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.

Fuck It. I’m Going Full Snark.

In case you missed it, here are the related posts:

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Me to myself yesterday:

There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly does and doesn’t occur in That Book. I think it would be worthwhile to lay out the critical plot points and character backstories.

Today on Twitter:Writing an FAQTwo hours later:

Full SnarkYou’ve been warned.

If you’re looking for smart people saying smart things, go here:

Otherwise, GFTO, I’m going in.

The main characters

Stella Muller/Hadassah Benjamin. Our heroine. She’s Jewish, but had false papers claiming she’s Aryan. It’s easy to believe because thanks to her Dutch grandmother, she has hair the color of gold and eyes as blue as the Judean sky. Hadassah is her Hebrew name and Stella is her Aryan alter ago; this mirrors the holy texts, except the ancient Hadassah becomes Esther when she’s made Queen of Persia. In the book, she’s known as Stella until she proclaims her Jewishness.

Colonel Aric von Schmidt. Our hero. He’s the SS officer newly assigned the command of Theresienstadt. But he’s not really SS – he was invalided out of the Wehrmacht (the field army) after ten years and many battles. He calls his new SS colleagues “mangy curs” and “uniformed thugs” which proves that he’s not a True Nazi. Aric is  Austrian; his father was a baron and a self-described “gentleman farmer.” His name is spelled with an “A” because he’s the modernized version of Ahasuerus, King of Persia. I have no idea how to pronounce “Ahasuerus.” It keeps coming out as “Asuharious.”

Uncle Morty, full name Mordecai Benjamin. He’s Stella’s uncle, but has raised her as a daughter after she was orphaned. Morty is the conscience on Stella’s shoulder, whispering to her to keep the faith.

Captain Hermann. He’s second in command at the camp, a career SS man, and a brutal bully. He’s kinda pissy that he didn’t get promoted to commandant. Hermann = Haman, chief toady to the Persian king and Mordecai’s archenemy.

Hardly any snark! Except for that one bit about the True Nazis. If you can’t handle that, GTFO because there’s more.

Chapters 1-4

Stella wakes up in a strange room and meets Colonel Aric. We learn she was at Dachau, but she was there by mistake and he’s the kind of officer that doesn’t tolerate mistakes made against women with blond hair and blue eyes. Stella has exactly the secretarial skills he needs, because of course she does, so he’s taking her with him to his new post as commandant of Theresienstadt.

“…as easily as I netted you from that cesspool Dachau, I can toss you back.”

Stella’s blond hair is shorn, so as they’re getting in the SS car to head out to Czechoslovakia, Aric reaches into his pocket and pulls out a red wig.

No, really.

For Such a Time - The Red Wig Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Free Agent by Roz Lee

My first #tbrchallenge — woohoo!

  • Free Agent by Roz LeeTitle: Free Agent
  • Author: Roz Lee
  • Series: Mustangs Baseball, #0.5
  • Published: State of Mind Publishing, May 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 65 pages
  • Tropes: BDSM, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Star ballplayer hooks up with new sub
  • Quick review: *YAWN*
  • Grade: D

“If you sign the contract tomorrow, we’ll seal the deal with a good fuck. How’s that?”

Yeesh. It’s a good thing this was a freebie, because it’s got every possible erotica cliché. I annotated every other paragraph with a variation of “Of course.”

  • Honey-blonde hair hung in soft waves over bare shoulders, framing fine features, porcelain fair skin, and blue eyes. [Of course.]
  • It was as if she saw past his defenses, right to his soul. [As he’s eye-fucking her while she’s fingering herself. Before they’ve even spoken. Because OF COURSE.]
  • Brooke licked her lips…. [Of course she did. How else would he know she’s horny?]
  • “…say yellow if you need a minute before we continue, red if you can’t take anymore.” [Because we all need BDSM 101 in every.single.book.]
  • Glossy pink petals framed a perfectly shaped slit. [Of course it’s perfect. Duh.]
  • …the most amazing orgasm of her life. [At their first actual encounter at the dungeon. Of course.]
  • He’d claimed a part of her no one else ever had—her heart.  [After their first encounter at the dungeon. And they’ve only shared first names. Of course.]
  • Now, she understood. The real pleasure came from pleasing her master, not the other way around. [*yawn*]
  • ...until he met Brooke, he hadn’t truly understood the submissive partner held as much power—perhaps more—than the dominant one. [*YAWN* Will this be on the quiz?]

Other random thoughts/observations:

  • There is zero character- or relationship-building. These people are completely cardboard and interchangeable with every other bad erotica I’ve read.
  • Might have been a D+ if not for the pluralizing-with-an-apostrophe egregiousness (“two single Dom’s looking…”) throughout.
  • The meet-cute occurs at a munch. Yes, a “munch.” I cannot believe I’ve never come across that term before.
  • The contract is “Concise and well written with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.” She wonders if a secretary prepared it for him. [No, really.]
  • The word “slurping” is used.
  • Secondary character is a sub named Candy. There are dessert jokes.
  • The characters contradict themselves ALL THE TIME, sometimes even within the same sentence. “Punishment is not intended to be pleasant” — but then he teases her about being a pain slut and yammers on about how sexy her moans are. “I don’t enjoy leaving those marks” — but, um, dude, YOU’RE A DOM WITH A FLOGGER.

I was hoping for something quick and fun to prep for a Spring Training baseball theme. I’ll keep looking.

One-Quote Review: Trust Me on This by Jennifer Crusie

Trust Me on This by Jennifer Crusie

  • Title: Trust Me on This
  • Author: Jennifer Crusie
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Bantam, October 2010 (originally published June 1997 by Loveswept)
  • Source: Public library
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Trope(s): Battle of the Sexes, Mistaken Identity, Slimy Villain, Bimbo Sidekick, Mature Couple
  • Quick blurb: Fraud investigator mistakes a reporter for a con man’s shill.
  • Quick review: Fast, funny and pure fluff, but definitely worth reading.
  • Grade: B

“A million guys in this city, and I have to hit a bleeder.”

I got this from the library on a whim after wishlisting all the If You Like Mature Romance recs at Dear Author. Crusie pulls off the farce really well, zinging back and forth between the older and younger couples with great one-liners and a surprising amount of romantic and sexual tension. It’s a fun and memorable one-night read.

One-Quote Review: Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa

Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa

  • Title: Skin in the Game
  • Author: Jackie Barbosa
  • Series: Play Action, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Cntemporary
  • Publisher: Entangled (Brazen), May 2013
  • Source: Review copy provided by author
  • Length: 250 pages
  • Trope(s): Lady Football Coach/Math Geek, Injured Superstar, Lust in the Workplace
  • Quick blurb: Pro quarterback gets involved with hometown high school coach.
  • Quick review: Another one written JUST FOR ME.
  • Grade: A-

In fact, she doubted anything could make him less hot, short of a restraining order from an ex-girlfriend.

Heroine is a prickly math geek and football coach. Hero is an angsty athlete who can do the dirty talk. Author knows her football — and her dirty talk.

The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott

The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott

  • Title: The Last Gladiatrix
  • Author: Eva Scott
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Escape Publishing (Harlequin Australia), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 77 pages (or maybe 109? it’s a novella anyway)
  • Trope(s): Kidnapped Warrior Woman, Studly Centurion, All the Usual Stock Roman Characters, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Soldier offers to train a comely captive as a gladiatrix to save her from the shame of becoming a courtesan.
  • Quick review: Cheese-fest from beginning to end, with a major “Oh, FFS!” moment that killed the entire book.
  • Grade: F

The skin at the back of her neck prickled, as if in warning.

Yeah, that quote in the third paragraph should have been my warning of !!!Cliches & Caricatures Ahead!!! But I kept reading because it’s just a novella, how bad could it be? My status updates (below) sum up how bad it got.

I finished it (because I have enough fortitude to finish a damn novella, dammit), but even before the end of the first chapter, a bit of throw-away characterization made me lose all respect for the story and the author. This is our introduction to the general’s villainous aide-de-camp:

Maximus was slender and fine-boned, like a woman. He also possessed a woman’s love of gossip and — if rumours were true  a woman’s love of men. Yet Maximus did not like him, and Titus was happy to return the sentiment.

WHY was this included? It was completely pointless, because this temporary villain appears in only two additional (and very short) scenes. I’m guessing it was an attempt to make the FLAMING EVIL HOMO a glaring opposite of our MANLY AND OBVIOUSLY VERY HETERO AND MASCULINE AND DID WE MENTION MANLY? HERO, because, you know, how else would we grasp the immensity of his heroically heterosexual manliness? But at least the Flaming Evil Homo doesn’t have the hots for our Hero of Heterosexual Masculinity, because that would just be gross.

Badly done, Escape Publishing (an imprint of Harlequin Entrprises Australia). Badly done indeed.

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Read With Me Vicariously: Status Updates

  • 18% – Cliche + cariacature + insta-lust while chained = I’m not sure if I can finish this…
  • 20% – Loins are heating and unnamed forces are compelling…
  • 23% – Dream sex. On a bed of soft golden cloud. Fever pitch, waves of sensation, pinnacle of desire, etc.
  • 36% – Primeval masculinity, primordial drums, molten ecstasy and synchronized heartbeats.
  • 46% – It’s a trap!
  • 69% – An “oh, BARF” moment in the middle of the freaking arena. Sheesh.
  • 82% – Uh-oh, hero is summoned by the Senator’s wife. I wonder what she wants… *wink wink*
  • 82% – “In his experience women, especially high-born Roman woman, were dangerous – more dangerous than a host of Huns.”
  • 86% – Senator’s sexy wife is reclining on a bed eating grapes. I shit you not.
  • 100% – Plundering lips. The end.

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