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review 2015-11-23 16:18
Too Much Melodrama
Knowing the Score - Kat Latham

I like what I've read so far of this series, and Latham's writing style is snappy and entertaining, but I struggled with this book because the main characters' tragic backstories, especially the heroine's, were just too tragic. I struggled to willingly suspend my disbelief with respect to both characters -- not that these bad things could happen to happen to them, but that they would shape the characters the way they did.


Caitlyn, the heroine, is a 27-year-old virgin. The first two-thirds of the book, the conflict is about why she's untouched, and whether she's going to lose her cherry with the hero. When they finally do the deed, it's sudden and anti-climactic. (Which, to be fair, is actually pretty true to real life, now that I think about it...) From there, the plot devolves into accidental pregnancies and miscommunications, only to be all tied up with a cliche epilogue.

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review 2013-10-19 16:03
Absurd Ending to a Great Historical Series
Texas Splendor - Lorraine Heath

This is the third and final book in the Texas trilogy, and in my opinion, the weakest of the three, but you have to read it anyway to see how Austin's story turns out. At the end of Texas Glory, Austin had just been sentenced to five years for a murder he didn't commit. He had an alibi, because he was with his sweetheart Becky Oliver, but he wouldn't say so because of the damage to her reputation. (Uh huh, because it's totally better to for her reputation to see her boyfriend go to jail for five years, then marry him and start a family under the specter of his murder conviction, than it would have been to fess up, exonerate him, and repair the damage to her reputation by getting married right off, but no one seems to think of that.)


Anyway, Austin serves his time and comes home only to find out the fickle Becky has married his best friend. (That's gotta sting.) Reeling from this betrayal and belatedly concerned with clearing his name, Austin heads for Austin (the town) to search for the real killer...and is successful in a way that is utterly absurd. (I knew early on how that mystery would turn out, but hoped I was wrong; when it was revealed as I'd predicted, I groaned out loud at the sheer WTFery of it.)


On the way to Austin, Austin meets Loree, a solitary girl with a tormented soul to match his own. One thing leads to another, they end up 'having to' marry, and only afterwards do they learn how to trust and love each other. That part of the story is unexceptional (except for the aforementioned WTFery) and kind of slogging. The epilogue, in which Austin picks up his violin for the first time in six years and is a musical prodigy all of a sudden, challenges credulity, but that's a minor quibble compared to the other baloney the plot requires you to swallow.


In the end, the series is pretty great, but this is a silly way to end it.

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review 2013-10-07 02:12
I Kinda Wanna Be Courtney Milan When I Grow Up (except I think I might already be older than she is...)
Unveiled - Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan is easily, far and away, my favorite author of historical romance. She has a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley and graduated summa cum laude from law school at the University of Michigan, and after clerking for important judges and teaching law for awhile, she now spends her time writing the smartest, beautifully-plotted, emotionally-rich, gorgeously-written historical romance I've ever read. I live in wait for her books, and in between new releases, I re-read what she's written before. This week, I re-read Unveiled for the third time, and if you've never read it, get it and put it right at the top of your TBR pile right now.


Unveiled is the first book of the Turner trilogy, which tell the stories of the Turner brothers, three brilliant men who have risen from modest beginnings to the top of Victorian English society despite a tortured childhood. After the death of their father, their pious-to-the-point-of-insanity mother gave everything the family had to the Church, leaving herself and her four children with nothing. When the only daughter, Hope, became sickened after a rat bite, the oldest child, Ash, walked twenty miles in order to beg the Duke of Parford (a distant relation) for enough money to hire a doctor to treat her. Parford only gave him a coin with which to buy himself a bath, the sister died, and Ash grew up determined to avenge this injustice.


When Unveiled begins, Ash is on the cusp of accomplishing that revenge. He has discovered that Parford secretly married his mistress before he married the mother of his children. By unveiling (note this word: it's the book title for a reason) the duke's bigamy, Ash has had that second marriage nullified, Parford's children declared bastards and stripped of their inheritance, and himself installed as heir-apparent to the ailing duke. Parford's grown children, the Dalrymples, will lose everything unless they can convince Parliament to pass a rare act re-legitimizing them and restoring their inheritance.


Ash and his youngest brother, Mark, go to Parford Manor to examine the estate. Ash believes that the Dalrymples are not in residence, but in fact the duke's daughter, Margaret, is posing as a lowly servant in order to keep an eye on the Turners and report back to her absent brothers.


At its core, this is a book about the layers of loyalty (and disloyalty), trust (and mistrust), and love (and enmity) that make up relationships and the way these layers obscure the characters' ability to see one another and, sometimes, themselves. Over and over again, characters mistake one another. Ash mistakes Margaret for a servant because she masquerades as a servant, but many of the mistakes are not as straight-forward. For example, Ash's brothers don't understand him because they are men of learning while Ash is a man of instinct and charisma; they don't realize that Ash doesn't mean to be dismissive of their intellectual pursuits, but being dyslexic, he can't read Mark's book or share Smite's study of the law. In another instance, Ash is stung (and Margaret is offended on his behalf), when Smite comes to Parford Manor and seems to snub Ash, but it turns out that, though he and Ash can't show each other their true feelings, Smite is motivated by love and concern for Ash rather than malice.


Although Ash and Margaret are set up as antagonists (in that Ash's success is literally Margaret's ruin), they bond because they are the same: both fiercely loyal to and devoted to their families, even though that devotion isn't requited (or in Ash's case, doesn't appear to be requited). Margaret's father is cruelly dismissive of her; her brothers are, at best, benignly inattentive to her situation, and at worst, cravenly unconcerned. Similarly, everything Ash does is motivated by love for his brothers, but Mark and Smite lived through childhood tragedies while Ash was in India (making a fortune in order to save them from poverty) and share a love of learning, and the two younger brothers share a bond that, intentionally or not, sets Ash forever apart.


"You see?" Ash said in his cheeriest tone. "My brothers are both here. What could I possibly have to grieve over?"


"You're not grieving," Margaret said. "I know that look on your face."


"Do you then?" He asked the question out of genuine interest. He'd not been faced with both his brothers before this moment. How could she possibly have seen it?


"Intimately." Her voice was low. "I know what it's like to stand on the outside and look in, believing I will never be accepted. I know what it's like to yearn to be a part of something, and yet to know that it will never come. Trust me, Ash. I know."


(p. 214) Ultimately, it is this sense of being outsiders to all others that allows Ash and Margaret to come together when all rational thought should keep them apart: they each crave acceptance and find it, not with their families, but with each other.

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review 2013-10-07 01:58
Best of a Very Uneven Series
Rising Tides - Nora Roberts

My favorite among Nora Roberts' very uneven Chesapeake Bay "trilogy." (I liked book 1, Sea Swept, but not as well as this; I did not like book 3, Inner Harbor, much at all, and I really hated book 4, Chesapeake Blue.) This book focuses on Ethan, the second adopted Quinn brother and the one with the most tortured past. He has been in love with Grace Monroe since they were children, but because of his tortured past, he feels tainted and believes she deserves better. (The pining-for-years-in-secret trope is one of my favorites: it's so emotionally satisfying when all that frustrated yearning explodes into passion.)

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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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