Monday, March 19, 2012

Egypt to Nigeria to New York to Pleasure's Edge:
The Hot Flat & Crowded World of my March TBR List

Knocking out the books on my TBR list, here's my loves and hates for March:

Before Ever After - Samantha Sotto.  Although this wasn't on my official TBR list, below, it actually has been on my mental TBR list for a while. Then I got nudged by the Smart Chicks Book Club on GoodReads to read and discuss, and I was ready for a break from Les Misérables, which I am miserably (62%) slogging through.

Loved it. The hero gets blown to pieces in the prologue, leaving Shelley, the heroine, a rich if heartbroken young widow.  So the story is shown in flashback style, a la The Time Traveler's Wife, but this is a very different book.  Yes, it's a love story, and it's happy and heartbreaking and poignant, and there's much mystery as the story unfolds, but it's also light and funny, with delicious turns of phrase sprinkled in:  "Shelly made do with a breakfast of burned toast slathered with trans-fat-free disappointment."

I fell in love with Max and Shelley, with Max's baked eggs with cheese - and his chicken obsession, with The Slight Detour (which I so want to take) trip across Europe.  Sotto does a wonderful job weaving in historical places and events and sensual details.  My only quibble is sometimes her metaphors are a little overdone.  When Shelley was bothered by a big yellow and black bee buzzing around her, I thought it was an actual, physical bee, occurring at the same time as her mental breakthrough, and it threw me off.  Though the elephant lumbering after them, after their first kiss worked.  There is a magic/paranormal element, but if you pick it up looking specifically for that, there probably won't be enough here to satisfy you.

Snow White and Her Seven Lovers - Jenna Ives.  This charming <wink wink> piece is a novella, not a full-length novel.  It's a brilliant example of how a good writer can tell much story in few pages.

A beautiful young woman is found poisoned in an apple orchard.  She wakes up with amnesia, but luckily, her foxy Doc lives in a former bed-and-breakfast with his six best male friends.  And they'd all love to have the woman - dubbed  Blanche for now - stay with them until she recovers her memory.

If you enjoy explicitly sexual, witty, tongue-in-cheek stories with a generous helping of the unbelievable, you should take a bite of this book.  Ives does an incredibly clever job creating personas for Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful and the rest and a unique connection to our heroine, who has very different sexual and emotional relationships with all of them.

Where this is a tiny bit weak is at the end, where the Prince of Charming Industries comes forward to claim his fiancée, and Blanche's identity is revealed.  Her stepmother is probably the one who poisoned her, but there isn't any real motivation shown, and nobody seems concerned that she might keep trying.  However, we don't get to dwell on this for very long, as we jump right into bed for a hot menage scene.

Despite the number of sex scenes (lots) they're all unique, and equally hot.  (Ives needs to better differentiate between her heroes' and heroine's sound effects, however.)  If you want a short spicy read, for less than the price of a latté, this is a great choice.

The Christmas Wedding The Christmas Wedding - James Patterson with Richard Dilallo  The Good: It's a very quick read. I didn't notice any typos. The cover is pretty, if you think a slender young women in a sleeveless white dress with a long train "works" to represent a 50-60ish widowed grandmother getting married in a pale purple dress and sneakers.  Also, a friend handed it down to me, so I didn't actually pay for it.

The Bad: The premise is that Gaby, said grandmother & widow, is getting married. She is sending video DVD's by mail (as if she wouldn't upload to YouTube or send as e-mail attachments?), bragging on her upcoming Christmas wedding to her four grown children - with a twist. She won't tell them which of three men she's marrying - in fact, she won't tell the men, either. They have to all meet her at the altar where one gets to "win" her, and the other two men are supposed to suck it up and be happy for them while being very publicly dumped.

Right. This doesn't make us like Gaby; doesn't make us like the MEN. What wusses would they be to sign up for this kind of pu
blic humiliation?   I could go on (and I did, on GoodReads) but mainly this book serves as a great example of What Not To Do for authors.

Veronica Scott's Priestess of the Nile
I've had an interest in Egyptian romance since I read Susannah Leigh's Wine of the Dreamers many years ago.  Not much written by writers (in English) on the subject - that I've come across, at least.

Scott's debut novella gives us the forbidden love story between Merys, descendant of  the priestesses of Sobek, Crocodile God of the Nile, and Sobek himself, though he doesn't initially reveal his identity to her as he courts her.

I've never thought of crocodiles as sexy, but Scott manages to give Bek/Sobek a handsome human form, even an intriguing mixed human/crocodile form, as well an an imposing all crocodile form.

Despite Merys being a mortal, and Bek being a god, they fall in love.  I enjoyed this story very much, though I was left wanting more.  I think this is a bigger story squeezed down to only 63 or so pages.  Much is told, rather than shown - Merys's life in the village as the Cinderella stepdaughter to her weak-feigning stepmother.

The rules of the Egyptian universe weren't clear to me.  There might be more tension if they were revealed more clearly at the beginning, so we knew what the lovers were going up against.  I did wonder how Scott would weave in the whole theme of the afterlife, so large a part of what we envision when we imagine ancient Egypt, and there she does a beautiful job.  I loved the way Scott brought in Isis, Anubis, and some of the other gods of ancient Egypt.

The sex scenes were... sexy, but compared to the other erotica I read over the same weekend, almost tame.  They were well done, they fit the material, but they didn't leave me squirming in my chair, if you KWIM.

If you are looking for blow-your-socks-off short erotica, this ain't it.  If you are looking for a sweet erotic romance with unusual characters in a very different setting, this is a great read.  I look forward to more of Scott's work.

Forget About ItI picked up Forget About It by Caprice Crane as the pick of my Chicklitlovers Meetup group.  Sadly, I probably will forget about it, in a few weeks.

The premise is the heroine, Jordan, has a crappy life because she's something of a human doormat.  Not long after realizing this, she's in an accident where she takes a bump to the head, and decides to feign amnesia.  Using the amnesia as an excuse, she becomes more assertive and dumps the user boyfriend, stops being taken advantage of at work, and begins drawing boundaries with her mean mom and meaner sister.

However, her "amnesia" has created other problems, as she's signed over a power of attorney to her mother, and is involved against her will in a lawsuit against her new boyfriend.  Jordan comes up with a plan to suddenly regain her memory, when she gets hit in the head by a thrown baseball, and then truly does have amnesia.

I mostly liked the tone, the pace, the New York setting, although I thought the set-up went on too long.  Yes, she's too people-pleasing and this gives her a crappier life than she deserves, enough already!
I liked Jordan's wit and creativity, and I loved Travis and his lighthouse.  What I didn't "get," despite the neglected/emotionally abused childhood, is why a woman with so much going for her would be quite so passive.  The bad guys were a little too bad; they needed some redeeming qualities that would have helped explain her ambivalence at blowing them off.  And the idea that somebody would be able to fake amnesia well enough to fool not only laypeople but doctors... pretty unbelievable.  That she would then get real amnesia, and that she would recover her memory just as she was walking down the aisle, about to marry the wrong guy... Too many impossible things before breakfast, for me.  However, I would read another book by this author, as I really liked her voice.

His Treasure (Men of Valor, #1)
Kiru Taye is a Nigerian-born author who lives in the U.K.  His Treasure, a novella, is set in a small Nigerian village, where we find Adaku, in love with a prince, married against her will to another man, Obinna.

Over the course of a year, as Obinna treats her with courtesy and kindness, and refuses to even touch her against her will, Adaku comes to respect, be attracted to, and even love her husband, just as he is giving up hope that he will win her over.

As an American, I struggled with the names a bit - my stupid mind kept converting Obinna to Obama.  As a virtual tourist, I would have liked to have seen more of the day-to-day life in the village.  They slept on pallets on the floor, had an indoor bathroom with apparently a bathtub - but was it just a bathing room, or was it a "bathroom" as an American would think of one, with a commode and sink?  Couldn't tell.  (I found later that this was supposed to be set in an earlier, not contemporary period. This could have been clearer in the novella itself.)

That said, the romance was sweet, the jealousy that flared for both of them, believable, and their consummation was sexy and skillfully written.  I'm very much looking forward to reading His Strength, the next book in the Men of Valor series by Ms. Taye.

You know how there's stuff you should read, like taking medicine, and you put it off, and put it off, because it's medicine, and you know it's not gonna taste good?  Then you find it's actually not so bad?  Kind of tasty, as a matter of fact.

Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded is one of those books.
It's a manifesto for a Green Revolution - a real one.  Not just driving a hybrid car and drinking filtered, rather than bottle water, and calling it a day, smug we've done all we can do.

It's not dryly written, but it is packed with research, quotes, and anecdotes, which requires the reader to take his/her time.

He points out that the way to persuade people to take action is not, "Think of the poor polar bears" when they are worried about how they're going to feed their children the next day.  People have to shown ways of making money by preserving their natural resources (forests, swampland, rivers), whereas cutting down all the trees will devastate them in only a season or two.

Innovation is necessary, but doesn't come about magically without investment.  Currently while in most industries, 8-10% of annual revenues is spent on Research & Development, in the energy industry it's about .8%. (Yes, less than 1%.  No wonder we're not zipping around like the Jetsons yet.)

Hot, Flat and, Crowded was fascinating, it was troubling, it was heartbreaking, and it was hopeful.  I don't know if "I enjoyed the book" is the correct phrase, but I am very glad I read it.  I highly recommend it.

And now, for something completely different..

Holy basket of vibrators, Batman!  Eve Berlin's Pleasure's Edge is some Seriously Sizzling Sex, but it's also a beautiful romance.

Dylan's an erotica writer, challenged to research the world of D/s (Domination and submission) for her next book.  She meets Alec, a vibrant, powerful Dom, who thinks it's more effective to show rather than tell.  Dylan has been firmly in control for years, having grown up with a bi-polar mother who was frequently incapacitated by her illness, and having taken responsibility for her younger brother.

Alec is a world traveler and thrill seeker.  He's modeled himself after his brilliant but emotionally reserved father, and Alec enjoys sex, and being a 'top.'  But no woman has ever gotten under his skin, the way Dylan has.

I loved this book.  Loved loved loved.  It is so hot, from beginning to end, that I was seriously contemplating putting on my Ove-Gloves to turn the pages.  I loved the romantic and erotic connection between Dylan and Alec. I loved the way Berlin took us deep within the psyches of the characters, exploring how the D/s game opened them up emotionally.  I loved the skillful and unquestioning use of condoms every time.  Loved that they fell in love, despite the barriers they both had erected against such a thing.

My only quibbles, and they're more with me than the book, is the names.  Alec I kept wanting to change in my head to the softer, sexier (IMO) Alex.  Dylan - I don't know any female Dylans, but I do know several, very attractive young men named Dylan, or Dillon.  This made me mentally stumble a bit. I advise writers to think twice about that kind of against-type name choice.  My name can be used for men or women, in theory, but if a character was named Beverly, wouldn't you think 99 times out of 100 he was female?

My other quibble is that both characters were much into 'sensation play' with an emphasis on spanking.  I personally find spanking more of a turn-off than erotic; but the scenes were so hot I got past it.

I will definitely be increasing my library of Eve Berlin books, and highly recommend this book.  [Suddenly, I'm quite thirsty.]

Left on my TBR list from December:

The Birthday of the World - Ursula LeGuin
Messalina: Devourer of Men - Zetta Brown
Uncut Diamonds - Karen Jones Gowan
On Writing - Stephen King
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Daisy Miller - Henry James
Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
Hot, Flat and Crowded - Thomas Friedman
Pleasure's Edge - Eve Berlin
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffeneger
Falling Leaves - Adeline Yen Mah
Picture Perfect - Jodi Picoult
Giving Up the Dream - J.L. Campbell
Shifters' Storm - Vonna Harper
Automagically - Sommer Marsden
You Can Heal Your Life
- Louise Hay
Little Black Dress - Susan McBride
Tourist Trap - Sue Ann Bowling
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Confessions of an Improper Bride - Jennifer Haymore

Added to my TBR list, already on my Kindle or bookshelf:
Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - Mignon Fogerty
Pleasure - Eric Jerome Dickey
the little book of SITCOM - John Vorhaus
The Darkest Surrender - Gena Showalter
The Last Will of Moira Leahy - Therese Walsh
Chasing Kate - Kelly Byrne
A Heart to Mend - Myne Whitman
The Doctor's Lady - Jody Hedlund
Born Wicked (ARC) - Jessica Spotswood
Dev Dreams - Ruth Madison
The Inner Game of Stress - W. Timothy Gallwey
First Grave on the Right - Darynda Jones
Romance Novel - PJ Jones
Living in Gratitude - Angeles Arrien
Heir to the Underwood - E. D. Walker
Bossypants - Tina Fey
Train Your Mind, Change Your Life - Sharon Begley
Better Off Red - Rebekah Weatherspoon
Water - Terra Harmony
The Cowboy's Pride - Charlene Sands
The Bird Sisters - Rebecca Rasmussen
Mercury Rising - Daisy Harris
Hollywood Ending - Lucie Simone
Are You There, Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
Devil's Kiss - Zoe Archer
Melt - Natalie Anderson
Inside Heat - Roz Lee
Beauty and the Werewolf (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
Marriage Made on Paper - Maisey Yates
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
His Strength - Kiru Taye
Just The Way You Are - Barbara Freethy
Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia E. Butler
Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Twelve Times Blessed - Jacqueline Mitchard
The Lantern - Deborah Lawrenson

Yes, I did add more books than I crossed off.  Shut up!  Bet you did the same thing.

The details and sign-up are at Vicky's blog, Books Biscuits and Tea.

Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
Have you read any of the books I read?  
What did you think?
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