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 Season for Sin by Vicky Dreiling

A Season for Sin by Vicky Dreiling

  • Title: A Season for Sin
  • Author: Vicky Dreiling
  • Series: Sinful Scoundrels, Book 0.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Forever Young (Hachette), September 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley (99¢)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Rake, Widow
  • Quick blurb: Rake intends to make a beautiful young widow his mistress, but she’s not interested.
  • Quick review: Can’t really review an unfinished story.
  • Grade: DNF

Although I actually read the whole thing, I’m tagging this as a DNF, and here’s why:

Introducing the Sinful Scoundrels…

The Earl of Bellingham is nothing is not a creature of habit: money, meals, and mistresses must be strictly managed if a man is to have a moment’s peace. It’s a system that works splendidly for himuntil now. With his oldest and dearest friends succumbing, one by one, to wedded bliss, Bell is now restless and a trifle lonely. Enter the Sinful Scoundrels — Colin Brockhurst, Earl of Ravenshire, and Harry Norcliffe, Viscount Evermorewho drag him back into society and draw his rakish eye to the ton’s new beautiful young widow. Bell isn’t after a wife, but a challenge. And Laura Davenport should fit the bill quite nicely…

Word count: 29,000 words

That’s the official description of this “novella” from Amazon. Do you see the words “preview” or “teaser” in there anywhere? No? Me either.

This is not a prequel. This is not a novella. This is not even a short story. Characters and conflict are introduced, but there is no resolution.

The “prequel” story ends at 67% of the Kindle version, with the remaining third an excerpt from the beginning of Dreiling’s upcoming full novel. If I had paid for thiseven just 99¢I would have been really irritated at the blatant misrepresentation.

What’s there was an OK read, but I got the impression it would be just another typical Regency. And the publisher’s tactics in charging readers for a useless bit of fluff will not compel me to pay $7.99 for the author’s next release.

A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

  • A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacleanTitle: A Rogue By Any Other Name
  • Author: Sarah MacLean
  • Series: Book 1 in the Rules of Scoundrels series
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, February 2012
  • Purchase: Amazon, $4.99
  • Tropes: Reformed Rake, Spinster, Gambling, Revenge
  • Quick blurb: Former childhood friends reunite as rake and spinster. With some gambling and revenge stuff thrown in.
  • Quick snark: Yawn.
  • Grade: D+

I’ve read and enjoyed all four of Sarah MacLean’s previous books – especially Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, which earned a spot on my favorites list for having a kick-ass heroine, a scholarly yet swoon-worthy hero and a surprisingly unique plot.

This one? The blurb had me slightly concerned even before I bought it:

What a scoundrel wants, a scoundrel gets . . .

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them . . . even her heart.

Reformed rake, spinster, gaming hell. And this will be different because…?

I was never able to answer that initial question, because it wasn’t different. There is nothing here to set it apart from a zillion other formulaic Regencies. Asshole hero, waffling heroine, predictable plot, repetitive angst and pretty much devoid of any charm whatsoever.

I have no clue what happened between the author’s first trilogy and this big ol’ mess. I felt like Sarah MacLean just put her writer’s brain on autopilot to churn out something to give to her editor, expending little or no effort on creating good characters or a good story. And that left me as a reader feeling more than little insulted.

The only thing saving it from a straight D grade – or even an F – is the sequel-bait epilogue featuring the heroine’s bluestocking sister who decides she “requires ruination.” I’m a sucker for books about smart women; let’s hope the MacLean can do her justice.

In the Garden of Disgrace by Cynthia Wicklund

  • Title: In the Garden of DisgraceIn the Garden of Disgrace by Cynthia Wicklund
  • Author: Cynthia Wicklund
  • Series: Book 1 in The Garden series
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Self-Published, October 2010
  • Purchase: Amazon, 99¢
  • Tropes: Reformed Rake, Ruined Virgin, I Hate You Except When We Kiss
  • Quick blurb: Lord Wicked accidentally drags along friend’s 17-year-old sister as he’s fleeing from a duel. Shit hits fan, yada, yada, yada.
  • Quick snark: Scandal (+) eight years (-) all the juicy bits = boring hero and obnoxious heroine.
  • Grade: DNF

Only 99¢, and a fun blurb like this – what’s not to like, right?

17-year-old Lady Jillian Fitzgerald sneaks out to spy on a duel, believing she is merely guilty of an indiscretion. But when the duel takes a deadly turn and Jillian becomes an unwilling passenger in the fleeing carriage of the infamous “Lord Wicked,” she knows what began as a lark has become a disaster. One night of bad judgment and her life is changed forever.

Not so much. I gave up on this about a third of the way through because the heroine annoyed the hell out of me, and all I could foresee was more endless chapters of “I Hate You Except When We Kiss.”

I had high hopes – a unique and intriguing premise – and the story started out great. Unfortunately, the initial drama was over much too soon, and suddenly we’re thrown forward eight years and the characters have changed completely.

If I’m reading a “reformed rake” story, I want to SEE “Lord Wicked” change over time and EARN his redemption. Telling the reader “it’s eight years later and he’s really really sorry” just doesn’t cut it. We miss out completely on the restless, conflicted wickedness and get him tirelessly patient, self-sacrificial and boring.

Likewise, I would have been much more likely to have compassion and respect for the heroine if I could have SEEN the consequences of the initial drama. Instead, we leave Jillian as a 17-year-old caught up in the aftermath of a scandalous duel and never really understand what turned her into a rude, self-centered bitch. She refuses to acknowledge her own behavior in the fiasco and blames everyone else around her.

I know the author was trying for an “independent and feisty” heroine, but Jillian veered off that narrow path straight into “obnoxious and unlikeable.”

A reformed rake needs someone worth reforming for, and Jillian – at least in the first part of the book – definitely isn’t it. And Lord Wicked was already reformed by the time he got to her, so what’s the point?