Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series (1 and 2)

A few weeks ago, my friend Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict suggested that we should read some books together–since we have outrageously similar taste in books, and all–and I suggested this series.  So far, there are 4 books released in this series, and we are now rabidly awaiting book # 5 (see here for an excerpt hosted on the author’s page), due out in February 2013.

I initially intended to write about all four books in one post, but I just want you to think for a moment about how unbelievably long that post would be (and boring to everyone, really…).  Right.  So I plan to discuss the first two books in this post, and the second two books in a later post.

Cover image, Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

The only of Hoyt’s series that I’ve read in full was The Prince series, and that’s really just three independent stories that share a very casual link.  The Legend of the Four Soldiers series was much more connected, but I still haven’t read the first book (never got around to it…).  With Wicked Intentions, I felt that so much of it was setting up the world and characters for the other books in the series, and it isn’t as good as a stand alone story as a result.  That was kind of a disappointment to me, but maybe that’s how it always is with a series’ first book…

What I loved: Lazarus is delicious as the tormented-by-his-own-demons hero.  I loved his poetry translating and all that darkness.  You know how it is; sometimes you just want a good anti-hero to root for.  The book dabbles in some pretty heavy themes – love, infidelity, trust, shame, gender roles (specifically what happens when a prescribed role is not followed to a T), etc. – and it gives them due weight.  As I’ve come to expect from Hoyt’s writing, the characters are complex and develop over the course of the story, and their decisions always make sense in light of their motivations.  This story also has a neat little mystery (or two) that serves to bring Lazarus and Temperance together, and it helps to keep the plot moving along.

What I didn’t love so much: I really wanted to know what caused Lazarus’ touch issues, but it isn’t divulged either because Lazarus himself doesn’t know (fair) or because it’s not really important to the story (boo, but probably fair).  I adored the bit with Silence, but it was left unresolved.  I assume later books in the series will deal with it, but it left a slightly frayed edge to me.  The ending felt rushed (not quite Northanger Abbey rushed, to be fair – that book has an etch-a-sketch ending if ever I saw one).  For a book with so many heavy themes, the happily ever after was a tad slapdash.  Temperance and Lazarus each resolve their random issues, but the resolution seems almost magical and rather too convenient.

But, you know what?  It’s still worth it to read this story, because the books that follow are amazing and are made better by the world building that occurs in book 1.

Cover image, Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

Notorious Pleasures benefits from all the world building that was accomplished in Wicked Intentions.  You might very well wonder, eh?  There’s world building a romance novel?  Isn’t it usually reserved for fantasy or science fiction novels that actually have a unique world to build?  The thing is that historical romance novels are actually kind of a subgenre of fantasy novels.  Tangent: in a way, all novels are fantasy novels /tangent.  Successful/good historical romance authors do lots and lots of research and then tweak the circumstances slightly to give their story and characters some plausibility.  Let’s face it: strong female characters who have some autonomy over their lives are a bit of an anachronism.  So are stories with young, handsome dukes that marry commoners or *gasp* Americans.

The Maiden Lane series is set in Georgian England (early-ish eighteenth century), and a lot of the action takes place in St. Giles, a gin-soaked slum.  The setting is remarkably atypical for the historical romance genre.  It is gritty, and although Notorious Pleasures features considerably more ballroom scenes than the other books, the focus of the book remains set on St. Giles.  I enjoyed that Hoyt was willing to ask a few moral questions about justice and leave them unanswered.  In Wicked Intentions, there were a few such questions–e.g. is it right or wrong for an orphanage to pay a procuress a hefty sum of money to save one child from a life of childhood prostitution, knowing that the procuress has a nearly endless supply of children to sell and the orphanage has a finite amount of money to use towards feeding and clothing the children it has already saved?–and Hoyt was right back to that gritty line between fantasy and reality in this book.  Is it right or wrong for a man to save his family by illegal means?

Of the four stories I’ve read in this series, I found the love story between Lady Hero and Griffin to be the least compelling (which, to be clear, is not to say that I didn’t find it compelling… it’s just that the other three stories had so much more to offer by way of characterization).  I think this might be a case of my holding Elizabeth Hoyt up to a far stricter standard than I use for everyone else (because she’s just that awesome).  My real issue with Lady Hero and Griffin is that it sticks too closely to the Perfect Lady paired with a Perfect Scoundrel trope.  You pretty much know how it will be in their first scene together when Griffin dubs Hero “Lady Perfect”…

To be honest, the strangest parts of this book were all the random We Interrupt This Novel for a Public Service Announcement about Silence Hollingbrook and How She’s Doing episodes.  They made sense in the first book because they directly tied into Temperance’s story – Silence and Temperance being sisters, after all – and helped fuel Temperance’s emotional journey.  In this story, the episodes behaved as interruptions, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why I was supposed to care so much about Silence’s woes within the context of Hero and Griffin’s story.  Silence gets her own story in book 3, and I was glad, while I read it, that it wasn’t weighted down with a butt-ton of back story, but that doesn’t mean that I completely enjoyed having all the necessary back story play out real-time as an interruption to another unrelated story.

Other than all that, the story is well-paced and gripping; there’s a bit of mystery and drama, and a rather evil villain was thrown in to keep things interesting.  The end, thank heavens, was satisfying, and I jumped right in to book 3 (Scandalous Desires).  But I’ll write more about that in another post.

I felt betrayed by this book (dramatic, much?)

Let me start out by saying that however betrayed I feel by this book, it only cost me $0.99, so I should really stop bitching and moaning about it (but I won’t).

Cover image, Tempted at Every Turn by Robyn DeHart

I love covers like this one, where the characters seem to be on the world’s most giant bed.  Anyway.

I learned a valuable lesson about myself while reading this book: the angrier a book makes me, the less likely I am to stop reading it.  If a book is just boring, I’ll probably set it aside in favor of something more interesting, but nothing will stop me from finishing a book that offends me deeply.  Weird, huh?

This is the third book in a series, and I should admit that I haven’t read any of the others.   A few months ago, I downloaded a sample of the second book, but it didn’t catch my attention enough to make me want to buy it.  I really should have been paying better attention when I purchased Tempted at Every Turn, but I just didn’t notice that it was by the same author.

There were really three things that I strongly disliked about this book:

1.  “Intelligent” characters did not behave intelligently.

Both the male and female leads in this one are set up as intelligent characters.  Willow is described as being very clever and excellent at solving puzzles and mysteries.  She is a member of the Ladies Amateur Sleuth Society (although the four members pretty much just gather to talk about boys, because that’s what women do when we get together, right?), and all of the expositional indications of her character focus on her intelligence, so you assume that she will act with intelligence throughout the book.  James, meanwhile, is set up as an intelligent man and a stellar Investigator with Scotland Yard, so you assume, going into it, that he will act intelligently and that he will be good at his job (you know, as a stellar investigator).  While it should be safe to assume that supposedly intelligent characters will use their noggins when making decisions, that’s not what happens in this book.  Willow’s decisions have no logical basis at all (frankly, I can’t even figure them out from an emotional perspective), and I can’t think of a single instance of her intelligence in action throughout the book (even the two “Willow is so smart” snippets I highlight below (item # 3) aren’t examples of Willow actually being intelligent…).  James approaches investigating the same way a person would if his entire occupational experience of investigation consisted of his having watched a few episodes of Columbo or Murder, She Wrote when he was a kid.  So what was the point of describing them as intelligent people?

2.  Characters’ decisions (and characters’ character traits) did not make sense

This one is sort of an elaboration on the first point.  In general, the characters in this book did not make sense.  Willow’s mom suffers from some sort of mental illness, so Willow decided, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years old, that she would never marry because it was her duty to take care of her mother.  To that end, she discouraged all male attention and made it to age 29 without a single suitor.  Then, she meets James, and it all kind of goes to hell.  She still doesn’t want to marry, but her reasoning doesn’t really make sense in light of other, much more obvious reasons to avoid marrying.  I mean, if your mom is all kinds of crazy, it makes sense to avoid marrying because you are afraid of passing mental illness on to your children.  With that reason–perfectly logical–just hanging out there like an unacknowledged elephant in the room, it seems really bizarre that Willow is so hooked, so focused on the idea that she can’t marry because it would be impossible for her to care for both her mother and her family.  If she’s so damn intelligent, why doesn’t it occur to her (until a man points it out) that a lot of folks end up caring for both their families and their ailing parents, and they manage to make it work just fine.  Her decision just doesn’t make sense.

James has spent his entire life bucking convention, and we’re given a reason for it, but it doesn’t really make sense.  So his uncle got away with a crime because he was a peer (of the realm)… and that unfairness prompts James to turn his back on society and all of its stupid rules… OK, what does his uncle’s crime have to do with etiquette and polite behavior?  And is James’ haircut (or lack thereof) seriously connected to his uncle’s perfidy?  Really, like that’s his big character motivation?!  And–I love it–he can’t even consider marrying Willow (until after they bump fuzzies) because she’s someone his mom would like, and his most compelling character trait is that he never does anything that would make his mom happy.  Isn’t that romantic?  I’ve always dreamed of marrying a man who still acts like a 13-year-old.

3.  She’s a clever girl, which means she’s almost as smart as a man of average intelligence

I could have ignored the other things that irritated me about this book, but this one just pissed me off.  Willow only really demonstrates her cleverness twice in the book (the rest of the time the author just tells you that she’s clever rather than showing you), and this is how it goes:

“His studio,” she said.  “Not the easiest room to find, yet the killer found it without alerting the servants.”  She paused.  “He’d been there before.”
James watched her eyes light up.  She loved this.  Perhaps as much as he did.  The clues and puzzles, the chase.  And she was good; he couldn’t deny that.  He’d come to the very same conclusion, had even written it in his notes yesterday.
“I noticed the same thing,” he said.  “Quite clever, Willow.”

And again:

James nodded, curious to where she was going with this.  Willow was clever and more than likely was coming to the same conclusion he’d already made.  “Go on,” he encouraged her.
“Yes, well, I remembered that statement and then the box of photographs we found at Drummond’s house.  It seems highly likely that among those images are some wealthy aristocratic ladies.”
And there she had done it.  “I believe you might be right.”
“Really?” she asked, seeming surprised.
“I had already come to this conclusion, and am in the process of wading through those images trying to locate anyone I recognize.”

My reaction was pretty much:

Honestly…  At the first “Wow, you’re pretty smart–you just figured out a concept that I understood instantly–that’s pretty smart–for a girl” mention, I was annoyed, and at the second one, I was angry-cat livid.  What the hell.  So I’m going back to reading a Julie Klassen book next (The Apothecary’s Daughter), because I want a book that isn’t going to make me angry.