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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One-Quote Review: The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

  • Title: The Sweet Girl
  • Author:  Annabel Lyon
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Ancient Greece)
  • Publisher: Knopf, June 2013
  • Source: Public library (Overdrive epub)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • Trope(s): Daddy’s Girl, Bluestocking, Orphan, War & Peace, Gods & Goddesses
  • Quick blurb: Aristotle’s brilliant and cosseted daughter is unprepared for real life when Alexander the Great’s death disrupts their household.
  • Quick review: Odd and uncomfortable.
  • Grade: D+

Herpyllis says when a man is at ease his testicles are tender, but when he’s excited they go wizened and tight. I don’t know if she’s trying to give me the world or take it away.

This short book attempts to tell a big story with tragedy and treachery and sinister deities (and yes, magical man parts are involved), and it isn’t very successful.

The modern YA voice, combined with the Fancy Allegorical Lit-Fic Pretensions, had me disconnected from beginning to end. Just because you CAN use first-person present-tense and anachronistic language to show off your textbook-level grasp of Greek history and mythology doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

As with The Pianist in the Dark, I want this story told by a different author. I’m not the right reader for this book — and I have no clue who the intended audience is.

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.

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.

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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.

One-Quote Review: Hold Me Down Hard by Cathryn Fox

Hold Me Down Hard by Cathryn Fox

  • Title: Hold Me Down Hard
  • Author: Cathryn Fox
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Entangled (Flirt), May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 51 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl in the Big City, Sexy Cop
  • Quick blurb: Actress gets sexy cop neighbor to “run lines” so she can nail (wink, wink) an upcoming role.
  • Quick review: Too short for Full Snark. Almost DNFed it.
  • Grade: D

“Actually, these lines seem a bit cheesy.”

I had to choose that quote. How could I not choose that quote? I requested this solely for the “naive Iowa farm girl” bit in the blurb, and the nicest thing I have to say is that it’s exactly what I expected.

This short story (a very strange choice for Entangled’s Flirt line) is one erotica cliché after another (except a billionaire CEO), with some eye-rolling attempts at ridiculously superficial characterization.

The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt

The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt

  • Title: The Pianist in the Dark
  • Author: Michele Halberstadt
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books, July 2011
  • Source: Purchased*
  • Length: 150 pages
  • Trope(s): Musician, Physician, Disability, Overbearing Aristocratic Parents, Good and Faithful Servant
  • Quick blurb: Celebrity physician attempts to cure virtuoso pianist of blindness.
  • Quick review: So much potential, so much disappointment.
  • Grade: D+

It was imperative that, upon being introduced to her, he be seized by sudden inspiration.

The Pianist in the Dark is based on the true story of 17-year-old virtuoso Maria Theresia von Paradis, the only child of a high-ranking Austrian diplomat. Maria Theresia has been blind since the age of three, and while she’s made a name for herself as a musician in music-mad 1770s Vienna, her father has subjected her to endless painful and humiliating treatments to restore her sight.

When famed physician Franz Mesmer — he of the “magnetism cure” for anxieties, neuroses, epilepsy and other “nervous disorders” — offers his services, Maria Theresia’s father agrees and send her off to live at Mesmer’s house/hospital.

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One-Quote Review: Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

Before you ask “WHY???” (because I know that’s what you’re thinking), I put the full blame for this on Jennifer at Romance Novel News. I dared her to read something called Moosed-Up, so this was my self-inflicted penance.

So actually, it’s my own fault. But then again, Jennifer definitely got the better end of the deal on this one.
Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

  • Title: Gnome on the Range
  • Author(s): Jennifer Zane
  • Series:  Gnome Novel Series, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense (*eye-roll*)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2011
  • Source: Amazon, free promo ($4.99 ebook)
  • Length: 216 pages
  • Trope(s): Firefighter, Military Man, Single Mother, Widow, Wacko In-Laws, Sex Toys, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: Single mother and studly new neighbor join forces against evil villain.
  • Quick review:  If not for the noble firefighter neighbor, this book would have been completely OTT WTFery.
  • Grade: D

For the next fifteen minutes, we went over fire inspection paperwork with an elephant in the room the shape of a dildo.

This wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t good. A nearly-TSTL heroine, her way-OTT mother-in-law, a completely transparent “suspense” plot, inane and irrelevant details about houses, horses, sex toys, street names, etc., etc.

And…the Evil Villain. Oy. Uff da.

Are you ready for this? Because this is where the gnomes come into play.

Are you SURE? All righty, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

!!!SPOILER!!!

The Evil Villain is a ranch owner trying to retrieve stolen vials of valuable horse semen that were hidden in garden gnomes purchased by the heroine’s young sons at a yard sale.

But how does that make him villainous, you ask? It doesn’t.

He’s an evil villain because he’s — wait for it — a Pyscho Dom With Horse Tranquilizers.

I SHIT YOU NOT. On all counts.

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Epilogue….

While I was reading this, my kids decided to watch Gnomeo and Juliet on one of those mysterious cable movie channels I didn’t even know we had. It was actually tolerable because James McAvoy voiced the main character, and I could listen to him all day. Or night.

But then again, there was this:

Gnomeo and Juliet

Tripleheader: More Harlequin Categories – Blaze, Classic and Super

I’m definitely a Blaze type – the Classic Romance and Super Romance just didn’t do it for me at all.

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Blazing Midsummer Nights by Leslie Kelly

  • Blazing Midsummer Nights by Leslie KellyTitle:  Blazing Midsummer Nights
  • Author: Leslie Kelly
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin, May 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): Shakespeare, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Shakespearean fluff in modern-day Atlanta.
  • Quick review: Fun and sexy, with a surprisingly complex career/family conflict – but I could have done without the dream sequences.
  • Grade: B+

He attempted to tamp down the reaction by shifting his thoughts to less appealing things – like grits, God in heaven, who had ever decided to eat what looked like little pieces of dandruff?

The happy couple….

Mimi (don’t call her Hermione) is a high-society marketing exec with a boring boyfriend hand-picked by her father (who’s also her boss). Xander (don’t call him Lysander) is a firefighter who moves to Atlanta to shake himself out of his grief after his parents died.

The setting….

Southern Gothic – complete with a plantation house with secret doors and magnolia trees in the backyard.

The storytelling….

A really creative and witty retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The hilarious meet-cute sets the tone, and all the flaky secondary characters are there, including the donkey. In between the silliness and the sex, there’s one of the most realistic depictions of office politics I’ve ever seen in a romance.

The romance….

Yes, it’s Insta-Lust and Insta-Love, but it works. However, I could have done without the cheesy dream sequences.

The recommendation….

A great summer read – definitely worth the price!

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Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews

  • Unraveling the Past by Beth AndrewsTitle:  Unraveling the Past
  • Author: Beth Andrews
  • Series: The Truth About the Sullivans, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Lust in the Workplace, Dysfunctional Families, Instant Parenthood
  • Quick blurb: Cranky police chief and smart-ass cop clash over murder investigation.
  • Quick review: Could have been good, but turned out to be mostly sequel bait.
  • Grade: C-

“A debriefing?” Sullivan asked as if Ross had told her to bring a bikini, a case of whipped cream and her handcuffs and meet him at a motel.

The happy couple….

Layne is a small-town cop with a dysfunctional family. Ross a former big-city cop turned small-town police chief with a dysfunctional family.

The setting….

The predictable small town full of dysfunctional families and mysterious secrets.

The storytelling….

Good writing with some great snarky dialogue, but the sequel-bait family stuff pushed the hero and heroine to the sidelines and prevented this story from being a compelling read. The non-ending with an unsolved murder and rushed HEA didn’t help.

The romance….

Intermittent mental lusting and two rounds of comfort-me-with-sex, then declarations of love two pages before the end. I liked Layne and Ross, but I needed a lot more of THEM and a lot less of all the obnoxious people around them.

The recommendation….

Might be worth a read – but only if you plan on waiting for the sequels.

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The Tycoon’s Secret Daughter by Susan Meier

  • The Tycoon's Secret Daughter by Susan MeierTitle:  The Tycoon’s Secret Daughter
  • Author: Susan Meier
  • Series: First Time Dads! Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 185 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, Secret Baby, Addiction, Plot Moppet, Evil Mother-in-Law
  • Quick blurb: Recovering alcoholic learns he has a six-year-old daughter.
  • Quick review: Blech. Don’t bother.
  • Grade: C-

His attraction to her sprang up like a lion that had been lying in wait in the African bush, confusing him.

The happy couple….

Kate is a construction project manager who left her alcoholic and increasingly violent husband without telling him she was pregnant. Max is a newly-sober real estate mogul who is stunned – STUNNED, I TELL YOU – to find out he’s the father of a predictably adorable six-year-old daughter.

The setting….

The predictable small-town-with-all-the-amenities-of-a-metropolis.

The storytelling….

Bland and predictable.

The romance….

Boring and predictable.

The recommendation….

Another cookie-cutter rich-guy-with-secret-baby. Don’t bother.

One-Quote Review: One Naughty Girl by Alexx Andria

  • Title: One Naughty Girl
  • Author: Alexx Andria
  • Series: Landry James, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Self-Published, October 2011
  • Source: Amazon, free
  • Quick blurb: What. The. Hell.
  • Grade: F

The black buck noted her quickened breath and the way she reveled in the scene before her.

Yes, a character – a nameless hookup in a sex club – is described as a “black buck.” Since when is something like that considered acceptable??? I refuse to give any links to this insult to real erotica writers.

The Cowboy’s Princess Wife by Mysty McPartland

  • The Cowboy's Princess Wife by Mysty McPartlandTitle: The Cowboy’s Princess Wife
  • Author: Mysty McPartland
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Secret Cravings Publishing, January 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $4.99
  • Trope(s): Virgins, Alpha Males, Cowboys, Mystery Marriage, I Hate You Except When We Kiss
  • Quick blurb: Scottish Princess shows up on doorstep of Cowboy Earl claiming proxy marriage.
  • Quick review: I can’t decide which was worse – the bad history or the bad editing.
  • Grade: F

In the interests of fairness, and to prove that I’m an Equal Opportunity Crank, I decided to try out another title from the publishing house that signed Sable “Hell Yeah!” Hunter.

I chose The Cowboy’s Princess Wife because of the bodice-ripping title, the author’s stripper-rific first name and the blurb:

Even though she made a promise to her dying grandfather, Carlin only intends to deliver the letter to the Earl and leave. When he refuses to let her go she takes time to contemplate the situation and being attracted to him decides to give their marriage a chance.  Her husband was so annoying at times she re-thinks her situation and once again makes plans to leave.

Surprised at finding two beautiful women in his parlor Haydon cannot deny the overwhelming attraction he feels towards one of them. He is shocked senseless when he finds out his father has married him to the woman he desires. Bound by duty and honor he can never let her go. However, it doesn’t take him long to become irritated with her and all the crap she fill his house with. What makes him furious though was all the deception.

Can Haydon keep his princess wife safe? Can their love for one another over come all the obstacles?

Verb tense disagreement, missing commas and a house full of crap in the blurb? Wheee, let’s get started!

But before we get carried away….

Let’s take a look at the dedication page:

Author Dedication page - The Cowboy's Princess Wife

Reason #1 Why Secret Cravings Publishing Is Collectively Smoking Crack

The opening scene….

With her heart beating wildly in her chest, her stomach twisted in a knot of nervous tension, Carlin thought she just might be sick.

Oooh, barfing in the first sentence! But if this is a historical, shouldn’t she be casting up her accounts?

Her eyes wide open, she kept sweeping the area with fearful apprehension. Dear Lord, what had her sweet grandfather forced her into she silently asked?

All righty. So that’s the way it’s going to be. Thanks for the early warning.

Lord, she didn’t want to do this, did not want to be here, well she couldn’t do anything about it now since she already arrived, she despondently told herself.

I’m silently telling myself despondently that I don’t really want to read this but I paid $5 for it because I’m trying to prove a point so I’m damn well going to finish it.

“Och, Carlin, it dinna look too bad.” Layla tried to reassure her cousin….

Fake Scottish brogue and historically improbable character names. The WTF list is growing and we’re only on the fourth paragraph.

She definitely could feel herself becoming annoyed.

Well, we wouldn’t want her to waffle about it, so it’s a good thing she’s definitely definite.

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