Pretty Face (CBR9 #14)

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First, a note: read this in as few sittings as possible. Lucy Parker’s writing is best in long drinks, not short sips. I should NOT have read this before bed over a series of nights, but I just didn’t want to read Grunt by Mary Roach, nor can I do audio before I sleep.

Next: If you are a contemporary romance reader, or someone who wants to flirt with reading the genre run out right now and get your hands on this, its predecessor Act Like It, or Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game.

Now, for this actual book that I’m supposed to be reviewing. I have a fondness for the way in which Lucy Parker builds her world, it’s quick, and quiet, and with a deft hand she plunks you in the middle of an environment without paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition. Her word choice and well-chosen details build out the world and its people so that you know what you are reading and where they are, without being bogged down. Parker allows your imagination room to play and fill in the details for yourself.

Moreover, the details she does provide are delicious. In the case of our male lead: “Luc Savage looked like Gregory Peck, circa some dapper time between Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird. There was more bulk in the shoulders, silver in the hair and darkness in the soul; otherwise, the resemblance was uncanny.”

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The story is rather straightforward, Luc is one of the London theatre’s best directors and he is reopening his family’s theatre after much familial difficulty with a new play, 1553, which is a character study of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Lady Jane Grey. He needs an Elizabeth and after much struggle in filling the role he agrees – under pressure – to see Lily Lamprey. The problem with Lily is that she has spent the past several years playing a bubbly, porn voiced, sex kitten on a period drama. Her reputation is not good, and Luc has serious concerns about her vocal strength. Lily nails the audition and is cast, but from the moment go each is trying to ignore sparks between them.

The budding romance between these two characters should have made me shake my head no. On paper, it is not great. There is a 14-year age gap, he is her boss and employer, he just got out of an eight-year relationship, and she has massive trust issues. Yet… it works precisely because the characters name all the issues, which should keep them apart and spend a more than usual time for romance books apart from each other because of them.

Even though this is a rather slim volume, Parker still manages to work in some great cultural commentary into her book. Sexism, like in Career of Evil, is the underlying plot. Parker portrays for the reader the unrelenting sexism that Lily puts up with based on her looks and her previous role. She is all too often presumed to be an airhead and merely an object for others to look upon.  The way she, and Luc once he gets his head on straight, withstands the constant wave of our culture’s casual sexism is a the kind of character detail which I am growing to expect from Parker.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

4 stars, do read.

Dukes Prefer Blondes (CBR9 #1)

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Here we are again lovelies. It’s the beginning of another Cannonball Read and I am telling you about a romance novel that I enjoyed and picked up based on the suggestions of other cannonballers. It’s the system at its finest, really.

We almost read this one for Book Club last year, and part of me wishes we had, and another part of me thinks this one would have been a little too tropey as well. And I say that knowing full well that it ended up on Mrs. Julien’s best of list for CBR8.

I don’t normally struggle with reviews, but I’m having a tough time coming up with my point of view on this one. Dukes Prefer Blondes didn’t really grab me out of the gate, and that might be my own fault for reading it before bed on vacation. The book is also fourth in a series, and I haven’t read any of them. You don’t need to, but I could tell there was backstory I wasn’t quite piecing together in the early part of the book.

Our romantic pair in this outing is Oliver “Raven” Radford and Lady Clara Fairfax. She was raised to marry a duke (I believe see book 1 of the series for further details?) and he is a barrister like his father and third in line to a dukedom, but his cousin is only a few years older than him and it looks as though he will continue his life just as it is. Of course, that’s where Lady Clara arrives needing his help to find and rescue a boy from a nefarious crime figure. Drama Ensues.

The parts of the book which focus on the relationship building between Raven and Clara worked for me, particularly when he needs to convince her family to let them wed. But the narrative felt uneven in places, as though the three distinct acts of the book were actually three novellas all about the same characters. I’m not complaining, really, just processing as I type. Ah, I’m a little rusty at this reviewing thing

So, to recap: yes, read this book, but your mileage may vary.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, now in its ninth year. You can join us in reading, reviewing, and saying fuck you to cancer until January 13, 2017 when registration closes. Otherwise, please just come on by and read reviews or keep an eye out for our Book Club posts. All are welcome.

A Wallflower Christmas (CBR8 #84)

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It should be known that I am a completist. I love to complete a series, it’s like the book version of checking the last thing off of a to do list. (I also like to do lists.) To cap off the Wallflowers series Lisa Kleypas wrote A Wallflower Christmas, and I was in because I also like to finish the year with a Christmassy read when I can, and I’ve already reread and reviewed A Kiss for Midwinter once this Cannonball.

As I summarized in my review of Scandal in Spring, Kleypas set herself up with four friends who were on the outside of the matchmaking market of their various seasons, and found fun and interesting pairings for each. Half of our Wallflowers are sisters, and this fifth book (although a very skimpy 200 pages in my hardcover version from the library) focuses on their eldest brother Rafe. We’ve already been introduced to the horrible parenting of the Bowmans, and Rafe’s childhood was certainly no better and perhaps worse. While I have a fondness for men with terrible childhoods as romance protagonists, this book suffers from other shortcomings which bring it down to a two.

While not the most grievous, it should be noted that this book reads like a series of vignettes as opposed to an actual story. If Kleypas had released the characters of Rafe and Hannah to their own 100 page novella the story flow would have progressed nicely, but in order to shoehorn in the visits with the beloved Wallflowers, and create a place for Hannah in the pantheon, the narrative arc is sacrificed in places. And that is not the worst crime, Kleypas’ worst crime and what in all honesty has me rounding this down to 2 stars is the nonsensical plot line where Lillian thinks Marcus has eyes for another woman and the amount of real estate it is given in this book in comparison to our short visits with Simon, Sebastian, and Matthew.

But even that 100 page novella would need something more, because the story is very paint by the numbers, and per Kleypas’ Authors Note at the end is a way to give her readers what they want, and hopefully convince them to move over to her other series.

Do I regret reading this? No, it’s not bad; it’s just not very good. Rafe is a rake out of central casting with a grudge against his father and designs on being let back into the family business. Hannah is a woman of middle class means just trying to ensure her cousin marries for love and will be treated well while trying to find a small corner of life for herself – and has her thoughts turned completely upside down by falling in love with the very opposite of “good” Rafe. It filled that perfect place for me as something to read while sitting in an airport and then on a plane and not being able to concentrate since the world is alive with holiday travelers. This is review 84, and I had hoped to get to 85 (from an overly ambitious 91, that would have been 1 and three quarters cannonball). I still have about a week, but I don’t know if I’ll sneak another one in. If I don’t, it’s been a great year cannonballers and I’ll see you in January for CBR9.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for CBR9 (yes our ninth year!) will be open until January 13th, 2017. Come join us.

On the Way to the Wedding (CBR8 #82)

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The end of 2016 finds me reading and reviewing quite a few Romance novels. This is my third in recent weeks. I decided to read the second four books in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series this year, which meant it was time to make sure I hit that goal and finally get to Gregory’s book, On the Way to the Wedding.

When I started the Bridgerton series in 2015, I knew from the romance readers around Cannonball Read that these were peak Quinn books, and I was starting with perhaps the cream of the crop for this author. I didn’t care, given the variety of my reading habits I knew I would and could stretch these books out over a few years. 2015 saw me read, review, and highly enjoy (well, mostly) The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. I ended on a high note; I waffle back and forth about whether Benedict or Colin’s book is my favorite.

2016 started off with a bit of fits and starts as far as Bridgerton books were concerned. To Sir Phillip, With Love and When He Was Wicked were set concurrently with Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and reading them separated over many months did not help the experience, although Eloise in To Sir Phillip was a delight to me. It’s in His Kiss moves forward to the next year and embarks on the story of youngest Bridgerton Hyacinth and her love Gareth. The Eloise/Phillip and Hyacinth/Gareth books were the high points for me in the second half, and while I fell hard for book eight’s pairing of Gregory and Hyacinth, their book didn’t completely live up to the characters Quinn built.

At this point, nearly 300 words in, I feel I should say that this book is firmly a 3.5 rating for me. It was a perfectly serviceable Bridgerton book, and Quinn continues to excel at building great characters, but she doesn’t always know what to do with them, specifically when providing an antagonist. I personally find that Quinn’s style is at its best when the problems remain within the character’s own personalities, (Sophie’s distrust, Colin’s blindness to what’s been right in front of him, Hyacinth’s bullheadedness), but where there is some sort of external dilemma… Quinn struggles. I’m not alone here, either. Malin, in her review of this book, says Quinn “rarely manages to do good antagonists and the books where there is no outside party trying to interfere with the lovers are generally better.” Mrs. Julien is with us too: “the only challenge is that it seems to be hard for her to shift gears when the going needs to get tough.  Everything glides along beautifully, but when the action in On the Way to the Wedding gets ratcheted up, it’s too sudden a tonal shift and jarred with the carefully crafted buoyancy of the rest of the story”.

The outside antagonists in On the Way to the Wedding are the men contracting Lucy’s betrothal to Lord Haselby. Both are odious, overbearing, and violent. One is worse than the other, and when the true levels of his treachery are uncovered the novel takes a decided turn in tone, heading for suspense. Up until this point this is just another fluffy, light, whimsical meditation on what love is, and what falling in love feels like, or doesn’t. I was on board. This was the good stuff: if you’re already spoken for and your best friend is a stunning beauty, what is your understanding of falling in love? Particularly if you haven’t laid eyes on your betrothed in years? What if you are the last unmarried sibling in your family where everyone has found a truly loving pairing, how does that affect your thoughts on the ease of finding love? This is what I am here for.

And then… the sturm and drang of it all gets well out of proportion. Thankfully Quinn balances this against reappearances by several beloved siblings and Violet, but you know something’s off when not even Colin can pacify me. It’s also a nitpick, but we as the reader never find out how exactly these two crazy kids overcome the various obstacles to their wedding and if they are ever properly accepted in polite society, since the epilogue skips ahead 12 or 13 years. Is it answered somewhere else? I have questions.

With this I conclude my reading of the main books of the Bridgerton series. I’ll be on the lookout for more Quinn, but next year’s Romance reading will be focused on Lisa Kleypas’ Hawthorne series, and perhaps Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series. Oh, and I really should make time for the last book in the ridiculously named Stud Club series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Reigstration to join us for CBR 9 is open until January 13, 2017.

Scandal in Spring (CBR8 #80)

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Here we have the concluding story of the Wallflowers quartet (ok, not quite, there is a Christmas book about a brother that I have already requested from the library even though Mrs. Julien marked it two stars…) and we have arrived at Daisy’s story, our last remaining Wallflower. I’ve had ups and downs with these books this year, but mostly this book ends the series on a good note.

Scandal in Spring shows that Kleypas has learned from her previous outings.  I still feel It Happened One Autumn suffered greatly in the pacing department (I was bored, and that’s never okay) this fourth book tempers the drama of the third, The Devil in Winter with the more reasonable pacing and practicality of the delightful first book, Secrets of a Summer Night (beware the beginning of that review, I probably owe the book a rewrite as it has grown on me in the last several months).

Daisy is the final remaining Wallflower and her father is done waiting for her to find a match. Lillian already nailed the most eligible bachelor in England and his business is secure, now he just needs to marry her off. In order to accomplish this goal, he gives Daisy an ultimatum: find a wealthy peer to marry or marry his protégé Matthew Swift. Daisy is not pleased about this idea.

Kleypas balances the unveiling of Matthew as not a bad man like Daisy’s father as well as moving Daisy out of the kid sister side kick role well. So much so that by the time the deed was done and these two were heading in the same direction I was not expecting the capital S scandal which is unleashed on them in the final quarter of the book. Matthew tells us it’s out there, but not what it is, and it’s a big one. This book rounds up to four and not down to three because Kleypas gives the plot time to unravel itself as it should to be even vaguely historically accurate (which she generally is, her 1840s England is recognizably 1840s) even though she doesn’t necessarily give it the page real estate it could have used. These plot points also continue to round out the cast of characters and build some good will towards them.

I’m on board with Lisa Kleypas and will be moving on to her Hawthorne series in 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Won’t you think about joining us? Registration is open until January 13th, 2017. 

Twice Tempted by a Rogue (CBR8 #79)

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At the tail end of 2015 I listened to my first Romance audio book. It was an interesting experience. Not my favorite, but also not bad. Since I started the Stud Club books that way, with Tessa Dare’s One Dance with a Duke I figured I would continue on that path for the series and picked up Twice Tempted by a Rogue.

Then I promptly forgot to read it as I worked through other books this year. When I finished We Should All Be Feminists and All the Single Ladies I needed a fluffy palate cleanser: audio book romance to the rescue!

First, I liked this one quite a bit more than its predecessor. It wasn’t burdened with world building. This is relatively early Dare, and she gets better at pacing those things out, but for now she only had one new location to introduce and a relatively small cast of characters straight out of central casting to introduce so things went more smoothly. The title is ludicrous, which is a problem with the genre as a whole, but c’mon, nothing here is remotely accurate.He’s not a rogue, she’s doing the tempting, and the temptations are nonstop.

We follow Rhys St. Maur and Meredith Maddox as they square off and fall in love. Easy. He’s the very definition of a tortured soul and she’s a by the bootstraps survivor. They have a shared history, and it is both a boon and a problem for their furthering relationship. I’ll say no more here because this is a very straightforward love story and to recount the play by plays just doesn’t serve it.

The MURDER subplot is back, but it is contained to the second half of the novel and only completely dominates a couple scenes. We are also in the “someone else is off looking for clues” portion where we as the reader can sit back and let that disaster of a story line wait for the third book. The final quarter of the book is a bit cheesy and overly dramatic (Cave Ins! Runaway Carriages!), which was probably exacerbated by there not being as many story lines cluttering up the narrative as there was in One Dance with a Duke. Dare may have felt the need to ramp of the DRAMA, when really, this book had great small scale romance elements, a la Lisa Kleypas.

But I really enjoyed my time with these characters, and while its tough sometimes to listen to narrators have to be in the voice of the opposite sex, the narration here was good, even at 1.25 speed. I’m an outlier, this book is the lowest rated of the series over on Goodreads, but I liked it quite a bit – for exactly what it is.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open through Friday January 13 for Cannonball Read 9.

Waiting for Clark & Served Hot (CBR8 #62-63)

Mrs. Julien’s review of Waiting for Clark reminded me that I had picked up two Annabeth Albert books following ellepkay’s reviews, and should probably read them in between library books. While owning my romance reading habits, I have also been attempting to be more LGBTQ inclusive in my reading overall (with varying degrees of success), and felt overdue in that department.

Let’s start with the good.

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Waiting for Clark is based on a prompt and image given to Albert as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s “Love is an Open Road” event last year where members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Albert got:

Dear Author,
My friends and I love cosplay, and this year we’re going all out for our city’s con. Yup, we’re going to go as members of the Justice League. I’m going as Batman, but I can’t figure out who’s going as a Superman. My friends are being a little cagey. What’s going on? How did I go from not knowing who Superman is to making out with the guy?

Photo Description:
In a cartoon drawing, Batman and Superman are locked in an embrace, kissing. Superman is taller and clutching Batman to him. Batman has more muscles and has visible tattoos on his arms. Superman has broader shoulders and dark hair. Batman is stretching up to meet him and has one foot kicked behind him. Behind them is a graffiti-covered wall, and Superman’s rainbow-lined cape swirls around them. The prompter specified that the picture is two men in cosplay costumes at a Comic Con convention.

Kept short and crisply paced, this story (under 100 pages) shows a balanced approach to its character development, giving us flashbacks to their college days and rooted in the here and now. Clark and Bryce (yep, Albert went all in on the Batman/Superman theme) had feelings for each other, but between not want to ruin their friendship and roommate relationship, dating other people, or living on different sides of the country if not ocean – things just didn’t work out. Enter our meet cute 5 years later, and Clark shows back up in his life, at a Comic Con with Bryce dressed as Batman and Clark as Superman.  Bryce doesn’t know how to trust it Clark, and Clark has to convince Bryce that they should give a relationship a try.

I appreciated the second chance tropes running through, the rounded out world of background characters, the steamy sex scenes (this does not have cuddling like The Hating Game), and the fact that both characters were out.

Three Stars

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As to the less good, the other Albert short that I picked up based on ellepkay’s review was Served Hot, first in the Portland Heat series. This one is the story of Robby ad David. Robby is a coffee cart owner and David is one of his regular customers, who walks several blocks, past several other coffee options, to see Robby. Set up with seasonal check-ins, it’s the story of Robby and David dating and falling for each other, and unpacking ALL of David’s considerable small-town closeted baggage.

This one had too much angst for me, too much trouble with communication, and ultimately suffered at only being told from Robby’s perspective. I can appreciate that Albert is trying to tell a variety of experiences, and that Robby is a POC protagonist (woo!) but this one felt like a slog, and nothing cruising it at right around 100 pages should feel that way. I don’t know that I’ll be checking back in with Albert’s writing any time soon.

2 stars.

These books were read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.