As with Megan Hart, Anne Stuart is an author I come back to again and again, even though so many of her books are misses for me. Because, man, when they do it right, they do it right.
I fell in love with the Ice series when I read BLACK ICE and was introduced to the beautiful, jaded, icy mercenary known as Bastien Toussaint. I immediately resolved then and there to get my hands on the rest of the books in the series at any costs (I currently have three of them, but I'm waiting on the rest before I begin reading).
You can imagine how excited I was when I found out that Anne Stuart was taking the Committee and expanding it. The Ice series is the European faction, but Fire is the American branch.
...And I really did not like it.
I was all set up to enjoy this book. I wanted to love James Bishop, with his clean-cut, i-dotting, t-crossing name that suggests butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Beautiful, morally bankrupt mercenaries are kind of my thang, and I was hoping that like Bastien, I'd love him too.
My problem with CONSUMED BY FIRE is that the heroine is so immature. All she does is spew petty, childish insults and make stupid mistakes. And her stupidity is contagious. James, who I liked--or wanted to like--so much in the beginning of the book soon started making equally stupid mistakes and, worse, engaging in stupid, petty, childish banter with the heroine.
I decided to skim the last 150 pages and I can't say that I was impressed. The whining continued, interspersed with sex, and the villain was...well, I can't say a lot about it without spoilers, but I'm pretty sure that a certain subset of the population is going to be very offended by this portrayal.
Pocahontas is a character from history that many people know, courtesy of the 1995 Disney film. And, like most of Disney's "historical" characters, many of the details were changed or blurred in order to make the movie family friendly (Hercules, anyone?).
TIDEWATER tells the story of Pocahontas through multiple narratives. There is Pocahontas herself, of course, who starts out as Amounte--a young mischievous girl whose unfettered tongue and unabashed ambitions have earned her the nickname Pocahontas--and ends the book as Rebecca.
There's also John Smith, who is a good deal less noble than his portrayal in the Disney version. He is a man of low birth sent along with other Englishmen by the Virginia Company to settle the land and find riches. He is also ambitious, but, like Pocahontas, his birth and station make his goals difficult.
Opechancanough is probably the most interesting and conflicted character in this book. He is the brother to Powhatan, the Chief of Chiefs, and like every single other character in this book, he is ambitious. Powhatan is an older man whose health is beginning to fail, and Opechancanough is next in line for leadership. He despises the white men, who are called tassantassas, and wants to destroy them before they become a plague that ruins everything that they have set out to achieve.
TIDEWATER is a very long book--over 500 pages--but to be honest, I barely felt the length at all. I devoured this book in 50- or 100-page chunks, addicted to the compelling storyline. Pocahontas wanting to defy convention and her low birth (because despite being the daughter of a chief, the Powhatans were matrilineal and her mother was no one of consequence) and become a chief was a wonderful change from the countless heroines who are only out to snag a husband. Her humor was really well done, and I found myself rooting for her from the start, even if she was annoying.
The most compelling aspect of this story was the battle of wills between the Powhatans and the settlers. One of the things that I liked best was how Hawker portrayed the gray areas of morality: how neither side is "right"--at least not completely. Both groups of people did terrible things, and the void that existed between their two totally separate cultures enabled these terrible things to fester into a very grim escalation of cruel trickery and even outright rape and murder.
TIDEWATER was like those wonderful historical epics of the 1970s--the ones that are long and well-researched, and aren't afraid to be controversial, dark, and even a little bit politically incorrect. Her writing was gorgeous--her ability to spin metaphors and weave them into the narrative had me rereading passages and feeling both awe and despair; awe at the world she seemingly effortlessly wove and despair at my own writing abilities by comparison. It really drove the storyline, and made the historical tidbits she included seem novel and exciting instead of like a history lesson.
Also, all the secondary characters have tremendous depth. There are tensions and animosities, rivalries, and female friendships; there are people doing terrible things in the name of good, and people who attempt to do good but end up causing terrible things. Hawker throws shade on both of Disney's movies--Pocahontas and Pocahontas II--and she does it in a way that manages to be clever, snarky, and affectionate. I adored that, just like I adore Libbie.
Disclaimer: I am friends with this author, and I think I may love her even more now after reading her works and seeing how passionate she is about her craft and keeping true to the truth than I was before.
"The internet is for porn...the internet is for porn...why you think the net was born? PORN! PORN! PORN!"
Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist who studies porn. She studies the people who consume it, who make it, and the porn itself and how it reflects the changing sexuality of society.
I've always found it fascinating how society consumes porn in such large quantities and yet still manages to condemn the people who create it as being either morally loose or else portraying them as victims of sexual abuse or financial desperation who were forced into porn as tragic victims of fate. There is a lot of stigma against porn, which you wouldn't expect considering what a hot commodity it is among adults (and probably teens).
Tibbals experienced this stigma firsthand when she found out how difficult it was to actually begin this study. Researchers would shut her down cold, snub her at public functions, and even mock or disparage her research. Her frustration at this was evident, and I really sympathized with her. I can't imagine how angry I would be, to see my research laughed at or marked as unimportant before I'd even begun to present it. I'd probably be furious.
EXPOSURE is a collection of essays, usually starting with some personal memory Tibbals has she eventually connects to a point she wants to make about porn. She talks about a number of subjects--porn conventions, pubic hair in porn, pegging, the preference given to female porn stars over males, penis length, and a bunch of other things that you probably wouldn't think to ask about.
I really enjoyed EXPOSURE a lot and I think it's an important book to read (especially if you watch a lot of or are interested in learning more about porn). However, EXPOSURE was not a flawless read, and had some problems that I could not ignore. One of the problems is that at times, Tibbals's personal anecdotes overwhelm or distract from the points she is trying to make about porn.
Another problem is that I felt like this book was too short considering how broad the topics were in scope. Either this book should have been more specific, or it should have been longer and gone into more detail. I felt like Tibbals barely scraped the surface with this book and that was a disappointment--especially after reading Asa Akira's memoir, INSATIABLE: PORN - A LOVE STORY. Akira goes into so much detail and really gives you a solid idea of what it's like working in the industry so many people love to hate. Which actually brings me to another issue I want to discuss.
There weren't really any interviews or personal touches with the porn stars mentioned in this book. She brings up Christian XXX, Bonnie Rotten, James Deen, and even some of the famous greats like Rod Stewart and Linda Lovelace. She considers Rod Stewart a friend (or at least she says so in this book). Considering that her work often brings her to the same places as these actors, I was really surprised that she didn't include any interviews or ask them about their thoughts. It was disappointing.
Every so often, you come across a book so good that it surprises you, and challenges not only your preconceptions of the genre but also your expectations for the genre, as well. MAKE YOU MINE was one of those books for me.
The sad thing is, I was all set not to read this book. It's the second book in a series I haven't read before, it's a genre of book I don't normally like, and the ARC I'd received from Netgalley was just a few days away from expiring. I almost deleted it from my reader, but some part of me whispered, "No, give it a shot..."
I'm so glad I did.
Alex St. James is a jaded playboy who enjoys playing high stakes card games.He's also part of the Nine Circles club, which is, as far as I can tell, a super secret club for rich people with problems who also do black ops and reconnaissance on the side.
Alex has had enough close calls that he's been forced to get a bodyguard, and that is where Katya Ivanova comes in. Katya is beautiful, icy, stoic...she's good at her job, and strong because she has to be; physically, from her days as a Russian soldier, and emotionally, because she's scarred from her mother's suicide when she was a young girl.
Katya is all set to leave Alex's service, to keep the promise she made to an old friend and fellow soldier, but Alex is desperate to keep her, so he makes her a deal. If she accompanies him to Monte Carlo, and pretends to be his girlfriend, he will throw all the money and resources at her that she needs to rescue her friend, Mikhail. But Alex's last mission is personal--in more ways than one. And unfortunately, so is his interest in Katya.
So what did I love about this book?
The writing is wonderful. Whether it's sex scenes or action sequences, Ashenden owns it. Her characterization is beautifully on-point and drives the storyline, rather than bogging it down.
The characters are great. Alex has a dark history, and is traumatized by it. You don't often come across storylines where male characters struggle with sexual abuse, and when you do come across it, it is rarely portrayed with the grace and sympathy that Ashenden treats it with here. My heart ached for Alex, and I didn't even realize how invested I'd gotten emotionally until the feels started hitting hard. Katya...Katya is wonderful. She's the antithesis to every negative stereotype in new adult right now. She's strong, she's capable, she's not ashamed of her body. She doesn't slut shame. She doesn't stammer or blush senselessly. And even though she's a virgin, she doesn't have zero sense about sex or how it works, and she doesn't refer to her privates as down there.
Since this is a series, I'm assuming that the secondary characters are going to get key roles in later books. I was intrigued by Zac and Eva, and I really want to know about Gabriel and Honor. Apparently their story is in book 1 and I am kicking myself for not snagging that book on Netgalley when I had the chance, because oh my God, I need it, I need it now, puh-leeeeeeeze...
Also...the villain. The villain is a sack of shit and he needed to die. It's been a while since I wanted to reach into the pages and murder a character so badly. Probably not since the days of Dolores Umbridge.
What I loved best about this book, though, is the story-telling. Ashenden combines a whole bunch of my favorite tropes, does them well, and hides them all in this nice, brightly wrapped parcel, and you're so distracted by the bright and shiny bits that you don't see the darkness inside until you begin unwrapping. I was shocked by how dark this story went, so fast. I wasn't prepared for it. It surprised me, when so few books these days are able to do that, and I adored MAKE YOU MINE for it.
You should read this book. Especially if you're tired of seeing insipid ninnies as female protagonists.
I really thought this was going to be a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel about angels. But then, can you blame me? I just recently read ANGELFALL and WORLD AFTER, so I have angels and the apocalypse on the brain. Plus that cover--it's so misleading!
ARMAGEDDON SUMMER is not about apocalypse, although it is about the end of the world. In a small New England town, religious fervor is stirring as a new millennialist cult takes root; in Reverend Beelson's profoundly charismatic sermons, he tells people that the world will end in fire, and unless they squat down in the Weeupcut Mountains, they will not be spared.
The story is narrated in dual POV with thirteen-year-old Marina and sixteen-year-old Jed. Marina is a believer, although she isn't as fanatical as her mother, whose dedication to her faith makes her neglect (and even abuse) her children. Jed's father is also a believer but Jed himself isn't. The only reason he came along was because he's worried about his dad, and with his mom out of the picture (adultery) and his sister in college, he's the only thing his father has. But he's decided to passively-aggressively undermine the rules by bringing along his laptop and getting in snide remarks whenever he can.
Since this book is about two teenagers of the opposite sex, it's pretty much a given that a love story would worm its insidious way into the storyline. And it does. Which was a little weird, because of the huge age difference between the characters. I actually read another dual-POV book published around this time, called FROM E TO YOU, that also has an age difference this big and, I dunno, I don't see many sixteen-year-old dudes wanting to be with a thirteen-year-old. That's...weird.
I really wanted to like ARMAGEDDON SUMMER because it touches upon a really interesting and taboo subject--what happens when religion goes too far? What is too far? What is going on in the minds of those who join and stay in cults?
But I didn't really like the book. It wasn't the religion aspect that upset me, and even though I couldn't swallow the romance, that didn't put me off, either. I think my problem with the book is that it moved very slowly. It was tedious and lacked emotion. I wanted to care about these characters, but they gave me very little reason to. It's just Jed and Marina in the woods, describing the minutiae of their days. Until The End of Days finally comes and all hell breaks loose.
ARMAGEDDON SUMMER wasn't for me, but it's still a pretty cool book because of the subject matter alone.
I haven't read a lot of captor/captive romances that I actually liked, which is unfortunate because I love that trope--in theory. The problem is, I almost never see an author who can carry it out to my satisfaction. They want to make apologies for the captor-slash-rapist. They want him to be a nice guy, even when he's taking advantage of the heroine or beating her black and blue. They want him to be redeemable. They want to have their cakes, and eat them too, and without any of the calories, to boot.
That just does not fucking happen.
Here's the thing about captors/rapists; if they were nice guys, they wouldn't be abducting women. They wouldn't be raping women. They wouldn't be hitting women. And why? Because that's not what nice guys do. You can make a captor or a rapist sympathetic but you can't make him a nice guy, so don't even try. PRISONER was a great book because the authors didn't even try.
Abigail Winslow is a young graduate student teaching a prison memoir course that she plans to publish later. She's idealistic, bookish, and compassionate, and even though she is excited about the glory of posting these prisoners' dark secrets, she also genuinely hopes that the experience will prove therapeutic.
Grayson is one of the prisoners. He's attracted to Abigail as soon as he sees her, but it's a dark, ugly attraction that could destroy just as easily as it could create. His beauty is probably his only redeeming factor, but it's also the greatest weapon he has at his disposal--as well as his own personal cross to bear. One day, Grayson manages to escape from prison, and he decides to take Abigail with him, showing her just how dark his secrets really are as he embarks on a quest for revenge.
The psychological element to this book is probably the best part of PRISONER. Each character's voice--Abigail's and Grayson's--is distinct. I believed their motivations. I understood their stories. They were tortured, yes, but believably so--and their angst was definitely valid (holy shit). And the sexual tension between them was very well done, and just as twisted as I would expect it to be in a captor/captive...well, not really a romance but, you know. Erotica.
The first 50% of this book is a lot better than the second 50%, but the revenge plot kept me turning the pages even when I began to get a little frustrated with Abigail and Grayson. Honestly, I never would have picked this up on my own because I'm so frustrated with this genre as a whole, but a friend I trust recommended this to me, and since I've loved every thing else she's ever made me read, I warily picked this up--and immediately I found myself with a book I couldn't put down.
I'm a little unhappy that they're making this into a series because I can't imagine the other books being half as good as this one, but hey, maybe they'll surprise me. This one certainly did.
THE NYMPH KING opens with an orgy. Well...post-orgy. Nymph heart-throb Valerian is chilling in a bed with four human women who are mindless with bliss from being fucked by his magical peen. And even though he has to go train his men for battle, the women beg him for a second round, and he's like, "FUCK BITCHES, GET MONEY."
I had a lot of issues with THE NYMPH KING. A lot.
I'm not a fan of the fated-to-be-mated trope. It tends to be used as an excuse to squeeze together two characters who have no romantic chemistry on their own, while also apologizing away for things like dubious consent or rape--who cares if she doesn't want it? It's true love, dammit! They're soulmates! It's meant to be!
Which is pretty much what happens here. Shaye, our female protagonist, is the bridesmaid at her mother's sixth wedding, moping around, being a bitch, insulting her stepbrother, and pretty much just being awful. Right after her mother tells her to stop being a Debbie Downer, and suggests that maybe it would be good for her to hang out with Sexual Harassment Stepbrother, the nymphs come from the sea to abduct some human women to sleep with, because they are powered by sex!
All of the women who aren't claimed by men are carried off to the sea (which makes Shaye's mom sad, because the nymphs apparently release this hormone that makes them insatiable to mortal women--she's begging them to fuck her, while her husband just stands there like WTF). Shaye is wearing a seashell bra and a grass skirt, which is prime molesting wear, and you're an idiot if you think that Valerian and a couple other nymphs don't take advantage of this. Which they do.
Interestingly, the women who are fated to be mates to the nymphs seem to be immune to their aphrodisiac-hormones, and I'm not sure what this is supposed to say...that they are somehow better than the women who, in a drug-induced frenzy, hurl themselves at the nymphs and beg to be fucked? Because that doesn't seem fair to me. Not only does it implicitly suggest that these poor women who are being drugged into their sex-crazed states are somehow at fault for their behavior, it also sends the disturbing message that good brides are supposed to be reluctant and ignorant about sex.
Because Shaye, despite being in her twenties (late twenties, I think), is a virgin who knows absolutely nothing about sex. And this makes Valerian really excited, because even though he is a sex champion, he finds the idea of an awkward woman who knows absolutely nothing about sex irresistible.
BECAUSE THAT IS SO REALISTIC.
Most of their "relationship" consists of a bickering back-and-forth that wouldn't be out of place in a junior high school. Lots of name-calling, sexual innuendo desperately worked into every conversation to the point of the hero sounding like a creepy old man at a bar, and foot-stomping and things like GRRR! being written into the narrative to show the heroine's FRUSTRATION! at this man. GRR! HE IS ANNOYING! DID YOU NOT KNOW? LET ME SHOW YOU! GRR! GRR!
Another thing that really annoyed me is how rape is brought up by this book. Valerian does not know what rape is (ha!). He has to have it explained to him, and when he does, he laughs. The concept of a woman not finding him attractive enough to let him have sex with her is a completely foreign concept. What is an unwilling woman? Isn't a woman willing by nature?
The other nymphs are similarly puzzled by the concept of rape and this seems to have been done more for comedic purposes than to instill any actual social commentary about rape and what might be said about a race of otherworldly characters who rely on the use of hormones to make women sleep with them. But then, homosexuality is also used as a gag in this book, too. OH NO! MY HORMONES WORKED ON A DUDE! A DUDE WANTS TO SLEEP WITH ME! OMG! WHAT DO I DO! I'M A MAN! MEN DON'T HAVE SEX, EVER!
What the fuck.
The fact that these guys are part of a Greek pantheon (Poseidon makes an appearance) just makes this even more stupid, because the Greeks were all about homosexuality. Apollo was bisexual (but more interested in men, IIRC) and several of the gods had dalliances that were not het. IT WAS A THING.
I started skimming at around page 200 and I can say that I'm just really not impressed. Vampires? Dragon men? Greek gods? Nymphs? This book suffers from the same world-building flaws as A HUNGER LIKE NO OTHER--it throws a whole bunch of different races into a book without really explaining why, and just expects the reader to roll with it without question. (In fact, the plot to this book is pretty similar to AHLNO except Valerian is weenier than Lachlain and Shaye is far, far, far more bitchy and annoying.)
This was my first Gena Showalter book, and I was not impressed. A friend of mine says that her other series are better, so I'll probably end up giving her another shot. But not this series. No, no, no. NO.
P.S. At one point Valerian actually fights over Shaye with another nymph. Using swords. And is the scene described as something like testosterone fueled? OFC.
So I'm pretty sure hiring a bunch of super villains and then having them blow stuff up in China and Russia in the name of 'Murrica puts you firmly on the side of chaotic good...or makes you a psychopathic government agent. *shrug* Either, or.
The Suicide Squad, a.k.a. Task Force X, is the gov't name for the super baddies they've hired to go on super sekrit missions of dubious morality. (I was surprised that this concept goes back to 1959, but hey, what hasn't DC already done? They've been around longer than the Simpsons.)
You're probably wondering how the gov't managed to persuade these guys to do the dirty work that not even the superheroes would touch. That's easy. A handy-dandy get out of jail free card.
Or, failing that, by implanting remote-control-activated bombs in their heads.
The members of this group kept getting hurt, so The Suicide Squad was a revolving door of cameos pretty much, but some of the members are Manta, Harley Quinn, Joker's Daughter, Deadshot, Boomerang, Deathstroke, and Reverse Flash.
Their missions take them first to Russia and then to China, and without spoiling anything too specific, let me say that there is a focal theme here: LABS FULL OF EVIL SHIT. Meanwhile, the anti-Mulder (Sage) and the anti-Scully (Waller) fight and hate on each other, and basically conspire to fuck the other person over while trying to oversee this task force from hell.
I feel like I should have enjoyed this more than I did. I wanted to enjoy it. But I feel like the concept wasn't very...credible? It would have been interesting to see how they captured these villains in the first place and persuaded them to sign up. Some of them, like Manta, did this voluntarily. I also feel like the bulk of the story consisted of the villains (especially Harley and Joker's Daughter) fighting with each other or whining or making bad jokes...like at one point, Harley starts singing along with a Taylor Swift song. Just...because.
This didn't really work for me, but if you like crossover comics--especially these kinds of crossover comics--then it'll probably work for you.
Immediately afterward, I went on Goodreads and added everything from this author's back list onto my to-read list.
BEWITCHING THE BARON leaped out at me from the shelf of one of my favorite thrift stores. The title and cover made me give it the side-eye, but I'd read and enjoyed one of this author's works before, which made me more optimistic about reading it.
Valerian Bright's mother and father were killed by the fever from which she was just barely spared. After their deaths, she was sent to live with her aunt Theresa in a small English village.
Both Theresa and Valerian are witches--good witches who practice light, innocent magic. Theresa has the gift of sight and Valerian can heal by touch. They use their powers for good, and between the two of them cure most of the ailments and maladies of the villagers.
Since this book is set in the mid-eighteenth century, witch hunting is at its end, but villagers are still superstitious and quick to blame their problems on scapegoats. And even though Valerian and Theresa do a lot of good for the village, they are also the perfect people to blame for when things go wrong.
In this village is a manor called Ravenall. Since the death of the last baron it has been empty, but Nathaniel Warrington has come to occupy it in self-imposed exile because of the scandal he caused back in London. With him is his friend, Paul Carlyle, who has a sore backside from being wounded after climbing out the window of a married woman in a haste after being caught in flagrante delicto by her married husband. Valerian offers to treat Paul, and Nathaniel is attracted to her right away.
I was really excited to read this book chiefly because the female character is named Valerian, and that is the name of the heroine in my Horrorscape trilogy. I've never seen anyone name their character that before. (So obviously, you can imagine my surprise when I pick up my next book, THE NYMPH KING, and see that the male love interest in that book is ALSO named Valerian. What the fuck.)
BEWITCHING THE BARON is actually really well written. It has great dialogue, good plotting, and a pretty decent heroine (even if she does indulge in foot-stomping). I was pleased to see that it took a while for the characters to fall in love, even when they took their relationship to a sexual level, and how the issues of class difference between them played a significant role in the choices they made for their relationship. The witch angle was also nicely done, and felt realistic to me.
Shirlee Busbee was pretty famous back in the day for writing crazy bodice rippers, most notably LADY VIXEN and GYPSY LADY (which I own). I love bodice rippers, so I was curious about her work, and when I saw SCANDAL on the shelf of my local used bookstore for a buck, I grabbed it.
SCANDAL is a very odd book, and, unfortunately, not a very good one. I think part of the problem is that the hero and heroine are married very early on in the story, which takes away a lot of the sexual tension romance novels use to propel interest in what happens to the characters, and emotional investment in their continued well being (they have to fuck, dammit! #OTP).
It also combines a metric fuckload of tropes into one bloated volume, and...and it's too much.
Nell Anslowe is a Lady of Quality but nobody wants to marry her because she's crippled. This happened when she fell from a horse as a young girl. She went over a cliff (killing her horse) and banged up her head, and ended up in a coma for several weeks. Her fiance at the time didn't want to marry a crip, so he decided to spread rumors that the fall had addled her brains, making her a candidate for Bedlam. (What a gentleman, eh, ladies?) Because of this, and insecurity about her unfortunate handicap, Nell has been on the shelf for all these years.
There's a bastard named Tyndale, though, who's neck-deep in vowels, and he is more than willing to marry Nell for her money. Unfortunately, he's not very good at masking his intentions and Nell refuses him. But "NO" is just white noise to this man, who decides to sneak into her room and kidnap her on a dark and stormy night, intending to spirit her away to Gretna Green, forcibly consummate the marriage, and then enjoy her fortune at the risk of her ruination. What a bastard. Nell manages to fight him off, though, and runs away to an abandoned cabin to take shelter.
At the same time, a man named Julian is chasing after his step-sister, who he believes has eloped with a handsome soldier. When he sees Tyndale's abandoned curricle, he thinks his sister and her eloper were also caught in the storm, and also finds himself in the cabin. Imagine his surprise when he sees not his sister, but a hot, wet woman in a scanty nightdress...OH THE TRAITOROUS CHILLS!
They get married, blah blah blah. Nell doesn't let him sleep with her for a while because she didn't want to get married, and she wants some time to get used to him. Which was interesting, because usually in these types of books, the hero insists on a wedding night and then the heroine (who starts out reluctant) has the orgasm of her life and realizes that this is teh luuuuuurve.
I started out liking Nell quite a bit because it was cool to read about a heroine with a handicap who had learned to deal with her difficulties and didn't define herself by them, but by the middle of the book I found myself increasingly frustrated with her. Even though it's obvious--obvious--that her husband loves her, she's convinced that he's holding a torch for his dead wife. The minute after they have sex for the first time, she interrogates him about her(!) and then seems surprised and put out(!!!) that he doesn't want to discuss his previous marriage in the marriage bed of his current wife.
There's also a murder plot. Nell has psychic powers(!!?!?!) for some reason, and has these prophetic dreams about a man in shadow who kills women in graphic and unpleasant ways in the depths of a hidden dungeon. At first she thinks these are just horrible nightmares, but later on in the story, evidence arises that suggests that these murders are actually happening. No excuse is given as to why Nell has these visions, except that maybe her falling and hitting her head precipitated it?
I don't know, guys. I think this was too cheesy and over-the-top even for me. I wish the hero and heroine hadn't gotten married so soon, and that the story had been darker to fit with the murders: some of the sleuthing scenes in this book had me humming the Scooby Doo theme because of how ridiculous they were. I half-expected to see a painting with moving eyes or a bookshelf housing a hidden door. The secondary characters were excellent, though, and the murder was suspenseful enough that I read to the end in order to find out whodunnit.
SCANDAL BECOMES HER is about as trashy as it is possible for a book to be while also still being somewhat readable. I would recommend it for long and boring car trips, and for plane rides after the flight attendant has ordered that all electronic devices be turned-off.
QUEEN OF THE TEARLING came out a few years ago. It had all this hype attached with its release, and there was a lot of excitement and speculation...until ARCs started making their way through the blogger community, and reviewers started going, "Dafuq?!" Even though I'm late--a few years late--to the cool kids' party, that was pretty much my reaction during the entire book.
Kelsea has been in hiding for nineteen with her two guardians. She is plain, bookish, and pretty much unremarkable except for a sapphire necklace and a mysterious scar. Guess what? It turns out she's the Queen! Not just any queen, but the long-lost heir to Tearling that people, good and bad, have been searching for all these years. And now it's time for her ascension.
Let's begin with Kelsea. The first thing you need to know about her is that she is very, very plain. The second thing you need to know about her is that she really likes books. That's it. That's all you need to know about Kelsea. But Kelsea thinks you are an idiot, because she will be constantly reminding you about these two things over the course of the book, in many pointless, and often excruciatingly uncomfortable ways.
For example, there is this character called the Fetch. I actually kind of liked his character, even though he's pretty stock as far as the ambiguously amoral but useful ally trope goes. Anyway, towards the beginning of the book he kidnaps Kelsea but then tells her that she doesn't need to worry about being raped because she's "too plain" for him. Something Kelsea finds disappointing. In fact, when meditating on her plainness later, this incident comes up several times--to her regret.
Later, Kelsea meets another woman her own age named Marguerite, her Uncle's ex-sex-slave. Marguerite is beautiful, but she tells Kelsea that beauty isn't all it's cracked up to be pretty much because it makes men want to rape you. Keslea thinks that Marguerite is just exaggerating (even though, hello, RAPEY UNCLE'S SEX SLAVE) because surely being beautiful would be better! At one point, she secretly wishes that her guards would sexually harass Marguerite after she catches them looking at her appreciatively because she wants an excuse to yell at them 'cause she's jelus.
Let's get to Kelsea's royal policies. This book has been billed as being like Game of Thrones. Well, if monarchy is a game, GoT would be chess. Queen of the Tearling would be Hungry Hungry Hippos. Kelsea isn't in the kingdom for a week before she starts turning everything on its head. She ends the slave trade that is supposedly the only thing keeping the peace between her kingdom and Mort, even though her army is totally unequipped for war or retaliation. She deposes her uncle as Regent, takes away his favorite slave girl, and humiliates him before all her guards. Oh, and then she starts fucking with the Church, and campaigning to steal all their books...because she wants them.
The world-building makes even less sense. At first, QUEEN OF THE TEARLING seems like a pretty stock medieval European fantasy setting. Which is not my favorite genre, because it's been done so, so much and all too often the characters have the depth of a D&D Dungeon Master's character portfolio. Less, even, because there's no knocking a good DM. But then...
Kelsea mentions pennies with a stately bearded man on them. Abraham Lincoln? You mean Abraham Lincoln? Surely not, no, this must be another bearded man-- And then she explicitly mentions America and England, as well as some other things like The Hobbit and The Brothers Grimm. This is not a medieval fantasy book, this is a post-apocalyptic dystopian that takes place in our future.
THIS IS THE FUTURE.
This just raises so many questions that I cannot. First off, how did we get from here to there? I'm guessing this is going to be answered in later stories but can we at least have a hint? All that we know is that there was something called The Crossing and Tearling was founded by some dude named William Tear who apparently didn't know shit about how politics or governing a people worked. Secondly, if this is a dystopian, why is there magic? Is it actually magic, or is it just another example of how backwards these people are? Is this an alternate universe? WHAT IS GOING ON? Britain and America were (fairly) forward thinking countries in their heydey so why the fuck are there "antisodomy squads" roaming around making sure nobody gets up to anything gay, and how did the church manage to wrest control again--especially when the country's founder was apparently an atheist? Where are all the books? And if there aren't any books, why can people still read? When Kelsea started lending her books out, she didn't need to teach the people she gave them to how to read, so why, if books are no longer common or even considered useful, why does this population still know how to read? Why are doctors so scarce? If doctors are scarce, why is it apparently not super uncommon for women to get cosmetic surgery? Do psychics exist in this world? If not, why did Kelsea start having prophetic dreams all of a sudden? Who the fuck is that guy who sucks the eyeballs out of children? How did the slave trade become the backbone of the Mort economy? What happened to the rest of the world--like China and Russia and India, for example. Are they watching us on their futuristic monitors and laughing at us for being the medieval fucktards that we are?
Now let's talk about the villain. She's an evil queen. Of course. She's been looking for Kelsea for nineteen years to keep her from reclaiming the throne. Of course. She failed. Of course. What you need to know about the queen is that she's probably a sorceress of some kind since she's old as hell but still looks young, and that she is evil. When she finds out one of her sex slaves snores, she orders his tongue and uvula cut out as punishment. To quote Electric Light Orchestra, Eeeevil woman. Ironically, she's one of the more interesting and conflicted characters in the book, as is Kelsea's Uncle Thomas. I would much rather read about them than fucking Kelsea over here.
Because there's a lot of double-standards. Kelsea does a lot of cruel and insensitive things. She humiliates her enemies. Enemies that she makes because she doesn't think about making allies. All she thinks about is her plainness and obtaining more books. You might think plainness would make her a more forgiving and empathetic person but you would be wrong. She envies beautiful women (while also wishing bad things would happen to them) and mocks older or ugly women for attempting to beautiful themselves. Pretty much all the female characters who aren't Kelsea in this book are painted as a) evil queens, b) victims, c) jealous hags/bitches.
And despite wanting to be beautiful, Kelsea seems to really hate women and femininity. She's described one point as being "mannish" simply because she walks like she knows where she's going. In the beginning of the book, she takes violent offense to the notion that she might at one point have played with dolls or worn dresses. There's a quote in this book saying that women scream at any kind of pain, but men scream only when they're being killed. Which begs the question: in a world that has not one, but two powerful queens, why is there so much gender stereotyping and misogyny?
And why does Kelsea buy into it? She has all those books. She ought to know that things should be--and can be--different. (I'm also wondering what those books were about. She mentions the Hobbit and the Brothers Grimm but nothing more modern. And these books mostly seem to serve as a crutch (a very weak crutch) to explain how Kelsea seems to know everything about things she ought to know absolutely nothing about--like doctors, and plastic surgeons, and recessive genes, and about a million other things.) Her guardians didn't think to give her a copy of Sun Tzu or The Prince?
I was wondering where the Hunger Games similarities would come in and it didn't take me long to figure that out. The slave trade is determined by a lottery (oh boy), and IIRC, the 'winner's' family is exempt from taking part in lotteries for a period of time. WHAT A GREAT PRIZE. You know, I think the Hunger Games wins on this one. Yeah, they were sending children to their deaths, but at least it was only a few dozen kids and not cages and cages of hundreds of babies, adults, and children who were going to get raped, tortured, have their eyeballs sucked out and then murdered, etc. Plus, entering got you food and the winners' families got a lifetime supply of food. So yeah, excuse me if I say, well, at least the HG people managed to make it look at least a little appealing.
Whenever I looked at my friends' page for QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, the schism was always what I noticed right away. 80% of my friends loathed, loathed, loathed this book, and 20% adored it, no questions asked. There was no middle ground. They all either loved it or hate it.
Now that I've read QUEEN OF THE TEARLING for myself, I'm planting my flag firmly in the "hated it" camp. I found the book very lazily written and plotted, too reliant on cliches and shoddy world building to make up for what proved to be a decidedly uninteresting and unoriginal storyline.
I've seen this author around before, and for some reason (wishful dyslexia?) I always thought her name was Miyuki Maybe, which I thought was a delightfully quirky and existential name for a mystery author to have. Whodunnit? Whowroteit? But then I found out that her name was actually Miyabe, and I was sad.
Even though I tend to not like sweeping generalizations, one thing I have noticed about Japanese novels is that they often start out with the main character meeting a stranger who then impacts their lives. There is often such a sense of isolation in these books, and a feeling of disconnection--I'm not sure if this is because of the translations or a reflection of how the authors themselves feel in this society, but it is interesting and recurring.
Kosaka, the main character in this book, is a journalist for a mediocre periodical firm called The Arrow. One night in a bad storm he comes across the teenaged Shinji. As they are driving, they find an open hole in the street where a manhole cover has been removed. Shortly afterwards, an old man passes, looking for his missing grandson. Shinji goes pale--out of guilt, Kosaka thinks, until Shinji reveals to him that he is, in fact, a psychic and he has seen that the little boy is dead.
THE SLEEPING DRAGON is a reference to the sleeping psychic powers that are inside Shinji and another mysterious man named Naoya, and how, if treated recklessly, or if not channeled properly, they have the power to consume you or destroy you. It's an interesting premise, but wasn't really explored to its fullest potential. The main plot is Kosaka trying to figure out a) whether Shinji and Naoya really are psychic, or just delusional or conspiratorial, and b) who is sending him mysterious and threatening letters at work, and why.
I read the book to the end because I wanted to figure out what happened, but it was not a satisfying ending. Sometimes books are driven by character motivations, and things make sense in hindsight because of foreshadowing by the author. And other times, things happen, and you think, "Well, that was random. Did the author pull that out of their butt?" I am sorry to say that this was one of those latter instances. I put this book down feeling more puzzled and dissatisfied than anything else.
Miyuki Miyabe had some good ideas in this book, but I'm wondering if maybe she was trying to fuse together too many different concepts and whether this was why the book failed. I'd be willing to try a few more of her works to see if they agreed with me better, but this isn't one I would recommend.
It makes me sad to give this such a low rating because until now I have loved everything that I've read of Lauren Oliver's work.
VANISHING GIRLS is about two sisters, Dara and Nick. They used to be inseparable, even as they began to grow apart. But then Dara gets into a terrible accident that disfigures her face, their parents get divorced, and nothing is the same since.
Nick is trying to reach out to Dara to repair what used to be between them, and it almost seems to be working. Until Dara disappears. It might seem like a game, but there's another girl who disappeared recently too, named Madeline Snow, and Nick can't help but wonder if maybe the two disappearances are linked.
There are a lot of stories told in this mold, and half of them are told by Jessica Warman. VANISHING GIRLS, unfortunately, brings nothing new to the table, coming across instead as a rehashing of all the cliches that are typical to this genre. Troubled girls? Check. Small town secrets? Check. Illicit sex? Check. Boy issues? Check. It reads more like a shopping list of tropes than a book.
I did read VANISHING GIRLS to the end because I was invested enough in the mystery portion of the book that I wanted to see it through to the end, even though I had to do a lot of skimming to get there, but I wasn't overly pleased by the ending. It seemed...contrived. I know that's a terrible thing to say, since all books are contrived to some extent, but in this case, there was no foreshadowing or anything that made me sit up and say, "IT ALL MAKES SENSE!" It seemed abrupt.
There is a love story squeezed into this book, but it doesn't contribute much either. None of the characters had any sort of personality or anything. I almost have difficulty believing this is the same Lauren Oliver who wrote BEFORE I FALL, one of the handful of books that has made me cry.
Is this another book trying to rip off the success of GONE GIRL?
Does it feature female characters acting in unconventional ways with an unreliable female narrator?
Does it have a twist that won't be revealed until the very end, cleverly tricking you into reading the whole thing regardless of whether you love it or hate it?
Is it a bad book?
...No, not at all, actually.
When she was a teenager, Tessa Cartwright was found in a field of black-eyed susans, lying on top of the bones of other girls. She was the only survivor of the Black-Eye Susan killer, the "lucky" one.
Somehow, she doesn't feel very lucky.
Now a middle-aged woman with a teenager of her own, Tessa is still haunted by the other Susans. She hears their voices sometimes, whispering. The voices have gotten louder because a lawyer has contacted her, hoping that she will be able to help: they believe the man they convicted for the killings, a black man named Terrell, was innocent.
But that would confirm what Tessa had feared all these years...that her killer is still out there. Waiting to finish what he started.
Tessa is an interesting protagonist. I like seeing characters who suffer from their traumas in realistic ways, and in addition to PTSD, Tessa at one point suffers from conversion disorder, which until now, I have never actually seen portrayed in fiction. So that was really neat.
The mystery of the killer is done well, and so was the twist. I didn't see it coming, anyway. I had lots of theories, but none of them were correct. The dual POV works well to reveal and conceal information, although if I do have one complaint about this it is that I felt that her killer and his actions were not really detailed enough for me to get a sense of how terrible he was. If the author had gone that extra mile in edge, this probably would have gotten a five-star rating.
BLACK-EYED SUSANS was a decent read, very much like Gillian Flynn in terms of style and tone. The author makes a lot of interesting references and writes pretty good flawed protagonists, so if you are a Flynn fan you can probably make the transition over to Heaberlin easily. I would read more by this author in a heartbeat. I hope she decides to stay in this genre for a while...
Book #1 in this series is called THE STRANGER, and I liked it quite a bit. Even though this is a graphic-novel, it has a fighter anime flavor to it, with a royal fighting tournament comprised of both magic and combat that wouldn't be out of place in a fantasy rendition of The Hunger Games.
This book starts where the last one left off. Richard Aldana and Adrian Velba are in the championships of the tournament. They have a lot of rivals to deal with, and for some of the rivals, it's personal and they won't hesitate to cheat or use emotional manipulation in order to get what they want.
Adrian's mom and Richard finally do something about that sexual tension, and it ends up scarring Adrian for life. Although I have to say that they way they approached the little boy about it was quite sweet, and actually developed the storyline and their characters quite a bit. You don't often see adult characters explaining sex to a child in young adult books, especially not in graphic novels.
I finished this book in about twenty minutes. I think it's even better than the first in terms of what it sets out to accomplish, and the suspense is great. There's court intrigue, deception, and all sorts of complicated relationships that I'm hoping will play out in interesting ways (although Master Jensen seems to have disappeared in this one...what about his obsession with Adrian's mom?).
I was really shocked when I found out I was approved for this graphic-novel...DC Comics never approves me for anything! (They love me, they really love me...)
BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT is meant to accompany that new game that just came out. This is the prologue to it. The Joker has been killed by Batman and Arkham City is closed.
Unfortunately, a dead Joker is still a dangerous Joker. He's managed his affairs carefully, ensuring that Gotham will still encounter his numerous booby-traps, even posthumously.
Other bad guys in this book are Harley Quinn, the Penguin, Tweedle Dum and Dee, Bane (but no Poison Ivy!), and Croc.
BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT is pretty dark. A lot of the new Batman comics are really dark, and this one is no exception. It's not as morally troubling as The Dark Knight Rises, or as disturbing and unpleasant as Alan Moore's book, in which one of the female characters is raped, but it's still pretty brutal in parts.
My biggest issue with ARKHAM KNIGHT was that the storyline kept jumping around. At one point, Batman ends up in Germany? I also wasn't a fan of how the Joker was drawn in this book, and some of the typeface was really difficult to read, especially when the speech bubbles were neon colors.
This wasn't bad, but it wasn't the best superhero comic I've ever read either. It reads like what it is: a publicity attempt meant to shed interest on its accompanying product.
The product information on the side of douche boxes is more illuminating and contributes more to society than this useless piece of dreck. CONSEQUENCES was a terrible book, perhaps the worst I've read this year. When it wasn't being offensive, it was being boring, and when it wasn't boring, it was moronic.
CONSEQUENCES was on my to-read list for a while because people kept recommending it to me. When this book appeared for free on Amazon, it seemed like a boon. It was really a curse.
Here's the thing. Rape in books does not bother me. Neither does non-con, dub-con, or sexual abuse. I read bodice rippers, for fuck's sake, and they're called bodice rippers precisely because the hero, in a fit of passion, rips off the heroine's bodice for a dubiously consensual romp. What I do take issue with is when rape is treated insensitively, or romanticized, or, worse, normalized.
CONSEQUENCES does all three.
On Goodreads, it is shelved as "romance" by over 200 users. Some of the Listopia lists it appears on are "Controlling/Sexy/Possessive Men" (#44), -*Beautiful Dark Romances*- (#1), All Time Dominant-Alpha Romance Heroes (#3) (emphasis mine). And then, more disturbingly, these lists as well: Swoon Worthy Men (#77), Best Love Story (#294), Panty Droppers (#215), and, most sickeningly of all, Best Book Boyfriends (#1,427). Even if it was not the author's intention, this book is being shelved as a romance, and marketed as a romance, spoken of in the same breath as FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and IF I WERE YOU.
But do you know what this book is actually about?
***WARNING: SPOILERS, TRIGGER WARNINGS***
Claire was a bartender living a normal life. Then one day she wakes up in a fancy room, bruised and beaten in a way that suggests that she was raped, and then physically attacked. This would be the work of Tony, our "love interest" who has decided that Claire owes him a debt because of a blank cocktail napkin that Claire signed as a joke. Apparently signing blank cocktail napkins means that you are signing away your right to call non-consensual sex rape, so ladies, under no circumstances must you ever sign any napkins, ever. In fact, just in case, you better stop signing anything, period.
The reason Tony kidnapped her isn't clear, but his intentions for her are. Oh, yes. He keeps her locked up in her room, doesn't allow her to wear underwear of any kind, and rapes her whenever he feels like it. When she upsets him, he beats her, sometimes until she goes unconscious. He calls these instances "glitches" and blames her for it. He calls her going unconscious from her beatings "accidents" and blames her for those, too. Tony is the master of abusive relationship euphemisms. He probably calls pushing women down the stairs "hugs" and vaginal fistulas "cupcakes." He is such a fucker.
This has some promise. I was hoping, from the summary, that Claire would be a feisty, inquisitive heroine, who would fight back--passively or actively--while trying to seek out a way to get away from her captor. But in the 50% of the book I read, Claire never once attempts to escape (unless you count trying a locked door and then immediately giving up afterward "attempting to escape"). Instead, she seems to actively reject any and all escape attempts that come her way, turning to her captor for permission or protection from the Scary Outside World Full of People Who Want to Save Her. But then, what would you expect from a book that lends more text space to name-dropping expensive clothing brands than the psychological turmoil of a woman's rape and abuse?
This is the biggest issue I took with the book. Claire is a victim of rape and abuse, and she passively accepts it all from the get-go. In fact, you could even say she embraces it. She signs away her freedom and her dignity for the price of a couple Dior dresses and an outdoor pool, and marries her fucking rapist/abductor because...well, he must love her so much, right? Even though he beats her and hits her. Even though he rapes her. Even though he keeps her locked up as a prisoner. Even though he videotapes them having sex so he can use the footage to criticize her performance later. Even though he employs an entire household of people who think absolutely nothing of the fact that he rapes and abuses and beats this woman that he has obtained from God knows where.
Claire is a victim, and yet--I hate to say it, but oh God--she brought it all upon herself. Female characters like Claire are the reason women are blamed for their abuse. It is an oversimplification of abusive relationships masquerading as a Disney fairytale where the abused but faithful woman manages to change her man by doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing. She just stays, and endures the rapes, and the beatings, waiting for something better, hoping that her "prince" will change.
Let me just add that even though I didn't finish the book, I read the spoilers, and I was not impressed. That mind-fuck twist? Not a mind-fuck. It's a last-ditch attempt to inject this story with some semblance of plot, and it so did not work. CONSEQUENCES is a terrible book in terms of story, characterization, and moral value. I honestly do not understand why this book is so lauded, or why so many women are Team Tony and claiming that they want him as a book boyfriend or that he makes their panties wet. This is not romance. This is fucking sick.
There is a tendency in fiction to portray those with disabilities or chronic ailments as saintly or wise characters; their illnesses and disabilities are used to illustrate the point that life is fragile, and far too short, and therefore best lived to the fullest while one still can or to make us understand that anything is possible, if someone with such an obstacle in their path can still succeed.
Even though both of these tactics probably mean well, they are still condescending as hell and harmful in their own way. Why? Because they are just a variation on the magical negro trope.
People with disabilities are people.
They can be saintly and wise, but they can also be selfish, or conflicted, or even embittered and mean-spirited.
Paul Rayment, the main character of SLOW MAN, is all of the above. The book starts out with the accident that led to his sad state of affairs: while cycling, he was hit by a reckless driver, and since he was too old to risk reconstruction, the hospital doctors callously decided to amputate his leg at the knee without really asking him for permission first.
Paul does not take to his injury with good humor. He is in denial, and also, as I said before, quite bitter. He despairs of his handicap, of his old age, and the fact that people have yet another reason to judge him. When the Croatian caretaker, Marijana, walks into her life with her brisk, efficient kindness, it seems only natural that he'd fall in love with the first person to treat him normally.
Unfortunately, for him, Marijana is married. With children. And not at all interested.
Not since THE GARGOYLE have I read a book with a disabled lead who could actually be considered an antihero. Both books depict an embittered hero who knows that his life won't be the same and who isn't sure that he will be able to make the adjustments. Both have the Kubler-Rossian "five stages of acceptance" incorporated into the psychology of the main character, with many backslides, and many, many mistakes. Both books also show a realistic (and very gruesome) side to the recovery process, and how in some ways it can be just as painful as the initial injury (or more).
I already knew that I loved Coetzee's writing. He has what can only be called spare prose: and yet in this limited space, he can work wonders. The way he plays with words sometimes reminds me of Nabokov. In fact, his book, DISGRACE--a story in which a middle-aged professor forces himself on one of his students--mirrors LOLITA in many regards. It also shares many features with SLOW MAN in the sense that both protagonists are elderly white men who are selfish and entitled and must suffer a personal blow in order to realize how selfish and entitled they have been all along.
Coetzee's writing is not for everyone, but if you can stomach hard truths and depressing endings, he's a writer you should definitely check out.
10 years ago, something called the Calamity burst in the sky like a malevolent firecracker, precipitating the manifestation of super powers in some humans. They called themselves "Epics." At first, humanity was excited. They hoped that the Epics would prove to be their heroes. Instead, they became their oppressors.
David watched his father die at the hands of Steelheart when he was a small boy. Steelheart is the despot of New Chicago (Newcago), and supposedly invincible...something David knows for a fact isn't true because he's seen Steelheart bleed.
(Steelheart is fucking scary, too. He can turn inanimate objects to steel. With a single wave of his hand, he pretty much turned Chicago into a gleaming, trillion-ton paperweight.)
In order to avenge his father's death, David has dedicated his life to researching the Epics, discovering their weaknesses, the sources of their strength, hoping all the while that his tangle of research will somehow allow him to snare Steelheart once and for all.
He isn't the only one devoted to bringing down Epics. There is also a group called The Reckoners (hence the series title), a human resistance movement kind of like the one in The Matrix. They operate as a tight unit, bringing down minor Epics, mostly trading weapons and gold in order to gather more resources for more reconnaissance and minor kills.
David ends up getting involved with them and wants them to broaden their scope. He wants them to stop focusing on the small fries. He wants them to take out Steelheart himself.
Guys. Guys. I loved this book. Loved it. In fact, I would call it the best sci-fi/fantasy novel I've read all year. It is that good. STEELHEART is a dark, gritty dystopian novel that does not condescend to its youthful audience, nor does it muddle the plot with an unnecessary love story.
The world-building is fantastic. At the end of the book (I read the author's notes...that's how much I liked this book), Sanderson talks about how he had some difficulty coming up with names for his Epics and original superpowers because so much had already been done by Marvel and DC. His efforts really show: I was really impressed by how original and common-sensical his characters seemed. Everything came across really naturally, and it was easy to submerse myself into this world and just soak everything in as Sanderson gradually revealed twist after twist after twist.
And these twists...he foreshadowed them all. The checks-and-balances strengths and weaknesses of the superheroes, the weapons and scientific research based off studies of Epics...the secret twists about various characters. In hindsight, suddenly everything clicked and made sense. Even Steelheart's weakness. I didn't get any deus ex machina vibes at all. This is a solid, meticulously plotted, cohesive storyline that manages to incorporate several of my favorite things: Matrix-y resistance movements, superheroes, revenge plots, and geeky protagonists.
Even though David has based his entire life on revenge, he's still a likable guy. While this book is dark, it isn't bleak. David isn't beyond redemption. The book is narrated in first person and Sanderson gave him his own personality, from his almost fanboyish obsession with researching his passions to his tendency to come up with hilariously bad metaphors. I really enjoyed his voice, and it made the book a total breeze to read because of it.
The only other book I've read by Sanderson before now was ELANTRIS, which I liked but also thought had a lot of problems, the biggest being that his female character was a raging Mary Sue and the pacing was inconsistent. All those problems are gone in STEELHEART. Megan is awesome, and the pacing was addictive, dragging only briefly in part 3. I read through this in a single day, putting it down only because of pesky commitments like work and blog reviews. As soon as I realized how good this was turning out to be, I got MITOSIS from the library and put the sequel, FIREFIGHT, on hold.
Read this book. I just know it's going to be an awesome movie with cool special effects (probably done by Peter Jackman, but also possibly by one of those Matrix/Jupiter Ascending guys, too).
I just finished STEELHEART and it was amazing. When I realized my library had the sequel, as well as the bonus short story, I immediately put both on hold.
MITOSIS takes place immediately after the events of STEELHEART, so if you haven't read STEELHEART yet don't read this book or it will spoil all the twists for you.
David and The Reckoners (that sounds kind of like a band) are dealing with the consequences of their killing the Epics. Newcago is still very afraid, and struggling to survive. They want to teach the people they have nothing to fear, but such bravery is still a huge risk when another Epic could take control at any time.
The villain in MITOSIS is an Epic of the same name, who is capable of self-replication. He has heard that David is the one who murdered Steelheart and is convinced that it's a cover-up for a larger scheme. He wants to find out the truth...and then kill David.
Which will totally happen, unless David's crew can find out his weakness in time.
I'm giving this four stars because even though it was so fucking short, it did contribute to the storyline and had great suspense for what was essentially thriller. I wouldn't have purchased it myself, but I'm very happy I was able to read it for free courtesy of my lovely local library.
This book hooked me from the start with its premise. Tudor fiction and chess-focused? If you're at all familiar with who I am and what I do, you know that I find chess fascinating.
THE TOURNAMENT takes place in 1546. Elizabeth is a young girl, studying under her brilliant (almost Sherlockian) tutor, Roger Ascham. Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, has issued invitations to the best chess players across the globe, one of whom resides in Elizabeth's own court: Mr. Giles.
As part of Elizabeth's education, Mr. Ascham elects to have the teenager accompany him to the Ottoman Empire along with Mr. Giles, Elizabeth's chaperones, Mr. and Mrs. Ponsonby, and Elizabeth's rather salacious and sex-crazed friend, Elsie.
THE TOURNAMENT is super quotable. Ascham is really wise and it shows.
It is also batshit insane.
From the moment Elizabeth and her party arrive in the Ottoman Empire, it's clear that they're not in England anymore, Toto. Reilly portrays the society on the verge of its decline: beautiful art and with many achievements in math and science under its belt, but also beginning to crumble under corrupt rule, and increasingly strict religion-based laws.
Pretty soon, people begin showing up dead. Or disappearing. And not in nice ways, either. Drowned, mutilated, poisoned, tortured...there's an assassination attempt that involves feeding someone to a pack of wolves (luckily it fails).
In many ways, THE TOURNAMENT is like a bodice ripper. There is a lot of sex in here (remember Elsie?). THE TOURNAMENT is set in brothels, with prostitutes. It has orgies. There is pedophilia and also rape. One of the villains has a whip made from the hair of all the little boys he's raped (I was having ANISE flashbacks). THE TOURNAMENT wouldn't have been out of place in your 1970s canon of wtfuckery.
What really made this book for me--apart from the first person narration with Elizabeth, Mr. Ascham, and the chess, obviously--was the court intrigue and the sheer complexity of the murders. In fact, the murders in this book parallel a chess game, with various pieces (i.e. characters) affecting how other characters play out later on in the story. I was even surprised a couple times.
THE TOURNAMENT is not a book for the faint of heart, but I do think if you can stomach weird sex and overt violence, it's a must-read. Before reading this, I assumed Matthew Reilly was another one of those airport bookstore-type authors, who's all flash and no substance. I am revising that opinion.
A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER will always be my favorite book by this author. It is the book that first introduced me to the woman who is now one of my favorite historical figures of all time: Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Nothing else can compete.
THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE is an interesting idea (that might be based off a true story?). Margaret Rose Kane has just come home early from a summer camp where she's been bullied by her fellow campers and (inadvertently) the camp director. She was rescued by her uncles, two Hungarian brothers who live together in a New York Suburb called Epiphany.
The uncles are eccentric. Alex is the glib, witty one and Morris is the grouchy one who is secretly a marshmallow. They kind of have an Ernie and Bert/Abbot and Costello type of relationship: one that's filled with tons of fighting and repartee, to the point where you might think that they genuinely hated each other if they didn't willingly spend so much time in the other's company.
One of their facets of eccentricity are three towers that they have built in their backyard out of found objects. The towers are about 45 years old, older than Margaret or her mother, and a point of fascination with Margaret. Unfortunately, they are also a point of contention with the local Home Owners' Association and the Historical Society, who think that the towers not only don't hold true to the historical accuracy of the "Old Town" atmosphere, but they are also dangerous and unsightly, and as a result, they are bringing down property values. Margaret decides that she is going to save the towers, but in order to do it she needs the help of a motley assortment of individuals.
THE OUTCASTS is a book with some pretty mature concepts considering that the narrator is only 12. You don't usually see middle grade books with such important messages that also have such a heavily adult cast (seriously--so many of the supporting cast in this book are adults). I did appreciate how this book went about showing how you can make a difference, and what some of the consequences of protests are (arrest, asshole demolition men/cops, nice cops, legal involvement etc.).
My biggest problem with this book was probably Margaret. She was overly precious and precocious and I just did not like her one bit. She was annoying, and rather than being impressed or inspired by her, I found myself becoming incredibly annoyed with her.
Also, despite a rather big cast, I felt Konigsburg only really scraped the surface of her characters. Some of them were so interesting, and I would have liked to have seen them get more air time.
When I was a kid, I would watch Pokemon every day after school. There was a time when I had pretty much all of the original episodes on VHS tape, and we watched several of them until they fell apart. Like other 90s kids, I was obsessed.
Even now, Pokemon is still something I remember with fond nostalgia, and continue to indulge in from time to time. I still have my Gameboy Color, and occasionally I'll play Yellow Version just so I can watch Pikachu follow me around all over Kanto as we fill up our Pokedex and triumph over evil Team Rocket. One of my ex-boyfriends, knowing my fondness for the franchise, bought me a Pikachu Pillowpet that continues to sleep on my bed to this day.
When I saw this graphic novel and its sequel for sale in a thrift shop, I couldn't resist. Even though it looked about twenty years too young for me, even though I'm not a fan of shounen style manga, I bought both and took them home with me.
And you know what? I'm really glad I did.
POKEMON ADVENTURES serves as a tie-in between the games and the TV show. For example, it's got the Pokemon fan club from the game, but also employs the "reluctant Pikachu" storyline from the TV show. Also, Ash is named "Red" and Gary is named "Blue." I think this particular manga is more loyal to the game, rather than the TV show, and it works surprisingly well in serialized form.
Ash is a young boy who catches and trains Pokemon. His starter is a Poliwhirl that he raised from a Poliwag--it evolved to save him from drowning when he was a small boy (I thought that was really sweet). After a collision with Team Rocket and a glimpsing of Mew in the nearby Viridian Forest, he goes to Professor Oak's lab in order to find out how to be a better trainer...
And that's how this story begins.
The way the Pokemon are drawn is incredibly cute. I love how expressive they were, and how each one had its own personality. Ash is also less of a douche in this book than he is in the show, and even though I didn't think it was possible, they made Misty even cooler--she's like a cross between a Disney Princess and Leela from Futurama: fancy dresses, fancy mansion, and vengefully kick-ass.
I was really surprised by the emotional depth in this book. The storyline moved really fast (almost rushing, to be honest) but the author and the artist still managed to give a sense of humanity (or Pokemanity) to all of the characters. There were some creepy moments, too. Zombie Pokemon. And yes, they are just as creepy as they sound. If that was in the TV show, I'd have nightmares. o_o
There are some creative licenses taken with this storyline that I'm not quite sure how I feel about...like what they did with Koga and Lt. Surge. But overall, I have to say that I really enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. This is a keeper--oh, and it's supposedly on Edelweiss now, too!
I was first acquainted with Scarborough's work in a science fiction anthology that I received from Netgalley, called FUTURE GAMES. Her short story, Name That Planet!, was, by far, the best in the entire collection, and it got me interested in the rest of her work.
Imagine my delight when CHANNELING CLEOPATRA showed up at my local used bookstore!
In CHANNELING CLEOPATRA, a company called Nucore has figured out how to "blend" individuals together as if they were human cocktail drinks by transplanting the cellular memory of one person to another via DNA.
The main character is a woman named Leda Hubbard, a Jane of all trades, possessing a Ph.D, as well as having a government-issued security clearance and being an Egyptologist. This actually gives her the unique (and perfect) qualifications for Nucore's latest project: they want to excavate Cleopatra VII's remains from her tomb in order to blend her DNA with one of their clients, a German woman named Gretchen Wolff who is hoping that Cleopatra's overt (and infamous) sexuality will put some spice back into her failing marriage. But Gretchen and Nucore aren't the only ones who are interested in blending, and some of them are dangerous.
One of the things I liked best about this book was the way that Scarborough put some thought into the motivations of the people interested in the blending process. She points out that many of these historical characters have a mythic quality that people would want to use in order to compensate for some of their own shortcomings. Can you imagine how many women would want to be Anne Boleyn, for example? Especially now, given the popularity of The Tudors and Wolf Hall.
The scientists of Nucore were also imposing restrictions on the types of people who could opt for these transplants. No Hitlers allowed, obviously, and people looking for something short-term would also be nixed because they would be welcoming an entirely separate entity into their consciousnesses (which, when you think about it, enters human rights territory--is it really fair and humane to cram one sentient consciousness inside another? that could be considered cruel and unusual).
CHANNELING CLEOPATRA is an interesting book, but not a very good one. The execution is short-sighted and too narrow in scope. Despite coming up with this great premise, Scarborough doesn't really play with it--and the result is a Tom Clancy-esque technothriller that can be read in one sitting but doesn't really spark your imagination at all.
There are some cool facts about Cleopatra in here, though. I knew she was Greek, but a lot of people might not. I learned something new: apparently there is no "L" sound in Egyptian, and none of Cleopatra's Egyptian subjects would have been able to pronounce her name. They would have pronounced it "Krwiwapadra." I know I have some Egyptophiles on my flist--is this accurate?
Two types of books consistently have the best cover art: vintage romance novels and Korean manhwa. One look at this cover and it was love at first sight. Seriously, look at those soft lines, those pastels, that gorgeous outfit. I would so frame this.
I didn't even care that this was book three in a series.
HISSING is kind of like a cross between PEACH GIRL and BOYS OVER FLOWERS--it's one of those shoujo dramas about bitchy, vengeful girls and alpha douchebags, with one hapless, innocent, "good" girl caught in the middle.
I knew this, going into the book. It's not my favorite trope--not unless a shit-ton of character development and wtfuckery drama goes into it (see Hana Yori Dango)--but I couldn't resist.
LOOK AT THAT COVER.
Resistance was futile from the start.
The alpha douchebag in question is a boy named Sun-Nam, which is an ironic name because it means "kindness" and "man." Of course, the heroine's name is ironic too because hers is "Da-Eh", which means "a lot" and "love."
Sun-Nam has issues. His father is dead and he feels like he's responsible for that: something his brothers (I think they're his brothers) do nothing to dissuade him from. Also his mother might possibly be crazy? Anyway, he has a thing for Da-Eh, but for whatever reason he's "dating" a girl named Ha-Ra who looks a lot like Da-Eh, but is her complete opposite personality-wise.
When she tries to initiate sex between them, Sun-Nam calls Ha-Ra a slut and a skank and tells her "you totally turn me off!" A few days later, he confesses his love to Da-Eh, and then suddenly they're going out? There's another weird blonde guy who also has a thing for Da-Eh, but gives off major creepster vibes (like Ryo, from Peach Girl). She also has a weird awk friend who likes her.
Oh, and Ha-Ra wants to get revenge against Da-Eh with her coven of friendos, possibly involving beatings and acts of gross humiliation that can only be stopped by male intervention.
I don't even know what to make of this. It felt very short. I think it was short, because the last twenty pages or so are actually a preview of another manhwa called FOREST OF GRAY CITY. I should also point out that the art inside the book isn't really anything like the art of the cover. It is much more simplistic, and the proportions of the characters are odd--freakishly long torsos with boxy shoulders on both the men and the women. Also, their hands are huge. o_o
Here's a picture to show what I mean. Look at those proportions.
HISSING is also offensive on multiple levels. Da-Eh calls someone retarded. Ha-Ra accuses Sun-Nam of being queer, since why else wouldn't he want to sleep with her? Sun-Nam calls Ha-Ra a slut and a skank, and he also says that Da-Eh has "chinky" eyes.
IT'S FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, Y'ALL.
I'm keeping this because of the pretty cover, and if I see other books in this series I'll probably buy them, because I am a sucker, but this certainly won't be topping any of my favorites lists.
Maybe if you like shoujo...although you'd be better off reading PEACH GIRL or HANA YORI DANGO.
I don't even know where to begin describing my thoughts on this book. It is as if the author thought to herself, "Hmm! How can I write the most offensive, rage-inducing, yet addicting piece of garbage that will keep people reading in a masochistic frenzy of self-hatred while biting their nails at what happens next?"
And then she wrote the Wideacre trilogy.
I read THE FAVORED CHILD for my 2015 Popsugar Challenge. The category this book was meant to fulfill was "a book that came out the year you were born" (I'm old D:).
THE FAVORED CHILD is very much a product of the times. It takes place in Georgian England, in Sussex. It is a gothic soap opera of a tale, long-winded, dramatic, with lyrical writing that teeters between elegant and ridiculous. It also shares many traits of the bodice rippers that were so popular in the 80s.
Julia Lacey lives in a crumbling manor with her mother and her cousin, Richard MacAndrew. Once Wideacre thrived, but now it has all but fallen into ruin and the people of Acre are discontent and harbor many lingering resentments against the local gentry, courtesy of Beatrice, Queen Crazypants herself. The townspeople are a superstitious lot and believe that one of the children is "the favored child," blessed with the Sight, and capable of rekindling the life in Acre once more...
Or destroying it.
***LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF SPOILERS***
SO MUCH happens in this book that I don't even know where to begin. Julia and Richard are childhood friends who want to marry each other, but both Julia's mother and Richard's father say that This Must Not Ever Happen. Julia loves her cousin, though, and the two children agree that when they are older, they are going to marry anyway in secret.
But Richard is...not quite right. He's obsessed with coming first, and always getting his way. He bullies Julia, mentally and physically, and is extremely manipulative. When Julia is better at his school work than he is, he refuses to let her read his books anymore. When he sees that Julia is a natural rider (he's terrified of horses), he refuses to let her ride his horse and then, later, when he catches her riding it, cuts the tendons of said horse and bashes its face in with a sledgehammer--an act he then pins on the stable master, who he knows prefers Julia, anyway. (Animal cruelty is a prevailing theme in this book--he also breaks the legs of a hawk that refuses to obey him.)
One of the most frustrating aspects of this book for me is Julia's lack of spine. She lets her cousin run circles around her, and even though she knows, knows, that his actions are hurting not just her, but the people she cares about, she still stays silent. Because she loves Richard and because there's no way that Richard would ever do anything to hurt her.
When Julia has a vision that saves the village, making the people of Acre think that she's the favored child and not him, Richard convinces their parents that she is mentally ill and has her sent off to see a shrink in Bath. Here, Julia ends up meeting James Fortescue, and when Richard finds out that not only is Julia engaged to another man, but they plan on offering him money to buy out his share of the land and building another hall, Richard rapes Julia, breaking her wrist when she fights him, and then takes the liberty of writing to James and telling her that Julia is no longer interested in his suit. Oh, and he convinces Julia that the rape was all her fault. That she was asking for it.
FUCK YOU, RICHARD.
Julia ends up getting pregnant from the rape and has to plead with him to marry her (which is ridiculous, because Ralph would have helped her, and later tells her that he could have helped her get an abortion with the help of some gypsies and even if Richard had had sex with her, no one in Wide would betray her because they all hate Richard so much). Anyway, they get married, and Richard writes more letters to James, rubbing it in his face so he can lord it over Julia later. When they break the "happy" news to their parents, Celia Lacey and John MacAndrew are horrified.
Because Julia and Richard are actually brother and sister.
Yes, Beatrice cheated on her husband John, with her brother Harry. So Julia and Richard are siblings. Which makes Julia's rape baby the product of incest-squared. Isn't that lovely? V.C. Andrews, eat your heart out.
They say that the scandal is the last straw for Wideacre--the land has to be sold, the marriage has to be annulled, and they must split ways forever. Everyone agrees. But when Richard agrees to something, it's really code for "fuck everyone else, and do something sociopathic to get my own way." In this case, he waylays the coach of his parents and shoots everyone inside. Later, he tells this all to Julia when he tries to rape her again, admitting to all of his horrible crimes.
Maybe this was supposed to be a big surprise, but Richard is such an obvious villain, it might as well be hanging over his head in marquee lights. He was so fucking hateful. I wanted him dead. And if you're reading this book right now and struggling, as I was, to reconcile your reading of such a hateful character, the bastard fucking dies in the end. This book is getting an extra star just for that, because someone told me he didn't die (KATHERINE) and I was like OMFG NO HE CANNOT LIVE THAT IS NOT FAIR, I WON'T ALLOW IT. But no, the bastard fucking dies.
I was so happy. Like, seriously, it may have been my favorite part of the book.
MERIDON, the sequel to this book, follows Sarah, the CHILD OF Richard and Julia. It seems quite tame when compared to the events in this book: maybe because bodice rippers and rapey incest paperweights were going out of fashion. I actually enjoyed this book more because it was so unashamed. And the writing really was quite lovely--far better than the writing in her Tudor series. God, this woman writes some fantastic location porn. I remember this one passage describing a flower laden tree as though it were covered in fat red candles, and that image was just so evocative. Nobody writes like this anymore. Her Tudor works pale in comparison. I love Tudor fiction, but it's been done to death, and a big, hefty Georgian gothic about an insane family living in wtf-land, with beautiful prose and hateful characters, was just what I needed.
Julia was a frustrating character and Richard was a rage-inducing one, and the rapes and incest were a bit much, but I was addicted to the story. I literally had to find out what happened. And Gregory didn't skimp on the many twists and turns. This book was a labyrinth of drama. If you can overcome the trigger warnings and don't mind a story that takes a while to get moving, I really recommend this book. They really don't write stories anymore, and this one is a gem of the genre.
I'm reading this book to fulfill my 2015 Popsugar Challenge. The category this book is meant to fulfill is "a trilogy." This is book one in the Wicked Deceptions trilogy, and I've already read book 2.
In fact, I liked THE HARLOT COUNTESS quite a lot. The main character was spirited and intelligent, and even though the hero could be--and was--an ass, I feel like the heroine gave as good as she got (the "Lord Winejester" bit--it still makes me laugh).
THE HARLOT COUNTESS had a really great supporting cast and one of the characters I liked most was Julia, then happily married with a child. When I found out book one was her story, I was excited, and hoped that Netgalley would go ahead and approve my requests for books one and three in this series. Which they did.
Now that I have read THE COURTESAN DUCHESS, I have to say...I am extremely disappointed.
Julia was married at sixteen to Nicholas, Duke of Colton: a man who did not love her. For eight years, he abandoned her while frolicking around in Italy and fucking every woman in sight. Without a husband to protect her, or her assets, Julia was reduced to poverty, and courted by men who seemed as determined as Penelope's suitors in THE ODYSSEY (only a good deal less civil *cough*).
Finally, Julia decides that she's had enough. She goes to Italy to confront her husband. But first she meets with a courtesan named Pearl Kelly and enlists her to teach her the ways of the bedroom, because she intends to disguise herself and seduce her husband in order to get pregnant. Because Julia thinks that if she has an heir, the evil dowager duchess will be forced to give her more money.
Since this is a book about courtesans, you might think that some sex would be involved. You would be right. Except replace "some" with a"a lot." THE HARLOT COUNTESS was like that too: very sexual--almost over-the-top in terms of the sheer quantity of sex scenes. Which on one hand is nice--it's nice that romance novels can have copious amounts of sex and still be considered mainstream. But on the other hand, the sex scenes in this book were very repetitive (I can't tell you how many times the words "delicious" or "deliciously" were employed) and didn't really serve any purpose. They didn't drive the plot (they bogged it down) and didn't add any character development.
Because, and this is the crux of my issue with the book, Nicholas was a total asshole, and the sad truth of the matter is that I did not want him to end up with the heroine.
He couldn't bother to send his wife of EIGHT YEARS a mere note...and yet rushed forward with a token of regard to a woman he'd met not even twenty-four hours earlier (32).
Cheating in romances really bothers me, unless it is done very, very well. Here, I ached for Julia. You have a man who ditches her for eight years, and who is completely unapologetic in his treatment of his wife, even though she has done absolutely nothing to warrant it.
At first, Julia is angry, and understandably so. But as soon as they do the bedstand boogie, Julia begins to question her hatred. She begins to think, "Well, he buys me presents and has pretty sad eyes so surely he must be a decent person!" WRONG! But by page 100, she is already thinking like this:
She did not hate him; she UNDERSTOOD him. And she could see past the facade he presented to the world: the Depraved Duke, a gambling degenerate who needed no one (127).
So basically, what this is telling me is that Nicholas is the regency equivalent of Travis Maddox, using violence and womanizing and assholeish behavior to hide his emotional boo-boos.
Nicholas is a new adult stereotype in breeches.
Nope. Sorry. Not going to cut it.
When Nick finds out that the courtesan he knew as Juliet was actually his wife, he is furious and runs back to England in order to teach her a lesson (yeesh, that's scary). He punches his best friend in the face because he thinks that his best friend slept with her. And then he goes to his pregnant wife and calls her a whore, and accuses her of sleeping with a bunch of different people before banishing her to one of his distant country estates so he doesn't have to look at her.
"A virgin does not ride her husband in a chair." He prowled closer, his voice low and menacing. "A virgin does not suck her husband's cock. A virgin does not strip off her clothes, stroke herself, or beg me to lick her" (240).
For seven months, he abandons his pregnant wife yet again...and in the meantime he finds out that Julia was a virgin after all. She wasn't lying when she said she didn't sleep with those people. She wasn't lying about paying a courtesan for help. The child really is his!
Only then does Nick feel bad. Because she was a virgin, and therefore didn't deserve being called a whore. DID YOU FORGET ABOUT THOSE 234230489238 women you slept with in Italy, Nick? Did you forget that you fucking slept with a prostitute back in England, and then called her by your wife's "courtesan name," Juliet? DID YOU? DID YOU?!?!?! YOU MOTHERFUCKER.
Well, I didn't.
The villain twist in this book was good, and I liked Simon Winchester's role in this book, but good god! That hero was so abusive and awful in his treatment of the heroine--and her acceptance of it, without question. It was sickening. I don't mind abusive alpha heroes, but I do want them to be acknowledged as abusive instead of as tragic heroes who are victims of fate. There are plenty of people who have terrible things happen to them who don't turn into massive douchenozzles.
I'm sad to say that as much as I enjoyed THE HARLOT COUNTESS, THE COURTESAN DUCHESS was a total bust. I still really want to read LADY HELLION (which is in my e-reader right now, waiting patiently), and this book was decently written (I do want to emphasize that), but Nick's characterization and his toxic chemistry with the heroine absolutely ruined this book for me.
You don't talk about your potentially ruinous scandal.
The second rule of the Romance Novel:
You don't talk about your potentially ruinous scandal.
Oh, romance novels. You thrive on miscommunication, don't you? Where would you be without it? Plotless...and about 200 pages shorter, methinks.
I've been on an HR binge & it's been absolutely glorious. In fact, I think I may have found my niche as a consumer. HR romances!
THE MISTAKE is a wallpaper historical that I believe is regency--that woman in the prom dress on the cover doesn't really provide an accurate time stamp. It is about a woman named Julia Forsythe who is a famous courtesan, and her childhood friend Adam Radcliffe, who has been carrying the torch for her for all these years but can't quite come to terms with her new profession.
Adam and Julia grew up together. Both were poor, and both were pretty much orphans. Adam's father fucked off, leaving his wife alone to raise a ton of kids & Julia's father was a neglectful and embittered alcoholic who never got over the deaths of his wife and son.
In a twist that is Sparksian in its predictable inevitability, the two of them fall in love. But even more Sparksian: they can't be together because of Reasons. Specifically money.
And then, later, scandal.
Flash forward fifteen years and Julia is now the mistress of a ruthless Marquess who doesn't love her but doesn't want to lose her, either. Unfortunately, she's pregnant and out of options. He forces her into a contract saying that he won't provide for their child unless she is basically his sex slave, so Julia takes a draught that makes her vomit, and the Marquess, thinking her ill, sends her off to the countryside to get better so they can pork to his heart's content knowing she is miserable.
And then...Julia finds out that the gardener of this countryside estate is...Adam.
SURPRISE! (said no one reading this book)
In spite of its predictability, I actually quite enjoyed THE MISTAKE. Julia is a courtesan and has slept with multiple men. She has mixed feelings about this, obviously, and given the context of the times, I get this. She wants to believe herself self-sufficient, but she also has to deal with the snubs of society and the cat-calls and harassment of men who think she's an object.
The angst was quite well done, too. Even if it seemed unnecessary, the emotions felt genuine, which gets the author brownie points in my book. One of the problems I have with Julia Quinn, for example, is that her characters have miscommunication issues AND they act in ways seemingly without motive. With THE MISTAKE, I always understood where the characters were coming from.
Julia being awesome:
"You cannot watch me like I'm the hated whore of Babylon one minute and then become protective of me the next. I am not two different women. I can't be a whore AND an innocent fourteen year old" (74).
"It's unfair, isn't it?...If a man said he'd known five lovers, no one would even blink an eye. But even one lover makes a woman a whore" (172).
I couldn't quite find myself willing to join Team Adam, though. He was kind of a dick. Very judgmental and slut-shamey and selfish, imho. He obviously thinks he's a Nice Guy but there are tons of women out there who can attest to receiving flash judgments from Nice Guys who were pissed off about their niceness tokens not working in sex vending machines.
He couldn't reconcile the vivacious, innocent girl with the jaded whore (33).
The book opens with Eleanor Trim sitting at the bedside of her half-sister, Dorothy, who is dying from the complications of a stillbirth. Dorothy was ill-used by a lord who made her false promises in order to rob her of her innocence, and then cast her aside, leaving her to deal with the complications of her pregnancy alone. Dorothy's dying wish is for Eleanor to avenge her.
The cad in question is the Marquess of Leath, and Dorothy isn't his first victim. He's wenched up and down the countryside, and records his dalliances in a saucy notebook that Dorothy saw with her own eyes. Nell's plan is simple: if she can steal the notebook and leak it to those in a position to destroy him, the Marquess will fall from grace forever and Dorothy will have her posthumous revenge.
In order to get close to the Marquess, Nell insinuates herself into his household by becoming a companion to the marchioness, the Marquess's mother. However, the Marquess obviously doesn't like her presence there, and when he catches her snooping in the library one night, he doesn't trust her, either. And yet, there is an attraction between them that may cause them both great harm.
My biggest complaint about this book is that the twist is revealed literally within the first fifty pages, and that took a lot of the mystery and tension out of this book for me. James Fairbrother was wrapped in scandal, and I should have liked to unwrap it slowly, rather than having it torn open for me all at once. I mean, that twist was what hooked me into reading this book.
Also, formula-wise A SCOUNDREL BY MOONLIGHT is very similar to WHAT A DUKE DARES. I liked WHAT A DUKE better, though. In fact, I think this is my least favorite Campbell book because so much relies on miscommunication, and the characters going through OOC mood changes whenever it suits the plot.
Things that I liked about the book:
Female relationships. A lack of slut-shaming. Steamy sex scenes. Realistic "first time" scenes. Aww-worthy moments. A hilarious scene involving a horse named Snowflake.
Overall, not terrible, but not what I expect from Anna Campbell, either. I think I'm so used to her writing darker, edgier romance novels that my mind hasn't quite accepted that she has switched to rather fluffy material.