The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

If you’re an Eloisa James fangirl, walk backwards slowly with your eyes on the floor until you reach a safe zone. Then turn and run like hell, because this is going to be ugly. (See what I did there?)
The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

  • Title: The Ugly Duchess
  • Author: Eloisa James
  • Series: Fairy Tales, Book 4
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon Books, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via Edelweiss ($6.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Plain Jane, Big Misunderstanding, Friends-to-Lovers, Reunited, Pirates
  • Quick blurb: “Hey, my wife of two days yelled at me because I married her for her money so I guess I’ll run away and become a pirate and shave my head and give myself a flowery facial tattoo and then show up out of the blue seven years later at the special session of Parliament called to declare me officially dead and then I’ll get all pissy when my bitter bride doesn’t immediately succumb to my piratical sexiness.”
  • Quick review: Hated it. It was awful. Dreadful. Did I mention I HATED IT?
  • Grade: F

In the weeks and years to come, when she looked back she identified that as the precise moment when her heart broke in two. The moment that separated Daisy from Theo, the time Before, from the time After.

In the time Before, she had faith. She had love.

In the time After…she had the truth.

What’s not to love about such lovely romantic angst like that, right? If only there was more of the angsty romance and a lot less piss-me-offery.

Theodora/Daisy is annoying, James/Jack is an idiot and the plot is all kinds of FUCKED UP. I don’t want to recap the whole mess of crap, so here’s what pissed me off the most:

After that the duke proceeded to demonstrate for his duchess almost all of the terms he knew for the sport of Venus. He was a pirate. He knew a lot.

THAT WAS THE HEA, FOR FUCK SAKE.

The happy ending was the “hero” showing off the boinking and boffing skillz he learned and earned while fucking prostitutes during his long absence at sea. I don’t consider that to be romantic AT ALL.

The opening scenes were promising — a plain but confident heroine and the childhood friend who realizes he loves her. But the Black Moment occurs way too early in the story, and then it was just more and more incarnations of “OH. FOR. FUCK. SAKE.”

An hour later, James had a shaved head and a small poppy tattooed beneath his right eye. He appropriated a name from Flibbery Jack, the pirate captain who would no longer be needing it, and gave it too himself.

Yes, FLIBBERY JACK. I mean, come on. Was that really necessary?

When Dread Pirate Emo Whiner made his Dramatic Reappearance precisely seven years later at the special session of Parliament just as he was about to be officially declared dead, I gave up and skimmed through to the repulsive conclusion and barf-worthy epilogue. Blech.

When her characters aren’t off randomly fucking around, Eloisa James is a really good writer. The quiet and introspective moments are lovely, her wit is wicked, and she’s brilliant at showing instead of telling.

James is not without a few quirks , though — she slathers on the similes and metaphors, but they’re just ordinary purplish prose, not full-on Simile Sex:

  • …like tradesmen’s wives seeing the queen.
  • …like a fox with a clutch of hen’s eggs.
  • …like tepid milk at bedtime.
  • …a tongue as sharp as a cracked mirror.
  • …as convincing as Marie Antoinette pretending to be a shepherdess.
  • …like a hollyhock that someone forgot to stake.
  • …as if she were a dog in a fight.
  • …like a drunken meringue.
  • …as if minutes turned into drops of honey.
  • …as tightly as puzzle pieces.
  • …as tightly pressed together as ha’pennies in the church box.
  • …like a marauding Visigoth.

And of course there’s the obligatory reference to a mythological goddess:

“Theo (the heroine) is like the huntress Diana…. Beautiful and yet slightly deadly, ready to whip out a bow and arrow, or turn a man into a squealing swine. Sensual, and yet with just a snowy touch of the virginal about her.”

I can easily ignore fluff like that, and I can even disregard the gratuitous inclusion of the Prince of Wales saying “what ho!” because no one calls him “Prinny.”

However, I most definitely cannot shrug off the casual acceptance and justification of infidelity.

I’m not new to this series – I really liked When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and I LOVED the novella Storming the Castle. In fact, I’ve read James’s entire backlist, which I attribute to Everyone Else Loves Her, I Must Be Missing Something Syndrome.

But I think I’m done with this author now. With very few exceptions, her books have left me with a vaguely squirmy feeling – a sort of lingering veneer of squickiness and disgust at her repeated reliance on no-consequences adultery as an amusing plot wrench. That’s a deal-breaker for me, and I just can’t give James another pass.

Tripleheader: Fool’s Gold Summer (x3) by Susan Mallery

“This is Fool’s Gold. You can’t mess with one of the women and then act as if it didn’t happen.”

I’m going to present these in descending series order, because Book 7 is an epic Mess O’ Crazy. With goats. But not enough goats.

Goat Warning

WARNING: GOATS AHEAD

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

All Summer Long

  • All Summer Long by Susan MalleryTitle: All Summer Long
  • Author(s): Susan Mallery
  • Series: Fool’s Gold, Book 9
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 376 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Misfits, Friends with Benefits, Angst, Kick-Ass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Former underwear model helps small-town firefighter overcome her fear of men.
  • Quick review: Great balance of fun, angst and hotness, with perfectly matched hero and heroine.
  • Grade: A-

“Lesson one,” he told her.

“How many are there?”

“As many as it takes. This is going to be a full service seduction.”

Damn, that was fun – especially considering where I started with this series. And the grand gesture? OH. MY. GOD. Second only to Nev’s in About Last Night. *~*swoon*~*

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

More Goat

Dude. Hang in there. You’ll get to the goats soon enough.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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I Write Snark. About Books. Not Authors.

I posted a few comments on HuffPo Books and tweeted a few (well, a lot of) things yesterday, so I figured I should out myself a Mean Girl (for those who didn’t know that already) and point any newcomers to related documentation in the interests of transparency and accountability:

The “Hell Yeah!” Snark-O-Rama

The Lessons Learned from the “Hell Yeah!” Snark-O-Rama

A little more backstory about the “Hell Yeah!” Snark-O-Rama
(links to Dear Author Thread of Doom)

The Cowboy’s Princess Wife
(in which I aim my Darts of Mockery at the small-press publisher, who later removed the book from their online store, Amazon, B&N and ARe)

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure
(in which I aim my Darts of Mockery at a Big Six publisher for insulting my intelligence)

Galley Proof by Eric Arvin
(Not as many Darts, but enough to qualify for Mean Girl Status; scroll down to the middle for the snark – but keep reading….)

If you have anything to say – good or bad – I encourage you to leave a comment. I do not (and have not and never will) suppress any comment, with the sole exception of any that include personally identifiable information.

I’m @kelly_instalove on Twitter, KKJ on Goodreads, and you can also email me: kelly d0t instal0ve at yah00 d0t c0m.

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure by Sophie Barnes

  • Lady Alexandra's Excellent AdventureTitle: Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure
  • Author: Sophie Barnes
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (er, Mistorical)
  • Publisher: Avon Impulse, May 2012
  • Source: Borrowed from public library ($3.99 at Amazon)
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgins, Beta Heroes, Spies, In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: TSTL hoyden teams up with worst spy ever to rescue brother who may be a traitor.
  • Quick review: Spectacularly unsuccessful mashup of Julia Quinn and Joanna Bourne.
  • Grade: D-

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure popped up on the “Recently Added E-Books” list at my local public library. I figured, “Hey, it has a cheesy title, but you never know.”

Oh, I should have known.

It didn’t take long to get to the second of many What. The. Fucks. in this book (I’m counting the title as the first). By the middle of chapter two, I was double-checking the front matter to see if my library had been suckered into offering vanity press titles.

Oh, Avon Impulse, if this is what you’re publishing as “fresh, exciting content,” I don’t think I’m the kind of “evolved” and “savvy” reader you had in mind. Unless, of course, “Insulting Mistorical” is one of your new subgenres.

But before we get into the CAPS LOCK OF INDIGNATION (to paraphrase The Book Smugglers – this wasn’t quite rage-inducing, but I’m definitely indignant), let’s go on an Excellent Adventure with Lady Alexandra & Friends.

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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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Lessons Learned from the Hell Yeah!/Dear Author Madness

Or, where do I go from here?

Jane at Dear Author is amazing. The Dear Author reader community seriously Kicks. Ass.

Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia HighsmithI’m attempting to genuflect and suck up at the same time. Is it working?

I still can’t believe Jane published even one of the Hell Yeah! reviews, let alone all four. My stream-of-consciousness snarkfests weren’t (aren’t) even remotely close to the Dear Author brand she’s carefully built over many years, and I can only say that I’m honored to be even a teeny tiny part of her empire.

When I sent my guest review of Book 1: Cowboy Heat to Dear Author, it was purely in fun – the Simile Sex was just too hilarious not to share. I enjoyed writing that one so much I threw myself into the second book of the series. It wasn’t until I visited the author’s blog that I realized I had flung myself off the Cliffs of Romance Insanity. I couldn’t let it go. I just couldn’t.

And Jane let me drag the DA readers down with me. Unbelievable.

Thank you, Jane, for publishing my reviews and for your support of my rantings, and thanks a zillion times over to everyone who read the reviews and to those who took the time to comment (pro or con). Romancelandia ROCKS, and I don’t know what I ever did before I crossed the border into this weird and wonderful world.

[NOTE: My spellchecker suggested “necromancer” as a correction for “Romancelandia.”]

For the record…..

Before I get to my Lessons Learned (see below – no new flowcharts this time, sorry), I need to state emphatically that I truly believe that ANY author who publishes ANY work of fiction is much, much braver than I am. It takes BALLS to write stories and let them loose in the world for readers like me to glom onto.

And despite my sometimes (oh, all right, often) rage-filled reviews, I include authors l didn’t connect with in my admiration. I love writing, but I know I could never muster the courage, commitment and skill to it takes to breathe life into characters, settings, plots and HEAs. Any writer who can arouse my interest and passion gets my applause.

Including – and especially – Sable Hunter.

She’s accomplished more as a writer than I ever have or ever will, and it’s obvious that she not only has found her niche with fans, but also listens and responds to them. She thanks every Goodreads user who posts a positive review, and beyond two “thumbs down” ratings on my vicious Amazon review of Book 3: Her Magic Touch, there has been NO backlash from her, her publisher or any of her fans. Zero.

All those reader-hating YA authors and their Flame War Fangirlz can take Classy Author Deportment Lessons from Sable Hunter.

That, of course, is making the huge assumption that she is aware of any of this.

Continue reading

Badass by Sable Hunter – The Full Review

Badass by Sable Hunter

  • Title: Badass
  • Author: Sable Hunter
  • Series: Hell Yeah! Book 4
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Self-Published, March 2012
  • Purchase: I don’t want to link to it, but I suppose I should: Amazon, $4.99 (courtesy of Jane at DearAuthor.com)
  • Tropes: Unrequited Love, Virgin Heroine, Cowboy Alpha Male, Simile Sex, Misogyny
  • Quick blurb: Preacher’s daughter undergoes self-imposed slutification to earn the love of a biker cowboy Dom.
  • Quick review: Not nearly as painful as the last one, but demeaning treatment of female characters is stomach-turning.
  • Grade: D-

All right, so I may have gone overboard with the length of my last review. Smarminess levels were appropriate, but I freely admit I have difficulty shutting myself up sometimes.

To avoid a repeat of that tl:dr trauma, and because I am a Geek and a Nerd and a Dork with NO LIFE, I decided take the opportunity to use a social media site I’ve been dying to try:

Live-Tweeting and Storifying Isaac & Avery’s Story (Hell Yeah! Book 4)

Prologue and Chapter 1
In which preacher’s daughter runs away to Shady Lady Ranch in Nevada for Self-Imposed Slutification under the tutelage of mentors Destiny, Desiree, Roxy and Claret.

Chapter 2
In which Avery Rose and her pink Miss Kitty luggage and sleeping bag arrive back in Kerrville on Harley Sportster. Bar fight, blow job in hotel room, ecstasy, he leaves.

Chapter 3
In which our heroine displays her Shady Lady Stripper Skillz, news of Slutification hits local headlines, deflowering occurs and Isaac shows his true colors as a Manwhore McCoy.

Chapter 4
In which the heroine outs herself as an erotica writer named SABLE HUNTER and then gets a microphone stuck in her mouth.

Chapter 5
In which we enjoy granny panties, Braveheart, bacon and glitter.

Chapter 6
In which we meet villain-bait stock characters, enter our hero’s Secret Basement Sex Dungeon Playroom, push up through the Valley of Delight, rejoice in our heroine’s expanded vocabulary, and get called up to the Big Leagues of Sex. Also, plot moppet puts Sub collar on family dog.

Chapters 7 & 8
In which I attempt to distract myself politics with a hermaphrodite, sex on a mechanical bull, ooey-gooey pumpkin butter cake, some unexpected and inexplicably good writing (!) which segues into abrupt POV change to family dog, yet another kidnapping but this time foiled by family dog, and swelling organs during HEA.

First impressions:

I didn’t hate it. I even LIKED parts of it. I’m in Book Purgatory, actually considering a C- grade. But what if my enthusiasm is merely disguised relief that it wasn’t a CESSPOOL OF CRAP like the last book? I need to think about this.  My worldview has been disrupted. My personal paradigm has shifted. I might need a sabbatical in Kerrville, Texas, to reconnect with my Inner Bitch Goddess.

If my doctor does recommend Cowboy Immersion Therapy, my first shrine of worship will be Hardbodies Bar. If they don’t have Isaac’s black leather Dom hood with the Tebow Rockin’ T ranch brand embossed on the forehead on display, I’m going to be REALLY disappointed.

[Oh, sorry – that was a spoiler. I keep forgetting to despoilerize. You know, because of all the suspense.]

Also, I’m 99 percent sure that me and the mechanical bull should stay far, far apart. But what’s a mental health sabbatical without a visit to the emergency room?

Let’s make it a road trip. You know you want to come with me. No, wait, a bus trip. That way we can drink heavily and let someone else do the driving.

Read the full review at DearAuthor.com