Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “historical romance”

Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Reviews #29-33: The Wallflowers Series by Lisa Kleypas

Bow down, motherfu*kers. The Queen is in the house.

Go look at this list: The Shameful Tally. Note that one author has TWENTY-THREE entries on it. Lisa Kleypas is my historical romance genre gold standard. Hers are the books I place on the “keeper shelf”, have re-read the most, and will recommend to anyone who will listen. As is my wont, I read one of her best books first and then went back and devoured everything else I could find. Her earliest work is a bit rough, but she started gathering steam with Dreaming of You (CLASSIC) and forged ahead from there. She has a few connected series, but The Wallflowers and The Hathaways are the strongest.

Kleypas specializes in rakish, sardonic, self-made men, otherwise known as my catnip.  One of the things I find particularly enjoyable is that the men have either worked their way up from virtually nothing, or are making their own way in the world despite inherited privilege.

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Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Review #28: Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh is a reliable and consistent romance genre author. She’s been putting out books for years and years, and with the advent of e-books will be reissuing her back catalogue for quite some time to come. I do not begrudge any author the chance to cash in, except maybe that 50 Shades of Twilight woman. I generally read Balogh when nothing else is handy, but I would go so far as to say this particular book is a classic of the genre.

In my (scathing and bitchy) review of Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series, I wrote that the common series structure has the last book be about “the most forbidding of the men; the one you can’t imagine rooting for, or whose arrogance and aloofness is nigh on insurmountable”. This is that book, but instead of digging deeper to find sexually-twisted tyrants all the way down a la Ashley, Mary Balogh shows us a deeply caring man, motivated only by love and duty. Wulfric (I know) Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, is the eldest of six children and each have already had their story told;  I gave Slightly Married a try, but when I skipped ahead to page 200 to check on the [cough] action I met the sentence, “He gave her his seed,” and I was out.  I did read all of  Slightly Scandalous, but, despite a wonderful rake, the heroine was off-putting.
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Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Review #27: A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

I read romance novels for the banter, and, indeed, the romance, but writing it genuinely and sincerely is very difficult. A Kiss for Midwinter contains one heart-stoppingly romantic moment. Such moments are rare. Julie Anne Long almostalmost managed one in her last book , but of the dozens of novels I’ve read, I would say there have been maybe 8 times when I was actually overwhelmed by the sincerely romantic nature of what was happening. Not crying mind you, but gasping and covering my mouth, and doing that hand fanning gesture while I took a moment. This was that.

A Kiss for Midwinter is a novella in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series. The collection includes two novellas, this one and The Governess Affair, and a full length novel, The Duchess War, so far. I have read and will read everything in the series, and anything else Milan publishes. She is the best writer in the business. Tessa Dare is a lot of fun, Julie Anne Long gives great smolder and is wonderfully funny, but Courtney Milan can write. She’s funny, romantic, realistic, and heartbreaking, plus this book has a Spinal Tap (!) reference in the first chapter. Her heroes are exclusively protectors, perhaps slightly forbidding (I’m looking at you, Smite), and possess fierce honesty. They demand the same honesty of their partners which allows the women freedom from Victorian society’s double-standards and strictures.

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Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Reviews #23-26 – The Mackenzie Series by Jennifer Ashley

There are only two romance genre hero types and five storylines. That’s it. The hero is either a Rake or a Protector. If, for some heretofore unimaginable reason, I was asked to, I could slide down The Shameful Tally and instantly assign Rake/Protector status to all of the heroes listed**. I prefer a “reformed rake who will make the best husband” myself, with an occasional big lug thrown in for variety. If the hero is sardonic and calls the heroine “Sweetheart”, I am SO IN. The Rakes are generally charming, dry, seemingly indolent, and very experienced. The Protector is a warrior: probably taciturn, very kind, gentle, and uncommonly stalwart. So you take one of these two men, make him either wry or laconic, and match him to one, or more, of these storylines: The Reformation of the Rake; The Revenge Plot ; The Road Trip; The Mystery; or The Tortured Hero.

The Tortured Hero moves through the other stories and, depending on your taste, can be as thoroughly or as gently tortured as is your preference. Many of the characters have sleep issues in these books and PTSD comes up a fair amount, too. Traumatized soldiers and child abuse survivors are common. Unless you are reading one of the really good authors, the psychological issues are not particularly realistic and seemingly easy to overcome.

But let’s move on to the more fun kaleidoscope of spoilers and annoyance with the author part of the review. These books each have an exhaustively tortured hero. The spoilers will help get my point across and, more importantly, the endings are foregone conclusions, so how much can I ruin anyway? Here is what you need to know about Jennifer Ashley:

When she is good she is very, very good, but when she is bad, she is horrid.

The entire range exists in every book. It’s kind of mesmerizing.

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Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Review #22 – A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

I’ve started on reviews of many random novels and revisited the basic, and, I discovered, quite outdated romance tropes introduction from my first entry. But let’s be honest, I only wrote it because I was embarrassed about reading historical romance novels genre fiction, and wanted to be wry and self-basting. It’s one hundred and twenty books later and I know the current constructs, character types, and that the consummation devoutly to be wished occurs around page 200. I can explain which authors write the best love scenes and that the books range from fade-to-black to thisclosetoerotica. (Wikipedia tells me the when it is thisclosetoerotica, they call it “romantica” which sounds like an android sex worker who, for 5 dollars more, will tell you that she loves you.) None of this matters. What I like and don’t like in regard to the love scenes is of interest only to me, Mr. Julien, and the version of Daniel Craig that lives in my id. It would tell you more about my tastes and proclivities than about the genre; however, if YOU want to read this kind of book, I recommend not only reading the first couple of pages as you would any book, but also flipping forward to about page 200 when they get busy. Running into an off-putting love scene can derail the entire reading experience, so you should get a preview first. I once looked at a book by a major romance author and found the phrase “and sucking, and sucking, and sucking, and sucking”. That’s right, four “and suckings”. An apt description of the the writing as well.

Julie Anne Long’s A Notorious Countess Confesses continues her Pennyroyal Green series focused on the Redmond and Eversea families. In my review of What I Did for a Duke, I congratulated Long on pulling off a huge age difference. Her challenge this time is the character Malin and I enjoy referring to as “the hot vicar”. He is indeed very hot. Tall, broad-shouldered, hard-working, sincere. The novel setting is Regency (God, I hate the clothing), so it was church or military, and Adam Sylvaine ended up with a family living from his Eversea uncle. It means he need not have been chaste nor uptight, but simply a good man who ended up in an available profession, and one he turned out to be very well suited for*. The heroine is the Countess of the title, Evie. I did not realise until quite far into the book that the main characters were Adam and Eve. It is mostly forgivable and also indicative of Long’s tendency towards the quietly twee.

Evie supported her brothers and sisters by working as an actress, then a courtesan, although “there were only two”, and lastly she married an Earl who won the right to wed her in a poker game. When the story begins, she has just come out of mourning for the Earl and moved to the house he bequeathed to her in Pennyroyal Green. She has a scandalous reputation, just enough money, and a desire to start again. She falls for the hot vicar because, while he is drawn to her, he is so self-possessed and at ease with himself that he is immune to her attempts to charm him, and to the facades she wears as self-protection. He is a good man, albeit a preternaturally attractive and charming one, but this is romance fiction after all. Adam takes Evie under his wing to help her join local society and find friends. The local women are alternately horrified and deliciously shocked by her. Evie is able to build a new life and Adam is given a safe haven from the constant demands and burdens of being the (hot) vicar.

Despite the fact that I prefer more sardonic rake in my heroes, I LOVED 90% of this book and Julie Anne Long is on my auto-buy list. She always manages to balance fantastic sexual tension, sincere characters, and be funny. She is so good at the tension that the most intense scene in the book involves Adam kissing Evie on her shoulder. There were flames shooting off my Kindle. Long also pulls off a very clever running joke about embroidered pillows that crescendos with dueling Bible verses about licentiousness. So what went wrong? I overlooked the patronizing attitude towards the harried mother and the whole boots and breeches impossibility, but the ending was twee as fu*k. It started out swooningly-romantic and then kind of fell apart for me. Her last novel, How the Marquess Was Won, (she needs to fire whomever approves these titles) suffered the same fate: Fantastic romance undermined by trite plotting choices. Right up to that point though, it was wonderful: head and shoulders above the “and suckings” of the genre.

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

*Given that Julie Anne Long usually has a couple of enjoyably-detailed love scenes, part of me secretly hopes that some naive fool looking for “Christian romance” bought this because it was about a (hot) vicar, had her hair blown straight back, and will follow up with a horrified one star review on Amazon.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #103: Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, also known as the worst book I read this year

Marianne Daventry is an innocent 17-year-old whose mother died the year before in a riding accident. Her father’s scarpered off to France to grieve, her twin sister’s in London with family friends enjoying a season, while poor little Marianne is wasting away with boredom at her grandmother’s in Bath. Her gran, a cranky and unpleasant old biddy, decides to disinherit her no good scoundrel nephew and bestow her fortune of forty thousand pounds on Marianne, as long as the girl will learn to behave like a proper lady (she likes running about out of doors without a bonnet, and prefers the countryside to town life – dreadful stuff).

Marianne clearly needs role models, and is shipped off to Edenbrooke, the estate where Lady Wyndham, a bosom friend of Marianne’s mother lives. Marianne’s twin sister is besties with Lady Wyndham’s daughter, and the girls are set to return to the estate from London, so Marianne will have some company. On the way to Edenbrooke, Marianne’s carriage is set upon by a highwayman, and when her coachman is shot, she has to drive the carriage to the nearest inn by herself (this was one of the few useful and admirable things the girl did in the entire novel). At said inn, she’s insulted by a gentleman, because of her dishevelled appearance. Once he realises that she is of good standing, he apologises for his incredible rudeness and instead proceeds to condescendingly take matters completely out of her hands. He insists that they be on first name basis, and refuses to divulge anything about his identity.

Once Marianne arrives at Edenbrooke and promptly falls in the river, twice (because she loves to twirl uncontrollably to express happiness, and apparently never looks where she does this), she discovers that Philip is indeed Lady Wyndham’s second oldest son. They two strike up a highly unlikely and inappropriate friendship, and just before Marianne’s twin Cecily is about to arrive complications rear their ugly head when it’s revealed that Philip’s older brother died a few years back, making him the lord of the manor, and the man Cecily has set her sights on as a future husband. As Marianne apparently always gives in if her slightly older sister calls dibs on something, this means she has to give up on Philip. Oh noes! How can this conflict ever be resolved!?!

As this book is currently one of the finalists in the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, and has a huge number of positive reviews both there and here on Amazon, I decided to give it a try. Many of the reviews compare the writing to that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and all I can say is that both women must be spinning in their graves. Or possibly “twirling” like the heroine in this preposterous story.

It’s labelled as a “proper romance”, because there aren’t any graphic love scenes, but the behaviour of the hero and heroine is deeply improper from the moment they first meet. As the heroine is an inexperienced young girl from the country, her ignorance and foolishness might be explained away, but the so-called “gentleman” hero should know better than to encourage the girl to call him by her first name, flirt inappropriately with her in private and in front of his family. At one point, Philip encourages Marianne to take a nap outside, while he sits around watching her (Edward Cullen alert!), and subsequently claims that “she snores like a big, fat man”. If that’s the makings of a “proper” romance, give me the kind with sexy times every day of the week.
The first half is full of badly done exposition, the author overuses adjectives, and in pretty much every scene, all the characters seem to feel an excess of emotions from joy to anger to despair, if the descriptions of their feelings and facial expressions is to be believed. The book is wildly melodramatic, and might have been better if it was written in 3rd person – but sadly, it’s not.’
Then there’s the plot, highwaymen, falling into rivers, inappropriate flirting and banter, dreadfully characterised supporting characters (both Marianne’s twin sister Cecily and Philip’s younger sister Louisa are total mean girl bitches for most of the story, only to make a total turnaround and become super supportive and helpful “fairy godmothers” in the wrap up of the story), kidnappings, random due (inside in the common room at an inn – how do you even go about that?) – it may sound exciting, but most of the time, it’s just dull, and there’s a limit to how far I can suspend my disbelief.
I fully understand that readers may be looking for clean, chaste Regency romances – but do yourselves a favour and read something by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel instead. This is simply a very poor excuse for a novel, pretty cover notwithstanding.
Cross posted on my blog.

Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #30: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Engaging page turner while reading, though not very substantial in review.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews # 94-99: I’m nearly done with a double Cannonball, you guys!

So in the middle of October, I once again took part in the 24-hour Read-a-thon, and I’ve obviously been reading (and re-reading) books since then, but I’ve been falling behind on my blogging. So here’s a big catch-up post, and hopefully, within the week, I will have read and blogged a double Cannonball. I only set out to do a single one this year, and as a result, it seems that completing twice the amount became less of a chore.

94. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. I suspect I would have loved this more when I was younger. 4 stars.

95. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The first book I’ve read of hers. It won’t be the last. 4 stars.

96. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I know it’s been reviewed so well, so many times on here, and I have no idea why I didn’t pick it up before. 5 stars. By far the funniest book I read this year.

97. A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Yet another historical romance,  surprising no one, I’m sure. “The one with the hot vicar” as Mrs. Julien dubbed it. 4 stars.

98. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. Unquestionably one of the most anticipated books of the year for me, this turned out to be something completely different from what I’d expected. 4 stars.

99. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. So is it wrong that I was more charmed by the film? The 14-year-olds I teach, love it, though. 3.5 stars.


Malin’s #CBR4 Review #89: Tempting the Bride by Sherry Thomas

This is technically the third book in the Fitzhugh-trilogy, where each Fitzhugh sibling gets their own book. This book stands fine on its own (and frankly, I wasn’t overly fond of the other two books – hence no reviews), though there may be spoilers for the two other books in the series.

What if you could have a second chance to make a first impression? David Hillsborough, Viscount Hastings, has loved Helena Fitzhugh since they were both fourteen years old. Her older sister Venetia is the legendary beauty of her generation, yet Hastings only ever had eyes for Helena, since he first laid eyes on her. Afraid of rejection, he wasn’t about to admit his infatuation, and instead, as is the wont of teenage boys, acted like an idiot and insulted her instead. She insulted him right back, and from her side, instant loathing was born. As David is Helena’s brother’s best friend, their paths crossed frequently up through the years, and at every encounter, barbs flew from either side.

Now Helena is a businesswoman who runs her own publishing company. Her sister is a Duchess and her brother is an Earl. So she really should know better than to court scandal by meeting a married man in secret. Hastings discovers that she’s been spending time in the bedroom of her childhood sweetheart, Mr. Andrew Martin, and promptly reveals her foolish actions to her family. Despite them keeping her under near constant supervision, Helena is determined not to be thwarted, and she’s certainly not inclined to listen to the dire warnings of Hastings, even though the result of her affair becoming public would utterly ruin her reputation, and possibly that of her siblings.

When Helena receives a telegram that she believes is from Mr. Martin, she sneaks away from the servants her sister and brother have escorting her, to meet him at a hotel. She has no idea that the telegram is, in fact, sent by Mr. Martin’s interfering sister-in-law, determined to catch him in the act. Hastings discovers the plot and rushes to the hotel in the nick of time, so that when Mr. Martin’s mother and sister-in-law burst into the hotel room, they find Helena and Hastings in a heated embrace, with the explanation that the couple just eloped.

Naturally, the news spreads like wildfire, and Helena has no choice but to accept Hastings’ hand in marriage. Before they can actually be wed, however, Helena is nearly run over by a carriage, and lies comatose for three days. When she wakes up, she has no recollection of anything that happened after her fourteenth birthday, and is shocked to see her siblings not only grown, but married, and herself apparently married to a man she’s never met. Hastings is now given the wonderful opportunity of letting Helena see the real man behind all the insults, scorn and reprehensible behaviour he’s shown her for their entire acquaintance. Is it possible that he can make her love him as much as he loves her? But what will happen when her memory eventually returns?

Before the Fitzhugh trilogy, I had generally been very taken with Sherry Thomas’ earlier romances. She  writes estranged couples and the less idyllic sides of romantic love very well. Yet I didn’t really like Beguiling the Beauty (Helena’s sister Venetia’s book) or Ravishing the Heiress (about Helena’s brother and sister-in-law) all that much. They were well written, because Thomas is truly a master of description and writing, but I just didn’t warm that much to the characters. Helena and Hastings obviously appear in those books, and their antagonistic relationship is very obvious.

However, upon discovering that an amnesia story line was central to the plot of Tempting the Bride, my curiosity won me over, and I’m very glad that I gave her another chance, because this was a very enjoyable read.

Hastings is a talented painter and illustrator, a capable landowner, and a deeply affectionate father to his illegitimate daughter (who’s not like normal kids, and quite possibly borderline Aspergic, from the descriptions of her in this book). He is, however, a complete and utter fool where Helena is concerned.  Her entire family have known about his feelings for years, yet he’s stuck in a destructive pattern every time he sees her. Hoping to provoke lustful feelings in her, he writes an erotic manuscripts and asks her to publish it. Unbeknownst to Helena, he also writes and illustrates children’s stories, that he’s also sent her publishing company under an assumed name. He sees that her affair with Martin is going to end badly, and while it would mean that he could finally marry her, he tries to offer her advice and warns her to stop courting scandal.

I liked Helena a lot better after she lost her memory, when she was no longer so sharp and disregarding of those around her. It’s understandable that she would be unpleasant to Hastings, of course, and even when he’s at his most lecherous and douchy towards her, she gives as good as she gets. I can also understand that it would be hurtful to her that her childhood sweetheart married another for convenience rather than love, but that she persists in foolish and headstrong behaviour for years when it’s quite clear both that she’s risking not only her own reputation, but that of her family, annoyed me. Especially because it’s so obvious that Mr. Martin’s a weak-willed, spineless man, wholly undeserving of her.

The description of the days when Helena is comatose, and generally the insight into Hastings’ emotions, is rather heartbreaking. His unrequited love is so strong and passionate, and he knows that he’s being a jerk, but just can’t help himself. When he’s given a new chance to woo the woman he loves, you can’t help but cheer him on, and I was impressed at how well Thomas managed the whole amnesia subplot, that could have turned so hokey and cliched, but instead played out very enjoyably indeed. Both strong and passionate people, Helena and Hastings are clearly made for each other, and I enjoyed seeing them find their happy ending.

Sherry Thomas has also published the manuscript that Hastings wrote to Helena as an erotic novella, which is available as its own story, both in paper and e-book form. It’s a very steamy, but also extremely well-written little story, which naturally compliments Tempting the Bride excellently.

Cross posted, as always, on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR Reviews #78-80: Historical romance edition

So I’m finally NEARLY up to date with this summer’s reading, and decided that these three historical romances I read in August could easily lumped together into one post.

Book 78: When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James. What if Dr Gregory House was an Earl in on an estate in Wales and a really gorgeous woman wanted to marry him, mainly because most of polite society thinks she’s carrying a prince’s bastard? 3 stars

Book 79: A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare. I absolutely ADORED the previous two Spindle Cove novels by Tessa Dare, and it was frankly unrealistic that this novel live up to my sky-high expectations. It was very enjoyable, if not as awesomely enjoyable as the first books in the series. 4 stars.

Book 80: The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James. When the plain young heiress discovers that her best friend, the handsome heir to a duchy, mainly married her to cover up the fact that his father embezzled a bunch of her money, she kicks him out and he’s forced to resort to piracy (sorry, privateering) to stay alive. The most enjoyable Fairy tale retelling by James yet, certainly a LOT more fun than the original story by Hans Christian “I really hate children and am determined to scar as many as possible with my dreadfully depressing stories” Andersen. 4 stars.

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