My whole family goes back to school on Tuesday, so the past week has been full of meetings, school-supply shopping, and frantic finishing up of work projects that need to be ready when the semester starts (ah, policy- and memo-writing, I have not missed you). So things have been a little quiet at the blog, and probably will be until we settle into our new routine.
But I did do a fair bit of reading in August, especially while on my vacation.
My phone is best for short, light books. Usually I read on it only when commuting, but I read a couple of phone books this month when short and light were just what I wanted.
Laura Levine, This Pen’s for Hire. I think this was a Kindle freebie. It’s a chick-lit style cozy mystery, fun and fluffy and honestly that’s all I remember about it.
Ros Clarke, “Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse.” This is a self-published novella which I bought (for all of 99 cents) because I’ve long admired Ros’s reviews of category romance. The novella seems aimed squarely at the Mills & Boon Riva line. It has that fun, flirty vibe, though it’s about 10,000 words shorter than a standard category romance. Ros’s affectionate familiarity with romance tropes shows here. Luke and Fliss won’t surprise Harlequin/M&B readers, but they aren’t cardboardy and they talk to each other like real people. I liked the dialogue a lot. The book suffered from something I’ve noticed in several category romances I’ve read lately: when you’ve got a couple of nice, compatible people who are attracted to each other, it’s hard to find a believable way to keep them apart long enough to have a novel. Various family issues do that work here, but they aren’t fully developed and are wrapped up rather hastily at the end. Still, this book was sweet and funny and kept me reading. Plus: horses! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ros published by M&B some day, if she keeps trying them. If you like the Riva or Harlequin Romance lines, I think you’d enjoy this.
Miranda Neville, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton. Janet/Robin has a great review at Dear Author. No need for me to repeat it. This book made excellent vacation reading.
JL Merrow, Camwolf. My thoughts here
HelenKay Dimon, Locked and Loaded and The Big Guns. These are the last two in Dimon’s five-book Harlequin Intrigue “Mystery Men” (oh, Harlequin, must you?) series. I enjoyed them all; each stands alone okay but there’s an over-arching mystery plot. Intrigues are tricky, because the writer has to pack a romance and a suspense plot into a short space. Dimon’s suspense plotting is a real strength; her romances are plausible but get fairly short shrift here. I think of this series as “alpha heroes I can stand.” Yes there’s a super sekrit group of ex-military dudes with guns and gadgets, and yes they are rather possessive and protective of the heroines. However, the heroes respect the heroines and learn to listen to them, and the heroines are strong, smart and capable. As the series goes on, there are several moments where one of the dudes guards “the women” back at home while the others get on with an action scene, something I thought about when reading DM’s great Dear Author post on defeated/diminished heroines. Dimon never takes this too far for me to tolerate, though. I find her sentence-level writing rather awkward, but the high-velocity plots propel me through the books too fast for it to be a real distraction. This series was one I turned to when I wanted a book that would engross and distract me for a few hours, and on that level, it was entirely satisfying.
Rainbow Rowell, Attachments and Barbara Hannay, Molly Cooper’s Dream Date. My thoughts here
Georgette Heyer, The Black Sheep. The spate of reviews and commentary resulting from the Sourcebooks Heyer birthday sale prompted another re-read of this book. A number of her books fit its pattern: older (in Heyer years) heroine with a sense of humour and a life consumed by family responsibilities, and a “selfish” hero whose love sets her free. They are among my favorites.
A M Riley, Death by Misfortune (sequel to Amor en Retrogrado) I find both these books interesting but (or because they are) hard to categorize. Not exactly m/m romance: though they feature gay characters–both detective Bill Turner and many of the people caught up in the mystery plots–and love stories, those love stories often defy the conventions of romance. Not exactly police procedurals: Turner, who connects the two books, gets less page time than a lot of the other characters. These books made uncomfortable reading for me. The characters are not just flawed but sometimes downright unlikeable, and in some cases I wasn’t sure, even at the end, that their relationships were good for them. But they are fascinating characters, and Riley made me care about what happened to them. I found both books slow to start, but very engrossing in the end. They could use better editing, both at the sentence level, where there were some distracting errors (such as the confusion of cavalry and Calvary), and perhaps to tighten the plot. But Riley’s work, like Merrow’s, is an example of the genre stretching that makes m/m romance-or-whatever-it-is so interesting.
Kate Hewitt’s Matchmaker Bride, an homage to Austen’s Emma. I’m planning a post this week on this and another Austen-inspired novel.
A couple of forgettable mysteries.
I am slowly working my way through Tony Judt’s magisterial Postwar, a history of Europe since World War II. I wonder if it’s my Victorianist background that makes me enjoy big narrative histories. When he gets onto territory I’m familiar with (French post-structuralism, say, or even punk) I’m very aware that this is an opinionated view that others might take issue with, but it’s a fascinating book on a period I know very little about.
Jayne Ann Krentz, Lost and Found and Janet Evanovich, The Rocky Road to Romance. Further exploration in my library’s giant audio backlist of popular writers. Both pleasant enough but nothing special.