TBR Challenge: Kickin’ It Old School with Jude Deveraux

I missed the March and April challenges, but I am all over this one because MY FIRST DEVERAUXS. (Is that the plural? I’m going with it.) I had a hit and a miss.

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A Knight in Shining Armor (1987)

It was a DUD. I was DISAPPOINTED. There, I SAID IT.

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux (1987)

My less-than-enthusiastic reaction can be blamed on:

The Susanna Kearsley binge.

I listened to The Winter Sea, The Firebird, The Rose Garden, and Splendour Falls, and read The Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms, so my standards for timeslip romances were raised ridiculously high.

Knight was undoubtedly romantic, and the time travel was entertaining, but I wanted the intensity and emotion of the chapel/churchyard scenes to be sustained through the whole story.

The awkward and uncomfortable narration.

I do NOT recommend the audiobook narrated by Steve West. It appears that he’s done several historical romances, but his performance on Knight had a lot to do with my negative reaction to the heroine (see below).

The over-the-top ex and his bratty daughter.

Halfway through the first chapter, my only thoughts were “Really?” A little subtlety would have gone a long way to make the opening of Knight a little more palatable. Instead, we get sledgehammered with caricatures.

And the fat-shaming of a 13-year-girl? REALLY? I don’t care how obnoxious the child was, or when this book was written, there is no excuse for that. I almost DNF’d by chapter two.

The heroine.

I hated Dougless. I wanted to slap her upside the head and say GOOD GOD WOMAN STOP WHINGING. She’s the prototype of the Ditzy, Klutzy, Family Fuck-Up and she annoyed me from beginning to end. All she did was whine, pout, plead and cry through the whole damn book.

Grade: C- (saved from a D+ by the perfectly perfect ending)

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The Raider (1987)

This one, on the other hand, was GLORIOUS.

The Raider by Jude Deveraux (1987)

It was a funny, sexy romp in the best possible way, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

The heroine was a smartass.

I adore smartass heroines. Have I mentioned this before?

The hero has two (count ‘em, TWO) alter egos.

hero

And the heroine falls in love with both of them. I almost liked it against my will because the “in disguise” trope generally makes me roll my eyes, but Deveraux pulled it off beautifully.

The secondary characters were memorable and essential to the story.

I think this is another reason why Knight didn’t work for me — for most of the book, we get little respite from Dougless’s internal angst-o-rama. The remainder of the cast just served as reusable props for her self-pity party.

In Raider, however, we get scene after scene of comic relief from Jessica’s gauche family, Alex’s mysterious Russian prince sidekick, the villainous villains and the raucous residents of Warbooke— and every bit of it advances the plot.

The pacing was perfect.

Knight was a weird combination of comedy and melodrama that just wasn’t my thing — it just didn’t feel cohesive.

Raider gives us high farce from page one and never lets go. We get just enough downtime for crucial backstory, character development, foreshadowing and (of course) sexytimes before we’re thrown headfirst into the next escapade.

The time period and setting were…not Regency England.

I have no idea if every minute detail was historically accurate, but I couldn’t give a rat’s arse because I totally bought into the historical world-building. And that sucked me into a still-ongoing Colonial/Revolutionary America binge.

Grade: A

(If you missed it, be sure to check out SBTB’s post on The Raider collectible Barbies.

The (Belated) 1Q2015 Big Fat Book Review: Middlemarch by George Eliot

NOTE: I’m reading a BIG FAT BOOK each quarter in 2015. I kinda sorta forgot to write a review of my first one because I was still wallowing in it weeks afterward.

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If you don’t like MIDDLEMARCH, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Middlemarch - Original Serial CoverAlso, you are wrong. Wrong, wrong, WRONGITY WRONG. Everyone who knows anything about books agrees that MIDDLEMARCH is brilliant.

I am capitalizing and bolding MIDDLEMARCH to make sure it gets your attention so you will remember to READ THIS FREE BOOK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Did I mention that MIDDLEMARCH is brilliant?

Yes, it’s eleventy thousand pages long. Yes, it’s 35+ hours on audio. Get over it. Suck it up and read it, buttercup.

My Bullet List of Reasons Why Everyone Should Read MIDDLEMARCH:

  • Because it’s BLOODY BRILLIANT.
  • Because the audio narration by Juliet Stevenson is BLOODY BRILLIANT.

So, that’s my belated, yet dramatic and insightful, 1Q2015 Big Fat Book Review of MIDDLEMARCH. You’re welcome.

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I’d never scrolled down far enough on the Wikipedia page to notice these glorious illustrations from The Works of George Eliot, published by The Jenson Society, NY, 1910.

Dorothea and Will

We start out loving these two idealists and aching for their star-crossed HEA. She’s the Self-Martyring Bleeding Heart and he’s the Brooding Artistic Poor Relation. What could be more romantic?

Then Eliot slowly, masterfully, shows us Idealism vs. Reality. And we’re always shown and never just told. Eliot somehow manages to uses every single bit of description and dialogue in her 300,000+-words to build these characters and then deconstruct them in such a way that we’re mired in their pity party and we’re LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

The illustration is perfect — Dorothea is heaving a big ol’ sigh and Will glares at us with all his brooding intensity.

 Rosamond and Tertius

We all love to hate Rosamund. She’s insufferable. And yet, she’s got a hell of a lot more gumption than Dodo. Instead of swanning about moaning about her lot in life, Mrs. Lydgate just goes out and does whatever the hell she wants.

Again with the subversive character deconstruction — Rosamund never turns the corner from loathsome to loveable, but we learn to empathize as she fulfills her destiny as arm-candy for her ambitious husband. And along the way, those ambitions reveal Tertius the Noble Physician’s own self-centeredness. His unsuccessful turnaround is kind of heartbreaking in a “we knew that would happen” sort of way.

I love how blithely pompous and patronizing Tertius looks in this illustration.

Mary and Fred

Mary is pretty much a non-entity in the book, but who the hell cares? She waits patiently for Fred to get his head of his arse and we love her unreservedly for it.

And oh, Fred. Our dear, dear Fuck-Up Fred. He’s the clueless but well-meaning frat boy who just cannot seem to get his shit together. If anything demonstrates Eliot’s storytelling genius, it’s the Redemption of Fred.  I just CAN’T EVEN with him.

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Discussion topics

  1. I want Rev. Farebrother to have his HEA. Who can we ‘ship him with? He needs something wildly passionate because I’m pretty sure he secretly reads naughty books. He’s a very open-minded kind of reverend.
  2. Is there anything in the book more painful than the Featherstone Death Watch?
  3. I still do not understand the Bulstrode ↔ Ladislaw connection. Could someone please succinctly explain what Bulstrode knew about Will’s family? If that’s important in revealing Will’s — or Bulstrode’s — character, why does it come so late in the book?
  4. The BBC miniseries. I think the casting was close to perfect. I heard rumors of a new adaptation (there’s an IMDB page for it, I think Sam Mendes was the producer)— help me fan-cast a new version. Let’s re-gender Bulstrode so we can have Helen Mirren.
  5. The concept of re-gendering just made me think of this…. Could/should an adaptation of Middlemarch be modernized, or set in the mid 20th century instead of the 19th? Or is it too quintessentially capitol-V Victorian?

Make yourself useful in the comments.

TBR Challenge: The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley

February’s TBR Challenge was “Recommended Read (A book recommended to you by another reader/blogger etc.).” I blame this one on John (@DreamingReviews) who reviewed it for Heroes and Heartbreakers. “Heroine plays the oboe” = FASTEST ONE-CLICK EVER.

Yes, I played the oboe. Full-on band geek. You are not surprised.

  • The Earl I Adore by Erin KnightleyTitle: The Earl I Adore
  • Author: Erin Knightley
  • Series: Prelude to a Kiss
  • Published: Signet, January 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Tropes: Big Misunderstanding, Deep Dark Secrets, Music Nerds, Mean Girl
  • Quick blurb: The heroine plays oboe. The hero sings opera. There’s some conflict-type stuff but I didn’t pay attention to that because MUSIC-SWOON.
  • Quick review: To quote the hero describing the heroine, it’s : “…a glass of champagne. Effervescent, light, and sweet.”
  • Grade: B

“You make me want to learn more Italian,” he murmured, offering her a small private smile.

“You make me want to listen to more opera,” she replied….

This was just charming. I’m going to be lazy and just tell you to read John’s review, because he really captures the feel of it. I never would have even looked at it without his recommendation — the title and cover just scream “wallpaper.” It does skirt the boundaries of fluff, but the wooing-with-music scenes are quite swoon-y, and I may have needed a tissue or two at the end.

And, of course, I bought the first in the series, featuring a pianist and her grumpy neighbor, and I’m impatiently awaiting book three with the Chinese heroine who plays the zither. THE ZITHER. I’m not kidding.

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More on the I Was a High School Oboe Player….

Why did I play oboe, you ask? Because I started out on the clarinet, but my two best friends were always first and second chair and I got sick of competing with them. Only two oboes, so I’d never sit lower than second chair — and I only had to practice once a week.

True story.

“The double reed is quite tricky, and it can be a lot of effort to get the sound just right, so we oboists tend to have exceedingly strong lips.”

Oboes cost $1200 for a “cheap” student model. Reeds cost $12-15 each. Strong lips, indeed.

Audiobook Update

Hild by Nicola GriffithI gave up on Hild. Again. I found the early chapters about her childhood fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the Kickass Abbess years (is that blasphemous? She was pretty kickass, and not just for a nun). But the Extended Road Trip of Political Paranoia with the king has painfully slowed the pacing. Maybe I’ll go back to the ebook and skim ahead a few (dozen) chapters. I should like this book. I should love this book. Why don’t I like this book??? It’s starting to kind of piss me off.

Sleeping Beauty by Judith IvoryMy Author Crush on Judith Ivory continued with Sleeping Beauty — a bit darker and more melancholy in atmosphere and tone than Indiscretion or Beast, but still very much Ivory’s distinctive, seductive voice. I have Black Silk queued up on Scribd, and Untie My Heart lingering in the TBR somewhere. I might need another listen to The Proposition to go full circle – but I might have to skip that damn ending.

The Winter Sea by Susanna KearsleyI kicked off my Susanna Kearsley Binge and why in the hell did I have book anxiety over these??? I was leery of the woo-woo stuff, but holy cow, Kearsley does it exactly right. I started with a traditional read of The Shadowy Horses, which I’ve been sitting on for years —it was one of my very first ebook purchases. It was goooood. I bought the audio version too (of course).

The Firebird by Susanna KearsleyAnd then I listened to The Winter Sea and The Firebird — and they were everything everyone else said. Stunning. Characters, world-building, pacing, everything. I kept thinking how “cinematic” the storytelling was, and I don’t mean that it sounded like a screenplay — which is the exact same reaction I have to every Mary Stewart book. One notable audio thing: the narrator’s accent for Nicola in Firebird sounded exactly like Lady Mary on Downton Abbey. Every single vowel. The Rose Garden is in the queue.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha SolomonsI’m now listening to The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. There’s not a lot of subtlety or emotional investment yet — just the expected upstairs/downstairs conflicts. It could be the first-person POV from the young and spoiled heroine is what’s making it feel shallow so far, but hopefully as she matures the intensity of the story will pick up.

For My Lady's Heart by Laura KinsaleThe Kinsale binge is proceeding as well – I liked For My Lady’s Heart, but it required some Hild-esque heavy listening (is that A Thing?) and I need a rather lengthy breather before starting Shadowheart. My Sweet Folly and Lessons in French are in the queue; Uncertain Magic is screaming at me from my wishlist, but it’s also triggering the Book Anxiety (because of the woo-woo stuff), so I might need some reassurance on that one.

TBR Challenge: Free Agent by Roz Lee

My first #tbrchallenge — woohoo!

  • Free Agent by Roz LeeTitle: Free Agent
  • Author: Roz Lee
  • Series: Mustangs Baseball, #0.5
  • Published: State of Mind Publishing, May 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 65 pages
  • Tropes: BDSM, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Star ballplayer hooks up with new sub
  • Quick review: *YAWN*
  • Grade: D

“If you sign the contract tomorrow, we’ll seal the deal with a good fuck. How’s that?”

Yeesh. It’s a good thing this was a freebie, because it’s got every possible erotica cliché. I annotated every other paragraph with a variation of “Of course.”

  • Honey-blonde hair hung in soft waves over bare shoulders, framing fine features, porcelain fair skin, and blue eyes. [Of course.]
  • It was as if she saw past his defenses, right to his soul. [As he’s eye-fucking her while she’s fingering herself. Before they’ve even spoken. Because OF COURSE.]
  • Brooke licked her lips…. [Of course she did. How else would he know she’s horny?]
  • “…say yellow if you need a minute before we continue, red if you can’t take anymore.” [Because we all need BDSM 101 in every.single.book.]
  • Glossy pink petals framed a perfectly shaped slit. [Of course it’s perfect. Duh.]
  • …the most amazing orgasm of her life. [At their first actual encounter at the dungeon. Of course.]
  • He’d claimed a part of her no one else ever had—her heart.  [After their first encounter at the dungeon. And they’ve only shared first names. Of course.]
  • Now, she understood. The real pleasure came from pleasing her master, not the other way around. [*yawn*]
  • ...until he met Brooke, he hadn’t truly understood the submissive partner held as much power—perhaps more—than the dominant one. [*YAWN* Will this be on the quiz?]

Other random thoughts/observations:

  • There is zero character- or relationship-building. These people are completely cardboard and interchangeable with every other bad erotica I’ve read.
  • Might have been a D+ if not for the pluralizing-with-an-apostrophe egregiousness (“two single Dom’s looking…”) throughout.
  • The meet-cute occurs at a munch. Yes, a “munch.” I cannot believe I’ve never come across that term before.
  • The contract is “Concise and well written with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.” She wonders if a secretary prepared it for him. [No, really.]
  • The word “slurping” is used.
  • Secondary character is a sub named Candy. There are dessert jokes.
  • The characters contradict themselves ALL THE TIME, sometimes even within the same sentence. “Punishment is not intended to be pleasant” — but then he teases her about being a pain slut and yammers on about how sexy her moans are. “I don’t enjoy leaving those marks” — but, um, dude, YOU’RE A DOM WITH A FLOGGER.

I was hoping for something quick and fun to prep for a Spring Training baseball theme. I’ll keep looking.

The 2015 Page O’ Wishful Thinking

Alternate title: I Have a LOT of Good Intentions

girl-reading-with-pug-charles-barber1My 2014 had a lot of comfort reading, and a lot of weekends-with-no-kids binge reading, but very little reading-to-review. I think that slow-down was partially due to my growing obsession with audiobooks; I tend to read traditional books very fast, and audiobooks force me to slow down and hear every word and immerse myself in the language. That kind of wallowing is great for Heyer and Kinsale and the Austen/Eyre/Gaskell classics, but it’s also made me rush through too many genre reads, and ignore longer books, in order to accumulate that sense of accomplishment in knocking down the TBR.

Remind me to remind myself that nobody else cares about the depth and breadth of my unreads. It’s not a competition. It simply doesn’t matter.

What matters is finding books that matter to me, and participating in discussions, and writing about why I love reading, and endeavoring to elucidate those ephemeral emotions that emerge whilst engaging in erudite entertainments.

Wow. I haven’t alliterated like that in a long time. And with vowels! Damn, I’m good.

ANYWAY. So here’s my plan that’s not an Official Plan because that would totally negate everything I bloviated about above.

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The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Historicals

It’s still the holidays. YES, IT IS. Because I’m the only one in the office at the dayjob.

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Now on the DIK Shelf….*

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

  • A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy WilliamsTitle: A Cowboy for Christmas
  • Author: Lacy Williams
  • Series: Wyoming Legacy, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, December 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Angst-O-Rama
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy tries to make amends with boss’s daughter for a horrific accident
  • Quick review: Lovely. Just lovely. *~*HAPPYSIGH*~*
  • Grade: A

“I thought, for a moment, that you might kiss me.” She rushed on, a fountain of words babbling out of her. “And I know you didn’t want to. I know you said we’re to be friends, and I didn’t want you to think that had I had any expectations, because I don’t—”

Three strides brought him to her, but it wasn’t until he took her upper arm in his hand that she went silent. Looking up at him, she could see his face was like a thundercloud, eyes stormy.

“You think I don’t want to kiss you?” He grated the words, as if it was hard to speak them.

“I know you don’t.”

“You don’t know anything.”

He reached for her, and before she could even think that she should push him away — that she didn’t want a pity kiss from him — he’d cupped her jaw, his calloused palm sliding along her cheek and sending sparks flying like a summer cowboy campfire….

It was like putting a match to tinder.

By the time I finished the first chapter, I was THERE. Book Trance. I can’t reveal too much without spoilers, but this book is a master class in angst as a plot device. And character- and relationship-building. And describing panic attacks and agoraphobia. And portraying struggles with faith. Also, there’s a puppy rescue.

I read a few of Williams’ earlier books on Scribd; they were on the OK-but-not-memorable scale. After finishing Cowboy, I bought the entire Wyoming Legacy series — I’m giddy about seeing how she’s evolved as a writer. Let the Author Binge continue!

*As soon as I update that page. Remind me to do that. DONE!

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More inspies….

Married by Christmas by Karen Kirst

  • Married by Christmas by Karen KirstTitle: Married by Christmas
  • Author: Karen Kirst
  • Series: Smoky Mountain Matches, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, October 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Marriage by Scandal, Angst Lite
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy must marry woman whose life he disrupted with an unfortunate accident
  • Quick review: And…I bought the rest of the series.
  • Grade: B

I read Kirst’s The Husband Hunt first — a charming friends-to-lovers story. This one was really enjoyable too; the basic premise is very similar to the Williams book, but the difference in tone and voice make these completely unique reads.

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