Not quite a review of Maya Banks’ ENFORCER series

It’s always kind of bothered me when people say they’re tired of people talking about politics all the time. I happen to find politics super interesting (I studied it, after all), and it’s hard to remember that not everyone finds it so riveting, but also… Politics is everywhere, in everything, inescapable. And most often what people get tired of hearing people talking about all the time isn’t politics per se but rather political views or perspectives that differ from one’s own. And that’s a different sentiment altogether.

So when I see folks on Facebook asking with all politeness for a return to the time *before* politics got all tangled up with everything, I see them asking for a time when they didn’t have to think about anybody’s viewpoint besides their own, when their own politics could go innocently unexamined, even while people suffered, unseen.

I had the stomach flu last week, and I needed something to read that would keep me from dwelling on my misery but wouldn’t require a whole lot of my attention, so I browsed through my library app and decided to dip into a new(er) series by Maya Banks. I’ve read a bunch of her books in the past, and they range from not-altogether-bad to utterly bonkers. I was pretty sure this series would be on the bonkers end, so it seemed a perfect match for my flu-addled mind.

My God.

I’m going to focus on the first two books of the series, because the third one is (admittedly by comparison) pretty good, or at least not that bad, and rather entertaining.

I had the flu, so… I didn’t notice when I started the first book that these two are connected, two books telling a single story. Had I noticed, I wouldn’t have read them, because I HATE THAT. SO MUCH. All that to say, the end of the first book was a shock to me.

These books are real, real bad. So bad. Like… Banks’ books always come with a giant side dish of cray, but… with these books I got the sense that Banks had fallen in love with her own words, that she had maybe sent her manuscript off to her editor, and the editor said, Whoa girl. No. GIRL. This is… this is crazy. You gotta cut some of these scenes, because this shit is bonkers. You gotta have your characters talk to each other instead of making sweeping speeches in each other’s general direction. GIRL. This thing needs a rewrite. And it needs to be 80,000 words instead of 130,000. And Banks was like HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE MY BOOK BABY, YOU’RE A HORRIBLE PERSON AND I’M A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR, I DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU, NANANANANANA. And then she wrote a manuscript that was 260,000 words and got that shit published in two volumes. Because she’s New York Times Bestselling Author Maya Banks.

So. There’s a lot that’s crazy about the books. The writing is real bad. There are issues with basic grammar and homophone mixups (glaring stuff that ought to have been caught by a copyeditor). The dialogue is very strange, typically served in multiple-paragraph chunks that are jam-packed with exposition. The characters are surprisingly underdrawn, considering how many words Banks used for their story. It’s all those speeches! There’s a lot of repetition both in actual words and in craft. (The phrase “make/made me so very happy” appears several times, so that song’s been in my head for days.)

But the thing I want to talk about, the reason I decided to start writing a blog post after a year and a half away from blogging, is the politics underlying the book and its worldview.

The “hero” (though he isn’t particularly heroic), Drake, runs a business syndicate of dubious legality that functions an awful lot like a crime syndicate, a mob, though there are precious few details about his work. He’s a powerful man with powerful enemies, but the reader is supposed to code him as virtuous because he (1) had a hard upbringing, (2) worked hard for everything he got in life and (3) didn’t have anything handed to him. The reader is supposed to code his parents as villainous because they were (1) lazy, (2) relied on welfare, (3) and had Drake (rather than aborting him) only because he could get them more welfare.

So there’s that. Drake is surrounded by a cadre of men he calls his “brothers” who all came from similar situations — their families were awful, but they rose above their situation through the protestant work ethic and rugged individualism. They didn’t take any handouts — they had their pride, after all — and, therefore, they own their current success and are beholden to no one.

It’s like… Fox News porn. Like, take all the sex scenes out of these books, and you’re left with a spank bank for conservative punditry. It’s wacky.

And these books hate women, you guys. Like, so much. Until Drake meets Evangeline, the angelic, innocent, TSTL heroine, he assumes all women are money-grubbing bitches, only out for what they can get. Women as a monolithic entity are the foil for the hard-working individualism of Drake and the men. Women are interested only in a handout, in getting something from these men.

But Evangeline is different, because she’s a hard worker like Drake and his men. She has pride and, like the men, abhors the idea of accepting charity. She is interested in Drake the man, not Drake the sugar daddy. (There’s also a bunch of other bullshit thrown in to make sure readers know she’s good — she’s beautiful but has no idea, basically has no self esteem at all, she’s kind, self-effacing, honest; she takes care of her invalid parents, nurtures everyone around her, etc. etc. etc. She doesn’t have any negative qualities, and therefore she is worthy of regard. Meanwhile, every other female character in the book is bitchy, catty, jealous of Evangeline’s unselfconscious beauty, grasping, whorish, unworthy.)

Evangeline begins the book with three friends, but Drake promptly separates her from them, because he sees that they’re bitches. She ends up almost completely isolated, surrounded by men, but the reader is supposed to rejoice that in all these men Evangeline has finally found true friendship. She’s finally safe from all those awful women!

And… here’s the thing. The people who don’t want politics mixed up with their books probably wouldn’t notice how these books are just full to bursting with them.

It isn’t that they don’t want politics… they just don’t recognize their own, even when it’s dressed as a rags-to-riches ode to capitalism and The American Way.

Let’s talk about sexism, violence, and culture

OK, so I was totally going to continue with Armchair BEA and do a post about author interaction (I’ll summarize: it’s super neat to interact with authors on Twitter), but — let’s face it — this weekend was rough, and there are some important things we need to talk about.

I woke up this morning to an awesome post on my friend’s blogs, Defies Description and Beauty in Budget Blog. She’s right: we need to talk about this stuff.

I was out of town this weekend with limited internet access, but I spent some time last night reading through a tiny portion of the #yesallwomen tweets. Many of them I found affirming, like not only are all these women speaking up about the countless ways sexual violence and the threat of danger touch every woman’s life on a daily basis but also the sheer volume of tweets, blog posts, Tumblrs, Facebook posts, etc. is having a somewhat surprising result: people are listening.

(I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not like women suddenly discovered this weekend that they have a voice and can speak up about life. We’ve been speaking up and speaking out all this time, but I don’t think we’ve been heard, or maybe it’s just been so easy to explain away individual women’s individual stories as isolated incidents. But it’s kind of overwhelming when more than a million women share eerily similar stories. Maybe we do have a pervasive cultural problem that affects not just half the population but all people.)

But I want to back up a little bit, because this conversation isn’t just about the events of last Friday evening in Isla Vista, Calif. It’s also about the epidemic of rapes that occurred at UCSB during the recent academic year. In fact, it’s also about the epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults that occurred (read: is occurring) at college campuses all over the country and how college administrations responded. It’s about how perpetrators (and alleged perpetrators) of sexual violence are viewed with sympathy while victims are shamed. It’s about how rare it is to find safe spaces within our culture for the discussion of all these things.

For example, if you hop on over to Twitter and browse through the #yesallwomen tweets, you’ll find a whole spectrum of responses to the conversation, from women sharing their stories and men responding humanely to men responding badly (and, sadly, unironically). I do have to point out that however irritated I am by some of the less-than-stellar responses out there (ranging from sympathy for a mass murderer to calls for all women to open their legs and prevent mass murders to calls for women to stop it with the #yesallwomen nonsense because not all guys are douchebags to MRA defenses), I do think these voices need to be heard. I mean, there’s an obvious reason, right, in that it might be easy to pretend that we live in an equal society with no more pesky sexism except… oh, right.

T-052714-1418

Never mind; there’s some sexism right there. But beyond the demonstrative value of these responses, it’s vital for all of us to engage in this conversation, because the broader this conversation is, the better. I mean, just taking that one Twitter interaction as an example, we can talk about “nice guys” (and why those words often appear in ironic quotes), the overall tone of public discourse and whether or not it’s disturbing (I tend to find it very disturbing), the use of the word “mangina” to invalidate other men’s humane reactions, etc.

Let’s talk about all of it, because as long as we all stay silent, the status quo is maintained. And, I don’t know about you, but — for me — the status quo kinda sucks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable bringing up my daughters in a culture that turns a blind eye to street harassment, that objectifies and sexualizes women and girls and then punishes women and girls for being sexual objects, that ignores the horrifying statistics of reported sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses (to say nothing of the assaults that are not reported or are actively hushed by administrators), that perpetuates the myth that most reports of sexual violence are falsified (because, what, hell hath no fury?), that finds it easier to blame and shame victims than to talk honestly about the culture that nurtures the sexual assault epidemic.

So let’s talk about it, because this conversation is important for so many reasons. It’s important for women to share their stories and feel — maybe for the first time — that they aren’t alone, and it’s important for men to hear those stories and respond in any way they can, whether with defensive anger (stop sharing your stories, women, just shut up, because not all men do that!) or wonder (wow, I can’t believe that these things have been happening this whole time while I’ve been blithely living my life.) or compassion (my heart goes out to #yesallwomen). Let’s talk about what feminism actually means (gender equality) and maybe talk about how the word has become a pejorative byword over the past few decades. Let’s talk about all the truly awesome men in our lives and how wonderful it is to feel supported by them and by our friends, sisters, and strangers on the Internet whose experiences are so similar to our own.

Let’s talk.

Kelly and Kim discuss The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed by Jessica Clare

Oh, billionaire books…  I’ve been known to bitch about how bad they are, but my buddy Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) came across this series by Jessica Clare that avoids many of the pitfalls common to the subgenre.  Clare’s billionaire heroes (except Hunter) do tend to run true to type — successful at business and meaningless affairs, hopeless at relationships; inclined to fix all problems with money; etc. — but her heroines are a different breed from the ones I’ve encountered in other billionaire stories.  Clare’s heroines cannot be controlled through sex — which doesn’t mean they lack the ability to feel attraction or to respond to chemistry… it just means they aren’t bizarrely portrayed characters whose responses to objectionable behavior can be suppressed or negated by arousal — and they aren’t overly impressed by money.  In fact, Clare’s heroines think it’s really creepy when their heroes try to buy them things like clothing, lingerie, diners (you read that right), book deals, etc.

Kim finally got me to read the first book in the series, and I was impressed, even though I didn’t completely love it.  So I read the second book, Beauty and the Billionaire, and I loved it. So of course I read The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed (and you know I’ll be buying the fourth book when it comes out in a few months.).

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Audrey Petty’s always been the responsible one. The good twin.  Successful, dependable, and trustworthy–that’s Audrey. She’d be the perfect girlfriend for her childhood crush, billionaire Cade Archer…except that she’s pretty sure she’s not even on his radar. But when fate (and her chaotic twin) come together, Audrey finds out that she’ll be spending the next month with Cade at his remote cabin retreat. It’s a dream come true…

Until she meets her worst nightmare.

Billionaire playboy Reese Durham is used to seducing women to get what he wants. But when stiff, too-proper Audrey bursts into the private mountain lodge and scares his companion out the door, it’s time for a little revenge. It’s clear that Audrey’s in love with his buddy, Cade…and it’s clear to Reese that blackmailing Audrey with this information can get her to agree to just about anything. Like furtive kisses in the dark, or a secret rendezvous in the woods. Audrey may think she knows what she wants, but Reese is determined to show her what she needs.

And as Reese discovers the volatile minx behind the buttoned-up exterior, he starts to think maybe she’s just what he needs, too.

Kelly: I’m suffering from a short attention span today, so I think we should throw our thoughts into a series of pros/cons lists and then go from there.

Kim: We have enjoyed unique review formats recently, so this fits in perfectly. 🙂

The characters:

Reese

Pros

Cons

Kim: Reese worked as a perfect foil for Audrey. Audrey’s all uptight and rigid while Reese is a more “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of guy.

Kelly: the ‘playboy hero who’ll fuck anything that moves’ trope is a little hard to make into a believable romance hero.

Kelly: I liked that Reese wasn’t exactly a billionaire. He was still having to work for his outrageous fortune, and it gave him a vulnerability that I didn’t expect to find in a billionaire romance.  Reese, like Clare’s other billionaire heroes, is actually shown actively working on his business, and that’s a refreshing change from other billionaire heroes that are purportedly serious about making money but are never shown doing anything besides stalking the heroine or having all the sex. Businessmen actually doing business? REMARKABLE.

Kelly: It was also a little awkward that Reese was OK with being Audrey’s ticket to hot sex while she was waiting around for Cade to fall in love with her.  Like, I get that he’s characterized as a man hoor who’ll sleep with anything — so it would be weird for him to turn her down — but, honestly…

Kim: I liked that Reese stood up for Audrey when her twin sister Daphne was being an asshole. Everyone else (even in the 2nd book in this series) babies Daphne and allows her to do and say whatever she wants. Reese sees how upset Audrey gets and gives Daphne a taste of her own medicine back. I totally respected him for that.

Kelly: Reese can cook.

Kelly: But it was strange that Reese would cook up some awesome food and then tell everyone that Audrey made it, because he was trying to help her land Cade.  On the one hand you could go, aww, that’s sweet that he was helping the woman he was boinking to land another man, but… you really do have to step back and ponder (1) why you’d associate that wacky behavior with sweetness and (2) why Audrey’s ability (or not) to cook would have any bearing on whether or not Cade recognized her as a legitimate love interest.  What is this, 1950?

Audrey

Pros

Cons

Kelly: Audrey isn’t shy about her sexuality.  I expected her to be a bit reticent, to allow Reese to take the lead (I mean, seriously, one of the tropes of billionaire romances is that all those guys are Doms, right?), but Audrey is an initiator and isn’t about to be ashamed of it.

Kelly: But Audrey doesn’t feel confident in her sexuality around Cade, the dude she’s convinced she loves.  In a way, that was the hardest part to swallow about her character, for me, that she so firmly believed in her love for Cade and so openly accepted her own sexuality (as far as its expression with the guys in her past and with Reese was concerned), but could not connect that sexuality with Cade.  How could she possibly believe she was in love with him? She’s not actually dumb.  ???

Kim: Audrey is constantly thinking about others. Trying to take care of her sister, being the perfect assistant for Logan, cooking for the cabin (even though she knows she’s a terrible cook). She is constantly putting the needs of others before her own needs, illustrating her generous nature.

Kim: Audrey is constantly thinking about others. (It’s a catch 22) It’s great to think about others, but at what detriment to yourself? The scene in which she asks Logan for time off to take care of her sister – it saddened me to see how timid she was and kept offering concessions for her actions. (As if an employee taking time off was a terrible thing) She never expects anyone to reciprocate kindness back to her in the amounts she gives.

Kelly: Audrey reads romance novels!!

Kim: Audrey’s obsession with being a “good twin” got old after a while. What exactly does it mean to be “good?” Your twin sister is a drug addict. Honestly, not doing drugs automatically makes you “good one.”

Kim: Audrey’s vulnerable and insecure. This made her seem normal and relatable to me as a reader. She’s insecure about her weight (what woman isn’t?), she finds flaws within her character, etc. She isn’t perfect and she recognizes her limitations. (A respectable trait in my opinion)

Kelly: I loved how Audrey was willing (and able) to be the strong one, to (FINALLY) give Daphne the tough love she needed.  It broke my heart that her strength was so isolating, that she had to lock her heart up to achieve it, but it was a lovely piece of character work.

The secondary characters (Daphne & Cade)

Pros

Cons

Kelly: As secondary characters, Daphne and Cade are both a little light on characterization… So Cade’s basically the perfect man, and Daphne is beautiful and bright but also self-absorbed and suffering from addiction.  I KNOW, that sounds like a con, but it was actually nice to have them in the story because they’re lovely foils for Audrey and Reese.  Cade/Audrey cling so hard to the ‘good’ role, and Reese/Daphne suffer from low expectations — their own and others’.  That was neat.

Kim: I touched upon this above, but DAPHNE IS ATROCIOUS. I get that she’s going through a detox from insane amounts of drugs but she takes absolutely no responsibility for her actions or for the decisions that led her to her current predicament. I have difficulty feeling anything but annoyance for selfish characters like that.

Kim: I found it hard to believe that someone who is as successful as Cade could be as naive as he was written. We’re shown in a flashback scene that Cade has a rags-to-riches story. Maybe I’m not informed enough in the business world, but I don’t see someone becoming a billionaire in that short an amount of time by being a doormat.

The story

Pros

Cons

Kelly: The chemistry between Reese and Audrey was fantastic, and I thought the sex scenes were really well done, magic penis/vagina notwithstanding.

Kim: Reese and Audrey both have “magic sex organ” syndrome and, as a result, are not written with a lot of emotional development. They develop intimacy through magic sex instead of actual character development.

Kim: I really enjoyed the dares that Reese kept giving Audrey. He recognizes her sexuality and gives her multiple opportunities to own up to it. (And to prove her feelings for Cade)

Kelly: But I could have done without anal sex being the constant joke of all those dares.  I mean, it was nice that Reese never once said something like, “I can’t wait to get in your butt; here, why don’t you just walk around with this buttplug shoved up your ass all day.”  It’s always refreshing not to encounter that kind of dialogue. But it was a trifle irritating that instead the story fetishized anal sex, like it’s the craziest thing these two kids could possibly do.

Kelly: In order to save his business, Reese has to tap into the Power of Friendship.  I liked that, even though his friendships with the other five billionaires actually represent a hinky legal issue with all the insider trading shenanigans… But whatever! It’s FRIENDSHIP.

Kim: AND WHAT’S BETTER THAN FRIENDSHIP!?!?!?!??!?!??!?

SPOILER ALERT:

Kim: The secret baby and the reasons that the baby is kept a secret from Reese. The last time I checked, it took two people to make a baby. When neither person worries about birth control precautions they are equally responsible for that pregnancy. Why Audrey felt Reese would consider her pregnancy an attempt at securing him for marriage I’ll never understand. He kept asking her and asking her to get engaged PRIOR to knowing she was pregnant. As Kelly mentioned above, Audrey isn’t stupid.

Kelly: Except when she is.

Kelly: The ending was a little rough on my suspension of belief.  So legendary man hoor Reese, having experienced the glories of Audrey’s magic vagina, is suddenly all about commitment.  He who has never actually dated (just fucked) moves with maddening speed from “Hey girl, I miss you. Let’s try to date,” to “Hey girl, let’s get married tomorrow.”  For reals: he makes that jump in a matter of minutes.  Even Audrey was like, “ummm… you crazy. Let’s slow it down a bit…” Then there’s a secret baby epilogue.  WHY?!?!?!

Kim: It’s obvious that the author meant to have Audrey be Reese’s wake-up call for life and make him want to commit. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t written in a way illustrating that, which is where our issues lie.

Kelly’s final thoughts:  To be honest, I think I would have been fine with this book — even with all the oddities — if not for the secret baby ending and the way it was handled.  But that bit just left a foul taste in my mouth.  Other readers might not have a problem with it (I mean, for reals, it’s The Billionaire’s Secret Baby.  That’s fantastic!), but I took mighty exception to Audrey’s notion that her pregnancy was her fault because Reese started riding bareback too soon after she got on the pill.  Fuck that.  It’s his penis.  It’s not as though he didn’t have enough money for condoms.  I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it, either.

Kim’s Final Thoughts: I’m with Kelly. Didn’t hate it but didn’t love it, either. As you can tell from all our lists, it walks a fine line. And even though my feelings are “meh” about it, I’d recommend it for 3 reasons. 1) The great sexual chemistry between Audrey and Reese. 2) Towards the end of the book Gretchen (our heroine from book two Beauty and the Billionaire) bursts into the men’s poker game. The scene that follows is one of the funniest in the series to-date. Totally worth the read for that scene alone. And finally, 3) If you are a tired of reading romance books that have billionaires buying their way into the heroine’s hearts, then read this series. In each one Clare showcases women who aren’t impressed by money. This, in my humble opinion, makes this billionaire series better than any of the others out there.

Kelly’s final thoughts (for reals this time): Oh, I forgot about that scene!  Kim’s right… the bit where Gretchen crashes the poker night is absolutely the most entertaining scene in the book and one of the funniest bits of dialogue I’ve ever read (and served to remind me just how much I loved the second book in this series).

An original scene by Kate McKinley, author of A Countess by Chance

Between-the-Sheets-BlogTourToday I’m pleased to host an original scene by Kate McKinley, author of Duchess in the Dark and A Countess by Chance.  Kate was given four requirements; her scene had to involve at least three characters (at some point), lace, a feather, and an ice cube. I believe the other authors on the book tour will also be posting original scenes featuring these four elements, so keep an eye out if you’re a fan of C. C. Gibbs, Jodi Ellen Malpas, or Cecilia Tan.

Without further ado, here’s Kate’s scene.

Miss Olivia Grayson watched from across the ballroom as Lord Thomas Black, Viscount of Torrington meandered through the crowd, looking just as handsome and rakish as he was rumored to be. A shame she wasn’t in the market for a husband. “Is he not the model of perfection?” Elena Stacey, her friend and confidant, said from beside her. “It is rumored that he’s in Town for the very particular purpose of finding a wife.”

“Is that so?” Olivia said.

“They say he wishes to set up his nursery soon.” Elena smiled, unfurling her lace fan. “And I dare say there are a hundred ladies who’d beg for the privilege of being Lady Torrington.”

“Well, then let them beg.” Olivia turned her attention away from Torrington. “Lord knows I would never go to such lengths for a husband.”

Elena smirked. “I daresay your fortune will prevent you from ever having to beg, my dear. The rest of us, however, must be more practical.”

“Good evening, ladies.”

The rich, male baritone slithered up Olivia’s spine. She turned to see Torrington approach, his luscious mouth drawn up into a charming smile. He had the face of a fallen angel—fair and handsome, with a straight nose, high cheekbones and something wicked gleaming in those brilliant blue eyes that glittered like ice.

“Miss Stacey. Miss Grayson.” He bowed, his eyes lingering on Olivia. “You both look lovely this evening. Miss Grayson, if you are not otherwise engaged, may I be so bold as to claim the next dance?”

Her gaze darted to Elena, who’d all but wilted at Torrington’s words. Eyes downcast, hands clasped firmly in front of her, it was clear Elena had hoped to be the recipient of Torrington’s offer.

“I couldn’t possibly leave Miss Stacey—“

“Please don’t refuse on my account.” Elena flashed Olivia a weak smile. “I’ll be quite all right. Go, enjoy yourself.”

Torrington smiled. “I shall return her to you directly. And I would be honored, Miss Stacey, if you will permit me the next waltz.”

Elena’s face brightened, and she curtsied gracefully, her white and gold trimmed gown glittering in the candlelight. “Thank you. I am not engaged. It would be my pleasure, my lord.”

Torrington bowed, then took Olivia’s hand and led her through to the dance floor, where the beginning cords of Dusky Night drifted through the large hall. When the dance was over, Torrington led her out onto the balcony. He turned to her and smiled—that devastating smile rendered every woman in London speechless.

“Miss Grayson,” he said, cadging her against the wall, both hands braced on either side of her head. “I’ve had a deplorable evening, and I place the blame squarely on your shoulders. How will you make amends?”

Olivia swallowed. His scent was an intoxicating mixture of cigar smoke and pure male, and it never failed to arouse her. Heat spread through her limbs and pooled in her stomach. “I can’t imagine what you mean.”

“You know precisely what I mean.” He leaned in close. He was going to kiss her, she could feel it, his warm breath mingling with hers, the heat of his body curling around her like a ribbon of sunshine. “You’ve been flirting with every gentleman in attendance.”

“And why shouldn’t I? I have it on good authority that you are in Town searching for a bride.”

He pulled back a little, and plucked the feather from her hair, then traced the tip of it across her jaw, and down her neck until he reached the tight nipple that strained against her silk bodice.

“You are very well informed, Miss Grayson. That is my precise purpose for venturing into town.”

She squirmed under that sharp, emerald gaze. He brushed his thumb over her nipple through her gown, sending little sparks of pleasure shooting through her limbs.  e was wicked, and depraved, and she wanted him desperately. He lowered his head and touched his lips to hers. It’d been so long, and she’d missed the taste of him. Smoke, and brandy and man all entwined to create something quite intoxicating. This was no gentle seduction. He swept his tongue into her mouth, as his hands slid blithely downward, cupping her backside. She pulled away and placed a hand on his chest. “Thomas, stop. Someone will catch us.”

He leaned back in and kissed a trail up her neck, along her jaw. “And what if they do? You’d be forced to accept my proposal.”

Olivia closed her eyes briefly. “I can’t, Thomas.”

“Tell me why.”

If she told him the truth, he would despise her. He would think her the worst sort of harlot. It’d be a miracle if he ever spoke to her again. She shook her head, tears threatening. “I can’t,” she repeated, then kissed him briefly, and fled back into the house.

A COUNTESS BY CHANCE by Kate McKinley (January 7, 2014; Forever E-Novella; $0.99). Buy Links: AmazonB&NBookishiTunes.
A gambler’s daughter, Sophia Weatherby knows her way around a deck of cards. So when her family estate becomes threatened, she has no choice but to use her skills at the gaming tables to save herself from ruin. A lavish house party affords her the perfect opportunity-until the newly minted Earl of Huntington arrives. Adam Greyson has never forgotten the day Sophia rejected his proposal. Now to even the score, he challenges her to a shocking wager-his two thousand pounds against the one valuable commodity she has left: her virtue.
KATE MCKINLEY writes Regency and Fantasy Romance. When she’s not staring at her screen, dreaming up delicious heroes, she’s a wife, mother and part-time assistant.  Check out her Website or find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Ménage à review – Kim, Tasha, and I take on The Wicked Confessions of Lady Cecilia Stanton by Viveka Portman

Every now and then when trolling NetGalley for something to read, my buddies Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) and Tasha (from Truth, Freedom, Beauty & Books) find a book that we just have to read. Together.  Thus, we have The Wicked Confessions of Lady Cecilia Stanton to discuss today.

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

When faced with a rakish, lusty husband, what is a proper English wife to do but educate herself in the art of bedplay?

“Marriages are strange things, none stranger perhaps than this betwixt me and my lord husband.”

Lady Cecelia is married to the dashing and philandering Lord William Stanton, a situation that would distress even the most composed and refined gently-born lady. However, Cecelia has a secret balm to her dissatisfaction: her maid, Bess Miller.

Cecelia’s inexperience and William’s insatiable appetites fuel her desire to learn, and Bess is a willing teacher. Then, when Cecelia blossoms into pregnancy and can no longer accommodate William’s needs, he distances himself, and Bess becomes her only solace and comfort — and the channel for her most intimate desires. As Cecelia struggles to understand her own feelings, gossip begins to spread. William starts asking questions, and wicked confessions must be made…

Tasha: First of all, let me say that the beginning of this novella intrigued me. It’s written in diary form and Cecelia’s like, “I’m pregnant AGAIN, dammit!” I wanted to find out why she was upset she was pregnant. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is really stupid. AND this is possibly the least-sexy erotica I’ve ever read. By the end I was simultaneously laffing my arse off and completely disgusted with the whole book.

Kelly: Yes to both of those, and also all the eye rolls.  Oh, and I shouted, “For reals?” at the book several times towards the end.

Kim: I’m at a complete loss with this novella. I knew it wouldn’t be amazing going in, but, like Tasha, I found the diary format intriguing. Upon completion of the novella, I’m at a loss as to why it was even written. In essence it’s a story about a woman who wants sex and greedily takes it from whomever she can with no regard to anyone else’s feelings.  I’m not sure any of the characters actually feel anything besides a hunger for sex.  Speaking of the characters, I never connected with any of them.

Cecelia, our heroine, doesn’t really care for much, besides sex. She’s a user through and through, using Bess, her maid, for physical and emotional comfort. She comes off as a rich, privileged woman used to having her own way in all situations.

Tasha: Cecelia’s not that well-drawn of a character, and the story is told completely from her viewpoint! She is very snooty and repressed (I’m guessing to give Lord Braying Donkey something to play off?), but she also seems like an over-the-top sex fiend, sooooo… I did like that she stood up for herself with William’s philandering, but for all the wrong reasons! Beyond that we don’t really know much about her. She rides horses and lies in bed all day waiting for people to stick something up her cootch, apparently.

Kim: Tasha’s right about William. He really is Lord Braying Donkey. They way Cecelia falls in love with him like instantly is utterly ridiculous. He’s lewd, crass, and a bonafide sex addict. While she’s pregnant he leaves her and head to London, where he promptly gambles himself into huge debts and the arms of many women.  Cecelia meanwhile is left at home to give birth to their child, alone. (Well, alone to his knowledge) Suddenly he comes back months after the child is born and expects to be forgiven. His first duty upon returning? Tupping his wife. What pissed me off the most about him is that he just expects her forgiveness. She makes a comment about being unhappy with his actions and he like gets all upset over it. Cecelia (wanting his dick) is like AW BABY I’M SORRY. IT’S NOT FAIR FOR ME TO BE UPSET ABOUT YOU CHEATING ON ME AND SPENDING ALL OUR MONEY. FORGIVE ME!

Tasha: Well, he HAS to cheat on her while she’s pregnant because the doctor told him he can’t “befoul your luscious womb” until she’s pushed the baby out. HOW CAN HE LIVE WITHOUT SEX??? And also: what good is Cecelia if can’t stick his dick in her? See? Completely understandable!

Kim: The whole “William and his fear of having sex with Cecelia while she was pregnant” was so so stupid. You mean to tell me that he has no married male friends? None who saw the disaster he was becoming and sought to talk to him about it? Very unrealistic.

Tasha: lol The idea that anyone would find him attractive, let alone fall in love with him and put up with his crap, was unrealistic. The guy was like a braying donkey. And then Cecelia turns around and is all like, “I love him!” OKAY CRAZY.

Kelly: Cecilia certainly does not paint William in the most flattering light, so it’s very jarring when she suddenly switches from talking about how disgusting he is to talking about how much she loves him.  It’s a little unclear why she loves him — although it’s probably that he has a magic penis — because it’s unclear what changes in their relationship from their inauspicious beginning (Cecilia has one of those rent asunder cherry-popping experiences) to the development of twu wuv.

Tasha: Cecelia and Bess’ relationship also seemed very random. They were friends for years and years—at least as much as one can be friends with someone who’s paid to do what you say—and then all of sudden Bess is like, “Here, let me help you with your orgasm problem.” Sure. Why not.

Kim: Bess was the only character I felt anything for. What I felt for her was sympathy. She’s really dealt the short end of the stick in this book.  She’s a servant and as such is already set up as a lower person, socially. It’s obvious that she cares greatly for Cecelia, but why…that’s never really fleshed out.

Tasha: That’s true of the whole book, really. There’s a lot of tell and not show going on—for example, Williams’ appeal to Cecelia. We’re TOLD he’s kind and considerate and blah blah, but what we’re shown doesn’t support that. Also, we’re told Cecelia enjoys sex—I guess??? I mean, it seems to be her number one motivator—but the sex scenes were so clinical and not sexy at all.

Kim: Good points, Tasha. LOTS of telling. My biggest issue with the book is the ending/treatment of Bess. It bothered me SO MUCH that Cecelia and William get everything they want while Bess is thrust into the situation whether she likes it or not. It’s like, oh hey – moral of the story – everyone gets a happy ending but the servant. Because servants are only good for serving the gentry.

Kelly: It might not have been so obvious that Bess was getting the short end of the stick if the narrative hadn’t emphasized that Bess thought William was a gross, stupid asshole.  So, at the end, without either Cecilia or William giving even a thought to what Bess might want, it’s just decided that they’ll be a happily ever after threesome, and Bess will just have to learn to recognize the power of William’s magic penis.

Tasha: I just wish they’d have moved to threesomes right away. Instead it’s just stuck at the end, and I agree that Bess and that other servant William was having sex with are treated like afterthoughts. Well, they are!

A few more afterthoughts are Cece’s and Will’s seven or eight or nine (who even knows) kids. Where are they? What happened to them? Are these parents even aware of their kids’ names? Once Cecelia pumps one out, she’s like, “Awesome, now I can move on to having sex again!” and the kid is assigned to nursery purgatory.

Kelly: That’s probably for the best.  If it weren’t for Nancy, the wet-nurse, those kids would probably succumb to infant mortality. Could I just mention for one second that it’s a little weird that Nancy is the wet-nurse for all of Cecilia’s children? By the time Cece’s on her fourth pregnancy, poor Nancy has been lactating for years.

Kim: Good point. Probably should get those kids some fresh milk. Especially since Nancy is also banging Will. Can we talk about that weird love square/pentagon/octagon? Nancy is having sex with Will, who “loves” Ceclia, who “loves” Bess, who does stable dudes, who are also probably banging Nancy, who feeds the children.

Tasha: LOL Probably. Just wait until the kids get older.

Kim: ::shudders::

Kelly: As long as someone is giving it to Cecilia, what does it matter? I think that might be the moral of this story (along with the one Kim mentioned earlier).

Kim: I basically think everyone in the estate is having sex with each other. Syphilis must be running RAMPANT. I also thought that when Cecelia brings up the idea of condoms that Will takes it as a personal affront. Like dude. You’re banging all of London and half of your estate. I’d want to wrap your tool too.

Kelly: But he has a magic penis! It’s impervious to social disease.

Tasha: Yeah, you can’t wrap that shit up. It has to be unleashed! I think that’s the moral of the story.

We thought we’d end this discussion with a gif parade demonstrating our reactions to the book.

Yeah.  So, there you have it. The Wicked Confessions of Lady Cecilia Stanton.

Kim, Tasha, and I want to thank the publisher for providing us e-galleys on NetGalley.  Believe it or not, we had a great time reading this book, but I think that says more about us than about the book…

Spotlight – Mary Ann Rivers interviewed by Serena Bell

HeatingUptheHolidaysMaryAnnRiversBannerI may have mentioned a few times that I absolutely loved Mary Ann Rivers’ latest novella, Snowfall. I am, therefore, delighted to participate in this Christmas blog tour (*cough* It’s actually Advent *cough*) and share a video of Serena Bell interviewing Mary Ann Rivers.

This video was captured from a Shindig event (that I attended last month) hosted by Loveswept.  The event featured interviews and readings by all three Heating up the Holidays authors and gave participants an opportunity to ask questions and interact a little bit.  There seem always to be technical difficulties and a hearty dose of awkwardness with these events, but I really enjoy them (perhaps because of all the awkwardness… And, dude, I’m not exaggerating: some of the participants choose to participate fully by webcam, and one lady was putting on eye makeup — complete with that open mouth while concentrating on mascara thing — for all of us to see.  It was marvelous.).  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the interview and that you join me in attending the next Shindig event Loveswept hosts.

 Here’s some info about the novella, the author, and the anthology.

Heating Up the Holidays - CoverSNOWFALL by Mary Ann Rivers
Part of the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology
Published by Loveswept
ISBN: 978-0-8041-7840-2

Jenny Wright can’t get enough of her erotic conversations with someone she knows only as “C.” Flirting online helps Jenny temporarily escape confronting the changes to her life as she slowly loses her vision. Jenny’s occupational therapist, Evan Carlisle-Ford, is helping her prepare for the challenges ahead, but the forthright, trustworthy man can no longer ignore his growing attraction to his fiercely intelligent client. Now Jenny must choose between the safe, anonymous “C”—or the flesh-and-blood Evan, whose heated kisses can melt snow faster than it can fall.

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann Rivers

Facebook  | Twitter  | Website

About HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS

As leftover turkey and stuffing give way to stockings and little black dresses, this tantalizingly sexy eBook bundle offers up holiday-themed novellas from a trio of beloved romance authors. Lisa Renee Jones gives a dedicated reporter and a powerful businessman a chance to count their Thanksgiving blessings in Play with Me; Mary Ann Rivers presents Snowfall, the story of a woman who confronts a life-changing event—hopefully with a special man by her side—just in time for Christmas; and in Serena Bell’s After Midnight, an explosive New Year’s kiss leaves two strangers wondering whether they’ll ever see each other again.

Advent reads part one – three holiday novellas

I love pretty much everything about Advent.  The kitschy calendars, the weather, the music, the expectation.  Let me be clear about the music, though.  I’m not keen on listening to Christmas music before Christmas (Eve).  Nope — it’s Advent music that I love.

Well, really, you can’t go wrong with the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, especially when they’re singing my favorite Advent anthem.

I have read (and am reading) a bunch of holiday-themed novellas so far this season, and I thought it might be fun to do a short series of Advent posts featuring these books and doing mini reviews.  I hope it’s fun for you, too.

Cover image, Heating up the Holidays novella anthology

When I heard that Mary Ann Rivers had a holiday novella coming out, I was all aflutter.  Heating up the Holidays is a 3-novella bundle featuring Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones, Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers, and After Midnight by Serena Bell.  My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and I discussed all three novellas on her blog recently.  Check out our post.  While I wasn’t at all impressed by Play with Me (which I did finally finish after Kim and I wrote our review of it… and… wow. Underwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe it.), Snowfall and After Midnight are fantastic.  Snowfall is a Christmas novella about love, loss, fear, change, and stressed out E.coli bacteria.  After Midnight is a New Year’s novella about love, fresh starts, change, trust, and amazing first kisses.

Cover image, Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe, a holiday novella with BDSM elements, grabbed my interest right from the blurb.  Every December twenty-fifth, Rebeccah Rickman volunteers through her synagogue so that others can celebrate Christmas. Her usual mitzvah, or good deed, is assisting police officer Jeremy Kohler. But this year is different: this year, Becca is free to act on the attraction that has long simmered between her and the sexy cop.  Jeremy couldn’t have asked for a better gift than discovering the woman he’s fantasized about for five long years is single. But when he learns about the violence that broke up Becca’s marriage, he’s hesitant to pursue her. He fears his desires will scare her away—but can’t deny his own need for control in the bedroom. Or his longing to instruct her in the fine art of submission… Becca is shocked to learn that Jeremy is a sexual dominant. And despite her past, she’s also aroused. But before she can explore what that means, she’s going to have to put her trust in Jeremy—and her own fledgling desires.  While Matzoh and Mistletoe was by no means perfect — the story line involving Becca’s ex didn’t quite resolve, and it felt a little bit as though Becca’s past abuse existed in the narrative only so the author could explore all the ways in which a D/s relationship is not abuse — it was still a charming read that I found very enjoyable, and it tells an interesting story.

Cover image, Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Earlier in the year, I read and enjoyed a book by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, so when I saw Once Upon a Highland Christmas (Scandalous Scots #0.5) come up on NetGalley, I wasted no time in requesting it.  I wish I had taken just a bit more time to think about it, because it turns out this story really was not up my alley.  Here’s my take on the blurb: This guy named Archie has decided that Christmas celebrations are for suckers, so he decrees that no one in his clan may be even remotely festive.  But this other guy named Grim and this lady named Breena are super festive, and they decide to invite all the neighbors to a Yuletide feast and thereby to rekindle the Christmas spirit in Archie. Along the way they fall in love.  Fans of Highland romance fiction or of Christmas stories that have a Scrooge-like character who finds redemption will probably enjoy this one, because it’s full of Highland charm and magic and definitely offers a strong theme of redemption and good cheer.  I felt that the romance elements were overshadowed by the festive themes and that there was not enough conflict in the romance story line to keep my interest as a reader.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any conflict at all, but it’s all external and seems to exist in the story more for the sake of there being some conflict than because there is any element that truly needs to be overcome in order for these characters to make a happy ending of it.

So there you go… three holiday novellas.  Stay tuned for more mini-reviews of holiday-themed novellas.  (I didn’t realize how many I had read until I started making a list… I read many!)  Have any of you been reading holiday-themed books this year?

Heating up the Holidays was released on October 28, 2013 as an e-book anthology by Loveswept.    Matzoh and Mistletoe was released on November 21, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press.  Once Upon a Highland Christmas was released as an e-book on December 3, 2013 by Forever.  For more information about these books, please click on their cover images above to visit their Goodreads pages.

*FTC disclosure – I received e-galleys of all three books from their publishers via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.*

Guest post – In Search of the Elusive Happy Ending by Marguerite Kaye

I’m trilled to welcome Marguerite Kaye to the blog today to talk about the process of writing her recent release Rumors that Ruined a Lady (see my review here).  Take it away, Marguerite!

Hi there, and thank you so for having me along to chat about my latest release, Rumors that Ruined a Lady.

Caro, my heroine, is the fourth of five sisters, and she’s known as the ‘dutiful’ one – the one who has tried hard to conform, who’s done her best to be the person she was expected by her family to be. And where has it got her? Well, at the start of my book, she’s hit rock bottom, having fled a miserable marriage, been disowned by her father, and resorted to taking opium.

I had this opening scene in my head right from the start of writing Caro and Sebastian’s story. I was very clear that one of the things I wanted to write about was the conflict that arises from trying to mould your character into the form that others expect of you. We all do it, to a greater or lesser degree, because we want to please those we love (or think we ought to love!) – in particular, our parents. When we’re just gritting our teeth and doing minor stuff like paying duty visits to the aged relative with the smelly dog, there’s more positive than negative in doing our duty, but when it comes to bigger things – like, say, working in the family business, having kids (or not), staying at home to look after the kids (or not), and getting married – these are pretty thorny issues, and even today it takes conviction to rebel. So how much more difficult must it have been two hundred years ago, especially for women? It’s not surprising that Caro conforms and marries the man her father has chosen for her. What’s astonishing is that she has the courage to walk away from that marriage.

However, I didn’t want duty to be the only issue my heroine had to confront. One of the things I love about writing historicals is trying to address today’s problems in a historical context. I originally planned on being a lawyer, and studied Scots Law at university. Though I very quickly realised it wasn’t for me, I’ve never forgotten my outrage when I first discovered how incredibly biased the law was, and how relatively recent was the idea of blame-free divorce and separation. At university, when you’re young and pretty naïve, you think the cases you’re presented with are funny – I recall one case where the evidence of the wife’s adultery was a photo of her footprints on the windscreen of her lover’s car, and I remember much tittering in the lecture theatre when the term in flagrante delicto was introduced, and illustrated with a number of juicy cases where the couple were caught in the act. It’s only when you think about it, that you realise the couple concerned must really have been in extremis (to use another legal term) to pursue a divorce, and when you dig deeper into the law, you can see why. Marriage was a contract, and until relatively recently, it was constructed so that it was nigh-on impossible to escape.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the practicalities when I started writing Rumors that Ruined a Lady. It was only when I was well into the story and hurtling towards the happy ever after that I realised I’d put Caro and Sebastian in a situation where there might not be a happy ever after. In Romanceland, the hero and heroine finally realising they’re in love is usually the cue for the curtain to come down. In my story, it was the cue for Caro to exit stage left alone. Ripping the story apart and killing her husband off was my first idea. In fact, in one of my original plot-lines, Caro herself killed her husband. But that felt like cheating. I could get her a Parliamentary Divorce, but that was a very long and drawn out process (which I explain in the Historical Note in my book) and it wouldn’t necessarily free her up to marry Sebastian. It would also ostracize her from society. Think about the reaction in Britain to the ex-King, Edward VIII, marrying the divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson in 1937. Less than a century ago, and they were still forced into exile. Imagine how it would have been two hundred years ago.

So I was on the horns of a dilemma. I could re-write my book, or I could remain true to my original ideas, which meant coming up with an unconventional happy ending. I’ll leave you to read the story, and find out for yourself which path I chose, but be reassured, there is a happy ending!

I finished Caro and Sebastian’s story feeling humbled. I’ve always believed I was a bit of a maverick, and I’ve had my fair share of guilt-ridden moments when I’ve fought against the tide of duty – I’m sure we all have. But would I have had the courage to fight my corner as Caro and Sebastian do, when the consequences of going against custom and convention, to say nothing of the law, were so hard-hitting? You know, I’d like to think so, but I’m not so sure.

Thank you for having me on your blog today and for allowing me to share some of my thoughts. I’m wondering, have I struck a chord? Do you like your historicals to address real, modern-day dilemmas? Does it matter that the happy ending is historically accurate or don’t you care? Do share your thoughts, I’d love to know.

Rumors that Ruined a Lady is out now, in print and digital, UK, US and Canada. You can read an excerpt of this and all my other books over on my website: http://www.margueritekaye.com.

Or why not just come and chat to me about books and life in general on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/margueritekayepage or on Twitter: @margueritekaye

Mini Review and Excerpt – To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before (Honeycote #1.5) by Anne Barton

I’m still sick.  I’m just throwing that out there because (1) I’m certain that everyone on the Internet totally cares how I’m doing, and (2) when sick, I turn into the most whiny monster of complainy complainingness that the world has ever seen.  So I can’t help mentioning (read: complaining about) being sick because I had a fever AGAIN today and because I used a sinus rinse for the first time this afternoon and it was soooooo, sooo gross and because I’ve taken more sick time in the last two weeks than I have in the past four years (not counting maternity leave).  So the gigantic to-do list that will await me when I go back on Wednesday? Yeah, that won’t be fun either.  Anyway… enough about me (go ahead and say it, “Quit yer bitchin’, Kelly!”).  Today I’m happy to feature a novella by Anne Barton, whose debut I discussed not too long ago.

Cover image, To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before by Anne Barton

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

After being jilted by her former beau, Miss Amelia Wimple retreated to her Mayfair town house and her ever-growing collection of gossips rags. Now, almost two years later, not even her beloved cousins, Rose and Olivia Sherbourne, can persuade her to give love another chance. But an unexpected midnight caller may open her heart once more.

Lord Stephen Brookes is the prince of pleasure, the duke of decadence — and it seems his exploits have finally caught up with him. When Stephen comes to Amelia seeking refuge, she can’t deny him . . . or the intense desire he sparks. As he attempts to heal her broken heart, they indulge in a private passion unlike anything either has experienced. Stephen knows sweet, sensual Amelia is meant to be his one and only. Now, he will do whatever it takes to convince her that a rake really can change his ways.

Mini review

While the premise is ever so slightly implausible (a rake, gambler and world-famous libertine is badly beaten by thugs, and there is simply nowhere else for him to convalesce than at the unchaperoned home of an unmarried miss.  Right…), I enjoyed this quick little romance that offered redemption to two people whose unfortunate choices (or unfortunate fate) left them a bit broken, a bit adrift.  I absolutely loved Stephen’s journey from wastrel to responsible citizen — and I loved that he recognized that he needed to change his ways to be worthy of Amelia’s love — and Amelia’s development from a self-made social recluse to a woman to begins to appreciate her intrinsic value.  I could have wished that the conflict had been stronger to ratchet up the drama a little bit, but maybe that’s just me.  On the whole, I’d say this book is a heart-warming, happy, and positive read with a very sweet ending.  (And I loved all the quotes from Amelia’s diary. Adorable.)

The publisher was kind enough to share an excerpt of To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before, which I now share with you.  

Boldly, she placed her hands on either side of his face. She was careful to avoid the worst of the cuts as she held his head still. “Shhh,” she said softly. “You’re going to be all right.”

Gently, she smoothed her thumbs over the sides of his jaw, marveling at the warm, abrading feel of his skin. He quieted a little, and as some of the tension left his body, his lips parted. Even though the lower one was split and swollen, she found herself staring at those lips, wondering what they might feel like if she touched them with her own, and what it might feel like to be properly kissed—or rather, wickedly kissed—by a man like him.

These were purely hypothetical questions of course, as she had no intention of kissing anyone, but even the thought stirred something warm and lovely in her belly.

And then, because her amateur attempts at nursing seemed to have the desired effect on Lord Brookes, she continued lightly stroking his face…and the smooth skin below his ears…and the brown curls at his nape. Though unaware of his surroundings, he sighed contentedly.

Well. Apparently, she was quite good at this…this comforting thing. The knowledge not only pleased her, but emboldened her further. She’d noticed the skin exposed by his loosened shirt, of course—any warm-blooded girl would have. Her gaze took in the small hollow above his collarbone, the breadth of his shoulders, and the light sprinkling of hair across the smooth planes of his chest. Never one to waste an opportunity, Amelia let her hand glide down his sinewy neck and over the taut muscles of his shoulder, barely breathing as she did so.

Stay tuned in late October for a review of Barton’s next release, the full-length novel Once She Was Tempted that I’ve been anticipating ever since I read the teaser excerpt in the back of Barton’s first novel.  Once She Was Tempted will be released on October 29, 2013.

To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before was released on September 3, 2013 as an e-book by Forever Yours.  For more information about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Anne Barton, please visit her website.

*FTC disclosure – I received an e-galley from Forever Yours via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

So I’m still sick (seriously, I think I came down with the plague… this chest cold / allergy attack / sinus infection — whatever the hell it is — just won’t go away), but I really wanted to get a post up today so I could gush about something completely unrelated to the book I’m about to discuss.  My sister brought a beautiful baby boy into the world yesterday. I’m going to have so much fun spoiling my nephew.  (He’s such a cutie patooty.)

Right.  On with the review.

Cover image, Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Sometimes…

Even the most proper young lady yearns for adventure. But when the very well bred Miss Sarah Clarke-Townsend impulsively takes the place of her pregnant twin, it puts her own life at risk. If the kidnappers after her sister discover they’ve abducted Sarah instead, she will surely pay with her life…

A Rogue…

Rob Carmichael survived his disastrous family by turning his back on his heritage and becoming a formidable Bow Street Runner with a talent for rescuing damsels in distress. But Sarah is one damsel who is equal to whatever comes. Whether racing across Ireland with her roguish rescuer or throwing herself into his arms, she challenges Rob at every turn.

This book struck me as being well written but not necessarily well crafted. It had complete sentences and deft descriptions that provided enough detail but not so much that I was distracted by it. It had a fast-paced adventure story that was entertaining. It had a romance. But it didn’t put all these elements together all that well, and it didn’t have much in the way of character development. As a result, though I was entertained by the adventure story, I didn’t see the point of it.

Rob and Sarah seemed to passively float through the adventure and the subsequent settling-in at Rob’s run-down estate; they didn’t actively participate in the story, changing and being changed by each other, the external forces at work, etc. They were cardboard cut outs that kissed when it was right for the pacing of the story, not when it was right for them as characters. It was a little bit disturbing, to be honest.

Also, there were times when I felt like I was reading one of Stephanie Laurens’ more recent books, except that this book didn’t have any supremely weird sex scenes (for which I am thankful), and Rob was not quite a Laurens-style hero.  It was the adventure that did it: a kidnapping plot–foiled by a dashing rescue–and the characters scampering about the countryside ducking villains at every turn.

Lastly, this book did not entirely work as a standalone story.  Many of the facts that establish these characters and enable one to comprehend why they are doing what they are doing are based in previous books in this series, and Putney did not put a lot of effort into bringing new readers up to speed.  I spent much of the book confused by the characters, but folk who have read the other books in the series might like this one just fine.

One element that I did very much enjoy was the relationship between Rob and his grandmother, because their relationship actually developed over the course of the story (and because I love me a snarky old-lady character, and our introduction to Rob’s grandmother is with her poking his unconscious body rather disdainfully with her cane.  Is it weird that I loved that snippet of the scene?).

I wish I had picked a different first Mary Jo Putney book to read. From the reviews that I’ve very briefly scanned on Goodreads, it seems that her earlier books might be way more up my alley than this one was.  Have any of you read a Mary Jo Putney book that you can recommend?

Sometimes a Rogue was released on August 27, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Zebra, an imprint of Kensington Books.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Mary Jo Putney, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Zebra via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*