If books were wine, BLACK ICE would be a sweet white; good at first, but man, does it not hold up well over time. I read BLACK ICE for the first time about three years ago. Several of my friends kept recommending the book to me, because they know I like dark/anti-heroes in my fiction, and I was really excited to hear that.
The antihero, Bastien Toussaint, is probably the book's saving grace. He's a compelling character, just as cold as the title would leave you to believe. His first sexual encounter with the heroine is a rape, and what's most chilling about it is how little emotion there is behind it. He doesn't care about anything, not even his own life (in fact, he's a little suicidal), and certainly not about some random woman.
When I first read the book, I didn't know what was going to happen, and I'd never encountered a romantic lead like Bastien before (this was before I started getting into bodice rippers, where pretty much all heroes are giant jerks). The hero and heroine were both on the run for their lives in France, chased by arms dealers, fighting the reluctant attraction between each other...it had the recipe for a brilliant story.
While my original rating of the book was a 4.5, I'm reducing it to 2 in this reread because there are some pretty big problems that I didn't notice in my initial read. Problem #1 is Chloe. She's annoying and wimpy and pretty much everything I do not like in a heroine. I tried to roll with it, because her life was in danger and she was pretty sheltered up to that point, but it's really hard to like a character who seems to have no spine and does nothing but stammer and cry and whine.
Problem #2 is the pacing. The beginning of this book is atmospheric and tense. Chloe ends up in a house with all these "grocers", working as a translator for the international and mixed group. But all of them appear to be hiding something and keep issuing sinister veiled threats, to the point where even Chloe begins to think something is wrong. Then she's tortured, and Bastien saves her because he feels sorry for her, and the two of them go on the run and argue about stupid things, like whether or not he finds her attractive and whether or not he's going to kill her. The pacing really sags in the middle and doesn't pick up again until the last 70 pages. When they do fall in love, it feels sudden, because up until that moment Chloe feared him & didn't trust him, and Bastien seemed intent on ending his own life. I don't think I noticed this the first time because I was so caught up in finding out how it would end, but during the reread it stuck out to me that this love comes out of nowhere.
It's weird that Anne Stuart authored both House of Rohan and the Ice series because the two stories could not be more different. I've read a few of her older historical works too, including a Gothic novel from the 70s and a Medieval romance she published in the 80s or 90s (I can't remember). She's incredibly versatile, which is to be lauded, but for some reason, her historical heroines tend to be much more likable, interesting, and strong than the heroines in her modern romances. I wonder why?
I'll probably give the Ice series a second try, because I heard books 2 and 3 were good, but I'd rather spend my money on House of Rohan right now, because House of Rohan is totally amazing.
If you want to give this book a go, though, it's only $2.99 on Kindle at the time of my posting this.
Reading GLASS HOUSES is a lot like watching a horror movie. The main character is an idiot, and all plot development in the story line requires that you suspend your disbelief about said idiocy. What makes it hard, though, is that Claire Danvers is branded as a "genius." She's sixteen - "sixteen and a half," she'll be quick to tell you - and yet, got accepted to Harvard, MIT, Yale, and all these other great schools, but her parents don't want her to be far from the house (dafuq), so they send her to a school that's a cross between a party school and a community college (I repeat, dafuq), in the middle of Morganville, Texas. "You can transfer, later," is the argument.
Claire immediately cheeses off one the "popular" girls, named Monica, who is basically a cross between Joffrey from Game of Thrones and Regina from Mean Girls. She's one of those "mean girls" who hangs out with a clique of her own (Claire calls them the Monickettes, which is just one example of her brilliance). She's also a studied psychopath who thinks it's perfectly okay to beat people up, attack them with beakers of acid, and then later set them on fire. You're probably wondering where the adults are in this book, because that's what I was wondering, but Claire (stupidly) lies to her parents and her friends about her safety, over and over, and a code of non-interference is built into the rules of Morganville, which is run by vampires, so no adults are ever going to look out for her safety.
Claire ends up staying with these "cool" "alternative" kids in a place called The Glass House, which is amusing for two reasons: 1) The Glass House (2001) is the name of a so-bad-it's-good horror thriller and 2) it is incredibly dated with what passes for cool. Not only is the "it's so lame to be smart" thing outdated, but Claire's new reject friends are a Goth, a musician, and a punk-ish tough guy. It's so early 2000s that it almost physically hurts, you guys. Her new friends tell her about how the town is run (by vampires) and this is arguably the most interesting aspect of the story, because I thought Caine did vampire politics in a relatively interesting way. The vampires own the city, and the cops. Important humans have Protection in the form of bracelets (basically: do not bite) and can carry over to family members, but like health insurance, expire when the wearer turns 18 (yet another reason this story is dated - thanks, Obamacare!). The best way to avoid being bitten is to stay off their radar, play by the rules, be home before curfew, and oh, yeah, don't invite them in.
That's actually another thing I liked about GLASS HOUSES: Caine uses traditional vampire lore. Garlic and crosses repel vampires. They can't be out in the sunlight unless they're very old or very powerful. They can't cross your threshold unless they've been invited in. They kill to feed. Make no mistake, these are the evil kinds of vampires that your mom grew up with, and honestly, my personal favorite kind. The world building was something I had absolutely zero problems with, and I kept thinking to myself what a shame it was that the main character was so freaking stupid.
I just couldn't get on board with Claire. Her friends were okay, but their dialogue was very wooden and they didn't have much in the way of personality, either. Even though it's written in the third person, there's a lot of annoying asides that are supposed to be Claire's "voice" and it's very annoying - more so, because never once does she display that "intelligence" that got her accepted into all those good universities. What's wrong with writing a female character who's intelligent and cunning? Why does she have to be a vapid, spineless victim who does nothing but remind people that she's almost seventeen, cry, get herself almost murdered by at least three different people, and cry some more? And she's so dumb. This is a character who could be around the corner from the guy with a chainsaw, and be all, "How delightful. A swarm full of friendly, happy bees have come to bring me honey! :D"
I'm a little afraid to pick up the next book, but I bought books 1 & 2 bundled so now I feel obligated. Rachel Caine, I thought you could do no wrong. Your Weather Wardens series is awesome. :(
THE RAVEN PRINCE was the Unapologetic Romance Readers' December book of the month pick, and I barely scraped by, finishing the book on December 29th. But I did scrape by, and am proud of it! I was initially excited that RAVEN PRINCE had run, because I really liked the other book I'd read in this trilogy, THE LEOPARD PRINCE, and this one was supposed to be even better.
Here's the thing about Elizabeth Hoyt - she's really hit and miss. When she's on her game, she hits balls out of the court left and right. She's written one of my favorite historical romances of all time (DUKE OF SIN). But man, when she's not on her game, the results are - in keeping with the sports metaphors - foul.
THE RAVEN PRINCE isn't a bad book. Most of the members in our buddy read really liked the book, and I did, too. But it isn't a prime example of Hoyt's works by any means and suffers from some major problems which I'm going to discuss.
***WARNING: MILD SPOILERS***
The plot is pretty simple. Anna Wren is a widow who is living in poverty with her mother-in-law, Mother Wren, and a loyal servant named Fanny. They're running out of money and on the cusp of making the terrible decision that no lady should make: starve in dignity like a lady or work like one of the peons? *rolls eyes* Luckily, Anna is able to secure a prestigious position as the local Earl's secretary, and he is none the wiser at first because she's hired by his man while he's on a trip. When he gets back, he admires her work before he learns of her sex (again, very luckily), and he decides to keep her on as a lark, and because she makes his naughty bits feel funny.
There's a bit of a Beauty and the Beast element to this book, because the Earl is terribly scarred all over because of small pox. I was wondering why this sounded so familiar, and then it occurred to me that I had read a book with the same trope earlier this month: Tessa Dare's THE DUCHESS DEAL, except in the case of the duke in that story, the result of the scarring was fire from explosives. Anna is attracted to the Earl but her late husband cheated on her, so she doesn't want to jump into anything with another man because she is so damaged emotionally. #notallmen
There's a side plot where Anna ends up making the acquaintance of two prostitutes named Cora and Pearl, and they end up owing an Anna a favor when she saves Pearl from dying in the road. Anna decides to go to this brothel named Aphrodite's Grotto because she knows that the Earl plans to go there and she wants to sleep with him incognito, by means of a mask. Cora makes arrangements and the Earl has THE BEST LOVINS EVAR ™, so he comes back several times, but Anna has second thoughts and ditches him on what is supposed to be the third night, bemoaning her virtue and her feelings. There's also another sideplot involving blackmail (and the woman who cheated with Anna's husband), and the Earl finds out who Anna is and offers her marriage (in anger, at first) - except he's engaged to another woman so first he has to call that off, and while he is, Anna is contacted by the blackmailer and runs away, and there's drama, but then everyone winds up happy, the end.
There were several reasons I didn't like this book as much as I should have. I don't generally like stories where the characters have sex with each other not knowing who the other is. It feels icky. There was only one book that I didn't mind that trope in, and that was a bodice-ripper; I expect those kinds of shenanigans from bodice rippers. The way Anna reacted afterwards just felt so convoluted, too. She was very emotionally vulnerable, but that disappeared whenever it was convenient to the plot, so she came across as undeveloped. Same with the Earl. Sometimes you read about characters who feel fully fleshed out and human, and you feel invested with them. These characters felt like little puppets moving around on a stage. I didn't feel invested in them at all.
Another trope this book employs that I don't like is the "I was barren until I ended up with the right man" trope. I tried to tell myself that maybe Anna wasn't barren, but her husband was - but then I remembered that her husband was cheating on her with another woman, and (it's heavily implied) got said OW with child. Of course Anna is only able to have children when she ends up with her true love. *rolls eyes* I don't know, something about this feels vaguely ableist, like it's sending the message to barren women, "Oh, you're just not trying hard enough" or "you're just not with the right person." It feels gross and manipulative, and I don't like this trope at all - but it's used a lot.
I did like the fact that Anna wasn't another virginal widow (another trope I hate), and her relationship with her mother-in-law was genuinely touching. All the secondary characters in this book are also excellent, like Hopple and his bumblebee and frog waistcoats, the cranky and mutinous Davis, Cora and Pearl (of course), and Mother Wren. They actually stole the show from the main characters, which is a problem. But the writing is good, and the garden scenes (there were several) are so magical that they reminded me of the reveal in THE SECRET GARDEN, and there were some pretty steamy moments in THE RAVEN PRINCE, so I guess I can't fault it **too** much.
The movie adaptation of this comic book series came out during my second year of college. I went to go see it with friends and we were totally blown away because everything was so "scene" that it literally hurt, and also all the video game and anime callbacks, plus the fact that it was kind of like a Jackie Chan movie as done by Judd Apatow. My twenty-year-old brain was blown away by the awesome, and it never occurred to me to question the fact that this book puts "slacker" culture on a pedestal, features an unrepentant manchild as a protagonist, and has a twenty-three-year-old who's in a relationship with a seventeen-year-old. Ew.
My brother recently lent me this to read, since I'd never actually read the graphic novel, and I was pleasantly surprised by how closely the movie follows this installment at least. Twenty-eight-year-old me is far less impressed with Scott. He's actually a creep. The kind who sends creepy messages about dating on non-dating sites, talking about "connections." I didn't like how he free-loaded off his roommate, Wallace. I didn't like how he basically trashed his band's effort because he didn't want to look like he was too involved, thereby risking rejection and loss of face. I didn't like that he was dating a high school girl, and I didn't like that he cheated on said high school girl, seeming to argue that because their relationship wasn't sexual, he couldn't actually cheat on her. I didn't like how he stalked Ramona at the party, and then, when he found out where she worked and that she was the primary Amazon delivery driver in the area, orders something online, thereby forcing her to come to his door, and then asks her out - while she's on the clock - and not signing for the dang package until she agrees to go out with him. Scott Pilgrim is the absolute worst kind of over-entitled male, the kind that people write books about, and I was surprised at how much I could not stand him.
That said, all the other characters in this book are great. I liked the band mates. Knives Chau was cute. Ramona is cool (albeit in a manic pixie dreamgirl way). Wallace is awesome. The surreal, video game/kung-fu movie atmosphere is still present in the comic books and I liked that air of magic realism. The book, like the movie, is also so "scene" that it hurts, although since the book was published in 2004, it comes across as far more dated. For example, Scott refers to Amazon as "that book selling website." Amazon used to only sell books and CDs before becoming the mega-online retailer behemoth that they are today. There are a few other dated references like that that kind of made me smile a little, even though they feel so jarring (I'm getting old! oh noes!).
Scott is not an ideal male by any means, but the art and the story are compelling regardless. Even if you don't like Scott, the story itself is pretty cool, as is the medium in which it's told. He won't be winning Man of the Year any time soon, but I would definitely read the other books in this sceries.
The prospect of a romance between a Seminole war chief and a half-black slave seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, despite that terrible, terrible cover. (Seriously, what is that girl wearing? And I'm pretty sure that those are belt-loops that I spy on the man's pants. Anachronistic, much?) But despite its solid start, SEMINOLE SONG really fell flat for me in the second half.
Calida is the slave of a man named Reddin Croon. Well, his wife's, actually, although that doesn't keep him from "borrowing" her. Reddin has a really creepy sexual obsession with Calida and whenever his wife goes out of town, he rapes her. The wife has been suspecting this was going on and one day she catches them in the act and threatens to tell her father (who owns the plantation). Reddin loses control & kills his life, and suggests that he might implicate Calida and cut out her tongue so she can't talk.
Calida flees and ends up in the Everglades with a man named Panther. Panther has encountered Reddin before, for various reasons. He's also familiar with slaves because a lot of the runaways seek asylum with the Seminole tribe. Panther's best friend is an escaped slave from Reddin's own plantation named Gaitor, and the Other Woman, Winter Rain, is half-Seminole, half-black.
Reddin realizes that the death of his wife is a major problem. His father in law, Isiah, comes down to micromanage things, and Reddin has to convince him that his daughter was killed by Seminoles (and he kills a few more slaves in order to keep them quiet). Reddin ends up waging a major war against the Seminoles, getting the military involved, all because he wants to punish the Seminoles for harboring Calida and get her back so he can have sex with her without the inconvenience of his wife.
I didn't really like the relationship between Panther and Calida. Panther was interesting but didn't have a lot of depth. He felt like a Marty-Stu character. Calida really annoyed me. Most of her dialogue was "No! No!" and crying. She was constantly running into danger, falling for just about every trap that came her way. This felt like an excuse to introduce Reddin Croon back into the narrative and show what a creepy pervert he was. She was also fetishized by Croon, who was super pleased that she has a "white lady's mouth" and described her as "high yellow." Ugh.
Three things I did like about this book:
1) The love interest was full Seminole. So many classic romance novels about Native Americans have the hero being "half-white." There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but it happens so frequently in romances that it does kind of feel like a cultural cop-out.
2) Winter Rain, the OW, isn't a bitch. She loves Panther and resents Calida, obviously, but she isn't catty about it. After reading THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, which featured the Queen Mother of shrewish, antagonistic romantic rivals, I really appreciated that.
3) The heroine is hesitant about having sex with the hero despite being attracted to him because of the rape. He is very nice about it, and doesn't force her at all; he waits for her to come to him.
Despite those benefits, I didn't really like SEMINOLE SONG. The premise ran too thin too quickly, and I didn't identify with any of the characters. Reddin Croon is a rapist creep, I get it! Panther is a dreamboat, okay! Calida is really, really good-looking! Give me some dimension. Give me some depth.
I was looking at the premises for some of the author's other books, though, and some of them seem intriguing (there's one about the Donner party!), so I might give her books another shot at some point.
P.S. This book flings the N-word around like rice at a wedding, so if that is something that upsets or offends you, take heed.
P.P.S. While we're on the subject of Native American romances, does anyone know of any good Choctaw romances? I'm of Choctaw descent, so it would be cool to see a romance novel about that group. :)