Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.
Who: Janine, a fiction writer as well as one of the reviewers who contribute to Dear Author – one of the most comprehensive Romance (with the occasional review of UF, Fantasy and YA) sites around.
Please give it up for Janine and a look back at her anticipated books of 2012!
A Look Back at My Most Anticipated Books of 2012
Last year, my Smugglivus post covered the upcoming 2012 books I was anticipating most keenly. Recently, I took a look at it and was surprised to recall my anticipation for the books on that list which didn’t pan out as well as I expected. I thought it might be fun to take a look back at the books I was salivating for, and see which ones were worth the drool.
9. Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
At the #9 spot on my “most anticipated” list last year was S.J. Kincaid’s Insignia. As I stated last year, this dystopian story of a teenage con artist offered training to become the government’s secret weapon during the Third World War intrigued me partly for personal reasons: the author is the sister of a very good friend. Insignia sold for big bucks, so how did I end up liking it?
Pretty well, actually. The book had a slow, info-dumpy beginning and its pimple faced, impoverished narrator Tom, the fourteen year old son of a nomadic con-artist, did not make a place for himself in my heart right away. But then Tom chose to join the US government’s Pentagonal Spire and train in virtual reality piloting of equipment in space in a war over scarce natural resources.
Tom was immediately cleaned up and turned into a handsome swan, and a computer was inserted into his brain, making him into a human weapon and putting him at risk of being taken over with a computer virus. The latter added high stakes suspense to the story, but what really won me over was the comic relief in Tom’s budding friendships with his fellow plebes.
Insignia turned out to be a very, very funny novel filled with camaraderie, and while at times I wished some of the side characters had a bit more depth, Tom and his nemesis Blackburn had enough to keep me turning the pages. The world-building was interesting and different, too. I’d rate this a B/B+.
8. Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase
At #8 on my most anticipated list was Loretta Chase’s 2012 historical romance release, a sequel to Silk is for Seduction, which I really enjoyed. In fact, I’ve enjoyed every novel Chase has written since 2004’s Miss Wonderful, including a couple some of my friends were less keen on. So I was pretty confident I would enjoy Scandal Wears Satin.
As it turns out, I was wrong.
If you’d told me I wouldn’t be able to finish this book, I’d have been very surprised. But it’s true.
Scandal Wears Satin had a plot filled with improbabilities and main characters who failed to engage me. The premise of the story was that the Earl of Longmore and Sophie, a dressmaker and sister to a duchess-turned-dressmaker, had to go on the road together in order to prevent Clara (the earl’s sister and a client of Sophie’s) who had been compromised, from running away in order to avoid marriage. The problem with this plot is that it centered on Clara and made me care more about her than about Longmore and Sophie’s romance. Here’s what I said about the book on DA:
“Perhaps because I didn’t care that much about either Sophy or Longmore, Scandal Wears SatinMr. Impossible, but isn’t half as charming. Sophy is as “tricky” as her sister Marcelline from Silk is for Seduction, but not a quarter as interesting. A road trip in pursuit of Clara reminds me of the plot of Lord Perfect, and a kiss at an inn reminds me of Last Night’s Scandal.
On top of all that, some aspects of the book are difficult to credit (the Duchess of Clevedon serving a customer at her dress shop? Sophy changing identities over and over without being recognized?). I was bored enough that I had to skim parts of the book to get to the end. What I read rates a C-, but since I didn’t read the book in its entirety and won’t backtrack to read the rest, I have to give Scandal Wears Satin a DNF.”
7. Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville
The fourth and Regency era historical romance in Nevile’s Burgundy Book Club, this one (thankfully) did not disappoint. I was looking forward to Blake and Minerva’s pairing since I’d read book two, The Dangerous Viscount. A case of mistaken identity caused Blake to compromise Minerva, forcing the two into a marriage neither wanted. The intellectual, politically-inclined Minerva thought Blake stupid, an impression Blake himself fostered to cover up his dyslexia, as well as shared.
Confessions from an Arranged Marriage was slow to get off the ground. It wasn’t until Blake and Minerva arrived in France for their honeymoon that an attraction kindled, but when they finally opened up to each it was touching and worth the wait. Watching Blake struggle with whether to reveal his secret disability really got to me, and Minerva’s acceptance when she realized the truth was a sweet and romantic moment. Some readers were disappointed by the historical details about politics, but I really enjoyed that. I did want a bit more emotion at the end but overall, this book satisfied me. B+.
6. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
I loved the first 80% of Roth’s first novel, Divergent, so I was looking forward to and curious about Insurgent. Would it live up to or even exceed the potential of its prequel? Or would it (like some other middle-of-the-trilogy YA novels) disappoint?
As it turns out, this one disappointed me. I’ll skip the plot summary, given how popular this book is. Tris, who was, as I put it in 2011, such a memorable “mix of vulnerability and toughness, competitiveness and selflessness” in Divergent, lacked her old toughness and competitiveness in Insurgent. Instead she wallowed in guilt and lost her nerve.
Moreover, she and her boyfriend Four got into stupid fights which required Four to behave with an immature jerkiness he hadn’t possessed in the earlier book. Worst of all were the plot holes and continuity errors which riddled the book, like a disappearing and reappearing gun, or Dauntless faction people who didn’t station lookouts on a building they had reason to believe would be attacked. Insurgent ended up being a C- read for me.
5. Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh
This one was a pretty good read, but considering how keen my anticipation was, it didn’t fully live up to my expectations. I give it big points for tackling the story of Riaz, a wolf changeling who had already found his mate, and Adria, another wolf changeling who was not that mate. It was a brave concept for the story.
There were some sexy and romantic scenes in this book. I loved the puzzle that Riaz carved for Adria, for example, the way their love was tested, and the final scenes of the book. Still, the middle of the book dragged and felt repetitive, and I also had a big problem with the external plot – the wolves got into too many alliances with other groups too quickly, considering how slow they’d been to trust the DarkRiver leopards.
I ended up giving this one a B-, which is not a bad grade but also not what I expect of the books in this series.
4. The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
Although it didn’t have a title then, Shana Abe’s continuation of her gorgeously written drakon series, a paranormal set in 1915 England, was my #4 most anticipated book. I’m still anticipating it, though. Originally scheduled for publication in the summer of 2012, the book has not yet come out. Instead, it is currently slotted to see light in April of 2013.
I have not yet read the book and for all I know, it could be great. But at this point I’ve been waiting for it for over a year, and that in itself is a disappointment.
3. Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel
Can a book be beautifully written but boring at the same time? If so, then that’s what this one was like for me. I loved Jewel’s earlier historical, Scandal and Indiscreet, but Not Wicked Enough didn’t have the same level of emotional tension.
Lily, the heroine, is visiting her friend Ginny when she begins an affair with Ginny’s brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. True to his name, Mountjoy is good in bed. He’s also caring, responsible, a little stiff with others, but lovely to Lily.
Lily, a free spirited heiress, loved another man long ago, but he died and she is mostly over the loss. Another potential suitor is on the scene, but Lily has no interest in him. Mountjoy is supposed to get engaged to another girl, but he is single and not at all attracted to this other lady.
If you’re thinking there’s not much keeping these two apart, you’d be right. And that’s the biggest letdown with this book.
Lily and Mountjoy are both likeable, endearing people. There’s a paranormal element involving a gold coin on a chain that unites its wearer with that person’s one true love. The flirtation between our couple is cute and the sex is hot. The language, as per usual in Carolyn Jewel’s books, is elegant and smooth.
The rub is that every book needs conflict, and this one lacks it. Without any real obstacles between them, the rest isn’t quite enough. The book was easy to stop reading in the middle despite its charms. I finished, but regardless of Jewel’s considerable writing gifts, it took me a while. In hindsight, I’d give Not Wicked Enough a C+.
2. Fair Game by Patricia Briggs
Here’s what I said about this one last year:
“I’m a huge – and I mean huge – fan of Briggs’ “Alpha and Omega” (Charles and Anna) series. Charles is a werewolf assassin who must quell his possessive instincts around his new mate, Anna, a rape survivor. Meanwhile, Anna’s journey has been one of coming to terms with her new werewolf nature and learning that she has inner strength and power. The relationship between the two is both dark and tender, a very rare combination in my experience. I await Fair Game with baited breath.”
Despite such high expectations, Fair Game ended up being a good read for me. It was far from perfect – Charles’ arc had a predictable conclusion and there was an awkward sex scene that didn’t seem to fit with other goings-on at the time, but I loved Anna’s growth in this one, the, the side character of an FBI agent, the minor characters’ reactions to Charles, and as usual the dynamic of Anna and Charles’ relationship. I’d give this one a B/B+.
1. A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
My most anticipated book of 2012 was A Gentleman Undone. I anticipated it so keenly because I loved Grant’s fresh writing and characterization in A Lady Awakened. A Gentleman Undone turned out to be a very different book than A Lady Awakened, but it too had fresh writing and characterization.
Its matchup of a Napoleonic Wars veteran determined to acquire the money to help out a war widow and a courtesan who (gasp) was actually shown enjoying sex with her jerk of a “protector” stood out among this year’s books. The two wounded characters’ journey together from cheating at cards to forgiving themselves for the most painful incidents in their past was poignant and moving. This one gets a high B+.
A Look Forward to 2013
With fewer than half of the books on my list living up to my expectations, you might think my expectations for 2013’s crop of new books might be lowered.
It’s interesting to reflect on how often high expectations can lead to disappointment, but anticipating books is so much fun that I don’t plan to stop.
I’d love to hear which 2013 books you guys here at the Book Smugglers are anticipating most, and whether your 2012 high-expectation books met with disappointment or excitement.