I was curious about this book before the TV show came out, but the TV show made me even more curious. Aidan Turner is gorgeous, and it seemed like PBS was running with Ross Poldark to compete with Starz's Outlander, albeit without all the torture and rape. A Georgian-era romance set in Cornwall that transcends class and features an impoverished nobleman who cares a little too much about his tenants for society's liking? Hell yes!
ROSS POLDARK is not a very long book but it took me forever to read. In fact, I think it took me longer to read than OUTLANDER did, which is hilarious because OUTLANDER is twice as long (at least) as this book. The problem is the pacing - it is slow and plodding. I think part of that might be chalked up to the book's age; it was published in the 1940s and I think people were more willing to wait for a good thing back then. Now, access to internet and other technologies has shortened people's attention spans and increased the desire for instant gratification.
Ross Poldark, the eponymous hero, is part of the noble Poldark family. He has just returned from fighting in America - I'm guessing in what was the Revolutionary War - and has returned from Cornwall to find that the woman he was in love with has gotten engaged to his cousin instead. Morose, he turns to alcohol and the minding of the mine on his property, as well as the wellbeing of the people and their families who work in it. His care for his people is what prompts him to take in a girl, Demelza, from her abusive household and hire her on as his servant. It also prompts him to intervene when a man is caught poaching for his starving family.
There's some action in this book, but it's interspersed between long periods of nothing. I also didn't realize that this was going to be a guardian and ward romance, which I am sometimes into, but not when the ward begins the story as an actual child. I've expanded on my feelings about that more in other reviews, but basically I feel like it's a violation of a child's trust in a parental figure to turn that sort of relationship into a sexual one. The way that Verity's (Poldark's other cousin) relationship to a wife-beater is also portrayed in here wasn't great, either. I get that it's a different time and women were still considered chattel and beatings were only in poor taste if they were public or debilitating, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant to read about in the here and now (even off the page).
Overall, my feelings with this book are pretty lukewarm. It wasn't awful and I liked Ross Poldark, the cranky but well-meaning old drunk, but the story was boring and the writing didn't blow me away. I have books two and three on my Kindle so let's see if I can bring myself to get around to those later.
Ladies and gentlemen (and other dignified personages who may not identify as either), today is a monumental day in history. Today is the day that I found a motorcycle romance that I actually loved.
I know. I didn't think it was possible either.
Motorcycle/MC club romances are my least favorite genre of romance. All the ones I've read have been awful Sons of Anarchy knockoffs, with total cavemen heroes who swear a lot and treat women like garbage. I know that does it for some people, but I hate the unintelligent brutish alpha male stereotype, and avoid reading them whenever possible because it never ends well.
However, my romance group - the Unapologetic Romance Readers - has a yearly challenge that encourages people to read romances that they might not typically enjoy or, indeed, even go out of their way to avoid, which is how come every year I end up reading things like Amish romances (although we retired that category this year), rock star romances (another disliked trope of mine), and yes, of course, motorcycle romances.
One thing I do like, however, are diverse romances. And while this is not a genre, it is a type of romance that often does not get the publicity or attention it deserves. Lately, I've gotten into #romanceclass romances, which are romance novels written and published by a group of Filipino women, and headed by Mina V. Esguerra. This month of August they are having this event where a number of their works are discounted or free each day, to encourage people to keep checking back to see which ones are the daily specials.
I bought TAME THE KITTEN after several days of deliberation. Even though it was a motorcycle romance, the premise sounded really great. The heroine, Kit Torres, is not Filipina (the first of these #romanceclass novellas I've read to not have a Filipina heroine); she is a Puerto Rican woman living in New York. She works as an HR manager for an investment firm, and enjoys sticking it to the mostly-male offenders (although she would not phrase it as such).
One day, her male boss comes to her and tells her that he has a rich and famous potential client who's acting highly reluctant about signing with them. He wants her to babysit the client and take him around New York to show him a good time. To cinch his Creepmaster status, he even leverages the promotion she's angling for, and makes it contingent on the would-be-client's membership.
Kit reluctantly agrees - and then is immediately outraged when she finds out that the client, professional motorcycle racer Fabrizio Magnani, is the same reckless driver who nearly hit her as she was getting out of her taxi as she was going to work. Initially, she dislikes him, but she also finds him very attractive. Something Fab capitalizes on when he tells her that he'll only agree to each stage of the membership process if she goes out on a date with him following each "step."
Friends, this is such a good book. It sounds cheesy, like so many other romances of convenience of this type, but manages to be better and deeper (heh) than any of them. First, there's some pretty hot fem-dom action in here, which I wasn't expecting but was totally welcome, because romance needs more sex scenes about woman taking charge. And take charge Kit does (and it's hot). Second, the characters actually have some really great discussions with one another which is the source of their gradual connection, and it's actually meaningful. Their dates are also great - at one point, they go to an authentic New York ramen shop, and at another they go to a vintage punk clothing store and pick out clothes for each other to try on. Third, this book has some great conversations about what it means to be a professional woman - especially a professional woman of color - without being heavy-handed. Kit has a conversation with her coworker, Tamara, that's very moving and accurate.
Who knew that the answers to all my frustrations with the romance genre lay across the ocean? I'm not kidding, all of these #romanceclass romances are gold, and I've read about ten of them so far, and they've just been subverting one trope after another, and featuring leads of color. I am shooketh.
Get on this romance train, you guys. #FilipinoRomances are the future.
First of all, big thanks to my friend MG, who was kind enough to lend me this book on Kindle. I was desperately trying to find a Scottish romance to fulfill the category for my romance challenge after the one Scottish romance I owned didn't pan out (spoiler: it was a Maya Banks book). She said this book was one of her favorites, and I love her taste in books, so I was excited to read it.
Unfortunately, even though I am very grateful for my friend's kindness, I didn't end up caring for this book much at all.
The plot is pretty simple. Espy is a talented healer who had an equally talented physician as a father. Her father traveled a lot to foreign lands and learned a variety of experimental and unconventional techniques, which made him a figure of ridicule and suspicion among some of his more orthodox peers. Espy, armed with those same techniques, is overseeing the birth of a Scottish clanleader's wife when we meet her at the beginning of the book. The wife is hemorrhaging and begging Espy to save her child, but the (male) physician present convinces the clanleader that Espy has killed his wife, and she is hurled out of the tent, and informed in no uncertain terms that if she returns, it will mean her death - or worse.
So of course, many years later, Espy returns, because her grandmother Cyra still resides in the village. She's still haunted by that woman's death, but now she has new ghosts to terrorize her as well, in addition to a fresh scar on her face. When the clanleader, a man named Craven, finds out she's back, he fully intends to torture her. But when he sees how sickly and pathetic she looks, he agrees to let her grandmother nurse her back to health just so it will be more satisfying for him to break her later. What a prize, right? Now would be a good time to inform you that this man is the love interest.
When Espy inevitably recovers and is taken to the village proper to receive her fate, she is accosted by many members of the clan who have had to deal without healer or physician this entire time, and have injuries that run the gamut of splinter to serious infection. Craven observes her usefulness and decides that maybe torturing her isn't the best route - especially when new evidence arises that suggests that perhaps the physician and not Espy was the culprit responsible for what looks to have been the premeditated murder of his late-wife.
I liked the healing scenes, because I'm a sucker for healer and doctor characters. It's part of the reason I loved THE KING'S MAN and OUTLANDER so much. There is something selfless about people who devote their lives to the healing of those who are sick or wounded, and I love that. I also thought the murder mystery element of TO LOVE A HIGHLANDER was well done. Sometimes romance novels include murder as if it's an afterthought, something to prolong the tension or to bulk up a skimpy page count, but Donna Fletcher did a good job incorporating it into the story, I thought.
What I didn't like was the hero. He is one of those uber-alpha dudes, the kind who choke women to show off their superior power and get their attention (he chokes Espy several times). When she's his prisoner, he followers her around constantly and berates her for disappearing without telling him where she's going first, which I guess is understandable. However, he does the same thing when he decides he likes her, telling her that he expects to know where she is "at every moment." Ha ha, no. I get that this is a medieval romance, so this mindset is probably accurate, but it was still very annoying, and I didn't really see much to redeem him by the end of the book. I thought he was awful.
Espy also verges on TSTL territory. She's constantly wandering off into the face of danger, and what was frustrating to me is that she's obviously far more educated than a woman of her time would typically be, and given her history you would think that she would have learned caution, but no. Her stupidity was the turning point for many a plot revelation and it was extremely irritating to see the story moved along by such poor decision-making. It really made the plot drag a lot.
TO LOVE A HIGHLANDER isn't a bad book, but it wasn't a particularly good one, either. There were a lot of typos, the writing was pretty basic, and the hero was a turd.
At least I have finally read and finished my Scottish romance challenge, though! :)
Look at that cover - oh my God, the pose, the costumes, the cheese. This is what I live for, as a reviewer of vintage romance novels. Bad romance covers are a key part of the Old Skool Experience™. That said, once I got over the low resolution Photoshop job and what is either a B-movie vampire wearing a Target Halloween costume or an innovative male stripper wearing a pair of armpit tassels, I noticed the small blurb at the top that said, "A breathtaking vampire romance in the tradition of LINDA LAEL MILLER." Once I stopped giggling over the (I'm assuming) unintentional pun of "breathtaking" to refer to a vampire romance, I was like, "Wait, why does Linda Lael Miller sound so familiar?"
...Oh wait, I remember. She's that lady who wrote FOREVER AND THE NIGHT: the romance novel that has the dubious honor of being one of the worst vampire novels I ever read, due to "Anglo-Saxon" sex words, eyelid-licking, and Nazi costumes.
And this book is written "in the tradition" of... that.
To PRINCE OF THE NIGHT's credit, it isn't quite that cringe-worthy, but it's still pretty bad. What makes this sad, is that the book actually has a really great start. Cordelia is an upstanding young English miss. She's escorting her pregnant cousin, Mary, and her maid Ellen, to this reclusive Italian estate called the Three Fountains - allegedly a long-forgotten home owned by her father. When she gets there, she's shocked to find out that the estate - which is really more of a sprawling mansion - already has an owner, the Count of Albion.
Right away, things are super suspicious. There are several murders, which may or may not have to do with the Second Italian War of Independence; the Count has a number of young boys as servants, avoids being in their company, won't eat the food, and makes a creepy comment about Cordelia being a virgin; and, oh yes, the two Austrian soldiers who escorted Mary and Cordelia to the castle from the inn seem super suspicious of everyone - especially Cordelia - and nobody takes her suspicious seriously, except for the Count's sinister and elderly maid.
As I said, the beginning is great, and has that claustrophobic, gothic vibe I've grown to love, and pays a brilliant homage to the original Dracula novel written by Bram Stoker. All that changes when Cordelia finally acknowledges her attraction to Dakon (Count Albion), which in my opinion happens much too quickly, and things start getting weird as Jasmine Cresswell starts playing around with the vampire mythology in order to make it her own.
First of all, the vampires in this world come from outer-space. That's right. They are aliens.
Second of all, they can only impregnate virgins.
"It's true, then? The count must drink human blood in order to live?" "Only at ... certain times," Anna said. "For years he has tried to make do with the blood of young boys, but there is no substitute for the blood of a female virgin where my master is concerned." "The blood of men and women is the same - " "No, signorina, it cannot be, and the blood of virgins seems more potent than any other. His people have discovered that they can only produce offspring if their female partners are virgin" (250).
Third of all, all vampire offspring created with humans are male because the coupling is so violent.
"It seems so strange. In your own world, girls must presumably have been born in equal numbers with boys, so what is it about joining with human females that causes only boys to be born?" For a moment, Dakon didn't respond. "Our scientists have concluded that the violence inherent in the act of mating with a human determines that the offspring of the union will always be male," he said. His voice was harsh, and he obviously disliked reminding her of the brutal reality of his nature (302).
Vampires apparently go through this mating frenzy where they lose control to the point of rape. They can also kill by tearing the throat of the person they're mating with. So how do you get a girl?
"Perhaps they have not examined the situation from the correct point of view," Cordelia said. "But it seems to me that if you insure that the mating between a Vam-pyr and a human female is not violent, then the child resulting from that union will be a girl" (302).
So, need a boy child? Use your human wife ill. Need a girl child? Love her tender.
You know what makes this even more disturbing, though? When Dakon and Cordelia (inevitably) have a child - and of course it's a girl - and show her to her vampire grandfather, he's shocked.
ZArymp (lol) shook his head in bewilderment. "Vampire babies are always boys. For four thousand years, no Vam-pyr has ever fathered a female child" (377).
What the flipping-frick. That's got terrifying implications. For FOUR THOUSAND YEARS, vampires have been gleefully and violently ill-using humans, and nobody took a moment to stop and think, "Hmm, maybe we should be subverting the violence that's inherent in the system?" Nobody?
The sex scenes are all pretty terrible, too. Vampires were, historically, an interesting and "safe" allegory of earthly sexuality without totally offending Victorian sensibilities. Cresswell really takes the phallic imagery of a vampire's fangs and runs with it.
His sacs burst instantly, sending mating fluid streaming into the tiny openings he had made in Cordelia's throat. His whole body pulsed with the power of her blood, and her body thrummed with the erotic impact of his mating fluid (370).
IT STINGS SO SWEET came out when everyone was trying to out-FIFTY SHADES OF GREY FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. I bought it at the tail end of the fad, when people were starting to get fatigued by the crazy influx of taboo erotica. This book, along with others, was sitting sadly on the discount table at a Barnes & Noble, where its price had been slashed several times, despite the lack of takers. I imagine it's like arriving late to a Roman orgy when everyone's tired and all the grapes are wilted.
My hopes were pretty low when I picked it up, but after a few pages, I was like, "Wow, this is hot!" It's costume fiction to be sure, but the author made a genuine effort to pick up the slang and the scenery of the times, and it gives IT STINGS SO SWEET a fun, colorful element that keeps it from being "just another kinky erotica." I don't know if the author was watching The Great Gatsby on TV and thought, "this would make a good porn," but if that's the case, she was totally right, and more power to her, because it put this awesome book in my hands.
IT STINGS SO SWEET contains three short stories that have interconnecting characters. Each can be read as a standalone, but together they create a whole, as several of the characters have arcs that are introduced in one of the previous short stories in which they are a secondary characters, only to have it resolved when they finally get their own story. I thought that set-up was pretty creative.
Love Me or Leave Me: ☆☆☆☆
This is the first story and it is definitely the most intense. Nora Richardson and her husband, Johnathan, are at a party, but neither are enjoying themselves. Nora got drunk and kissed another man and her husband is fuming over her infidelity and planning to leave her on the morrow. But first - he wants to punish her by humiliating her in front of all their friends, which at first fills her with outrage, and then fills her with something far more complicated and messed up.
I think if people have issues with one of these stories, it's going to be Love Me or Leave Me, since it's so dark and really toes the line of safe, sane, and consensual. This is because Johnathan is a sadist and Nora is a masochist, and their dance of physical and emotional humiliation can feel very uncomfortable, especially when Johnathan forces her to do sexual things with other men while he watches (stopping short of sex, of course) or even hitting her in the face. That said, I felt like it was done well, and there was aftercare, and the author really tried to untangle Johanthan's anger from his wife with his desire to see her humiliated, and I appreciated that distinction from straight-up abuse.
When I'm Bad I'm Better: ☆☆☆☆
I liked this story a lot. It's about a silent film star named Clara Cartwright who meets a flying ace from WWI at the same party where Nora and Johnathan have their fight. He blackmails her into seeing him by claiming to have a smutty tape she filmed when she was a teenager. To her horror, the tape is real and he forces her to watch it with him, which she finds out she actually likes. She actually lets him keep the tape, despite his offer to give it back, so he can continue to use it against her and blackmail her into humiliating herself more and more, culminating in a menage a trois with another man.
This story lacks some of the emotional intensity of the first story, but ups the kink level to compensate for it. I thought it was really well done, as exhibitionism and sexual blackmail are fetishes that are less-explored than some of the more mainstream ones (e.g. spanking, bondage). I also liked how the romance between Clara and Leo played out, and his descriptions of PTSD from the war. I always appreciate it when the author makes a solid attempt at characterization in erotica because that emotional intimacy makes the sexual intimacy that much more explosive.
Let's Misbehave: ☆☆☆½
The last story in this book requires the most suspension of disbelief, even though it's also the cutest. Sophie is a girl working at a hotel, while also trying to undermine the status quo from within. She's an activist who speaks in union halls and hands out pamphlets about birth control to her friends and coworkers, and basically wants to make everything better for her coworkers. When she's called into the boss's office, she assumes she's going to get fired. Robert Aster is, after all, heir to a vast fortune and son to a notoriously cold and no-nonsense ambassador. However, Robert doesn't want to see her about her picketing; he wants to talk to her about the journal he found when her locker was searched - a journal in which she detailed all of her secret sexual fantasies.
The romance between Sophie and Robert is more typical of the millionaire meets the innocent ingenue-type BDSM romance the market was flooded with from 2012-2014, but Sophie has her head set firmly on her shoulders and isn't afraid to take control or set limits. She also doesn't abandon her principles at the first glimpse of a pretty face, which I appreciated, and made this story feel like it was written by Courtney Milan or Alisha Rai instead of, say, C.D. Reiss or E.L. James. This story is less edgy than the other two, although it does experiment with the fluidity of sexual attraction.
Overall, this collection came as a pleasant surprise. It was well-written and most of the sex scenes were very hot. There were a few phrases that made me lift an eyebrow (one in particular, which I gleefully made fun of in a status update, because that's what I do), but for the most part, I was very pleased andliked the feminist twist on all of these stories. Porn doesn't have to be exploitative.
Romantic suspense is kind of a misleading name, because the "romantic" part makes me think of a cozy cop romance, when the truth is usually anything but. Take NIGHTFALL, a story about a man accused of murdering his wife and children, and a woman who is the daughter of the super-shady author writing his "true crime" story.
Cassidy, like most of the nation, has heard about Richard Tiernan and his trial. A man accused of murdering his beautiful wife and two young children, with all evidence pointing to his guilt. Worse; his trial is being expedited because his late wife was the daughter of a beloved war-hero and notable political figurehead. As far as he's concerned, the writing's on the wall, and it says GUILTY in red, dripping letters.
Richard Tiernan is willing to let his story be told by Cassidy's father, but in return, he wants Cassidy. The reasons aren't clear, but it sounds sketchy as hell. Her father doesn't like it, but Richard's story is important to him for reasons that are also made clear as the story goes on, so he agrees to this Faustian bargain over his conscience, inviting his daughter to the very apartment without telling her that it's actually the lion's den. Obviously, this being a romance novel, she finds him darkly fascinating and finds it difficult to reconcile her attraction to him with his possible guilt.
Anne Stuart's first published novel was actually one of those pulpy Gothic romances, and in NIGHTFALL, she goes back to her roots, with a densely atmospheric story that is absolutely mired in whodunnitry, with a sick, utterly disturbing twist that I'm sure made V.C. Andrews sit up in her grave and break out in applause. It's been a while since I was so disturbed by the grand reveal in a book. And this was published by a mainstream publisher? Man, that's ballsy. Just goes to show how quick people are to write these off as fluffy drivel. That was some Game of Thrones level horror.
NIGHTFALL is not one for the fluffies and I'll be the first to admit it has its flaws. The pretense for the hero and heroine meeting is pretty thin, and a little lame, and as my friend Heather pointed out in her review of A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT, her writing can be very repetitive, as she tends to become overly attached to specific phrases (e.g. "he said, very gently"). The hero in this book is also more unpleasant than some of her other heroes, who were blithe, morally grey men cast in the mold of Jareth, from Labyrinth. This guy is more like the OG James Bond, a broken man with a broken moral compass who doesn't value his own life, sees nothing wrong with hitting women if the situation calls for it (warning: he hits the heroine and also the heroine's adolescent sister), and will basically rationalize any sort of unpleasantness if he thinks it is for "the greater good." I find characters like that fascinating, but other romance readers may not. Consider this a warning, please.
Man, I'm still kind of blown away by the ending, and all that doom and gloom. If you're a fan of dark romances and atmospheric tension, this is a must-read. Just keep in mind that the hero is a jerk, and for about 50% of the book, most of the interaction between the hero and the heroine consists of, "Did you murder your wife?" "Maybe." "Do I frighten you?" "Yes." "Good. Want to screw?" "If we must."
Man, I always secretly dread the BBW challenge. In principle, I think the concept is great. As a plus-sized woman, it's awesome to see curvy or heavy women gracing the covers of romance novels. When I saw the cover of this book in the Kindle freebie section, I snagged it instantly, because of course I want to support that.
The problem is that these sorts of books usually come across as cliche-ridden and fetishistic. PRETTY IN INK is no exception. Aubrey is rich and overweight. When we meet her, she's at a bar with her skinny-bitch sister who's getting married. They're double-dating (Aubrey's seeing the best man). Aubrey has issues about her weight (and it's suggested that she's this heavy because she eats), but refuses to starve herself to become as slim as her sister. Her entire family is this cliche bunch of villains that demonize her for being heavy, and this loser she's dating actually tries to veto her dinner order at the bar to force her to eat a salad and chicken instead of cheese and steak. It turns out this loser is just dating her for her money and utterly resents her for being fat.
Cut to our hero, Garrett, who loves big women because they give him a "smooth landing" or something like that. He loves curvy women a little too much, actually, because his attraction to Aubrey is simply because she's big, and that makes sex more fun for him. I guess that's fine, but at the same time, he's not really seeing her as a person, but as a plus-sized blow-up doll, and while I get that that is the point of these short, sexual fantasies - objectification, but in a "positive" way - it still feels gross. Particularly since the narrative appears to be trying to belabor the point that Garrett is such a nice guy for willing to date her for herself, and that he's the only one who sees her as a sexual being with feelings and not as some gross blob, so he is validating her very existence, blah, blah, blah.
PRETTY INK INK tries really hard, but the quickie format just doesn't work for the topics it broaches. It made weight-shaming and body image issues feel cheap. Maybe if you enjoy Alexa Riley romances, you'll enjoy this, as they are very similar in tone - there's that same protective alpha, "I MUST CLAIM HER" caveman vibe that their fans seem to love. But if you're expecting something substantial, with good plus-size rep, you're going to be very disappointed.
I love weekends. You know why? They give me the perfect excuse to clean out my Kindle. I think I must have finished about eight books this weekend, and I feel so proud of myself. One of those books finished was NEVER NEVER. I've been on a Tarryn Fisher binge, because I really like her style and you never really know what you're going to get with one of her books. One of the last ones I read, THE OPPORTUNIST, even had an amnesia subplot like this one, so that was amusing but okay. I'm a sucker for a good amnesia plot. They're one of my favorite cracky tropes.
As I said, I like Tarryn Fisher, but I'm more ambivalent about Colleen Hoover. I like some of her darker books like TOO LATE and IT ENDS WITH US, but a lot of the other ones of hers I've read have really made me angry. I didn't see how two such very different authors could mesh together, but Tarryn lightened up her style and Hoover darkened it. I actually thought Hoover was Fisher, because Silas's POV was my favorite and I assumed that was because it was written by my favorite author of the two, but no. Maybe they were trying to imitate each other's styles? Anyway, they did manage to blend, so kudos to them, because I totally wasn't expecting that to happen.
The plot is weird, and kind of reminds me of those other "memory loss thrillers," like Memento, Paycheck, and Before I Go to Sleep, only this is told from a YA/NA perspective. Silas and Charlie both "wake up" in school not knowing who they are, where they are, or why they can't remember anything before their moment of dawning consciousness. When they glimpse one another and see how lost they are, they know that they aren't alone and that they must have a connection. They do. They're boyfriend and girlfriend.
As they form a wary partnership and start digging into the lives that don't even feel like their own, they discover some very disturbing revelations about themselves and their families. Legal trouble, cheating, violence, betrayal - it seems like their relationship wasn't just on the rocks, it was impaled on them, bleeding out treachery. But they also seemed to love each other, too, despite everything else, and it isn't really clear why they would want to cause each other so much pain if there was love. That's just one thing in a long list of things that they can't remember.
The book starts getting really creepy towards the end, with two particularly notable scenes that gave me chills, even if they were a teeny bit cliche. But right when things begin to pick up, the book ends on a wicked cliffhanger that occurs after one of the biggest revelations in the book. If NEVER NEVER feels short, it isn't your imagination; it's under 200 pages, and by the time you finish the book you don't really know anything more about the mystery behind these characters than you did at the beginning. It's incredibly frustrating to become that invested in the story with so little payoff.
NEVER NEVER isn't a bad book but it's definitely not one of my favorites. It's actually my least favorite Tarryn Fisher book I've read so far, although it's fine for a CoHo (I expect better from Fisher). I'm certainly not so wowed by what I read that I feel the urge to race out and purchase the sequel. There are too many other amnesia books that did it better and answered my questions better.
A lot of my fellow romance-lovers enjoy cute, fluffy romances that make them smile. Not me - I like my romance novels to make me feel like I've been sucker-punched in the solar plexus half a dozen times before throwing me out on my ass in the middle of a busy sidewalk. That's why I chose THE OPPORTUNIST as my "second chance romance"; when it comes to messed-up romance novels, Tarryn Fisher invariably delivers.
Our main couple, Olivia and Caleb, are epic trash people, and this is their saga of dumpster-worthy decisions. They first hooked up in college, but only after Olivia schemed, lied, and stalked her way into his heart, even going so far as to screw over his then-pregnant girlfriend by spilling out all of her dirty laundry. I saw a meme earlier that said "All Tea, All Shade" - that's Olivia. She's scandal wrapped in an ill-fitting dress. You can't quite hate her because her life is so awful, but you can't really stand to be around her, either.
It's told in dual timeline format, with the present story being written in present tense and the past story written in past tense, which can be a little confusing (especially since sometimes the author forgets which story she's telling, and slips into the wrong "tense"). This format is used to conceal information from the reader, because in the current story, Caleb, now with a different girlfriend, has amnesia, and Olivia, schemer that she is, takes advantage of his delicate condition in order to worm her way back into his heart a second time. We know that when they last parted, Caleb hated her for some unforgivable transgression, but we don't know what. All that we do know is that Olivia is one sick puppy... and as we read on, we find out Caleb is, as well. Maybe worse than we think.
The last third of the story gets extra weird and a little unbelievable, but I just decided to roll with it. MUD VEIN and MARROW did the same thing. Tarryn Fisher seems to be making "jumping the shark" her trademark, and somehow she makes it work, even if you secretly admit to yourself that what's happening is a little stupid. The "past" story was the embodiment of virtually every negative new adult stereotype that I hate, but somehow Fisher made that work, too. I think it works because she doesn't try to apologize for being over-the-top or writing trash people characters. She just writes them and lets them tell their story themselves, rather than wasting time trying to apologize for them. ATHEISTS WHO KNEEL AND PRAY also featured a cast of incredibly repulsive characters, but I liked that book more than I should have, because it was compelling and unapologetic.
This definitely feels more unpolished than MUD VEIN and MARROW (both of which I believe were published later), and I noticed more errors in THE OPPORTUNIST, as well. There is also a higher rate of awkward metaphors that sound like something you might expect to see in a high school creative writing class, some notable ones comparing a dude to a shiny pepper she wants to take a bite out of and mouths clashing together like thunderclouds. *eye roll* But if you can get over the negative tropes and the unlikable people and the OTT drama, this is actually a riveting read. I devoured it in just a few hours and was frankly amazed at how quickly those pages turned. I own the two sequels and am excited to see what dark and reeking twisted alleys this story takes next.
I almost never like rockstar romances. I think it's because they tend to be very shallow and superficial, focusing more on the "I'm hot and have to wade through a sea of willing women and available drugs" aspects of the profession and less on the talent and the artistry. It gets old after a while, you know? When setting up for this romance reading challenge, the rockstar romance category was one I dreaded almost as much as motorcycle/MC romance - gag.
But I'd heard nothing but good things about Mariana Zapata for years, and even though DEAR AARON turned out to be a bust, I thought that maybe, just maybe, RHYTHM, CHORD & MALYKHIN might turn out to be a winner.
Here's the thing - in many ways, RHYTHM has a lot of the same problems that I had with DEAR AARON, except magnified. Whereas DEAR AARON was almost, almost a three or four star read bar an unfortunate last act, RHYTHM was almost a one, except for the fact that I finished it, held captive by this trash person opera of ribald foolishness and moronic courtship rituals. The hero and heroine are supposed to have a "connection" but mostly it's just a physical connection, if you catch my drift. More telling, the descriptions of Sascha are nearly identical to those of Aaron - swimmer physique, blocky abs, small waist, broad shoulders, "perfectly sculpted" body - and the only difference is skin color and eye color. I get that some authors have a "type" and that's fine, but when the descriptions feel interchangeable, it starts to feel more like lazy writing.
Second, like Ruby in DEAR AARON, Gaby has insecurities. Ruby had anxiety and Gaby has body image issues, so much so that she decided to get breast implants to boost her image. Again, fine. But I feel like, as with DEAR AARON, it wasn't handled very well, and like Ruby, Gaby never really learns to stand up for herself; she waits for others to do it for her. While her friends are sitting there, making comments about how women with fake tits are slutty, she just sits there and waits for her men (her crush and her brother) to defend her. Her friends and her brother call her Flabby Gabby, Flabby, Flabs, and even Doctor Flabby because (I guess?) she used to be heavy when she was younger. It's obvious that she was really traumatized about her weight when she was younger but since she's thin and hot now, she seems to be totally fine with the nickname and never calls them out on it.
Third, like Aaron in DEAR AARON, Sascha totally yanks Gaby around. He sends her mixed signals, calling her a friend while doing sexual things with her, and never calls her his girlfriend. For a while, she even thinks he might be seeing someone else because at one point his ex comes for a visit and he pulls out a chair for her - in front of Gaby - sits with her, eats with her, and during a telephone call that Gaby overhears, even tells his ex that he's "not seeing anyone." Later, he tries to tell Gaby that it's because his ex is a psycho, but it's not even this part that really upsets Gaby (although it should because it's classic avoidance syndrome); no, she's upset because he told his ex that he still cares about her. She freaks out about it instead of talking to him, and acts like a raging bitch.
Fourth, the transphobia. There are so many transphobic jokes and insults in this book that weren't present in DEAR AARON. I think it's supposed to be "locker room talk" (ugh) because Gaby is the only girl in this group of boys on tour, but it comes across as really disgusting. I've quoted a few of them in my status updates for this book, and found it rather disturbing just how often it came up. These people are supposed to be in their mid- to late-twenties and sound like they're freshmen in high school. The constant potty talk and references to fecal matter and farts hammered in this suspicion for me. The latter is purely juvenile but the way the former is normalized feels dangerous. For example, one of the "worst" things that Gaby envisions happening to her ex in revenge is that he'd unknowingly hook up with a transvestite, presumably because he'd experience the infamous "trans panic" - something that has been used to rationalize the assault and even murder of trans people who outted themselves.
Add to that general d-baggery of all the characters and the fact that one of the characters never showers and is inexplicably described as a vagina magnet (ew), and I found myself wondering, quite blatantly, "Why the hype?" I still have a couple more of this author's books languishing on my Kindle app, so I'll probably check those out, but my "success" so far is making me think I won't be buying any more.
I tend to prefer vintage bodice rippers to their present-day historical romance counterparts, but the prospect of reading about a female geologist was too good to miss. #Fomo
ONE FOR THE ROGUE is about a woman named Gemma Hart. She, and several other ladies, are under the guardianship of a woman named Serena Beauchamp, living in the Beauchamp household which was previously owned by another female geologist, a woman named Celeste.
Celeste has bequeathed her collection to Gemma, who works tirelessly to add to her late-benefactress's legacy. This is an obstacle hampered, as you might well imagine, by the fact that she is a woman.
Cam, the hero, is one of these hamperees. Gemma previously sent in a paper to be published in his magazine, only for him to turn it down. He claimed it was because it was too similar in nature to other articles being published at the time but she assumes (probably partially correctly) that it's because she's a woman and he's just another barrier to that elusive glass ceiling.
He's nothing compared to the slimy idiot who is conniving to breach the Beauchamp estates in order to gain access to the grounds. Rumors of a dinosaur skeleton abound, one that would be a priceless edition to any fossil collection as well as a sizeable feather (did you know that dinosaurs were feathered?) in one's geologist cap. The question is - how many other people want this fossil? And what might they be willing to do to get it?
The beginning of this book was very good. The mansplaining and the sexism were done well, and any woman who's worked in an industry or workplace populated mostly by men knows how it feels - to this day - to have someone make light of your contributions or knowledge simply because you are female. The plot crumbled a bit when the author introduced a murder mystery, made a big conspiracy out of it, and tried to get me to like the hero when he had revealed himself to be one of those insensitive mansplainers fairly early on in the book (even though he did redeem himself).
Despite the unique premise, ONE FOR THE ROGUE just couldn't pull me in the way I wanted to be pulled in and I rolled my eyes at the cheesy ending. If you're a fan of Courtney Milan's fluffier stories, you might like this.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Remember when FIFTY SHADES OF GREY came out and people were like, "This is weirdly uncomfortable - this feels more like the ownership of another human being than a romance"? Well, Celia Aaron decides to take squick a step further in COUNSELLOR, because hey, wouldn't it be fun if a girl and a millionaire signed a contract where he would actually own her?
Stella's father is going to jail and Sinclair represents the opposing party. He meets with her on the DL and presents her with some papers and then says, "Hey, baby - be my slave for a year and I'll nix all the charges against your pops. But if you refuse, I'll make sure that he gets raped and probably dies in prison LOL. But seriously, sign or bad things will happen to your dad."
Faced with that kind of ultimatum, Stella signs the contract "willingly" while he is literally panting at her ear like a horny pervert insisting that she do so (alarm bells, anyone? no?) and promptly becomes a slave. As it turns out, Sinclair is part of this creepy group of people who have resurrected the slave trade in the South. I'm sure they have a name, but let's just call them the Slave Appreciation Society. Sinclair is in the running to become Sovereign, which is basically President of the Slave Appreciation Society, which means that he gets tithes from their income and also power and prestige. Oh, and that he breaks freaking slaves that he kidnaps. Let's not forget that part.
You become Sovereign by having weird, Hunger Games-like human versions of "dog shows" only instead of fighting for their lives, the audience has an orgy while watching the "contestants" (read: slaves) get forcibly tattooed with branding marks, paraded around naked on a runway while people catcall and grope, and then whipped 25 times (one time for each decade that the Slave Appreciation Society has been in existence). It's a truly bizarre and disturbing scene and I found myself both fascinated and horrified.
I know the slavery thing is going to be a deal-breaker for some, and I feel like even the author kind of had a "oh no!" moment when she realized that writing an erotica novel about romanticized slavery in the modern-day South might be triggering for some because at one point, Sinclair casually says, for no apparent reason, that this new slave trade isn't about color. To be fair, it isn't. All of the slaves at the competition are white (if I remember correctly). That doesn't make what you're doing any better, bro.
I don't mind reading "captive" romances as long as they're done well, but I feel like this one was executed pretty badly. Don't get me wrong - it was breakneck AF, and I sped through it while hating myself for each page read, unable to help myself - but there were some pretty huge problems that made suspension of disbelief fall utterly flat on its face. There are some pretty awful psychological elements that come into play for Stockholm Syndrome, and if you're going to write that book but wuss out at the idea of making the heroine hate the hero, then you really shouldn't write captive romances because as uncomfortable as it is to write a romance where the hero and heroine hate each other (for good reason), I think it's more uncomfortable when this is just glossed over as normal.
Seriously, why are people doing this? Sinclair keeps saying that he has to do it for duty, family, etc. Why? You have dirt on high-powered political people and if you really wanted to get out of it, all it would take was a whisper in the right ear, and all of this would come crashing down like the f'd up Jenga tower that it is. Whining about how you're powerless to stop what you're clearly capable of stopping just makes you a spineless weenie. Also, where are they getting these people, these slaves, from? Stella was blackmailed and one of the women was a prostitute - what about the others?
Also, I thought it was really creepy how quickly Stella started fantasizing about Sinclair. Right after she's kidnapped, she starts touching herself while imagining them doing it in the shower (uh?) and then right after he whips her so badly that they have to medically induce unconsciousness, she and him do it. The beginning was great, because she hated that jerk and with good reason, and I thought, "Oh, cool, a heroine who isn't going to take this BS, and will give the hero something to think about." #Nope. All of that flies out of the window as soon as she scopes out his hot bod and killer jawline.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, encouraging you to buy the next one, but I think I'm going to call it quits with the Slave Appreciation Society for now. Go figure, hey?
We all have some friends whose opinions about books are so similar to ours that if they rate a book highly, we immediately zoom out to the Kindle Store to buy it. I know I do. But there are also some bloggers out there whose tastes are so antithetical to mine that if I see that they have given a book five stars, it automatically goes on my internal do-not-buy list.
This happened in the case of THE SILVER SWAN, but unfortunately, I had already downloaded it from the Kindle Store, and I figured that maybe it could be good. Sometimes I like dark smutty stories, if they're dark and smutty enough. But they have to be well-written and they have to be interesting.
THE SILVER SWAN was neither.
THE SILVER SWAN kind of feels like it was heavily influenced by Penelope Douglas's Devil's Night series and Erin Watt's PAPER PRINCESS. The main character, Madi, is a "troubled" rich girl whose mother killed her husband's mistress before killing herself with one of Madi's own guns (Madi's a gun nut). As a fresh start, her father has enrolled her in a rich kid's school in a rich kid area, in the hope that such richy richness will magically cure her psychological problems, because I guess therapy is just another word for Aston Martin. *eye roll* Dad of the Year is an award that this man will not be getting, because he is so taken with his new wife that he neglected to inform his daughter that her step-mom has a step-brother her age, whose room is next to hers - and oh, yeah, he's a pervert.
Once at her new school, things take a turn for the TWILIGHT where Madi ends up with a Jessica of her own, only this Jessica is named Tatum and is rich as sin. She also meets ten Edwards, only these Edwards are more like his Christian Grey incarnation, if Christian Grey was a sleazy seventeen-year-old who divides his free time between lurking outside expensive nightclubs and beating off. All of them are immediately intrigued by her, even though their attention cannot be captured by any SINGLE girl, such is the immense power of their collective testosterone. Plot bonus: pervy step-brother is a member of this dicktastic elite collective, redundantly known as the Elite Kings.
The Kings waste no time in stalking Madi, sexually harassing Madi, threatening Madi with rape, with bodily harm, and even with murder. They keep making all of these vague threats about how she will die soon, or that there is a secret about her that they cannot share (thanks for the helpful info, guys). The most unstable Christian Grey of them all, Bishop, even tells her that he thinks she has a sexy spine and wants to break it, and this is of course after he threatens to disembowel her right before they have sex - yet again. I suppose if you find the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker healthy, you would see no problem with this, and it seems like Madi does, so yay for her, I guess?
As a reader of bodice rippers, I am not a stranger to OTT smut and wtfery, and when it is done well I will even tolerate it in modern erotica. Case in point: PAPER PRINCESS and, most recently, A. Zavarelli's CROW, a book that I thought I would hate and ended up loving instead. I had hoped that something similar might happen with THE SILVER SWAN, but I ended up being pretty fed up with the book because of what I perceived to be lazy writing (highly repetitive descriptions, for example: "eyes filled with mischief" occurring in two succeeding paragraphs; lots of typos) and way too many asides. The obsession with food in this book is particularly curious, with Madi constantly telling us what she wants to eat or is currently eating, and exactly how much progress she is making as she continues to eat or obtain this food in question, whether it's a sandwich, an apple, Krispey Kremes, or enough Burger King to "feed half a state."
I also didn't particularly care for Madi, and her "I'm not like other girls" attitude was particularly jarring and irritating, as was her vapid, superficial lifestyle and her easy judgment of girls who were just as quick to jump in bed with men as she was. After the umpteenth luxury product name-drop, I wanted to go to Debauve & Gallais just so I could throw an expensive projectile at her head in a particularly poignant display of irony - also added hilarity, Madi speaks of Sulpice Debauve the way Trump spoke of Frederick Douglass, implying that he continues his great work to this day, lol.
The disappointing climax was the cherry on this disappointment sundae. I'm sorry that I was not more impressed with this book, because the premise really did sound interesting, but so many other authors have run with the "rich kids hiding a deadly secret" premise and done it one better, and honestly, I'd rather just watch Hana Yori Dango, because as far as I'm concerned, that story is the OG. Many thanks to Meggie for participating in this BR with me. You should check out her review.
I think the last time I saw a contemporary romance getting this much attention, it was Sally Thorne's THE HATING GAME (in fact, initially, I thought this was a sequel to THE HATING GAME, since the colors of the book covers and the art style were so similar). When I read the summary (and looked at the author's name), I realized, of course, that it was a totally different book. But it still sounded like a book that I'd read before...
Last year, I read a book for a romance reading challenge called BEGINNER'S GUIDE: LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS. Tell me if this sounds familiar: a brainy, heroine in STEM with Asperger's has trouble dating and feels pressured by family to commit to that monogamous life. She decides to find a boyfriend by quantifying her love life by establishing a baseline that feels comfortable and seeking out an Asian creative type who originally seems like he's her total opposite but ends up being her soulmate and oh, by the way: he has a cool tattoo. Sounds like this book, right? It's also the premise of Six de los Reyes's book, LOVE AND OTHER, which came out two years before this one.
THE KISS QUOTIENT has differences to LOVE AND OTHER, of course. The main character, Stella, is white. Her love interest, Michael, is half-Vietnamese and half-Scandinavian. The characters in LOVE AND OTHER are both #OwnVoices Filipino characters. Stella is a econometrician and Michael is a tailor by day and an escort by night. Kaya, on the other hand, is a geneticist and Nero, her love interest, owns a bubble tea cafe and paints. Kaya and Nero originally agree to go out on blind dates whereas Stella and Michael meet when she seeks him out with an escort app. They aren't the same story and their trajectory are totally different, but they're similar enough that one made me think of the other and I can't help but compare the two while reviewing THE KISS QUOTIENT.
I'm sorry to say that THE KISS QUOTIENT falls short.
My expectations were very high for this book because people were praising it for the Autism rep as well as the Asian rep. People were also saying that the sex scenes were hot, and that it had a very feminist-friendly bent. All of these things sounded very appealing, because as much as I love those trashy romance novels from the days of yore when men behaved like d-bags, sometimes it's nice to read about a male hero who wouldn't make you run - fast - in the other direction. But now that I've read the book, I'm a little bewildered because I noticed so many problems that nobody else was really bringing up.
1. The autism rep was portrayed awkwardly. I feel like I'm getting a little out of my lane here, but Stella's portrayal made me uncomfortable. There's this dinner scene with Michael's family that actually made me wince, and I couldn't help but wonder: did her mother never explain to her the rules of social conduct? Lecturing people about microwaving plastic and how it causes death (and using that as a pretense to refuse to eat the food that's cooked for you) and then probing incessantly into your date's absentee father is so tasteless and is basically rule #1 of "don't's" in social interactions. Another thing she does is read his bills when she's alone in his apartment. That's how she finds out his real name (he gave her a fake one because of his job, and for other personal reasons), as well as the fact that he's financially in debt. Again, pretty sure most kids are told that "snooping is bad." And I've met some autistic people before and even if they can get stuck on a single subject in conversation, they're usually pretty good with rules - especially if the reasons behind them are explained - so this felt very unrealistic and needlessly awkward, as this is something that would definitely come up in parenting, and just felt like it was created to create drama! for Stella. Also, of course their sexual relationship mitigates some of the issues she has because of her autism. #MagicDicklit strikes again. It seems like good sex can cure just about any ailment or symptom, doesn't it? Especially psychological conditions or neurodivergence. How interesting.
2. The relationship is not healthy. Any time a relationship is based in prostitution, I'm a little skeptical. Adult entertainment is a high stress, high risk job, and jealousy is going to be an issue, no matter how openly you communicate. Michael accepts her as a client, despite knowing that he's probably going to get too attached (and he does, spoiler: because obviously). They move from "educational sex lessons" to "educational fake relationship lessons," which basically consist of them going through the motions of a real relationship whilst lying to themselves about how they really feel about one another. Worse still, in the last act, Michael becomes this alpha stereotype, claiming that he's going to beat up this other guy for kissing Stella against her will and then later, when Stella goes out with the Kissing Assaulter on a date(!), he interrupts their date to punch the other guy in the eye while talking about how he's going to make the guy choke on blood or something like that. It's also pretty clear from the get-go that there is a definite economic imbalance between them, as Stella is wealthy and comes from money and Michael is poor and in debt (as she found out from reading his mail). Towards the end of the book, she donates fifteen million dollars to the hospital where his mother is receiving cancer treatments, so they'll treat his mother for "free." This felt so weird to me, because if she wanted to pay for his bills, why not just pay the bills - why sneak about it behind his back in some grand gesture that ends up depleting her entire trust fund account? When he breaks up with her (for her own good, of course), she almost resigns from her well-paying job on the spot to pursue him. Feelings that strong and that reckless aren't healthy - that's more like an addict w/ a fix.
3. The relationship is superficial. We're told over and over again that Stella feels comfortable with Michael in part because he's so attractive, she just can't help herself (he looks like Daniel Henney). Michael also founds Stella wildly attractive, and is absolutely thrilled that she wasn't lying about being thirty when she sent in the app, in fact, she says that she looks barely legal despite being older than him by two years! OH BOY! She's also thin and curvy, with "porn star nipples" that he says "men and babies both dream about" and a body that would make her perfect at pole dancing, not to mention that she's suddenly incredible at sex under his brilliant tutelage and comes like a porn star. We're led to believe that Michael is this great guy for being so considerate about her autism but it feels more like he's liking her despite her autism and making all these concessions for her (because he's actually annoyed with her at times for her behavior, and sends her mixed signals about them that I imagine an actual autistic person would find very confusing). At least in LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS, it's clear that Nero loves Kaya for who she is, whereas it kind of feels like Michael just likes Stella because she's good at sex and doesn't know how attractive she is, and brings out his alpha male protective instincts. In some ways, it kind of reminded me of a gender-swapped version of PUDDLE JUMPING, another autistic romance I had many problems with.
4. Philip. He's such a creep. Forcing himself on Stella and hitting on interns and employees at the office? How the hell does he still have a job? Stella totally seems to take his behavior for granted, and apart from the punch in the eye Michael gives him, he doesn't face any sorts of consequences for his behavior. For such a "progressive" romance, it was weird to see one of the villainous characters in this book get away with what would be considered a form of assault by some people.
5. The sex scenes were actually kind of awkward. I didn't really feel their dirty talk. Michael said some pretty odd things and so did Stella, including telling Michael that French kissing reminded her of pilot fish cleaning a larger fish's teeth. The weird porn star remarks and the comment about boobs that babies would love were just the cherries on this bizarre sundae of bad artistic choices.
I don't think this is a bad book, per se, and I would be interested in reading more by this author in the future - especially since it looks like she has yet another #OwnVoices romance with an autistic character coming out (one of Michael's cousins). I think the escort angle made this book awkward, even though the author said in her author's note that she was trying to go for a Pretty Woman vibe, maybe because she wasn't quite sure how to portray some of the complex gender role crises that could arise from a relationship of this type. I did think it was odd, for example, that Michael didn't feel any shame about his escort services but was embarrassed about being a tailor/fashion designer. Things I did like: I loved Michael's family and Stella's mom (hated her dad - and Michael's too; all the dads in this story just seem to suck), and thought the econometrician angle was interesting (I'd never known that was the science responsible for AI-generated recommendation algorithms on commercial websites). I probably would have liked this more if I hadn't read LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS first, but it wasn't as bad as puddle jumping, and if people with autism relate to this story and feel like they're seeing themselves in a romantic story for the first time, that can't be too bad of a thing. I wish this author luck with her next effort.
File this under "Goodreads led me astray on yet another over-hyped piece of nonsense." How could you have failed me yet again?
I remember when this book had under 100 ratings on Goodreads. Now it has over 15,000 and I honestly don't get the hype. Quality-wise, it reminds me of some of the self-published efforts I used to see on Fictionpress or Fanfiction.net: well-written trash that for whatever reason garnered a cult following. Nothing against trash - I am a huge fan of trash - but when I read trash, I want things to happen. Exciting things! Scandalous things! And THE FOXHOLE COURT doesn't really have a whole lot going on for a book that's supposed to be #SoEdgyYouGuysOMG.
In fact, it was actually kinda boring.
THE FOXHOLE COURT revolves around a made-up sport called "Exy" that seems to be a cross between lacrosse and soccer. The main character, Neil, is good at Exy. He's also on the run for ~reasons~. Clearly, he hasn't done a good enough job about covering his tracks because he ends up getting drafted to the Palmetto State Foxes Exy team. They just have to have him... even though he's kind of an ungrateful, shady jerk about it.
The team is basically comprised by a bunch of psychos, one of whom wields a knife (which he uses to threaten people with) and does a copious amount of drugs. All of the "strong" women on the team get overly physical and have bad tempers. There's a rapey gay dude. Their leader is a classic tsundere who hides his ~complex emotions~ under a shield of physical aggression and rage because he's so ~damaged~. They are led by a coach who sees nothing wrong with enabling these bad behaviors and even gives them alcohol. By the end of the book, I feel like my face looked like this: o_o
Also, for some reason, the yakuza is involved? Whaaaat.
1. This is labeled as a romance, but there is basically no romance. I think this is the set-up for a romance that happens later but there isn't really any strong UST to make me motivated to care.
2. THE FOXHOLE COURT is offensive AF. If you read this book and gave it five stars, you are never allowed to speak badly of bodice rippers ever again, because THE FOXHOLE COURT runs the gamut of ablelist and homophobic slurs. "Retard" is used several time, and so is "cripple." I'd already written this group off as a bunch of psychos, so I didn't really care what they said and I'm able to compartmentalize as a reader, but keep in mind if you're sensitive, the language is there.
3. Drug use and mental health are represented pretty badly here. I posted a status update a while back about how I didn't like books that glamorized going off your meds as this wild and crazy journey. This book does that with one of his characters, and his on-again, off-again behavior is accepted as a sort of "in joke" among his teammates, and his coach even passively encourages him to go off his meds for games because it makes him play better, or some ridiculous BS like that.
4. NOT A WHOLE LOT HAPPENS. Also, for a new adult book that takes place in a college, nobody cracks open a book. I think there was one scene where Neil was studying. These kids must all have F's because they only seem to party and do drugs and never study. Way to prepare for the real world.
5. I'm still hung up over the whole yakuza angle. Like, one of the teams is a front for a mob boss's sinister organization? Lmao, what. This must be the worst-regulated sport in the history of ever, because people are allowed to brutalize each other on the court (there's a loophole that allows you to hit people who don't have the ball), and there seem to be ZERO drug tests (hence the partying).
6. THE FOXHOLE COURT went all THE HUNGER GAMES and shit at the end. May the odds be ever in your favor, Neil. Too bad nobody cares. At least, I don't. Why did I buy the next two books in this series again? Oh, right. Because they were 99-cents each and I am a sucker.
Overall, I can't say that I hated this book. It was very well-written, as I said, and kind of had an anime vibe/anime fanfic vibe to it, which is why I imagine this book is so popular with the youngins. If the characters had been fleshed out more, I think I would have liked the story more, but they all felt like caricatures to me. I can't say it's worth the hype but I'll probably read the sequels since I bought them.
I was going to try to look up some funny memes for this review, but apparently typing "bear" and "sex" into Google search mostly just turns up a lot of gay porn. Go figure.
MY BOYFRIEND IS A BEAR is a graphic novel about a girl named Nora whose boyfriend is a literal bear. Nora has a lame job working as a call center associate for a phishing site. She has a long list of "douchey" ex-boyfriends guilty of crimes such as wearing pukka shells and suspenders (not together - each item was a crime particular to a unique individual), or wanting to issue spank in the bedroom. The fiends! With such cads on her dating history, it's only natural that she'd want to date a bear.
Nora met Bear when she was hiking with one of her nasty ex-boyfriends (who still works with her at the call center). He berated her for reading fashion magazines instead of real literature and Bear saw her burying them in shame. Bear followed her home to return the magazines, and in the vein of human-human relationships, Nora is flattered by this stalkery (predatory?) behavior. One of Nora's friends is 100% on board with Team Bear, but her other friend is like WTF are you doing. And after some thought, I'm afraid I'm on Team WTF Are You Doing, as well.
Bear and Nora's relationship is cute, and maybe if it kept up the whole platonic, anime vibe I could buy it. There's a pretty cute manga called Tuxedo Ginabout a boy whose spirit is reincarnated into a penguin after he is killed. But Bear is not a human cursed to live as a bear; Bear is an actual bear. This makes it especially weird when Bear does things like get a job(!), fixes things up around the house(!), or has sex with Nora(!!!!). The sex, thank God, is never on screen but it is hinted at multiple times, and I'd say that it was the elephant in the room, but that's not the case is it? (At least I hope not. What a threesome from hell that would be.)
Fun fact: bears have something called a baculum, which means that they have a literal bone in their boner. I'm not going to say anything else. You can just take a moment to think about that.
P.S. I resent the hipsters touting Jose Saramago in here being portrayed as the bad guys. Jose Saramago is awesome.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Edit/04/24/18: Rounding this up to 5 stars because I can't stop thinking about it.
While reading this book, I had the song "Silent Running" by Mike & the Mechanics playing in my head on loop because it reminded me of a good 1970s science-fiction movie, like Westworld or Silent Running - one that might be a little dated, but still holds up over time because of how it tackles serious ethical issues about what happens when technology goes too far or falls into the wrong hands.
Looking at the cover for this book, you might think that you're going to get something like ABSOLUTE BOYFRIEND meets DEMON SEED. A lonely woman creating a "sensual" artificial intelligence that she wants to find a human body for? Gee, that doesn't sound creepy at all. I had nightmarish visions of what that story line would entail, let me tell you. Spoiler: The Mummy.
What I got instead was an incredible story with a great romance and pulse-pounding action. It had this fantastic 70s or 80s movie vibe, and I kept thinking to myself, "Damn, it's a shame people are pretentious twits who can't look past a romance cover, because this would make an amazing movie!"
Vic is a brilliant computer hacker working for a huge software company named Visimorph whose creator, McIntire, has a total monopoly on the industry. Vic is in charge of one of their newest products, Neuromancer (yes, named after the William Gibson book), but she's also got a side-project nobody knows about that's hidden inside Neuromancer's code: the first truly autonomous AI, Jodie.
Jodie, who is named after Jodie Foster, feels a near-instant bond with its creator, even if they sometimes butt heads or misinterpret the other's feelings or intentions. It wants to please her, and tries to get her gifts or presents, and feels jealous when it sees others attempting to vie for her affections (but not in a creepy way). After watching Jodie evolve and grow, Vic feels affection for her creation in the manner of all creators, but when she learns that Jodie identifies as male (and not female, as she originally intended), that affection quickly grows muddled and far more complicated - especially when Jodie expresses his desire for a body, so he can live, and breathe, and feel, as he aches to do.
BODY ELECTRIC references many cyberpunk books, like Ray Bradbury's I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC, William Gibson's NEUROMANCER, and even THE CONCEPT OF MIND, in reference to Gilbert Ryle's criticism of mind-body dualism. This is only fitting, though, considering the weightiness of the subject matter. Even though I would call BODY ELECTRIC a romance, it brings many interesting and serious discussions to the table like gender identity and dysphoria (and the pain of having someone misgender you, especially intentionally); what it means to have true AI, and the ethics that come with that; and, of course, sexism, particularly sexism faced by women in a male-dominated industry where their achievements are either overlooked, appropriated, or both.
I couldn't put this book down. It was one of those books I found myself thinking about as I went about my day, looking forward to the moment when I could return to the story. McIntire is a truly terrible villain, and I found myself invested in Jodie and Vic's star-crossed romance, wondering how they could possibly have a happy ending when they had so many people working against them. There are moments when it was almost painful to read, but there was no way in hell I was going to stop.
I can't wait to read this author's other books.
P.S. This makes for the first romance I've read that involved sex on top of bubble wrap.
When it comes to vampire novels, I have very specific things that I like and very specific things that I don't like. I guess you could say that I like my vampire novels the way I like my coffee: smooth, dark, not at all sweet, and with a whole lot of bite. Three vampire novels that did it all "right" in my opinion are Tanith Lee's DARK DANCE, Trisha Baker's CRIMSON KISS (first book only, though), and Heather Crews's DREAMS FOR THE DEAD.
When Heather gave DIE BY THE DROP a glowing four-star review, claiming that it was everything she liked to read about in a vampire story, I immediately raced to pick it up. Especially because it was free, and the only thing in the world better than a good vampire story is a free vampire story, especially when it's being lauded by one of my favorite people on the internet. I read DIE BY THE DROP immediately, and asked myself, WTF.
Did we read different vampire books?
The story is pretty simple: Evie is just an ordinary girl who ends up becoming the plaything for three vampire "brothers" named Jesse, Vaughn, and Liam, when they happen upon her as she's storming from a party. Their initial plan was to kill her after torturing her and having sex with her, but it turns out that Evie is actually an empathic witch, which makes sex extra interesting. Their leader, Jesse, decides she's interesting enough to keep around as they go on a psychotic road trip. That's the plot.
Reading the Amazon reviews for this book was a hilarious experience because the things that people were upset about over there aren't the things that bothered me about this book at all. "This isn't a romance!" they cried. "This is torture and violence!" Which, okay, fair enough. But then, what did you expect from a vampire erotica called "DIE BY THE DROP"? Twilight: The Musical? I wonder about people sometimes. I actually have no problem with rough and kinky stuff in fiction if it fits the tone of the story (and no children or animals are involved, because I find that disturbing and upsetting). What I have a problem with is bad writing, which this book has in spades.
The sex scenes were just disgustingly written - not because of the content (I want to emphasize that) but because of the words used to describe them. Overuse of words like "juicy" and "sloppy" (ugh), and phrases like "defenseless little star" used to describe an anus. This author also uses my least favorite word for the female anatomy, and Evie's "kitty-cat" has so many action verbs that you would think her hoohah was an autonomous entity in and of itself. Um, yeah, no thanks!
The second half of the book was much, much better than the first and the writing improved significantly. I wondered if maybe the second half of the book was completed at a much later date (like the author had written the first half and then written the second half a few years later after shelving it), or if two different versions of the story had been smooshed together. The difference in tone and quality was that noticeable for me. I'm sorry to give this a relatively low rating because I did think there was a lot of potential with this book and I loved the idea of the story Bennett was trying to tell; I just absolutely loathed the execution and the disgusting, juicily dripping sex scenes.
I'd be willing to read the sequel if it was free like the first one, but I won't be shelling out $ for it.
Disclaimer: Minerva is a Goodreads friend of mine. She did not, however, solicit me to read and review her book. I found the title on Netgalley and, recognizing the name, decided to check it out.
The cover of DANGEROUS leaped out at me immediately because of the cheesy, 90s romance-style cover, hearkening back to the days when every other hero was cast in the puffy shirt mode of Fabio, and poor photo shop led to some questionable aesthetic decisions.
Likewise, the premise of this book also seemed like it was going to be a throwback to the Bertrice Small school of writing. The heroine, Euphe(mia) Marlington, was kidnapped by pirates when she was a preteen and sold as a slave to a sultan's harem.
Now an adult in her thirties, she finds that the starchy English society isn't really prepared for her like. Her peers snub her, and creepy older dudes want to have their way with her, but nobody really wants to take her as a wife - and they'd want her even less if they found out about her adult, biracial son who's currently in the middle of a power coup in Africa.
Her father (who also has no idea about the son) decides to take matters into his own hands and throws an elaborate party where Mia is supposed to choose one of the men assembled for a husband. They're basically all the utter dregs of the well-to-do, except for a certain cold-eyed marquess named Adam de Courtney, who allegedly murdered his previous two lives and lives in infamy in his manor.
Neither are what they appear to be, but both feel an instant attraction as soon as they see each other.
Wow, I was really impressed by this book! It's like a modern upgrade to everything I love about bodice rippers - steamy sex scenes, globe-trotting adventures, pirates, seafaring expeditions, naughty harem hijinks - but with a modern, PC-friendly twist. DANGEROUS is very sex-positive, in my opinion, and the hero is the perfect blend of stern alpha with a caring side and icy bad boy.
AND DID I MENTION THE SEX SCENES?
Her writing style really reminds me a lot of Meredith Duran's, so if you're a fan of the Rules for the Reckless series, this might be a good book to pick up next. The only shortcoming was Mia's sequence of third-act TSTL decisions and some fights that felt pointless, but at least these characters actually talk about their problems instead of dancing around them endlessly like Julia Quinn's characters.
It's very refreshing to read a book where the characters actually enjoy talking to each other.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
WALLBANGER by Alice Clayton is aptly named, because when I finished this book, I wanted to throw it at the wall, it was so bad.
I wanted to read this book because I love romance novels and people were saying that it was the funniest romance novel they had ever read. When I picked it up, I envisioned BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY for the twentieth century woman.
Instead, I got... something lame.
Caroline lives in a San Francisco apartment that is much too nice for her to afford based on the job that she has (interior designer). Her next-door neighbor has great sex every night... with another woman - and Caroline is annoyed because they bang against the wall they share, and it reminds her that she can't get any.
Not only that, but she comes up with mean nicknames for each of the girls he sleeps with. "Giggler" for the girl who laughs during sex. "Purina" for the girl who meows during sex (??). And "Spanks" for the girl who enjoys rough stuff in bed. She charmingly calls these girls his "harem."
One day, she confronts him in a pink nightgown and for some reason they find each other attractive. The next 300 pages is a hot-mess of stupid cat-puns, as related to female genitals, Caroline exclaiming "Mother of Pearl!", bad jokes, poorly characterized individuals running around and acting like idiots, and some of the worst sex scenes I've ever read.
Considering that his sex life pre-Caroline is like a traveling circus act, his sex life post-Caroline is surprisingly vanilla and banal. Is this perhaps anti-marriage propaganda, paid for by a corporation that has a vested interest in keeping the world promiscuous? (I SEE YOU, TROJAN CONDOMS). Don't have marriage, or you will lose your exciting and numerous meowing, spanking, giggling sex partners and be whined at and nagged and humiliated while having boring sex! I can see no other rational explanation for how something so consciously terrible gained so much steam (especially considering the lack of steam).
Also, extra negative points for using the line: "I am not like most women" (66) and meaning it.
Terrible sex scenes:
The idea that a kiss, just a kiss, had turned me into this giant lusting bag of CarolineNeedThat was undeniable, and I knew that if he continued to make me feel this way I was going to invite him straight into my Tahoe. Great idea.
"Come into my Tahoe, Simon," I mumbled incoherently into his mouth (203).
She's so pretty. I mean, there's pretty and then there's pretty... What a pussy I am. Fuck pretty - she's beautiful ... pussy ... And she smells good ... pussy ... why do some girls just smell better? Some girls smell like flowery, fruity bullshit. I mean, why would some girls want to smell like a mango? Why should a girl smell like a mango? Maybe if I think the word MANGO enough I won't think about pussy anymore. Caroline ... mango ... Caroline ... pussy ... God! And now I'm hard ... (217).
My shirt bunched up around my waist, and the feeling of his hi-there against my hoohah was indescribable (267).
Oh, and you know how Ana from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY has an inner goddess and a subconscious? Not to be outdone, Alice Clayton gifted Caroline with O, the personification of her missing orgasm. O, who has a personality and who Caroline talks to the way she does her cat.
I could see the edge, high above the raging waters. As I peeked over the edge, I saw her. O. She waved at me, diving under and over the water like a sexual porpoise. Crafty little bitch (333).
Spoiler: Caroline's not swimming.
I can't say I'm surprised that I didn't enjoy this book, though. I knew it was going to be rough sailing when the heroine shames the hero in front of all their friends for NOT taking advantage of her while she's drunk. Because how dare he not find her attractive enough to ignore her lack of consent!
WONDERFUL is a medieval romance from the 90s that has been rereleased for the Kindle Store. It was free recently, so my fellow romance lovers, Korey, Maraya, and Heather, decided to do a buddy read of it, Kindle Clean-Out style! Historically speaking, my luck with 90s romance novels has been mixed. There are some authors who I actually really enjoy - most notably, Danelle Harmon - and then there are those who seem to exemplify the genre in all its terrible glory: by which I mean authors like the one who wrote WONDERFUL.
WONDERFUL is basically the classic example of why I don't like 90s romance novels. Clio, the heroine, is one of those heroines who acts in a way that is incredibly unrealistic for the times, with foot-stomping, childish crying, and petty "defiance" that had me rolling my eyes rather than cheering for her. I don't know why people seem to think throwing a temper tantrum = girl power, but it doesn't.
Merrick was actually a pretty decent hero. There's no rape or dubious consent and the worst thing he does is burn down her brewery towards the end after she puts everyone to sleep with her ale (which she didn't even seem to particularly care about, which was weird because earlier on in the book she drains the castle well dry while they're renovating it, nearly putting her castle's structural integrity into question). He makes a few casual threats about shaking her or throwing her out the window, but since I wanted to do both those things to Mrs.-I'm-independent-and-enjoy-running-headlong-into-danger-and-getting-shot-in-the-heart-by-Welshmen and Mrs.-I'm-going-to-cry-and-whine-and-throw-a-hissy-fit-over-my-own-wedding-like-a-medieval-bridezilla, it was hard to feel bad about that.
I can't really credit WONDERFUL. I hated Clio and the storyline too much. Her writing style is very much like Danelle Harmon's, but Harmon's heroes ooze charm and protectiveness without being brutish, and while her heroines sometimes toe the line between annoying and rebellious, I usually end up liking them by the end of the books. The best parts about WONDERFUL were probably the historical tidbits about foolish superstition and bad medical advice, but that was the whole of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is either the best worst book I ever read, or the worst best book I ever read. First, the new cover doesn't do this book justice at all. What's with the 1920s-style hairdos and outfits? It made me think this was going to be some lame period piece a la, "Oh, darling, I'll never forget that one summer in Tuscany, the one where we were both as wild and as free as wild horses! Truly, my love, it was the summer... THE SUMMER OF THE UNICORN!"
Yeahhhh, no. I'll do anything for love, but I won't do that.
But I'm as basic as they come, and one thing us basic girls love is unicorns, and when I saw the word 'unicorn' in the title as I was gleefully scrolling for and requesting Netgalley ARCs, I one-clicked that book without even reading the summary. Because I like to live dangerously. Then I changed my mind and decided to let my ARC expire, but first I went to Goodreads to check out the summary... AND I SAW THAT GLORIOUS BEAUTY THAT YOU SEE BEFORE YOU!
Holy cover art, Batman! Was this that holy grail of romance wtfery? An 80s romance?
YOU BET YOUR BLACK LATEX SHIRT IT WAS, BATMAN.
Forget letting this precious slip through my fingers. I set aside The Chronicles of Celery, Queen of the Sues, and read this like I was doing the Richard Simmons version of reading, with a one, and a two, and a three, TURN THE PAGE, and finished it within a matter of hours. Oh, don't get me wrong. It was baaaad. But it was the kind of bad that is so utterly entertaining that it becomes the standard of bad to which all books aspire. Truly, my friends, this is The Room of romance novels.
So what's it about? Two princes, fighting over a throne, on a planet called "Rubicon." Their names are Boran (which sounds a lot like Borat, which I am going to call him for now on) and Hunter, which is a fairly common name, so I'm going to call him Basic Bro. The rules of inheritance state that the firstborn gets the throne but since Borat's mother was the only witness to his birth, that's a contested matter. Also, nobody really likes Borat that much. He's mean to his concubines (who all lust after Basic Bro's manly, yet utterly considerate touch), likes to hurt people for fun, and oh, part of him was burned in a fire so he has scars, and everyone knows that if someone in a romance novel (or a soap opera, or a telenovela) has a scar, that's basically the equivalent of a bright neon sign that says, "THIS PERSON RIGHT HERE, THEY'RE THE EVIL ONE. AVOID." And, as with warning signs in real life, idiots cheerfully disregards them until it is Too Late.
To resolve this matter, the council on Rubicon decide that the brothers must go out into the world to bring back proof that unicorns exist and the one who does will get the throne. So Borat and BB get on space-ships and go to another planet(!) in order to find unicorns. Which is ridiculous, I know. I love it. BB goes to this place that I believe was called Styx, where there is a man who has found the unicorns but at terrible cost: he is now haunted and also minus one tongue, because when he killed the unicorn to get its horn, something attacked him in kind. The Keeper of the unicorns: a powerful, magical woman who is rumored to be immortal, & guards the unicorns' lives as if they were her own.
BB goes to the unicorn planet, where he promptly falls off a cliff and almost dies (LOL). He is saved by the Unicorn Woman, who is named Siri. Yes, like the phone. I love that, so she's just going to be Siri, but please imagine everything she says being said in Robot Siri's voice like I did if you choose to read this book, because it becomes ESPECIALLY funny during the parts where she refers to herself in the third person. Siri knows that he came here for the unicorns and doesn't understand why she saved him (dude, because he's hot). Many arguments ensue, about whether or not to bang (only virgins can communicate and protect the unicorns), but also about whether it's good to reveal the existence of the unicorns because "good" people don't need to see them in order to appreciate what they represent, and "bad" people will want to kill them and harness their magic for themselves.
MEANWHILE, Borat has assembled a team of Huntsmen but he also thinks Siri is hot. So he uses his evil magic amulet to psychically roofie her, forcing her to do sexual things with him and then blanking her mind out later. All the while, he giggles evilly to himself about how he's going to force her to sleep with him under this magic spell, making her think she's doing some hot, angelic dude, and then at the moment of climax, when her virginity is no more, he's going to let her see who he really is - and then he's either going to kill her or make her his queen, he hasn't decided. All he knows is that he wants her magical virginity powers for himself (no, seriously, he says something that is basically to that effect, in almost those words), and that the unicorns must die for his benefit.
This psychodrama spans 250 pages, and it drags like nobody's business, because between all the masturbatory villain scheming (sometimes literal masturbation being involved as he plots), Sexy Naked Baths, to-bang-or-not-to-bang philosophizing, and UNICORN passages(!), not that much happens. Borat is really the driving force behind this novel, because he's so deliciously evil that this feeling of dread totally overshadows all the unicorn frolicking. Also, the mythology of this world is weird AF. Siri is the daughter of a mermaid and a mortal man, has psychic powers, lives in a valley where there is an OCEAN inside of the nearby mountain, and in addition to unicorns, sand cats, panda bears, dragons, and Arctic wolves also live in this place, and all in harmony, besides.
ALSO, in a surprise Planet of the Apes-esque twist, it turns out that the Unicorn Planet is actually Earth. The same planet Borat and BB's people fled 10,000 years ago after they destroyed it. WHAT A SHOCK! Primarily because, to my knowledge, we don't have any ocean-filled mountains. But what do I know, I'm not a geologist. Maybe this is some super secret bit of info only geologists know.
What I do know is that this book is weird AF and also pretty terrible. The twist at the end, the deus ex machina regarding BB and Siri's consummation, the unicorn dances, the naked sexy baths, the psychic roofies, the evil magic amulets, the virginity magic, and also Siri's mermaid mom who lives in the ocean-filled mountain were just huge piles of whip on this wtfery sundae. Even funnier is the fact that Kay Hooper now writes romantic suspense novels, and appears to have distanced herself from the fantasy and paranormal novels that she wrote in the 80s and 90s. From what I have observed, they appear to be rarely mentioned or read by her fans, and several are out of print.
Despite its awfulness, I enjoyed this book. Fantasy bodice rippers are somewhat rare, and their covers are often glorious (just check out this cover for ENCHANTED PARADISE, which looks like a Lisa Frank-themed porno shoot). I'm glad that more and more authors these days are releasing their backlists, because while many people these days lose their sh*t over being the first to receive and review sparkly new titles from 2018 (and if they're REALLY important, 2019), I'm an old-fashioned kind of gal who likes to snoop in authors' cobwebby closets to find the titles that they'd like us to forget they wrote (Iris Johansen, I see you and your half-forgotten HRs. Lisa Kleypas, GIRL, I KNOW you wrote a bodice ripper back in the 80s, and I see you too).
I don't know why Kay Hooper thought a GUNS OF AVALON/DRAGONS OF PERN crossover needed to be written, only in romance form and filled with erotic bathing, but I'm glad she did. Read this book. It's almost worth it just for the unicorn scenes, although everything else is pretty great too.
And by 'great,' you know I mean bad - but the good kind of bad. The kind that wears leather. ;-)
P.S. WEDDING RINGS MADE OF UNICORN DUST.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Part of what drew me to this book was the intimacy of the couple on the cover. A lot of these historical romances have the hero and heroine locked in a dominant embrace by the hero, usually in a pose that suggests "they are having sex with clothes on." I love those covers, because I am a trash queen, but the implicit tenderness of this couple's embrace, as well as the cheap price tag, made me super curious regarding what this story would be about.
Nicholas is an impoverished viscount well-known for his affability and charm. When he was a young boy, before he claimed his title, his childhood friend was a girl named Cynthia. He left her when he left to claim his title, and his saddened when he receives a notice that she died in the post. This discovery rides hot on the heels of him finding his rich fiancee in flagrante delicto with another man, so obviously he's cheerful - not.
Cynthia, however, isn't dead. She's only pretending to be dead because her parents, who are also impoverished, are trying to force her to marry an utterly sadistic earl. She's actually hiding out in the attic of the hero's country home, and he finds her there when he comes home to hide from the creditors and mull on his unfortunate lot in life. The two grudgingly and then with real tenderness slowly, hesitantly rekindle their childhood friendship, but Nicholas is not the same. He's been touched by something dark and tragic, and if she comes to his bed, it will touch her, too.
I feel like this is a lot like what FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was trying to be, honestly - only the hero doesn't use his kink as an excuse to dominate and tyrannize, and the heroine is actually enthusiastic and willingly embraces the kink once she gets used to the idea. Nicholas's past is truly tragic, and Cynthia helps him work through his trauma not just with vagina magic, but also through compassion, understanding, and empathy. I also loved that she wasn't a virgin. That was quite refreshing.
The only reason this book doesn't get a higher rating is because it felt a bit bland. I've read a lot of historical romances set in Regency and Victorian times and after a while, they all start to feel very formulaic and you can only really judge them by the writing and the chemistry of the main characters and the peripheral details that make it stand out, like the ones I have outlined here. It was a lovely romance with great characters, but the story-telling just didn't wow me.
Still; I'm intrigued. Not sure her contemporary romances are quite what I'm into, but I will definitely be checking out some more of her historical romance. Girl can write.
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
I've only read one other book by Phyllis A. Whitney and I didn't like it, but the idea of a Gothic romance set in Japan was way too good to pass up. I went to Japan last summer for the first time and it was a total culture shock because it's so different from American culture, and I loved learning about the history, the people, and the art. One of the last places we visited was Hiroshima, and given that we learn a distinctly biased version of WWII, it was great to hear it from the perspective of those who lost the war -in a horrific way.
I bring up Hiroshima because WWII plays a key role in THE MOONFLOWER. It's a contemporary gothic - or was, when it was first published in 1958 - and with the War having occurred just over a decade before, it's still very much fresh on every one's minds.
Marcia married a much older man who was a scientist. He went to Japan from his work and came back changed - irritable, haunted, cruel. Then he goes back and she basically stops hearing from him, so Marcia takes her young daughter Laurie and goes to hunt him down in Kyoto. The man she sees there isn't at all glad to see her; he wants her to return, and says all kinds of terrible things to her and their child. Their Japanese neighbors who share their duplex are unfriendly, and the wife of the man who lives there, Chiyo, seems oddly frightened of Marcia and her daughter.
Mysterious and awful things keep happening - ugly and possibly haunted masks, ghostly specters roaming at night, things going missing, dark secrets, and of course, the husband's complete personality change. Marcia is utterly puzzled and wonders what could have possibly happened to give her husband Jerome such stubborn ties to this alien country that is still slowly recovering from the devastating blow of the bomb.
THE MOONFLOWER moves at a slow and grueling pace in typical gothic fashion but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. There are some dated descriptions that seem a little racist, but honestly this is one of the best portrayals of Asian culture for the time that it is written (and even in some contemporary literature I have read, which is sad) that I have ever seen. Whitney was obviously very interested in Japanese culture and had a stake in doing it well. Many of the cultural references are on point, even to this day, and I loved the descriptions of places I've actually been to, like the Kyoto shrines, Nijo Castle, and Miyajima Island (which is one of the most beautiful places ever).
I'd kind of guessed what the twist might be, and it did make a lot of sense. I think people who saw the effects of the Hiroshima bombing and felt responsible had a lot of residual guilt. It completely destroyed the city. I went to the Peace Museum there and was lucky enough to hear some of the survivors speak (they were only babies/young children when the bomb fell) and discuss the effects that it had on them and their families. People react to tragedy in odd and frightening ways, and even though I hated Jerome by the end of the book, I could at least understand why he did what he did.
If you like vintage books but don't want to commit to the horror that is bodice-ripper, this is a good jumping off point. It has the colorful settings and flowery writing that is typical of books written at this time, but is also vivid and surprisingly insightful. I enjoyed it a lot.