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