Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “romance”

Miss Kate’s CBR4 Review #11: The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley


I am a big fan of the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series. Well, slightly obsessed, actually. They have everything: history, romance, swordplay! Well written characters, unpredictable outcomes. And who wouldn’t want to go back in time, meet a handsome chivalrous stranger, and have sexytimes/adventures? Unfortunately, Gabaldon’s books are LONG. They take years for her to write, and while there is a big payoff, this also means big gaps between the books.  (See also: Martin, G.R.R.) So when someone suggested I read Susanna Kearsley in order to fill my Outlander-less days (and get my time travel fix), I figured I’d give her a try.

The Rose Garden is the story of Eva Ward, a successful Hollywood publicist. Devastated by the death of her sister, she travels back to the place where they had spent their childhood summers – the rocky, mist shrouded coast of Cornwall. There, Eva reacquaints herself with the area and renews old friendships. She stays at the rundown mansion of family friends. Here we meet a familiar cast of characters: the bickering brother and sister duo, the wise free-spirited stepmother, the artsy shopkeeper, the former playmate (who’s grown up into a hunk).The estate has fallen on hard times, and Eva agrees to help out.

While she heals her heart and starts to reassess her life, strange things happen. One day, while out walking, Eva finds herself transported back to the early 18th Century. Just as abruptly, she’s transported back. This begins to happen more frequently and without warning. The time she is sent to is dangerous, especially for a woman alone. The Jacobites are gathering for their first (failed) rebellion. Fortunately Eva meets a handsome, chivalrous stranger (of course!), and he becomes her protector. As she finds herself pulled back and forth, romance and adventure ensue. Will she choose to stay in the 18th Century, or go back to her Hollywood life? Can you guess? C’mon, guess.

The book is filled with detail: the lush countryside, the Gothic mansion. The characters, while stereotypical, are likeable enough.One thing that I found very strange was the lack of description of the main character. What does she look like? We’re never told, and it’s kind of frustrating, especially when you consider that she’s flouncing back and forth 300 years. You’d think her appearance would inspire some kind of comment, other than “Woman, your hair is not dressed!” It must have been a conscious choice by the author, but it’s a curious one.

The Rose Garden is a romance with a little adventure, tied up neatly at the end. It’s more romance than adventure, while I enjoy my historical fiction with a side of romance/sex, not as the main focus. But that’s just me. (Gabaldon fans may argue with me that her books are romance, there’s still a LOT of swashbuckling going on there, as well as a wealth of historical detail.) I did enjoy this book, even though I thought it slight and very predictable. I found myself trying to figure out how it would end, and was mostly right.

This is a cozy read, if not one that will stick with me.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #24 – Royal Renegade by Alicia Rasley

This book is subtitled:  “a Traditional Regency Romance Novel.”  Not my usual fare, but the description of the book on Amazon sold me.  Full disclosure, I got this for free for my Kindle, like quite a few others (seriously, there are a ton of free books for Kindle, you should check it out). It’s for sure a romance novel, but no bodices are ripped, and I’m pretty sure Fabio had nothing to do with the book cover.

Our heroine, Tatiana, is a Russian princess.  I have learned (through this book, and my attempts at reading Anna Karenina, among others) that Russia was lousy with royalty back before the revolution. Tatiana is the daughter of one of the conspirators who took out the most recent Tsar, who was then executed by the current Tsar (even though that’s who he helped).  Tatiana is extraneous, and is basically sold to the Duke of Cumberland, who may be a murderer, among other things (he’s apparently also ugly, and a bit scary in the boudoir).  Our hero, Viscount Devlyn, is a soldier in Wellington’s army, and is suffering from a form of PTSD.  He’s sent home to England to rest, and is then sent to fetch Tatiana safely to England.

They (of course) meet cute, they (of course) don’t like each other at first, and they (of course) have more in common than they realize.  They also (of course) fall in love, and (of course) encounter a number of difficulties along the way.

The book isn’t great, but it’s entertaining in its own way, especially if you are a romance fan. It’s generally not my bag, but for Regency period pieces, I’ll make the occasional exception.  There’s a sequel that involves John Dryden, Poetic Justice, but I’m not certain I’ll check it out.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Divine Wind, by Garry Disher


The Divine Wind is is a young adult historical fiction novel that I am currently reading with my high school students. I read it before they did, and I was entertained by the plot and character interactions as well as the multiple examples of conflict. So far, students have enjoyed the book as much as I did.

The setting is Broome, Austrailia both before, during, and after World War II. Broome is a seaside town with a mix of culture and ethnicity. The narrator is Hartley Penrose, a seventeen year old son of a pearl master, Michael Penrose. His family also includes a sister, Alice,  and an English born mother, Ida Penrose. Hartley has a friend and love interest, Mitsy Sennosuke, a Japanese girl whose father, Zeke works for Michael Penrose as a pearl diver.

With war looming in the background, the cultural and ethnic differences begin to rise to the surface causing all types of conflict between families and friends. My students are half-way through the book and have found so much to discuss about relationships: can you choose whom to love? What if your parents don’t want you to be together because of race/ethnicity/culture? Can a relationship survive multiple challenges? We have discussed cultural differences of the English, Australian, Japanese, and Aboriginal. We have discussed the conflicts of the expectations of the time period and conflicts between countries in war time.

Garry Disher has so many little nuggets of historical and cultural information. I was not familiar with Broome, Australia past or present. I did not know what pearl divers did. I had no idea what the Register of Aliens was. Yet, I found myself exploring the Internet for information about Australia, stumbling upon the NFSA Film Australia Collection on YouTube. I’ve read countless informational articles about Australia’s beginnings and its geographical landscape, looked at Google Maps Streetview to see Hartley’s viewpoint at Cable Beach, and what Chinatown looks like in Broome. I’ve investigated the newsreels of the time, the music, fashion, and movies that might have been playing in the tin-topped cinema of Sheba Lane. I’ve share that information with my students and it has brought the text to life for them.

I think the book is interesting and entertaining. Disher’s language is plain, but he has some statements and sentences that are meaningful on multiple levels.  I recommend the book for light reading and it shouldn’t take long for you to enjoy it. All the outside research is purely optional.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #8: That trashy book, 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James


Slave screams he thinks he knows what he wants
Slave screams thinks he has something to say
Slave screams he hears but doesn’t want to listen
Slave screams he’s being beat into submission

Don’t open your eyes you won’t like what you see
The devils of truth steal the souls of the free
Don’t open your eyes take it from me
I have found
You can find
Happiness in slavery—Happiness in Slavery, Nine Inch Nails

In 1992, Trent Reznor released the song, Happiness in Slavery. It is a thundering, abrasive song about master and servant and the ability to find happiness in sexual servitude. He is not the first to write about this type of relationship, nor is he the creator of the sentiment of happiness in slavery. The book, The Story of O, published in Paris, in 1954, revolved around the story of O, a female submissive who is trained to erotic “adventures”. Erotica in poetry and prose has existed for quite sometime. Some authors write it better than others, but it seems like their women characters always get shortchanged in the creative process.

I suppose it is a little late in the game to show up at the table with a review of 50 Shades of Grey, but here I am. I had heard so much about this stinking book that I knew I had to read it. If I didn’t read it, then how could I talk smack about it? You cannot condemn something you know nothing about, at least not in my opinion. I had heard so many people discussing this book, in whispered tones and embarrassed confessions. I saw the skit on Saturday Night Live and heard news anchors refer to it as “mommy porn.”  I also knew my female students were reading it, much as they have read Twilight for the last several years as sparkly vampires were everywhere, including their weekly journals and class discussions.

I actually paid money to read this book and took it with me to our beach vacation. I started reading it and felt the familiar girl meets weirdo vibe from the Twilight books, all the way to the girl was awkward and unknowing of her allure or value and the boy was rich, handsome, and dangerous, and so in love with the untutored girl. Where Twilight was afraid to go physically, 50 Shades was happy to explore what the author probably considered to be erotica and sweeping romance.

Yes, it was a lightly titillating read. I think I blushed more though, when I was sitting poolside, trying to cover what I was reading. My sons laughed and teased me for being ashamed of this book and were happy to point out the gray-haired granny across the pool proudly displaying the cover of her copy for all to see.

I know I should be reviewing this book, but I think the story has been played out. My biggest concern is once again how a book like this or Twilight influences young girls. So many of my female students have been looking for their Edwards the last 6 years at least. I know many of them graduated and hopefully matured, realizing it was all just Meyer’s adolescent dream world. Yet, these current students, fourteen to eighteen year old girls, are now picking up books like 50 Shades and graduating in maturity to this type of knowledge at a much younger age. I know that times have changed and the world has changed, but I don’t know if they really understand what they are reading. When one student wrote about her favorite book at the beginning of the school year, she wrote down 50 Shades and explained it was because of the love story. Maybe I’m old and cynical, but I think the relationship between Christian and what’s her name wasn’t the most healthy relationship to aspire to for a long term commitment. But then again, I don’t know what kind of messed up backgrounds some people have when they enter in to the fantasy world created in 50 Shades. Maybe that is the only healthy some people know and it seems safe and loving, in all of its twisted obnoxiousness.

I suppose I could write a missive about the warped reality that modern girls live in, growing up watching Disney princesses find their happily ever after. Additionally, the lack of a loving home environment sends some girls out looking for some human contact, any human contact. Any attention is good attention and sometimes the people you love like to hurt you. We live in a very hyper-sexual world where everything is on display so it becomes the norm. I guess it sounds like I think 50 Shades is a gateway to S&M and it could very well be. I can’t imagine girls in the 1950s running around reading The Story of O and trying it out with their beaus, but then again, I’m not that old.

I just hate that the literary bar has been set so low by the trash that is E.L. James 50 Shades of Grey. This is the type of book that is popular and gets on the bestseller list, yet in all of its controversy, it has not opened a dialogue for true discussions about sex, erotica, or relationships. People just giggle about the salacious content, speculating on the rumored cast of a big screen adaptation, and hotels offer 50 Shades Weekend Getaway Packages. I recommend this book only because it is know what people are reading, especially your kids, and have a real conversation about love and sex if you have teenagers at home dabbling in popular literature.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #23: The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Schine

Joseph and Betty are in their late seventies when Joseph asks for a divorce; his new – much younger – wife persuades him that the honourable thing to do would be to minimise alimony and marital asset division. Betty and her two middle-aged daughters Miranda (a flamboyant and failed literary agent) and Annie (a practical and frustrated librarian) move to a beach house owned by a nebulous cousin in Westport, where they are drawn in to the web of polite lies and secrets of the leisured classes.

While it’s nice to read a book in which the protagonists are older, with lives behind them as well as ahead, I found it hard to enjoy – the “sensible” characters were annoyingly childish and impractical for grown women and the character with “sense” lacks clear-sightedness and tact.

The other book I’ve read by Cathleen Schine, The Love Letter, is fluffy but nice, with something of the same lucidity that characterises Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. The Three Weissmans of Westport is in the same vein with regard to plot and setting, a story of middle-aged love affairs and seaside houses. It is also an update of Sense and Sensibility, which is its downfall – Schine tries so hard to make her characters, plot-lines and themes of cross-class romance and family drama fit the schemata of the Austen novel, while maintaining an element of surprise, that the novel creaks at the joins, lacking the engaging breeziness of The Love Letter and highlighting Sense and Sensibility as a far superior novel.

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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Malin’s #CBR4 Review #104:Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews – Double Cannonball completed! Whoo!

This is the final book in the Edge series, and while the previous three books more or less can be read independently of each other, this one ties up enough loose ends and contains enough characters from earlier in the series that unfamiliar readers would be recommended both to avoid this review if they don’t want spoilers for earlier books, and to start the beginning with On the Edge. Go on. This review will still be waiting until you return, and the books are varying degrees of awesome.

Richard Mar is the head of the once large and unruly Edge clan, which after a huge battle with a very unsavoury character known as Spider and his band of genetically mutated minions in Bayou Moon has had to relocate to the much more magical realm of the Weird, severely depleted after many deaths. Spider was an agent of the intelligence agency known as the Hand. Richard’s brother Kaldar swore to get revenge, and joined the rival intelligence agency, the Mirror. Richard chose a different path, and chose to go after the bands of slavers who once kidnapped his young cousin Sophie. Not content to hunt down and kill random bands of slavers, Richard wants to follow the hierarchy all the way to the top, ending the unscrupulous practise once and for all.

If he lives long enough, that is. At the start of the book, Richard is lured into a trap and almost mortally wounded by a small group of slavers. He’s saved from near certain death by Charlotte de Ney, an unusually powerful healer from the Weird kingdom of Adrianglia. She sought refuge in the Edge after nearly using her healing powers to kill her husband, who married her for her exalted social position and sought an annulment the minute he discovered that she was barren.

While Charlotte is the most powerful healer in her generation, she cannot use her powers to heal herself. She was taken from her biological family as a young child once her powers were discovered, and trained at the best medical institutions Adrianglia had to offer. Adopted by one of the foremost nobles in the land, Charlotte herself was dubbed a baroness after her years of service. Yet once a healer starts using their powers to harm rather than to heal, they risk setting in motion a devastating chain of events. The more powerful the healer, the more powerful the disaster if they lose control and start inflicting illnesses rather than healing. So Charlotte runs to the Edge, where magical abilities are dampened. Eleonore, the grandmother of Rose, George and Jack from On the Edge lets her rent Rose’s old house, and helps introduce her to the locals, so she can help out, and make money.

Charlotte heals Richard, but he’s been pursued by the slavers from the Weird, and they are determined to get their hands on him, no matter what the cost. Enraged by their actions, Charlotte returns to the Weird, where she is at full power, determined to destroy the slavers, every last one. Richard realises that while Charlotte is furious, harming others and bringing death doesn’t come naturally to her. He tries to dissuade her and change her mind, but when she won’t be reasoned with, figures that she’s safer with him than pursuing the slavers on her own.

On the surface, Richard and Charlotte may seem like opposites. While Richard may have been brought up with immaculate manners from his Weird grandfather and is deeply noble in spirit, he’s still a dirt poor Edger rat with no prospect other than to meet death on his quest to destroy the slavers. Charlotte may have been born humble, but was raised in luxury and trained to be immaculately poised in any situation by one of the most powerful noblewomen in Adrianglia. She’s a baroness in her own right after her decade of healing service to the Adrianglian crown, and the adopted daughter of a very influential lady. Despite this, both Richard and Charlotte are very similar, and that’s part of the reason why the romance side of this book felt less satisfying in some of the previous Edge books.

Richard’s brother Kaldar is a rogue, charmer and consummate con man. He meets his match, Audrey, the daughter of a thief and con artist, in Fate’s Edge. The romance in that book is hindered by Audrey’s lack of trust in Kaldar, and unwillingness to settle down with a man she fears will be just like her father. They banter and constantly try to best each other, but are basically two sides of the same coin, and it’s obvious that they’re perfect for each other.

Richard and Charlotte’s romance have the same problem. Both characters are devastatingly noble and self sacrificing, to the point of idiocy on occasion. Richard is hunting the slavers so his cousin Sophie won’t be forced to do it herself. He’s almost sure he’s going to die before he discovers the leaders of the organisation, and he doesn’t mind laying down his life for the cause. Charlotte is the same. She hates using her abilities to kill, but after experiencing first hand the terror the slavers can bring, she won’t stop until she’s made sure no man, woman or child is ever hurt by them again. If she has to unleash a plague to do so, so be it.

Also, while both Richard and Charlotte are convinced that the other is horrified and repelled by the other’s capacity for bringing death, they fall in love over the course of about three days. Extremely eventful days, mind, but still less than a week. Considering their vastly different backgrounds and social status, a slightly slower development and maybe a bit more conflict would have been nice.

As always, the supporting cast of the book is amazing. Long time readers of the series will see the return of the aforementioned Eleonore, Rose and Declan, Declan’s formidable mother (briefly introduced at the end of On the Edge), Jack and George, Sophie (or Lark, as she is known as in Bayou Moon), and of course Kaldar. Sophie is growing into a terribly driven young swordswoman, and Richard is probably right to be worried about her state of mind. Jack and George have aged and developed since their adventures in Fate’s Edge and can still make me laugh, even though their subplot in this book is quite a lot darker than in the previous book.

Dark is definitely the operative word for this story. Ilona Andrews said in an interview once that if the series was a meal, On the Edge would be the starter, Bayou Moon the heavy main course, Fate’s Edge the frothy and sweet dessert and Steel’s Edge the bitter and black coffee at the end of the meal. The subject matter of this book is not a light one. There is death, so much death, and not just for deserving bad guys. I was in tears by the end of chapter three, and several times throughout the book (although some of the tears were happy ones).

A lot of story strands started in earlier books are finished off with this one, and it’s a very fitting end to the story. To say that my expectations for this book were high is a massive understatement. I started pining for this book after finishing Fate’s Edge a year ago, and every snippet and mention of it just made me want it more. I needed the book to be good, and it is. As Spider and the Hand are the main villains in Bayou Moon and secondary villains in Fate’s Edge, I would have liked it if that subplot wasn’t finished off almost as an afterthought towards the end of this. Just as the romance between Richard and Charlotte was resolved in no time at all, the final act of the book also felt a bit rushed. None of them are enough to seriously ruin my enjoyment of the book, though, and to be satisfied with the end for the characters.

Ilona and Gordon Andrews have said that they may return to Jack, George and Sophie in a later series, if they have enough material to write their story properly. I certainly hope they do, because these three characters are probably my favourite in the entire series, the world building in these books is excellent, and their writing is amazing. Congratulations on finishing on a high note.

4.5 stars

Cross posted on my blog.

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