Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In the Arms of a Marquess, Katharine Ashe

Olivia, also known as Tavy, met Ben when he rescued her from potential kidnappers. She was newly arrived to India, but the sparks were there between them from the beginning. A relationship slowly grew between them, the sparks turning into flames, but Ben was half-Indian and Tavy's aunt didn't approve. Tavy was whisked away and Ben was recalled to England. They meet again years later when Tavy returns to England and seeks Ben's help for a friend. Time and misunderstandings fill the space between them, but the fire still burns...

I was first introduced to Katharine Ashe by Sue, who is a big historical fan. I'm kinda 'eh' on the sub-genre, but when Sue said 'Read,' I read. If I remember correctly, I thought Swept Away by a Kiss had potential and I enjoyed it, but that was about it.

In the Arms of a Marquess followed along the same lines for me. However, what I did like about this book was how they handled the whole India/half-breed thing. It's a bit of a cliche when a hero is a 'half-breed' that there is some teeth-gnashing about being an outsider and usually some nonsense about sullying the heroine. There was none of that in this book. By the time we meet the hero again, he is titled, supremely confident, and well-connected. Facts about culture and society of India in the 1800s are carefully woven in and seem natural to the plot. There's little romanticism or cynicism. It felt like Ashe was simply describing it as it was. As always, there is an obligatory monkey, but it mostly disappears after the heroine returns to England.

I think part of what keeps me from loving this book is the plethora of characters. I know it sounds a bit odd to say that, but for this book, I can think of about ten characters off the top of my head with consequential dialogue. It reminds me of the Deathly Hallows part 2 movie. Fleur and Bill are in one scene to tell the viewer about the setting, they silently walk in with the Order of the Phoenix when they take back Hogwarts, and then they randomly pop up in the crowd scenes. Ginny has all of like three lines in the entire movie (I am so not kidding) and then quietly shows up here & there. That's what this book was like. A wife flirts coyly with the hero, fades into the background for a couple of chapters, and then reappears with critical information. Two characters pop up at separate intervals to thank the hero for his past good deeds and then disappear. Even the monkey is there at the beginning, goes away for the middle, and then reappears at the end.

I guess I am a minimalist when it comes to my historical novels. I want the characters to be mostly in the background like the stereotypical servants or for them to be integral to the plot. I'm not talking about the commonplace hero's best friend who is the hero of the next book, I mean the characters who are essentially the equivalent of Broadway's chorus roles.  I suppose it's weird to feel that way when you think about it, considering that, in reality, people randomly wander into and out of others' lives all the time, but then again, I never claimed to be normal.

In any case, if you want to read a historical that doesn't take place in a ballroom, has a feel for realism and chock full of intrigue, check out this book, releasing on August 30th (MM, $7.99). It would also appeal to fans of Elizabeth Hoyt and Nicola Cornick.

Excerpt and purchasing info here at Katherine Ashe's website.  ARC was obtained via NetGalley.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monthly Tally: July 2011

From TBR Journal

  1. Heart Search, Robin D. Owens - Owens progressed the series' timeline with this book so characters that we previously met as children are now adults. I really enjoyed it and I can't WAIT for Avellan's & Vinni's story.
  2. Seduce Me in Flames, Jacquelyn Frank
  3. Primal Law, J.D. Tyler - J.D. Tyler is a pseudonym for author Jo Davis. I confess, part of the reason I picked it up was because I misread an ad for the book and I thought for a few seconds the title was 'Primal Lawn.' This was actually one of the last books I bought at Borders with my employee discount and I thought it was worth what I paid.
  4. Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever, Stephen McCranie
  5. The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, Jennifer Ashley - Fabulous addition, looking forward to Hart's and Eleanor's book (April 2012, it looks like).
  6. Skin Dive, Ava Gray - A great ending to the series, but I was so sad it was over!
  7. Mystical Warrior, Janet Chapman
  8. Never Cry Wolf, Cynthia Eden
  9. Chicks Kick Butt, Rachel Caine & Kerrie L. Hughes, eds
  10. The Devilish Montague, Patricia Rice
  11. Mercy Burns, Keri Arthur
  12. Flying Blind, Deborah Cooke
  13. Playing for Keeps, LuAnn McLane
  14. On the Hunt, Gena Showalter
  15. An Unlikely Countess, Jo Beverly

  1. New York to Dallas, J.D. Robb, 9/2011 -  I loved loved loved this book. It felt like an 'ending' book, wrapping up the last few loose threads from Eve's past. I bet Robb's going to start changing things up now for Roarke and Eve.
  2. Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue, Stephanie Laurens, 8/2011
  3. In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster, Stephanie Laurens, 9/2011
  4. Lord of the Vampires, Gena Showalter, 8/2011
  5. Sacrifice, Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, 9/2011 - I loved the Roswell books by Metz (which are apparently now available for the Kindle) and this is an interesting take on the vampire myth, but I much preferred the first book, Crave. This was more about the bonds of family and familial expectations than the relationship between Shay and Gabriel.
  6. Good Girls Don't, Victoria Dahl, 8/2011
  7. Bad Boys Do, Victoria Dahl, 9/2011
  8. Faces of Hope: 10 Years Later, Christine Pisera Naman, 8/2011
I'm sure I've read books along the way, but I'm actually writing this a tad past July and I don't have a clue.

Category Totals

Romance: 11 + 5 ARCs
Mystery: 1 ARC
Nonfiction: 1 ARC
Young Adult: 1 + 1 ARC
Children's Graphic Novel: 1
Science Fiction: 2

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Best Books of 2011...So Far

I swear I had this idea before I saw it on Amazon. Doing the best books of 2010 was such a pain in the rear (did I even ever finish it? Note to self: Check on that) that I decided it'd be easier to do it in piecemeal.

My criteria for 'best' is simple. Basically, I considered a book one of the 'best' if I really enjoyed it, I bought it or would be willing to buy it, and I'd re-read it. For the purpose of this list, I'm also limiting it to books published in 2011. Sadly, there wasn't many books that met that criteria so far. I don't know if it's because I'm a bit jaded or if I just haven't been reading the right books.  In any case, my list, in no particular order, of the Best Books of 2011 so far:
  1. Skin Heat, Ava Gray - I actually read this as an ARC while on vacation. Since the book was already out, I left the book at the hotel and regretted it almost immediately. Not only did I buy a copy, I also went back and picked up the previous books in the series. I've enjoyed 'mutant' books ever since the TV show Dark Angel aired and this book fits in that category perfectly. It's unique because the hero is animalistic, but not a shifter. He is also illiterate due to the experiments conducted on him, which for some reason, I found fascinating. Forgive the pun, but illiteracy is not something you read about very often, especially in romance novels.

  2. When You Dare, Lori Foster - As previously stated, I don't particularly enjoy romantic suspense or military books, but this book grabbed me right away. In addition to a terrific hero and a writer heroine, there were excellently developed secondary characters. It's a bit out of character for me, but I'm really rooting for one of those characters, Chris, to get his own story, perhaps a novella. Chris is gay and, as a straight female, I can't always relate to the struggles facing a gay man, but Chris was so fabulous, I want him to have his own happy ending.

  3. Look! A Book! A Zany Seek-and-Find Adventure, Bob Staake - I touched on it a bit in the February Monthly Tally, but I'll reiterate. I am 29 years old and I was captivated by this book. I'm very literal and the book is very not, so i think that was why I enjoyed it so much. If I had a kid in my life, I would totally buy this for them.

  4. Tortall and Other Lands, Tamora Pierce - I have been a fan of Tamora Pierce for  a long time. This anthology is like a buffet containing offerings from all the worlds she's created. It's wonderful for the long time fan and equally great to get someone else hooked.

  5. Kiss of Snow, Nalini Singh - I remember when the Harry Potter series was still ongoing and we'd used to dissect the books, looking for clues as to what would happen next. The online romance community is now doing the same with the Psy books, trying to ferret out the identity of the Ghost. Any author who invites comparison to J.K. Rowling should have automatic placement on any best books list. I will legitimately weep when this series comes to an end, but I have faith in Nalini that she will make it an awesome ride in the meantime.

  6. Blood of the Maple, Dana Marie Bell - This book totally tickles my fancy. It's about a vampire who's cursed by a witch that he can only drink the blood of plants. His best friend's a ghost and he ends up moving to a town of supernaturals where he falls in love with a dryad. It's like Bunnicula crossed with Halloweentown. I don't know why Bell hasn't crossed over into mainstream yet, but she has major, major potential. 

  7. Kiss at Your Own Risk, Stephanie Rowe - I can't begin to tell you how many romances I've read over the years, but I swear the number is probably at least four digits. As a result, when I find something new and interesting, I feel the need to adopt it and give it lots of love. It's even more gratifying when it's a book by an author that I've read before and wasn't too thrilled by. I feel about Kiss at Your Own Risk the way I did when I read The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter. Depending on the other two books in the series, this has the potential to be Rowe's breakout series.

  8. Magic Slays, Ilona Andrews - What I love about Andrews's books is how they can feature the same characters, but still be fresh and new. The plots are always advancing and, for all their mystical/magical gifts, the characters act like real people. Kate and Curran don't automatically fall into bed. They worked for their relationship and now that they're officially mated, they're still working at, learning how to compromise. I love strong heroines and the heroes that let them be strong.

  9. Nightfall, Ellen Connor - If you follow my personal Twitter account, you will have seen me be very flustered by this book. I don't like apocalyptic books because the world is unstable enough and I don't need to think about it ending while indulging in 'escapism.' However, despite all that, I felt compelled to finish this book and even now, months later, bits of it still float through my mind. A review at Dear Author takes the book to task for having too many apocalypses, but if you're willing to believe that people will spontaneously shift into animals due to a disease, why is it out of the realm of possibility that an electro-magnetic pulse happens at the same time? In addition, Connor (aka Ann Aguirre & Carrie Lofty) introduces, as a throw-away, the possibility of insect shifters. Aside from the spider shifters in the Sazi books (C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp) and a few bird shifter books, the majority of shifter books focus on mammals. Any book that lingers on in your brain and makes you think deserves to be on a list like this.

  10. Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, Debby Maugans - Okay, confession time, this mainly made the list because I had nine titles and that troubled my orderly soul. However, I did buy two copies of this book, one for me and one for my sister-in-law. The idea behind this cookbook is awesome and, while I have yet to try out any of the recipes firsthand, I will definitely do so in the future.

Honorable Mentions

  • Eternal Rider, Larissa Ione - Okay, I love Larissa Ione, but her books have been getting progressively darker and darker. The hellhounds introduced in this book are no cuddly puppies either. Still, it's a well-written book and a good series opener.
  • Treachery in Death, J.D. Robb - I didn't particularly love the previous book so I enjoyed this one simply because it was better. I also love the supporting characters so I liked the emphasis on Peabody. However, it doesn't rank as a best book because it's not as good as previous works.
  • Demon Song, Cat Adams - I love this series, but it didn't make the best books list because it was very dependent on the books before it. If you haven't read any of the other books, you will not be able to fully appreciate this one. Plus it's in first person, which I normally hate, but I forgive the authors for it because the book is so full of awesome.
  • Lover Unleashed, J.R. Ward - This is an honorable mention because I don't know if I'll ever buy it, but I finally forgive Ward for the crap she pulled with the end of Vishous's book.
  • Savage Nature, Christine Feehan - I haven't been crazy about the Carpathian series for a long time and, while I'm still a fan of the Ghostwalker series, the rest of her books have been hit and miss for me. However, I liked this one. I think that has more to do with the unusual bayou setting than anything else.
Also, I didn't put it on the list as I'm a hundred percent biased, but I think we all know my feelings about Thea Harrison and Dragon Bound

Hello and Goodbye: A Romance Expert revealed

When I started this blog, I decided to be secretive about the bookstore chain that I worked for. My reasons for doing so were two-fold. First off, the company made no secret of its dislike of employees blogging about working there. Secondly, since I received ARCs as part of my job, I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the ARC pipeline, but I did want a little leeway to be honest if I didn't like a book. I did know that the store's identity wasn't too hard to deduce for anyone who came here by way of my personal twitter.

However, the point has become moot. I was a Romance Expert for Borders. Sue Grimshaw, Borders' Romance buyer, started the program back in 2005 and I joined up right away. When Sue left Borders for Random House earlier this year, Ellen Clark took over the position and the program up until Borders declared bankruptcy. Liquidation began on July 15th. Ellen's last day was July 29 and her departure marks the official end of the Romance Expert program. You can read our goodbyes at the Borders True Romance blog here.

I'm still working at Borders for the time being. Liquidation is not a pleasant experience and I wasn't about to abandon my team when all hands are needed on deck. My last day will tentatively be around August 15th. By then, I believe the liquidation process will be reaching its conclusion and store hours will be cut. Since I have a full-time job in an academic library, I'll cede my hours to those who need them more. However, if things keep stumping along, I'll keep working.

It's no surprise to me that Borders is closing, but it's a bit of a shock nonetheless. I think I always anticipated the stores would radically close, but I didn't think the entire chain would go under. I've been employed by the company since 2002. That's nine years of my life and I'll be 30 years old in November. I'm suffering from a little identity crisis. For most of my adulthood, I've defined myself as a bookseller. For the last six years, I've been a minor player in the romance genre. Arrogant as it may sound, it was a self-esteem booster to be reporting directly to a buyer who was partly responsible for 13% of the market for print books. My opinions, my thoughts, played some small part in the buyer's decisions as to what and how much to purchase. Also, from a purely fangirl perspective, it was damned awesome getting books by my favorite authors ahead of schedule.

Now I'm simply a reader. Of course, I find myself paralyzed by the decision of what to read. I kept myself on a loose schedule, trying to read four ARCs a week. I rarely re-read anything or dipped into my growing TBR pile. Now I feel vaguely guilty reading the ARCs I have left, like I haven't earned them somehow.  In addition, Borders was like a very current library for me. I could borrow up to two books at a time. I had the freedom to try new authors, to pick up whatever struck my fancy, regardless of format or cost. Now I'm limited by money and my county's library system. I have been demoted from someone special to someone quite ordinary. It is quite lowering to think about.

Perspectives from fellow Borders ex-employees

My time on the Borders - An Eulogy for the Big Red Bookstore

How to Work/How to Shop at a Liquidating Borders

Bookseller Without Borders (an assistant manager who's perhaps a little on the understandably bitter side, chronicling his store's liquidation)

Michele Lee: Day One (an author who worked as a bookseller at Borders. Her store closed during the first round and she also documented each day of liquidation)

There is a very funny webcomic called Mike: Bookseller that is drawn/written by a gentleman who works for Barnes & Noble Booksellers. There's a lot of parallels between the chains, but, obviously, two entered and only one is walking away. Here are some strips he's done so far about Borders's bankruptcy.

I used to say that...
Thousands of voices...
The silver lining to Liquidation