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review 2016-02-15 01:37
"The Hooker and the Hermit" by L.H. Cosway & Penny Reid
The Hooker and the Hermit - Penny Reid,Luci Cosway

I had some believability issues with this book, but on the whole I enjoyed it quite a bit. Ronan is staying in Manhattan after being suspended from his rugby team after beating up a teammate for sleeping with his long-time girlfriend. He reluctantly hires a P.R. firm to help clean up his public image, where he meets Annie, a deliciously uptight nerd who can do wonders with his online reputation. Unbeknownst to everyone, Annie is the public alter-ego of famous celebrity blogger Socialmedialite, who has already established a slap-slap-kiss-kiss email correspondence with Ronan after posting a post-workout picture of him on her blog. 


I've never read L.H. Cosway, but I like Penny Reid, and this book had the funny-yet-decidedly-oddball flavor I've come to associate with Penny Reid, especially in the dialogue. I found the plotting of this to be tighter than other books of Reid's that I've read, which was a good thing, and the dialogue and the authors' voice was smart and funny, which I really enjoyed. The sexy parts are a little racier than Penny Reid's usual fare, with a mild BDSM-kink, but nothing that the average mainstream romance reader would find too off-putting. 


As I mentioned, I struggled a little bit with willing suspension of disbelief. First, there's the coincidence that Annie-as-Socialmedialite and Annie-as-P.R.-professional both run in to Ronan at the same time. Second, Ronan gets followed by paparazzi everywhere he goes, which I can buy when they're in Ireland, but I had a hard time believing that the NYC paps would give a fig about a disgraced Irish rugby player. Third, Ronan's fall for Annie is pretty insta-lovey, especially since he's just getting out of an ugly relationship. 


Those issues didn't do much to diminish my enjoyment of the story, though, which was fast-paced, lighthearted, and a lot of fun, and very engaging even as I had several quibbles with the plot. I will definitely read on the series. 

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review 2015-01-08 17:32
The Douchey Duke: A Redemption Story
The Duke of Dark Desires (The Wild Quartet) - Miranda Neville

I picked this up because of this rave review at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, but I didn't love it. I hadn't read the prior books in the series, which may have helped me warm up to the hero faster than I did, but I didn't have any trouble understanding the plot.


As you can tell from the publisher's blurb, the plot here is driven by the ultimate angsty conflict: the heroine's parents and sisters went to the guillotine during the French Revolution, and she has sworn to avenge their deaths by killing the Englishman who betrayed them to authorities... and of course, the hero is that man. At the start of the book, all Jane/Jeanne knows is the man's last name, Fortescue, so she poses as a governess to the sisters of the Duke of Denford, the head of the Fortescue family, in hopes of learning which of his relatives is the betrayer.


Julian, the Duke, comes across as a real douchenozzle at first. (Again, if I'd read the previous books in the series, in which he makes several appearances, I might have had a better initial impression of him.) He resents and ignores his three half-sisters, who have been abandoned by their mother into his care. He asks his neighbor (a married woman he apparently attempted to seduce in a prior book) to hire someone to look after them, and when she refuses, he advertises the position himself. However, he cares not at all about the suitability of the candidate; in fact, when he hires Jane, he cares nothing of her qualifications as a governess and only about her qualifications as his mistress. When she takes up the position, he blackmails her for kisses, refusing to keep promises to his sisters unless Jane submits to his advances.


That blackmail is even more skeevy and disturbing given Jane's history (which of course Julian, in his defense, doesn't know): Jane is no stranger to sexual coercion. When her family was captured when she was just 15, she escaped the guillotine only because the military official who arrested them took a shine to her, and offered her the opportunity to become his lover in order to save her skin.


However, for all of his douchey machinations and manipulations, Jane is the one to ultimately seduce Julian into bed. At that point in the story I still didn't really see the appeal, but she's French and enjoys sex (and okay, I do enjoy sexually-liberated heroines in historical romance, even if they're not very historically accurate), so whatever.


As their relationship develops, Julian does begin to be a better man. He takes more interest in his sisters and starts to consider their needs and feelings. He adores Jane (the suddenness and fervor of his feelings felt a little Insta-Lovey), though he doesn't trust her. Even without knowing that Jane was the person most impacted by his youthful mistakes as a young man in Paris--mistakes which culminated in the deaths of an entire aristocratic family--he seeks to expiate his conscience by turning the art collection he bought from that doomed family into a national treasure that can be enjoyed by the public instead of a privileged few.


With the sort of poetic irony often found in romance novels, both Jane and Julian individually decide they are each ready to share their secrets with the other, but before they have the chance, the exhibition of Julian's art collection (which of course Jane recognizes) brings the plot's conflict from a rolling boil to a dangerous conflagration. It is a testament to Julian's redemption that by that point I liked him enough to root for him to find a way to unravel the mess he'd made in order to have a happy ending with Jane, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last third of the book much, much more than I liked the first two thirds.


If you like a good redemption story, this one is worth checking out.


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review 2014-04-26 04:26
I Have a New Squick.
Like No Other Lover - Julie Anne Long

I have no problem with sexually-liberated heroines or premarital sex in a historical romance, or even casual, itch-scratching, no-strings-attached sex (in contemporary settings), but this book made me realize what I've never been able to articulate before: I get squicked out by historical romance novels where the couple consummate their love before the hero is available to commit to the heroine. I'm okay with scenes where it's clear that if they get caught, he'll make an honest woman out of her, even if he hasn't come right out and said so -- but if the obstacle to the couple's happy ever after still appears insurmountable, it really, really, viscerally bothers me if the hero seduces her (or even accepts her invitation, if she's the instigating party). She's the one who's taking all the risk, throwing her reputation out the window, and she's the one who will bear the consequences in a society that places so much stock on a woman's purity, and so for a hero to expose her to such risk when he's not free to make things right should the need arise strikes me as the very opposite of heroic behavior: indeed, it is the height of dishonor. 


Unfortunately, this is such a book. Miles Redmond has promised his father he'll woo and marry the daughter of a family friend, and if he does so, the bride's family will fund his next trip to the tropics to continue his life's work (naturalism). However, though the girl in question is totally unobjectionable, Miles is drawn, against his will and better judgment, toward the beautiful but totally objectionable Cynthia Brightly. 


Cynthia is objectionable because the Redmond family is all about status, and she doesn't have any: no family, no money, no useful connections. In fact, all of London is abuzz with news that will ruin her--

her erstwhile fiancé dueled and nearly died because she kissed someone else in a garden

(spoiler show)

--so Cynthia attends the Redmond's house party determined to find a husband before the news of her fall from grace reaches Sussex. Cynthia is in truly desperate straits: she has three shillings to her name and no home to return to when the fortnight-long house party ends. 


Determined not to let her desperation show, Cynthia sets to work choosing and wooing a husband from among the Redmond's guests, and apart from Miles (who makes clear from the outset that he won't marry Cynthia, though he's happy to steal clandestine kisses in alcoves), she finds three candidates: an older-but-not-decrepit widower who is nice but unattractive, a handsome but rather foppish and shallow young lordling, and an ex-soldier turned moral scholar who is pompous but not immune to Cynthia's charms. All the while, though, she's drawn to Miles though she knows her virtue is the one thing she has to offer her husband, and a dalliance with Miles would put that virtue (and consequently her whole future) in jeopardy. 


Good stuff, right? I'm all for a little bit of angst with my romance, and this is a deliciously angsty set-up. There are good, valid, sensible reasons why Miles and Cynthia can't act on their attraction, which is always better than some of the manufactured, I-don't-wanna-love-you-because-REASONS conflicts one sometimes finds in romance. However, the romance feels wrong because--for all Miles pontificates about upholding the honor of his family and keeping his word to his dad and all that--his conduct is, at base, very dishonorable. He pursues Cynthia, stealing kisses and illicit caresses because he doesn't have the will to resist her siren's charms, all while more publicly wooing the milquetoast daughter of his daddy's friend. Meanwhile, Cynthia is also charming other men just as fast and as hard as she can (but in her case, her fickleness is out of true pecuniary desperation, so I'm willing to cut her more slack). It's wrong of Miles to urge Cynthia toward seduction when he can't marry her, and it's wrong of both of them to give in to their base attraction to each other when they have both sought and won the affections of other partners. 


When the conflict resolves and Miles decides to tell Daddy he's decided to marry who he pleases, we're supposed to feel good because Miles and Cynthia get their happy ending, but my pleasure was dimmed by sympathy for the potential spouses they'd thrown over, both of whom had been very publicly courted and who both seemed to have honest feelings for the protagonists. In order to enjoy the end of this book, the reader has to forget (or not care) that Miles' Georgina and Cynthia's Lord Argosy must both suffer very public humiliation and very private heartache as a result of being jilted, an injustice all the more unfair because both are innocent bystanders, undeserving of such treatment. 


That (major) squick aside, parts of this book were fantastic. One scene in which Cynthia leads the party guests in an ill-advised drinking game is probably the funniest scene I've ever read in an historical romance. I also very much liked Cynthia as a protagonist, though it took me awhile to warm up to her, and while I don't approve of all of her choices, I respect why she behaved the way she did, and I admire the way she squares her shoulders and gets on with the work of surviving even in the bleakest situations, without wallowing in self-pity. She deserves the love and the family she longs for so desperately, and I was glad to see her get her happy ending… I just wish there hadn't been so much collateral damage along the way.

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review 2013-10-07 02:04
Disappointed by a Favorite Author
The Untamed Mackenzie - Jennifer Ashley

Jennifer Ashley's Mackenzie series has been one of my favorites for a long time, so I preordered this novella and was excited when it showed up on my Kindle, but I found it really, really disappointing.


My first objection is the fact that it's a novella. Police Inspector Lloyd Fellows has been a constant presence throughout the whole series. He is the half-brother of Hart, Cameron, Ian, and Mac, all of whom got their own full-length novels. The fact that he only rates a novella is insulting, as if he's less than the others because of his bastardy.


Second, throughout the series Fellows has been a dedicated officer of the law, a man of honor and integrity. Now, here he is falsifying evidence, lying to his colleagues and superiors, lying to his supposed beloved. It's very out of character for the man we've come to know over the course of the previous books, and this kind of behavior cheapens him. The story offers an excuse for him to behave this way, but frankly it wasn't enough: the Fellows I thought I knew would have found another way, or been way, way more tortured about playing fast and loose with the truth the way he does here.


Louisa, the heroine, didn't really seem fully formed as a character. She was trapped in a bad situation, but there wasn't much else to her: I didn't really understand her history or motivations, and I didn't feel like I knew her well enough to accept that she'd throw away her dreams of a proper marriage within her own social strata to be with Fellows just because she's got a case of hornypants. I don't mind romances across class or social strata, but in order for me to believe it and buy into the happy ever after, I have to believe that the characters have contemplated the consequences of bucking convention and decided that their love is worth all cost. I'm not convinced Louisa did that, and so I don't trust the HEA ending.

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review 2013-10-07 01:30
Not as Tightly-Plotted as Courtney Milan's Prior Books
The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1) - Courtney Milan

The first time I read this, I loved it. This time, though, I read it on the heels of re-reading Milan's Turner trilogy, and in my opinion, The Duchess War isn't quite as strong as those books. Courtney Milan can always be counted upon to write a smart, well-plotted story with complex, compelling characters, and this book is no exception... It just didn't hit my sweet spot as hard as Milan's books usually do.


Wilhelmina "Minnie" Pursling, aka Minerva Lane, is living a life of quiet desperation in Victorian Leicester. She was a chess prodigy in childhood and, at her father's urging, masqueraded as a boy so that she could compete in elite international competitions. Her life unraveled at 12, when her father was arrested for fraud and inexplicably blamed her for his misdeeds at his public trial. (This part of the backstory never really made much sense to me; one of the problems I had with the story.) Long story short, the crowd turned on Minerva, actually stoning her like a righteous mob, leaving her permanently scarred and terrified of crowds. Following this ordeal, Minnie changed her identity and now lives in obscurity with two spinster aunts who may or may not be closeted lesbians. She hides her intellectual light under a barrel and aspires only to the respectable security of marriage to a disinterested man. (There's another problem: if Minnie is so smart, I don't think she'd have believed an unhappy marriage would provide the sanctuary she craves.)


Robert Blaisdell, Duke of Clermont, had a childhood as miserable as Minnie's: his father was a cruel and manipulative man who used his position to rape and pillage with impunity. (Robert's best friend is actually his half-brother, the product of his father's rape of a governess; the two boys met at Eton years before.) Robert's mother could not live with his father, so left him even though it meant abandoning Robert, too. Now grown, Robert is determined to right his late father's wrongs: he is in Leicester to make amends to workers at a factory his father ran into the ground decades before.


The dialogue between the characters is sharp and funny (perhaps Courtney Milan's greatest strength), and some of the supporting characters are great fun, especially sequel-bait Sebastian and Violet. That said, the plot of this book wasn't as tight or as plausible as I would have liked: it felt contrived, as if Milan mapped out in advance the way she wanted the story to go, and then had to wrestle characters and events into submission in order to follow the plan.

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