If books were wine, BLACK ICE would be a sweet white; good at first, but man, does it not hold up well over time. I read BLACK ICE for the first time about three years ago. Several of my friends kept recommending the book to me, because they know I like dark/anti-heroes in my fiction, and I was really excited to hear that.
The antihero, Bastien Toussaint, is probably the book's saving grace. He's a compelling character, just as cold as the title would leave you to believe. His first sexual encounter with the heroine is a rape, and what's most chilling about it is how little emotion there is behind it. He doesn't care about anything, not even his own life (in fact, he's a little suicidal), and certainly not about some random woman.
When I first read the book, I didn't know what was going to happen, and I'd never encountered a romantic lead like Bastien before (this was before I started getting into bodice rippers, where pretty much all heroes are giant jerks). The hero and heroine were both on the run for their lives in France, chased by arms dealers, fighting the reluctant attraction between each other...it had the recipe for a brilliant story.
While my original rating of the book was a 4.5, I'm reducing it to 2 in this reread because there are some pretty big problems that I didn't notice in my initial read. Problem #1 is Chloe. She's annoying and wimpy and pretty much everything I do not like in a heroine. I tried to roll with it, because her life was in danger and she was pretty sheltered up to that point, but it's really hard to like a character who seems to have no spine and does nothing but stammer and cry and whine.
Problem #2 is the pacing. The beginning of this book is atmospheric and tense. Chloe ends up in a house with all these "grocers", working as a translator for the international and mixed group. But all of them appear to be hiding something and keep issuing sinister veiled threats, to the point where even Chloe begins to think something is wrong. Then she's tortured, and Bastien saves her because he feels sorry for her, and the two of them go on the run and argue about stupid things, like whether or not he finds her attractive and whether or not he's going to kill her. The pacing really sags in the middle and doesn't pick up again until the last 70 pages. When they do fall in love, it feels sudden, because up until that moment Chloe feared him & didn't trust him, and Bastien seemed intent on ending his own life. I don't think I noticed this the first time because I was so caught up in finding out how it would end, but during the reread it stuck out to me that this love comes out of nowhere.
It's weird that Anne Stuart authored both House of Rohan and the Ice series because the two stories could not be more different. I've read a few of her older historical works too, including a Gothic novel from the 70s and a Medieval romance she published in the 80s or 90s (I can't remember). She's incredibly versatile, which is to be lauded, but for some reason, her historical heroines tend to be much more likable, interesting, and strong than the heroines in her modern romances. I wonder why?
I'll probably give the Ice series a second try, because I heard books 2 and 3 were good, but I'd rather spend my money on House of Rohan right now, because House of Rohan is totally amazing.
If you want to give this book a go, though, it's only $2.99 on Kindle at the time of my posting this.
Reading GLASS HOUSES is a lot like watching a horror movie. The main character is an idiot, and all plot development in the story line requires that you suspend your disbelief about said idiocy. What makes it hard, though, is that Claire Danvers is branded as a "genius." She's sixteen - "sixteen and a half," she'll be quick to tell you - and yet, got accepted to Harvard, MIT, Yale, and all these other great schools, but her parents don't want her to be far from the house (dafuq), so they send her to a school that's a cross between a party school and a community college (I repeat, dafuq), in the middle of Morganville, Texas. "You can transfer, later," is the argument.
Claire immediately cheeses off one the "popular" girls, named Monica, who is basically a cross between Joffrey from Game of Thrones and Regina from Mean Girls. She's one of those "mean girls" who hangs out with a clique of her own (Claire calls them the Monickettes, which is just one example of her brilliance). She's also a studied psychopath who thinks it's perfectly okay to beat people up, attack them with beakers of acid, and then later set them on fire. You're probably wondering where the adults are in this book, because that's what I was wondering, but Claire (stupidly) lies to her parents and her friends about her safety, over and over, and a code of non-interference is built into the rules of Morganville, which is run by vampires, so no adults are ever going to look out for her safety.
Claire ends up staying with these "cool" "alternative" kids in a place called The Glass House, which is amusing for two reasons: 1) The Glass House (2001) is the name of a so-bad-it's-good horror thriller and 2) it is incredibly dated with what passes for cool. Not only is the "it's so lame to be smart" thing outdated, but Claire's new reject friends are a Goth, a musician, and a punk-ish tough guy. It's so early 2000s that it almost physically hurts, you guys. Her new friends tell her about how the town is run (by vampires) and this is arguably the most interesting aspect of the story, because I thought Caine did vampire politics in a relatively interesting way. The vampires own the city, and the cops. Important humans have Protection in the form of bracelets (basically: do not bite) and can carry over to family members, but like health insurance, expire when the wearer turns 18 (yet another reason this story is dated - thanks, Obamacare!). The best way to avoid being bitten is to stay off their radar, play by the rules, be home before curfew, and oh, yeah, don't invite them in.
That's actually another thing I liked about GLASS HOUSES: Caine uses traditional vampire lore. Garlic and crosses repel vampires. They can't be out in the sunlight unless they're very old or very powerful. They can't cross your threshold unless they've been invited in. They kill to feed. Make no mistake, these are the evil kinds of vampires that your mom grew up with, and honestly, my personal favorite kind. The world building was something I had absolutely zero problems with, and I kept thinking to myself what a shame it was that the main character was so freaking stupid.
I just couldn't get on board with Claire. Her friends were okay, but their dialogue was very wooden and they didn't have much in the way of personality, either. Even though it's written in the third person, there's a lot of annoying asides that are supposed to be Claire's "voice" and it's very annoying - more so, because never once does she display that "intelligence" that got her accepted into all those good universities. What's wrong with writing a female character who's intelligent and cunning? Why does she have to be a vapid, spineless victim who does nothing but remind people that she's almost seventeen, cry, get herself almost murdered by at least three different people, and cry some more? And she's so dumb. This is a character who could be around the corner from the guy with a chainsaw, and be all, "How delightful. A swarm full of friendly, happy bees have come to bring me honey! :D"
I'm a little afraid to pick up the next book, but I bought books 1 & 2 bundled so now I feel obligated. Rachel Caine, I thought you could do no wrong. Your Weather Wardens series is awesome. :(
The prospect of a romance between a Seminole war chief and a half-black slave seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, despite that terrible, terrible cover. (Seriously, what is that girl wearing? And I'm pretty sure that those are belt-loops that I spy on the man's pants. Anachronistic, much?) But despite its solid start, SEMINOLE SONG really fell flat for me in the second half.
Calida is the slave of a man named Reddin Croon. Well, his wife's, actually, although that doesn't keep him from "borrowing" her. Reddin has a really creepy sexual obsession with Calida and whenever his wife goes out of town, he rapes her. The wife has been suspecting this was going on and one day she catches them in the act and threatens to tell her father (who owns the plantation). Reddin loses control & kills his life, and suggests that he might implicate Calida and cut out her tongue so she can't talk.
Calida flees and ends up in the Everglades with a man named Panther. Panther has encountered Reddin before, for various reasons. He's also familiar with slaves because a lot of the runaways seek asylum with the Seminole tribe. Panther's best friend is an escaped slave from Reddin's own plantation named Gaitor, and the Other Woman, Winter Rain, is half-Seminole, half-black.
Reddin realizes that the death of his wife is a major problem. His father in law, Isiah, comes down to micromanage things, and Reddin has to convince him that his daughter was killed by Seminoles (and he kills a few more slaves in order to keep them quiet). Reddin ends up waging a major war against the Seminoles, getting the military involved, all because he wants to punish the Seminoles for harboring Calida and get her back so he can have sex with her without the inconvenience of his wife.
I didn't really like the relationship between Panther and Calida. Panther was interesting but didn't have a lot of depth. He felt like a Marty-Stu character. Calida really annoyed me. Most of her dialogue was "No! No!" and crying. She was constantly running into danger, falling for just about every trap that came her way. This felt like an excuse to introduce Reddin Croon back into the narrative and show what a creepy pervert he was. She was also fetishized by Croon, who was super pleased that she has a "white lady's mouth" and described her as "high yellow." Ugh.
Three things I did like about this book:
1) The love interest was full Seminole. So many classic romance novels about Native Americans have the hero being "half-white." There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but it happens so frequently in romances that it does kind of feel like a cultural cop-out.
2) Winter Rain, the OW, isn't a bitch. She loves Panther and resents Calida, obviously, but she isn't catty about it. After reading THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, which featured the Queen Mother of shrewish, antagonistic romantic rivals, I really appreciated that.
3) The heroine is hesitant about having sex with the hero despite being attracted to him because of the rape. He is very nice about it, and doesn't force her at all; he waits for her to come to him.
Despite those benefits, I didn't really like SEMINOLE SONG. The premise ran too thin too quickly, and I didn't identify with any of the characters. Reddin Croon is a rapist creep, I get it! Panther is a dreamboat, okay! Calida is really, really good-looking! Give me some dimension. Give me some depth.
I was looking at the premises for some of the author's other books, though, and some of them seem intriguing (there's one about the Donner party!), so I might give her books another shot at some point.
P.S. This book flings the N-word around like rice at a wedding, so if that is something that upsets or offends you, take heed.
P.P.S. While we're on the subject of Native American romances, does anyone know of any good Choctaw romances? I'm of Choctaw descent, so it would be cool to see a romance novel about that group. :)
I went through a chick-lit phrase during my first two years of college, during which time I devoured any book I could find as long as it had a pink cover. One of these books was called LOLA CARLYLE REVEALS ALL by Rachel Gibson. I barely remember what the book was about, only that the experience of reading it was surreal...and not necessarily in a good way.
SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE is also surreal...and not necessarily in a good way. It actually kind of reminds me of IT HAD TO BE YOU by Susan Elizabeth Phillips in many ways, which was another sports themed chick-lit/romance crossover book from the 1990s that I read recently and had issues with.
Our heroine, Georgeanne, is a Texas belle engaged to be married to the manager of the Chinooks hockey team. No longer content to be a trophy wife to an older man, however, she jilts him at the altar and convinces a man from the wedding to spirit her away in his car. That man is John, a player on said manager's hockey team. As soon as he realizes who he has in the car, he begins freaking out, but Georgeanne browbeats him into letting her stay at his place.
Spoiler alert: they boink.
Georgeanne falls for him immediately, and is hurt when the next day after The Boink, he puts her in a car with a plane ticket back to Texas. Georgeanne doesn't want to go back to Texas, though, and stays in Washington instead. Where she gets a job working as a caterer. And, oh, yes, is pregnant.
Spoiler alert: She neglects to inform the father.
This is where I began to feel trepidation, because I do not enjoy the secret baby trope at all.
But hey, that's okay. Maybe this will be the time that I will be proven wrong.
Spoiler alert: Nope.
Georgeanne doesn't bother telling John that he has a daughter (Lexie). He gets to find out by pure coincidence. This starts a long chain of fighting that will last until the last fifty pages of the book. Custody. Whether or not they find each other attractive. Whether or not they're allowed to find other people attractive. More custody fighting. Lawyers. Whether or not their kid can have a dog.
Spoiler alert: Some people are born to dogs. Others have dogs thrust upon them.
There is so much fighting, most of it about Lexie. And while I can't really understand personally how difficult custody is, I can certainly understand the reasons behind why this is such an emotionally charged issue. That said, I felt like Georgeanne was incredibly unfair to John about his daughter, especially when she pretty much refused to let him pay for insurance and tuition out of spite. That felt so selfish, like she was taking her own feelings of insecurity and her desire to be independent out on her daughter.
For the most part, I liked the scenes of John interacting with his daughter except for one, when he says she looks like a slut. "He stared at his little girl, looking like a tart in heavy makeup..." (40%). That line just felt so unnecessary, and I couldn't like him as much after reading that.
Georgeanne's relationship with her daughter was way worse, because of how she was projecting all her insecurities in front of her daughter. For example, she is constantly calling herself fat in front of her daughter (and other people). Georgeanne is 5'10" and weighs 140 pounds (and she's curvy, because you will hear numerous times about how large her fabulous boobs and butt are). Considering how curvy Georgeanne is, that is actually quite skinny. I am 5'10" and I weigh bit more than 140 pounds. I, too, am curvy - but I'm also in ok shape, and despite my weight, would not call myself fat. So it was annoying to me to keep seeing these measurements bandied about and hear about how fat Georgeanne is, especially when it was clear that she was doing it in front of an impressionable child.
Even though John and Lexie were cute together, he's definitely borderline-alphahole with everyone else, talking about how he doesn't sleep with "skinny" women (oh boy, more body shaming), doesn't find "skinny" women attractive, that he's at least partially only interested in Georgeanne because of her body, etc. He also threatens to beat up other men, and uses "retarded," "pussy," and "sissy."
He wasn't as bad as Hugh, though - the secondary love interest for Georgeanne's friend, Mae, who acts like an aggressive pickup artist. Even Mae herself admits that the reason she went out with him in the first place was exhaustion from too many no's.
From a technical note, there was some odd formatting going on in this e-book (I have the Kindle version). There are no breaks between POV swaps, which interrupts continuity, and sometimes the same thing happens with dialogue tags. One person will be talking, there will be a description of something going on in the background, and in the same paragraph, Gibson would have someone else talking. This could make it difficult to figure out who was saying what at times.
Also, typos and random hyphens. The funniest one I saw was a misspelling of Georgeanne's name on p. 274: "Georgeajine."
SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE is dated, and I would say that for me at least, it doesn't stand the test of time. Not even ironically. As with IT HAD TO BE YOU, there were just too many issues with the book that kept me from enjoying it fully, even if it was almost compulsively readable, and it didn't help that there wasn't a single character in here who really spoke to me. I appreciated Georgeanne's struggle as a single mom and how she had dyslexia, and I thought Mae's drag queen friends were cool (although the story about her brother was sad), and I liked John's interactions with his kid. It just wasn't enough for them to feel developed and interesting.
Points for hilariously dated 90s references, like the Macarena, jelly shoes, and Bob Ross.
I'm slowly working my way through the Wallflowers series, and I have to say, this is Lisa Kleypas at her most charming. Nothing can surpass my love for The Gamblers duology, of course, but Wallflowers comes pretty darn close. It's about three sisters, and their friend, all of whom are considered wallflowers and bluestockings, and completely undesirable as wives...
Daisy Bowman is the last Wallflower, and really feeling that "forever alone" vibe now that all of her sisters and friends are married. Her expectations for what she wants in a husband are unrealistic, though, fueled by the fictional ideals in the romances she's so fond of reading, and her father has lost patience with waiting for Daisy to pair off with someone and taken matters into his owns hands. She's to marry his protege, Matthew Swift, unless Daisy can marry within two months.
At first, Daisy really annoyed me. She's spoiled and selfish and spends most of the first half of the book whining to her sisters and her friends about how much she hates Matthew. She's also hurt, because her father and Matthew (albeit in a nicer way) both imply that she's a parasite, which she is, pretty much. All she does is lounge around and take advantage of the comforts her father's wealth affords her, and she doesn't even seem particularly grateful for it.
What saves the book is Matthew. I didn't really think any hero could be better in this series than St. Vincent (I have a thing for evil rakes, I guess), but Matthew is pretty much the perfect romantic hero. He's an uptight businessman with a dry sense of humor, and he subscribes to the "I've loved you for years" trope - I'm a sucker for pining heroes, especially when they have a way with words.
Matthew actually makes Daisy into a better person, I think, because he indulges her whimsical side, while also calling her on her crap when she behaves boorishly. And she made him a better person, too, by forcing him to be less tense and making him feel loved. His backstory looms over most of the story, and I actually thought it made sense. Nothing too outlandish; it's entirely plausible.
Oh, and let's not even talk about the sex scenes. (Were the other Wallflower books this explicit? Matthew, you animal!)
Daisy may not be my favorite type of heroine, but Matthew is exactly my kind of hero.