! The heroine remained frigid and unresponsive to his bedroom blandishments for the majority of their doing-it scenes. I thought it was hilarious that the only times she felt turned on by him he wasn't trying to seduce her at all - it was during totally serious moments where was talking about wheat prices or being "intellectual" or when he being useful and fixing a tenant's roof. 

2) There was some actual character development - as in both characters developed into richer, more complicated people as the story progressed and began to like each other as they saw and learned more of the other. 

There was an interesting juxtaposition of this puritanical, "innocent" friendship that grows between them, while they're conducting this strange, rather scandalous physical relationship where neither is getting all that much pleasure. Usually romance novels present stories the opposite way - beginning with this explosively amazing sexual chemistry and using the rest of the story to develop an out-of-bedroom relationship between the characters. This sort of turns that formula on its head a bit because there non-sexual chemistry actually grows a lot faster and their sexual relationship has to catch up.

What I thought was a bit weird:
1) It seems sort of a stretch to think that a prim, governess-y lady would approach a random dude to hire him to be her stud. Pun intended. Why not just travel somewhere and adopt a baby? I get that she was desperate and things needed to be done really quickly so the baby seemed legitimate - but surely there were other ways to deal with the issue that didn't involve sex with a total stranger who has a reputation for being a philandering rogue. Did no one fear the pox in those days!? Seriously though, why wasn't adoption a viable option?

2) Why does he try so hard? It becomes clear from the first few interludes that she wasn't getting any pleasure out of his bedroom skills. This sort of compels him to try even harder, going to even greater lengths to see that she derives pleasure from their little interactions. To no avail. In fact, she just sort of acts holier than thou the whole time because she considers him useless and directionless. Um. He's not the one hiring someone to fake an heir so I feel like her feeling of superiority was a tad misplaced.

I see why he would be intrigued by her initial suggestion and go with it for a lark. But then when she proves to be a pain in the butt, why doesn't he just end it? Wouldn't a guy just feel kind of demoralized after day 5 of frigid reception? She's not very likable in the beginning so not sure why he decides to keep going? The way it's described in the book, he is determined to turn her on with his legendary bedroom skills and needs to prove to himself that he can. I call bullshit. 

Skeptic's last word: Anyway, despite a couple of over-engineered plot points, this is a fun, craftily constructed story. CG cleverly weaves in so much more than a love story here - we talk about the rights of women during the times, the politics of land ownership and the social politics of the co-dependent role of landowner and tenant. The love story wasn't as dark and intense as the other one of hers I  loved (A Gentleman Undone) but all in all, a good read.