Holiday Romance Binge, Part 3: More Contemporaries

A few anthologies, a few novellas, a novella from another anthology, and one I thought was a novella but was actually a novel which is probably why I got pissy with it.

I kinda forgot about the “Naughty & Nice List” theme, but I can’t think about that right now because I need to figure what to take to the office potluck tomorrow that won’t require cooking or baking. Or buying ingredients. I’m thinking Mint M&Ms. Unless I eat those for breakfast again.

ANYWAY….

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One-Quote Reviews: Four Harlequin Love-Inspired Historicals

Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy Clark

  • Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy ClarkTitle: Falling for the Teacher
  • Author: Dorothy Clark
  • Series: Pinewood Weddings
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (1841 Upstate New York)
  • Publisher: Harlequin, September 2013
  • Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Small Town, Extreme Self-Doubt
  • Quick blurb: Schoolteacher returns home to care for her ailing grandparents and finds the brother of her rapist managing the family business.
  • Quick review: Really annoyed with the heroine in the beginning, but chemistry and character development turned this into an unexpectedly emotional read.
  • Grade: B

He rose and looked down into her eyes. “Sadie….”

“Yes?”

Her name was a gruff plea from his constricted throat – her answer a barely heard whisper. Time was lost in his need to comfort her, to protect her, to love her forever. He sucked in a breath, fighting his heart with every bit of strength he possessed and hating himself for winning the battle. “I’ll see you safe to the house.”

I struggled with Sadie’s overwrought, baseless accusations in the first third of the book, but as Cole slowly wins her over, we get the backstory details we need to root for their HEA.

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The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott

The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott

  • Title: The Last Gladiatrix
  • Author: Eva Scott
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Escape Publishing (Harlequin Australia), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 77 pages (or maybe 109? it’s a novella anyway)
  • Trope(s): Kidnapped Warrior Woman, Studly Centurion, All the Usual Stock Roman Characters, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Soldier offers to train a comely captive as a gladiatrix to save her from the shame of becoming a courtesan.
  • Quick review: Cheese-fest from beginning to end, with a major “Oh, FFS!” moment that killed the entire book.
  • Grade: F

The skin at the back of her neck prickled, as if in warning.

Yeah, that quote in the third paragraph should have been my warning of !!!Cliches & Caricatures Ahead!!! But I kept reading because it’s just a novella, how bad could it be? My status updates (below) sum up how bad it got.

I finished it (because I have enough fortitude to finish a damn novella, dammit), but even before the end of the first chapter, a bit of throw-away characterization made me lose all respect for the story and the author. This is our introduction to the general’s villainous aide-de-camp:

Maximus was slender and fine-boned, like a woman. He also possessed a woman’s love of gossip and — if rumours were true  a woman’s love of men. Yet Maximus did not like him, and Titus was happy to return the sentiment.

WHY was this included? It was completely pointless, because this temporary villain appears in only two additional (and very short) scenes. I’m guessing it was an attempt to make the FLAMING EVIL HOMO a glaring opposite of our MANLY AND OBVIOUSLY VERY HETERO AND MASCULINE AND DID WE MENTION MANLY? HERO, because, you know, how else would we grasp the immensity of his heroically heterosexual manliness? But at least the Flaming Evil Homo doesn’t have the hots for our Hero of Heterosexual Masculinity, because that would just be gross.

Badly done, Escape Publishing (an imprint of Harlequin Entrprises Australia). Badly done indeed.

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Read With Me Vicariously: Status Updates

  • 18% – Cliche + cariacature + insta-lust while chained = I’m not sure if I can finish this…
  • 20% – Loins are heating and unnamed forces are compelling…
  • 23% – Dream sex. On a bed of soft golden cloud. Fever pitch, waves of sensation, pinnacle of desire, etc.
  • 36% – Primeval masculinity, primordial drums, molten ecstasy and synchronized heartbeats.
  • 46% – It’s a trap!
  • 69% – An “oh, BARF” moment in the middle of the freaking arena. Sheesh.
  • 82% – Uh-oh, hero is summoned by the Senator’s wife. I wonder what she wants… *wink wink*
  • 82% – “In his experience women, especially high-born Roman woman, were dangerous – more dangerous than a host of Huns.”
  • 86% – Senator’s sexy wife is reclining on a bed eating grapes. I shit you not.
  • 100% – Plundering lips. The end.

Book Anxiety, Part 2: Untamed by Anna Cowan

Untamed by Anna Cowan

  • Title: Untamed
  • Author: Anna Cowan
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia, May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Trope(s): Heroine Who Says the F-Word, Hero Who’s Prettier Than The Heroine, Evil Gambling Father, Tragic Pasts, Sibling/Parent Issues, Deceit & Manipulation
  • Quick blurb: A dandy in disguise changes the lives of a disgraced and debt-ridden family.
  • Quick review: Again with the Book Anxiety, but a better outcome this time.
  • Grade: C+

“I will write a book of bad ideas,” she said, pulling viciously at the buttons on her sleeve, “and the final chapter will be dedicated to this epic, gravity-defying feat of stupidity. And in a hundred years a celebrated English wordsmith will come across it and write a poetic tribute to the very bad idea that malformed in the brain of one demented duke. His work will run to eleven volumes before his vocabulary has even begun to do justice to how extremely bad this idea is.”

Oy. I need to quit whining for new and different, because more like this is going to kill me.

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Book Anxiety, Part 1: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

  • Title: A Spear of Summer Grass
  • Author: Deanna Raybourn
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harlequin (MIRA), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Bad Girl with a Heart of Gold and Hidden Depths, Enigmatic Loner Hero, Colorful Cast of Supporting Characters, Very Convenient Coincidences
  • Quick blurb: Disgraced socialite exiled to stepfather’s crumbling estate in 1920s colonial Kenya
  • Quick review: After much pre-reading anxiety and post-reading obsessing, it didn’t work for me — but for more reasons than I expected.
  • Grade: D+

“For Christ’s sake, woman. Don’t stand there mooning about. This is Africa. Go inside before something eats you.”

I’m a huge fan of Raybourn’s Julia Grey mystery series (countless re-reads, book trance every single time), so when I saw the cover and blurb for A Spear of Summer Grass, I sighed happily and thought, “Ohhhhh, she wrote a new one just for me.”

So why the Book Anxiety? It started with the usual “She’s one of my favorite authors, what if I don’t like it???” I sucked it up and made it through the two chapters with an initial dislike for the heroine, but no major red flags – so far, so good.

But then a quick glance at a few reviews – “horrible” and “DNF” from The Book Smugglers and the enlightening discussion at Dear Author – sent me flailing into the worst-case scenario of “What if I like it – but I shouldn’t???” So I moved it from currently-reading back to the to-read shelf and let the anxiety fester. For weeks.

I started reading again last night, and finished this morning around 3 a.m. It was a one-sitting read, but not a full-on blissful book trance. Instead of wallowing in the language and characters, I could not stop myself from focusing on all the elements that were so problematic for other reviewers.

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One-Quote Review: The Seduction Hypothesis by Delphine Dryden

The Seduction Hypothesis by Delphine Dryden

  • Title: The Seduction Hypothesis
  • Series: The Science of Temptation, Book 2
  • Author: Delphine Dryden
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Carina Press, May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 97 pages
  • Trope(s): Nerds/Geeks, BDSM, Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: A group outing to a fan convention allows a former couple to reignite their relationship — with the help of a few costumes and props.
  • Quick review: Despite their frustrating Little Big Misunderstandings, it’s a helluva of a lot of fun to read about kinky nerds who can laugh in the bedroom.
  • Grade: B+

Oh God, the eyebrow thing again.

I adore love stories about geeks, and even more so when both main characters are equally smart and nerdy. Lindsey and Ben’s lack of communication was annoying, but believable and necessary to the story, and Dryden makes the most of it in rebuilding their faltering relationship into a funny and wickedly sexy kinkfest.

As with the first entry in the series, the only thing keeping this story from an A grade was the heroine — Lindsey comes across a little too self-righteous for much of the story, blaming Ben’s confusion rather than her own for their estrangement, and I had a little trouble accepting her insistence on being in the lifestyle for life after only one awkward sample.

A plea for a third in the series:  Ms. Dryden, write us female dom/male sub story — pretty please??? *bats eyelashes*

Backlist Binge: Sophia James

This took me longer than I thought, because I wound up doing a full re-read of one, and I had to buy and read the newest because it finished off a series.

So… Here are the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Sophia James, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: James is on the dark and angsty edge of Harlequin Historicals — her characters are complex and conflicted, and when she stays away from rakes and pirates, her storytelling skills are memorable. But it’s hit or miss whether all the pieces and parts coalesce enough to suck me into a full-on book trance.

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