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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When I was offered an ARC of this book, it was a no brainer. I loved the first book in the series, DANGEROUS, and couldn't wait to read more of these characters. Mia was such a strong character, and I loved how the author flouted some of the harem romance tropes even as she worked to modernize it for the tastes of a contemporary audience who might not be too chill with polygamy and rape.
BARBAROUS also follows in DANGEROUS'S footsteps, in that it is at heart a pirate romance (see cover) that also is a bit of a throwback to 80s bodice ripper culture (again, see cover). I was so excited to read this book but sadly, the most appealing thing about this book for me was the cover.
Here's the thing, this book takes place before the events of DANGEROUS, so when Mia initially makes a cameo I was really confused because she had just returned to England and was acting really strangely (totally OOC). So what this means in the canon of this world is that nothing that happened in book one has happened yet, which technically makes this book more of a standalone prequel. Which, okay, that's weird, but whatever floats your boat.
Second, whereas the first book's romance was one of the most compelling aspects of the book for me, Hugh and Daphne have zero chemistry. I didn't ship them at all, didn't really see what they saw in each other beyond the generic "here's a good-looking person I can do the hanky-panky with" sense. Also, the sex scenes in here were, um... bad. "Wet glove"? Um, what is this? Bertrice Small?
Third, even though I liked that the heroine was previously married and had two children, it's worth noting that her children (twin boys) are a product of rape and she was married to a much older man to cover up the scandal. And the main conflict in this book comes from her rapist continuing to taunt and blackmail her. That's much less fun and exciting than the conflict in the first book, which involved a lost son, and a political coup with a royal family. I felt like Daphne's rape was touched upon in a very superficial way and thought it was odd how little she appeared to be affected by it.
Fourth, it was boring. Unfortunately. I skimmed a lot.
I'm still excited for the third book, SCANDALOUS, which features another pirate, a flamboyant Frenchman named Bouchard. (Seriously amped for the cover reveal on that one.) However, my expectations have been tempered somewhat, because this was a real nosedive from the first book.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Disclaimer: Minerva is a Goodreads friend of mine. She did not, however, solicit me to read and review her book. I found the title on Netgalley and, recognizing the name, decided to check it out.
The cover of DANGEROUS leaped out at me immediately because of the cheesy, 90s romance-style cover, hearkening back to the days when every other hero was cast in the puffy shirt mode of Fabio, and poor photo shop led to some questionable aesthetic decisions.
Likewise, the premise of this book also seemed like it was going to be a throwback to the Bertrice Small school of writing. The heroine, Euphe(mia) Marlington, was kidnapped by pirates when she was a preteen and sold as a slave to a sultan's harem.
Now an adult in her thirties, she finds that the starchy English society isn't really prepared for her like. Her peers snub her, and creepy older dudes want to have their way with her, but nobody really wants to take her as a wife - and they'd want her even less if they found out about her adult, biracial son who's currently in the middle of a power coup in Africa.
Her father (who also has no idea about the son) decides to take matters into his own hands and throws an elaborate party where Mia is supposed to choose one of the men assembled for a husband. They're basically all the utter dregs of the well-to-do, except for a certain cold-eyed marquess named Adam de Courtney, who allegedly murdered his previous two lives and lives in infamy in his manor.
Neither are what they appear to be, but both feel an instant attraction as soon as they see each other.
Wow, I was really impressed by this book! It's like a modern upgrade to everything I love about bodice rippers - steamy sex scenes, globe-trotting adventures, pirates, seafaring expeditions, naughty harem hijinks - but with a modern, PC-friendly twist. DANGEROUS is very sex-positive, in my opinion, and the hero is the perfect blend of stern alpha with a caring side and icy bad boy.
AND DID I MENTION THE SEX SCENES?
Her writing style really reminds me a lot of Meredith Duran's, so if you're a fan of the Rules for the Reckless series, this might be a good book to pick up next. The only shortcoming was Mia's sequence of third-act TSTL decisions and some fights that felt pointless, but at least these characters actually talk about their problems instead of dancing around them endlessly like Julia Quinn's characters.
It's very refreshing to read a book where the characters actually enjoy talking to each other.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
THE BRIDE OF THE UNICORN had the makings of a good novel but sadly, I couldn't get into it. I made it to nearly 75% of the book, and then I decided to skip to the end. The beginning is amazing - a cruel nobleman makes a deathbed condition to his cousin, a marquis. He tells his cousin that he was party to the destruction of a young heiress whose family was murdered and her title snatched.
Skeptical, Morgan (said marquis) begins a search that ends up taking him to a madhouse. There he makes the acquaintance of the plucky orphan, Caroline, who's skilled in infirmary work and thieves' cant, but not much else.
Caroline agrees to go with Morgan to learn how to be a lady, but that means that Morgan has to bring all of her friends with him, including a crazy old lady named Peaches O'Hanlan, a delusional old lady who's obsessed with Don Quixote and chivalry, and a crazy young dwarf named Ferdie whose father abandoned him in the asylum on account of his dwarfism and who often speaks in rhyme.
As I said, I liked the beginning of the book, but it quickly began to fall apart. The writing of this story isn't bad, but I felt like the tone was inconsistent. The murder plotline was dark and I felt like it should have been incorporated more thoroughly into the story with more angst; having it be a light-hearted book kind of trivialized Caroline's tragedy, which brings me to the second problem.
There were too many damn sidekicks. I like a good secondary romance and underdog story as the next girl, but you know your romance novel is in trouble when the hero and heroine are constantly having to fight for page space from the many grasping hands of numerous (and irritatingly quirky) sidekicks.
A good idea was buried somewhere in here, but it was very poorly executed.
Well, reading this romance novel was a little bittersweet because SWEET DISORDER marks the completion of my 2017 romance reading challenge: or, my personal goal to read 50 different subgenres of romance, many of which I would never pick up otherwise, in an attempt to broaden my horizons.
SWEET DISORDER was my pick for the "BBW" (big beautiful woman) challenge, something I was not looking forward to because so many of the titles I see on the Kindle best-seller list look smutty and exploitative. SWEET DISORDER, however, was rated highly by many of my feminist-leaning friends, and also has a plus-sized cover model gracing the front. Hooray!
Phoebe Sparks is a widow who writes and publishers. Nick Dymond is an injured war hero who also happens to be the brother of a local politician named Tony. Nick's family wants to get as many votes as possible for their party, and Phoebe is just the latest target: they want to get her married, so as to ensure another vote. Votes and the feud between Whig and Tory make up a significant portion of this novel, and while it does add background and substance to the story, it can also make it a bit dry at times. I marked this book as "DNF" at least three times before finishing it - it doesn't really pick up until around page 60, or so, when Nick and Phoebe start to find themselves attracted to one another.
What really makes this book is what the secondary characters bring to the table. Nick and Phoebe both have pretty awful families, but they aren't cardboard cut-outs and it's clear that there is love in those families, even if it's showed in a potentially toxic and/or warped way. This is particularly noticeable with the mothers who clearly want the best for their sons, even if they have no idea what "the best" is, or what it might look like from their children's perspectives. I also liked how the siblings came into the story, and how they intersected in a way that I really wasn't expecting.
The non-family characters are good, too. Phoebe goes on "dates" with several potential suitors who might get the Dymonds the votes they need. My favorite was the baker, Mr. Moon, because the descriptions of the pastries and sweets he made sounded fantastic, and he was also a very good and kind-hearted man, and I liked the simpatico that he and Phoebe ultimately achieved, and the way the author described it. There is something wonderful about forming a connection with someone and feeling the instant when it "clicks" - even, perhaps especially, when the "click" is a platonic click.
I'm deducting two stars for the terrible pacing and the unnecessary drama in the last act. Not even some red-hot sex scenes towards the end could keep me from rolling my eyes at the "we mustn't be together after all!" "no, we must!" "no, we mustn't - for our own good!" cliche at the end. Spoiler: this is a romance novel, so they obviously do get together, but it was much more annoying than it needed to be (and unsatisfying - there is a villainous character in here who gets off rather easily).
Overall, SWEET DISORDER is a relatively good book and I didn't have to pay for it (I received a free copy to review in an instafreebie bundle. I think the theme was supposed to be diversity in historical romance, because this book, Sherry Thomas's THE HIDDEN BLADE, and Courtney Milan's TALK SWEETLY TO ME were also in the bundle). Even if I had paid money for this book, I think my rating would be roughly the same (maybe 2.5 instead of 3 - that beginning - oy). It's a romance that takes the time to flesh out more than just the main characters, features a disabled hero and a plus-sized heroine, and discusses topics not often discussed in HR novels, such as the effects and sorrows of war; feeling emasculated or not masculine enough; the toxicity of certain family dynamics and the effects of too much parental pressure; and the stifling English class system.
Wow, this was like one of those made-for-TV Christmas specials. One of the bad ones. I've read a number of Campbell's work at this point, and while she made her name writing controversial "nouveau bodice rippers" in the mid-2000s, now she just writes slightly-smuttier-than-the-norm costume regency novels and...this. Whatever this is.
A PIRATE FOR CHRISTMAS is a love story between a vicar's daughter and an Earl, set during the holiday season. There's a donkey, a ton of terrible pirate jokes, and a bunch of kisses that are about as lukewarm as day-old soup.
I skimmed most of this book, but I read enough to get the general idea of the storyline and I just could not get into it at all. It's pure fluff, but without sweetness because there's no real emotional connection. This is the color-by-the-numbers version of fluff.
Plus, I got icky "nice guy" vibes from Rory. Rory, who I was perfectly willing to like because red-haired hero + Navy captain. But no, he decides that he wants in the heroine's knickers at first sight and talks about her like she's prey and he is the mightiest of hunters. Which is permissible if you're writing about creepy men, who you aren't supposed to like, but when Lord Nicey McNicerson of Not-a-Dbagshire is doing it... well, it just kind of rubs you the wrong way.
This was my nomination for my romance group's holiday-themed read for December - and it won. I'm glad I got it off my Kindle, but I also feel kind of bad that so many others had to suffer with me. ;-(
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.
I think it's been a while since I've seen such an even split among my friends when it comes to how they rated the book. Half my friends loved THE DUKE AND I and the other half apparently hated it. The Bridgertons series is Julia Quinn's most famous historical romance offering so I've been wanting to read it for a while, but I'm not unfamiliar with her work. In my opinion, she's a bit notorious for over-aggressive heroines who come across as petulant and bitchy and Big Misunderstandings that are especially stupid and tends to draw them out for extra dramatic tension in the last act.
The titular duke, Simon Basset, is cast in your typical damaged hero mold of "I slut around because I have daddy issues." In his case, the issues are probably warranted. He didn't speak until he was four years old, and when he did, it was with a stutter. After his dad basically rage-quits on parenting, Simon is left on his own, unloved, except for the tender hand of his nurse. His father basically disowns him, telling his servants and all his friends that he has no son, and refuses to answer any of his correspondence.
Of course, once Simon is able to overcome all of this and become the most desired bachelor in the ton, his father is secretly pleased and ready to take pride in his son because hurray, Simon got over his stutter and that means that he isn't mentally defunct, i.e. "an idiot." Simon is so over his dad, though, and since breeding, honor, and titles are all that matter to his father, he has vowed never to have children so that the Hastings line dies with him, and all the property will cede to his cousins.
Daphne, the heroine, is part of the Bridgerton family, and the daughter of a viscount. They name their children like hurricanes, in alphabetical order, chronologically, so Daphne is the fourth-born child (as well as the oldest daughter). She's also a bit of a wallflower and a spinster-in-the-making, and her mother is determined to make a match. Daphne's brothers are friends with Simon, and they end up meeting at a party when Simon saves her from a creepy friend-zoned suitor who won't take no for an answer. They end up liking each other, although Simon denies his attraction once he's figured out that she's the off-limits sister of his friend. They decide to pretend to have developed a tendre for one another, to keep Simon's unwanted suitors at bay while also making Daphne more desirable. Too bad that he ends up compromising her and Daphne's oldest brother, Anthony, calls him out at dawn.
Knowing that Simon's honor will lead him to not fire, and that Anthony's rage on her behalf will undoubtedly result in a killing shot, Daphne demands that they be married and Simon protests, much to Daphne's hurt (because he'd rather be dead than marry her? ouch). He tells her that he can't have children and that since she's always yapping about wanting a Little Women type family, he doesn't want her to be unhappy. Daphne tells him he's worth it and insists. And it seems like this actually might be a cute little love story...until Daphne rapes her husband in order to forcibly get him to impregnate her. That's right, when Simon is drunk, Daphne mounts him and then hunkers down on him so that he has no choice but to come inside her, and she is so smug and so pleased, thinking that she has "fixed" him and then has the gall to cry and get all teary and sanctimonious when he is angry.
My friends had warned me about this scene going in, but reading it still left a hugely bitter taste in my mouth. Now, I do want to say that as a reader of bodice-rippers, I am no stranger to unconsensual scenes in books. But there is a major difference between acts of rape in which the rapist is depicted as a rapist, and acts of rape in which the rapist is depicted as having the moral high ground. This is part of the reason sexism is so harmful: not just because women are victimized or robbed of agency, but also because people don't ever think that women can be the perpetrators of physical or sexual violence, because they are so "harmless," and so we get bullshit scenes like this.
I blame Heather for making me want to read this book. She told me that there was a hawt villain in it, and I'm a sucker for those. I didn't even read the summary; I went to Netgalley and applied for the book on that premise alone. I read it cold.
Now that I've finished, I'm not quite sure how I feel about DISCIPLINED BY THE DUKE. For the first sixty pages, there was a decent build-up of sexual tension, a sinister and compelling villain, and a hero who was pretty hot what with his talk of forbidden play (although what's up with the Victorian edition of the Red Room of Pain on the cover?).
BUT - unfortunately for this book, it's a mishmash of two books that took its concept (sister protecting her other sister and allowing herself to be blackmailed because of it vs. erotic BDSM historical) and did it one better.
Elizabeth's sister is in jail for murdering her father (it's suggested he abused the sister, possibly sexually). Elizabeth says, many times, that she will do anything to save her, and this means putting herself under the employ of the nefarious and devilishly good-looking Earl of Westmore, who wants her to seduce the Duke of Montague in order to steal a letter that he desperately wants.
The Earl of Westmore is a great villain. I thought at first that he was the love interest (I have issues, I think), and then when I found out he wasn't, I thought he was going to be one of those villainous characters who ends up getting his own book later on (YAY :D). But no.
The author kills him off.
Anyway, Elizabeth arrives at the Duke's house and is determined to achieve the letter without seduction, but she's so attractive and of course she catches his eye immediately. And of course the Duke has a policy about not tupping the help but of course he makes an exception for her.
I mean, it's a romance novel, so I think we expected that, right?
Well, what I didn't expect were the silliness of the sex scenes. Milking, tunneling (c*ck gophers, anyone?), desire (used as a noun, to refer to various fluids), and mewl are used in abundance.
Here are some quotes that I found particularly jarring:
His thumb swiped around her clitoris...(130) Because her vag is a dating app? #SwipeRight
His cock was hard enough to pound a horseshoe into shape... (129)
Marcus was so hard he could pound nails with his cock (69).
I love that one of these quotes is on p. 69, btw. But also, was the author reading a book about blacksmiths while writing this book and thinking oh yeah, dip that ingot, pound that flesh anvil, wield the mighty c*ck hammer of sexual glory? I mean, maybe I shouldn't talk, since I once wrote an erotica novel comparing a c*ck to a Christmas tree (the veins were described as the lights, or something equally horrible - "garlanded by veins" may have been the phrase), but wow. Smithing level: 69.
I was willing to forgive the bad sex scenes though, since those are part of what make erotica so fun. Bertrice Small was famous for her "coral-tipped cones" and "honey ovens" and "coral-red flowers of womanhood wet and pouting with desire", and I love Small because she truly gave no f*cks. But what I could not forgive was the dumb.
Someone tries to kill Liz and she's just like, meh, oh well. She faints for no reason. She falls down in a field and then proceeds to lie there and freeze to death. Montague finds her, and then immediately after warming her up, has sex with her half-thawed self even though she says no. What. Liz betrays Westmore and knows she must act quickly to save her sister before he takes his revenge out on her, but of course there's time for one last round of hide the hammer in the tool-shed. Surprise, surprise, when she FINALLY gets her butt to the jail, her sister's been sent off to be hung.
I think the heroine herself sums this book up best:
Damn, she was stupid (200).
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
The only Catherine Coulter books I've read prior to THE COUNTESS were two of her bodice rippers. One of them was okay (it was the "extensively rewritten" edition of one of her bodice ripper classics). The other was annoying and I hated it. This, averaged out, did not seem particularly reassuring and I told myself that if I picked up THE COUNTESS and hated it that I would simply chuck all of her books into the donation bin unread. To my surprise, however, I actually enjoyed THE COUNTESS quite a bit!
Andrea "Andy" Jameson is a headstrong heiress who has been indulged by her grandfather and has serious issues with her actual father. She falls for a young man named John who seems to like her dog almost as much as he likes her, but finds herself afraid of him (for reasons that will be explained later). She ends up marrying herself off to a much safer option - an older man who promises that he won't touch her. Unfortunately, this older man is the uncle to John. Oops.
Awkwardness abounds as Andy lives in the same house as both John and Lawrence (the uncle) as well as John's brother, Thomas, his wife Amelia, and the daughter of Lawrence's previous wife, who allegedly committed suicide by jumping out from one of the windows of the rooms adjoining Andy's. The relationships between these various family members are complex and fraught with rivalries. Plus, there's a creepy mystery surrounding Lawrence's previous wife's death. Especially since several attempts are made on Andy's own life in increasingly bolder attempts.
Andy is a great heroine. She's headstrong and brave without being an idiot (the previous heroines written by this author were both idiots). I see that this book was also published as THE AUTUMN COUNTESS and, like the bodice ripper I read, is also "extensively rewritten." I'm not sure what the author changed, but it actually works here. The plot is spooky, the heroine is brave, the hero is dashing and manly, and the supporting characters are all interesting and serve as more than just hapless plot points to pepper the story with mystery and red herrings.
Also, the villain is creepy AF:
"I have decided to take you, Andrea, as a man takes a woman. You are a virgin. I have not enjoyed a virgin in a great number of years. It will be exciting. I won't mind you fighting me, but not all that much. Just a bit to give excitement to the taming. Since you (spoiler), you must obey me. Ah, to have your virgin's blood on me, to feel my seed deep inside you. I will enjoy that. I will be the only man ever to have you" (319).
P.S. Since I noticed nobody else has posted it yet, here's the stepback to the 1999 edition:
I received an advanced copy of this for review several years ago. Unfortunately, I don't remember what I said about LEMONADE that first time, only that I gave it three stars and was disturbed by the rather brutal rape scene that takes place about 1/3 of the way through the book. And yet, despite only giving it three stars, LEMONADE has haunted me for two years. I kept thinking about Anna and Christopher and their doomed-before-it-even-began romance (if you can bring yourself to call it that). I wondered if perhaps I had been too harsh on the book, because if something can stay with you for that long, it must be good.
LEMONADE was originally published in Italian and then was translated into English. It is written in a very unique way that is difficult to explain - random asides in parenthesis to emphasis certain emotional moments for various characters; some very colorful and strange analogies and metaphors that sometimes fit and sometimes don't but are always unusual; and a charmingly stilted style of writing that is almost anachronistic, but smacks of 80s over-the-top sensationalism.
The heroine, Anna Champion, ends up catching the hero's attention over a misunderstanding with a glass of lemonade. He wounds her pride and she seeks revenge. It is a small, petty revenge, but Christopher is so damaged that his ego cannot stand even that small of an insult, and the next 450 pages consist of the two characters drawing to draw blood, figuratively and literally, any way they can. Some people will not like this because Christopher is such an awful character. He truly is a villain. And yet, it's impossible not to feel sorry for him at times because of everything he went through. Anna is very much the same way. At times I found her to be a very strong character, but she would buckle at random times, too, and sometimes she would be so stupidly petty. They both had issues, and in the end, I feel like the author was suggesting that they deserved one another.
In some ways, LEMONADE reminded me of that Japanese manga/anime, Hana Yori Dango. Christopher is just as cold and impulsive as Tsukasa Domyoji. I enjoyed the beginning of the book, but after a while, LEMONADE started to feel very repetitive. I still enjoyed it, but I feel I would have enjoyed it more if the pacing had been tighter and it ended about 100 pages earlier. If you're a fan of vintage bodice rippers (and Hana Yori Dango), you should check out LEMONADE. Even if you absolutely hate it, it's highly unlikely that you'd read another book like it published in this day and age.
The Cynster series appears alongside a lot of other series I like, such as The Gamblers and Wallflowers series, so I've been meaning to get my hands on one of Stephanie Laurens books for a long time. When ALL ABOUT PASSION showed up at the local thrift store for 50¢, it seemed like the time had dawned for me to start living in Cyn(ster). That was a terrible joke and I'm sorry. But in a way that is actually perfect, because this was a pretty terrible book.
The plot is convoluted and I did not take notes, but basically it goes like this: Gyles Rawlings, Earl of Chillingsworth (heir to Dickensian surname), needs to take a bride, and what better bride than the woman whose inheritance is the property adjoining his estate? When he goes to seek her hand, he addresses not her but her uncle(?), and makes it clear that theirs is to be a loveless marriage where all he expects of her is an heir. When he spies a pretty blonde woman in the distance sitting quietly, whom her aunt calls "Franni", he naturally assumes that this is Francesca, the woman who is to be his bride. So naturally, when he crashes into a curvaceous buxom woman on his way out, he has no idea who she is, only that he wants her - immediately. He calls her "the gypsy," and waxes poetic on how his loins simply cannot even. I began to imagine him as Frollo, from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame, singing about raven hair and blazing out of all control.
It is literally that dramatic.
***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS TO FOLLOW YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED***
Guess what. Francesca and Frances (Franni) are cousins. If you think that this ridiculous coincidence is the pretense for a very long case of mistaken identity, you are correct. Francesca thinks that Gyles wants to marry her. So does Franni. Gyles thinks he's going to marry Franni, his biddable wife, and that Francesca is some random strumpet who is eager to lie in bed with him and plans to make her his mistress after just making the proposal of marriage to who he thinks is Francesca. If you think this is cheek, yes, yes it is. This results in 100+ pages of drahma, culminating in the wedding, where Gyles, who by ridiculous coincidence, has managed to avoid meeting his bride in any formal circumstances where someone could have corrected his error, realizes who he is marrying. Francesca, of course, figured it out when he had sex with her and referred to his bride to be in third person. She is outraged, but keeps having sex with him instead of correcting him and/or walking away. Rather than admit to his mistake, he and Francesca go forward with the wedding. They've already had sex by this point and continue to do so every other chapter (oh my God), but Gyles keeps insisting that their marriage is to be loveless. They basically torment each other for another 200 pages while Francesca succeeds in charming every member of the house staff, all of Gyles's male and female acquaintances, and every single eligible man within radius of the castle. They make each other jealous, talk about entertaining other lovers for their loveless marriage, and generally just petty the pet out of pettiness.
In the last quarter of the book, Laurens pulls a Lisa Kleypas and introduces a murder plot. Someone is trying to kill Francesca! They spend ages figuring it out when it is literally so obvious who it is that I knew from the moment the first suspicious goings-on began happening. Who is it? Franni! Why? Because she is mentally ill and has created this elaborate delusion that she and Gyles are in love, and he's only marrying Francesca for money, and he secretly wants Franni to kill Francesca for him.
It's getting late over here, so let me sum up some of the key issues I took with this book.
Gyles is an idiot asslord. His reason for wanting a loveless marriage is some sob story where he got hurt (his dad died when he was a child), and he decides loving hurts so he's not going to do it again. So he chooses this super selfish route of marrying one woman and then deciding to take a mistress immediately after making a wedding a proposal.
He's also a rapey asslord. Check out this swoon-worthy line:
If he'd taken her to the ground, no power on earth would have stopped him from taking her - passionately, violently, regardless of the pain he would have caused her (58).
This is after running her down through the woods on his horse. You know, like Frollo does in Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Is Gyles actually Frollo? Is his middle name Claude? I began to seriously wonder.)
Oh, but that's not the end of his charms. My no. He slut-shames, too. Check out this line:
"If you thought [Franni] was me, who did you think I was?"
"I thought" - the words were bitten off - "that you were a gypsy. Too consciously well endowed and far too bold to be a young lady." He took a prowling step toward her. "I thought you a bold and eager companion" (125).
Despite Francesca's boldness, she's still a virgin (or was), but the hero is blown away at how amazingly good at sex Francesca is. Unlike many other authors, Laurens attempts to provide an explanation for the heroine's knowledge. Which would be admirable, were it not this reason:
"They taught you?"
"No. I watched....I was an only child....When I was young, my bedroom connected to theirs. They always left the door open, so they would hear if I called. I used to wake and go in...sometimes they didn't...notice. After a while, I'd go back to my bed. I didn't understand, not until later, but I remember" (142).
Congratulations, book. I think that is one of the creepiest things I've read in a romance in a while. And this is coming from someone who can't stay away from 70s bodice rippers, so that says something.
Later, they come back to this topic again, like it's an inside joke.
"Didn't you ever watch your parents?"
"Good God, no!"
"You've led a sheltered life, my lord" (176).
Hmm, I think I have to side with the asslord on this. That's not sheltered. That's just not watching your freaking parents have sex like it's the regency version of Skinemax. Staaaahp.
Then there's the treatment of Franni in this book. She has some sort of mental illness that is unspecified. At first, I thought she was developmentally disabled because everyone made an (annoying) point of talking about how simple and childlike she was (cringe). But then, later, they also say that she has delusions and makes up fantasies that are only half-rooted in reality. And then at the end of the book, it's revealed that this runs in her family: it's a hereditary illness that only affects the women in the family and usually only after they turn twenty. It must be deusexmachinitus.
Anyway, whatever she has, the way it was portrayed did not really sit well with me. Gyles calls her biddable when he thinks she's Francesca, and says she's the perfect "cipher." Which I just looked up, and it appears to mean "nonentity." So he's basically saying that she's this inconsequential thing who will not impede upon his ambitions. Francesca is no better, talking down to her cousin like a child, always describing her as childlike and blank.
Then we get lines like this:
She was neither cloying nor snide; she displayed none of the usual behaviors he deplored. His aversion was primitive, instinctive - not easy to explain (249).
"I'd be tempted to say she's softheaded, or to use a vulgar but appropriate term, dicked in the nob, yet that's not quite it. She's perfectly lucid if a bit simple..." (262)
Since this is, what, the seventh book in the series, I thought that maybe I just caught the series on the downward trend. It's hard to keep a book series going strong, especially once you get past book #4 or so. But then I checked out reviews of the first book and happened to see my friend Daniella's review of the first book, DEVIL'S BRIDE. So many of the things I took issue with, like a crazy amount of sex scenes, inconsistent characterization, and yes, even adultery (or cheating, I suppose, since it wasn't technically adultery yet at this point) are all present in her review.
I was not a fan of ALL ABOUT PASSION. The mistaken identity thing was done fairly poorly, but I was still on board for all the love-to-hate-you UST until they started going at it nonstop and all their relationship tension started to come from "to have adultery or to not have adultery?"-type dilemmas. I was also not really happy with how Franni was portrayed, nor that she was mentally ill and that her being mentally ill was the premise for her wanting to kill the heroine Hand that Rocks the Cradle-style. She even hires some men to take Francesca away, where it is implied that Francesca will probably be held in captivity and raped until her baby is born (forgot to mention she's pregnant at this point), at which point the baby will be brought to Franni to raise (since her aunt told her she isn't allowed to have children because she's mentally ill) with Gyles. I thought that was really messed-up (and also inconsistent because if Franni is too "simple" to walk around by herself, how the hell would she think to go out and hire a bunch of criminals, trick Francesca into meeting her, and execute this plan?), and it didn't mesh well with all the other stuff was going on. Also, making the villains mentally ill is a trope that has been done to death, and really ought to stop. I thought about giving this book a one-star review, but I managed to read it in just under two days. It was so hypnotically bad that I was unable to put it down. I had to see what happened next. That ought to count for something.
You know you've read a good book when you just want to rub your hands together and laugh once you've finished it like you're auditioning for the "world's scariest super-villain" competition. I wanted to do that with THE COMPANION, because it easily is one of the top 5 best vampire books I've ever read.
THE COMPANION is set in Egypt and England. It's about a man named Ian who is captured by pirates, enslaved, and then sexually abused and tortured under an evil and tyrannical vampire queen named Asharti. She accidentally turns him into a vampire during one of these torture sessions and then abandons him to die in the desert. Beth is the daughter of an Egyptologist looking for a secret lost city of power in the desert. When he dies, unsuccessful and out of funding, Beth is left on her own, without protection, and is forced to end the search unfruitfully and return home.
The two characters meet on a boat, and while Beth is struck by his good looks, they don't really connect until they are forced to defend their lives from yet another pirate attack. After that, they get to talking, they play chess, and they fight that damnable sexual tension. All the while, Beth wonders what it is about her new companion that makes his skin so pale, why he acts like he's got some unspeakable horror hiding behind his eyes, and why he only comes out at night.
I really can't emphasize what a good book this is. Beth is a strong character: she's intelligent, she's unusual, and she sticks to her principles. She reacts to Ian's vampirism in probably one of the most realistic ways I've ever encountered in a book. I liked that she was half-Egyptian, half English, and that her biracialism is actually addressed - also in a very realistic way - and she talks about not fitting in in either Egypt or England, and feeling too white or too brown depending on where she is. I've read books where this is swept under the carpet, so it was refreshing to see it addressed.
And Ian, oh, Ian, the shining star of this novel. He is so tortured, and a huge part of his character arc is learning to overcome that abuse. My heart ached for him, and I felt like his reactions to his abuse and his emotional responses were very realistic - so much so, that this might be a hard book to read for people who have actually experienced abuse firsthand. In the beginning of the book, he is so emotionally exhausted and traumatized that he tries to kill himself (I don't think this is a spoiler, since it happens early on), but because he is a vampire, he is unsuccessful. Beth doesn't make him forget his trauma, but he learns to accept the memories and continue living his life to be happy and learn that sex and confidence does not equate to abuse, which I thought was a beautiful message.
The vampire system was also really interesting and unique. Vampirisim comes from aliens - in a way that reminded me of Animorphs actually - and is a parasite that attaches to the blood. There's a fountain of youth in the desert that contains parasites in the water, but the way it's contracted initially here is from one of the old aliens himself, who's living alone in a tomb waiting to be collected by his brethren. It's so creepy. But you know what they say, more aliens and more vampires equals more sequels, and there are several other vampires in here who I suspect will be the focus of the next books. (Cue that gleeful, giddy villain laughter/clapping.)
I hope that I have successfully impressed upon you that you need to read this book. I was afraid nothing would be able to top my enjoyment of her futuristic romance, BODY ELECTRIC, but THE COMPANION left it quite easily in the dust.
I would be shocked if Stephenie Meyer hadn't read this book because the similarities between MIDNIGHT KISS and TWILIGHT are so similar.
🦇 The heroine is named Bella.
🦇 Bella is bookish, awkward, and doesn't think she's pretty.
🦇 The hero is an angsty mess who hates being a vampire.
🦇 The heroine has a rapey family friend her father would rather she be with over her vampire love interest.
🦇 The heroine's father is not a great father, spends all of his time working, and shows way too little concern for her.
🦇 There's a male and female "bad" vampire duo who have it in for the hero and the heroine.
🦇 The bad vampires kidnap Bella at the end of the book to lure in her vampire love interest, who they want to kill.
🦇 Bella ends up pregnant with a vampire baby.
I rest my case.
MIDNIGHT KISS came first, but as much as I wanted to love the OG, TWILIGHT did it better. And it's funny because I was just thinking the other day about how TWILIGHT was such a game-changer in the paranormal genre. Before TWILIGHT, I think people tended to write more about the traditional vampires who were either soulless, horrific killing machines, or Broody McBroodersons who spend all their time brooding about their lost humanity and how they will never feel the touch of the sun's rays. :tear: (Also, making your vampire hero a Broody and naming him Louis? Ballsy.) TWILIGHT gave the green light for people to write about "alternative" vampires who were basically just the cast of Beverly Hills: 90210 with fangs. That's basically what Vampire Diaries is, FYI.
The difference between MIDNIGHT KISS and TWILIGHT is that MIDNIGHT KISS relies more on traditional vampire folklore. These vampires are sensitive to silver, garlic, and crosses; they don't have reflections; they can control minds; they can turn into mist or beasts, as well as drink blood; and they float sinisterly. This had the making of a great story, but it just wasn't dark enough. I also didn't really like all the whining that Louis did. He meets the heroine because he's seeing her father, who's a doctor, and seeking treatment for his "blood condition." Her father has sort of had a breakthrough, able to sate his hungers through transfusions, and quell his symptoms with a drug, turning him almost but not quite mortal. Obviously, when the hero and heroine meet, it's love at first sight, but for someone who's so smart, she doesn't figure out what he is until the very end of the book. Christ, adult Bella. Teenage Bella was way quicker on the uptake than you, and that's saying something.
There's a lot of weird side plots that go nowhere, too. Like the rapey love interest deciding that he's going to ruin Louis and leverage Bella's father's secret to further his career. The evil vampires, Bianca and Gerardo, are introduced so late, with so little foreshadowing, that they aren't quite the menace that Victoria and James were in Twilight, nor is the final showdown as epic. There's also an evil resurrectionist that Bella's father uses to illegally procure dead bodies for his experiments, but he dies and then later becomes a revenant, but like all other threads in this book, it's resolved too quickly.
Props to MIDNIGHT KISS for being a paranormal romance in a time where paranormal romances were not nearly as abundant and trying to go for the classic Gothic vibe. I wish it had succeeded, because nothing makes me as giddy with joy as being able to find and promote a romance that nobody else has heard of, but for me this book was a miss. If you're looking for a Gothic historical vampire romance, you'd be better off picking up Susan Squires's THE COMPANION, instead.
I've read a lot of regency romances, and I'm always excited to find something that isn't directly cast from the Pride and Prejudice mold and LORD OF ICE is that. A guardian/ward romance at heart, it also features several other tropes that I enjoy, and does them well enough that I didn't find them *too* cliche.
Miranda FitzHubert is the bastard daughter of a nobleman who perished in an accident with his actress mistress. After their untimely deaths, she was given to a guardian, a battle-scarred war hero who drank to forget the horrors of what he'd done. When he's murdered (God, this girl is playing a hideous game of musical guardians), she's given to yet another keeper, another veteran, Damien Knight, the PTSD-ridden Earl of Winterley.
His name is appropriate, because he really is as cold as ice. Damien pushes everyone - especially Miranda - away, because he's afraid of what will happen when anyone gets too close to him, especially at night. Miranda's ex-guardian, Jason, was a close friend of his, and after fighting in war, and getting a taste for it, he's repelled by death, and also by himself for causing so much of it, and not feeling as guilty about killing as he should. His night terrors add a further block between him and Miranda, because he lashes out in his sleep.
Plus, she's his ward and that goes against his sense of honor, of course. Which is horribly ironic, because he meets her when she's performing on stage (she runs away from her school in the evening to pursue her dreams of acting), assumes she's game for a quick fling, and comes perilously close to forcing himself on her. This was not the best introduction for the hero and made me dislike him a lot. I liked him more later, after his character was developed more and he repented his actions, but his treatment of women he considered inferior left a lot to be desired. He doesn't cheat, though, although at one point he considers it...but thankfully, he reconsiders at the last minute (sigh).
There were many great scenes in here. The opening of this book was five-star-worthy. So was Miranda's stint in her Dickensian boarding school with the sinister Mr. Reed. There were deadly chases, near escapes, acts of seduction and treachery, and pretty much anything else you could ask for in a regency era soap like this. If I had any complaints, it's that the side characters weren't really explored to their full potential, and were more like wallpaper or backdrops than actual people, just popping in occasionally to drive the plot or keep the scene moving, rather than displaying any agency.
The villain was decent, and appropriately sneaky and horrible, but I felt like he could have been fleshed out more, too - especially towards the end, when we learn something about him that simultaneously seems more sinister...and yet also comes from way out of left field. It's not really a spoiler to say this, since we're introduced to the villain in chapter one, but because we're given the name of our antagonist so early on I felt the author should have worked harder to make us fear him.
Finally, at the end of the book, right where I expected things to wrap up, the author throws in a last-minute conflict - the Napoleonic Wars - and has the characters have a big fight over it right after they're married. This felt like an unnecessary attempt to bulk up the page count, and annoyed me. Had it gone on for any longer than it did, I would have deducted a star rating because it was totally pointless. The situation is eventually resolved and a happily ever is tacked on, but it left a bitter taint to the story it wouldn't otherwise have had, because it makes Miranda look like a bitch and undermines her vows to support him and give him everything he needs for closure.
These are little nitpicky details, though - the irony is that when everything else in a story is good, you can afford to look a little deeper and discuss the things that would make it a perfect (or close to perfect) read, rather than just a tolerable one (as in the case with bad books). LORD OF ICE is very well written, has a rather strong and enterprising female protagonist, and a pretty icy hero who despite his gruff and tortured exterior, desperately wants to be redeemed. In spite of my reservations, I enjoyed LORD OF ICE quite a bit and would definitely read another book by Gaelen Foley.
Many regency romances feature the same plot, with the characters and storylines being virtually interchangeable and utterly forgettable. A DUKE TO REMEMBER, however, really does feature a duke to remember...although in all honesty, it's the heroine, Elise DeVries, who steals the show.
Elise is an agent of Chagarre and Associates. Basically, members of the elite come to her with their problems, which she resolves discreetly - for a price. Elise also works as an actress, and she uses her stage training and her many disguises to solve these cases and gather intelligence. Her latest case is both tragic and bizarre: the sister of a duke presumed dead reveals that her brother is actually alive, and that his cousin, who has seized control of the estate in his absence, has committed their mother to Bedlam and is doing his utmost to see to it that the Duke of Ashland never returns from the dead.
I liked Elise and loved the fact that she was competent at her job. The scenes of her going under disguise and working with her clients were really great, and did a great job capturing her character. Unlike many cross-dressing heroines, the heroine is actually pretty decent at going incognito and it's only by pure happenstance that the object of her search, Noah Ellery, finds out he is a she.
One of the things that dragged down my rating for this book was the insta-love. Right away they're attracted to one another and have sex, which took out any of the sexual tension that makes books like these so fun to read. Even though I know how romances end 99.9% of the time, the will they/won't they trope keeps me turning pages like nobody's business. The tension in this story comes from the fact that Noah is determined to remain in hiding, and he doesn't realize that Elise has been hired to take him back to society to claim the duchy...although even this is resolved quickly. And I must say, props to the author for not having the characters miscommunicate for an infinite amount of pages, dancing around their pile of lies with half-truths and hurt feelings. Elise is straight-up with Noah, which was both refreshing and in line with her characterization.
The romance was just so sudden, that neither of them really had chemistry. So while I felt sorry for Noah and what he had gone through as a child and loved Elise's passion for righting wrongs and kicking ass, I didn't really see them together as a couple, nor did I buy their sudden devotion.
My favorite character in this book was actually a third-tier character who only appears a handful of times. That would be King, who reminded me a lot of one of my favorite book boyfriends, Jerricho Barrons. He's pretty much everything I love in a hero...brooding, dark, mysterious, tortured, sexy, with a generous sprinkling of gamma. When I found out that he wasn't the love interest in this book, I was devastated...although the author teased that he might be one in later installments.
I appreciate Bowen's challenging the stereotypes that are the status quo in regency novels, but the lack of chemistry took what could have been a four- or five-star book for me and downgraded it to a 2.5. I'd definitely read King's story, though. I hope it's dark. ;)
Thanks to the author and the publisher for the review copy!
This was a buddy read with my wonderful Goodreads book group, the Unapologetic Romance Readers. We had two books of the month for June - one was KULTI and the other was RUINED BY RUMOR. Being a fan of all things historical, I knew immediately which of the two books had my vote!
Right away, I realized that RUINED might not be my cup of tea. Roxana is a spoiled, superficial princess-type character who is very self-centered and naive in the worst possible way. She will go into situations, look around at what's happening, and immediately find the most cock-eyed explanation for what's going on. This is a girl who would watch Blue's Clues and think she's brilliant for finding the 32" x 32" royal blue paw print on an otherwise white wall.
She's engaged to a soldier named George Wyatt who actually reminded me a lot of Wickham's character from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. He's charming and boisterous and very popular with the ladies. A little too popular, as Roxana soon finds out - he dallied with many foreign women while stationed abroad, even as his fiancee waited for him chastely back in England. Events transpire that result in the engagement falling apart, leaving Roxana feeling utterly disgraced.
And then, if that weren't enough, she is compromised at a party by the very man she's believed has scorned her for all these years - Alex, Lord Ayersley.
Ayersley has actually been in love with Roxana for all these years but has been too shy and awkward to say so. But his happiness is tainted by the knowledge that Roxana doesn't like him, and is marrying him solely to avoid her own ruin. I actually liked Ayersley for 80% of the book because he's a sweet, sexy, beta male and how can you not like that? But then there is another Big Misunderstanding that causes him to say some incredibly hurtful things before storming off under a cloud of butthurt.
I suspect Everett was attempting to channel a bit of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The alliterative title, regency setting, and the characters that are reminiscent of Darcy and Wickham completely went over my head until I actually sat down to write this review. That's because Roxana is not an Austen heroine. She's not complicated or fiery or intelligent or complex enough, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE really only had one misunderstanding between the h and the H - not five.
That's my biggest problem with this book, and what ultimately ended up preventing me from enjoying it. The entire premise is hinged on multiple misunderstandings that could have been resolved (and are! at the end!) with five minutes of conversation. Ayersley thinks Roxana doesn't like him. Roxana thinks Ayersley is in love with another woman. Ayersley thinks Roxana is cheating on him. Roxana thinks Ayersley won't sleep with her because he doesn't love her. It goes on and on.
I don't normally go in for fluffy regencies like this, but Mary Balogh came highly recommended to me by Jenn Young, and I really liked the other Balogh story I read, so I figured, Why not?
Catherine Winters is a virtuous widow who rents a small cottage from the local "royalty", Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Mr. Adams is the twin brother of a viscount, and rather fond of Catherine, and Catherine is sometimes invited to parties at their estate whenever they have odd numbers, because of her manners and quiet charm.
One day the viscount comes to town and Catherine, mistaking him for his brother, smiles and curtsies at him. The Viscount Rawleigh, Rex, takes this as a proposition and immediately sets out trying to bed Catherine & make her his mistress until he returns home. But Catherine refuses him staunchly, which perplexes him as much as it makes him angry, and even more determined to have his way.
The attraction between Catherine and Rex is undeniable, but Catherine reacts oddly to his overtures. It's very clear that something is wrong, and that this "something" has a great deal to do with Catherine's lovely manners, her widow status, and the reason that she is so utterly, unequivocally alone.
I really wasn't expecting to like INDISCREET as much as I did. It starts off very slowly, and while I could appreciate the comedy of manners, it did start to get a bit dull. So did the constant bickering between the hero and the heroine. Rex does border on an alphahole at times, but he is self-aware in a way that many alpha-holes are not. By the end of this book, I was a Rex Fan.
Fans of slow burn romance and romance with substance will like INDISCREET, if they're willing to settle in for a bit of a wait. The sex scenes in this book are rather tame, but quite sexy, and fairly frequent. It was quite fun to see the hero and heroine fall in love slowly, empathizing with one another before exchanging vows of undying love - that's far more realistic, and all the more romantic because of it! Also, that ending was tense. I was NOT expecting that! o.o
My favorite type of book to review is vintage romance novels. And since a lot of these babies are being re-released on Kindle, what used to be a frustrating and time-consuming hobby has been made vastly easier. Take MY LOVE, MY ENEMY by Jan Cox Speas, a classic romance that, until just a few years ago, used to be out of print. Copies were expensive. Tears of frustration were shed. Then Sourcebooks Casablanca said, "I got you, boo," and suddenly, we were all back in business, for the small price of ninety-nine cents.
MY LOVE, MY ENEMY is set during the War of 1812. Our heroine is named Page and she is kind of an idiot in the way that only teenagers can be idiots. The British are blockading the bay, and she decides to hop aboard a ship and go shopping. Things happen, and she ends up saving a British man from being lynched, only to come across him yet again when their ship is taken prisoner by the British and she finds out her savior is one of the evil noblemen that her country only just finished rebelling against during that nasty Revolution - oh, and he's also a spy.
I'm a sucker for a well done nautical romp and this one was done really well. The scenes and descriptions were very well done, and Jan Cox Speas has a delicious way with words that manages to be evocative without being heavy-handed. Some of her descriptions of people - especially the hero - were utterly swoon-worthy. I'm not just surprised that this romance was out of print, I'm surprised they didn't put it back in print sooner. It's slow burn, clean, and action-packed, so it will appeal to virtually anyone, and there's no rapey scenes or overt racism (at least none that caught my eye).
So why not four or five stars? It's a short book but it feels long, and that's because the pacing is uneven. The scenes on the high seas or involving the hero? Whoosh. The scenes when Page is being ferried around, and alternately bemoaning about how much she misses home and how these moments on the boat as a "captive" are the happiest days of her life (oh, Page...)? Draaaaag. I found myself skimming at times, which I didn't really want to do, because the writing was good.
I did like MY LOVE, MY ENEMY, though, and I can think of several Goodreads friends who will love this book more than I did. One point of frustration: at the end, it contains a teaser for BRIDE OF THE MACHUGH, her most popular book, coming soon for re-release. But if you click the Sourcebooks Casablanca edition for this book on Goodreads, Amazon says it's out of print. *cries*
It's been a while since I read a good old-fashioned bodice ripper. There's nothing like them in today's market - and as liberal as I am, I find myself oddly fascinated by these un-PC, misogynistic train wrecks. BELOVED ENEMY is a fantastic OTT story of revenge. Stupid old Lanna is the "daughter" of this ruthless dude named Jared Malford. She's not actually his child, but he's raising her for reasons until she's 21. Lanna gets involved with this rakish guy named Rafe, but Rafe's best friend, Damon, has been wronged by Jared, so he sends Rafe out to see to be shanghaied and then rapes Lanna and keeps her prisoner on his boat to be married to him so he can take her money and then taunt her "father" about how he did his child wrong. To his surprise, Jared's all, LOL I don't care and P.S. GL with that.
Lanna and her traitorous body take up residence at Damon's plantation, where his half-black mistress named Indigo also lives. Indigo, by the way, is one of the best characters in this story because of her sheer determination and how she clawed herself out of every tragedy to rise up again and work whatever unpleasant situation she found herself in to her advantage by using her feminine wiles and cunning. She's like Scarlett O'Hara. Like, you can't believe her, but you also respect her, no matter how b*tchy she gets. I honestly felt pretty bad for her, to be honest. She was betrayed by her childhood friend (who was jelly that Indigo was prettier), and then this bitch (read: Lanna) comes along on her sweet gig and kicks up a fuss about her being there and Damon, the bastard, sends her off to this other plantation where she ends up getting raped every night by the master. Yeah, I'd hate Lanna too, after that. Who wouldn't?
Then things get even more awkward when Rafe comes back and Lanna is torn between lusting after her OTP and feeling loyal to Beth, the girl next door, who is Rafe's fiance and kind of reminds me of Melanie Hamilton from GONE WITH THE WIND, what with her whole pure and innocent and matyrish shtick. I did like Beth, but she wasn't really fleshed out at all because her entire purpose seemed to be as a foil to Lanna and her weird love-triangle-but-not-really between Rafe & Damon. Also like Melanie, she dies, and her death serves to make Lanna become a better person just as Melanie's death essentially served to make Scarlett realize how selfish/entitled she'd been all along. Except Lanna just crumples and becomes so traumatized that Damon gives in to what she wants because he feels so sorry for her, like she's just going to crumple to dust if he leaves her alone.
I think I would have liked Lanna more if she were like Scarlett - or even more like Indigo - and had all the agency and complexity of these other heroines. Instead, she had the spine of a wet rag and spent way too much time crying. Things get even crazier in the third act when Damon is captured by Jared and subjected to this intense and brutal whipping scene and then later on, severe burns after an attempt to blow up the ship goes horribly wrong. Lanna, thinking he's being imprisoned on this (Caribbean?) island instead of the brig, rushes out as soon as they dock to rescue him and ends up being tricked by this jailer who then subjects her to nightly rapes. I felt like Joan Dial/Amanda York was attempting to verbally duel with Rosemary Rogers to see who could torment their characters the most (Rogers is famous for brutal third acts with character tortures). She didn't win by any stretch (Rogers' heroines at least give as good as they get, and don't just crumple like teary rags), but it was an impressive effort nonetheless, and left me cringing.
There are actually LGBT characters in here, but the bisexual (and unfaithful) Llewellyn Davis is a cruel and manipulative traitor and his lover, Gideon, ends up committing suicide, which made me sad because I liked Gideon's character. Still, I felt like there inclusion was noteworthy, as BRs have a tendency to fetishize homoerotic scenes and make them characteristics of the bad guys. Llewellyn wasn't overtly evil, just corrupt and Gideon was never a bad guy, just a tragic one, and while it's unfortunate that the author succumbed to the bury your gays trope, I was surprised to see that her treatment of these characters was waaaaaay better than what you would expect to see from, say, Bertrice Small's work (where doing it up the butt pretty much brands you as the villain instantly).
Overall, I thought BELOVED ENEMY was really great and incredibly underrated. I bought it on impulse because it was available for Kindle for only $2.99 and I try to snap up as many of these rereleased bodice rippers as I can. The story is addictive and compelling, and until the last 50 pages or so, the pacing is pretty good. This would easily be a five star read except for a few niggling issues: The formatting is odd, with one chapter having random paragraph breaks for no reason, and there are a lot of typos scattered throughout. The author also foreshadows that one of the characters, Alain, and Indigo are Meant To Be, and hints throughout (I thought) that they would (or ought to) end up together, but at the end of the book Alain just sort of implies that he might end up with Indigo or someone like her and his storyline just petered out. Likewise, Rafe is written out of the storyline by the author just deciding to put him on an island filled with Polynesians when he decides to take one of the native girls as his lover. Indigo also just sort of disappears. I feel like the author had decided that she was going to be done by page X no matter what and just hastily tied up all these loose ends without really doing their respective storylines justice. Also, the war scenes at the end were boring because we've been waiting for Damon and Lanna to get over their big misunderstanding and when they finally do sit down and talk (even if it has to be at knife-point), she immediately splits them up again and let's be honest, those of us who stuck with this pile, we're reading it for Damon.
If you're a fan of bodice rippers, and in particular bodice rippers written by Rosemary Rogers, I think you will enjoy BELOVED ENEMY. It's not as un-PC as I feared, considering that it's about slavery, and while the hero is a rapist, cheating a-hole, he's not a completely cruel hero, either, and I found him more interesting than repulsive. There are just so many great characters in here and the scenery descriptions are all amazing. For $2.99, you'll be able to burn up a few hours in guilty pleasure while looking over your shoulder and hoping that no one you know sees what you're really reading. ;)
Rebecca Brandewyne is a household name in the bodice ripper genre. Her Aguilar's Fate series is more popular than this one, but since I'd managed to obtain books 1 & 2 of this duology, Chandlers of Highclyffe Hall seemed like a good starting point for this author.
Maggie Chandler is the daughter of Sir Hugh, the lord of Highclyffe Hall - an elegant, creepy castle built on the moors of Cornwall. Her father blames her for the death of her mother and abuses her at every turn. Matters only take a turn for the worse when he marries a fortune hunter, and she ends up getting two wicked step-somethings that waste no time in barging into every aspect of her life.
The opening of this book really reminded me of ELLA ENCHANTED - you know that part when Ella's father marries Dame Olga and she ends up getting Hattie & Olive as step-sisters? ELLA is one of my favorite books of all time so that similarity really stirred up all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings. There's also elements of the WIDEACRE series in here, too, what with the feuding families and kissing cousins and matters of inheritance.
Speaking of inheritance, later on Sir Hugh finds out to his disgust that his estranged brother (who fell in love with a gypsy - gasp!) has a bastard son, Draco, who also ends up coming to Highclyffe Hall. Maggie isn't sure how to feel about him. He's quite a bit different from her other cousin, Esmond (who she's betrothed to), but she can't stop obsessing over him and how different he is. Just in case we forget that he's a gypsy, she keeps referring to him as My Gypsy Cousin. They end up forming a bond over the fate of Black Magic, a beautiful wild stallion that Sir Hugh brutally abuses. Be forewarned that if animal cruelty is a trigger for you, there are some pretty horrid passages of horse abuse in this book.
The second half of the book starts out with all kinds of soapy drama and, sadly, is where this book takes a turn for the worse. Sir Hugh ended up crippled for life by Black Magic, which has caused his personality to take a turn for the worse. He's even more of an asshole than before! Through mysterious means, Draco ends up becoming very rich. Julianne, seduces Maggie's betrothed away. Maggie ends up having jealousy-sex with Draco, which quickly turns into rape-sex when he realizes that he's not the man she's thinking of. Then Draco spirits her away to Gretna Green, where he drugs and rapes her some more prior to their marriage. Maggie gets blotted out from the family bible. She has a baby. Draco provides for them with his inexplicably gotten wealth.
Maggie is not a very subtle narrator and keeps making these foreshadowing segues like "I wish I had known that..." or "if only I had ____". It took a lot of mystery out of the writing, because it was like the author didn't trust me to deal with any bad events on my own and wanted to hold my hand the whole way. I also didn't like the way the rape was treated; Maggie is very dismissive of it, and convinces herself that it was something she actually wanted, calling herself a passionate and earthy person (which I guess is 19th century speak for "very interested in sex"). Since this is a gothic novel, there's a mystery tacked on at the end, and of course, the hero is implicated as being the perp. I didn't think that this was done particularly well, either, and the heroine's Nancy Drew skills made me roll my eyes.
UPON A MOON-DARK MOOR definitely contrives to write in that 70s gothic style, and even the title sounds like something you would see on one of those book covers with women in cumbersome gowns fleeing from sinister misty castles. The only difference is that those books tend to be very clean, and this actually had some sex in it. Honestly, if you're just getting into the gothic genre, I recommend starting out with Victoria Holt. Hopefully ACROSS A STARLIT SEA will be better...
Amelia Pembroke is a close approximation of what I imagine Mrs. Bennett was like as a young woman. She micromanages lovingly & is determined to make the best match for herself so she can move out of her brother's home. And what better place to meet a new beau than at the fête of the year?
Viscount Sheffield's parties are always full of men and women of the hour. But this year he has been forced to cancel because a bolt of lightning destroyed his dance hall. Amelia has ideas for replacements, though. She has contingency plans upon contingency plans set out for pretty much any occasion.
As Amelia forces herself into his life to set up the party (against his wishes), Sheffield finds himself developing first a healthy amount of respect for this stubborn and assertive woman, but then also admiration and even affection later on.
Since I just bought one of the full length novels in this series (I think it was THE BRIGADIER'S RUNAWAY BRIDE), it seemed like an opportune moment to test out the freebie I got. It wasn't a bad book, but Courtney Milan, whose works I just read, is a tough act to follow. Also, even for a short story, this moved much too fast. They went from hesitantly having crushes to totally being in love!
A GENTLEMAN'S POSITION is my second book by K.J. Charles. My first was, ironically, one of her few non-m/m titles, NON-STOP TIL TOKYO. I loved it - and some of my followers who have asked me for recommendations will recognize the title, because it's one of the first I bust out whenever someone asks me the question, "Nenia, have you ever read any good NA?"
I'm going to be honest: I don't really read much m/m. Unless the story line or the love story really stands out, I don't usually seek out m/m books. There's no nefarious reason behind this; it's just not something I'm particularly interested in. I'm mentioning this because I think it will have an impact on my rating. I enjoyed A GENTLEMAN'S POSITION, despite it not being a genre of preference. People who actually seek out this genre of books will probably enjoy it much more than I did. So take this rating with a grain of salt, as it is coming from someone who doesn't read m/m.
That said, I really loved the way Charles wrote out the love story between David and Richard. Richard is a lord, a total stuffed-shirt. His adherence to class mores and expectations has made him the go-to for delicate matters, but much of this is due to the services of his rather incredible valet, David. Unfortunately, David is starting to fall for his master, and Richard is reluctant to accept his advances because of the difference in their position. Richard's pride is another impediment, because David can't help but wonder whether Richard can really stoop to care for someone who isn't his equal.
In some ways, A GENTLEMAN'S POSITION reminded me of an m/m version of Courtney Milan's HER EVERY WISH. Both focus on social class and how it can serve as an impediment to love. Both authors also deal with this topic very well, showing that if love is to happen, both parties must accept one another, despite their faults and shortcomings and differences, as equals. No more. No less.
My favorite part of the book was probably the end, when the society + David concoct an elaborate scheme to get even with Lord Maltravers. This gets the book an extra .5 star because it was brilliantly done and had me cackling to myself as I imagined countless other bigots across the globe being hoisted by their own petard in a similar manner.
Would I read more from this author? I think so. This was a wonderful opportunity to be acquainted with the m/m works of an author I really like, and there is no question of the attention she pays to detail or her fondness for writing a compelling love story between two good men.
Ladies and gentleman, I present you with "You're not like other women": the novel edition.
Yes, THE BARGAIN is another "stealth read" that I didn't post any status updates for (even though at times, I desperately wanted to). My brother bought it for me for Christmas and it's been chilling in my purse for the last week or so, keeping me entertained on my lunch breaks and while on public transportation, albeit probably not in the way it was meant to "entertain," because I spent a pretty big portion of this book giggling or staring incredulously, because WTF.
There are two kinds of vintage romance novels, okay? There are the kinds that tell good stories and keep you engrossed, like the kinds written by V.C. Andrews or Rosemary Rogers, and then there are the kinds that are truly awful and don't hold up at all, and their only redeeming value is making fun of them, a la MST3K, like Georgina Gentry, Janelle Taylor, and, well, Veronica Sattler, apparently.
THE BARGAIN starts off promisingly, in the vein of unapologetic bodice-rippery. When Brett's father dies in a carriage accident with his step-mother, his grandfather, the Duke of Ravensford, takes this as an opportunity to proselytize on why Women Are the Root of All Evil. His goal is to make Brett even more attractive and successful, all the while imbuing him with a most rare and carefully cultivated vintage of misogyny that basically says that women are only good for begetting heirs. Brett takes his grandfather's lessons to heart, and becomes exactly the kind of warped, cold-hearted d-bag you'd expect, but when his grandfather sees him again as an adult, Brett's reluctance to "settle down" makes him fear that he was too successful and that Brett has remained a virgin all these years (little does he know that Brett is actually a user of women who sees marriage as the end to his fun). Thinking that Brett is a virgin, he engages the family lawyer to procure a "clean whore" for his son to teach him the rites of manhood in order to prepare him for the marriage bed.
Cut to the (virginal) heroine, Ashleigh, whose parents perished in a fire when she was young. (Spoiler: she's actually the daughter of a baron or something.) She's been living in a whorehouse as the servant, although the madam has been planning on selling her maidenhead to a top bidder. Fate intervenes in the form of the Whore With the Heart O' Gold stereotype, Megan, who threatens to leave if the madam goes on with her plan, so the madam relents and makes arrangements to send Ashleigh off as a governess to a doddering old dude with two young daughters. But Ashleigh has an enemy at the whorehouse, in a woman named Monica who sees Ashleigh's beauty as a threat to her wellbeing (because obviously). She comes across the letter for Ashleigh's governess job and also the Duke of Ravensford's lawyer's letter requesting a clean whore and gets an evil idea: what if she took the cushy governess job and Ashleigh got to be sent off as the whore? LOLZ!
So Ashleigh arrives at Ravensford Manor and immediately realizes there's been a terrible mistake when she finds her "charge" is actually a fully-grown man. She makes the obligatory protests. He ignores them all and rapes her, and yes, it is rape. Like, unambiguous rape. He realizes there's been a mistake when he finds out that she was a virgin this whole time, and ends up deciding to keep her on as his mistress while telling the rest of the world that she's his ward. As it turns out, Brett's biffle, Patrick, is actually Ashleigh's long-lost brother and when he finds out that the virgin his friend has been gloating about is actually his sister, it's bros before hos, family edition, and Patrick beats and browbeats Brett into marrying Ashleigh, much to the chagrin of Brett's would-be fiancee, Elizabeth, and evil aunt Margaret.
Here's where the story gets really extra annoying. Brett never really learns a lesson. His rape gets him the woman he wants, and every time she runs away he hurts and threatens her, ties her up and steals away her clothes, insults her, and treats her like garbage. Eventually, he softens towards Ashleigh and says that she's changed him (gag) but it's clear that this hasn't extended towards other women, based on what he says about Elizabeth and Margaret. Ashleigh has simply become the "exception" to the rule, and while he's put her on a pedestal for the moment, she could come crashing down at any time. It serves as an incredibly gross and disgusting allegory for "nice guys" who have very specific ideas as to what women should be like, and how quick they are to anger when women refuse to adhere to their idealized templates of femininity and womanhood. I certainly don't think it's a coincidence that the villanized Elizabeth is frigid, that the vast majority of his bed partners before Ashleigh were promiscuous, that his aunt is a spinster, and that he doesn't realize he's fallen in love with his wife until he realizes that she's pregnant and, yes, still gorgeous before and after the pregnancy.
And this book is truly gross when it comes to beauty standards. Oh, Brett tries to sell her the "I fell in love with your personality" line but it's clear that's not the case with lines like these:
"If a man has an exquisite gem, a sapphire, let us say -" he was looking directly into her blue, blue eyes as he spoke " - and he takes it to a goldsmith to have it mounted into a ring, perhaps, or worked into a pendant, is the value of the stone diminished or enhanced by the setting? The answer is no, for the stone will always be the stone it is, beautiful in its own right. The setting merely makes it possible for others to admire it, something which would not happen if it were locked away in a box or drawer somewhere, where it could not catch the light and dazzle the onlooker with its loveliness." His eyes flickered wonderingly over her upturned face. "No, Ashleigh, I was helping nothing along that day, but merely playing humble goldsmith to your beauty's jewels" (177).
Here was beauty from an inner light - the loveliness of child-just-become-woman, of the spring of life in its freshness and goodness and, yes, innocence, in the best sense of the term. Here was a female who, even in her waking hours lost none of the qualities he viewed now. Here was no trick of features temporarily released in slumber, only to revert to the artful poses of the real world when she awakened, as he'd had occasion to witness countless times in the women he'd bedded. Ashleigh Sinclair was totally different from all the other women he'd known (265).
Read: "She looks hot without makeup, unlike those other fakey fakers."
"You were - ARE - different from any woman I've ever known, Ashleigh" (426).
Read: "Dat ass." P.S. He refers to his rape of her as "the awkward circumstances, we are both acquainted with." WOW, UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE [BLEEPING] CENTURY, you prick!
How had it happened? How had he gone beyond seeing her as a potentially threatening female, to regarding her as a separate human being with a host of traits he'd come to admire and respect and cherish? (449)
Read: "Wow! You mean women are people, too? Thank you for acting as the vehicle on my journey as a cis-het white male to learn that I'm not the only one with special, special feelings!"
Also, he's immediately mean to her on the two or three occasions that she runs from him even though the first time was because he RAPED her, the second was because his ex-fiancee tells her that he's got side-women and isn't going to respect her once they're married (and towards the end of the book he gives Ashleigh this touching speech about how he would have cheated on that unhot, frigid b-witch Elizabeth, he would never cheat on her because she's smokin' and how honored she should be!), and the third time is because Margaret, the aunt, tells Ashleigh he plans to divorce her. Does he let her explain? No, instead we get lines like this: "Stay there, you bitch, for that's where you belong - on the floor with the other dogs!" (324). Where the floor is the setting to her beauty's jewels, I guess!
And I feel like Ashleigh knows on some level that Brett hasn't completely changed, because when they have sex post-pregnancy, her first thought is that she isn't attractive enough:
"Do...do I please you, Brett?" she whispered worriedly. She was aware, if only from alterations Madame Gautier had had to make in her measurements, that her figure had altered since childbirth, and she was suddenly afraid he would find her less attractive (474).
This a pregnancy that nearly killed her, BTW. And she had to give birth on a ship.
But no, her first concern is OH NOEZ MY ADOLESCENT HOT BOD!!!!
*empties out barf bucket, barfs again*
Oh, and the sex scenes are bad, too.
The throbbing vortex at her center drew Ashleigh spiraling upward until she felt herself teetering at the brink of something wonderful and unknown, and then she found it. Great, searing spasms of pleasure began to rock her very being, binding her mind and body in a cataclysm of sensation. Upward, far into the heavens she soared with it, giving herself to it completely, giving herself up to the man who took her there (290).
I think "soar" was a mandatory word in 1980s sex scenes.
His fingers went to the top of a silk stocking and he began to bare her leg, bending to plant feather-light kisses along the exposed flesh until the silk fell away and he was tasting the delicious curves of her toes, sucking on them, slipping between them with his tongue. The sensation was unlike any she'd ever felt. Her body tingled in a thousand places, but all joined to drive a burning message to the core of her femininity where she felt moisture gathering, making her ready for him (485).
Read: Toe-sucking gives you vaginal Howlers.
Oh, and you know how "magical hoohahs" are totally a trope? Ashleigh literally has one:
He drew her nipple into his mouth, right through the damp material, while his hand found her woman's place and slowly, inexorably, made it magic (493).
SHE LITERALLY HAS A MAGIC VAGINA.
Just in case you had any doubts that Brett loves Ashleigh for her "personality":
She lay there with her magnificent ebony tresses charmingly touseled, her rosy lips barely parted with quiet breathing, her creamy skin lightly flushed,looking for all the world like an elfin princess sent to show mortals how short of beauty's mark they fell (515).
Read: "Yeah, babe, I totally love you for your hot, thrusting, rosy personalities. All two of them!"
Also, terrible Italian accents written out phonetically FTW:
"Signore Capetti says he's-a weesh to-a see la duchessa piccola and-a da bambini on-a da beeg-a sheep. He's-a say he's-a alraddy examine da bambini on-a dees sheep, and-a dey varry good" (426).
I'm really annoyed, because this book made it sound like I was going to get a hot story about a depraved and debauched duke who lives a life of darkness and slowly falls in love with the woman he captured, the one who made his collection of women complete, according to the back jacket of my edition. But no, instead I get the regency equivalent of a man-child struggling to rectify his mommy issues by treating women like garbage, who lives by his madonna/whore complex like it's his own personal bible (and indeed, he even refers to Ashleigh as the madonna at one point, making this extra squicky). The book wants to be dark, but it also wants to be romantic and funny, so while this psychodrama is playing out, we have the comic relief/ex-whore Megan and her romance with Patrick, and two animals: a dog named Finn, and a pet pig named Lady Dimples, who is trained as a thespian and at one point wears women's clothes (and if you think that this pig in drag isn't, at one point, mistaken for a human woman, pull up a seat because you must be new here). The uneven tone, spinelessness of the heroine, and incredibly disturbing romance make this an icky, gross book that left me feeling like I'd rolled in a pool of gelatinous ooze. I seriously wanted to shower afterwards.
You're probably asking why I kept reading. Well, here's the thing about bad books. It can be like Alice in Wonderland: you want to go down that rabbit hole, you want to see how far down it goes. And sometimes, by the time you decide you no longer want to be party to the insane events happening down below, you find yourself unable to leave. That's what happened here. By the time I realized that this was a book without any sort of redeeming characteristics, I was nearly finished with it, and I decided to see this sucker to the end. At the very least, I thought, I could write a funny review for the book that would make others laugh while also showing my frustration with the book's characters and tropes. And you know what? I actually had a good time doing that. The book was so bad it was almost funny, and showcased so many problematic tropes about men who consider themselves "nice" but are actually anything but that it almost felt like a very dark satire (and maybe it was? who knows what was going on in the mind of the author). We've all seen men like Brett, who think women are garbage in order to protect themselves, because they have so many issues with autonomous, independent women, that misogyny becomes a protective shield behind which they cower from emotional intimacy and a fear of being hurt. Brett is the Everydouche.
💙 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.