Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Mystery-Subplot
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
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.


Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2014-10-10 02:07
Highly Satisfying PNR (if a tad unoriginal)
Slave to Sensation - Nalini Singh

I don't read a lot of PNR, but everyone says if you're going to read PNR, read Nalini Singh... so I checked this out (doing my best not to judge the book by that seriously hideous cover). I liked the writing and the world-building, which felt fresh even though it employs several tropes that are so common in paranormals as to be almost cliché: the heroine seems like a plain jane until she develops her secret surprise special snowflake superpowers, the hero doesn't want to trust her or even like her much, but after just a few meetings he realizes she's his fated mate and he'll die without her, their bond is threatened by forces outside their control and death seems almost certain... 


I didn't completely follow all the scenes about the PsyNet (the psychic network of minds) that the heroine's people (the Psy) use to communicate and store information, but I liked the scenes about the Changeling pack dynamics and intra-pack politics. As is usually the case, I was a bit annoyed about the mystery subplot (a Changeling woman has been kidnapped and will be killed if her pack can't rescue her in time), because I knew Whodunnit from the very first scene in which the killer made an appearance in the story, and so the only mystery was "why" (which wasn't really answered to my satisfaction). However, the mystery was only a plot device to contribute to the tension between the Psy and the Changelings, and solving it really wasn't the point. 


I'm a sucker for stories in which a main character is prepared to sacrifice his or her life in favor of the greater good (for example, my favorite scene in any book ever is probably Harry Potter's solitary walk into the Forbidden Forest to meet Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts, which slays me every single time I read it), and this is such a book, so I found Slave to Sensation very emotionally satisfying and will definitely read on in the series. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2014-07-29 16:24
Let's be real: the All Souls trilogy is Twilight-spawn.
The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness

Slightly pretentious Twilight-spawn, actually, as if all of this highbrow attention to history and science and art could obscure the fact that we're still talking about two stories where an obscenely wealthy and dangerous old vamp falls in love with a mousy, not-very interesting human and their love is obsessive and forbidden, and over the course of the series Mousy Girl gets her groove back and becomes Queen of the Mary Sues, and when the couples breed the Powers That Be are disgusted and afraid of the unknown dangers that these rare forbidden vampire-hybrid babies represent, and vow to wipe out the whole Cullen/de Clermont clan.


That said, there's a reason Twilight made Stephanie Meyer rich, and there's a reason all of these books are bestsellers. Mock all you want, with good reason (and even Harkness mocks, when her vampires haughtily insist they don't sparkle), but the fact is, these books are entertaining. Twilight lets you shut off your brain and get carried away in the fantasy of forbidden attraction; All Souls takes you on the same journey without shutting off your brain.


I read A Discovery of Witches in February 2011, with no idea it was the start of a trilogy, and when I got to the cliffhanger ending, I was so gobsmacked it took me several days before I could sleep again. When Shadow of Night came out in 2012, I got an ARC copy and took a week's vacation so I could savor it properly. But since then, I've moved house, had a second baby, weathered a lot of changes at work, and I'm generally a lot busier, and so when the long-awaited final book in the All Souls Trilogy showed up on my Kindle, while I was excited to see it, I didn't have time to drop everything and devour it. Moreover, I didn't have time to re-read the first two books to refresh my memory, which in retrospect would have been very helpful. Consequently, I spent the first quarter of The Book of Life catching up on vaguely remembered details from the complicated world Harkness developed in the previous books.


The Book of Life picks up more or less where Shadow of Night leaves off: time-traveling supernatural power couple Diana Bishop (a witch) and Matthew Clairmont (a vampire) have returned to the present day from 1590, where Diana was learning how to use her rare spell-weaving powers from the more powerful witches of that age. (One of the overarching plot issues is that the magical world is weakening in the modern age: witches cast less effective spells, vampires are less able to make new vampires, and daemons are more prone to insanity than genius.) Diana is pregnant with twins, a secret which will get them in very hot water with the Congregation (the governing council of the magical creatures), because witches, daemons, and vampires aren't allowed to marry outside their own kind, much less reproduce.


Book of Life ties up the convoluted strands of the series-wide plot: the search for the ancient manuscript, Ashmole 782, that all of the creatures believe holds the key to their survival; the long-anticipated confrontation with the Congregation over Diana and Matthew's forbidden relationship; the explanation (and solution) to the problem of weakening magic. In reaching these conclusions, the book delves deeply into a lot of less central subplots: there is a lot of time devoted to the gordian knot of political and familial loyalties and obligations in the de Clermont vampire clan, a lot of time devoted to the analysis of genetic material in the pages from Ashmole 782 and DNA-testing of various magical creatures, and a lot of time devoted to traveling and describing the many settings of this book, including various locations in France, upstate New York, New Haven, London, New Orleans, Oxford, Venice, and Chelm, Poland.


The entire series has been plagued by pacing problems. Deborah Harkness's attention to detail is at once the series' greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. The extensive descriptions of places, people, history, furniture, art, and so on make the reader feel like s/he is right there in the story, but sometimes Harkness gives us more detail than we could possibly need. In A Discovery of Witches, the never-ending descriptions of Diana's clothes and meals made me crazy. In Shadow of Night, Harkness told us more about arcane alchemical processes than any reader (except perhaps a Ph.D. candidate) could possibly care to know. -And here in Book of Life, perhaps more than ever, the details get in the way of the story.


Let me explain: As the capstone of the trilogy, Book of Life is the climax the whole series (all 1800 pages of it) has been building to. The reader therefore has a sense of urgency in seeing how certain plots resolve that the detailed narrative often frustrates. Some examples: Matthew's mother, Ysabeau, gets held prisoner early on by the Congregation. Despite expressing some concern about it (and after learning why imprisonment might be especially traumatic to Ysabeau given her history), Matthew and Diana hie off to the States and spend several months gardening and cleaning the Bishop homestead in New York rather than working on a plan to free her. Later, they learn that the Book of Life's main villain is holding a witch hostage and repeatedly raping her, trying to breed with her. Matthew and Diana express horror and outrage... and then go to Yale and spend several more weeks futzing around in labs and libraries. Then, Diana has a pregnancy complication and gets put on bed rest while she and Matthew are on separate continents. Rather than rushing to her side, Matthew spends a week carving infant cradles. Later still, Matthew himself is a hostage of the Big Baddie, and Diana hurries to France... to feed her babies. Now, as a relatively new mom myself, I get that babies need to be fed, but surely not even the most hard-core breastfeeding enthusiasts would object to the sitter offering a little bit of formula so that Mom can go save Daddy from Mortal Peril.


The baby plot was almost as ridiculous and cringeworthy in Book of Life as it was in Breaking Dawn. The birthing scene was less horrifying, thank God, and the Bishop-de Clermont babies have reasonably normal names and growth patterns, but they still prefer blood to milk, and there's a ridiculous scene in which Diana tells her husband that their daughter is "not a vampire. She's a vampitch. Or a wimpire." (p. 424). Seriously?!


Book of Life has a point of view problem (as does Breaking Dawn, now that I think of it). Some of the book is written in first-person POV, as narrated by Diana. Some of the book is in third-person POV, usually limited to Matthew or other characters, but sometimes almost omniscient. Whatever rhyme or reason there may have been to the POV changes, I found them jarring and unnecessary.


One plot I wish the series had developed more fully (and I say that with some hesitation, when there were so many plots that could and maybe should have been pared down), is the issue of Diana's mortality. Unlike Twilight's Bella, Harkness's protagonist has no intention of becoming a vampire. That means this is a story of a timeless, all-consuming love between a woman who will live a mere handful of decades and a man who has already survived millennia. Perhaps the most empowering aspect of this love affair (especially contrasted with Twilight) is that both Diana and Matthew are happy with Diana the way she is, and don't wish to change her... but I still think they need to confront the issues raised by her mortality in a more meaningful way. At one point, Matthew tells Diana that his greatest wish is to grow old with her, which of course can't happen -- Diana's response is to conjure him a few grey hairs for Christmas, a wholly unsatisfactory answer to a real and pressing problem.


Reading over my review, it all sounds more negative than my actual reading experience reflects. I have a lot of nitpicky complaints, but overall, this book, and this series, is great entertainment. It's long and complicated and full of delicious (and sometimes maddening) detail, and the romance is compelling and the stakes are sky-high, and for a lot of people (including me) the All Souls trilogy is total reading catnip. I envy newcomers to the series who have the time to dive into all three books and read them in one epic 1,800 page binge, all at once, because I bet the story would be all the more transporting and satisfying that way, rather than interrupted by the long wait between book releases.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2014-06-02 17:07
The Romance Equivalent of an Action Adventure Movie
Beauty and the Bounty Hunter - Lori Austin

You ever watch an action adventure movie where things just keep coming at you -- car chases, explosions, daring escapes, near misses -- and you spend the whole movie on the edge of your seat, afraid to go to the restroom even though you badly need to pee (partly because the movie has your adrenaline pumping, partly because of that zillion-ounce soda you guzzled) because you don't want to miss anything? This book was like that, except I could put it down for potty breaks.


Set in and around Kansas in 1870, the story focuses on Cat O'Banyon, a legendary female bounty hunter who travels the west bringing outlaws to justice and seeking the villain who killed her husband

and raped her

(spoiler show)

. Cat learned most of what she knows about disguise from Alexi Romanov, an itinerant confidence man and playboy who was her lover in the dark days after her husband's murder. Alexi saved her sanity, but when she was strong enough, she left him because 1) he's a manwhore, and 2) she's a woman on a mission.


Cat's and Alexi's paths cross again when someone puts a bounty on Cat's head, and suddenly instead of hunting outlaws, Cat's on the run because every outlaw on the frontier is suddenly hunting her. This book is jam-packed with action--shoot-outs, narrow escapes, near-death experiences--and interspersed with flashbacks to the formative events that shaped both Cat's and Alexi's characters. (For Cat, this is her husband's murder, for Alexi, it is his time as a sniper in the Union Army and subsequent torment as a prisoner of war held in the Confederacy's most notorious prison.)


The romance element in this story is honestly a bit thin (I had a hard time believing Alexi reformed his manwhoring ways, or that Cat really cares that much if he does), but the plot is so exciting, who cares?

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2014-06-02 16:46
Points for Originality
The Cyberkink Sideshow - Ophidia Cox

Ophidia Cox's author bio says she is "interested in fetishes and sex that doesn't follow the textbook's instructions." The fetishes and sex explored in this book were really not my cup of tea -- the female protagonist is a prudish novice domme who doesn't like penetrative sex, the male is an obese submissive who likes to be penetrated (front and back) rather than do the penetrating. I found most of the sex described in this book to be just... weird, and yet I liked the book itself quite a bit, because it is unlike anything else I've ever read.


Vincent (the obese sub) runs the Cyberkink Sideshow, a sex circus in a steampunky world where technology allows humans and machines to interface both professionally and, er, recreationally. Sylvia (the prudish domme) is a K9 cop assigned to go undercover at the sideshow, investigating allegations that the show is a front for a dangerous cyber-terrorism organization. Cox paid a lot of attention to world building, and that's what makes this book stand above the crowd of self-pubbed erotica.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?