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.

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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The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The DNFs and a WTF

Today I wore my dogs-wearing-wreaths-and-Santa-hats socks.*  Therefore, it is time to officially kick off the Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge. We’ll open the festivities with the DNFs and a WTF.

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A Fairytale Christmas by Susan Wiggs

  • A Fairytale Christmas by Susan WiggsTitle: A Fairytale Christmas
  • Author: Susan Wiggs
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (November 2014; originally published October 2002)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 72 pages
  • Trope(s): Misogynistic Hero, Heiress Heroine, Sexual Harassment
  • Quick blurb: Regendered Cinderella story.
  • Quick review: W.T.Ever-Loving.F.
  • Grade: DNF and W.T.Fuckity.F.F.

I’m starting with the WTF entry. Because W.T.Ever-Loving.F.

They stared at her like a pair of dieters eyeing a box of Godiva chocolates. Idiots, thought Jack. He knew they had a standing bet to see who could get her into bed first. As if either one had a chance. Who would want to, except maybe a polar explorer with a suit that could withstand subzero temperatures?

The story opens with that mess of misogyny from the “hero” and his dude-bro coworkers. I DNF’d after the first chapter because I was starting to throw up in my mouth. SHE’S THEIR BOSS, FFS. I don’t really find sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace particularly romantic.

Also: The blurb describes the hero as an “ace reporter.” And his reporter colleagues wear cashmere sweaters and Top-Siders. I know it’s a re-release, but it’s pretty obvious this didn’t age well.

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Going to the Chapel by Rita Herron

  • Going to the Chapel by Rita HerronTitle: Going to the Chapel
  • Author: Rita Herron
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Montlake (November 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 132 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Southern Sassy-Pants Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Sassy Southern girl ditches her cheating ex and returns home.
  • Quick review: Ick.
  • Grade: DNF

As she crossed the state line from Texas into Louisiana, she belted out “All My Exes Live in Texas,” tossed her wedding ring out the window, and waved good-by to the state — and the man who’d ruined her life.

The heroine’s name is…wait for it…Izzy Sassafras. She’s a wedding planner. In a small town called Matrimony, Georgia. The cutesy Southern sassy-girl schtick just writes itself.

Also: Izzy has sisters, God help us. And now I have that stupid song stuck in my head.

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The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby by Carolyn Brown

  • The Cowboy's Christmas Baby by Carolyn BrownTitle: The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby
  • Series: Cowboys & Brides, Book 2
  • Author: Carolyn Brown
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Western, Holiday
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (September 2013)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboy Soldier, Pistol-Packin’ Mama
  • Quick blurb: Online friends meet cute over a dead coyote.
  • Quick review: Yee haw. *shudder*
  • Grade: DNF

BEHOLD THE FIRST LINE:

There she stood with a dead coyote at her feet, a pink pistol in her right hand, three bluetick hound pups cowering behind her, and cradling an infant in her left arm.

How could I possibly resist that??? But, alas, the “down-home Texas twang” was almost as annoying as the Southern sassy-girl schtick. And it made me nostalgic for some Sable Hunter, and that’s never a good thing.

Also:

  • Heroine shot the coyote with her (pink) pistol while holding her newborn. Then stuck the gun into her waistband. All I could think was “You’ll shoot your ass off, lady.”
  • Hero dragged the carcass of the dead coyote (to get it away from the slobbering hound dogs who were devouring it) and DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS. Gross.

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Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla Neggers

  • Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla NeggersTitle: Christmas at Carriage Hill
  • Series: Swift River Valley, Book 3.5
  • Author: Carla Neggers
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (December 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 51 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Wedding Planner, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Sexy fighter pilot follows ex-girlfriend to small-town wedding.
  • Quick review: Not a good starting point for the series.
  • Grade: DNF

Her grandmother eyed her with open suspicion. “You have that jilted-by-a-man look, Alexandra.”

Neggers is a new-to-me author, but this one does not work well as a standalone — the numerous intrusions from previous characters/plots (including some completely irrelevent bits about some stolen jewels) left little storytelling left over for the nominal main couple and . I did request an ARC of the fourth book in the series, and my library has the others, so…yet another backlist binge in my near future.

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What Happens At Christmas by Victoria Alexander

  • What Happens at Christmas by Victoria AlexanderTitle: What Happens At Christmas
  • Series: Millworth Manor, Book 1
  • Author: Victoria Alexander
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Holiday
  • Publisher: Kensington (October 2012)
  • Source: Purchased (freebie)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Trope(s): Flaky Family, Hired Players, Jilted & Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Ditzy widow stages a farce to lure a proposal from a prince.
  • Quick review: Over the top shenanigans with zero chemistry.
  • Grade: DNF

“She’s not quite as shallow as you think.”

Um, yes. Yes, she is.

Yay for free, but alas…. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a madcap comedy, but this wasn’t one of those times. I had to skim because I could not stop screaming “HE’S A FRAUD, YOU F’ING DIMWIT” in my head.

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* Yes, I took that photo at work. Yes, the flash went off and everyone yelled “Hey! Who’s taking pictures?”

The Heyer Project: Part I – First Impressions

The Heyer Project - Part 1: First Impressions

Back in 2012, I commenced a Summer of Harlequin in an attempt to understand what the hell “category romance” actually meant. I learned a lot.

To continue my odyssey into the deeper realms of Romancelandia, the next logical step seemed obvious: Georgette Heyer. And I just happened to have nearly all of her titles waiting patiently on Minerva (my Kindle) thanks to Sourcebooks’ $1.99 sales. Have I mentioned the OCD book-hoarding thing?

So far, I’ve read 11 (six on audio) and temporarily DNF’d two. I’ll do individual reviews for each book, but here are my first impressions on the Heyer Oeuvre….

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One-Quote Review: The Duke’s Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

This one gets its own post because DUDE. The Duke's Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

  • Title: The Duke’s Match Girl
  • Author: Lila DiPasqua
  • Genre(s): Historical, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2013
  • Source: Purchased (99¢)
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Arrogant Aristocrat, Forgiveness & Redemption, Angry Sex, Makeup Sex,
  • Quick blurb: Recently widowed duke goes on campaign to woo back his first and only love
  • Grade: A (maybe an A+, need to read it again, might be lacking a big slobbery dog)

Your Grace,

Your man has informed me of your offer. He was quite uncomfortable about relaying my response. It is for his ease that I put it to you here in writing. As to your offer — and say this with the utmost sincerity  you may take it, and insert it into your exalted posterior.

Sincerely,

Suzanne

Drop whatever you are reading and READ THIS INSTEAD. No, really. Yes, the description says it’s a retelling of the Danish fairy tale, but trust me. I would never recommend a romance where the titular character freezes to death in a doorway.

Instead, it’s hilarious (the excerpt above is a mere hint) and madly sexy (as in angry makeup sex in a carriage) and breathtakingly romantic (I almost used “speechlessly” as the adjective but it sounded weird, which is kind of ironic when you think about it) with just the right amount of holiday seasoning.

Let’s just put it this way: The hero is a SMARMY ALPHA-HOLE AND I LIKED HIM ANYWAY. Christmas miracles, indeed.