Sweet Enemy was a recommendation I picked up from my regular visits to SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, a book that falls into the general category of his...moreSweet Enemy was a recommendation I picked up from my regular visits to SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, a book that falls into the general category of historical romances with bluestocking heroines. This book's heroine, Liliana Claremont, is a brilliant chemist who chafes at the restrictions that society places upon her, keeping her from pursuing achievements in that science. But when she discovers that her father may well have been murdered, she's determined to look for evidence at the house of Geoffrey Wentworth, the Earl of Stratford.
Geoffrey's our obligatory broody hero, whose family is throwing the obligatory mess of young misses at him in an attempt to get him to marry. Liliana's own family pressures her to go to his estate in the hopes of catching the Earl's eye--but all Liliana's interested in is finding out whether this man was responsible for her father's murder.
Now, this is a setup guaranteed to catch my attention, and it did a decent job of it. Ms. Snow's writing was solid, and I did very much like the shooting contest scene, in which Liliana actually gets to use her chemistry knowledge. Set off against this, though, were tropes that usually weary me in a romance novel and this time was no exception: i.e., the failure of characters to just talk to each other, insta-lust, and how the Big Misunderstanding that almost always causes the characters to fight almost always comes after they've finally had sex.
But that said? I did actually enjoy this book for the most part and I'd like to see how Ms. Snow's writing in this series progresses. Three stars.(less)
As I've mentioned in my previous reviews of Courtney Milan's work, I like her writing quite a bit--and Unlocked, her novella set between Books 1 and 2...moreAs I've mentioned in my previous reviews of Courtney Milan's work, I like her writing quite a bit--and Unlocked, her novella set between Books 1 and 2 of her Turner series, was no exception. This story features a side character that we briefly meet in Book 1, and how the wallflower Lady Elaine Warren is courted by an earl who once was extremely cruel to her and now deeply regrets it.
I really liked Elaine's backstory, and I liked Elaine a lot as a character. The incident in her and her love interest's history that set her down the path of spinsterhood was his publicly mocking her for a distinctly unladylike laugh, and the ton being what it is in these sorts of books, all of his hangers-on immediately leap on the chance to mock poor Elaine mercilessly. This pretty much ruins her socially, and I can't help but feel for the poor woman and want to punch Evan for having pulled that on her. This being a romance novella, though, Evan's maturation as a character hinges upon his having realized the error of his ways, and he does so beautifully.
If Regencies are your thing, this is a great fast read, and you can read without needing to have read the first in the Turner series since it stands alone. Four stars.(less)
The third of Courtney Milan's Turner series, her Regencies following the Turner brothers, turned out to be just as entertaining as the first two. And...moreThe third of Courtney Milan's Turner series, her Regencies following the Turner brothers, turned out to be just as entertaining as the first two. And in some ways, I found it the most satisfying of the three!
Of the three Turner brothers, Smite's the one who engaged my sympathies the most when it came to the name he'd been saddled with by his Bible-obsessed mother: "'The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.'" Between this, the nightmares he suffers as a result of his childhood, his near-perfect memory, and his absolutely perfect committment to justice in his work as a magistrate, Smite's a deeply compelling character. And with Miranda Darling, a seamstress raised by actors, who's pulled into the shadowy dealings of the mysterious figure known as the Patron, Smite's got an excellent heroine to stand with him in the plot.
Miranda is desperate to keep her young charge Robbie away from the temptations of working for the Patron--even if it means putting herself at risk by working for the Patron herself. And when the opportunity arises, she leaps on the chance to become Smite's mistress and gain his protection for both herself and Robbie. Their relationship is a stormy one indeed. And one of my very favorite things about this book is how Ms. Milan handled Miranda's reaction to Smite's childhood trauma, i.e., with a refreshing lack of angst. I grinned outright at Smite's line to Miranda about how there's a limit to how much sentimentality he'll tolerate in a day, a line that exemplified the delightful lack of mawkish angst between them.
And of course, because this is a historical romance and this is how things must go, Miranda's troubles with the Patron are not at all easily resolved. Yet again, though, Ms. Milan excels. In many other books I've read, much of the plot conflict would have been handled by Miranda having to hide her troubles from Smite. Instead, here, she reveals them up front and they work together to get them dealt with.
Throw in some fun side resolution with the Turner family nemeses the Dalrymples, and some fun scenes involving Smite's lively dog, and all in all this was an excellent conclusion to the Turner trilogy. Four stars.(less)
It's a romance staple to do a series of interconnected books all featuring siblings in the same family, or employees of the same agency, or what have...moreIt's a romance staple to do a series of interconnected books all featuring siblings in the same family, or employees of the same agency, or what have you. Courtney Milan's Turner series is no exception. And happily, Unclaimed, the second book in the series, turned out to be just as much fun for me as the first.
Book 1 was the story of Ash, the oldest of the three brothers; Book 2 picks up with his younger brother Mark. Mark's an example of Milan cheerfully subverting another romance trope--because here, it's Mark, not the heroine of the novel, who's the one without sexual experience. This is by no means not Mark's only defining trait, but it's an important one that sets the course for the entire plot.
Mr. Turner--or rather, I should say, Sir Mark Turner, because the Queen has knighted him for his service to the nation's morality--has written a treatise, the Gentlemen's Practical Guide to Chastity. In her intro to the novel, Milan talks about how she wanted to write about a character with a rock star's level of fame, but since she's a writer of historicals, she had to figure out how to work it into the book in a period-appropriate fashion. Hence, Sir Mark's Guide!
Exactly how berserk England goes over his work is one of the somewhat sillier things about the novel, but in the context of the story I was willing to go along with it. Why Mark wrote it and how he reacts to the scores of young men (and older women towing their young daughters) who fawn over him are hugely important aspects of his character. And I've got to say, I found his resolve to remain chaste until he finds the exact right woman for him refreshing and charming, especially after all the reading of urban fantasy and paranormal romance I've done for the last several years.
Set off in strong contrast to Mark is our heroine, Jessica, a courtesan who's been paid to seduce him and ruin him in the eyes of the public. And as with Book 1, Jessica finds out fast that she genuinely likes Mark, and it doesn't take her long at all to back away hard from the idea of causing his public downfall.
There's all sorts of stuff that could be said here about the roles of gender and sexuality in this situation. And the book does, in fact, say them. Happily, it does so in a way that came across to me as natural for the characters and their interactions, without ever getting preachy. Mark calls out the hypocrisy of society's encouraging men to express their lusts, or at any rate not punishing them for it, while holding women to far stricter standards. An oh-so-modern and enlightened attitude for a man in the 1830's? Sure. But as put forth by Mark, it's sincere and believable. It helps a lot as well that Jessica has a great deal of agency as the plot progresses, especially in the final third of the story. And it helps, too, that there's a reasonably small amount of angst and drama as Jessica's initial goal is inevitably revealed.
As with Book 1, I had some minor quibbles with plausibility--but only minor ones. And I'm eagerly heading on to read Book 3! Four stars.(less)
Nora Roberts, my main go-to author for formulaic but nonetheless entertaining romance and romantic suspense, holds that position for a few strong reas...moreNora Roberts, my main go-to author for formulaic but nonetheless entertaining romance and romantic suspense, holds that position for a few strong reasons. And among the strongest is that every so often, she does actually try to break out of formula. With Midnight Bayou, she delivers a rare oddity in my reading experience: a romance novel from the point of view of the male lead rather than the female.
Our hero, Declan Fitzgerald, has moved down to Louisiana to renovate an old house--and this being Louisiana, the house is of course full of secrets and ghosts with a bloody history, one that smacks Declan hard as he starts having disturbing dreams, hallucinations, and bouts of sleepwalking. There is of course his love interest, Lena, the beautiful owner of a local bar. As is generally the case with Ms. Roberts, the chemistry between these two is strong. And as is also generally the case with Ms. Roberts, we have the obligatory set of side characters with whom our hero has generally amusing interactions, especially the heroine's grandmother, Miss Odette.
The book falls over for me in two ways, though. The first of these is that while I do appreciate her trying a story with the male lead as the primary POV character, it didn't quite ring true enough for me to work. I usually find Roberts' portrayal of male characters to be more "what the typical romance reader idealizes as a male character" rather than truly well-rounded characters, and that's still the case here. Don't get me wrong, Declan does have some great lines, especially in several scenes with his best friend Remy. But he still frequently comes across to me as acting in given ways because That's How Boys Are Supposed To Act.
The second way the book falls down for me is the same way other Roberts paranormals have done for me so far: good buildup, but with a fizzle at the end where I was expecting way more of a punch than I actually got. It doesn't help, either, that a certain plot thread with Declan (about which I cannot go into details, for fear of spoilers) doesn't play at all well in the last couple of chapters.
So yeah. Not awful, but still not one of Roberts' better works. I'd recommend this one only if you're a completist, or if you'd like some very light reading. Two stars.(less)
Julie James' first book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, didn't do much for me. Fortunately, Practice Makes Perfect worked better for me, otherwise I'd ha...moreJulie James' first book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, didn't do much for me. Fortunately, Practice Makes Perfect worked better for me, otherwise I'd have seriously regretted buying three ebooks of hers at once!
The driving character conflict here has a bit more substance than the first book, which helps. We've got our heroine, Payton, who works for the same law firm as our hero, J.D., and it's established right out of the gate that they vociferously dislike each other. (Which is of course, in Romancelandia, code for "they will be snogging each other's faces off before we're halfway through the book".) The situation is decidedly Not Improved when they discover that someone in the firm is going to get a promotion--but there's only one promotion slot available. And guess which two members of the firm are up for consideration? They are, of course, forced to work together on a Supremely Important Case, all the while trying very hard to pretend they aren't noticing one another. With interest.
Though I did like this one better than the first, still, though, this one plays as awfully heteronormative to me. Payton's supposed to be a strident feminist, while J.D. stays just far enough on the good line of the line between "conversative" and "outright sexist jerk" that I did make it to the end of the book without wanting to punch him. So a lot of the conflict between them is driven by their perceptions of each other's gender politics, but it's presented in such a simplistic way that I wound up having a strange reaction to it--I was all "wait, there are still novels that have such watered-down gender politics as their character conflict?" And then I remembered that, yeah, well, these things still happen in real life, so. And some readers may get their first exposure to these sorts of questions through even such light fare as a romance novel.
But to get back to the overall point, even given the very standard conversative-boy-vs.-liberal-girl conflict, I did enjoy reading this. The main plot of how well Payton and J.D. handle the case they have to handle together is enjoyable enough, and I did like how they eventually ferret out the original cause of their animosity towards each other. Not a terribly substantial book overall, but a perfectly acceptable light read. Three stars.(less)
Okay, now we're finally talking. Something About You was the Julie James book so eagerly supported by the Smart Bitches, and when I finally made it to...moreOkay, now we're finally talking. Something About You was the Julie James book so eagerly supported by the Smart Bitches, and when I finally made it to this one after reading the first two by James, I could see what they were going on about. Of the three, which I read back to back, this one was easily most enjoyable to me. It helped a great deal that this one was more romantic suspense rather than a pure romance plotline, so there was more to line up with my personal reading tastes.
Our heroine Cameron Lynde is an assistant US attorney who overhears a murder while she's staying in a luxury hotel--and to her shock and horror (and to the glee of her percolating hormones), the FBI agent assigned to the case is Jack Pallas, the very same agent whose career she ruined three years before. Cue the obligatory Having to Put Their Past Behind Them to Solve the Case, and all of the attendant sexual tension therein.
Two big things I liked about this: Cameron was reasonably smart about dealing with police protection and Jack having to improve the security in her house. And by 'dealing with', I mean, 'she actually accepted it and did her best to work with it', as opposed to 'pitching a tantrum and sneaking around the guys trying to do their jobs to keep her from getting killed'. So points for that. Also high marks for having the B romance in this story actually being a gay one, which I was not expecting. Cameron has the typical Romance Heroine Accessory of a gay male best friend, only he and his boy get a nice amount of screen time and some actual character development.
It still wasn't the most substantial thing I've ever read, to be sure. While there were many aspects of it I enjoyed, I still found quite a few of the chain of events driving the overall plot disappointingly predictable. Still, this was definitely my favorite of the James ebooks I read earlier this year, and I liked it well enough that I'd consider reading further romantic suspense from this author. Three and a half stars (rounded up to four, since Goodreads doesn't do half star ratings).(less)
The fine ladies at the Smart Bitches site periodically do a Save the Contemporary campaign featuring, as you might guess, contemporary romances. And n...moreThe fine ladies at the Smart Bitches site periodically do a Save the Contemporary campaign featuring, as you might guess, contemporary romances. And not too long ago, they played up the author Julie James, who at that point had released a total of three novels. I was interested, so I went ahead and bought all three of the titles. Just the Sexiest Man Alive was the first of these.
And, unfortunately, it was the one I liked the least. I do not read as much comtemporary romance, in no small part because that's the romance subgenre most likely to remind me that in many ways, I'm just not the target audience for the standard heteronormative relationship story. I need something else in the story to hold my interest, which is why I like historicals, paranormals, or romantic suspense more. In this particular case, we've got lawyer Taylor Donovan assigned to give legal coaching to the actor Jason Andrews for his upcoming courtroom thriller--and while I might have had fun with this as a plot concept, it fell over hard for me for one simple reason.
I.e., I found our hero Jason to be a self-centered jackass. More than once he pulls selfish crap on Taylor that made me want to haul off and punch him one, and left me wondering what she could possibly see in him. That he ultimately does something less selfish for her, supposedly a sign that he's having a change of heart, doesn't play well since I don't buy that he's genuinely learned from his mistakes. I never got any sense that he realized "I'm being a selfish prick here and I should stop it", much less "I've got to tell her I'm sorry".
It's a shame, too, because James' writing is not bad. I am happy to say that I did like the books after this one better. For this one, though, two stars.(less)
I come to Courtney Milan courtesy of the fine ladies of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and while I'm not always aligned with their tastes, I have got to...moreI come to Courtney Milan courtesy of the fine ladies of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and while I'm not always aligned with their tastes, I have got to back 'em up on Milan's Turner series. Here's the thing about my reading romance novels--there are certain tropes in them that drive me spare, and are among the main reasons I steer clear of most contemporaries. I favor historicals and romantic suspense, on the grounds that they're less likely to display the tropes that drive me most spare, even as I'm very aware that those particular romance subgenres also have their own issues.
I'm not a history geek, so I couldn't dissect for you whether Milan's depiction of her chosen period is historically accurate. But I can tell you that she pulled off a story that, for me, beautifully balanced a historically accurate feel with character sensibilities more appealing to modern readers. In my reading experience to date, that's hard. Better yet, she skillfully subverted two of the biggest tropes I hate in many romances: having such a huge deal made over the heroine being a virgin, and the Big Misunderstanding that far too often provides "conflict" between the leads, the sort of conflict that can be solved in five minutes if they just talk to each other like adults.
And happily, she does all this in a tasty little scenario of political and familial intrigue. Ash Turner, our hero, has proven that the Duke of Parford is a bigamist, therefore destroying the legitimacy of his heirs, and opening the way for himself to take over as the rightful heir to the dukedom. But the Duke and his sons are having NONE OF THIS, and they've set the ailing Duke's daughter Margaret up to masquerade as his nurse--putting her into an excellent position to spy on the incoming new Duke and find anything, any flaw in his character or vulnerability in his history, that can ruin him in the eyes of Parliament so that they can take back their estate.
Naturally, our heroine finds Ash Turner dangerously appealing. And has to soon choose between him and her own family.
Margaret was awesome, and it is through her that Milan subverted those aforementioned tropes so beautifully. I'm not going to spell out how, so that I can avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that as aspects of her history were explored and Ash's responses to them were shown, I liked both characters immensely.
Mad, mad props as well to the inevitable vulnerability that Margaret discovers in Ash, another thing I won't spell out so as to avoid spoilers. But I will say that it's an aspect of him that is a source of genuine past strife between him and his brothers, and which genuinely made my heart go out to the poor guy.
Last but not least, how the eventual resolution of Margaret having to choose between Ash and her father and brothers--and how Ash must choose between Margaret and his own desire for revenge against her father--worked out beautifully.
All in all, great fun. I had some minor questions of plausibility here and there, but nothing serious to get in the way of enjoying the story. Four stars.(less)
Follow My Lead didn't grab me quite as much as previous Kate Noble outings--but that isn't to say I disliked this book. Because I didn't! I still foun...moreFollow My Lead didn't grab me quite as much as previous Kate Noble outings--but that isn't to say I disliked this book. Because I didn't! I still found this one an enjoyable read even though it didn't click with me quite as much as the previous installments of the Blue Raven series.
This time around our principals are Jason Cummings, the Duke of Rayne, and the scholar Winnifred Crane. I'm always a sucker for stories in which the heroine's a scholar of any kind, and given that this whole plot revolves around her wanting to go to Europe to do actual on-camera research, that's bonus. But the circumstances that push Jason into being Winn's escort made it a bit hard for me to suspend my disbelief; there were quite a few convolutions that had to happen before he could be thrown into her company.
On the other hand, though, I'm sure that's rather par for the course for this kind of a plot, so I was willing to hand-wave that and get on with the main story. Which is to say, Jason and Winnifred having to scamper across Europe without access to much in the way of money--especially vexing for Jason, accustomed as he is to wealth--and with a rival determined to marry Winn hot on their trail. It is amusing to see the two brainstorm their way through getting money, and since Winnifred does actually get to exhibit some scholarly train of thought on camera, it's fun to see Jason trying to keep up with her.
And of course there's the obligatory Pretending to Have to Be Married scenario, otherwise they'd scandalize everybody they meet. And of course, since they're having to pretend to be married, they naturally have to figure out how to react to one another in private as well. Seeing them work their way up through that is charming, and it's in those stretches of the story that Ms. Noble's fun touch with character chemistry comes through. All in all, three stars.(less)
I had a bit of a time getting into Sea of Suspicion, one of Carina Press' romantic suspense titles. Toni Anderson did draw me in nicely with the setup...moreI had a bit of a time getting into Sea of Suspicion, one of Carina Press' romantic suspense titles. Toni Anderson did draw me in nicely with the setup: rugged coast of Scotland, marine biologist stumbling across a murder, investigating detective on a quest for vengeance and locked squarely on the biologist heroine's boss as his primary suspect. By and large, it is a decent story. It's just that various aspects of characterization never quite clicked in for me.
Part of this had to do with the obligatory Troubled Pasts for both the heroine and the hero. While I acknowledge that it's a bit of a nice change of pace to see the hero as well as the heroine having to deal with sexual abuse in the past, that's a particular plot point I've seen too much of, both in fiction and among people I know in real life. Which is about all I can say about that, really, and it has less to do with this particular book and way more with just my personal tastes as a reader.
More pertinent to the book was that at least for a good stretch in the beginning, I was actively disliking the hero. He pulls one stunt in particular at the heroine's expense that made me cranky at him, and which was not entirely ameliorated by his owning up to it later.
I had better luck with liking the heroine as a character, even given my aforementioned weariness with sexual abuse as backstory. Plot-wise, the story's decent, and to its credit, it did come together more strongly for me towards the end. Props too for Anderson doing a nice job keeping me from figuring out the actual killer until suitably close to the end. Three stars.(less)