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.

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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

Medieval Mania: More Barbara Samuel

I just HAD to use the original bodice-ripper covers for these….

A Winter Ballad by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: A Winter Ballad
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, October 1994; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢ promo ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Knight, Damsel in Distress, Revenge, Evil Sibling, Angst, Tragic Past,
  • Quick blurb: Knight on revenge mission tempted to forego his royal mandate to stay with the woman who saved his life.
  • Quick review: Basically a stripped-down, but oh-so-romantic, version of Pillars of Earth
  • Grade: B+

When he made to draw away, Anya caught his hand below the table. “You did not find me whole,” she said, “and could not leave me less.”

Dying knight, spiritually broken heroine, godless priests, evil and/or missing siblings, curses, plagues, assassination plots…. And smooching. Some really, really good smooching.

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

Heart of a Knight by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: Heart of a Knight
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, August 1997; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Gentle Giant, Damsel in Distress, In Disguise
  • Quick blurb: An errant knight mysteriously appears to help a beleaguered noblewoman save her castle
  • Quick review: More of a predictable fairy tale than Bed of Spices, but definitely worth reading
  • Grade: B

Better, she said, to remember it was with women that true power lay. A power quiet and subtle, to be sure, but never to be ignored.

The enigmatic hero is the main focus of the story, but Elizabeth is a really strong and compelling character. No TSTL or doormat heroines in Barbara Samuel’s medieval world, THANK GOD.

Medieval Mania: A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

Way back in September/October, before the World Series of Romance, I was immersed in a period-specific historical binge and never got around to reviewing any of them. To remedy that appalling lapse in blogging etiquette….

Let the Medieval Mania begin!

Medieval Mania

We’ll embark upon our odyssey through the Middle Ages with the book I’m using as The Gold Standard for medieval romances. No, I haven’t read Roberta Gellis yet; I have about 17 of hers in my TBR and once I start one, I’ll have to read them all.

ANYWAY. This book was one of my first Kindle impulse purchases, and I’m pretty sure it was my gateway drug to the evil realm of Romancelandia. (The “mania” in the theme wasn’t chosen on a whim, trust me.)

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: A Bed of Spices
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harper Monogram, September 1993; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢ promo ($2.99 ebook, free through Kindle Lending)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Star-Crossed Lovers, Angst, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Nobleman’s daughter and Jewish student fight for love in medieval Germany
  • Quick review: Practically perfect in every way.
  • Grade: A+

He did not kiss her, but his eyes held hers as if he had cast some spell, and in his face, she saw the fever of his need. “For this, I have been waiting,” he said in a low, raw voice. “For this, I would die.”

This is one of those books that I feel I could never do justice in a review, other than to say it was BOOK TRANCE from beginning to end. And it was even better the second time when I was reading it more critically with a reviewer’s eye.

A Bed of Spices is a perfectly balanced mix of history, humor, passion, romance, angst, atmosphere, characterization and story-telling. I’m sure I left out other good stuff, but it’s all in there.

For me, this is the epitome of a Star-Crossed Lovers story — and it’s anything but typical. Instead of the usual noble/peasant or bad boy/good girl pairing, we get a couple equally matched in wealth and intelligence, held apart only the yellow star on his tunic.

Samuel brings Frederica and Solomon together unexpectedly:

He was beautiful, as beautiful as a fallen angel or a pagan god. And he stared back at her as if he could not believe she stood there, as if he knew her, as if he were as dazzled as she.

…and lets their relationship grow with some innocent flirting:

“You did not tell me where you came by your ideas,” he prompted.

“I came by mine as you did yours—by thinking.”

He grinned. “Such a strange pastime for a girl.”

…and some not-so-innocent temptation:

In the silent gray fog, they were alone. The knowledge rippled between them as they stood face-to-face, a fearsome and dangerous thing…. For a moment, he held her eyes and she felt the heated pulse of his maleness through the cold mist; sensed once again that she was not alone in her wish to be less polite and more tangled.

Our almost-happy couple fights it as best they can:

He would not stray from within the walls of Strassburg itself. Surely, if he had no glimpse of her, this lunacy would burn itself clean. For, dear God, it must….

…until they both find the courage to admit what they have is more than physical attraction:

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel - original 1993 MMPB cover

Original 1993 cover
(historical accuracy?
what’s that?)

Her free hand lit in his hair. For a moment, she said nothing, only stroked his head silently as he knelt before her. At last she said quietly, “The priest brought me the Bible last night, as instruction.”

She sank down to her knees, to look at him face-to-face. “I made a confession to him that I had spent many hours thinking of a certain man in ways that were not chaste.”

Solomon lifted his fingers, seared by this admission, but she caught his hand before he could touch her. “Father Goddard said there was more to God’s word than prayers,” she said, “and he brought me the Bible to read, with a place specially marked.”

Her eyes softened. “It was,” she said with an ironic smile, “the Song of Solomon.”

“Ahhh.” He closed his eyes and leaned forward to press his forehead against hers, feeling as if he might weep. “And yet, this is impossible, Rica. We cannot love each other.”

“I know.”

For a long moment, they simply remained as they were, their fingers tangled, foreheads pressed together, all else forgotten.

Ohhhh, that forehead-to-forehead thing gets me EVERY TIME. *~*happysigh*~*

With the help of a mutual friend, they make their own vows:

She felt dizzy, as if she were standing in the center of the world and all else would slip into harmony as long as Solomon held her.

He rocked her silently, holding her almost painfully close. “It does not seem an evil thing,” he said with quiet wonder. “It seems as if I have held you thus for all of time, that I should go on doing so forever.”

But alas, we know it can’t go on forever. The author quietly lets the internal angst and conflict seep in….

“Do not speak it, Rica, I beg you.” His eyes were bleak. “There is so little joy in any life, I will take this time with you until I must go.” He smoothed a lock of hair from her face. “In our old age, we’ll remember and be glad.”

…and then it grows:

Two months ago, he’d never seen the woman who now obsessed him. All the years of discipline, all the prudence and resistance he had practiced had come to naught in the face of his longing for Rica. He was ready to storm the castle to carry her away, ready to make a fool of himself to gain a glimpse of her in the bailey. For what? The most he could hope for was a month or two of stolen afternoons, a kiss here and there, and a laugh in a glade. He could never lie with her, sleep next to her, walk in a public square. He could never sit with her over a meal and talk of the day’s work, or take her hand in old age.

…and it festers:

From the beginning, Solomon had known there was no future for them. From the beginning, he had fought against loving her. Now he found he could not bear the thought of another man touching her, when he — who loved her — had barely tasted the edges of her desire.

…until the inevitable external conflicts tear them violently apart:

There were no more tears left in her, only a wild, searing grief. Every corner of her was filled with it, an emotion black and sticky as tar. She could taste it against her tongue and smelled it thick in her nostrils. It held her, immobile, slumped against the wall in the darkness.

But then we finally get the HEA, and it’s WORTHY EVERY MINUTE of all that glorious angst.

“All is well, my love,” he whispered. “All is well.”

In summary: I think everyone should read this book because it is a very good book. And if all those excerpts didn’t convince you, I have no hope for you. I’ll just let you wander back to your pathetic alpha heroes and doormat heroines. Good luck with that.

Next up: One-Quote Reviews for a few more by Barbara Samuel (guess what? I LOVE THEM ALL)

World Series of Romance: Squeeze Play by Kate Angell

Just so’s you know….

This started out as a One-Quote Review, and then four hours later I found myself in the throes of a Full Snark Bitchfest.

Shh! Mom's on the warpath!

You’re damn right I am. Also, if you give me
cake to relax, it better not be made of Ivory Soap.

If you read all the way to the end, you’ll see why.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Squeeze Play (Richmond Rogues Book 1) by Kate Angell

  • Title: Squeeze Play
  • Author: Kate Angell
  • Series: Richmond Rogues, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: First published June 2006 by Love Spell; re-released as self-pub ebook December 2011
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 318 pages
  • Trope(s): Angsty Athlete, Flaky Heroine, Friends-to-Lovers, Big Misunderstanding(s), Dumped in Public, Rebound, Small Town, Plot Moppets, Weight-Shaming
  • Quick blurb: Big-league ballplayers return to hometown for charity bachelor auction.
  • Quick review: A lot of eye-rolling and some major ::HEADDESK::ing.
  • Grade: D

The first in a steamy new series of romances featuring a hunky baseball team and the sirens who challenge the players in the game of love.

I have two positive things to say about this book:

(1) It was only 99 cents.

(2) It wasn’t Sweet Jesus! Honey Dews! bad.

But it was close.

I know I shouldn’t judge an entire series by the first book, but since it had a multi-arc storyline, I figured one book was more than enough.

You don’t believe me, do you? DO YOU? Well, all I can say is READ THIS:

My nipples picked you out of the crowd.

Him: “Your first blow on my coffee turned me on.”
Her: “My nipples picked you out of the crowd.”

My first idea was to do this as a Rogues vs. McCoys box score, but I’m kind of charted-out for a while. So this is going to be a Heroines vs. Heroes play-by-play with color commentary instead.

The match-up:

  • Home: The Small-Town Girls — Jacy the Wacky Coffee Shop Owner, Stevie the Low-Self-Esteem Tomboy, and Natalie the Big City Slut Who Tries to Throw the Game.
  • Visitors: The Richmond Rogues — Pro baseball players, in town for a celebrity bachelor auction, known by their on-field nicknames of Risk, Zen/ Einstein, Shutout, Romeo, Chaser and Psycho. Collectively known as “The Bat Pack.” No, really.

The scouting report:

  • Small-Town Girls Jacy and Stevie have the home-field advantage, and they know the value of well-timed coffee-inspired innuendo-laden puns.
  • Richmond’s local-boys-done-good Risk and Shutout have history with and insider knowledge of their opponents, but mental trips down Memory Lane might weaken their defenses.
  • Natalie the Slut, unexpectedly called down from her big-city penthouse, may throw both teams off their game with her wild pitching and penchant for crowd-baiting.
  • Irrational jealousy resulting from big misunderstandings will dominate play, but players will also need to be prepared for numerous distractions from both sides of the bench in the form of cleavage- and/or ass-flashing and baseball-metaphor sexual propositions.

The pre-game show (aka the prologue):

Bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series – Rogues down one against Tampa Bay, two outs with a runner on third.

After whiffing a backdoor slider¹ and a curve, veteran hitter Risk Kincaid proves his nickname by — wait for it —  CALLING HIS SHOT (see image at right).

And of course he knocks it out of the park. But it’s not just any ol’ game-winning hit! It’s a homer to the left field bleachers aimed straight at the scantily-dressed and vividly-coiffed female fan who taunted him on the Jumbotron.

While the 80,000² Tampa Bay fans pout, cry and head out to riot in the streets, Risk makes nice with the reporters for his SportsCenter highlight reel:

“What about the girl with the pink hair?” someone asked.

“What about her?” he shot the question back.

“You nearly slammed the ball down her throat³.”

A corner of his mouth turned up slightly. “She needs to learn to duck.”

Classy, huh? But I suppose taking her head off with a line drive homer is better than yelling “TAG” in the middle of a rodeo bar.

¹ Yes, “backdoor slider.” Take a WILD guess where my dirty mind went with that one.

² Yes, EIGHTY THOUSAND fans. Which is very impressive, because the largest pro baseball venue (Dodgers Stadium) has a capacity of only 56,000. I thought maybe the anticipated crowds forced a cross-town move to the Ray-Jay, but that only seats 65,000. So it must have been a cross-country displacement to Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

³ Intentional or unintentional? You decide.

First inning (chapter one):

Oh, bloody HELL — I’m balking on the first pitch.

This stupid book has 13 chapters, and I don’t have the time or patience for extra innings. I have more angsty athletes to read about, dammit. I also have difficulty maintaining extended metaphors.

We’ll go with some obscure stats and random trivia instead.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: The Harder They Fall by Trish Jensen

  • The Harder They Fall by Trish JensenTitle:  The Harder They Fall
  • Author:  Trish Jensen
  • Series/Category: Previously published in Harlequin’s Love & Laughter series
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Bell Bridge Books, June 2012 (originally published June 1997 by Harlequin)
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($4.99 ebook)
  • Length: 202 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Lust, Lust in the Workplace, I Hate You Except When We Kiss
  • Quick blurb: Klutzy MBA disguised as a waitress tries to prevent her father from selling family restaurant chain to Studly Millionaire.
  • Quick review: An un-funny rom-com that shows its 1990s origins.
  • Grade: DNF

She switched tactics. Smiling, she batted her eyelashes. “Can’t we be friends?” she asked sweetly.

Made it about 20% and didn’t see any hope of ever liking the annoying heroine.