Book Review: City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

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There are a few things you can always count on with a Deanna Raybourn novel: a plucky heroine, stellar dialogue, wonderful descriptions, copious amounts of wit, a smouldering romance and a bit of history to ground it all in reality. City of Jasmine (★★★★) has all of that, as well as a textbook MacGuffin to keep the plot moving forward through the Syrian desert in 1920. Raybourne's greatest achievement might be always making me want to visit whatever setting she's selling. Since vacationing to Syria isn't an option right now, I'll just round up some friends and head to the hooka bar down the street. What I loved most about City of Jasmine, though, were the little connections to her Lady Julia Grey series, as well as her Africa novel, A Spear of Summer Grass. I can get easily bored by a series - the same characters doing the same thing over and over - but connecting her books through past characters (Tarquin March from Lady Julia, Ryder from A Spear of Summer Grass) gives readers the series they crave while keeping the characters, plots and settings fresh. Plus, sussing out all of the connections is like hunting for little Easter eggs. If I'm not much mistaken, Raybourn obliquely mentioned Nicholas Brisbane in the City of Jasmine denouement. These little tidbits make me want to go back and re-read her previous novels to see what other connections there might be. (It is also going to drive me crazy if I don't figure out how old Julia and Brisbane would be in 1920. Are they still alive? For someone who hates math, I am constantly trying to figure out ages and dates in novels. It makes my head hurt, but it weirdly makes me love a novel more.)

If I had one complaint, and this is a complaint I have for almost all Historical Fiction novels: there wasn't a map! Publishers listen up: It should be the Golden Rule of Historical Fiction to include maps, especially in novels where there's a journey. Please?

In short, if you are looking for a fun read with enjoyable characters doing adventurous things in lush settings, you can never go wrong with a Deanna Raybourn novel and City of Jasmine fits the bill nicely.

(I received an Advanced Reader Copy of City of Jasmine through a contest on Raybourn's blog.)

Book Review - Fall into You by Roni Loren

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At the DFW Wfallriter's Conference last weekend, I attended a class titled "How to Write a Love Scene" taught by BDSM romance writer Roni Loren. It was an interesting class, though I'm not sure I learned anything I didn't know already, which was a common reaction to the craft centric classes I attended. I admit, that sounds a little arrogant coming from an unpublished writer. But, by this point, much of the information I heard is information I've heard before. But, it doesn't hurt to be reminded, or to hear it in a different way. Before I get into this review, you need to know two things. One, I didn't read Fifty Shades of Gray. I wasn't interested in reading a poorly written novel about a subject I had no interest in (BDSM). Two, I know nothing whatsoever about BDSM. So, why did I decide to read Fall into You? Curiosity about how Loren wrote the sex scenes, pure and simple. I've written my fair share of sex scenes (though no BDSM because, see above) though none make it into my novels, at least not the detailed ones. I'm more of a pan to the fluttering curtain or crashing waves kind of love scene writer. There are only so many ways you can describe the emotional and physical reactions of desire. Most of the time, it comes across as either cheesy or stilted. Plus, the reader's imagination is usually much better. Writing a good sex scene takes a great amount of skill which thankfully, Loren has. The scenes in Fall into You were well written and, besides a few repetitive descriptions of darkening eyes and Charli's private parts,  unique. They were equal parts titillating and cringe inducing.

I suppose complaining about lack of plot in a BDSM novel is like complaining about the lack of plot in a porn movie. You aren't reading for deep characterization or complex plot. What plot there is in Fall into You is there to service the sex scenes. At least 2/3 of the book is sex, and 1/3 is plot. And, the plot is lame. Okay, it's beyond lame. Loren's characterization of Charli was good, but she left a pretty gaping hole in Grant's back story, namely how did he get into BDSM and where did he get all of his money? This is the third book in the series, but I gather from other reviews Grant has been a secondary character in the previous two. This is his spotlight, how he got into the lifestyle should have been mentioned.

I do have to knock Loren for some of her dialogue. Most of it was good, then there would be a clunker of a line dropped in. No, I don't mean the dialogue during the sex scenes. I don't think there is any way for those lines to not be cheesy and cringe inducing. Is it even possible to be eloquent during sex? I don't think so. The best example that comes to mind is when Charli says Grant was 'scrambling her gray matter' or something of the sort, meaning her mind. No one says that in dialogue. "Blowing my mind," yes.  The worst was when Charli called Grant 'cowboy.' I mean, just no. Every time Grant called Charli 'freckles' I thought of Lost. Unnatural dialogue like that jolts the reader out of the scene.

Will I read another of Loren's novels? If someone hands me one I will, but I won't seek it out. Will I read another BDSM novel? Sure, if it had more story outside of the sex and deeper characterization.  I have decided to read Fifty Shades of Gray to compare the two, but not for a couple of weeks. It's time to see if exposure to this genre has ruined me for fluffy, vanilla romance.

Side Note: This is the first novel I've ever read that had a "Mature Audience" warning on the back. Is this common for the BDSM genre?

April Reading Round-Up - "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

The month of mysteries is behind me and I do not regret it. I can't remember why I thought I would.  My one regret is I only read two books from my To Read list (The Cater Street Hangman, Leaving Everything Most Loved). I blame that on the library. I got sidetracked by the "New Mystery" section by the front door and didn't make it upstairs.

I read ten books in April, nine mysteries, on graphic novel. The best of the bunch is probably Say Nice Things About Detroit, though I gave The Cater Street Hangman a higher rating. Confusing, yes. But, I have a theory. Since I am reading so much, the books that are unique in some way will stand out in my memory. My initial reaction for Say Nice Things About Detroit was four stars, a rating I still believe in. With The Cater Street Hangman, my initial reaction was five stars, but I can't remember why. The reason most likely lies in the fact that Perry's book is so similar to other books I have enjoyed that I am inclined to give those types of books (historical mysteries) better ratings. I am also influenced by my appreciation of Perry's body of work. But, because I have read so many books like The Cater Street Hangman, the specifics of the book don't immediately leap to mind later on. Whereas Say Nice Things About Detroit does because of it's uniqueness in relation to what I usually read.

Anyway. Enough of that. In May, I am reading romances! Woo-hoo! I gave romances up years ago, when I was newly married and I realized my husband was never going to be a shirtless shipbuilder on Nantucket Island and to keep comparing him to these types of men was doing my marriage a disservice. Now, seventeen years on, my husband is a sexy sports business consultant and can stand toe-to-toe with any romance novel hero. At least I hope he can.

I'm not going to make a list of books since history says I will ignore the list. I'm thinking of going to Half Priced Books and seeing if they have a bundle of romances to buy. Just roll the dice. What I will read: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (currently reading and loving it, for book club) and probably a Georgette Heyer or two.  Feel free to recommend romance novels/authors in the comments.