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Search tags: Lover-in-Peril-Damsel-in-Distress
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review 2016-02-29 15:33
"Beyond Ruin" by Kit Rocha
Beyond Ruin - Kit Rocha

Since the beginning (Beyond Shame), the Beyond series has blown me away by being so massively compelling and entertaining even though, by all my usual benchmarks, these books shouldn't interest me at all. The Beyond books feature so many things I usually hate: a post-apocalyptic dystopian setting, a patriarchal social order, casual violence and addiction, and lots and lots and lots of casual and group sex. And yet the world-building is so strong, the characters are so likable, the plot so gripping, and the writing so smoothly compelling, that these books are like catnip for me. Whenever a new one comes out, I set aside whatever else I'm reading and dive in to the Sectors.


Now 7 books and several novellas into the series, I still love the world-building and the series-overarching plot about the building confrontation between the Sectors and the poisoned utopian city at their heart, Eden. Things on that front are really heating up in Beyond Ruin, and I can't wait to find out what happens next. (Warning: the ending of Beyond Ruin is more cliffhangery than previous books have been, but that's because we're now right on the cusp of the conflict the whole series has been developing.)


I have noticed over the last several books that the blush is coming off the rose a bit for me in terms of the relationships/romances that each individual book focuses on. Part of it is that every single couple seems to have the same kinks (a tendency toward BDSM, in varying degrees of intensity), which was hot in the early books but has become stale and less believable over time: these are different couples/polys, with their own issues, and I find it hard to believe that they all get off on the same kind of sexual play.


As to "Beyond Ruin" in particular, the relationship here didn't work for me because it's a quad between Maddox and Dylan (both men) and Jade and Scarlet (women). These two couples (M/D and J/S) were in relationships before they became a foursome, and the development of their group relationship just didn't gel for me. This isn't the first time the Beyond series has tackled a poly relationship -- Beyond Jealousy starred Rachel, Cruz, and Ace. Where that story worked, and Beyond Ruin doesn't, I think stems from the fact that all three of the participants in Jealousy have their own, equal bond with each of the others, whereas in Beyond Ruin, the men's relationships with each other works, the women's relationship with each other works, but Dylan bonds with Jade (and not so much with Scarlet) and Mad bonds with Scarlet (and not so much with Jade), and in every grouping it feels like someone is on the outside looking in. I read the whole book with a deep skepticism that such a foursome could really work, because there seem to be jealousy issues and loyalty issues and trust issues that will sabotage their happily ever after. Also, I found the use of pronouns in the sex scenes very confusing and awkward -- when you have multiple "hims" and "hers" in the scene, it was very hard to keep track of whose tab A is headed for whose slot B.

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review 2015-04-24 22:18
Deliciously Detailed, Plot-Driven Adventure
The Rebel Pirate - Donna Thorland

This series was recommended to me by a friend, and I picked up this book because the description was pure catnip for me--a historical romance set in Salem and Boston during the American Revolution, involving pirates (I'm a sucker for tall ships) and conflicted political loyalties, written by a Yale-educated New Englander--even though it was significantly spendier ($9.99 at Amazon today) than I usually tolerate for e-books. I did very much enjoy the story, and I'll definitely check out the rest of the series, but I think the price needs to come down considerably before I can feel good about recommending it to friends and followers who need to watch their budget. 


Set in Colonial Massachusetts in 1775, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, The Rebel Pirate is an well-written, plot-driven adventure with rich historical detail and riveting suspense, and I found it a refreshing change of pace from everything else I've been reading lately. Sarah Ward's family is on the brink of penury, their fortunes riding on a dangerous mission to smuggle contraband and Spanish gold to a band of rebel patriots led by Sarah's ex-fiance, who jilted her when he discovered the Wards' financial straits. When Sarah's father's ship is caught and boarded by Captain Sparhawk of the British Navy, and her little brother on the verge of being pressed into service on Sparhawk's ship, desperation drives Sarah to takes Sparhawk hostage, but not before the cargo and the gold are lost. Having lost command of his ship, Sparhawk now faces court-marshall and worse if he returns to his commanding officer, Admiral Graves, in Boston; having lost the smuggled cargo, Sarah faces familial ruin and personal humiliation if she returns to Salem without the gold. Layers and layers of political intrigue, betrayal, and mounting suspense kept the story rocketing along, and I'd have gladly devoured the whole book in one sitting if the demands of work and kids and spouse and sleep had not intervened. 


My only complaint is that the romance, being action rather than character driven, fell a little flat for me. Sarah and Sparhawk were brought together by lust and circumstance, not emotion, and the subplot involving Sparhawk's father--

Sarah becomes engaged to an English Baron who turns out to be Sparhawk's long lost daddy

(spoiler show)

--I found kind of squicky. This is more an adventure story than a romance, though, and there's much to enjoy.  




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text 2015-04-23 19:55
Reading progress update: I've read 154 out of 416 pages.
The Rebel Pirate - Donna Thorland

I am loving this so far. I want to hide from my job and my kids and my life and just read, read, read!

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review 2015-04-21 14:33
Sex Positive and Oh So Satisfying: The Best Sarina Bowen So Far
The Shameless Hour (The Ivy Years Book 4) - Sarina Bowen

I'm kinda in love with this book. I devoured Sarina Bowen's Ivy Years series last November, and then her Gravity series in January, and I liked them all quite a bit, but I loved "The Shameless Hour." I loved the way it explores sexual politics and double standards and shame and purity and commitment and class divisions without being preachy or judgey, subtly enough that the message (while obvious) doesn't detract from the story, which is wonderful.


Rafe and Bella are both students at Connecticut's Harkness College (a fictional Ivy League institution modeled after Bowen's alma mater, Yale). They come from radically different backgrounds. Rafe is a Dominican-American who grew up in Washington Heights in NYC, working in the family restaurant. He is the only child of a teenage single mom, and he's been raised to know the consequences of getting a girl in trouble. Consequently, he's made it to his sophomore year in college without losing his virginity.


Bella is a senior at Harkness, student manager of the hockey team, and like Susan Sarandon's character in Bull Durham, Bella considers sleeping with hockey players to be one of the perks of her position. She enjoys sex and makes no apologies for it. Like Rafe, she's also from NYC, but she's never even been to his neighborhood. She's the daughter of a real estate developer, and her family thinks nothing of buying whole tables at $1,000/plate fundraisers and vacationing in the Hamptons, and they're paying Bella's school fees even though they barely speak to her.


Bowen's books are told in alternating narratives from the two main characters, and at the start of the story, Rafe is preparing for the big night with his girlfriend, Alison, where by prearrangement, and after more than a year of dating, they've agreed to turn in their V-cards. The date doesn't go as Rafe plans, though, and he finds himself drowning his sorrows in champagne with Bella instead of with Alison. He is disappointed enough, and just drunk enough (though by no means sloppily so), to accept Bella's invitation to bed, but in the morning second thoughts consume him.


It's important to note (and it's one of the best things about this book) that while Rafe feels guilt and shame about the hook-up, he never blames or judges Bella for it. Later in the book, Bella tells him:


"You're just not comfortable with my sex life. You're shaming me."


"No!" he protested immediately. The anger in his eyes startled me. "I think you're amazing, and I've said so every chance I get. Don't put words in my mouth. I never said your way was wrong. It's just wrong for me."


Rafe's shame stems from the fact that he has standards for himself about commitment and respect and sex, and he has fallen short of them in a moment of personal weakness -- but he has no problem with the fact that others don't share his same code. He doesn't judge Bella or begrudge her experience, but he knows that they can't have a relationship because they wouldn't be playing by the same rules.


Overcome by his regrets, Rafe sneaks out of Bella's room after their hookup in the wee small hours. (He is in all other respects an extremely sensitive and upstanding guy, so such a dick move is out of character for him and understandable only because of his own personal torment. Also, much as I think this move was out of character for Rafe, it saves him from being a Gary Stu. He's really a darling hero: sensitive, funny, vulnerable, romantic, feminist, the kind of guy who even does his own mending and cleaning. He'd have been too good if not for this monumental mistake to humanize him.) Then, because of his embarrassment and tongue-tied-ness, Rafe compounds this initial mistake of leaving by avoiding Bella for the next few weeks. She understandably but mistakenly interprets his distance as judgement of her, and she keeps her distance as well.


They might never have spoken again, except then something very, very bad happens to Bella. It's a major plot point, so I don't want to spoil it, but I do want to warn that, while it's not rape, it's bad enough that it might be triggering for some readers. In the aftermath, Bella is scared and depressed, humiliated and shamed, and though they are only casually acquainted, Rafe happens to be the one to help pull her out of this dark place. (As he puts it, "You're not okay. And I'm the one who noticed.")


I really enjoyed that, while Rafe takes care of Bella in the aftermath, he doesn't rescue her. He takes some of the weight off her shoulders by bringing her a few meals and keeping her company, but he knows he can't fix this for her. He makes her go running -- but she does the work. He has her back, but she speaks up with her own voice. Her vengeance, when it comes, is sweet, and it is hers: Her plan, her execution, and her reward. (Sorry if this sounds vague--I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) 


Anyway, not only is this an entertaining and satisfying book with a strong romance, it's an important read that deals with weighty issues in a compelling, nuanced, and wonderfully sex-positive way, and I hope lots and lots of LOTS of people read it, because it's awesome.

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review 2014-10-21 15:27
Extremely Appealing Working-Class Heroine Helps Pull Me Out of Historical Romance Slump
Rules for a Proper Governess - Jennifer Ashley

I have been struggling to get into historical romance, lately, which has left me feeling adrift because historicals were my introduction to the romance genre, and a lot of my favorite, auto-buy authors (including Jennifer Ashley) write historicals. But even the last few Jennifer Ashley books I've read have been disappointing, so it was nice to pick up and thoroughly enjoy Rules for a Proper Governess.


Sinclair McBride is a barrister who prosecutes crimes in the London courts. Bertie (Roberta) is a daughter of a petty criminal from the East End. When one of her friends is accused of a murder she didn't commit, Bertie expects McBride to put his considerable legal skills to work crucifying her friend--that's his job, after all--but instead he tricks the main prosecution witness into all-but-confessing to the crime on the stand. Bertie is thrilled, until her father and fiance (one of her father's associates), force her to pick McBride's pockets. To her surprise, McBride gives chase. When he catches her, he convinces her to return his stolen pocketwatch (a treasured gift from his late wife) in exchange for freely-given coin.


Yes, you have to willingly suspend your disbelief a little bit to accept that a prosecutor would give a pickpocket money rather than clapping her in irons, much less that he'd hire that same uneducated, unpolished, Cockney-accented guttersnipe as a governess to his children, but if you can make that leap, it's a fun story and an unusually compelling romance.


I really, really enjoyed Bertie. She is so unflinchingly honest and self-possessed. Compared to the carefully calculated manners and behavior of so many of the husband-hunting ladies populating historical romance (who tend to be spunky or perky, sure, but only so far as propriety permits), Bertie is refreshingly relaxed. She is smart and savvy and strong -- she fights her own battles (literally), but also owns her flaws. She knows she's woefully unequipped for the job of educating McBride's children, so she sets out to read his entire library. She goes after what she wants--she's the one who initiates the first kiss with McBride, for example--but though she wants McBride, she doesn't need him. She doesn't expect McBride to marry her--(which is actually often a problem for me: I tend not to like historical romances where the lady takes the enormous risks to her reputation and possible pregnancy by becoming intimate with the hero, before he commits himself to the relationship--I think I was willing to forgive it here because 1) Bertie's reputation wasn't so pure it needed to be so well protected, 2) McBride's feelings for her were clear from the beginning, even before he spoke them out loud to Bertie, and 3) you know if anything did go wrong in the relationship, Bertie is strong and smart enough to look after herself)--but she loves him and doesn't play games with herself or with him about her feelings and her determination to experience and enjoy their relationship for as long as it lasts. 


Bertie also has a mindfulness that is very appealing, both to McBride and to the reader. McBride has gone numb, still in mourning over the death of his wife, overwhelmed by work and by the emotional needs of his unruly children, whom he loves but can't connect with. By contrast, Bertie feels everything, notices everything, appreciates everything. She loves McBride, loves the children, loves the books she reads, loves the fine soaps they use in the McBride house, loves the fine engineering of the train that takes her out of London for the first time. McBride shows her the world, but in exchange, she shows him how to see and appreciate it, how to be present in the world in a way he has not been since losing his wife.


The plot moves right along and there's plenty of stuff that would make a stickler for historical verisimilitude purse her lips in dismay (I am not such a stickler, except when it comes to grammar), and if you're one of those people who hates plot moppets (cute but unrealistic child characters who do little to advance the plot), this is not the book for you, but I really enjoyed it.


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