Recent Reading: Successes

or, Books That Deserve Better Than They’re Going to Get From Me

Lately I’ve read and listened to quite a lot of books I enjoyed but haven’t felt moved to write about at length. Here’s a round-up.


Suleikha Snyder, Spice and Smoke 

OK, the next Snyder book I read, I’m going to choose a time when I can give it my full attention. I’d like to give her a proper review for once! This one I took a hiatus on when my cat went missing so I’d kind of lost the thread when I picked it back up. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Snyder’s first two Bollywood books, because glamorous and soapy isn’t normally my thing. They don’t actually focus on the glamour, but on the very human emotions of the characters. Snyder writes yearning really well. And I found the soapy elements of the plot fun (there’s quite the villainess in this book, and she gets what she deserves) because the language was never too purple. Like Spice and Secrets, this book has two romances intertwined. My favorite was talk show host Sunita and her British producer, Davey Shaw: Sunny is an ambitious woman who doesn’t have to compromise for love (like all the Snyder heroines I’ve read so far, yay!); her reasons for hesitating to fall in love felt real and I liked the way their sparring worked in jokes about colonialism (or were they jokes, exactly?). I was less in love with the younger couple–I couldn’t quite see what was keeping them apart, or had separated them in the first place, and just wanted to bang their heads together. I am old and cranky. I’m looking forward to the third book in this series, Bollywood and the Beast, which is in my TBR (I do like a Beauty and the Beast story). [Also: Samhain lists this as “Red Hot!” but I did not find the sex to be more frequent or explicit than a “regular” romance, nor was it kinky, and that was fine with me. It could be classified as an erotic romance in the sense that a big focus of the relationships is the characters’ desire for each other, but if, like me, you’re not in the mood for more erotic books, don’t let the publisher classification put you off.]

Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels (audio re-read, narrated by Kate Reading) and “The Mad Earl’s Bride” (connected novella)

I read Lord of Scoundrels early in my romance-reading career but I wasn’t sure it would hold up for me as well as Chase’s Mr. Impossible, still a favorite. I was right. Kate Reading’s narration (after her weird emo rendering of the Dear Reader letter at the start) was solid, but the book had lost its magic. I did still enjoy a lot of Chase’s dialogue, but instead of developing a deeper appreciation for its tropey story, I found it sillier. I know, I suck. Dain’s (unconscious) yearning for love no longer moved me, and while I could see a deconstruction of the madonna/whore dichotomy going on, I did not care and found the kid part at the end even more annoying than I did the first time around. Ah well. I suspect I’ll still listen to this again, because I appreciated some bits a lot. I also read “The Mad Earl’s Bride,” which I enjoyed more. I rolled my eyes some at the set-up, also rather tropey (the hero thinks he’s destined to die in a madhouse like his mother, the heroine wants to open her own hospital, cue marriage of convenience). But I liked her level-headedness and his having to learn to trust both her and his future. Got this from my library, which has expanded its digital romance collection quite a lot, with some things I actually want to read, hurrah.

Jody Wallace, “Strip-O-Gram”

I have a pile of AllRomance “e-book bucks,” and I decided to spend some on things by writers I enjoy interacting with on Twitter but haven’t read. This was a poor choice for me, though, given my above-stated current lack of interest in more erotic stories, because it’s an erotic short story. I was swayed by the hot dude in glasses on the cover. I ended up skimming a lot of the sex scenes, but that’s about me, not about the writing. I did really enjoy the heroine’s sense of humor and the voice, and I thought this was pretty solid for someone’s first published story, so I’m looking forward to reading more by Wallace. I have her most recent book, Witch Interrupted

Mystery Update

I’ve been successful with the recommendations so far! I found Kate Charles’ Evil Intent (recommended by Kathryn) more melodramatic than Barbara Pym, whom the cover quote compared her to–Anglican church setting, I guess? But I got caught up in the community she created and really liked a lot of the characters and cared about what happened to them. In fact, the ending felt too abrupt and I wanted to know what became of some secondary characters. Definitely a win; looking forward to seeing what’s next for curate Callie Anson and the rest.

I just finished Donis Casey’s The Old Buzzard Had It Coming (recommended by Barb). This book, set in early 20th-century Oklahoma, reminded me of the Little House books–want to know how they did laundry and what they made for dinner? I loved those details here, just as in Laura Ingalls Wilder. I enjoyed Casey’s Alafair Tucker, a sensible/meddling matriarch (a mere 38, with a daughter of 20 and many other kids!) who wants to fix things for those she cares about. I look forward to more of this series.

Thanks to a comment from Mariana on Twitter, I listened to Slightly Shadythe first of Amanda Quick’s Lavinia Lake/Tobias March books (basically historical romantic suspense, but a three-book series), narrated by the wonderful Barbara Rosenblatt. In part because of the narrator, this reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Peters’ mysteries. As always with Quick and her other pen names, I enjoyed watching the characters develop both a romantic and professional partnership, learning to trust and respect each other.

Big Fat Books Update

I am still slowly reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and listening to George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Ian Buruma’s Year Zero: A History of 1945They’re all very good, but none is emotionally “light,” so I’ll be interspersing them with easier reading. I seem to be on a Big Fat Book kick: I just picked up Count of Monte Christo and Lonesome Dove (neither of which I have ever read) in an Audible buy-one-get-one sale, and a couple more non-fiction tomes (American history, this time) as well. I may possibly have over-faced myself with reading at a busy time of the semester, but I’ve decided not to worry about going slowly as long as I keep going.

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9 Responses to Recent Reading: Successes

  1. Jessica says:

    I have always preferred Mr. Impossible to Lord of Scoundrels, and, indeed to any of Chase’s other books. I think I’ll look for Mr. Impossible on Audible (although I am sadly out of credits for another week or two). I am enjoying The Goldfinch, on both audio and digital, and I feel about it just the way I felt about The Secret History: it is very very good, but not overwhelmingly awesome.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I was looking at some of the low-star reviews of the Goldfinch on GR, just out of curiosity–at least one person dinged it for not being realistic (he wouldn’t remember the names on the office doors in the museum! he would have been noticed leaving!). I don’t think it’s trying for realism in that way. It also got dinged for having banal themes like the power of art–basically, I’d say, for not “earning” its size. I’m not far enough in to have any kind of definitive opinion, but I’d say she’s a great, great story-teller. The pacing, the characterizations, really pull you along. It does remind me of Dickens, although much more of a unified storyline. (I think this is all a way of agreeing with “very very good, but not overwhelmingly awesome.” The line between those two might be largely a matter of personal taste though, rather than anything concrete to point to).

  2. pamela1740 says:

    I’m with you both on the Mr. Impossible train. It’s funnier, but also more original, moving, and sexy.

    Lonesome Dove is one of those books I read a long time ago — around when it was published – that I wonder whether I’d pick it up at all if it came out now. I did love it, but now I’d probably read one of Elizabeth Lowell’s historical westerns (which I highly recommend for romance novels that evokes a similar sense of the lawless and unforgiving western landscape).

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      It’s never a book I’ve felt I “should” read, but many people love it, and when I saw it in the sale, I figured “why not?” This way I may actually read it! The narrator has a twang that seems right for the story.

  3. Barb in Maryland says:

    Oh, I am so glad you enjoyed “Old Buzzard’. That is one of my favorites series, as the life details remind me of stories my grandmothers told about their childhoods. And the recipes at the end! I gained 5 pounds just reading them!!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I like the warnings about how they got to eat all that fat because they did hard physical labor! The book had the feel of someone talking about the world of her own grandparents’ stories, and I really enjoyed that.

  4. Janine Ballard says:

    I need to read more of Suleikha Snyder’s books. I liked her first one in the Bollywood series even though I was a little lost with some of the references to classic Bollywood movies and just my general ignorance of Indian culture.I like the way she writes dialogue and her focus on characters.

    Re. Loretta Chase, I’ve never understood the fuss about Lord of Scoundrels, but by the time I came to it I’d already been reading romance for 15 or 16 years. I like Mr. Impossible better, but which of the Carsington books is my favorite is always fluctuating. Lately I’ve been remembering Lord Perfect with even greater fondness. I also think Knaves’ Wager is one of her best books and deserves to be better known.

    Re. mysteries, I hope you get around to A Very Long Engagement because I so want to know what you think of it! It’s probably my favorite book in the mystery genre but I don’t read a ton of mysteries.

    The Goldfinch is going well for me too but as I’ve only just started chapter 5, it will be interesting to see if Tartt can sustain the tension of the first four chapters throughout the book.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I almost hope Tartt doesn’t sustain the tension! One reason I’m going slowly is that I can only take so much at a time.

      I liked the way the characters in the first Bollywood book imagined themselves in classic scenes (though these weren’t references I got, I could picture them, and doing that made sense for the characters). The second book is more about the business/career aspect, though, and the career-driven choices they’ve made–it might feel less like an alien world.

      I loved Knaves’ Wager. It’s a much more restrained book than LoS, and I liked that about it.

  5. sonomalass says:

    My sisters were both raving about The Goldfinch today; one has already “devoured” it and the other is lamenting that she doesn’t have more reading time, because she’s eager to finish it. I promised I would give it a shot, as a future Big Book read. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with it than my current choice, which I can’t seem to get enthusiastic about.

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