Sunday, January 24, 2010

Explaining My Vanishing Act

Some of you may recall a few posts back when I mentioned moving to a new city and starting a new career. Well, that new career is the reason my online presence has been virtually nonexistent the last few weeks. To make a long story short: I'm in the police academy.

For those of you who don't know, police academies in California are 22 weeks of intensive academic and physical training in a para-military structure. I can best describe it as a combination of boot camp and college, which, in practical terms, means most of my free time is spent either studying for exams or spit-shining my boots. Seriously.

When I started this blog a couple of months ago, I had no idea how much longer the hiring process was going to take, or if I would even be successful. It wasn't until Thanksgiving week that I found out my year-and-a-half wait was over and that I'd been hired. I had 6 weeks to relocate and prepare for the start of the academy. Needless to say, December was a stressful month.

Going into the academy I knew I'd be busy, but I wasn't exactly sure how much free time I'd have. After a couple of weeks, I now realize that it will be a struggle for me to meet my monthly AAR reviewer commitment of 3 books, let alone find time to blog on a regular basis.

Which means that for the next several months I'm putting this blog on hiatus, with the fervent hope that once all of my training is complete, I'll be able to re-devote myself to the endeavor, which I truly enjoyed for the short time I did it.

In the mean time I'll still be reviewing for AAR, so I won't be completely absent from Romanceland. In fact, since my last blog post I've had two reviews go up at AAR -- If Looks Could Chill by Nina Bruhns and Strangers in the Night by Saskia Walker -- and my reviews of Slow Heat by Jill Shalvis and Waking the Dead by Kylie Brant should be posted within the next week or so. But the likelihood of my having time to blog-hop is close to nil.

As an aside, I can now call myself a true Bay Area resident. I experienced my first earthquake within days after moving to the area, which was a very Twilight Zone experience. I was sitting with my fellow recruits in the classroom, listening to the T.O. speak, when I felt this shaking. I started looking all around trying to figure out what the hell was happening, but everyone else was listening to the T.O. like there was nothing out of the ordinary. Which, apparently, there wasn't. The T.O. didn't even pause in her speech. I remember thinking, "What the hell? Don't any of you people feel that?" It wasn't until after class ended that someone got on their iPhone and said, "Nice. A 4.1." Yeah, nice. That's exactly what I was thinking.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2009: My Fave Reads (and Un-Favorites)

It's nearly a week after my 2009 stats post, but I'm finally getting around to posting my list of favorite reads from 2009. At first I was planning on picking the "best" books from only the pool of books that were both published in 2009, and that I actually read in 2009. But when I started choosing books I discovered that I wasn't happy with those rules. Yes, I'm going to have to follow those rules when choosing my selections for the AAR poll, but who says I have to follow them on my blog too? I say I don't, so I'm not gonna.

So with that in mind, the following books were chosen using only one rule: I first read them in 2009. Some were published in 2009, some were published earlier, so I'm not calling this my list of Best Books of 2009. Instead, these are my Favorite Reads of 2009.

(Hyperlinked book titles will take you to my reviews.)

Contemporary Romance
Under the Influence
Author: Nancy Warren
Published: 2009
Grade: A-
It was a really close decision between this one and Hot Under Pressure by Kathleen O'Reilly, but Under the Influence wins it by an itty-bitty margin. I picked this book up because I happened upon Cindy's review -- this was before I really started blog-hopping so I have no idea how that happened -- and just fell in love with it. It's light, funny, sexy, and has a gender role-reversal plot (usually it's the heroine in a service position, and the hero as the high-powered executive). Because this book also happens to be a series romance, it's my pick in that category too.

Erotic Romance
Crossing Borders
Author: Z.A. Maxfield
Published: 2008
Grade: A-
Normally I don't go in for romances where one or more of the protagonists is under the age of 25, but this one really worked for me. Tristan is only 19 to Michael's 26, and this age difference is a source of conflict between the two, in addition to Michael's job as a police officer. This one was emotional, compelling, sexy, and romantic. Really it's one of the best erotic romances I've read, period.

Romantic Suspense
Fever Dreams
Author: Laura Leone
Published: 2004
Grade: A-
After reading Leone's awesome Fallen from Grace, I started tracking down her backlist. Fever Dreams was originally issued in 1997, but in 2004 this revised version was released by Leone's then-publisher Five Star. It's an adventure romance set in a fictional South American country that erupts in civil war, and is an edge of your seat, I-can't-possibly-put-this-book-down experience.

Out of the Deep I Cry
Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming
Published: 2005
Grade: A
Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. *Sigh.* Two of the best romance protagonists, ever. Out of the Deep I Cry is the third book in Spencer-Fleming's incredible series following this Army chopper pilot / Episcopalian priest and the Chief of Police in fictional Miller's Kill, New York. After hearing my AAR colleagues Rachel and Lynn rave about this mystery series, I just had to give it a shot. Oh. My. God. I read all 6 books (that are out) in about a week and a half. I couldn't stop myself, nor did I want to. I've loved them all, but Out of the Deep I Cry was just spectacular. It features a compelling mystery dating back to the 1930s, and one of the hottest, sexiest, most emotional kiss-scenes I've ever read.

Paranormal Romance
At Grave's End
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Published: 2009
Grade: B
Currently the only paranormal series I follow is Frost's Night Huntress series, although I haven't had the chance yet to read her latest entry in that series, Destined for an Early Grave, so I can't compare these two 2009 releases. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Cat and Bones in At Grave's End, and look forward to reading more of them in the future. This book is also distinguished as, IIRC, the only paranormal romance I read in 2009 that I actually enjoyed.

Historical Romance
Lord of Scoundrels
Author: Loretta Chase
Published: 1995
Grade: A-
After hearing so many readers rave about this book, I finally got off my ass and read it when it was one of the picks for the AAR Book Club. I am so thankful, because I just loved this book. Jessica Trent quickly became one of my favorite romance heroines, and I must say that she rocked my world when she actually shot Dain. I know a lot of readers don't like that scene, but I thought it was awesome. I guess I was expecting traditional romance fare and a heroine who threatened but wasn't really willing to pull the trigger (heh). While I enjoyed the entire book from start to finish, I found the first half much more solid than the second half, hence the minus attached to the A grade.

Women's Fiction
Red's Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
Author: Pamela Morsi
Published: 2009
Grade: A-
I don't read much Women's Fiction or Chick Lit, but I couldn't resist the premise of a forty-something bar owner grandmother heroine paired with a younger man. When I started the book I wasn't sure if I was actually going to like Red, but as the book wore on and Morsi peeled away the layers of her character, I grew to not only like her, but have a great deal of respect for her. The big reason I didn't like Red in the beginning is that she seemed like a terrible mother and grandmother. But at some point I realized that Red wasn't actually so terrible; that was her opinion of herself, not others' opinions of her, but because the book is told from Red's perspective, in the beginning (when you're only getting her view of herself) you're only seeing the bad stuff. 

Most Disappointing Book
What I Did for Love
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2009
Grade: C+
I was so very excited that SEP had a new book coming out last year and I was thisclose to buying the hardcover. Then I read LinnieGayl's less-than-stellar review, and because she's normally a big fan of SEP like myself, I decided to wait and get it from the library. I'm so glad I did, because I was really disappointed with this one. It was kind of like a cross between SEP's older saga-style women's fiction books and her contemporary romances, only without her trademark humor. For most of the book we know the heroine far better than the hero, which is a problem because the heroine only sees the jerk the hero used to be, hence the readers see him as a jerk. It took far too long for me to like Bram, and I was disappointed that this one wasn't funny like SEP's romances usually are. What I Did for Love is far from the worst book I read last year, but it was the one that I was most eagerly anticipating that didn't end up paying off.

Least Favorite Book (aka Worst Book)
Lucky in Love
Author: Carolyn Brown
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2009
Grade: F
What can I say about Lucky in Love? How about that I hated everything about it, from the pushover hero, to the selfish heroine, to the frustrating Secret Baby plot, to the extreme head-hopping, to the 40-page epilogue final chapters, and especially the constant references to feces and/or bowel-movements. It was a chore to read this book. Had I not been reading it for review there is no way in hell I would have ever forced myself to finish it. I can't even make myself think about it anymore; I just want to banish it from my memory.

Biggest Gloms
Elizabeth Hoyt
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Megan Hart

Favorite New Author Discovered
Julia Spencer-Fleming

So that wraps up my Favorite Reads of 2009, plus a couple of un-favorites. Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review: The Gift by Eva Cassel

My review of The Gift by Eva Cassel is up over at AAR. I was hesitant to try this one due to the cover blurb, but took a chance that ended up paying off. Click here to read my full review.

Disclosure: I purchased this book myself.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Year in Review: 2009

I considered a few different approaches for my 2009 year end book review, but I figured nobody would be interested in reading a list of all 178 books I read last year, so I axed that idea. Instead I'm talking statistics -- specifically the various statistics from my 2009 reading habits that interest me. Probably none of you are interested in that either, but it interests me and it's my blog so I'm doing it anyway. Feel free to move onto the next item on your feed reader.

Total Books Read
As I already mentioned, in the year that was 2009 I managed to read a total of 178 books. This is nowhere near how many I've read in previous years, but I actually figured the number would be much lower. 2009 just felt like a busy year, but apparently I squeezed in more reading time than I'd thought.

Single-Title vs. Category vs. Short-Story
Of those 178 books, 3.4% (6) were anthologies, and another 9.6% (17) were short-stories* that were not part of an anthology. I also did a fair amount of category romance reading, and apparently I'm in love with the Harlequin Blaze line. (This is not really news to me, or anybody who knows me.)

Category romance made up 23.6% (42) of the books I read, and of those books, 90% (34) were Blazes. I expect this latter percentage to change a bit in 2010, simply because thanks to Lynn and SuperWendy, I'm discovering a new-found affection for the Harlequin SuperRomance line.

*I categorize books by length into the following groups: short stories (<20,000 words), novellas (20,000-40,000 words), and novels (>40,000 words).

Series vs. Stand-Alone
A whopping 60% (107) of the books were part of a series of connected books, which means that either I just love series, or simply that a large number of authors like to write connected books. I actually think both of these reasons are at play.

Pubbed in 2009 vs. Pubbed Prior to 2009
Only 45.5% (81) of the books were first published in 2009, indicating that I accomplished a fair amount of TBR shelf reading, as well as checking out recommendations of older books. The downside is that I have fewer books to choose from when making my selections for the AAR Annual Reader Poll.

New Reads vs. Re-Reads
Probably the number that most amazed me: only 5% (9) of the titles I read were re-reads. Normally this number would be significantly higher, if just for the holiday re-reading alone. But this year I wasn't able to find the time to re-read any of my annual holiday favorites, much to my disappointment.

Books Reviewed
Here's a number I'm quite proud of: I reviewed a total of 28.7% (51) of the books I read. Yay me! (Actually I wrote reviews for 53 books, but 2 won't be published until this year.) After 10 months of reviewing for AAR, I'm still loving it, although I suspect given my new job, the number of reviews I'm able to turn in will drop down a bit.

Borrowed vs. Bought vs. Freebies
Of the 178 books I read, I borrowed only 15.2% (27) of them, which quite surprised me, and almost all of the borrowed books I read in the first half of 2009. The latter half of the year was categorized by me borrowing quite a few books, and returning the vast majority of them unread.

I received 19.7% (35) of the books for free by reviewing them for AAR, and purchased a total of 65.2% (116) of the books I read. Holy crap! So that's where all my money went.

Print vs. Electronic
After receiving my Sony Reader in late-October, I managed to squeeze in 34 ebooks into my reading schedule, accounting for 19.1% of my reading. Ebooks made up the overwhelming majority of my reading from November and December, so I expect this percentage to skyrocket in 2010.

Genre/Subgenre Breakdown
Contemporary Romance: 50.6% (90)
Erotic Romance: 17.4% (31)
Romantic Suspense: 11.2% (20)
Historical Romance: 9.6% (17)
Mystery: 5.6% (10)
Women's Fiction: 2.8% (5)
Para Romance / Urban Fantasy: 2.3% (4)
Non-Fiction: 0.6% (1)

So, which genre/subgenre do you think is my favorite? If you answered Romance/Contemporary, you're right!

Grade Breakdown 
As usual, I had a pretty damn good reading year. This is because I almost totally rely on reviews and recommendations from fellow readers before trying a new author, and I pretty much have my strategy nailed.

I must add, however, that my number of C, D, and F reads were higher than in years past. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) I started reviewing for AAR, thus becoming unable to rely on reviews before trying a new book, and 2) my entry into ebook reading prompted me to take many more chances with books and authors that were unknowns to me. I discovered many new fantastic authors, but I also discovered a lot of average or crap reads. But enough about that. On to the statistics*!

A Range: 15.8% (30)
B Range: 55.8% (106)
C Range: 21.6% (41)
D Range: 2.1% (4)
F Range: 1.1% (2)
DNF: 3.7% (7)

*Anthology stories were graded individually, and these figures do not include re-reads.

Okay, I'll stop boring you all now. (And if you're still reading, I give you props -- you're probably a stats weirdo like myself.) I'd originally planned to include my favorite reads from 2009, but this is already a hellishly long post, so I'll save that for another day soon.

So tell me: How did your 2009 reading year shape up?