Tag Archives: Iris Johansen

The Re-Reading Project: Lion’s Bride

December 3, 1188 Gates of Constantinople

“I have it!”

Thea whirled to see Selene running through the city gates toward her. The child’s red hair had come loose from her braid and was flowing wildly down her back, and her narrow chest was lifting and falling as she tried to catch her breath. She must have run all the way from the House of Nicholas.

Selene thrust a large straw basket at Thea. “I told you they wouldn’t see me do it.” She glanced at the long line of camels and wagons that had already begun moving down the road. “I couldn’t get away earlier. I think Maya was watching me.”

“You shouldn’t have taken the risk.” Thea set the basket on the ground and knelt to hug Selene. “I would have found a way to do without it.”

“But it will be easier now.” Selene’s thin arms tightened around Thea’s neck. “You’re taking so many risks. I had to do something.”

My last re-reading experience was a romance novel, The Princess, and in my post, I said of author Iris Johansen, “I thought her early thrillers and romance novels were wonderful, but that annoying Eve Duncan character just kept popping up and suddenly all of Johansen’s books seemed like 300-page cookie cutters with the names replaced. I’m afraid to re-read her romance novels, honestly, though I’ve considered trying in light of this project.” Pretty much the second I finished my post, I knew that I had just challenged myself to re-read one of Johansen’s romance novels. And very quickly, I knew I had to re-read the first of her romances I read. I had to go dig it out of storage, but I accepted my challenge and started reading.

I hadn’t re-read Lion’Lion's Brides Bride since 2005 and that was the last one of her romance novels that I read (except for The Treasure in 2011, for the first time). As I admitted in my last post (quoted above), I was afraid to re-read any of the romances, since I’d been increasingly disappointed with Iris Johansen’s thrillers in the past decade and especially in light of the way The Princess felt to me re-reading it now.

But I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and easy it was to read Lion’s Bride after all this time. Yes, at times is was unrealistic and a tiny bit cheesy, and I could see the blueprint of later protagonists in the main character, Thea. So many times, Johansen uses stubbornness as a shortcut for strength in her female characters, male characters, too. There are very distinctive character types in the Johansen arsenal, whether she’s writing thriller or romance, and I feel like most of them exist here. But, in Lion’s Bride, it was easy to remember that these characters once blew my socks off, because before I read versions of them in dozens of later Johansen books, they felt unique and groundbreaking.

The setting, the Middle East during the Crusades with the Knights Templar and the Crusaders as more villains than heroes, was also incredibly unique. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a romance novel set during this time period. Johansen’s protagonist is a Greek woman who was raised as a slave in a silk house in Constantinople and Johansen used a period and culture where women were very restricted and showed how a woman would attempt to make a life for herself and her sister within it. I found that pretty interesting. Also, Thea embroiders a banner in the book that helps to put her in both a powerful and dangerous position and I liked that Thea used “women’s work” in order to protect and provide for herself.

Lion’s Bride came a pivotal juncture for Johansen, after decades of writing romances and right before she made the leap to thrillers. She might’ve already been paving the way for her transition with Thea and this story.

The first book I ever read of Johansen’s was The Ugly Duckling, her first stand alone thriller. I found it at a garage sale and read it in probably one sitting. This was most likely sometime in 1997, when I was fifteen years old. I’d been reading Dean Koontz books for years, had started reading Harlequins and “real” romance novels the year before and around this same time, I would become obsessed with the mystery/thrillers of Jonathan Kellerman. My mom started reading them too and we would swap them back and forth.

The Ugly Duckling was like nothing else I’d ever read and as soon as I finished, I made my mom take me to the bookstore to see if this Iris Johansen lady had any more books. I found her second thriller, Long After Midnight, and — what a coincidence — a romance novel called Lion’s Bride. I tried to act all nonchalant as I used my allowance to buy them both, but I think this was the first hardcore romance novel I bought new at a bookstore, instead of at a secondhand store or taken stealthily off my mom’s shelves as I did with The Princess. I read both of these two books and then when I went to do some research, I discovered that Johansen had started out writing Harlequins in the 80s. Her third thriller And Then You Die… wasn’t out yet, but she’d already published eight historical standalone romance novels and a trilogy which started out as historical and ended as contemporary. So, while I was waiting for that third thriller, I read lots and lots of romance novels by Iris Johansen.

I loved them, pure and simple. I think these were the books that kept me reading romance for a long time and while I’ve dabbled in other authors over the years, Johansen was the pinnacle of romance for me. Until I read Gaelen Foley’s books. She remains the only romance author who I still read each time a new book comes out.

Johansen’s fourth thriller was Face of Deception, her first featuring Eve Duncan and this was the beginning of my disappointment. I didn’t like Eve Duncan and to date, she’s written 18 novels featuring her. There were long stretches were there weren’t any new books that didn’t feature her. And what had felt unique and interesting in her novels before (both thrillers and romance) was starting to feel repetitive by 1999 when The Killing Game, the second Eve Duncan book came out.

Re-reading Lion’s Bride reminded me why my more recent disappointment with Johansen’s books has been so sharp – because I really, really loved her books when I was very young. I already knew I wanted to be a writer and she lived very close to my hometown. In fact, while doing research for this post, I saw something about her house being for sale and there are all these incredible photos of the mansion. It’s an incredible house, but the only room that makes me envious is the library/office space.

In addition to writing the 18 Eve Duncan books, Johansen writes books about other characters with her son Roy, none of which I’ve read yet. I recently made an attempt to catch up with all of Johansen’s recent books, including the Eve Duncan trilogy Eve, Quinn and Bonnie, where Bonnie’s disappearance/death is finally solved. I thought these were the last Eve Duncan books, but since my attempt to catch up a few years ago, Johansen has published another trilogy of Eve Duncan books and her website says that the character will return in 2015. There may be no finale for Eve Duncan, and as annoying as I find the character, as disappointed as I’ve been by the recent books, I’m probably going to read this new trilogy too, because I just have to know what happens. And I’m actually pretty excited to read the new standalone novel coming out in September.

So, even after all of these years, just when I think I’m done with Iris Johansen, she pulls me right back in.

 

 

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The Re-Reading Project: The Princess

Key West, Florida – 1942

J.T. Montgomery stretched his long legs out in the motorboat, resting his injured calf against one of the crates in the bottom of the boat. He was the remarkably handsome product of generations of remarkably handsome people. His dark hair had been cut too short by the navy but that did not detract from his good looks: brilliant blue eyes, lips that could be as cold as marble or as soft and sweet as the balmy air surrounding him, a slight cleft in his chin, and a nose that on a smaller man would have been too large. His mother called it the Montgomery nose and said it was God’s attempt to protect their faces from all the fists aimed by people who didn’t like the Montgomery hardheadedness.

This is the post in which I confess my early addiction to romance novels. It was the summer of 1996 and I was 14 years old. We lived in a suburb of Atlanta called Marietta. Everybody was going crazy finishing the preparations for the summer Olympics. I was bored and had read all of my books several times, so I snuck an inappropriate book off my mother’s bookshelf. That book was Jude Deveraux‘s The Princess, published in 1987 (when I was 5). Each day, I read for a few hours, memorized the page number and then slipped the book back on the shelf before my mom came home. It took me longer to read than normal because I had to be sneaky, since I thought I wasn’t supposed to be reading it. My mother never seemed particularly interested in censoring my reading (I read my first Dean Koontz at age 10!), but it didn’t seem like the kind of book I should carry around the house for all to see.

The Princess cover

In fact, I was so scared and later embarrassed to be seen reading romance that I later stuck the book into a slipcover, where it has remained, on my bookshelf, ever since.

It wasn’t my first romance novel, not quite. Once, while staying with my grandmother and aunt in Ohio, I discovered a shelf of Harlequin romance novels, all published around 1986 to maybe 1989. They all featured strong, career-minded women (in bold 80s power suits) falling in love with intractable men, often in exotic locales. They were, almost without exception, between 186 and 187 pages long, so I could easily read 2 a day, even though they already felt ridiculously dated just a few years after they were published. Because they were the same size as a lot of the books I was already reading (Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersly Cusick, Lurlene McDaniel and L.J. Smith) and because there wasn’t really any sex in them, the Harlequins didn’t seem inappropriate. My aunt even shipped her whole set of 1980s Harlequins to me after my visit and I must’ve re-read each of them several times before I bought new ones at the used bookstore (10 cents each, even in 1996).

There’s actually not a lot of sex in The Princess, either. More suggestions of sex. But when you’re a precocious bookworm of a 14 year old in 1996, a little sex seems like lurid stuff. I remember thinking this book was very romantic, a cross between Roman Holiday and Candleshoe, with some Anastasia thrown in. I have read lots and lots of romance novels since I was 14 (and I still read every Gaelen Foley book pretty much the second it’s published), but I’ve never re-read my first until now. In many ways, it has stood alone among all other romance novels in my imagination over the years – partly because it was my first “real” romance novel, partly because I don’t think I’ve ever read any others set during World War I and partly because while it is named The Princess, it is more J.T.’s story in many ways.

The fact that we start with him is a bit unusual (not exactly rare, but not typical, as romance novels are usually weighted more toward the female character, in my experience). The Princess (Aria) doesn’t appear until page 9 and doesn’t speak until page 11. We don’t get her perspective until Chapter Two (page 13). They’re both relatively stock types (I might be the only person on the planet who judges romance novels for their characters), but on the re-read, now, as a 32-year-old with lots more experience (with romance novels and in life), I just didn’t like either one of them. J.T. is autocratic and passionate, but I sometimes suspect he has a personality disorder. Aria is a shallow flake whose intelligence is really inconsistent, even taking into consideration she’s been kidnapped while on foreign soil and doesn’t understand a lot of what’s around her. They’re both incredibly mean and then randomly (and unbelievably) open and warm. I don’t buy that they’re falling for each other or that either one of them is learning or changing as an individual person (which are the things that characters usually do in romance novels). I was really disappointed.

Until about page 200, almost near the end of the book. Once they return to Aria’s homeland, I actually start caring a bit about them. It made me wish that the American misadventure of the first 200 pages had been collapsed down to about 50 pages, so we could get to the good stuff sooner. And then, of course, the nefarious plot to assassinate Aria (hardly the main point of the book, though it is the plot) is wrapped up in about a page and J.T. and Aria end up happily ever after in a surprise twist. That’s sarcasm, but not really, because it is surprising that two unlikable stock characters do end up somewhat convincingly in love with each other at the end.

I’m being a little harsh, because I’m grumpy that The Princess doesn’t stand the test of time for me. The same way I was getting grumpy reading the Stephanie Plumb books and the Sookie Stackhouse series. Once you read something that feels new, you really want it to follow through, and not resort to swiftly wrapped up plots and stock characters or easy tropes. Which reminds me of an author who makes me the grumpiest – Iris Johansen. I thought her early thrillers and romance novels were wonderful, but that annoying Eve Duncan character just kept popping up and suddenly all of Johansen’s books seemed like a 300-page cookie cutters with the names replaced. I’m afraid to re-read her romance novels, honestly, though I’ve considered trying in light of this project. But essentially, the grumpiness comes after the thrill of discovering a new author or character, of falling a little in love and being disappointed down the road. And, it’s got to be hard to write something that feels new every time, especially when you’re writing as much and as fast as romance writers generally do.

Jude Deveraux was already a well-established author when she published The Princess (the copyright is held by Deveraux Inc.) and as many romance novelists do, she wrote several books about the Montgomery/Taggert families, characters related to J.T. I was surprised to read, while researching the post, she lost $20 million when she was victimized by a ring of con artists posing as psychics after the death of her young son. Not only did she participate in the indictment of the matriarch of the con artists, but she used her experience as inspiration for her book Scarlet Nights.

And while I never read another Jude Deveraux book after The Princess, I was fully hooked on romance for a while. I could say that I’ve wasted a lot of time reading what are usually only mediocre books, but I think that it was an education. Because, in a genre that relies so heavily on format, stereotypes and tropes, a genre that is generally disregarded, you have to be inventive and inspired to rise even an inch above mediocre. If  you’ve written twenty romance novels and they each have four to eight sex scenes in them, you have to get pretty creative when you’re writing a new sex scene, mostly by writing as if it’s your first sex scene. There are several sex scenes in my novel The Winter Circus and I’ve been told that I’m very good at writing them. I probably owe a lot of that to my history as a romance novel reader. Beyond this obvious takeaway, I think they’ve taught me not to disregard the power of sentiment. How can romance novels (or romantic comedy movies) make us invest, even if we feel like they are silly and unrealistic? Because they’re grounded in very real sentiments that we all feel and they’re unafraid of dealing with sentiment nakedly, as if it is something new.

I’ve considered writing romance novels, of course, but I think what might have inspired me to write them was not so much any romance novel I’ve read or what I know about the genre and industry, but the fantasy inspired by Romancing the Stone (which is still one of my all-time comfort movies and face it, basically a romance novel come to life):

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2012 Q2 Reading Report

Sooooooooo late on my 2nd Quarter Reading Report. With no further ado…

March (addition)

Louisiana Saturday Night, Alex Cook – Read the 225 Magazine review here.

April

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins – This was me re-reading the trilogy again for the third time, around the release of the first movie. I re-read the first two books before I saw the movie and this one afterwards. It was really interesting applying all of the actors to the delicious craziness of the third book, imaging who would be cast for other roles, how they would depict certain things. I like these books better each time I read them.

Rose Sees Red, Cecil Castelucci – This is such a weird, cool book. It’s listed as “historical fiction” because it’s set in the 80s, which is pretty weird for me since that’s the decade I was a kid. It seems like a pretty random time to set a piece of fiction, but I think as writers like Cecil Castelucci (and myself) are reaching a certain stage of our development, we’re naturally turning to this time, mining it for all the weirdness and coolness it contained. It’s about dancers (which comes up more and more lately for me) having this one fantastic, rebellious night in New York. I love books and movies about that One Fabulous Night and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Arizona Kid, Ron Koertge – On his website, Koertge says he’s one of the oldest people writing kids’ fiction and his young readers are always surprised to see an “old guy” walk into the room. That’s probably because, judging by this book, he writes about things that kids are actually dealing with in a real way. I read a lot of YA and kids’ fiction, but even I was pleasantly shocked at some of the subject matter of this book. He has a book coming out this month that looks really, really good – Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses – and I can’t wait to read it, as it deals with the most shocking of material, fairy tales.

Bayou Vol 1 and Vol 2, Jeremy Love + Patrick Morgan – These graphic novels are pretty overwhelming. The art is gorgeous and disturbing, lush. The story is about a young girl on a mythic journey to find her missing friend and save her father, who’s been accused of kidnapping/killing the girl – in the 1930s South. The way these stories deal with race and history is fascinating (and terrifying), but it’s the storytelling aspects that are most astounding. I’ve been waiting impatiently for Vol 3 and I think it’s coming out sometime this year.

Anya’s Ghost, Vera Brosgol – Here I have to admit to judging a book by its over. I saw this graphic novel laying on a rack at the library and I snatched it up. It felt like I was reading a movie and I was constantly entertained as I read about Anya’s fall down a hole in a field, discovery of and friendship with a girl’s ghost and then her bid for independence from her new best friend. I think all these graphic novels I’ve been reading are the result of conversations I’ve been having with Dana and Maurice from Peauxdunque and it’s been amazing to discover them.

What Doesn’t Kill You, Iris Johansen – I definitely like Johansen’s new character Catherine Ling better than her most famous character Eve Duncan. A fast, entertaining read. I’m on the fence about whether I’ll read the next Eve Duncan book where she discovers she has a…half sister! Drama. Yet, why do I keep reading these books? There’s something enjoyable about them, even as the melodrama and write-by-numbers style drives me nuts.

Hell or High Water, Ron Thibodeaux – Read my 225 Magazine review here.

Bossypants, Tina Fey – Parts of this book were sheer genius and parts were kinda eh. I hate to say it, cause I love Tina Fey so much. I definitely loved reading how she became the Comic Genius Tina Fey and I love reading both funny women and women who have a true sense of themselves. I think Tina Fey is both kind of woman.

May

The Bridge to Neverland, Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson – Love these Peter Pan books so much. Barry & Pearson continue to find ways to reinvent and enrich the original story and also, now, to tie to to our modern world. This one might just be the best one. I’m also really interested in how two such different writers work together on such a cohesive, complicated story. I think they may be the best role models for how my sister and I will write together.

Delirium, Lauren Oliver – Lauren Oliver is a seriously good writer. Her book Before I Fall devastated me and this one is very different, yet also just tore me apart. It’s a fat book and has a really unhurried pace at the beginning, yet still feels compelling. Then, there’s this breathless rush toward an ending that slams into you like a train.

Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup – I have been meaning to read this book for at least a decade. I think I worried that I would find the language too old-fashioned and the story too sad. It’s taken me a long time to read non-fiction eagerly. Boy, was I wrong. This book, a narrative of Northup’s experiences in the 183os-50s as a Northern freeman sold into slavery in the South, is enormously compelling. Though it’s a horrific story, there is such subtly in the way that it’s told, and it’s an important story.

June

Zone One, Colson Whitehead – I can’t believe I only read this book last month because I feel like I’ve been living with it for years. It has been haunting me since I started reading it. Phenomenally clever and well-written, this novel luxuriates in the zombie movie aesthetic and tropes, but is constantly stretching and pushing it further. With enough gorgeous language to send any word nerd into ecstasy, there’s also enough true danger and gore to please horror buffs.

Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris – The t.v. show True Blood doesn’t feel anything like this book series anymore. They are each their own monsters at this point. Harris’s series is cozy in its own graphic, humorous way. I feel like her Sookie has a lot more dimension and the relationships are far deeper, so it’s kind of like checking into the paranormal version of Mayberry from time to time and seeing what everybody is up to.

Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver – I had NO idea how this sequel was going to be as good as Delirium. I thought if anybody could do it, Oliver could because I’d loved both of her earlier books. I just didn’t see how it could be done. Pandemonium goes into far different places and gives us a far different Lena from the first book. It is delicious to see how she’s been scarred by the events of the first book and how she’s grown over the scars. While I totally predicted the “shocker” ending, I was still very, very satisfied by it and excited about what it will mean for the third book, which I’m trying to wait patiently for. February of next year! How will I survive now that i have no more doubts that it will be incredible?

Just a head’s up for the 3rd Quarter Reading Report – I have been working on another film, with just a short break after my previous one (in April, which is why I read so much). Probably, July and August will be light on reading, but hopefully September will be plentiful. However, as I usually do, I’m reading several books at one time and I can’t wait to tell you about them.

 

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2012 Q1 Reading Report

I’ve been a bit remiss in my blogger duties this year. But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading. Here is the first of 2012’s Quarterly Reading Reports.

January

Royal Street, Suzanne Johnson – Read my 225 review here.

Then Came You, Jennifer Weiner – I decided last year to catch up on all the JennWein books I’d gotten behind on and this was my last book on that mission. I begin every one of her books with the same incredulous thought: this seems like a needlessly complicated and melodramatic plot. But, it doesn’t matter, I quickly get sucked in anyway. Her characters are so full and dimensional and really, isn’t life (needlessly…) complicated and melodramatic? Anyway, I love her books and this one was no different. Several different characters, a lot going on, surprisingly fulfilling. I’ve gotta stop being surprised.

February

Eight Days to Live, Iris Johansen – I also set myself the mission of catching up with all of Iris Johansen’s books, even though she’s a very different writer than JennWein. While I’m reading her books, I know they’re each pretty much the same book, but they’re comforting in a way. Like bad t.v. left on in the background. I don’t really have to pay attention to absorb the story. Anyway, since I read Blood Game last year, I’ve seen a marked improvement in the books. This one focuses on Eve Duncan’s adopted daughter and it also is a bit better, more like how Johansen’s books felt when I started reading them.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy, Alison Bechdel – A friend from Peauxdunque loaned this graphic novel memoir to me and I ate it up in about a day, though it’s pretty hefty (don’t let the pictures fool you). It was really funny and really moving, just as the subtitle “tragicomedy” implies. I’m consistently impressed with the narrative options available when visual art is mixed with words.

Chasing the Night, Iris Johansen – This book introduces a new character, Catherine Ling, that Johansen is clearly going to continue to write about. Another woman obsessed with a missing/taken child, Catherine seeks out Eve Duncan’s help. Since Eve Duncan is the character of Johansen’s I like the least, it was interesting to see her in interaction with another character who has so much in common with her, but is a foil to her. The books have definitely gotten a lot better – so much so than I’ve begun to wonder if they aren’t ghostwritten, maybe even by one of the reclusive author’s children (her daughter is a researcher for her and her son has co-written several books with her). Well, regardless, I think the collaboration with her kids has probably given her fiction a whole new lease.

Eve / Quinn / Bonnie, Iris Johansen – So, I’ve acknowledged a few times that Eve Duncan isn’t my favorite character, yet I gobbled up each of these books in just a few days, lured by the promise of finally knowing what happened to Eve’s daughter Bonnie – after more than a dozen books. The “truth” of what happened was really sad and haunted me for a few days. Yes, I’ll admit it. I was haunted. I’ve finally caught up on all of her books (except for the ones written with her son, Roy). Or, so I thought. A new one featuring Catherine Ling is coming out in a few days.

March

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson – Even though I only finished two books in January, I was also reading this behemoth all year, which I started last year. I put it aside a few times and picked it back up, reading the last half pretty quickly.  One interesting result of the book’s heft is that I felt like I was living with this odd, brilliant man for quite a while. It seemed to me that this book was both an inspiring call to arms and a cautionary tale. At times, I was quite horrified as I read, or amused, or fascinated. I was always impressed with Isaacson’s writing, his ability to be pretty impartial considering how hard it must’ve been not to either glorify or vilify Jobs.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling – Pretty much the opposite of the Jobs biography in every way, but just as good. I started reading it right after I finished Steve Jobs and I finished it within 24 hours. It is such a quick, witty, brilliant snack of a book. If I didn’t already love Mindy Kaling, reading this book would pretty much finish me off. She needs to write like 10 more books.

Tango Zen: Walking Dance Meditation, Chan Park – Also a quick read, this book is pretty much a series of quotes about tango (or zen meditations, however you want to look at it).  I refer to it a lot, especially when thinking about my proclivity to close my eyes while in close hold with some partners. It’s given me a different lens through which to understand tango, and also an exercise for centering myself when my anxiety/overthinking threatens to trip me up while dancing.

Wither, Lauren DeStefano – Another dystopian teen book. I’m really loving this subgenre and the different permutations creative authors are making of it. This one was pretty horrific and fascinating. Think Stepford Wives with a healthy dose of Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t like the cover of the second book, but I am excited to read it.

Hunger Games / Catching FireSuzanne Collins – I loaned my copies of the series to a librarian friend (all of the library’s copies were requested) and when I got them back, I re-read the first two books before seeing the movie with her. This is the third time I’ve read the books and they are still amazing each time, maybe even more so as I appreciate just how multifaceted they are more each time I read them.

I think one thing that particularly impresses and excites me about dystopian lit in general and this book in particular is how mature the subject matter is. This is a dire world in which the teen characters, often girls, can either succomb or fight. It seems to indicate that teens can take a great responsibility for their universe than we’ve previously attributed to them. So, in a word: empowering. While Hunger Games might’ve begun the newest wave of dystopian, helped identify the subgenre, it reminds me most of a series of books published almost 20 years ago.

So that’s what I’ve been reading in the first quarter of 2012. I’m looking forward to a strong second quarter in reading.

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Reading in Q4

The 4th Quarter has been one of the lightest so far, but there are some real gems in here.

October

We’ll Always Have Summer, Jenny Han – This is the satisfying conclusion to what could have been a sappy teenaged trilogy in a lesser writer’s hands and what is, instead, an absolutely riveting tale about three friends growing up and the ways that their friendships change.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran – An interesting flip on a standard mystery, this weird novel (in the good way) set in post-Katrina New Orleans and is certain to be only the first in a series featuring private eye Claire DeWitt. I’m fascinated with the way different writers, using different genres and different agendas, are weaving Katrina into their narratives.

Dark Rain, Mat Johnson – Also set in post-Katrina New Orleans, this graphic novel tells the story of Dabny, reluctantly drawn into a bank heist in the chaos of the aftermath of Katrina and the people he meets in the city. While reading Dark Rain, I kept thinking I really need to read more graphic novels – so many narrative possibilities!

Pym, Mat Johnson – Talk about weird! This novel is a re-imagining, a sequel, and also a parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and also it’s own bizarre creation. The tale of an all-black expedition to the Antarctic is funny, thought-provoking and also, just plain weird.

Wild Ride, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer – Silly, fun. Jennifer Crusie’s novels are always witty, light and fast-paced and the books she co-writes with Bob Mayer are even more so. Not my absolute favorite of their collaborations, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Uncommon Criminals, Ally Carter – I thought  Carter’s Gallagher Girls series was inventive and awesome, but she outdoes herself with the Heist Society books, about a family of art thieves. I ate this second book in the series up as soon as I got my hands on it. Only downside is waiting for the next one…

November

One Day, David Nicholls – Once again, I was intrigued by the movie… I probably shouldn’t admit that. The movie is pretty good and the book, of course, is better. Gut-wrenching, of course, but a very good read. By very good, I mean that you’ll want to kill both of the characters and pound your head against the wall in frustration. But, you’ll definitely be emotionally invested.

Something Borrowed, Emily Giffin – Not only was this the second book in a row I read because I was intrigued by the movie, but oddly enough, it’s the second in a row with a lead male character named Dexter. Which I don’t find to be a particularly romantic name, especially in light of Dexter. Besides the point. I’d never gotten around to reading Emily Giffin before and the book was a lot better than I’d thought it would be (also frustrating, see One Day, above).

Fly Away Home, Jennifer Weiner – Continuing my mission to catch up on JennWein’s books. Only one left! Well, till she publishes another… There are certain obvious inevitabilities in every one of Weiner’s books, but what amazes me about her writing is that once she establishes the (let’s face it, sometimes ridiculous) situations and the characters, she burrows in so deeply under their skin that it’s often frightening and uncomfortable, but always, she introduces us to not just fleshy, but fully fleshed-out women in modern circumstances.

Deadlock, Iris Johansen – Always ridiculous, Johansen books are nevertheless addicting. I don’t know why I can’t stop reading her. The books are almost impossible to distinguish from each other, the characters all one of maybe five stock types that Johansen relies upon (and almost all with the same voice). But, after all of that is said and done, I still read her books. This one is about the same, perhaps marginally better than usual as it follows an archeologist in a preposterous set of circumstances.

December

The Future of Us, Jay Asher + Carolyn Mackler -This story, about two friends who stumble upon Facebook in 1996, is brilliant, haunting. Facebook in this book is a (future) time capsule, a Ouiji board, a DeLorean, a time machine. It reminds me of Big (so therefore, also 13 Going On 30) and also, weirdly of Before I Fall. It’s a great book, like a classic 80s movie and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Blood Game, Iris Johansen – This one is an Eve Duncan book. Eve Duncan books are my least favorite of Iris Johansen’s, though she’s the character that really helped launch Johansen (who was writing romances decades ago). As annoying as Eve Duncan is to me, there was something about this book that made me determined to seek out the rest of the books, including the trilogy that hopefully concludes Eve Duncan’s story.

That’s all of my Q4 reading so far, but if I manage to finish the book I’ve been reading before midnight, I’ll be sure to add my review, to wrap up 2011’s reading…

Before I go, I should add that I was disgusted with the number of books I read last year (59) and I was determined to read more in 2011. I usually aim for 100 books a year and I managed 105 this year. But always, quality wins out over quality and this has been a great year for reading.

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Reading in Q1

Lately, reading has felt like my full-time job, so I’m going to make a quarterly report of the books I’ve read. I was so ashamed of the low number of books I read last year (59, my lowest in a decade) that I vowed to step it up this year. So far, I have.

Keep in mind that these are not ALL the books I’ve read, but most of them. As I continue to do this, I may sometimes leave off books I’ve reviewed for 225 or elsewhere, unless those reviews have already printed. Them’s the rules of this new game, but I think it will be fun.

January

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Steig Larsson – I feel satisfied to have concluded the series. I’m glad I read them, but I probably won’t feel the need to re-read. We’ll see. Only time will tell.

February

Dirty Little Angels, Chris Tusa – Read the 225 review here.

The Wavewalkers: Pirate Wars, Kai Meyer – This book was also the conclusion of a series, the second I’ve read by this German writer. They’re a lot of fun, full of remixed world mythology and fables, which I love and I was really happy with how this series ended.

12 Reasons Why I Love Her, Jamie S. Rich + Joelle Jones – This is a graphic novel that Maurice recommended and loaned me. I felt like it could’ve been meatier story wise, but there were a few glorious moments and I continue to be interested in how image and text work together.

March

House of Prayer No. 2, Mark Richard – Read the 225 review here.

Only the Good Spy Young and Heist Society, Ally Carter – I’ve loved Ally Carter’s girl spy series for a while, so it was really good to catch up and read the latest book. But I am OBSESSED with her new series that begins with Heist Society. I want another Heist Society book like NOW. It was soo clever and fun. If you’re reading this Ally Carter, feel free to send me an ARC of the next book anytime.

The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman – For some reason, I keep thinking I’ve grown out of my Alice Hoffman phase. But, it’s habit to pick up her latest book each time and she never disappoints me. I don’t know why I keep thinking that. I was disappointed in Hoffman’s Twitter fracas last year, since she’s been one of my absolute top favorite writers for years, but her books continue to be lovely and chilling and inspiring. Every time.

Across the Universe, Beth Revis – The morning after I finished this book, I woke up from a dream about it and reached for the book to continue reading, only to remember I’d finished reading it a few hours before. I was so disappointed not have more of the book to read for the first time. I really loved the new world created here. It was absolutely tragic and interesting and cool.

Whip It, Shauna Cross – I really loved Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It, with Ellen Page, so I’ve been wanting to read the book that inspired it, formerly titled Derby Girl. I can totally see why Drew was inspired to make a movie because the character of Bliss just SCREAMS out from these pages, so funny and funky. It was a fun book and inspired a really good movie version.

Like Pickle Juice on a  Cookie, Julie Sternberg – Read the 225 review here.

Peter and the Sword of Mercy, Dave Barry + Ridley Pearson – I love this series a lot. It started off as an origin series about how Peter became the Peter Pan we know and love. They finished the series and I love that they listened to their readers and wrote this book for us, continuing the story. The last line made me cry big time. So perfect.

Dinner with Tennessee Williams, Troy Gilbert, Chef Greg Picolo and Dr. W. Kenneth Holditch – Read the 225 review here.

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater – Another book that I got absolutely obsessed with. I ordered the sequel online before I’d finished it because I was consuming this book at such a rapid pace and the Borders by my house was closing and no longer had a copy. I’m not as engrossed by the sequel so far, but I love how innovative this first book is.

How the Hangman Lost His Heart, K.M. Grant – This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. That should tell you something. I loved, loved, loved K.M. Grant’s de Granville trilogy so passionately that I immediately bought an entire set for my sister, who is the mother of a toddler, and bugged her till she read them. So I’ve been searching for this stand-alone book ever since I heard about it. My library finally got a copy and it was not what I was expecting. Well, honestly, I don’t know that I could’ve expected this book. Who could? It’s a really surprising and clever adventure story about a stubborn girl who convinces people to risk their lives and their families to help her. And what mission are they helping her fulfill? She’s determined to rescue her uncle’s severed head from where it has been displayed after he was executed for treason. The story is based on K.M. Grant’s ancestor, who was the last man in England hanged, drawn and quartered. Did I mention it’s a book for young readers? I really love the renaissance literature for young people is undergoing.

I know I used the word “love” a lot in this post. I’ve decided you’ll forgive me because there are some really awesome books in my quarterly reading report. Check them out!

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