Tag: Reading Quirks

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

Posted February 22, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Reviews | 15 Comments

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #3
Also in this series: Ransom
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2008
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General
Pages: 438
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Throughout her acclaimed writing career, Julie Garwood has captivated readers with characters who are compelling, daring, and bursting with life. Now one of the most popular novelists of our time proudly returns to her beloved historical romance roots–in a thrilling tale of love, murder, adventure, and mystery set against the haunting landscape of medieval Scotland.
For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.
For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.
Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.
A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions–unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire–Shadow Music is magnificent gift from Julie Garwood and a crowning achievement in her amazing career.
From the Hardcover edition.

******As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.

Man, I love me some early Julie Garwood historicals. She lost me with her romantic suspense. I remember being so excited when she announced she was releasing a new historical. I’m still pretty disappointed it didn’t live up to my expectations. I wonder what would happen if I read it now? I might need to reread it and see if I still feel the same. 

This review was originally published January 8, 2008

This is less a review about this particular book and more my thoughts on the writing of Julie Garwood. Casee reviewed the book here. You can check that out for a plot summary and her thoughts, for they mostly mirrored mine.

Throughout her career, JG has remained a favorite of mine. Well, let me clarify. Prior to Killjoy she was a favorite of mine. Her historicals still call to me on occasion and I find myself picking them up at random, anxious to sink into an old, comfortable story, similar to how I might slip on my favorite sweats after a long day at work, or pop in a favorite DVD if I’ve had a particularly bad day.

But after Killjoy, not only did I think contemps were not her thing, I decided her writing itself deteriorated. The last novel I read by her was Slow Burn. While I enjoyed the basic premise behind it, I was sadly disappointed in the actual writing. Sentences were choppy, paragraphs seemed to bleed together, or go in odd directions that made no sense to me, dialogue was stilted, characters were half formed or one dimensional. I thought the plot was an awesome one, and had it been better fleshed out it had the potential to become her best written novel yet. But instead it fell far short.

After that, I decided not to read another of her contemps. I told myself, and others, that I’d buy her again if she went back to historicals, but otherwise I was done with her. I removed her from my auto-buy list and comforted myself with her old historicals, the ones that got me hooked on romance to begin with.

Then the announcement came. That yes, Julie Garwood, historical legend, would be returning to her roots. Love her older historicals or hate them, you can’t deny she’s a basic staple in romance. I was happy to hear she’d be returning, but somewhat apprehensive. Because although the moment I’d been waiting for had finally come, I was concerned about her actual writing style. The way she wove a story back when was unconventional perhaps, but still engaging. I didn’t think she’d be able to return to that, not after seeing evidence of her decline in her more recent novels.

I’m sad to say I was correct. She may have done quite a bit of head-hopping in her previous novels, but the focus remained on the two main protagonists. In this novel, however, she chose to write in a more narrative style than from one POV or another. So I was constantly pulled out of the story by her glossing over things, or seeming to sum things up. Very frustrating.

I’m also extremely unclear about how they H/H came to fall in love. There was hardly any interaction between the two, and what there was was disjointed and…once again, glossed over. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her writing. A chapter would start out from one POV or another, and then half-way through she’d jump into a narrative style, summing things up rather than allowing us as readers to follow the progress.

I suppose it would be like me starting a story, in which I use rich, colorful detail and much humor only to say, once you’re engaged and intrigued, “Blah blah, yada, yada, you get what I mean” and then just leave it at that. Frustrating, no?

There were some good parts. When the POV was written from either the hero or heroine, I was drawn into the story. Unfortunately, those parts were few and far between, and when they did happen, they didn’t last long. The basic premise was also a good one, and classic Garwood. Sadly, the point of the plot was lost somewhere in the muddle of switching from one writing style to another, the jumping between characters and places (i.e., from the Barons in England to the clans in the Highlands to the heroine to the hero to the guards of the heroine to her father back to the barons to the king of England, etc, etc) and the mass amount of inconsistencies presented.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book said the Priests provided a lot of comic relief, but I didn’t really see that. Sure, there were some amusing parts, but I think I assumed they played a bigger part in the overall story (with actual read time, I mean) and that just didn’t seem to be the case.

I’m sure I’ll end up buying her next book (assuming she continues to write historicals), just to see if she somehow improves…hmm, or perhaps that’s not the right word. Regresses into her old writing habits? Goes back to being the Garwood I knew and loved? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I’m going to be sorely disappointed when (if) that time comes, however.

On a related note: Ange, The Romance Groupie, posted about this book on Saturday. I mentioned my disappointment in the overall writing in the comments, and she responded with this:

Actually, I’ve noticed that many of the popular authors appear to be going down in the quality department. I’m wondering if it’s the editors, publishers, etc. that are ruining it. It just seems strange that so many great authors have gone bad in the last year or so. Is it just me? Are you seeing this trend too?

I thought about it some, and yes, I have to agree. Some of my favorite authors have seriously declined in the last few years. Could it be because of the publishers or editors? Or is it just simply something with them personally?

Regardless, I’m disappointed.

Even though I said this was less a review and more my thoughts on JG’s writing as a whole, I’ll still rate the book:

2.5 out of 5

You can buy it here in hardback or in eBook format here. When I bought it from Books on Board, they were offering a $5 cash-back incentive, bringing the total book price down to $9.95. I’m not sure if they’re still offering the promotion, but you could email them to see.

two-half-stars

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Bookish Thoughts: It’s Time to See Other People, Changes to NYTimes Bestseller Lists, Cliffhangers and Kindle Unlimited

Posted January 27, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Features | 7 Comments


​I’ve been struggling with contemporary romances that focus solely on the protagonists without any external conflicts. This has been on my mind since I finished Playing the Player by Amy Andrews, book three in the Sydney Smoke Rugby Series. The hero and heroine didn’t do much away from each other. They obviously didn’t live in each other’s pockets, but all their focus and attention was on the other. There were no breaks in the story where, say, the hero was at rugby practice, or out with his boys, that he wasn’t thinking or talking about the heroine, and vice versa. I enjoyed the story overall, but I would have liked to see them have a life away from each other.

This is something I’m seeing a lot more of lately. We’d come out of it there for awhile, but now even my favorite authors are sliding back into the habit of having them focus just on each other. Can we go back to the hero and heroine falling in love, but also doing things away from each other?


The New York Times had dropped their Bestseller lists for Manga and Graphic novels. They announced plans to revamp their lists, and indicated others may be done away with as well.  From the PW article:

“Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books, and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science, and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online. Readers will be notified that individual lists will no longer be compiled and updated by the New York Times on the relevant article pages.”

Among the lists that appear to have disappeared are the graphic novel/manga and the mass market paperback lists as well as the middle grade e-book and young adult e-book lists.


This week I discovered a new UF series. Shadows of the Immortals by Marina Finlayson. Stolen Magic, book one, was an Amazon recommended read. It was $3.99 so I figured I’d give it a go. I really enjoyed it, but it ended on a cliffhanger. Though I grumbled a bit, I bought book two (also at $3.99.), Murdered Gods, and read it immediately. And it ended on a cliffhanger. No other books from the series are out yet. Each book is listed around 260 pages, though they felt much shorter, especially the second book. Assuming the series stops at 3 books (though I have no idea, since I can’t find any information about it on the author’s website), I’ll end up paying approximately $12 for what is, in essence, a single full-length novel. If the author stops with three parts. Otherwise, who knows when it’ll end.

Look, I don’t mind spending money on books. Especially when I’m really loving a series. But this new trend of breaking a novel into parts and releasing it as a serial, with each part costing $2.99-$5.99, is really starting to irk me. Especially when they aren’t marked as having cliffhangers or being “parts” of a book, rather than full-length titles. Or maybe I’m just being cheap?

To be fair, both parts are available for free on Kindle Unlimited. Since I don’t subscribe, I had to pay full price for them. Which brings me to…


Is Kindle Unlimited worth the money? I’ve avoided subscribing thus far because there weren’t a lot of books available that I wanted to read when it first launched. Now it seems like they have a greater, more varied selection. Thoughts?

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Saying Goodbye

Posted December 27, 2016 by Holly in Discussions | 18 Comments

I’ve dedicated a good portion of the last 15 years to reading. It’s been my main (dare I say only?) hobby, passion and one-true-love. I spent many hours reading, discussing and reviewing books. I also spent a good amount of time and money collecting them. Thousands of books have passed through my personal library over the last decade. I used to keep every book I read, whether I loved it or hated it. Back then, if I had 5 books in my to-be-read pile I got anxiety. Then I slowly started weeding out the books I didn’t love and figured I’d never read again. And my TBR pile grew to 20. As time went on I culled a lot more of my print library, keeping only my absolute favorites and my full collections. And my TBR pile grew to thousands (though a good number of those are digital..curse you, one-click!).

Over the summer we bought a new house and moved. The new house has a ton of natural light – which is wonderful, – but all the windows take up wall space I could have used for bookshelves. I decided it was time to brutally cut down my print collection. I kept pretty much only signed copies and my full collections. Linda Howard, Lisa Kleypas, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nalini Singh, etc. These are the collections that include very book by the author. Some signed. All in great condition.

One of the largest – and most prized- of my collections, the In Death series by J.D. Robb disappeared in the move. I’m pretty sure it got put in with the donation boxes, though I can’t be 100% certain. I spent years collecting them. The full, complete series, including novellas, mostly in hardback. It was beautiful. And it’s gone. Gone.

It wasn’t until we’d been in the new house a couple months that I noticed they were missing. We still had some boxes in the garage that hadn’t been unpacked and I figured they were mixed in with those. Eventually all the boxes were unpacked and the books still hadn’t turned up. I called the places we usually donate to, but they didn’t have them. Either they were donated elsewhere or they were already gone by the time I called.

Over the years as I switched to mostly digital reading, I’d been slowly purchasing my favorites in e-format, so I have pretty much the entire series in e already, but that doesn’t lesson my anger and sadness over the loss of these beloved books. My heart is broken.

Back in February of this year, my husband’s aunt moved in with us. She has dementia. She’s a huge reader and books give her great pleasure. But she has strange ticks that come with her disease. One of them is hoarding/hiding books and destroying them. She pulls pages out and crumples them, bends and creases the covers and, in comes cases, even shreds them. I have no idea why. I don’t blame her for it. It isn’t something she can help. However, before we moved my entire collection of books was at her disposal and she destroyed a number of my books. Some of them weren’t very important to me, but others…oh how I mourn them. Several signed copies, or ones given to me directly by authors. The pain!

Most people don’t understand. “They’re just books, Holly”. Or “You can buy new ones.” Both are true. They are just books and I can buy new copies. But that isn’t really the point. It’s hard to say goodbye. And while these may be just books, I was pretty damn attached to them.

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What Kind of Reader Are You?

Posted September 14, 2016 by Jen in Discussions | 31 Comments

Ever since I was a kid, I have HATED putting a fiction book down in the middle. I remember nearly being brought to tears once in 4th grade when my teacher ended our free reading time and I was smack dab in the middle of an amazing story. (I wish I could remember what book prompted such a reaction.)

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And I don’t just mean I get a little frustrated. I mean I tend to lose sleep over an unfinished book. I start thinking about the characters and their predicaments and all the details of the book, and pretty soon I’m lying awake for hours pondering. I read a lot of romantic suspense, too, and they tend to be the worst for me to leave half-read. I put a book down but the characters are still in peril, and I’m left to stew over that danger.

As a result, I prefer to read books in one sitting, or at least the same day. It’s fortunate that I’m a fast reader and can read most romances in a long afternoon.

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Of course, this undoubtedly causes me to read less books, since I usually won’t start a book when I know I only have a short bit of reading time, and a free afternoon isn’t always available. I’ve found it important for my own sanity and sleep, though! I do sometimes stretch a book out over multiple days, but not if I can help it.

I never even considered that this was somewhat unusual reading behavior until a few years ago when I realized most people I’ve talked to don’t read like me! Often I get a very strange look when I explain how I usually power through books in one day.

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What about you? Do you usually stretch out your books over multiple days? Or do you like to read things all in one sitting?

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There’s No Place Like Home

Posted April 26, 2016 by Holly in Discussions | 2 Comments

I grew up in South Dakota. SD isn’t a place that’s typically written about in romantic fiction (though it should be. SoDak is amazeballs…as long as you don’t have to live there in the winter). When I come across a book set there I’m all kinds of excited. Except, I have certain expectations for stories set there.

There's No Place Like Home

Take, for example, Black Hills by Nora Roberts. I was crazy excited to read that book when it was first released because it’s  set in the exact place I grew up. I was feeling nostalgic and homesick at the time and dove right in…only to be severely disappointed in how little resemblance the story bore to the actual place.

Not that it was completely off base, but it was obviously written by someone who had visited (or researched) the area rather than lived there. Small things, like referring to the creek in the wrong way, really pulled me out of the story.

Dean Koontz is another great example. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Palm Springs, CA., and it’s obvious he has, too. Several of his books take place there, or his characters visit, and each time local joints, back roads, etc. are spot on.

Of course, I’ve read many books set in places I’ve never been, and I often come away feeling like I’m a local.

It’s interesting how small details can effect the overall reading experience.

Have you ever read a book set where you live? Did it live up to your expectations or completely let you down?

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