TBR Challenge: Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee Guhrke

The November Challenge was historical romance. Well, if you insist…

  • Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee GuhrkeTitle: Guilty Pleasures
  • Series: Guilty, Book 1
  • Author: Laura Lee Guhrke
  • Published: January 2004
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length: 388 pages
  • Tropes: Plain Jane, Bespectacled Bluestocking, Stuffy Duke, Deep Dark Secrets, Secret Longings
  • Quick blurb: Plain-Jane bluestocking finds her voice and stuffy duke loses his shit.
  • Quick review: Kelly’s Book Crack
  • Grade: A

Amazon informs me I purchased this on July 5, 2012. I waited four and a half years to read this book, and I could have been reading it EVERY MONTH for FIFTY-ONE AND A HALF MONTHS. Why do I do this to myself?

On the other hand, I bought High Energy by Dara Joy at the same time, and I have no regrets about leaving that unread.

I loved Daphne and Her Duke. And I say this as a cynical side-eyer of Dukes-A-Million historicals. Nearly everything about this book was perfect. I’m sure there was something iffy about it somewhere, but I’m too enamored right now to really care.

Daphne is our orphaned, plain-Jane, bespectacled bluestocking heroine. She’s working as an antiquities curator for a scholarly duke who’s excavating Roman ruins on one of his estates.

Anthony is our stuffy dukish hero who became dukish way too young and expects everyone to fall at his feet.

She’s had a secret crush on His Noble Shirtlessness (he lifts things, you know, with his muscles) and can do no more than stammer in his presence. But then she overhears him describing her as a stick insect, and her self-esteem mechanism finally kicks in. She cries it out, and then she gets mad.

You can hear the Kelly’s Book Crack Radar pinging from all the way over here, can’t you? IT JUST KEPT GETTING BETTER.

She decides to quit, he orders her to stay. She mouths off, he negotiates an extension. And he keeps negotiating. He starts paying attention to her to determine how he can get more work out of her.

“I am toying with you because this is a game. I will not let you win, but I can teach you how to play.”

Something in those words made her shiver with excitement. “I really do not know what you are talking about.”

“The real question is, what do you want? Do you want to be a proper young lady, or do you want to be Cleopatra?”

“Both.”

“Ah. That is an interesting answer, and brings with it an even more interesting question. Can a young lady be captivating and alluring, and still be proper, do you think?”

“Why not?”

“Why not, indeed.” His lashes lowered until his eyes were half-closed. “If I do give you back your spectacles, what do I receive in return?”

“The satisfaction of doing the right thing?”

He laughed low in his throat. “Not good enough.”

“What, then?” she asked. “What do you want?”

His gaze moved to her mouth, lingered there. “What are you offering?”

Daphne licked her lips, and she heard his sharp in-take of breath. “Three days,” she whispered. “You may have three more days.”

<swoon> *thud*

And OF COURSE they wind up having sex on the workroom table and breaking a priceless ancient vase and he insists they marry and she slams the door in his face and he woos her with flowers in front of all of London and then there’s this ending that’s all like OH DEAR GOD <swoon> *thud*.

I adored every minute of this book, and it took me hours to write this half-assed squeeing review because I had to sneak-read the whole damn thing again at the dayjob.

You should read this book. Trust me.

TBR Challenge: No Proper Lady by Isabel Cooper

This month’s theme was Paranormal or Romantic Suspense — my book was both!

  • No Proper Lady by Isabel CooperTitle: No Proper Lady
  • Series: Englefield, #1
  • Author: Isabel Cooper
  • Published:  2011
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length: 329 pages
  • Tropes:  Kick-Ass Heroine, Beta Hero, Villainous Villain, Impending Apocalypse, Demons & Other Icky Things
  • Quick blurb: Magical warrior from the future drops into Victorian England to stop an Evil Warlock from unleashing the Powers of Darkness.
  • Quick review: Suspenseful and fun, and it made me yearn for an audio version
  • Grade: B

“You’re in a hell of a lot of trouble here, Simon Grenville.”

This one wasn’t in my TBR for long — I purchased it in May when it was on sale for $1.99. A bunch of people on Twitter raved about it, and after I read Cooper’s story to the utterly glorious Gambled Away anthology, I knew I’d be in good hands for a temporary foray back into the paranormal world.

The blurb does a fantastic job of setting up the story:

When a half-naked woman suddenly appears on his country estate, Simon Grenville doesn’t have time to be shocked. Demonic beasts are hot on his heels until the beautiful stranger unsheathes several knives strapped to her skin-tight trousers and kills them.

Our heroine Joan is a kick-ass warrior from the future, on a mission to save mankind from evil and bad guys and slobbering hellhounds and whatnot.

“…she’s quite…rugged.”

Simon was the bad guy’s best friend until the whole badness stuff got out of hand. Simon blames himself for everything because he introduced Tom Riddle to magic when they were obnoxious teenagers.

Simon and Joan compare weapons both metal and magical, and decide she needs to stay in England and cuddle up to the bad guy so Simon can destroy the Secret Book of Secrets his ex-bestie stole from this other baddish-but-not-nearly-as-bad guy.

This is a book about magic. So of course I had to match up everything with Harry Potter for it to make sense in my brain. Simon is obviously brooding reluctant hero Harry. Joan is Hermione with tattoos and poison darts in her underwear. Simon’s de-demonized little sister is Ginny. The Big Book of Scary Stuff is a horcrux.

Got it? OK.

In the midst of all of this, Joan gets a  makeover into a Prim and Proper Victorian Miss and it goes about as well as you’d expect, what with the full-body scars and the flashgun attached to her boobs and all (I still have no figure out that one and it makes my cleavage hurt every time I think about it). She shows tremendous bravery when cozying with the bad guy to divert his attention from Simon.

“You kiss,” said Joan, “like a goddamn squid.”

Simon, meanwhile, gathers evidence and visits an old professor (Slughorn) and nearly gets his magical aura flayed off by a Slobbering Hellhound of Exceptional Smelliness and he gets splinched during an escape but his little sister saves him with a blood sacrifice.

There’s a big showdown with ricocheting spells and exploding fireplaces and the bad guy shriveling up like Gollum (yes, I’m mixing my Movie Metaphors, shut up about it) and an HEA. There are some lovely moments of angst and reconciliation between Simon and his little sister, and the sexy times built from insta-lust into a great working relationship and romance,

There’s also some fantastic moments of wonder and yearning from Joan of Dystopia as she tries to process a world with sunlight and clean handkerchiefs and the color green.

This was a world in the summer of its time, and the people here moved and talked liked leaves on the wind.

But don’t worry – there’s plenty of snark, too:

“And how do you see the universe, Miss MacArthur?”

Like an outhouse the morning after a hard party, Joan thought at first.

No Proper Lady was pretty damn good. But I think I would have liked it better as an audiobook — with the playback speed bumped up to about 1.25x. A strong but familiar narrator like Kate Reading or Kristen Potter would have forced me to stay in the story more, instead of allowing my brain to wander off in search of HP spells. When the world-building gets otherworldly, I need an anchor.

If you’re a regular PNR reader, this is a must-read. If you’re not, read it anyway and tell me what Harry Potter match-ups I missed.

Audiobook Adventure: The Eight by Katherine Neville

  • The Eight by Katherine NevilleTitle: The Eight
  • Author: Katherine Neville
  • Genre(s): Historical, Thriller
  • Publisher: Open Road, July 2015 (first published 1988)
  • Source: Audible
  • Length: 25 hrs, 50 min (549 pages)
  • Trope(s): Kickass Women, Alternate Timelines, Actual Historical Name-Dropping (x1000), Every Possible Thriller Kink You Could Possibly Imagine, Nuns on the Run, Very Convenient Coincidences, Mysterious Men of Mystery, Deep Dark Secrets
  • Quick blurb: A 1970s computer programmer gets mixed up in a chess game of epic scope.
  • Quick review: Holy cow.
  • Grade: B

It was she, and only she, who bored the burden of placing this powerful force into the right hands, hands that would protect it from the greedy or ambitious.

It’s been close to four years since Darlynne (@DarlynneReads) recommended this one during my Medieval Mania binge. It showed up on NetGalley last year as a re-release so I grabbed it – and of course it taunted me from my NG Wall of Shame. Then it showed up on Audible and it was the universe telling me to just read the damn book already.

And holy cow.

This book was chock full of…everything.

This book was…Dan Brown on steroids. And crack. And estrogen.

Things you should know about the Lady Computer Programmer (not in chronological order):

  • She was a music major which makes her an expert on everything because music is math. And religion. And physics. And chess.
  • She crashes an OPEC planning meeting to discuss the 1974 oil embargo, at which Muammar Gaddafi shows up and knocks wine glasses off the tables with a walking stick. (I did not make that up.)
  • She and her fat sidekick almost die in the desert when they make a wrong turn while crashing through a highway checkpoint. BUT WAIT! They’re rescued by a transport plane full of Japanese students that just happens to have cargo space for their sun-scorched Rolls Royce Corniche convertible. (I did not make that up either.)
  • Shipwreck sex with a Russian chess master while he’s bleeding and concussed.
  • Beach sex on a deserted island with the Russian chess master.

Things you should know about the Red-Headed Nun on the Run (not in chronological order):

  • Gets pregnant by Talleyrand. Doesn’t get upset when he calls her by her recently-dead cousin’s name while in the throes of passion.
  • Doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until Napoleon’s mother tells her.
  • Gives birth in the Algerian desert at the foot of a magical rock statue.
  • Disguises herself as a fellow nun to stab Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub. Her guardian Jacques-Louis David paints the dead guy’s portrait.
  • Drinks [NO SPOILERS] and becomes the ancestor of [NO SPOILERS].

Thrilling Thriller Kinks (not in chronological order):

  • Dead chess master at chess tournament
  • Fibonacci numbers
  • Man of mystery reachable only by secret hotline phone in his kitchen cupboard
  • Secret codes in cave paintings
  • Secret codes in bible verses
  • Secret codes in baroque minuets
  • Barricade crashings (note plural)
  • Gunfights (note plural)
  • Car chases (note plural)
  • Shipwreck
  • Dead body in Mediation Room of the United Nations
  • 200-year-old journal that eerily mirrors present day
  • Know-it-all phone operator
  • Secret police interrogations
  • Sand storms (note plural)
  • Jewish diamond merchant
  • Jewish fur merchant
  • Muslim rug merchant
  • Orphans
  • Fortune teller
  • Harmonics theory
  • Beheadings (note plural)
  • Riots (note plural)
  • Bat attack in desert cave (alas, only the one)
  • Subliminal painting
  • Rented donkeys
  • Foot chase through Algiers Casbah
  • Midnight escape from KGB over Black Sea cliffs
  • Long-lost relatives reunited
  • Jewish mysticism
  • Muslim mysticism
  • Phoenician mysticism

Actual Historical Name-Dropping (in addition to those mentioned above; not in chronological order):

Rousseau, Voltaire, Richelieu, Robespierre, Corday, Pythagoras, Fourier, Philidor, Euler, C.P.E. Bach, Newton, Charlemagne, Wordsworth, Blake, Boswell, Catherine the Great, Potemkin

TBR Challenge AND Big Fat Book: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

  • The Bronze Horseman by Paullina SimonsTitle:  The Bronze Horseman
  • Series: The Bronze Horseman, #1
  • Author: Paullina Simons
  • Published:  2001
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook and audio (narrated by James Langton)
  • Length: ELEVENTY HUNDRED THOUSAND PAGES (or, possibly, 811, or 912, or 696, depending on edition); FOUR HUNDRED HOURS AND SEVENTEEN MINUTES in audio (or, possibly, 30:43)
  • Tropes: Angst. Angst. More angst. Angst-o-rama. Did I mention the angst?
  • Quick blurb: Russian WWII misery porn, in the picturesque setting of the Siege of Leningrad
  • Quick review: If you like great historical world-building overshadowed by angsty navel-gazing, interspersed with lengthy periods of passive-aggressive arguments and intermittent moments of wanting to punch people, you will love this book.
  • Grade: C-

Considering that I used the word “angst” at least 15 times up there (I like hyperbole), I looked up synonyms to keep you from mentally throwing things at me. I found a really good one. Are you ready for this? It’s German, which for the purposes of this review, is close enough to Russian.

weltschmerz [velt-shmerts]

noun, German

1.  sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.

Origin: literally, world-pain

bugs_dead

Yes, I know What’s Opera, Doc? is based on Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Wagner was German and not Russian, but it’s still funny.

After finally finishing this book, I felt ALL THE WELTSCHMERZ EVER on my shoulders. And it wasn’t even from holding a 1,358-page hardcover.

The ebook is on sale for $1.99, which is a total bargain at 0.218¢ per page. I bought it at that price in 2012. It glowered at me from the bottom of my TBR, where I kept it to prevent it squashing all the joie de vivre (I’m getting fancy here, eh?) from Minerva (my Kindle).

A few months ago, I started reading it. I made it through Book One, Part Two, Chapter Five. If you haven’t read this, you’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I am totally not (this time). The table of contents is three pages long. Two “books.” Four “parts.” Chapter titles include “Impaled in Space” and “Beset and Besieged” and “Desolate Waves” and “Worn Out with Terror and Misgiving” and “In the Moonlight’s Pallid Glamour.”

But it wasn’t the Wagnerian Gloom and Doom that did me in. I had to put it on hiatus due to the overwhelming urge to punch the so-called “hero” in the nads and push the so-called “heroine” down a well.

A brief recap of the first third of the book:

  • They meet-cute over an ice cream cone. Total insta-lust.
  • She invites him home and finds out he’s boinking her sister.
  • She weeps a lot.
  • He stalks her all over town while continuing to boink her sister.
  • She runs away to find her missing brother and and he gets several men under his command killed trying to find her.
  • He’s still boinking her sister.

Alexander is boinking Tatiana’s sister for a Noble Cause. By “noble” I mean “selfish and cowardly.” It’s the entire premise of the book.

(Now would be a good time to note the subtitle of this novel is “A Love Story.” This is not a romance.)

After a few months letting it fester in my brain, I saw it on Audible, so I sacrificed a credit. And thereby, sacrificed my sappy HEA-loving soul.

*moment of silence*

Sorry, just getting into the spirit of melodrama here.

I started the audiobook from the beginning. Narrator James Langton is brilliant. I was able to push past the New Adult Whinginess (totally a word) and focus on the author’s historical world-building and backstory-building and scene-setting. The opening scenes in Tatiana’s family’s cramped, dreary flat in the middle of Leningrad are amazing. It’s damp and claustrophobic and mundane. In just a few short pages, we’re introduced to all the characters and family history that turned Tatiana in a Mary Sue.

Alexander, on the other hand, is mysterious and enigmatic. We only gradually learn his backstory in bits and pieces that keep adding to the “he can’t really be that much of an asshole, can he?” wishful thinking. His off-screen history is completely intriguing and believable, and it leads him to making a gut-wrenching choice that sets up the major conflict in the book.

The main characters as individuals are compelling. Alexander is physically brave, earning numerous medals and promotions, but he’s morally (ethically? ) a coward. He has his reasons, but it takes a looooong time for all those little reveals to accumulate into sympathy for him.

I don’t want to feel sympathy for a hero. I want him to be heroic.

Tatiana is a Mary Sue, but she’s been conditioned for it from birth. She’s a Martyr with a Capital M. The word “no” never ever crosses her lips. And yet she’s physically courageous in a very TSTL kind of way that endangers everyone around her – which makes her both selfless and self-centered.

I love strong and vulnerable heroines. Tatiana’s strengths and vulnerabilities were the exact opposite of what I wanted to root for.

Separately, they’re fascinating. Together, they’re painful. As in stomach-cramping, fist-clenching “OH FOR FUCK SAKE” unpleasant.

As the book progressed, my frustration grew exponentially. The world-building was completely lost in the grim and plodding pacing. Fragments of drama and action were buried amongst endless repetitive pages of mental lusting and self-doubt and over-thinking and obliviousness.

The middle third of the book is awful. Tatiana has survived and escaped to a rural village. Alexander has tracked her down and married her. This should be the good bits, right? The life-affirming stuff? Nope. When they’re not fucking on every available surface, they’re having lengthy, extended, interminable, overlong, tiresome, needlessly drawn-out passive-aggressive arguments. Did I mention that the arguments are laborious and tedious? And that they’re both still wildly immature and annoying?

I should probably bump up the grade. I obviously have Very Feely Feelings about this book.

I stuck it out and finished the damn thing. And holy hell, when Simons decides to pick up the pace, she doesn’t fool around. The real drama and action I was craving erupted in the last quarter. At one point I literally said “HOLY FUCK!” out loud and scared my dog. (If you’ve read it, it’s the scene with Alexander and Dmitri in the hospital and you know exactly which one I mean.)

bugs_dead_elmer

This is Tatiana [NO SPOILERS] Alexander from the [NO SPOILERS] and begging that one really interesting character who should have his own book to [NO SPOILERS].

This is so weird to say, but when the war engulfs their lives, Tatiana and Alexander are much better characters and much better people. When they’re fighting external forces separately instead of their own ridiculous obsessive love, the story — and the romance — comes alive.

So. In conclusion, I’m not sorry I read it. I keep thinking about it, and my memories are vivid and visceral. I’m wondering if my frustrations would have been minimized if I had stuck with the ebook and skimmed through the drama-llama dreck. I have the second book on hold at the library (because of that utterly crushing cliffhanger) — in paper, so I can fast-forward.

Summer Reading Wrap-Up

IT’S STILL TECHNICALLY SUMMER, DAMMIT.

Minimal snark this time, but maybe a little squee here and there. Maybe more than a little. It’s a long list, so get comfy.

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A bunch of stuff by Joan Wolf

wolf_americanearl wolf_londonseason wolf_lordrichard wolf_pretenders

*ahem* NEW AUTHOR CRUSH

The American Earl made my heart happy and I loved every word of it so just buy the damn thing and read it already so you can be happy like me.

I also loved The Pretenders (friends-to-lovers fake engagement) and A London Season (friends-to-lovers angst-o-rama) and Lord Richard’s Daughter (missionary’s daughter falls in love with  enigmatic rescuer).

The Arrangement and The Guardian, both “reluctant guardian” tropes, were good, but leaned a bit too heavily on the average-par suspense.

Royal Bride (re-released as The English Bride, age gap, friends-to-lovers marriage of convenience) started out good, kind of fell apart in the middle, and finished up with some political drama.

I have White Horses in the TBR — and that’s going to make me want to read that one Mary Stewart book with the horses and then I’ll have to read ALL THE MARY STEWART and then I will whinge about why we can’t get Mary Stewart in ebook or audio.

Anyway. Last summer I read Joan Wolf’s Esther story during my FSAT take-down, and it was BY FAR the best Biblical novelization I’ve read. I might reade her others, but only after I finish her Regencies and Dark Ages books.

ALSO: I want those old Signet covers to make a comeback.

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TBR Challenge: Kicking It Old School with Patricia Rice

Last year for Old School Month, I read two Jude Devereaux classics — a hit and a miss. This time, I’m kinda sorta maybe mostly undecided.

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

  • Title: Moon Dreams
  • Author: Patricia Rice
  • Series: American Dreams, #1
  • Published:  January 1991; re-released February 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Tropes: Dimwit Runaway Innocent Ingenue, Illegitimacy-But-Not-Really (see “Back From the Dead” below), Evil Heirs, Kilted Kourage, Exotic Otherness, Cultural Appropriation, Fake Scottish Brogues, Cinderella Makeovers, Back From the Dead, Very Convenient Coincidences, Smuggler With a Heart of Gold, Actual Historical Name-Dropping, Metaphorical Metaphors
  • Quick blurb: Illegitimate heiress runs away from her lecherous cousin and gets rescued by a Scottish smuggler obsessed with avenging his own family dishonor.
  • Quick review: Stuffed with all the Old Schoolish WTFery you could ever possibly want.
  • Grade: C- (it was a loooong slog up the Highlands in the last third to avoid a D+)

Firstly, let’s wallow in the original cover for a moment, shall we?

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

THE FLAMING PASSION OF TROPIC NIGHTS LIT LOVE’S GOLDEN DAWN

Are you done wallowing yet? Need a moment? Need an ointment of some sort?

*~*waits patiently*~*

So. I bought this one and the follow-up a few months ago when I was looking for some American-set historicals. Despite the series name, very little of this one was set in Colonial America. The happy couple bounced around the northern hemisphere and it was pretty exhausting trying to figure out how they manuevered all that Near-Sex and Actual Penetrative Sex and Hate-Sex into their year-long itinerary.

I’m going do a full recap to help you properly appreciate the Full Glory Old-Schooliness of this Epic Adventure. I haven’t gone full-snark in over a year, so buckle up and gird your loins and grab a snack. Continue reading

Recent Reads

A visual depiction of a single parent with two kids and two jobs at the end of a school year:

Looney Tunes gif - Sylvester sliding down stairs

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Let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes — books. I’ve…read a lot more than I thought. And nearly all of it was soul-satisfying. It’s not hyperbole to say books can keep us sane.

I’m dumping everything in one stupidly long post so I can clear out my NetGalley Wall of Shame.

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Only Beloved and Longing by Mary Balogh

Only Beloved by Mary Balogh  Longing by Mary Balogh

I was a little wary of the last of the Survivors’ Club books because I did not like Ralph and Chloe’s story (so distressingly repetitive, especially on audio, and it added nothing of value to the series), but I knew Balogh would pull out the Big Guns of Angst and Drama for Stanbrook’s Deep Dark Secret. It’s set on a cliff-top in Cornwall, for crying out loud. I loved Dora, but I really wish she had a different name.

Speaking of Big Guns of Angst and Drama…. Longing is chock full of both. This is a stand-alone title, more of a “historical with romantic elements” than a straight rom-dram. Widowed mine worker becomes governess for widowed mine owner’s lonely daughter, with Chartist labor intrigue and unrest keeping them apart. The setting in the depths of an isolated Welsh valley is my favorite character in this story; Balogh’s usually understated brilliance at world-building is front and center here — it’s atmospheric and vivid and  tactile and completely enveloping.

Someday I will write up my feelings about Balogh. But it will likely just be the word “effortless” over and over and over.

Only Beloved »  |  Longing »

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