Hi, my name is Jacqueline, I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in love with this book.
This thing kicks ass. And, I don't mean in the "let's-create-comedic-comm...moreHi, my name is Jacqueline, I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in love with this book.
This thing kicks ass. And, I don't mean in the "let's-create-comedic-commentary-for-the-sake-of-an-amusing-hyperbolic-review" kind of kick-assery. I mean legitimate, I-glommed-this-mofo-in-one-day level of quality. So, what's this puppy about? Okay, quick run down; The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lie, a historical romantic mystery set in China during the Tang Dynasty which follows Yue-ying, a scarred indentured servant working in a Courtesan pleasure house, and Bai Huang, a privileged aristocratic playboy, both of whom are set by circumstances to solve a Who-Done-It murder mystery. And subsequent awesomeness ensues.
First off, let me just put it out there that while I do have some issues regarding the story (we'll get to those a minute), I have to say it; The Lotus Palace is basically the literary equivalent of the TARDIS. I shit you not, from Chapter One this sucker takes you out of your Modern Day Bore-ville and transplantes your ass to ancient China. The textures of the writing are hardcore realistic. So much effort is put to the smallest details in the setting, from Chinese social class structure to the character's attire to dietary rituals, making your brain feel immersed in awesome culture all without becoming boring or textbook-ish.
That said, while I'm fangirling over this thing like a Belieber at her first Justin concert, there are a few figurative landmines sprinkled in the recipe of this novel. "The characters, perchance?" you might be thinking. Nope. In fact, I am completely on board with the ideology that says Huang and Yue-ying are IRL people. While Yue-ying does seem to be given more character development, with Huang kind of feels pushed to the back-burner, I'm okay with this criticism. For the most part, The Lotus Palace is largely told from our heroine's point of view. So such favored attention makes sense. Both characters are still likeable, believable, and interesting.
"The plot?" you could be pondering. Nope-nope. The external conflicts of this piece of fiction, while obviously serving as the Forced Proximity Vehicle by which our two leads are granted interaction, it works. The mystery is believable because just enough focus is directed its way without feeling like a Scooby Doo special. What's more, it paves the way for allowing the book's secondary characters to feel fully realized and dynamic.
"Screw you, Jacquie, I'm done playing your guessing games!" you're now thinking. Okay! Here it is; the big ol' answer to What The Hell Is My Problem is basically the romance between hero and heroine. Yeah, okay, so that was a lot of hyperbolic expository buildup for not a lot of payoff; sue me. As is, while I was in copious love with the initial sexual tension and relationship dynamic between Huang and Yue-ying during the first arc of their story, it kind of died a quiet death from the second to third act. I really can't explain what happened, either; which is not helpful, I know. The two had really rockin' chemistry in the first several chapters, but after the story got rolling it's like their relationship was simultaneously rushed and ignored. What's worse, along with getting fewer relationship development scenes the more the story progressed, I also really struggled buying them as couple-material.
AND THIS FACT KILLS MY SOUL! Why the text-screaming? Because the quality of this story was frackin' phenomenal! The writing was amazing, the pacing was amazing-er, and the characters were the book-people equivalent of chocolate+orgasms+free money; basically all the things that make life awesome. Sadly, our two leads just felt stale, especially when considering their relationship culminates at the end of the book in a pretty unbelievable way. Without activating the Spoiler Bomb, I will say that while I straight up demand an HEA in my romances, I want my Happily Ever Afters to not feel as fake as Pamela Anderson's chest. Even more of a bummer, the ending of The Lotus Palace does give me my couple being a couple, but it does so in a very rushed, unsatisfactory delivery.
Still! Aside from all my bitchy bemoaning, I still gotta give high fives to the author of this little gem. Jeannie Lin kept me hooked throughout my reading experience with this book. I did genuinely care about the characters, and my attention was all wrapped up in the story like a puppy with a ball made of bacon. Yes, I do wish more time had been spent on Huang and Yue-ting's relationship, and yes, while I seriously regret this author's use of time-fast-forwarding in the book, I still stick by my recommendation. Ms. Lin, your book was awesome. Please, give me more!
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single mistaken assumption must be in want of a glorious ass kicking. What could I possibly be referring to, you might ask? Well, that being MY ass kicking, obviously, and of course MY epic Bitch-You-Crazy-Wrong initial assumption about this book. To quote myself,
"Eh, almost 75 pages in and a distinctive lack of deep POV. This one might not be a gem."
... Yeah. Say, can we hop in the TARDIS real quick-fast and go deliver a ginormous kick to the forehead to Past Jacqueline?
So, in the spirit of not hating too much on the sins of the past, I have to admit that...well, past Jacquie was wrong, but only to a point. This novel DOES rock the stadium down to rubble, but only a bit after page 75. The first four chapters of this little story are atrociously painful. If the Spanish Inquisition were led by Hitler and Jigsaw, even that level of discomfort couldn't compare to how bad this novel tries getting off the ground. When the reader is first introduced to our two lead characters, everything's chaotic. The introductions of their existence is chaotic, the character's initial meeting with on another in the story is chaotic, hell, even the first several exchanges between Griff and Pauline AFTER their "Hey, I'm A Person With A Name And A Face" are just insanely, well, chaotic!
SO MUCH MADNESS! While there is a healthy dose of info-dump that occurs at the onset of the book, most notably during our heroine's first on-page scene, the early part of the book's tone is painfully hurried. Heroine's doing this while running to go do that, and ooh, look! There's THIS factoid about Pauline, all while the hero's hurrying to enact his Hero Plot here and then just OH MY GOD SO MUCH CRAP! ... Honestly, so much was going on for the setup to get Hero A and Heroine B together that I was so, so worried whether or not these two people were going to be believable.
And, yet, I worried for nothing! After an extremely spasmodic sequences of events, once the plot gets underway, Tessa Dare thankfully does slow her roll. Pauline and Griff do begin developing a very keyed up dynamic that is deeply rooted in point of view. These two people become believably grounded in emotional depth the longer they are on-page, both together as a couple and independently as characters. At the beginning of the story, our hero seems just an irresponsible bachelor while our heroine seems just an uncouth servant. Thank spicy tacos these two explore much deeper realities than their initial characterizations. They are beautiful people, dammit, and their romance story is SO wonderful and YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!
Yeah, yeah, admittedly tropes are all over the place in this book, but to me, that's a good thing for I love tropes. Any Duchess Will Do is basically a Cinderella story, if Cinderella the character weren't a pushover lackluster dweeb. (Pauline is so much a better heroine than ol' Cindy!) This is the fairy tale that we WANT to believe, that is believable because all the plot points, all the emotion, all the buildup and drama culminate into a romance and HEA that feels real. If the aching feelings of this book could be bottled and sold, world peace would be instantaneously A Thing. The construction of emotions, dialogue interplay and sexual tension (oh sweet smexy goodness, the chemistry!) alone guarantee Pauline and Griff the gold medal for Most Beautiful Romance, Ever. There exists an open honesty between these two that is so uniquely refreshing. It culminates into one effing hot, most sexy, most intense romance love confessions from the hero truly -ever- written!
"You believe I'd value a strand of jewels above your life? I know we've had our differences, Simms, but that's low. You truly think so little of me?...Tomorrow I can buy my mother another necklace. A better one. A half dozen of them if she likes. Jewels can be replaced." "So can serving girls." "Don't. Don't play that game. When I heard you cry out...it was like a saber to the gut. I wanted to die. I could have found you broken or bleeding, or-" His voice broke. "Or worse. Don't tell me I care about polished rocks on a chain. I want to believe you know me better than that." "I do." "And yet you believe I'd be so upset about a necklace that I'd send you away?""
And, hey, that's just the beginning of the scene. This love confession goes into one seriously beautiful outpouring of manly feels, and it is a thing be witnessed! Griff is such an amazing hero, so elegantly written that he will rip your heart out all over the place. When a man, fiction or otherwise says the following, you love him dammit, whether he exists or not!
"You're an intensely attractive woman. You do know that, don't you? You'd believe me if you could see yourself." "I have seen myself. That's the snag, you see." "No, no. Not in a mirror. I know how mirrors work. They're all in league with the cosmetics trade. They tell a woman lies. Drawing her gaze from one imagined flaw to another, until all she sees is a constellation of imperfections. If you could get outside yourself, borrow my eyes for just an instant...There's only beauty."
Oh, God. You just don't even know! This book is entirely emotionally driven, and the few external moments of conflict are spawned by the internal turmoil within our two leads. The drama is believable, but more than that the story is good. The social confines and boundaries these two face are believably overcome. The quite torturous pain Griff deals with throughout the book is creditably dealt with, and the HEA is plausible. This story reaches into your soul in a way that is shockingly intense, and despite the very rocky start to the book you believe it, lock, stock and barrel. The tropes are fun, yes, and the characters are wonderful, of course, but best of all the book is strong, and the story is gorgeous.
You know that feeling when you grab a gallon of ice cream, wolf the thing down in one sitting with the initial thought that, "This is a GENIUS freakin...more
You know that feeling when you grab a gallon of ice cream, wolf the thing down in one sitting with the initial thought that, "This is a GENIUS freakin' plan!" and then later when your stomach's trying to bitch-slap your brain you realize you're an idiot, but you still regret nothing? Well, surprise surprise, that's an analogy for my experience with The Autumn Bride. I read the first three chapters on day one of starting the thing, waited four days to come back to it, and then proceeded to glom the bastard in one sitting. AND I REGRET NOTHING, DAMMIT!
...No regrets, but definite consequences. At the end of the day, this book was likable; not great, not terrible. Character wise, it's fair to say our author kicked lots of ass in this department; just not necessarily with our two leads. Abby was an enjoyable enough little lady, and our hero was smexy fascination as per usual for a hero. But, the surrounding cast? So much better, especially since Abby and Max, while nice enough are admittedly and completely forgettable. The novel held entertaining sexual tension and the plot's conflict, while VERY thin, was seriously in line with the "I As A Reader Am Curious As To How This Crap's Gonna Play Out" way of book drama. The writing was strong, for you did believe in the validity of Abby and Max as people, just, um, they weren't...well they didn't...oh fine, dammit, their romance sucked!
"Girl, what you smokin' to proclaim this novel is likable if the conflict was minimal, the characters merely okay, and the romance be shittastic?" I know. Logic isn't my strong suit, but bare with me for a hot minute. At the end of the day, this book's biggest problem lies in the fact that the conflict resolution, one which centered on the romance of our leads, was hella rushed; like a hooker's makeup, rushed. Up until the climax and conclusion of the novel the story predominately focused on a will-they/won't-they theme, with the emotional and sexual tension being All Of The High. When we finally get the, "D'aww, lovey feels" at the literal end, it falls ass-first flat. The tension made the book read awesomely quick, but such was a disaster in the final analysis as a romance because it's glaringly apparent Hero and Heroine know jack squat about one another.
"Seriously, WHY DO YOU LIKE THIS NOVEL?!" I know, I know, nonexistent review reader, I'm guano. So, the book's other greatest strength is how enjoyable the exchanges are between Abby and Max, which is also it's greatest weakness because not much else attention is paid to different elements. Issues such as the emotion building, or internal POV exploration of the characters' growing sentiments for one another, are just not a thing with this story. One minute, they're all "I shouldn't want her/him," the next they're "LET ME HAVE/MAKE YOUR BABY!"
Which, at the end of the day, is why this novel is theme-park fun. Yes, the two lead characters are kind of forgettable two milliseconds after finishing the epilogue, but the supporting cast are rich with diversity and interesting characters. Yes, the plot's conflict is painfully thin and almost irrelevant, but the low angst provides for a refreshing book pallet cleanser. Yes, the hero seems to spontaneously decide he's in love with Abby, and vice versa, but we all sometimes love the Jane Austen-ing of a romance story. And, lastly, yes, the book started too slow and ended too hurriedly, but much like that aforementioned gallon of ice cream, it might not sit well upon rumination and completion, but damned if it wasn't enjoyable on the way down.
So, read it, you might enjoy it; don't read it, and you're not missing out. Either way, it's a book, and it was nice, and hell I might even explore other Anne Gracie titles, who knows?
But, one thing IS a certainty, and that is I now want ice cream, dammit.
So, a virgin and a rogue walk into a romance novel's plot...and blow the expectations of win into complete and total Dark Matter of amazingness! This...more
So, a virgin and a rogue walk into a romance novel's plot...and blow the expectations of win into complete and total Dark Matter of amazingness! This book is just, yes! So much yes, to the point that within five hours I read 348 pages of this book, and finished it. The degree of awesome this novel entails is, let's face it, beyond articulation. So, to keep this boring introduction shorter and less painful for you, you non-existent reader, here's a GIF...
...And that about sums up my wholehearted approval for this novel, and all of its impressive components. But, firstly, there are tropes, and okay, I admit it; I'm a trope fan. Tropes, like Darth Vader, get a bad rep, but when used in the non-eye-bleach-level-of-pain way, they're valuable. This value skyrockets to just plain fun-fun when said tropes are inverted on their ass and consequently jumble the whole kitten kaboodle, which must have been Milan's genius plan for Unclaimed, all along. Herein, we've got the classic inexperienced virgin, which let's face it, is quinte-damn-ssential to the romance novel...except here, Ms. Milan flips that reality on its head and paints the role with a penis, rather than a vigina!
Yep! You indeed read that correctly, dear reader, but here's the awesome catch; Mark and Jessica hook you with their role reversal, but morph from trope to character immediately upon reader introduction. There is such a chasm of depth to both hero and heroine, as well as their starting points with each other, and their own internal realities and tribulations. While Jessica is the tortured soul, she does not cower from her role in life, and yet still experiences consequences, both internally and externally. Our heroine is a fascinating tower of resilience and survival while simultaneously deeply troubled. In a word, she's amazing.
In a pretty cool book-world-reality, Mark, our hero, is tortured to a lesser, but no less significant, extent. He is the very antithesis to the cliched, over written Me Man, You Woman, Me Brood romance guy so prolific in historicals today. While his virginity does slightly play a role in this reality, his personality, his determination, his drive, his past, his intelligence, his morality in regards to his fellow human beings, and his passion (oh boy-howdy, dat passion!) are far more elemental to his role of Smexy As Hell Hero Dude than just his non-bonking bedplay. His love for life and his family are just icing on the man cake (harhar), and prove that the overused Man-Slut-Pigeon-Hole is not a vital recipe element in order to write one smokin' fine male lead. (GIF "metaphorically" relative, of course. Yeah. We'll go with that.)
Next, plot a'hoy! But, interestingly enough, a common and VERY likable thread I've noticed in Milan's writing style is that her plots can't be noted without hauling in the wagon of emotionalism. Frankly, I wish more authors would start carting this stuff in by the truck-fulls! In Unclaimed, while there are a few elements of external conflict, almost all of the driving force behind this story are character driven, and internally fascinating. Jessica's actions affect the story, Mark's reactions drive the climax, but fundamentally both those acts are spurned by their identities as people independently of each other, and dependently on one another. Translation? Sure!...
The pacing and quality of writing within this story impressed me almost as much as the realism embodied by Smexy Mark and Kick-Ass Jessica. The initial chapters of the book have perfectly calm rhythm to their plot points, while the climax and resolution of the book cascade with activity that is steady, but well executed. That fancy-schmancy description-ing basically just means, ERMAHGERD THIS BOOK KEPT ME RIVETED! As noted, I spent less than five hours reading almost the entire book in one sitting and it was totally un-put-down-able!
The emotion of Unclaimed's plot, the degree of realism the whole thing felt just astounds me! The conflict aspects of the novel were real; they were tangible in their difficulty. Jessica's past was not just painted over with an, "Eh, it's all cool beans, whateves!" attitude by the author, or her characters. The resolutions were cemented in plausibility, and hot-damn if I wasn't in love with how Mark's chastity and beliefs were not a trope, but a driving aspect to his character and personal identity! Basically, I just...I am so...
...I just need to shut up, really! Shutting up, now, because my inner fan-girl for this book is overtaking the part of my brain that can logically, cohesively and intelligently define everything that is frackin' impressively cool and great about this story! Put simply, Ms. Milan, if you're reading this (because YEAH...like that's even a remote possibility!), just know the following GIF sums up everything I feel about your amazing talent, and the gift your books simply ARE...
"Hot damn" about covers it, ladies and gents. This book pretty much had it all, with every trope in the book wrapped up in a really well-...moreHot damn.
"Hot damn" about covers it, ladies and gents. This book pretty much had it all, with every trope in the book wrapped up in a really well-rounded package. Having never read Maya Rodale before, I jumped into A Groom Of Her Own with both feet, thanks to Romantic Times' Morgan Doremus' interview posted on YouTube a few weeks ago. Seriously, I'm glad I did, because...
Yeah. That about describes this book, in it's entirety. Much like a huge-ass-honkin' cookie, it was wonderfully good, but there are some practicality issues, too. To my mind, it took a while for the author to find her voice, since it's pretty obvious the book's start is terribly terrible.
I thought my brain was going to melt at the stop-start nature of the writing, and how just terribly stilted the characters sounded. But! Like a monkey with a typewriter, I kept reading, for though rocky, the initial start wasn't unbearable. After the hero, Brandon, and heroine, Sophie, meet and the initial ooh-la-las are done, the book leapfrogs into some awesome internal conflict, and the plot rocks it like a night at the Roxbury; you don't think it's gonna be good, but once it starts, you can't help but adore it.
Brandon the Double Duke comes off like a double-stuffed Darcy with a heart, while Sophie's opening sequence just makes you want to cuddle her until everything's rosy again. The two definitely are characters that cosmically need one another, and are set up to be the perfect Star Crossed lovers, with Sophie being more star-crossedly-cross than Branon; but! If there's one thing I hate...
It's Insta Love. Sadly, Sophie had this in SPADES, like a hormone-fest of I-Want-Your-Babies-In-Me-Now kinda deal. Typically, when I come across this trope in any novel, it's an instant-wall-banger (pun not intended.) Ironically, though, Maya handles this aspect exceedingly well. Throughout a significant portion of the story, the attraction was up-played enough to not be underscored as Insta Love, despite the fact that it so-was, until the final pages, when the emotions are then realistic, and more believable. The pacing was good, the tone was pleasant, and the angst was perpetual, but manageably portioned.
There were literally so many events, so many a-happenings running amok at the climax of the novel that I thought my brain was going to implode like Dolly Parton's bust size. The Fiancé That Should Not Be was in love with Mr. Prince, Mr. Prince was supposed to be at Location X so that the secondary HEA could happen, and wasn't; Sophie had a Grand Master Plan that was just two steps short of being more complicated than the Manhattan Project...there was something about tonic being used as ink, two weddings (luckily no funerals) being swapped and...just...Oh, God.
So much, so, so much was going on at the final pages of the book that the emotion of the characters, and their identity on-page, a feature so very present throughout the book was, alas, sacrificed on the alter of There Was A Lot Of Lag Time Earlier, So Let's Complicate This Mother Up. But! Even in the face of all those criticisms, and all that bemoaning, this book kicked copious amounts of ass.
Put simply, while there were, indeed, moments of serious flaw with this story, the characters were interesting, the emotion was good, the story was believable, and the novel was enjoyable. Even in the face of errors and issues, if a book's pages seem to turn themselves, you know you've got gold. So, bravo, Maya Rodale, you've hooked me, good woman; bravo, indeed.
Whoa. Um, yeah, don't mind me, just sitting here flambéed by The Best Book, Ever.
This novel? Just read it.
Do it, now.
So, that's my review. Okay, bye guys!
*Goes to sit in a corner and promptly cuddle Cecila Grant's book of awesomeness.*
Oh! You're still here! My, my, I see that means I'm to provide a bit more articulation for the gloriousness that is A Gentleman Undone. Damn. Logical thought is beyond me right now! But, give I must, and so, hold on to your feels, ladies and ladies, here's the skinny; heroine's name is Lydia, she's a prostitute-turned-courtesan, freakishly intelligent, a cardsharp, excellent mathematician, AND the very definition of amaze-balls; hero's name is Will, he's the holy-baby-Jesus perfected mix of Alpha and Beta, has one of The Most tortured back-stories, and is the most romantic and emotional fictional dude you will ever read.
"But Jacqueline!" as I'm sure you're not exclaiming right this frakking' minute, "What makes this book so great?!" Well, grip tight your ass end, because there are a billion reasons why this book wins everything. Okay, fine, geez, you and your specifics; not a billion, just three because apparently The Internet and it's attention span can't handle infinity.
Reason #1: Characters
Both lead characters are stand-outs in the wide wide world of romance fiction. As previously noted because I'm apparently an Alzheimer's patient, Lydia is a paid prostitute from page one, which is rare because most “fallen women” of romance have that as a backstory, not an on-page reality. Lydia rocks at her chosen profession, and though she is a tortured heroine, no doubt, with one hell of an emotionally crippling past, in spite of such she’s strong in her sexuality and confident in sex. She's a woman of bravery and integrity that makes you want to tackle hug her with All Of The Loves. She is the sexual leader of this romance story, she is the woman to figure out the conflict’s resolution. In a phrase, she's perfectly imperfect.
Reason #2: The Story
Wanna know how to create some Epic Book Crack? Take a page out of the Cecilia Grant manual, which states, "Write a story that is cohesively shit-tons of entertaining, but that is impossible to extrapolate on with accurate definition because reasons." What's so impressive about A Gentleman Undone is that the novel never ceases in twisting on itself. It veers to different plot points, different emotional notes, and eye-bugging revelations, all while maintaining a uniquely steady-but-quick storytelling pace. At its heart, while there are believable and heart-pumping external conflicts, the novel never loses sight of the fact that it's a romance, so the story pays ass-loads of attention to the emotional tensions and lovey-doveys.
The dynamic that is played throughout most of the book, but especially during the emotional culminating scenes between Lydia and Will, are BURSTING with excitement. There is a truly distinct and interesting drama that is played out by the very on-page reality of Lydia’s lover. This sparks so much enjoyable tension and conflict for hero and heroine, which builds layer upon layer before the first pivotal climax of the novel. Without delving into spoilers, while there exist scenes wherein Will is damned amazing, it’s noteworthy that he does something specific within the plot that paints him as a dashing, heroic, amazingly sweet and undeniable knight in shining armor to which I doubt any moment in any romance novel could compare! His heroics are so public, so calmly sexy, so astoundingly selfless that if you, dear reader, come across this scene without fan-girling all over yourself, without fist-pumping the air with all of the YEAH BUDDY, SCREW YOU ROANOKE (the “antagonist” of the novel)…well…then I fear for your sanity, girlfriend.
Reason #3: The Writing
Call me crazy, call me a whackadoodle in desperate want of a helmet, but I'm forever-more convinced that Shakespeare and Jane Austen had a baby girl together, and her name is Cecilia Grant. This awesome Warrior Of The Pen is not only talented in being able to rip your heart out with just a keyboard and some not-real people, but holy bannanas; that woman can also write a sentence like nobody's business! The way phrases are turned on their heads and given whole new life, the way scenery is depicted with mere lines of text, the way emotion is nuanced and body language exceptional, the way elegance is paid to the smallest of words so leaves me drooling like a retarded dog. Paragraph one's last line, "...slick to the elbows with the life of other men" gives you, dear awesome-sauce reader, just a taste at the genius contained within A Gentleman Undone.
...It so is.
And, on that unhealthy-healthy note, I'm bowing out because if I keep rambling on like I'm guano, our lovely author might just slap a restraining order on my ass. So! Read this book, love this book, because if you don't...well...
Sometimes they're epic, sometimes they're shittastic, and other times they fly around like a YoYo in a Bounce House. In the case of Mi...more
Books are weird.
Sometimes they're epic, sometimes they're shittastic, and other times they fly around like a YoYo in a Bounce House. In the case of Milan's book, Unveiled, said novel falls way-the-hell into the latter category. Before I dive into my I'm-Gonna-Rant-And-Then-Shut-Up review, know with absolute certainty that this book kicked SO much ass! Yep, I liked it, I loved it, and I spazzed in wanting so much more of it, truly. But! Upon the start of the book, and definitely within the first one hundred pages I was all...well...
...Yeah. Kind of like that, except more, "I don't know where the hell this book is going!" as apposed to the general, "Dude, what the serious seriousness?!" Any book can struggle at the onset, but Milan's novel, for some inexplicable reason, came off like a drunk hobo making the switch from boxed wine to Vodka; a good plan, but not without some stumbles and issues. Ironically, my yes-but-no interest in the first half of the novel didn't stem from the lack of interestingly dynamic characters; me LOVE some of them characters! Rather, the story just jump-starts with a BANG into the meat of the book without any real buildup. Throughout the first few pages, I was just searching for a foothold or some story line clarity, like bad.
Unveiled didn't seem to be a Happy-Happy-Star-Ranking kind of deal, at first, since the heroine and I...well, we didn't get along too well in the beginning. She jumped from page one seeming like the Eternal Ass-Snob, and while I know it's illogical to say one can't enjoy a story if the lead characters aren't likable (I KNOW, okay?!), I still maintain that it's a prerequisite for my judgmental ass. Margaret felt like Queen Bitch for no other reason than the fact that the reader is denied personal time with her before the book leaps off, so here I was thinking, "Yep! I'm gonna hate her!"
Yep! I sucked on that assumption! One of the most damn-woman-you're-good! aspects of Courtney Milan is that she pwns the ability to create fascinatingly dimensional characters that are layered in complexity. This is obviously true for Margaret, who was a unique mix of strength and weakness, confidence and self-consciousness, and pretty much every other polarizing identifier. Likewise, such is, can, and should be said for Ash, the hero who embodied probably one of the most interesting male roles I've ever read in quite a while. His weaknesses gave him a strength that made him simultaneously multifaceted, and fun to read.
Interestingly enough, while the above is true for the two leads of the book, the entire cast of characters contained a lot of the cool conflicting character traits, too. The brothers, each set belonging to both the hero and heroine, were the antithesis to "set pieces," were damned-yes vital to the plot, and granted so much more to the reading of this story than I can possibly articulate. The fact that the entire novel felt realistic in its character creations, even down to the inconsequential secondary and tertiary cast, shows Milan's got some mad writing skills to her credit.
(Not to Milan, apparently!)
Lastly, the final thing that just blows me out of the water is Courtney's ability to create an exceptionally complex plot that is entirely, completely, OH MY GOD ALL THE WAY dependent on emotionally driven conflict. And, yes, she even manages to do so without once making the novel come off too weak, as though there was no plot in existence whatsoever, or without bogging the whole ship down with Angsty Drama Bullshit. When considering how well the story sails along, all the while making me FEEL for Margaret's loyalty struggle, making me FEEL for Ash's feelings of inadequacy, hell, making me FEEL for their emotional story as a whole...I just...I can't even!
Incidentally, if you're an author who can write THIS for your lead character, how the hell is it possible to not just fan-girl over the book, like lots?!
"Because if you were suggesting that you would sacrifice your sister's reputation to serve your own purposes, think again. If you do, I won't just steal your title and your lands. I will run any bank that holds your funds into the ground. I will bribe your servants to slip nettles into your bed. I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals. You will never have a solid night's sleep again."
When considering my reaction to this book, in general, overall, I'd have to say enjoyment was found. At the end of the story, I admit freely I was fas...moreWhen considering my reaction to this book, in general, overall, I'd have to say enjoyment was found. At the end of the story, I admit freely I was fascinated by the characters. I found the plot to be readable. The dialogue was believable. The external drama was interesting, and well written. But, there were some issues.
From the beginning of the novel, to the end, I found the leading characters in the story to be very much grounded in reality. One of my biggest criticisms of a book forms itself when the people within a story are flat and without life. In Secrets of a Proper Countess, while I have other criticisms, this is not one of such. Both Blackwood and Isobel are given distinct personalities which form themselves very well, and allow for the sense that these two are real people, with real feelings.
However, with compliment comes criticism. Firstly, while the above holds true for the hero and heroine, it does not hold so for the secondary characters. Along with the two antagonists of the book, whose on screen viciousness is only truly depicted at the end of the book, thereby making them seem less of a threat throughout the story, I likewise found the secondary protagonists, Adam and Marianne, to be TSTL. The Too Stupid To Live designation holds more for Marianne, considering her actions and out-of-place reactions to her predicament with Isobel at the story's close made her seem vapid, which drastically contradicted the tone of the story the author was so obviously trying to create. Adam, though, was more of a placeholder character for Blackwood, seeming to play the External Doubt for him in a very awkward and spastic way.
The plot of Secrets of a Proper Countess holds as much merit as criticism. The story did fascinate me, however, since the high drama finality of the book was unexpected. Largely, Isobel's struggles throughout the story focuses on her internal conflict in coping with the role she plays in her family, specifically with her in-laws. The danger she courts by dallying with Blackwood plays out more like suspense, rather than true conflict, since it is largely emotionally based.
All changes dramatically by the end of the story, the nature of the story transforming from internal to a very hard-hitting external conflict. Which, sadly, didn't lend itself well to the story. This is so because, frankly, the author handled such transformation by not handling it. Instead of threading the transformation throughout the story, providing intrigue with drama and suspense, Cornwall instead decided to slap the reader with this change by giving us an 89 page climax!
Yep, that's right. Very, very heavy grit-your-teeth, squint-your-face-because-you're-kept-in-a-constant-state-of-Holy-Shit-What-Now?! is elongated over an absurd amount of time. Starting on page 274, and not ceasing until page 363, the fate of the primary characters are unknown for a ridiculous amount of time. While high-drama is okay for a climax, and almost expected, really, it is not okay when it is used simultaneously for a story's turning point, as well as its closing Final Problem. Big, big no-no for me.
Aside from drawing out the drama to an unnecessary degree, Cornwall also disappointed me in another big area; the romance. Fundamentally, I am reading a romance, and with that fundamental reality comes the fact that while I enjoy danger, intrigue and mystery as much as the next reader, I still want my romance. One of my biggest criticisms of this book is the fact that the hero and heroine go from Lusty Pants to Love-Lovey with no emotional framework in between.
Frankly, there was so much plot to this book that such rudely shoved itself in between the romantic development Isobel and Blackwood needed in order to make their romance and HEA believable. Such development was so nonexistent that, by the time the couple was proclaiming Love-Lovey-Loveness, I was excessively irritated because it came across as painfully dull, and fake. What's more, the hero considered Isobel to be a traitor and murderer not a few pages prior to deciding that he loved her! Our gallant hero instead claimed it was Adam's fault for making him doubt Isobel!!! (Yes, three exclamation marks were indeed necessary.) So, yeah, big problem, there.
So, overall, this book? Yep. Its got issues, big issues. However, at no time was I so disgusted with the story that my hands ever itched to throw it against the nearest wall. Likewise, regardless of the Big No-Nos within, the novel was entirely readable. I did connect with the characters, despite wishing they'd connect more with one another. I did enjoy the plot, despite feeling as though it's conclusion was longer the President Bush's presidential term. And, overall, I did like this book, Big No-Nos aside. But, as with any novel, if it's written well enough, it can endure in spite of itself.(less)