Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Lydia Bennet's Story: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Lydia Bennet's Story: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and PrejudiceLydia Bennet's Story: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Jane Odiwe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We've all seen it on messageboards and on facebooks--someone's sister, not too discerning, making bad choices with the wrong men. And haven't we all hoped that this person would wake up, grow up, and turn their life around? Well, in Austen, Lydia Bennet is that flighty sister--and as long as we are talking fantasy fulfillment, that's what Odiwe delivers here. The first half of this book tells Lydia's thread of the story already written in _Pride and Prejudice_--specifically the details about her visit to Brighton and elopement with Wickham (who is, of course, the brother-in-law from hell we've also all seen or heard about). In the second half of the book, Lydia wakes up and grows up, and Odiwe manages to grab her a happy ending, too. I believe this ending, in the same way I believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and romance heroes with a 30-second refractory period.

View all my reviews

Review: Wedding of the Season

Wedding of the Season (Abandoned at the Altar, #1)Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beatrix and Will were engaged, but the relationship broke up just before their wedding, when she decided she couldn't accompany him to Egypt to pursue his life's dream of discovering King Tut's tomb. It's years later now; Will's now a Duke (10 points!) and he's back in England seeking funding for his expedition. Beatrix is now engaged to another Duke (another 10 points! This is a high-scoring book on the title-meter). Will Will, still smitten, be able to rekindle their old love? Will Beatrix be able to drop her stuffy persona and be the adventuress Will really needs? Oh, Will, Will, Will! This was a fun read with obvious sequel bait (not to mention, that, depending on where you look, this is either first or second in a series! Oh the confusion).

View all my reviews

Review: A Taste Of Heaven

A Taste Of HeavenA Taste Of Heaven by Alexis Harrington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A mail-order bride deceived into marrying a septuagenarian, Liberty Ross is at a loss when he dies of pneumonia after a particularly brutal Montana winter. With no job and not enough money to get home, the only employment prospect in town seems to be the whorehouse...but luckily some cowboys show up in need of a cook. While the rancher, Tyler Hollins, specifically does not want a woman on the ranch, he really does need a cook and Libby sticks around long enough for them to fall for each other and start healing their past hurts. This book was very good, striking the right balance between tragedy and joy in the harsh yet beautiful environment of the American West. I read about a cattle drive--and liked it! This is the second book I've read by Harrington and I definitely will be reading more.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: Wild Heart

Wild HeartWild Heart by Lori Brighton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Orphaned Ella has been brought to $creepy_estate to become governess to the heir to an earldom, a wild man raised by wolves in the jungle or some such. Well, actually not so much raised by wolves as hiding from the human variety of wolf trying to kill him. As the governess becomes attracted to the hero (who isn't half as wild as he comes across), it becomes obvious that they are still being stalked by human predators seeking a map to a clue to some mysterious magical McGuffin! There are a few surprising twists in this historical book of romantic suspense, but the ending seems inconclusive unless this is the first of a series.

View all my reviews

Review: The Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three Parts

The Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three PartsThe Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three Parts by Julia Quinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

his is an intriguing idea--a novel in 3 parts, written by 3 collaborating authors. It's essentially 3 novellas tied closely together. I can tell which part is James's but I can't tell the authors on the other 2 parts. The set-up is a house party - hero #1 is trying to get hitched so he invites some likely ladies to visit. However, 2 of the likeliest ladies end up finding 2 other heroes to marry! What's a poor horse-mad earl to do? Charming as far as it went, not particularly deep.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What the Ratings Stars Mean

1 star - (I didn't like it) This book sucks like a black hole, it's so bad.
2 stars - (meh) I'm never going to get back the hours of my life I spent reading this, am I?
3 stars - (medium quality and enjoyment) I enjoyed this while reading it, but, like Chinese food, it isn't going to stick with me for very long.
4 stars - (good!) This book was intriguing enough that I kept thinking about it after putting it down. I may have re-read a few passages and I may read the whole thing again sometime.
5 stars - (awesomesauce!) I not only couldn't put this book down, I didn't. Once I finished it, I read it again.

Review: A Midnight Clear

A Midnight ClearA Midnight Clear by Kristi Astor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A turn-of-the-century tale of a painter who falls in love with a woman he briefly meets on an ocean voyage, determining that she's his muse. His pursuit meets with mixed success, as our heroine has a shameful secret in her past that keeps her from trusting him. He is also keeping a secret from her, and when he must leave her unexpectedly, her family schemes to keep them apart. If you like a book with a tormented heroine, but one that is not quite as tormented as a Jo Goodman heroine, you might like this book.

View all my reviews

Review: Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right

Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right (Impossible Bachelors, #2)Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right by Kieran Kramer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An unabashedly silly, lighthearted romp. Our heroine, Lady Poppy, has been putting off her many suitors by pleading a previous engagement to the "Duke of Drummond"--a man she believes is a fictional invention of her cook's. That way she can save herself for Prince Sergei, her childhood crush. However, the Duke of Drummond turns out to be real--and decides to claim the lady for his own. Hijinks ensue, along with a secret agent subplot that is more in the spirit, though not particulars, of Dufenschmirtz vs. Perry the Platypus than the Scarlet Pimpernel. If you want something lighthearted and completely unbelievable, this is your book.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: Darcy and Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley

Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at PemberleyDarcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley by Linda Berdoll

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another, let's call it Jane Austen fanfic. Picking up (or, rather, dragging) where _Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife_ let off, it follows the further fortunes and misfortunes of the Darcy, Bingley, Fitzwilliam, Wickham, and Christie/Arbuthnot (Berdoll's characters) families after Waterloo. This book is afflicted by Berdoll's coyness, as she jumps ahead in each character's story, falls back to fill in the past details, and drives the reader crazy with the flow and pacing (this flaw was present in the previous book too, but it's worse here). Also the attempt at period language is inconsistent at best. Just spelling the words "compleat" and "eagre" don't make you Austen or even Susanna Clark. Anyway. The best parts had to do with Wickham's life / misadventures after his Waterloo desertion and presumed death (I know this is a semi-spoiler, but given the character, can you doubt it would have happened?) and interaction with Lydia's scandalous fate. Also, Georgiana Darcy emerges from a chrysalis as a fairly ruthless character, comparable indeed to Wickham except for the, you know, lack of being a sociopath. Anyway, this was worse than the previous book, worse than Austen, I doubt I'll buy any more even if she publishes them.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice ContinuesMr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues by Linda Berdoll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A word about these Jane Austen spinoffs. They were free. I generally don't like spinoffs from classics, but as long as I can sort of separate them in my mind from the REAL Austen works, I can enjoy them. These are stories about characters with a Pride and Prejudice-like background. I can be OK with that.

So, the author notes, Jane Austen was a maiden lady and didn't write about sex so Berdoll had to go and fill this appalling lack. And fill it she did. This book should be titled, "Mr. Darcy takes his wife...on the the bathtub...on the Chippendale table...all over Pemberley" because we hear a lot about Darcy's passionate nature (matched, apparently, by Elizabeth's) and how large his "manly instrument" is--because, of course, Berdoll is trying for period voice (with mixed success), the sex scenes are kind of like Jane Austen cribbed the vocabulary from Fanny Hill. Which leads, eventually, to stuff like this, right before their first ball at Pemberley:

Further foreplay an irrelevance, he simply thrust into her with the considerable insistence and dedication of a pile driver...Then, he hoarsely bade her do the unlikely.

"Pray, do not bathe. Do not cleanse yourself."

She nodded. He held her close, his breath hot against her ear.

"Every time I look upon you tonight, I want not only to know my seed is in you," his lips grazed her hair as he whispered. "I want to know you feel it running down your legs."


Mr. Darcy making his wife dance in the wet spot and the like aside, though (and there are only a few of them), this book isn't actually bad as long as you keep reminding yourself that it isn't Austen. Berdoll's Darcy makes an appealing romance-hero type, the early trials of his and Elizabeth's marriage and the lives of their families and friends--with new characters appropriately introduced--are interesting (and historically realistic) enough. Besides a lot of sex, this book contains abduction, murder, natural deaths, and the battle of Waterloo--none of which were really Austen's oevre but fit well into Berdoll's story.

So, final conclusion? With a little shame I admit I could not put this book down. Compared to most historical romances, this is quality stuff (although it technically isn't historical romance--it's almost more akin to a family saga, although it covers only about 7 years). I bought the sequel. I just hope I don't become a Jane Austen spinoff junkie after this free Sourcebooks promotion.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Forbidden Falls

Forbidden Falls (Virgin River, #8)Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first of Carr's "Virgin River" series and I am favorably impressed. Widowed Presbyterian minister Noah Kincaid buys an abandoned church on eBay, and sets out to renovate it and start his ministry. In need of an assistant, he hires single mom Ellie Baldwin--a former stripper and single mom with custody issues--her psycho ex has her kids.

The stories of other townsfolk interweave with Noah and Ellie's story, especially that of a young married couple with a toddler faced with the unexpected guardianship of the husband's ex-girlfriend's infant daughter. Framing the story is Noah's relationship with a dog who's been abandoned, injured, and left for dead, whose tale ends up paralleling Ellie's.

Carr's probably also having a little fun here--like I think there might be some Biblical character named "Noah" who attempts a big construction project--but overall this is a good contemporary romance about a man with a mission. (And I wouldn't classify it as inspy--folks, we have Presbyterian pastor premarital sex in this book!)

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: Bound By Temptation

Bound By TemptationBound By Temptation by Lavinia Kent

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A merry widow (these books are full of merry widows) is bound by temptation...and her a stranger's bed? Oh, whatever could have happened? Who is this man and why does he think she has stolen his watch? The sequel to _A Talent for Sin_, this book moves in many unexpected directions, much like the hero who is looking for his sister.

View all my reviews

Review: A Talent for Sin

A Talent for SinA Talent for Sin by Lavinia Kent

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A merry widow's young lover wants to marry her--but she sees several reasons, including her past and their ages, why it is not a good idea. But he is sure that it is. But she is sure that it is not. What a stalemate. Then her family situation leads her to make a choice that leads to heartbreak and tragedy. This was better than I expected, although I though one of the choices she made was kind of stupid. There's an elderly woman character in this book who is worth the price of admission.

View all my reviews

Review: Salt Bride

Salt BrideSalt Bride by Lucinda Brant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years after he apparently impregnated and abandoned her, the Earl of Salt Hendon (the Salt of the title, has nothing to do with NaCl) marries Jane Despard. Both have their reasons for entering into the match -- Jane must marry so her beloved stepbrother can access his inheritance, and Lord Salt has been impelled by an appeal to his honor and a long-ago promise. Although considered a mesalliance, Jane soons wins over Salt's friends, family, and may be on the road to winning his heart--but will the machinations of a dead puppetmaster and living villainess work to unite or separate them?

This was a fascinating book, full of period detail (I think some of these authors writing about the Georgian period do so because they are total fans of period garb!), likable hero and heroine, an interesting cast of well-fleshed-out secondary characters, and an interesting plot. I loved this book but if you are turned off by an older man/younger woman pairing where the heroine isn't very assertive, this may not be the book for you.

View all my reviews

Review: Taken by Desire

Taken by DesireTaken by Desire by Lavinia Kent

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More of a companion book to _Bound by Temptation_ this book actually shares scenes with that book a la Jo Goodman's Compass Club books which I think is kind of neat. An independent single heiress, attempting to protect her sister, is caught in a compromising position and societal pressure is brought to make her marry the man, whom she has known since childhood. She has reasons of her own for needing a husband; her American cousins are after her wealth and are willing to declare her insane if needs be. Like all of Kent's books, _Taken by Desire_ explores the choices available to--and the social/legal limitations of -- women in the Regency milieu, even privileged ones (widows, and the independently wealthy).

I've enjoyed Lavinia Kent's books; although they have their flaws, they feature independent, sexy (and only occasionally stupid) heroines who value family and friendship, and attempt to assert what power they can as women--which disappointingly often, is sexual power over men.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review: A Countess by Christmas

A Countess by Christmas (Harlequin Historical)A Countess by Christmas by Annie Burrows

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After her elderly adopted mother loses all her money, our heroine (the adopted daughter) accompanies her to beg the generosity of her senior relative--an Earl (3 points!)--at a Christmas house party. The hero is a tormented man, haunted by the death of his late wife, and unable to trust the women around him; he thaws only slowly in the presence of the heroine, who remains unsure of his love until the last minute. This was much more like a traditional Regency in feel, although there is some mild sensuality at the end (which seemed somewhat out of place, actually, leading me to wonder if there is some contractual obligation for authors in this line to include a sex scene). I did like this book, very much.

View all my reviews

Review: Mistress by Midnight

Mistress by Midnight (Hqn)Mistress by Midnight by Nicola Cornick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cornick is hit-or-miss with me but this one was closer to a hit than a miss. The heroine, an inquistive intellectual bent on revenge for her brother's death, investigates his slayer--a man she used to love. Who is in turn maddeningly attracted to her. And then there is a big, and I mean big, flood of beer, trapping them together. Amazing, but the beer flood, the most preposterous part of this romance, is the one event in the book that actually happened in real life. A romance on the better side of average.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 6, 2010

Review: The Heir

The HeirThe Heir by Grace Burrowes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, it's kind of rare these days I read 2 really good romances in a row. The hero is the heir to a dukedom (thus the title) and his name is Gayle! That's worse than a man named Tracy, tantamount to a boy named Sue, and makes me think of a schoolgirl from the 1970s. But anyway, this poor man has taken on the responsibilities of the dukedom from his semi-irresponsible father, and is under increasing pressure from his father to marry. Pressure, as in his father instigates a stupid-ass scheme with his mistress, motivating the mistress to get pregnant by someone else, thereby foiling himself. But still-- intrusive and embarrassing and awkward and SO not what you want dear old dad to be doing. So you'd think our hero's life would take a turn for the worse when his housekeeper THINKS she sees him molesting a maid (he's not) and whacks him with a poker. But as she nurses his wounds, they start developing an affection for each other that soon leads to love. But the housekeeper, our heroine, Anna, has secrets of her own, and despite the fact that Gayle (fortunately his first name is rarely mentioned. He's usually referred to by title or as "the earl") wants to marry her, she continually refuses. OH, what secret could she be hiding?

The complexity of family relationships--between parents and children and between siblings are well-explored in this novel--especially in the hero's family, which stands in stark contrast with the relationships in the heroine's family. This romance is not content to explore the surface of emotions but dives in, deep. But the small details are also well-portrayed--Anna's nurturing aspect is illustrated, for example, as she directly cares for the hero (I can't say Gayle. I can't) in injury and illness, and as she makes sure he always has fresh flowers in the house and his favorite candies to eat, invites his brothers to stay with him, and in many other ways acts like his wife except for the issue of not saying yes to his proposals.

There were some weird oddities in the book. It claims to be set during a heat wave which apparently lasts a couple of months, whereas this book is set in England where it rarely gets hot and never for long (then again, I suppose an English person would find 80 degrees unbearably hot, so I guess it's what it's what you're used to--but months? really?). And also some social things seemed kind of off, like a courtesan being an appropriate marriage prospect for an aristocrat. And the hero's name, oh, dear, the hero's name. But these were small things compared to the overall book. The charm of this romance (and it is very charming) isn't the plot, which is hardly original in its overview, but the execution, which is very well-done indeed.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: The Pursuit of Pleasure

The Pursuit of PleasureThe Pursuit of Pleasure by Elizabeth Essex

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Easily the best romance I read this week, maybe this month. When Miss Elizabeth Paxton claims to want to be a widow in order to live independently, her childhood friend Captain James Marlowe proposes to her since, he says, he is likely to die on duty in the Royal Navy. It's hard to do this review justice without giving away spoilers, but if you like angsty romance or romance where the hero and heroine are childhood friends, this is the book for you. The heroine is seriously kick-ass, and once she discovers the hero has deceived her in several very important and painful ways (despite his somewhat good intentions), she doesn't take any prisoners--or any shit from him anymore-- and then she does his secret job better than he does. The emotions are intense and the sex scenes are hot without taking over half the book. The plot is complex and interesting. Thumbs up.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Blame It On Paris

Blame It On ParisBlame It On Paris by Jennifer Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mugged of her purse while in Paris, the heroine is left with no money, no passport, and no hotel key. So she emailed all her friends to wire money to an address in London while manning the computer from Nigeria--OH WAIT, no, actually a hunky American JUST HAPPENED to be on the scene and whisk her away for a mad romantic sex tour of Paris that would have been even more awesome had she not been engaged to someone else at the time. Turns out the hero and heroine have more in common than nookie in the City of Lights; they both have to go back to their hometown of South Bend, Ind. (home of the OTHER Notre Dame) and work out their daddy issues together. This was actually very cute.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: Miss Foster's Folly

Miss Foster's FollyMiss Foster's Folly by Alice Gaines

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sold as straight romance, there was enough detailed nooky here to reclassify it as erotic. Miss Foster, a very wealthy Victorian-era heiress, decides, upon the death of her father, that she wants to travel to Europe (disguised as a scandalous widow to protect her project from her straightlaced relatives)--and sleep her way through England, France, Spain, and Italy (in the order, as you will notice, from lowest to highest, of that country's reputations as lovers). Unfortunately for her plans, her Englishman believes that she is the ONE, the destined wife for him, and therefore wants more than just an affair (and he's not too happy about her travel plans, either, once he finds them out). Sparks and clothing fly as the courtship dance commences. There's an absolutely hilarious scene where the heroine talks about orchids.

View all my reviews

Review: His Sinful Secret

His Sinful Secret (Notorious Bachelors, #3)His Sinful Secret by Emma Wildes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the wake of his brother's unexpected death, a former spy takes on his family obligations, including marrying his brother's fiance. The brother had secrets of his own. As does the fiance. And amongst all this secret stuff, someone appears to be targeting the hero violently. Could it be the secret agent, the thesaurus spy (Roget)-- his secret nemesis from the Napoleonic wars? Shhh. It's a secret!

View all my reviews

Review: The Dangerous Viscount

The Dangerous Viscount (The Burgundy Club #2)The Dangerous Viscount by Miranda Neville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read a lot of romance, and it's pretty rare for a romance to grab (and fondle?) me like this one did. I enjoyed Neville's other books but they didn't really worm their way into my mind like _The Dangerous Viscount_, which I re-read and then spent several days thinking about. This book is the second in the Burgundy Club series (her series about the sexiness of Regency book rare book collecting) and some characters in the first book are supporting characters in this book.

When Diana Fanshawe meets Sebastian Iverley, it's because she wants to marry his cousin, Lord Blakeney, who is a marquess. However, she likes Iverley, a book collector and Regency-era nerd--he's intelligent (when he's not grunting inarticulately), he fits in perfectly with her eccentric family, he's kind of good-looking behind the glasses and unfashionable clothes, and he's obviously, despite a lifetime of learned misogyny, attracted to her. So when Blakeney and his friends start to cast aspersions on Iverley's sexuality, Diana makes a bet that she can get him to kiss her. She is not aware that by making this bet, she's stumbling into the hornet's nest of Iverley's longstanding family rivalry with Blakeney, and his betrayal and abandonment issues. So when Iverley discovers the bet, he becomes determined on revenge. And his revenge is really, really awful. So Diana must, and does, in turn avenge herself. When things between them seem hopelessly beyond repair, fate steps in and throws them together again.

I think the most intriguing thing in this book is the psychological portrait of Iverley. He's at once intelligent but incredibly stupid, and a serious late bloomer when it comes to relationships with women. He's also a man divided--when he contemplates his revenge, you can see his better self fighting with the angry and betrayed man, and almost--but not quite--winning. And Diana not only stands up to him and holds her own, she helps him become a better man by the end of the book, one who can trust and love her and who is working to overcome his other issues. His nerdiness is both appealing and funny at times (his reaction to most developments in their relationship is to try to buy a book about what is going on, which turns out to be both hilarious and, at times, sexy).

This book also looks at women's choices, and how they are constrained. Minor characters include a mother who must choose between her marriage and her child; a woman grateful to have the choice between being a servant and not a mine worker; and a woman grateful to have the choice between being a servant and being a prostitute. And Diana's and Iverley's actions--good or bad-- also constrain their future choices in ways that may be unhappy at times but that also make redemption possible.

Last but not least, a number of the minor characters in this book are developed very well. Diana's French maid Chantal, her sister Min the teenage Radical, and Blakeney himself are so interesting as characters you want to read more about them; Blakeney and Min could sustain books of their own. (But not a romance between Blakeney and Min! That would be so wrong).

View all my reviews

Announcement: More reviews!

I'm currently arranging for my capsule reviews of romances from Goodreads to be published here as well. So you'll soon be getting new, more, but much shorter reviews.

Review: Undeniably Yours

Undeniably Yours (Kowalski Family, #2)Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Undeniably cute accidental-pregnancy contemporary romance. When bar-owner Kevin Kowalski, who routinely gets propositioned by barflies who write their numbers on napkins with lipstick, has a one-night stand with free spirit commitment-phobe Beth Hanson, they never expect to see each other again--until she turns up pregnant. Kevin is immediately into being a dad, and he's into Beth too--but she's afraid he'll take over her semi-transient life. Meanwhile there's a nice counterpoint sub-plot about the bar-waitress who is fleeing her past, but is forced into confronting it. This might well be subtitled "Women Who Are Afraid of Being Put in a Box and the Men Who Love Them." I will be reading more by this author.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Title: Rakes and Radishes
Author: Susanna Ives
Genre: Regency
Grade: B (for Barns. and Byronic)
How Hot is it?: three hot chili peppers

Henrietta Watson, a generally kind-hearted mathematical genius who is prone to fantasies influenced by gothic novels, goes to London with her childhood friend, Lord Kesseley. Kesseley, a down-to-earth, agriculture-minded peer, is in love with Henrietta, but she is in love with her cousin, a poet who is himself in pursuit of a society beauty. Once in London, in a social milieu saturated with prostitution, gambling, loveless marriages, hypocrisy, and adultery, things start to unravel and hearts break. Henrietta doesn't understand her feelings and leads Kesseley on to the point where he loses it and decides to shed his bumpkin image and become the mad, bad, and dangerous to know kind of rake that Gothic novels portray and women apparently like. Meanwhile Henrietta, due to her relationship with Kesseley's mother (around whom a thematically linked subplot revolves), becomes involved in a coterie of older, wordly women who enjoy her card-playing skills, and eventually finds herself in the midst of a scandal.

There's a lot to like about this book. Ives turns the lovable/reformed rake trope on its head and looks at the process of a nice guy turning into a rake and nearly losing everything he loves. I adore books about people who have a savant-like skill at math and science, and this heroine is a mathematical genius who works with her astronomer father (and assists in an important scientific discovery). I even kind of like the idea that in this romance you're watching a relationship unravel and nearly be destroyed, rather than building it, for most of the book--probably because the idea of redemption really appeals to me. The theme that we don't have to be caught in a cycle of dysfunction because of our families, and that even if we do we can break out of it, is well-illustrated here.

I did have some problems with this book. It was poorly copyedited ("shined", "Gretna Greene", etc.), which unfortunately seems to be legion in e-books. (I don't blame the author for things like that. Things like that are Why We Need Good Copyeditors, says this former editor, plaintively). There were some loose ends left dangling--at several points Kesseley does something that causes someone else real harm and the reader never does find out if he went and made it right (an important aspect of redemption). Also, Henrietta and Kesseley's reconciliation and declaration of love is very near the end of the book and I would have liked to see more of their renewed relationship. But overall I found this a satisfying read from a promising new author.

This books is currently only available as an e-book.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Like a Good Scoundrel, But...

Title: Seize the Fire
Author: Laura Kinsale
Genre: Regency (sort of).
Grade: C (for c-sick after reading about so many ships)
How Hot is it?: three hot chili peppers

...A good scoundrel should get what he deserves.

This book is...panoramic. The heroine is a princess of some little Alpine country and has been educated in England to be a revolutionary idealist. The "hero" (I use this word loosely) is basically a sea-captain version of Flashman, that is, if Flashman were conscience-driven enough to--barely--NOT throw the girl out of the troika to the wolves as he saves his own ass, but to even fixate (sometimes) on protecting her (as long as it doesn't threaten him, of course). Throughout this book, which is set variously in England, Portugal, the Falkland Islands, and the Ottoman Empire (!), the heroine is stupid and idealistic, and the hero periodically betrays her and then comes crawling back with his tail between his legs. Pathetic. By the end they have figured out to be a LITTLE smarter and a LITTLE more reliable, but I wouldn't bet on it lasting. Again, the conflict in this romance seems to be built on a self-reinforcing cycle of negative behavior that isn't convincingly resolved into something that promises a generally happy ending.

Kinsale is considered one of the greats of historical romance and she's written some well-above-average stuff (Flowers from the Storm and Midsummer Moon are two of my favorite romances, after all) and I can't fault her here as a prose stylist. But it's pretty hard for a romance to overcome characters this flawed (in the case of the hero) and annoying (in the case of the heroine). The sympathy is lacking. On the other hand, it's a difficult book to put down because Kinsale write so well you almost miss the dysfunctional dynamics.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I think I'll write more reviews in verse

or filk them.

Title: His Wicked Kiss
Author: Gaelen Foley
Genre: Regency.
Grade: B-
How Hot is it?: four hot chili peppers

*generic folk riff*

They say don't go down the Orinoco River,
if you're looking for a wife.
'Cause Naturalist Farraday has a pretty young daughter,
she's mighty handy with a gun and a knife.

Her tender lips are sweeter than honey
And she has long flaming red hair.
The snakes and tree frogs tell Eden Farraday
If a stranger should wander there.

Jack Knight sailed down the Orinoco River.
Part of a plot to help Bolivar.
But after he kissed Eden Farraday
She hid on his ship to escape her stalker.

Her tender lips are sweeter than honey
And she kills hissing fer-de-lance.
but on that trip across the ocean
Jack Knight will get in her pants.

Jack don't care about Eden's feelings
He's gonna lock her in his castle
And even when he frees her
He's not getting any anymore.

*repeat to fade*

Sunday, February 21, 2010

So. Not. Hideous.

Title: One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies
Author: Sonya Sones
Genre: Young Adult (not romance, but has some romantic elements)
Grade: A
How Hot is it?: one green bell pepper

When I was a teen
I would make up stories in my head
and fantasize about writing them down
and one of those stories
was about a girl
whose parent died
and she had to go and live
with the other parent
who was some kind of famous person,
as you see,
Sonya Sones wrote this story first.
And it's very good,
for some reason unfathomable to me,
it is written nearly entirely in verse.

And why, yes.
I did read that book
after I read about
the morons
who tried to ban it.
People who are afraid
that teens have love lives
and that maybe
their kids will catch teh ghey
by reading about it
are delivering more royalties
to Sonya Sones
because I bought her book,
a book which seems
to have pummeled its style
into my subconscious
and will not let go.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Pitfalls of Poor Plotting and of Mere Marquess Heroes Named Gareth

Title: Faith
Author: Deneane Clark
Genre: Regency-set historical
Grade: D
How Hot is it?: 2 chili peppers

Title: Proof by Seduction
Author: Courtney Milan
Genre: early Victorian historical
Grade: A
How Hot is it?: 3 chili peppers

This is a little game of compare and contrast. Both of these stories are historical romances set in the early 1800s and have heroes named Gareth who are Marquesses. Marquesses are not quite Dukes, but they're high up enough that they have the aristocratic appeal. This is pretty much all these books have in common. Faith (the book title and also the heroine's name! It's like a twofer!) is the story of two poorly matched people who are socially forced into marriage after they kiss in a garden during a party. Misunderstandings ensue between them, which make them both miserable. A meddling sister-in-law doesn't help. Eventually the misunderstandings are unraveled. This is the basic "Big Misunderstanding" plot, variation "multiple misunderstandings.

Proof by Seduction
is about an unlikely love affair between a professional fortune-teller and the aristocratic uncle of one of her clients. In this book, the hero sets out to prove the heroine a fraud, and she sets out to not only prove herself but also improve his life--she's a benevolent fortune-teller, trying to improve her clients' lives through her insight and prognostications. The insights are real but the prognostications are not. The hero, Marquess Gareth, is a naturalist with a high regard for integrity but a very low ability to demonstrate any sort of affection to anyone (including his sister and cousin). This would be a match made in heaven if not for the obvious class differences.

One of the things that makes a romance satisfying, for me at least and I think for others, is that the hero and heroine not only complete each other but they challenge each other to be better people. This is one of the pitfalls of using the "Big Misunderstanding" plot--sure, it may lend itself to either Three's Company style humor or to tragic misery, but at the end, the author has given you two people who leap to conclusions and don't trust each other. The author has to unravel the whole thing while simultaneously displaying to the reader that these two people have learned their lesson. A lot of the time, I don't feel they've learned anything at all--particularly if the misunderstandings are multiple and lead to tragic misery. It often makes a hero, particularly a hero beset by sexual jealousy, look like an emotional abuser. During the course of the novel (I speak not only of Faith here but also of Rolls's His Lady Mistress, James's Potent Pleasures, and other books I've read not long ago) the hero goes through multiple cycles of jealousy/distrust, infliction of cruelty, and reconciliation with the heroine. At the end, the reader wonders if the characters truly do have a Happy Ever After, or are they just in the reconciliation phase of another cycle? To resolve the plot properly, the author has to convince us that the cycle is broken. Many authors just don't have the skill or experience to do this.

Of the last 2 authors I've read, Milan gets this basic thing about romance. Clark does not. In Proof by Seduction, Gareth and Jenny challenge each other to be better people--as a result of their relationship Jenny becomes more honest (at a heavy price) and Gareth becomes more able to show his affection to those he loves. They emerge from the novel better than they were before. In Faith, however, Gareth leaps to conclusions, always negative, about his new wife, putting her through useless misery; while she, confronted with his coldness and irrational jealousy, continually runs away from him. The misunderstandings unraveled, the story ends. There's no indication that the hero and heroine are no longer 2 people who jump to conclusions and run away from their problems--or even that they're self-aware enough to address the issue properly.

And that, my dear readers, is the difference between an A book and a C book. Faith has additional pacing and plot problems besides the basic problem at the core of the novel, which earns it a D.