My new friend Brandy and I decided to BR a royal romance in honor of the Royal Wedding and this was a Kindle book we both had sitting on our Kindles. I'd never read anything by this author before and to be surprised, I was kind of surprised it was a romance about a prince because the dude on the cover looks more like a well-groomed biker or a rock star, but hey, to each their own. Maybe he'd be a sexy rebel cast in the mold of Harry Windsor and I could get my princely fix.
This is so stupid. It's about two scammy sisters named Zelda and Ava who like to go to casinos and scam money. They're con artists. One day, they go a scam too far and end up catching the attention of this exiled dude from a made-up country named "Monagasco" (a portmanteau of Monaco and Madagascar?) who blackmails them into agreeing to cozy up to the prince of Monagasco, or else he'll report them to the casinos for fraud, etc.
I stopped reading when the prince encounters one of the sisters (Ava, I think) standing outside on a balcony reciting poetry to herself during a big party. Honestly, that was the straw that killed it for me because that was so unbelievably stupid. Who does that? I mean, seriously. This book was just one big suspension of disbelief after another. I'm already kind of suspicious of made-up countries because that, to me, is indicative of lazy writing (i.e., "I don't want to do any historical or cultural research, so I'm going to make something up"), and the culture and history of "Monagasco" was super vague. Why do they speak French, for example? Why not a made-up language? Monagascese?
The prince, what's-his-name was also super-skeazy. He's basically a NASCAR driver; he spends all his time racing. Which, I'm pretty sure a prince would probably not be allowed to do because of the danger factor. I don't think hobbies that could kill the heir apparent would be encouraged. Also, he and his brother (or was it his cousin?) brag about their conspicuous bad-boy activities, like orgies and cocaine, and I'm just thinking, "Cool, so the major export of their company must be tabloids, because who the hell lives like this sustainably and where are they getting the money for these activities?"
And then I got to the poetry on the balcony scene and I was done.
This is just another one of those basic romances with poor quality writing and uninspired characters. It almost reads like the author had two disparate ideas and just decided to cram them into one book. Spoiler: it didn't work.
I don't think I'll be reading anything else by this author.
Reading a book about a disease that makes people go to sleep and never wake up again is probably not the best bedtime reading, but when it comes to books, I often make bad choices. In case you couldn't tell from the title, ASLEEP is about the sleeping sickness, also known as encephalitis lethargica, literally Latin for "that thing that makes your brain swell and makes you sleepy." It's a disease that's mostly been swept under the rug and in this book, which sews together the case studies of several people who were afflicted with the disease, Crosby discusses the "mystery" behind enchephalitis lethargica and how it affected the infected.
For the most part, I thought ASLEEP was an interesting book and devoured it fairly quickly. Sometimes these medical history books can be too gruesome for me and yes, what happens to the victims in this book is truly awful (one case was particularly horrific, and I remember reading about that particular incident in one of my psychology textbooks in college as an example of how hospitals should exert more rigorous supervision over patients with a tendency to self-harm).
ASLEEP is a bit of an unsatisfying read though for two reasons. First, it's a mystery without a satisfactory ending. Doctors still aren't quite sure what caused the sleeping sickness, and while there are theories (autoimmune response? multiple diseases acting in tandem?), there is no solution. Contrast that to another medical mystery book I read a while ago about prions, where the book builds up to that one "eureka!" moment where people realize, "hmm, maybe eating brains is a bad idea!"
The second aspect of this book that was a bit of a downer for me was the way that the patients themselves were discussed. This book did not really read the way a psychologist or psychiatrist would talk about patients, and I looked up the author and it appears that she is a journalist with no psychology background that I can see (seems that she has a Master of Arts). I bring this up because one of the things that they teach you in psychology (or any other medical-related science) many, many times is to not fall into the trap of defining people by their disease. People make fun of PC-language but addressing people by the correct labels shows respect, and feeling that you are a respected human being is crucial to healing. Each case study is portrayed as a distinct "before" and "after" with the "before" being held up as the ideal and the "after" being this utterly ruinous thing that destroyed their lives and made them shattered shells of their former selves, etc. and I could almost hear all of my psych professors collectively groaning in my mind. This other review by Talulah on Goodreads goes more into depth on the specifics of the language used to describe the patients.
It felt a bit like tabloid sensationalism.
I realized that something about this book was putting me off and didn't realize what it was until I read the epilogue (which ties back to the prologue) about how the author's own grandmother being afflicted with sleeping sickness was one of the inspirations for her writing about the disease. I thought that was really interesting until I read the end part about how her when her grandmother was dying, she was trying to think about something to remember her by as a person but couldn't get over the empty space the disease had left in her (paraphrasing). Annnd that's how the book ends. On that note.
I did enjoy ASLEEP but the writing could have been less sensationalistic and more delicate in how it handled the cases of the various patients who had the sleeping sickness. I get that this book is older, and people know more about the importance of proper "labels" now, and even Oliver Sacks, who endorsed this book, comes across as comparatively insensitive in his oldest book, THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT, when you compare it to some of his more recent titles. Psychology is a new field and it's changing so fast that by the time some people finally feel competent to talk about it, some of the terms are already out of date. I mean, I still see people who make jokes that schizophrenia means multiple personality (it doesn't) or that you only use 10% of your brain (good luck with that). All it takes to change that is a little research and extra care.
A lot of gothic romance novels have really similar plots, but with THE SECRET OF MIRROR HOUSE, I had an especial case of deja vu, because it felt like a mashup of two other gothic romances that I read and enjoyed a lot more: Dorothy Eden's DARKWATER and Jennifer Blake's other book, DARK MASQUERADE. That's never a good sign.
The plot is pretty basic. Following a tragedy (the death of her mother), Amelia comes to live with her relatives at Mirror House. Once there, she realizes that they're all pretty awful people who don't seem to want her to be there, and shortly after her arrival, ends up becoming victim to a number of odd and sinister tricks, including being run down in the woods and nearly being left to drown in a swampy lake. Dun, dun, dun.
The "secret" in this case is with regard to why Amelia was invited to stay at Mirror House in the first place, and the strange, masked woman who roves the halls at night like a ghost. I wanted to be more involved in this mystery than I was, but sadly, the twist was very similar to the one in DARKWATER, down to a very similar character trope. I was also really bored for most of this book. There just wasn't enough happening and I didn't care about any of the characters. Reba and Sylvestor were creepy creepsters. James was kind of smarmy. Amelia was bland and a little TSTL. Nelville is the typical Broody McMightBeABadman gothic romance hero, except this being set in Louisiana, he drops a ton of sinister aphorisms that make him sound like a Francis Underwoodesque character who wouldn't be out of place on House of Cards.
I think the best thing about this book is the humid, claustrophobic Southern atmosphere and beautiful writing. It's pretty chilly right now, but I could just picture that swampy heat and the sticky sweat pouring down my neck, and you know that's the mark of a talented writer, being able to set the scene like that. I'm working my way through Jennifer Blake's bodice rippers and gothic romances, and so far I like her bodice rippers more, because I think the temptation with a gothic novel is to be slow in order to draw out the mystery, whereas bodice rippers, as the name implies, are all about the action.
I'm curious if there's a difference between her novels published under the Patricia Maxwell name vs. the Jennifer Blake name, because I really enjoyed the last Blake gothic romance I read, but it was originally a Maxwell title (DARK MASQUERADE). We'll see, I guess!
I can't stop staring at the way that the box set is positioned in this photo because if you look at it from the side, it kind of looks like historical menage, with the dark-haired woman slowly edging in one the red-haired woman and the dark haired man, like, "I want in on that action! Is there room for one more?" Only it's kind of creepy to think about, because that woman is her godmother (more on that).
ROYAL PRINCES OF RUTHENIA is a duology by Jennifer Blake. The books are set in a fictional Balkan country called Ruthenia, and the hero of each book is a Ruthenian prince. Initially I was skeptical because I think the last historical romance I read that was set in a fictional country was by Christina Dodd. It was not good.
These books surprised me, though - both of them are beautifully written and the first one especially has amazing dialogue. The sensory descriptions are vivid and poetic, and I can't imagine how much research went into these books because the gala scenes, fight scenes, and day-to-day scenes are equally well done. So is the sex, if you're into that sort of think, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Royal Seduction: ☆☆☆☆☆
This book was close to perfect, and you should really check out my full-length review on that book's page. ROYAL SEDUCTION is very much a classic bodice ripper, written in the vein of the other greats, like Rosemary Rogers or Laurie McBain. The writing is especially lovely in this book and the hero and heroine's witty repartee flew off the pages. There's a lot of sex but the romance doesn't really happen until later, because it's enemies to lovers - the hero thinks first that the heroine killed his brother, and then that the heroine is covering for the person who did. So yeah, he's not happy.
I seriously can't say enough about this book, although I would caution you that it does have forced seduction, so if that's something that upsets you, you should probably keep that in mind. It doesn't happen just once, either, but I personally felt like it fit the story, and that the hero was definitely being portrayed as a not-nice person for doing it. At its core, this is a book about vengeance and betrayal, so many of the bad things that do happen fit the theme of the story and the ruthlessness of the characters.
Royal Passion: ☆☆½
NOOOOOO, the first book was so good that I immediately launched into this one, and I couldn't believe the dip in quality. I don't think I've been this disappointed by a bodice ripper sequel since reading Rosemary Rogers's DARK FIRES after SWEET SAVAGE LOVE.
ROYAL PASSION is set thirty years in the future after ROYAL SEDUCTION and the hero is actually the child of the first couple. Overall, the plot kind of reads like a pale imitation of the first book: hero and heroine at odds, court intrigue, betrayals, final confrontation, near-death experience, nursing back to health, pledge to love one another forever and ever, etc.
There's also a shift in tone, which I think will please people who don't like the bodice ripper formula (e.g. bad things happening to everyone, all the time), but for me it felt really weird and jarring, because the first story was so dark and now suddenly we have secondary AND tertiary romances to pad out the plot, as well as animal sidekicks and villains who LITERALLY look like the devil. I go into more detail about my thoughts on ROYAL PASSION in my Goodreads review, but the TL;DR version is that I was expecting so much more and was delivered so much less. Boo.
I was pretty disappointed with ROYAL PASSION, but I'm rounding up for the hot lovins.
Overall, ROYAL PRINCES OF RUTHENIA was a fun, quick read. I got through this box set in just a couple days. Usually I say, "Go for the box set!" because it's such a great deal, but I feel like in this case, I'd advice you to just pick up the first book and have done with it. The first book is AMAZING.
I have this terrible habit of buying books and not reading them. I'm a book magpie: the process of acquisition is almost as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of reading itself. What this means is that I have a whole lot of unread books lying around and I'm constantly buying more instead of reading what I have. I'm trying to change that, though, and what better way than by stuffing books two or three at a time in my bag so they're there?
This is one of those books.
YA is not always my genre of choice, but one type of YA book I keep coming back to again and again is the young adult thriller. I think it's because I'm super nosy and I love the idea of everyone hiding secrets in a claustrophobic environment and then seeing those secrets gradually come to light. And what is more claustrophobic than the fishbowl of high school, where everyone is very interested in what everyone else is doing? And if one of the things that people are doing is murder, then look out world, and put on your Drama Boots™.
I actually just read another YA thriller just before this one, called LITTLE MONSTERS. Both books are somewhat similar in that they serve the dual purpose of exploring the emotionally-fraught relationships between teenage girls amidst the backdrop of a murder. LITTLE MONSTERS is more of a tale of obsession and friendship in the vein of Megan Abbott, however, whereas FAR FROM YOU is more of a romance. Specifically, a doomed LGBT romance where a girl seeks vengeance and the truth when the love of her life is murdered after digging too deep into a half-buried mystery.
Sophie was in two accidents. Both of them took something from her. The first ended up facilitating her addiction to opiates. The second stole away the person she cared about most. After a long, hard road to recovery, Sophie has emerged battered but unbroken, determined to find out what happened to her girlfriend, Mina, and what she knew that was so important that someone was willing to kill for it.
There is so much emotion in this book and I thought the subjects of sexuality and addiction were handled really well. Bisexuality, especially, was described really well in this book. All too often, you encounter books that play into the hands of the usual stereotypes: promiscuity, confusion, etc. But Sophie knows what she wants, and who she wants. And even if she feels attraction to other people - boys and girls - there is only one person that she loves. It was so beautiful. I almost cried at the end of the book, because it was so sad and tragic and poignant. Luckily, I didn't, because I was reading this on the bus, but man, it was close. It's been a while since a book hit me THAT HARD.
If you enjoy YA thrillers with edgy content and good bisexual rep, FAR FROM YOU is a great choice. I really enjoyed it a lot, and between this and LITTLE MONSTERS, I kind of want to go on a YA thriller kick. They're like Pringles, man. You can't stop at just one.
Kind of want to read this but I see that the author gave herself 5 stars on Goodreads and I think it's super gross when authors do that, so I no longeKind of want to read this but I see that the author gave herself 5 stars on Goodreads and I think it's super gross when authors do that, so I no longer want to buy this book. :/
I'm low-key shocked that this book doesn't have a bigger following, because this is the Gillian Flynn-esque mystery that I have been seeking out for months. Some YA thrillers try to sugar-coat, but LITTLE MONSTERS, as befitting its title, doesn't hold back. From the beginning to the end, Kara Thomas lets you know that girls are more than capable of being the creatures you fear when you're falling asleep in the dark, only deadly - and real.
Kacey has recently moved in with her father and stepmother after leaving her abusive mother. She has a new stepbrother and half-sister, as well, although her relationship with the whole family is good and not something she takes for granted after having such a tumultuous childhood. She also has two friends named Jade and Bailey, although their relationship, in the way of most teen girl relationships, is tense and fraught with tension.
While reading this book, I kept thinking that it reminded me of something - and then it hit me: Sarah Pinborough's 13 MINUTES. That suffocating small-town paranoia of everyone being in everyone else's business; the mean girls with a sinister (maybe?) agenda, and the twists upon twists upon twists? Yeah, both books have you covered. I feel like if you enjoy Gillian Flynn's work, you will enjoy both of these, but 13 MINUTES is more like GONE GIRL where the easy answer isn't the right one, whereas this book is more like SHARP OBJECTS - there's a twist, and there's a twist about the twist that will make you question everything.
By the way, I liked SHARP OBJECTS more than I did GONE GIRL.
I really enjoyed this book and finished it in basically a day. The pacing was perfect, the diary entries were super creepy, and the twist was unexpected. I literally did not expect who dunnit until the moment of the grand reveal(s), and I'm hard to shock. I'm surprised how many people didn't seem to enjoy this book, but if you like "soft" and easy reads, LITTLE MONSTERS definitely does not fit the bill as it shows girls - and boys - at their most brutal, which is not comfortable reading for everyone.
I, however, loved it - and can't wait to read Kara Thomas's next book.
P.S. Sorry for being all secretive and vague but with books like this, less is definitely more!
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
We all have some friends whose opinions about books are so similar to ours that if they rate a book highly, we immediately zoom out to the Kindle Store to buy it. I know I do. But there are also some bloggers out there whose tastes are so antithetical to mine that if I see that they have given a book five stars, it automatically goes on my internal do-not-buy list.
This happened in the case of THE SILVER SWAN, but unfortunately, I had already downloaded it from the Kindle Store, and I figured that maybe it could be good. Sometimes I like dark smutty stories, if they're dark and smutty enough. But they have to be well-written and they have to be interesting.
THE SILVER SWAN was neither.
THE SILVER SWAN kind of feels like it was heavily influenced by Penelope Douglas's Devil's Night series and Erin Watt's PAPER PRINCESS. The main character, Madi, is a "troubled" rich girl whose mother killed her husband's mistress before killing herself with one of Madi's own guns (Madi's a gun nut). As a fresh start, her father has enrolled her in a rich kid's school in a rich kid area, in the hope that such richy richness will magically cure her psychological problems, because I guess therapy is just another word for Aston Martin. *eye roll* Dad of the Year is an award that this man will not be getting, because he is so taken with his new wife that he neglected to inform his daughter that her step-mom has a step-brother her age, whose room is next to hers - and oh, yeah, he's a pervert.
Once at her new school, things take a turn for the TWILIGHT where Madi ends up with a Jessica of her own, only this Jessica is named Tatum and is rich as sin. She also meets ten Edwards, only these Edwards are more like his Christian Grey incarnation, if Christian Grey was a sleazy seventeen-year-old who divides his free time between lurking outside expensive nightclubs and beating off. All of them are immediately intrigued by her, even though their attention cannot be captured by any SINGLE girl, such is the immense power of their collective testosterone. Plot bonus: pervy step-brother is a member of this dicktastic elite collective, redundantly known as the Elite Kings.
The Kings waste no time in stalking Madi, sexually harassing Madi, threatening Madi with rape, with bodily harm, and even with murder. They keep making all of these vague threats about how she will die soon, or that there is a secret about her that they cannot share (thanks for the helpful info, guys). The most unstable Christian Grey of them all, Bishop, even tells her that he thinks she has a sexy spine and wants to break it, and this is of course after he threatens to disembowel her right before they have sex - yet again. I suppose if you find the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker healthy, you would see no problem with this, and it seems like Madi does, so yay for her, I guess?
As a reader of bodice rippers, I am not a stranger to OTT smut and wtfery, and when it is done well I will even tolerate it in modern erotica. Case in point: PAPER PRINCESS and, most recently, A. Zavarelli's CROW, a book that I thought I would hate and ended up loving instead. I had hoped that something similar might happen with THE SILVER SWAN, but I ended up being pretty fed up with the book because of what I perceived to be lazy writing (highly repetitive descriptions, for example: "eyes filled with mischief" occurring in two succeeding paragraphs; lots of typos) and way too many asides. The obsession with food in this book is particularly curious, with Madi constantly telling us what she wants to eat or is currently eating, and exactly how much progress she is making as she continues to eat or obtain this food in question, whether it's a sandwich, an apple, Krispey Kremes, or enough Burger King to "feed half a state."
I also didn't particularly care for Madi, and her "I'm not like other girls" attitude was particularly jarring and irritating, as was her vapid, superficial lifestyle and her easy judgment of girls who were just as quick to jump in bed with men as she was. After the umpteenth luxury product name-drop, I wanted to go to Debauve & Gallais just so I could throw an expensive projectile at her head in a particularly poignant display of irony - also added hilarity, Madi speaks of Sulpice Debauve the way Trump spoke of Frederick Douglass, implying that he continues his great work to this day, lol.
The disappointing climax was the cherry on this disappointment sundae. I'm sorry that I was not more impressed with this book, because the premise really did sound interesting, but so many other authors have run with the "rich kids hiding a deadly secret" premise and done it one better, and honestly, I'd rather just watch Hana Yori Dango, because as far as I'm concerned, that story is the OG. Many thanks to Meggie for participating in this BR with me. You should check out her review.
In my rave review of ROYAL SEDUCTION, I talk a bit about my plan to binge-read Jennifer Blake's books. The TL;DR version is that, basically, I think it's awesome how she's always putting her books up for free promotions in the Kindle Store and rather than letting her books molder away in Kindle Cloud purgatory like 90% of the other free books I have on there, I was going to read 'em all.
ROYAL PASSION seemed like a good place to start. I loved ROYAL SEDUCTION so much that it instantly became one of my new favorite bodice rippers - the sexy hero, strong heroine, beautiful writing, and oh-so-quotable dialogue made it an instant favorite.
ROYAL PASSION is a sequel to ROYAL SEDUCTION, although I think both could work as standalones. Mara is the daughter of Andre Delacroix (the "other" love interest of Angeline, the heroine of the first book). Her father is super busy working on his plantation and her mother died of a broken heart (she couldn't compete with St. Angeline and Andre apparently never got over her - Mara's MIDDLE NAME is Angeline - creepy), so she spends a lot of time with her grandmother. Unfortunately, her grandmother is a few items short of a hand basket and learns in Paris that she has a gambling addiction... after she gets way into debt.
Luckily for her, the debt collector - and self-proclaimed villain of this story - Nicholas de Landes, has a handy solution: she seduces Prince Roderic of Ruthenia, finds intel on him, and persuades him to come to a certain place at a certain time, wink wink, nudge nudge, and he'll forgive granny's debts. Just in case she has second thoughts about this, though, he's taken her grandmother hostage to be EXTRA SAFE, and will hurt her if Mara doesn't comply.
Mara is sped by carriage to a gypsy camp and then LITERALLY THROWN OUT OF THE MOVING CARRIAGE for Roderic to find. She is a terrible liar and apparently they were all out of spines at the spine store on the day that she was born, because girl has no backbone. None. She stammers something about amnesia and lost memories, and it's so obvious that Roderic does not believe her - so what does he do with the strange, suspicious woman who shows up at his gypsy camp? MAKE HER HIS HOUSEKEEPER! Because that's totally a great idea. Good job, Roderic.
From there, the plot gets a little dicey. There's some hot scenes between Roderic and Mara (unlike the first book, no forced seduction), there's some political intrigue and talk of the French rebellion, par II (following the uncertainty of the first one), there's swashbuckling, a secondary romance between Brienne of Tarth (only her name is Trude, so let's call her Brienne of Trude) and a count, and a teriary romance between a princess and her gypsy bodyguard - and, oh yes, a last minute daring escape! ...Just like the first book. In fact, they even allude to the events of the first book.
You know, IN CASE YOU MISSED THAT SUBTLETY. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
On the surface, ROYAL PASSION shares many of the same attributes that made ROYAL SEDUCTION such a win for me: lots of action scenes, a sexy blonde hero, political intrigue, and gorgeous writing. Unfortunately, ROYAL PASSION had many things that ROYAL SEDUCTION didn't that detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. There's tons of historical word dumps in here reminiscent of Victor Hugo's rambles about architecture in HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (which is appropriate because he has several cameos in here). Roderic isn't as icy-hot as his father, Rolfe; he's more of a sarcastic jerk, a la moody teenage boy, circa 1999. Mara is a wimpy heroine and didn't have me rooting for her or applauding her the way Angeline did in the first. Lastly, and most damningly, the climax of the book "felt" like it happened around 75%, which made the last 25% seem extra drawn-out and slow. (An entire chapter about boat racing and the river didn't help.)
I'm going to give this 2.5 stars because the sex scenes were really, really good and the first 3/4 of the book had decent tension. As a sequel, though, it doesn't really live up to the original, which is sad. I'd suggest reading the first book and just stopping there, but if the forced seduction element really puts you off, this book might be a safer read for you because it's definitely much less "intense."