One-Quote Review: The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

I’m back. Did you miss me? Don’t answer that.

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The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

  • Title: The Sum of All Kisses
  • Author: Julia Quinn
  • Series: The Smythe-Smith Quartet, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 373 pages
  • Trope(s): Enemies to Lovers, Big Misunderstanding, Evil In-Laws, Scarred/Injured for Life
  • Quick blurb: Heroine who holds a grudge is forced into spending time with the man who (according to her) ruined her life.
  • Quick review: This may end my auto-buy relationship with Ms. Quinn.
  • Grade: C-

“I looked out my window,” he choked out. “I looked out my window at half bloody three in the morning, and there you were, gliding across the grass like some sort of erotic specter.”

Rolling along with a B-level grade — totally predictable with all the usual fluff and banter and light angst  — and that lovely first kiss, and then… What the HELL happened? A ridiculously drawn-out Big Reveal sent the whole thing veering off the rails into a bad gothic melodrama like one written by Quinn’s fake-novelist creation Mrs. Gorely. I half-expected death by pigeon. Yeesh.

Audiobook Angst: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (audiobook)

  • Title: Flowers from the Storm
  • Author:  Laura Kinsale
  • Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, 1992
  • Source: Purchased ($2.99 ebook, $3.49 audiobook)
  • Length: 565 pages (19 hours)
  • Trope(s): Sheltered Spinster, Dukish Duke, Evil In-Laws, ANGST ANGST AND MORE ANGST (did I mention the ANGST?)
  • Quick blurb: Sheltered Quaker woman feels called to help a notorious (but brilliant) duke when she finds him wrongfully imprisoned in her uncle’s asylum.
  • Quick review: Go away and leave me alone. I’m still swooning.
  • Grade: A- for story, A+ for narration

 “It was an Opening,” she whispered.

 “It was…you,” he said.

OH. MY. GOD. You people weren’t kidding about this book. Good lord. It’s going to take me months to recover my equilibrium, and god help whatever books I’m reading and listening to next.

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (original 1992 cover)The minus on the story grade is for the slight lag in the pacing after the [NO SPOILERS], and I wondered about Maddie being called “Duchess” instead of “Your Grace,” and I couldn’t figure out why her father didn’t play more of a role in her spiritual conundrum, but then I had to replay the last chapter three times because, you know, OH. MY. GOD.

[Gimme a sec, I need to swoon again: *~*SWOON*~* <thud>]

Sorry, where was I? With the wrong narrator, this audiobook would have been a disaster of epic proportions. Nicholas Boulton captured Jervaulx’s anger and anguish — and Maddy’s longing and confusion — so bloody brilliantly I had my headphones on all night for four nights straight. And I stayed up until 3 o’clock this morning and I don’t care if I fall asleep at my desk and drool on my keyboard.

These characters, and all their lovely, glorious angst, will live with me — and I can’t think of much higher praise for an author than that.

Naughty Norsemen: Kiss of Pride by Sandra Hill

Kiss of Pride by Sandra Hill

  • Title: Kiss of Pride
  • Author: Sandra Hill
  • Series: Deadly Angels, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, PNR
  • Publisher: Avon, April 2012
  • Source: Public library ($4.74 ebook)
  • Length: 309 pages
  • Trope(s): Vikings!
  • Quick blurb: Vikings! Vampires! Angels! Time Travel! Satan’s Minions Host a Sin Cruise! Home Improvement!
  • Quick review: An utterly goofy and stupidly entertaining read.
  • Grade: A-

“Oh my God! It has a halo.”

He jerked to a sitting position and glanced down to his cockstand, which resembled a fat standing candle sitting in a circle of light. Breathing a sigh of relief…he said, “That’s not a halo. It’s just the moon hitting off that round mirror over there and reflecting back here.”

“If you say so.” She was clearly unconvinced. “I think it’s kind of cute, that you would have a halo around your penis.”

Cute? A man does not want his cock to be cute. “It is not a halo.”

She leaned forward to study it closer. “Let’s see if you taste holy.”

HOLY CRAP, this was fun. ALL CAPS FUN, I TELL YOU.

Continue reading

More Naughty Norsemen: The Bodice-Ripping Era

For round two of our romp through Viking romance, we’ll focus on three vintage titles from the beloved old-skool era of Forced Seduction, Logic Fail and General WTFery.

I didn’t finish any of these — I dragged myself through the first half of each, but couldn’t find any reason to finish.

We’ll start with the least painful and save the vomit-worthy one for last.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: The Lady Most Willing by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway

The Lady Most Willing...A Novel in Three Parts

  • Title: The Lady Most Willing…: A Novel in Three Parts
  • Authors: Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway
  • Series: Lady Most, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, December 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.69 ebook)
  • Length: 385 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Amusing Abuction, Impoverished Rake, Stuffy Duke/Earl (one of each), Red-Headed Smart-Mouthed Scottish Lasses, Surprise Virgin, Loud Laird
  • Quick blurb: Drunken laird and his kilted kin kidnap fair maidens as potential brides for his nephews, and accidentally abduct a duke at the same time.
  • Quick review: Banal and predictable.
  • Grade: D+

Hell was obviously freezing, decrepit and located in the Scottish Highlands.

I loved 2010’s The Lady Most Likely — the balance of stories was great, with one insta-love, one childhood-friends-to-lovers, and one sibling’s-best-friend-from-afar. And more importantly, each couple and their courtship was unique and memorable.

The Lady Most Willing, however…. Blech. Blah. Boring. Four — count ’em FOUR (4) — insta-love quickies with only the barest hint of characterization. The only exception was foul temptress Marilla the Maneater and her Cleavage of Doom, who was so ridiculously vamped up it was almost embarrassing to read.

I considered going with a C- grade, but these are authors who have given us much, much better in the past.

One-Quote Review(s): The Wild Quartet by Miranda Neville

The Second Seduction of Lady by Miranda Neville

  • Title: The Second Seduction of a Lady
  • Author:  Miranda Neville
  • Series: The Wild Quartet, Book 0.5
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($1.99 ebook)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Ruined by a Rake, Big Misunderstanding, Wicked Wager
  • Quick blurb: Five years after a torrid encounter, a repentant gentleman gets a second chance with the stubborn woman he still loves.
  • Quick review: Nothing heart-stopping, but everything a prequel novella should be.
  • Grade: B

It wasn’t a deep kiss but a slow investigation of taste and texture, a scouting trip with the promise of a full exploration.

This novella wasn’t  an all-out swoon, but I loved how the quiet moments between Max and Eleanor showed a more mature and hard-earned romance in contrast to the ill-fated insta-love of their impulsive wards.

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The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville

  • Title: The Importance of Being Wicked
  • Author:  Miranda Neville
  • Series: The Wild Quartet, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, November 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Gambling Fever, Widow, Beta Hero, Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: Staid duke in need of an heiress is enthralled by his intended’s impetuous but impoverished chaperone.
  • Quick review: A bit iffy in the middle, but a full-swoon ending makes it worth the read.
  • Grade: B

The Duke of Castleton had been delightfully stuffy and teasable, and she’d managed not to make a fool of herself by leaping on him and ripping off his clothes.

Loved the relationship-building in the first half (especially the slug-fest at the masked ball), then got really annoyed with both of them, but they finally got their heads out of their asses and I got all swoony at the end.

One-Quote Review: A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

  • Title: A Notorious Countess Confesses
  • Author:  Julie Anne Long
  • Series: Pennyroyal Green, Book 7
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Hot Vicar, Soiled Dove, Widow, Small Town, Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: A newly widowed former courtesan asks a handsome village vicar to help her make friends.
  • Quick review: A worthy addition to the series, but not one of Long’s best.
  • Grade: B

Yes…yes! He felt a twinge of something! It was coming now!

He scrawled:

I kissed her I kissed her I kissed her

Well.

As a sermon, it was a failure, but his parishioners would doubtless find it edifying.

Notorious Countess worked much better for me than the previous book in the series. (Where in the hell did those people come from and why should I care? And I didn’t care, because I don’t remember anything about it beyond the cheesy title). This one is a bit more fairy tale-ish than her other books, but Long still manages to pull off the tricky balance of broad humor and intimate yearning.

Another romance novel art that Long consistently does really, really well is showing, not telling, how her hero and heroine fall in love. It might be insta-lust or even insta-love, but by the time the first kiss happens, we know why her characters are drawn to each other.

I also appreciated that both the vicar and the courtesan did a lot of self-reflection and said some very hurtful but honest things to each other. HOWEVER…I was disappointed in how their interactions with the rest of the village were perfectly scripted to make them always come out on top of the uncomfortable situations.

And despite my recently admitted weakness for Grand Gestures, this ending was WAY too Love, Actually, with shamefaced parisioners standing up and spouting Magical Bible Verses like the LA wedding guests with hidden trumpets and trombones.

The Summoning of the Siblings bit was good, though — enough to make up for the goats and bring this up from a B- to a solid B.

[NOTE: I read an ARC, so I forced myself to ignore the dreadful editing fails. If that kind of WTFery had shown up in a published version I paid for, the grade would have been much, MUCH lower. Even so, my respect for Avon Books is diminished once again.]

A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare

Let’s be honest: It’s obvious Tessa Dare wrote this book JUST FOR ME. She just forgot to put my name in the dedication.
A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare

  • Title: A Lady by Midnight
  • Author: Tessa Dare
  • Series: Spindle Cove, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon Books, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via Edelweiss ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine, Wallflower, Angst, Unrequited Love
  • Quick blurb: When a family of strangers shows up looking for their long-lost heir, a stoic military officer must step in to protect the local wallflower he secretly loves.
  • Quick review:  Uptight, conflicted hero. Smart, smartass heroine. I was doomed to love this book.
  • Grade: A

Corporal Thorne could make a woman quiver, from all the way across the room.

That was just the opening line, for crying out loud. Let’s take a glimpse at the HEA, shall we?

“It’s all your fault.” His voice was rough with emotion. “You listened when I needed it. Laughed when I needed that. You wouldn’t go away, no matter how I scowled or raged. You loved me despite everything, and you made me look deep inside myself to find the strength to love you in return. I’m a different man because of you.”

My Sweet Babboo

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.