I adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. UnliI adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unlike Dear Author, I had and have no problem with Milan's very deliberate use of modern social justice problems in her historicals- identity, autonomy, sexuality, social status, class, and voice were all issues struggled with at the time, as they are today. Our inclination to think that constant forward progress has brought us to this enlightened day blinds us to the reality that we are not the first (nor will we be the last) to try and construct authentic lives in the face of these social barriers.
That said, the romance pancaked on an unbelievable hero. Angst, angst, blah, blah. Now, Leighton of My Beautiful Enemy, there was an angsty hero. Edward? Not so much, although interesting to see that shout out to the admittedly bloody Franco-Prussian war....more
I increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a bI increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a better book by far, rich with small details that brought the interior life of its two protagonists to the fore. In comparison, My Beautiful Enemy is telegraphic, jumping from plot point to action scene in order to bring all elements to a resolution.
I adore Thomas's choice to meaningfully set the book in Ch'ing China, and the fact that while her leads may be British at least in part they have the will and desire to move through the world entire to find a place that suits them both.
However, this story had the potential to be a sweeping epic, big, meaty, sad, and sweet. Instead, by cramming the second half of the story into the slight page count and format of a historical romance, Thomas lost the richness that defined the first chapter. Key moments were compressed, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I wanted much more of everything, and cannot help but wonder if Thomas would be better off self-publishing a la Courtney Milan.
Rich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courRich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courtesan, learns at once a series of martial arts from a washed up gambling addict as well as her own vulnerability and isolation due to her gender, birth, and half-racial identify. On the other side of the world, Leighton learns of the secrets lurking beneath his idyllic, privileged childhood. Too good to be true, as a child he sacrifices repeatedly to help the (somewhat hapless, if loving and kind) adults of his remaining family.
This full-length book reads as story in its own right, not as the set up of two characters who meet only once before the end. I'm so happy I read it, and do look forward to My Beautiful Enemy....more
Finally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naFinally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naive teenagers that they are without ever seeming cartoonish. The tension over conditions on the home farm was also interesting, a smidge of North and South livening the plot. ...more
Parts were so truly excellent- the age gap between Foye and Sabine is portrayed clearly, with many small betraying gestures on both sides, down to FoyParts were so truly excellent- the age gap between Foye and Sabine is portrayed clearly, with many small betraying gestures on both sides, down to Foye's contentment with domestic bliss and Sabine's restlessness. Other parts are absurd to nonsensical- do ruthless, wealthy Ottoman lords really personally track down wayward English girls because their shiny blonde hair is oh so captivating and harem worthy? You're really going to put your heroine into brownface? It's all the more intriguing because Jewel has clearly done much historical research, and it shows. But the underlying dynamics are classic orientalism. ...more
I waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor keyI waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor key on the philandering straight first husband, but there is not much novel or particularly well-crafted here to truly hold my attention....more
The Lily Brand is my all-time favorite guilty-pleasure, cult-read, gothic extravaganza. Unfortunately, Schwab's sophomore effort has all of her firstThe Lily Brand is my all-time favorite guilty-pleasure, cult-read, gothic extravaganza. Unfortunately, Schwab's sophomore effort has all of her first book's plot incoherence with few of its angsty pleasures. The book consists of Celia vowing that no one will take her castle away from her, Celia flirting with Fenris, Fenris displaying a hint of vulnerability before snarling and saying something cruel, Celia feeling hurt, several weeks pass, rinse, wash, repeat. ...more
If not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pIf not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pleasantly surprised by a better-than-mediocre book. Testament of Youth this is not, with even young soldiers thought lost on the front making it through the war intact, but Robson does a decent job of conveying the hopeless mess of life near the front. There are not nearly enough military medical protagonists in circulation (just think of how excellent The Wedding Journey is!) either....more
Absurd, delicious, erotic fluff. The first three quarters of the book are taught with suspense and desire- Hannah knows she should not give in but isAbsurd, delicious, erotic fluff. The first three quarters of the book are taught with suspense and desire- Hannah knows she should not give in but is willing to risk it all for anything that jolts her out of her very mediocre life. Leo is a cipher, and is delectable. However, Leo's heartfelt amends and sudden turn of fortune ruins the end with a mechanically simplistic and saccharine ending....more
Old school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hOld school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hard to finish, but then again I regularly crave the meaty, sad At Your Pleasure. While Alastair is a bit much (like The Duke's Perfect Wife's Hart Mackenzie on crack) I like how his crazy, devious brain switches from introverted self-flagellation to cunning revenge. Olivia may be a bit too good to be true but she's understandable even when she's lingering over Alastair a bit too long. In the end, there's little I like more than the penniless heroine running out the door (Jane Eyre! Until You! Lily!) and this book certainly delivered on that account....more
How is Mary both the Cinderella poor relation and sent on a hairbrained quest dreamt up by the cook to spice up her life? Why does the good captain, a seasoned veteran of many a port, walk so blindly into danger? Finally, Kelly likes to play with the fire of ultimate redemption- her military heroes are traumatized and in real life some of them harm their partners. Kelly dilutes this real issue of domestic violence by filtering the anger through the ridiculous plot device of a raised arm, a trip, and a sharp corner. I feel that if you are going to traverse this tricky terrain, do it meaningfully and not through a big mis plot point. The Admiral's Penniless Bride is instructive in this regard....more
I always loved when Captain Wentworth pulls her naughty nephew away, and the hope it gives Anne that he doesn't completely hate her guts anymore. I'veI always loved when Captain Wentworth pulls her naughty nephew away, and the hope it gives Anne that he doesn't completely hate her guts anymore. I've always loved a martyr heroine, and Anne certainly fits the bill- suffering through the arrogant unkindnesses of her father and older sister, the fits and drama of her spoilt younger sister, the 'good old Anne' assumption that she will be the spinster woman, the one who smooths over all upset and bears all unwanted work. Nothing like suffering in silence to tug at my heartstrings!
As always with Jane Austen new phrases and scenes struck me anew. Thanks to Jane Austen, Game Theorist, I found the bit where Mrs. Croft takes the reins from Admiral Croft darling:
"But by coolly giving the reins a better direction herself, they happily passed the danger; and by once afterwards judiciously putting out her hand, they neither fell into a rut, nor ran foul of a dung-cart; and Anne, with some amusement at their style of driving, which she imagined no bad representation of the general guidance of their affairs, found herself safely deposited by them at the cottage."
Or take the delightfully simple workings of jealousy on Captain Wentworth's regard for Anne:
"When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance,-a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, 'That man is struck with you,-and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.'"
Or, my favorite this time around:
"Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished,-but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped."
Quiet, romantic, bittersweet, with only the hint of a cutting edge at times, this is a most un-Austen-like Austen that I love quite truly....more
Oh my goodness this book is so bad. I read it once back in high school and recently picked it up for a re-read, having had no memory of the first timeOh my goodness this book is so bad. I read it once back in high school and recently picked it up for a re-read, having had no memory of the first time around. Stereotyped 'barbaric' Russian nobility, random faux-PTSD amnesia, and a countess-belowstairs story that's not nearly as fun as my beloved A Countess Below Stairs. I was vaguely interested in what Kleypas would do with the foreshadowed romance between Emma and the broodingly alien Prince Nikolas, until I looked it up and remembered it was a ghastly time-travel pastiche. No thank you......more
I like this book because it is a soap opera in the best of ways. Stuart, Robin, and Zoe misbehave so badly and repeatedly hurt themselves and each othI like this book because it is a soap opera in the best of ways. Stuart, Robin, and Zoe misbehave so badly and repeatedly hurt themselves and each other with their stubborn insistence on screwing things up to no good purpose. Yet all three manage (oh so barely) to stay in the readers' good graces, so that when they sort out their incredibly messed up baggage you cheer rather than roll your eyes. This is very much a wallpaper romance, but I could not even care I liked the character drama so much....more
A truly fabulous book- our heroine is an awkward, difficult, heartbreaking, brilliant closet botanist/geneticist and our hero loves her to bits, to thA truly fabulous book- our heroine is an awkward, difficult, heartbreaking, brilliant closet botanist/geneticist and our hero loves her to bits, to the point where he presents her work as his own to enable publication of her work until the strain of the double life and its toll on his affection for her prompts him to set up a few boundaries. These boundaries interrupt the dynamic between our leads, force them to reevaluate their self-images, their difficult family relationships, and what level of vulnerability they are willing to assume in order to build a new relationship.
One reviewer commented that the book was very much about consent. This stuck with me as I read because I also identified a theme interwoven throughout, which I guess I will call worth and self-worth. Not that consent (and Sebastian's beautiful displays of mature self-mastery) was an insignificant facet of the book. More important to me, however, was Violet's struggle to negotiate both her outward facing social worth (demanding that people treat her with respect) as well as an inner sense of self-worth (internalizing her right to bodily and intellectual integrity, to pleasure, to a fulfilling life). The radish review eventually highlights this epiphanic scene that characterizes this struggle so well:
Not pretty, and also selfish. Selfish to feel pride at what she'd done. Selfish to want... She looked at herself in the mirror, her head tilting. It wasn't working. Usually when she called herself selfish, she squirmed and stuffed the things she wanted away. But today, it wasn't working. Maybe she was too tired.
"Selfish Violet," she said aloud, but stripped of the shame that usually accompanied them, the words rang false. Selfish?
No. She wasn't empty. Those words had lost their place in her heart. Today she had another refrain in her head, one that had been playing so quietly that she hadn't even heard it until that moment.
Clever Violet. Resilient Violet. Sweet Violet. That whispered memory left no room for selfish. Was what she'd just done selfish? What did the word even mean?
Violet contemplated the mirror. When her husband called her selfish for refusing to go to bed with him, what had he meant? I deserve my chance to have an heir more than you deserve to live. When Lily said it would be selfish of Violet to ally herself with Sebastian, what did she mean? My attendance at balls is more important than your happiness. When Violet called herself selfish, that was what she meant- that she didn't deserve the thing she wanted. Not happiness. Maybe not even her own life.
Naturally this passage and others like it led me to game theory- the excellent Jane Austen, Game Theorist- namely Chwe's pointed observations that rational, self-interested behavior tends to be labeled "selfish" and "anti-social" when the person in question is lower status- younger, female, minority, ect. The social expectation that one gender always gives, and the other always takes, leads to people disciplining even mildly assertive displays by women through guilt and shame. Milan's exploration of that theme here was masterful.
The extended discussion of women's voice, agency, and identity was more often than not explicit, and will be taken up by many readers (and it should be). However, I loved Milan's more subtle exploration of the toll gendered expectations took on her hero as well. If Sebastian has a true genius, it is his deep emotional intelligence and his commitment to caring for his friends and family: "'My friends are worrying about me,' Sebastian continued. 'That's completely backward. I'm supposed to take care of them.'" Emotional/social work is labor, and more often than not it is uncompensated, unrecognized, and feminized (devalued) labor. Sebastian struggles under the dismissive weight of those who judge him as non-serious because his talents shine most brightly in such a feminine sphere. Tangentially, this dynamic forcefully reminded me of Sherry Thomas's excellent Not Quite a Husband, where an equally prickly and brilliant woman is matched with a man with an unexpected (and undervalued) gift for domestic work- running a household, or, in its more masculine guise, logistics. (Now that I think of it, Leo's childhood devotion to Bryony also resonates here- does it take youthful admiration to socialize our romance heroes into love for otherwise intimidating and non-typical women?)
Of course, questions of logistics lead me to my favorite hero Miles, and radish reviews was not off in another Milan review comparing her work to Lois McMaster Bujold. Violet's bath scene and the chasm between her head and her heart (and her sex drive) reminded me of nothing so much as Ekaterin's equally rending shower scene in A Civil Campaign. Of course, the excellent conversation about sacrifices, and gifts, and female agency in that book is also very much apropos. Finally, not to get too ridiculous and meta, but my favorite observations ever on how society distributes sacrifice for the greater good unequally also apply (Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, a favorite!)
In sum, this is an excellent romance that worked both at the genre level (all necessary conventions honored, expectations met, and payoffs delivered!) and at a more meta level, where my brain was always veering off onto tangents in recognition of Milan's solid treatment of very important themes. In contrast to the current sad state of romance series, Milan's books keep getting better and better....more
Stilted, awkward prose. Wildly inconsistent character motivations. Enormous disappointment- I'm still on the hunt for decent books set in this period,Stilted, awkward prose. Wildly inconsistent character motivations. Enormous disappointment- I'm still on the hunt for decent books set in this period, but Rowe's books certainly don't ring that bell. Part of the problem is my frustrated anticipation of Rogue Spy; every time the couple speaks English just feet away from German soldiers or hide in the closet (?!?) I jones for Bourne's clever, deft touch....more
A compelling read, Thomas elaborates again on her ever-present theme of lovers hell-bent on punishing each other before finally reaching forgiveness,A compelling read, Thomas elaborates again on her ever-present theme of lovers hell-bent on punishing each other before finally reaching forgiveness, or at least equilibrium. Felix has a backstory to explain why he's so willing to toy with and then humiliate our protagonist, Louisa. What I most like is the way the story frames his behavior but does not excuse it- sometimes we are cruel to each other in the most casual ways, in quick reaction to our own sense of vulnerability. Louisa is less-sharply drawn although very interesting- an unapologetic and shrewd manipulator who finds her twin in Felix. I'm in agreement with Dear Author that Matilda is little more than a plot point and her disability is (mis)used to create plot-necessary motivations for Louisa. That aside, the book was tight, well-written, and (at the end) bizarrely moving....more
I had the misfortune of picking this up as an escape from The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie. Unfortunately, I found that Once a Rake eerily suffered from the same sins as Wicked Deeds: distasteful othering of Scottish men, incoherent plots, and ever-changing character motivations. I did not like it *at all*.
If the heroine of the book thought of Ian one more time as a "berserker" this would have become a wallbanger in truth.
Now that I'm settled once again with all my books in tow, I've been rereading many of my old-school historical romances, and many have not withstood tNow that I'm settled once again with all my books in tow, I've been rereading many of my old-school historical romances, and many have not withstood the test of time: Petals in the Storm is a melodramatic Big Mis, Lady of Desire is downright goofy at moments. This makes Tracy Grant's books all the more impressive- she brings melodrama, family secrets, violence, and the French Revolution but manages to hold the plot together. Rightfully His is my favorite- a classic marriage of convenience/blackmail plot with meaty family conflict. Grant's protagonists wander from the script in delicious ways- I love that the hero uses his words rather than going off in a huff!...more
Well, as Quaker-English nobility romance novels go it's no Flowers from the Storm. And as Carla Kelly naval captain hero regencies go it's no Mrs. McVWell, as Quaker-English nobility romance novels go it's no Flowers from the Storm. And as Carla Kelly naval captain hero regencies go it's no Mrs. McVinnie's London Season. That said, I always remembered Miss Whittier Makes a List fondly, largely for the warm, appreciative dynamic between the *gulp* feisty American lead and the grim British naval captain. It's also astonishingly sensual for an early Carla Kelly. What memory papered over was how painfully young Hannah was- she agonized very little over abandoning her nationality and her religious community for Daniel and I could not help but think that much of her blithe embrace of a very different future was driven by youthful forward momentum rather than a real choice to leave her previous identity behind. Also, the late 18 aughts were a horrible time for an American to contemplate union with a British naval captain (Dolly Madison says shame on her!). That said, Carla Kelly is a wizard and the book holds together strongly with that practical but poignant tone that is classic Signet Regency Carla Kelly....more
Gil was fairly unredeemable for me and the grovel, squeezed into the very last pages, was cursory at best. The only point for me to wade through suchGil was fairly unredeemable for me and the grovel, squeezed into the very last pages, was cursory at best. The only point for me to wade through such angst and asshattery is for a five star, top-notch grovel, and I was disappointed....more
I read this last month so the details are lost to me. What I remember most clearly is that Jack was a dick, but by no means a monster, and Elizabeth hI read this last month so the details are lost to me. What I remember most clearly is that Jack was a dick, but by no means a monster, and Elizabeth had an overdeveloped martyrdom complex. Meh....more
I have been in make-soup-and-tea-and-snuggle-up comfort reading mode since 2013 rolled in. Carla Kelly (especially classic Carla Kelly) generally makeI have been in make-soup-and-tea-and-snuggle-up comfort reading mode since 2013 rolled in. Carla Kelly (especially classic Carla Kelly) generally makes the top of my comfort read list.
Jesse was my favorite medical lead until he was knocked off by Jonas in A Kiss For Midwinter. Nell is less sharply drawn, a sweet 18 year old whistfully looking into the window of warm family life from the outside a la A Little Princess. Much of the poignancy is Jesse's knowledge that a much more secure and loving life awaits Nell if they can only make it to British lines.
Disappointing, I have to say. The story had no bite, no angst, and little that was original beyond the settings. I've read this hero and heroine beforDisappointing, I have to say. The story had no bite, no angst, and little that was original beyond the settings. I've read this hero and heroine before. The teaser for the next book hooked, though, so I guess this bit did its job......more
Most readers and reviewers seemed less than impressed with Robert, and that's exactly why I adored him to bits. How delightfully subversive was the dyMost readers and reviewers seemed less than impressed with Robert, and that's exactly why I adored him to bits. How delightfully subversive was the dynamic between Robert and Minnie, especially when she fantasizes about whispering into his ear at Parliament, but then realizes she would have to attend balls!
Robert's not the brightest bulb, and he's grappling with some major privilege issues. However, I never thought he was looking for a cookie and in fact he flicked off a number of cookies with some discomfort. Instead, he's navigating the world convinced he's inherited the sins of the father, something I felt quite a bit of empathy for. As for the 'arise, oppressed people' broadsheets- while clearly that was not the savviest use of his duke-capital, I did not think that he placed any of the workers in danger. However, to those reviewers wringing their hands over what would happen to the workers left out to dry... assuming the factory workers would strike simply because some anonymous fool dumps a pile of brochures at their place of business is just a bit silly. (Think North and South- quite a bit more to striking that that- poor Boucher!) I think we can excuse Robert of quite a bit (although not stupidly bad tactics- thank goodness he has Minnie).
As for the wedding night- I loved it. Best surprise of the book. Best angst of the book goes to Robert's youthful encounter with Oliver's mom and dad....more
A really excellent novella. Milan shines here, given the format, as the characters are as rich as those found in any full-length book.
I believed the bA really excellent novella. Milan shines here, given the format, as the characters are as rich as those found in any full-length book.
I believed the big mis was really well done- it was only natural for Lydia to be defensive and I thought her insistance on holding out only made sense given the deep, shaming experience she had lived through. As for Jonas- well. There's something about the medical hero, and he just displaced my previous favorite, Jesse from The Wedding Journey. The final scenes were delicious, truly....more
I have been on a Dorothy L. Sayers binge inspired by a hankering I have for post WWI settings generated by my current project: Into the Silence: The GI have been on a Dorothy L. Sayers binge inspired by a hankering I have for post WWI settings generated by my current project: Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest. Reading Walsh is not the same as reading Sayers; as long as you accept that fact straight-on, you will not be disappointed. Sayers was all too coy with her characters; you really have to plumb her books in order to capture the flashes of character development and revelation that make her fiction so worthwhile. Walsh by contrast spells quite a bit out and is generous with time in Peter and Harriet's headspace.
I found much of the flashback plotting and the characterization of 1921 Lord Peter sloppy and inconsistent; I also thought the four children functioned more as plot moppets than integral parts of the protagonists' everyday life. Despite all that, this book was well written and enjoyable, like fantastic fan-fiction....more
I did my best and worked my way through all the stories, but at the end of the day the only one worth it is Joanna Bourne's lovely tale of reunited loI did my best and worked my way through all the stories, but at the end of the day the only one worth it is Joanna Bourne's lovely tale of reunited lovers foiling an espionage plot. Consider this five stars for Bourne's story and minimal love for the rest....more