"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review #74: Autumn Lover, by Elizabeth Lowell

I'm pretty sure I've read this book before. I got about 200 pages in, thinking that it seemed familiar, and then I read the scene where the bad guys pour salt in the garden, and I know I've read that scene before. But I'll be damned if I could remember anything else about the book, so either I read it a really long time ago, or salt in the garden is a thing used in more than one book.

In any event, I picked this up at a used bookstore in the $2 romance section, and for $2, I was happy. It's a light, fluffy, dog-eared paperback, full of strong women and brooding men, misunderstandings, horses, bad guys, an Indian, and a couple of grumpy cowboys. I have to take points away for the use of the word "maidenhead" in the sex scene, but bonus points for the fact that the sex itself was pretty good.

Set in the Ruby Mountains after the Civil War, Elyssa returns to her family's ranch to find it under threat from the Culpepper Gang. Hunter arrives, avenges his family's death at the Culpepper's hands, helps save the ranch (although Elyssa is a pretty strong woman and does quite a bit on her own), and he and Elyssa live happily ever after.

I also have to give bonus points to Lowell for making Elyssa such a strong woman while avoiding the usual romance novel tropes of reading and having red hair. When Elyssa makes her riding habit in to pants, it's done only because she needs the freedom of movement, and it doesn't cause a scandal. Elyssa loves her family's home, and she loves and wants Hunter, but I never felt like she needed him in order to save herself, and that was a welcome change.

Review #73: Thankless in Death, by J.D. Robb

J.D. Robb is one of those authors that I will always pick up. Some books are better than others, but I love visiting the world of Eve Dallas, and her husband Roarke is in my top five fictional men of all time. (For the record, Atticus Finch, Ranger, Rhett Butler, and Jamie Fraser are also on the list.)

This installment, the 38th, opens just before Thanksgiving 2060, and Robb delves more in to the bad guy's point of view than she usually does, opening the story with Jerry Reinhold killing his parents in a very violent and cold-blooded manner. Dallas is outfoxed a little in this story, which is a change, although I'm not sure how I feel about it. While all this is going on, the Dallas/Roarke household is preparing for the entire family to arrive from Ireland to celebrate Thanksgiving, and we all know how Dallas feels about all those people around her.

All my favorite supporting characters are here - Dr. Mira, Baxter, Trueheart, Peabody and McNabb, and my favorite, Roarke's majordomo Sommerset. There are even some characters from former books that return, and Robb's way of weaving this odd little family together never fails to make me cry a little. (Of course, I cry at grocery store commercials, so take that with a grain of salt.)

Robb is comforting and consistent, and that's why I love reading her. And pretending Roarke is my husband doesn't hurt, either.

Review #72: Selling Scarlett, by Ella James

Elizabeth ("Scarlett") is a young woman in desperate need of money (although I'm not really sure why - something with her mom being in the nuthouse and her dad being a jerk), and through a series of events, she decides to auction her virginity at a local brothel. The brothel, named Love, Inc. (seriously)  is run by someone who is sort of in Elizabeth's social circle, so she feels comfortable and "safe" with her decision.

Our story needs a love interest, though, so enter Hunter (of course), who is the best friend of the owner of the brothel. Hunter is a professional poker player, a jabillionaire, and sleeps with several of the girls. He's also got his sights set on Elizabeth, and he doesn't want anyone else to buy her.

Throw in a nice little murder mystery with a weird dominatrix celebrity, and you've got a story.

I don't know. Do people really sleep with prostitutes? Are there really brothels where you can just sign up to sell their virginity? Is virginity really that much of a commodity?  I just couldn't get behind this story.

Review #71: Crashing Into You, by B.D. Rowe

I pulled this off Netgalley, because I have no shame.

The book opens with Sydney and her high school boyfriend involved in a fatal car accident. The boyfriend had been drinking, and he was killed, along with people in the other car - a mom and her eight-year-old son. Sydney survives, but not without a few hidden scars, and when she goes off to college and is faced with the usual party atmopshere, she struggles with how to fit in.

A lot happens in this book: the first car accident, Sydney's crush on her roommate's boyfriend, her roommate's death from alcohol poisoning, her subsequent guilt-ridden relationship with the roommate's boyfriend, her dead roommate's bat-shit crazy sister, her best friend who reluctantly comes out of the closet and finds love, and a second shocking car accident.

And it's all those things that killed this book for me. One of those things would have been enough, and I could have dealt with two, but seven? It was too much. I lost interest because the story became too unbelievable. I felt like Rowe was trying to make a point with the alcohol storyline, but it just got lost in amongst all the other weirdness.

Review #70: Beyond Eden, by Kele Moon

Disclosure: this review is going to be kind of a cheat. I downloaded this off of Netgalley, added it to my list of books to review, and promptly forgot about it. I went to Amazon to refresh my memory, and that didn't help much.

I do remember that it involved a girl and two of her male friends. One of them loves her, she loves the other one, the other one's kind of a jerk. I'm pretty sure that at some point, they all wind up sleeping with each other in various combinations. I'm even more sure that the girl realizes she's loved the wrong guy and winds up with the right guy. Other than that, I can't tell you a single thing about it, including whether the sex was any good, so that should tell you something.

Review #69: Family Pictures, by Jane Green

I feel like I've read Jane Green before, but I just looked at the list of her books, and none of the covers seem familiar. Maybe it's because I feel like she's a little bit like Elin Hildebrand, with covers that make you think you're picking up chick lit, but what's inside is a bit more hefty.

Family Pictures tells the story of two women living on opposite ends of the country - California and New York - and their children. Sylvie is left to raise her daughter Eve on her own after her husband dies, until she meets and falls in love with Mark, who becomes a father figure for Eve. Mark travels a lot for work, and so Sylvie is a sort of hybrid single parent. Maggie, living in New York, is an uptight, unhappy socialite with three children, and her husband also travels a lot for work. Worlds collide when Eve and Maggie's daughter meet through mutual friends and secrets are revealed.

While I did see the big reveal coming, I wasn't any less shocked by it. And it would have been easy for Green to focus on the drama of the betrayal, but instead, she focused on Sylvie and Maggie and told their stories in what I felt was a pretty realistic way. The gut-wrenching sense of betrayal is bad enough, but both Sylvie and Maggie have bigger things to deal with - their children, Eve's health, the fact that Mark absconded with literally all the money - and Green tells the tale of their survival in the face of all that quite well.

Green is probably considered a beach read, but I felt it was a little heavy for that moniker. Maybe a winter read, when it's cold and rainy outside.

Review #68: We All Sleep in the Same Room, by Paul Rome

We All Sleep in the Same Room is the debut novel from Paul Rome, who appears to be a quiet and unassuming coffee shop manager from New York. And you know what they say...it's always the quiet ones.

This is one of those books that you read and you think "eh, it was okay," and then a few days later, you go back and want to read more of it, only you've already finished it, and then you're sad, because you don't know what's happening to the characters. (Surely I'm not the only one who thinks about book characters like they're real people, right? Right?)

Rome's debut follows an earnest young attorney from Brooklyn, his wife, and their son. On the surface, Tom seems to have it together. He's an attorney, but the earnest type, a labor lawyer. He loves his wife and loves his son, but somewhere along the line, his life begins to unravel. I'm not even really sure how it happens, but suddenly, Tom's cheating on his wife and passing out in alleyways.

There's no happy ending here, but then again, there's no real ending at all. Rome just sort of drops the reader in to Tom's life for a while and then pulls them back out again. It's not my favorite style of writing, but even now, months after I've finished the book (I'm very behind on reviews), I still think about Tom and his family, and that's the mark of a good writer.