That's it, I'm tossing in the tea towel. I was buddy-reading this with my friends Shruti and MG, but after several days of struggling to maintain my attention with this book, I can't stand it anymore. I think my honeymoon period with Skye Warren is over, and I'm deleting all of her books off my Kindle except for the Masterpiece series, which is the only one I feel like finishing.
You can't say that I didn't give Ms. Warren a fair shot. Including this book, I've read seven of her novels and novellas. I really liked the first Endgame novel and I liked the prequel to Masterpiece. About the others, my reaction can be summed up as "meh."
I had several problems with SURVIVAL OF THE RICHES, however, that just couldn't be ignored.
❌️ The first 99 pages is LITERALLY the free-to-read prequel, TRUST FUND. When I picked up SURVIVAL OF THE RICHEST, I felt like I'd read the beginning before. That's because I had. The first 99 pages of this book contains the prequel, TRUST FUND, which I'd already read and reviewed. And sure, you can say that it's nice of the author to bundle the prequel in to the novella - but when this novel first went up, it still cost $. I got it when it was free, and it was still free, but I imagine her fans aren't cheapskates like I am. They probably shell out $ for her work because I imagine they read the books as soon as they come out (as loyal fans do) and I can't imagine them being very happy at being forced to skim through nearly 100 pages of word-for-word regurgitated content. Maybe it was the author being nice and trying to make things convenient for her fans, but it also could be a sneaky attempt to bulk up the page count of this "novel" to make people feel like they're getting more.
❌️ The plot of this story revolves around whether or not to save this abandoned library that the rich love interests want to tear down and turn into the mall. I'm sorry, is this an erotic novel or a back to school special from the 90s about cultural values and community outreach? Also, how can you possibly expect me to root for a love interest who wants to bulldoze a library down. Think very carefully about who your target audience is. Now think about what you're doing. #Nope
❌️ The sex scenes are tired and uninteresting. I thought the sex scenes in THE PAWN, the first Endgame book, were hot. The ones in here were gross and stupid. You should hear what the heroine shouts while the hero gives her oral sex. Also they have sex in that library he wants to tear down while he spanks her with a book. That poor, poor book. It didn't ask to be a part of this.
❌️ Love triangle. Need I say more? Between two heroes I don't care about, because they are apparently library-haters. Also, I don't dig the whole alpha showdown of "who's got the bigger D?" that these dudes apparently have going on. Any dude who acts like I'm a trophy that he must win would be better off playing in a bowling league... or maybe Mario Kart. If you're into that thing, bully for you. Maybe you'll like this. I thought it was a pretty lame love triangle, as far as these things go, and if you read the prequel, TRUST FUND, before this, the love triangle basically shatters your expectations about who the heroine will end up with.
Overall, not for me. *deletes all Skye Warren books from Kindle*
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!
Have you ever read a book that subverts all the tired tropes in one of your favorite genres, while also paying homage to everything that your trashy self absolutely loves about said genre? That's how I felt about FEELS LIKE SUMMER, a book I picked up on a whim because it was free in the Kindle store and because I'd liked the other book I'd read from this author (LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS). I wasn't sure how this book would be able to top LaOCR, but oh my God, it did.
FEELS LIKE SUMMER is an #OwnVoices Filipino romance set in the Philippines. Jett, the main character, is at a beach music festival by herself, planning on indulging on sex and booze. She's a looker and knows it, so isn't exactly surprised when she gets accosted by this really hot guy. To her surprise, said hot guy wants her to act as a fake five-minute girlfriend to their bandmate, Adrian, who's broken up over his ex-girlfriend, who's also at the music festival.
It sounds silly, and Jett thinks so, too, but she agrees to do it on a whim and is surprised by how attracted she actually is to Adrian. She makes a pass at him and he accepts - and it is unsatisfactory, which I found refreshing. Especially when she kicks him out for making some judgmental-sounding comments about her. As it turns out, the comments were actually a misunderstanding and Adrian is repentant. More talking happens and Jett decides to make him one of her "projects": she'll sleep with him for about three months, until he can get his act together and get over his ex-girlfriend, or until either one of them starts getting what she calls "weird feelings" (i.e. "commitment").
FEELS LIKE SUMMER is such an amazing book. I loved the fact that Jett, our heroine, is the sexually aggressive, emotionally remote character. Adrian has much less experience than her, and she actually gives him a number of pointers. He is also the one who ends up pushing for a relationship while Jett drags her feet. Later on, we find out why she guards her heart more jealously than a dragon guards its hoard, and some of these moments made my heart heart because nobody deserves to be gaslit into thinking that they are beyond hope.
The friendships and secondary characters were great, as well. Jett ends up befriending her co-workers in the science museum she works at (she's a STEM heroine, guys! she wants to be a science teacher or museum curator!), and Adrian's bandmates are such a warm and endearing cast of characters. The other woman, Ellie (Adrian's ex), is also treated sympathetically. Jett never slut-shames her (which is good, because since she is very much pro-sex, that would be hypocritical) and in fact, refrains from judging her even when Adrian's friends put her down, because she argues that there are two sides to every story.
Other bonuses to this book: Very sweet beta hero who can be rough in the bedroom without being a dominating creep. The heroine has very painful periods which are discussed in this book, and when she gets surprise cramps while staying with the hero, he sends his friends to the store to buy her pads while comforting her and stroking her hair. Video games are mentioned at length - the heroine likes to play RPGs and at one point she and the bandmates all go on a raid together. It's super cute. Honestly, I just want to flail my hands and fangirl endlessly over this book, it was so good. I'm so happy.
Big ups to my friend, Angelina, who buddy-read this with me. :)
I'm so bad with buddy reads - if I'm not into a book, I take weeks to finish. If I'm obsessed, I'll zoom through it in less than a day. My friend, Sarah, buddy-read THE KING'S MAN with me, but unfortunately the book she picked out was so good, I was done with it in just a few hours. I'm sorry, Sarah. I tried to stop, but the siren call of Ranulf was just too strong. Like Odysseus, I would have had to tie myself to a mast to stop - and I don't have a mast.
First off, anyone who loves Laura Kinsale should pick this up, because Elizabeth Kingston is the first author I've encountered besides Kinsale who manages to write those compelling, angsty historical romances with plausible events and alpha heroes who aren't total jerks and strong heroines who are able to stand up to said heroes whenever they start to toe the line of possibly being a jerk. The medieval setting was fantastic and Ranulf and Gwenllian were amazing characters that I was only too happy to ship. Heck, I'd sail an entire armada for the sake of their love.
When Gwenllian finds Ranulf, he's a broken man half-dead from fever. She's pretty sure he's English scum, which she, being Welsh, cannot stand... but she saves him anyway. As it turns out, he's the very same man who murdered her would-be husband in cold blood. Ranulf is actually wracked with guilt for a variety of reasons and doesn't really want to live anymore. He's grimly amused when he finds himself under house arrest in a Welsh castle with a small army of guards and decides to provoke them into fighting him, so he'll either be killed or given chance to escape. He ends up fighting the youngest and, to his shock, loses - a shock that turns to outright dismay and disgust when he realizes that the young "knight" is actually the lady of the keep, and the same woman who healed his fever.
Gwenllian is the perfect historical romance heroine and the author does a great job subverting the cross-dressing trope. She has good reasons for dressing as a boy and knowing how to fight, and it wasn't something she just happened to pick up and be immediately amazing at - she has years of training. She actually learned how to be a healer because she felt that she should be able to heal any wounds she caused in swordplay, because she's that noble. I also liked how the armor kind of became a metaphor for her uncertainty about womanhood. In the text, we find out she's plain and has crooked teeth and shorter-than-normal hair. When she's forced to wear dresses, she looks awkward, and the first time Ranulf bemoans how ungainly she wears the dresses and how the colors she's chosen are unbecoming. By the end of the book, she starts to feel more comfortable acting like a lady, but Ranulf also finds her unconventional appearance appealing and even grows to appreciate her armor, and it becomes less a crutch she needs to lean on and more like an expression of her true self.
The conflict of this book comes into play with a marriage of convenience, one of my favorite tropes. Ranulf is "the King's Man," and the King in question is who I believe is Edward I, and he was NOT very nice to the Welsh at all. To suppress the possibility of rebellion from Gwenllian's family, he takes the marriage contract bequeathing the property they have been contesting all these years - the property that should have been Gwenllian's because of her proxy marriage to the man Ranulf killed and stole the title from - and has it rewritten so that Ranulf will be titleholder, and the husband. Ranulf is English and Gwenllian is half-Norman and half-Welsh, and even as she grows first sexually attracted to her husband and later emotionally, she finds herself debating where her true loyalties should lie, and this leads to some pretty realistic conflicts that cause all kinds of angst.
The secondary characters were also really great. Gwenllian's mother (who I believe is the heroine of the next book), her squire, and her second in command were all great. I also liked the staff of Ranulf's property, particularly Hugh, and the visiting lady, Suzanna, who ended up befriending Gwenllian (what happened to her? she just disappeared - please tell me she's going to get her own book, too). This is something else that Elizabeth Kingston has in common with Laura Kinsale - and as it turns out, this probably isn't an accident. I actually looked into this, and on her website, Kingston lists Kinsale as her primary inspiration, and Kinsale actually endorsed Kingston's book.
Am I good, or what?
You know what else is good, though? This book. It's self-published so I was a little hesitant, but bar a couple typos and an odd writing style (hard to describe, but when you read some of the dialogue, you'll see what I mean), I fell for this book hard and finished it in what was basically a single sitting. I was lucky enough to get it while it was free, but I wouldn't have been mad paying money for this, either. Read it, especially if you love Laura Kinsale. She's basically the next best thing.
I got my friend Minerva to buddy-read this with me, because the only thing better than bodice-rippers are bodice-rippers with friends. Also, the covers. Can we all take a moment to appreciate that cover? The original artwork, the banner font, the colors - I'm not sure who started the bizarre trend of replacing the original artwork with badly photoshopped covers for the Kindle edition, but they suck.
I originally tried reading SILVER STORM a couple years ago but ended up shelving it due to boredom. During this reread, I felt the same urge once more. For about 70% of this book, the story is dull as dirt. Maybe duller than dirt, because at least dirt has some action (worms, woodlice, interesting rocks). This book did not have that.
The heroine, Devon, is one of those spunky Catherine Coulter rejects who says "Ooooh!" when she's angry and probably stomps her foot. When the British attack her town and kill'n'rape her family, she ends up at the mercy of French privateer, Ravneau, who also happens to be the man she's had a crush on since she was a kid - not that he looked her way, then. Now, though? Now, she isn't just HOT. She is bodice ripper HOT, which is like being Helen of Troy HOT.
The plot is difficult to explain but it's basically Devon and Raveneau arguing constantly, with her thwarted ex, Morgan, occasionally popping in to remind everyone that he exists and Was There First. Much to Devon's dismay, she's much more attracted to Raveneau and even though they were engaged, she let Raveneau pop her cherry and the thought of Morgan physically repulses her. Raveneau knows that he's the one she wants, so he's generous enough to officiate her marriage to Morgan himself - only to reveal later that it was a fake wedding(!), before spiriting her away.
Around 68%, Raveneau remembers that he's in a bodice ripper and starts to act less charming and more jerk. And around 75% in, Raveneau remembers that mere caddery doesn't really cut it in a bodice-ripper and starts to be abusive and rapey. Because I'm twisted, I actually liked that part better - BECAUSE I WAS SO BORED, it was nice to have some action finally happening. Ditto when he dumps her off at an island with a resentful servant and the aura of death (his father allegedly killed his money-grubbing mistress there and they screw mere feet away from where the corpse was buried). There's some OW drama that peters out to nothing (not even a cat fight? come on), and Devon becomes pregnant and immediately transforms into a rosy Madonna, because gag.
In many ways, SILVER STORM reminded me of a less WTF version of THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, another book I didn't really like all that much, although I could appreciate the sheer scale of OTT nobody-gives-a-damn infused into the plot. They were published just a few years apart, so this isn't really surprising. Honestly, of the early bodice ripper canon, so far my favorite is SWEET SAVAGE LOVE which balances OTT with interesting characters and good story-telling.
If you're interested in this book, it is free, although it is my understanding that like many republished bodice-rippers, SILVER STORM has been edited (read: censored) to be more compatible with the sensibilities of modern audiences. Which, okay, I get. But also, at the same time this makes me sad because part of what I love about bodice-rippers is that unapologetic grittiness. I wish that publishers and authors made both editions available on Kindle - then at least the reader could choose whether they wanted that kidskin gloves to stay on.
My new friend Brandy and I decided to BR a royal romance in honor of the Royal Wedding and this was a Kindle book we both had sitting on our Kindles. I'd never read anything by this author before and to be surprised, I was kind of surprised it was a romance about a prince because the dude on the cover looks more like a well-groomed biker or a rock star, but hey, to each their own. Maybe he'd be a sexy rebel cast in the mold of Harry Windsor and I could get my princely fix.
This is so stupid. It's about two scammy sisters named Zelda and Ava who like to go to casinos and scam money. They're con artists. One day, they go a scam too far and end up catching the attention of this exiled dude from a made-up country named "Monagasco" (a portmanteau of Monaco and Madagascar?) who blackmails them into agreeing to cozy up to the prince of Monagasco, or else he'll report them to the casinos for fraud, etc.
I stopped reading when the prince encounters one of the sisters (Ava, I think) standing outside on a balcony reciting poetry to herself during a big party. Honestly, that was the straw that killed it for me because that was so unbelievably stupid. Who does that? I mean, seriously. This book was just one big suspension of disbelief after another. I'm already kind of suspicious of made-up countries because that, to me, is indicative of lazy writing (i.e., "I don't want to do any historical or cultural research, so I'm going to make something up"), and the culture and history of "Monagasco" was super vague. Why do they speak French, for example? Why not a made-up language? Monagascese?
The prince, what's-his-name was also super-skeazy. He's basically a NASCAR driver; he spends all his time racing. Which, I'm pretty sure a prince would probably not be allowed to do because of the danger factor. I don't think hobbies that could kill the heir apparent would be encouraged. Also, he and his brother (or was it his cousin?) brag about their conspicuous bad-boy activities, like orgies and cocaine, and I'm just thinking, "Cool, so the major export of their company must be tabloids, because who the hell lives like this sustainably and where are they getting the money for these activities?"
And then I got to the poetry on the balcony scene and I was done.
This is just another one of those basic romances with poor quality writing and uninspired characters. It almost reads like the author had two disparate ideas and just decided to cram them into one book. Spoiler: it didn't work.
I don't think I'll be reading anything else by this author.
We all have some friends whose opinions about books are so similar to ours that if they rate a book highly, we immediately zoom out to the Kindle Store to buy it. I know I do. But there are also some bloggers out there whose tastes are so antithetical to mine that if I see that they have given a book five stars, it automatically goes on my internal do-not-buy list.
This happened in the case of THE SILVER SWAN, but unfortunately, I had already downloaded it from the Kindle Store, and I figured that maybe it could be good. Sometimes I like dark smutty stories, if they're dark and smutty enough. But they have to be well-written and they have to be interesting.
THE SILVER SWAN was neither.
THE SILVER SWAN kind of feels like it was heavily influenced by Penelope Douglas's Devil's Night series and Erin Watt's PAPER PRINCESS. The main character, Madi, is a "troubled" rich girl whose mother killed her husband's mistress before killing herself with one of Madi's own guns (Madi's a gun nut). As a fresh start, her father has enrolled her in a rich kid's school in a rich kid area, in the hope that such richy richness will magically cure her psychological problems, because I guess therapy is just another word for Aston Martin. *eye roll* Dad of the Year is an award that this man will not be getting, because he is so taken with his new wife that he neglected to inform his daughter that her step-mom has a step-brother her age, whose room is next to hers - and oh, yeah, he's a pervert.
Once at her new school, things take a turn for the TWILIGHT where Madi ends up with a Jessica of her own, only this Jessica is named Tatum and is rich as sin. She also meets ten Edwards, only these Edwards are more like his Christian Grey incarnation, if Christian Grey was a sleazy seventeen-year-old who divides his free time between lurking outside expensive nightclubs and beating off. All of them are immediately intrigued by her, even though their attention cannot be captured by any SINGLE girl, such is the immense power of their collective testosterone. Plot bonus: pervy step-brother is a member of this dicktastic elite collective, redundantly known as the Elite Kings.
The Kings waste no time in stalking Madi, sexually harassing Madi, threatening Madi with rape, with bodily harm, and even with murder. They keep making all of these vague threats about how she will die soon, or that there is a secret about her that they cannot share (thanks for the helpful info, guys). The most unstable Christian Grey of them all, Bishop, even tells her that he thinks she has a sexy spine and wants to break it, and this is of course after he threatens to disembowel her right before they have sex - yet again. I suppose if you find the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker healthy, you would see no problem with this, and it seems like Madi does, so yay for her, I guess?
As a reader of bodice rippers, I am not a stranger to OTT smut and wtfery, and when it is done well I will even tolerate it in modern erotica. Case in point: PAPER PRINCESS and, most recently, A. Zavarelli's CROW, a book that I thought I would hate and ended up loving instead. I had hoped that something similar might happen with THE SILVER SWAN, but I ended up being pretty fed up with the book because of what I perceived to be lazy writing (highly repetitive descriptions, for example: "eyes filled with mischief" occurring in two succeeding paragraphs; lots of typos) and way too many asides. The obsession with food in this book is particularly curious, with Madi constantly telling us what she wants to eat or is currently eating, and exactly how much progress she is making as she continues to eat or obtain this food in question, whether it's a sandwich, an apple, Krispey Kremes, or enough Burger King to "feed half a state."
I also didn't particularly care for Madi, and her "I'm not like other girls" attitude was particularly jarring and irritating, as was her vapid, superficial lifestyle and her easy judgment of girls who were just as quick to jump in bed with men as she was. After the umpteenth luxury product name-drop, I wanted to go to Debauve & Gallais just so I could throw an expensive projectile at her head in a particularly poignant display of irony - also added hilarity, Madi speaks of Sulpice Debauve the way Trump spoke of Frederick Douglass, implying that he continues his great work to this day, lol.
The disappointing climax was the cherry on this disappointment sundae. I'm sorry that I was not more impressed with this book, because the premise really did sound interesting, but so many other authors have run with the "rich kids hiding a deadly secret" premise and done it one better, and honestly, I'd rather just watch Hana Yori Dango, because as far as I'm concerned, that story is the OG. Many thanks to Meggie for participating in this BR with me. You should check out her review.
Writing this review makes me sad because I really wanted to love this book for several reasons. One, because I'm friends with the author on Goodreads, have chatted with her, and really like her as a person; she seems really kind, laid-back, and funny. Two, because I am in love with that cover. It seems to be paying homage to the bodice-rippers of the 1980s and 90s, which I am all for, as you probably know, being the self-professed Bodice Ripper Kahleesi. And three, the idea of a paranormal romance involving the four Horsemen of the apocalypse was a really unique idea and I wanted to support it, was hoping for something like J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood meets R. Lee Smith's Last Hour of Gann.
Instead I got, TWILIGHT meets the apocalypse.
The beginning and ending are unarguably the best parts of this book. Sara Burns, the heroine, is a firefighter who has literally drawn the short stick to stay behind and protect her town at all costs. When she sees Pestilence riding his horse, she shoots him and then lights his body on fire. To her horror, he comes for her, half-rotting and dead, and makes her his prisoner, vowing to her that as soon as he's fully healed, he intends to make her suffer. His treatment of her is so cruel, and the story plays out across all these abandoned households and ghost-towns filled with the dead. It's creepy AF.
The problem occurs with what I think of as insta-love, even though it doesn't happen instantly - Sara's attraction to Pestilence happens much too fast. I saw it coming because the descriptions of his angelic beauty were far too numerous to ignore the warning signs looming on the horizons. I certainly wasn't happy about it, though, especially since she forgives his abusive treatment of her - shooting her in the back with arrows, dragging her bound down a tarmac road while he's on horseback, etc. - remarkably quickly. One of the thing I love about R. Lee Smith's work, who also specializes in immortal love stories, is that 1) she isn't afraid to make her heroes repulsive or at least inhuman and 2) the connections that are forged between her characters unravel gradually, amidst much emotional strife. I kept thinking how much better this story might have played out in the hands of an author like that.
I did like how the apocalyptic setting brought out the worst in people, although there were several scenes that were almost identical in how they played out. These scenes gave me a taste of the grim setting I was expecting. I also liked the old couple they might at one point, and was quite moved by their story. That was one of the saddest parts of the book. As I said, the ending was also great and brought up some very interesting moral dilemmas; it also felt like a very different book from the first. It was like the author had 2 disparate ideas: one about a messed-up romance between a monster and an ordinary human girl (R. Lee Smith) and the other about a tender romance between a misunderstood and tragic figure who must be redeemed by an ordinary human girl (Stephenie Meyer). They really didn't mesh for me.
Also, Pestilence says some pretty creepy things to Sara about her not being a virgin. I quoted the thing he said in one of my status updates, but that made me really not like him, and that's supposedly after he's started to fall for her. What the hell, Pestilence? Sure, he redeemed himself in the end, but there's a pattern of creep behavior here that was never sufficiently addressed or talked through.
Overall, I found myself sadly disappointed by this book because so many people were giving it high ratings and I really wanted to enjoy it too. I can't help but feel that they read a different book than I did, as seems to be the case for a lot of these YA/NA new releases lately. I do have other books by this author on my Kindle, so I'm hoping that they might be better for me than this one. I also saw that the second book in this series is about War, so maybe a character who deals in battles will be more appealing to me than one who deals in fevers and plagues.
Thank you, Heather, for buddy-reading this with me!
WONDERFUL is a medieval romance from the 90s that has been rereleased for the Kindle Store. It was free recently, so my fellow romance lovers, Korey, Maraya, and Heather, decided to do a buddy read of it, Kindle Clean-Out style! Historically speaking, my luck with 90s romance novels has been mixed. There are some authors who I actually really enjoy - most notably, Danelle Harmon - and then there are those who seem to exemplify the genre in all its terrible glory: by which I mean authors like the one who wrote WONDERFUL.
WONDERFUL is basically the classic example of why I don't like 90s romance novels. Clio, the heroine, is one of those heroines who acts in a way that is incredibly unrealistic for the times, with foot-stomping, childish crying, and petty "defiance" that had me rolling my eyes rather than cheering for her. I don't know why people seem to think throwing a temper tantrum = girl power, but it doesn't.
Merrick was actually a pretty decent hero. There's no rape or dubious consent and the worst thing he does is burn down her brewery towards the end after she puts everyone to sleep with her ale (which she didn't even seem to particularly care about, which was weird because earlier on in the book she drains the castle well dry while they're renovating it, nearly putting her castle's structural integrity into question). He makes a few casual threats about shaking her or throwing her out the window, but since I wanted to do both those things to Mrs.-I'm-independent-and-enjoy-running-headlong-into-danger-and-getting-shot-in-the-heart-by-Welshmen and Mrs.-I'm-going-to-cry-and-whine-and-throw-a-hissy-fit-over-my-own-wedding-like-a-medieval-bridezilla, it was hard to feel bad about that.
I can't really credit WONDERFUL. I hated Clio and the storyline too much. Her writing style is very much like Danelle Harmon's, but Harmon's heroes ooze charm and protectiveness without being brutish, and while her heroines sometimes toe the line between annoying and rebellious, I usually end up liking them by the end of the books. The best parts about WONDERFUL were probably the historical tidbits about foolish superstition and bad medical advice, but that was the whole of it.
I love vintage romance novels. I can't get enough of them. The way I see it, we all need a vice, and mine is reading the types of books that most people try to forget exist - I SEE YOU, BACKLISTS. Usually, I read these types of books alone (shamelessly!) but this time, my two friends Karly and Heather joined me for the ride.
LAVENDER BLUE is set in the South Western United States, during the Civil War. In terms of setting and scene, it's actually very similar to Rosemary Rogers's SWEET SAVAGE LOVE: Juaristas, Emperor Maximilian, blockade runners, haciendas. Oh, yes. I didn't realize I was still craving that sort of edgy, Western setting until I picked up this book and was hit with the fond, nostalgic vibes of picking up SSL for the first time and sinking into some Rosemary Rogers goodness. This is a very different story from SSL, though.
Jeanette was married to a French guy who died young, in the Civil War. I think she owns a cotton plantation near the Mexican border, and she gets the brilliant idea of selling her cotton and then fencing it through a blockade runner in order to purchase arms for the Confederacy, because that was the Cause that her late husband championed. Jeanette is an unconventional lady in many ways, and her only true friend was also a friend of her husband and herself since childhood, Cristobal, the son of impoverished Spanish nobility.
When Jeanette meets the blockade runner, it's in the dark, bound, and blindfolded, and his terms for fencing her cotton is that he wants her. All she knows is that he's French and his name is Kitt - and he's really, really unconventional and attentive in bed (hee-hee). He also says the most amazing things to her in French. I had Google translate open so I could actually figure out what he was saying, since I don't speak a lick of French, and oh my God, be still my heart. *fans self*
What Jeanette doesn't realize is that Cristobal - the foppish, prissy, affected man she often finds herself being alternately disgusted and exasperate by and at one point even believes to be gay - is actually the Frenchman who's using her body for leverage. Not only that, but he's been secretly in love with her for years - basically since they were children. BE STILL, MY HEART.
This makes it all the more frustrating when Cristobal undergoes a total change of heart around the 80% mark and inexplicably becomes cruel, raping the heroine and slapping the heroine and saying all manner of cruel things towards her. He doesn't seem to get why Jeanette might feel betrayed, instead mocking her and basically making light of her misery until her anger reaches a fever pitch that pushes him over the edge and causes him to hurt her.
I read a lot of cruel heroes in bodice rippers so this didn't upset me as much as it did some readers, but it definitely felt out of character and the rating took a hit because of it. I still loved Cristobal's character and I guess you could argue that the things that made him so obsessive and impulsive could just as easily work against him, kind of like Stanley's animal passions in Streetcar Named Desire. Still, this was a lot better than the other book by Bonds I read, DUST DEVIL. Nobody gets their nose cut off in this book. I always consider that a plus.
I just read this amazing book called THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR, which I've been trying to get all my friends to read. It's this amazing historical epic that takes place in Nazi Germany, which also has a love story in it - it's one of the darkest books I've ever read, but the characterization was so good, the narrative so taut, that I know it's going to be one of those books that stays with me for years. That also meant the Queen of All Book Slumps once I'd finished it. Suddenly, the other books I'd been reading lost their shiny appeal. "What would I read next?"
Then I saw some of my friends talking about MIDNIGHT HUNTER. Set roughly 20 years after the Nazis were defeated in WWII, it takes place during the Cold War, in East Germany, when the German Democratic Republic built the wall between East and West Berlins and East Germany was governed by the Stasi, or the ruthless state police.
I read this with my friend Vellini, who is amazing because she loves dark romances as much as I do, so the last couple times when I've suggested a BR, she's always been there. When she gave it five stars, I knew it was going to be good, because she so rarely disappoints me. And MIDNIGHT HUNTER is an amazing book. It's like the sequel to THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR that I didn't even know I needed, with many of the same themes of power, corruption, and love.
Evony is planning to escape from East Berlin with her father and some friends when their escape is halted by the fearsome Mitternachtsjäger (Midnight Hunter), Reinhardt Volker, a Stasi officer of high rank who is notorious for always getting his quarry. After shooting one of her friends in the street, he takes her to his apartment as his "prize," where he grooms her to be his secretary and, later, his lover.
I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was excellent and it has wonderful action sequences that really keep the pace moving. It's appropriately dark and solemn when it needs to be, but it's not one of those books that's all too common these days, that revels in the unsavory just for shock value. Volker is a terrible man, but his growing affection for the heroine softens him (but not unrealistically!) and he never takes her against her will. And the sex scenes! Oh boy! They were hot!
If you like historical romances and dark romances where the villain gets the girl, MIDNIGHT HUNTER will be a great read for you. I hope the author decides to write more historical romances - this seemed wonderfully researched, and each page was an absolute pleasure to read.
So at this point, I think I'm well on the way to becoming an unofficial Mariana Zapata expert, having read 5 of her books. It's fascinating to me how her style can remain consistent and yet the quality of how she applies it can vary so much. Take KULTI, which is an amazing book and movie-worthy in terms of pacing and plot, and then take LINGUS, which deserves to be blasted into the sun because I think it's unspeakably awful. Calling it a "piece of sh*t" would be generous, because at least sh*t can be used as fertilizer, but this garbage was utterly toxic and I loathed it.
THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME falls squarely between those two extremes. I did not think it was as good as KULTI. I felt like Aiden was much less endearing than Kulti, maybe because Kulti's gruffness made sense, whereas Aiden just kind of looked like a jerk. I also did not like Vanessa as much as I liked Sal. Sal, with her iron backbone, was of no endless source of amusement to me, whereas Vanessa felt much more timid and doormatty.
I guess if I was describing the plot of THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME, I'd say it's one part Devil Wears Prada, one part The Proposal, and one part Muriel's Wedding. Van has been working as Aiden's personal assistant for two years, and both he and his agent have treated her like garbage the whole time. Finally, she's decided that enough is enough and she's going to quit for her own sanity. Aiden asks her to reconsider and then, after that, requests her to marry him so that he can get citizenship and continue to play American football (he's from Canada). Initially, she refuses, but she's several hundred thousand dollars in the hole for her student loans, and when he agrees to sweeten the deal by paying them all off and buying her a house, she decides to agree to his scheme. After all, they only need to be married for five years. That's practically nothing, right?
I have had a lot to say about Zapata's books and how they upset me. Fecal humor and homophobic jokes are not uncommon in her books and I'm not sure why. I think it's because that's how she thinks dudes are like, and maybe some dudes are, but I don't want to read about them in my escape (fluffy romance). Regardless of the reason, they annoy me. Zapata seems to have cottoned on to that because in KULTI there was a marked reduction in this sort of "locker room talk," and in THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME it was totally absent, as was most of the slut-shaming that I've seen in some of her earlier books. I found this very refreshing and it pleased me that Zapata actually seems to be taking the opinions of her readers into account, because this is something that other readers (not just me) complained about as well, especially LINGUS, which was the worst of the lot.
The beginning of the book is good, because I think Zapata really captures that overworked, under-appreciated mindset of personal assistants. No, the biggest setback of THE WALL OF WINNIPEG is that it's slow AF. I know that "slow burn" is kind of her thing, but this was really slow and felt boring as a result. There's almost no romance between the characters until the very end and I don't think they even have sex until 97%. In the meantime, there's a lot of drama about Van working things out with her incredibly abusive family (especially her sister - ugh), Aiden worrying about his possible deportation and basically being a grump on wheels, and bonding between the characters, which can be cute (I liked their Dragonball Z marathon), but sometimes feels almost gruelingly slow.
I think after KULTI, WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME is Zapata's second-best book that I've read so far, followed by DEAR AARON, and then RHYTHM, CHORD & MALYKHIN, and then LINGUS coming up dead-last. It certainly isn't a bad book but people were hyping it up to me and saying that it was better than KULTI and I disagree. KULTI is her best book by a long shot. THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME is, at best, inoffensive. I don't regret reading it, but it's not great, either.
This is a Nenia and Sarah BR brought to you by Kindle Clean Out Club Productions. Tired of hoarding ebooks and not reading them? Now, in 200-550 easy steps, you can! No, but seriously, if it weren't for this forum, I'd be way more behind on my to-read list. It is The Best. If your Kindle is also out of control, join our group and make us of this forum! I'm always looking for new partners in crime.
First, a disclaimer. I received a free copy of this book to review a while ago. I don't think it particularly biased me one way or the other, since I'm an assh*le and have no problem rating the books I receive - for free - one star, but just in case it did bias me, now you know. NOW YOU KNOW.
HOW THE DUKE WAS WON is kind of like a Regency era version of The Bachelor. James, Duke of Harland ("His Disgrace"), needs to get married for business. He decides the best way of going about this is inviting four ladies - and their mothers - to his estate for three days to choose which of them would make the best duchess. Which I guess would make this The Duchlerette?
Charlene - a totally accurate 1800s name that does not scream Dolly Parton-esque country music singer at all, no ma'am - is the daughter of a famous courtesan. The creepy dude the two of them are indebted to, Grant, is about to call her in for their debts, and just to prove that he's a total creep, he's tried to brand her with an iron to make her his. Charlene is also afraid for her younger sister Lulu (these names guys, omg) who she is trying to shield from their family's unsavory history.
As it turns out, Charlene is the half-sister of one of the women who's been invited to the Duchlerette, Dorothea. Her mother, a countess, proposes a My Fair Lady-esque transformation, lasting just long enough for Charlene to compromise the duke, thereby landing a proposal and allowing Dorothea to swoop in and claim her regal prize.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?*
Most of my friends didn't like this book, which always has me worried. I can definitely see why HOW THE DUKE WAS WON could rub people the wrong way. It is not on the scale of Lisa Kleypas or Courtney Milan, and the dialogue is rather laughably modern with the characters all behaving in highly unconventional ways with no consequences. If you like historical accuracy, the names of the characters alone should have you tossing this down and fleeing the other way.
For a fluff piece, however, it's quite enjoyable. I liked Charlene as a character, with her penchant for martial arts as taught to her by her Japanese bodyguard, her devotion to her younger sister, and her very compelling reason for agreeing to this scam in the first place (Grant is a creep). James was a good character too. He was an alpha male without being brutish or creepy and I liked him a lot. The sex scenes in here are pretty steamy, too. Not too graphic, but definitely not fade-to-black either.
Overall, I enjoyed Lenora Bell's HOW THE DUKE WAS WON. I'd read more in this series for sure.
Wow, there's a lot going on in this cover. From the Lisa Frank color palette, to the fact that the K in "Baker" looks like an accent mark, to the Escherian contortions of the H and the h that seem to be more and more physically impossible the more you stare at them (what the heck is going on with her neck?), it's classic 80s WTFery.
FIRST LOVE, WILD LOVE by Madeline Baker (not to be confused with FIRST LOVE WILD LOVE by Janelle Taylor) is one of those Native American historical romances that peaked in popularity in the 80s before mostly disappearing from the shelves. With good reason. I feel like Native American cultural appropriation is somewhat more accepted by society for whatever reason (I mean, you can still get "Native American" costumes during Halloween from another of stores and don't even get me started on music festivals), and romance novels featuring Native American heroes are sadly no exception.
From my experience, they tend to resort to either one of two tropes:
The noble and violent "savage" (and yes, these romances often have the word "Savage" in the title, as a "clever" play on words). A famous example of this is SAVAGE ECSTASY by Janelle Taylor (yes the same Janelle Taylor who authored that other FIRST LOVE WILD LOVE book - ooh the plot thickens). Gray Eagle, the hero, is pretty brutal, and kidnaps and rapes the heroine, before torturing a bunch of the white dudes he captures along with her - all in the name of revenge.
There's also the "half-breed" trope (and yes, they are often referred to as half-breeds in the summary and yes, they often have the word "Savage" in their titles as well). Now, to be clear, I want to say that I have no problem at all with interracial marriage or biracial characters. The problem stems from the fact that in these cases, the "half-breed" characters are touted as being somehow superior to the rest of their non-white people because of their whiteness. I touch upon why this is harmful in more detail in my review of E.M. Hull's THE SHEIK, but a NA romance that does this as well is CHEYENNE CAPTIVE, where the half-white hero is, of course, much more civilized. Gross.
FIRST LOVE, WILD LOVE gets bonus points from the get-go for not having the word "Savage" in the title. The hero is also fully Native, and I felt like the author actually made an effort to portray the culture in a respectful way (I don't know enough about the culture to tell you with any authority whether the things in here are offensive or accurate or not). There are no crazy torture scenes or rape plots. Their first time is consensual. The other Native people are suspicious of her at first but don't treat her badly and ultimately welcome her in. There's Native OW drama, but unlike Gray Dove in CHEYENNE CAPTIVE, Soft Wind doesn't try to sell the heroine in this book out to be raped.
The plot is pretty simple. Brianna sees a Native guy on a road gang and thinks he's hot. She ultimately ends up falling for him and helping him escape. The bounce back between living with other Native Americans and living with white settlers, and each of them have moments where they experience culture shock and try to overcome it for the sake of their love. There's occasional cameos of OTT WTFery but all of these WTF acts are committed by outside parties, and not the hero.
I was actually pretty pleasantly surprised by FIRST LOVE, WILD LOVE and would be interested in checking out some of this author's other books. It's only 99-cents now if you want to give it a try yourself.
When I was a teenager, I used to spend all my time on this great site called Quizilla. It's now defunct, but it was basically the early 00s version of Wattpad + personality quizzes. With a few discerning clicks, you could find out which dysfunctional Care Bear you were (Nihilism bear), what weapon you were (sais), what element you were (water), or just forgo all of that and spend your time reading poorly written fanfiction or vampire smut.
One of the popular stories at the time was this serialized PNR, written in the second person in a "choose your own adventure" format, called "Would an Angel, a Demon, or a Vampire Fall for You?" The heroine was YOU, and as you read the story you would "choose" various actions and then the "result" would be a scene with the character that you were "meant" to end up with (i.e. the angel, the demon, or the vampire).
I bring this up, because Rachel Van Dyken's DARK ONES reminded me of this smutty story, except instead of an angel, a demon, and a vampire, it's about an angel, a siren, a werewolf, and a vampire. The heroine is not YOU, but she might as well be for all the personality she has. Like Bella Swan and her ilk, she's basically a place-holder for the reader; she's been told her whole life that she's ugly (and of course she believes it, because blonde hair and light eyes are so hideous), never mind the fact that all these paranormal frat boys are falling over her left and right, even though it's Forbidden. Smells play a key role in the sensory experience of the story. Everyone smells like a Bath and Body Works. Sex is a key plot point, and has the power to Change the World. There are dream sequences. The world is half-assed and not explained. The heroine is a virgin but comes like the hero just Konami Coded the hell out of her vag. It is, literally, just like those smutty, terrible stories I read as a teenager.
Ironically, that ended up being the book's saving grace. As with DEAD SEED, an actual story that I read on Quizilla that was "cleaned up" (no) and republished, I found it hard to be mad at something that had brought me such joy as a sad, angst-ridden little teen, no matter how badly (so, so badly) it was written. Plus, I picked this book up while it was free, so there was zero financial stake.
That said, this is the second book by Dyken that didn't work for me (the first was her new one, CHEATER). I'm thinking that her style might just be totally incompatible with my tastes. Still, it was cool to revisit the past, and I knocked one book off the Kindle, and got to do a great buddy read with some ladies from my Goodreads romance group, so let's not call it a total loss.
How often do you grab books while they're free or discounted on Kindle and then never read them? For me, pretty much all the time. That's why my friends and I have started the Kindle Clean Out club where we BR books that have been sitting in cyberspace, gathering virtual dust. You can read Sarah's review of this book here, and Heather's review of this book here.
This is actually my second book by this author. The first was STILL LIFE WITH STRINGS. I received a copy of the book directly from the author and ended up giving the book two stars because even though I loved the idea of a romance with a sexy violinist (*drools*), the romance felt rushed and unrealistic, the heroine was kind of a judgmental little sh*t, and the two of them had sex without a bloody condom - my #1 erotica pet-peeve.
I leaped at the chance to obtain PAINTED FACES because this sounded like yet another interesting concept - a romance between a baker and a straight drag queen. "Yes, okay, just give it here!" said foolish me. "I'll totally sign up for that!" I began reading the book and was dismayed to find myself with yet another book that also felt rushed and unrealistic, with a judgmental little sh*t of a heroine who has sex without a condom.
Oh. My. God. There is no escape from the madness.
Fred is the worst heroine. She's always making judgments about everyone around her, slut-shaming women, body-shaming women, reverse-slut-shaming women (if you're not actively having sex, you're all dried up). She's snide about a woman with a college degree who became a stay-at-home mom. She makes fun of her friend Anny for having a threesome. She age-shames this woman for having sex with Nicholas (before she and Nicholas are together) because having sex with a younger, attractive man makes you desperate. Her mouth (or at least, her words) is always running to deliver these constant asides that make her seem desperate to relate to you, the reader. Do you enjoy relaxing in sweatpants? Do you like watching people eat the food you cooked? Do you think furry animals are cute? Wow, you do? Oh my God, you're so unique and quirky...JUST LIKE FREDA.
Her relationship with Nicholas starts out with them being friends, but that, too, felt rushed and desperate. I liked how secure Nicholas was with his sexuality, and how he indulged in both stereotypically masculine and feminine activities without making a big fuss over it. Unfortunately, Nicholas is also an alphahole who gets really grabby with the heroine. When they first meet, he presses himself up against her backside while she's cooking (ew, predatory, no). He's constantly grabbing her breasts or talking about her body. He sleeps around with other women and then mocks them - either behind their back or in front of them, to other women (mostly Freda) - and uses them to make other women who want to sleep with him jealous (everyone). He's constantly tearing at her clothes, at one point yanking her dress down so he can molest her in a bathroom (again, before they're together). He employs the heroine with a job that's 100% pretense so he can gauge whether or not she's worthy of him. It's all so sick-making and by the end of the book I despised him. How can you possibly like a hero who tells the heroine that she's pure and clean, while other women are dirty, and after sleeping with another woman, tells the heroine he was imagining her while doing it??
I wanted to like PAINTED FACES, but I didn't. I liked parts of it - the role music had to play, the drag shows and performances, the descriptions of middle class Ireland, baking - but the whole of the book was ruined by the two main characters and the wasted potential. I feel like this book could have stirred up some very interesting dialogues about transphobia, homophobia, sexuality, gender fluidity, sexual abuse, and heteronormative relationships that would have been incredibly relevant and interesting. Instead, it just took the same tired old cliches and tried to gussy them up with sparkly heels and mascara.
Heather, Sarah, and I decided to do an impromptu buddy read of CAPTAIN OF MY HEART because it was free, and as the mods of the Unapologetic Romance Readers group, it is our job to read as many romances as unapologetically as possible. #ReadDangerously
I was skeptical about this book from the beginning and only downloaded it because it was free. Why? A) that title, and B) this book was originally published in 1992, and you guys know how I feel about 90s bodice rippers (or should by now, considering how often I complain about them in my reviews - have you been following me?!).
So with low expectations, I began reading this book, and found myself...actually impressed.
CAPTAIN OF MY HEART opens up with action. We're introduced to Brendan Merrick, a charming, half-British, half-Irish flag-captain who is beloved by all his crew. When he finds out one of his immediate subordinates is mistreating members in exceedingly cruel ways, he immediately sets out to put a stop to it. But that man - Richard Crichton - is a villain of every sense of the word. He shoots Brendan's sister, Eveleen, shattering her hand, and then shoots Brendan as well, knocking him overboard. With no one the wiser, Crichton tells his superiors Brendan turned traitor, gets his position, and continues his villain unchecked.
Meanwhile, America is currently in the midst of its Revolutionary War. Mira is an overzealous patriot who enjoys dressing in men's clothing, fighting with her fists, singing boisterous songs, rescuing stray cats and then sneaking them into her house (they're called Rescue Efforts and they have numbers), and baking inedible pies. Her brother, Matt, is a privateer who leads his men against British ships to either sink or rob. When Brendan washes ashore, everyone assumes he's a no-good British spy, but it turns out he's actually her father's newest client with a ship design that's never been done before, but will make her father both famous and rich.
The romance unfolds against the backdrop of war, as well as Crichton's revenge quest for the man he felt robbed him of both his honor and his rights. The descriptions of the ships are wonderful, and the schooner that Brendan commissions, Kestrel, is pretty much a character herself. I can't imagine how much research went into this book, but it must have been a lot. The detail is incredible, and it seems like the author knows what she's talking about (I don't know for sure, though. What I know about ships could fill a thimble, and there would still be plenty of room left over for the thumb).
Crichton was a great villain. He was scary without being ridiculous, and his obsession with bringing Brendan down really kept the plot going. I loved Brendan. He's not one of those rapey heroes who still desperately tries to pretend he's the good guy that you see so often in 90s bodice rippers. He's a genuinely nice guy, and his charm seduces its way off the pages, making the reader go, "Faith!"
When Brendan's sister, Eveleen, is introduced, she and the heroine don't like each other and there is some body shaming that made me go, "Okay, here we go..." But then Eveleen's character is developed more, and to my surprise, Harmon did a halfway decent job portraying emotional eating. Eveleen and Mira bond, and Mira actually helps her exercise to lose weight and helps give her a renewed sense of confidence in herself. She loses the weight slowly, and learns to deal with the hand that was disfigured by Crichton's bullet. I really enjoyed her story arc a lot, because it isn't often that you see female characters who aren't the heroine developed so fully.
I could never really figure out whether Mira annoyed or amused me. I loved the Rescue Efforts (because I am a cat lady), and it was refreshing to read about a heroine who was genuinely a bad-ass and not just playing at one. It was cool to see her beating the crap out of people and manning the guns on a ship with deadly accuracy. Towards the beginning of the last quarter of the book, however, she does something pretty terrible to Brendan with devastating consequences, and it was really annoying to me because I've read several books about heroines who do annoying things because of a Misunderstanding, and then end up doing something drastic instead of just talking it out with the hero. She feels terrible about it later, as she should have, but I couldn't bring myself to like her as much after that. It tipped the scales too much in favor of "impetuous" instead of "endearing."
CAPTAIN OF MY HEART is a great book, though. The pacing is uneven, but the scenes with action and romance are well done, and all of the characters stand out as individuals. You'll be amused by Mira's family's terrifying fights, Brendan's rather eccentric crew, and the personality of Kestrel, the ship who doesn't have time for your games. It's got wonderful nautical descriptions and a villain who is genuinely creepy. Okay, 90s bodice rippers, you win this time. I surrender...
Read Heather's review here, and Sarah's review here.
P.S. I see that the Kindle edition I read was "updated and revised." I'm always curious to hear what's changed from the first edition. Does anyone have an idea? Inquiring minds want to know!
This was a buddy read with my fellow Unicorn Equestrian™, Heather.
Curse you, Janet Reams Hudson! Between you and Danelle Harmon, I'm almost starting to like 90s bodice rippers, and I absolutely cannot have that. Stop appealing to my trashy, trashy heart, you ferocious writers of aggressively endearing content! Curse you! CURSE YOU!
I picked up WILD TEXAS FLAME when it was free in the Kindle store, which is how I feel a lot of these Kindle Cleanout Club stories go. You pick a book up because it was either cheap as dirt or free as air, and it chills out on your Kindle for years until you just happen to notice it one day and think to yourself, "What is this? Why do I own this? What was I thinking?"
I needed a western romance to fulfill a category on this reading challenge I'm doing, and since my friend and I both happened to have the book (snagged during the same freebie promo), we decided to do a buddy-read of WILD TEXAS FLAME. But then I got busy, and then I got sick, so she ended up finishing it way before I did. However, she enjoyed it! Which gave me hope that it was good trash!
WILD TEXAS FLAME is the story of a woman named Sunny Thornton who lives with her three younger sisters and her dad at a ranch in Texas, a few decades after the Civil War. The Mayor, Ian Baxter, is throwing his weight around, trying to call in a loan that her father took out. If her father can't pay, he's going to take their ranch. On a trip to go to the bank to straighten everything out, they have the bad luck of running into bandits who are in the process of robbing the bank. Sunny's father is killed before her eyes and she's saved from the same fate only when a man named Ash McCord tackles her to the ground, taking the bullet that would have otherwise been meant for her.
Ash McCord just got out of jail for several years after shooting Ian Baxter in the back. He claims he has his reasons, but nobody he told his story to ever believed his innocence - except for the woman who runs the boarding house, Ella. The bullet he took for Sunny hit his spine, causing paralysis, which could be permanent or temporary, nobody is sure. Sunny feels guilty, and also sees a kindness in him that is hidden by his gruff exterior, so she takes him into her home and oversees his recovery.
I'm a sucker for nursing-the-hero(ine) back to health tropes, and it's done particularly well here. I also really liked the heroine's relationship with her family, especially since family members are often shunted aside in romance stories; I feel like they feel much more realistic and healthy when the focus is on the relationships that both the h and the H have with other people, and not just one another.
The heroine also isn't totally naive about sex, which is probably pretty realistic considering that she lives on a ranch that breeds cows. Even if she wasn't having any, she'd see it done, and wouldn't be a stranger to the idea. I read a lot of 70s bodice rippers about traitorous bodies, so I have to say, it was pretty refreshing to see a heroine taking charge and the hero whining about his traitorous body for a change! Way to turn the tables on that whole equation.
This story could have been too saccharine, but a murder subplot weaves through the narrative, along with other juicy plot points, like betrayal, debt, and secret fortunes. It kept the story tight and focused, and gave WILD TEXAS FLAME a driving base that had me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was expecting an epic showdown with the villain, and I was not disappointed.
WILD TEXAS FLAME is a bit light and frothy, but beneath the froth, there is also substance. If you, like me, believe yourself to be a hater of 90s-era bodice-rippers, you should check out this book as well as some of Danelle Harmon's. I have this author's other book, APACHE MAGIC, on my Kindle as well, and while I side-eyed the title before, I think I'm much more favorably inclined to read it now. This was a good, solid read.
I enjoyed Laura Kinsale's SHADOWHEART so much that I immediately went out and bought all of her ebooks that were on sale. I'm very picky about what I enjoy in historical romances and SHADOWHEART had all of it - a strong heroine, a brooding hero, kinky sexy times, court intrigue, love, danger, gorgeous writing. I wanted to quote the entire book, it was so beautifully, passionately written. The only reason it didn't get five solid stars was because sometimes the angst was so intense and so unpleasant that reading actually became a chore, especially since the hero's Broody McBrooderson attitude was a total 180 from his character in the first half of the book. But the slightly-too-long length and inconsistent characterization were just minor qualms I could afford to nitpick about because I loved the book so much. As soon as I put it down, I said to myself, "I need to read ALL the things by this author!"
UNCERTAIN MAGIC is one of Kinsale's earliest books. SHADOWHEART was published in 2004, and this book was published in 1987. Sometimes I'll read a book by an author whose later works I like and I'll be totally shocked by how different (read: bad) their earlier works are (e.g., Lisa Kleypas). My expectations going into UNCERTAIN MAGIC were tempered by the expectation that as an earlier book written nearly twenty years before the book I had just read, there was a possibility it might not be as good.
I'm a little blown away by how awesome UNCERTAIN MAGIC was. Especially as a backlist title.
Like SHADOWHEART, UNCERTAIN MAGIC has a lot of the elements that I love in historical romance. Faelan Savigar is a sexy Irish Earl, called "the Devil Earl" by the townsfolk. He's dark, brooding, dangerous... and possibly mad. "OH YES," I bet you're thinking. "GIVE ME THAT HOT, HOT BYRONIC LOVING." The heroine is also pretty cool, even if her name "Roddy" hearkens back to those unfortunately-named protagonists penned by author Jennifer Wilde (it's short for Roderica). Roddy is gifted (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with the ability of empathy: she can read the minds of both people and animals. The only person she's ever met who she can't read is Faelan.
They end up getting married out of convenience, and the sex scenes are numerous and steamy. But Faelan has secrets. Even if he's not mad, it's clear that he has involvement in the Irish rebellion, and won't balk at violence when it comes from dealing with the people who get in his way. His home in Iveragh is Gothic and appropriately spooky, and I loved the atmosphere of the Irish countryside.
One thing that makes UNCERTAIN MAGIC unusual is the paranormal element. There weren't a lot of paranormal romances back in the day - I don't feel like the genre really took off until the late-1990s, with the advent of things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire (the movie), and the Anita Blake series. Until that point, I feel like paranormal creatures were viewed more from a horror lens than a romantic lens, although there would still be crossover occasionally with things like Fright Night. I like the way Kinsale incorporated the magic element into this book. There's a Tam Lin-twist towards the end, and I thought the reason that Roddy could never read Faelan's mind (which is never explicitly stated, only implied) was very, very clever.
SHADOWHEART was a four-star read that fell just short of the five-star mark. Even though I'm also giving UNCERTAIN MAGIC four stars, it's a four-star read that only just rises above the three-star mark. The last 20% is incredibly slow, and it annoyed me how much Faelan hid from Roddy and vice-versa. If they had just sat down and talked for fifteen minutes tops, none of the last-minute gotchas of the last act would have even been an issue. I really don't like Big Misunderstandings.
Thanks to Minerva for BR-ing this with me. I can't wait to pick up the rest of this author's works!
This was an intimidating book to start. Go on its Goodreads page and you'll be greeted by a teeming sea of four- and five-star reviews. Also, it's expensive AF. I was really interested when it came out but the ebook was $9.99! $9.99! That seemed way too excessive for a book that not only wasn't in print form and therefore couldn't be lovingly toted around by me to and from my daily battles with big city public transportation, but also meant that I would be out almost $10 (that's two and a half small lattes from Starbucks!) if I didn't like the blasted thing. Luckily, it went on sale last year for $1.99 and I decided that the price was right.
The reviewers, however, were wrong.
I almost DNF'd this book at the 100-page mark. I couldn't believe it when I was greeted by halting, overwrought prose and a raging Mary Sue of a heroine named Agony (not her actual name, but her narrative induced throes of agony and it's close enough, so) who put even Queen Special herself, Addledstar Galactica, AKA Celery to shame. And then, when she finally meets the fearsome Dragon himself, instead of eating her...he makes her do CHORES?!
If I hadn't been invested in my buddy read with Elena, I would have dropped this potato so fast.
One thing that well-meaning fans do that really actually kind of gets on my nerve a little is tell me that a book is "going to get better" and that I should stick out my misery to get to the amazeballs ending that will be a total game-changer. I know they mean well (most of them, anyway), so I try not to get too annoyed about it, but it's a really frustrating thing to hear - "wade through this festering pile of boredom and inaction, there's an amazing ending four hundred pages down the road!"
Also, 9 times out of 10, they're wrong.
This is the 1 time out of 10 that the fans are sort of right. Around the 200-mark or so, when Agony and Dragon encounter the Wood, it starts to get interesting. Mostly because it stops feeling like a Medieval Guide to Domestic Drudgery and starts feeling like a classic horror novel. The heart-trees are freaking terrifying. I have the flu right now, and in the midst of a fever dream last night, I thought that the coat I had hanging on my closet door was a sprouted heart-tree, come to drag me into the woods. I almost screamed. It was so terrifying. It made me thing that Novik ought to give up fantasy for a while and try out writing an atmospheric horror novel instead. I haven't been so creeped out in ages. The magic system was interesting, but not very well-developed. It actually reminded me a lot of another fantasy novel I recently read, called THE BURNING SKY, where shouting foreign-sounding words Makes Magic Things Happen. That book also had a rather slow start and dreary protagonist. I felt like there was a five-star book buried in the heart-tree of this novel, screaming to get out, but it was utterly bogged down by the pacing, and the tell-not-show of the first person narrative.
One thing I did really like was the ending. It actually reminded me a lot of Moana (if you've read this book and seen the movie, you'll know what I mean). There is a definite feminist bent to this book, too. Agony's friendship with Kasia is more developed than her attraction to Dragon, and in many ways, I felt like Kasia was a stronger heroine than Agony was. I also liked the Moana-like twist I hinted at earlier, and I also don't think it was a coincidence that Agony, a female mage, was the one to do what she did. It reminded me of this Tweet I saw written by a survivor of abuse, who said that when she watched Moana, it made her think of the healing women can give each other in the aftermath of abuse, and the powerful bonds that form because of that sympathetic relationship. If Moana is an allegory for that, I think you could argue just as easily that UPROOTED is, as well.
That said, this book still had a lot of problems. Ultimately, I am glad I finished it, but it won't be topping any of my favorites lists, and I'm a little bewildered by all the unequivocal positive ratings. I'm intrigued enough that I'd be willing to check out her companion book set in the same universe, SPINNING SILVER. Novik has a style that's very similar to old school Diana Wynne Jones, and even though DWJ's books didn't always work out for me, I usually appreciated what she was trying to do.
💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Antebellum/Civil War/Reconstruction Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
Every time someone says romances are too light, and that they don't have enough action, I want to throw a bodice ripper at them. SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is one of the early bodice rippers, when the authors were still working out the formula, and was published just two years after THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER.
SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is a Western romance set amid the backdrop of the Franco-Mexican War and the American Civil War. Ginny Brandon is the daughter of a Southern senator who has a vested interest in the Confederates beating the Union. After spending her childhood in France, growing up in the lap of luxury, she is now joining her father on his trip to petition the sympathetic French.
Steve Morgan is a Yankee spy, as well as a Juarista (the people who supported Benito Juarez and were very much against Emperor Maximillian's presence in Mexico). He has signed up with Brandon's men under false pretenses, intending to lure them to bandits who will make off with the gold they're planning on using to bribe the French.
If you think these two romantic leads are at odds, oh boy, you have no idea. SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was a 600+ page psychodrama that was less about love than it was about Stockholm syndrome, hate sex, and physical and psychological torture. I thought reading one of her later books, SURRENDER TO LOVE (published in 1982), had adequately prepared me for SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, but I was woefully mistaken. As dark as SURRENDER was, it couldn't hold a candle to SAVAGE.
SWEET SAVAGE LOVE has a bitingly realistic portrayal of war, in the sense that it doesn't shy away from the squalor of living life on the run, in the field, or in prison; the desperation of men in tough situations, and the cruelty they'll inflict when they're either cornered or on a power trip; and the violence (physical and sexual) that occurs in all of the former situations. Steve is party to all of these, and his sexual encounters with the heroine are often unconsensual (in fact, when they first meet, he mistakes her for the prostitute he thought he ordered). He kills without mercy and sleeps with every female character who appears in this book, including the heroine's stepmother(!), his grandfather's servants, and his own godmother. The heroine also has a number of partners who aren't Steve, but, again, a lot of these are unconsensual, and she doesn't really enjoy herself even when they are.
The western setting is truly glorious. I love the detail. The sensory descriptions. This was what won me over in SURRENDER TO LOVE, when Rogers lovingly details what it was like to be in Victorian-era Ceylon. She brought the setting to life, as she does her (albeit to a slightly less vivid and sympathetic extent). SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is very un-PC and if the sex scenes aren't enough to get you, the racist stereotypes and incredibly poor Spanish translations will. Seriously, the Spanish in this book was awful. It's only my second language and I don't speak it too well, but I know enough to know that "mi casa esta su casa" is not correct, that La Caseta does not mean "The Little House" (she meant "La Casita"; La Caseta means "The Booth"), and that it's "abuelo" and not "abielo." How hard would it have been to get someone who speaks Spanish to look this over?
Still, despite everything, until about 75% in, this was going to be a 5-star book. Ginny was a spitfire. Steve was fascinating - in addition to being involved in two wars, he was also affiliated with the Comanche people (and married one at 15), half-Mexican and fluent in Spanish, fluent in French, and the grandson of an incredibly rich and influential plantation owner. The problem comes when Ginny is captured by the French and Steve bursts in to save her and both characters (but especially Steve) are subjected to some of the worst horrors imaginable, and due to a series of incredibly long misunderstandings, each blame the other for their predicaments. For the next 15% of the book or so, the hero and heroine remain apart, wallowing in misery and being tortured emotionally, sexually, and psychologically. It was agonizing, and I could hardly stand it. The last time a romance book brought me to my knees (figuratively) was probably in Patricia Hagan's Coltrane saga, particularly in LOVE AND WAR, where she seemed to delight in torturing her heroine. Rosemary Rogers does the same with Steve and Ginny, in a gigantic misery-fest that finally blows out around the 90% mark.
This book is not for everyone, and it's hardly a traditional love story, but if you're into bodice rippers and edgy reads, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE is a fantastic book. There really is nothing like it and the story is so epic, and Rosemary Rogers makes you suffer and sweat for that HEA. I'm really glad that my friends Korey and Heather joined me in this buddy read; it forced me to endure and keep going!
(Speaking of "keeping going," I happen to have book 2 if anyone wants to join...)
This was a Kindle Clean-Out Club buddy read with my friend Heather. We both like vampire novels and agree that many of the best ones were the super dark vampire stories written pre-TWILIGHT. SIPS OF BLOOD seemed like the perfect read for us, because not only is it a vampire novel from the 90s, it's also a vampire novel from the 90s about the Marquis de Sade.
Taking famous crazy people throughout history and turning them into vampires is not a novel concept. I've read a number of vampire stories about Vlad the Impaler, Elizabeth Báthory, and the Count of St. Germain. Marquis de Sade is another obvious choice, given that his love of hurting people got him his own eponym (i.e. "sadism").
SIPS OF BLOOD is a weird, disorganized novel that has the same gritty, grungy feel as another vampire novel I read a while ago called DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON (one of the Elizabeth Báthory stories I referred to earlier). SIPS OF BLOOD is about three vampires: Louis, Marie, and Liliana. Louis is the Marquis de Sade and he is crazy. Marie is his mother-in-law and she is also crazy. Liliana is Louis's niece and she is crazy, but way less crazy than her crazy vampire relatives, and tries to go the "vegetarian" vampire route a la Edward Cullen by feeding off small rodents and the blood of corpses at the morgue where she conveniently works.
There isn't really much of a plot, apart from, "Gee, I'm a vampire, how can I get me some gross vampire sex?" Marie tries to seduce her neighbor's son, Wil (one of the few characters in this book I liked, so obviously bad things happened to him), and most of the book is about her pursuing him in a way that gives new and terrifying meaning to the word "cougar" while her other love interest, a married man named Garrett, mopes on the sidelines and tries to satisfy his desires while being ignored by his mistress. He ends up getting AIDS, and then is tortured and murdered by Louis. Louis decides that he wants to have sex with his house-keeper's seventeen-year-old daughter (did I mention that he looks seventy?) and for some reason, Cecelia is totally game for this... uh... okay. I kept hoping that Liliana and Wil would get together, but she ends up getting raped by two different guys (one of whom is her uncle) and then murdered by being literally torn apart by rogue vampires after getting impaled on a fence.
This was a very strange and unpleasant book. I couldn't put it down because I was filled with a morbid fascination to keep turning the pages and find out what happened to the two characters in this book I actually cared about. People suffered a lot in this book, which isn't surprising considering who this book is about, but the extent of the cruelty still took me off-guard.
Also, there were a lot of typos in here - especially towards the end. "Jealously" was used instead of "jealousy" (or vice-versa), there were a couple misspellings, and at least once, Wil's name changed to "Will" and then back again on a page. Not sure if these were conversion errors from when the book was turned into an e-book or if they were in the original text, but that was extra.
P.S. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out that Louis and Donatien were both referring to the same person. Whoops.
This book is a tease - it is all bark and no bite, and when I'm reading a book about vampires, I want allllll the bite, baby.
I love books about vampires, particularly vampire novels published before TWILIGHT. For better or for worse, TWILIGHT was a game-changer for the vampire subgenre, removing them as figures of horror and placing them firmly within the camp of other romance heroes. I've read some excellent vampire romances, but part of me - the dark part of my soul that comes alive at night - yearns for those sinister figures of yore, who were less interested in kissing and pining on about their eternal loneliness and more about the BITING. YAS.
CANDLE BAY was published in 2001 and even though it has romantic elements, it's definitely more horror than romance, and anyone picking it up expecting romance is going to be disappointed. The premise is pretty unique. Amanda Pearce is a newly hired concierge at a clubby hotel and spa near San Francisco. She's always been attracted to Gothic horror and things like vampires, so the misty, reclusive resort really appeals to her romantic sensibilities - and so does her tall, dark, and handsome employer, Stephen Darling.
The Candle Bay Hotel and Spa is managed by the Darlings, who are all very good looking - and all vampires. There's Orion, who fancies himself the next Godfather; Natasha, the femme Dom who likes to work hard and play hard; Stephen, the brooding romantic; and the evil twin daughters, Lucy and Ivy, who swing both ways and are completely psychotic and out of control. Living with them is another vampire named Julian Valentyn. Unlike the Darlings, Julian was BORN a vampire and not MADE - something that puts him a cut above the others, and which he doesn't fail to lord over them.
In addition to a "Will they/won't they?" between Amanda and Stephen, there's also a bit of a love triangle between Amanda and Julian, because Julian feels a connection to her due to events in his past. Those events make up the bulk of the plot driving this story forward because there's something hidden in the tunneling basements beneath the Hotel, and that something is alive.
CANDLE BAY is not a short read and it went on for way too long. There are many pointless asides that bog down the narrative and all of the sex scenes are disgusting. I don't mean disgusting because of gore (although that too); I mean disgusting because of how they are written. I'm hoping to post this review on Amazon, so I must refrain from posting salacious content, but please check out some of my Goodreads status updates for a "greatest hits" recap of some of the choice sex scenes in this book.
I also feel like there wasn't a lot of payoff. I was expecting hotter scenes between Amanda and Julian and Amanda and Stephen. The only people having sex in this book for the most part were secondary characters, which brings me to my next issue with this book: EVERYBODY GETS A POV. This is exactly why I didn't like Paula Hawkins's new book, INTO THE WATER - if there are too many people running around, it's harder to become invested in any specific person and they all start to blur together after a while. To her credit, Thorne gives all of her characters distinctive personalities (which Hawkins did not), but this makes the blurb seem misleading, because you think that it's going to be all about Amanda and Stephen getting it on, when in fact it is not.
Also, this is the SECOND vampire "romance" I've read with an Atlantis connection, and yes, it is just as ridiculous as what FOREVER AND THE NIGHT tried to do. At least this book didn't involve angels. Seriously, if you ever want a laugh, check out my review of FOREVER AND THE NIGHT.
I feel like I should give this book a low rating but can't quite bring myself to. I was vastly entertained by CANDLE BAY and couldn't put the book down. Even the terrible sex scenes were incredibly entertaining. This is basically the Bertrice Small of vampire novels - it's disturbing and badly-written, but the story is such a compelling train wreck of a mess that you can't bring yourself to look away.
💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Wildcard - Whatever Romance You Want! For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
I've had A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT on my to-read list for years and when my friend Heather told me it was on sale on Amazon for 99-cents, I shrieked. There are two kinds of romances that I love, you see: retro romances and romances where the villain gets the girl. This book is both those things. Instant five stars... or so I thought.
The premise of this book is great. Nicholas is a jaded and cruel libertine who has basically given up on life. He gambles, gets into duels, sleeps around, and doesn't care about anyone but himself. His greatest act of cruelty was allowing his French godfather to die in the French Revolution by refusing to marry his young daughter, thereby leaving him free to manage his own affairs and escape.
He tries to forget about that last one because it stirs up something a little too close to guilt in his blackened husk of a soul. But there is one person who hasn't forgotten and that's Ghislaine. Ghislaine is the daughter of Nicholas's godfather, and when he died both she and her young brother were forced to survive on the streets. Ghislaine went through fifty different kinds of hell to survive, and had to sacrifice her honor, her innocence, and her soul. She's been planning revenge this whole time.
She contrives to become Nicholas's cook through his young cousin, Ellen. Once installed in his household, she tries to poison him. Her attempt fails, and Nicholas decides it would be sporting to kidnap Ghislaine away to somewhere remote where he can punish her at his leisure.
I feel like A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT had a much darker book at its core. Ghislaine's background story is certainly one of the darker stories I've encountered in a book that was published after the 80s, calling to mind some of those tawdry tales penned by Jennifer Wilde, specifically LOVE'S TENDER FURY. The overall execution left me wanting, however. I feel like Nicholas talked a big game as a villain but that's mostly what it was - talk. He keeps talking about perverse pleasures, but for the first 70% of the book all he really does is kiss her. IT TAKES FOREVER FOR ANYTHING TO HAPPEN. And when it does, she wants it/doesn't want it, traitorous bodies, etc. Which I know annoys some people and I get that (but it doesn't bother me - because obviously, bodice ripper queen here, hello), and I can deal with some non-con if it fits the story and isn't glossed over.
Here, I felt like it was glossed over and the line between Ghislaine wanting to kill Nicholas and Ghislaine wanting to do the naughty with Nicholas ten times over wasn't really clear. When did she go from point A to point B? Particularly since he doesn't really soften towards her until the very end of the book when he decides to go all Rambo for the sake of her revenge (read: bloody murder). I guess I wanted a more ruthless and unapologetic hero who put his money (read: his peen) where his mouth was (read: whoops, that was pretty naughty) and then had the mother of all grovels in the last act, because I wasn't really convinced of his True Love for Ghislaine or why he would feel that way.
I also was not keen on the secondary romance. Ellen and Tony (one of Nicholas's friends) end up taking up a significant part of the page count and I wasn't really interested in him at all, since he is so smarmy. I found myself skimming when their scenes came up. They aren't even really mentioned in the blurb so that feels deceptive. I'll take my dark romance, thanks! Hold the fluff.
Despite these qualms, I did like the story and it was dark enough to capture my attention and keep me reading. If Ghislaine had kept her fire and Nicholas had been darker and more villainous, I think I would have enjoyed A ROSE AT MIDNIGHT more than I did. It certainly isn't as wishy-washy as other 90s bodice rippers I read, and I really appreciated the atmosphere and the effort that went into building Ghislaine's backstory. This definitely is not the worst thing Anne Stuart has ever written.
TO LOVE A DARK LORD, here I come!
P.S. Was it me, or did that epilogue feel totally tacked-on? What a lame, half-hearted ending.