I read this around my own first year at McGill - the setting being the only reason I'd picked it up. I remember it as unsatisfying and melancholic, an...moreI read this around my own first year at McGill - the setting being the only reason I'd picked it up. I remember it as unsatisfying and melancholic, and I couldn't stand the fragmented narration. In retrospect I see that I was judging it as a sort of YA comfort read, which it is really not. Rather, it's a literary writing exercise with tediously young characters. Not bad on its own terms, but something you'd have to be in a very particular frame of mind to enjoy. (less)
An uneven and difficult book, but Probst pulls it through in the end.
What I Liked +an uncompromising heroine: Julietta struggles with inner turmoil at...moreAn uneven and difficult book, but Probst pulls it through in the end.
What I Liked +an uncompromising heroine: Julietta struggles with inner turmoil at key points in the story, but she is always, always true to herself. Points to Probst for writing an independent, career-focused heroine who doesn't turn unrecognizable when dealing with her own vulnerability.
+a hero with a huge heart: Sawyer's seedy past really seeps into his thinking at some points, and the reader can easily understand why he sees himself as a bad guy who has done dark deeds. But all that fades far into the background given the evidence of his caring, nurturing side in the present of the story, especially as relates to...
+Wolfe!!! Can't say more without spoilers, but man, the inclusion of this character was inspired and totally made the book for me. Hope he gets his own book...in due time ;)
+that motorcycle scene: surprising, fresh, and a perfect way to get to know the characters and to get them together early in the story.
+shared silences: a swoony quality of romance that I haven't previously noticed in any other romance novel; Probst uses it to great effect between two characters who each have to make a long journey from their own interiority to fully meet as lovers and partners.
+Probst's evocative language: The glorious food and the rich sweeps of Milanese setting detail add much to the book in terms of glamor and heft, but what really stands out for me are some of Probst's perfect turns of phrase in similies and images like:
A bolt of need shot through him like a stray bullet tearing through vulnerable flesh.
Like a sinner seeking penance, Sawyer bent his head and pressed a kiss to her open palm. Julietta sensed something deeper in his actions and craved to follow the path leading to a thicket of thorns, poison ivy, and endless predators poised to tear flesh.
Her body melted under his instruction; her mind cracked open to allow secret entry that both humbled and inspired him. He craved her like a drug injected in his veins, and though it was unpredictable and chaotic and unplanned, he needed her.
...OK, out of context those sound rather lurid, overwritten and purple prosy, but trust me - scattered as they are throughout an otherwise skillfully written but mundane narrative, these little moments are powerful and perfect.
What I'm Conflicted About *the bedroom dynamics: Sawyer is hot, compassionate, and skilled. Pretty much every sex scene was worth reading for the woven-in emotional development and characterization - I don't remember having to skip over boring swathes of mechanics. But I was surprised by and not entirely onboard with the degree to which Julietta "needed" Sawyer to control her experience. I understand that it can be that way for people in real life, and I could see how Probst was trying to show a BDSM-lite that works within conventional romance narratives. I've read and enjoyed erotica that takes the sub/dom dynamic much much farther. I just really wasn't expecting as much handwaving away of active consent in what I thought was a mainstream romance novel. Some moments read like old-school alpha/ingenue encounters of the least palatable kind. You could say the political got in the way of the erotic for me and maybe that's not fair to hold against the book...but it definitely left me conflicted.
*sloppy writing: On the whole, Probst's writing is quality. But there are some really frustrating slips. Sawyer is a "primitive" barely contained by "civilisation"? The management team at Purity are defined by stereotypes of hair colour? Blergh.
*tonal shifts: The book just felt really uneven to me. The beginning was so stilted I barely made it through; I figure Probst was trying to write from Julietta's mental space, but it's really uncomfortable for the reader to start from there. Everything felt stilted, stale and over-contained until we learn about Wolfe's place in Sawyer's life. Then it got delicious and real and engrossing. But, the story lists at further points. Some of the unevenness has to do with the starts-and-stops in Sawyer's difficult emotional journey. Some of it has to do with the unwieldy balance of erotic and emotional content. Some of it felt right, but some of it really didn't.
*Mama Conte: Ok, no seriously, WHAT?! The forced marriage device just about barely made sense for Michael/Maggie and Carina/Max. But in this book it was so transparently a device, so without convincing motivation (sorry, the whole 'Papa worried for Julietta' thing seems super anemic to me) that I couldn't just accept it. It's a lame way to move things forward, though I'll concede it's efficient and therefore necessary. I feel like Julietta and Sawyer's story deserved a more authentic and interesting turning point, and would've been stronger for it...but I guess I can't think of one and neither could Probst.
*Mama Conte in the epilogue: Poetic and fitting but OH SO HEARTBREAKING, WHY PROBST WHY. Sigh.
*The Spell Book: So ephemeral in the end, and yet also the underpinning of the series, notwithstanding Mama Conte. On the one hand I approve of how it just remains a fun question of mystery. On the other hand I feel cheated out of Some Explanation, Damnit! I see that it was published as an add-on to the series but something within the text would've been much more satisfying
*Fitting in the rest of series: Actually, after the initial re-introduction of the whole motley crew, I think Probst makes great use of the characters from the previous books. Julietta gets some much needed girl-talk time and Sawyer gets to socialize with the guys. Just imagining that gathering of four heroes at a table who all now happen to be brothers-in-law...what a treat! BUT, that initial re-introduction? So chaotic and painful and I would've been at sea if I hadn't already read the rest of the series.
In sum: an engrossing story with a few weak moments, strong on romance but not the pretty kind. Not perfect escapist fare because it made me think and feel a lot of complex things. Wish I could give it more stars but I really feel too conflicted about the central erotic dynamic - the great characters, mostly lovely writing, and lush emotional narrative don't counterbalance that key problem for me.(less)
A very strong middle third, but the denouement was disappointing. I mean, I probably shouldn't hold it against the heroine that she felt betrayed when...moreA very strong middle third, but the denouement was disappointing. I mean, I probably shouldn't hold it against the heroine that she felt betrayed when her memory came back, but I couldn't help wishing that she would try harder to understand the hero's perspective. They were good together and it took them ages and ages to figure that out; as a spectator, I just wanted them to accept what they had, and not have to backtrack.
Some really breathtaking setting and plot details in this one, and delightfully intelligent writing, which seems to be a hallmark of Hunter's. An absorbing read with compelling angst and fascinating characters.
The fragmentary, elliptical prose style didn't work for me; it kept me from losing myself to the world of the story. Also, I kept waiting for the stor...moreThe fragmentary, elliptical prose style didn't work for me; it kept me from losing myself to the world of the story. Also, I kept waiting for the story to start - there seemed to be so many hints for external plot, but ultimately it's a story entirely about emotional shifts. There were some delightfully vivid scenes, though, and I really rather liked both main characters. The writing and dialogue were deliciously intelligent. All told, there's nothing wrong with an all-emotion story - it was just odd to find it half-pretending to be something else. (less)
A really satisfying read. I felt fully drawn in to the world Howard created with her vivid prose. Along with plenty of narrative detail to establish t...moreA really satisfying read. I felt fully drawn in to the world Howard created with her vivid prose. Along with plenty of narrative detail to establish the setting and plot, the story is rich with the kind of emotional detailing that makes for compelling reading. From reading other reviews, I worried about disliking the hero - but within the story, his perspective and motivation are always crystal clear, and I couldn't help sympathizing with his actions and attitude when they were so easy to understand. I really liked the heroine, too; in many ways she's a cliche, your typical self-remade woman with a difficult past, but she's a really well-rendered cliche. There's a lot of apologizing for her situation after the fact and not to her face which mostly works within the story but it's also a bit heavy handed on the textual level. This book participates freely and unapologetically in the sexual politics of its time and place (of writing as well as setting), which is to say that some women are villainized as inherently slutty and some are judged for their choices while the heroine is insistently defined in contradistinction to these other types of women. It's not an attitude I like and I would likely hold it against any similar story published now, but it's a major part of how this book works and I have to admit that I simply accepted it as part of the story.(less)
A pleasing read, because I love stories about couples coming together after tangled backstories of self-denial, but I can't help noting that the story...moreA pleasing read, because I love stories about couples coming together after tangled backstories of self-denial, but I can't help noting that the story essentially lacks conflict as it sputters to the end because the characters really are just happy together. Also, I really don't get why the heroine had to have such a problem with the hero's past love life choices - it felt like a stale, moralistic attitude that didn't fit with the otherwise fresh tone of the book.(less)
The introductory chapters were painful to read due to excruciating conversation and clumsy exposition, but I'm glad I pushed through because the rest...moreThe introductory chapters were painful to read due to excruciating conversation and clumsy exposition, but I'm glad I pushed through because the rest of the story was great. The meet not-exactly-cute of the hero saving the heroine from date rape was memorable to say the least. The relationship developed at a believable pace, and both leads were equal measures likable and exasperating. I don't think the heroine's tough backstory got played out as well as it deserved to, but it was really only at the end that I felt things were getting too tidy and shallow - otherwise it was very well used. I don't know why I fell hard and fast for the hero, but I totally did, and it was good to see him work his way to a happy ending. A fun, just-this-side-of-reality type read all told.
One thing though: "ethnic" earrings, really? Couldn't be more specific than that, given all the detail establishing the Durban setting?(less)
A fun, hot read with some delicious dramatically charged backstory. The heroine's inner conflict between desire and sibling loyalty got tedious in the...moreA fun, hot read with some delicious dramatically charged backstory. The heroine's inner conflict between desire and sibling loyalty got tedious in the early part of the story - her reasons kept being repeated in the same words over and over again, or at least it felt like it - but the story picked up eventually. I couldn't exactly root for a HEA for a couple with such an age and experience disparity, but Yates' writing was still really enjoyable.(less)
A really satisfying reunited lovers story, with well-handled family angst and the requisite aristocratic glitz to round it out. Both leads were well-d...moreA really satisfying reunited lovers story, with well-handled family angst and the requisite aristocratic glitz to round it out. Both leads were well-developed and appealing characters I couldn't help empathizing with.(less)
The 'sheikh' stuff was more heavy-handed than I like, and grating in its use of words like 'obsolete.' Points for that bizarrely cute scene with the h...moreThe 'sheikh' stuff was more heavy-handed than I like, and grating in its use of words like 'obsolete.' Points for that bizarrely cute scene with the hero's cats, though. The romance is compelling because there's a lot of will-they-won't-they kind of conflict from the heroine's insecurities. The ending made no sense to me at all. Overall underwhelming with some really good standout moments.(less)
This is basically a classic, Regency-esque aristocratic MOC featuring a hero with a wretched father and a heroine with a sad childhood, brought into t...moreThis is basically a classic, Regency-esque aristocratic MOC featuring a hero with a wretched father and a heroine with a sad childhood, brought into the present day in an almost believable manner. Loved it for doing full justice to all its constituent tropes (though both leads had their annoying moments, being blind to obvious things for plot reasons). The romance is sweet, the sex is compelling, the rest of the story is exactly what you want for few hours of retreat in Romancelandia. Highly recommended.(less)
The opening of this book is utterly fantastic writing - such that I was mentally composing a fan letter to the author by page 2. Alas, the narrative a...moreThe opening of this book is utterly fantastic writing - such that I was mentally composing a fan letter to the author by page 2. Alas, the narrative and characterization hit some snags after that and the rest of the book lacked the depth that would've made the story more satisfying. But, constraints of the format and all. The romance was certainly satisfying enough. I can see myself re-reading this to revisit the characters and their chemistry.
Didn't really like or understand the heroine's 'insulation' from her culture, but otherwise found the 'sheikh' genre elements subtly-rendered and well-handled, which is to say, palatable rather than alienating and offensive.(less)