Whoa. That was the most addictive, fast-paced fun I've had in a while. Ever since I finished Ilona Andrews's Hidden Legacy series, I've been trying to find the next Big Thing to fill the paranormal void in my life. When I saw SHADES OF WICKED pop up as the deal of the day, replete with a sexy vampire hero who's basically a salacious playboy of the nth degree, I thought that might be it.
Ian is a master vampire who spends a lot of his time slutting it up or hanging out in brothels - that's actually where the heroine finds him in the beginning of the book, wearing a ringmaster's jacket and nothing else. Our heroine is named Veritas and she's also a vampire, but she's the face of the law and intent on using Ian as bait to capture a very evil demon who she has her own personal history with. As it turns out, Ian has a bone to reckon with this demon himself, and ends up as an unwilling pawn to help her catch him.
The sexual tension between these two is totally off the charts, and even though they come from opposite sides of the law and have about one hundred reasons to hate each other, they're more similar than either of them realize because of their dark and tortured pasts. I honestly didn't think that SHADES OF WICKED would get so dark, but some of the big reveals about Ian and Veritas hit hard. That was a pleasant surprise, settling in for just another paranormal romance and ending up with something deep. And speaking of deep, brace yourself for some of the hottest vampire sex ever.
I almost feel that SHADES OF WICKED shouldn't work, because despite the darker elements (and there are many), there is also a lot of humor, including some spiffy one-liners that actually made me laugh, and comic relief coming in the form of a fluffy flying demon dog. I didn't realize that I needed a fluffy flying demon dog in my life until reading this book, but I do. I do. Rather than dragging the book down, the inconsistent tone actually worked and made the pages just fly by. SHADES OF WICKED is my first book by this author, but it won't be my last - it's everything I love about the paranormal romance genre, wrapped up in a tidy package and tied off with a crimson bow.
Have you ever read a book that's so good that you can literally feel the book slump you're going to get after finishing it settling in for the long haul? That was me, with THE TURNING. Everyone who follows me knows that I love vampire books that are dark and twisted, with moral ambiguity, weird sex, and tons of gore. I'm not sure why it's so hard for people to write good, dark vampire fiction, but it is, and they're the exception to the rule.
THE TURNING is everything I love in a vampire novel and checks all the boxes. The heroine, Carrie, is a doctor, and is killed on the job by an evil vampire who shows up in the ER. He leaves her for dead - only he accidentally ends up transforming her. And being the naive goody-goody she is, she spends a few days in denial before going to an online forum for help that nearly gets her killed.
Instead of dying a second time, she ends up meeting another vampire who actually wants to help her. This vampire is Nathan, who is part of the Voluntary Vampire Extermination Movement, a group of vampire police who make sure that their population stays small and that rule-breakers are punished (kind of like a less lame version of TWILIGHT's Volturi). Unfortunately, the vampire who turned Carrie - Cyrus - is at the top of their list, and Nathan has a personal bone to pick with them, as they share an original sire, who is also very evil.
Unfortunately, when you are turned, you have something called a "blood tie" with your sire that creates a very close emotional and physical bond, and despite knowing objectively that Cyrus is evil, Carrie can't really resist him as much as she'd like, and ends up making a very foolish deal that puts her right in his poisonous clutches. Emotionally devastated by her betrayal of Nathan and caught between two fractious and very different sides, it seems like there's no easy resolution in sight.
And there isn't, because nothing about this book is easy.
Reading the reviews for this book on Amazon is bound to turn people away, because they appear to have been written by people who can't stomach dark fiction. That's fine, but it's also not who this book is for, and therefore doesn't really give a good representation of this book's overall quality or what it's even about. Carrie is a fantastic protagonist and very flawed and real, and she also delivers some great one-liners that actually had me giggling. THE TURNING is aware that it's a book in a genre that's fatigued by tropes, and makes a few tongue-in-fang remarks about vampires.
Normally I'm not into love triangles, but this one was SO GOOD, and it was never fully clear which of the two Carrie might end up with. Cyrus is such a fantastic villain (despite his name), and definitely one of the most memorable. There are some truly cinematic displays of horror in this book. Nathan was also the perfect tormented good guy, and he's never so good that you find yourself rolling your eyes; his flaws made him more human (so to speak), and in a way, more endearing.
I'm honestly surprised this series hasn't been made into a TV show? It's better than True Blood, in my opinion, and is so action-packed and heavy on the drama that it would be perfect for HBO. I'm making it my mission to ensure that this book winds up in the hands of all my fellow vampire-lovers, and it probably wouldn't hurt to mention that this book is only $1.99 on Kindle right now.
P.S. This book is written by Jenny Trout, and not the similarly named Jennifer Armentrout with an "e." When searching this book, just remember - it's Armintrout, and the "i" stands for iconic.
There's a part of me that's screaming, "Five stars! Five stars! Five stars!" with regard to how I should review this book. To be fair, it's a really good book. I'd been wanting to get into Laura Kinsale's works for ever because of how lovingly touted they were in the Smart Bitches's romance-themed book, BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS. Lately, her books have been going on sale for $1.99 in the Kindle store and I've been snapping them up left and right.
Elayne is a bit of a wild child growing up in the rural forests of England with occasional tutelage in herbal-type medicine from her godmother. She has a flirtation going with a knight, and despairs a little about her single status but is otherwise content with her life.
All of that changes when Elayne finds out that she's an Italian princess in hiding, sheltered from the chaos and the bloodshed across the water. Don't worry, though. She gets to make up for lost time when one of these power-mad would-be despots hires a bunch of pirates to take Elayne and her guardian, drugs her, marries her while drugged and then fakes the consummation, only to rapily accost her later and ensure that there's a legit consummation later.
The perpetrator of these foul deeds is a Bad Man named Allegreto: nobleman, assassin, pirate.
The beginning of the book feels much like a traditional bodice ripper, like something you'd see in the 70s or 80s, which is why the sex in this book stands out. Allegreto might hold all the power in the beginning, but by the end of the book, he is utterly in Elayne's thrall. Also, considering SHADOWHEART was published in 2004 - as a mainstream title - it is kinky AF. You wouldn't guess it from that innocent little cover, but there's some serious masochistic/Fem-Dom action up in here.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the court intrigue, the gorgeous passages of writing, and the cinematic aspect of the story as it rolls along, with sweeping backgrounds, intense confessions, and heart-stopping betrayals. It made me feel like I was watching The Princess Bride, or reading one of those older epics like GONE WITH THE WIND, where the romance in romance novels could often be overshadowed by the plot - and came out all the better, for it.
So why not five stars! five stars! five stars! you ask? Even though there was so much of the story that I loved, there were many moments when I did not buy the characters' developments. Elayne's proclivities for domination and inflicting pain seem to come out of nowhere, and I was a little surprised at how quickly and competently she turned Monteverde on its head and gamed the political system with no formal training in such matters (although Allegreto did help her a little, I guess). I was also puzzled by Allegreto's character: in the beginning he is icy, cold, and utterly in control. At the end of the book, he's a hot mess: angsty and weepy, with such soul-wrenching agony that I was half-tempted to put on some My Chemical Romance or some Smile Empty Soul in sympathy. I don't mind the direction his character took, but I would have liked to have understood it more.
SHADOWHEART is a really dark, sexy medieval romance, and if you enjoy stories about taboo romance and court intrigue, I think you'll really like this book. Don't believe me? Just check out some of the quotes in my status updates for this book. Go ahead, I'll wa - what's that? You already bought the book? You're halfway done with it already?
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.
There are things that I love in erotica and things that will send me running from the room, and of the things that will send me running, sadism, spankings, and Daddy-kink rank pretty high up there. My most recent brush with sadistic erotica came in the form of Anne Rice's THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, which held all the sexual appeal of having a pap smear or getting a cavity filled. I know it's wrong to judge a genre by a single example, and I am constantly railing about that on behalf of bodice rippers or the romance genre in general, but I've also seen a number of Daddy-kink and sadistic erotica novels in the "free" section of the Kindle store, and the samples that I've read there were... well, terrifying. And not in the "good" way, but the "holy shit, why?" way.
I recently read another book by this author called MIDNIGHT HUNTER, the only work of hers that isn't Daddy/little BDSM kink. The story was set in East Germany, when the wall was still up, and communism had filled the vacuum left by the defeated Nazis. MIDNIGHT HUNTER was incredibly well-researched, and while a romance between a would-be "traitor" and a Stasi officer should have had me running in the other direction, I actually really found myself enjoying the story because of how the characters were written and how true it felt to the times in which it was set. It felt believable.
I enjoyed the book so much, I sent the author a message telling her so, and she suggested SOFT LIMITS, as it was, in her opinion, the best of her three erotica novels - although she was pretty clear about what sorts of kinks were involved. I was skeptical, but the premise of SOFT LIMITS sounded very intriguing. A hot French stage performer who specializes in... villains (OH BOY) who also wants to do naughty stuff to the ingenue he's unwittingly hired to write his biography?
YES, YES, YES, YES, and also YES.
The sample for the first two chapters of this book is actually included in the back of MIDNIGHT HUNTER, so I read the sample (still skeptically) and instead found myself charmed. The book was a bit pricier than what I normally spend on ebooks of that page count, but I'm sick, dammit, and wanted to do something nice for myself, so I bought SOFT LIMITS...and ended up finishing it in a single sitting, in just under three hours. It was so good that I literally could NOT put it down.
I'm still not sold on the whole "Daddy" thing, but it worked within the context of the story. Hale took scenarios and endearments that I thought in no way could possibly hot and made them hot. How she did that, I don't know. Dark magic? Possibly. It also helped that I liked both characters immensely. When E.L. James sat down to write FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, I feel like she wanted to write something like this. In some ways, they are similar stories. Evie is an Anglophile who is studying English literature in her university and ends up conducting an interview with the man who ends up being her lover later by chance. Frederic is an older man (in this case, much older - 18 years older) who is charmed by the innocence and artlessness of the heroine, and wants to indoctrinate her into his wicked ways of love. The difference is that Frederic doesn't force Evie into anything, he doesn't belittle or control her, and he always makes sure that she is happy (whereas Christian is like YOU MUST PLEASE ME AT ALL TIMES, 24/7. Lol, how about no). Evie also isn't a blushing dunce who must be dragged into the dark realm of Kink; she's had the fantasies for years and Frederic merely provides her with the outlet that she needs to explore them fully. Also, the heroine has a pretty good relationship with her family and they make several appearances in here! Nobody is abusive or using BDSM as an outlet for things that they should be seeing a psychologist about. Hooray!
As an Anglophile and Francophile myself, I must also say I appreciated all the references to British and French literature: JANE EYRE, Georgette Heyer, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME - I have read and adored all of these, and seeing them in here was like catnip. Like Evie, I also think that villains are hot, which is why I have a villain-gets-the-girl shelf on Goodreads. Also, yes, Phantom/Christine, Jareth/Sarah, Julian/Jenny and Kylo/Rey are all ships that I sail joyously and unapologetically. I even shipped that one chick with the psycho hitman in that Red Eye movie with Cillian Murphy, because I have problems (but apparently so do other people, because there is a hell of a lot of fanfic for that movie). It was nice to see villains get some love here.
The only thing in this book that I wasn't really keen on was that trope that I just can't stand generally but is so prevalent in romance novels: The Idiotic Misunderstanding of the Last Act. There's always a misunderstanding and I could smell the one in here coming a mile away. Evie totally overacts and ended up making me like her a lot less. I could see why she felt the way she did, ultimately; she put herself in a very vulnerable place, for the sake of trust, and having that trust betrayed made her feel as though she had perhaps been betrayed in other areas, as well. I got that, but it was still annoying.
Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing what this author comes up with next. She's becoming a fast favorite of mine; it's truly rare to see erotica that is *this* good.
I just read this amazing book called THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR, which I've been trying to get all my friends to read. It's this amazing historical epic that takes place in Nazi Germany, which also has a love story in it - it's one of the darkest books I've ever read, but the characterization was so good, the narrative so taut, that I know it's going to be one of those books that stays with me for years. That also meant the Queen of All Book Slumps once I'd finished it. Suddenly, the other books I'd been reading lost their shiny appeal. "What would I read next?"
Then I saw some of my friends talking about MIDNIGHT HUNTER. Set roughly 20 years after the Nazis were defeated in WWII, it takes place during the Cold War, in East Germany, when the German Democratic Republic built the wall between East and West Berlins and East Germany was governed by the Stasi, or the ruthless state police.
I read this with my friend Vellini, who is amazing because she loves dark romances as much as I do, so the last couple times when I've suggested a BR, she's always been there. When she gave it five stars, I knew it was going to be good, because she so rarely disappoints me. And MIDNIGHT HUNTER is an amazing book. It's like the sequel to THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR that I didn't even know I needed, with many of the same themes of power, corruption, and love.
Evony is planning to escape from East Berlin with her father and some friends when their escape is halted by the fearsome Mitternachtsjäger (Midnight Hunter), Reinhardt Volker, a Stasi officer of high rank who is notorious for always getting his quarry. After shooting one of her friends in the street, he takes her to his apartment as his "prize," where he grooms her to be his secretary and, later, his lover.
I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was excellent and it has wonderful action sequences that really keep the pace moving. It's appropriately dark and solemn when it needs to be, but it's not one of those books that's all too common these days, that revels in the unsavory just for shock value. Volker is a terrible man, but his growing affection for the heroine softens him (but not unrealistically!) and he never takes her against her will. And the sex scenes! Oh boy! They were hot!
If you like historical romances and dark romances where the villain gets the girl, MIDNIGHT HUNTER will be a great read for you. I hope the author decides to write more historical romances - this seemed wonderfully researched, and each page was an absolute pleasure to read.
I recently reread and reviewed OUTLANDER, to see if it would hold up to my initial reading. To my pleasant surprise, it did. I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately launched into the sequel, DRAGONFLY IN AMBER. The book starts out in the present day for Claire - the 1960s. Now she has a daughter in her 20s, and she's returned back to the place where she first disappeared. After a hundred pages or so, the book slips back into the 18th century, to Charles Stuart as he holds court in France, and, of course, to Claire and Jamie's desperate attempts to avert the Battle of Culloden.
Usually time travelers do everything they can not to change the course of history. In fact, it's like a rule: don't touch anything, don't even step on anything, because if you step on a butterfly, even, the Internet might not exist, or the US might be colonized by England. Not Claire, though.Claire comes from the 11/23/63 school of history, in the sense that she doesn't just not try to avoid changing history - she actively dedicates her life to f*cking with events.
For the greater good, of course.
This is a difficult book to rate. It's so long. Longer than it needs to be, I think you could argue. Parts of it were great. I loved the parts set in France - the plotting, the intrigue, the scandals, the violence. There were duels, rape (of course), cults, assassination attempts, poison attempts, potion-making, and, of course, long and gratuitous scenes involving primitive healthcare. Parts of the Battle of Culloden were good, too (I've been to Culloden... it's a beautiful and haunting place). Jack Randall makes an appearance, and he is just as disgusting as he was in the previous book, reminding everyone that he is the Ramsay Bolton of the Outlander universe, and everyone wants him just as dead.
(Spoiler alert: he doesn't die in this book.)
I wasn't too keen on the parts about Roger Wakefield and Brianna. I also felt like there was a lot of wandering around, doing nothing - especially in the last three-hundred pages or so. Even when Claire gets kidnapped by (spoiler), I was just kind of like, "Well, okay, but what now?" Honestly, I feel like I was emotionally exhausted. Jamie and Claire's relationship consumes everything about this novel. When they're not having sex, they're arguing, and when they're not arguing, they're pledging their lives for one another, and when they're not doing that, somebody's trying to kill them, etc.
I did enjoy DRAGONFLY IN AMBER quite a bit, albeit not as much as the first book. There were fewer memorable scenes, but a handful (like the French Court) were just as good, if not better. I'm still interested in continuing this series and reading about my favorite Scottish romance hero.
I can't stop side-eying the condescending blurb on the back jacket, though.
"Diana Gabaldon is light-years ahead of her romance-novelist colleagues." -Daily News (New York), emphasis mine.
I mentioned in OUTLANDER that I came across an article about the book and TV series and how the author resisted the romance category because she apparently felt it would detract from the literary merits of her work. Under the FAQ section of her website, where Gabaldon says some interesting things about DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (my reason for going to her website in the first place), she also has a subheading dedicated to this same topic. I read it. The whole thing has left a sour taste in my mouth. OUTLANDER won a RITA award - although she's quick to point out on her website that non-romance books can win those too (*eye-roll*) and I believe she's a member of the RWA (Romantic Writers of America). I'm a die-hard romance fan, and I guess it makes me sad that a romance novelist whose work I respect and admire seems to be trying so hard to distance herself from the genre in a way that almost seems as though she considers herself to be superior to it.
That aside, the Outlander series has, thus far, caused me to read about 2,000 pages about the same characters without becoming utterly fed-up. Whether you agree that it's a romance or not, it's certainly a compelling and action-packed series with morally grey characters who are forced to confront their mortality and their passions, time and again. I'm looking forward to VOYAGER.
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.
WILDFIRE was so good that I actually didn't want to review it right away or even read anything else. I just curled up in bed and watched mindless YouTube videos, thinking about how good this whole trilogy was (so far), and wondering why the hell it isn't a TV show when so much other bullshit is making it to prime time.
(Seriously, if nobody's bought the film/TV rights to this series yet, they better get cracking.)
The book gets off to a rough start, which made me wonder in the beginning if this was where the series finally jumps the shark. But no, everything evens out, and Nevada immediately sets out to establishing House Baylor, even though it means that she and her family and her relationship with Rogan are all going to become uncomfortably public.
Even worse, Rynda, Rogan's ex-fiance, has her husband kidnapped and being a helpless rag, gloms on to Rogan while they make an effort to figure out what happened to Brian Sherwood (an equally helpless rag). This being the world of Primes and whatnot, his disappearance is almost certainly rooted in yet another conspiracy filled with people who want Nevada dead...or alive, but totally under their control.
Nobody writes power struggles like Ilona Andrews. If you like court intrigue, the Hidden Legacy world features a whole lot of that, modernized. Magic is power in the HL universe, and those who have it are constantly using it to throw their weight around, create new alliances, and topple enemies. Nevada, who is a new player to this game, comes to this world as an outsider, and has to navigate a playing board where virtually everyone except perhaps Mad Rogan is an enemy.
The magic system in this book is also really great. It reminds me a lot of that Brandon Sanderson novel, STEELHEART, because it's all about superpowers...and while some of the classic abilities are there, she and her husband put a fresh spin on everything and make it all new and interesting. The end result is a universe that I felt utterly enchanted by in a way that I haven't really been by a book since reading Harry Potter or the Dark Materials trilogy. This is classic fantasy with a romance cover.
Also, goddamn - all the people in this book are pretty. I'd complain, but they're also extremely well fleshed-out characters with interesting flaws and idiosyncrasies, too. Bug was hilarious with how he shipped Rogan and Nevada, and Cornelius is scary AF but manages to be adorable, too. I could say more about why you should read this book but you'd just end up with a 10,000-word long essay about how sexy Mad Rogan is and I don't think that would be particularly edifying for any of you to read.
God, I love this series. Especially that terrible cover. If it's depicting what I think it's depicting in this book then lawlz, because ain't no time for sexings when you're about to be dead. I'm not going to say anymore on that because spoilers, but seriously, L-O-L.
When I finished BURN FOR ME and found out the sequel wasn't out yet, there were tantrums. This is precisely why I avoid new series. I have zero patience. If I like a book, I want the next one in my hand, IMMEDIATELY, thanks, for the low, low price of NOW.
Instead I had to wait a month.
And then I had to wait for the library copy to become available.
Which it did. On the day I left for Japan.
Luckily, I had the book for, like, 30 days, so I just saved it for when I got back and then literally as soon as I'd stowed all my travel gear and snarfed all that there was to be snarfed, I sat down and read this book in a single night - JETLAG AND ALL. After being awake for 36 hours, and then having one hell of an I-feel-like-death episode following the 16 hour time difference, I stayed up until 4:30AM PST reading this sucker, because oh my God it was so good, I could not.
I just reviewed CLEAN SWEEP and even though I didn't like that book nearly as much as this one (no Rogan, no tactile, no nada), I had to praise Andrews on her world-building. I haven't read anything stale by her, and the world in her Hidden Legacy series is no exception. In this world, certain humans have superhuman powers and are organized by House and by how powerful they are. The main character has the ability to tell when people are lying. Her love interest has the ability to have sex with people psychically. And also level buildings with his mind and kill people with quarters, but blah, blah, blah, that's not what has all y'all hollering. Let's be honest here.
LET'S BE HONEST.
Anyway, in WHITE HOT, people are being murdered and Cornelius, the animal mage from the previous book, comes to Nevada to help avenge his wife. Since the murderer might be a Prime (someone with the most magical power), they end up working with Rogan, too. Because pooling resources is good, blah, blah, blah. SORRY I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SEXUAL TENSION. So Nevada and Rogan are trying to figure out the conspiracy while also basically acting out the song lyrics of virtually every teenage pop song out there. So basically, I am like :D
:D :D :D :D :D
There's a lot of ARE THEY FINALLY GOING TO DO IT? in this book, and then a lot of NOPE, JK. And then finally, there's what's basically a chapter-long sex scene, because I think the authors felt bad for torturing us and making us wait a book and a half for these two to finally get together.
Is it worth it?
If I had one qualm, it's that the world-building can sometimes be confusing. So far, it's great, just complex enough to be interesting and intriguing, but I do think that's something the authors should watch out for. It's easy to get tangled up in a too-complicated world and forget the details. But given the brilliance of these two, I'm not particularly worried. I bet this is going to be awesome.
I'm not very good at fangirling, but some books make me want to try. BURN FOR ME makes me want to try. It was so good. The heroine, the villainous antihero, the magic system, the world-building...it was all so, so good. Reading this transported me to childhood again, when I could completely immerse myself in fantasy stories and they all felt real -
Except no childhood fantasy story ever had Mad Rogan in it.
BURN FOR ME is the first in the Hidden Legacy series, which takes place in an alternate universe where a magic serum has given various human beings X-Men-like abilities. Some control the elements, some control minds. Nevada Baylor, a private investigator, has the ability to discern truth. And right now, she's hunting down a powerful pyrokinetic named Adam Pierce who seems to want to set the whole city of Houston up in flames.
Mad Rogan is a powerful tactile who can level large buildings with the same ease that he can peel splinters of a chopstick, layer by layer. (And that's not the only thing he'd like to peel layer by layer *cough*) He's after Adam, too, although when he meets Nevada, he decides that he might just be after her, as well. You know, while he's at it.
The result is a tug-of-war between the various powerful mages, called Primes, with poor Nevada bouncing around between them like a ping-pong ball, as she dodges gunfire, actual fire, mutant turf wars, and the sexual advances of a very attractive, possibly sociopathic telekinetic, all the while trying to prevent the destruction of the entire world.
One of my friends recommended this book when she found out that I love villainous heroes, and Mad Rogan definitely fit the bill in that regard. Goddamn, that man is the type of bad that inspires X-rated fanfiction. He had some amazing lines, and some super steamy scenes with Nevada. Did I maybe skim ahead a bit, looking for said scenes? No, no of course not. That would be sacrilege. (Maybe.) It's so hard to find urban fantasy novels with romance that don't put the world-building in the backseat. In BURN FOR ME, it's front and center, and instead of detracting from the romantic elements, it makes them that much more stronger and compelling.
I want to say more about this book, but to be honest, I wouldn't know where to begin. I could tell you that the secondary characters are just as colorful as the ones in a Stephanie Plum novel, and I could tell you that reading this book gave me those same "this is good fantasy" vibes as I got from His Dark Materials and Harry Potter. I could tell you that Mad Rogan has a place in my exclusive heroes hall of fame, and I could tell you that I am insanely jealous of my friends who seem to have acquired ARCs for not just book 2 (which isn't out yet) but also book 3 (which also isn't out yet). I could tell you all these things, but you should probably just read the book for yourself.
Also, for all you people saying Mad Rogan is yours? Back off, he's mine. I WILL FIGHT YOU.
It's difficult to explain my love of bodice rippers to people who don't already enjoy them. The distortion of reality that they reflect is not one that I find desirable at all: They are often brutal, politically incorrect (to the point of being offensive), with spoiled immature heroines and heroes who could just as easily double as villains. Oh, and the writing - the over-the-top, adjective-laden writing, with flowery euphemisms for primary sex characteristics and prose so purple that it makes violets look red.
This is bodice-ripper land. Go big, or go home.
At 700 pages (in my edition), SURRENDER TO LOVE is definitely a big book. It was originally published in 1982 and my reprint by Mira was released in 2003. Often when bodice ripper authors rerelease their older works, they will "clean them up" and remove some of the more un-PC references and rewrite blatant acts of rape into more "acceptable" forced seduction scenes. I was curious to see if Rosemary Rogers, who is fairly well known for her unapologetically OTT plots, would do the same. I haven't read the original version, but if this version is anything to go by, I would guess no.
(If you do know for sure, please tell me. I'm very curious.)
I was reading her author bio on Goodreads and part of what makes SURRENDER TO LOVE so fun is that the beginning part of it seems semi-autobiographical. Rogers, like our heroine Alexa, was raised in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in a rich family, and under constant supervision. The descriptions of Ceylon are amazing, not just of the land but of the climate and the people as well. Rogers's exotic setting is part of what makes this book so fun and is reminiscent of titles like Christine Monson's RANGOON (which is set in Burma/Myanmar) and Lane Harris's THE DEVIL'S LOVE (set in the Caribbean). I enjoyed both of these books, but the setting in SURRENDER feels so much more pervasive, and I'm sure that's because Rogers was actually there, and she knew its beauties as well as its disadvantages, and she had seen a lot of the local politics and tensions firsthand.
Alexa is a fairly likable heroine, as far as bodice ripper heroines go. She's feisty and headstrong and sometimes this can make her annoying, but for the most part she is a decent character and I was always (at least halfheartedly) championing her. Nicholas, the hero, is where the fun is really at, though. He's one of those villainish heroes. One who thinks nothing about dub-con (or non-con), who treats women like garbage and goes around whoring and slut-shaming in equal measures. He cheats, multiple times, on multiple people, supposedly murdered his last wife, and appears to think nothing of threatening the lives of the people around him even if they are people he allegedly cares for.
SURRENDER TO LOVE is more of a psychodrama than a romance in the traditional sense, since the characters spend most of the novel - about 680 pages out of 700, in fact - tormenting one another with physical violence, rape, whoring, manipulation, lies, and revenge. For reasons I won't reveal (come on, guys, you have to read it), Alexa wants revenge on Nicholas's family, and her attraction to him becomes just another weapon in her arsenal as she embarks on her vicious quest.
What had she ever done to injure him? Except - the dark demon side of him answered too promptly - except by marrying a very rich man who was too old to please her and finding her pleasure in playing the whore, bitch that she was. Not for the money - that at least would have been halfway excusable - but to satisfy her degraded appetites (380).
"If you had any realization of all the different kinds of pain and degradation and abuse that can be and are inflicted on some human beings by others in the name of 'pleasure,' I do not think you'd have dared indulge your whining, hypocritical little complaints to me of cruelty and the infliction of pain - unless you meant it as a challenge?" (443)
"You can keep your eyes closed or open - it's all the same to me. And you can take off that ugly purple dress you're wearing, and all your damned petticoats and your corset as well - or if you prefer it, I'll rip the clothes off your body myself! But either way, my mermaid, I'll have you naked the way I first saw you; and I meant to use you, my virgin slut, as I should have done then and later. In every way and every fashion I see fit" (474).
Nicholas - such a charmer.
The best way of describing SURRENDER is saying that it's two parts V.C. Andrews and two parts Bertrice Small. It's like V.C. Andrews in the sense of Alexa's father figures have incestuous feelings for her (one of whom has an almost sexual fixation with his own mother), and there's a wicked matriarch type character who runs the scenes and will stop at nothing to have her way no matter how much manipulation it takes. There's also a narrative style that I can only describe as "breathless" - peppered with numerous italics, so you know how important every word is, and how it's emphasized when the characters talk, and many exclamation points so you know it is a dramatic exclamation! It's like Bertrice Small in the sense that Rogers is very cruel to her characters, and has them be very cruel to each other. Someone is raped in a Turkish prison, and decides to inflict that torment on others. The hero is flogged towards the end of the book, and tortured in front of the heroine (something that Rogers apparently does in another one of her books, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE). There's lots of cheating and sexual abuse. The heroine is ambitious and incredibly good at sex, despite her inexperience. Parts of the book take place in a brothel, with some kinky scenes ensuing. This is all classic Small, but Rogers is a much better writer than Small, which makes it even more amusing.
Are these books for everyone? No. But unlike certain romance novels cycling around the popularsphere, SURRENDER TO LOVE doesn't pretend to literary accomplishment. It strives to entertain, instead - and entertain it did. I think this is actually my favorite bodice ripper that I have ever read to date because of the broadness in scope, and the epic journey the characters take across those neverending pages, from hatred to hate-sex to sex-sex to something that's sort of love but probably isn't because relationships like that aren't healthy at all. If you think you're up to tackling the mess, I definitely recommend this book. It will shock, it will disgust, but dammit, it will entertain!
You know you've read a good book when you just want to rub your hands together and laugh once you've finished it like you're auditioning for the "world's scariest super-villain" competition. I wanted to do that with THE COMPANION, because it easily is one of the top 5 best vampire books I've ever read.
THE COMPANION is set in Egypt and England. It's about a man named Ian who is captured by pirates, enslaved, and then sexually abused and tortured under an evil and tyrannical vampire queen named Asharti. She accidentally turns him into a vampire during one of these torture sessions and then abandons him to die in the desert. Beth is the daughter of an Egyptologist looking for a secret lost city of power in the desert. When he dies, unsuccessful and out of funding, Beth is left on her own, without protection, and is forced to end the search unfruitfully and return home.
The two characters meet on a boat, and while Beth is struck by his good looks, they don't really connect until they are forced to defend their lives from yet another pirate attack. After that, they get to talking, they play chess, and they fight that damnable sexual tension. All the while, Beth wonders what it is about her new companion that makes his skin so pale, why he acts like he's got some unspeakable horror hiding behind his eyes, and why he only comes out at night.
I really can't emphasize what a good book this is. Beth is a strong character: she's intelligent, she's unusual, and she sticks to her principles. She reacts to Ian's vampirism in probably one of the most realistic ways I've ever encountered in a book. I liked that she was half-Egyptian, half English, and that her biracialism is actually addressed - also in a very realistic way - and she talks about not fitting in in either Egypt or England, and feeling too white or too brown depending on where she is. I've read books where this is swept under the carpet, so it was refreshing to see it addressed.
And Ian, oh, Ian, the shining star of this novel. He is so tortured, and a huge part of his character arc is learning to overcome that abuse. My heart ached for him, and I felt like his reactions to his abuse and his emotional responses were very realistic - so much so, that this might be a hard book to read for people who have actually experienced abuse firsthand. In the beginning of the book, he is so emotionally exhausted and traumatized that he tries to kill himself (I don't think this is a spoiler, since it happens early on), but because he is a vampire, he is unsuccessful. Beth doesn't make him forget his trauma, but he learns to accept the memories and continue living his life to be happy and learn that sex and confidence does not equate to abuse, which I thought was a beautiful message.
The vampire system was also really interesting and unique. Vampirisim comes from aliens - in a way that reminded me of Animorphs actually - and is a parasite that attaches to the blood. There's a fountain of youth in the desert that contains parasites in the water, but the way it's contracted initially here is from one of the old aliens himself, who's living alone in a tomb waiting to be collected by his brethren. It's so creepy. But you know what they say, more aliens and more vampires equals more sequels, and there are several other vampires in here who I suspect will be the focus of the next books. (Cue that gleeful, giddy villain laughter/clapping.)
I hope that I have successfully impressed upon you that you need to read this book. I was afraid nothing would be able to top my enjoyment of her futuristic romance, BODY ELECTRIC, but THE COMPANION left it quite easily in the dust.
💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Antebellum/Civil War/Reconstruction Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
Every time someone says romances are too light, and that they don't have enough action, I want to throw a bodice ripper at them. SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is one of the early bodice rippers, when the authors were still working out the formula, and was published just two years after THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER.
SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is a Western romance set amid the backdrop of the Franco-Mexican War and the American Civil War. Ginny Brandon is the daughter of a Southern senator who has a vested interest in the Confederates beating the Union. After spending her childhood in France, growing up in the lap of luxury, she is now joining her father on his trip to petition the sympathetic French.
Steve Morgan is a Yankee spy, as well as a Juarista (the people who supported Benito Juarez and were very much against Emperor Maximillian's presence in Mexico). He has signed up with Brandon's men under false pretenses, intending to lure them to bandits who will make off with the gold they're planning on using to bribe the French.
If you think these two romantic leads are at odds, oh boy, you have no idea. SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was a 600+ page psychodrama that was less about love than it was about Stockholm syndrome, hate sex, and physical and psychological torture. I thought reading one of her later books, SURRENDER TO LOVE (published in 1982), had adequately prepared me for SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, but I was woefully mistaken. As dark as SURRENDER was, it couldn't hold a candle to SAVAGE.
SWEET SAVAGE LOVE has a bitingly realistic portrayal of war, in the sense that it doesn't shy away from the squalor of living life on the run, in the field, or in prison; the desperation of men in tough situations, and the cruelty they'll inflict when they're either cornered or on a power trip; and the violence (physical and sexual) that occurs in all of the former situations. Steve is party to all of these, and his sexual encounters with the heroine are often unconsensual (in fact, when they first meet, he mistakes her for the prostitute he thought he ordered). He kills without mercy and sleeps with every female character who appears in this book, including the heroine's stepmother(!), his grandfather's servants, and his own godmother. The heroine also has a number of partners who aren't Steve, but, again, a lot of these are unconsensual, and she doesn't really enjoy herself even when they are.
The western setting is truly glorious. I love the detail. The sensory descriptions. This was what won me over in SURRENDER TO LOVE, when Rogers lovingly details what it was like to be in Victorian-era Ceylon. She brought the setting to life, as she does her (albeit to a slightly less vivid and sympathetic extent). SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is very un-PC and if the sex scenes aren't enough to get you, the racist stereotypes and incredibly poor Spanish translations will. Seriously, the Spanish in this book was awful. It's only my second language and I don't speak it too well, but I know enough to know that "mi casa esta su casa" is not correct, that La Caseta does not mean "The Little House" (she meant "La Casita"; La Caseta means "The Booth"), and that it's "abuelo" and not "abielo." How hard would it have been to get someone who speaks Spanish to look this over?
Still, despite everything, until about 75% in, this was going to be a 5-star book. Ginny was a spitfire. Steve was fascinating - in addition to being involved in two wars, he was also affiliated with the Comanche people (and married one at 15), half-Mexican and fluent in Spanish, fluent in French, and the grandson of an incredibly rich and influential plantation owner. The problem comes when Ginny is captured by the French and Steve bursts in to save her and both characters (but especially Steve) are subjected to some of the worst horrors imaginable, and due to a series of incredibly long misunderstandings, each blame the other for their predicaments. For the next 15% of the book or so, the hero and heroine remain apart, wallowing in misery and being tortured emotionally, sexually, and psychologically. It was agonizing, and I could hardly stand it. The last time a romance book brought me to my knees (figuratively) was probably in Patricia Hagan's Coltrane saga, particularly in LOVE AND WAR, where she seemed to delight in torturing her heroine. Rosemary Rogers does the same with Steve and Ginny, in a gigantic misery-fest that finally blows out around the 90% mark.
This book is not for everyone, and it's hardly a traditional love story, but if you're into bodice rippers and edgy reads, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is a fantastic book. There really is nothing like it and the story is so epic, and Rosemary Rogers makes you suffer and sweat for that HEA. I'm really glad that my friends Korey and Heather joined me in this buddy read; it forced me to endure and keep going!
(Speaking of "keeping going," I happen to have book 2 if anyone wants to join...)
Before I get to the review itself, I want to take a moment to appreciate Jennifer Blake. Her books are constantly showing up in the Kindle freebie section - and not just for a limited time only to promote a sequel or a reprint, no. Four-book bundles, entire series, new books, back-list titles, she puts EVERYTHING up there at one point or another. I can only imagine it's because she genuinely enjoys seeing people reading her books for the sake of reading them, even if they don't pay for them, and I think that's amazing. I wish more authors did that - especially older authors who are re-releasing titles that have been out of circulation for decades - because it's a great way to try something new and it also just really shows an understanding that a lot of us bloggers do not have infinite monies to spend on books (sadly).
So here's to Jennifer Blake. Usually I hoard my Kindle freebies forever (or until someone corrals me into a buddy-read), but I've decided to binge as many of her titles as I can to show appreciation for the authors who have a love for their craft - AND their fans.
ROYAL SEDUCTION came to me in a two-book anthology that showed up - FOR FREE - in the Kindle store called Royal Princes of Ruthenia Box Set. It's not exactly a catchy title, but it was free, dammit, so I downloaded the box set and promptly forgot about it until now. The concept is actually shockingly titillating: Rolfe hails from Ruthenia, a made-up country in the Balkans. His brother, Maximilian, the heir apparent, has just been murdered - and he thinks it was his brother's mistress.
Cut to the American South, where Angeline is courting the toast of society under the resentful care of her aunt. When Rolfe bursts in to one of the family galas and immediately confronts her, she realizes at once that he has mistaken her for her worldly cousin, Claire. Rolfe thinks she's lying to protect herself, though, and after chasing her down through the woods on horseback, ends up abducting her and taking her to a remote apartment, where he proceeds to take her against her will. When he realizes she's a virgin, he understands he has made an error, but rather than doing the humane thing and feeling bad about it, he continues to abuse her, in the hopes that she'll betray her cousin.
I realize that the "forced seduction" (let's call it what it is, rape) is going to put some people off from reading this and I totally understand, believe me. This is one of those ways that you can really feel the 1983 publication year's influence over the story. I don't mind that trope if it fits the story and the characterization, myself, and Rolfe's icy, entitled brutishness? Yeah, he would so do that. He's a bastard. He's also a silver-tongued devil, and basically every word that comes out of his evil, beautiful mouth deserves to be turned into word art on Instagram.
Jennifer Blake really reminds me of Rosemary Rogers in some ways - the gutsy heroine, the evil hero with the psychotic streak, the swashbuckling and knife fights, the constant parade of evil (and often ethnic) villains, the double-crosses, the triple-crosses, the hot sex, the enemies-to-lovers trope... it was classic RR, which makes me happy because I love that woman's writing and she's pretty much unparalleled when it comes to writing addicting romance stories. At least, she was unparalleled until I made my acquaintance with Laura Kinsale's and, now, Jennifer Blake's dark and twisted tales.
I could sit here and yap on and on about how great I thought this story was (obviously I did, it was great), but you should read it and see for yourself. It was so much fun and I think I'd probably come back to it again just to get a reprise of some of Rolfe's Greatest Hits of Eloquent Insults, Vol. 1™.
This was an unholy amount of fun. Not only is the hero a sexy, icy, bad-ass fother-mucker with an Irish accent that will make your pants burst into flame, the plot is filled with enough angst and drama to make a shoujo anime burst into hysterical tears. I tore through this in the span of two days, and when I wasn't reading it, I was actively thinking about it, wondering, needing, to know what happened next.
Set in New York during the gilded age, LIONS AND LACE is about the "romance" between two very different people. Trevor Sheridan is basically the 19th century "Wolf of Wall Street," only people call him "The Predator." He grew up destitute and through a series of events that basically personify the Horatio Alger myth, he became as rich as Croesus with a gold-studded chip on his shoulder big enough - and heavy enough - to crush all of New York's high society. Which it does, because despite their wealth, the very fact of their being Irish closes all the doors to them. It's only when the rich snobs go after his sixteen-year-old sister, by pointedly snubbing her debut, that he decides to get revenge with terrifying ruthlessness.
Alana Van Alen is a part of this wealthy set, and while privileged AF, tragedy has tempered some of her aspirations. She's the only member of the society that actually intended to go to Mara Sheridan's debut ball, but her abusive uncle beats her and then locks her in her room so she can't. When Trevor ruins Alana, her uncle, and all of their friends, her uncle binds her and leaves her trussed up like a roast on Trevor's doorstep, leaving her at his mercy. Obviously, Trevor doesn't believe her when she insists that she, unlike everyone else, meant his sister no harm, and he decides to punish her by blackmailing her into marriage. Using her name and her status, he'll be granted the acceptance of the society that previously refused him and his sister, and Alana won't be free of him until Mara is wed.
It's like Meagan McKinney had a crystal ball to see inside my head and pull out all of my favorite tropes. I love angsty, emotional melodrama when it's done well. There was a summer about seven years ago where I binged through the entire Hana Yori Dango series; reading LIONS AND LACE left me with a similar emotional hangover. Enemies-to-lovers, forced marriage, dark and tragic histories, elitist snobs, icy and cruel heroes, cheeky heroines, hate-fueled bedroom romps, groveling hero - oh yes, this was a nonstop party of smutty, glorious trash, and everyone was dressed to the nines. The writing is also excellent and reminded me a lot of Laura Kinsale's, so if you enjoy her work - particularly SHADOWHEART or UNCERTAIN MAGIC - I think you will enjoy Meagan McKinney's style, as well. The secondary and tertiary romances are also super cute and provide some much-needed comic relief amid the agonizingly torturous suffering of the main couple.
I could sit here and yammer at you about how much I loved this book, but it's probably better that you read it yourself instead of me browbeating you into doing it (although I will do so, gladly). My only qualm is that the sequel is far too much money ($6.99 for an ebook?? Noooo, whyyy?) and there are still way too many loose ends left hanging. A certain someone is in desperate need of punishment, and I won't be satisfied until I see them fall. *eyes gleam with blood-lust* Until then, I'll just sit here, nursing this emotional angstover while trying not to fall into Book Slumplandia.
Elizabeth Hoyt is a name that frequently appears alongside other famous regency "brand names" like Lisa Kleypas and Courtney Milan, which just makes it all the more criminal that I haven't read this book until now. Because DUKE OF SIN...is incredible.
DUKE OF SIN is a bodice-ripper of the modern age, with an icy, tortured, dangerous gamma hero who wouldn't be out of place in an Anne Stuart novel.Valentine Napier is a hedonist and a ruthless blackmailer. He flaunts conventions, bedding men and women alike, and the only reason he hasn't been kicked out of polite society is because he has them all scared shitless that he'll reveal their secrets.
Bridget Crumb, his housekeeper, is working for him precisely because of that. Her mother is just one of many people the Duke has blackmailed, and she's using her vocation as an opportunity to search for the letters in his possession that will ruin her mother.
I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. But Valentine is the epitome of everything I love in a romantic hero (and the fact that the author herself says that she imagines him as Tom Hiddleston certainly doesn't hurt!); he's clever, and ruthless, and sexy, and dangerous, and utterly capricious and mercurial. His back story is probably one of the darkest I've ever seen in a romance novel published after 1990, and brought me to tears at several points because of how broken he was; and he doesn't really angst about it - what's even more heartbreaking is that he doesn't realize that he's missing a vital part of what makes him human. He takes it completely for granted as being part of who he is. It's Bridget who realizes what's been done to him, and she who feels all the pain.
And let's talk about Bridget. I loved her no-nonsense ways, and her kindness. She was able to win over people by being very level-headed and calm and personable, so the fact that everyone was naturally drawn to her didn't seem Mary-Sue-ish at all. She made an effort. Her interactions with Valentine made me laugh and cry, by turns. The sexual chemistry between them was amazing - and surprise, when they finally do have sex, she isn't at all passive. In fact, she even initiates and takes charge on several instances. I can't tell you how much that shocked me (among other things).
I have a confession here: a huge reason behind my love for this novel is that Valentine really reminded me of Jareth from Labyrinth, so if you love the cool commanding hero who's witty, and totally in control, but who falls hard for the heroine in a way that borders on obsession, I would definitely recommend this book to you. DUKE OF SIN is a book that was made for Labyrinth fangirls. He's so regal and utterly absorbed in himself, that you don't question for one minute that he's of noble blood. The fact that he flaunts society's rules is testament to this.
And on that subject, I want to talk about the hero's bisexuality, because apparently that's got some people real mad. Yes, the hero is bisexual. He has sex with men. It isn't explicitly shown, but it's heavily implied, and you know that it probably happens behind closed doors. Some people were mad about that - and other people seemed to be upset that his bisexuality seemed to be included in his litany of perversions to show how depraved he is. I chose not to interpret it that way, although I can see how others would: rather, I saw it as the Duke wholeheartedly embracing who he was and what he wanted, selfishly, yes, but unapologetically using his sexual desires to fill the emptiness inside.
For those of you still on the fence, picture Tom Hiddleston masquerading as Jareth, while wearing a purple silk robe with a dragon on it...and nothing else.
After reading and being disappointed with A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT, I was a little leery about picking up TO LOVE A DARK LORD. I really shouldn't have felt so nervous, however; the friend who recommended this book to me has never led me astray, and was my introduction to such authors as R. Lee Smith and Victoria Holt.
This book was truly excellent. If ARaM was a Charmander, TLaDL is a Charizard; the foundations are similar, but the story-telling and characterization in To LOVE A DARK LORD are so much more powerful, unlike ARaM, where the secondary romance detracted and distracted from the main couple, in TLaDL, the secondary romance fuels the story and is just as romantic and heartwrenching.
Killoran is a jaded rake who spends all his time stirring up trouble when he's not actively (or passively) courting death. When he hears a racket in the room next to his in the inn he's staying at, he's quite surprised to find an innocent but beautiful blood-drenched woman standing over a corpse. Naturally, scandal arises, but Killoran casually takes credit for the murder before leaving her with the means to make an honest living of herself.
Emma is an orphan and an heiress who was raised by her creepy, lecherous uncle and religious fanatic cousin. One day, the two of them decide to kill off Emma to take her money, but her uncle can't help but want to sample the wares first (ew). After Emma kills him, she thinks that it's the end for her and is surprised when Fate intervenes in the form of a long-haired, green-eyed rogue with an Irish brogue and apparent death wish. He sends her off to be a governess but end up meeting once more after yet another tragedy befalls Emma, and this time - heh - he decides to keep her.
In many ways, Killoran reminded me a lot of Viscount Rohan from RUTHLESS - he's cold, manipulative, and cruel, which makes it even more delicious when he starts to fall for the heroine and moves heaven and earth to avoid admitting it to himself. I didn't like Emma quite as much as Elinor, but as far as historical romance heroines go, she was pretty great. After all, she was fairly adept at stopping would-be rapists and murderers on her own. The dark fire between them is so compelling, and serves as a fine counterpoint for the apparently star-crossed romance between Killoran's cousin, Nathaniel, and the debauched young noblewoman he's considering making his mistress, Barbara.
I loved the revenge plot in this book, because revenge is only a cold dish if it isn't in a romance novel; then it fires everything up. Everyone in this book has a tragic backstory (except Nathaniel, really, but even he receives his fair share of angst), and it really gives this book a dark, almost Gothic feel that was very, very appealing. Barbara's romance with Nathaniel was pure anguish. Likewise, once I found out a little more about Killoran, I felt really bad for him, too. And poor Emma!
No one is spared.
If you like dark romances and cruel heroes, TO LOVE A DARK LORD is a great pick - particularly if you like cruel heroes who don't lower themselves to dubious consent/forced seduction. There are a lot of authors who try to strike this gloomy balance of atmospheric tension and seduction and end up failing miserably, but Anne Stuart really strikes the iron while it's hot here (and yes, it is hot).
Hey guys, remember that time I forced you all to read DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt & we all had a grand ol' time? Well, RUTHLESS is just as good, and it was published before, which should probably account for something. Also, the hero is the ruler of his own den of iniquity where people have orgies and Satanic rituals and is called, appropriately enough, King of Hell.
Elinor Harriman is plunged headfirst into the first circle of hell when her syphilis-affected mother gets it into her head to gamble away the last of their money. She encounters Viscount Rohan, the King of Hell, who is amused by her no-nonsense demeanor. Rohan is bored, and has been bored for some time (it's no fun when you always get what you want). Elinor is precisely what he needs to cure his ennui, and he'll do anything to have her -
Including threatening her younger, incredibly beautiful sister.
Like DUKE OF SIN, RUTHLESS has many aspects of the bodice rippers that helped make the historical romance genre what it is today. Rohan is a jaded antihero who does some very bad things. (I'm sure Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is rolling her eyes at me, going, "Nenia, did you even read my book?" Which, yes, I did, but come on - how can you resist evil when it's tall, and sinfully charming, and decked out in velvet and lace? That's Jereth territory there, and y'all know how that goes.)
OBLIGATORY VISUAL INTERLUDE:
The story line is also quite dark, as Elinor has gone through some terrible things that haunt her even to this day, her mother's unscrupulous behavior aside. The love between her and her sister, Lydia, is palpable and extremely well done. There's a secondary romance between Lydia and one of the men in Rohan's employ, and it is utterly charming (although not quite interesting enough to carry a plot line of its own, so I was glad it was relegated to the background). In case all the UST and drama weren't enough to spur you along, there's also a murder subplot, and it's not halfhearted in the least.
Also, Elinor is just so goshdarned awesome. Her banter with the hero is hilarious and had me chuckling. It's hard not to fall for a plucky, no-nonsense heroine who is weary and clever.
He wanted entertainment, and respite from boredom? She would provide it. So thoroughly that he'd be afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear she'd stab him (279).
And let's not forget the sneery, imperious charm that is Viscount Rohan:
"I'm not in the mood to be seconding duels or even stopping them. If they want to kill each other then let them go ahead. I have servants to clean up the blood" (24).
The only thing about this story that really annoyed me was that the hero and heroine were kept apart for long periods of time in the middle of the book, just when things were getting interesting - much too long, if you asked me. It felt like this was less for plot purposes and more for filler, although that didn't stop me from swooping through all 400 pages of this book in about three hours.
IT WAS GOOD! I LIKED IT! I WANT TO READ MOAR!
If you're a fan of gamma-heroes, you'll like this book. Anne Stuart is famous for hers.