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Search tags: Bad-Girls-and-Soiled-Doves
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review 2016-07-29 18:48
"It Happened One Midnight" by Julie Anne Long
It Happened One Midnight - Julie Anne Long

I have been slowly working my way through the Pennyroyal Green series for years, and finding it extremely uneven. I've loved some of them (Perils of Pleasure, A Notorious Countess Confesses), hated some of them (Since the Surrender, Between the Devil and Ian Eversea), and been just "meh" about most of the rest. This one falls in the "Meh" category. The characters are likable enough, the dialogue is snappy, the plot moves along at a reasonable clip, but still... meh.

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review 2016-04-03 01:22
"Her Every Wish" by Courtney Milan
Her Every Wish (The Worth Saga) - Courtney Milan

If Courtney Milan published her grocery list, I'd probably read it. She's at the tippity-top of my auto-buy list. She's smart, funny, and unabashedly feminist: totally my catnip. 


Her Every Wish is a novella about Daisy, who was introduced in Milan's last novel, Once Upon a Marquess. One thing I loved about this novella is that it isn't set in the glittering ballrooms of the ton at all, but rather in the seedy, working-class neighborhood where Daisy shares a room with her aging mother. This gives us a view into a part of London that the historical romance genre rarely visits, and it's refreshing.


Daisy works in a flower shop and dreams of opening her own mercantile, but no one takes her ambitions seriously because she's a woman. Some time ago, Daisy had a liaison with Crash, but it ended badly in a way that isn't revealed until well into this novella. Crash is initially portrayed as a flirt and a cad, but as his character is revealed, it's clear he's not that simple. Crash is descended "from a long line of sailors and dock whores" and doesn't even know what race he belongs to, which is also a refreshing contrast to the typical aristocratic lords so much more common as romantic heroes. 


However, this story frustrated me because it revolves around a Big Misunderstanding trope. Daisy and Crash went to bed together, then one said something the other misunderstood, and suddenly their great love was over before it began. Big Mis stories generally don't work for me because they require the main characters to be poor communicators, and when you have characters as smart as those drawn by Ms. Milan, it's frankly hard to believe they could be so thickheaded. 


Her Every Wish also fell a little flat because of its structure. Crash and Daisy went to bed together and had a falling out, but the reader never gets to see the buildup of their relationship -- how they met, what attracted each to the other, how Daisy put aside her maidenly modesty and decided Crash was worth her virginity, what made Crash fall in love. Without that backstory, it's hard to feel invested in the rekindling of their relationship during the novella. 


Finally (and this is a very minor quibble), I am not a stickler for historical accuracy by any means, but lately Milan's witty dialogue sometimes strikes me as so anachronistic that it yanks me out of the story in a way I find jarring. For example, there was a variation on the phrase, "Come to the dark side. We have cookies," that made me roll my eyes. If this sort of thing makes you crazy, this may not be the book for you. 

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review 2016-01-31 20:35
"Pairing Off" by Elizabeth Harmon
Pairing Off - Elizabeth Harmon

I picked this up on sale at Amazon this week, and I really enjoyed it. It's kind of like that 90s skating movie, "The Cutting Edge," except the plot's a little more complex. Yet it certainly targets the same audience, and it hits the same sweet spots. 


I was skeptical when the hero and heroine hook up in a coat room at a party in Amsterdam during the prologue, because while I'm no prude, I think a drunken one night stand is generally not a good way to start a relationship. I kept an open mind and kept going, and the story improved. Years later, Anton (Russian) and Carrie (American) are reunited after each is betrayed by their long-time skating partner. In order to salvage their careers, they partner with each other, even though it means Carrie has to move from balmy Georgia (US) to frigid Moscow and become a Russian citizen. After a rough start, they find their skating styles compliment one another far more than the styles of their prior partners, and they begin enjoying their sport and excelling at it more than ever before. 


"Pairing Off" employs a TON of romance tropes: kiss-kiss/slap-slap love-to-hate-em initial tension, ruined reputation (Carrie's), mistaken identity (it takes Anton forEVER to realize Carrie is "Amsterdam Girl"), fish out of water (Carrie is an outsider in Moscow), damsel in distress, infidelity (Anton's), sabotage by ex-lovers (both), tragic past (Carrie's), marriage of convenience, sports rivalry, secondary romance between supporting characters, and probably several others I'm forgetting. Still, they're all woven together in a way that feels fresh and keeps the plot moving along, though the romance itself is fairly slow-burning. 


This was certainly well worth the $1.99 I paid for it, and I will seek out Elizabeth Harmon's work again. 

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review 2016-01-16 21:59
"Dare You To" by Katie McGarry
Dare You To - Katie McGarry

This second installment in the "Pushing the Limits" series wasn't as angsty as the first book (Pushing the Limits), which I liked. At the same time, though, Beth and Ryan's story doesn't pack the same emotional punch. That's not to say it's not chockfull of melodrama: Beth has a truly horrible backstory, trying to keep her addicted mom away from an abusive boyfriend, when her mom doesn't want to save herself or Beth, either. When Beth gets arrested (taking the fall for something her mom did), a long-lost uncle swoops in to take her to the suburbs for a better life -- but like her mom, Beth doesn't exactly want to be rescued. Also, living in a bible-thumping backwater isn't her idea of a better life. 


By comparison, Ryan is living the dream: steadily (if not happily) married parents, popular at school, good grades, champion baseball pitcher being courted by professional and college scouts. Yet Ryan's life isn't as charmed as it seems: his older brother was disowned after coming out of the closet, and in the wake of that scandal, Ryan's nuclear family is in the midst of a nuclear meltdown. 


I liked Ryan. I liked Beth. I enjoyed most of the individual subplots of this story. On the whole, the writing was well done and the plotting was tight and well-paced. I just didn't really feel Ryan and Beth as a couple, and I'm not sure why. 

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review 2016-01-07 19:11
"Anything for You" by Kristan Higgins
Anything for You (The Blue Heron Series) - Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins' contemporary romances have been auto-buys for me for a long time, though it's been ages since I really loved one. However, they are always well-written, solidly entertaining, usually humorous, with likeable characters and relateable conflicts. Anything for You is in this same good but not great vein.


Connor has been in love with Jessica since they were 12, when her dog bit his face. Unfortunately, Jessica has always had a lot of issues, some of which have followed her even into adulthood. Her parents were alcoholics, which kept their family dirt poor. Jessica's younger brother has fetal alcohol syndrome, and Jessica has always been the only one reliable enough to take care of him. Back in high school, Jessica slept around with the popular boys in order to get them to help look out for her brother, Davey, so he wouldn't be bullied. It's been almost 15 years since high school, and in all that time she's only ever slept with Connor, but her sullied reputation remains.


Anything for You begins with Jessica turning down Connor's marriage proposal. They've dated on the down low for ten years, but Connor wants to make it real, and Jessica doesn't want anything to change. Their on-again/off-again "friends-with-benefits" arrangement doesn't work for Connor anymore, and so when Jess turns him down, they split up. Connor briefly tries playing the field, but quickly comes to the realization that he doesn't want to be with anyone else, so he has to find a way to convince Jessica that she can have the white-picket-fence life he's offering.


Therein lay my problem with the book. I felt for Jessica, even as the whole story is set up that she's the one who needs to change, to come around to Connor's way of thinking. While reading, I'd get frustrated with Jessica's tendency to run hot-and-cold on Connor, to reject him when things get rough, to blow off his heartfelt proposal, and to get mad when he tries to win her over by winning over her brother, Davey. The reader is supposed to feel, and does, like Jessica's being unreasonable in not giving Connor a chance.


Stepping out of that romance-reader mindset where the ultimate goal is happily ever after, though, when I think about this book with a more liberal, feminist perspective, I'm more skeptical. Why should Jessica have to change? She's been saving to buy her own house for her whole life; why should she give up that dream just because Connor already has a house? Yes, their ten-year arrangement of sneaking around together is untenable, and something has to change, but is Connor's proposal of marriage and happy-ever-after in his house with the white picket fence really the only option?


In the end, I was happy enough with where the story ended up, but I was uncomfortable during the journey, because Jessica was being pushed into the marriage-and-picket-fence-lifestyle that is not necessarily right for her. I was not happy with the epilogue, but I often think books are better without that schmaltzy scene tacked on at the end.

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