Archetype by M.D. Waters (Feb 2014)

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I loved this book. It’s futuristic, dystopian, scifi that should attract even those who, like me, don’t normally get into that genre.  I’m dying to read the sequel, Prototype, coming out next summer.  What I really like about this book is that you’re never really sure exactly who’s the good guy, and who’s the bad.  And with the bad guys, you’re not sure exactly how bad, or if the bad bits are actually kind of good.  There’s also romance, which is a plus on my checklist.  But again, you’re not sure whether the love is well-placed.  I’m reading another book, Parasite by Mira Grant, that reminds me a little of Waters’ Archetype, in that both deal with medical advances, and what they could mean for our future.  Corporate medicine, pharmaceutical giants, loom large — and don’t they loom large in our own lives lived off the printed page?  This real-world connection makes it easy to relate to and get absorbed in these fast-paced novels.  Hooray for M.D. Waters!  It’s too bad you’ll have to wait until February when it comes out — but put it on your list today!  Advance Reader’s Copy provided by Penguin.

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Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi (August 2013)

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The trope of the frumpy librarian breaking out in 5-inch stilettos is amusingly (from a librarian’s perspective) resilient in its attraction to the general public.  I guess it’s that madonna/whore thing. And I can’t say I’m immune to the trope’s attraction.  I’ll refrain from showing up to work in heels that hobble.  But I did amuse myself with this little mass market confection.  There were a few places where I thought, no way, that’s not how libraries work.  But in general, Morsi got it right.  I loved the Miss NO NO NOOOOOOooo! character.  Every library’s gotta have at least one.  I had to suspend my disbelief in a serious way, when the main male character didn’t recognize his siren librarian from a brief encounter with her break-out form eight years earlier.  It’s quite the conceit to believe someone you once slept with isn’t going to recognize you just because you’re actually wearing clothes this time.  Or am I giving men too much credit?  Regardless, this is a fun, contemporary romance, that is well-written enough I only winced a couple times at the sweetness.

Longing for Home by Sarah M. Eden (August 2013)

longingThis book is labeled “A Proper Romance” on the cover.  I think that’s because there is no sex, and only one exceptionally chaste kissing scene.  The “Proper” bit almost made me put the book down.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I read this book quickly and enjoyed it, in spite of the treacly  and repetitious spots, and moments when the main character doth protest too much.  This is a sweet romance that takes place in a small Wyoming frontier town.  But it illuminates an historical reality that was anything but sweet:  the intense, sometimes fatal discrimination faced by Irish immigrants.  I knew the Irish were treated poorly.  But I did not realize the extent of the discrimination, the blatant, in-your-face unfairness of it.  And I knew something about the famine from which they escaped.  But I did not have a feel for the impossible choices families faced.  So I recommend this novel for it’s enjoyable, chaste romance; and for the history that will grab your attention and keep it, giving you that emotional connection to an aspect of the country’s expansion that fiction often does best.  Advance Reader’s Copy supplied by BEA.

Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves (Sept., 2013)

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At first, I was taken aback by Graves’ lack of verbal artifice, her plain narration of the alternating points of view of Claire, her husband Chris, and Claire’s friend and possible lover, Daniel. But it did not prevent me from getting propelled into their lives. I finished the novel in two days, and can feel the characters still lingering in my head, as though their lives continue outside the encapsulating book covers. I believe now the plain narration is fitting for a story that seeks to lay bare the progression a budding affair can take. How the innocent and friendly and more-or-less proper can slip past boundaries and become complicated. How we avoid looking, and talking, clearly about friendships with the opposite sex, so we can postpone admitting that they are rarely the uncomplicated things we want them to be. How we struggle to remain constant when we don’t get what we need. And how dependent we are on each other’s understanding of that struggle, taking responsibility for it, and forgiving. Graves’ story is ultimately an optimistic one. It’s refreshing, in the age of Fifty Shades Madness, to be reminded of our honorable potential (Is that too harsh? Do I sound like a prude? I don’t mean to – I only mean to say that I enjoyed reading about an average married couple who endured difficult but average hardship, and behaved with above-average integrity). The ending is not pat. There is no sticky sweetness or cliché to the honorableness. It is hard and painful. Complicated. And yet, in the final analysis . . . it’s pretty simple. You love, and you remain loving: sometimes up, sometimes down, constantly evolving. But you love. The naked simplicity of that vision is what propels us into honorable living when our lives are not as we hoped they would be. It’s what brings that disappointing present into the future we do, indeed, want.

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie (2012), And Laughter Fell From the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan (2012)

arranged laughterAfter taking a months-long hiatus to read mass market romances, none of which sufficiently compelled me to write reviews, I’m back —  and able to publicly admit what I’ve been reading.  I’m not sure why I dove head first into arranged marriage as a topic.  But two books from 2012 that I had put on my mental “to read” list, while I debauched my brain with other fare, just happened to be on that subject.  And they are very different from each other.  McKenzie, a Canadian, wrote a novel about two Anglos, frustrated after years of unhappy alliances, choosing on a whim to contact a marriage service.  The writing is quite good, and for those of us who have ever encountered a therapist, the therapy sessions are LOL, and insightful.  A surprise partway through the book piques additional interest.  I now want to read McKenzie’s earlier novel, Spin.    I am just now finishing Sreenivasan’s novel, and I can’t claim to have gobbled it up so thoroughly as Arranged.  Well, I am reading it quickly, it has drawn me in and kept me going, but it’s kind of in spite its problems rather than because of its virtues.  First the virtues:  the story of two Indian Americans from different caste backgrounds living in Ohio, is fascinating.  Whereas Arranged described an ultramodern twist on an ancient tradition, so twisted from the original that it has little in common with any tradition; And Laughter Fell From the Sky illucidates that ancient tradition, albeit with some changes in favor of greater rights for women than existed even just several decades ago.  Equally interesting are the differences among the Indian immigrant characters, whether because of caste, gender, generation, or personality.  It’s probably human nature to think of cultures different from our own as monolithic.  This novel is a good antidote to that sort of thinking.  Now the problems:  Things happen that make you say, OK, that never would have happened in real life.  For realistic fiction, it’s not very realistic — the dialog is off, and often stilted, and coincidences abound.  And I just don’t like the main female character.  With 45 pages to go, maybe she’ll redeem herself.  But I think it’s too late for me and my affections, who find the character so shallow a guppy would suffocate in her personality.  I love the guy.  But why said guy would love the girl is beyond me.  Nonetheless, I have enjoyed the foray into arranged marriage.  Especially since I am safely ensconced in a love marriage of my own.

The Care and Feeding of an Alpha Male by Jessica Clare (Oct 2012)

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I was pleased for the first half of the book that this “romantica” (read: romance of the hot variety) title had a decent plot leading up to the activities that need no real plot to be enjoyable.  The characters were likable enough.  But then, when the aforementioned enjoyable activities commenced, they didn’t seem to stop.  It was so exhausting, I found myself actually skipping over two sex scenes so I could get back to half-way normal conversation.  I guess there are people for whom the timing of said activities might be realistic.  It just made me tired.  And I’m afraid the main female character got on my nerves after a while.  She just seemed too clueless and passive about the turn her business took, in spite of all her “Miss Independence” talk.  Ah well.  I finished the book.  That’s better than what happens to most romance novels I pick up.

The Professional/The Player by Rhonda Nelson (Oct 2012)

Yes, this is a Harlequin.  But instead of the cheesy illustration of a couple on the front, it’s got the obligatory (for all mass market romances) photo of a hot guy.  The writing is decent, though definitely aimed at Middle America.  There’s nothing to make you think deeply or challenge.  No pulling heart strings either.  And although this is a “Blaze” imprint, the heat isn’t hot hot.  I read this, primarily, to see exactly how hot “Blaze” is.  I don’t know . . . now that Fifty Shades has made erotica mainstream, my standards for what “hot” means have inched up (or shall we say down?).  Nonetheless, this book is an enjoyable escape read about an ex-Ranger working security on a jewel thieving case at a wealthy retirement community.  The object of his affections is the granddaughter of one of the deceased residents, and originally his prime suspect.  I haven’t yet read the second novel included in this volume, The Player.  But I’m quite sure I’ll pick it up when the other five books I’m reading have me thinking too hard, and I really just want to relax.  Advance readers copy provided by the publisher and Netgalley.

Age of Desire by Jennie Fields (Aug 2012)

Many of us have become Downton Abbey groupies.  We are living deprived, lonely existences until the next season begins and we can rejoin the characters and time period to which we have grown attached.  In the meantime, we seek out substitutes to tide us over.  Age of Desire is one such worthy experience.  It takes place a wee bit earlier, around 1908.  And it involves an American ex-patriot — Edith Wharton — in Paris and London, rather than entrenched British nobility.  But the relationship between Wharton and her onetime governess and then friend and secretary, Anna, reminds me of the ways in which boundaries are both reinforced and occasionally transcended despite class divisions in Downton Abbey.  Those divisions, involving as they do Americans in Age of Desire, are significantly less pronounced than among the British.  Yet they clearly color everything.  Henry James and Morton Fullerton feature prominently in this novel.  But the main focus is on Wharton — her writing, her marriage, her affair, and her relationship with Anna that permeated it all.  A recommended read.  Advance readers copy provided by the publisher and Netgalley.

The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst (Aug 2012)

OK, I have to admit I read this in one day, while my child was home sick.  Devoured it.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a great book.  It’s a good book, entertaining, and for the most part, it didn’t make me say, “Oh, puleassse . . . .”  The premise is that a young woman desperately needs money to help her family, and a handsome young billionaire has to meet the stipulations of his uncle’s will:  he must marry in one week if he is to retain ownership of his bequeathed company.  They can divorce after one year of marriage.  The two were childhood friends, but on the surface at least, despised each other.  After they marry for their emphatically unromantic reasons, the romance becomes irrepressible.  If you want to escape with a better than average romance morsel, pick it up.  There are patches of mushy, cliche language; and Probst’s editor needed to take another look at details that don’t always match up (e.g. why would the protagonist, who is best friends with the billionaire’s sister, ask the billionaire whatever happened with his father?  She would already know the answer, through the sister).  But if you can let those things ride, you’ll have fun.

Little Century by Anna Keesey (June 2012)

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It’s been several days since I finished Little Century, but the images are still fresh.  I have a vision of Oregon at the turn of the 19th century, the smell of the land — sage and juniper and pine — on the high desert around Bend.  Yes, I was actually close by last month, in the mountains between the Willamette and Deschutes Rivers.  It’s Keesey’s vivid writing, though, that brings the land alive; and my recent visit, as well as growing up in the West, allows me to simply confirm: Little Century is the closest to the real thing you will get, without actually going there.  And the story itself — a girl coming of age and falling in love while being pulled in opposing directions by the range war rivalry between sheep herders and cattle men — is fascinating.  I remember reading a review of this book, and thinking, “should I?  Should I not buy it?”  I had decided against it, in part because this is her debut and I was unsure a “western” would get checked out by our patrons.  But after reading it, I bought it for the library.  It’s a can’t miss.  And I wouldn’t call it a “western” — Little Century crosses genre boundaries.  It’s literary, but so easy and delicious to read; it’s historical fiction; it’s a romance; it’s a mystery; and it should truly appeal to both men and women.  Highly recommended!

 

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