I was ambivalent about Alyssa Cole's earliest novellas, but I liked the concept of them. Shorter stories did not really seem to be her forte, and in my review of one of her earliest works, I wrote that she was an author I'd want to revisit if she ever did a full length novel. Well, she did, and that was a while ago, and I've been coming back over and over again, ever since. Alyssa Cole is walking proof that it pays to be an author who is receptive to feedback and works tirelessly to write fresh and engaging stories with developed and diverse characters-- especially strong women.
The Loyal League series is about a secret group of people during the time of the Civil War who go undercover to infiltrate and stymie the Confederacy. The first book in this series, AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, which is about a woman who poses as a slave and ends up finding romance and wild success as a spy, was good, but this book, AN UNCONDITIONAL FREEDOM, is even better. Part of that is due to the heroine, Janeta, who is one of my favorite recent romance heroines.
Janeta is Cuban, and the daughter of a plantation owner and a freed slave. All her life, she has been told that she is better than those working in the fields. She has a white lover who is a Confederate supporter, and when her father is imprisoned, this lover encourages her to gather intelligence on the North so she can name names and give information in exchange for her father's freedom.
Daniel is a friend of Elle from the first book. He is a free man and had studied to be a lawyer, only to be caught and sold into slavery by two evil men posing as abolitionists. Now he is free again and hungry for revenge. When the Loyal League assigns Janeta to him as his partner, he's skeptical of her and her motivations, and unwilling to trust her. But despite his suspicions, he ends up falling for her because of her strong will and their shared pain brought on by slavery and the war; both of them have been caught between their own desires and what society wants for them their whole lives, and in working to save a Nation and its people, they end up finding the agency to also save themselves.
I. Loved. This. Book. First, I love that Janeta was allowed to be so flawed, and that she had to figure out her own privileges and biases. I love that she did that without help. Daniel didn't have to "teach" her; she was canny enough to figure out that she'd been fed a pack of harmful lies her whole life. The double-agent angle provided so much tension, and it was so well done. Plus, there were no big misunderstandings. Everything had a sound reason and I never felt like Cole was playing things up for drama. The action scenes were intense, and there were some fantastic discussions about humanity, inequality, and privilege that fit the scenes and didn't come across as heavy-handed.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
"We can be intelligent, we can accrue wealth, we can strive to make this country better, and lose everything at the whim of some pale sir or madam. It doesn't even require much effort on their part. That's the worst of it. They don't even have to try hard to ruin us" (61).
"I care because as long as slavery is sanctioned in this world, either directly or tacitly, we are a doomed species. There is no hope for progress, no hope for a world of peace and prosperity, if some men are allowed dominion over others for as arbitrary a reason as skin color" (190).
Then there's Daniel-- the textbook example of a tortured hero. I loved him so very much. He was kind and noble, but also selfish in his own ways; he had taken his suffering and made his pain into a selfish drive for revenge, even at the cost of his personal relationships and self-love. The love-hate relationship between him and Janeta in the beginning was catnip for my fangirl self. I'm a sucker for the tsundere model of shipping (read: cranky character pretends not to care, but secretly does-- a lot), and he and Janeta were such an easy couple to root for, and an HEA that was easy to smile about.
If you enjoy historical fiction and want to read one that's empowering for and stars people of color in roles of agency, replete with excellent character development, The Loyal League is the way to go.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
I scored this book as a Kindle freebie several years ago and it's been languishing in The Library of Purgatory and Laziness
for years. Lest you get confused by the name in the Kindle store, it was originally published as THE BLACK ROSE, but the author republished it as SEVEN NIGHTS WITH A PIRATE along with some apparent revisions. Comparing the reviews for those who read the original with those who read the updated digital version, it seems like some rapey scenes were removed and some sexy scenes were added. To what effect, I'm not sure, as this was still pretty rapey.
Our heroine is a woman named Tess, who masquerades as a local smuggler called The Fox. (She also works with the real Fox, but dresses up like him when he is busy.) When she's not smuggling, she operates the inn that also serves as their base of operations/hideout. Tess is haunted by her abusive father, who appears to have locked her in the seller and also sold her out as a prostitute to equally abusive and opportunistic men. When he died, he left her with debts as a last "Eff you." She's still trying to pay them off.
Our "hero" is a viscount named Dane St. Pierre, Lord Ravenhurst. He's a viscount and a veteran of the still-ongoing Napoleonic Wars, and haunted by the deaths of his friends and his own close brush with death aboard his ship. He was a childhood friend of Tess's, and when his superiors draw him back into military business to investigate a smuggling operation in the town of Rye where a traitor might be feeding secret intel to the French, he is shocked to see the child he knew all grown up.
Until about 50% of the way in, I thought for sure that this was going to be a 4- or 5-star read. Tess was such a great heroine- in fact, she was everything I love in a heroine: no-nonsense, smart, and brave. Dane was the perfect dangerous hero, and the unresolved sexual tension between him and Tess was off the charts. I also loved the cat and mouse between them, when she did her smuggling and he did his investigating; you couldn't help but wonder - what would happen when he found out??
40% of the way in, Dane finds out that Tess is involved with smuggling and thinks she's the lover of the Fox and he, like, loses his sh*t. I think in the original he rapes her, but in the update, the author tones it down to a "civil" sexual assault *eye roll*. She flees and ends up hitting her head, and her head injury makes her blind. When she wakes up, she's in the care of love interest #2, Andre, an equally rapey pirate, who definitely takes advantage of her in her incapacitated state.
The last act of the book was so crazy that I honestly didn't know what to expect. Which love interest, if any, would Tess end up with? And what would happen to the redundant one? Who was the traitor, after all? What was the dealio with Tess's dad? And how on Earth would this story end?
The ending, in all fairness, was actually pretty good. There was a twist I wasn't expecting (although in retrospect, I probably should have expected). We find out who the villain was, and I wasn't expecting that either, so that was cool, too. The heroine even manages to get in a duel with Dane, and I am very much pro lady duel. I would rate this book much higher if not for the fact that Tess's character development really suffered when she entered the "care" of Andre. I loved how strong she was in the beginning, but she really wimped out when that pirate dude did his misogynistic flexes.
I'm torn between feeling okay about this book and guiltily liking it because I am trash, so my feelings are floating between a 2.5 and a 3. It was action-packed, filled with swashbuckling, smuggling goodness and some twists that really caught me off-guard. If you like vintage romances and want to be part of the 90s Bodice Ripper Experience
™, you could do worse than to pick this book up.
I loved THE COMPANION so much that I immediately set out to buy the next book in the series after finishing it. How could I not? THE COMPANION had everything I love in a vampire romance novel: it was dark, it was erotic, the hero and the heroine were likable and intelligent and had great chemistry. It was amazing.
THE HUNGER is a very different beast.
The hero, John, is a spy for England investigating Napoleon Bonaprte's activities in France. The heroine, Beatrix, is a vampire who has grown weary with her life. We meet Beatrix in The COMPANION as well, but she is much more vibrant there than here. In backstories, we learn that she was basically Asharti's adoptive sister, and that their guardian was a vampire named Stephan who traversed the boundary between guardian and lover.
John is very jaded with women and thinks they're all a bunch of simpering tricksters, but is attracted to Beatrix despite himself. Beatrix finds his defiance bemusing, and sees him as a human enigma. They don't have the deep connection that the two leads of the previous book had; theirs is a physical attraction that inexplicably morphs into love when it's convenient for the plot.
There were some good portions in this book. I liked Beatrix's flashback scenes, and that scene when John is thrown on a prison boat was good. As with the previous book, the male lead is sexually abused and tortured by Asharti, which gives this vampire novel more of a horror flavor than many of its contemporary brethren. Some of the abuse scenes are very graphic. There's a final confrontation scene that's pretty dramatic, and was the only time I actually felt anxious for the characters.
I'm sorry to say that I didn't much care for THE HUNGER as a whole. I found myself skimming large swaths of it, wishing I were reading something else. It was much, much longer than it needed to be. There were definitely times when I was asking myself when it was going to end. I'm more intrigued by the sequel, THE BURNING, which no longer appears to be sold in the Kindle store. It's the only book in the series that isn't available for individual sale, and I wondered if maybe that racy and gritty summary had something to do with it. I hope not, since that's what made me want it in the first place.
Unless THE BURNING is published again, I think I might just stop at book two.
I got this book in an omnibus of Fern Michaels's two earlier works, called FATE & FORTUNE, which contains both VIXEN IN VELVET and WHITEFIRE.
VIXEN IN VELVET is a story about a girl named Tori who is engaged to be married to a much, much older man. Being a firebrand, she is naturally not happy about this, and spends the weeks leading up to her wedding sulking and pouting and trying to figure a way to get out of it. Help comes unexpectedly in the form of her maid, who tells her a story of a tavern wench nearby who could easily pass as her doppelganger. Enlisting the help of her cousin, Granger, Tori goes to the tavern and persuades the girl, whose name is Dolly, to take her place at the wedding and let her live the free and completely-problem-less life of a tavern wench in her stead.
Dolly agrees to this one-sided bargain, and Tori realizes how screwed she is when all the men at the tavern try to harass her, she's living in a scummy apartment with the rent unpaid, and she actually has to work hard on an empty stomach. Her cousin was supposed to come see her and help her, but he flaked, and just when you think it can't get any worse, it turns out that Dolly was lovers with a feared highwayman named Scarblade who decides to pay Tori a visit.
Scarblade, called such because of an S-shaped wound on his face, is actually using his money to gather funding for the colonists during the Revolutionary War. He's not actually that terrifying, and is a great hit with the ladies (who apparently sometimes actually want him to rob him, just so he'll paw through their clothing, lol). He met Tori when she was young, and he was robbing her family, and she was struck by his free and imposing spirit, and she's just as struck by him a second time.
Also, unexpected bonus for this era: he doesn't rape her. I'm not sure if that's because this book was rewritten for a discerning modern audience in the new Kindle edition, and maybe there was rape in the earlier editions published in the 1970s, but in the edition published in VIXEN IN VELVET, at least, Scarblade is a perfect gentleman and doesn't take advantage of her. Woo!
I wanted to like this book. I wasn't prepared for the tone, which is unexpectedly comical. Tori's shenanigans had me smiling in the beginning of the book. I think the problem is that this book wants to have the dark and dangerous high stakes adventures of its more grim predecessors, but doesn't fully commit. So when Scarblade gets imprisoned and Tori has to seduce a disgusting guard, for example, you never really fear for the characters as you might in a book where the author is a gleeful sadist, because the light tone of the novel makes you know that nothing bad will happen. Tori is also an exhausting heroine and eventually her antics got old.
Honestly, VIXEN IN VELVET is a "bodice-ripper" for people who don't like bodice-rippers. If you want the vibe of a bodice-ripper, without any of the horror or rape, this is a book for you. I thought it was kind of boring, but I do appreciate that this will work for some people who aren't me.
I am a woman of refined and exquisite taste - except when it comes to my taste in books, where I read whatever trash I can get my hands on. THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE is the perfect example of smutty pulp that has been all but forgotten with the passage of time. I happened upon this author randomly while checking out books shelved under the "bodice ripper" tag on Amazon, and was delighted to find that, unlike the vast majority of pulpy bodice rippers, Fancy DeWitt's books were still available in ebook format, presumably in the original edition and without the PC-rewrites authors like Catherine Coulter like to do to make their books more palatable to modern audiences.
This is my second Fancy DeWitt book. The first book, WILD HEARTS, was a rapey Western reminiscent of SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. I enjoyed it, despite some slow portions and OTT scenes. THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE could not be more different. Instead of being set in the 19th century "old west," THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE is set in Tudor England, right around the time that the Catholics and the Protestants were really going to town on one another.
Diane is a busty noblewoman whose father is about to betroth her to a dude whose pockets are probably inversely proportional to the size of his peen, this being the Renaissance when women were chattel and forced to marry old men who could have been their fathers or even their grandfathers in terms of age discrepancy. She is kidnapped by a pirate named Guy Ramsey, previously a nobleman whose house has fallen into disgrace after his father was charged for consorting with the Spanish and loving Catholics and trying to help both get their fingers into some forbidden English pies. Now his father is executed - falsely, Guy claims - and with no recourse, he decides to kidnap an English lady.
Diane is kept on the ship for a while, watching in horror as Guy is made to walk the plank and an evil Spanish grandee terrorizes her with threats of rape while the Basque captain turns his eye the other way and the jealous Basque OW Aimee dreams of petty revenge to make Diane's life miserable. Also on the ship is a South American indiginous woman named Amute, who is there with her father to lead the Spanish sailors aboard the ship to El Dor-fucking-ado.
I thought there was no way this would pan out to anything - until I read the summary of the book on Goodreads. They make it to El Dorado, the Spanish people betray Amute and her father when their greed gets the better of them, and decide to go after their people with guns and cannons. Meanwhile, Diane becomes a goddess who is about to get married to the Native prince, only Guy is there to beat the prince to the wedding night, which involves pre-gaming it with an underage girl, for some reason.
The book ends with an exploding ship and Guy and Diane sailing off to their happy ending, and of course his honor is restored when it's revealed that the man Diane's father would have married her off to was actually the traitor who was helping the Spanish this whole time. This book was even crazier than WILD HEARTS, with Guy being psychic (he learned from Indian - that's Indian as in actually from India - wise men); ridiculous scenes that make this feel like an X-rated version of The Road to El Dorado, and woman-on-woman erotic oil massages because, as my Goodreads friends put it when I posted this as a status update, what else are you going to do aboard a pirate ship? Point taken.
I would recommend reading this book for the lolz alone, but it doesn't really hold up plot-wise the way WILD HEARTS did. WILD HEARTS had an OK plot and told a story I was interested in, whereas I found myself increasingly bored with THIS GOLDEN RAPTURE, reading only for the WTF scenes to see just what crazy shit the author would deliver to give me my money's worth.
Honestly, I'd rather just watch The Road to El Dorado and then write my own erotic fanfic for it.
WILD HEARTS is one of those crazy bodice-rippers that doesn't know the meaning of politically correct. The heroine, Camilla, lives with her mother and young siblings on their Louisiana plantation. One day, a business partner of their father's drops by and announces smugly that her father is presumed to be dead and unless they can prove that he's alive in six months, all their property goes to him. Although -wink-, he'd be willing not to kick them off their land if Camilla decided to marry his greasy, money-grubbing ass.
Tossing off a quick "hell no" to that, Camilla decides to dress up in drag and journey out to Texas to look for her dad and drag him back home. Her secret is spoiled when a gunslinger-type named Abel accidentally-on-purpose spies on her as she bathes. She wants him to be her guide, but he refuses, and gives her a kiss instead before saying that she should be on her way. Unfortunately, she gets kidnapped by a man named Lopez, cousin to General Santa Ana.
Lopez threatens her with rape, does some nonconsensual petting, mocks her for wanting him, and then waltzes out with a "girl, you wish I'd let you have the D." Then Abel busts in and rescues her, only to discover her sans clothes and feel manly insult that the damsel he just rescued is not a virgin. Since she happens to be on a bed, he decides to take advantage of her, and for some reason she decides that this is awesomesauce. They end up having sex several more times, although of course Abel tells her he doesn't want to get married.
It turns out that Camilla's father is a soldier in the Alamo. (Remember the Alamo?) Convenient, since Abel needs to deliver a message for Bowie, and Camilla knows what he looks like since he's a friend of her father's. They run into a fake impostor Bowie, Abel gets wounded, Camilla gets him drunk by feeding him 3/4 of a bottle of whiskey before heading out to the Alamo herself to deliver the message. She hears fake news that he's dead and is sad, but marries a man old enough to be her father named Ben Archer. Meanwhile, Abel feels betrayed by Camilla, because she reminded him of his late Mexican wife, Carlotta, who was raped and murdered by three cutthroat criminals.
Those same three cutthroat criminals are also at the Alamo, and eventually Abel realizes through the gossip grapevine that he has the chance for both revenge and sexings, all in the same venue. He races over and runs into Lopez, who grants him mercy and will let him get revenge, mostly because Lopez also lusts after Camilla as well. More stuff happens, Santa Anna turns out to be a pedophile, an opium addict, and a coward, and his unsuccessful attempt to flee after the battle of San Jacinto ends up making Texas a state. Camilla and Abel end up with an HEA and the farm is saved, woo-hoo.
Honestly, WILD HEARTS kind of reads like a racier WILD TEXAS FLAME or a much milder SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. Abel McCord definitely comes from the "I chew on cigars and shit scorpions" school of manliness, like he spent his adolescence watching one too many Clint Eastwood movies. The only other review for this book complains about the sexual nature of this book and I do get that. For a bodice-ripper, this had an outrageous amount of sex scenes (most of them aren't this smutty), and a good portion of those were consensual in only the most imaginative sense. I almost got a LOVE'S TENDER FURY vibe from this book, which was written by Jennifer Wilde (pen name for a male romance author), and I definitely wondered if maybe DeWitt was a male romance author, too. The heroine's very strange reaction to rape and the male gaze-focused sex scenes (boobz!!) were a bit eyebrow-raising. Also, not a single mention of the hero's washboard abs. What? I feel cheated!
I got bored of the sex scenes after a while, but the fight scenes and battle scenes were excellent and there was a surprising amount of action packed into this rather short book. I have a couple more of DeWitt's books on my Kindle and I'll definitely be checking those out. If you're into bodice rippers and like authors like Jennifer Wilde or Rosemary Rogers, you'll probably enjoy DeWitt's works, too.
I really wanted to like this one because the recommendation for this book actually came to me from my mom. Denise Domning writes historical mysteries, in addition to historical romances, and my mom read the mysteries when they were on sale and really liked them. When she saw that the author had bodice-rippers on her backlist, she naturally thought of me, and luckily for me, on the day my mom was telling me about this author, one of her books was free! Unfortunately, it wasn't the one that looked the spiciest, WINTER'S HEAT, but this one looked good, too. I was a little leery that it was a Topaz publication, as those tend to be heavy in 90s-bodice-rippers and super fluffy/cheesy, but I took a chance.
The premise is actually really good. Philippa is the bastard daughter of nobility. She lives with her abusive husband and abusive mother-in-law. One day, a 'knight' and his lord come to their impoverished castle, and she finds out that her husband is involved in a lawsuit against her half-sister, Rowena, from the previous book, which is contesting her inheritance. She's brought to her sister who is initially displeased to see her, until she finds out that this is all a big scam on Philippa's husband's part to get more money.
Meanwhile, the 'knight' is not actually a knight but the bastard half-brother of the man that Rowena married (also from the previous book), Rannulf. His name is Temric and he has refused knighthood for reasons I forgot... but anyway, Philippa is off-limits to him, which is a shame because her vulnerable, delicate nature makes him want to protect her. Then there's also the whole unfortunate thing about in-laws being considered blood relatives, so being with his sis-in-law = medieval incest. Seems fake, but OK. He's about as good at resisting his attraction as a colander is at holding water.
This was just too fluffy and ridiculous for me to like. I didn't like all the flowery language or that the plot takes forever to get moving. I liked how Domning tried to introduce the concept of domestic abuse in Medieval times in a real way, but Philippa was such a dull heroine and Temric was pure generic good and I didn't really root for them or feel invested in their futures because they read as cardboard cut-outs of characters without any real panache or personality.
Basically, this was the epitome of everything I find it hard to like about 90s bodice-rippers. Sorry, mom.
It's been way too long since I've picked up an old skool bodice ripper. I've been on a fantasy binge lately, and it's been absolutely swell, but the desire for bodice rippers was eating away at me like an itch that I couldn't resist. GYPSY LADY has been sitting on my bookshelf for two years, ever since my mom bought it for me as a birthday present. I'm one of those people who hoards books they're really looking forward to reading in order to build up the anticipation until the time is right, and when I spied that bright cover, I thought, "It's time."
As you might have guessed from the title, GYPSY LADY is not a book for the PC-set. It's about a girl named Catherine Tremayne who, along with her brother Adam, was kidnapped by gypsies when she was young and then returned to her family as an adolescent. She has been raised as a young lady but still enjoys frolicking in the nearby gypsy camps under the name they gave her, "Tamara."
The hero is named Jason Savage, although you could argue about whether or not he's actually a "hero." The book opens with him as a young man in an Aztec tomb, marveling at the treasure with his three friends, Nolan, Davalos, and Blood Drinker. Blood Drinker and Nolan are skeeved out, but Jason and Davalos decide to take a small piece of treasure, vowing that they'll come back some day for the rest.
Flash forward to the early 1800s, and Jason is now a man of wealth and privilege in his own right, running errands for President Jefferson to facilitate the Louisiana Purchase. He tomcats around and sleeps with Catherine's slutty and stereotypically evol cousin, Elizabeth, but when he sees Catherine at the gypsy camp, he decides that he must have her, and being a noble man, she can't say no. She tricks him by sending a decrepit old gypsy woman to his bed, who he almost has sex with by accident, and the horror and humiliation of this is so great that he decides a bit of rape is in order.
At first, he keeps Catherine as his mistress and rapes her a few more times (which she decides she likes, traitorous bodies and all), but when he finds out that she's actually a lady, he is forced to marry her; an insult to his manly pride, which he uses as an excuse to ill-treat her some more. She runs away to her brother's property in Louisiana, and when Jason chases her there, he assumes that her brother, Adam, is her new lover, and the baby she's carrying is a bastard she's had to taunt him.
When he finds out the baby is actually his, he gets angry all over again (I sense a pattern here) and uses that as yet another excuse to get angry at Catherine and treat her like garbage. At this point, she basically rolls with all the punches and moans about her broken heart and the fact that Jason will never love her. Ew. Since they're both experts at not fucking telling each other critical information, Jason fails to tell Catherine that Davalos, that guy who was his treasure hunting buddy from the beginning, now has it in for him because he thinks that Jason has the key to the treasure cave.
Davalos kidnaps Catherine after she flounces -yet again - from Jason Savage, rapes her a bit, and indirectly causes her to miscarry her child when, beaten and abused, she flees his camp on horseback. Jason finds her in the depths of agony and sends Blood Drinker to find, capture, mutilate, torture, and castrate Davalos, before leaving him in the desert to die. Once the deed is done, Jason informs Catherine, who is still suffering from PTSD, that the best cure for rape is marital rape, and forces himself on her to help rid her of those traumatic memories. She likes it, and the book ends "happily."
Man, what do I even say about this book? It kind of reads like an off-brand SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. That book also had a POS hero who liked to slut his way around the globe, but the heroine gave as good as she got and didn't spend the whole book crying and whining and basically embracing victimhood like it was the most romantic gesture she'd ever seen (cringe). The surprisingly graphic torture scene at the end was also unwelcome, because most of the story was pretty dull (apart from the rapes, which are basically a given in romances written during this time period). I think the last time I saw something so graphic in a romance novel, it was in Parris Afton Bonds's DUST DEVIL.
I did not really enjoy GYPSY LADY that much and I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone but the most hardcore readers of the old skool bodice ripper experience. I didn't feel the connection between the hero and heroine and he never groveled or suffered for his actions at all. Torturing one of his fellow rapists as a grand gesture didn't really do it for me. And the heroine lost all of her spirit and pluck as soon as the hero walked onto the scene and started making her body feel traitorous. Nope.
For whatever reason, the historical Harlequin manga don't seem to go on sale as often as their contemporary counterparts, but this week appears to be my lucky week because not one but two Harlequin historical romance manga went on sale: this book, TALLIE'S KNIGHT, and THE BARTERED BRIDE. The joke's on me, though, because it turned into a monkey's paw sort of situation where even though I got what I asked for, it didn't really turn out the way I wanted, so I ended up just as unhappy.
My first clue that something about this book was amiss was that the mangaka is Earithen. Earithen is an artist who is very hit or miss. I've liked a couple of her adaptations but she has a very unpolished style; her art looks like something you'd see on Deviantart from one of those mid-tier anime artists from the mid-2000s who had an overly fond penchant for the dodge tool.
I rate Harlequin manga adaptations based on several categories and my ratings for them is unique for manga, meaning that a five-star manga book is not equivalent to one of my five-star reviews for a standard format romance novel. When reading these, I take many things into account, such as the presentation of the pages, readability (too text heavy? too much white space in the panels?), the art itself, and, of course, how entertaining the story is in and of itself.
TALLIE'S KNIGHT is about a girl named Tallie who is a distant orphaned relation of this wealthy family, headed by a bitchy matriarch named Laetitia. Tallie watches Laetitia's kids without pay in exchange for room and board, and some very ugly hand-me-downs. One day while watching the kids during a party, she overhears this hot guy named Magnus looking for a bride with "strong teeth and hips" because he's interested in producing an heir. He decides that person is Tallie after he overhears her preventing an "Old Yeller" sort of punishment when one of the kids' puppies interrupts the party.
Tallie asks that in exchange, he take her to Italy to find her younger brother and he says that's fine, but if she gets pregnant he's cancelling the trip. Sex is a tricky terrain because Laetitia has equipped Tallie with bad information in the hopes that Magnus will break up with her, and Magnus has Mommy Issues™ because his dad was basically his mother's slave, and he has no interest in being made into a love-struck fool. Unfortunately for him, Tallie is really hot without clothes. Whoops.
The art and formatting in this book really isn't that great, especially when compared to the art on the cover. You think you're getting something nice and then you end up with pretty basic anime and some truly ugly font. I don't know what the artist was thinking, going with that font. It looks like Arial, which is much too modern looking for a historical romance, in my opinion, especially in those word boxes. The translation - I'm assuming from Japanese - also feels very half-assed, with some odd, clunky word and grammar choices. It was not very fun to read.
TALLIE'S KNIGHT was a disappointment. I wouldn't recommend it.
Harlequin manga are comic book adaptations of romance novels done by Japanese mangaka. They were the way that Japanese people consumed romance novels and apparently word of their existence made its way to the United States because now, suddenly, I'm seeing them on Amazon all the time. Considering how popular comic books and romance novels are here, especially among women, double-barrelling the marketing by combining them was ingenious. In fact, Harlequin manga are only truly limited in that they are only as good as the work they are adapted from. The curation process seems to be halfway decent, as most of these books are quite good, but every so often I come across one that leaves me annoyed.
BARTERED BRIDE was an exciting buy for me because it's an adaptation of one of Harlequin's historical novels. I've read several different kinds of Harlequin manga so far, but this was my first historical adaptation. Unfortunately, my feelings are pretty mixed, since I didn't really like any of the characters all that much, even though the art was lovely.
The problem is that the heroine, Charlotte, comes from a Garbage Family. Her father, Mr. Garbage, is a compulsive gambler and when he runs out of money while pitting his luck against a marquis, he just decides he'll wager one of his daughters' hands in marriage. He has two, after all. No big loss. Mr. Garbage comes home to tell his daughters the great news, but Clarice, whose hand he has wagered, tells her sister that she can do it because she met her true love in Paris, thanks. Just in case Charlotte gets any bright ideas - like saying, "No, bitch, you marry the damn jerk" - Clarice runs away, leaving Charlotte with no choice but to marry the marquis in her sister's place while her dad looks for her.
The marquis is not super thrilled with the marriage because at the gambling party (at which Clarice was in attendance), he caught Clarice pick-pocketing his guests. However, due to his Mommy Issues™, he doesn't want to fall in love with his wife anyway because love hurts too much, so he's just grateful that she's young and healthy and completely unattractive to him personality-wise. Unfortunately, he catches on pretty quick that he married the wrong sister, and unfortunately, since the papers were signed in Clarice's name and not Charlotte, that grants Clarice all the rights.
While the marquis races off to correct his error, Charlotte endears herself to the people of the march. She's learned that the marquis is also garbage and has been neglecting his people, letting them suffer by the banks of the rotten river that's overflowing its banks. She tells them that if they dam the river and do it well, she will pay them and let them keep the tools and refurbish their own homes, and she manages to do all of this with the spending money allotted to her by the marquis. This endears her to the marquis, who shares his Mommy Issues™ with her as a result. His mother died of a fever from one of their Daily Visits to the Poor™ and he never was able to get over his butthurt from that.
Anyway, sister Garbage Clarice comes back for a visit one day, and is super jealous that the man who she turned her nose up was actually a rich marquis (she didn't know that). She blackmails her sister out of the remainder of her spending money and then steals the necklace that the marquis gave Charlotte as a gift that was from his mother. When she shows up to a party without it, the marquis thinks she's hawked it when he hears of a woman holding it up to a lowlife dude in the garden outside, but nope, it's Clarice Garbage, and when Charlotte runs out there to stop her, she's like, "WHAT A SELL-OUT" and tries to have Charlotte shot, only for the marquis to intercept the bullet.
Clarice goes back home to her father who for some reason 1) isn't mad about the blackmailing incident, 2) isn't mad about the stealing incident, 3) isn't mad about the attempted murder incident, and 4) tells her that she doesn't need to be jealous of her sister, because they're just different (ha ha ha ha, what a garbage thing to say). Charlotte continues to receive letters from her father and sister, although not many, but mostly she is too busy living happily ever after with her new family.
The lack of consequences for Clarice really annoyed me. I get that bad people do not always get what is coming to them, but that is not why I read fiction. Fiction is supposed to be an escape; it is an oasis of logic and predestiny in a world that seems chaotic and unpredictable. That's why I find romance novels such welcome respite, to be honest. You (usually) know you're going to get a happy ending and that the evil, villainous people will be punished or redeemed to such a point that they don't really deserve punishment anymore. But apparently the Garbage family is above such lowly treatment and get to get away with being garbage. I'm sorry, but no. I can't get on board with such trash behavior.
While I also really liked the art, the way this graphic-novel was organized made it hard to read. The mangaka tried to cram too much writing in each panel and this doesn't really work for the e-manga format. The letters - especially the more stylized letters that looked like handwriting - were all scrunched together and very hard to read. I found myself having to squint and hold my laptop closer to my face in order to properly read the dialogue. It could have been laid out much better.
Overall, my verdict for BARTERED BRIDE is not my favorite, but it was barely okay.
Fact: if I go too long without reading a trashy historical romance or a bodice-ripper, I start to get itchy. It's been weeks since I picked one up, and I decided to rectify that by reading one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Blake. Jennifer Blake can be a bit hit or miss, but she strikes it out of the park more than most of her cohorts, and has penned two of my favorites, NOTORIOUS ANGEL and ROYAL SEDUCTION. I'm pretty open about the fact that a lot of the books I enjoy contain problematic content, and one thing I do caution people who are new to Blake is that a lot of her older stuff has "forced seduction," which is basically a euphemism for rape that ends up becoming consensual by the skin of its teeth for the sake of not squicking out the audience (spoiler: it does, anyway, because rape). CHALLENGE TO HONOR, on the other hand, is one of her "newer" books (published in 2004) and to my surprise, even though the hero is still cast in the same sexy dangerous role as her classics, there is no forced consent and the heroine drives the interactions. So I guess this is where old vs. new bridges the gap. Good to know.
CHALLENGE TO HONOR starts with a bang and continues on that trajectory with one of the most action-packed plots I've ever read in a romance novel in a while. It's set in 19th century New Orleans, in the French Quarter. The heroine, Celina Vallier, has just learned that her younger brother has challenged the most deadly swordsman in the city because of a slight on her honor. Celina, who lost her older brother to a duel, can't bear the thought of losing him, so she goes to the swordsman, Rio de Silva, to plead her case. To her surprise, Rio agrees to deliver only a glancing blow, even though doing so will tarnish his own honor and cause other duelists to call him out to test out what they perceive as his failing strength. In return, he wants to sleep with her.
I was bracing myself for the usual blackmailed mistress trope, but the story proved much more complex. As it turns out, Rio hadn't smeared her to insult her brother, but her husband-to-be, the sinister and odious Count de Lerida, with whom he has history and wants revenge. Rio is also surprisingly gentlemanly and charming, and has some excellent lines (her heroes always have the most amazing lines). The swashbuckling duel scenes were also amazing, and the overall vibe of the story reminded me pleasantly of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, only with more romance.
The side characters are also great. I loved the other sword masters, who are the heroes in the other romance novels in this series. Celina's relationship with her slave/maid were great, and I loved that she freed her at the end as soon as she was freed from her father's power (slavery is bad). Olivier, Rio's servant, was just as noble as the man he served. And Celina's aunt, Tante Marie Rose, was a rare example of a positive maternal influence in these sorts of books. They even have a rather frank discussion about sex. The descriptions of food and architecture are also delicious, and there's a very sexy masquerade ball scene, which is a trope that doesn't happen often enough (thanks, Labyrinth).
If you're a fan of action-packed romances with chivalrous heroes and somewhat strong heroines, this is a really good pick. I went in with tempered expectations and it totally blew me away.
A few years ago, Halle put most of her books on sale and I went on a buying spree. Karina Halle has a big cult following and I wanted to experience the edgy blend of horror and romance that she's become known for with books like Experiment in Terror and The Artists. What I'm quickly finding is that she's very hit or miss. Some of her books are very well done, and others are... not.
I was side-eying this book from the get-go with its slightly judgey sounding disclaimer in the blurb:
"A note about this book: Donners of the Dead is set in 1851 – couples were often thrust into marriage together with short courtships, racism was widespread and not overly frowned upon, and women had little to no rights. What wouldn't fly in today's day and age was unfortunately the norm back then - it is worth keeping that in mind when reading this book."
Like, I get the need for disclaimers if you're going to emulate a bodice-ripper from the days of yore. Whenever you're writing about a different era in which bad things happened to women and minorities, it can be uncomfortable - at best.
That said, there were nuances, even back then, and the words you used with certain people varied. It is pretty gross to see the love interest in this book casually deride the heroine for being half-Native, calling her pine nut, and, I think, "Injun." The others in their treasure-hunting party were certainly happy to fling the word "Injun" around like racist confetti. Which, on the one hand, okay, they are working class and ignorant, so it fits. But it felt gratuitous and, well, forced.
The plot of this book is pretty creative. Eve is hired on as a tracker to look for treasure when she and her party encounter a bunch of zombies influenced by the Wendigo myth. The execution was lacking. There's a lot of gore, but the horror lacks subtlety. Eve is a helpless heroine, shrieking, flinching, and constantly looking to Jake in a way that's reminiscent of Kagome's catch-phrase, "Go get 'em, Inuyasha!" Like, girl, take some responsibility and at least put some value on your damn life?
I did not like Jake at all, and the historical context seemed limited to homespun, casual racism in dialogue, and an overuse of the words "I reckon." I was hoping for Dawn of the Dead meets Rosemary Rogers, and instead I got... not that. If you're looking for a Western romp, just read Rosemary Rogers instead. Jake McGraw can only dream of being Steve Morgan when he grows up.
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I mostly bought it because I'm obsessed with Ancient Rome, and the ebook is ridiculously cheap ($1.49). It's a short book, and until the end, when it takes a dark turn, is on par with one of the bite-sized Harlequin Historicals in terms of mood, style, and atmosphere.
Phadera is the daughter of a Senator. Her mother is dead, and money runs through her father's hands like water as he gleefully spends money to keep his Seat. To secure his political position and get $$$, he has decided to marry Phaedra off to another Senator, a man old enough to be her father: Marcus.
On the day of her wedding, Phaedra's father hires two gladiators to fight for the pleasure of the crowd. One of these is Valens Secundus, Rome's Champion. Phaedra finds him attractive, especially in contrast to her husband, and the two of them end up talking briefly in the gardens about fate and position in society, and pledging to change the lot that fate handed to them for the better.
Several years pass, and neither of them has forgotten the other. Phaedra's husband is now dead and Valens has mostly retired from the Arena. However, a new man has stepped into the picture. This new man is Marcus's nephew, Acestes, who wants Phaedra for himself. And he will stop at nothing to get her, even if it means blood. It's been a while since I hated a character so much. He was awful.
THE GLADIATOR'S MISTRESS was a fun read. Phaedra is kind of a passive, spineless heroine, but she didn't quite border on TSTL, and seemed to have located her backbone in the last act (but only after it was basically handed to her - *sigh*). I really liked Valens. He is a kind hero, and strong. The secondary characters, Terenita, Baro, and Fortunada, were good too, and I see that the second book in this series is about Baro's and Fortunada's story. Acestes, as I said, was a pig. I liked the action scenes and the descriptions, and I think if you like HQ historicals, you'll enjoy this book as well.
I feel personally attacked by this book because it was so bad, and after liking the author's other book, LIONS AND LACE, so much, I felt like she had done me - and her other fans - dirty by publishing this... this dreck. THE GROUND SHE WALKS UPON is real bottom-of-the-barrel historical romance, with enough cheese to start up its own artisinal shop in downtown Berkeley. Seriously, wtf was going on with this author when she published this book? How can you go from LIONS AND LACE to this?
I picked this book because I needed a Celtic themed romance for my Halloween challenge. This book, sadly, doesn't mention Samhain, but it does mention Beltane (the other major Celtic holiday), as well as the concept of a geis (also spelled geas), which is a sort of fateful pact that must be fulfilled, at the cost of grievous consequences.
Lord Trevellyan is an English/Irish lord who rules in Ireland at the time of the Protestant Ascendancy. At the start of the book he is nineteen, and told of a geis that is part of a curse put upon his family for basically taking the lands away from the Irish. If he does not marry the woman he is fated to be married to, who must come to him freely, then his lands will all fall into ruin. He is then led to a cabin with a beautiful woman lying on a bed - the woman is dead, but she has a baby. He is told, in no uncertain terms, that this is his future wife, which reminded me uncomfortably of that SNL skit, Meet Your Second Wife. Or that imprinting scene from BREAKING DAWN.
Nineteen-years-ish later, Lord Trevellyan is now almost forty years old and the heroine, Ravenna, is a teenager. She's freshly back from school, where Trevellyan sent her after he started getting icky feelings about her when she was scarcely prepubescent, and the feelings are now much ickier. He's quite cruel to her because all of his previous marriages have failed in one horrendous way or another and he's been told by everyone around him that it's because of the geis, and he is a man who does not like having fate wrested from him, so naturally he decides to basically hold her captive in his house and threaten to murder all the men around her, while also putting the moves on her and treating her like a whore, and then at one point even going so far as to lock her in his dungeon so she won't run.
Ravenna is one of those irritatingly plucky heroines that seem to populate 90s bodice ripper romances. They stomp their dainty little feet and act hopelessly outraged, and seem bewildered by their traitorous bodies. This one is an author, and large chunks of the book contain excerpts from her self-published fantasy novel that, interestingly, mirrors her own life and slow "romance" with Niall Trevelyan. This is ironically the most realistic element of the book, in that like many self-published hobby authors, she does not have talent and her character is a self-insertion Sue.
I couldn't quite get over the "here is the baby you're going to f*ck" in 19 years beginning. I thought that was gross. I also didn't like Trevellyan. I thought he was weak. Obsessive heroes are usually my cup of tea, but he felt more like a creepy pervert, and he was so angry all the time, and also so insecure about the red herring love interest in this book. The Ascendancy was also not handled very well. I recently went to Ireland and learned about how the Crown seized land from Irish people and oppressed them systematically by preventing them from having titles, voting rights, or political power, and it was pretty sickening. I am totally fine with unpleasant acts of history being written about (I have, for example, read a controversial historical romance with a Stasi love interest), but they have to be realistic and they have to at least make a token effort at being respectful and doing the culture and the time they are writing about justice, and I did not really feel like that was the case here.
Yeah, no. I'm pretty bummed, and I bought several of this author's other books after liking LION AND LACE so much, so I'm hoping that this was the exception, and not L&L. :(
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.
I picked up THE MASQUERADE for a category in this Halloween-themed romance challenge I'm doing. The category was for a masquerade or costume party-theme in a romance, and while combing despairingly through my Kindle, I thought the title of this book seemed promising. Luckily, it lives up to the title: the catalyst for what ultimately brings h and H together hinges on the events that happen during an All Hallows' Eve masquerade.
Elizabeth is one of the three daughters of an impoverished family of country nobility in Ireland. She has two sisters named Georgie and Anna. They are acquaintances with the de Warenne family, the local nobility, and go to their big parties twice a year. The heroine, Elizabeth, has a crush on the eldest de Warenne son, Tyrell, and has since they were both children and what she felt was major hero worship.
At a Halloween party many years later, when Elizabeth is all dressed up, she has a Princess Diaries moment when Tyrell finally sees that she's not just a chubby wallflower *eyeroll*; she is a woman of supple curves and sensual pleasures. So being the classy sort, he invites her to join him in an assignation behind a tree. Like I said, he's just bursting with class. Unfortunately, her pretty spoiled sister Anna ruins her costume and wants to swap, so Elizabeth ends up going home so Anna can stay.
Long story short: Anna sleeps with the man she KNOWS her sister has a crush on.
Her argument was that she's the one all men want and she was just so shocked that someone might not find her attractive that she threw herself at Tyrell until he decided to rub some of that - ahem - class he's just bursting with onto her.
And this being the regency period, when sexual education consisted of "save it for marriage or be ruined forever," they don't use protection and Anna gets pregnant. With Tyrell's son.
I. Freaking. Know.
When Elizabeth finds out about this she's mad for all of two seconds before deciding to go to their rich aunt's house on the pretense of forging a letter expressing a wish that they nurse her back to health. Initially the aunt is one of those curmudgeonly prickly-pear types, but she eventually warms up to the girls and is shockingly sympathetic when she finds out what's really going on. The aunt, Eleanor, is actually one of my favorite characters in this book because she had a pretty solid sense of right and wrong and didn't go about on her merry way being a trash person to whomever she pleased.
So Anna and Elizabeth stay with Eleanor until Anna gives birth and the kid is basically Tyrell's spitting image. Elizabeth, knowing that they can ~never~ be together, is so entranced by this mini-Tyrell that she snatches him from her sister like it's the last cookie in a box of Oreos instead of a baby and announces that she's going to keep him as her own. Anna reluctantly protests, but she's engaged to someone else (and, you know, just slept with her sister's man-crush for funsies), and says, "Hey, great idea! I'm off to happiness now with my rich and handsome husband with NO consequences! Ta ta!" while Elizabeth does the job of raising mini-Tyrell, AKA Ned, with the singleminded possessive obsession you expect to see in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and not, you know, a ROMANCE.
Eventually, Elizabeth is forced to return to her family and they are SCANDALIZED that their good girl decided to become a bad girl. The truth outs and when they find out who the father is, they march Elizabeth right up to the de Warennes' doorstep and demand satisfaction. Tyrell is furious because not only was he duped out of some hot, classy lovins on Halloween, the object of said lovins decided to sleep with someone else (he thinks) and try to pass the kid off as his. So he blackmails her into being his mistress by threatening to take her child away, and Elizabeth, being psychotically obsessed with Ned and Tyrell, agrees, and tries to pretend that she's a virgin by "accidentally" spilling wine all over the bed before they have sex, because she's so ~subtle~.
It doesn't work, and Tyrell is waaaay too creepily happy about being her first. A freshly-produced heir and a virgin bed partner? That's like insecure dudebro jackpot. Also she loves being in the kitchen and making him tasty treats. BUT WAIT, it gets better. Tyrell is planning on marrying this rich heiress named Blanche, while keeping Elizabeth in his house. UNDER THE SAME ROOF AS HIS WIFE. Because he's so ~classy~. When people (rightfully) call him out about this, he says that he's doing it for his son. Because *eyeroll* that's so believable. Elizabeth, on the other hand, claims that she's not jealous but spends so much time crying and spying on Tyrell's fiance, and acting all passive-aggressive while telling everyone who will listen, "I just want him to be happy!"
Eventually she leaves him for his own good after an encounter with Blanche's father that's pretty civil, except for the fact that he burns up her love note that she leaves before going. Blah blah blah, Georgie has a romance of her own, Anna is still happy and consequence free, Blanche was traumatized as a child and incapable of laughing or crying(??) which is why she doesn't want to get married, so she graciously steps aside and Elizabeth and Tyrell end up married with FIVE kids because class. Ned isn't mentioned at all in the epilogue. I guess he only matters when he's an entre to frustrated lusts and now that the heroine has her own children to be obsessed over, he's served his purpose. Because you know, classy. Also, poor Blanche - unable to laugh or cry? I wish she had a place in that epilogue. She's the nicest OW I ever seen and they swept her out of the narrative like dirt on their way to their ~classy~ happily ever after.
This is a real saga of total trash people, and that is not a phrase I throw around lightly. To be a trash person, you have to give a serious lack of f**ks about other people. Elizabeth gave no f**ks when she stole her sister's baby (luckily her sister didn't want the baby), and she gave no f**ks about how wantonly carousing around with a married-man-to-be might affect her semi-noble family and her remaining sister's prospects. Which it did. Badly. Anna was also a trash person, for sleeping with a man she knew her sister wanted and who wanted her back, and then for dumping her own flesh and blood on her sister to go start a new family with her shiny new husband. Tyrell was a trash person for thinking with his junk and then trying to pass that behavior off as real man of the house-type gallantry, and Georgie was a trash person for enabling her sisters' bad behavior.
What really annoyed me was Elizabeth is so obsessed and stupid and selfish, and yet we're constantly told about how kind-hearted and noble and gracious she is. And I'm like, "Seriously? I must not be hearing you correctly over the sounds of the seagulls circling around all these literal trash people." Oh, she gives all her money to poor people even though her family's impoverished. Really? Where is that money coming from? She doesn't have a job. You mean she's giving her poor family's money away to people on the street while ruining her sister's prospects and fucking a practically married man? Oh wow, so noble, wow, I can only aspire to that level of magnanimity.
The beginning of this book was OKAY because I'm a sucker for family dramas and I kept reminding myself that all of the characters were teenagers and teenagers are SUPPOSED to act selfishly and make bad decisions. But years went on and the characters continued to be stupid trash people and eventually I stopped caring about any of them. I do like the concept of this series, which is about a noble family that begins in Medieval times (and is allegedly a somewhat knockoff of Christine Monson's STORMFIRE), but like the blood of this family, the fire of the plot appears to have thinned as well over the years, degrading from bona fide 80s bodice ripper to present-day trash person drama.
I'm proud of myself for finding a book that fit the masquerade theme I needed but I'm seriously questioning the serious loss of brain cells I think I experienced while wading through this dreck.
As if I needed an excuse to read more gothic romances... well, I do, which is why I'm taking part in a Halloween Reading Challenge designed to celebrate all things paranormal, dark, and spooky in my favorite genre - romance.
Victoria Holt, who died in 1993, was one of the obvious go-to choices for the "author who is dead" category. Not only was she exceptionally prolific, she was also a writer in two of my favorite vintage romance subgenres: pulpy gothics and pulpy historicals (the historicals were written under the penname, Jean Plaidy). The only problem with that is that being so prolific means that sometimes, quality takes a nosedive. There are Holt novels that I loved... and then there are Holt novels that left me shaking my head and going WHAT.
THE SHIVERING SANDS has a kind of silly title, which made me think of the Shifting Sand Lands level from Mario 64, and an equally silly premise. Our heroine, Caroline, was the only non-archeologist in her family. She loved music. One day, both her parents died tragically on their way to a dig, leaving her archeology-loving sister, Roma, and her both adult orphans to pave their own way. Roma continued doing her thing and became a prominent influence in her field, whereas Caroline decided to give up her passion to be supportive of her man, Pietro, whom she obviously still respects despite him being a grade-A jerk who says things like "you are worthy of me." He dies tragically too, and Caroline fiddlefarts around until Roma goes missing on a dig in Kent, after which Caroline decides to go play some Scooby Doo and figure out where her sister went.
Being the widow of a famous pianist (and a pianist of some repute herself) gives her easy entrance to the family who owns the lands where Roma was investigating. And this family - this family has one of the most confusing vipers' nest of a relationship tree that I have encountered in a while. She becomes piano teacher to three girls, one of whom is the vicar's daughter (Silvia). The other two girls, Allegra and Alice, have TWO different mothers. Alice is, I believe, the illegitimate child of the vicar's daughter's wife and the Stacy patriarch, Sir William. Allegra is the daughter of the black sheep son of Sir William, Napier, and a gypsy woman. This means that Alice, while being young enough to be Napier's daughter, is actually his step-sister(?) and Silvia's half-sister. There's this crazy old woman named Sybil who likes to paint creepy paintings, and I think she is Sir William's spinster sister, which would make her Alice's aunt, and Allegra's great-aunt. Napier, meanwhile, is engaged to Sir William's rich ward, Edith, which has put him back in his father's favor, because he has been ostracized for several years due to his possible murder of his younger brother and family golden child, Beau, which led his mother to commit suicide. BUT WAIT, there's more. As it turns out, Allegra is actually Beau's daughter, not Napier's, so she is his niece, and not his daughter. And Alice isn't Sir William's child at all, but the child of a criminal. If that doesn't give you a headache, I'm not sure what will. But man, I had a hell of a time trying to keep track of all these people.
THE SHIVERING SANDS is one of my least favorite Holt novels. It's so boring and slow to start that I skimmed for the first 150-pages or so. Then she employs this gross trope she's done in a couple of other books of hers that I can't stand. The heroine falls for a MARRIED man and Holt legitimizes this relationship by killing off the wife somehow so he's freed up for the heroine. The author did this in THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK as well, which is another book of hers I wasn't crazy about. It was even more annoying here because the wife was killed in a series of 80s slasher movie-esque murder sprees, as well as the heroine's sister (which bummed me out - I was hoping she'd be returned safely). To the author's credit, I actually didn't guess who the killer was until the reveal, and the heroine ends up in some pretty serious trouble at the end. Too bad the previous 200 pages before the grand reveal didn't make me care more. Also, F that hero, who is just as judgy and pretentious as her ex-husband. He doesn't have any of the rugged gothic charm that some of Holt's other heroes have, and the excessive name-drops of Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre didn't win this book any favors, because all it did was remind me of other, better gothic romances that I could be reading instead.
I'm even more annoyed because usually I only spend $1.99 on an ebook, but since this is an author I usually like, I bit the bullet and spend $2.50 or whatever it was this ebook cost when it was on sale. So the fact that I did that and had this book blow so much was the straw on the camel's back, as far as I'm concerned. If you want to get into this author, I'd recommend starting with THE PRIDE OF THE PEACOCK, MENFREYA IN THE MORNING, or ON THE NIGHT OF THE SEVENTH MOON. Stay away from this one, though, unless you want to be annoyed and confused, like I was.
OMG, it's been forever since I actually sat down and reviewed one of these WTF!vintage novels. Given the choice between Johanna Lindsey and Catherine Coulter, I'd go with Catherine Coulter every time. My only beef with her is that she's apparently been censoring - read: rewriting - some of her older works, and apparently taking out the bodice-rippery elements. I get why she might want to do this, but it's a major bummer for readers like me who enjoy bodice rippers in spite of (or because of) their less savory, un-PC elements. So if you're going to read Catherine Coulter for the full bodice ripper ~experience~, finding a vintage paperback or hardback is probably going to be your best bet.
I picked up my ~original~ old skool copy at a thrift store and it did not disappoint. Josephina Cochrane is a bastard, which she finds out after hearing some of the servants gossiping about her, and being a ballsy sort of wench, she actually confronts her father's wife to figure out what it means, because she knows that since her father's wife hates her, she won't hold back the truth. And take her to Truth City she does, gleefully informing Josephina that bastard means that her mother's a husband-stealing whore.
Josephina is pure composure and has all the chill, which has led to people calling her Duchess - especially her cousin, Marcus, who finds himself creepily attracted to her despite the fact that he is an older teenager and she is scarcely adolescent. Ew. Flash forward years later and Duchess finds out that her father later married her mother (after the bad wife died) to legitimize her birth, only both of them had the misfortune to die without telling her first. She finds out from his lawyer after the fact, although her father has left a curious addendum to his will: he's cut out Marcus, the original heir, and given everything to her - with the proviso that she marry Marcus. If not, she gets 50,000 pounds (still a lot of money) and Marcus gets an allowance that is livable but by no means luxurious.
The plot is a whirlwind of action and drama. There's a secret inheritance hidden Scooby Doo style, according to legend. There's attempted murder and betrayal. Josephina drugs Marcus to trick him into marrying her, because she wants that money. Marcus repays her in kind by taking her by force and then mocking her that he's never going to get her pregnant. Josephina goes to Marcus's mistress and they have a friendly chat that goes in a direction I completely did not anticipate. There's a bitchy cousin who says terrible things under her breath and then lies through her teeth about it. There's servants with heirs who could be extras from a Shakespeare comedy of errors. And oh, probably about half a dozen things that I forgot - oh, yes, when Marcus acts truly dickish, Josephina starts beating him first with a whip and then with a bridle, and he's completely shocked off his ass. I know violence is awful, but usually in books like these, the heroine ends up brutalized, so it was refreshing to see a genuine spitfire who reacted to this misogynistic abuse with anger and outrage.
If you're a fan of WTF!romances and especially WTF!romances with enemies-to-lovers, you should pick up THE WYNDHAM LEGACY. It's a little too slow-paced for my liking, which is why it gets three stars instead of four, but it was dead fun, and I really enjoyed the parts that I did like.
Reading this book made me so, so happy because it's basically everything I ever wanted in a gothic novel. October is the perfect time of the year to be reading these too. When the leaves start turning and the weather cools down, there's nothing better than bundling up in your favorite blanket with a mug of tea and hunkering down with an old-timey mystery novel from the pre-Internet days.
I was suckered into buying THE QUICKSILVER POOL because the premise seemed to be promising a Daphne DuMaurier/REBECCA-inspired jaunt through the post-Civil War South. The heroine, Lora, was a nurse during the Civil War and ended up marrying wealthy Union soldier, Wade. When we meet her, he is just bringing her home to meet the fam, which includes his son from his previous marriage, Jemmy, and the looming and sinister matriarch, Mrs. Tyler.
Lora quickly becomes miserable because it's clear that her husband still carries a torch for his first wife, whose presence looms everywhere in the house. Her mother-in-law is awful, and when she's not making snide comments about how much better the first wife was, she's mocking Lora for being classless and inferior, and emotionally blackmailing everyone else in order to get her way. Other sinister characters include the sister of the first wife, a woman named Morgan who might have designs on Lora's husband, and a mysterious freed slave named Rebecca. REBECCA. Oh, yes, this was definitely REBECCA-inspired. That absolutely cinches it.
The last book I read by Phyllis Whitney was called THE MOONFLOWER and was also post-war, only that war in question was WWII. Many of the things I liked about THE QUICKSILVER POND were also present in THE MOONFLOWER - a rich and detailed setting, complex and sometimes unlikable characters who develop in interesting ways over the course of the story, and an emphasis on familial relationships and interactions that are strengthened through adversity. Another one of my favorite gothic romance authors is Victoria Holt, but many of her heroines are passive and lack agency, and she tends to fall into the trap of demonizing The Other Woman. Whitney, by contrast, is much more feminist in flavor - her heroines are independent and grow stronger as the books go on, and, even more shocking and welcome: she often has a surprising and interesting twist with the other women you meet in the story, making them into interesting and well-rounded characters.
Like THE MOONFLOWER, THE QUICKSILVER POND is slow to start, but then it really picks up the pace and is full of action. It's largely character-driven, but when those characters might be involved in covering up family secrets and murders, the pace quickly picks up. I couldn't put this book down and was desperate to find out what everyone was hiding. I wasn't disappointed. The ending was pretty great, and showed just how developed each of the characters was, in my opinion.
One caveat: the N word is used once, towards the end, but not in a positive or casual way - and the person who says it is not good. I understand some people will take issue with this, but in a post-Civil War society near the South where people are feeling angry and cheated over the outcome of the war, this felt pretty realistic to me. You may feel differently, and that is your right. /shrug
If you want to get in on the gothic-novel craze but are afraid they might put you to sleep with their harmless coziness, pick up this book. This was a great book. Definitely my fave of hers so far. You can expect to see more paranormal- and mystery-themed romances from me this month as I work through this Halloween-themed challenge. So far, it seems to me that I'm off to a pretty good start. (If you want to take a peek at what other books I'll be doing this month, you can view them here.)
I'm trying to clean out my Kindle and one of my current projects is trying to focus on the authors who have the greatest bodies of work. That way, if I like their work, I can go on a binge-reading spree; and if I don't like their work, I can go on a mass-deleting spree and get rid of a significant number of books from my already over-packed Kindle.
I often see Le Veque's historicals for free in the Kindle store, so I think I have about 12 of them at this point. I'll admit to being somewhat warier about self-published historical authors because of the amount of research it takes to write something solid and realistic, but authors such as Elizabeth Kingston and Courtney Milan have soothed my fears and taught me not to be such a snob in such matters.
THE DARK LORD is about a man named Ajax de Velt and when we meet him, he is busy storming a castle in what I imagine is somewhere in the modern-day UK. Once there, we meet the heroine, who pleads weepy tears for her father's life. Shortly thereafter, he forces her to strip naked in her cell and issues some bare-bottom spankings for her defiance before... ordering her to get dressed and start playing accountant in order to tally up all of his newly-gotten assets.
A disclaimer: I'm no historian but the sheer amount of anachronisms in this book were astounding. A woman who calls herself Kelli with an 'i'? A man whose nickname is Jax? Women wearing pantalettes beneath their dresses? A knight named Ajax at a time when most people were illiterate?
The writing is also not great. There's a lot of tell-not-show, and it feels very clunky. Kind of like some of Connie Mason's books. Just super cheesy, like something you'd see from the early 90s with a Fabio cover and some really bad early Photoshop.
I went to check the author's profile, curious to see what books she used in her research, and saw to my dismay that she had not only rated all of her own books 5 stars, she was also being incredibly ungracious with some of her Ask the Author responses on her profile. That, combined with my lack of enthusiasm with the book, made me come to a grinding halt at 9%.
I'll be deleting all of this author's books from my Kindle, unread. Luckily, I got most of them for free, but unfortunately I think I might have paid for one or two of them. Oops. :/
I got this for free in a bundle of feminist-friendly romances a couple years ago that the authors had given out as ARCs to readers. I'm only just now getting around to it and I'm sorry about that! (But better late than never, right?) After reading STAR DUST, I'm thinking to myself that maybe I don't read enough cute romances because this... was really, really cute. Cute with substance.
STAR DUST is set in the 1960s, during the days of the cold war and the space race. Anne-Marie Smith is newly divorced, an oddity in these times, and is dealing with a lot of the social stigma her new and unusual marital status brings. Kit Campbell is an astronaut and a playboy. They're new neighbors in their suburban development, and the attraction between them is as instant as it is unwanted. Kit is reluctant to change his ways and knows that anyone who dates him will be in the limelight. Anne-Marie has two kids to think of, and is still trying to find her identity as an individual - not as a partner.
I wasn't expecting much from STAR DUST but it proceeded to shatter each and every one of my expectations or lack thereof. Obviously in a period piece, it's important to get the setting right, but while reading this, I felt like I was smack-dab in the middle of the 1960s. It gave me Stepford vibes. I also love seeing the hero and the heroine at work in romances, because I think it's important to show the characters as individuals who exist outside of being in a couple, and Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner did that. There's scenes of Kit flying into space, of him training for the process, and even scenes of him dealing (with some ambivalence) with the fame and hero worship of his job. Likewise, we also get to see Anne-Marie as a mom who deals with her kids' hurts, bakes and cooks meals, and who also works as a travel agent and finds joy in being able to achieve success outside of the typical housewife role. Her satisfaction was really heart-warming, as is her later heart-to-heart with her boss, who originally judges Anne-Marie unfairly for divorcing her cheating husband.
That's another thing I liked about this book. It brought up a lot of deep and important (and sometimes unsavory) issues that period romances like these tend to brush under the carpet. Writing romances set in the 1960s without sexism and changing gender norms is like writing writing a romance set in the 1860s without slavery. Just because something makes you uncomfortable, that doesn't mean you shouldn't pretend it exists. Many of the feelings Anne-Marie feels about her divorce and the judgments about who she is as a woman from people who don't even know her are still relevant today, and I thought that the authors handled the subject matter extremely well. The emphasis on female friendships and female relationships in this book is also quite lovely.
The romance itself is also great. Kit is hot and the sex scenes between him and Anne-Marie are extremely steamy. Normally playboy characters get on my nerves because they're written like misogynistic jerks but Kit is actually very charming. It's endearing how Anne-Marie forces him to go off-script and makes him second-guess some of the choices he's made in his life and how they are impacting his happiness. I didn't really understand at first why Anne-Marie wanted an affair with him and not a relationship at first, but I guess I get it. Her divorced-status makes her a social pariah and excuses her from the rules that "good girls" are expected to follow, so I guess maybe she was choosing selfish indulgence and mindless pleasure over something more concrete both because it was something she felt denied before, and because it wouldn't have any ties that could become constraints later. After thinking it over, I felt more comfortable with the idea and how it fit in with her characterization, because at first it felt very strange. The resultant sex scenes were totally worth it, though!
If you're tired of sexist romances, I really think STAR DUST will be a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed how light and cute it was, while still hitting upon all of these relevant issues. In that regard, it reminded me a lot of Courtney Milan's and Beverly Jenkins's works. They're the only other authors who write het romance who manage to touch upon these issues in a meaningful and succinct way without sounding either preachy or ignorant, and I love them for it. Looks like Emma Barry might be joining their ranks in my book. I'm rather desperate to get my hands on A MIDNIGHT CLEAR now, as it's Parsons's book (Kit's boss), and I'm a sucker for the gruff and grumpy tsundere types. :)
I buddy read this with Karishma and it was a very satisfying read, reminding me in terms of style of authors such as Meredith Duran, or Lisa Kleypas circa her Gamblers duology. MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU, which is apparently inspired by Little Women according to the author's note, is about a family of sisters who are the daughters of an impoverished lord who spent all of his money on horses. Now all of them are basically penniless, with only racehorses as their dowries. One of the chief complaints of this series is that there are too many characters, but that was what I loved about it. Tess, the main and eldest sister, is so strong and good, and reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Bennett, whereas the youngest sister, Josie, who is nerdy and a bit of a prude, reminded me of Mary. The middle sisters, Annabel and Imogene, are a lot like Kitty and Lydia, respectively, and since Lydia was my least favorite Bennett, it's certainly no shocker that Imogene was my least favorite here - only she is much, much worse than Lydia ever was, in my opinion.
Raised in Scotland and utterly without the fanciful trappings that make women into ladies, the girls find themselves at the mercy of their late-father's acquaintances, particularly Rafe, their new guardian, who is definitely a high-functioning alcoholic. When he first hears of his new charges, he thinks that they're actually children, and they actually walk into the nursery while it's still in the process of being decorated (lol). Tess finds herself engaged before she knows it, but is more attracted to the rakish and brooding Lucius than she is to her husband-to-be, the Earl of Mayne.
I loved the romance between Lucius and Tess. He's the perfect blend of kind and brooding, and a lot like Mr. Darcy. He even saves Imogene from certain ruin the same way Darcy did Lydia - and all for Tess, too. How romantic and kind! Imogene, on the other hand, was the WORST. Lydia was annoying because she was so immature, but Imogene completely blows Lydia Bennett out of the water with her selfishness. I could not believe how she treated Tess at the end of the book, or how Annabel gaslighted Tess into thinking that such abusive behavior was okay. I'm sorry, but you are not allowed to treat your family as emotional whipping boys and girls when you can't deal with your own mistakes in life. That's not how this works, and that's not how anything works. Take several seats.
Apart from that, I loved every second of this romance novel, from the frothy writing, to the snippy humor, to the wide and lovable cast of characters (minus Imogene), to the requisite carriage tupping, to the romance. I don't know why I haven't read anything by this author sooner, but I clearly need to rectify that mistake!
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.
Sometimes you read a book and the pages fly by. Other times, you read a book and each page drags on and on. You set the book aside for other, better books. But each night, when you go to bed, you see the book sitting there on your nightstand. Judging you. Mocking you. BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON is the latter.
In other words: BOOOOOOOrriiiiiiin. Boring. Yes.
I've noticed this problem with a lot of newer historical romances (like, written within the last five years or so). They play it way too safe. Rather than coming across as politically incorrect, they do their best to be as inoffensive as possible, with no mention at all of any sort of unsavory topics like plague or war or racism, sweeping those all under the fringed jacquard carpet to indulge in a bit of costume romance. The dresses make it seem historical and everyone speaks very prettily, but the focus of these books is solely romance and beyond that, not a whole lot of conflict.
I think I like Julia Quinn's earlier romances more, because they at least had a bit of fire to them. This book was dull. When we begin the novel, the heroine is up a tree trying to rescue a cat. Then getting down from the roof takes about two chapters. There's a couple more chapters at a dinner table where they all tease each other and the heroine, Billie's, sister feels left out. Then there's talk of a party. Then the hero, George, and the heroine, almost kiss and immediately go on the defensive to themselves that they don't really like each other, not really.
How dull. I had to DNF at that point, because the whole thing felt so tedious. I buddy-read this with Karishma and she liked it at least, so maybe if you enjoy light, fluffy reads, you will too.
I gave this author several chances with two of her BDSM series, but both of those were about gross cavemen using BDSM to facilitate their misogynistic 1950s-style-bend-over-and-hand-me-my-martini fantasies from watching too many back to back episodes of Mad Men and Sister Wives on TiVowith a raging hard-on.
Surely, I told myself, this sort of antiquated mindset would work better in a costume historical, where if not exactly savory, at least such 'roid rage would at least sort of be easier to swallow (among other things, cough, cough).
NEVER SEDUCE A SCOT was just as infuriating as the other books by this author that I've read but for different reasons. Those books were bad because they featured some truly awful sex scenes and some really warped views on safe, sane, and consensual kink. This book was infuriating because it takes an utterly Disney approach to history, with two feuding Scottish clans basically sitting back and tolerating one another after a marriage of convenience with only a few petty snips that wouldn't even merit a detention.
I was also not very happy with the disability rep. The heroine is deaf, but so shamed by this that she pretends to be mute instead, and somehow managed to instantly pick up lip-reading (no communication issues that would make the plot needlessly complicated). She sustained this injury from falling off a horse, which makes me suspect that she probably regains her hearing at the end of the book, undoubtedly after a bout of cure-all sex with the hero, I'm sure. She also hasn't fully lost her hearing and can still hear deep sounds, and much to her delight, the hero's voice is the only voice that she can still hear, despite her deafness. Oh, how convenient. Let me roll my eyes.
As if that weren't enough insult to injury, the heroine is probably one of the most disgustingly precious characters I've encountered in a while, stomping her foot, pouting, winning confidences easily, and just in general being such an annoying little priss that I was shocked nobody professing to hate her (like all of the women in the keep) had made an attempt to hurl her from the ramparts.
Methinks that this author is not for me. I think I only paid $1.99 for this book, but even that was too much. It was boring and awful, and now I need to find another Scottish romance for my reading challenge since this one didn't past muster.
If you're new to following me, one of the things that you should definitely know about me is that I love vintage romance novels. I think they're super fun, partially because they're a snapshot of a different time, when expectations for women (and tolerance for racism and sexism) have become utterly outmoded, and partially because they are cheesy and bad in a way that's hard to find outside of the gamut of self-published and utterly self-indulgent trash-reads.
HIDDEN FIRES is not a good book - in fact, in many ways, it is an objectively bad book - and yet despite loathing parts of it and shaking my head at even more parts of it, I did have fun reading it while internally making fun of it because it is so ridiculous.
Set in the old west (e.g. Texas in what I imagine is the late 1800s), the heroine, Lauren, is a virginal stereotype of propriety wronged: after a corrupt preacher tries to put the moves on her, he manages to gaslight her adoptive family into thinking that she's a harlot. When they try to force a marriage, Lauren flees to the Lockett estate where a man named Ben once extended her an invite to visit. Ben is now dead, and only his wastrel son and icy wife are in residence. In fact, when Lauren first meets the son, Jared, he's on death's door from alcohol poisoning - but he doesn't look so bad that Lauren can't help but admire his hot, heaving bod.
Anyway, both Jared and the wife, Olivia, assume that Lauren is one of Ben's harlots. He actually was matchmaking though, having picked Lauren out for his son, since Lauren isn't his type (read: lusty, buxom, kinky). Jared, however, hates being told what to do, because he is a Real Man, and also because he has major Mommy Issues. Unfortunately, he screws up a railroad deal between his mommers and some real tacky "new money" types, who decide to take the slight personally, and in order to save his reputation, Mommy decides that Jared and Lauren should be married, because she's the perfect foil to Jared, who is a little too good at playing the lusty wastrel with no self-control.
The plot of the railroad deal continues as it's revealed that Jared's mom plans to destroy the Mexican settlement near the river they want to dam up for the railroad in order to prevent dissent, and then there's the "Okie" stereotypes working the land who are probably some of the most repulsively written stereotypes I've seen in a book of white people. Of course they're rapey, incesty redneck hicks, because why wouldn't they be? And in case that isn't enough offense, there's stereotypes aplenty with a dude who's been disfigured by Native Americans (of course) and some questionable portrayals of Mexicans and specifically Mexican women (hint: it's the "exotic and sexual" stereotype), whose sole purpose in the narrative seem to be to showcase Lauren's own white purity.
WTFery continues with several rape/sexual assault attempts, a scene in which Jared attempts to force Lauren to watch a bull being castrated only to cause her to flee and break her horse's leg in the process resulting in approximately 1 dead horse, a scene where Jared and his Mexican buddies start shooting at each other for funsies and Lauren nearly faints because she thinks they're bandits, and a scene in which Lauren after nursing her Mexican servant back to health nearly collapses from exhaustion and Jared takes her to bed, undresses her while she's passed out, thinks, "While I'm here," and helps himself to her bosom while she's unconscious and is rough enough (???) that her body actually stings from washing it the soap the next day. (What the hell was he doing? Also, that's rape, dude.) And while we're talking about sex, I just want to add that the sex scenes in this book are pretty bad, even for an 80s romance novel. We're talking cringe-worthy bad. I have receipts:
[Her nipple] melted against his tongue like a piece of sugar candy, and tasted even sweeter (184).
His ardent lovemaking was followed by a nonchalant, take-it-or-leave-it attitude that challenged every woman's innate feminine instincts. Perversely they loved him for it (205).
She had been a virgin. And it was the first time Jared Lockett had ever been with a virgin. It was a gift he had never expected toreceive and one he didn't feel he deserved, yet she had given herself to him.
Why? After the abuse he had heaped on her, why had she come to him, offering herself? (233)
This is actually a valid question, since the abuse he's referring to is actual abuse. He actually hits her (sort of by accident, but he was shoving her). He constantly emotionally abuses her and makes fun of her. He sexually assaults her and comes close to raping her during at least one point (I think it was two). Oh, and until he finds out that she was a virgin, he still thinks that she slept with his father and he constantly holds that over her head, treating her like she's dirty laundry or worse. Gross.
Emboldened by his impassioned plea, she stroked and caressed until she found the smooth spearhead lubricated with the precious nectar of his desire (270).
In spite of her modest wariness, she felt her muscles surrendering to the diplomacy of his mouth (280).
In answer, she took him in her hand and guided him to the gate of her womanhood. Bathing the pulsating tip with the moistness of her own loins, she led him further into the welcoming folds of her body (356).
Jared is basically the hirsute machismo stereotype of the 80s romance hero mold. If you like Rosemary Rogers, Linda Howard's earlier work, and Diana Palmer, you'll know what you're getting into with this Jared dude. He's super possessive and uncomfortably patriarchal.
Lauren is also a stereotypical virgin without much agency, although she does stick up for the Mexican people and her beloved servant (of course), and she is excellent at nursing people back to health and befriending prickly characters who normally don't like anyone (including Jared). Apart from those two superpowers, she is a foot-stomper, and the author does everything she can to remind us not just how virginal she is, but also how small, and dainty, and helpless, and pretty she is.
You know, just in case the 23432324 other reminders somehow didn't sink in.
You're probably wondering why, with this ranty review, this book isn't getting a 1 star. I've certainly had people come onto some of my other 1-star reviews to express outrage about how I could give X-book a positive review, when they considered it trash, and yet give Y-book, which they considered chock-full of literary merit, a low review. Well, the answer to that is that I rate exclusively on entertainment and joy. If a book makes me happy or engaged, it has done its job, and regardless of the alleged caliber of the writing itself, I will rate it accordingly. HIDDEN FIRES does not get a positive review because I spent the bulk of the book unhappy with the writing, pacing, and characters, but it also does not get a hard 1 because it was unwittingly hilarious at times, and because there were parts of the story where I felt interested (particularly that utter fustercluck of an ending, my God).