I have had issues with my weight and body image for close to ten years now. In fact, just the other day, I found myself staring at a BMI chart and thinking about how so many of our beauty standards are utterly subjective. Knowing how ridiculous these measurements are does nothing to ease the bad feelings in most cases, either; our ideas about body image are so ingrained in our society that many of us will swallow them without a thought.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was written by Whitney Way Thore, who is apparently on a show called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. I haven't seen the show, but I was interested in the memoir because I think body positivity is important. Ever since Tess Holliday received her controversial modeling contract, body positivity and image are starting to get more focus in the media. But a lot of people don't seem to fully comprehend what it entails.
"Love yourself," the media says, "but only if you have a body worth loving!"
This memoir starts from Thore's childhood and continues to the present day. She discusses the diet her mother put her on at a doctor's urging because she was a pound heavier than the average ten-year-old should be. She talks about the eating disorder she developed to be "normal-sized" & the cycles of starvation, excessive exercise, and purging she got into in order to maintain her size. She relates stories from her dating life, and points out the differences between body positive men and men who fetishize fat. She also talks about her rise to fame after one of her Fat Girl Dancing videos went rival, and how - even after this long and arduous journey - she is still insulted on a daily basis about her weight and appearance.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was a difficult read for me - partially because I could relate to the weight struggles in some ways, and partially because her experiences were so painful that I really just felt awful for her. Her parents' seeming attempts to deal with their own issues by projecting them onto her was terrible. Her trip to Korea, which should have been a fun experience, resulted in tons of insults and gawking and humiliation. And the men she encountered on various dating sites, who treated her like she was worth about as much respect as a plus-sized blow-up doll, were sickening.
On that note, I think it's an important read precisely because it's so uncomfortable. Thore forces you to think about why fat is viewed as such a bad thing, and how many of the "standards" we set for weight are really just lose/lose scenarios, because it's a rigged game from the start. The opening chapter is a little rocky because it starts out with Thore publicly calling one of her trolls on the carpet, but by the end of the book, you will definitely feel like her annoyance is more than justified. Her attempts to stay healthy despite a diagnosis of PCOS are admirable, and her dancing is incredible. She really doesn't fit society's stereotype of a "fat girl" and if you ask me, that's a damn good thing.
Short story collections are the literary equivalent of a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. On the one hand, they allow an author to be more experimental and the reader to "sample" the author's work. On the other hand, sometimes things get too crazy and you end up with the "coconut nougat" story.
Shadow Selves - ☆☆☆☆☆
MIDDLE-AGED BOYS & GIRLS starts out strong with Shadow Selves a story about a thin woman who is uncomfortable about her heavier friend, because her friend feels at ease in her body in a way that she, the main character, does not. Shadow Shelves really captures the love-hate dynamic of some friendships, and the importance of loving yourself first before letting others in.
Verdict: hazelnut truffle
Prey - ☆☆
Odd, kind of boring story about a conman, two women, and Poland.
Verdict: milk chocolate
Dirty Laundry- ☆☆☆☆
This is a creepy story about a landlord couple renting out a room to a sexy, younger woman. The husband is a little flighty, and the wife has a bit of a sinister vibe. As you can imagine, things end badly, and the words "sexual harassment" rear their ugly head in a lawsuit. The writing in this story was reminiscent of Ira Levin's work. It has that same slow build-up of doom amidst normality.
Verdict: white chocolate citrus
Valentine - ☆☆☆
This story is about a medical illustrator divorcee. One day, she realizes that her awkward, asexual preteen daughter has used the family computer for what looks like nudes. I liked this story, but it was very odd - and I felt like the connection between actual hearts and valentines was strained.
Verdict: cherry cordial
Thick - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about an aging model who is slowly starting to realize how much of a free ride her beauty really gave her, even when she tried to rally against it. After reading I DO IT IN THE DARK, it felt especially relevant; the model's realization that she could only really get away with being flip and uncaring when she had nothing to lose was really powerful. Definitely another favorite.
Verdict: honey crunch
New Ground - ☆☆
Weird story about a husband and wife splitting up. The wife attempts to gain solace by latching on to the super smooth leader of her neighborhood dog-walking group.
Salvation - ☆☆☆☆
Another strange addition, but one I actually liked. The main character is a volunteer working with children who are in danger of becoming bullies or bullied themselves. She attempts to bribe them for good behavior by drawing their portraits, while also reflecting on how easy it is sometimes to bully someone with an accurate (but cruel) caricature of themselves.
Verdict: dark chocolate
The Girl Next Door - ☆☆☆☆
How would you react if you found out one of your neighbors killed and dismembered a young girl? The main character in this story is becoming neurotic, aware of the hostility in their neighborhood, and the negativity her minority single mother status garners as a matter of principle.
Verdict: dark chocolate truffle
Memory Loss - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about a mother and a father and a son. The father races motorbikes, which the mother doesn't like because of how dangerous it is. It becomes a point of contention between the couple - one that they end up dragging their young son into. And then one day the father gets into an accident. I see that I gave this a five star rating in my notes. I'm not sure if I still agree with that sentiment, but it was a really good story, with the same creepy Ira Levin vibe, so five stars it is!
Lord of the Manor - ☆☆☆☆
Another story about landlords, but this time the main characters are the ones who are renting. They find out that their landlord is thinking of selling their lovely home without any consideration for their five-year lease, and one of their jokes turns into a very real idea for potential sabotage.
Verdict: strawberry creme
Dissolution - ☆☆☆
I think this is the most depressing story of the lot. The main character - a woman - is teaching yoga to some high risk girls. But as the story goes on, you quickly learn that she's somewhat of a pederast and has more than strictly platonic feelings for her teenage students (ick!). There are some seriously squicky flashbacks in here, as well as an uncomfortable vibe and a seriously downer ending.
Verdict: sea salt caramel
Doughnut Eaters - ☆
A Canadian expat family living in German, with an absolute jerk of a father. The title comes from his choice insult for men he considers both useless and foppish. What a charmer, am I right?
Overall opinion? Not bad. Definitely one of the better short story collections I've read.
Female antiheroes have been around for a while but Gillian Flynn made them popular - if you look at the blurb for this book, you'll see that it's compared to both WE WERE LIARS and GONE GIRL - and now this trend is extending to YA. Normally comparisons like this make me cringe because they tend to be wildly inaccurate, but in this case there is some foundation for the GONE GIRL comparison. The protagonist of BEWARE THAT GIRL is calculating, and willing to do anything to get ahead.
Kate O'Brian grew up in terrible conditions. She had to claw herself out of the gutter to get where she is now: an elite NYC school for the rich and successful. Kate knows that if she's going to succeed, she needs to get herself a meal ticket: one that comes in the form of the popular but troubled golden girl, Olivia Sumner.
A problem presents itself in the form of the new head of fundraising, Mark Redkin, a sexy, charming man who instantly wins the hearts of female students and faculty. He has a sinister side that nobody but Kate seems to register, and when he turns the full force of his attention onto Olivia, he threatens to compromise everything she's accomplished and reveal the dark secrets of her past that she's tried so hard to hide.
The plot of this book kind of reminded me of a sexed-up version of the Losing Christinaseries by Caroline B. Cooney. Losing Christina was about a sinister private school on the east coast where two members of the faculty - a principal and teacher who were also husband and wife - got off on psychologically breaking their students. It's really interesting to see how YA is changing; authors are less afraid to be edgy and controversial. The genre is growing up and getting a taste for big girl pants.
I liked BEWARE THAT GIRL. The promised twist at the end wasn't really all that shocking, but the build-up of tension and the atmosphere of dread and suspense was well done. I kept having to remind myself that this was being marketed as YA because it seemed way too dark to be a book for teenagers. Anyone who enjoys dark tales about girls gone wild will enjoy this book.
Lisa Kleypas's Gamblers series was what got me into romance. I used to avoid the genre at all costs until some friends held a sort of mini-intervention and gave me a list of good historical romance authors to check out. I took to the genre like a moth to light - and Lisa Kleypas was, by far, one of my favorites.
Which is why it kills me to give this a low rating.
Julia Hargate and Damon Savage were engaged as children at the insistence of their overly involved and aggressive parents. What their parents didn't count on, however, was the fact that both their stubborn and spirited children would rebel against the match. Julia, in particular, decided to take to the stage and became a talented and highly celebrated actress, under the name (Mrs.) Jessica Wentworth.
I'm a huge fan of the mistaken identity/secret identity trope, so I was delighted when Damon and Julia feel an instant attraction in the prologue, despite neither of them knowing the other's identity. When Julia encounters him again several years later, she realizes that Damon is her husband, Lord Savage, and attempts to avoid him at all costs, while Damon, on the other hand, is oblivious, remembering her only as the girl he met at a May Day celebration several years ago.
Kleypas's secondary characters are usually highly developed, but I felt that the characters in SOMEWHERE I'LL FIND YOU - with the exception of Julia's parents - were one-dimensional. Alyssa, Julia's friend, is a terrible person, and in the second half of the book indirectly causes her friend to almost be raped. Pauline, the mistress, is a hyper-sexualized woman whose sole purpose seems to be to showcase Julia's purity and goodness. William, Damon's brother, jerks women around like toys on a string.
And Damon -
Until the second half of the book, I actually liked him quite a bit. The sex scenes were steamy, and there was a lot of attraction between Damon and Julia. But then Damon becomes really, really possessive in a really, really uncomfortable way. Julia is almost raped - twice - by two "lords" who claim to be fans of hers, and saved - both times - by Damon, who tells her during the second time that it's basically her fault for almost being raped because she's an actress.
Damon then forces himself on her - twice. The first time, Julia cries during and then convinces herself that she wants it. The second time, after Damon finds out that Julia wants to marry her theater director, Logan Scott, he hires two men to abduct her and then tries to rape her while she's crying. After they have sex, Julia tells him that she enjoys being abducted(!) and cancels her engagement to Scott and agrees to marry Damon instead.
The pretext for their "we mustn't be together" dilemma is that Julia doesn't want to leave the stage, and Damon is trying to force her to. Julia also doesn't want to be forced into a marriage she isn't even sure she wants, since she hadn't exactly agreed to it in the first place. Damon keeps saying that he loves her, but everything that he does says otherwise. And while I'm a fan of alphahole heroes as much as the next girl, I really don't like it when their bad actions are rationalized as "being driven mad by love" because that isn't love.
Lisa Kleypas is a wonderful historical romance, and I highly recommend her Gamblers series to anyone who's looking for a sexy, clever, and slightly angsty romance series to sink their teeth into. I can't say the same thing about the Capital Theatre series - at least not yet. Maybe the next series will be better...although if it's about Savage's brother, William, it might also be worse.
Get ready to clutch your pearls, because this tawdry piece of history is something you didn't learn in high school. SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, in case its title wasn't warning enough, is about prostitution in turn-of-the-century Chicago, specifically the Everleigh Club, which was a brothel run by two gently-bred sisters, Minna and Aida Everleigh.
One of the criticisms of this book is that the author, Karen Abbott, takes a lot of liberties with the narrative. It reads like one of those trashy but epic sagas from the 1970s, with its purple prose, sensationlist writing, and scandalous content. I personally like those kinds of novels, so that was pure heaven for me and kept the tone from being too dry (something I hate when reading nonfiction, because it makes me feel like I'm being lectured at, and then I get bored and inevitably lose interest), but if that is a peeve for you, then yes, you will probably not like this book.
The saga spun these pages is too complicated to recollect completely, but the gist is that the Everleigh Club was the best place to go if you wanted to sleep with a woman who was not your wife. Minna and Aida wanted to be the best damn madams in Chicago, and they were willing to spend money to do this. They hired doctors to check out the girls and make sure they were healthy and free of disease; they fed the girls and the guests well, with totally sumptuous feasts that made me drool a little just from the description; and the decor was, literally, out of this world - think fountains that gush scented oil, and entire rooms done completely in gold leaf, with a gold piano, to boot!
Also of note is a prostitute from China named Suzy Poon Tang (apparently where the slang "poon tang" comes from) who was so good at her job, that she ended up getting married to one of her clients after just a few sessions of working at the Everleigh Club. There was also some brouhaha when a black boxer, Jack Johnson, wanted to come into the club. Because segregation was still active at this time, the sisters were highly reluctant, but his manager basically forced them into relenting; it worked out, though - he was hot, the prostitutes - "butterflies," they were called in Everleigh - adored him, everybody had a great time, and segregation got to suck it...literally (one would assume).
You can probably guess how the story ends. People in power decided that vice was becoming too unpopular and they began systematically cracking down on pleasure houses as tales of "white slavery" (read: middle or upper-middle-class girls getting tricked into the sex industry by mustache-twirling con-artists) began saturating the papers, and putting fear into decent folk. Everleigh Club was one of the last to go, and signified the downfall of an era. Some of the names in here you will probably recognize, because when some of the bigwigs lost their hand at prostitution, they turned their attentions to the big, booming industry of crime started by Al Capone and Jim Colosimo.
SIN IN THE SECOND CITY was a fun book to carry around with me in public. I had a lot of people ask me what it was about, and their reactions were quite priceless in some cases. I enjoyed learning more about an era that I didn't really know much about before this, and it was cool to learn where the phrase "poon tang" actually came from. I do feel like the book was longer than it needed to be, especially towards the end, it felt like the content was being stretched thin. But if you like history, and if you like trashy historical romance novels, you and this book will get on like a house on fire.
Sometimes you read a book that makes you feel as though your insides have turned to sunshine and glitter. You read over passages and, no matter how curmudgeonly you are, find yourself smiling. As you reach the climax of the book, a joy swells within you at being able to partake of such love, even if it's completely vicarious, because you want that for yourself.
A MATTER OF CLASS is that book.
Reginald is the rakish son of a coal merchant who became part of the nouveau riche through hard work and good business decisions. He burns though cash like a flame, and has a gambling habit to boot. Annabelle is the daughter of nobility, well known for her incredible beauty, but after being caught in a compromising position with a carriage man all her beaux have withdrawn their proposals, leaving her in a most sorry state.
Upon finding out about Annabelle's disgrace, Reginald's father, Mr. Mason practically runs over to Lord Havercroft's house to offer a solution that he feels will benefit both sides. He will marry his son to Annabelle for her title in exchange for a sizable dowry and redemption from a fall from grace.
It seems to be hate at first sight. Reginald and Annabelle bicker continuously and it is immensely entertaining. Many of those smiles I referred to in the beginning of this review came from their back-chat. I am a sucker for witty banter, and this book did not disappoint. The sexual tension is off the charts here, too, and a couple scenes - surprisingly chaste considering what happens in many romance novels these days - had me reaching for a nonexistant fan.
I think what I liked best about this book were the characters, though. Reginald/Reggie and Annabelle/Anna were wonderful. The more I read about them, the more I liked them, to the point that by the end of the book, I was utterly smitten. I loved their families, too, especially the mothers of the hero and the heroine. They were so sweet. Even the fathers, despite their shortcomings - pride and greed, you could say - loved their children, and as we see at the end, were willing to sacrifice their own ambitions in order to make their children happy. This is a romance novel that is completely, and unashamedly about love, in its many forms, and it was an absolute delight to read.
A MATTER OF CLASS was my first Mary Balogh book - but it won't be the last.
Like so many others, Lisa Kleypas was my "gateway drug" into the historical romance genre. I loved her Gamblers series, and then her Wallflowers series. Then she took a hiatus from historical romance, working on her contemporary series, Friday Harbor and the Travises. When she started writing historical romance again, I was so excited. But then the reviews for the first book in her new Ravenels series started coming in...and they were less than stellar.
I put off reading COLD-HEARTED RAKE for a while, but because I love Lisa Kleypas I wanted to give it a try. My tastes often don't align with what's popular, and Kleypas is such a great writer, that it really is shocking for me when I read something of hers that I don't like because it's such a rare occurrence. She's that good.
COLD-HEARTED RAKE features Kathleen, Lady Trenear, newly widowed after her husband, Theo Ravenel fell from an unbroken horse while drunk. His cousin, Devon Ravenel, inherits the estate upon Theo's passing, and he is less than pleased with the estate's conditions and debts. He intends to sell it piecemeal, and kick out its tenants, including Kathleen and his sisters, Helen, Cassandra, and Pandora.
The book starts out fairly well. I'm a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, and Kathleen had good reason to dislike Devon because of his callous insensitivity and utter selfishness. The trouble is, he warms to her and changes his ways far too quickly, to the point where it seems unrealistic, almost to the point of being a near-overnight transformation. I also felt like there was some indecision about how Kleypas wanted Devon to be characterized. He isn't exactly a cold-hearted rake - he's far too easily manipulated and too quick to feel guilt - but at the same time, he isn't a beta hero either, since he uses his sexual wiles to overpower the heroine and ignores several "nos" said on her part.
Also, the virgin widow trope is a peeve of mine, and I wasn't pleased to see it here.
Some have complained that the secondary romance between Helen and Winterbourne (it's not really a spoiler since, I mean, come on - the summary of the next book) overpowered the plot, and while this wasn't exactly the case, it did feel a bit like filler, especially in the latter half of the book. I've never read a Kleypas book where the secondary romance featured so prominently - usually it remained in the background, so as not to diminish the main story line. Winterbourne was kind of an ass, too.
I did like the descriptions of renovation, the interactions with the tenants and servants, and the witty banter (especially when done in epistolary form at the beginning of the book). I was torn on Cassandra and Pandora - they acted way younger than 19, and were so self-centered that sometimes I really didn't like them, although they had some great dialogue, too. The introduction of a pig as a pet was an interesting touch, but I didn't really find him comical, as he was undoubtedly intended to be. The beginning of COLD-HEARTED RAKE was much better than the end, which felt disorganized and kind of landed all over the place in terms of plot. This isn't her best, but it isn't her worst, either.
Even though this is a positive review, it is going to be filled with caveats, because as much as I enjoyed the story I acknowledge that there are problematic elements in it that are bound to upset a significant amount of people - hell, they upset me. On that note, I am also writing this review from the perspective of someone who is able-bodied, so I know that I haven't the hope of fully understanding what it's like to live with paraplegia, which hopefully won't cause this review to be drowned in privilege.
I'm always leery about books like these, books that soar up the best-seller charts to be made into popular movies. I rarely end up liking them, which is why I avoided ME BEFORE YOU for as long as I did. It seemed like an ill-fated match. I'm still smarting from ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. But then the film came out, and it had a whole bunch of great people in it, and I thought to myself, "Well, if Daenerys Targaryen, Neville Longbottom, and Finnick Odair are in it, it couldn't possibly be bad!"
...and it wasn't.
***Warning: big spoilers***
ME BEFORE YOU is kind of like a cross between FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. You have a twenty-six-year-old girl who acts and dresses like she's still in high school, who has a horrible (horrible!) family, can't hold down a decent job, and has absolutely zero hobbies and interests beyond dressing like she's got a terrible Modcloth addiction. The hero is a multi-millionaire business tycoon who now has paraplegia, and isn't coping very well. In fact, he has terrible depression and can't quite come to terms with the fact that he won't be "himself" again.
Louisa Clark, the heroine, ends up as a caretaker for Will Traynor, the hero, due to a series of events. She loses her coffee shop job, and her family is poor - and since her dad's about to get laid off and her selfish sister wants to go back to school (but not pay for it herself), it's up to Louisa to pay for everything. I think it says something about her character that she whines about not being able to go back to work at another coffee shop and then fixates on whether she'll have to wipe his bottom or not.
Once she gets past his fearsome mother, she finally gets to meet Will, who has turned himself into a brooding portrait of nineteenth-century tragedy. He even screams at her when the first meet, just to mess with her, like he's channeling Mrs. Rochester from JANE EYRE. He never leaves the house, has isolated himself from his friends and family, and has turned into a very bitter and unpleasant person.
But eventually, Lou starts to see the good in Will. She appreciates his wit and his philosophy, and starts trying to find ways to make him happy. Then she overhears a family argument and learns that Will has plans to kill himself at Dignitas. He's given his family a six-month deadline before he puts this awful plan into action, and Louisa realizes that she's essentially been hired on as "suicide watch" without being warned about this at all. Her job isn't to care for him, it's to keep him from trying to kill himself before he's supposed to, and to change his mind for him if she can.
Even though I enjoyed this book, I did have some problems with it, as I mentioned before. They can be summed up thusly:
1. While I honestly believe that the author's attempts were good, this is first and foremost a sob story. Accurate representation kind of takes a backseat here. There are some uncomfortable passages with people saying terrible things and making terrible assumptions about people who use wheelchairs that just aren't true - at least not all of the time, and not for all people (they can go to theme parks, for example, and there are rides that are wheelchair-accessible). Also, I took issue with the fact that people with paraplegia are referred to as "paraplegics" and "quads" - you aren't supposed to refer to people by their disability, because that means that you're defining them by their disability. A huge no-no.
2. Louisa's family was horrible. Her father joked about how fat she was, her sister was a selfish, incredibly insensitive brat, and I hated her mother for threatening to kick Louisa out of the house if she accompanied Will to Dignitas. I didn't really care for Louisa much, either, to be honest. At least not at first. She grew on me a bit towards the end of the story, but for most of the beginning, I thought her sarcasm was mean-spirited and couldn't stand her childishness. It was exhausting, not cute.
3. The way suicide was dealt with in this book felt very thorny. Like I said, I don't understand what it's like to be in Will's position, but I was surprised that he didn't seem to be seeing a therapist, in a support group, or taking antidepressants (at least, not that I remember?). His family allowed him to be isolated, which seems like absolutely the worst possible thing for someone who is having suicidal ideation and has already attempted to kill themselves before. I also didn't like how a number of the characters seemed to think it made total sense for Will to want to die after his accident. I can imagine the grief, and the difficulty adapting, but it was upsetting to see the characters agree that having a disability seemed to make wanting to die a totally acceptable, understandable thing to do.
4. The ending. You probably know how it ends already, but if you don't, I won't spoil it for you. But it did upset me, and thank God I'd read the spoilers before reading the book, because if I hadn't - if it had taken me off guard - I think I might have thrown the book across the room in a fit of rage and given it a much lower rating than I did. I just couldn't understand why what happened had to happen. It felt a lot like spitting into the eye of love. It's so rare when you find a romance where the characters have genuine, actual rapport, and to see what happened happen...was very, very upsetting.
I'm giving this book four stars because the story was well told, and the character development is good. Louisa grows from a selfish brat into a person who is capable of being mature and thinking of others before herself and taking risks. Is it annoying that a man changes her? Yes. But it's often the people we love who cause us to change, because they see the flaws in us, and love us in spite of them but also inspire us to want to better ourselves, too (yet another reason why I hated the ending - what happened did not feel like love). The pacing is good and the dialogue feels natural, and it's got such a gorgeous setting that makes the whole story feel larger-than-life.
ME BEFORE YOU is a problematic book, but I think those problems will inspire good discussions about representation, disability, depression, and love. There are a lot of great articles about ME BEFORE YOU, both in praise and in condemnation of it, and both are worth reading. I do wish the author had made different choices, but at the end of the day, it was a pretty good story, so you might as well jump on the bandwagon and see for yourself what the fuss is about.
I've been wanting to read this standalone by Lisa Kleypas for a while now. One, it's a standalone, so I don't have to worry about acquiring the rest of the must-have series; and two, it's about a heroine who is a writer and a hero who is a publisher, and there's plenty of delightful book chatter, which I love.
I finally finished the book today (weekend!), and it was a solid addition to Kleypas's already considerable repertoire. Set in the very last year of the regency era (1836), SUDDENLY YOU starts off with Amanda Briars, who is not very happy about being single, alone, and thirty (although not necessarily in that order). Her unusual profession, a litany of family sorrows, and unfashionable figure have prevented her from landing a match the way her sisters have, so when we first meet her she is consulting a madam in a brothel about having a male prostitute delivered to her house for her thirtieth birthday. At the last moment, she decides to renege, little knowing that the surprised man who greets her on her porch that day is anything but a prostitute.
Jack Devlin is probably one of the better romance heroes I've read this year. He's the alpha hero done correctly - strong, capable, possessive, and charming, but not psychotic, and willing to yield to the heroine, ask for consent, and give her space when necessarily. The romantic scenes between Amanda and Jack were awesome...although incredibly numerous. My friend sraxe pointed out that the last half of the book actually got a little boring because there was so much sex crammed into it, and I agree; SUDDENLY YOU has way more sex in it than any other Kleypas book I've read to date.
And as much as I wanted to like Amanda's character, her constant put-downs of herself were wearing after a while. It made me sad, because some people are that insecure, and I liked how the love of a good man just didn't instantly fix that and make her think that she was a love goddess, but it was annoying to read about nonstop about how Amanda thought she was too heavy and too short, over and over. I also didn't like how she reacted to a traumatic event at the end. Said traumatic event was thrown in without warning towards the end of the book and seemed like a last-ditch attempt for drama. Amanda reacts in an insecure fashion, and puts Jack through the emotional wringer.
SUDDENLY YOU is still a decent read, though. The book chatter was wonderful, and I almost wish that some of the sex scenes had been cut out to expand on the glittering Regency publishing world. There were so many interesting characters in SUDDENLY who were introduced only fleetingly. That said, Jack was awesome, and probably this book's saving grace. If you enjoy books about books, older heroines, and kind alphas, you will probably enjoy SUDDENLY - especially if you like erotica, too.
I'm supposed to be working on a major assignment right now that's due tomorrow and then going to bed, because I have to wake up at 3:00AM for an overnight shift at work, but I haven't done any of that because I've been too busy reading this book.
THE HIDDEN BLADE is a genre-defying novel, which is the only explanation I can comprehend for why this only has 600 ratings instead of 6,000. BLADE is being tagged as a romance, but the love in this book isn't romantic - it's so much deeper than that. It's also published by a publishing house that gears towards an adult audience, but the two main characters in this book are both teenagers throughout the full course of the novel.
If you think that either of those things means that this book is deceptive or boring, however, you have another think coming.
Ying-ying is the only daughter of a beautiful Chinese courtesan. She and her mother are kept by Fu-ren's consort, Da-ren. Ying-ying is raised by her Amah, and kept out of sight. One night, however, she finds her Amah coming back from a strange midnight excursion, all drenched in blood. Amah tells her that she is part of a secret society, and that she has been thinking of indoctrinating Ying-ying into it for years. On pain of death, she makes Ying-ying bow to her and swear fealty before beginning her martial arts/chi-based training in earnest.
Leighton, on the other hand, is the oldest son of a rather odd family. His father is gay, and occasionally his lover, Herb, whom Leighton gets along with well, comes to visit. Leighton's mother is complicit in this arrangement, with the understanding that she will be able to have her own lovers, as well. And she does - she has a man in San Francisco who is the father of Leighton's half-brother.
This arrangement is disrupted when his Uncle, Sir Curtis, comes into the picture and threatens to put Leighton's father into an asylum and his father's lover, Herb, in prison for homosexuality. His father commits suicide, and Sir Curtis takes great pleasure in blackmailing his mother and Herb to leave, thereby seizing full custody of Leighton and effectively making him prisoner in his own estate.
The story alternates between Ying-ying and Leighton's POVs, and both made my heart ache. Ying-ying struggles to deal with the problems her interracial heritage and strange beauty bring to her, the tragedy of slowly losing her mother to tuberculosis, and her increasingly difficult training. Leighton finds that caring about people can be a great weakness, as it gives others leverage to use over you. Knowing that his Uncle will hurt others if he tries to escape, he plots a very intelligent and elaborate plan to flee the country and meet up with Herb, who has fled to China to escape being jailed.
THE HIDDEN BLADE is a beautiful story. It's been a while since I read a tale that was so epic and broad in scope. The secondary characters were amazing - good or bad, they all made me feel something. The women were especially well done. All of them were strong and clever in their own way, and exhibited full autonomy. Lady Atwood, Amah, Ying-ying, and Fu-ren were my favorites. Don't let the lack of romance dissuade you from reading this book. It is exceptional. I'm already trying to figure out how I can get my hands on MY DEAREST ENEMY as quickly as possible.
LORD OF SCOUNDRELS has been on my to-read list for five years, so I was delighted when it was selected as the book of the month for the Unapologetic Romance Readers monthly read. One of my favorite romance pairings is the no-nonsense shrew with the duke of slut. I was expecting something along the lines of Anne Stuart's RUTHLESS or Elizabeth Hoyt's DUKE OF SIN. Until about 30% of the book, I got exactly what I bargained for. Jess is a spinster considered by many to be a bluestocking who is firmly on the shelf. Sebastian, Marquess of Dain, is a half-Italian man of unconventional appearance who has been shamed since childhood on account of his large nose and flighty mother who ditched him as a young boy to go live with another man.
Dain is used to purchasing the affections of women with coin, and sees many of them as opportunistic whores (and says as much, projecting many of his mother issues onto the females in his acquaintance). He is also used to controlling others through fear, intimidation, and - of course - money, and has made a name for himself with these horribly improper behaviors. Which is why it's so funny, then, when he finds himself completely blindsided by Jess, who bamboozles him with her sharp tongue and irrefutable logic, as well as her beauty and her inherent goodness.
Then around 34%, she shoots him...to save face, I think, and allow the two of them to wed. I forget why. It was very strange. But anyway, to the shock of the ton, the two of them are married and that's when things fall apart because there's no longer any will they/won't they, no, it becomes a question of when. Within the context of their marriage, the witty banter of the first segment gives way to petty arguments, sulking, and slut-shaming, which is unfortunate because it's made clear from the very beginning that Jess is a force to be reckoned with and I didn't see the need for her to drag other women down. Dain, by contrast, becomes a sulky child who pouts and throws fits when he doesn't get his way. This is a far cry from the imposing, dangerous figure he's presented as from the beginning, and while I appreciated the author's attempts to make him vulnerable, it didn't really pan out. I think she could have conveyed his fragile emotional state without making him such a shit. Some of the things he said about his own son were just totally repulsive.
Also, the sex scenes were not noteworthy. There's the typical jack-in-the-box peen action, where the peen springs out of trousers like a wind-up toy, and talk of feminine curves and sleek curls, but there's also a few retroly bizarro lines like this: He trailed his tongue over one sleek eyebrow (67%). Which is very strange, although not quite as strange as the "arousing" eyelid-licking scene in FOREVER AND THE NIGHT. It's worth noting that both of these books also have a very odd scene about desperately having to go to the bathroom and also desperately needing to talk about it, as at one point, Dain tells Jess that sex will have to wait because he needs to drain the main vein: "I can't wait around to pick you up. My bladder is about to explode" (65%). Thanks for sharing.
I'm very disappointed not to have liked this more, because many of my friends raved about LORD OF SCOUNDRELS and it's on all the romance lists of note and I'd been lusting after this book (and that cover) for years, desperately hoping that it would live up to all the hype. Sadly, it did not. It's yet another 90s romance novel making the awkward transition from bodice ripper to modern historical romance, and it falls into one of those awkward trenches of fail where it has the worst attributes of both. Perhaps you will enjoy this more than me - especially if you love Beauty and the Beast, and find the plot of an intelligent woman being saddled with a sulky, miserable man appealing.
Hey guys, remember that time I forced you all to read DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt & we all had a grand ol' time? Well, RUTHLESS is just as good, and it was published before, which should probably account for something. Also, the hero is the ruler of his own den of iniquity where people have orgies and Satanic rituals and is called, appropriately enough, King of Hell.
Elinor Harriman is plunged headfirst into the first circle of hell when her syphilis-affected mother gets it into her head to gamble away the last of their money. She encounters Viscount Rohan, the King of Hell, who is amused by her no-nonsense demeanor. Rohan is bored, and has been bored for some time (it's no fun when you always get what you want). Elinor is precisely what he needs to cure his ennui, and he'll do anything to have her -
Including threatening her younger, incredibly beautiful sister.
Like DUKE OF SIN, RUTHLESS has many aspects of the bodice rippers that helped make the historical romance genre what it is today. Rohan is a jaded antihero who does some very bad things. (I'm sure Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is rolling her eyes at me, going, "Nenia, did you even read my book?" Which, yes, I did, but come on - how can you resist evil when it's tall, and sinfully charming, and decked out in velvet and lace? That's Jereth territory there, and y'all know how that goes.)
OBLIGATORY VISUAL INTERLUDE:
The story line is also quite dark, as Elinor has gone through some terrible things that haunt her even to this day, her mother's unscrupulous behavior aside. The love between her and her sister, Lydia, is palpable and extremely well done. There's a secondary romance between Lydia and one of the men in Rohan's employ, and it is utterly charming (although not quite interesting enough to carry a plot line of its own, so I was glad it was relegated to the background). In case all the UST and drama weren't enough to spur you along, there's also a murder subplot, and it's not halfhearted in the least.
Also, Elinor is just so goshdarned awesome. Her banter with the hero is hilarious and had me chuckling. It's hard not to fall for a plucky, no-nonsense heroine who is weary and clever.
He wanted entertainment, and respite from boredom? She would provide it. So thoroughly that he'd be afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear she'd stab him (279).
And let's not forget the sneery, imperious charm that is Viscount Rohan:
"I'm not in the mood to be seconding duels or even stopping them. If they want to kill each other then let them go ahead. I have servants to clean up the blood" (24).
The only thing about this story that really annoyed me was that the hero and heroine were kept apart for long periods of time in the middle of the book, just when things were getting interesting - much too long, if you asked me. It felt like this was less for plot purposes and more for filler, although that didn't stop me from swooping through all 400 pages of this book in about three hours.
IT WAS GOOD! I LIKED IT! I WANT TO READ MOAR!
If you're a fan of gamma-heroes, you'll like this book. Anne Stuart is famous for hers.