November TBR Challenge: Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens

Or, THE EYES HAVE IT: A Textual Analysis

  • Devil's Bride by Stephanie LaurensTitle: Devil’s Bride
  • Series: Cynster, Book 1
  • Author: Stephanie Laurens
  • Published: Avon, March 1998
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Tropes: Alpha-Duke, Repetitive Repetition
  • Quick blurb: Alpha-Duke and…oh, whatever, it’s got an Alpha-Duke, what more do you need to know?
  • Quick review: Sorry, can’t hear you, MY EYE IS TWITCHING.
  • Grade: D

The theme for SuperWendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge for November was “It’s All About The Hype (a book or author that got everybody talking).”

I bought Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens a few years ago because it has eight bajillion four- and five-star ratings and umpteen reviews full o’ squee. I’ve seen countless romance readers include it in their Desert Island Keepers and All-Time Favorites and First Alpha Hero and Gateway to Romland lists.

But, alas. This book wasn’t for me. In fact, I’m crossing Laurens off my list permanently because me and this book did not get along AT ALL. And not just because the cover is so boring (see alternatives below).

There was nothing inherently wrong with the characters or plot or storytelling. It was all the usual blowhard alpha-duke and the strong-yet-vulnerable orphaned heroine. A bit of suspense, some smooching, yada yada yada. Probably a Grand Epic Romance when it was first published 17 years ago, and I probably would have given it a solid C.


Like most readers, I have a few pet peeves. Sometimes it’s just a shrug-off “oh, geez, AS IF” kind of thing. Sometimes it ramps up to an “oh, hell no” internal mini-rant.

But sometimes…[you’ll have to imagine me shaking my head very sadly and dramatically]…sometimes a certain pet peeve devolves into a full-on “OH DEAR LORD MAKE IT STOP FFS HOW CAN ANYONE NOT NOTICE THIS WTF WHERE ARE MY CRANKYPANTS I NEED THEM RIGHT NOW” mess of slobbering incoherence.

The quirk that triggers such non-stop cringing is Repetitive Repetition. Authors using the same words and phrases over and over and over. I have no idea why my brain picks up on these things, but once those little seeds are planted, I CAN’T UNSEE THEM.

It’s happened before. I had to cross Grace Burrowes off my list because of her obsession with aristocratic titles and with smells. DEAR GOD, THE SCENTS AND AROMAS AND FRAGRANCES JUST KILL ME NOW.

Other NEVER AGAIN offenders offended me with hair and animal metaphors (sometimes at the same time) and apologies and grinning (sometimes at the same time).

I’m getting an eye twitch just thinking about those bullet lists. Which is ironic. Doubly ironic. Because (1) I ♥ bullet lists; and (2) Stephanie Laurens has A Thing for EYES.


You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Continue reading

Big Fat Book: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

  • Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor - 1st ed, Macmillian, 1944Title: Forever Amber
  • Author: Kathleen Winsor
  • Published: Macmillan, January 1944
  • Source: Purchased (in hardcover, paperback and digital)
  • Length: 976
  • Tropes: Everything you could possibly think of
  • Quick blurb: And you thought Scarlett O’Hara was bad….
  • Quick review: The ultimate anti-heroine in all her gaudy, garish glory.
  • Grade: A

“Madame,” he said finally, “your future is of singular interest. You were born with Venus in separating square aspect to Mars in the Fifth House.” Amber solemnly absorbed that, too impressed at first even to wonder what it meant. Then, as she was about to ask, he continued, having reached his conclusions as much by looking at her as at his charts: “Hence you are inclined, madame, to over-ardent affections and to rash impulsive attractions to the opposite sex. This can cause you serious trouble, madame. You are also too much inclined to indulge yourself in pleasure — and hence must suffer the attendant difficulties.”

Forever Amber is…”a bawdy bestseller”…”a torrid potboiler”…”a bawdy, lusty costume epic”…”a crude and superficial glorification of a courtesan”…”a big, fat tombstone of a bestseller”…”a naughty literary relic”…”a preposterously long and sumptuously naughty book”…”a love story of immense driving force and a magnificent, all-inclusive picture of an era”…”swoony with ill-defined sex”…”a glamorization of immorality and licentiousness”…”a colorful picture of Restoration England in all its immoral finery”…”Moll Flanders with, as it were, knobs on”…”a splendidly evocative guide to the events and mores of the time.”


…”the story of a slut’s progress.”

And, my favorite:

…”Opium on a gigantic scale.”

Every one of those descriptions is accurate. Set in Restoration England, Amber St. Clare’s story begins in 1660 with our 16-year-old heroine throwing herself at a Returning Cavalier, and ends (heh) 10 years later with our heroine throwing herself at the Jilting Cavalier.
In between, our heroine…

…Runs off to London with Cavalier. Gets pregnant. Gets scammed into marriage with a fortune hunter. Gets thrown into Newgate for debt. Escapes with infamous highwayman. Becomes con artist. Escapes a con-gone-wrong, winds up with impoverished second-son aristo, charms her way onto the stage. Sleeps with the king. Steals rival’s protector, then goads him into a fatal duel with the Returning Cavalier.

At this point, we’re only a third of the way through the book.

…Duel makes her more popular, sleeps with the king again, gets preggo again, gets abortion. Goes to Tunbridge Wells to recuperate and seduces filthy rich aging widower with 14 children. Resumes affair with Returning Cavalier (again), gets pregnant (again), finds out Cavalier also got 16-year-old stepdaughter pregnant. Husband dies, cavalier returns (again).

…THE PLAGUE. (this deserves a paragraph by itself)

Halfway done. Hang in there with me.

…Cavalier still refuses to marry her, she marries Evil Earl in revenge to gain title and access to Court. Evil Earl drags her off to the country, where she seduces his son in revenge. Evil Earl discovers them, poisons his own son.


We’re now at page 666. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

…Finagles a post in queen’s bedchamber, sleeps her way through the courtiers. Gets pregnant by the king; he makes her marry a nobody. Various intrigues with courtiers. King makes her a duchess. Builds ridiculous mansion. Goes ballistic when Jilting Cavalier returns with new wife. Dresses as half-naked Venus at ball for spite. Fakes duel letter from cuckolded husband. Affair with Cavalier resumes (AGAIN), more hissy fits. Confronts Cavalier’s wife; he (finally!) throws her out.

And then…


I’m not kidding.  This was a one-hit wonder of a book, and a much-discussed sequel never appeared, so poor Amber is left perpetually chasing after her One True Love.


It’s a swashbuckling melodrama stuffed with fashion and poverty porn. It’s a sex-positive feminist manifesto.  It’s a full-blown and blowsy historical soap opera that unapologetically dismantles every “heroine” trope while coating it all in the glossy-yet-sleazy veneer of Restoration England.

Scarlett O’Hara and Becky Sharp can just take a seat. The gleefully amoral Amber St. Clare is the ultimate antiheroine.

This book is EPIC…. All I will say is that after finishing this book, I called my mother in a rage, and she said, “For lord’s sake, read Kathleen Woodiwiss and call me in the morning.”

~ Maria (Maya) Rodale, “Romance Novels 101: The Infamous Book List That Changed My Life,” Huffington Post, May 27, 2015

Continue reading

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

I expanded it from a day to weekend because I am Having Ideas.


Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla KellyWhy I Am A Carla Kelly Fangirl:

1. The historical worldbuilding. Total immersion book trance, every single time. No one does military romance better than Carla Kelly, and from what I can tell, her accuracy is nearly flawless.

2. The joining of equals. The heroines always have — or find — their agency, and their heroes are quietly heroic in the best possible way.

3. The mix of drama, high comedy, adventure, angst (and more). Nearly every heroine is a direly impoverished (see below) orphan or widow, and nearly all the heroes are stoic military men, but the width and depth of CK’s storytelling is truly impressive.

The must-reads:

Channel Fleet Series
(Marrying the Captain, Surgeon’s Lady, Marrying the Royal Marine)
My first and truest loves. Connected, but each is unique in story, tone and romance. On my DIK list. A+ for all three. (Harlequin Historical, 2008-2010)

The Wedding Journey
A marriage of convenience between an army surgeon and a dying officer’s daughter who’s threatened by a lecherous major. If you liked Marrying the Royal Marine or Balogh’s Beyond the Sunrise, you will love this one. (Signet, 2002)

With This RingWith This Ring by Carla Kelly
Plain Jane debutante volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and finds herself in a fake engagement to a lordly major. It’s a glorious road-trip comedy with a lengthy rest stop at a friendly village where the heroine opens a barbershop (no really). (Signet, 1997)

The Lady’s Companion
A penniless companion and her employer’s cranky bailiff. Quietly funny and achingly romantic, with a great side story about the lonely aging dowager who schemes to bring them together. Added to my “Best Beta Heroes” list. (Signet, 1996)

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
A poor relation caring for her orphaned nephew slowly learns to appreciate the mill owner who lives nearby. A slow-building romance (on her side) and Deep Dark Secrets (on both sides) make this a really compelling and memorable read. (Signet, 1998) Continue reading

The Heyer Project: Part II – A Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes

Bugger, bugger, bugger — I started this over a month ago and emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t lose it. *sigh*


In which I color-code a spreadsheet and compare The Grand Sophy to Curious George.


Holy crap, I cannot believe it’s been over a year since Part I. I haven’t ruminated on my Balogh Binge yet either. I am such a slacker.

But then, sometimes things like this happen:


I am serious about this. I have never met any of you, but I seriously love you guys.

So this is me:


Yes. I used a gif. Get over it. It’s Dug, so you can’t complain.

On to the good stuff! My initial foray into Heyer included (in reading order):

  • The Black Moth
  • FredericaPowder & Patch
  • Pistols for Two
  • April Lady
  • Cotillion
  • The Nonesuch
  • The Masqueraders
  • Black Sheep
  • Frederica
  • Venetia
  • The Grand Sophy
  • The Unknown Ajax
  • The Convenient Marriage

Since then, I’ve done all the rest on audiobook (all dirt-cheap from Audible thanks to Amazon’s nifty “Hey, You Really Need This Ebook On Audio Too, Just Give Us All Your Money And Be Done With It Already” feature). So a shout-out to Sourcebooks for their incredible $1.99 ebook sale way back when.

Round 2, in reading order:

  • Bath Tangle
  • farosdaughterThe Toll-Gate
  • Regency Buck
  • Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle
  • Sprig Muslin
  • Devil’s Cub
  • The Quiet Gentleman
  • Faro’s Daughter
  • Arabella
  • The Foundling
  • False Colours
  • A Civil Contract
  • The Reluctant Widow
  • The Talisman Ring
  • Friday’s Child
  • Cousin Kate

I’m only doing the romances (not the hist-fics or mysteries), so I think I only have a few left to go: These Old Shades, The Corinthian, Charity Girl and Lady of Quality.

That’s a lot of Heyer. And since this is all about ME, I made up my own Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes. There are many, many cross-overs, but this is how I find myself mentally categorizing them.

heyer_matrixView larger image!  |  View and comment(!!!) on the spreadsheet!

As I’m typing the list and re-color-coding the spreadsheet, I keep realizing how brilliant Heyer was in using the same tropes to tell very different stories. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: More Than One – Carla Kelly Harlequins

These challenges make me feel like an overachiever because they totally enable my hoarding/binging tendencies. I’ve been sitting on SEVENTEEN (17) (no lie) Carla Kellys for years because I knew that once I started, I’d have to read them all. So I did. And it was gooooood.

I’m only going to do the Harlequins in this post — more on the Signets next time! (And yes, I’ve read all of Kelly’s other Harlequins. I’m a capital-F Fangirl.)

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla KellyHer Hesitant Heart

  • Title: Her Hesitant Heart
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, January 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 282
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Beta Hero, Military Man, Widower, Schoolmarm
  • Quick blurb: Newly divorced schoolmarm finds refuge teaching at remote army fort.
  • Quick review: Great setting and perfect pacing, but the angst needed a bit more balance.
  • Grade: B+

“I can’t tell you how nice it was to open my front door and take a whiff of someone cares.”

Nobody does historical military romance better than Carla Kelly. She has an exquisite knack for world-building that has me THERE every single time, and this book was no exception. The only thing that knocked it down to a B was the uneven angst balance — it was all on the heroine, with the stalwart hero basically standing around waiting to display his stalwartiness. Continue reading

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.


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 (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.


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. Continue reading