One-Quote Review: Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

  • Title: Bound to Be a Bride
  • Author: Megan Mulry
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Bride, In Disguise, Kidnapped, Bondage, Mistorical, TSTL
  • Quick blurb: Runaway bride kidnapped by fiancé she’s never met.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but more than a little ridiculous.
  • Grade: D+

She had proved quite amenable, showing admirable equestrian and culinary skills and generally not making a nuisance of herself.

This story was all over the place, especially the wildly inconsistent, nearly-TSTL heroine and her education at the Convent of Handy Outdoor Survival Techniques.

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

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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.

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.

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall

  • Title: Veil of Pearls
  • Author: MaryLu Tyndall
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (American)
  • Publisher: Barbour Books, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($9.26 ebook)
  • Length: 312 pages
  • Trope(s): In Disguise, Angst, Star-Crossed Lovers, Revenge, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: Light-skinned former slave finds love with plantation playboy in 1811 Charleston.
  • Quick review: Great title, gorgeous cover, promising setting, very disappointing story.
  • Grade: DNF

Each step she took toward freedom loosened the fetters enslaving her soul until they began to slip away, one by one.

Oh, fudge. I really really really wanted to love this – an intriguing premise, a pre-Civil War Southern setting and scads of five-star reviews. Unfortunately, I only made it about a third of the way through. The anachronisms and the logic issues and the sermonizing and the awkward mix of purple prose and clichés were just too distracting to ignore.

As usual, I feel guilty for DNFing an inspirational, because the Road to Hell is paved with Bricks of Sarcasm.

And…now I feel guilty for snarking about going to Hell. And now I’m freaking out because the irony of the guilt doubling in on itself might spawn a ginormous spiritual wormhole or something. Which I really hope doesn’t happen, because wormholes usually have some sort of space/time continuum weirdness, and time travel stuff really confuses me. I need to stop watching Doctor Who. This is the way my brain works, in case you were wondering whether I really need that Zoloft prescription.

Speaking of time travel….

The Mistoricals

Let’s get this big one out of the way first. Nearly every review of Tyndall’s 14 books mentions her attention to historical accuracy, so I wasn’t expecting to find this in Chapter 2:

Morgan circled one of the Victorian stuffed chairs in front of the hearth….

Yes, VICTORIAN. In 1811 South Carolina. I lost my trust in the author right there.  I was reading an ARC, so I downloaded the Kindle sample of the published book to double-check, but the sample wasn’t quite long enough to include this scene. I really hope that someone noticed and fixed it, but that kind of error should NEVER have even made it that far.

We later meet a minor character named Lord Demming. No, he’s not a British peer taking a vacation from the House of Lords.

“He is the speaker of the General Assembly and a descendant of the Earl of Demming.” Though Morgan had heard he was the younger son of the late earl and therefore had no right to the title “lord.” But such things were tolerated in America.”

Wait just a gosh-darn minute (please note I’m restraining myself because this is an inspirational). Fake British titles were tolerated in early American political leaders? I’m no historian, but I seriously doubt…. Oh, never mind. It’s not worth the effort because there was really no reason to include that bit of irrelevant characterization.

But maybe Charleston was the last bastion of Loyalist sympathy, because there’s this:

Had she even had a coming out? Being a commoner, most likely not.

Yes, COMMONER. In 1811 South Carolina. Again, not necessary at all.

There were several other jarring words and phrases that irked me: Don Juan, city council, landlubber, hair the color of alabaster, besotted (as a synonym for drunk), pampered urchins and coddled urchins (to describe the idle rich), witch doctor…. And that was just the first third of the book.

Authors: PLEASE remember Kelly’s Golden Rule of Writing (And Also Life In General Because It’s An All-Purpose Sort of Rule):

Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

It might be historically plausible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not awkward and distracting.

Also: Readers do not need to be reminded 27 times that your heroine has ebony curls. Disguising the luxuriant tresses as “trickles of obsidian” isn’t fooling anyone.

Leaps of Logic and Very Convenient Coincidences

We meet our enslaved heroine Althea as she escapes a brutal Barbados plantation. She walks hours – still in leg shackles – through a jungle to the nearest port. Because she’s only one-quarter Negro, she’s light-skinned enough to pass for white. She instantly finds a Charleston-bound ship, conveniently captained by an abolitionist, paying for her passage with money she somehow earned during her years of slavery.

The captain informs her he’ll waive his “women on board are bad luck” rule but he won’t feed her. We are given no indication of how she survives the week-long journey without food. We aren’t shown – or even told – how a beautiful young woman traveling alone is able to reach her destination completely unmolested.

You might think this was a Harlequin Intrigue. But you’d be wrong.

One month later, our heroine – now known as Adalia – is safely ensconced in a Catholic church in Charleston, sleeping on a spare cot in exchange for volunteering her healing skills to treat slaves. She worries that her luck is about to run out:

She’d not eaten since yesterday when the last of her money had run out. Of course, she still had her mother’s pearls, but she’d rather die than sell the last remnant of her family – a symbol of the love she’d known before slavery.

She was somehow able to hide a pearl necklace from her ABUSIVE SLAVE OWNER for SEVEN YEARS. And I still can’t figure out how she managed to save the necklace in the first place.

…the hurricane swept them out to sea, leaving Adalia and Delphia orphans. Two days later, Sir Walter visited their farm on the pretense of checking on his neighbors. With soft words and promises of care, he stole them, frightened and hungry, from their beds.

Where could she have possibly hidden the necklace as she was being stolen from her bed?

I almost quit reading right there. I probably should have.

OH! ALMOST FORGOT! The necklace is made of black pearls. I’m not kidding. Check the cover. Subtle, huh?

Where were we?

Ah yes – the starving waif clutching her pearls. But never fear! A local doctor appears at the church (it’s A Miracle because she had just prayed for it!) and offers our heroine a position as his assistant, with free room and board at his home.

Other penniless orphaned beauties might be concerned at such an offer, but our heroine is the trusting sort:

Relief loosened the tight coils in her chest. A man who read his Bible was surely a good man.

Because everyone who reads the Bible is a saint. (That was sarcasm, a literary technique used by bona fide saints. For realz. I looked it up.)

Historical world-building gone wrong

On her very first foray to a plantation, Althea/Adalia literally knocks our hero off a bridge into a creek. But first she calls him a “swaggering, vainglorious despot.”

You might be wondering how a slave acquired such erudition. You’ll recall she wasn’t born a slave; we’re told that although her parents were poor farmers, they educated their daughters in mathematics, literature, history, science, Latin, and religion. Althea/Adalia must have been a been child prodigy to learn all that by age 12.

“You do not own me, sir, as you do the poor souls who work your land. Therefore, you cannot insist I do anything.” She couldn’t believe how wonderful the defiant words felt on her lips. How glorious! How empowering!

Yes, EMPOWERING. I fully expected to see “synergy” and “leverage” and “calendarize” in the next chapter.

But wait – there’s more! A few pages later, our heroine observes our charming hero thusly:

His face no longer held that look of abject boredom so often found on the spawn of the tediously affluent.

Here’s another one:

“You overbearing, self-gratifying” – she growled, attempting to control her tongue. Her attempt failed – “presumptuous vain, pampered milksop.”

Not done yet….

“I don’t hate you sir. I merely know your kind.”

“And what kind is that?”

She stopped and eyed him. The social season had begun in Charleston, and much like the season in London, it was a time when the affluent and powerful forsook their plantations to converge on the city for balls, plays, concerts, and general frivolous amusements. That was all she was to him – an amusement.

“The kind who have more wealth than they can ever spend, who fritter away their time in idle and often immoral amusements, and who think they are better than everyone else simply by nature of their birth and fortune.”

The heroine was raised on a small farm in Barbados. She was forced into slavery at age 12.

I keep repeating these important points, but it seems like I’m the only one standing up and yelling “How in the HECK (this is an inspie, so no h-e-double-hockey-sticks allowed) would she know what the London social season is like? SHE WAS A SLAVE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.”

But then, just a page or two later, she turns into a simpering idiot:

With wide eyes and open mouth, she was like a child seeing the world for the first time.

So is she a worldly sophisticate or is she a childlike simpleton? I cannot get invested in any character – much less the main character – whose thoughts, words and actions are so completely at odds with the given backstory. That kind of inconsistency ruins the world-building for me every time.

The heavy-handed preachifying

As a general rule, I prefer subtlety and understatement in my casual reading. I don’t need to be beaten over the head with THEMES and MESSAGES and LESSONS. For example:

Morgan glanced at the slaves, their bare backs leveled to the sun. Lud, this woman challenged him like no other! Why had he not considered the right or wrong of forcing others to work against their will, of keeping them imprisoned on the plantation like animals?

When I read passages like that, I get the feeling that the author thinks (a) readers are stupid OR (b) doesn’t trust her own writing to get the message across. Sometimes both.

Too many inspie authors fall into the trap of telling instead of showing – but pulpit-pounding is never a good storytelling technique.

Perhaps that was why God had brought them together – the most ill-suited, unlikely couple in Charleston! For Adalia to open Morgan’s eyes to the horrors of slavery and perhaps change the opinions of the next generation. Or maybe even to bring Morgan closer to God. He certainly needed a relationship with the Almighty. If she could achieve the latter, God would certainly convince him of the former.

I don’t need to be told this. I had already figured out all on my own that Adalia is the Perfect Christian who is Licensed to Judge because God Is Her BFF. I avoid people like that in real life, and I don’t find those traits are inspiring in any way.

Heiress Without A Cause* by Sarah Ramsey

* Plus a little bit about Book 2: Scotsmen Prefer Blondes at the very end.

  • Heiress Without A Cause by Sarah RamseyTitle: Heiress Without a Cause
  • Author: Sara Ramsey
  • Series: Muses of Mayfair, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Spencerhill Associates, February 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($3.39 ebook)
  • Length: 314 pages
  • Trope(s): In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: Spinster agrees to chaperone disgraced lord’s sisters – but when he recognizes her actress alter ego, she must pretend to be his mistress.
  • Quick review: A hot mess of a premise and a TSTL heroine, slightly redeemed by a few flashes of compelling writing.
  • Grade: C– (really more of a D+, but it’s not a Lady Alexandra level of bad)

The entire premise of this book is a big ol’ Hot Mess, with all the requisite confusing plot contrivances to force the action and motivations into something vaguely resembling logic.

I came very, very close to DNFing, but some swoon-worthy sentences (and the irrelevant fact that the author claims to be an Iowa girl) gave me hope that the writing might somehow overcome all the early red flags.

The setting….

Regency London. The fantasy-land Mistorical Island version (see below).

The backstory….

Our heroine, Lady Madeleine Vaillant, is half-French, orphaned by the guillotine because her parents stayed behind to protect their chateau. Or something like that. She lives in London with her aunt and cousins, desperately yearning for someone – anyone – to adore her (more on this later).

Our hero, William Avenel, is the newly-titled and very reluctant Duke of Rothwell. He’s edging his way back into the ton nearly ten years after purposely getting himself exiled to Scotland to escape his humorless father. The duke has three sisters – two are much-younger twins in need of a society chaperone, the other a scandalous widow.

The plot….

This is going to get a little hairy. Please be patient and save all your questions until the end.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. 1885-1900

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. 1885-1900

Believing herself to be trapped in a “boring but comfortable prison,” and being desperately desperate for adoration (see below), our heroine decides her only option is to become An Actress.

Here, in a white muslin ball gown, with her brown hair tucked into a spinster’s cap, no one spared her a first glance, let alone a second.

Last night, wearing breeches and a wild, unkempt wig, everyone cheered at her feet.

The breeches and wig are part of her costume for her role in Hamlet. To be more specific, the LEAD role.

Our hero, who just happens to own the theater, is naturally stunned stupid by Lady Madeline’s amazing acting (performed under a French pseudonym, of course). Naturally, he accosts her in her dressing room, where he immediately recognizes her as the quiet Mayfair spinster he hoped to engage as a chaperone for his young sisters.

This recognition leads to our heroine (in her actress persona) pretending to be the duke’s mistress. For scandal-proofing and safety reasons, of course.

If you’re thinking that all these contrivances to get them into bed defy logic and reason, you are correct. All this happens in the first third of the book.

What made it even more frustrating is that our happy couple’s backstories are revealed too little, too late. Instead, we’re immediately dumped into the characters’ heads, where inexplicable things are happening. My “oh, really???” bullshit-o-meter was starting to veer off the charts to the Land of DNF. But once I understood Madeline and Ferguson’s motivations, I was much more willing to keep reading.

Of course, I still held a grudge throughout the rest of the book. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever. Usually. I occasionally relent if the sexy times are hot.

There was nothing too painful about the predictable “Oh NOES, I’m RUINED, no wait, NEVER MIND” road to the predictable baby-filled epilogue. In fact, the calming of the craziness allowed for some really good writing and characterization to peek through – just enough to make me feel a teensy bit guilty for my petulant snarking.

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Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure by Sophie Barnes

  • Lady Alexandra's Excellent AdventureTitle: Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure
  • Author: Sophie Barnes
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (er, Mistorical)
  • Publisher: Avon Impulse, May 2012
  • Source: Borrowed from public library ($3.99 at Amazon)
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgins, Beta Heroes, Spies, In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: TSTL hoyden teams up with worst spy ever to rescue brother who may be a traitor.
  • Quick review: Spectacularly unsuccessful mashup of Julia Quinn and Joanna Bourne.
  • Grade: D-

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure popped up on the “Recently Added E-Books” list at my local public library. I figured, “Hey, it has a cheesy title, but you never know.”

Oh, I should have known.

It didn’t take long to get to the second of many What. The. Fucks. in this book (I’m counting the title as the first). By the middle of chapter two, I was double-checking the front matter to see if my library had been suckered into offering vanity press titles.

Oh, Avon Impulse, if this is what you’re publishing as “fresh, exciting content,” I don’t think I’m the kind of “evolved” and “savvy” reader you had in mind. Unless, of course, “Insulting Mistorical” is one of your new subgenres.

But before we get into the CAPS LOCK OF INDIGNATION (to paraphrase The Book Smugglers – this wasn’t quite rage-inducing, but I’m definitely indignant), let’s go on an Excellent Adventure with Lady Alexandra & Friends.

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