Reviewed for THC Reviews Elizabeth Hoyt is such a masterful author, she never fails to amaze me with her stories. I absolutely love them and can’t getReviewed for THC Reviews Elizabeth Hoyt is such a masterful author, she never fails to amaze me with her stories. I absolutely love them and can’t get enough of them. Duke of Sin ended up being yet another perfect read for me from this very talented writer, and that’s not something I was completely convinced would happen when I picked up this latest book in her Maiden Lane series. That’s because of the hero, Val. I was thoroughly intrigued by him from the moment he stepped onto the canvas several books ago, and I felt like he definitely had hero potential. But in the intervening books, he’s been a very, very bad boy who’s stirred up quite a bit of trouble for other characters I loved, not the least of which was kidnapping Phoebe, one of my favorite heroines of the series. That gave me some pause as to whether he could be convincingly redeemed. I think my skepticism stemmed from a bad reading experience with another of my favorite authors in which one of her heroes was very similar to Val, but that hero ended up pushing a lot of unpleasant buttons for me so that I never believed in his supposed redemption. So while I was eager for Val’s story, especially after we discovered in the last book what he did for his half-sister, Eve, I was also just a little trepidatious of possibly having another disappointing read. I’m happy to report that I shouldn’t have worried. As I said, Elizabeth Hoyt is a master, who totally made me fall for Val despite his villainous actions, making this book a real pleasure to read.
Valentine is a character who’s done a lot of terrible things in his life. Blackmailer, murderer, kidnapper, seducer… you name it, he’s probably done it, and he’s proud of it. Then he meets Bridget, and she begins to peel back his layers like an onion, revealing a sympathetic man underneath. Val believes himself to be a heartless cur who is incapable of love, but I knew based on his actions toward Eve that he did have a heart and could love. However, until Bridget, Eve is the only person upon whom he has bestowed that love. Otherwise, he's a masterful purveyor of information who enjoys making other people squirm and who doesn’t seem to have much concept of right and wrong. He takes what he wants when he wants and pretty much does as he pleases with little thought of the consequences. When we learn how hellish his life was growing up, it all makes sense, though. He felt so powerless for a large part of his life, that I think he needed to possess power over others in order to keep them from possibly hurting him. Also his villainous father treated him abominably as a child so that Val never grew up knowing a genuine sense of right and wrong. Yet despite that, I liked that Val did have his limits. He drew the line at raping women or molesting little boys and girls like his father and the Lords of Chaos did. He also did what was necessary to protect his sister at great personal risk. Then we see this whole other side of Val, the boyish charmer who tinkers with clockwork “toys,” who loves books and has a gigantic library, and who seems completely entranced and intrigued by his Seraphine (as he calls Bridget) and wants to understand her morality. Val knows he’s handsome and has a great body, and he isn’t afraid to flaunt it, which gives a freedom to his character I found refreshing rather than merely conceited. And then there’s his flamboyant style. His dress, his surroundings, even his speech on occasion can be overindulgent and poetic and by turns could both amuse and touch me. Everything about him is big and elaborate and fanciful, and yes, a bit self-centered, but that only added to his freeness. He honestly doesn’t care at all what other people think of him. In many ways, Val reminds me of Deadpool, because he’s a little mad yet still oddly lovable, or Loki (Elizabeth Hoyt herself has cast Tom Hiddleston as Val and I think he’s a perfect choice), because he’s a mischievous troublemaker yet still embodies a boyish charm that I couldn’t help but love in spite of him doing bad things.
Bridget is the perfect foil for Val, grounding him and giving his life purpose. The secret illegitimate daughter of a certain aristocratic lady who has been a part of the series from the beginning, Bridget was raised by a working-class foster family due to the circumstances of her birth. She knows the value of hard work and has done just that to earn the position of head housekeeper at such a young age. She genuinely enjoys her work, but she came into Val’s employ originally to use her position to seek out blackmail material he had on her biological mother and another aristocratic lady. Before meeting him in the flesh, Bridget thinks he’s a no-good low-life who only thinks of himself, but after he comes out of hiding, she begins to get to know the real man. She sees glimmers of goodness in him and wants to bring that out of him and show him there’s a different path he can take that doesn’t involve hurting people. There are times when Bridget bests Val at his own game, foiling his plots by taking away his “playthings.” At those times, I found it intriguing that Val is never truly mad at her when he catches her, because he views it as all part of the game, and if anything, he almost seems to respect her all the more for temporarily getting the upper hand. Despite Val’s protestations that he doesn’t have a heart, I adored Bridget for being perceptive enough to see that he does, as well as kind and loving enough to nurture the goodness she sees. Through her patient tutelage she genuinely makes him into a better man.
There are several supporting characters in Duke of Sin who will be getting their own stories in the series or who already have. Bridget’s biological family play roles, as does Hippolyta Royle, all of whom we’ve seen in several previous books. Hippolyta is one of the most sought-after heiresses in England and her story continues from where it leaves off in this book, when she becomes the heroine of the next novella, Once Upon a Moonlit Night, which will be released this month (July 2016). We’re also introduced to Hugh Fitzroy, the king’s illegitimate son and the one the crown sends to clean up problems that arise. He gets an inauspicious introduction to the street urchin, Alf, in this book. This pair will go on to become the hero and heroine of the next full-length novel of the series, Duke of Pleasure, which is due for release in November (2016). Then there are the Lords of Chaos, whom I strongly suspect Ms. Hoyt patterned after the Hellfire clubs that were popular in the Georgian era. These dissolute aristocrats engage in all manner of heinous and debauched acts, and although they suffer a setback in this book, we haven’t heard the last of them, as they become the villains of Duke of Pleasure. Ms. Hoyt is equally as masterful at creating memorable animal characters as she is with her human ones, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bridget’s little dog, Pip, who’s absolutely adorable.
I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I can’t help it when it’s true. All of Elizabeth Hoyt’s books in her Maiden Lane series have been perfect or near-perfect reads for me, and Duke of Sin was no exception. I loved the story and the characters and think they were both expertly rendered. As usual the love scenes are sensual, steamy and creative. The romance is heartfelt and emotional. The mini fairy tale that accompanies it perfectly mirrors the main story. Everything about this book was spot-on. I couldn’t have asked for a better read and can’t wait for the next stories in the Maiden Lane series. I’m so excited to get two more yet this year. Yay!...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews For some reason, of late, I seem to have developed an interest in Indian culture. I’m not entirely sure why as India isn’t a pReviewed for THC Reviews For some reason, of late, I seem to have developed an interest in Indian culture. I’m not entirely sure why as India isn’t a place I’ve ever aspired to go in person, but I’ve discovered that I do enjoy being transported there within the pages of a good story. Since romance is my favorite fiction genre, I’m always on the lookout for a romance set in India or with Indian characters. Shobhan Bantwal came to my attention for two reasons: First she’s a local author in my area, and second, we both attended the same writer’s conference a few years back. While I don’t recall “officially” meeting her, I did take notice of her when she talked a little about her books in one of the classes I took. Consequently, when I got home, I immediately looked her up and decided to put The Dowry Bride on my TBR list, because it sounded quite fascinating. I’ve always been interested in the practices of other cultures as well as the darker side of life, and those are exactly the topics around which this book is centered. I have to commend the author for taking a hard look inside the persistence of the dowry system in India, despite it being outlawed, and the despicable practice of bride burning. These things alone made for an intriguing and suspenseful read that was only made all the more appealing by the inclusion of a sweet romantic element.
Megha is a typical young Indian wife who entered into an arranged marriage. She didn’t really want to marry her husband, but she was left with little other choice. After making good matches for their two older daughters and paying their dowries, her parents could ill-afford to do the same for her, so she ended up getting the short end of the stick, so to speak. They settled for the first young man to come along who was willing to take a beautiful bride in exchange for a much smaller than average dowry. Unfortunately, Megha is now stuck with the mother-in-law from hell, a dominating shrew who abuses her and treats her like nothing more than a servant. Her husband is a spineless momma’s boy who harbors no affection for Megha at all and barely touches her except to treat her like a sex slave. When her parents are unable to produce the dowry after one year of marriage and Megha hasn’t produced a child either, her MIL and husband conspire to do her in via bride burning. Fortunately Megha overhears their heinous plotting just in time and runs for her life.
I really felt deeply for Megha in her circumstances. Because of her culture and religion, she has few options for escape. She fears her parents would just send her back to her husband and to go to her sisters or best friend would bring shame and potential danger upon their households. Life for a woman on her own in India is a dangerous prospect at best, especially for one like Megha who hasn’t yet finished her higher education and has few marketable job skills. In this way, the story is reminiscent of historical romances, because of how repressed and backward the culture in India can be. It’s a very paternalistic society in which women are often oppressed. I had to give Megha mad props for at least trying to be a good wife and daughter-in-law. Even though she received nothing but scorn and abuse from her family by marriage, she did her work without complaint, maintained a good attitude, and even developed a little affection for her husband. I did wish sometimes that she would be a little more open and stop heaping so much guilt on her own head for things that weren’t her fault, but I realized I was applying a little too much of my Western sensibilities to her. She was merely a product of her culture and upbringing, and by the end, she’s beginning to blossom and come into her own. What she had to go through to get there made me very angry for her, and IMHO just went to show that fundamentalism in all it’s forms (religious or secular) is a dangerous thing to the well-being of people and the progress of society.
Luckily, Megha has a wonderful protector and ally in her husband’s cousin, Kiran. I love the fairy tale knight in shining armor, and Kiran is definitely that. Far from being blinded by familial connections, he already sees his cousin and aunt for what they are. He’s also been in love with Megha from afar since the day he met her, so he’s more than happy to hide her and protect her from a deadly threat when she comes seeking his help. Kiran was perfect in every way, and everything I love in a romantic hero: kind, caring, compassionate, patient, loving, understanding, supportive, passionate. I could go on extolling his virtues, but I’ll stop there. I adored him not only for giving Megha a much-needed safe refuge, but most of all for wanting to marry her as soon as she was free of her husband and not caring what society might think of him for marrying a divorcée, and not just any divorced woman, but his own cousin-in-law. Kiran gave Megha more love and acceptance than she’d ever experienced in her life, while also giving her the space and freedom to spread her wings and fly, which in my view, is exactly how a man should treat a woman.
I’ve noticed this book has rather mediocre ratings at online book sites. Not having read any of the reviews yet, I’m not sure why, but IMHO, it deserves better. It admittedly wasn’t perfect for me. It did take a little while for me to become accustomed to the author’s writing style, but once I did, it was an easy read. Ms. Bantwal has a rather narrative heavy style, with a tendency to perhaps go a little overboard with the rhetorical questions in the characters’ introspections. Occasionally she also treads a little more into telling rather than showing territory, and she also explores other character perspectives that made me a little anxious to get back to the romance. However, this was the author’s first novel, so I felt it was a great initial effort. The only other thing that could have been a little better for me was the ending. I’m not sure how the book was originally marketed, but I came to learn of it through romance channels. Therefore, I was expecting a traditional HEA, which isn’t quite what happens. Instead, it has a strong HFN ending, with things gradually falling into place for our happy couple to get that HEA down the road in the somewhat near future. We just don’t see it happen in the book. It’s more about Megha coming into her own and finding herself, with the romance playing a part in that. So as a romance fan, I would have preferred for them to have a more solid HEA, but I still turned the final page confident that it will happen for them someday because they’re still so much in love and committed to one another in spite of the roadblocks they’ve had to overcome.
Otherwise, The Dowry Bride was a lovely story that I enjoyed reading. Although Megha has a tendency to beat herself up a little too much, she’s still a very sympathetic and relatable character. Kiran is the proverbial fairy tale prince, who I fell madly in love with. Their romance is sweet and tender with a strong emotional connection, just the way I like it. I came away from reading it, feeling like I learned something about Indian culture and social issues, which is always a plus. So for anyone who enjoys other cultures and is looking for a romantic story that’s a little outside the norm, I would definitely recommend The Dowry Bride. It may have been my first read by Shobhan Bantwal, but I’ll certainly be looking into reading more of her work.
Note: For sensitive readers, there is one scene in which Kiran and Megha are technically cheating on her husband. In my view, though, the husband gave up all rights to Megha the minute he started plotting her demise, but for those who are sticklers and can’t stand cheating of any kind, I thought it worth mentioning....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Many a little girl dreams of growing up to marry a handsome prince. As a lover of fairy tales in my childhood, I kReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Many a little girl dreams of growing up to marry a handsome prince. As a lover of fairy tales in my childhood, I know I did. And that’s part of the premise around which The Prince’s Bride is based. Our heroine, Jocelyn, believed from the time she was ten years old that she was going to marry a handsome prince. She’s been having a successful season in London and has even caught the attention of a visiting foreign prince, but when he entices her into a private meeting at a ball, she ends up the target of assassins when she witnesses another private meeting she shouldn’t have. Enter our hero, Rand, a Viscount who works for the English government and who has been investigating the threat to the prince. Knowing that the assassins will probably go after Jocelyn again, he secretly uses her as bait, which nearly gets her killed. Feeling badly that he placed Jocelyn and her family in danger, he vows to protect her by any means necessary, even entering into a marriage of convenience, so that he can whisk her away to his uncle’s rural castle for safe-keeping, where they fall madly in love. It was all a romantic fairy tale scenario that I very much enjoyed reading.
While reading the last couple of books in the series, where we first meet Jocelyn, I had some reservations about her character. I could relate to her dreams of marrying a prince, and sometimes she seemed very sweet. Other times, however, she seemed a little shallow and mercenary, something that Rand believes of her as well in the beginning. Admittedly, Jocelyn is none too happy about marrying a mere viscount at first, but it’s not just that his title isn’t what she’d hoped for. It’s also because she was being forced to marry a man out of convenience rather than choice, which was understandable. From there, Jocelyn only grew, and I have to say that I also grew to like her quite well. She’s instantly charmed by Rand’s uncle and his castle even if it is in disrepair, and she begins to look at the bright side of her marriage. At least her husband is attractive to the point that she’s almost constantly hot and bothered when he’s around. She figures if she’s going to be married she might as well take advantage of the perks of matrimony. It was really funny how Rand was trying to woo her into wanting to make love with him, but she was already there and couldn’t wait. Jocelyn also continues to prove herself as she falls for Rand. She quickly comes to terms with the idea that being married to him could be great even though she initially believes he doesn’t have much to offer in the way of title or money. Love soon trumps the material things for her, so that when the full truth comes out, the reader knows that Jocelyn is being sincere. I also like that she wasn’t the featherbrained beauty she previously seemed to be, but actually showed intelligence in thinking several things through. I was also glad to see that she finally gave up her vanity in favor of having better eyesight by wearing her glasses.
Out of Thomas’s three friends who were introduced in the previous book, Rand was my favorite. He turned out to be a dashing hero here. I loved his protectiveness toward Jocelyn and that even though she wasn’t the wife of his choosing, he was willing to marry her out of a sense of honor and duty. Since he was expecting her to be shallow, he’s very surprised to find depth and intelligence underneath her beautiful exterior. I like that he was more interested in marrying someone with intelligence rather than beauty, because that’s how I am. And of course, he got both. I also like that in spite of being wildly attracted to her, he didn’t just demand his husbandly rights or fall right into bed with her. He actually wanted to romance her a little and get her to want him, which wasn’t too difficult.;-) Rand didn’t plan on falling in love, but he found that Jocelyn was an easy woman to love. I also adored him for trusting her. When Alexei basically kidnapped her to gain Rand’s cooperation, he appropriately read into the clues she left behind for him and instinctively knew that she hadn’t left him for another man even though that was nearly everyone else’s initial thought.
Since the bulk of the story takes place at a rural castle, there aren’t as many supporting characters on the canvas as there were with some of the previous books. Jocelyn's two sisters, Marianne and Becky, are seen a few times, and her brother, Richard (The Husband List), finally returns from his lengthy trip to America. Marianne and Thomas (The Marriage Lesson) marry, but it’s little more than a mention in the background. Richard and Thomas also accompany Rand on his long journey to Avalonia, when he goes after Jocelyn. Rand’s uncle was a hoot. Other than him, I’d say that Prince Alexei is the primary supporting character in this book. I was never quite sure what to make of him, because he has his moments of decency, but he’s also a manipulator. I guess in the end he was OK, because he didn’t make good on any of this threats and at his heart was only looking out for the well-being of his country. While none of the unattached characters seem to carry on and get their own books, it does look like Alexei’s sister (who wasn’t seen in this story) will become the heroine of the next book of the series, Her Highness, My Wife.
Overall, The Prince’s Bride was a very enjoyable read for me. Like its predecessors in the Effington Family & Friends series, it had its light-hearted moments, but it also had some serious ones as well, primarily in the form of a little political intrigue. I think this gave it some substance and kept it from being overly breezy which was my main issue with a couple of the other books in the series. While the reasons for Rand and Jocelyn needing to marry so quickly could have been a little stronger (they didn’t really try very hard to come up with other potential ways to protect her), as could a few other plot points, such as Rand capitulating to Alexei’s reasons for luring him to Avalonia, it was still a good read. Also Rand and Jocelyn do fall in love rather quickly, but for some reason, to me, it didn’t seem like it. Maybe I was simply enamored of the fairy tale quality of the story or the marriage of convenience (regardless of the strength of the reasons it’s still a favorite trope of mine). Or maybe it’s because I felt a strong emotional connection between Rand and Jocelyn. Whatever it was, I did have fun reading this book. Up until now, I’ve found enjoyment in Victoria Alexander's stories, but I hadn’t yet found one that I could call a real keeper. With The Prince’s Bride, now I have, and I’m looking forward to reading more of the series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews After an OK reading experience with Maggie Mine, the first book of this series, an unnamed duet of Scottish medieval stories,Reviewed for THC Reviews After an OK reading experience with Maggie Mine, the first book of this series, an unnamed duet of Scottish medieval stories, I picked up The Great Scottish Devil with fairly low expectations. That was probably a good thing, because IMHO, it didn’t live up to the fairly favorable ratings I’ve seen for it on the various book websites. When I first started reading it, I thought I might enjoy it a little better than the first book, but by about the mid-point, I was starting to roll my eyes in frustration and disbelief at a lot of things and I’m afraid the story never recovered. I ended up having a lot of the same issues with this book as I did with the previous one, perhaps even more, so it was just an OK read for me, and one that I actually liked slightly less than the previous one.
For starters, just like with the first book, the characterizations are pretty one-dimensional. Brodie has recently returned from fighting in the Crusades, where he lost his father and brother, as well as his own memory. Having stopped at his sister's new home upon his return from the battlefield in the previous book, he hasn’t yet made it back to his own castle. On the way there, he and his men encounter a young woman whose father, a tinker, has died by the side of the road. They help her bury her father, and Brodie insists that she come to Urquhart with him and live under his protection. Initially Brodie comes off as something of an ill-tempered jerk, who needs his second in command to interpret his moods to make him seem more noble. I understood that he'd had a rough time of it, being gravely injured and losing both his family and his memory in the Crusades, but we learn nothing of how these things make him feel. Instead we merely get treated to his cranky moods, occasionally punctuated with a small act of kindness. Eventually his moods start to even out a little, but there are still a lot of other things that bothered me. Much is made of him being an honorable man of his word, but the only thing he really does to show this is insist upon honoring the commitment that he doesn’t even remember making to marry an English noblewoman. We also learn that he has severe headaches as the memories try to break through, but he doesn’t seek any treatment for them even though Annabel supposedly has some skill with herbs. I’m afraid there was precious little information to make me feel genuine sympathy toward Brodie, much less fall in love with him.
Annabel is stubborn and willful, initially resenting Brodie's interference and not really wanting to go with him when he finds her at the side of the road with her dead father. She's grateful for his help with burying her father, but she simply wants to continue on with her traveling tinker's business. Of course, being the domineering alpha that he is, Brodie won't let her, insisting she come with him and apparently his spankings can be quite persuasive (insert eye roll). I understood him wanting to protect a young woman who was all alone in the world, but he could certainly have been nicer about it. When Annabel learns from Douglas, his friend and second in command, about what Brodie's been through, she instantly turns sympathetic toward him, and that coupled with her physical attraction to him is what passes for her falling for him. Through cryptic clues found in her father’s dying words and a couple of faded papers she discovers in the tinker’s wagon, Annabel soon realizes that the people who raised her weren’t her real parents and that someone is out to kill her. There was ample room here for a whole host of emotions for Anna. Finding out that the people you thought were your real family actually aren’t would be shocking enough, but add in the trauma of nearly being murdered on top of it and she should have been having all kinds of feels, yet this area is pretty much glossed over. In fact, the couple of times that she shows some emotion when having trouble adjusting to her new parents, it earns her nothing bur reprimands and spankings. Anna often feels sorry for Brodie when he spanks her, thinking how he's under so much stress, which made zero sense to me. If a man spanked me as hard and as often as Brodie spanks Anna, regardless of what he’s going through, I'd be running the other way, not feeling sorry for the guy. Anna is also said to be loved by all the servants, soldiers, villagers, etc. at the castle, but she never has any interactions with any of them to show why or how she became beloved by them.
The romantic relationship is equally as one-dimensional as the individual characterizations. I could sense the strong attraction between Brodie and Annabel, but the why of it completely eluded me. They're just instantly in lust with each other almost from the first moment they meet, but it's definitely more told than shown. There’s even precious little physical description of the two characters for me to understand their attraction. She merely thinks he's handsome, if irritatingly domineering, while he acts like an untried schoolboy around her, as though just because she's female, he must be hard 24/7 whenever she's around. I don't even recall him thinking she's pretty, much less beautiful, and at first glance, he even thought she was a boy. There were no real romantic moments between them and I found many missed opportunities to build a stronger emotional connection. Conversations and other moments that could have helped show their growing care and affection for one another are told after the fact, when showing them in the moment would have really lent itself to creating an actual sense of romance and a true budding relationship.
Even the love scenes were a total bust for me. I hesitate to even categorize this book as erotic romance, because of the weak love scenes. The only reason I have is because of the spanking element, but even that isn’t the type that’s usually found in erotica, which I’ll explain in a moment. As for the sex scenes – and I prefer calling them that rather then love scenes, because there’s no emotion in them – they’re short (the longest one is only about a page), infrequent (there are only two instances of them having sex and one where he fingers her), and lacking in detail. The first sex scene was truly eye-rolling and very unsatisfying on a number of levels. In a playful and affectionate moment, while straddling Brodie, Anna "accidentally" sits down on his erection, driving it inside of her to the hilt with absolutely no foreplay or preparation. Ouch! She’s a virgin, yet it causes her only the briefest instant of pain before she's totally into it. Uh-huh, yeah, sure... Then it fades to black before they even climax. The second scene is just as bad if not worse. He bends her over a bed, poised to enter her, asks her to marry him, and when she says yes, he slams into her, again with no foreplay or preparation, and again, that’s where the scene ends. Despite having a little bit of erotic language and a whole lot of spanking in this book, the love scenes most definitely were not erotic at all or even romantic. Leave out those two elements, and this book would barely rate a warm on my sensuality scale.
Now for the spanking, which wasn’t my cup of tea at all, and actually made me rather uncomfortable. I can enjoy a good spanking scene in an erotic romance, but here it’s presented in the form of domestic discipline, which differs from BDSM style spanking. For anyone who is unfamiliar with DD, it’s basically a form of discipline used by the head of household (typically the husband) to punish his wife (or in this case, ward) for bad behavior, and in most cases isn’t directly connected with sexual desire. Much like with a good love scene, a good spanking scene should reveal something about one or both of the characters or propel the plot forward. As with the first book, it seems like the story has been built around a prescribed number of spanking scenes, rather than the spanking scenes being an organic and integral part of the story. Just like with the relationship building, I found missed opportunities for making it so. It was almost like the author was creating excuses for Brodie to spank Anna. Case in point, he spanks Anna the day after he meets her, when she isn't even legally his ward yet, but he holds off for more than a week on spanking his fiancée in spite of her being far more snotty, demanding, and willful than Anna was, IMHO. Spanking for the sake of spanking is just like sex for the sake of sex. If those scenes can be removed and still tell the same story, then they're weak and meaningless. The author also seems to come up with some pretty thinly veiled excuses for it to happen as well, and many of these scenarios made me uncomfortable (eg. When Anna is spanked for having trouble adjusting to the new parents, or when Brodie spanked her at the end for leaving without telling him she was pregnant, when she really had no other choice). The spankings are always undertaken as a form of punishment for Annabel, and although a couple of times, it leads to some sexual desire, for the most part, it doesn’t. One of the spankings was even administered by her father. In one scene, Brodie gives Anna a bare-bottom whipping of a dozen hard lashes with a leather belt, which would most likely have left welts, even though it’s never mentioned, while she bites down on his knife sheath. IMHO, there's absolutely nothing sexy or even remotely acceptable about a punishment that requires the person to bite down on a piece of leather to staunch the pain. Also to the best of my knowledge, true BDSM is consented to by both parties generally for the purpose of sexual titillation, has safety measures in place, and requires aftercare, not merely an arbitrary punishment undertaken by one person simply to break the will of the other party. In this story, none of these things occur, so there's no equality in this part of the relationship, which to me, felt like little more than abuse.
Lastly, I took issue with several aspects of the writing itself and the historical details, or lack thereof. The writing was often over-simplistic and sometimes repetitive, making me wish the author had made use of a thesaurus. The two major conflict points in the plot were poorly executed. The reasons for the villain’s pursuit of Annabel were extremely weak, and Brodie’s fiancée simply crying off their engagement that was decreed by the king himself was something that never would have happened, regardless of whether the two parties involved were in love with others. I also strongly questioned Brodie's right to spank a woman to whom he wasn't related and who also wasn't legally under his guardianship. There were other historical details that I found questionable, anachronistic, or outright fallacies as well. For example, Annabel is said to pull a dirk from her boot. Dirks are typically over a foot long (I know because I own a historical reproduction of one), so definitely not something one could have carried in a boot. Instead, that would be more like a sgain dubh. Secondly, the dirk, or at least a weapon called by that name, didn’t exist in 13th century Scotland. The term didn’t come into use in Scotland until around 1600. Then there’s the kilt, which also didn’t exist at that time and didn’t come into vogue until the Jacobite era as well. Yes, that's right, I did my research, and Braveheart had it completely wrong, apparently deliberately so. 13th century Scots wore the same braies and loose shirts seen throughout most of Europe at that time. Finally, the Scots dialect was shaky at best. If I saw the word naught used in place of not one more time I might have gone insane, especially since it was used with no regard to whether the character was Scots or English.
Now admittedly, I’ve had a lot of criticisms of this book, but for some reason, I wasn’t completely and utterly bored while reading it in spite of its weaknesses. I couldn’t really say why except that perhaps it amused me on some level. Also unlike some books where I have to concentrate for all I’m worth and still have trouble making heads or tails of what’s happening, this was an easy read, albeit one lacking the depth I crave. I also didn’t completely dislike the characters like I have with some other stories. Even though I didn’t understand Annabel's apparent liking for and need for spankings, she was a nice girl (so to each his own), and although I could have done with Brodie administering far less spankings, he seemed to a have a good heart underneath the bluster and caveman act and didn’t entirely rub me the wrong way. So bottom line, if you’re the type of reader who is more forgiving of weaknesses and inaccuracies than I am, and you’re really into DD-style spanking (I can’t stress enough that this book isn’t BDSM and isn’t particularly erotic), then you’ll probably enjoy The Great Scottish Devil. As for me, though, it was barely an average read, and I’m beginning to think that Starla Kaye’s writing style may not be for me.
Note: Due to the spanking element which transitions into sex or sexual desire a couple of times, I feel compelled to categorize this book as erotic, even though to me, it’s really a standard historical romance with a lot of spanking in it. However, the spanking is presented as domestic discipline, which differs from the discipline aspect of BDSM in that it isn't intended to titillate but to punish bad behavior and maintain control of the household. The love scenes aren’t very steamy at all, but there is some stronger language used on occasion....more