Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Buddy read with the Unapologetic Romance Readers!

Courtney Milan is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical romance authors - maybe even rivaling that spot in my heart reserved for Lisa Kleypas (sorry, Lisa!).

One of the things I love about Milan's books are her sexy beta heroes and her incredibly intelligent heroines. THE DUCHESS WAR is no exception. Robert and Minnie meet for the first time while hiding in a parlor at a party. Robert is hiding because he is ashamed of his abusive father's legacy and the obligations and noblesse oblige of his dukedom. Minnie is hiding because she has a terrible secret in her past and is on the brink of marrying a man who appreciates her only because he thinks that she won't pitch a fuss.

Neither is what they seem.

THE DUCHESS WAR is slow to start because the hero and the heroine take a while to fall in love. They fall in lust first, which in turn is partially based on an appreciation of one another's uniquely unconventional qualities. As a chess player myself, I thought it was incredibly cool that Minnie played, and I also liked how Robert was so determined to do the right thing, even when he went about it (in his well-meaning arrogance) in the wrong way.

There is some drahma, because this wouldn't be historical-romance if there were no drahma and misunderstandings, but it's not on a scale of Julia Quinn's, which tend to have the reader screaming, "Why won't they just fucking talk to each other?" Robert has a lot of pain and suffering in his past, and he's learned to deal with it by repressing the subject. Minnie, on the other hand, goes to great length to avoid it, even though it's starting to bubble up with increasing regularity. The good news is that the drahma isn't spun out for the sake of extending page length. Miscommunication is discussed, and so are the reasons for why it occurred in the first place, which is healthy, and which I appreciated.

I also liked the sex scenes in this book. It was the hero who was more inexperienced in this instance, and when their first romantic encounter proves unsatisfactory, Minnie actually shows him how to please her. The only other book I can recall that happening in was a short by Tiffany Reisz.

I think Jess said it best: Robert is the bae.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Alice by Christina Henry

Imagine if Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino sat down at a table to do a book collaboration.

"Let's make a book with tons of over the top violence," Tarantino might say. "Sexual, physical, cannibalism - you name it!"

"Okay," Tim Burton might say. "But only if we get to ruin somebody's childhood classic with an existential nightmare set in a surrealistic landscape of angst and desolation."

"And let's have a female character go on a killing spree as she embarks upon a quest for revenge," Tarantino would add.

"Deal," Burton would finish, "just don't forget the purple spirals!"

That's kind of what ALICE is like. The eponymous main character, Alice, is not the Alice we know. She's a survivor of terrible acts she can't entirely remember, and imprisoned in a mental institution along with folks like Hatcher: a man ten years her senior who murdered his entire family with an axe.

When the two of them escape, they land up in a place purged of all magic, where evil crime lords have carved up the land into slices of terror and poverty and corruption. One of those crime lords is the man who raped and scarred Alice. Another is a brothel owner who tortures the girls in his employ. Another eats the girls he captures alive. And still another is dangerous because his motivations are completely secret. Alice and Hatcher have to deal with all of them in order to survive.

ALICE takes a while to get rolling. I actually started this months ago and lost interest around page 80. This time, I managed to finish the book, and let me tell you, once you hit page 100 or so, it's a nonstop thrill ride. To get the best effect of the world-building, I recommend reading this book at night. I had a graveyard shift last week, and as I headed to my car in the cold darkness, with mist circling the ground, and an eerie silence filling the air, it really did feel like the world of ALICE was not only possible, but also immediate. I locked the doors right away, just in case. ;)

The sequel is getting released this year. I'm hoping I can finagle an advanced copy, because that ending was frustratingly open-ended and I'm dying to find out what happens next.

4 out of 5 stars!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Seminole Song by Vella Munn

The prospect of a romance between a Seminole war chief and a half-black slave seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, despite that terrible, terrible cover. (Seriously, what is that girl wearing? And I'm pretty sure that those are belt-loops that I spy on the man's pants. Anachronistic, much?) But despite its solid start, SEMINOLE SONG really fell flat for me in the second half.

**WARNING: spoilers**

Calida is the slave of a man named Reddin Croon. Well, his wife's, actually, although that doesn't keep him from "borrowing" her. Reddin has a really creepy sexual obsession with Calida and whenever his wife goes out of town, he rapes her. The wife has been suspecting this was going on and one day she catches them in the act and threatens to tell her father (who owns the plantation). Reddin loses control & kills his life, and suggests that he might implicate Calida and cut out her tongue so she can't talk.

Calida flees and ends up in the Everglades with a man named Panther. Panther has encountered Reddin before, for various reasons. He's also familiar with slaves because a lot of the runaways seek asylum with the Seminole tribe. Panther's best friend is an escaped slave from Reddin's own plantation named Gaitor, and the Other Woman, Winter Rain, is half-Seminole, half-black.

Reddin realizes that the death of his wife is a major problem. His father in law, Isiah, comes down to micromanage things, and Reddin has to convince him that his daughter was killed by Seminoles (and he kills a few more slaves in order to keep them quiet). Reddin ends up waging a major war against the Seminoles, getting the military involved, all because he wants to punish the Seminoles for harboring Calida and get her back so he can have sex with her without the inconvenience of his wife.

I didn't really like the relationship between Panther and Calida. Panther was interesting but didn't have a lot of depth. He felt like a Marty-Stu character. Calida really annoyed me. Most of her dialogue was "No! No!" and crying. She was constantly running into danger, falling for just about every trap that came her way. This felt like an excuse to introduce Reddin Croon back into the narrative and show what a creepy pervert he was. She was also fetishized by Croon, who was super pleased that she has a "white lady's mouth" and described her as "high yellow." Ugh.

Three things I did like about this book:
1) The love interest was full Seminole. So many classic romance novels about Native Americans have the hero being "half-white." There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but it happens so frequently in romances that it does kind of feel like a cultural cop-out.

2) Winter Rain, the OW, isn't a bitch. She loves Panther and resents Calida, obviously, but she isn't catty about it. After reading THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, which featured the Queen Mother of shrewish, antagonistic romantic rivals, I really appreciated that.

3) The heroine is hesitant about having sex with the hero despite being attracted to him because of the rape. He is very nice about it, and doesn't force her at all; he waits for her to come to him.

Despite those benefits, I didn't really like SEMINOLE SONG. The premise ran too thin too quickly, and I didn't identify with any of the characters. Reddin Croon is a rapist creep, I get it! Panther is a dreamboat, okay! Calida is really, really good-looking! Give me some dimension. Give me some depth.

I was looking at the premises for some of the author's other books, though, and some of them seem intriguing (there's one about the Donner party!), so I might give her books another shot at some point.

P.S. This book flings the N-word around like rice at a wedding, so if that is something that upsets or offends you, take heed.

P.P.S. While we're on the subject of Native American romances, does anyone know of any good Choctaw romances? I'm of Choctaw descent, so it would be cool to see a romance novel about that group. :)

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars.

The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Woodiwiss is often credited with creating the first bodice ripper or the first "modern historical romance novel." I would actually disagree with both of those remarks - especially since they mean very different things. I wouldn't actually classify bodice-rippers as "romance" novels; they're more like anti-romance novels. The hero in these types of books is usually very similar to the villain, distinguishable only by a very thin and wavering thread of morality that usually ties into a sense of obligation and ownership of the (virginal) heroine & his (usually forced) deflowering of her.

If we're going to talk bodice-rippers, I believe they were heavily influenced by the smutty, exploitative pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s that influenced Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Christopher Nicole, author of the Caribee of the Hiltons series, is one of these authors, and so is Lance Horner, author of the Falconhurst series. The most famous in this genre is probably MANDINGO, and that is the book that comes to mind first and foremost when I think of the first bodice ripper, although Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND would be a close second. If we're going to talk about modern historical romance novels, I think FOREVER AMBER or GONE WITH THE WIND are better examples, since both still have a very modern feel & have similar formulas to that of many romance novels that are still being published today. If that's not modern, what is? Anya Seton and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro are other authors whose romance novels transcend time and who also preceded Kathleen Woodiwiss by decades.

**Warning: SPOILERS**

Regardless of its alleged feats of being the first of its kind (or not, depending on how you feel about it), I don't feel that THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER survives the times it was written very well. Our heroine, Heather, is under the care of a fat and abusive aunt (because fat and ugly people = villains in this book) and a thoroughly hen-pecked uncle whose dusty balls lie forgotten in the depths of one of Wicked Aunt's purses. The aunt has sold all her niece's clothes & belongings, and she wonders around in clothes "twelve times too large" that gape open to reveal her amazing bosom. It is worth noting that Heather's amazing breasts have more agency than she does, thrusting desperately against clothing as they seek out male attention, declaring their arousal on behalf of Heather (who, you know, just sits there passively and chastely, relying on her breasts to act as liaison with sexual partners) and constantly threatening to pour out of her clothes; Heather's breasts are the true main characters in this book, and it is sad when a heroine's body parts seem to receive more narrative description and action verbs than she does.

Her Aunt is tired of having Heather around and sends her off to be with her brother, who has plans to rape Heather and then, when he's tired of her, it is implied that he will give her to a Madam. Again, since this Uncle character is evil, he is fat and ugly. Heather manages to escape with her virginity intact (by making Uncle William "fall on a knife" dead), still clad in the revealing gown he put her in, and the servant to a rich and arrogant sailor spies her fleeing around the docks. Thinking her to be a prostitute, he kidnaps her and presents her to his master, who he assumes will be pleased. The master, who of course is the hero, since he is the only good-looking in this entire book universe we've encountered so far, is very pleased, and proceeds to rape Heather. The fact that she is a virgin surprises him, but he assumes that she just has her Whore Training Wheels™ on and he was the lucky gent who got to ride the bicycle first. When he finds out the truth, he does a lot of posturing and villainous laughing, basically telling Heather that if she didn't want to be raped, she should have tried to enjoy it more, before raping her a few more times. He then tells her that he intends to make her his mistress, and she should be pleased.

Heather ends up getting pregnant right away from Brandon's efforts, and when she returns home, her Aunt does not shirk on the opportunity to decry Heather's heritage (not only is she Irish and a Tory, but she's also a slut). Heather's well-meaning friends host an intervention where they blackmail Brandon into marrying Heather and taking responsibility for what he's done. Brandon does not take kindly to being told what to do, and drops a bunch of threats about how miserable he's going to make Heather, and oh, by the way, NO SEX, EVER. I have to admit, I laughed. How arrogant do you have to be to imagine that depriving the woman you raped of your magnificent Penis Magic™ is the worst possible punishment you can deliver, ever? If you just said "Gee, seems like the only person that would hurt is him," you would be right, and Brandon spends the next three hundred pages ruing this decision as he quickly comes down with the world's most serious case of blue balls.

After the two are married, Brandon decides to sell his ship and take Heather to his plantation. Here we meet the sexually autonomous, villainous Other Woman, a cringe-worthy Mammy stereotype, the heroine's brother (an updated version of the hero that's still in beta-testing), and all of the jealous, spurned women and their mothers who were vying for Brandon's hand and are bitterly resentful that this girl - who doesn't even go here - somehow managed to snatch him up for herself and get impregnated with his child. The next two hundred pages consist of OW, Louisa, getting into verbal catfights with Heather while trying to seduce Brandon; Heather crying and flinching and seething in a froth of vindication and traitorous lust; and Brandon, who is starting to realize how ineffective his "punishment" is and concocts a new, ingenious plan to win her back that quickly goes awry because the last thing that most women want to do in the late stages of pregnancy and then immediately afterwards is have rough, passionate sex. Brandon abandons this plan, too, and announces that the two of them henceforth are going to have sex every night, whether he has to rape her to get it or not, because damn it, he has needs. Heather goes for this, puts on a sheer blue nightie to seduce him, and after this it's a whole bunch of "I love you" "No, I love you, Pooky-Kins" nonsense, and since Heather is breast-feeding that means that her breasts are always out and everyone, from the hero to his brother to the other woman, has to stare at them in admiration/jealousy and comment on them. The last twenty-five pages attempts to cram in another plot line, introducing a partially-realized murder mystery. It's pretty obvious who the villain is, and this only serves as an excuse for yet another man to lose himself to mad passion and attempt to rape Heather (I think this is rape attempt #5 if we're counting based on unique perpetrators and not actual attempts, in which case it would be closer to rape attempt #20).

This book is ridiculous. One of my friends called this a handbook to having a relationship full of domestic violence, and I have to say that I agree with that sentiment. I don't normally mind reading about rape, but the way it was romanticized in this book made me really uncomfortable. I don't really want to read about all these pastoral scenes of domestic bliss if all the sexual interactions between them border on (or in some cases are actually blatant acts of) rape. This goes away towards the end of the book, but only after the heroine realizes that it's pointless to resist him further.

Heather is definitely a wish fulfillment fantasy and I could see why she might have persisted throughout time. Every man who sees her wants her. Every woman who sees her is jealous of her. She's beautiful no matter what she wears, whether it's rags or a beautiful gown, and her rapist husband is constantly buying her gowns and presenting her with jewelry (when he's not yelling at her, making her cringe, throwing things, or threatening to beat up men for looking at her). When she gives birth she loses her baby bump immediately and the author is quick to reassure us that there are no stretchmarks or unsightly skin folds, either. When she's not making people cream themselves in jealousy or sexual lust, they're falling over in their charmed admiration of her & doing everything they can to make her life better. Heather is the ultimate woman, and doesn't have to lift a finger to achieve it, because expending any more effort than it would take to stomp a foot far is too intimidating in a heroine.

Other things that made me wince/side-eye this book:

-In an attempt to woo the hero, Louisa slathers her nipples in rouge and wears a see-through copy of the gown Brandon raped Heather in

-Lots of uses of the word "Negress" and stereotypical portrayals of the happy slave

-One of the rape attempts occurs because a man visiting Brandon's plantation sees a dirt- and soot-covered Heather and assumes that she's black and a slave (winces)

-When going into labor, the heroine refuses to go anywhere until her husband changes her into a blue gown, because she's sure she's going to have a boy and the baby has to match her gown!

-Dresses tear like tissue paper in this book. It inspired me to make a new shelf on Goodreads for heroines with clothes that tear like wet Kleenex.

Honestly, this book is pretty formulaic, and with the exception of a few odd details (see the above) it follows the usual bodice ripper plot to a T. I've read and enjoyed another book of Woodiwiss's (COME LOVE A STRANGER), so I know she can write better, but this first, unfettered attempt was not my cup of tea at all. If you're going to read it, read it for science: observe it impassively, without any expectations, with the intention of reporting back your findings to others. Otherwise, it might just make a foot-stomper out of you, too.

1 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas

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.

5 out of 5 stars.

Be Not Afraid by Alyssa Cole

There really aren't a lot of popular historical romance books that deal with people of color. The only two authors who come to mind who do this consistently are Courtney Milan and Beverly Jenkins. So finding a book set amidst the backdrop of the Revolutionary War from the perspective of two African Americans was a pleasant surprise.

Elijah is a slave working for his Colonist master, who says he will free him and give him land if he fights in his stead. Kate, on the other hand, works for the Red Coats, because the Crown has said it will give runaway slaves freedom if they fight against the Colonists in the Revolution. The two end up crossing paths over a murder, of all things, and when Elijah is taken prisoner by the men in Kate's regiment, both try to resist their feelings for one another.

BE NOT AFRAID is a very short book. The horrors of slavery and war are alluded to, instead of being spelled out in explicit detail. The upside is that people who are sensitive to such material could probably read this book without being triggered. The downside is that because it's mentioned in passing, it feels overly casual. Kate got over her trust issues very quickly! And while I get that this was a necessity given the length of the book, it did not do the story line any favors.

60 pages really isn't much time to set a stage and develop characters. Kate and Elijah's attraction comes across as insta-lust more than anything else. I could feel for Kate and why she didn't trust men, and I could appreciate Elijah's unwavering loyalty to the country that enslaved him because he wanted something better for his countrymen and his fellow slaves, but I was told these things, and it would have been cool to see their characters grow and develop over the course of a full length novel instead of this fleeting introduction, hastily wrapped up conclusion, and neat epilogue.

I would read a full length novel by this author, but I'm not sure that I would try another one of her short stories.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Curse of Lord Stanstead by Mia Marlowe

Buddy read with the folks at Unapologetic Romance Readers!

If you are looking for a review about why this book is good, I strongly urge you to check out Elyse's review at Smart Bitches, Trashy books. She covers all the reasons why someone might enjoy reading THE CURSE OF LORD STANSTEAD, and she does it quite persuasively (it certainly worked on me).

This review will not be an assessment of the books charms, however. I found THE CURSE OF LORD STANSTEAD to be an incredibly frustrating read, because it had a lot of potential but to me, this potential did not seem fully realized. The result is a mishmash of a classically bad romance novel and an X-Men/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hybrid that doesn't seem to know what it wants to do with itself. Should it focus unapologetically on the sex? Or should it make a token effort at world building and secret societies? WWKWD? (WWKWD = What Would Kathleen Woodiwiss do? And the answer is, focus unapologetically on the sex.)

THE CURSE OF LORD STANSTEAD is about Cassandra Darkin, a plain Jane who is suffering because she gave up her virginity to a man who is about to marry someone else. She is also a fire elemental, and is unaware of her awesome powers beginning to manifest themselves beyond a vague sort of awareness that lots of accidents seem to happen when she is around. Garret Sterling is a psychic and a member of The Order of M.U.S.E., a group of individuals who exhibit extrasensory abilities (rather like X-Men) & want to use these powers for the benefit of society as well as recruiting new members. Right now, they have their eye on Cassie, because they know that without intervention, she will go on a warpath of destruction that she will be powerless to stop.

The problem is that fire magic is apparently controlled through sex. Lots and lots of sex. And the group decides that the best candidate for the job is Garret. In case this pimping out of their members weren't icky enough, one of the female members of M.U.S.E., Vesta, who is also a fire mage and (I believe) one of Garret's ex-lovers, gets really involved in the process, giving Garret detailed instructions about what he should and shouldn't do when he and Cassandra bone. It also bothered me that Garret keeps trying to use his powers on Cassandra to influence her during sex. They have a Bella/Edward dynamic where she is the only one his powers do not work on (and does this mystify him and make her oh-so-fascinating? but of course), but the fact that he tries at all is creepy, as is the fact that he has sex with her while she is under the influence of a psychotropic aphrodisiac. Also, can we talk about how one of the male characters (not the hero) pretty much tried to kill her and the heroine just brushes it off. Strangling people for not wanting to have sex with you is not okay.

I was also a bit mystified by the world-building and not in a good way. The group's magic powers are described only in terms of what they do. How they manifest, the frequency, and the different kinds aren't really described at all. It also took me a long time to figure out how magic fits into the frame of the world that the author created. Is it commonplace? Or is it a secret? Is it regarded as good - or bad? These are things that would have upheld the structure of the story and also made it more interesting. Also, the villain isn't introduced until the very end of the story, and then everything is over with a scant few chapters later. A sense of conflict and urgency would have been nice.

The last 30% of this book is quite good - I actually began to enjoy the book in earnest, and I was tempted to give this book a two. But then I really thought about the book as a whole, and remembered the first 70% of the book that was so difficult for me to read that I found myself skimming pages at a time, and with regret, I came to the decision that a good end cannot salvage a bad beginning and middle; 30% is not, and never will be, a passing grade.

I will say that this book is being offered for free at the moment, and the writing quality is a major step-up from most freebies. There were passages in here that were downright lovely - it was just hard to appreciate them when I found myself despising Garret for his choices, and fretting about Cassie's for being so...unforgivably stupid. But hey - maybe you will enjoy the book. It is free, after all.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Gentleman's Position by K.J. Charles

A GENTLEMAN'S POSITION is my second book by K.J. Charles. My first was, ironically, one of her few non-m/m titles, NON-STOP TIL TOKYO. I loved it - and some of my followers who have asked me for recommendations will recognize the title, because it's one of the first I bust out whenever someone asks me the question, "Nenia, have you ever read any good NA?"

I'm going to be honest: I don't really read much m/m. Unless the story line or the love story really stands out, I don't usually seek out m/m books. There's no nefarious reason behind this; it's just not something I'm particularly interested in. I'm mentioning this because I think it will have an impact on my rating. I enjoyed A GENTLEMAN'S POSITION, despite it not being a genre of preference. People who actually seek out this genre of books will probably enjoy it much more than I did. So take this rating with a grain of salt, as it is coming from someone who doesn't read m/m.

That said, I really loved the way Charles wrote out the love story between David and Richard. Richard is a lord, a total stuffed-shirt. His adherence to class mores and expectations has made him the go-to for delicate matters, but much of this is due to the services of his rather incredible valet, David. Unfortunately, David is starting to fall for his master, and Richard is reluctant to accept his advances because of the difference in their position. Richard's pride is another impediment, because David can't help but wonder whether Richard can really stoop to care for someone who isn't his equal.

In some ways, A GENTLEMAN'S POSITION reminded me of an m/m version of Courtney Milan's HER EVERY WISH. Both focus on social class and how it can serve as an impediment to love. Both authors also deal with this topic very well, showing that if love is to happen, both parties must accept one another, despite their faults and shortcomings and differences, as equals. No more. No less.

My favorite part of the book was probably the end, when the society + David concoct an elaborate scheme to get even with Lord Maltravers. This gets the book an extra .5 star because it was brilliantly done and had me cackling to myself as I imagined countless other bigots across the globe being hoisted by their own petard in a similar manner.

Would I read more from this author? I think so. This was a wonderful opportunity to be acquainted with the m/m works of an author I really like, and there is no question of the attention she pays to detail or her fondness for writing a compelling love story between two good men.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan

This is a wonderful, redeeming love story for anyone who has ever felt like they were somehow less because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity - or any other factor that they couldn't control.

Daisy Whitlaw is poor. She lives alone with her sick mother, struggling to make ends meet for the two of them. Her current pipe dream is the idea of starting her own store, Daisy's Emporium. But when she enters a contest in the newspaper for a business proposal, she is ruthlessly shamed by all the men there when they realize a woman is in their midst. They treat her so badly that I almost cried because of how relevant some of those comments still are today.

Crash is also treated terribly by others. He's part black, part Indian, and possibly French/Portuguese/Chinese (his mother wasn't sure who his real father was). He's also bisexual and, like Daisy, poor. He has a dream of starting his own business as well, but nobody really respects him. Even the women who find him attractive keep trying to find ways to "fix" him, and Crash has absolutely zero interest in being fixed; he wants to be happy with who he is.

Daisy and Crash used to be in love years ago, but a falling out over a misunderstanding drove the two apart. Now their shared ambition puts them together again years later. I think I've said in another review that I don't normally like second-chance romances, but HER EVERY WISH was beautiful, because their relationship was based on shared experiences, mutual understanding, and wanting the other person to be happy. Their banter was excellent, and I highlighted every quote of theirs that made me want to cry tears of joy, this entire book would be bright, sunshine-yellow.

One of the things I love about Milan's books is the attention she pays to her side characters, as well - and it passes the Bechdel test. The female characters in this book worry about far greater things than who will escort them in their season. The friendship between Judith and Daisy was lovely. Crash's relationship with his aunt and her friends made me guffaw. I also liked how Milan showed that sometimes the people who care about us can hurt us the most, because their worries can be founded in biases that they could be blind to, and their obliviousness makes it all the more cutting.

I would definitely recommend Courtney Milan to anyone who likes their romances with feminism, diversity, banter, and wit. I'm already scheming to get my hands on the other books in this series.

5 out of 5 stars.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I thought I'd take a break from my usual romance line-up to read and review I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS by Iain Reid. The summary for this book sounded intriguing - love goes wrong is pretty much the total opposite of romance novel HEAs. I was hoping for a tale of obsession and murder. Instead, I got...


To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what I just read. The first portion of the book is this girl named Steph riding in a car with her boyfriend Jake through miles of farmland in what is probably the most boring car ride ever. The whole time they're having this awkward conversation & Steph keeps having flashbacks to their relationship, and this creepy man who stalks her called The Caller, and all the while wondering whether she should end things. I could relate. I was thinking about ending things, too. My reading of this book.

To be fair, though, the Caller aspect of this book is super creepy & well done, and I actually had to stop reading last night and switch over to K.J. Charles's new book instead, because I was getting Babadook vibes. Like, I could almost feel a shadowy presence in my room, and the suffocating weight you get when you're being watched. It was terrifying - but in a good way (once you wake up the next morning, that is). I love those vague, atmospheric-driven horror stories, where part of the horror comes from wondering whether what's happening is real or all in the characters' mind.

But that's not really what this book is about. I think if the author had played up The Caller angle, and the creepy deja-vu sensations the heroine experienced, this would have been a much better book. But as it stands, I'm actually really confused by what I read. The ending didn't make sense, and it felt abrupt - especially since the author spent so much time building up the car ride in that first part of the book. By the time I realized there were only 30 pages in the book, I found myself wondering how the author planned to end this, since still nothing had really happened. I have a theory of what was really going on, and if I'm right - nothing actually did. It feels like a cop-out. Kind of like a less successful version of what Andrew Kaufman did in his super creepy, super amazing book, TWISTED.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Paper Princess by Erin Watt

Reading PAPER PRINCESS is like eating a slice of gourmet cake for breakfast. You know that you probably shouldn't be doing it, but this cake is delicious - and it's not like you're eating a Ho-Ho or a Twinkie, now, is it? No, this is primo stuff, and if you're going to be bad, you're going to do it well, gosh darn it!

I was leery about picking up PAPER PRINCESS but a trusted friend recommend it to me & since she has never steered me wrong, I took a chance. Right away, I found myself getting sucked into Ella Harper's world as she's plunged into her own personal episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Ella is an orphan and works three jobs to pay for school and rent, one of which includes stripping. Obviously. Because this is the go-to profession for any high school- or college-age-girl looking to make a few extra bucks. Working at the mall is so passe.

One day, a man comes to her school claiming that he is her new legal guardian. Ella has been around creepy men her whole life & assumes that he is a pervert and tries to flee. The man kidnaps her and while they are in the car, reveals himself to be multimillionaire, Callum Royal. Ella's absent father was his best friend, and it was his wish that he take care of her in the event of his death.

Callum has five sons, and none of them are happy about Ella's presence in their life. Especially not Reed, who has the brooding, money-can't-fix-my-problems, i-am-alpha-hear-me-bitch bad boy vibe that has everyone going crazy. Including Ella. Obviously. In her review, Khanh mentions the similarities between this book and Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango/Meteor Garden. I am totally obsessed with that franchise, so this increased my enthusiasm for reading PAPER PRINCESS tenfold. And I can definitely see the similarities (Reed is quite a bit like a less-rapey version of Doumyoji Tsukasa). PAPER PRINCESS also has elements of Lisa Kleypas's SUGAR DADDY & Meg Cabot's PRINCESS DIARIES, so if you enjoyed either of those two series, I think that PAPER PRINCESS will be a good fit for you, because it employs many of the same themes.

I enjoyed this soapy teen drama. It was smartly written, and Ella was feisty enough that I never worried too much about her getting pushed around - she could deal it, as well as take it. PAPER PRINCESS has a shoujo manga feel to it. The focus on class differences, the heroine's job at a bakery (Maid Sama, anyone?), the fact that every boy with a working wiener was attracted to her, the slut-shaming and non-stop drama...this was totally a manga that didn't know it was supposed to be a manga, and somehow ended up as a book instead. That cliffhanger, though. What do I do, now?

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

The thing about Sophie Kinsella is that she only really writes one type of heroine - a socially awkward, passive-aggresive flake, whose proclivity for white lies borders on the pathological, and who ends up making you wince when you know that you ought to be laughing.

Sometimes this works. For example, I really enjoyed THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS, REMEMBER ME? and TWENTIES GIRL (in that order). The first Shopaholic book was okay, but the second made me very angry, because in it, the main character quickly devolved back into her own habits, neatly erasing any character development that occurred in the first book, and making me wonder, "Why am I supposed to give a f*ck, again?"

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? is about Emma Corrigan, a girl with lots of "secrets." Secrets is in quotes, because most of her secrets are actually lies. Here are a few samples of Emma's secrets: Emma steals her roommate's expensive designer clothes & then lies about it. Emma tells her work friend that she loves the crochet she makes for her, when in actuality she hates them & throws them away (bitch). Emma wears a size four thong that is super uncomfortable because she lied to her boyfriend about her weight. And so on, and so forth.

One day, she gets on a plane that goes through some severe turbulence. Thinking she's about to die, she confesses all of her "secrets" to her seatmate. Spoiler alert: the plane doesn't crash, and Emma lives to lie another day. She thinks this embarrassing but seemingly harmless incident is behind her, until she sees her seatmate/confessor again...and realizes that he is the man who owns the company where she works. In other words, he's her boss's boss's boss, Jack Harper.

I actually really liked Jack. I thought it was hilarious, how he tortured Emma about her secrets. I laughed out loud at some of these passages. Later on the book, he does something that is, admittedly, rather insensitive, but since I had already decided that I didn't like Emma, it didn't bother me - especially since it triggered another chain of hilarity (at Emma's expense, even better). I also loved Emma's roommate, Jemima (the one Emma steals clothes from). I think I was supposed to dislike her, but dear lord, she was funny, and so much more interesting than Emma. And her "Mummy"! I loved Jemima's Mummy's advice about men - she is so deliciously evil. It kind of bothered me how casual Emma and Lissy were about breaking into Jemima's room and stealing her stuff, even though she told them not to; I wouldn't want anyone using my things, either. And since this was an act of stealth, they obviously weren't washing them after! Gross and a total invasion of privacy.

That's actually the meat and potatoes of my dislike for this book - Emma was not a sympathetic protagonist. I could understand if she was meant to be unsympathetic or if she was the "before" to a redemption arc (Marian Keyes does this to great effect), but no, we're supposed to embrace and relate to Emma as the every girl. She was very whiny and self-centered and immature, and I could not relate to her, at all! I mean her reason for why she should get a promotion is "I'll wear smart suits!"

As if the author knows how dislikable Emma is, the villains in this book are almost cartoonish caricatures of villany designed to make the protagonist seem sympathetic in comparison. Take Kerry, Emma's cousin, and family favorite, who is so oily and repulsive that you would probably see her picture under the dictionary definition of "smug." Or Artemis, who is basically Jemima, without the sagacious "mean girl" wisdom. She's just a mean girl without the subtlety.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? is not the worst Sophie Kinsella book I've read (SHOPAHOLIC TAKES MANHATTAN receives that honor), but it is far from being the best. The three books I mentioned in the second paragraph of this review are all much, much better. If you're new to this author I'd recommend starting with them.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tangled Web by Crista McHugh

TANGLED WEB is a collection of tropes I can't stand, and yet I devoured this book, reading huge chunks of it at once. Yes, I may have rolled my eyes a little or sneered, but did that mean I put the book down? NOPE. Not once. I read this sucker to the very end.

Azurha was raped and abused until she decided to herself "no more!" and slit her master's throat while he was sleeping. Then she ran away from his household, only to meet up with an assassin who was planning to off her odious rapist himself. He decided to train Azurha to become an assassin as well, and become The Rabbit, one of the most feared assassins in the land. This made me snort, because deadly rabbits? One can only think of this.

Since the Deizian emperor has just died, that leaves his son, Titus, as heir. Titus is a bookish scholar-cum-philosopher, and has a lot of really grand and revolutionary ideas for changing the empire. Ideas that a lot of important people are really offended about. That's how Azurha ends up in his acquaintance - one of the men who wants Titus out of the way gives her to Titus as a concubine for his harem, assuming that her pretty face will blind him to her deadly ways.

Unfortunately, it's lust at first sight, and Azurha decides that she can't kill him because reasons. Lots of sex ensues. I was honestly surprised - I knew this was supposed to be erotic, but I didn't expect the hero and the heroine to go at it like, err, rabbits (:D) for, like, 70% of the book. But they did. And I wasn't mad at this. Even though some of the passages are worthy of a Bertrice Small novel, I found myself enjoying the interactions between them. They had good chemistry, and McHugh does her best to make each encounter unique, so that nothing gets stale. I appreciated that effort on her part.

As usual, though, the court intrigue was my favorite part of this book. I love it when story lines play a game of thrones, and the environment McHugh created for Titus, where everyone is either out to get him, out to use him, or else just waiting for him to fail, was really quite well done. You see, the Deizians were actually aliens(!) who took over this planet because it worked for them. They oppressed the natives on the planets - the Elymanians and the Alpirions, and the "Barbarians" - turning them into slaves, because they could; they have magic, and nobody else does, neener-neener. There's a lot of classism and general snobbery, and while the world and the names borrow heavily from Ancient Rome, it's got a magic steam-punk vibe too, with magic-access panels & doors, and flying air ships, and a coliseum where soldiers fight to the death.

Even though this book has more cheese in it than the state of Wisconsin, this was a guilty pleasure read for me and it was a ton of fun, exactly what my brain needed after hours of writing essays and studying. I think fans of THRONE OF GLASS or POISON STUDY will like this book a lot, because the premise is very similar. The writing is not as polished as it could be, but that adds to the book's charm in a way. It really did feel like a fantasy bodice ripper.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Turning Pointe by Katherine Locke

TURNING POINTE is the (free) prequel to the rest of the District Ballet Company series. This novella ends with the traumatic event that kicks of SECOND POSITION, and looms over the novel like a dark cloud. This is the "before" that precedes the "after."

I wanted to read TURNING POINTE while SECOND POSITION was still fresh in my mind. SECOND POSITION was a difficult book to rate, because while I loved the writing in it, I couldn't stand the characters & found it difficult to understand their choices. I wanted to see the events that happened in their "before" that made them into the people that they became in the "after."

Zed and Aly are ballerinas and best-friends on the cusp of becoming something more.  These characters are several years younger than their SECOND POSITION counterparts. They're both still teenagers and incredibly naive, yet also quite mature in other ways. The carefree breeziness of their romance is totally crushing given that I knew what happens to them in the sequel. (Spoiler alert: bad things.) It's like watching a horror movie, and seeing a character you like going into the room where the killer is, and knowing that, because they're not the main character, they're probably going to die.

TURNING POINTE is basically an exercise in foreshadowing. All the clues and the hints and the signs are there, and tie as neatly into SECOND POSITION as a pair of pointe shoes. I did think the quality of the writing was slightly inferior in this novella to SECOND POSITION, and the characters made some extraordinary foolish decisions - for example, Aly has an eating disorder that has caused amenorrhea, and assumes (incorrectly) that because she isn't getting her period, she can't get pregnant. That is in keeping with the mindset of some teens, though, so that really can't be faulted.

This isn't a bad addition to the series. It isn't necessary, but it does add some perspective into why the characters are the way they are in the sequel. If you prefer to fill in the lines yourself, I'd suggest skipping over this least until you've read books 1 & 2, first.

3 out of 5 stars.

Second Position by Katherine Locke

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)!

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Captive by Victoria Holt

**Warning: mild spoilers**

Jeez, that is some small font! I kind of want to channel my inner Derek Zoolander, and be all, "What is this? A font for ants?" The story was good, though. Even though Victoria Holt is mostly famous for her old-timey gothic novels, once in a while she'll attempt to write a bodice-ripper. While her last experiment was a bust for me, this one, despite the eclectic story line, was quite good.

Rosetta Cranleigh is the daughter of two Egyptologists, who named her after the Rosetta Stone. They're kind people, but wrapped up in their work, so Rosetta was brought up by the help and her governess, Felicity. Her parents don't really take an interest in her until she's a teenager, when they realize that she's a lot cleverer than they gave her credit for, and then they start bringing her to dinner parties and the like, where she meets love interest #1, Lucas Lorrimer.

The Cranleighs eventually end up going to Cape Town by boat, on business, and they invite Rosetta and Lucas to go with them - but they never reach their destination. The ship sinks in the middle of a storm, and Rosetta, separated from her parents, ends up on a lifeboat with Lucas and love interest #2, John Player, who reveals to Rosetta that he is actually the accused murderer that has England in an uproar: Simon Perrivale. A fact which, he tells her, she must under no circumstances reveal to anyone.

They touch upon a small island, and do their best to survive. It turns out Lucas has a broken leg & food is really low. It's a small island with no people on it, and water is running out. But then pirates come, and take them all hostage to sell them as slaves in Turkey. Rosetta is put in a seraglio for a pasha, and Simon and Lucas both become slaves. Rosetta is horrified to become part of a harem, and even more horrified to learn that Simon is most likely facing a fate as a eunuch. Honestly, this is probably my favorite part of the book because of how Holt wrote the harem politics. Sex, power, and attempted was all brilliantly done, and I would have been more than happy to read an entire book on this subject. I should point out that the back of the book is incredibly misleading, though, because it says "Rosetta is still bound by a consuming passion that will forever make her love's captive" and right before that it says, "Locked away in [the pasha's] harem, she will risk her life to save her virtue..." It made me think that the pasha would be one of the love interests, but he isn't. She never even sleeps with him, or even interacts with him at all. It was very disappointing.

The last 100 pages of this book are completely different, and take on the feel of a Nancy Drew mystery as Rosetta, back in England now, tries to find clues that will exonerate her friend, Simon, and allow him to return to England a free man. She achieves this by posing as a governess to Simon's step-niece, Kate. I was pouting a bit internally, because of how good the harem part of the book was, but I ended up getting quite engrossed in the mystery. This is where the gothic element comes in, and the book, as a wink to this, even casually throws in a reference to Jane Eyre (that fangirl shriek you heard off in the distance, that was me). I've read a number of Holt's books, and I think that in terms of actual suspense, this was one of the better plots. I didn't guess who did it until the end and I loved Rosetta's interactions with Kate, who was endearing and infuriating by turns.

THE CAPTIVE is a bizarre mishmash of 70s and 80s tropes, and features many controversial themes that must have been quite taboo in the day (abortion, castration, bigamy, harems, etc.). That is why, even though there is no sex, I think this could be classified as a bodice ripper, because it incorporates many of the themes that are so prevalent in that genre. It certainly was a much better experiment than THE DEMON LOVER.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

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.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Under the Spotlight by Kate Willoughby

I don't like sports. I don't play sports, I don't watch sports, & I don't tend to lust after the guys who play them. Or I didn't, until I read Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL and realized that maybe athletes could be hot after all - not because they're athletes, but because of what makes them athletes. It's hard not to admire a man who is that passionate and dedicated about something.

Joe Rutherford is the right winger for a hockey team. And since I am not a hockey fan, I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that right winger is alluding to something other than his political leanings. He's passionate and dedicated, and the other men on his team look up to him. It's why their team manager has asked him to be the mentor-slash-roommate to a newly recruited player named CJ.

Cristina Caspary is a stage actress of Hungarian descent. She's kind, hard-working, and very much in love with what she does. She is involved with a charity called Grant A Wish, and has kept up with one of the kids she worked with named Lexi. Lexi might be having a relapse of Leukemia, and since she likes the Barracudas, Cristina decides to try and use the celebrity phone tree to shake out a Joe Rutherford for her favorite girl.

The chemistry the two have is immediate. Cristina admires Joe for being charitable and mature, especially when she pegged him as some big-talking hot-shot. Joe thinks Cristina is very pretty and, being a closeted fan of musical theater, really admires her talent on the stage. Their courtship is enjoyable to watch at first, as Cristina gradually picks up hockey terminology and starts to appreciate what he does more as she learns about how the game works, and Joe tries to think of how to seduce her in ways that make her mind explode and where to take her on fancy dates.

The problem actually comes because of their careers. Joe's is on the downswing. He's in his mid-thirties and his health is starting to adversely affect his hockey performance. He's getting less play time and when he gets injured on the ice, it takes him longer to recover. Cristina, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up after receiving a job offer on a cable TV show that's comparable to Game of Thrones. Even more infuriating to Joe is the fact that she isn't using a body double, and one of the men she'll be doing love scenes with, her co-star, is actually an ex of hers who wants her back.

I thought Joe's jealousy was relatable for a while, even if I didn't like it. Too often, romances paint a picture perfect ideal of what love is like, so it was nice to see a couple actually struggle with realistic obstacles and unpleasant compromises. But then Joe says some pretty cruel stuff to Cristina. He repents immediately as soon as he realizes what he's said, and what it means, but that epilogue was pretty shady. It made me think that maybe he hadn't really learned a lesson at all, and was just resorting to even sneakier means to get Cristina to change her life for him.

UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT is a pretty good romance, though. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of THE DEAL, especially fans who liked the romance and the hockey aspects, but who would have liked to see slightly older protagonists. The sex scenes were very well done, and I liked the banter between Joe and the other hockey players. Hart, the gay one, was one of my favorites. I loved that the author didn't define him by his sexuality, or play into any stereotypes. I really hope the author writes an M/M story about him and how he met his partner, Jeremy (assuming she hasn't already).

Joe won't be making it onto my exclusive list of book boyfriends after all, but I have to say that this was a really fun read, and I couldn't put it down. Carina, you devilish fiend, you've done it again!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Demon Lover by Victoria Holt

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.

1 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Didn’t I Warn You? by Amber A. Bardan

Carina Press is one of my favorite small publishers - I like a great deal of what they choose to publish, even if it's a book that isn't in my usual genre of choice. DIDN'T I WARN YOU sounded like it was trying to be a CAPTIVE IN THE DARK clone, but because of the hot man on the cover, and because it was published by Carina, I couldn't resist. Plus, that summary - it was so intriguing..

Now that I've read DIDN'T I WARN YOU, I'm not quite sure what to think. I liked parts of this book quite a bit - the sex scenes, for example, were very well done. Fairly steamed my glasses up, they did! I'm not sure I buy the romance as much, though, or the instant attraction between Angelina and Haithem.

This is being marketed as a dark book. The prologue led me to believe that this would be another book in a long line of mafiosi, drug cartel men, and soulless hitmen who get involved with an innocent girl and, through the miracle of Stockholm Syndrome, end up Romantically Involved. That was the book I was prepared for, so you can imagine my surprise when, even though Haithem keeps saying, "I'm dangerous, I'm dangerous, you can't handle me, stay away!" she pursues him with idiotic single-mindedness, contemplating sleeping with him the first time she lays eyes on him, and not blinking an eye when he traps them in an elevator for a FIFTY SHADES OF GREY-inspired make-out session. You can also imagine my surprise when it turns out that Haithem really isn't an evil man. He's not a good man, obviously - I mean, any time you kidnap someone, you can pretty much cross "nice guy" off your list - but he's no human trafficker, either.

I think the second half of this book is a lot better than the first half. I almost decided to not finish this book, because Angelina frustrated me so much. I wanted to shake her, and say, "Woman! Don't you have that voice inside your head that tells you when something is seriously wrong in a situation?" But then again, this is the girl who, when storming out after the hero offers to "buy" her, ends up tripping into a lifeboat and developing mild hypothermia. The second half was better, because that's when DIDN'T I WARN YOU takes on some elements of a thriller, you get more back story, and Angelina finally starts thinking about something other than what's inside the hero's pants (not much, by the way - he likes to go commando). It was also nice to see a heroine who takes the initiative with sex, even if it was done with an utter lack of self-preservation (and bonus points for using protection).

Would I read the sequel? I'm not sure. Like I said, I didn't really buy the connection between Haithem and Angelina. The sex was great, but I got my fill (ha - fill) in this book, and I'm not sure I'd pick up the next just to read a couple sex scenes (however well-written and titillating they might be). DIDN'T I seems to be a book for erotica fans, and for people who like reading "dark" books that don't actually feature rapist anti-heroes. This is like the PG-13 rated version of CAPTIVE IN THE DARK or TEARS OF TESS. I mean, he feeds her puddings & they talk about feelings, for God's sake! That's just a few steps removed from a Disney movie (minus the gratuitous sex, of course).

2 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

Elizabeth Hoyt is a name that frequently appears alongside other famous regency "brand names" like Lisa Kleypas and Courtney Milan, which just makes it all the more criminal that I haven't read this book until now. Because DUKE OF incredible.

DUKE OF SIN is a bodice-ripper of the modern age, with an icy, tortured, dangerous gamma hero who wouldn't be out of place in an Anne Stuart novel. Valentine Napier is a hedonist and a ruthless blackmailer. He flaunts conventions, bedding men and women alike, and the only reason he hasn't been kicked out of polite society is because he has them all scared shitless that he'll reveal their secrets.

Bridget Crumb, his housekeeper, is working for him precisely because of that. Her mother is just one of many people the Duke has blackmailed, and she's using her vocation as an opportunity to search for the letters in his possession that will ruin her mother.

I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. But Valentine is the epitome of everything I love in a romantic hero (and the fact that the author herself says that she imagines him as Tom Hiddleston certainly doesn't hurt!); he's clever, and ruthless, and sexy, and dangerous, and utterly capricious and mercurial. His back story is probably one of the darkest I've ever seen in a romance novel published after 1990, and brought me to tears at several points because of how broken he was; and he doesn't really angst about it - what's even more heartbreaking is that he doesn't realize that he's missing a vital part of what makes him human. He takes it completely for granted as being part of who he is. It's Bridget who realizes what's been done to him, and she who feels all the pain.

And let's talk about Bridget. I loved her no-nonsense ways, and her kindness. She was able to win over people by being very level-headed and calm and personable, so the fact that everyone was naturally drawn to her didn't seem Mary-Sue-ish at all. She made an effort. Her interactions with Valentine made me laugh and cry, by turns. The sexual chemistry between them was amazing - and surprise, when they finally do have sex, she isn't at all passive. In fact, she even initiates and takes charge on several instances. I can't tell you how much that shocked me (among other things).

I have a confession here: a huge reason behind my love for this novel is that Valentine really reminded me of Jareth from Labyrinth, so if you love the cool commanding hero who's witty, and totally in control, but who falls hard for the heroine in a way that borders on obsession, I would definitely recommend this book to you. DUKE OF SIN is a book that was made for Labyrinth fangirls. He's so regal and utterly absorbed in himself, that you don't question for one minute that he's of noble blood. The fact that he flaunts society's rules is testament to this.

And on that subject, I want to talk about the hero's bisexuality, because apparently that's got some people real mad. Yes, the hero is bisexual. He has sex with men. It isn't explicitly shown, but it's heavily implied, and you know that it probably happens behind closed doors. Some people were mad about that - and other people seemed to be upset that his bisexuality seemed to be included in his litany of perversions to show how depraved he is. I chose not to interpret it that way, although I can see how others would: rather, I saw it as the Duke wholeheartedly embracing who he was and what he wanted, selfishly, yes, but unapologetically using his sexual desires to fill the emptiness inside.

For those of you still on the fence, picture Tom Hiddleston masquerading as Jareth, while wearing a purple silk robe with a dragon on it...and nothing else.

I rest my case.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

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 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, 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.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Devil's Love by Lane Harris

 **Warning: Major Spoilers**

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...

3 out of 5 stars.