Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

  • Title: Against the Tide
  • Author: Elizabeth Camden
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspiration
  • Publisher: Bethany House, October 2012
  • Source: Publisher
  • Length: 362 pages
  • Trope(s): Enigmatic Loner Hero, Tough but Nearly Desperate Heroine, Villain With a Fatal Weakness, Kidnapping, Addiction
  • Quick blurb: Naval translator gets drawn into a former opium smuggler’s quest for redemption.
  • Quick review: Another one for the “Written JUST FOR ME” category.
  • Grade: A-

I’m always on the hunt for new and different in romance, and when it comes in the form of an inspirational historical suspense story centering on the opium trade in late 19th-century Boston – with a gorgeous cover as a bonus – I am helpless to resist.

I’ve read Against the Tide three times now, and I’ve been sitting on this review for months because I’m both enthralled and a bit conflicted. The characters are complex and memorable, and the setting and suspense had me in a full-on book trance even on the second and third reads. Only one element in the narrative bothered me enough to add a minus instead of a plus to the letter grade, but it’s one that’s central to the story.

Read the full review at Dear Author »

One-Quote Review: Selling Out by Amber Lin

Selling Out by Amber Lin

  • Title: Selling Out
  • Author: Amber Lin
  • Series: Lost Girls, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher: Loose Id, February 2013
  • Source: Review copy provided by author ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 315 pages
  • Trope(s): Crusty Cop, Hooker with a Heart of Gold, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb:  A jaded call girl feels compelled to save a naive young runaway — and an enigmatic cop is trying to protect them both.
  • Quick review: The frenetic opening almost left me behind, but when I finally caught up, the intense atmosphere and complex characters had me hooked.
  • Grade: B

He was more deserving of love than anybody I had ever known, but it wasn’t even relevant to how I felt about him. Love wasn’t a choice, it was an accident. Not a climb, but a fall. I had slipped somewhere along my prickly path and down, down to the murky depths, hurtling ever farther, ever faster, and the only question was whether he would meet me at the bottom.

I probably should have read the first book in the series again before starting this one, because I felt more than a little bewildered during the first few chapters. But then Officer Luke showed up, and GOOD LORD.

And just as Lin captured the despair and hope of a struggling single mother in Giving It Up, the call girl main character here is anything but cookie-cutter. Shelly is bitchy and vulnerable and probably the most complex prostitute I’ve ever read in a contemporary.

One-Quote Review: Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

  • Unrivaled by Siri MitchellTitle: Unrivaled
  • Author: Siri Mitchell
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (1910 U.S.)
  • Publisher: Bethany House, March 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Family Drama, Reluctant Debutante, Reluctant Heir
  • Quick blurb:  St. Louis debutante tries desperately to save her ailing father’s beloved candy company, but struggles with her feelings for their rival’s son.
  • Quick review: Fun historical premise and setting, memorable characters and complex conflicts — but not my favorite by Mitchell
  • Grade: B

“I’ve always thought a meringue is a thing like hope, buoyed as they they are plenty of hot air. A bit pretentious at the start, don’t you think?” He settled his hands on his chest. “But that let that hope wait, let that resolve harden for a while…. Leave the oven door closed, and something wonderful happens. You just have to be willing to wait for it.”

I’d recommend this book for the historical world-building alone. Mitchell combines the early 1900s time period with the drama of rival family businesses to create a unique atmosphere that’s light-hearted and restless and constantly evolving — just like her main characters.

The one thing this book was lacking was a cohesive faith message. I love the low-key and understated spirituality in all of Mitchell’s books, but concentrating all of it in one secondary character — especially one who talks in circles — made it seem like an afterthought instead of an integral part of the story.

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.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: A Question of Time by Joanne Renaud

A Question of Time by Joanne Renaud

  • Title: A Question of Time
  • Author: Joanne Renaud
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Fantasy/PNR
  • Publisher: Champagne Books, November 2012
  • Source: Provided by the author ($3.99 ebook)
  • Length: 112 pages
  • Trope(s): Time Travel (god help me), Teacher Crush, Reunited, Beta Hero
  • Quick blurb: Fantasy author finds herself transported to her high school days, where she realizes she has a chance to save a favorite teacher from death.
  • Quick review: An alternately angsty and lighthearted 1980s’s flashback — but I found myself thinking about it for DAYS after I finished reading it.
  • Grade: B

Why, she could take her salad fork and jam it into her wrist right now, and it would probably really hurt.

It’s a good thing this story was a “stable time loop,” or I would probably never forgive Ms. Renaud for suckering me into reading another time travel book. However, the 1980s setting was a welcome reminder of why I skipped a certain milestone (mumblety-fifth) high school reunion this year.

But I still don’t understand what “stable time loop” means, because a loop could get all twisty like a Möbius strip and that’s all ABTRACT MATH and ABSTRACTION seems inherently UNSTABLE *shudder*. That makes the OCD part of my brain work really hard to kick its way past the “woohoo, party like it’s 1989!” part. And that’s why I kept thinking and thinking about the story arc and resolution of this book.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have any spectacled swoon-worthy teachers like Alan Forrest, because the opportunities for public embarrassment would have been exponentially higher.

This is probably one of the most blathering and unhelpful reviews I’ve written so far. I blame the sinister influence of time travel on my fragile cranial ecosystem. Also, I was so caught up in reminiscing about KITT and teal shadow and bitch flips that I forgot to eat lunch.

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NOTE: I did manage to resist the nearly overwhelming urge to use a “Rickrolled by God” quote. You’re welcome.

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.

Continue reading

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

Medieval Mania: A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

Way back in September/October, before the World Series of Romance, I was immersed in a period-specific historical binge and never got around to reviewing any of them. To remedy that appalling lapse in blogging etiquette….

Let the Medieval Mania begin!

Medieval Mania

We’ll embark upon our odyssey through the Middle Ages with the book I’m using as The Gold Standard for medieval romances. No, I haven’t read Roberta Gellis yet; I have about 17 of hers in my TBR and once I start one, I’ll have to read them all.

ANYWAY. This book was one of my first Kindle impulse purchases, and I’m pretty sure it was my gateway drug to the evil realm of Romancelandia. (The “mania” in the theme wasn’t chosen on a whim, trust me.)

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: A Bed of Spices
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harper Monogram, September 1993; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢ promo ($2.99 ebook, free through Kindle Lending)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Star-Crossed Lovers, Angst, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Nobleman’s daughter and Jewish student fight for love in medieval Germany
  • Quick review: Practically perfect in every way.
  • Grade: A+

He did not kiss her, but his eyes held hers as if he had cast some spell, and in his face, she saw the fever of his need. “For this, I have been waiting,” he said in a low, raw voice. “For this, I would die.”

This is one of those books that I feel I could never do justice in a review, other than to say it was BOOK TRANCE from beginning to end. And it was even better the second time when I was reading it more critically with a reviewer’s eye.

A Bed of Spices is a perfectly balanced mix of history, humor, passion, romance, angst, atmosphere, characterization and story-telling. I’m sure I left out other good stuff, but it’s all in there.

For me, this is the epitome of a Star-Crossed Lovers story — and it’s anything but typical. Instead of the usual noble/peasant or bad boy/good girl pairing, we get a couple equally matched in wealth and intelligence, held apart only the yellow star on his tunic.

Samuel brings Frederica and Solomon together unexpectedly:

He was beautiful, as beautiful as a fallen angel or a pagan god. And he stared back at her as if he could not believe she stood there, as if he knew her, as if he were as dazzled as she.

…and lets their relationship grow with some innocent flirting:

“You did not tell me where you came by your ideas,” he prompted.

“I came by mine as you did yours—by thinking.”

He grinned. “Such a strange pastime for a girl.”

…and some not-so-innocent temptation:

In the silent gray fog, they were alone. The knowledge rippled between them as they stood face-to-face, a fearsome and dangerous thing…. For a moment, he held her eyes and she felt the heated pulse of his maleness through the cold mist; sensed once again that she was not alone in her wish to be less polite and more tangled.

Our almost-happy couple fights it as best they can:

He would not stray from within the walls of Strassburg itself. Surely, if he had no glimpse of her, this lunacy would burn itself clean. For, dear God, it must….

…until they both find the courage to admit what they have is more than physical attraction:

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel - original 1993 MMPB cover

Original 1993 cover
(historical accuracy?
what’s that?)

Her free hand lit in his hair. For a moment, she said nothing, only stroked his head silently as he knelt before her. At last she said quietly, “The priest brought me the Bible last night, as instruction.”

She sank down to her knees, to look at him face-to-face. “I made a confession to him that I had spent many hours thinking of a certain man in ways that were not chaste.”

Solomon lifted his fingers, seared by this admission, but she caught his hand before he could touch her. “Father Goddard said there was more to God’s word than prayers,” she said, “and he brought me the Bible to read, with a place specially marked.”

Her eyes softened. “It was,” she said with an ironic smile, “the Song of Solomon.”

“Ahhh.” He closed his eyes and leaned forward to press his forehead against hers, feeling as if he might weep. “And yet, this is impossible, Rica. We cannot love each other.”

“I know.”

For a long moment, they simply remained as they were, their fingers tangled, foreheads pressed together, all else forgotten.

Ohhhh, that forehead-to-forehead thing gets me EVERY TIME. *~*happysigh*~*

With the help of a mutual friend, they make their own vows:

She felt dizzy, as if she were standing in the center of the world and all else would slip into harmony as long as Solomon held her.

He rocked her silently, holding her almost painfully close. “It does not seem an evil thing,” he said with quiet wonder. “It seems as if I have held you thus for all of time, that I should go on doing so forever.”

But alas, we know it can’t go on forever. The author quietly lets the internal angst and conflict seep in….

“Do not speak it, Rica, I beg you.” His eyes were bleak. “There is so little joy in any life, I will take this time with you until I must go.” He smoothed a lock of hair from her face. “In our old age, we’ll remember and be glad.”

…and then it grows:

Two months ago, he’d never seen the woman who now obsessed him. All the years of discipline, all the prudence and resistance he had practiced had come to naught in the face of his longing for Rica. He was ready to storm the castle to carry her away, ready to make a fool of himself to gain a glimpse of her in the bailey. For what? The most he could hope for was a month or two of stolen afternoons, a kiss here and there, and a laugh in a glade. He could never lie with her, sleep next to her, walk in a public square. He could never sit with her over a meal and talk of the day’s work, or take her hand in old age.

…and it festers:

From the beginning, Solomon had known there was no future for them. From the beginning, he had fought against loving her. Now he found he could not bear the thought of another man touching her, when he — who loved her — had barely tasted the edges of her desire.

…until the inevitable external conflicts tear them violently apart:

There were no more tears left in her, only a wild, searing grief. Every corner of her was filled with it, an emotion black and sticky as tar. She could taste it against her tongue and smelled it thick in her nostrils. It held her, immobile, slumped against the wall in the darkness.

But then we finally get the HEA, and it’s WORTHY EVERY MINUTE of all that glorious angst.

“All is well, my love,” he whispered. “All is well.”

In summary: I think everyone should read this book because it is a very good book. And if all those excerpts didn’t convince you, I have no hope for you. I’ll just let you wander back to your pathetic alpha heroes and doormat heroines. Good luck with that.

Next up: One-Quote Reviews for a few more by Barbara Samuel (guess what? I LOVE THEM ALL)

One-Quote Reviews: The Druid Stone and Galway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

I have officially lost my Urban Fantasy Virginity. I feel so dirty. But in a very good way.

The Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneThe Druid Stone

  • Title: The Druid Stone
  • Author(s): Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
  • Series: Layers of the Otherworld, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Urban Fantasy
  • Publisher: Carina Press, August 2012
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 278 pages
  • Trope(s): Time Travel, Other Paranormal Stuff About Which I Have No Clue
  • Quick blurb: Tortured by murderous recurring dreams, “Sean from America” needs help from paranormal investigator Cormac to rid himself of a cursed Druid artifact.
  • Quick review:  Stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing this, and I don’t even LIKE paranormals.
  • Grade: B

…Sean realized if he wanted to now he could push back, any time, because there was nothing holding him to the wall anymore. Nothing but Cormac’s unspoken expectation and Sean’s unspeakable desire to meet it.

I really hate it when I have to stop reading in the middle of a sex scene because I have to go back and highlight everything because the writing is so fucking good.

For the urban fantasy elements, I must admit that I am in no way qualified to judge the world-building, and I was pretty intimidated when the heavy-duty paranormal stuff kicked in. But after a few chapters, I figured out that reading the Irish mythology as a history lesson with some Harry Potter analogies helped keep me in the story.

I still hate time travel, though. All the “what if?” and “but what about…??? GAH!” moments put my brain in overdrive trying to make everything line up properly.

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Galway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneGalway Bound

  • Title: Galway Bound
  • Author(s): Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
  • Series: Layers of the Otherworld, Book 1.1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Erotica
  • Publisher: Self-Published, October 2012
  • Source: All Romance eBooks, 99c (part of the Cyber Monday Binge)
  • Length: 32 pages
  • Quick blurb: Sean and Cormac indulge in a weekend away to reconnect and celebrate their first year together.
  • Quick review:  If you think BDSM can’t be romantic, THINK AGAIN.
  • Grade: A

Cormac knew he should pull back, delay this, let himself savor Sean’s submission just a little longer, but the truth was — the truth was  even though Sean gave him the drive to be strong, he also gave him the permission to be weak. And Cormac was weak. He was torturously, deliciously weak.

I read it, and then I read it again. Because OH. MY. GOD. *~*swoon*~* <thud>

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.