Not as many books this week; I was busy writing (fiction and academic) and reading up for my writer's group meeting this week.
37. Stacy Henrie, Lady Outlaw. (Whitney, Romance) Pretty, red-headed Jennie Jones owns a ranch in Southern Utah--it's the only thing she inherited from her father, and she'll do just about anything to keep it. After the bank threatens to foreclose on her ranch if she doesn't pay her remaining debt, Jennie discovers just what her limits are: after a chance encounter with some stage robbers, Jennie comes up with a daring plan to save her ranch--by stealing money from thieves. After all, she reasons, it's for a good cause, and the thieves would only buy booze and women with the money. Jennie's plans are complicated when she hires Caleb Johnson, a novice cowboy with a tragic past, to help her on the ranch. Soon her feelings for Caleb conflict with her means of getting money for the ranch, and Jennie has to decide how far she's willing to go to save what matters to her. I thought the premise for this was cute--and unusual. I liked Jennie and Caleb as characters; I particularly liked that Jennie was feisty and not willing to play the victim (and if people say that red-heads in fiction are a little cliche, well, as a natural red-head myself, I have to admit that I like them). I also enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the history of Southern Utah, as I happen to live in the area. That said, I had a hard time with Jennie's decision to steal money--this may be a particular quirk of my generally law-abiding personality, but it made it hard for me to relate to Jennie for a while. I also would have liked to see a little more focus on the romance, and less on the banditry (but here, again, this is a personal preference). Generally speaking, it was a nice, clean romance--the writing wasn't particularly memorable, but it was clear and moved quickly.
38. Maureen Johnson, The Madness Underneath (sequel to The Name of the Star). I enjoyed the first novel in Johnson's The Shades of London series, about Rory Devereaux's encounter with a Jack-the-Ripper type serial killer while she attended Wexford Academy. The sequel begins with Rory struggling to put her life back together. The first few chapters are understandably slow, as Rory tries to care about anything. When her therapist suggests Rory return to Wexford, the story picks up. Rory picks up the threads of her old life, including her involvement with the Shades (an elite and secret ghost hunting arm of the police). A new set of murders suggest the possibility of another serial killer, so Rory and the gang set out to investigate and uncover something much more unusual, and unsettling. For the first two thirds of the book, I was interested but not especially overwhelmed. The last 1/3 of the book takes a drastic turn (one I sort of saw coming), but left me pretty frustrated with the story. I realize this is the problem with second books in a series--usually the first book wraps up at least one plot (think Harry Potter or the Hunger Games); the second book struggles because it has to set up the third story and so it often feels less finished. I didn't feel like the first part of the book set up the ending as well as it could have; there was also a plot twist at the end that made me extremely unhappy. I won't say what it is because I don't want to spoil it--suffice it to say that Johnson will have to do some pretty incredible word magic in the last book to make me okay with the ending. (That said, I will undoubtedly read the third book just to find out what happens, so maybe the frustrating ending actually achieved what it set out to do.)
39. (I almost forgot to add this one!) Alethia Kontis, Enchanted. This came recommended by my sister so I was looking forward to reading it--but my feelings for it are ultimately mixed. The writing at times was spectacularly lovely, but somehow the overall story just didn't do it for me. Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, but she's still coming into her powers. One day, on a ramble through the woods, she meets and befriends an enchanted frog. When she releases him (unintentionally) from his curse, the prince returns home and orders a series of three balls so that he can woo Sunday (her family holds a grudge against him, for good reason). Things get complicated after that, partly because Kontis seems determined to weave part of half a dozen fairy tales into the story (The Frog Prince, Cinderella, Jack and the Giant Killer, etc.). I liked many of the allusions--and I liked the complex back story for many of the characters and I liked the characters themselves, but ultimately I didn't love it. Ironically, I think I would have liked it better if the story was pared down a bit so that the lyrical language didn't get swallowed in the plot.