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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More History Geekery: The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Why am I geeking out about a Civil War battle, you ask? (I know you’re wondering, admit it….)

Pvt. Edwin Atkinson

Pvt. Edwin Atkinson, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry

This is my great-great-grandfather, Edwin Atkinson, age 22, on the day of his mustering into Company D, 2nd Wisconsin (part of the famous Iron Brigade), in December 1862, in Madison, Wis.. Six months later, he was critically wounded during the first day of fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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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.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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.

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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A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare

Let’s be honest: It’s obvious Tessa Dare wrote this book JUST FOR ME. She just forgot to put my name in the dedication.
A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare

  • Title: A Lady by Midnight
  • Author: Tessa Dare
  • Series: Spindle Cove, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon Books, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via Edelweiss ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine, Wallflower, Angst, Unrequited Love
  • Quick blurb: When a family of strangers shows up looking for their long-lost heir, a stoic military officer must step in to protect the local wallflower he secretly loves.
  • Quick review:  Uptight, conflicted hero. Smart, smartass heroine. I was doomed to love this book.
  • Grade: A

Corporal Thorne could make a woman quiver, from all the way across the room.

That was just the opening line, for crying out loud. Let’s take a glimpse at the HEA, shall we?

“It’s all your fault.” His voice was rough with emotion. “You listened when I needed it. Laughed when I needed that. You wouldn’t go away, no matter how I scowled or raged. You loved me despite everything, and you made me look deep inside myself to find the strength to love you in return. I’m a different man because of you.”

My Sweet Babboo

One-Quote Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

  • Skybound by Aleksandr VoinovTitle: Skybound
  • Author: Aleksandr Voinov
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): M/M, Historical (WW2)
  • Publisher:  Riptide Publishing,  August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 44 pages
  • Trope(s): Military,Virgin, Beta Hero, Unrequited Love
  • Quick blurb: German plane mechanic longs and lusts for his unit’s ace fighter pilot.
  • Quick review: Despite the setting, this novella  somehow manages to be quiet, intimate and very, very romantic.
  • Grade: A-

We stand there and just kiss, and with every touch, we seem to explain and apologise, and bridge that gap that yawned between us.

I love it when I can just sink in and wallow in the language, and let it take me along wherever the author wants to go. And so far, I’m willing to follow Voinov wherever he’s heading.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I lied….

This will be more of a Six-Quote Review.

…Everything stops existing when he takes off, as if he takes it all with him when he goes up there, to places I’ll never see again.

…I can’t exactly run after him, so I tighten my fingers around the bullet. It felt like I owned it when I pulled it from his seat, like that one polished stone amidst a million on a beach that catches your attention and feels like it’s meant for you alone.

…If the world ends tomorrow, how will I go? Without ever having risked anything, or having done the one thing I can’t stop thinking about?

…We race towards something so amazing and precious it strikes me dumb with its immenseness. I lose every sense of myself, every thought; there’s just emotion and utter fulfillment.

…”I’m not going anywhere. Not while you’re still hurt. Not ever, if I can help it.”

It took me an hour to finish this pathetic excuse for a rave recommendation because I had to keep re-reading my notes and highlights.

One-Quote Review: The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe by Sabrina Darby

  • The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe by Sabrina DarbyTitle: The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe
  • Author: Sabrina Darby
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher:  Avon Impulse, June 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss ($0.99 ebook)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Beta Hero, Courtesan, Wounded Soldier, Tormented by Guilt
  • Quick blurb: Reclusive war hero’s mother hires courtesan to seduce him out of the ruined castle he’s restoring.
  • Quick review: A bit predictable, and a fairly implausible HEA, but the writing is all passion and emotion.
  • Grade: B

Their nakedness seemed right in the soaring space of the great hall. Stripped of all its earthly trappings, the luxurious and glittering material goods for which she’d strived the last five years.

This novella has temporarily restored my faith in historicals – and in Avon’s Impulse line.

Also: “indolent nakedness” is now on my list of favorite phrases, right under “erotic spectacle.”

Side by Side: Julia Quinn and Cecilia Grant

A Night Like This by Julia Quinn A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
  • Title: A Night Like This
  • Author: Julia Quinn
  • Series: Smythe-Smith Quartet, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $6.99
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgin, Beta Hero, Angst, Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Ruined-by-a-rake governess finds love with tormented-by-guilt earl.
  • Quick review: Everything I expected from Julia Quinn – in a good way.
  • Grade: B
  • Title: A Gentleman Undone
  • Author: Cecilia Grant
  • Series: Blackshear Family, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Bantam, May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $7.99
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgin, Beta Hero, Angst, Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Ruined-by-a-rake courtesan finds love with tormented-by-guilt soldier.
  • Quick review: Everything I expected from Cecilia Grant – and more.
  • Grade: A

I’m terrible at reviewing the books I love, which is why I cheat with my One-Quote Reviews. But with these two books, there’s no way I could have chosen just one quote – or even 10 or 20.

After several futile attempts to tone down the squee, I decided to take a more analytical approach to figure out precisely why I love these two very different authors. So I made a spreadsheet. Yes, I’m a nerd. I thought everyone knew that by now.

Why compare these two books? Both titles were released on the same day (May 29, 2012). Both are Regency-era historicals of similar length (approx. 370 pages) and both were published by imprints of Random House (Avon, Bantam). And, oddly enough, the basic plots are very similar, with ruined-by-a-rake heroines and tormented-by-guilt heroes finding love and redemption amidst secrecy and revenge.

Also, comparing them means I have one less positive review to write. I’m sneaky that way.

What sets each book apart – from each other and from other formulaic romances – is the author’s voice. While Quinn offers buoyant optimism with her trademark witty, lighthearted tone, Grant creates a much darker atmosphere of intensity and poetic despair.

Now I’m going to cheat again. Instead of trying to define or describe what “authorial voice” means, I’ll just let these two writers do the talking for me.

NOTE: The tables (color-coded! to match the book covers!!!) below will probably look like crap in an email or RSS reader, but hopefully I’ve enticed you enough to click through to the real thing.

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Into Deep Waters by Kaje Harper

  • Into Deep Water by Kaje HarperTitle: Into Deep Waters
  • Author: Kaje Harper
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical, M/M
  • Publisher: Goodreads M/M/ Romance Group, Love Is Always Write anthology, May 2012
  • Purchase: Goodreads, free
  • Trope(s): Coming out, angst
  • Quick blurb:  A WW2 love story that survives 70 years.
  • Quick review: Brilliant, tension-filled first half makes up for episodic second half.
  • Grade: A-

This is going to contain a lot of quotes and excerpts, because I highlighted half the damn book with notes like “lovely” and “*sigh*” and “brilliant” and “now THAT’S romantic.”

Kaje Harper’s free short story was written for a yet-to-be-released anthology called Love Is Always Write, commissioned and published by the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads.

I’m a big fan of Harper’s – her Life Lessons and Breaking Cover are both on my DIK list, and her Like the Taste of Summer should be required reading for all short story writers – so my expectations were pretty high.

I wasn’t disappointed. I was wowed. Again.

The plot….

Two young sailors – one a working-class artist from California, the other an upper-middle-class pharmacist from the East Coast – meet onboard the Japan-bound U.S.S. Gageway in April 1942.

This was dumb. It was stupid to get involved with someone, to care about anyone in this soul-numbing war. That was like opening yourself up to be flayed. And yet how could you help it? They were all closer than brothers, these men he fought beside.  And that one man, well, there was nothing brotherly going on there.

*~*~*~*

“…Given the choice, don’t you think they would have rather had this, what we have in this room, than died without it?”

Characterization, setting, atmosphere, tension and romance….

“I was waiting for you.”

Daniel’s voice was low and warm and surely didn’t mean what it sounded like.  In any case, there were men close by, sleeping in the hangars and out on the decks to escape the closed-in heat of the berthing areas.

Jacob said, “I’m glad you’re okay.  You are okay, right?”

“Yeah.  Not a scratch.  You?”

“I’m well enough.  That is, I’m not hurt.”

For few minutes they stood there, watching as the new day dawned.  The sun rose above the water, trailing ripples of gold that faded into the greys and blues of the waves.  The air was warming.

Daniel said, “Come on.”

It was some kind of choice that Jacob didn’t bother to ask why or where.  He just trailed after Daniel silently, down the hatch and deeper into the ship, until they fetched up against a door.  Daniel stopped with his hand on it and raised one eyebrow.  Jacob allowed himself one breath.  Just one moment to think all the things that were going unsaid.  Then he reached past Daniel and opened the linen storage locker door wide.

The storeroom was airless and hot and the space was tight.  But it was enough for what they needed. 

Damn. Damn, that’s good. See what I mean?

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