Tripleheader: Carina Press Historicals

A Dream Defiant by Susanna FraserA Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

  • Title: A Dream Defiant
  • Author:  Susanna Fraser
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: ~85 pages
  • Trope(s): Forbidden Love, War Heroes and Widows, Family Matters
  • Quick blurb: Black soldier delivers spoils of war to new widow and marries her for her protection
  • Quick review: Too much story for the short format.
  • Grade: B

He caught her hand. “Wait.” He slid his hands to the back of her neck, fumbling for the necklace’s clasp. He undid it and held the chain of rubies up, red and gold in the flickering candlelight. “No shackles for us,” he said, “no matter how rich.”

Loved the characters and premise, and Fraser managed to get a lot of emotion into less than 100 pages. But this story deserves more than a novella to avoid the rushed romance and resolution.

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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.

One-Quote Review: Making Him Sweat by Meg Maguire

Making Him Sweat by Meg Maguire

  • Title: Making Him Sweat
  • Author: Meg Maguire
  • Series/Category: Wilinski’s, Book 1 (Blaze)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): Lust in the Workplace, Sweaty Beta Hero, Heroine with Father Issues
  • Quick blurb: Aspiring matchmaker inherits estranged father’s boxing/MMA gym
  • Quick review: Likeable all the way around, pretty much what I expected for a Harlequin Blaze
  • Grade: B

Ten minutes? Ten minutes wasn’t nearly enough time to decide what to do. Then again, ten minutes was plenty of time to change into cuter underwear, and wasn’t that her answer, right there?

It seems like all the contemps I’ve chosen for this binge feature Lust in the Workplace, with the obligatory “This is such a bad idea” pre-sex banter. Fortunately, Maguire is really good at all the out-of-bed banter too, and she threw in some realistic conflict, so this one fulfilled all my expectations of a light and sexy Harlequin Blaze.

And I’m pretty sure I’ll read Prince Richard’s book.

Backlist Binge: Julia Justiss

As promised, the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Julia Justiss, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: Justiss does widows, courtesans and angsty heroes really, really well. Her debutantes and rakes, however, are generally just wallpaper.

A word of warning: You can’t have Hal Waterman. He’s MINE.

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The Rake’s Redemption by Regina Scott

The Rake's Redemption by Regina Scott

  • Title: The Rake’s Redemption
  • Author: Regina Scott
  • Series/Category: Everard Legacy, Book 3 (Love Inspired Historical)
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Annoyingly Perky Heroine, Angsty Emo Hero, Insta-Love, Mistorical, Purple Prose
  • Quick blurb: Marquess’s daughter decides a dueling poet is the perfect man to acquire her father’s title.
  • Quick review: This wasn’t working for me as a historical, as a suspense, as an inspirational OR as a romance.
  • Grade: DNF

It started with the Regency heroine asking an uknown man to dance at a ball. Then we get this:

…she’d wondered whether she’d finally found the suitor she’d been praying for — someone who could help her protect the family name, as her father’s only living child.

And then, during an actual prayer, it got worse.

“Show me the man You mean to help me gain approval to carry on the title of Marquess of Widmore!”

So, yeah. It was like that.

One-Quote Review: The Lady Most Willing by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway

The Lady Most Willing...A Novel in Three Parts

  • Title: The Lady Most Willing…: A Novel in Three Parts
  • Authors: Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway
  • Series: Lady Most, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, December 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.69 ebook)
  • Length: 385 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Amusing Abuction, Impoverished Rake, Stuffy Duke/Earl (one of each), Red-Headed Smart-Mouthed Scottish Lasses, Surprise Virgin, Loud Laird
  • Quick blurb: Drunken laird and his kilted kin kidnap fair maidens as potential brides for his nephews, and accidentally abduct a duke at the same time.
  • Quick review: Banal and predictable.
  • Grade: D+

Hell was obviously freezing, decrepit and located in the Scottish Highlands.

I loved 2010′s The Lady Most Likely — the balance of stories was great, with one insta-love, one childhood-friends-to-lovers, and one sibling’s-best-friend-from-afar. And more importantly, each couple and their courtship was unique and memorable.

The Lady Most Willing, however…. Blech. Blah. Boring. Four — count ‘em FOUR (4) — insta-love quickies with only the barest hint of characterization. The only exception was foul temptress Marilla the Maneater and her Cleavage of Doom, who was so ridiculously vamped up it was almost embarrassing to read.

I considered going with a C- grade, but these are authors who have given us much, much better in the past.

Medieval Mania: Lord of the Shadows by Kathryn Le Veque

Lord of the Shadows by Kathryn Leveque

  • Title: Lord of the Shadows
  • Author: Kathryn Le Veque
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, September 2012 (originally published  February 2011)
  • Source: Amazon, free promo ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 273 pages
  • Trope(s): Perfectly Perfect Heroine, Deadly-Yet-Sensitive Assassin Hero, Evil King, Instalove, TSTL Sibling, In Disguise, Intrigue & Espionage
  • Quick blurb: Feared royal enforcer falls for daughter of king’s most hated enemy
  • Quick review: Not bad, exactly, but…you know, it’s not quite… Oh, just read the damn review. That’s what you came here for, isn’t it?
  • Grade: C-

Like the allure of a good beheading, it was pure entertainment.

OK, I will admit I was wrong. I WAS WRONG. During the first read, this seemed pretty dreadful, and I even tweeted some snotty things about it.

But after finishing this, I read By Royal Command, aka Death By Thesaurus. And then I read a certain gay BDSM mistorical (Full Snark Bitchfest coming soon!) that will forever be the definition of “dreadful.”

So I upgraded Lord of the Shadows from a D+ to a C-. I can’t really recommend it, but it’s a helluva lot better than some of the other dreck I’ve been reading.

The plot….

In 1215 England, our hero, Sir Sean de Lara, is a long-time enforcer for the disgusting King John. But when he meets Lady Sheridan St. James, the daughter of the monarch’s most hated enemy, he’s tempted to sacrifice his decade of soul-crushing espionage for the chance to live a normal life.

Don't look too close - this really isn't medieval. Or British.

We’ll just ignore the dorky and unrealistic names so we can move along to the important stuff. Like kissing. And sex.

And history. MY GOD, the history. THE FATE OF ENGLAND IS AT STAKE, PEOPLE, YOU HAVE NO IDEA. You’ll see what I mean when we get around to more of Sir Sean. And there’s a LOT of Sir Sean.

The meet-cute, part 1….

Insta-Love from the get-go. Our Dark Lord gets his first glimpse of His Beloved as she tries to prevent her TSTL younger sister from flinging herself out a window:

I Bid Thee Farewell Unkind World

Phallic symbol?
What phallic symbol?

His attention then moved to the woman attempting to prevent the suicide; he couldn’t make out the features at this distance, but he could certainly distinguish the blond hair that shimmered against the afternoon sky as gold would shimmer against the sun.  He found himself more intrigued by the beauty of the hair than by the chaos unfolding around it.

Unfortunately, our heroine isn’t much of a crisis negotiator, because — oops…. But never fear! Sir Sean is here!

She was still screaming when he caught her.

After accepting their gushes of gratitude, our Hero of Darkness mysteriously disappears (he does this a lot) and waits patiently to see His Beloved again. Which, of course, happens in the very next chapter.

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Medieval Mania: A Royal Marriage by Rachelle McCalla

Oh, look — another book written JUST FOR ME. I love it when that happens.
 A Royal Marriage by Rachelle McCalla

  • Title: A Royal Marriage
  • Author: Rachelle McCalla
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($4.19 ebook, $5.75 mmpb)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Kidnapping, War, Betrothed to the Enemy
  • Quick blurb: Ruler of small Mediterranean kingdom rescues Charlemagne’s daughter from kidnapping, but must deliver her to her unwanted betrothed – who happens to be his lifelong enemy.
  • Quick review: Fabulous setting/premise and strong heroine, but romance was disappointing
  • Grade: B

“Why? Must you ask why? Must I speak the words I should be ashamed to speak aloud? You, the emperor’s daughter, pledged to marry another? You, who have rescued my heart from the pit where I cast it to die?”

His lips moved down her nose with tiny, featherlight kisses, as though he warred with himself and lost each time he planted one. “You, who have captured my heart.”

I hope this is the first of a series, because I LOVE the ninth-century setting. The historical world-building was spot-on, with just enough detail and only a few minor anachronistic word choices.

I was also really impressed with the presentation of Charlemagne’s daughter Gisela as a strong, smart leader in a historically believable way (see below). She’s one of the best Harlequin heroines, and inspirational heroines, I’ve read so far.

But the insta-love romance was blah — no emotional conflicts, just external political intrigues. Neither the hero nor the heroine had any flaws to overcome; they were both perfectly perfect from start to finish. It would have been MUCH more compelling to have them at odds in the beginning, then slowly learn to respect and trust each other.

Scale back on the military maneuvers and focus on the relationship-building, and this would have been an A grade.

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The history geek unleashed

I now have three Charlemagne biographies on my wishlist, and I spent hours discovering fascinating facts, such as:

In Charlemagne’s seventy-odd years of life, he had four wives, six concubines and at least seventeen children.

Charlemagne and His Scholars by Karl von Blaas (1815-1894)

Charlemagne and His Scholars
by Karl von Blaas (1815-1894)

Source: History in an Hour

He was so careful of the training of his sons and daughters that he never took his meals without them when he was at home, and never made ajourney without them; his sons would ride at his side, and his daughters follow him, while a number of his body-guard, detailed for their protection, brought up the rear. Strange to say, although they were very handsome women, and he loved them very dearly, he was never willing to marry any of them to a man of their own nation or to a foreigner, but kept them all at home until his death, saying that he could not dispense with their society. Hence, though other-wise happy, he experienced the malignity of fortune as far as they were concerned; yet he concealed his knowledge of the rumours current in regard to them, and of the suspicions entertained of their honour.

Source: Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne

His ideas of sexual morality were primitive. Many concubines are spoken of, he had several illegitimate children, and the morals of his daughters were very loose.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911

Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran Kramer

Let’s be honest: It’s obvious this book was written and published JUST SO I COULD MAKE FUN OF IT.

  • Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran KramerTitle: Loving Lady Marcia
  • Author: Kieran Kramer
  • Series: House of Brady, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency – in theory, anyway)
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Instalove, Ruined by a Rake, Reunited, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: “Overnight, I went from debutante to bluestocking.”
  • Quick review: It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title and blurb.
  • Grade: DNF

Being in love, she decided, was not for the fainthearted.

I made it to about 30 percent. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be (e.g., Lady Alexandra Bad), but it wasn’t good.

All the cover quotes for Kieran Kramer’s recent debut series featured a LOT of synonyms for fluff: Delectable. Frothy. Confection. Better than dessert. All those same words can easily be applied to this first installment in the House of Brady series.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I KNOW it’s supposed to be goofy and irreverent.  But even a “confection” has to have some substance – the whipped cream is supposed to be a topping, not the main ingredient. The Tudor era offers an even better analogy — Henry VIII and his minions were extremely fond of intricate marzipan sculptures called “subtleties.”

Think of it this way:

Jersey Shore marshmallow peeps vs. Downton Abbey marshmallow peeps

Too many parodies and spoofs and homages and “inspired bys” rely on “SEE WHAT I DID THERE? HAHAHA!” neon signs and abandon the need for good storytelling. With Loving Lady Marcia, whatever attempt the author made at plotting and characterization is completely stifled by the painfully placed and phrased pop culture references.

And sometimes they’re even info-dumped with gratuitous Regency name-dropping for extra impressiveness!

A servant brought in a lovely tea tray, and her mother began the old, comforting ritual of pouring tea – Daddy’s favorite Irish blend – chatting all the while about Marcia’s siblings. Gregory enjoyed being a man-about-town but also worked with Daddy several days a week on house designs. Peter fancied himself a Corinthian and loitered around Tattersall’s and Gentleman Jackson’s with his friends. Janice had made her debut and presentation at Court several weeks before, and the whole household was at sixes and sevens attempting to keep up with all her gentleman callers; Robert was at home because he was between halves at Eton, and Cynthia was mad for Greek mythology and had asked Mama to call her Andromeda.

Yes, Lady Marcia calls her father “Daddy.” But it’s OK, because “she pronounced it the Gaelic way, Doddy.” But it’s NOT OK, because it’s distracting and extremely annoying. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Daddy told them how lovely his three girls were – almost as lovely as their mother….

ALSO: The family name of the House of Brady is Sherwood.

So you’ve obviously been waiting ever so patiently to learn if there’s a “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” in there somewhere, right? Almost, but not quite:

Marcia’s cheeks burned. “No one was in awe of me.”

“Really? Everyone was ‘Marcia, this. Marcia, that.’ And you didn’t discourage them.”

The exchange wasn’t even with Jan/Janice – it was dialogue between our heroine and her jealous former schoolmate.

Ready for a final bite of saccharine sweetness before the closing credits? No? Too bad, so sad. Suck it up, because here it comes:

But they shared a love for their family and a zest for life that bonded them through thick and thin.

Oh, BARF. And for crying out loud, don’t TELL me. SHOW me. Ugh.

One-Quote Review: Mercenary’s Perfect Mission by Carla Cassidy

  • Mercenary's Perfect Mission by Carla CassidyTitle: Mercenary’s Perfect Mission
  • Author: Carla Cassidy
  • Series/Category: Romantic Suspense
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher:  Harlequin, May 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 217 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Plot Moppet, Evil Twin
  • Quick blurb: Mercenary falls for damsel in distress while saving idyllic town from the clutches of his Evil Twin.
  • Quick review: Once again, I manage to join a series already in progress.
  • Grade: B-

He was shocked to realize he somehow wanted to be the hero she’d never had in her life, the man she could depend on to get her son back, to make her world right.

Great premise and good writing, but I would have enjoyed it much more as a longer stand-alone novel instead of part of a series.