I have had issues with my weight and body image for close to ten years now. In fact, just the other day, I found myself staring at a BMI chart and thinking about how so many of our beauty standards are utterly subjective. Knowing how ridiculous these measurements are does nothing to ease the bad feelings in most cases, either; our ideas about body image are so ingrained in our society that many of us will swallow them without a thought.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was written by Whitney Way Thore, who is apparently on a show called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. I haven't seen the show, but I was interested in the memoir because I think body positivity is important. Ever since Tess Holliday received her controversial modeling contract, body positivity and image are starting to get more focus in the media. But a lot of people don't seem to fully comprehend what it entails.
"Love yourself," the media says, "but only if you have a body worth loving!"
This memoir starts from Thore's childhood and continues to the present day. She discusses the diet her mother put her on at a doctor's urging because she was a pound heavier than the average ten-year-old should be. She talks about the eating disorder she developed to be "normal-sized" & the cycles of starvation, excessive exercise, and purging she got into in order to maintain her size. She relates stories from her dating life, and points out the differences between body positive men and men who fetishize fat. She also talks about her rise to fame after one of her Fat Girl Dancing videos went rival, and how - even after this long and arduous journey - she is still insulted on a daily basis about her weight and appearance.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was a difficult read for me - partially because I could relate to the weight struggles in some ways, and partially because her experiences were so painful that I really just felt awful for her. Her parents' seeming attempts to deal with their own issues by projecting them onto her was terrible. Her trip to Korea, which should have been a fun experience, resulted in tons of insults and gawking and humiliation. And the men she encountered on various dating sites, who treated her like she was worth about as much respect as a plus-sized blow-up doll, were sickening.
On that note, I think it's an important read precisely because it's so uncomfortable. Thore forces you to think about why fat is viewed as such a bad thing, and how many of the "standards" we set for weight are really just lose/lose scenarios, because it's a rigged game from the start. The opening chapter is a little rocky because it starts out with Thore publicly calling one of her trolls on the carpet, but by the end of the book, you will definitely feel like her annoyance is more than justified. Her attempts to stay healthy despite a diagnosis of PCOS are admirable, and her dancing is incredible. She really doesn't fit society's stereotype of a "fat girl" and if you ask me, that's a damn good thing.
Short story collections are the literary equivalent of a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. On the one hand, they allow an author to be more experimental and the reader to "sample" the author's work. On the other hand, sometimes things get too crazy and you end up with the "coconut nougat" story.
Shadow Selves - ☆☆☆☆☆
MIDDLE-AGED BOYS & GIRLS starts out strong with Shadow Selves a story about a thin woman who is uncomfortable about her heavier friend, because her friend feels at ease in her body in a way that she, the main character, does not. Shadow Shelves really captures the love-hate dynamic of some friendships, and the importance of loving yourself first before letting others in.
Verdict: hazelnut truffle
Prey - ☆☆
Odd, kind of boring story about a conman, two women, and Poland.
Verdict: milk chocolate
Dirty Laundry- ☆☆☆☆
This is a creepy story about a landlord couple renting out a room to a sexy, younger woman. The husband is a little flighty, and the wife has a bit of a sinister vibe. As you can imagine, things end badly, and the words "sexual harassment" rear their ugly head in a lawsuit. The writing in this story was reminiscent of Ira Levin's work. It has that same slow build-up of doom amidst normality.
Verdict: white chocolate citrus
Valentine - ☆☆☆
This story is about a medical illustrator divorcee. One day, she realizes that her awkward, asexual preteen daughter has used the family computer for what looks like nudes. I liked this story, but it was very odd - and I felt like the connection between actual hearts and valentines was strained.
Verdict: cherry cordial
Thick - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about an aging model who is slowly starting to realize how much of a free ride her beauty really gave her, even when she tried to rally against it. After reading I DO IT IN THE DARK, it felt especially relevant; the model's realization that she could only really get away with being flip and uncaring when she had nothing to lose was really powerful. Definitely another favorite.
Verdict: honey crunch
New Ground - ☆☆
Weird story about a husband and wife splitting up. The wife attempts to gain solace by latching on to the super smooth leader of her neighborhood dog-walking group.
Salvation - ☆☆☆☆
Another strange addition, but one I actually liked. The main character is a volunteer working with children who are in danger of becoming bullies or bullied themselves. She attempts to bribe them for good behavior by drawing their portraits, while also reflecting on how easy it is sometimes to bully someone with an accurate (but cruel) caricature of themselves.
Verdict: dark chocolate
The Girl Next Door - ☆☆☆☆
How would you react if you found out one of your neighbors killed and dismembered a young girl? The main character in this story is becoming neurotic, aware of the hostility in their neighborhood, and the negativity her minority single mother status garners as a matter of principle.
Verdict: dark chocolate truffle
Memory Loss - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about a mother and a father and a son. The father races motorbikes, which the mother doesn't like because of how dangerous it is. It becomes a point of contention between the couple - one that they end up dragging their young son into. And then one day the father gets into an accident. I see that I gave this a five star rating in my notes. I'm not sure if I still agree with that sentiment, but it was a really good story, with the same creepy Ira Levin vibe, so five stars it is!
Lord of the Manor - ☆☆☆☆
Another story about landlords, but this time the main characters are the ones who are renting. They find out that their landlord is thinking of selling their lovely home without any consideration for their five-year lease, and one of their jokes turns into a very real idea for potential sabotage.
Verdict: strawberry creme
Dissolution - ☆☆☆
I think this is the most depressing story of the lot. The main character - a woman - is teaching yoga to some high risk girls. But as the story goes on, you quickly learn that she's somewhat of a pederast and has more than strictly platonic feelings for her teenage students (ick!). There are some seriously squicky flashbacks in here, as well as an uncomfortable vibe and a seriously downer ending.
Verdict: sea salt caramel
Doughnut Eaters - ☆
A Canadian expat family living in German, with an absolute jerk of a father. The title comes from his choice insult for men he considers both useless and foppish. What a charmer, am I right?
Overall opinion? Not bad. Definitely one of the better short story collections I've read.
Female antiheroes have been around for a while but Gillian Flynn made them popular - if you look at the blurb for this book, you'll see that it's compared to both WE WERE LIARS and GONE GIRL - and now this trend is extending to YA. Normally comparisons like this make me cringe because they tend to be wildly inaccurate, but in this case there is some foundation for the GONE GIRL comparison. The protagonist of BEWARE THAT GIRL is calculating, and willing to do anything to get ahead.
Kate O'Brian grew up in terrible conditions. She had to claw herself out of the gutter to get where she is now: an elite NYC school for the rich and successful. Kate knows that if she's going to succeed, she needs to get herself a meal ticket: one that comes in the form of the popular but troubled golden girl, Olivia Sumner.
A problem presents itself in the form of the new head of fundraising, Mark Redkin, a sexy, charming man who instantly wins the hearts of female students and faculty. He has a sinister side that nobody but Kate seems to register, and when he turns the full force of his attention onto Olivia, he threatens to compromise everything she's accomplished and reveal the dark secrets of her past that she's tried so hard to hide.
The plot of this book kind of reminded me of a sexed-up version of the Losing Christinaseries by Caroline B. Cooney. Losing Christina was about a sinister private school on the east coast where two members of the faculty - a principal and teacher who were also husband and wife - got off on psychologically breaking their students. It's really interesting to see how YA is changing; authors are less afraid to be edgy and controversial. The genre is growing up and getting a taste for big girl pants.
I liked BEWARE THAT GIRL. The promised twist at the end wasn't really all that shocking, but the build-up of tension and the atmosphere of dread and suspense was well done. I kept having to remind myself that this was being marketed as YA because it seemed way too dark to be a book for teenagers. Anyone who enjoys dark tales about girls gone wild will enjoy this book.
Lisa Kleypas's Gamblers series was what got me into romance. I used to avoid the genre at all costs until some friends held a sort of mini-intervention and gave me a list of good historical romance authors to check out. I took to the genre like a moth to light - and Lisa Kleypas was, by far, one of my favorites.
Which is why it kills me to give this a low rating.
Julia Hargate and Damon Savage were engaged as children at the insistence of their overly involved and aggressive parents. What their parents didn't count on, however, was the fact that both their stubborn and spirited children would rebel against the match. Julia, in particular, decided to take to the stage and became a talented and highly celebrated actress, under the name (Mrs.) Jessica Wentworth.
I'm a huge fan of the mistaken identity/secret identity trope, so I was delighted when Damon and Julia feel an instant attraction in the prologue, despite neither of them knowing the other's identity. When Julia encounters him again several years later, she realizes that Damon is her husband, Lord Savage, and attempts to avoid him at all costs, while Damon, on the other hand, is oblivious, remembering her only as the girl he met at a May Day celebration several years ago.
Kleypas's secondary characters are usually highly developed, but I felt that the characters in SOMEWHERE I'LL FIND YOU - with the exception of Julia's parents - were one-dimensional. Alyssa, Julia's friend, is a terrible person, and in the second half of the book indirectly causes her friend to almost be raped. Pauline, the mistress, is a hyper-sexualized woman whose sole purpose seems to be to showcase Julia's purity and goodness. William, Damon's brother, jerks women around like toys on a string.
And Damon -
Until the second half of the book, I actually liked him quite a bit. The sex scenes were steamy, and there was a lot of attraction between Damon and Julia. But then Damon becomes really, really possessive in a really, really uncomfortable way. Julia is almost raped - twice - by two "lords" who claim to be fans of hers, and saved - both times - by Damon, who tells her during the second time that it's basically her fault for almost being raped because she's an actress.
Damon then forces himself on her - twice. The first time, Julia cries during and then convinces herself that she wants it. The second time, after Damon finds out that Julia wants to marry her theater director, Logan Scott, he hires two men to abduct her and then tries to rape her while she's crying. After they have sex, Julia tells him that she enjoys being abducted(!) and cancels her engagement to Scott and agrees to marry Damon instead.
The pretext for their "we mustn't be together" dilemma is that Julia doesn't want to leave the stage, and Damon is trying to force her to. Julia also doesn't want to be forced into a marriage she isn't even sure she wants, since she hadn't exactly agreed to it in the first place. Damon keeps saying that he loves her, but everything that he does says otherwise. And while I'm a fan of alphahole heroes as much as the next girl, I really don't like it when their bad actions are rationalized as "being driven mad by love" because that isn't love.
Lisa Kleypas is a wonderful historical romance, and I highly recommend her Gamblers series to anyone who's looking for a sexy, clever, and slightly angsty romance series to sink their teeth into. I can't say the same thing about the Capital Theatre series - at least not yet. Maybe the next series will be better...although if it's about Savage's brother, William, it might also be worse.
Get ready to clutch your pearls, because this tawdry piece of history is something you didn't learn in high school. SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, in case its title wasn't warning enough, is about prostitution in turn-of-the-century Chicago, specifically the Everleigh Club, which was a brothel run by two gently-bred sisters, Minna and Aida Everleigh.
One of the criticisms of this book is that the author, Karen Abbott, takes a lot of liberties with the narrative. It reads like one of those trashy but epic sagas from the 1970s, with its purple prose, sensationlist writing, and scandalous content. I personally like those kinds of novels, so that was pure heaven for me and kept the tone from being too dry (something I hate when reading nonfiction, because it makes me feel like I'm being lectured at, and then I get bored and inevitably lose interest), but if that is a peeve for you, then yes, you will probably not like this book.
The saga spun these pages is too complicated to recollect completely, but the gist is that the Everleigh Club was the best place to go if you wanted to sleep with a woman who was not your wife. Minna and Aida wanted to be the best damn madams in Chicago, and they were willing to spend money to do this. They hired doctors to check out the girls and make sure they were healthy and free of disease; they fed the girls and the guests well, with totally sumptuous feasts that made me drool a little just from the description; and the decor was, literally, out of this world - think fountains that gush scented oil, and entire rooms done completely in gold leaf, with a gold piano, to boot!
Also of note is a prostitute from China named Suzy Poon Tang (apparently where the slang "poon tang" comes from) who was so good at her job, that she ended up getting married to one of her clients after just a few sessions of working at the Everleigh Club. There was also some brouhaha when a black boxer, Jack Johnson, wanted to come into the club. Because segregation was still active at this time, the sisters were highly reluctant, but his manager basically forced them into relenting; it worked out, though - he was hot, the prostitutes - "butterflies," they were called in Everleigh - adored him, everybody had a great time, and segregation got to suck it...literally (one would assume).
You can probably guess how the story ends. People in power decided that vice was becoming too unpopular and they began systematically cracking down on pleasure houses as tales of "white slavery" (read: middle or upper-middle-class girls getting tricked into the sex industry by mustache-twirling con-artists) began saturating the papers, and putting fear into decent folk. Everleigh Club was one of the last to go, and signified the downfall of an era. Some of the names in here you will probably recognize, because when some of the bigwigs lost their hand at prostitution, they turned their attentions to the big, booming industry of crime started by Al Capone and Jim Colosimo.
SIN IN THE SECOND CITY was a fun book to carry around with me in public. I had a lot of people ask me what it was about, and their reactions were quite priceless in some cases. I enjoyed learning more about an era that I didn't really know much about before this, and it was cool to learn where the phrase "poon tang" actually came from. I do feel like the book was longer than it needed to be, especially towards the end, it felt like the content was being stretched thin. But if you like history, and if you like trashy historical romance novels, you and this book will get on like a house on fire.
Sometimes you read a book that makes you feel as though your insides have turned to sunshine and glitter. You read over passages and, no matter how curmudgeonly you are, find yourself smiling. As you reach the climax of the book, a joy swells within you at being able to partake of such love, even if it's completely vicarious, because you want that for yourself.
A MATTER OF CLASS is that book.
Reginald is the rakish son of a coal merchant who became part of the nouveau riche through hard work and good business decisions. He burns though cash like a flame, and has a gambling habit to boot. Annabelle is the daughter of nobility, well known for her incredible beauty, but after being caught in a compromising position with a carriage man all her beaux have withdrawn their proposals, leaving her in a most sorry state.
Upon finding out about Annabelle's disgrace, Reginald's father, Mr. Mason practically runs over to Lord Havercroft's house to offer a solution that he feels will benefit both sides. He will marry his son to Annabelle for her title in exchange for a sizable dowry and redemption from a fall from grace.
It seems to be hate at first sight. Reginald and Annabelle bicker continuously and it is immensely entertaining. Many of those smiles I referred to in the beginning of this review came from their back-chat. I am a sucker for witty banter, and this book did not disappoint. The sexual tension is off the charts here, too, and a couple scenes - surprisingly chaste considering what happens in many romance novels these days - had me reaching for a nonexistant fan.
I think what I liked best about this book were the characters, though. Reginald/Reggie and Annabelle/Anna were wonderful. The more I read about them, the more I liked them, to the point that by the end of the book, I was utterly smitten. I loved their families, too, especially the mothers of the hero and the heroine. They were so sweet. Even the fathers, despite their shortcomings - pride and greed, you could say - loved their children, and as we see at the end, were willing to sacrifice their own ambitions in order to make their children happy. This is a romance novel that is completely, and unashamedly about love, in its many forms, and it was an absolute delight to read.
A MATTER OF CLASS was my first Mary Balogh book - but it won't be the last.
Like so many others, Lisa Kleypas was my "gateway drug" into the historical romance genre. I loved her Gamblers series, and then her Wallflowers series. Then she took a hiatus from historical romance, working on her contemporary series, Friday Harbor and the Travises. When she started writing historical romance again, I was so excited. But then the reviews for the first book in her new Ravenels series started coming in...and they were less than stellar.
I put off reading COLD-HEARTED RAKE for a while, but because I love Lisa Kleypas I wanted to give it a try. My tastes often don't align with what's popular, and Kleypas is such a great writer, that it really is shocking for me when I read something of hers that I don't like because it's such a rare occurrence. She's that good.
COLD-HEARTED RAKE features Kathleen, Lady Trenear, newly widowed after her husband, Theo Ravenel fell from an unbroken horse while drunk. His cousin, Devon Ravenel, inherits the estate upon Theo's passing, and he is less than pleased with the estate's conditions and debts. He intends to sell it piecemeal, and kick out its tenants, including Kathleen and his sisters, Helen, Cassandra, and Pandora.
The book starts out fairly well. I'm a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, and Kathleen had good reason to dislike Devon because of his callous insensitivity and utter selfishness. The trouble is, he warms to her and changes his ways far too quickly, to the point where it seems unrealistic, almost to the point of being a near-overnight transformation. I also felt like there was some indecision about how Kleypas wanted Devon to be characterized. He isn't exactly a cold-hearted rake - he's far too easily manipulated and too quick to feel guilt - but at the same time, he isn't a beta hero either, since he uses his sexual wiles to overpower the heroine and ignores several "nos" said on her part.
Also, the virgin widow trope is a peeve of mine, and I wasn't pleased to see it here.
Some have complained that the secondary romance between Helen and Winterbourne (it's not really a spoiler since, I mean, come on - the summary of the next book) overpowered the plot, and while this wasn't exactly the case, it did feel a bit like filler, especially in the latter half of the book. I've never read a Kleypas book where the secondary romance featured so prominently - usually it remained in the background, so as not to diminish the main story line. Winterbourne was kind of an ass, too.
I did like the descriptions of renovation, the interactions with the tenants and servants, and the witty banter (especially when done in epistolary form at the beginning of the book). I was torn on Cassandra and Pandora - they acted way younger than 19, and were so self-centered that sometimes I really didn't like them, although they had some great dialogue, too. The introduction of a pig as a pet was an interesting touch, but I didn't really find him comical, as he was undoubtedly intended to be. The beginning of COLD-HEARTED RAKE was much better than the end, which felt disorganized and kind of landed all over the place in terms of plot. This isn't her best, but it isn't her worst, either.
Even though this is a positive review, it is going to be filled with caveats, because as much as I enjoyed the story I acknowledge that there are problematic elements in it that are bound to upset a significant amount of people - hell, they upset me. On that note, I am also writing this review from the perspective of someone who is able-bodied, so I know that I haven't the hope of fully understanding what it's like to live with paraplegia, which hopefully won't cause this review to be drowned in privilege.
I'm always leery about books like these, books that soar up the best-seller charts to be made into popular movies. I rarely end up liking them, which is why I avoided ME BEFORE YOU for as long as I did. It seemed like an ill-fated match. I'm still smarting from ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. But then the film came out, and it had a whole bunch of great people in it, and I thought to myself, "Well, if Daenerys Targaryen, Neville Longbottom, and Finnick Odair are in it, it couldn't possibly be bad!"
...and it wasn't.
***Warning: big spoilers***
ME BEFORE YOU is kind of like a cross between FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. You have a twenty-six-year-old girl who acts and dresses like she's still in high school, who has a horrible (horrible!) family, can't hold down a decent job, and has absolutely zero hobbies and interests beyond dressing like she's got a terrible Modcloth addiction. The hero is a multi-millionaire business tycoon who now has paraplegia, and isn't coping very well. In fact, he has terrible depression and can't quite come to terms with the fact that he won't be "himself" again.
Louisa Clark, the heroine, ends up as a caretaker for Will Traynor, the hero, due to a series of events. She loses her coffee shop job, and her family is poor - and since her dad's about to get laid off and her selfish sister wants to go back to school (but not pay for it herself), it's up to Louisa to pay for everything. I think it says something about her character that she whines about not being able to go back to work at another coffee shop and then fixates on whether she'll have to wipe his bottom or not.
Once she gets past his fearsome mother, she finally gets to meet Will, who has turned himself into a brooding portrait of nineteenth-century tragedy. He even screams at her when the first meet, just to mess with her, like he's channeling Mrs. Rochester from JANE EYRE. He never leaves the house, has isolated himself from his friends and family, and has turned into a very bitter and unpleasant person.
But eventually, Lou starts to see the good in Will. She appreciates his wit and his philosophy, and starts trying to find ways to make him happy. Then she overhears a family argument and learns that Will has plans to kill himself at Dignitas. He's given his family a six-month deadline before he puts this awful plan into action, and Louisa realizes that she's essentially been hired on as "suicide watch" without being warned about this at all. Her job isn't to care for him, it's to keep him from trying to kill himself before he's supposed to, and to change his mind for him if she can.
Even though I enjoyed this book, I did have some problems with it, as I mentioned before. They can be summed up thusly:
1. While I honestly believe that the author's attempts were good, this is first and foremost a sob story. Accurate representation kind of takes a backseat here. There are some uncomfortable passages with people saying terrible things and making terrible assumptions about people who use wheelchairs that just aren't true - at least not all of the time, and not for all people (they can go to theme parks, for example, and there are rides that are wheelchair-accessible). Also, I took issue with the fact that people with paraplegia are referred to as "paraplegics" and "quads" - you aren't supposed to refer to people by their disability, because that means that you're defining them by their disability. A huge no-no.
2. Louisa's family was horrible. Her father joked about how fat she was, her sister was a selfish, incredibly insensitive brat, and I hated her mother for threatening to kick Louisa out of the house if she accompanied Will to Dignitas. I didn't really care for Louisa much, either, to be honest. At least not at first. She grew on me a bit towards the end of the story, but for most of the beginning, I thought her sarcasm was mean-spirited and couldn't stand her childishness. It was exhausting, not cute.
3. The way suicide was dealt with in this book felt very thorny. Like I said, I don't understand what it's like to be in Will's position, but I was surprised that he didn't seem to be seeing a therapist, in a support group, or taking antidepressants (at least, not that I remember?). His family allowed him to be isolated, which seems like absolutely the worst possible thing for someone who is having suicidal ideation and has already attempted to kill themselves before. I also didn't like how a number of the characters seemed to think it made total sense for Will to want to die after his accident. I can imagine the grief, and the difficulty adapting, but it was upsetting to see the characters agree that having a disability seemed to make wanting to die a totally acceptable, understandable thing to do.
4. The ending. You probably know how it ends already, but if you don't, I won't spoil it for you. But it did upset me, and thank God I'd read the spoilers before reading the book, because if I hadn't - if it had taken me off guard - I think I might have thrown the book across the room in a fit of rage and given it a much lower rating than I did. I just couldn't understand why what happened had to happen. It felt a lot like spitting into the eye of love. It's so rare when you find a romance where the characters have genuine, actual rapport, and to see what happened happen...was very, very upsetting.
I'm giving this book four stars because the story was well told, and the character development is good. Louisa grows from a selfish brat into a person who is capable of being mature and thinking of others before herself and taking risks. Is it annoying that a man changes her? Yes. But it's often the people we love who cause us to change, because they see the flaws in us, and love us in spite of them but also inspire us to want to better ourselves, too (yet another reason why I hated the ending - what happened did not feel like love). The pacing is good and the dialogue feels natural, and it's got such a gorgeous setting that makes the whole story feel larger-than-life.
ME BEFORE YOU is a problematic book, but I think those problems will inspire good discussions about representation, disability, depression, and love. There are a lot of great articles about ME BEFORE YOU, both in praise and in condemnation of it, and both are worth reading. I do wish the author had made different choices, but at the end of the day, it was a pretty good story, so you might as well jump on the bandwagon and see for yourself what the fuss is about.
I've been wanting to read this standalone by Lisa Kleypas for a while now. One, it's a standalone, so I don't have to worry about acquiring the rest of the must-have series; and two, it's about a heroine who is a writer and a hero who is a publisher, and there's plenty of delightful book chatter, which I love.
I finally finished the book today (weekend!), and it was a solid addition to Kleypas's already considerable repertoire. Set in the very last year of the regency era (1836), SUDDENLY YOU starts off with Amanda Briars, who is not very happy about being single, alone, and thirty (although not necessarily in that order). Her unusual profession, a litany of family sorrows, and unfashionable figure have prevented her from landing a match the way her sisters have, so when we first meet her she is consulting a madam in a brothel about having a male prostitute delivered to her house for her thirtieth birthday. At the last moment, she decides to renege, little knowing that the surprised man who greets her on her porch that day is anything but a prostitute.
Jack Devlin is probably one of the better romance heroes I've read this year. He's the alpha hero done correctly - strong, capable, possessive, and charming, but not psychotic, and willing to yield to the heroine, ask for consent, and give her space when necessarily. The romantic scenes between Amanda and Jack were awesome...although incredibly numerous. My friend sraxe pointed out that the last half of the book actually got a little boring because there was so much sex crammed into it, and I agree; SUDDENLY YOU has way more sex in it than any other Kleypas book I've read to date.
And as much as I wanted to like Amanda's character, her constant put-downs of herself were wearing after a while. It made me sad, because some people are that insecure, and I liked how the love of a good man just didn't instantly fix that and make her think that she was a love goddess, but it was annoying to read about nonstop about how Amanda thought she was too heavy and too short, over and over. I also didn't like how she reacted to a traumatic event at the end. Said traumatic event was thrown in without warning towards the end of the book and seemed like a last-ditch attempt for drama. Amanda reacts in an insecure fashion, and puts Jack through the emotional wringer.
SUDDENLY YOU is still a decent read, though. The book chatter was wonderful, and I almost wish that some of the sex scenes had been cut out to expand on the glittering Regency publishing world. There were so many interesting characters in SUDDENLY who were introduced only fleetingly. That said, Jack was awesome, and probably this book's saving grace. If you enjoy books about books, older heroines, and kind alphas, you will probably enjoy SUDDENLY - especially if you like erotica, too.
I'm supposed to be working on a major assignment right now that's due tomorrow and then going to bed, because I have to wake up at 3:00AM for an overnight shift at work, but I haven't done any of that because I've been too busy reading this book.
THE HIDDEN BLADE is a genre-defying novel, which is the only explanation I can comprehend for why this only has 600 ratings instead of 6,000. BLADE is being tagged as a romance, but the love in this book isn't romantic - it's so much deeper than that. It's also published by a publishing house that gears towards an adult audience, but the two main characters in this book are both teenagers throughout the full course of the novel.
If you think that either of those things means that this book is deceptive or boring, however, you have another think coming.
Ying-ying is the only daughter of a beautiful Chinese courtesan. She and her mother are kept by Fu-ren's consort, Da-ren. Ying-ying is raised by her Amah, and kept out of sight. One night, however, she finds her Amah coming back from a strange midnight excursion, all drenched in blood. Amah tells her that she is part of a secret society, and that she has been thinking of indoctrinating Ying-ying into it for years. On pain of death, she makes Ying-ying bow to her and swear fealty before beginning her martial arts/chi-based training in earnest.
Leighton, on the other hand, is the oldest son of a rather odd family. His father is gay, and occasionally his lover, Herb, whom Leighton gets along with well, comes to visit. Leighton's mother is complicit in this arrangement, with the understanding that she will be able to have her own lovers, as well. And she does - she has a man in San Francisco who is the father of Leighton's half-brother.
This arrangement is disrupted when his Uncle, Sir Curtis, comes into the picture and threatens to put Leighton's father into an asylum and his father's lover, Herb, in prison for homosexuality. His father commits suicide, and Sir Curtis takes great pleasure in blackmailing his mother and Herb to leave, thereby seizing full custody of Leighton and effectively making him prisoner in his own estate.
The story alternates between Ying-ying and Leighton's POVs, and both made my heart ache. Ying-ying struggles to deal with the problems her interracial heritage and strange beauty bring to her, the tragedy of slowly losing her mother to tuberculosis, and her increasingly difficult training. Leighton finds that caring about people can be a great weakness, as it gives others leverage to use over you. Knowing that his Uncle will hurt others if he tries to escape, he plots a very intelligent and elaborate plan to flee the country and meet up with Herb, who has fled to China to escape being jailed.
THE HIDDEN BLADE is a beautiful story. It's been a while since I read a tale that was so epic and broad in scope. The secondary characters were amazing - good or bad, they all made me feel something. The women were especially well done. All of them were strong and clever in their own way, and exhibited full autonomy. Lady Atwood, Amah, Ying-ying, and Fu-ren were my favorites. Don't let the lack of romance dissuade you from reading this book. It is exceptional. I'm already trying to figure out how I can get my hands on MY DEAREST ENEMY as quickly as possible.
LORD OF SCOUNDRELS has been on my to-read list for five years, so I was delighted when it was selected as the book of the month for the Unapologetic Romance Readers monthly read. One of my favorite romance pairings is the no-nonsense shrew with the duke of slut. I was expecting something along the lines of Anne Stuart's RUTHLESS or Elizabeth Hoyt's DUKE OF SIN. Until about 30% of the book, I got exactly what I bargained for. Jess is a spinster considered by many to be a bluestocking who is firmly on the shelf. Sebastian, Marquess of Dain, is a half-Italian man of unconventional appearance who has been shamed since childhood on account of his large nose and flighty mother who ditched him as a young boy to go live with another man.
Dain is used to purchasing the affections of women with coin, and sees many of them as opportunistic whores (and says as much, projecting many of his mother issues onto the females in his acquaintance). He is also used to controlling others through fear, intimidation, and - of course - money, and has made a name for himself with these horribly improper behaviors. Which is why it's so funny, then, when he finds himself completely blindsided by Jess, who bamboozles him with her sharp tongue and irrefutable logic, as well as her beauty and her inherent goodness.
Then around 34%, she shoots him...to save face, I think, and allow the two of them to wed. I forget why. It was very strange. But anyway, to the shock of the ton, the two of them are married and that's when things fall apart because there's no longer any will they/won't they, no, it becomes a question of when. Within the context of their marriage, the witty banter of the first segment gives way to petty arguments, sulking, and slut-shaming, which is unfortunate because it's made clear from the very beginning that Jess is a force to be reckoned with and I didn't see the need for her to drag other women down. Dain, by contrast, becomes a sulky child who pouts and throws fits when he doesn't get his way. This is a far cry from the imposing, dangerous figure he's presented as from the beginning, and while I appreciated the author's attempts to make him vulnerable, it didn't really pan out. I think she could have conveyed his fragile emotional state without making him such a shit. Some of the things he said about his own son were just totally repulsive.
Also, the sex scenes were not noteworthy. There's the typical jack-in-the-box peen action, where the peen springs out of trousers like a wind-up toy, and talk of feminine curves and sleek curls, but there's also a few retroly bizarro lines like this: He trailed his tongue over one sleek eyebrow (67%). Which is very strange, although not quite as strange as the "arousing" eyelid-licking scene in FOREVER AND THE NIGHT. It's worth noting that both of these books also have a very odd scene about desperately having to go to the bathroom and also desperately needing to talk about it, as at one point, Dain tells Jess that sex will have to wait because he needs to drain the main vein: "I can't wait around to pick you up. My bladder is about to explode" (65%). Thanks for sharing.
I'm very disappointed not to have liked this more, because many of my friends raved about LORD OF SCOUNDRELS and it's on all the romance lists of note and I'd been lusting after this book (and that cover) for years, desperately hoping that it would live up to all the hype. Sadly, it did not. It's yet another 90s romance novel making the awkward transition from bodice ripper to modern historical romance, and it falls into one of those awkward trenches of fail where it has the worst attributes of both. Perhaps you will enjoy this more than me - especially if you love Beauty and the Beast, and find the plot of an intelligent woman being saddled with a sulky, miserable man appealing.
Hey guys, remember that time I forced you all to read DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt & we all had a grand ol' time? Well, RUTHLESS is just as good, and it was published before, which should probably account for something. Also, the hero is the ruler of his own den of iniquity where people have orgies and Satanic rituals and is called, appropriately enough, King of Hell.
Elinor Harriman is plunged headfirst into the first circle of hell when her syphilis-affected mother gets it into her head to gamble away the last of their money. She encounters Viscount Rohan, the King of Hell, who is amused by her no-nonsense demeanor. Rohan is bored, and has been bored for some time (it's no fun when you always get what you want). Elinor is precisely what he needs to cure his ennui, and he'll do anything to have her -
Including threatening her younger, incredibly beautiful sister.
Like DUKE OF SIN, RUTHLESS has many aspects of the bodice rippers that helped make the historical romance genre what it is today. Rohan is a jaded antihero who does some very bad things. (I'm sure Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is rolling her eyes at me, going, "Nenia, did you even read my book?" Which, yes, I did, but come on - how can you resist evil when it's tall, and sinfully charming, and decked out in velvet and lace? That's Jereth territory there, and y'all know how that goes.)
OBLIGATORY VISUAL INTERLUDE:
The story line is also quite dark, as Elinor has gone through some terrible things that haunt her even to this day, her mother's unscrupulous behavior aside. The love between her and her sister, Lydia, is palpable and extremely well done. There's a secondary romance between Lydia and one of the men in Rohan's employ, and it is utterly charming (although not quite interesting enough to carry a plot line of its own, so I was glad it was relegated to the background). In case all the UST and drama weren't enough to spur you along, there's also a murder subplot, and it's not halfhearted in the least.
Also, Elinor is just so goshdarned awesome. Her banter with the hero is hilarious and had me chuckling. It's hard not to fall for a plucky, no-nonsense heroine who is weary and clever.
He wanted entertainment, and respite from boredom? She would provide it. So thoroughly that he'd be afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear she'd stab him (279).
And let's not forget the sneery, imperious charm that is Viscount Rohan:
"I'm not in the mood to be seconding duels or even stopping them. If they want to kill each other then let them go ahead. I have servants to clean up the blood" (24).
The only thing about this story that really annoyed me was that the hero and heroine were kept apart for long periods of time in the middle of the book, just when things were getting interesting - much too long, if you asked me. It felt like this was less for plot purposes and more for filler, although that didn't stop me from swooping through all 400 pages of this book in about three hours.
IT WAS GOOD! I LIKED IT! I WANT TO READ MOAR!
If you're a fan of gamma-heroes, you'll like this book. Anne Stuart is famous for hers.
So I guess Anna Campbell (no relation) went through this phase where she decided to make bodice rippers "happen." The first book written in this vein was called CLAIMING THE COURTESAN and it very much wants to be one of those I'm-so-alpha-that-I-piss-iron-tacks bodice rippers of the 1970s...only in a fluffy, romantic way. (So basically, it sucked.) I was leery of UNTOUCHED, hoping that it wouldn't be more of the same - but fear not! Because this book is much better than its predecessor, with a far better story, to boot!
Grace Paget has had a pretty awful life. She's been estranged for her family for years for marrying this religious fanatic who was many years older than she was. Now he's dead, and with nowhere to go, she plans to go stay with a distant relative. Unfortunately, she's kidnapped before she can reach her destination, and spirited away to a remote manor.
She finds that she has been mistaken for a "whore" and taken here to be entertainment to the "mad" marquess by said marquess's cruel uncle. But the more she talks to the marquess, the more she realizes that he really doesn't seem mad. However, since his uncle controls his fortune for as long as he remains both alive and unfit to manage his own affairs, Matthew is completely in his uncle's power - and if Grace doesn't warm his bed and keep him complacent, she's going to be killed.
There's a really great Gothic vibe to this book that kind of reminded me of Maire Claremont's THE DARK LADY. Both characters are sympathetic and you can't help but feel for the awful situation the two of them are in, particularly as the situation grows more and more dire. The sex scenes are scorching hot and I liked the fact that the hero (not the heroine) was a virgin.
I gave this book three stars because the romance was a little too cheesy considering the dark content of the rest of the book. Some of the sex scenes were also a little too flowery for my taste, but that appears to be Anna Campbell's style, and she made it work here (it was worse in CLAIMING THE COURTESAN). I also felt that Matthew warmed to Grace far too quickly, considering how suspicious he was of her in the beginning (and with good reason). It would have been better if the evil uncle's presence had been more "known," so the reader could really feel the pressure he exerted.
Overall, though, this was a decent book. One of the best by this author that I've read in years. If you were burned by CLAIMING THE COURTESAN and found yourself loath to try another one of her works, let me be the first to assure you that this is a vast improvement over her previous work.
09/23/17: Price drop to $2.99! If you're interested in this book, now is a great time to get it! I don't think I've ever seen it go this cheaply.
I've been lusting after this book for years because it had so many positive reviews, and people were saying it was like a bodice ripper of olde - and you guys know how much I love bodice rippers. Throw in an obsessive hero and a revenge theme, and I. Am. So. There. When this book had a price drop down to $3.49, I pounced. "Finally!" I thought. "Precious is mine!" I thought.
Post-reading, all I can say is feh.
CLAIMING THE COURTESAN is about Lord Kylemore (Crymore) and Verity (Very Dumb). Very Dumb is Crymore's mistress. They had a contract that stipulated that she could leave after a year, and all of his gifts would remain hers after their time was up. Crymore did not take the contract seriously and after a fight with his mom, he's like, "F U, Mom! You think you can boss me around? I'm going to marry my whore! That'll show you!"
But Crymore's mistress is tired of the lifestyle of the "soiled dove" and absconds with her belongings, selling all of her expensive gifts to live a life of anonymity in the countryside. Well, Crymore can't have that, can he? He pursues her, kidnaps her in the middle of the street after attempting to kill her brother (who he thinks is her lover), and then takes her away with him to his remote Scottish estate, where he proceeds to rape her nightly for daring to leave him before he said he was done.
Very Dumb makes a few token efforts at escape, but mostly there's talk of traitorous bodies and then she cuddles with him at night because Crymore has night terrors (daddy issues). I was not impressed. I was even less impressed when while running away from him yet again, he saves her from falling off a cliff and that's when she decides she loves him. I was even less impressed when Crymore decides he loves her too and is like, "Maybe now I can treat her to some consensual sex at last!" I'm like, "*****, that's not up to you! She decides if it's consensual you **********ing piece of ****. ****!!!" What makes this even more ridiculous is that while all this raping is going on, Crymore is beating him up, forcing himself to do it to keep up appearances, whining all the while that he's a nice guy, and how bad he feels that she pushed him to this and blah, blah blah.
Crymore is that super guy you have blocked on Tinder because in his profile he says "I'm a nice guy who's tired of the drama looking for a girl who doesn't play games" but the literal first thing he messages you is "Nice tits - DTF?" with a picture of his peen attached.
Anyway, this being a romance novel, Crymore and Very Dumb end up getting together and having teh sex0rs. But then Very Dumb decides that she can't be with him because it would shame his honor or something like that. So she flees him again - and who does she run into but Mommie Dearest, who beats up her brother (again - poor guy) and then announces gleefully that she's going to disfigure Verity and then have her gangbanged by her servants while she watches. And she's a little too excited by this, if you catch my drift, which makes it extraaaaa creepy. But don't worry, because Crymore is a stalker to the very end, and arrives just in time to put a stop to his mother, but not before saying, "F U, Mom! We're still getting married and you get to choose between Norfolk and the mental asylum!"
I really liked the beginning but I simply could not stomach the rest. I'm an avid reader of bodice rippers, so it's not the rape aspect that bothered me. It's that it was handled so badly, and with such disrespect to the characters. The author tried to make the rapist into a nice guy, and he didn't even really have to grovel - Very Dumb just decided that she loved him after all, which kind of makes this feel extra super creepy, because you know she probably just came down with Stockholm Syndrome after she was traumatized by all those near-death experiences and abuse. God, even the servants were complicit, saying, basically, "He's a nice guy! Deal with it!" when she told them what he was doing to her and begged them to help her escape. Yeah, no. This was not cool and I'm very disappoint.
I haven't posted a #StealthRead review in forever, and I'm absolutely thrilled that the honor goes to AFTER THE NIGHT - a book I've been wanting to read for years and lived up to all of my trashy expectations. One of my friends' one-star reviews for this book was actually the impetus for getting me to buy this. She said the hero was an obsessive creep who was lusting after the heroine when she was still basically a child. "That's f***ed up," I said to myself, while counting out dollar bills from my Kate Spade wallet. "I'll take it!"
AFTER THE NIGHT is definitely f***ed up. It takes place in Louisiana. Faith Devlin and her family are the local "trash," living in a shack at the grace of the Rouillard family because Renee Devlin is the go-to bedwarmer for Guy Rouillard, the richest man in town. One day, Renee and Guy abscond, and the oldest son Gray, in a fit of pique, evicts the rest of the Devlin from the shack, having the cops throw all their possessions in the street while threatening to torch the place. Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Faith is scrambling around in a transparent nightie and all the cops and Gray are ogling the hell out of her and going DAT ASS.
It's super disturbing. I hated Gray for that. What a disgusting pig. I wanted to read more.
Cut to 10+ years later and Faith ("RED HEADS HAVE NO FUN") Hardy, nee Devlin, has made something of herself, and strolls back into her hometown to rub her designer clothes and professional career into all of the people who called her "trash." On the one hand, you go girl. But on the other hand, there's also a lot of "the rest of my family might be trashy hoes, but I'm not! Praise me for living up to the puritanical standards society sets for women!" and that's a no go, girl. Don't judge.
Meanwhile, Gray ("THEY HAVEN'T BUILT A CONDOM BIG ENOUGH") Rouillard is managing all of his family's affairs and has taken over his father's position as richest man in town. When he's not pooping $100 bills out of his muscular, ex-quarterback rear-end, he's protecting his delicate mother and sister from anything indecent. I swear to God, Monica and Noelle are so stereotypical that I have expected one of them to fall into a swoon while muttering something about "the vapors."
Gray plans on running Faith out of town yet again, but the little Gray (or not-so-little-Gray, IYKWIM) in his pants has different ideas, and let's just say that HORSES aren't the only thing that Gray rides without a saddle in this book, IYKWIM. Come on, guys. My eye is getting sore from all this winking. CAVEMAN SEX. Gray is literally so alpha that it hurts, and the sex scenes are alternately hot as hell and weird AF, with lines like "Anglo-Saxon sex words"and "jackhammering". "Anglo-Saxon sex words" is especially hilarious to me because last year I buddy-read a vampire romance with my friend Heather, also from the 90s, called FOREVER AND THE NIGHT, which involved the phrase "pleading, in stark Anglo-Saxon terms." Maybe this is a thing.
God this was fun. The writing was pretty bad, but the story was like an HBO miniseries. Soap opera drama, brutish alpha males, archaic gender stereotypes, rough sex, and a murder "mystery" that was maybe one level above Scooby Doo in terms of overall execution and sophistication. I loved every second of it. If you enjoy the romps of vintage romance WTFery, definitely pick up this book.
Before Sylvia Day made it big with her contemporary erotica - which I have nicknamed Fifty Shades of Guns - she published historical erotica. I have been curious about this author's work for a while and historical erotica seemed like it would be a better match for me than contemporary. I was thrilled to find a copy of ASK FOR IT, the first in her Georgian series, for a mere 50¢.
It starts out okay. Elizabeth and Marcus are ex-lovers who were betrothed until Elizabeth caught him with another woman. Then she broke up with him for another man, Lord Hawthorn. Hawthorn and Marcus are both spies for the Crown and when Marcus finds out that Elizabeth's a widow, he goes in for the kill. And by "kill," I mean "that booty."
***WARNING SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
The sexual tension is decent, and I enjoyed the story until about 20% in when the hero and the heroine have sex for the first time. Why? Because it's basically rape. The heroine tells him no, fights him, resists him, and his answer to this is to tie her up so she can't move, tell her it's for her own good (basically), and then resume having sex with her. There's some BS about how he's giving her "the freedom" to enjoy him without "guilt."
Um, newsflash, bondage only works like that if there is consent, which there is clearly not in this case. Unfortunately, this is a hero who is obsessive AF and doesn't know when to BTFO. The heroine is talking to another man? She must be cheating, that slut. The heroine locks him out of her room so he won't have sex with her? Clearly the answer is to obtain a key and break into her room. The heroine flees him to one of her lesser-known estates? Follow her there, and then sneak into her bed, naked, while she's asleep, while there is another man actively making attempts on her life, because no way is she going to freak out to waking up with a strange man in her bed, nuh-uh, nope. Insane!
The author also has a fondness for certain words, which she uses excessively. I began making mental tick-marks every time they had sex (and they do have sex many, many times). Each sex scene uses some variant of the words silk/silken, clasp, cunt, fuck, cock, swirl, curl, depths, and caress. But the word she uses the most is one of the few words that guarantees an instant turn-off for me.
I will give you one guess as to what that word is.
He ran a blunt fingertip through her cream... (72)
He jerked his hand along the length and creamy moisture leaked from the tip (75).
She gazed, eyes riveted to the sight of the thick, proud shaft slick with her cream... (80)
He fucked through [her rippling caresses] like a mad man, forcing his cock into grasping depths, dipping into the scalding cream that bathed her inner thighs and lured his seed (115).
Eyes wide, Elizabeth whimpered as the hot velvet of his tongue swirled around and between her fingers, lapping her cream (161).
...he spurted, his hot seed splashing in creamy bursts through her fingers... (164)
Then his hand was between her legs, his long middle finger slipping through the lips of her sex to glide through her cream (209).
He was ensnared, gripped tight by her lithe thighs and creamy depths... (211)
His erection, covered in her cream, grew cold, but didn't diminish (212).
His hand, drenched in her cream, cupped her breast, pinched her nipple (232).
If you guessed "cream," you won! Congratulations!
Unless I'm reading a romance between a dairymaid and a milkman, I don't want to see the words "cream" or "milk" in my erotica - and this author uses both. A lot.
Other minor annoyances:
-:The dialogue is not done to the period. The hero drops f-bombs left and right.
-:The heroine has purple eyes. They're described as "amethyst."
-:The espionage and murder angles are incredibly half-arsed.
P.S. Here are some stewed nectarines drenched in cream.
Think fondly of me - and this book - the next time you're having your morning coffee. ;)
THE DEVIL'S LOVE can almost be summed up by simply reciting the tropes it contains. Set in the late 18th century, the story is about Christina Evrion, the daughter of a shipping merchant on a Caribbean island, and Kade Renault, the banished son of a Scottish Earl (why was he banished? because he couldn't keep his hands off the wimminfolk, obviously, and liked to do pirate-y things). The hero actually encounters the heroine for the first time when she's a very young teenager, when he espies her nude bathing with her half-black servant. He vows to tap that the next time he visits the island.
Meanwhile, Christina grows into the island beauty. Her doting but absent father humors her, and she is a lot smarter than her wicked stepmother, so she basically has the run of the place and has grown into quite the wild child. She has a rivalry with the other island beauty, Carlotta, and often steals her men away from her just to prove to herself that she can.
When Kade comes back to the island, both women find him attractive, but Christina wants nothing to do with him - and obviously, it's Christina he wants. He attempts to force his attentions on her several times, but is always rebuffed angrily...which only makes him want her more. Her father ends up dying, effectively leaving her an orphan since her stepmother, Hilda, wants nothing to do with her. However, there's a clause in the will that says that she won't control her inheritance unless she marries, and Hilda, who hates her, is determined to marry her off to the worst people possible because she wants her step-daughter to be as miserable as possible. So naturally, she finds the resident opportunistic gay man on the island, who wants to marry Christina for her money and nothing else. It's interesting because part of the reason Hilda hates Christina so much is because Christina reminds her of a cousin she was jealous of as a child...a cousin that she basically watched die. Also, Christina's father doesn't love her, says Christina's mom's name during sex, and has all sorts of affairs.
Since Kade knows Christina wants her independence, financial and otherwise, from her wicked stepmother, he tricks her into thinking that she is marrying him on the eve of his own execution so she can have his last name (and therefore, independence as a widow). They propose this deal while he's being held in chains by the Spanish, and the heroine taunts him, sexually, by giving him a serious case of blue balls and then leaving a "C" written in his chest hair, all Zorro-like. Little does she know that it's all a big sham... First order of business is kicking out her stepmother, who vows that Christina doesn't deserve to be happy.
Surprise, surprise - Kade doesn't die, and goes back to his pirating ways...and the first item on his list is dat booty. He demands a wedding night, sham marriage or no. I should note that the first couple sections between the h and the H are very rapey. I don't really remember what happens during the first time, apart from the heroine finding it utterly unpleasant - I think there's a lot of "you owe me" blah blah blah - but the second time they actually have a physical fight where she ends up slapping him, and then he decides that he's going to one-up that by raping her. Bodices are actually ripped while they shove each other around the room and somehow all his pants buttons are ripped off.
The heroine is constantly trying to run away from the hero because she's a woman, dammit, and can't be tamed! She's not quite on the TSTL spectrum, but it's close. She makes a lot of unwise decisions. Like dressing in drag to steal about a ship, getting captured by the Spanish, and then getting lost in the middle of the desert where she ends up stepping on and then being bitten by a rattlesnake. Whenever the hero gets mad at her, she infuriates him by suggesting that if he doesn't like it, they can just get a divorce, and she constantly tries to put him into positions where he's tempted to cheat by arranging time so that he is stuck alone with Carlotta, who desperately wants to seduce him.
Then Hilda - the evil stepmother - tries to shoot Christina at a party, but Kade takes the bullet. While he's recovering, Christina decides to run away - to France - in order to get some medicine for the brother of her black servant/friend. While there she stays with her cousins. One of them, Dominique, is a sociopath who enjoys sleeping with women and then dumping them when they get pregnant or clingy. He gambles recklessly and has no empathy at all. One day, he decides it would be a lark to dress up as a highwayman and scare the dickens out of his sisters by pretending to rob them when they come back from a masquerade. Christina, luckily, knows how to sword fight, though, and ends up mostly whooping his ass while in drag (because she dressed as a male swashbuckler for the party), and Dominique is humiliated and angry when his sword knocks off her wig and he realizes that "he" is a "she". When he finds out that the girl who humiliated him is his cousin, he decides to rape her in revenge. Flashback to Kade, who discovers that Christina has left him - yet again - and he immediately decides to have revenge-sex with Carlotta, who, conveniently enough, enjoys pain, so he rips off her clothes and has sex with her, even when she tells him to stop, and after leaving all sorts of bruises on her boobs and her body, it's sort of implied that he rapes her in the butt.
Meanwhile, Dominique steals kisses from Christina and plans the rape. It's implied that he's raped his sisters, as well. After two near-rapes in which he succeeds in tearing off her clothes (are all dresses made of tissue paper in this novel?) and molesting her body but not actually raping her (while in the garb of the highwayman, of course), he grows incredibly frustrated, especially when Kade comes back. He finally succeeds at a party by drugging her drink, and then carrying her through a secret passage way through a bookcase into his bedroom, and Christina finds out that he's the highwayman who tried to rape her both those times when she sees a diamond pin that the highwayman stole from her. Dominique then rapes her, and plots doing so many more times, but before he can do so he is shot in the head by one of his ex-lovers, who then kills herself.
Christina finds Carlotta and Kade kissing, tears off Carlotta's dress, and then threatens to cut up her face with a broken bottle she's smashed if she doesn't leave her man alone. Kade gets angry that Christina still won't admit that she loves him, and spanks her because she deserves it. They end up going to Scotland where Kade is now Earl following the death of his brother who inherited. Time starts skipping around a lot, because by this point we're nearing the end of the novel. Christina gets pregnant, and has twins. When she sees Kade holding the babies, she finally realizes she loves him, and they have non-rapey sex for the very first time! It's so romantic...not.
There's probably a lot of other stuff that I'm forgetting and a couple things - like a mad scientist, voodoo, and half-naked dancing in the woods - that I just don't have time to go over. This book was OTT to the max. The author spends an uncomfortable amount of time describing the heroine's perfect breasts and how wonderfully or gracefully they're framed by whatever article of clothing she's wearing at the time, and every time Kade appears, we get to find out exactly how far he's decided to unbutton his shirt, and how thick his chest hair is, and how bronze his chest is. Oh myyyy.
Honestly, though - purple prose aside, the writing is pretty decent, and Lane Harris does a good job at foreshadowing events. Every action has a purpose, and a lot of things come back full circle, which I always appreciate in a book like this - it keeps things interesting. If the sex scenes hadn't been so ridiculous, I might have enjoyed this more than I did. There's actually a passage where the hero starts preaching about how fun it is to suckle nipples, and how this is something that both men and babies understand (seriously - wtf, check out that quote on my updates). And it really annoyed me that the hero keeps calling the heroine things like "kitten" and "tiger" and how a lot of words were repeated over and over again, like how the heroine's "turquoise" eyes "shot sparks" or how everything sensual was described as "velvet."
It probably seems like I didn't like this book, but I did. It was a fun, easy read, and I enjoyed the ride. I'm a bit bummed that the author seems to have written only one book, though. Good bodice rippers are so hard to find...
C.S. Pacat does with CAPTIVE PRINCE what the bodice rippers of yore did with historical romance, the differences being that (1) this is a fantasy novel and not historical (and not really a romance) and (2) it is about two men. Apart from that, the structure is eerily similar to bodice rippers, from the plot to the role that the characters play to the way sex is used within the story. Damianos was prince of Akielos until his half-brother staged a coup and gave Damianos to the enemy country of Vere as a gift-slave for lolz. Damianos, now called Damen, finds himself the position of a sociopathic prince named Laurent who is busy fighting power struggles of his own with the Regent, his uncle. Vere is an utterly cutthroat court with courtiers stabbing each other in the back, and an utterly depraved view on relationships, with a society that appears to be structured almost entirely around rape: rape as punishment, rape as entertainment, rape as a means of showing power or getting what you want ... there is a lot of rape. Bertrice Small would totally write this story.
I like bodice rippers, so reading CAPTIVE PRINCE was kind of like a modern throwback to that style of writing. Pacat's writing is seriously #WritingGoals. Seriously, she writes in this really fancy and beautifully opulent way, and I even learned a new word ("marmoreal"). Which was good, because I felt like it lent a certain respect to the content; had this been written in a trashier way, I think I might have disliked the book more. It's pretty obvious from Damianos's reactions that he thinks that Vere is a messed-up place. I did balk at the pedophilia (underage preteen slaves and hints at someone being sexually molested) and the corporeal punishment and the mistreatment of animals (horses). These are things that I sometimes have difficulty reading about in fiction. But luckily, Pacat didn't go into too much detail. The rape scenes were very unpleasant, though - especially the gladiatorial rape games that the Veretians like to play, involving wrestling matches where the loser gets raped - but again, these seemed to speak more to the corruption of a society that is slowly falling into ruin as it's blinded by its own glittering bacchanalia, and not just writing shock horror for the sake of writing shock horror. At least in my opinion. I'm sure people will disagree. Some of my friends hated this book with a passion because of the things I mentioned, and I totally respect that.
What makes this book great - apart from the lovely writing - is Damianos. It's hard not to root for him. His bewilderment and fear and anger in the beginning are so poignant. And then, his determination to survive - even if it costs him his dignity and his honor. He's a very strong character with a strong sense of right and wrong. You want him to survive this nightmare court so he can go back to Akielos and kick his brother's butt. But survival is not easy - and that's where another thing I liked comes in: the court intrigue. Court intrigue is one of those things that automatically gets me interested in a book, and here it is done really well. I'm a sucker for scheming character, and the secondary characters are all total schemers, especially Nicaise and Ancel.
Laurent isn't really much of a love interest in this book. He's brutal and mean. He reminds me of the heroes in Rosemary Rogers, Marilyn Harris, and Patricia Hagan bodice rippers in the sense that he's virtually indistinguishable from the villains of the story, except for hints of vulnerability and a slight interest in the hero in this case that borders on outright disdain. He is incredibly cruel to Damen: whipping him almost death, drugging him and then entering him in the gladiatorial rape arena, forcing him to receive oral sex from another slave while a crowd of people watch. There's hints of why he is the way he is, cold and brutal and utterly repulsed by human contact, but that doesn't make it easy to stomach or at all excusable. I know he's the love interest because I've seen the spoilers and the fan art, so I can only hope that Laurent scales the mountains of heavens themselves in order to win Damen over once he gets it into his thick skull that he likes the man, because man, does he have a lot to atone for.
My edition also had a short story called THE TRAINING OF ERASMUS. I side-eyed the short story at first but decided to read it, and it was actually good. It's a prequel to CAPTIVE PRINCE about Erasmus and how he became a slave and then, after that, how he was brought to Vere. This also has an open-ended sort of ending that leaves it up to interpretation why he was removed from his royal duties. Was it cold-hearted scheming borne of jealousy? Or mercy cloaked in the guise of betrayal?
Overall, this was pretty good. Much better than I'd expected. I'm probably going to keep my copy because her writing is so amazing and I want to have it on reference as an example of how to string words together prettily. The content on the other hand is brutally dark and unless you are a fan of bodice rippers or are not particularly bothered by sexual violence, I would not recommend this to the faint of heart. Even if the book does not go into detail, it is still not an easy read.
This book has a 4.0 average rating with the people on my friends list, and if you're friends with me, you know how high a value I place on your opinions. You guys had nothing but good things to say about THE HIGHWAYMAN with your talk of tortured heroes and dark romance. Music to my twisted ears. Plus, Elizabeth Hoyt's DUKE OF SIN is one of the recommended books for HIGHWAY, which I absolutely loved. How could this possibly not work out?
This book is about Farah Leigh Mackenzie and Dorian Blackwell. Farah is an orphan, and a widow. She married her childhood friend in secret, only to see him carried off to certain death for avenging her honor. Dorian Blackwell knew her childhood friend, Dougan, in prison, and claims that he is now dead. He kidnaps her, macks on her in the bathtub, and then - while she's naked - proposes marriage.
*cue eyeroll here*
There were some things about this book that I liked. I liked the idea behind this book. I love stories where the hero and heroine have a dark connection. I also thought that the climax of this book, which took place during that court scene, was incredibly well done and oh-so-dramatic.
I thought Farah was a Mary Sue. She's so kind and pretty and good, and everyone loves her instantly (except for those evil people who hate her, and that's how you know they're evil). She "cures" the hero of all his twauma with her magical virgin vag, which had me rolling my eyes in earnest. I appreciate that she had enough knowledge of the act to make things work, but I didn't understand why she had to be a virgin. Virginal widow tropes are kind of a peeve of mine...
Dorian, I was torn about. In the beginning of the story, he has a lot of promise as an antihero. But the author doesn't commit to his character. She wants him to be dark and terrifying and rapey, but also weak and sympathetic and damaged. I suppose it is possible to combine those two different sets of personality types, but it is not done well here. I also didn't like that the hero takes his pain out on Farah, even committing sexual overtures that border on rape when he's angry. Yeah, no.
Also, the sex didn't work for me in this book. Something about the writing style got on my nerves. It kind of reminded me of the 90s romances, where bodice rippers from the 70s and 80s started to become "gentler." So heroes became less rapey - at least overtly - and sex scenes got very floral and gag-inducingly tender. It was similar here, except Byrne wasn't afraid to drop the f-bomb.
THE HIGHWAYMAN didn't work for me, and I'm not sure if it's just a matter of this book hitting a couple of my pet peeves and not working, or if it was just overhyped and my expectations were just too high. You may love it. I just got a copy of THE HIGHLANDER, also by this author, from Netgalley, so I'm hoping that I'll enjoy the third book in this series more than the first one.
Edit/09/01/17: Does anyone know why these books were removed from the Kindle store? All the Coltrane titles used to be up there for sale, as well as some of her older bodice rippers, and I just checked back recently and it appears that even more of her titles were removed. What gives? Is there a publishing rights issue? A delicate sensibilities issue? I must know. I wanted to buy all her books in ebook format...
One of the greatest things about the Goodreads community is that it has introduced me to books I never would have picked up on my own. I got interested in bodice rippers two years ago, and there's been no turning back.
LOVE AND WAR is a brutal read. It takes place during the Civil War and doesn't try to romanticize or sugar coat it at all. There's blood and gore and corruption and violence and rape and treachery and greed...entire family members are split down the middle of their ideologies with terrible consequences...relationships are destroyed...
Kitty Wright is the daughter of a Federalist sympathizer. Since he lives in the South, this has made her father the object of suspicion among the other men in town, with some of them even speculating that he has ties to the Underground Railroad. Kitty's mother is a spoiled, selfish woman who aspires to be a wealthy plantation owner's wife, and is resentful of her husband for freeing their slaves & having a simple living.
Kitty is a really cool protagonist. She can shoot a gun, ride a horse, and sticks to her principles. The town doctor trained her in medicine when she was young, so she treats the slaves and the poor, and she's damned good at what she does. The author doesn't tell us that Kitty is amazing - she shows us, time and time again, replete with many gory and unpleasant passages involving sutures, amputations, and even sucking out snake venom (which you are apparently not supposed to do).
The love interest, Travis Coltrane, doesn't show up until about halfway through the book. Her first romantic liaison is with one of the wealthy Southern gentlemen's sons, Nathan, although he doesn't understand Kitty at all, and wants to mold her into something he can enjoy. Kitty, however, doesn't want to settle for someone who can't love her for who she is and resorts to sneaking around with her because he's too cowardly to stand up to his own father and declare their relationship publicly.
Then something terrible happens, and Kitty's father gets beaten and lynched. Kitty is kidnapped by an overseer named Luke Tate, who rapes her repeatedly. Kitty's reaction to this is pretty realistic and horrifying. Travis Coltrane and his regiment of Union soldiers eventually rescue Kitty, but it's out of the frying pan and into the fire, because once he finds out that she's not only smoking hot, but also a) part of the Confederacy and b) a skilled doctor, he holds her hostage to fulfill various needs.
LOVE AND WAR is five hundred-plus pages of fucked up adventures, with Kitty somehow managing to stand strong and survive in spite of the carnage and the battles going on around her, being kidnapped and raped multiple times by multiple men, and being treated like dirt by the men who allegedly love her. Nathan and Travis are both horrible love interests who do terrible things to the heroine. I really admired her as a character; she was tenacious and intelligent and resourceful. Even though she did stomp her foot on occasion, she was also quick to pick up a gun and shoot someone in the chest, if it meant defending herself or someone she loved.
I wouldn't recommend this book to the faint of heart, because it is very violent and gory. It's also very dense. Hagan weighs down the narrative with lengthy descriptions of the battles and the horrors of war. At one point, she actually sits down and has a conversation with Robert E. Lee. Kitty experiences lice and mange and body odor. She sees gangrene, advanced syphilis, and amputations. Some soldiers are frozen solid or forced to eat rotten mule carcasses. At one point, she is kidnapped by Native Americans and treated as their medicine woman. It might be a train wreck, but I spent the better part of today reading this in a fever, desperate to see what craziness would happen next.
GONE WITH THE WIND doesn't have anything on this! I'm giving LOVE AND WAR an extra half-star just because Kitty was so awesome.
We buddy read SAVAGE ECSTASY as our first bodice ripper theme read in the Unapologetic Romance Readers group. I've read a number of bodice rippers over the last couple years, and SAVAGE ECSTASY has been near the top of my list for years because it's supposed to be the OG of Native American romances.
SAVAGE ECSTASY opens with a series of very long info dumps introducing us to the tedious bore that is Alisha. She lives at a fort that has captured a Native American. He's been tortured by three men who live at the fort, one of whom has the hots for Alisha. They're enraged when Alisha attempts to intervene, threatening them with a gun to make them leave him alone. But all is for nought, as the men make sinister plans to torture the poor Native American dude even more, and the guy who's Team Alisha makes even more sinister plans to compromise Alisha later so she'll marry him.
Then Gray Eagle has his men raid the fort. Everyone is butchered except for Alisha, a couple women, and the three men who abused Gray Eagle. They're brought to the Oglala/Sioux tribe, and either imprisoned to await torture or turned into sex slaves.
I should note here that it's very, very important to remember how beautiful and innocent Alisha is. It's only mentioned about 1,000,000 times. Every single man in this book wants to have sex with her. About four of them try to rape her at one time or another. Oh, and there are no nice women in this book, apart from St. Alisha. All of them are jealous of Alisha, and attempt to use their womanly wiles to seduce other men into getting their way to seeing her ruined. I can only assume that the endless descriptions of innocence and purity are meant to distinguish Alisha from the Other Women, who, unlike Alisha, don't seem to feel any embarrassment about their bodies.
SAVAGE ECSTASY is pretty typical for an early 80s bodice ripper. There's rape, and the hero, Gray Eagle, tries to pin the rape on the heroine, arguing to himself that the heroine forced him to it by not being willing in the first place. There's also some truly gruesome torture scenes that take place at the camp that surprised me, because it's usually the books published in the 70s that have the torture scenes. By the time the 80s rolled around, that started to get phased out of the books.
The writing isn't very good, sadly. I get that this is a debut effort, but it really shows. The pacing is uneven and exposition is delivered in huge infodumps that tend to go on for pages. Point of view changes randomly and without warning, and whenever a character is expressing their thoughts, the writing switches from third person to first person, which can be distracting. I also noticed that there are a lot of typos in this copy (I have the Kindle edition). Some of them almost looked like conversion errors (random special characters inserted where punctuation should be), but there were some typos and misspelled words, too, which was odd. Did an editor look at this edition?
One thing in this book's favor is that the story is relatively engaging. Despite its flaws, I couldn't put the book down and found myself with a perverse desire to endure and find out what happened next.
Edited 8/22 because I was a dumbass and got the hero's name wrong. #Fail
I'd been lusting after this book for a while, partly because of that beautiful cover, and partly because it's a romance between an Amazon and an Atlantean. Ummmm, shut up and take my money? Also, that man on the cover is not wearing anything under that robe, so there's lots of sexy naked thigh action (even though his junk appears to have been photoshopped away for the sake of propriety, rather akin to the "missing nipple" phenomenon you see on many an erotica cover).
Sadly, the book itself did not live up to that glorious cover. Which was upsetting because the premise and the intro itself were quite good. I liked Thalassa and the Amazons. Who doesn't want to see a bunch of body positive, warrior women having sex and slaying misogynists? It's basically a blood-thirstier version of those Smash the Patriarchy necklaces on Etsy. Except instead of a hammer, they use a bipennis (and no, that's not what you think it is. This is, though! You're welcome. ;D)
The problem comes in the form of the hero, King "I'm a nice guy, I swear" Dorian, of the mer-people. Dorian is a nice guy. He will tell you this constantly. His people tell his victim, Thalassa, this constantly. But Dorian is not a nice guy. He kidnaps Thalassa from her people, turns her into a mer-person without her consentby magic, threatens her with the Sea Spell which will erase all her memories of her past life and render her docile, and repeatedly threatens her with rape.
I couldn't quite get over the body modification. I'm still kind of hung up on that. I mean, he gives her gills & changes her physiology by sticking her with a needle repeatedly. That's some serious Dr. Moreau shit right there. The concept of the Sea Spell was also disturbing, because apparently this is standard process for abducted brides among the mer-people and Dorian gets into serious trouble with the elders for not using it. I know we're supposed to applaud him for not doing this, because he loves her the way she is, but that, to me, is tantamount to clapping some bro-dude on the back and saying, "Good job for not raping that unconscious woman! Great self-control, dude!" Why someone should be applauded for not taking away someone's memory and free will is highly questionable to me because no decent person should do this, period. You shouldn't be rewarded for doing what any decent hero would do. Which begs the question: is Dorian a hero? He's an alpha who dreams of being a beta, but secretly also wants to be a gamma. I almost feel like the author would have been better off writing him in the style of a classic bodice ripper "hero": that is, someone completely without scruple, who does what he pleases, when he pleases, and God help you if you get in the way of that Master Plan. That I think would have been a better characterization for a needle-happy despot who thinks you need to be cruel to be kind.
ACROSS A WINE-DARK SEA also falls into a trope trap that I really don't like...the fated to be mated trope. I go out of my way to avoid books with this trope, because I have yet to see one that does it in a way that doesn't come across as apologist & rapey.
At first, I found myself skimming the Thalassa/Dorian chapters - because Thalassa loses her awesomeness quickly, becoming a pouting, foot-stomping, "No, I won't eat my food, I'm going to starve!" type heroine - and reading the passages about the Amazons, because they were great. Until I noticed another disturbing trend...that all of the Amazon subplots inevitably resulted in men arriving to Amazonia who wanted to rape them. The book opens up with pirates trying to capture them and sell them as sex slaves, and then there's the Greeks, led by Heracles and Theseus, who come to the island to steal Hippolyte's golden girdle and end up having a happy sex orgy until one jealous gay guy (and of course, he has to be gay) decides to commit murder out of jealousy and love for Heracles, thereby inciting a riot that leads to a bunch of Amazons being kidnapped as sex slaves/collateral. The ending cinched my dislike for this book. Bryan kills off some of the characters I did like, seemingly for shock value, and, of course, Thalassa and Dorian get their HEA.
I am glad I read this book, because it was different and now I know how I feel about it instead of lusting after that gorgeous cover and fantasizing about what might be. I read the synopses for the sequels, and I think that I might be willing to give this author another chance, because they look like standalones and book two is an interracial romance between a mer-woman and a Chinese man and book three is a contemporary paranormal between a female scholar and a mer-man. Depending on how that goes down, it might be a better premise for this book - especially considering that this was a debut effort, and the author would have had some time to better hone her craft. But I did not like WINE-DARK SEA at all. I desperately wanted to - the writing was beautiful at times and she wrote some kick-ass fight scenes (apparently she's into martial arts - it shows) - but I didn't.
P.S. The whole time I was reading this, I kept humming this song.
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.
Alyona Miller is a famous ballerina. Zedekiah Harlow used to be a famous ballerina. Then the two of them got into a terrible accident and life as they knew it ceased. Alyona lost a baby, and her already fragile mental health. Zedekiah lost his leg and his girl. When the two meet by chance in a coffee shop after being estranged for years, they're both forced to come to terms with what happened.
And how they're going to proceed.
I don't read many second-chance romance type books. I think it's because part of the fun of reading a romance novel is seeing a couple discover themselves and their feelings for one another in a way that's shiny and brand new. Second-chance romance books are more about forgiveness and polishing or hiding the tarnish.
Aly and Zed have a lot of tarnish. I did like that they actually deal with it, though, rather than taking the passive aggressive route that many other new adult novels are so fond of. It was refreshing to see characters who got involved in one another's lives without being domineering or creepy, as well as actual, bona fide communication. Even during sex. Especially during sex. Can we talk about the sex, actually? (It was gooooood.)
The secondary characters in here are also well done. Both characters' parents appear in the book, and get involved in their children's lives (for better, or for worse). They have friends. Zed has students. Aly has a therapist and a couple contacts with whom she's remained in touch. All of these characters were extremely developed and added an extra layer of dimension to the story.
The book is also beautifully written - to the point where it is far more polished and sophisticated than comparable works being dealt out by much larger publishers. The desolate, but lyrical, prose is highly reminiscent of authors like Janet Fitch. That writing! It begs to be an embroidery sampler framed on a guest-room wall. I really look forward to seeing what other books Locke comes up with in the future, because she unquestionably has a lot of talent. I could see her doing something big, easily.
The only drawback to this story is that it feels remote. The characters have emotions but they don't quite make it to the page, which is disconcerting because of the first-person narrations. This is an emotional book, but the writing itself wasn't, and I feel like the characters did more "telling" about how they were feeling, rather than "showing." I felt removed from the characters when I wanted to connect with them, and that made it hard to really get emotionally invested in their well-being.
SECOND POSITION is still good, though. I enjoyed it - although the writing is complex enough that you're going to want to make sure that you have the time to devote to reading this in large blocks, while uninterrupted, or else it's going to be hard to follow what's going on. I'd recommend it to readers who are looking for NA with substance, or who enjoy reading realistic angst & hurt/comfort books. Plus, it's only $1.99 on Amazon (and the prequel is free)!
What were you like at eighteen? I was in my first year of college, and apart from academia, wasn't even close to having my adult game together. Neither is Lizzie Brandt, ex-valedictorian and scholarship student turned party girl. In fact, she's busy sleeping with another girl's boyfriend on the night she finds out that her parents are dead and she's been made her brothers' guardian.
We read OUT ON GOOD BEHAVIOR in the wonderful Unapologetic Romance Reader group for Pride Month. I'd heard wonderful things about Dahlia Adler, so participation was a no-brainer. Sadly, I didn't like the book - at all. Not because of the writing, which was excellent, or the sex scenes, which were well done. No, my dislike of the book was entirely because of the main character, Frankie "Can't Keep It In Her Pants" Bellisario, who is the embodiment of every negative stereotype of pansexuality there is.
I wanted to give this author another shot, though, because I did like her writing style, and managed to snag a copy of LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT when it was on sale to buddy-read with my good friend, Sarah. From the first page, I knew that this was going to be a totally different story. Lizzie is no Frankie. She's not selfish, she's not sex-obsessed, she's not a serial-cheater who leaves a trail of bruised and broken hearts in her wake. She's a young girl who makes foolish decisions because she's scared of the future, but she gets her shit in gear when fate deals her a heaping plate of responsibility.
One of the things I liked best about this book was Lizzie's relationship with her two younger brothers, Tyler and Max. Sometimes younger siblings can feel like comic reliefs or plot devices, but Max and Tyler had their own personalities and desires that sometimes came into conflict with Lizzie's, but despite their arguments, you really got a sense for the love they shared and their desire to be happy together, in spite of their terrible, terrible tragedy.
That was another thing that I thought was handled incredibly well - Lizzie's grief and her sense of loss. I kept tearing up, because it was so easy to project myself into her shoes and ask myself, "What if this happened to me?" Given the fact that her whole support group has just disappeared, it makes sense that she would grow attached to the closest thing she has to a mentor/nuturer in her life, her tutor-slash-TA, the nerdily gorgeous, Canadian-born Connor Lawson.
Connor and Lizzie are cute together, except when they're fighting and then I want to put them both in the corner and have them think about what they're doing. Unlike most NA book arguments however, I felt like Connor and Lizzie actually raised valid points when they fought, and it was interesting to see how the relationship continued despite the obvious conflict of interest and Lizzie's mourning.
Also, props to Sophie for being the craziest b-word that ever inhabited the e-word. She is Queen Cray-Cray, and all should bow down to her for being the crazy piece of work that she is.
There aren't a lot of books that make me go "OMG I NEED IT!" anymore, but KILL THE BOY BAND was one of them. I mean, it's such a great concept, in part because it's so relatable. We all know that one fangirl who takes things too far. Maybe we've encountered them in real life. Maybe on a forum. Maybe on a review. Maybe - gasp! - we are that fangirl. And I'm sure we've all wondered what would happen if a fangirl took things too far.
The unnamed narrator and her three friends are all fans of The Ruperts - a group that parodies many bands, but seems to be targeting One Direction in particular. When they find out that the concert venue nearby is all sold out, they stake out the most expensive hotel (betting that it's where the band is staying), hoping that if they can't score some tickets, they can at least take a few pictures of the band. You know, for posterity's sake.
And then things go wrong. Horribly, morbidly wrong.
I liked the first half of the book a lot. The main character's dark, dry narrative and utter lack of empathy kind of reminded me of the character of Fiona Yu, from HELLO KITTY MUST DIE. Some of the observations about fandoms and what it means to be a fangirl were surprisingly deep. But since the narrator is pretty unreliable, I was never 100% sure if she was genuinely expressing how she felt, or, as one of the band members later describes his fans, not really caring about the band but just enjoying the sensation of being all caught up in the moment. Because when you think about it, what makes something popular isn't always synonymous with good or interesting, but just because it happens to fit in with the zeitgeist and people are using circulus in probando, or circular reasoning, to rationalize it (it's popular because it's good). There's a pile-on effect when it comes to popularity...to the point where something can become popular just because it's popular, in a never-ending ouroboros of self-validation that results in massive hype and, getting back to my original point, loyal fangirls.
Each of the narrator's friends expresses their devotion in different ways. Isabel is really creepy, and probably the poster girl for what we think about when we think about out of control fangirls. She tweets threatening messages to the girlfriends (and nay-sayers) of the Ruperts, and runs a Perez Hilton-esque site about the Ruperts, sometimes using sketchy means in order to obtain new information and gossip. She is the type of fan who would go onto book reviews and tell negative reviewers that they ought to kill themselves for being sad c*nts with no lives.
Apple is from the fanwank school of fangirls - her romantic obsession with The Ruperts falls somewhere between sweet, sad, and scary. She's also the character many readers have trouble with because she is overweight and this is portrayed as the butt of several jokes in the books, with Apple using her girth to knock someone unconscious, and constantly referring to food or how much she craves it. She is the type of fan who would refer to a character as a book boyfriend, and go into uncomfortable detail about all the things she would like to do to him.
Erin is a little more subtle. I felt like she was a lot like the narrator, pushier in some ways, quieter in others. You don't really find out what she's about until the second half of the book. She's the prettiest in the group of friends, and is the type of fan who would post Instagram pictures with her collection of fan memorabilia where all the followers would say things like, "OMG YOU'RE SO PRETTY, YOU SHOULD BE A MODEL. #LIFEGOALS."
As for the narrator, well...you only have her word for what she is.
I liked the first half of the book a lot, but I felt like the second half tested my willingness to suspend my disbelief too much. It's difficult to write a dark comedy, because you have to push the envelope (and people's comfort zones) but also make them laugh, and I think this requires a level of subtlety and cleverness that is very difficult to master. It also appeals to a niche audience - most people don't like creepypasta in their comedy. One of the best examples of a dark comedy is the teen movie Jawbreaker. If you crossed Mean Girls with Agatha Christie, you would get Jawbreaker. It's a fantastic look at the social strata of a high school - part makeover story, part revenge story, part murder story. I can still remember the first time I watched it - there's nothing else like it.
KILL THE BOY BAND wasn't like that. It wanted to be too many things, and this caused the plot to unravel, and the tight, obsessive narrative from the beginning disappeared into the chaos, never to return. I did keep reading because I wanted to find out "whodunnit" but the ending was really disappointing. I was expecting something clever and shocking and memorable! Instead, it ended just as I thought it would. I don't regret reading KILL THE BOY BAND because it's received its fair share of hoopla and I wanted to see what all this hoopla was about and now I have #lifegoals.
So in case you didn't know, I started a romance book group on Goodreads called Unapologetic Romance Readers, and this was our first group buddy read. It seemed like an appropriate "first book" because Lisa Kleypas is a super popular author, chick lit is fairly accessible as a "gateway" romance novel, and the title is intriguing. Sugar Daddy? Hello, what's all this, then? >;D
I knew from the first line in this book that SUGAR DADDY was going to capture my attention. What I wasn't 100% sure about was whether this book should keep it. I needn't have worried, though. SUGAR DADDY may have been published in 2007, but it reads like one of those glorious epics from the 70s & 80s, that were usually centered around one girl and her tempestuous romances, spanning from her adolescence to womanhood.
Liberty Jones lives in Welcome, Texas, in a trailer park with her mother. She's half-Mexican, and her father died on an oil rig. Since her mother is blonde and blue-eyed, this has led to all sorts of speculation by inhabitants of the town. I'd like to take a moment to appreciate how the author went about building Liberty as a character. She isn't fetishized, and Kleypas doesn't do that annoying thing where any non-white character's appearance is described like you would a Starbucks frappuccino (tall, caramel, extra cream?); her biracial heritage is done in a way that you really understand how Liberty doesn't fit in with either group completely, and so is her shame at being unable to speak Spanish.
Her first love is with an ambitious young man named Hardy who lives in a trailer near-by, but their adolescent relationship - if you call it that - never really comes to fruition because Hardy doesn't want anything to tie him down to Welcome; he means to make something of himself one day, at any cost. What that means for Liberty is a string of unsatisfying sexual relationships where her only choices seem to be either to settle for less, or spend her life single.
Halfway through the book, she ends up becoming acquainted with a bunch of rich Texan tycoons: the Travises. I can't really say too much about this without delving into some major spoiler territory, but I loved all these characters, especially Churchill and Gage. Kleypas proves, with heaping doses of skill and finesse, that it is possible for someone to write a compelling and affectionate relationship between a man and a woman without any sex. Also, in case any of you are wondering, this is how you write a relationship with a billionaire done right. Some of the scenes in this book reminded me of Hana Yori Dango, which, if you follow me at all, I'm absolutely obsessed with. I feel like there's also undertones of Jane the Virgin in here, too: the balancing of a relationship with personal obligations and responsibilities, close relationships with parental figures and role models, the (real) problems that plague rich people, and the soapy, fun prose that is colorful and tongue-in-cheek, providing a fun atmosphere even when things seem like they're getting grim - I loved it!
I think my one qualm is that towards the end, Liberty makes some very selfish decisions that had me shaking my head at how selfish she was being. I couldn't understand how Gage was OK with what she did, since it seemed so out of character with what he said he was all about (plus he's an alpha, and that's his woman, dammit! yes, I'm putting my inner-feminist in the corner right now; this is romance, bitches, ain't nobody got time for that). I suppose it was supposed to show how much he cared for Liberty, that he was willing to give her the space to make her own decisions. But speaking as someone who was on the receiving end of that kind of behavior in the past, I can tell you that if you really care about someone, it hurts like a son of a bitch to be treated that way.
SUGAR DADDY is a really great book - it's not too light, so people who like drahma that is more complicated than the bitch-slapping matches you see on reality TV will be able to devour this greedily, and without remorse. It's also not too dark, so if you prefer your stories to have HEAs, or at least HFNs, you won't be disappointed. It was really great to see one of my favorite historical romance authors branch out, writing not just in a new time period, but also in a new style, and see her succeed at this experiment so beautifully.
Victoria Holt is the book equivalent of a bag of Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. On the one hand, you could find yourself with the crisp tartness of green apple, the sweet but satisfying blueberry, or the odd but intriguing black pepper. On the other hand, you could just as easily find yourself with one of the earwax or vomit flavors. And this book, THE DEMON LOVER, is definitely vomit flavored.
Kate Collison comes from a long line of artists, all of whom go by the initials KC when they sign their paintings. Her father, Kendal Collison, is widely renowned, but slowly and tragically losing his sight due to cataracts that are forming in his eyes. Since he has no son to carry out his work, his desire is that Kate follow in his footsteps, and what better way to start than to help him with his latest commission - a set of wedding miniatures for a baron and a princess?
Kate and her father go to the baron's castle, and are greeted with some surprise because, good lord, a woman?! Their ruse is that Kate is helping her elderly father get around, because both of them know that a paining done by a woman carries the risk of stigma from sexist tradionalists. So the baron sits for Kate's father while Kate watches and takes careful notes of his face so that she can complete the finer details of the miniature in the privacy of her chambers. I liked the opening sequence of this book quite a bit - the relationship between Kate and her father, the description of the artist's process, and her banter with the baron were all very well done, & in line with what I expect from this author.
Of course, it turns out that the baron knew all along what Kate & her father were doing - and not only that, but he was sneaking into her rooms to study the miniature even though they asked him not to look until it was finished. The baron is so proud and self-centered and arrogant, that Kate takes an immediate dislike to him, although she feels conflicted about these feelings because he's totally cool with the fact that she's a female artist and a word from him ends up making her a success, too. Also, there's a silver lining in the form of his cousin, Bertrand, who is everything the baron is not - young, thoughtful, classically handsome, considerate, kind...Kate ends up falling for him on the spot, and the two plan to be married, even, except the baron doesn't go in for that. No, he wants Bertrand to marry his cast-off mistress, Nicole, who is of no use to him now that he is married. Bertrand expresses rage that the baron wants to give him his sloppy seconds, and says that he doesn't want to marry a woman he knows the baron has slept with, because he'll always think of his baron and wife together...ew.
They plan to elope in France, which is where the princess lives that is going to marry the baron. Kate ends up befriending the princess Marie-Claude, who has a stubborn streak a mile wide and is ambivalent about marrying the baron, not the least because she has a secret paramour on the side. As Kate is wandering around the streets of France, she is nearly kidnapped when coming out of a shop & escapes just in time. Then she is summoned by the baron (I forgot why - I think it's about the miniatures) - and goes back to his corner of the world, only to have the carriage wheel break. She stays with some of his help in their cabin, and has a lovely dinner, and a bottle of wine. Oh, and that wine? Drugged, by order of the baron. When Kate wakes up, she's locked up in a tower, naked, where the baron then proceeds to rape her for three days. Why? Because he wants to, and because he knows that his cousin, Bertrand, won't marry Kate if he knows that he got to her, first.
This is pretty stomach-turning, but isn't exactly a stand-out event from what happens in other bodice rippers. If anything, it's tamer than some of the romances I've read, which can go into graphic detail (I'm recalling a gang-rape scene I read in a Catherine CoultIer novel). And at first, Kate deals with what happened to her fairly realistically. She frets about who to tell, and how her engagement with Bertrand is ruined, and pretty much flinches every time she hears about the baron or his name. Which is a lot, because, thanks to him, her success has neatly linked her name to his - something he gleefully takes credit for, as though her talent were all due to him. He's a repulsive man, plain and simple, and when Kate discovers that she's pregnant, she's extremely loath to go to her sickly and depressed father and not only shock him with the awful news, but also ask him for help.
Luckily, help comes in the form of the baron's ex-mistress, Nicole, who lends her an apartment and studio in Paris for cheap and also helps her discreetly have the child. I liked Nicole a lot, and her friendship with Kate would have been quite wonderful...if she hadn't tried to persuade Kate to get back together with the baron at every given opportunity. I think if this had happened in a modern novel, I would have thrown the book across the room. I had to keep telling myself that this was a Victorian novel, and that conventions were different, and that even though the baron was her rapist, as a ruined woman with a child, Kate didn't really have a lot of options open to her. I told myself that, but it was still very hard to stomach.
Then the baron comes back into her life again, this time by insinuating himself into the life of her son, and Kate doesn't find out until it's too late and the baron has already won him over by giving her an extravagant gift. War breaks out between France and Germany, and the baron ends up spiriting them both back to his castle, where he launches an all-out assault on Kate's shaky will, telling her that she secretly liked the rape and would love it if he did it again, and telling her how much he hates his wife and wishes she was dead (he gives a lovely speech about how is sickly and depressed wife doesn't even enjoy being alive, and so she would be doing them and herself a favor by taking herself from it). He talks about how much he hates the princess's son, William (who is a bastard), and how much he likes Kendal instead. And oh, yes, Kate should definitely become his mistress!
When that doesn't work, he breaks the news to Kate's son, Kendal, that he's actually his father, and the boy, who is sad about the lack of a father figure in his life, is overjoyed. The baron throws presents, attention, and praise in the boy's way, so when Kate finally decides that she's had enough and that leaving would be best, her own son turns on her and refuses to leave. She's afraid to leave without her son, and the baron capitalizes on that. At one point, her son decides to run away because he doesn't want to leave the castle, and after she gets over her terror, she begins to wonder if maybe the baron encouraged him - or even helped him plan - to do this, due to certain uncanny conveniences in how the baron goes about rescuing him. While I'm reading this, I'm thinking, "Okay, there is no way this man can be a love interest. He doesn't regret the rape at all, or making Kate suffer. He's using her own child against her, while abusing the one he already has with neglect. This is NOT a romance, folks, in any sense of the term!" But no, Kate is falling hard and fast, even though she tells herself - repeatedly - that he is selfish and proud and absolutely no good for her.
In the last act of the book, the princess finally dies, thus freeing the baron to marry Kate if she wishes, and Kate's stepmother and ex-housekeeper, Clare, makes a rather startling confession. I found myself blinking at the last page. I could not believe what happened, or why Kate chose this as a sign that everything was okay, and that the baron could be forgiven. I'm sorry, but what? How does that mitigate any of the abuse and manipulation? It's apples and oranges, you poor, dumb broad!
I really enjoy Victoria Holt's work, but this was a crushing disappointment. Definitely vomit-flavored. I have an awful taste in the back of my throat that I feel the need to wash out with some Lisa Kleypas.
Bertrice Small has a very distinctive style. So distinct, in fact, that you could probably make a drinking game of it, although I would advise against this, as the end result would inevitably be alcohol poisoning. When you pick up a Bertrice Small book, you know that the hero and heroine are going to play a game of musical beds, until the end of the book where they're magically reunited with their 5+ children from various marriages in which their spouses were kind enough to politely off themselves in order to prevent inconvenience. You know that there are going to be bad guys, identifiable by their nymphomania/frigidity and outlandish sexual fetishes if they're women or their penchant for doing it in the butt if they are men. You know that the sex scenes are going to be outlandishly bad, with phrases like "honey oven," "love grotto," and "manroot" being used so liberally that you begin to feel like Regina from Mean Girls as you think to yourself, "Oh my God, Bertrice, stop trying to make manroot happen. It's not going to happen!"
**WARNING: SPOILERY SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT**
Skye O'Malley takes place in the 16th century. Our eponymous heroine is the youngest daughter of an Irish ship merchant/pirate, Dubhdara O'Malley. She's the prettiest of his plain daughters, so naturally she's his favorite, even though he desperately wants a son. Even though all the doctors advise against it, Dubhdara has sex with Skye's mom once more, unable to control his passions, gets her pregnant, and ends up killing her. That's okay, because adolescent back-up mom is ready and waiting in the wings. She's pretty cool for a stepmother, though, but Dubhdara O'Malley can go to hell.
Anyhoo, Skye O'Malley is a very familiar type of heroine for those of you who are into the whole bodice-ripper. She's independent and her traitorous-bodied person will not be controlled by any man - except for the crotch-hoisting alpha d-bags on parade, that is. They're the only exception. We see this in how she staunchly rebels against her father's chosen husband for her, Dom, who is a d-bag. She thinks her father's right hand dude, Niall Burke, is pretty cute, though, and the two of them have some sensuous make out sessions and pledge their mutual adoration of one another. Niall wants to marry her but his father is titled and snobby and thinks a ship captain's daughter isn't a good enough catch for his son (a decision he rues in earnest once he lays eyes on her for the first time and sees how perfect her breasts are). Niall watches in despair as Skye is wedded to another man before his eyes, with her perfect breasts on display in an indecent wedding gown, and that's when he announces his intent to take droit du seignur. Or as he puts it to Dom, "Your life, or the wench's maidenhead" (6%).
They have a magical night together, but then Clan O'Malley conspires to tie him up and bandy him away because this marriage is important politically, and Niall's father has a wife chosen for Niall already (an almost-nun spirited away from the convent just before she took her vows). Skye is sent off to live with Dom who becomes increasingly abusive, and in keeping with true Small fashion, we know that he's the bad guy because he likes to do it up the butt. Also, he's having sex with his sister, Claire, because why not pull a Jamie and Cersei Lannister for the fun of it? Why the hell not?
Niall weds Darragh and Skye gets fed up with Dom and ends up attacking him back, paralyzing him for life. She announces her intent to leave, saying that if they attempt to make demands on her, she'll announce their shame to all. Claire swears revenge. Honey Skye don't care. Darragh ends up going away for some reason...to become a nun again, I think, because she hates sex (and you can tell that she's the bad character because she's frigid and hates having sex with the hot studly muffin that is the alpha d-bag hero). Conveniently freed up, he and Skye become betrothed, but Skye tells him that she's going to be in control of her ships & they go on one of the charters...only to get wrecked!
I could make a joke about sinking ships here, but I won't. I'm above that. I'm a mature ad -
"I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP. OTP OTP OTP OTP -"
Skye winds up in Algiers, with amnesia, where she is sold into a harem run by an attractive Spaniard-turned-Muslim, Khalid El Bey (or as I like to call him, Khalid El Bae, because he is the most likable male character in this book). Khalid initially intends to turn Skye into a courtesan but she doesn't like being touched by his right-hand-woman, Yasmin, or the training eunuch, consenting to physical acts only with him. He decides that the harem life is wrong for the beautiful Skye, and instead decides to marry her, which angers Yasmin, who has been contriving to become one of his wives for years - and now that this becoming is a one-woman show, Yasmin has absolutely no intention of exiting stage left. After Skye becomes pregnant, Yasmin conspires with this captain dude named Jamil who wants to have Skye for himself. She wants him to help her kill Skye, thus freeing up Khalid for her. He agrees...but with a twist - he's going to drug Khalid, so that he will be in Skye's bed. So instead of killing Skye, the love-maddened Yasmin will kill Khalid, thus freeing up Skye for him. My bae dies, and Yasmin is so distraught she kills herself after confessing all, and Skye is forced to escape from Algiers with the help of her friend Robert Small, but not before drugging Jamil in revenge with a powder that turns him impotent. I thought for sure that Jamil would appear again later on in the story, but nope, that's curtains for him. After this sequence, we never see him again.
Meanwhile, Niall is in Majorca for some reason and meets this count whose wife was held hostage by pirates. He considers this a taint on the family honor and has never allowed his daughter to marry because of this, scaring off potential suitors by insinuating that she's the offspring of a gang-banged whore. Niall is enchanted by the barely-adolescent Constanza and after having sex with her in a field, announces to her father that her virtue is compromised before offering for her hand.
Skye lies low for a while with Robert for a while, who helps create a backstory for Skye with amnesia. He has the feeling that "Wife of the Whoremaster of Algiers" is not a title that will impress the Elizabethan court. So he comes up with a tragic story for her before they go to England, and with her riches she buys up property next to Geoffrey Southwood, who is entranced by her perfect bosoms and her utter disdain for him. He enters a bet with his friend that he can make her his mistress before the year is out, made more tempting because he has a feeling he knows who Skye really is and can blackmail her by threatening to ruin her young daughter's prospects by exposing her secrets.
But Geoffrey falls prone to the beauty of Skye and after having sex with her many, many times in many, many places, ends up marrying her. Niall comes to the wedding with his new bride and is horrified to see the ghost of his presumed-dead wife marrying another man. He wonders if it's her, or if it's one of her father's bastards. His preoccupation ends up isolating him from his wife, who begins to take up lovers. It turns out that Constanza is a nymphomaniac, and her mother was as well - yes, the countess wasn't actually a victim, she voluntarily had sex with all of her pirate captors because she didn't think her husband did a good enough job, and Constanza is cast in the same mold. She actually goes to work in a brothel under the pseudonym "Book Lady", acting out scenes from the Kama Sutra, and the brothel is run by none other than the Incesty Claire, who is thrilled at this chance at revenge!
There's a duel, and Niall kills one of the men who slept with his wife before taking a wound to the chest. Skye gets all her memories back and is devastated to learn that she was married to Niall and has two other children she totally forgot about. Geoffrey is jealous. There's a disease that kills off two of her children and her husband, but not before we're treated to the picturesque scene of Skye's servant hooking her fingers into Geoffrey's mouth to pull out the mucous clogging up his throat. Ew. With Geoffrey out of the picture, Robert Dudley starts sniffing around her skirts, before blackmailing her into sex. We know he's the bad guy, because he enjoys doing it up the butt and also because he makes Skye call him "Papa" during sex. Ew. Skye goes running to Queen Elizabeth and finds out that Elizabeth not only knows about this, but condones it, and then swears revenge.There's a scene with a giant, rapey orgy, involving a twelve-year-old girl and a dog. I'd say that this was a shock to me, but in one of Small's other books, BIANCA, there's a very similar scene involving a donkey. The book rapidly ends with piracy, imprisonment in the Tower, and a happily-ever after.
SKYE O'MALLEY is definitely not for the faint of heart. A lot of the male characters are unpleasant, even the alleged heroes. What Geoffrey did to his ex-wife and daughters was despicable. Niall was cruel to his other wives as well, and at several points comes pretty dang close to raping Skye. The only reason she isn't treated like human garbage is because she's beautiful. If you're not gorgeous, with heart-shaped face, sapphire-blue eyes, and perfect breasts, you're not worth the air you breathe, is that it? That's the status quo for most bodice rippers though, so Small can't really be faulted for keeping with the popular tropes of the time. The adolescent (or in some cases, even child) sex/rape is more troubling and difficult to stomach, but again, that happens in a lot of older romance novels - especially the medieval ones. That doesn't make it fun to read about, though. That dog scene, especially, was entirely unnecessary, and seemed done only to underscore what an utterly despicable person Robert Dudely was (as if we didn't know that already from his butt-happy ways). Also, Bertrice Small proves that she's too good for walking off into the sunset hand-in-hand; her happily reuniting couple indulge in a bit of lactation porn instead - because why not? Why the hell not?
My favorite parts of the book were actually the scenes that most people seemed to like least - the food and costume porn. Say what you like about the dubious content (and consent) in Small's books, the woman clearly had a passion for history, even if she wasn't always quite sure what she wanted to do with it. I think I'd have liked to peruse her home library and see what works of fiction and nonfiction inspired her to come up with some of the stories she did. There's beautiful descriptions of clothes and food in here that made me itch to go shopping. It's pretty hilarious, though, combing through the reviews. About half the people who read this book seemed to love it and the other half seem to loathe it entirely for the reasons I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Understandably so, I'd say.
I read this book for the Halloween 2016 Reading Challenge I'm doing with the Unapologetic Romance Readers group. One of the categories was "a romance written by an author who is dead" and sadly, Bertrice Small died last year. What a loss. I mean that, too. I have a love-hate relationship with her romances, but I do think it's cool that she had a style that was so distinctly her own. Few authors are capable of achieving that, and as much as I make fun of Small's style, I'm envious of it, as well. When her book went on sale for $1.99, I snagged it, because I knew immediately that she was the author I wanted to pay homage to in my challenge. If SKYE O'MALLEY was just 200 pages shorter and a bit better edited, I think I would have liked it a lot more, but it's still a worthy addition to the cringeworthy bodice ripper cannon. Read at your own risk!
You know what I like best about Bertrice Small? Her work is like glorious, trashy fanfiction of historical characters, set in an AU of special specialness, where all "good people" are beautiful, unless they're female and not the heroine in which case they are "evil, conniving you-know-whats," and all ugly/fat people are slovenly villains. The descriptions of clothes and food last for pages; in my heart of hearts, I imagine Bertie and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro sitting down together for coffee, trading ideas of how to squeeze as much clothes porn into one's books as possible. #IShipIt
THE KADIN is set in the 16th century - so yes, history snobs, I realize that I'm using a Renaissance book for my Medieval challenge...and I do not CARE! Mua ha ha ha. Janet Leslie is a beautiful and feisty Scots girl who is supposed to marry a nobleman, but her Moorish slave betrays, and she ends up being sold to a slave trader who spirits her away to the Middle East. With her vibrant red hair, vibrant green eyes, and amazing bod, she fetches the price of 30,000 coins from a eunuch under the employ of Sultan Bajazet. It turns out that he's planning this great conspiracy to collect brides for Bajazet's younger son, Selim I, to put him on the throne instead of the two older brothers. The best way to do that is to have a stunning harem filled with viable wives; a sign of power.
I really liked the story of Zuleika, Farousi, and Cyra. I'm a huge fan of intrigue storylines, and the war that the women had against Besma, the evil mother-in-law, was fantastic. I read through these sections in fifty-page chunks and had a hard time putting the book down. I also liked how the focus of this story was on the friendship of the women - I've never encountered a Bertrice Small book with that theme before; she's usually all about that girl-on-girl hate. It's a unconventional love story, as any story would be where the heroines share one man, but I actually thought it was pretty well done (although, of course, Cyra/Janet has to be the favorite). Kind of like a Renaissance edition of Big Love. Honestly, the title of this book shouldn't be THE KADIN. It should be called THE FAVORITE, or THE SUE (as in, The Mary Sue), because whenever Janet/Cyra had the spotlight, she hogged and mugged it like a reality TV star wearing six inch platform heels and metric ton of bling, and saying, all sassy-like, "I didn't come here to make friends."
I've only read a handful of Small novels - this one is either my fourth or my fifth - but she has a definite theme: terrible sex scenes with all the euphemisms done in the purplest prose you can imagine; very young teenage heroines (the one in this novel was like fourteen or fifteen at the beginning); heroes who fluctuate between abusive and attentive; and That One Catty Witch character who is jealous of the heroine(s) and must destroy her At All Costs. The Catty Witch character is played out by three different women in this book, and Besma was the best. The evil daughter-in-law was pretty good too but by that point, it just felt like Besma Redux, like Small was trying to plump out the page count and was recycling the earlier plot thread. Anne was just lame, a pathetic Dickensian-order of witch-with-a-b and she had me rolling my eyes more than she had me screaming, "Bertie! Bertie! Bertie!" in a live-stage audience for a special taping of "My Sister-in-Law Thinks I'm Too Sexy for Sixty!" (seriously, was it really necessary to say - repeatedly - how even fifty-year-old Janet/Cyra looked like a teenager?)
The book falls apart in the last act, when Janet/Cyra returns to Scotland and encounters Anne of Green-with-Envy-Gables and the odious Colin Hay, love interest #2, who is such a CREEP. He takes her by force and then the next day they're cuddling. Um. Also, at one point, he tells her that she had better take her dress off because it "screams rape" - whatever that means. He also brags about how he killed one of his previous wives because he caught her cheating on him. Brags about it. Like it was his right. Oh, and just in case that weren't enough, King James also makes an appearance and takes advantage of her too, basically using the "it's not rape if you're a king" excuse, because nobody can say no to a king (*SIDE EYE*), but it's okay because he makes Janet/Cyra a countess as a reward. The book ends with the Battle of Solway Moss and that's where I started skimming, because I no longer cared about Countess Special and her Special Family. It's pretty boring to read about a woman who always gets her way and is admired wherever she goes. There's no conflict.
I highly doubt that this book is historically accurate, although it did inspire me to do some research while I was reading to get some background information, and some of the details did actually seem correct. For example, Selim I was known for killing many of his viziers, to the point that a popular curse at the time was allegedly "May you be a vizier to Sultan Selim" - something this book does mention. I always wonder if part of the problem can be chalked up to the research materials that were available at the time. The internet makes verifying information so much easier, and offers so many more tools; researchers in the old days had to venture into the stacks or delve into the microfiche, and it took so much more dedication. Based on my superficial research, I suspect that the character of Cyra/Janet was loosely based on an actual person: Hafsa Sultan. It makes sense, because Janet/Cyra is referred to as Hafise Sultan in the book. Hafsa Sultan was also probably a convert to Islam and not native to Turkey, according to the Wiki article and the linked sites used as reference, but unlike Janet/Cyra, Hafsa Sultan was not from Scotland or even Western Europe. She was (most likely) Circassian or Georgian. I guess maybe it was more "special" to have someone with unusual coloring as the heroine, as opposed to what Hafsa Sultan actually looked like. Also, Bertie Small seems to have had a thing for blonde/red-haired/fair protagonists. Whatever, it just seemed weird...
Overall, this was a pretty good story. If not for the last 25%, I would have given this a five on entertainment value. But that eye-glazing ending was so bad that I deducted a star and a half, and can't really give this book anything more than a 3.5. If I recall, ADORA - another book I really liked - had the same problem. There was more WTFery in the storyline, and more of the bad sex scenes that she was known for, but it was also marred by slow spots that had me skimming to the "good stuff." Like Stephen King, Bertrice Small appeared to have had difficulty knowing when to let her characters go and how to wrap things up with a nice and tidy bow and not, say, a tangle of shoelaces.
Still; if you're into tales of court intrigue and outlandish adventures, this book is a solid choice.
ETA: One thing I forgot to mention in my original posting of this review - THERE ARE SO MANY FREAKING TYPOS. Seriously, who ever typed this up from the paperback format to the ebook format did a really, really, really, really bad job. There were sentences missing periods, names changing (yasmak became "jasmak" and Hadji Bey became "Hadji Bay" and I'm pretty sure Bejazet became "Bajazet" a handful of times). There are self-published books that are edited better than this, many of them without the benefit of an editor. So what the heck happened here, HarperCollins?
Here are some of the book's greatest hits (emphasis mine):
Anne took another tact (383). (It should be "tack" - I looked it up to be sure. It's a common mistake people make, like "pass mustard" instead of "pass muster.")
Marie of Guise-Lorraine stared hared at Janet (439).