Dueling discussion and review with Kim – The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

Cover image, The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

I’ve not made my liking for Tiffany Reisz’s The Original Sinners: The Red Years series that much of a secret, so it should come as no surprise that I got my hands all over a review copy for the final book in this quartet, The Mistress, as soon as I could.  While my reading buddy Kim and I have individually read and blogged about the three previous books in the series, we decided to discuss this one together.  Why?  Well, you’ll just have to read our discussion to find out.

Also, this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me about The Mistress.  I’m participating in a blog tour (my first blog tour… I have a feeling it shouldn’t actually feel this exciting, but whatever. I’m stoked.) to promote the book, and I’ll have another post next week with a less spoiltastic review/brain dump as well as a Q & A with Tiffany Reisz.

Anyway, go check out Kim’s and my discussion of The Mistress, posted over at Kim’s blog, Reflections of a Book Addict.

The Mistress was released on July 30, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin MIRA.  For more information about the entire series (which you really should read, even if you’re not interested in sex novels, as my friends like to call them), check out Tiffany Reisz’s website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – The Greatest of Sins by Christine Merrill

Cover image, The Greatest of Sins by Christine Merrill

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Giving in to temptation would be the ruin of them all!  Having spent years believing a lie about his birth, Dr. Samuel Hastings has been condemned to a personal hell of his desire’s making—his sinful thoughts of the one woman he can never touch would damn his soul for eternity.

Lady Evelyn Thorne is engaged to the very suitable Duke of St. Aldric when a shocking truth is revealed—and now Sam will play every bit of the devil to seduce the woman he thought would always be denied him!

Ah, forbidden love… it’s such a romantic theme.  This book actually explores both forbidden and unrequited love themes – Sam feels that his love for Evie is forbidden; Evie feels that her love for Sam is unrequited – against an interesting backdrop of various social themes from the era (illegitimacy, class issues, women’s roles, the developing medical practice, etc.).  As many of you know, I have a soft spot for romance novels that explore such themes, so I enjoyed this book.

Sam spends most of the book’s first half smoldering in misinformed self-denial while Evie gets to cast aside the typical gender roles of the romance genre (and that era) and chase after what she wants.  And what she wants is Sam.  Actually, the first half of the book is a lot like this:

Guess which one of these two cuties is Evie and which is Sam.  As much as Sam tugged on my heart strings, it was Evie whom I really loved in this book, even when her waffling got annoying (she loves Sam, but she’s going to marry the duke, because… well, just because.).  Evie is fearless, morbid, smart, funny, manipulative (but in a fun way), confident, and self-aware.  She knows her own value, even in a society that marginalizes and devalues her sex.

I loved that Evie has an interest in medicine — which, though it springs from her love of Sam and inclination to be of use to him as his wife, is wholly her own interest — particularly women’s medicine, and practices midwifery and country medicine at her home.  In one memorable conversation with Sam, she isn’t afraid to argue her better knowledge of reproductive medicine, for want of a better term, to a licensed physician who, though male and officially trained, has less experience with women patients.  That scene was lovely, both because Evie embraces her own competence and because Sam treats her with respect.

I mentioned earlier that Evie’s waffling annoyed me… once Sam’s impediment to their relationship is removed, the only impediment is Evie.  She loves Sam, wants to marry him, realizes she’ll be unhappy and a bit stifled with the duke, yet she refuses to break her betrothal to the duke because she doesn’t want to be a promise breaker and because Sam missed the boat, so to speak, and that’s just his loss, isn’t it?  Those types of plot devices always annoy me — conflict by way of stubbornness and poor communication — and this one was certainly no exception.  Ultimately, I think this book is well worth the read, but I was pretty dang annoyed for about sixty pages….

The Greatest of Sins was released on April 23, 2013 as a mass market and e-book by Harlequin Historical.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Christine Merrill, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received and e-galley of this book from Harlequin Historical via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

Every now and then after reading a book, I shake my head in dismay.  Damn, I think to myself, now I have to buy all of this woman’s books.  And it may sound like I’m not happy about it — my husband and bank account certainly aren’t — but those moments are the best, full of all the hope and anticipation a reader like me can feel.  I experienced that moment when I finished the last page of Victoria Dahl’s Too Hot to Handle, and now I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me.

Cover image, Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

This good girl’s going bad….  Merry Kade has always been the good girl. The best friend. The one who patiently waits for the guy to notice her. Well, no more. Merry has just scored her dream job, and it’s time for her life to change. As the new curator of a museum in Wyoming, she’ll supervise a lot of restoration work. Luckily she’s found the perfect contractor for the job.

Shane Harcourt can’t believe that someone wants to turn a beat-up ghost town into a museum attraction. After all, the last thing he needs is the site of his dream ranch turning into a tourist trap. He’ll work on the project, if only to hasten its failure…, until the beautiful, quirky woman in charge starts to change his mind.

For the first time ever, Merry has a gorgeous stud hot on her heels. But can she trust this strong, silent man, even if he is a force of nature in bed? When Shane’s ulterior motives come out, he’ll need to prove to Merry that a love like theirs may be too hot to handle, but it’s impossible to resist.

I fell for Merry first.  She’s funny, wry and a little bit goofy, and the novel’s voice perfectly complemented her charms.

This time, when she stepped back, it only tipped a tiny bit. Like the erection of a man just registering that you’d made a Star Wars joke in the middle of foreplay.

Not that that had ever happened to her.

Further, while Merry obviously carries around her own little bag of insecurities and flaws and while the book is, to a certain extent, about her discovering/accepting herself and her sexuality, her main discovery is that she doesn’t have to become anything to embrace her sexuality; it is as much a part of her as the Star Wars jokes and love of Joss Whedon.  That is my favorite thing about the book — that good-girl Merry with her humor and superhero t-shirts is allowed to be sexy on her own terms and that Shane is given the leeway to find her sexy just as she is, no makeover necessary.

Merry absolutely shines (at least to me), but Shane is also a well-developed character who grapples with his past and his future, his identity and self-concept, and some of the stupid choices he’s made.  I loved Shane, even when I wanted to smack him upside the head, and not just because he appreciated Merry.  (Tangent: I love the off-beat heroine story trope, but sometimes the only thing that makes me love the hero is that he, too, sees what’s so spectacular and awesome about the heroine… I still enjoy those stories because they’re among my favorite kind of story, but it’s an infinitely better reading experience when I can fall in love with both characters in their own right./tangent)

The bottom line is that this book is friggin’ hilarious and had me hooting with laughter at every turn.  (True story – when I’m reading, I never expect to laugh out loud, and when I’m surprised into laughter, it always comes out as this odd, high-pitched hoot.  It’s extra embarrassing.) The secondary characters — of whom my favorite is, unsurprisingly, Rayleen, because I love me some spunky older lady characters — are fantastic and vividly drawn.  I honestly loved every single thing about this book, even though I can’t precisely explain why I have such enthusiasm for it.  Or maybe I can.  The book won me over with this exchange on page 40.

“Oh, my God.” Merry laughed. “You’re the worst liar ever. No, I did not use my super-sexy wiles to lure Shane onto my fold-out sofa bed for a night of uncomfortable passion.”

“I wasn’t worried about you doing the luring!”

“Okay. No, Shane did not butter me up with Star Wars trivia and then ‘accidentally’ fall on me with his penis out.”

So, yeah.  I thought Too Hot to Handle was just plain awesome.  Too Hot to Handle was released on March 26, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market by Harlequin HQN.  If you’re interested in the book, please click on the cover image above the visit the book’s page on Goodreads (or just Google it, like God intended).  For more information about Victoria Dahl, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin HQN via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Confessions of a self-aware addict – The story of 29 books

I’ve heard that the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem, so here goes.  Oh Internet, I have a deep and shameful secret to confess.  I am hopelessly addicted to Stephanie Laurens books.  It started with this one, believe it or not.

I bought it on a whim, and it drew me in with its interesting vocabulary (honestly, susurrate, cynosurelimned?) and fabulous old lady characters.  Then I bought and read all of these books, because I am, clearly, an idiot.

Oh. My. God.  It’s horrifying to see all those covers laid out like that…

And do you know what?  They are all pretty much the same book, just with different physical descriptions (and, in the fine strokes, different character descriptions, but the broad strokes are all the same) and, for the most part, a different type of intrigue or danger that the characters face together while deciding whether or not to boink and whether or not to marry (spoiler alert: the answer is always yes.).  In fact, perhaps the only one truly worth reading is the first one: Devil’s Bride, because it (alone) doesn’t rely on poor communication as a plot and conflict device.

These books contain (1) an alpha male who is handsome, rich, compelling, good in the sack (and so experienced–and it’s uncomfortable that the dude’s experience gets mentioned so often–that you have to wonder how all these alpha males manged to avoid social diseases), and feeling a bit jaded and restless with his life–a.k.a. primed for matrimony; (2) a strong female who has some past experience or quirky character trait that creates a desire (a) never to marry without a solid belief that she is entering a love match, (b) the idea that this solid belief can be obtained only by the gentleman saying, “I love you,” and (c) the disinclination ever to express this desire in words that the poor hero could ever understand; (3) some sort of life-threatening intrigue or danger that both throws the hero and heroine together often enough for them to boink occasionally and, towards the end of the story, places the heroine’s life in danger so that the intelligence-challenged hero can realize, finally, that he loves her–and can tell her so in those words–so that she can finally agree to marry him.  These books also contain multiple episodes of the same bizarre sex scene, in which the characters’ boinking creates (what I hope is) a metaphorical aurora borealis of afterglow.

I know, right?!  Why did I read 28 versions of the same story?  Clearly, I have an illness.

And, actually, I read 29.

I know! It’s painful.  Anyway, The Lady Risks All was released last fall, and I really tried to hold out, but I failed.  I held out all of two weeks before I bought the book, read it, and then felt all the awful feels.  Was it the same plot all over again?  Yep.  Was it pretty much the same characters all over again?  Yep, for the most part.  Did the sex scenes involve sunbursts and starbeams and being both wracked and wrecked while tossed on the far shore the island people go to, if Laurens is to be believed, after they’ve had an orgasm and are floating in the sea of sated bliss?  Yes, yes it did.

Anyway, there’s a new Laurens book out now, and I need your help, friends, in resisting its insidious call.  Do any of you have this illness, too (towards different authors, perhaps)?  Do you find yourself buying and reading these books and then wondering, why did I do that?! I knew it would be bad!  Is there a cure?

Review & Giveaway – Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

You guys… this book is wonderful.

Cover image, Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Cover image, Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I’m not exactly convinced that the movie will be equally amazing, or even slightly amazing, but anyone even contemplating seeing the movie should read the book first.  Actually, read it right now.  I’m not kidding.

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

“Admissions. Admission. Aren’t there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides…It’s what we let in, but it’s also what we let out.”

For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation’s brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.

Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman’s life to its core.

When I was younger and full of the snobbery of college-age promise, I always read with pen in hand, ready to make notations, certain that this or that work of literature would suddenly explain the world to me in stark relief and beautiful language.  Sometimes it did; mostly, that pen was just a sign of my readiness to be transformed.  In the intervening decade, as my life became more full and my reading choices less profound (some would say; others, myself included, could argue this assumption, but that’s another blog post for another day), I stopped my habit of clutching a pen.

By the time I reached page 52 of Admission, I was digging in my purse for my favorite pen (and thanking the PR folk at Grand Central Publishing for sending me a paper copy of the book, enabling me to feel the extreme satisfaction of underlining this sentence: “There is a sound to waiting. It sounds like held breath pounding its fists against the walls of the lung, damp and muffled beats.”)  All told, I employed my pen eleven times to mark passages that seemed to me beautiful or particularly interesting or important.  I might have taken the time to underline more had I not read the last 2/3 of the book in one sitting, desperate to watch the journey unfold.

That careful unfolding is perhaps the best thing about the book.  The prose is beautiful, the story interesting, the backdrop profound, but it was the clarity of the author’s light shining into the murk her character had encouraged her life to become that floored me.  Portia is simultaneously far too aware of herself and utterly blind to the reality of her life.  Her struggle with the weight of the past, the penance of the present, and the impossibility of the future is at once shocking and intimately familiar.

I don’t often read other reviews before publishing my own review on a book, but this time I did.  The critical praise included in the book’s front matter seemed a bit strange to me, with most of the reviews focusing on the glimpses of college admissions culture that one can glean from this book.  That struck me as odd, because it did not seem to me that the book was about college admissions at all.  In fact, it is about Portia and her slow, difficult, and at times traumatic, recovery of her life.  Her sojourn in Dartmouth’s and Princeton’s Admission offices is the blindfold Portia uses to hide from reality.

“Her only tether was to the armchair and the orange folders, traveling slowly from stack to stack across her wooden lap desk, like that T.S. Eliot poem about the life measured out in coffee spoons, except that she was measuring hers with other people’s lives, which they had measured into these life-folders. Short lives, slivers of lives, fictions of lives.” (140)

and

“Her life was a port in the storm, a craft in unpredictable waters. Her life, it occurred to her, was a careful refuge from life.” (166)

One can, undeniably, learn quite a lot about college admissions while reading the book, but all those sections are a carefully crafted distraction from what’s really going on with Portia.  Along its winding road, this novel delves into the potential of young womanhood, along with all of its attendant responsibilities to justify and validate the struggles of all the women who came before; the weight of self-reproach and shame that falls on those who buckle under the pressure; the awareness of failure that marks middle age.  It also hints at the joy accessible to those who live, not through coffee spoons or any other measure of  habit, but through themselves.

Giveaway

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to offer a giveaway of Admission, hosted by Grand Central Publishing.  One lucky commenter, selected at random by random.org, will win a copy of the movie-tie-in trade paperback (U.S. only… sorry!).  Please answer this question in a comment below in order to enter this giveaway (or feel free to make up your own topic, if you prefer, but please say something substantive…it’s just more interesting!):  

  • Assuming you wrote them, do you remember what you said in your college application essays?  Care to share the topic(s)?

The giveaway will run from Wednesday, March 20 until Tuesday, March 30 at 11:59 p.m. pacific time.  The winner must be willing to provide a mailing address in order to claim the prize.

*FTC Disclosure – I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, in exchange for an honest review.*

Reading with Analysis’s Birthday!

This blog’s first blogiversary is tomorrow, actually, and I want to celebrate a few things.  This year has been remarkable for me in a whole bunch of ways.  For starters, I came out of the romance-reading closet, and I discovered that a heck of a lot of truly brilliant women (and some amazing men) happily read that genre and find intellectual fulfillment in it.  I am not alone.  I know that, now.  In fact, I made friends!  (Anyone who knows me well will understand how big a thing it is for me to make a friend; it’s difficult for me… I’m way too neurotic for most people.)  I have had so much fun talking about books on this blog, on others’ blogs, on Goodreads, and on Twitter with other people who love books (especially love stories in their various forms) just as much as I do.

Anyway, who cares, right?  Let’s get to the good stuff.  I have assembled a somewhat random giveaway (why be boring?) to thank everyone who follows this blog and helps make this whole blogging thing rather an exciting experience for me.

First up is Simon the Fox, squshie extraordinaire.  I love these squshies… they are small felt plush animals (also, dinosaurs and monsters) with vaguely square shapes (hence the name: square plushies = squshies), which is awesome in itself, but my favorite thing about the squshies is that each animal has a totally random story.  Kiki the Tiger, for example, is an encyclopedia-reading cheerleader, and Jasper the Bear loves food on a stick.  For this giveaway, I selected Simon the Fox, who loves to make up stories and wants to write a mystery novel.  (To learn more about squshies, visit squshies.net)

Simon the Fox

Next up are the book prizes.  I agonized about whether I should give away specific books or just offer gift cards for quite a while… And (somewhat obviously) I decided to do specific books.  These books have really knocked my socks off, and I want to give other people the chance to read them (even folk who don’t normally read romance or erotica.  Trust me, these books are good, sexy times notwithstanding.).  Rest assured, winners will have the opportunity to choose their prize, on a first come, first served basis.

1.  The Courtney Milan starter pack, e-book only, available in Kindle or .epub format.  This starter pack includes the novella The Governess Affair and the full-length novel The Duchess War.

Cover image, the Duchess War

Cover image, the Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

2.  The Tiffany Reisz starter pack, e-book or paperback (you choose), includes one copy of The Siren, the first book in Reisz’s Original Sinners series.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

3.  My favorite Elizabeth Hoyt book, paperback or e-book (you choose).  Includes one copy of The Raven Prince.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

That’s great, Kel, how do we win these prizes?  Funny you should ask!  Here’s them rules:

  1. Leave a comment and answer any (or all) of the following arbitrarily-chosen questions: (1) What are you reading right now? (2) What’s the best book you’ve ever read? (3) How do you go about discussing the books you’ve read?  Are you lucky enough to have an in-person discussion network, or do you primarily conduct any discussions online?  (4) Do you ever read romance or erotica novels?  (5) Do you have a genre that you just can’t like (i.e., I have a tough time reading books set in space… for some reason, I’m just predisposed to dislike ’em.)?
  2. This giveaway is limited to folk who follow my blog.  If you want on this crazy train, just enter your email address in that little box on the sidebar; if you have a WordPress site, just click the follow button.
  3. You need to be willing to provide an email and/or postal address (if you want a real, paper book — or a Simon the Fox — to hold in your grubby hands) in order to claim your prize.

The giveaway will run through Thursday, February 21 at 11:59 p.m.  I’ll announce the 4 winners at some point on Friday, February 21.  My giveaways have traditionally been… less than stellar.  If fewer than four people sign up to participate in this one, I’ll let y’all duke it out to decide who wins what.  I’m flexible.

Thanks, y’all!  This year’s been a blast, and I’m looking forward to another year full of reading and analyzing.