One of the first adult works of historical fiction that I ever read was Susan Vreeland's THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA. So, naturally, when I saw that a graphic novel biography of Artemisia Gentileschi was coming out, I had to have it. I mean, really.
I was looking at some of the reviews and saw some people taking issue with the art style and the content.
First, the art style is somewhat simplistic. It is done with line drawing, as you would with a ball point pen. I really enjoyed this, personally, although I will say that this book is very text-heavy. In fact, it is basically an illustrated textbook, and dense with information. Sometimes this can be difficult to consume since the line shading does make the pages "busy," and it can be hard to focus on any particular thing since so much is going on. I personally liked the art style a lot, but your mileage may vary.
Regarding the dark content, well. That's true. This book is set during the Italian Renaissance, when Italy was comprised of many city-states, some of which were ruled over by corrupt and brutal families who would stoop to violence in order to assure that they maintained their foothold in power. It's definitely not for those faint of heart. In fact, some of the horrific scenes from Game of Thrones borrow heavily from actual historical events from Renaissance Italy, so you can only imagine, I'm sure, the horrors in this book.
Women were not respected at all during this time, and many people saw Artemisia as vulnerable and fair game. Her rape and the subsequent trial were awful, and the artist did a good job depicting how upsetting this was (it almost certainly inspired her painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes). Despite that, she fared better than most, despite being tortured under interrogation, and the fact that she was able to accomplish so much and become so famous in a time when women were still mostly regarded as chattel is only testament to her influence and her brilliance, especially in a period of such adversity.
I liked how this wasn't just a biography, but also an exploration of the changes occurring (quite rapidly) in Renaissance Italy, a taste of the art scene and some of the key players, as well as a bit of a background on the wars between the protestants and the Catholics, and the in-house fighting among the various city-states of Italy before they were united. You really get a solid feel for the zeitgeist of Renaissance Italy and how all of those factors influenced Artemisia's style and life. That's way cool.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
Whoa. That was one of the more difficult books I've struggled to get through in a while-- not because it was bad, but because it was so unrelentingly brutal. After finishing this, all I could think was, Game of Thrones, eat your heart out, because there's a new bad bitch on the block. Only since this is about a bisexual elf and a gay dragon, I guess you could call it Gay of Thrones. Or, my favorite alternative title: Lysander Can't Catch a Fucking Break.
IRON & FIRE continues where the first book, SILK & STEEL, left off. Humans, dragons, and elves are at war. Eroan, the elf, was captured when he tried to assassinate the dragon queen. Obviously, that failed, and he ended up as the prisoner of the royal dragons. Lysander is the young prince, and the black sheep of the family because he's gay and unbreedable and also because everyone thinks he's sniveling, weak and pathetic. He drowns his shame in alcohol, but after meeting the elf and seeing him remain unbroken, he starts to want to drown in something else... like that booty. The feeling even seems like maybe it's mutual.
Of course, this is not your mother's romance novel, and absolutely nothing works out. There is rape, slavery, torture, violence, incest, and abuse, and basically a whole entire rainbow of trigger warnings. The book ends with both leads apart and hating each other once more because of a betrayal. Eroan must return to his people as an outcast to convince them to fight the dragons, and Lysander ends up being an abused and broken plaything, only to be reborn like a phoenix from flames as a fucking death machine fueled by Kill Bill levels of revenge and rage, including a certain elf.
The plotting and the reveals in this book were really great. Second books often end up falling short because they end up as placeholders for the series finale, and have mostly expositions and padding. Not this book. There were expositions, yes, but it was an entire roller-coaster of W-T-F getting there, and if you thought the first book was dark, this one is where Nash really snuffs out all the lights.
Knowing what I know now about the dragons, I'm dying to see what happens in the last book. I can't wait for the epic showdown I know is going to happen. I keep hoping Lysander will catch a break, or six, and that Eroan will get his head out of his ass long enough to realize that he doesn't really know everything. Also, I actually don't want Akiem to die. He's a psycho dragon, but he's my psycho dragon, and he's one sexy mother-fucker (literally, yikes) of a villain and I'm kind of obsessed. You should see his fight scenes and read some of his one-liners if you don't believe me, damn. He's fire. ...more
Ever since I read C.S. Pacat's CAPTIVE PRINCE, I've been looking for other dark fantasy books that have that same fantasy bodice-ripper vibe. SILK & STEEL comes the closest of all the other books I've read to capturing that same balance of unapologetic smut and court intrigue, kind of like if GAME OF THRONES was written for the female gaze. Honestly, though, it had me at angsty dragon prince and arrogant warrior elf.
Prince Lysander is the younger son of a sadistic dragon queen who has physically and sexually abused him his whole life. He's treated as "broken" because of his attraction to men, and now she's trying to sell him and breed him with one of the other dragon clans, one that revels in violent orgies. Oh, boy. Eroan, on the other hand, is an elven assassin charged with the murder of Lysander's mother; he would have succeeded were it not for Lysander himself, who was the only one able to cut him down in battle. Now he's a prisoner in the dragons' tower, and finds himself perplexed by the silent, brooding dragon prince who has taken it upon himself to be his gaoler.
I think the most crucial point to mention for this book is that it is NOT for the faint of heart. It has all of the same triggers that CAPTIVE PRINCE did, and a lot of the world-building centers around rape or sexual violence. I didn't feel like the rape was romanticized, and the relationship between the two heroes isn't based on rape, but it is very much present in this book and committed by both men and women alike. There's also incest, which is gross. Nash also doesn't shy away from violence-- the fight scenes in this book are really well done, but part of what makes them so is no small amount of gore.
One thing I really liked is that this isn't GFY; Eroan is bisexual and has had relationships with women. Lysander, on the other hand, is gay and identifies as such; it's a huge problem for him as a prince in a homophobic dragon court that keeps trying to breed him with women. He's subjected to a lot of abuse because of that-- not just from his mother, but also from one of the other dragon clans that ends up drugging him into a stupor so that he'll be too blitzed out of his mind to realize that he's having sex with a woman. I think these scenes might be really hard for some people to read.
On the other hand, I liked that this book was so dark and didn't shy away from getting down and dirty in order to tell the story the way the author intended. It really did remind me of a bodice-ripper, not just because of the darkness, but also because of the globe-trotting adventures, alliances, betrayals, and fight scenes that made a lot of those 1970s bodice-rippers so much fun to read. This book is decently long, and yet the pages just flew by. I was never bored and was always wondering what happened next, and I wasn't even too mad when the cliffhanger I totally predicted happened because I had the other book in the series on stand-by, which I'm going to be buddy-reading with a friend.
If you enjoy dark fantasy novels or bodice-rippers and don't mind books with lots of trigger-warnings, I think you'll really, really like this-- especially if you're familiar with Pippa DaCosta's other work and want to see her try her hand at something different. ON TO BOOK TWO.
Box sets are always tough to rate. Do you rate based on your feelings of the series as a whole? Or do you take the scientific approach and average out your ratings of all the other books in the box set? I personally take the scientific approach, which means that sometimes my rating for the box sets is lower than my ratings for various books in the series. Such is the case with Dirty Angels, as there were some books I liked, and other books I thought were really lame. The quality of these stories can be highly variable.
Dirty Angels is a spin-off series about Javier Bernal from the author's other Artists series. Javier is a crime boss who deals in drugs and power. The first book is about how he meets his love interest, Luisa. The second book is a secondary romance about Javier's sister, Alana, hooking up with one of Javier's ex-mercenaries-turned-traitor. The third book is about Javier and Luisa again, only now they're married and it's on the rocks, and Javier is on the verge of losing everything due to his ignorance and pride, when one of his associates decides to stage a coup.
Honestly, this book was close to perfect. I loved the romance between Javier and Luisa, and that it grows from such a dark place. He was cruel but still human, and even though he did terrible things to her as his captive, I thought that Luisa's vulnerability and isolation were really well-portrayed. She was already a survivor of abuse and strife, so it made sense that she'd find his strength appealing. It's got a lot of violence, but it's used as a spice and not a sauce, so even though the scenes were unpleasant, the book never felt drenched with it. DIRTY ANGELS is mostly an edgy erotic romance.
I kind of hated this short story. It felt pointless and did not match the tone of the other books. Esteban is a bad man, and I did not want to read about his meet-cute with some lame artist in Hawaii indulging in cultural tourism as an attempt to cure her artistic ennui and suicidal ideation. After reading about Esteban in DIRTY PROMISES, I actually wanted to go back and deduct the half-star I'd added in my original rating to round up because I was so mad to see him romanticized. Yuck.
This was another story I didn't like. It has nothing to do with the first book - instead it's about a mercenary who's mentioned a handful of times in Artists and Dirty Angels and one of Javier's sisters, Alana. Derek is supposed to kill Alana but falls in lust with her at first sight and changes his mind literally while he's on the job. It felt way too fluffy, which was jarring after the dark tone set by DIRTY ANGELS. There's a chase scene and fight scene at the end that have more of the action I was expecting, but most of this book was pretty boring and I didn't care about either character very much.
** In between the second book and the third book, there are two excerpts for books written by the author's fellow author friends. I didn't care for either excerpt, and I thought it was kind of sneaky to put them in between the two books, as opposed to the back of the book. It felt like Halle was forcing us to page through these excerpts, which I didn't appreciate. Ads should go in the back, and we should be able to choose to read them if we want instead of having them forced upon us. #JustSaying
The most violent book in the bunch, by far. Any trigger warning you can think of, this book probably has it. The violence fits the tone of the first book and is probably realistic for this kind of setting, but it's definitely hard to read and people who are sensitive to content involving rape and gore should exercise caution when picking up DIRTY PROMISES. I was actually not displeased with how this ended the series, and thought it struck the right balance between hopeful and depraved.
Also, it addresses the events in DIRTY DEEDS, which is that Alana isn't actually dead. (I don't think this is a spoiler, since she's in the second book and people are saying it has an HEA - I mean, duh.) That was a thread I was afraid the author was going to forget about, but she didn't. Only continuity error I actually spied was that she spells Derek's name as "Derrick" in the end of this book. Whoops.
Overall, the Dirty Angels series is a pretty good set of books to read if you like dark and edgy romances that feel borderline-realistic and don't try to be too neat. The first book is the best, and I think you could honestly get away with just reading the first book or, if you're not afraid of violence, maybe the first and the third, as one of my friends advised me. The second book feels kind of unnecessary, and along with the short story, drags down the quality of the series as a whole.
"The real cartel life is not pretty, not easy and certainly NOT romantic and that is more than reflected in Dirty Promises."
You know, I kept coming back and looking at the Goodreads blurb while reading this book, and thinking about those words, "The real cartel life is not [...] romantic and that is more than reflected in [these books]." I asked myself, "Is it, though? Is it?" I mean, the Dirty Angels series are romances, they're tagged as romances on Amazon, and they (sort of) have HEAs. Worse still, she wrote a meet-cute story for Esteban, which is included in the box set version of these books. Esteban, who ends up being such an Evil McBad that he could double as a Bond villain, or land a supporting role in American Psycho as Serial Murderer #2.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the last book in the Dirty Angels series. A lot of my friends didn't like it, and some of them even came onto my reviews and status updates of DIRTY DEEDS and DIRTY PROMISES to warn me about what I was getting into. Ultimately, I think I ended up liking the book more than they did, but I think that was partially due to the warning, and I assumed the worst as a result.
DIRTY PROMISES is a disgusting, evil little book that jumps the shark fifty times before diving back into a sea of blood, torture, and rape. The progression of this series is truly odd. DIRTY ANGELS was a pretty straightforward captor/captive romance with a few gruesome scenes at critical points to drive home certain character elements or plot points, but it's like the author looked at the reviews where people took issue with that violence, and thought to herself, "OK, I need to tone it down." So she wrote DIRTY DEEDS, a romance about two secondary characters only peripherally related to the series and not really about Javier at all. Apart from the hero originally having the heroine on his hit list, it's basically your ordinary new adult romance about a muscular bad boy who hooks up with a good girl from a bad family, and all the people trying to keep them apart. But then, again, it's like the author looked at the reviews saying it was too fluffy, and thought to herself, "OK, I need to make the series a total horrorshow and throw in lots of rape, because that's what the people want!" And then she wrote, DIRTY PROMISES, I guess, to show that she keeps her promises.
DIRTY PROMISES is about Javier and Luisa again, which makes the first and last book a duology if you cut out the middleman. After the "loss" of his sister, Javier has gone a little crazy. In books .5-2 of The Artists trilogy, he was a smooth criminal. In book 3 of The Artists trilogy, he comes off as an incompetent coward. In book 1 of Dirty Angels, he comes off as a suave sociopath. In this book, I don't know what he is, but I didn't like it. He's constantly cheating on Luisa, which doesn't really feel realistic, seeing as how he gave up some of his ways to be with her in the first book. Now, he's decided that he needs to push her away. In the meantime, he's torturing people for the fun of it because he says it gets him off. In case that wasn't bad enough, there's Esteban, who is planning on staging a power coup and taking the cartel - and Luisa - away from Javier.
Anyone who tells you to be careful with this series is right. The first book was pretty tolerable except for an abuse scene that was pretty bad and a torture scene that was worse. This book has multiple rape scenes and very, very, very graphic torture scenes. The sex scenes that are consensual are disturbing, with blood play, weapons being used as sex toys (as in DARK PARADISE), and at one point, a threesome that is used much like Hamlet's play was: to force a confession of infidelity. Readers may also take issue with the fake that one of the villains is coded as being bisexual, even if he says he isn't gay. The way it's written kind of feels like his sexuality is being used for shock value, and while that's the status quo with most of these characters and their bizarre fetishes, it can get into shady territory when orientation is involved. Anne Stuart's INTO THE FIRE does something similar.
DIRTY PROMISES ends the series in a much better way than BOLD TRICKS did, and I do think it brings both closure to the series and Javier's character arc full circle. I understand why people liked this book and I understand also why people didn't like it; both groups have their points, and it really depends on which side of the whole "sexual and physical violence used for titillation" fence you fall on. I read a lot of bodice-rippers and horror, so the scenes didn't bother me as much, but there were still several parts where I decided to put the book down and take a break because it was getting too dark. Ultimately, I did like this book, I think, but I probably wouldn't read it again...
I loved THE COMPANION so much that I immediately set out to buy the next book in the series after finishing it. How could I not? THE COMPANION had everything I love in a vampire romance novel: it was dark, it was erotic, the hero and the heroine were likable and intelligent and had great chemistry. It was amazing.
THE HUNGER is a very different beast.
The hero, John, is a spy for England investigating Napoleon Bonaprte's activities in France. The heroine, Beatrix, is a vampire who has grown weary with her life. We meet Beatrix in The COMPANION as well, but she is much more vibrant there than here. In backstories, we learn that she was basically Asharti's adoptive sister, and that their guardian was a vampire named Stephan who traversed the boundary between guardian and lover.
John is very jaded with women and thinks they're all a bunch of simpering tricksters, but is attracted to Beatrix despite himself. Beatrix finds his defiance bemusing, and sees him as a human enigma. They don't have the deep connection that the two leads of the previous book had; theirs is a physical attraction that inexplicably morphs into love when it's convenient for the plot.
There were some good portions in this book. I liked Beatrix's flashback scenes, and that scene when John is thrown on a prison boat was good. As with the previous book, the male lead is sexually abused and tortured by Asharti, which gives this vampire novel more of a horror flavor than many of its contemporary brethren. Some of the abuse scenes are very graphic. There's a final confrontation scene that's pretty dramatic, and was the only time I actually felt anxious for the characters.
I'm sorry to say that I didn't much care for THE HUNGER as a whole. I found myself skimming large swaths of it, wishing I were reading something else. It was much, much longer than it needed to be. There were definitely times when I was asking myself when it was going to end. I'm more intrigued by the sequel, THE BURNING, which no longer appears to be sold in the Kindle store. It's the only book in the series that isn't available for individual sale, and I wondered if maybe that racy and gritty summary had something to do with it. I hope not, since that's what made me want it in the first place.
Unless THE BURNING is published again, I think I might just stop at book two.
This is one of those books that is going to make you really, really uncomfortable, like TAMPA, INDECENT, or WHITE OLEANDER. Child sexual abuse is a tough subject and any time a novel revolves entirely around that concept, things are going to be icky. You know what you're in for from the very beginning, when Jasira's mother sends her away for "seducing" her boyfriend into shaving her pubic area, blaming her child instead of the man. Jasira ends up living with her father in the Texas suburbs, filled with a strange blend of guilt, confusion, and resentment.
Jasira is half-Lebanese and half-Irish. Her biraciality leads to a lot of interesting and important dialogues that I didn't pick up on the first time I read this book as a teenager. For example, Jasira's father at one point implies that he can't be racist because of his brown skin but then gets very angry at the idea that they are "black" and insists that Middle Eastern means being white. Jasira's boyfriend in the book is black, and her father is infuriated by that and can't seem to see the hypocrisy seeing as his ex-wife was white and that he is also a man of color facing many struggles. There's also some pretty interesting discussions about the Gulf War and how that affected many Americans' perceptions of Muslim-Americans or Middle Eastern-Americans which are still relevant with regard to many xenophobic and racially charged post-9/11 stereotypes that endure to this day.
Jasira's father lives next to a bigoted army reservist named Mr. Vuoso who ends up grooming and then later, sexually abusing Jasira. Jasira's boyfriend, Thomas, also takes advantage of her. That's an interesting dichotomy: what abuse looks like at the peer level, and what it looks like at the guardian level. Both of Jasira's parents are also abusive in their own way - her father is physically abusive, and her mother is neglectful and oddly jealous of her daughter's relationships, romantic and filial. Jasira is so starved for affection and woefully ignorant of sex, and how it's supposed to work, and it's really heart-breaking how her abuser takes advantage and ends up worming his way into her life.
I feel like the best way to read this book is to read it like LOLITA - read it like LOLITA in the "correct" way, that is. A lot of people who read LOLITA take it at face value, and think, "Wow, that child was a harlot, seducing that older man like that!" But Jasira's other lovely neighbors, Melina and Gil, who actually end up providing shelter for her when she needs it, have a different perspective that makes Jasira's unreliable narration a little easier to read: a child who has sex with an adult, even if he or she claims to want it, is still a victim of rape because the adult should know better. Jasira was confused and didn't know what she wanted, and really wanted someone to say no to her and protect her and instead ended up becoming a victim to a predatory adult who wouldn't stop.
There's a movie based on the book that's a bit old, now. The cast looks good and it has good reviews, but I imagine it'd be hard to watch. TOWELHEAD is definitely not an easy read - even the title, which is a slur that is thrown at Jasira several times over the course of the novel, makes this a difficult book to discuss. I did enjoy it a lot though and found Jasira to be a compelling narrator. If you're into books like WHITE OLEANDER, you'll probably really enjoy TOWELHEAD.
I am a woman of refined and exquisite taste - except when it comes to my taste in books, where I read whatever trash I can get my hands on. THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE is the perfect example of smutty pulp that has been all but forgotten with the passage of time. I happened upon this author randomly while checking out books shelved under the "bodice ripper" tag on Amazon, and was delighted to find that, unlike the vast majority of pulpy bodice rippers, Fancy DeWitt's books were still available in ebook format, presumably in the original edition and without the PC-rewrites authors like Catherine Coulter like to do to make their books more palatable to modern audiences.
This is my second Fancy DeWitt book. The first book, WILD HEARTS, was a rapey Western reminiscent of SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. I enjoyed it, despite some slow portions and OTT scenes. THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE could not be more different. Instead of being set in the 19th century "old west," THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE is set in Tudor England, right around the time that the Catholics and the Protestants were really going to town on one another.
Diane is a busty noblewoman whose father is about to betroth her to a dude whose pockets are probably inversely proportional to the size of his peen, this being the Renaissance when women were chattel and forced to marry old men who could have been their fathers or even their grandfathers in terms of age discrepancy. She is kidnapped by a pirate named Guy Ramsey, previously a nobleman whose house has fallen into disgrace after his father was charged for consorting with the Spanish and loving Catholics and trying to help both get their fingers into some forbidden English pies. Now his father is executed - falsely, Guy claims - and with no recourse, he decides to kidnap an English lady.
Diane is kept on the ship for a while, watching in horror as Guy is made to walk the plank and an evil Spanish grandee terrorizes her with threats of rape while the Basque captain turns his eye the other way and the jealous Basque OW Aimee dreams of petty revenge to make Diane's life miserable. Also on the ship is a South American indiginous woman named Amute, who is there with her father to lead the Spanish sailors aboard the ship to El Dor-fucking-ado.
I thought there was no way this would pan out to anything - until I read the summary of the book on Goodreads. They make it to El Dorado, the Spanish people betray Amute and her father when their greed gets the better of them, and decide to go after their people with guns and cannons. Meanwhile, Diane becomes a goddess who is about to get married to the Native prince, only Guy is there to beat the prince to the wedding night, which involves pre-gaming it with an underage girl, for some reason.
The book ends with an exploding ship and Guy and Diane sailing off to their happy ending, and of course his honor is restored when it's revealed that the man Diane's father would have married her off to was actually the traitor who was helping the Spanish this whole time. This book was even crazier than WILD HEARTS, with Guy being psychic (he learned from Indian - that's Indian as in actually from India - wise men); ridiculous scenes that make this feel like an X-rated version of The Road to El Dorado, and woman-on-woman erotic oil massages because, as my Goodreads friends put it when I posted this as a status update, what else are you going to do aboard a pirate ship? Point taken.
I would recommend reading this book for the lolz alone, but it doesn't really hold up plot-wise the way WILD HEARTS did. WILD HEARTS had an OK plot and told a story I was interested in, whereas I found myself increasingly bored with THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE, reading only for the WTF scenes to see just what crazy shit the author would deliver to give me my money's worth.
Honestly, I'd rather just watch The Road to El Dorado and then write my own erotic fanfic for it.
WILD HEARTS is one of those crazy bodice-rippers that doesn't know the meaning of politically correct. The heroine, Camilla, lives with her mother and young siblings on their Louisiana plantation. One day, a business partner of their father's drops by and announces smugly that her father is presumed to be dead and unless they can prove that he's alive in six months, all their property goes to him. Although -wink-, he'd be willing not to kick them off their land if Camilla decided to marry his greasy, money-grubbing ass.
Tossing off a quick "hell no" to that, Camilla decides to dress up in drag and journey out to Texas to look for her dad and drag him back home. Her secret is spoiled when a gunslinger-type named Abel accidentally-on-purpose spies on her as she bathes. She wants him to be her guide, but he refuses, and gives her a kiss instead before saying that she should be on her way. Unfortunately, she gets kidnapped by a man named Lopez, cousin to General Santa Ana.
Lopez threatens her with rape, does some nonconsensual petting, mocks her for wanting him, and then waltzes out with a "girl, you wish I'd let you have the D." Then Abel busts in and rescues her, only to discover her sans clothes and feel manly insult that the damsel he just rescued is not a virgin. Since she happens to be on a bed, he decides to take advantage of her, and for some reason she decides that this is awesomesauce. They end up having sex several more times, although of course Abel tells her he doesn't want to get married.
It turns out that Camilla's father is a soldier in the Alamo. (Remember the Alamo?) Convenient, since Abel needs to deliver a message for Bowie, and Camilla knows what he looks like since he's a friend of her father's. They run into a fake impostor Bowie, Abel gets wounded, Camilla gets him drunk by feeding him 3/4 of a bottle of whiskey before heading out to the Alamo herself to deliver the message. She hears fake news that he's dead and is sad, but marries a man old enough to be her father named Ben Archer. Meanwhile, Abel feels betrayed by Camilla, because she reminded him of his late Mexican wife, Carlotta, who was raped and murdered by three cutthroat criminals.
Those same three cutthroat criminals are also at the Alamo, and eventually Abel realizes through the gossip grapevine that he has the chance for both revenge and sexings, all in the same venue. He races over and runs into Lopez, who grants him mercy and will let him get revenge, mostly because Lopez also lusts after Camilla as well. More stuff happens, Santa Anna turns out to be a pedophile, an opium addict, and a coward, and his unsuccessful attempt to flee after the battle of San Jacinto ends up making Texas a state. Camilla and Abel end up with an HEA and the farm is saved, woo-hoo.
Honestly, WILD HEARTS kind of reads like a racier WILD TEXAS FLAME or a much milder SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. Abel McCord definitely comes from the "I chew on cigars and shit scorpions" school of manliness, like he spent his adolescence watching one too many Clint Eastwood movies. The only other review for this book complains about the sexual nature of this book and I do get that. For a bodice-ripper, this had an outrageous amount of sex scenes (most of them aren't this smutty), and a good portion of those were consensual in only the most imaginative sense. I almost got a LOVE'S TENDER FURY vibe from this book, which was written by Jennifer Wilde (pen name for a male romance author), and I definitely wondered if maybe DeWitt was a male romance author, too. The heroine's very strange reaction to rape and the male gaze-focused sex scenes (boobz!!) were a bit eyebrow-raising. Also, not a single mention of the hero's washboard abs. What? I feel cheated!
I got bored of the sex scenes after a while, but the fight scenes and battle scenes were excellent and there was a surprising amount of action packed into this rather short book. I have a couple more of DeWitt's books on my Kindle and I'll definitely be checking those out. If you're into bodice rippers and like authors like Jennifer Wilde or Rosemary Rogers, you'll probably enjoy DeWitt's works, too.
It's been way too long since I've picked up an old skool bodice ripper. I've been on a fantasy binge lately, and it's been absolutely swell, but the desire for bodice rippers was eating away at me like an itch that I couldn't resist. GYPSY LADY has been sitting on my bookshelf for two years, ever since my mom bought it for me as a birthday present. I'm one of those people who hoards books they're really looking forward to reading in order to build up the anticipation until the time is right, and when I spied that bright cover, I thought, "It's time."
As you might have guessed from the title, GYPSY LADY is not a book for the PC-set. It's about a girl named Catherine Tremayne who, along with her brother Adam, was kidnapped by gypsies when she was young and then returned to her family as an adolescent. She has been raised as a young lady but still enjoys frolicking in the nearby gypsy camps under the name they gave her, "Tamara."
The hero is named Jason Savage, although you could argue about whether or not he's actually a "hero." The book opens with him as a young man in an Aztec tomb, marveling at the treasure with his three friends, Nolan, Davalos, and Blood Drinker. Blood Drinker and Nolan are skeeved out, but Jason and Davalos decide to take a small piece of treasure, vowing that they'll come back some day for the rest.
Flash forward to the early 1800s, and Jason is now a man of wealth and privilege in his own right, running errands for President Jefferson to facilitate the Louisiana Purchase. He tomcats around and sleeps with Catherine's slutty and stereotypically evol cousin, Elizabeth, but when he sees Catherine at the gypsy camp, he decides that he must have her, and being a noble man, she can't say no. She tricks him by sending a decrepit old gypsy woman to his bed, who he almost has sex with by accident, and the horror and humiliation of this is so great that he decides a bit of rape is in order.
At first, he keeps Catherine as his mistress and rapes her a few more times (which she decides she likes, traitorous bodies and all), but when he finds out that she's actually a lady, he is forced to marry her; an insult to his manly pride, which he uses as an excuse to ill-treat her some more. She runs away to her brother's property in Louisiana, and when Jason chases her there, he assumes that her brother, Adam, is her new lover, and the baby she's carrying is a bastard she's had to taunt him.
When he finds out the baby is actually his, he gets angry all over again (I sense a pattern here) and uses that as yet another excuse to get angry at Catherine and treat her like garbage. At this point, she basically rolls with all the punches and moans about her broken heart and the fact that Jason will never love her. Ew. Since they're both experts at not fucking telling each other critical information, Jason fails to tell Catherine that Davalos, that guy who was his treasure hunting buddy from the beginning, now has it in for him because he thinks that Jason has the key to the treasure cave.
Davalos kidnaps Catherine after she flounces -yet again - from Jason Savage, rapes her a bit, and indirectly causes her to miscarry her child when, beaten and abused, she flees his camp on horseback. Jason finds her in the depths of agony and sends Blood Drinker to find, capture, mutilate, torture, and castrate Davalos, before leaving him in the desert to die. Once the deed is done, Jason informs Catherine, who is still suffering from PTSD, that the best cure for rape is marital rape, and forces himself on her to help rid her of those traumatic memories. She likes it, and the book ends "happily."
Man, what do I even say about this book? It kind of reads like an off-brand SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. That book also had a POS hero who liked to slut his way around the globe, but the heroine gave as good as she got and didn't spend the whole book crying and whining and basically embracing victimhood like it was the most romantic gesture she'd ever seen (cringe). The surprisingly graphic torture scene at the end was also unwelcome, because most of the story was pretty dull (apart from the rapes, which are basically a given in romances written during this time period). I think the last time I saw something so graphic in a romance novel, it was in Parris Afton Bonds's DUST DEVIL.
I did not really enjoy GYPSY LADY that much and I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone but the most hardcore readers of the old skool bodice ripper experience. I didn't feel the connection between the hero and heroine and he never groveled or suffered for his actions at all. Torturing one of his fellow rapists as a grand gesture didn't really do it for me. And the heroine lost all of her spirit and pluck as soon as the hero walked onto the scene and started making her body feel traitorous. Nope.
The best thing about being a blogger with some sphere of influence is that you can tell people about sorely underrated gems like these. THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL only has just over 1,000 reviews as of my writing this review, which is a shame, because it has many elements that are very popular in the romantic fantasy novels coming out now. The ratings for it are polarized, but my guess is that's because THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL reads like YA, but has elements of both romantic and hardcore traditional fantasy, and it's not really clear who the target audience is. Apart from me, that is. Your residential trash queen contrarian who is here for the lulz.
THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL was published by Luna in 2004. Luna is Harlequin's fantasy imprint, perhaps most famous for its publication of Maria V. Snyder's POISON STUDY, although they have also published titles by Mercedes Lackey and Laura Anne Gilman. Caitlin Brennan is also a big name author, although you wouldn't know it without some minor sleuthing that her "name" is actually a pen name of the famous fantasy author, Judith Tarr.
In THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL, a bunch of gods who take the form of white horses live in a place called "the Mountain." Every year, they send out a Call to mages of potential, which drives them to stumble towards the Mountain by whatever means necessary, like zombies, to seek out the school there which teaches these Call recipients how to use their powers and become Riders. The Call has, historically, only gone to men, which is why Valeria is shocked when she hears the Call as clear as a bell, demanding that she go to the Mountain to learn her new trade. Her family tries to imprison her to stop her, but Valeria escapes and disguises herself as a boy in order to attend the school.
At first, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL has a kind of Mulan vibe. Valeria even cuts off her hair. That changes when her secret outs, and the school rejects her. The only one who stands up for her is Kerrec, the youngest rider, and her savior when she was nearly raped as she traveled to the school. He is her advocate and volunteers to be her teacher, but then a group of barbarians invade who worship a different god and have managed to channel the magic of the gods into its concentrated, unnatural form, resulting in a dark and evil force called the Unmaking, which has the power to destroy.
The barbarians capitalize on Valeria's anger at the sexist jerks in charge of the magic school, offering her the chance to take her loyal horse and study at a new school that totally welcomes women - as long as they're, you know, willing to be evil. It helps that the guy who stole her virginity, a good-looking prince named Euan, is totally #TeamEvil and advocating for the school and its master. But then when they capture Kerrec after he comes looking for her, torture him, rape him, and then mind rape him, #TeamEvil stops looking so good - especially since Kerrec was the only one in her corner.
THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL is surprisingly dark, much more so than I was expecting given that Luna titles are generally fluffy and romantic (although not always - POISON STUDY was also dark). I was not expecting the hero to get raped, although luckily one of the other reviews I'd read warned me of this in advance, so I don't think it came as quite of a nasty shock to me as it did to her. There's also a pretty gory sacrifice scene, and while Valeria is in the school, there's some pretty unpleasant trials resulting in rather graphic death to those who don't obey the order and take the magic seriously.
Ultimately, I really liked the book. I thought the magic system was interesting and I'm a sucker for fantasy novels about animal companions, and in this regard, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL reminded me rather favorably of Mercedes Lackey's JOUST. It also has the potential to start some interesting dialogues about feminism and role reversals in fantasy, as the hero is the one who is abused, and the heroine is the one who has all the sexual power and entertains multiple partners while driving the hero made with jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, which he must then overcome. The women in this book are strong characters, and I loved that the heir apparent to the throne, Briana, ended up playing more of a role towards the end of the book in saving the kingdom and redeeming Valeria.
The thing that turned me off the book the most was actually how the romance and the love triangle were handled. I didn't like Euan from the get-go, and when I found out that Kerrec was the love interest, I was frustrated by the fact that Valeria kept sleeping with Euan, even though he has such a sleazy frat-boy vibe going on and she totally knew that he was bad. I was firmly in the Team Kerrec camp from the moment his icy ass walked on the page, and when he had to endure all that torture, my heart ached for him - especially when he heard Valeria banging Euan and thought she had betrayed him. It was interesting to see the gender role reversal of a promiscuous and idiotic heroine jerking the hero around for a change from a feminist perspective, but as a romance reader, I found it frustrating.
Overall, though, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL was a solid fantasy novel with many great elements and I'm very interested in reading the sequel, SONG OF THE UNMAKING (perhaps when it goes on sale). From the cover, to the writing, to the mechanics of the storyline and magic system, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL has a lot going for it. I'm honestly surprised that it isn't more popular. If you enjoy dark reads and don't mind rape and violence in your books, you should definitely pay the 99-cents this book currently costs and pick up a copy for yourself. It was a wonderful surprise for me.
Gillian Flynn is the yardstick by which I judge all thrillers involving family secrets and lies, and THE OTHER SISTER fits that niche perfectly. It's Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest
Gillian Flynn is the yardstick by which I judge all thrillers involving family secrets and lies, and THE OTHER SISTER fits that niche perfectly. It's been a while since I read a book about people so horrendously disturbed and unlikable, so horribly flawed. By the time I realized that this rabbit hole was taking me somewhere I might not fully want to go, it was already too late to turn back. So, bravely, I read on with my fingers crossed.
Geraldine and Marie are sisters. They have a close relationship but it's fraught with tension. Geraldine has always been the "bad" girl in the family - she has attempted suicide, been addicted to drugs ... and she might even be a murderer. Marie, on the other hand, is the "good" girl with the dutiful son and the apple of her ambitious father's eye; she's quick to obey, and that's what he likes. Their father, Martin, has always been about control.
As you read on, you learn more about this family, and how the father has been slowly acquiring property in their town - including that of his relatives - like it's his own Manifest Destiny. You'll learn about what happens to love when it's been poisoned by hate, and just how long grudges can last. And perhaps most frighteningly: you'll learn about the sharpened blades that wait at the bottom when you fall from the tower of your own ambition.
This terrifying family drama is juxtaposed against Geraldine's scholarly articles about fairytales, and fairytale motifs. It's fitting considering how bad the parents in fairytales were, and how children in those tales were often at the mercy of horrendous adults who used and abused them. There's an almost-magical element to the telling of this story that's reminiscent of the original V.C Andrews books (not the ones by Andrew Neiderman), and that charmed and horrified me in equal measure.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. It's a bit slow to get into and the writing style is a bit affected, but the story and the characters are gruesome, and I really think that if you're into Gillian Flynn and have been asking yourself, "What's next?" this book is probably your best bet.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Have you ever felt both simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by a book? Because that's kind of how I felt about this one, BLEDDING SORROW. It wasn't bad, but everyone was singing its praises to me about how it was such a mind-shattering Gothic novel that didn't care about happy endings, and reveled in its own twisted nature. That sounded like something I could totally get on board with, and I knew already that this author was fully capable of writing such dark and gloomy stuff that reading it could just about ruin your day, because Marilyn Harris also wrote THE EDEN PASSION, which has the dubious honor of being one of the more twisted and unpleasant "romance" novels I have ever read.
BLEDDING SORROW is only a romance in the most liberal sense of the word. There are two people who are in love in this book, but other than that, it doesn't really fit the genre for a wide variety of reasons. The focus of BLEDDING SORROW is definitely Gothic horror. The setting is an old Elizabethan house owned by the Bleddings, minor nobility that can be traced back centuries. The current owner, Geoffrey Bledding, is impoverished and must lease it out to the Historical Trust's various events. He and his staff are relegated to a distant wing of the house and are expected to make nice with the tourists and the students touring his home, which he does, playing host most convincingly.
But Geoffrey is not the gentlemanly lord that he seems. He's got his wife, Ann, locked away (an homage to the madwoman in the attic trope, perhaps), only he's the one who has caused her to be mad through many nights of druggings and rapes. Poor Ann's only solace are the small mercies of Caldy More, the servant, and the curious attentions of the handsome new coachman whose job it is to drive the coach and do menial tasks around the estate. Ironically, the first Geoffrey Bledding was also cuckolded by a coachman, and his reaction to this was, well, shall we say unreasonable.
Ghosts haunt BLEDDING SORROW, foreshadowing what will happen. All of the characters in the book seem to be locked into their paths, without question; this is a book that seems to believe in both fate, and the idea that history repeats itself. You'll suspect the ending, but it will probably still take you by surprise. I read a spoiler in one of the reviews on Goodreads and was still taken aback. Holy shit. What an unfair, depraved little book. But then, of course the woman who decided to have a narcissistic coward as the hero of her romance would choose to end her Gothic romance in this way.
Should you read it? Only if you like dark, depressing books and aren't easily offended by outmoded tropes and language. BLEDDING SORROW is not PC, and it doesn't pull back any punches when it comes to the mistreatment of its characters. I think it might have been a more effective book if the characters were more fully fleshed out. Ironically, the supporting character, Caldy More, has the most deep and thoughtful development over the book, whereas the three mains feel much more shallow and superficial - at least to me. That said, I did think it was interesting, and if you can manage to find a copy (sadly it's still out of print), it's worth a read for the WTFery alone.
Don't be fooled by this pink and sparkly cover. Even though Loveswept normally publishes light and easy confections, this book completely shatters that mold. It's like someone took a rape and revenge film from the 70s and tried to make it a chick flick, which sounds like it absolutely should not work, but it almost does except for a few problems I'm going to talk about later. Sela was gang-raped when she was just sixteen-years-old when she went to a college party and had drugs slipped into her drink. Now, an adult woman, her views on sex and relationships are totally skewed; she's never forgotten that night. When watching a commercial for a dating website called Sugar Bowl, she recognizes the tattoo of the company's CEO as belonging to one of her rapists, so she signs up to Sugar Bowl to become a Sugar Baby in order to get close to the CEO and kill him. Instead, she winds up meeting his business partner, the coding mastermind behind the site, Beckett North.
The beginning was very strong. What happens to Sela is not sugar-coated, and even though the book doesn't wallow in the details (thank God), you learn enough about what happened to understand the severity of her trauma and really feel a strong sense of sympathy for the heroine. Her desire for revenge gives the book a driving pace, and the reader feels that tension, anxiously wondering what will happen: will Sela get her revenge? Or will she be found out?
The problem is that once Sela gets involved with Beck, the book becomes all about the sex. At first, she has these PTSD-like flashbacks, which made a lot of sense and felt realistic, but then it was like the sex was so good that it just "cured" her because he gave her orgasms. This is a huge peeve of mine, because sex is not a magical panacea that can absolve people of any sorts of mental or emotional problems that they have. Having a support network and emotional intimacy can help, but I really don't think you can just fuck your problems away, if you'll pardon my language, despite what many of these dark and edgy romances would have you think. The sex scenes were also pretty awful, and I was really annoyed when Beck wanted to do away with condoms and Sela's response was, "I'm clean." Yeah, but what about him? The onus is not just on the woman to be clean.
Towards the end of the book, SUGAR DADDY remembers what it sets out to do, and to be fair, the villain in this book is truly awful, and it's genuinely infuriating how blind Beck is to his friend and business partner's actions, in the way that it sometimes feels only men can be (locker room talk, anyone?). When Sela got down to business, I wanted to be like, "YAS GIRL," but then the book ends on a cliffhanger just when things are starting to pick up again. It's a mother of a cliffhanger, too.
I literally slept on this review because I wanted to think about it more deeply, and I have to say that this "dark" book is really only for people who want to read something edgy that talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk - let's call it "Diet Edgy." I personally don't like books that do things by halves, so it was annoying to get a book that was allegedly about one thing, only to find myself with pages of tediously written sex scenes and a heroine who lost her edge as soon as a hot guy walked into the picture. Even Beck, the so-called nice guy, reveals his douchey side when at one point he takes the heroine's silence for consent. Um, no, that's not how that works. I probably won't continue this series.
My biggest beef with the erotica genre is that a lot of the ratings feel very inflated. People seem to mostly be rating based on how hot the sex scenes are while ignoring things like sophistication of the writing style and quality, syntax and grammatical errors, and believability of characterization and scenarios. While I get the rationale behind this, it means that books that are about as highbrow as the scribblings on a latrine wall have the same average ratings, in aggregate, as actual masterpieces do. And that is hardly fair.
For a while, I avoided the erotica genre entirely because of this, but curiosity pulled me in. That, and enabling friends, and the fact that some of the more popular books in this genre would occasionally show up for free in the Kindle store. I've been bingeing on them recently and DELIVER by Pam Godwin is the latest in the line-up, seeing as how it recently showed up for free ninety-nine, which I think we can all agree is the absolute best price for an e-book.
One of the things that makes DELIVER stand out from the other "captive" erotica in this genre is that the kidnapper/Dom is a woman. Liv scouts and kidnaps youths to be trained and broken as sex slaves. She's good at what she does - and why wouldn't she be? Before she became the emotionless tyrant that she is now, she was a slave herself, owned by the man who's now her partner, Van.
The requirements for her newest catch are seriously creepy AF and seem to be written by one of those misogynistic "incels" you keep hearing about in the news. Her buyer wants a heterosexual man who's never slept with a woman, but who has been taught to hate women, and who is also trained to be with a man. Liv's goal is to find a young man who meets these specifications and groom him via methodical debasement, teaching him the sexual arts even as she makes him loathe her.
Her quarry ends up being this college student named Josh, who is literally the epitome of the good old country boy. He's a virgin, he plays football and is about to receive a scholarship, he wants to be a minister and spends all of his free time studying the bible, he works on a farm and lives with his parents. Liv decides that the best way to capture to him is to appeal to his old-fashioned gentlemanly nature and pretends to have a car breakdown, luring him into the apartment that will become his prison. And then the "training" begins... dun, dun, dun.
The beginning of this book is pretty exceptionally well done. Liv's coldness and the sense of doom hanging over poor Josh all feels so inevitable. Godwin also doesn't shy away from the grittiness, which I appreciated. If you're going to write dark content, rule #1 is deliver. Don't try to romanticize it or sugar-coat it, because the book will end up being gross. Don't get me wrong, it's still gross - but gross in a "oh my God, this is horrifying, why are people out there who do this" sort of way, and not "what the hell is this author doing, why is she making this seem like it's totally fine" sort of way.
I was leaning towards a five star review for a while, but I think the last quarter of the book gets a little weird. The author tries too hard to rationalize what Liv does, and I think it's so she could give her a semblance of a happy ending without looking like she was rewarding a total monster. Even so, it felt too neat to me, and the beginning of this book suggested that this was going to be a story that scoffed at "neat" so I felt cheated. I also felt like Josh's reactions were unrealistic, that he warmed to Liv too quickly. I get the idea of turning the other cheek, but this was pretty ridiculous. The music angle was a little too silly for me, too. It felt like the author trying to push her book's soundtrack.
Overall, though, this was a pleasant surprise. Definitely one of the better "dark" eroticas I have read - I have read a lot at this point, and some of them are staggeringly horrifically bad. Godwin has a great style and really knows how to use suspense to her advantage to keep you turning those pages. I'm definitely curious to check out the rest of her books generally, as well as the ones in this series.
P.S. Is anyone else kind of dying now for a prequel about how Van and Liv met? Because I am.
I'd heard that this was one of Anne Stuart's not-so-great efforts, but several friends recommended it to me anyway because they know I'm a sucker for cruel heroes. In this regard, at least, INTO THE FIRE doesn't disappoint. Dillon Gaynor is a rapey alphahole of the first degree, in that hulking, sociopathic Neanderthal way that was made popular in the 80s and 90s by authors like Sandra Brown and Linda Howard. If you're into that, you're in luck.
The heroine, Jamie, is a sheltered innocent: the adopted daughter in a privileged family. Her cousin Nate has just been murdered and everyone thinks that his ex-best friend, Dillon, did it. Jamie's mother sends Jamie over to his house to pick up Nate's belongings, because nothing says parental love like setting up your daughter like a sacrificial offering to pick up the tithes you require for the shrine you're building in homage to the child you wish you had instead.
Fully aware of this favoritism and not liking it, Jamie's life gets even more suck when her car breaks down in front of Dillon's house. When she first meets him, he's pounding the face of someone who tried to cheat him at poker, which is not exactly a tickmark in the "I'm innocent" column.
Jamie tries to fight her lingering attraction to Dillon, despite the fact that he basically molested her when she was underage, and despite the fact that he handed her off to a high school jock who then raped her. Jamie has very warped ideas about sex and consent, and so does this book. The interactions between Jamie and Dillon are going to make a lot of people mad. I read this like it was a bodice-ripper, and took it as a fantasy, but it's still quite triggering. Readers, beware.
I think the twist about the villain is also going to make people angry. The LGBT+ are often demonized in fiction, and this book is no exception. Making villains queer or coding them as queer in the literary subtext has been tool that many authors have been using for a while as a cheap way to titillate and horrify. This book was published a while ago, and in that, it's definitely a product of its homophobic time. I took that with a grain of salt, too, because, again, I read bodice-rippers.
INTO THE FIRE is not a great book, but it entertained me, it had great sexual tension, and it told a pretty messed up story. I think if you're interested in reading another "Did He Do It?" murder romance about disturbed families, Anne Stuart's other book, NIGHTFALL, is a far better choice.
I love vintage romance novels. I can't get enough of them. The way I see it, we all need a vice, and mine is reading the types of books that most people try to forget exist - I SEE YOU, BACKLISTS. Usually, I read these types of books alone (shamelessly!) but this time, my two friends Karly and Heather joined me for the ride.
LAVENDER BLUE is set in the South Western United States, during the Civil War. In terms of setting and scene, it's actually very similar to Rosemary Rogers's SWEET SAVAGE LOVE: Juaristas, Emperor Maximilian, blockade runners, haciendas. Oh, yes. I didn't realize I was still craving that sort of edgy, Western setting until I picked up this book and was hit with the fond, nostalgic vibes of picking up SSL for the first time and sinking into some Rosemary Rogers goodness. This is a very different story from SSL, though.
Jeanette was married to a French guy who died young, in the Civil War. I think she owns a cotton plantation near the Mexican border, and she gets the brilliant idea of selling her cotton and then fencing it through a blockade runner in order to purchase arms for the Confederacy, because that was the Cause that her late husband championed. Jeanette is an unconventional lady in many ways, and her only true friend was also a friend of her husband and herself since childhood, Cristobal, the son of impoverished Spanish nobility.
When Jeanette meets the blockade runner, it's in the dark, bound, and blindfolded, and his terms for fencing her cotton is that he wants her. All she knows is that he's French and his name is Kitt - and he's really, really unconventional and attentive in bed (hee-hee). He also says the most amazing things to her in French. I had Google translate open so I could actually figure out what he was saying, since I don't speak a lick of French, and oh my God, be still my heart. *fans self*
What Jeanette doesn't realize is that Cristobal - the foppish, prissy, affected man she often finds herself being alternately disgusted and exasperate by and at one point even believes to be gay - is actually the Frenchman who's using her body for leverage. Not only that, but he's been secretly in love with her for years - basically since they were children. BE STILL, MY HEART.
This makes it all the more frustrating when Cristobal undergoes a total change of heart around the 80% mark and inexplicably becomes cruel, raping the heroine and slapping the heroine and saying all manner of cruel things towards her. He doesn't seem to get why Jeanette might feel betrayed, instead mocking her and basically making light of her misery until her anger reaches a fever pitch that pushes him over the edge and causes him to hurt her.
I read a lot of cruel heroes in bodice rippers so this didn't upset me as much as it did some readers, but it definitely felt out of character and the rating took a hit because of it. I still loved Cristobal's character and I guess you could argue that the things that made him so obsessive and impulsive could just as easily work against him, kind of like Stanley's animal passions in Streetcar Named Desire. Still, this was a lot better than the other book by Bonds I read, DUST DEVIL. Nobody gets their nose cut off in this book. I always consider that a plus.
When I was a preteen, I was out with my mom having brunch or something, and I remember these two ladies sitting nearby trying reaaaalllly hard to speak quietly, so all I could really make out was "Pssst....did you hear about...psst-psst...Anne Rice...psst-psst...erotica...pssst-psst-psst...sleeping beauty...pssst...bondage." Then they noticed that I was there and doing whatever the middle school kid equivalent of a dog staring at you with one ear lifted is, and started talking about something way less interesting.
My adolescent trash senses were tingling, but this was before the internet was really an every day thing, so I put that convo on ice and years later, as an older teen on Goodreads casually looking up erotica books to read, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what those two secretive ladies were talking about? I'M GONNA SEE IF I CAN FIND IT."
Moral of the story: erotica is NSFB (not safe for brunch).
Also moral of the story: probably not best to discuss such things in front of little pitchers with big ears and semi-eidetic memories (not that they could possibly know that - but hey, if you ladies happen to be following me now, please consider this review personally dedicated to you, mwah)
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AND INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT***
"You get a spanking! You get a spanking! You get a spanking! EVERYONE GETS A SPANKING!"
(I tried to find a funny spanking gif to put her but when I looked at Tumblr and typed in spank, everything was all porn - so no gifs for you today, sorry.)
I'm not even going to try to pretend that Amazon is going to let me get away with this posting this review to their site, so this is going to be one of those (rare) instances where I'm not going to self-censor. I'm sure somebody has managed to come up with a PG-rated review of this book, and I'm equally sure that review doesn't mention the people staked out in the gardens with sugar syrup smeared on their genitals and insects biting their flesh as "punishment," or the people being literally pushed around on the floor by their masters by giant butt-dildos on sticks. These are crucial bits of info that I feel the public should know prior to purchase.
I'm also not a sadist. The concept of sadism in and of itself frankly repulses me a little. I get that some people are into that, and if you find someone who would like to do that stuff with you and there's consent and that's your jam, then whatever, but I find it totally off-putting and do not enjoy reading about it. Especially when there is NOT consent. And not only is there sadism in this book, none of it is consenting. So that's doubly not fun for me.
The premise of this book is really strange. Only the first chapter really follows the fairytale. The prince finds Sleeping Beauty, rapes her, and then announces to her family that he's taking her as Tribute. Apparently his kingdom is notorious for this: they get attractive princes and princesses from other kingdoms to keep as slaves as "tithes." Which begs the question: why is everyone going along with this? They seem so busy investing their treasury in things like gold ben-wa balls, bejeweled fisting gloves, and silver paddles that I can't see them investing in things like a militia, so what's to stop one of those neighboring kingdoms from being all, "Hey, no, you know what? Fuck this, I see your paddle and raise you eight hundred gentlemen on horseback armed with rifles and cannons."
Beauty is subjected to multiple humiliations: paraded about naked, where she's molested by total strangers, raped again by the prince, spanked, spanked, spanked, and yes, spanked some more, paraded about in front of all the courtiers (naked) while bound and being humiliated and spanked and also yes groped and molested some more, then she's taken outdoors and given pony shoes and spanked up and down the gardens, then she's foisted off to the prince's mother to be sexually assaulted and spanked some more, and on top of this she's fed wine and food on the floor like a dog and is only allowed to dress and undress people with her mouth, and at the very end of the book she finally gets to sleep with the one guy she actually likes - a fellow slave - and the book ends with his recollections of his punishments which include, but are not limited to, being anally raped with a whip, having numerous ben-wa balls shoved up his butt which he is then instructed to poop out, being thrown in rotting garbage while being molested, groped, etc, and oh, yes, constant spankings and rape. (FYI: Breasts are spanked, butts are spanked, dicks are spanked, vaginas are spanked, et al.)
This really is the poor man's Marquis de Sade, because as much as I freaking hate de Sade, he did it first (or at least, most famously) and he shocked the hell out of everyone. Anne Rice tries to do the same, but it's mostly just gross and depressing and sad. Beauty spends most of the book in tears, and the people around her just bully her so ruthlessly, telling her that she deserves her punishments, but also that she'll be punished when she doesn't deserve it because they enjoy punishment, threatening her constantly but then praising her beauty and saying how good she is - this book shouldn't be called THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, no; it should be called THE GASLIGHTING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY. The entire book is literally all of these fucked up people telling her that they are making her better, that they are helping her, that they are giving her what she deserves.
If it were me, I'd be like, BITCH. GIVE ME THAT PADDLE. I'M GOING TO BEAT YOUR HEAD WITH IT. (But then, if I were a character in this book, I'd totally be one of those people saying, "Um, yeah, they're so busy doing all that crazy stuff right now, maybe we should bring in our military to free those people they are CLEARLY keeping as prisoners of war and not humanely, either!")
Given that I read bodice rippers, I know some people are going to be surprised at the low rating. I should note that I don't usually have issues reading about rape or dub/non-con in romance, as long as it isn't romanticized or gaslighting the audience into thinking this is normal/acceptable behavior. In this instance, it really bothered me because I felt like the rapes in this book were being roped off with the rest of "that BDSM stuff" as typical kinky nonsense, and no, real kink is all about consent.
The writing isn't so great, either. The word "little" is used every other page, it feels like, and the descriptions of sex themselves are kind of nauseating.
Beauty's breath became uneven, and she felt the moisture between her legs as though a grape had been squeezed there (146).
Leon's quick, graceful fingers had probed her navel, then smoothed into it a paste in which he set a glittering brooch, a fine jewel surrounded by pearls. Beauty had gasped. She felt as if someone were pressing her there, trying to enter her, as if her navel had become a vagina (117).
...with his left hand felt the soft hairy little pelt between Beauty's legs... (17)
...he suckled her breasts almost idly as though taking little drinks from them (17)
Now that I think about it, KUSHIEL'S DART and CAPTIVE PRINCE both had very similar premises to this book (fantasy kingdoms whose courts/culture revolve around BDSM-like goings-on), to the point where I can't help but feel that they were probably indirectly inspired by THE CLAIMING at the very least. The difference is that both those books actually made an attempt at world-building and character-building, and there was some court intrigue beyond "OH NO! TWO PEOPLE WANT TO SPANK ME TONIGHT - WHO WILL GET TO WIELD THE PADDLE?" I actually liked CAPTIVE PRINCE.
Somebody with the ebook version seriously needs to do a word count of how many times "little" was used in this book. I feel like it was probably 100+ times, it was so noticeable.
I can't believe there are 3 more books in this series.
After doing the first book, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, as a buddy read extravaganza, with Heather and Korey, Korey joined me for a read of the sequel, DARK FIRES. And can I just say that Rosemary Rogers is swiftly becoming one of my favorite bodice ripper authors? Every subgenre has its own reigning queen, and RR is Queen of the Bodice Rippers the way V.C. Andrews was queen of smutty teen fiction.
That said, this is my least favorite book of hers so far.
SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was almost a five star read for me. I loved the nonstop action, the love-hate relationship between the hero and heroine, the lush descriptions of the American West, and of course, Steve Morgan, who could so, so easily be the cover model for one of those pulpy men's adventure magazines that were popular in the mid 20th century. With his cheating, murderous, rapey ways, he is basically the absolute opposite of what I like in romance heroes, but he just oozes raw masculinity. He may be Satan incarnate but I was picturing him as Scott Eastwood.
(Dear Hollywood: if you ever make this series into a TV show/movie, please cast Scott Eastwood.)
The sequel starts out with nauseating marital bliss, but since this is Steve and Ginny we're talking about, it goes from Good Housekeeping to Apocalypse Now pretty quickly, and it starts to feel like Rosemary Rogers is trying to out-WTF herself in the prequel with a plot that involves the following incidents: rape, duels to the death, opium addiction, blackmail, whipping, torture, carpetbagging, typhus-induced amnesia, cheating, more cheating, still more cheating, wtf still more cheating, public affairs, sadists, secret pregnancies, and scalping. Because Rosemary Rogers has a big vocabulary, but "overkill" doesn't appear to be one of them.
My favorite scene was probably the sword fight duel, because I am trash, and occasionally raw displays of masculine douchery work for me. (Especially in puffy shirts whilst aboard pirate ships.) However, I felt pretty frustrated for most of the book because the hero and heroine are separated for huge portions of it and Steve spends it with like 5+ women who aren't Ginny (and I really, really don't like infidelity in romances, especially not wanton infidelity where the hero has no "off" button). Ginny also lost a lot of her spitfire nature that made her so easy to root for in the first book. I guess maybe it was PTSD after all the horrors she endured in the last act, but still: it made me really sad.
I'm kind of curious where the book is going to go from here. These two are pretty much the last people in the world who should be parents, so obviously, that means the sequels should be interesting.
THE EDEN PASSION is a literary Dementor: it will suck all of the joy out of your life, leaving you feeling empty and desolate inside. I thought, after reading the two previous books in the serious, that I was adequately prepared for the emotional despair of THE EDEN PASSION, but I was sorely mistaken. THIS OTHER EDEN is a dark, Gothic bodice ripper with a few horrific scenes peppered along to spice up the obsessive love story, and THE PRINCE OF EDEN is a tale of doomed love set amidst a backdrop of petty rivalries and greed for land in the vein of Philippa Gregory's Wideacre trilogy.
THE EDEN PASSION is a different beast entirely.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
There are three parts to this novel, which I'm going to describe as parts I, II, and II in the breakdown to follow. Oh, and for the record, this book isn't a standalone. You need to read the first two books in the series, not just for characters and important background information, but also because each book builds off the former, and sometimes you can't appreciate the gloomy doom and horror properly if you don't have the information provided in the previous books. You will have a nebulous sense that something is wrong, and you might suspect, but you won't know why, with that same level of sinking, open-mouthed horror that you would have if you read the other books.
PART I of the book literally opens with the last chapter of book 2, THE PRINCE OF EDEN. After his father's death, John comes to Eden, broken and bedeviled. The occupants are shocked, obviously, not just because his return is unwelcome (it is), but also because he's the spitting image of his father, Edward, who caused quite a scandal with his affair with his brother's wife, and his rather casual selling of Eden-owned land to fund his schools for the poor and underprivileged in London. At first, he is treated as a servant and forced to shovel manure, pending the authenticity of his claim to Eden ancestry, but Harriet Eden, the current lady Eden, has a change-of-heart, and invites him into the castle. Her motives aren't exactly pure, though, and John's entrance to the castle sparks a dark retelling of Oedipus Rex, in nearly every way, and let me tell you, the author knew what she was doing. She even alludes to it, sneakily, by having one of the children (one of John's half-siblings), refer to Sophocles and one of his plays in the schoolroom. Yeah, I see your game.
When the inevitable tragedy happens, PART II begins. A stunned and traumatized John stumbles from Eden and ends up meeting a manic pixie dreamgirl named Lila, who I'm half-convinced is actually Luna Lovegood in disguise (she's the blonde woman on the original 80s cover). Lila is known for being weird, as she makes up stories and talks to her pet cat, Wolfe, and seems to conceive of herself as being a bit mystical and touched with supernatural powers. John and Lila hit it off, and agree to exchange letters. Meanwhile, John ends up going out to pull himself up like his bootstraps but ends up being enlisted into the Crimean War. After being wounded and recovering in a hospital where Florence Nightingale makes a cameo appearance, he goes to India just in time for the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Another tragedy strikes the Indian woman he meets there, Dhari, also in the form of gruesome mutilation, and he ends up taking both her and her son, Aslam, with him out of guilt. Jeez, at this point, I'm thinking, "Are any of the women in his acquaintance NOT going to have anything bad happen to them? Lila is imprisoned in her room by her overprotective parents and John's foster mother, Elizabeth, is brutally raped and beaten by the villain, King Asshat himself.
Part III brings everything full circle. Elizabeth and John reunite and he forgives her for returning to the Oldest Profession in the World. Dhari smilingly steps back as John marries his new, white wife. King Asshat is whipped and sent home in his carriage in disgrace. All the happy people return to a now impoverished Eden Castle, where the madwoman in the attic awaits their return. It begins as it ends, with John coming home, but both Johns are very different people - for better, or for worse.
THE EDEN PASSION was a really intense read and I actually had to set it aside for a week or two around the 200-page mark because there's a scene of self-mutilation in here that's pretty graphic. Likewise, PART II in India is also pretty hard to swallow. The N-word is bandied around a lot, and the hypocrisy of the Christian missionaries is shown with how they say their prayers even as they take advantage of the locals, and Dhari herself was almost a victim to the practice of Suttee, something the ex-missionary who takes her as he pleases tells the table with relish despite her obvious mortification and shame. The portrayal of British Colonial India is portrayed, naturally, with all of the cultural sensitivity of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There weren't ninja Kali worshipers with scimitars and questionable buffets of leech-filled snakes and monkey brains on ice, but I feel like those could have just as easily been ideas that Marilyn Harris was keeping on the back-burner. You know, just in case all the surprise incest and character tortures weren't enough. I think the last time I read a bodice-ripper that was so dark and so cruel to the characters inside was when I read Parris Afton Bonds's DUST DEVIL. That was another book that also had me needing to set it down, but unlike THE EDEN PASSION, it petered out in the end once the cruel deed was done.
THE EDEN PASSION is not a bad book. It is definitely my least favorite of the three, though (book 2 was my favorite, but I think the first book had the most poetic writing). The quality of the writing and the complexity of the characters pales somewhat here, and I got the impression that Harris was trying to overcompensate for that with more shocking twists and horrific tortures. There's a real Game of Thrones vibe in this book, where the wars and the relationships play a foil to some truly horrific scenes that appear to be done specifically to horrify and scandalize. I couldn't help but wonder what the public at large made of this book when it came out. Was it banned from certain venues? Or, because it was packaged as a romance, did it just end up becoming a best-kept secret that sat on the check-out racks at local grocery stores like a ticking time-bomb of general wtfery?
I don't know, but if you feel like you're too happy in life and want to take yourself down a few pegs, check out the Eden series and enjoy the greatest ritualistic act of literary suffering since embarking upon the Game of Thrones series. Endeavour publishing has been rerelasing these books for Kindle and you can get a fair number of these previously out-of-print books on the cheap, and they don't appear to be censoring out or rewriting the questionable parts like other rereleases, either.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
In my review of THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, I said that Woodiwiss is often credited with writing the first bodice ripper. While she was certainly one of the first mainstream authors to publish a widely read romance with an open bedroom door *wink*, THE SHEIK has a shockingly similar formula to the "modern" bodice ripper, and it was published in 1919. The only difference is a deliberate omission of sex scenes, but it's clear that they're happening (and it's equally clear that they're nonconsensual).
Diana Mayo (that last name kills me, by the way - I kept picturing her as a pasty white jar of mayonnaise rolling through the desert) is a tomboyish, independent woman of noble birth who enjoys gallivanting through exotic locales with her rather unwilling and prissy brother, who thinks that she ought to be more submissive and demure. She turns down a marriage proposal from a desperate admirer (perhaps the first recorded incident of someone being placed in the "friend zone" - and like most guys in the "friend zone", he doesn't get the rules), so you know she's independent, and then rejects her brother's suggestion that she perhaps oughtn't to ride through the desert alone, except for a caravan escort of "natives," because, again, independent.
Unfortunately for Diana, her escort has sold her out and she's ridden down and then captured by the eponymous sheik himself, Ahmed Ben Hassan. Who then rapes her. Many times.
While reading this book, I kept thinking to myself that this probably would have not just been banned but probably also set on fire if it had been published in the late 70s, when all those absolutely insane bodice rippers were being published and everyone was trying to out-WTF each other. This book desperately wants to be dirty, and since sex is off the table, it compensates with violence and racism. Horses are beaten bloody, a servant is whipped, Ahmed shoots Diana's horse to punish her - twice (once to wound, once to kill), a woman is killed by having a knife driven through her heart, and a man's hand is shattered when his rifle explodes while he was holding it. It was as if the author was like, "By God! If they won't let me write about the one bodily fluid, I'll just write about the other!" More disturbing still is that all that horse-breaking serves as an allegory for the hero and the heroine's unconventional relationship: by the end of the book she is utterly broken, a shell of her former self. She admits that she no longer has any pride where he is concerned, that she would die for him... and when she finds out that he intends to send her away (out of love for her), she decides to do just that by taking his revolver and attempting to shoot herself in the head. He misdirects the bullet just in time by whacking her hand. (That must be the slowest-moving bullet ever.)
But as disturbing as the violence is, it was the racism that I found most shocking. Granted, this was written in the 1910s, so it's not going to be imbued with the PC-friendly content we expect from the romances of today, but it was still quite a shock to see just how acceptable it was to write such casual racism in mainstream publications. The n-word is used several times (both kinds); the Algerians are repeatedly referred to as Arabs; phrases like "Oriental beast" and "primitive" and "uncivilized" and "savage" are casually thrown around every other page; and the biggest kicker was this - it turns out that Ahmed isn't actually Algerian at all! He's half Spanish, half English, and was adopted by a sheik who fell in love with his mother, and out of love for her, bequeathed to him his name and title.
One of the "conflicts" of the book is Ahmed's blistering hatred of English people, and his refusal to speak in anything but French or Arabic. It turns out that his father was abusive to his mother, and that's why he hates English people. When he found out about his English heritage, he threw a major temper tantrum, refused his title, ran off to the desert, and never spoke English again (even though apparently he can speak it and understand it). Part of the reason he was so cruel to Diana is because it made him feel like he was getting back at his father and his father's people, which is all kinds of messed up. Seriously, dude?
Also, Diana is kidnapped by a rival sheik named Ibraheim and of course he's ugly and dirty and fat and has blackened teeth and really dark skin (although not so dark, the book says, that you can't see the dirt all over him). I've never seen an author use so many adjectives to make a character as unappealing as possible. He even "speaks French villainously" and I'm not sure how one speaks a language villainously, but there you go. At this point, I was giving the book the stink-eye, and when I found out Ahmed wasn't even Algerian, I got even angrier, because it felt like the message was, "Oh, he's white after all, so it's not bad, and that's why he's better." This is why I tend to avoid reading bodice rippers about sheiks and Native Americans - they always do this. The alleged hero of color is always a "half-breed" (and yes, they do describe them that way in the blurbs sometimes), and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with being biracial or multiracial, there is something wrong with making a character part white for the purpose of suggesting that this "whiteness" makes them better.
This book was popular enough that a movie was created by the same name, starring Rudolph Valentino. The movie is supposed to be a lot better (no rape, I believe), and Rudolph Valentino is a babe and a half, so if you're interested in this story that seems to be the way to go (although if you're feeling masochistic, you can grab it for free on Kindle). I noticed that there is a sequel available called THE SONS OF THE SHEIK. It isn't available for Kindle in English, but I did find a Spanish version, so if I ever feel like I want to work for my masochism, I'll buy that and let loose.
Interestingly, the plot of this story is very similar to Johanna Lindsey's CAPTIVE BRIDE, from the escape attempts, to the rival sheik, to the fact that the sheik is half-white. I'm sure Lindsey was probably inspired by THE SHEIK, but wanted to write a modern, sexier version (now with 80% less racial stereotypes!). She succeeded - I vastly preferred CAPTIVE BRIDE to this. I'm giving THE SHEIK two stars instead of the one it probably deserved because the constant melodrama could sometimes lead to unintentional hilarity, rather like Louisa May Alcott's rather bodice-rippery and decidedly lesser-known book, A LONG FATAL LOVE CHASE. Yes, the Louisa May Alcott of LITTLE WOMEN fame. Talk about another book that also desperately wanted to be dirty...
P.S. Another way you can really feel the 1910s is the fact that everybody in this book chain-smokes, often at hilariously inopportune times. When Diana escapes the sheik, she stops under a palm tree and lights up. #SmokingBreak
This is one of those books that tries to be many things and ends up failing at all of them, simultaneously. Part police procedural, part dark erotica, PRETTY STOLEN DOLLS aspires to be CAPTIVE IN THE DARK and KISS THE GIRLS, but it's got too much romance to be a straight up thriller and it's too disturbing to be a romance. Also, all of you saying that "Benny" is hot... umm, wtf. It never ceases to amaze me how much creepiness people are willing to tolerate from "heroes"/love interests as long as they have abs...
Jade was kidnapped when she was a young teenager by this doll-making serial killer named "Benny." Benny kept her and her sister in cells, along with other girls, which he liked to dress and put makeup on. Jade was the only one he never dressed up. He kept her naked, and filthy, in a cell, where he repeatedly subjected her to sexual assault. During these moments, his abs are sometimes mentioned, and we get to hear about how attractive he is. The first time it happened, it seemed to come out of nowhere! Ugh.
Eight years later, Jade is a cop and - through some incredible and gross oversight on the part of her superiors - is handling the Benny case while looking for her sister. Too bad she has zero sense and by her own admission is using confirmation bias to treat every missing persons case as a possible link to Benny. She's so determined that she'll ignore direct orders from above and even resort to a bit of vigilante justice, because what's abusing the justice system if it means absolving your personal demons? The stupid was strong in this one. I literally couldn't suspend my disbelief at all. Pretty sure that if you have a personal stake in a police case, you're not supposed to be anywhere near it.
"Benny" is pretty creepy and elements of the relationship between him and Jade is done pretty well. Her PTSD is evident, and permeates her waking and dreaming hours, especially when she's getting intimate with someone else. The problem is that I didn't understand the need for Jade to have not one, but two romantic partners (Bo and Dillon). Neither of them were very interesting and the sex scenes were gross (not gross as in disturbing, but gross as in badly written). Do we really need to know how "big" Dillon is - multiple times? Dillon also struck me as an insensitive mackerel. He pursues a relationship with his colleague with very aggressive sexual overtures that border (or probably are) workplace harassment despite knowing that she's damaged. That's not cool, dude.
I did think that a lot of the disturbing stuff in here was done for shock horror. It felt pointless, just thrown in there for lolz, and reminded me of some of those pulp horror novels from the 70s where it become a gore-off between authors to see who could write the most sex-packed, f'd up material. When I looked up the second author on this book, K. Webster, some of the over-the-top-ness made sense. Apparently she's notorious for those kinds of literary stunts. I've never heard of Ker Dukey before this book, so I don't know what her writing is like when it's removed from Webster's, but yeah, the last act of the book really escalates, and it's not really foreshadowed at all - so be forewarned.
Also - that cliffhanger ends mid-scene, so if you're sticking with this book, as I did, expecting some sort of resolution, brace yourself for disappointment. This is a blatant "TBC..."-type ending that cuts off abruptly right as Benny and Jade are about to meet once more. I guess I was hoping to see Jade get some sort of closure after seeing bad stuff happen to her for almost 200+ pages.
I can't recommend this book. It isn't very good and I've read other books in this genre (THE COLLECTOR, THE BUTTERFLY COLLECTOR, THE KILLING MOON, SKIN AND BLOND) that were so much better. Give this one a miss and read any of those instead.
I've read several mafia romances and so far all of them, without exception, have been incredibly stupid.
My expectations when I picked up PASSION & VENOM were low, but I needed a book with a skull on the cover for a Halloween challenge and it was free (and still is free as of 11/4) in the Kindle store, so I figured, "Why not? YOLO."
To my surprise, PASSION & VENOM was actually a decent read. It has the dubious honor of being the only mafia romance I didn't want to throw out the window.
Unfortunately, it is still kind of stupid.
There are two kinds of stupid. There is the kind of stupid that makes you want to throw books out the window, and the kind of stupid that feels incredibly fun and goes best with popcorn. This book is the latter. In fact, it shares many attributes (good and bad) with the books of one of my favorite authors of all time: Bertrice Small. I would call her books stupid, but I love them all the same. The over-the-top situations, bad writing, inexplicable violence, and d-bag heroes are part of the fun.
PASSION & VENOM is about a girl named Gia. On the day of her wedding, her husband is killed, Kill Bill style, and she is kidnapped and kept in squalor under the constant threat of torture. Her only companion is a man without arms - her captors cut his arms off, and this man warns her that they might very well do the same to her - or worse.
Her captor is a man named Draco Molina. One thing about him that I appreciated is that the author shows he is a bad guy without beating us over the head with it. He is not one of those ill-tempered buffoons who shows off his "might" by waving around a gun and yelling and basically acting impulsive. Everything Draco does is cold and calculating. He is scary, and some of the (graphic) scenes in here are downright disturbing, straight out of a 1970s bodice ripper.
There were two things about this book that I really couldn't forgive and ultimately these two things were what dragged down the rating of this book from a 4 star to a 3 star rating.
1. Gia doesn't really have much in the way of personality and falls for her captor way too quickly, given what he'd done. In the beginning, I felt for her. She was kidnapped and wanted to escape. I liked her resourcefulness and hoped to learn more about her as a character. I don't feel like she really developed from that point. She was a highly superficial character who only really had two facets: attempt to escape and fail spectacularly and fight attraction to Draco. He was a bad man. I would have liked to have seen more conflict about that attraction.
2. The writing is, at times, really terrible. The heroine refers to her vagina, repeatedly, as "her sacred place." People "smash their lips together" instead of pressing them together in thought. Some of the sex scenes are cringe-worthy and involve the phrases "I am making his face my b*tch" and "my nectar coating all of him." Blech, no, thank you. Using nectar for sexy times is almost as bad as "cream."
Lastly, I wasn't thrilled that Draco's relationship to her and her family is teased at throughout the entire book, only to end on a cliffhanger. I also thought that the relationship between Gia and Francesca was interesting but it yo-yo'd a lot for the convenience of the plot, and it might have been nice to see more development there (as opposed to the sudden events of the ending).
Overall, thought, PASSION & VENOM was a pleasant surprise. I found it to be a fun, quick read that hit all the same buttons as a 1970s bodice ripper pulling all the triggering stops. I don't recommend this for the faint of heart (so anyone who doesn't appreciate reading about violence, rape, gore), or for people who balk at the idea of trashy books for entertainment value (ya squares!), but if you like dark romances where the villain gets the girl or are fed up with bad mafia romances, like I am, then you should probably give PASSION & VENOM a try.
The Kindle freebie section can be a cesspool of literary garbage, but once in a while, you dredge up a total gem. THE KILLING MOON, named after an Echo & the Bunnymen song, is like a cross between one of those gritty early 00's paranormal romances and the movie, The Silence of the Lambs.
Dana was kidnapped and tortured by a werewolf named Cole, but their relationship was complicated before that, and became way more complicated afterwards. Now he's locked up and she's a professional werewolf tracker, and she's forced to interact with him yet again because of information he may or may not have about a bunch of werewolf-related murders. It's painfully clear how damaged she is psychologically, and the struggle between the mind and the heart is clear as she struggles to resist the manipulative Cole.
I thought the murder mystery part was very well done. The pacing was excellent and the flashbacks heightened tension and improved the storyline instead of bogging it down. Dana was a sympathetic main character and even though she made some stupid decisions, I felt like they were in line with her character and they never bordered on TSTL - because she's one seriously F'd up piece of work.
Cole was actually sexy and that's testament to the author's skills, in my opinion, that she managed to turn a werewolf serial killer into an attractive love interest. The sexual tension between him and Dana was seriously off the charts. I think what makes it work is that it's clear that he respects Dana and understands her. He's not an alphahole. Avery was also a great male character and I couldn't decide whether I wanted Dana to end up with him or Cole. Hollis, on the other hand? Total slime-bucket. Hated him immediately and wanted him dead by the end. Boooo!
THE KILLING MOON has some disturbing content (rape, gore, kidnapping, etc.), but it was nothing too graphic in my opinion, and it never felt gratuitous. The pacing is tight and I was actually almost late for work one morning because I just had to find out what happened next. I really enjoyed the story and the tone of THE KILLING MOON and am definitely interested in reading the sequel(s).
I missed out on V.C. Andrews as a teen, so I'm accumulating as many of them as I can now. You know, for science. So far, I've mostly been reading the ones that were originally written by V.C. herself and not her ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman. The Dollanganger series was excellent and so was her one standalone book, MY SWEET AUDRINA. HIDDEN JEWEL was a Neiderman effort, but I thought that one was reasonably okay, even if it lacked that special brand of spiciness that the Dollanganger books had. DAWN is one of Neiderman's earlier efforts, published just four years after the real V.C. Andrews died. I expected it to be even better than the Landry book I read, since it was published earlier and - I figured - he'd probably be working extra hard to do her justice.
Ha - nope!
DAWN is one weird book. Parts of it are just boring and badly written, with words repeated over and over again (especially "quickly", for some reason, which seemed to appear at least once per page), and emotions being told instead of shown via dialogue tags. "Don't be so obvious," she yelled angrily. "Be subtle!"
Plus, we get gems like these:
Good-bye to my first and what I thought would be my most wonderful romantic love, I thought. Good-bye to being swept off my feet and floating alongside warm, soft white clouds. Our passionate kisses shattered and fell with the raindrops, and no one could tell which were my tears and which were the drops of rain (227).
Sounds like she's confusing an acid trip with love, don't you think?
The plot is one part THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON, one part MY SWEET AUDRINA, and one part FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Dawn and Jimmy Longchamp have always been on the move but now their dad is determined to bring some stability to their lives: he's taken a job as janitor at a private school, which means that both kiddos get free tuition as a bonus.
Obviously the rich kiddos do not take kindly to poverty in their midst, and begin hazing like it's rush week at a d-baggy party college. People mock and laugh at Jimmy, but it's Dawn who really bears the brunt of the bullying - they stop just short of parading her through the streets with a shorn head while screaming SHAME! SHAME! The only rich kiddo who's actually nice to her is the brother of Clara Sue, the mean Queen Bee who has a rage-boner for Dawn: Philip Cutler.
"Nice guys" in V.C. Andrews books can never be trusted and Philip is no exception. He quickly begins pushing Dawn to go all the way with him, fondling her in his car, kissing her passionately in public, etc. Jimmy is, of course, super jealous, even though he's her brother. And oh, by the way - did I mention that the Longchamp parents seem to think it's cool to not only have their teen children share a bedroom, but also have them both sleep in the same bed? Also, he watches her get dressed.
Anyway, Dawn thinks she's finally gotten the better of her bullies and her evil headmaster... but then her mother dies and makes a cryptic statement about forgiveness and the police come to take her father and siblings away - and Dawn finds out that she isn't Dawn Longchamp. She's Dawn Cutler. The Longchamps kidnapped her from their employers when she was just a baby to replace a stillborn.
Dawn is pulled out of school and whisked away to the elite Cutler Cove hotel, where the grandmother matriarch (who seems to be inspired by the grandma in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC) runs a tight ship. Think Dunstin Checks In (1996) without the orangutan-provided comic relief. While there, Dawn experiences even more bullying... this time at the hands of her new relatives: Psycho Grandma and Queen Bee Mean Girl. Psycho Grandma forces Dawn into what is basically child slave labor, forcing her to work as a maid free of charge; steals and destroys some of Dawn's belongings; gives her a new name (Eugenia) and then starves her when she doesn't use it; and when someone (*cough* Clara Sue) steals a necklace from one of the guests, she basically gives Dawn a cavity search looking for it.
Philip is at the hotel, too, and at first he seems nice, but then it turns out that he's still not over that heavy petting they did together before they realized they were brother and sis. Towards the end of the book, he rapes her, saying that it's important that he "teaches" her how sex works and that it's her fault for leading him on, etc. Dawn is so upset, because she doesn't want to have sex with this brother - she wants to have sex with her other brother now that she knows that they're not related, and even takes a moment later on to wish how Jimmy was the one who got her v-card instead of Philip.
But wait - there's more!
Dawn tracks down the maid who was responsible for her and finds out that she's the product of an affair that Mama Cutler had with a musician. Angry, Grandma Psycho had arranged for a kidnap by paying the Longchamps to take her away. She had second thoughts later, but was willing to let the Longchamps take the fall for it rather than have scandal befall the family. What a betch, right? So Dawn whips out the blackmail, and Grandma Psycho admires her balls and decides that maybe Dawn and her can reach an "agreement." Dawn gets send to NYC to study music and bought all manner of expensive clothes while Philip and Clara seethe, dreaming of the day when she and Jimmy can reunite and have it's-not-incest-anymore-let's-party style sexings.
This left such a bad taste in my mouth. It might actually be worst than the time that I ate a piece of dark chocolate for dessert after having kimchee for dinner (although that was pretty bad, too).
I'm proud to say that I read this book before it became a TV series. I was in college, and checked out the weighty hardcover edition from the stacks on the third floor, along with several Anne Rice books and Sheri S. Teper's BEAUTY. That was about seven years ago, and I found myself thinking about the series again recently because my library recently purchased the entire series in honor of the television show. I wanted to read the others, but couldn't remember anything apart from the fact that Claire was a doctor, something about a witch trial, and the hideous rape/torture scene towards the end that still haunts me all these years later. I'm half-tempted to start a Change.org petition to call for Diana Gabaldon to rewrite OUTLANDER so that a certain someone dies a horrible death. It's even worse in the TV show. I saw a clip, and I don't think I'll be watching that. It's like torture porn. No, thanks.
For the past week I've been reading OUTLANDER, this book has been an emotional blackhole, slowly draining away all my feelings and leaving only despair. It's a very slow start, with Claire and her husband in the Scottish countryside, taking a bit of a break in the terrible aftermath of WWII, which they have both been affected by (especially Claire who, as a nurse, has seen some terrible things). Then, one day, Claire touches a set of standing stones and gets sucked back into 18th century Scotland, just before the battle of Culloden, and ends up encountering a highlander named Jamie Fraser.
***WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
Gabaldon tortures her characters with an enthusiasm that you don't really see anymore in romance novels. This is very much like those 1970s bodice rippers, where everything goes to sh*t, and the story is less about love and affection and whimsy than it is about sacrifice and struggles and giving up everything - and I mean everything - to fight tooth and claw for a person who might do terrible things but is your soulmate, for better or for worse. Two similar authors I could name are Rosemary Rogers and George R. R. Martin. Rosemary Rogers has these alpha heroes who might not fit into the modern idea of "perfect man" but are appealing because of their incredible charisma, bravery, and sacrifices that they make of the heroine. The relationships are often fraught with love and hate, and there's almost always some gruesome act of torture in the third act (in two of the books of hers that I've read, these, like OUTLANDER, also involved brutal whippings). And I think the comparison to George R R. Martin should be obvious - even though this is a romance, it's set in a time filled with battles and unrest, so scheming abounds, and ignorance has caused people to rely on superstitions and folklore, as well as a suspicion of foreigners, and especially strange foreign women.
Some of the darker moments are the rape/torture scene towards the end, the story of Jamie's flogging, the scene when Jamie beats Claire with a belt, and of course, the witch trial scene. Interspersed with these moments (they are spaced out, thank God) are lighter scenes. I think my favorite was the wedding scene, when Jamie's all dressed up to the nines and says, all sly, "Your servant, Ma'am." I just about died. Also, when he tells Claire that he's a virgin. That was also super cute. The cute scenes were like salve on the emotional savaging that the other stuff caused. I can definitely understand why some of those darker scenes I mentioned put people off reading this, and I'm surprised that people seem more upset about the belt than the rape. For me, I found that devastating, and felt so, so sorry for Jamie. The beating was not cool, and it was weird that they joked about it later, but it's a sad fact that that was a common way that men interacted with women at the time. That does not make it right, but Jamie was not trying to break Claire when he did it, whereas the rape scene was a deliberate attempt to demean, humiliate, and destroy, which made it so much worse to read about, for me.
I found this article by Vulture called Diana Gabaldon on Why Outlander Isn’t Really a Romance and Writing Her First Episode, and apparently she resisted the romance category because it "will never be reviewed by the New York Times or any other respectable literary venue" and "will cut off the entire male half of my readership," and I am side-eying the hell out of that because (1) So? and (2) SO? Honestly, I'm just about done with all the opinion pieces about What Men Think About X Female Thing. We've been hearing about what men think since thinking first became a public matter, and if *some* men are so terrified of catching cooties from a book jacket that they're willing to forgo an otherwise perfectly good book, well, then, that's their problem, and they can read all the Heinlein and Martin they want. The only thing separating Game of Thrones from a bodice ripper is literally just the packaging and the title. Call it DRAGON'S RAPTURE* and slap on a shirtless Jon Snow cradling a svelte Daenerys Targaryen in a too-tight bodice and ergo, you have a fantasy bodice ripper.
Regardless of what the author says about her book (she's free to say whatever she wants about it - it is her book), I consider this a romance, through and through, because the focus is on the love story of Jamie and Claire, as they fight to be together against all odds. The setting is beautiful, practically a character on its own, and was extra special to me, because I've been to so many places mentioned here: Culloden battlefield, Inverness, Urquhart Castle. I've also gone horseback riding on the Black Isle and been to Fort George in Ardersier. Scotland is incredibly beautiful and feels wild in a way that the U.S. does not. I had the same impression when I went to Japan, and saw Hakone and Meiji forest. They haven't curbed and domesticated their wilderness and paved over history in the same way that us Americans have; it still feels wild and magical and dangerous there, which adds to the appeal. This was a really great epic romance done in the old style and I recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of thing, particularly if you're a fan of the older romance authors like Rosemary Rogers.
*P.S. Somebody with more talent than I have needs to make a mock-up of that DRAGON'S RAPTURE cover. I could use a laugh after having all my feelings demolished.
1. a feeling of satisfaction you get when your relentless nagging & begging results in another book in your favorite vampire series
Mandatory disclosure time: I was the beta reader for this book and Heather is a good friend of mine. In fact, I basically nagged and nagged her about writing a Branek story after reading and falling in love with the other book in this series, DREAMS FOR THE DEAD. If you know me, you know that I have two modes: "Not interested" and "F*cking obsessed." For this series, it was the latter. I'm now in the works of hounding Heather for a Jared story, and then maybe a Gus story. I'm relentlessly incorrigible.
DEAD HEART went live today on Amazon, and I bought a copy as soon as I got home so I could read and review it in a somewhat unbiased manner (because when you pay for goods and services rendered, I feel like that automatically makes you much more invested in said goods and services). Heather added a lot of new scenes in this book that I hadn't read before, so it was extra fun for me to see what had been kept, what had been changed, what had been expanded on. The sexy scenes in this book were super hot and disturbing, exactly how vampires should be written. Oh, and Branek is a bisexual vampire who swings both ways, as long as there's blood to be drunk and good times to be had. You'll love him to death...and then when you die, he will do horrible things to your dead body.
It's hard for me to say which book I liked best. DREAMS FOR THE DEAD was really, really good, but I like the protagonist of DEAD HEART better, as he's more in the vein (heh, vein) of the gleefully psychotic heroes I find so interesting in fiction (even if I'd avoid them like the plague in real life). This is the sort of hero that Trisha Baker was trying to come up with, I think, when she wrote CRIMSON KISS with its evil vampire hero, Simon Baldevar, but I like Branek so much better.
P.S. Yes, I am the "Nenia" in the dedication. This is the first time someone has dedicated a book to me, ever, and I was so happy that I immediately considered screen-shotting my Kindle app from my PC so I could print that sh*t out and tack it to my wall right next to my diploma. #priorities
But seriously, if you love heroes that will scare the F out of you & dark stories, you should read this.
Some books are bad. Some books are very bad. And some books are so bad that they take the concept of "terrible" to such deplorably base lows that it is almost avant garde. That is how bad CRIMSON SHADOWS was: bad enough that it ought to be showcased in an exhibit as a symbol of existential despair and intellectual ennui.
I've been working my way through the Crimson series since April of last year. CRIMSON KISS was good enough that I bought the entire series immediately. "Finally!" I thought. "A vampire series that isn't afraid to be dark! Complex and interesting characters and relationships, a heroine who wants to kill the hero in the name of revenge, and a 'love interest' who is genuinely dark and terrifying and seems utterly incapable of being redeemed."
Doesn't that sound awesome? I thought so too. Hence the four star rating and foolish optimism.
The second book, CRIMSON NIGHT, was where I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Simon Baldevar, the vampire antihero from the first book, was pretty solidly established as an abusive, sociopathic freak of nature whose good looks were his only redeeming characteristic. What he did to the heroine was awful (what didn't he do to the heroine? Poor Meghann). It seemed like Baker was setting the stage for a love-hate relationship of epic proportions borne of revenge and reluctant sexual attraction, because Simon was so obviously a villain. Instead, she set about ret-conning everything that had happened in the previous book, painting Meghann's abuse in a rosy light, and actively attempting to make Simon into a romantic hero, replete with candlelight and roses. Oh, and the sex? The sex was weird. Let's just say that it involves blood, and not in an "Oh! I bit you during intercourse! I'm a vampire! I find that sexy!" way.
Since the book ended with them having children, I figured that those children were probably going to come into play in CRIMSON SHADOWS. Vampires aren't supposed to have children, but Simon is good at alchemy and managed to magic Meghann into being fertile for vampy offspring. For some reason, one of the children is human (but psychic) and the other child is vampiric (and deformed). That could be interesting, I thought. Misguidedly. Naively. Innocently.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Reading this book put me into such a weird mood, because while it was utterly bad and ruined what started out as such a strong series for me, I couldn't help but applaud the author for her give-no-f*cks attitude. Trisha Baker obviously writes whatever she wants, and on one level, I have to respect that. This book was over-the-top in a way that most books stopped being over the top in the mid-80s. It was a throwback to an era where the sex was gratuitous and awful, the heroines were infuriating and foot-stampy, and the heroes were psychotic d-bags who equated murder with courtship.
On the other hand, what the actual hell did I just read? Some of you have been following my status updates for this book and have seen examples of the sex scenes included in CRIMSON SHADOWS. My 'favorite' was this scene where Simon teabags Meghann's bloody neck before having her give him a blowjob. Ew.
Speaking of EW, Mikal. Mikal is a piece of work. He is the vampiric twin of Meghann and Simon and does some of the most heinous things I've seen a character do in a romance novel. He rapes someone to death when he is still just a child (and of course, his character is gay and his father says how disgusting this is). He rapes and kills an old lady. He tricks his sister into sleeping with him, and then later rapes and beats her and his mother (even shouting "I never got to breast feed!" before attacking her in the boob with his fangs, because that just happened).
I also hated Jimmy by the end of this book, too. Jimmy is still hanging around Maggie, even though she's back with Simon. He slut-shames her and insults her and makes her feel bad about being with a serial killer vampire (which...okay, I had mixed feelings about that - because girl, please, have some pride. He hits you and threatens you and treats you like a child - why are you still with him?). After Meghann makes it pretty clear that they're never going to happen, he decides that he's going to go after her daughter, Ellie, instead. Ellie, who is human and seventeen. Ellie, who he raised as a daughter. Jimmy looks thirty and has been a vampire for a lot longer than that. This was so creepy to me. I mean, how do you go from, "I'm your daddy" to "I'm your daddy"? (Please don't answer this. It was a rhetorical question. I don't want to know.)
Throw in a bunch of special snowflake action, additional magical powers that manifest when convenient to the plot, surprise incest, vilification of gay characters, gratuitous gore, and a bunch of stupid sexist a-holes and spineless heroines, and you get the book equivalent of a middle finger. By the time I reached the end, I was ready to flip this book the bird right on back. There's just one book left in this series and, yes, I own it...but now I'm a little afraid to pick it up.
I'm going to be honest, I liked the beginning of this book twice as much as I liked the end, which I despised. The beginning of this book follows the typical "psycho becomes obsessed with a girl" formula, of books like Caroline Kepnes's YOU and John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR. Teo is a medical student who lives with his mom and is a Norman Bates psychotic stuffed shirt type, buttoned up with mommy issues and personal hang-ups. Luckily, he doesn't kill his mom in this one - but he does kill her dog (spoiler).
One day, he meets a carefree and beautiful bohemian type at a party. Her name is Clarice, which maybe is a nod to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, as well, since Hannibal Lector was also a doctor. Clarice is writing a screenplay called Perfect Days, which sounds a bit like THE BEACH - it's about a bunch of flaky young women with issues who end up going on an adventure across Brazil with a mysterious and darkly handsome stranger.
Teo, naturally, falls in love with her - if by "love," you mean, he stalks her, drugs her, and then kidnaps her, taking her by force across the same road trip in her screenplay. He's determined to make her love him, but Clarice has an iron will and things take an odd turn after several weeks of captivity, when she seems to give in.
This is a brutal story and there's trigger warnings across the board. Apart from the druggings and abductions and animal death, there's also rape and medical gore and a whole bunch of unpleasant and disgusting narrative descriptions. I actually found myself cringing at certain points in the book, which I don't do too often, and haven't done since reading A LITTLE LIFE. I also didn't like the ending at all. Until I got to the end, I was going to praise this book for empowering the heroine, Clarice, and making her such a flawed and dimensional heroine, but the ending felt like a slap in the face. I'm not going to say anything else, but if you think you know what happens, you probably don't.
In the beginning of this book, I thought it would be an easy four stars. By the time the last sixty pages were rolling along, I was considering giving this book a two. I'll average them and give a three.
THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is a WWII-era romance loosely inspired by an entry in the journals of the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1930s, William Edward Dodd, as edited by his daughter, Martha Dodd. In the journals, an SS agent who was an aquaintance of the family apparently broke down, sobbing, on their sofa. Margot Abbott asked herself what could possibly happen to a hardened soldier for that to happen and wrote a story around that.
The story is told in the best way to rip out your heart. It starts out impersonally, in the removed third-person narrative. Sally, now in her late twenties/early thirties, is an intelligence officer investigating war crimes perpetuated by the Nazi party during WWII. She has a particular knack for identifying faces in photographs, so she looks at photo after photo of all these atrocities, trying to put names to faces, names to uniforms. It's a terrible job, made even more terrible by the fact that she recognizes her ex-husband in one of the photos.
At this point, we don't know much about Sally, apart from the fact that she's obviously haunted by some terrible tragedy in her past, and probably has untreated PTSD. We also know that her feelings about her ex-husband are all tangled up in this mysterious tragedy - part of her wants revenge, and wants to see him hang for the horrors he's wrought upon the world, but part of her remembers the boy he was during their idealistic childhood, and the man he became who she fell in love with.
1/3 of the way through the book, the narrative style switches to first person as Sally recounts her story firsthand, and the reader is dragged headlong into Sally's narrative, up close and personal. We see her as a child, and see her close relationship with the Mayr family and her innocent love for Christian as a young man. She leaves Germany for a while, to return to the U.S., and arrives back just before WWII, when the fascist party is just beginning to catch on in Germany. Christian is now an SS agent, working under Reinhard Heydrich. Naively, Sally becomes a friend to Heydrich, forming an uncertain bond over fencing and music, and he is the vehicle by which the two of them reunite.
It's difficult to say what happens next without spoilers, but let's just say that THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is not a book that shirks from wartime horrors or the terrible things that people are sometimes forced to do in order to survive. Two comparable romances in terms of emotional devastation and scope are OUTLANDER and THE BRONZE HORSEMAN. The dread and anxiety that hangs over this book like a toxic cloud is just exceptionally well done, and even though it's a very long book, the pages whizzed by once I actually had time to sit down and read through it. The first 60% might have taken a month to read because of my other commitments, but today I sat my butt down and finished the last 40% in a single sitting, stopping only to eat, drink, and use the restroom. There's a fencing scene towards the end that is just absolutely haunting - it's the type of scene that will stay with you.
And the villain of this book! My God, what a villain. I'm truly horrified.
I had heard about THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR through the usual bodice ripper circles, and despaired of getting my hands on a copy, but it was recently rereleased for Kindle and I was able to pick it up while it was on sale for $2.99. I'm so glad I bought this book. The heroine is the perfect blend of worldly, naive, and intelligent, and even though you know there is no way that this book can possibly end on a truly happy note, Abbott has you rooting for Christian and Sally, despite your better sense. The complexity of the characters in this book was just incredible. I'm blown away.
What a shame that this truly gifted author never published anything else...