Lord of Scoundrels (CBR9 #16)

Image result for lord of scoundrels loretta chase

This friends, is why you review books right away. Because I don’t really remember a darn thing about this audio book I finished it last Monday.

You see, I’ve been packing, and moving, and generally trying to survive work. While not the best time to try to read and review, let’s see if I can’t give this book a fair shake. You’ll be getting review in bullet point format.

Overall impressions: it was good. I cranked up the audio speed though because the narrator was a bit laconic in her delivery, but her vocal differentiation worked well. The heroine, Jessica Trent, is the draw here. She has everyone’s number and will bend events to her will.

General Thoughts about this Romance Offering:

  • Our hero, Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain is a tough character to root for. He’s the damaged sort of male who is going to make the world suffer for his lot in life but when Loretta Chase is on, she can make this Alphahole type work. I begrudgingly found myself liking him and rolling my eyes at him the same way that his ladylove did.
    • He also has ISSUES with women, and that can make for a difficult read, be warned.
  • Jessica Trent is the type of sterner stuff you want to see a romance lead be made of. Yes, the various plot points surrounding here can feel far-fetched for even Regency romance reading, but I love her. She starts the book as a spinster bluestocking of no consequence by choice, she’s intelligent, sharp, quick witted, perceptive, and she has interests and (shockingly) a career plan. She grounds the otherwise audacious plot offerings.
  • In the second half of the book Chase does the unfortunately unexpected for the genre and has her characters establish an honest relationship beyond the physical, and its one of the books many strengths.
  • The always present but often unwelcome subplot problem: A note to authors from your very own faintingviolet – you do not have to string the McGuffin that was your meet cute item all the way through the story and have some sort of terrible calamity around it. There was enough calamity with the secondary plot of the by-blow son.
  • When the big reveal about the son happens we aren’t subjected to pages upon pages of misunderstandings, but instead the characters have grown and developed their relationship and instead we get a chapter about dealing with the problem head on. Like grownups.

I’m going to end this review by quoting Mrs. Julien, because she sums up the overall feeling of the book better than I’m going to be able to today.

“ He takes one look at Jessica and wants to lick her from head to toe. She takes one look at Dain and wants to rip all his clothes off. LET THE GAMES BEGIN! It’s beauty and the beast meets reformed rakes make the best husbands meets tortured hero, with a side of moustache twirling by minor characters trying to ruin everyone’s day. “

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come on over and see what everyone’s reading and reviewing, you never know what you’ll find.

Mine Till Midnight (CBR9 #7)

Image result for mine till midnight

I said in my review last year of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter that I was particularly interested in seeing the character of Cam Rohan given his own book since Kleypas had taken the time to develop his character in an interesting way. Mine Till Midnight is that book, and the pairing of Cam and Amelia Hathaway five years after the events of Devil in Winter delivers on the promise, but falters a little in the overall package. It is much closer to the kind of check-in story I was hoping to find in A Wallflowers Christmas.

Mine Till Midnight (ugh with that title – its grammatically incorrect. House Grammarian takes issue) is Cam and Amelia’s story, and it works well: he knows he needs change in his life, so wants to finally abandon his gadjo ways and go back to being a Rom. Instead, the change he needs turns out to be a life with Amelia and taking on the various aspects of the life of her family as she tries to pull them up to respectability but will accept survival without embarrassing themselves. She is take charge and family focused, often to her own detriment.

Amelia’s family is a mess. Her older brother Leo is in a serious depression following an illness and the death of his fiancée, sister Win also suffered the same bout of scarlet fever and is physically diminished, Poppy is in need of a proper debut but they cannot provide one for her, and youngest Beatrix has a slight kleptomania problem in addition to any number of other things. Add in de facto brother Merripen, a gypsy who was adopted by the Hathaway parents following his abandonment and who is desperately in love with Win but won’t say anything about it because of propriety you’ve got one hell of a mess. When the Hathaways inherit, Amelia thinks things will improve, but instead things deteriorate.

Amelia is, to me, a standard eldest sister. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to her: I see some of myself in the way Kleypas builds the character of Amelia. She puts family first, worries over the details that others are only partially aware of, and does not want to let herself love after a heartbreak. Cam is taken with her looks and personality, and finds within himself the desire to put all the various Hathaway troubles to rights especially if that means binding himself to Amelia for good.

As I said, this is a good historical romance. Nevertheless, I’m rounding from 3.5 down to three stars so there must be a reason. There are a couple:

  1. The supernatural stuff. Cold rooms, ghostly presences, a change in the eyes. It was unwelcome, to me, in this continuing of the Wallflowers universe.
  2. All plot threads are left dangling to the last 50+ pages to be resolved. Something could have been resolved earlier, and some receive just a single sentence.
  3. Consent issues. Several times Amelia tells Cam that she does not want to sleep with him wherever they are (often a potentially public or unsecure location) and he goes right about moving things along regardless of her wishes. This is a historical, and in many ways I’m able to make the mental divide between the realities of then and now (particularly with Kleypas since she tends to do a better job than most of sticking with historical accuracies), but given the climate of the world around me right now the idea that Amelia’s bodily autonomy was not respected more often than not left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, readers love a take charge lead, but taking charge doesn’t mean ignoring your partners input.
  4. Too much story set up for the next books. We spend a lot of time with the fall and redemption of Leo, and many pages are spent with Merripen and Win setting up their book (which is the one I avoid, right?). Some of Kleypas’ best writing is in these scenes, but in combination with the Leo and treasure hunt (seriously, WTF?) it was all too much.

I am looking forward to checking in with the Hathaways during the year, and hopeful for continued sightings of the various Wallflowers.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come join us and say fuck you to cancer.

The Shameless Hour (CBR7 #89)

In trying to review this book I now know why some of my fellow cannonballers wait to review these series in one fell swoop instead of individually. In praising this effort from Bowen I find myself tempted to just repeat myself from previous reviews. In the fourth book in the series, Sarina Bowen has found her sweet spot and is continuing to write feminist bent romance and in many ways appears to be gunning to be the Courtney Milan of the contemporary new adult genre (as much as I love Milan, I was disappointed in her effort in this genre, Trade Me and if I had been more honest probably would’ve rounded down to a 2 star rating. I have hope for her next work in the series Hold Me next year).

What does Bowen continue to do well in this work? Well, she’s got fleshed out leads. We met Bella in the previous book in the series, The Understatement of the Year and she’s still dealing with the fallout from that book’s events as she starts her senior year at Harkness. We are introduced to Rafe, sophomore at Harkness, and are plunged into his world. Bowen also does my favorite trick that Milan also did in her Brothers Sinister series, she gender-swaps the tropes. In this book Rafe is the wallflower – he’s the quiet, respectful, occasional doormat guy who is trying to figure out how to be him, and also a gentlemen, and perhaps a relationship that works for him. If it’s with Bella, all the better. And Bella is the rake. It’s reinforced in this book, but we learn of her sexual appetite and casual promiscuity. If she wants to get naked with someone, and they return the sentiment, then she is all about it. While this attitude can make it difficult for her to interact with other women who are concerned about Bella’s possible interactions with their boyfriends, Bella owns her choices and builds her life the way she wants it. This is all good.

Rafe and Bella end up having a one night stand when Bella finds him sitting on the stairs in their dorm (can I just mention I drool whenever Bowen writes about the architecture of fictional Harkness? I would have killed to go to school at a campus like this) drinking champagne he is supposed to be having with his now ex for their birthdays. Bella sees someone in need of (platonic) company and takes him upstairs where they each share their tales of woe and the bottle of champagne. Then, because this is a romance novel, things get a lot less platonic.

There’s a LOT of story that follows that moment, the awkwardness from Rafe since he doesn’t do casual, and he certainly didn’t mean to lose his virginity to Bella that night. Rafe’s home life, their class project, and finally Bella’s victimization by a fraternity on campus and its aftermath (note, she is NOT sexually assaulted, but that doesn’t make reading what she went through any easier). Here however, is where the wheels came off a little for me, and while I did enjoy this book quite a bit (you’ll notice a four star rating of this book) it was my least favorite of the series so far. I have not yet read the final book of the series The Fifteenth Minute but it was just released and a lot of the cannonball ladies who have already read it have pointed out some concerns with how Bowen handles that book’s plot fulcrum and I knew about it before I read the final 100 pages of this one. And I can’t help but admit that it colored how I viewed the actions and reactions of Bella and Rafe.

When Bella finally starts to get back to herself following her attack, her neighbor Lianne (Hollywood teen star and computer hacker type) helps her get her revenge. Bella doesn’t want to report her attack officially, but she does want to exact some vengeance. The plot they concoct, and eventually deploy only works for me by halves. The part with the models and the signs, and the pictures – grrr. The part with handing out mugs to everyone in the stands with a warning about being possibly drugged at that particular fraternity and what the code words are for an unsafe drink? Brava!  Normally I would also moan and groan about how the laziest plot device is not having your two characters just talk about their issue or misunderstanding, but Bowen subverts that by having Rafe plan to talk to Bella before things go haywire, and then when things do there really isn’t a moment – until there is and they do talk. Then things fall a little too easily into place, one of the frat members finally reports the rest of the guys for their activities following Bella’s prank, Bella and Rafe are called into the dean to testify, and Bella’s fairy godmother nurse practitioner gives her career and grad school advice which means that she gets to stay at Harkness.

This book is good, and my issues with the back third, which I’m having trouble putting into words (but are mostly focused on Bella’s initial reaction to Rafe’s not wanting to be casual and how she phrases her argument to him), aren’t actually that big. I will be reading The Fifteenth Minute soon and I’m sure I’ll have lots of thoughts on that, but for now I’m done writing because my word count is healthily over 900.

The Year We Fell Down (CBR7 #67)

I rely wholeheartedly on the advice of fellow Romance readers as I continue to broaden my reading horizons. There is simply too much good stuff available to waste time with the bad stuff. Cannonball Read has been hit with a couple of reviews for Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series, a Contemporary/New Adult romance series set at a prestigious university in Connecticut. The reviews have been nearly unanimously positive. I of course downloaded the first one to my Nook and when trapped without my copy of Persepolis I started reading this on my phone. It is a testament to how good it was that I continued to read it on my phone (which I don’t like to do, but emergencies happen) until I finished it today.

While The Year We Fell Down fits itself in with almost all good genre romance novels out there right now by following the pacing and tropes we’re expecting, it also dunks us into a portion of the world we might not be expecting and is unflinchingly honest about it, or as much as it can be in 200 short pages. You see, our protagonists have their meet cute in the accessible dorm on their college campus. Corey Callahan suffered a spinal cord injury which has left her unable to walk unaided or have sensation in her legs and Adam Hartley broke his leg in two places and will spend the next several months healing. Both were meant to be playing for their school’s hockey team, neither will do so.

Each character also brings other baggage to the table, and in perhaps my favorite saying these characters share, they get to shoveling the shit. They are a believable pair, dealing with mostly believable issues in a completely believable way. This is good storytelling. There are a few dings against the book, focused heavily on the fact that for the life of me I often couldn’t remember the first names of our two main characters (they refer to each other almost exclusively by last name, which itself doesn’t bother me).  I’m excited to see how the stories continue and am excited that Hartley’s best friend Bridger is the protagonist in the next in the series.  While the dating stuff was cute, I really fell for these characters when they all went to Hartley’s mom’s house for Thanksgiving and I’m excited to dig more deeply into the character of Bridger that we were given a glimpse of. I’ll be ordering the rest of the series immediately, and suggest you probably just buy the whole set like Mrs. Julien suggests.

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

Persuasion (CBR7 #49)

I finally finished my reread of Persuasion as part of the Go Fug Yourself Bookclub on Goodreads. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was nice to visit a known favorite and bring some new understandings to why this book works for me.

As expected, I loved it. It’s probably unfair really since Persuasion has such a particular place in my literary heart. It’s the first Austen that I read of my own choosing and reminds me of a specific place and time. We read both Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility in high school and I fell a little in love with Austen from the get go (I’ve chronicled my love of Austen elsewhere).  So, on a study abroad trip to Oxford I picked up copies of all the Austen works I could find. Persuasion became the first I read of that collection and the one I love the most as a complete work.

Jane Austen has stronger heroines, and more overtly or dashing romantic heroes, but there is something so honest, real, and relatable about the tale of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. There are bigger, more grand moments in other novels, and Austen plays with literary devices and satirizes the novels of her day in her other works. But in Persuasion I’ve always felt that she is telling the most honest story she embarks on. We all know these characters – we have our own Marys, our own Sir Walters, our own Lady Russells, and our own Crofts. While Wentworth is the sort of romantic lead who works for me, and that letter, and his revelations of the last couple of chapters make me feel for him even more, I am more invested in this novel for the slice of life it offers on display than for the romance (even though I would list this in my top 50 romance reads if I ever get around to making such a list).

And in approaching this novel at this time in my life, no longer the young girl who pines artfully, but as the woman who still hopes and struggles to find her place, I have even more affection for Anne. She is both an injured party and the injurer. Yet, she takes no offense and shirks no blame. She doesn’t expect others to be more than they are capable of being, and owns the errors she has made and expects only what life has to bring her. Austen uses her narrator to skewer the rest of Anne’s family, but never Anne. Not because she is without sin, but because she is a fully actualized human aware of the foibles of the world.  We should all be so lucky to be an Anne Elliot and loved by a Captain Wentworth.

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

Anna and the French Kiss (CBR7 #47)

My first introduction to Stephanie Perkins was last years’ holiday anthology My True Love Gave To Me, which she both edited and contributed to. Her story,  It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown was my favorite of the group and I find myself thinking of its characters, Marigold and North, every so often six months later. Her characters were vibrant and their dialogue rang true. It really was a lovely story and I’m hoping that her contribution to 2016’s Summer Days, Summer Nights is a continuation of that story. But I digress… my love of Perkins world building and characterization had me adding Anna and the French Kiss to my TBR for Cannonball 7 as soon as I finished it.

Anna and the French Kiss has a lot of the things that made me fall in love with It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown. Young protagonists who are fully fleshed out characters with witty dialogue – yes, please. But this one didn’t sing for me. In spending some time thinking about how to review this book, I think it comes down to just not being in the right head space for these characters. I was almost able to travel to Europe this summer, but I wasn’t able to make it work so reading the descriptions of Anna’s time in Paris was exhilarating while simultaneously heartbreaking for me. And the fact that she is there against her will and basically refuses to enjoy the city in the beginning of the novel made me so sad for the character. You have 9 months in Paris! Don’t waste it!!

The other problem is that I just don’t know that I’m really the type of person that wants to read about high school romances. College, for whatever reason, works just fine for me. But senior year of high school? It just didn’t sit well with me. There are two more books in this series, and at least one moves to the college level, so maybe I’ll pursue it, I’m just not sure at the moment.

Not to leave you on a down note there were things that worked really well with this book, which leave me giving it a 3.5 rating. To quote the lovely Rainbow Rowell from her Goodreads review of this book (because she nailed the idea I was trying to find words for and I’m all about letting the professional take over): “It actually tells the story it sets out to tell. I’m really starting to hate books — love stories, especially — that skim the surface of the story they’re supposed to tell. They just say, ‘So these two fell passionately’ in love, and you’re supposed to believe it. These characters actually talk to each other (which I loved) and get to know each other. They have friends and problems and a life that you feel like you understand.”  The life that Perkins creates for her characters is rich and detailed and engrossing. You are with them at school, and in love, and in heartbreak. This is really something I try to be on the lookout for to distinguish good authors.

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

The Duke and I (CBR7 #45)

Sometimes the best historical romances read like historical fiction right up until the leads fall believably and irrefutably in love. Then it just gets better. This is very much one of those books and because of it I’ll be reading the rest of the Bridgerton books.

It was so nice to read about characters that were meant for each other, and not in the sickeningly sweet, star crossed lovers’ sort of way. Our two protagonists, Simon and Daphne, were simply well matched people in intellect and interest who had a deep and abiding connection and the hots for each other. In the real world these would be the friends you would look at and say “Yes! About time you two!” So let’s talk about them as the book’s Lady Whistledown’s Society Paper would say Ah, my gentle reader…

Simon Basset is the Duke of Hastings. My heart ached for him from the first pages of this book, a flash back to Simon’s childhood, much the same way my heart ached for Robert in The Duchess War. I wanted to see him overcome the obstacles that were set before him, to become the man he was capable of being. And he did become quite a man, although one with the hang-ups and baggage to be expected with his upbringing. Then there is Daphne, and happily enough, since at least half the story is told from her perspective I loved Daphne as well. She is dependable, down-to-earth, and funny. But what I loved about her most was her sometimes quiet and sometimes not so quiet strength. But more about that later.

The Duke and I is the first in a series of eight books, one for each of the Bridgerton siblings. This is good news for me, since I did like the family dynamics between the siblings and their mother and the humor they brought to any situation. I look forward to even more scenes of Violet Bridgerton putting her children in their places, something she does frequently. By having so much interaction with the Bridgerton family we are also given the chance to see Simon experience the natural ebb and flow of familial interactions, something he had not experienced himself.

The plot of the book is based around a fake relationship between Simon and Daphne. Daphne has been out for two seasons, but the handful of proposals she’s received have been less than stellar. Simon has returned from several years abroad and is intent on never marrying, and staying clear of the ton social season. However, he soon realizes that he is not going to be able to steer completely clear, but if he is seen to be pursuing Daphne, sister of his best friend from school, the various Mamas will leave him be, and Daphne’s social capital will improve. Much like Courtney Milan, in other hands that would be the end of the plotting and the two would fall in love. But with Quinn, we’ve got more to unpack.

Because this is a story about a truly well-suited pair, Quinn goes further and deeper into the emotions and expectations of her characters. Which brings us to the problem of *that* scene (spoilers from this point on). There is a scene in the book, after much back and forth and manipulations about getting married at all, and whether or not Simon can or won’t have children Daphne makes a choice. The choice she makes is to attempt to get pregnant against Simon’s wishes.  I obviously didn’t have enough of a problem with that scene to drop the rating of the book, but it certainly had me stopping and saying out loud to the book “Oh, Daphne don’t be that character.” There has been a problem in Romance novels of rape, and loving the rapist, but The Duke and I was only published in 2000, after the heyday of these problems in the genre. Over the course of the rest of the book, and even in the scene leading up to the act, Quinn brings out the ambiguity from both sides of what has happened, and works through the issues, which kept me from being mad at the book.

As I said I was pleased with this book and looking forward to the rest of the series, even if older brother Anthony annoyed me to almost no end. (I found him to be bit of a hypocrite. Sure, he hadn’t seen Simon in 5 or 6 years, but he seemed to forget that Simon was a man he respected, and that he cared about his best friend the minute Simon and Daphne became an item and Simon became his enemy.) However, hopefully he’s calmed down some in The Viscount Who Loved Me.

The book was read, reviewed and suggested as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.