Review – Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Oh boy did I fall behind in November, but I had some fantastic (and some mundane) adventures during all that radio silence, and I read a lot of books.  One of those books was Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke of Midnight, which filled me with happy.

Cover image, Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads…


Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won’t back down . . .


Artemis Greaves toils as a lady’s companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She’s even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .


Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn’t without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

Batman pretty much wins when it comes to vaguely creepy masked vigilante characters, right? I mean, he’s a complete package: traumatic yet humanizing back story, honestly-earned grit, determination, physical strength, *almost* super human agility, etc, as well as a dank man cave in which he stores his vigilante gear (hopefully sans nipples) and keeps his body well honed.  That’s loads more compelling than a humanoid alien whose body responds well to earth’s gravity or a scientist who gets bitten by a spider or some dude who finds a magic lantern.

Duke of Midnight is Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romance nod to Batman canon, and it is equally compelling.

As the sixth (sixth!) book in her Maiden Lane series, I expected it to feel a bit tired, but it isn’t.  Actually, I got the feeling reading it that Hoyt has been looking forward to telling this story for quite a while, and her excitement in (finally) writing it translates well to the reader.  The characters are interesting and the story is as gripping as you’d expect a superhero story to be.

In fact, there were only a couple of things that I was a little bit bummed about (and one thing I was a lot bummed about):

  1. One of my favorite things about Hoyt’s novels is that she always weaves a legend throughout the story at the beginning of each chapter.  The legend in this one wasn’t quite as compelling (to me) as previous ones.
  2. The ending felt a bit deus ex machina to me.  One of the things that always happens to superheroes is that they’re forced to choose between saving a loved one and saving the masses. Seriously… it’s in like every superhero story.  This book made it just a wee bit too easy on our intrepid hero to win both counts (although I did like how he made his choice so unequivocally…).

Finally, I was a lot bummed about Penelope.  She’s a fairly awful secondary character who was quite unpleasant throughout the previous five books, but I always had a bit of a soft spot for her and held a hope that she’d find her redemption at some point.  After all, even silly, spoiled girls eventually grow up, right? (I’m one of those people who believes even Lydia Bennet, eventually, developed a sense of self-reflection.)  I was, therefore, rather heartbroken to see Penelope utterly outdo all her former awfulness in an epic display of poor character.

Maybe it’s not too late — maybe Penelope can still redeem herself — but it made me sad.  I hate how women in fiction (even fiction written by women) are so often cast as either good or evil, and I liked how Penelope was a blend… too selfish to be truly good but too good-hearted to be truly evil.  But after the way she behaves at the end of this book, her blend seems skewed towards the evil…

But, hey! That’s just me.  All told, I had a blast reading the book and, though I haven’t talked about it at all in this review, I loved the romance between Maximus and Artemis, loved that Artemis was his equal in more ways than one, and I loved that the narrative didn’t ignore the ways in which they were unequal.  Finally, I liked that they got to make a happy ending of it.  (If a man had written it, Artemis would have been blown to bits so that Maximus could be super sad and continue being a vigilante. Thank God for Elizabeth Hoyt!)

Duke of Midnight was released on October 15, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Forever.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For information on Elizabeth Hoyt, please check out her website or Twitter.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Blogging and genre – Armchair BEA Day 2

Well, it’s day 2 of Armchair BEA, and today, there are two topics: Blogger Development & Genre Fiction.

I’m certain I’m imposing my own insecurities on the question, but I have to be honest and admit that the very notion of assessing my development as a blogger makes me feel a bit inadequate.  The truth is that I consider this blog to be a hobby, a thing I do because I enjoy it, not because of any external pressure to perform.  Even if no one read this blog, I would still write it.  With that starting position, I feel very little compulsion to promote my blog, and if I drop off the map for three weeks because I’m unbelievably busy, I don’t feel at all bad about it.  That’s not to say that I don’t take this blog seriously — quite the opposite — but I don’t measure success in terms of popularity or marketability.  I have a job, and this blog isn’t it.

That said, I have developed quite a lot over the past year.  For one thing, I’m a better reader than I was.  For another, I’m a better writer.  Best of all, this past year of blogging has helped me to chip away at my habitual reserve, to make some friends (never easy for me to do), to say some true things and put them out there for all the world to see (should the world go out of its way to find my little corner of unreserve…), to try new things.  It has been a fantastic year, but these successes can be measured only on my peculiar scale.

Abrupt subject change: I’m all about genre fiction!  To be honest, I think all fiction can easily be categorized as genre fiction of some sort or other.  I know folk have a strong inclination to distinguish literary fiction from the sordid genre type, but this inclination seems like misplaced snobbery to me.  All fiction is the work of scribbling human hands to explain some part of the human experience.  Maybe that explanation comes in the form of alien planets or vampire stalkers or amorous dukes and barmaids or neurotic narrators recounting their entire misspent lives; the connecting thread running through each of those stories is the humanity of their authors.  (In case you’re curious, I did just lump Children of the MindTwilightAny Duchess Will Do, and In Search of Lost Time into one category, Aristotle be damned.)

Some authors undoubtedly write better than others, some come closer to achieving a real art, some have more skill at using the lies of story and narrative to tell a truth about who we are as humans, but when we assign categories to writers, we hobble ourselves as readers and limit the artistic reach of those writers.  (We also inflate the egos of those writers and critics fortunate enough to be the gatekeepers of literary quality.)

I suppose I should scramble down from my soap box now and talk about the kind of stories I most want to read.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story.  When I was in elementary school and junior high, I read whatever I could get my hands on: library books, school books, my mother’s books, etc.  I didn’t precisely have a favorite genre because I was just obsessed with the written word and all the knowledge it contained.  The first book I read that truly took my breath away was Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming.  In junior high, I discovered fantasy books, and I read The Hobbit and tried to read The Lord of the Rings (I didn’t succeed in reading it until I was 20 and had achieved something like patience); I read Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony, and a bunch of truly terrible Dragonlance books.  Then I read Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series (books 1-4) and W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neil Gear’s The First North Americans Series.  Then I read Les Miserables and discovered that what I liked most in all those stories I’d read was any inkling of the redemptive power of love.  Strange as it might be, it was a short skip for me from Les Miserables to romance novels, because that’s where all the love stories hide.

These days, I read romance novels almost exclusively.  Some of them are terrible, and some of them are incandescently wonderful.  I highly recommend each of the following.

Review, author interview, and giveaway – Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt

Cover image, Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’ve mentioned a few times how much I enjoy Elizabeth Hoyt’s books.  I dig the Georgian setting (with modern sensibilities), the less-than-perfect characters, the ethical questions that are explored.  I abso-freaking-lutely adore the way Hoyt arranges the story so that it weaves around a legend that introduces the book’s main themes–and that those themes differ in each book.  (I hadn’t realized it before, but those legends, which are told throughout the chapter introductions), are rather like the Opening Collects of all sorts of liturgies.)  Anyway, I just love these books, and it’s always a fine day when I sit down to read one.

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

When Strangers In The Night

He lives in the shadows. As the mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St. John’s only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless young lady pointing a pistol at his head—and realizes she is his wife.

Become Lovers…

Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles—the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and to the man she hasn’t seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be—and so much more.

Desire Is The Ultimate Danger

When passion flares, these two intimate strangers can’t keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth—that the Ghost is her husband—the game is up and the players must surrender…to the temptation that could destroy them both.

My review

I love a good courtship story, but I also get a real kick out of stories that are basically about a couple of strangers who are married (or otherwise tied to one another) for whatever reason and have to muddle through the muck and mire of interpersonal nonsense in order to reach their happily ever after.  These stories are refreshing (to me) because (1) the author doesn’t have to spend time dreaming up ways to throw the characters in company–they’re stuck together– (2) they fly counter to the idea that marriage (or even an engagement) is an end unto itself, a guaranteed happily ever after, and (3) they occasionally contain darker or deeper themes than courtship stories (the characters marry, and suddenly the heroine isn’t just herself, she’s also “wife,” and that added identity can make it more difficult for hero and heroine (also husband and wife) to develop a relationship as individuals outside their marital roles.).

Anyway, Lord of Darkness is a fun twist on the strangers married story type.  Not only are Margaret and Godric (got to love a romance hero named Godric, right?) pretty much a pair of married strangers, but they also have to work through an added layer of difficulty–Godric’s secret identity.  Also, both characters show up with the emotional baggage of a former love (Marianne Dashwood would be horrified), and Margaret’s biological clock ticks at a deafening volume.  I love me some deep-seated emotional issues, so I was a very happy reader as Godric and Margaret each worked through their grief and guilt with emotional poignancy and occasional humor.

As usual, my favorite thing about the story was the legend that was told throughout the chapter introductions, calling attention to the book’s main theme (between the characters, at least), the restoring power of love.  Beyond that theme, the book also discussed social justice, vigilantism, depression (in a way) and family, among other things.

I’m not saying that I loved everything about the story.  The intrigue plot felt like a little bit of a redo, and it seemed (to me) as though Margaret took Godric’s news way too well.  But on the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I’m super excited to read the next one.  I highly recommend this series (and all of Hoyt’s books) to anyone looking for romances with interesting characters set in Georgian England (but with modern sensibilities and language) that explore deeper themes than just person A meets person B; they boink.  (Actually, that would be a fun story to read…)

Interview with Elizabeth Hoyt

I want to start by thanking Elizabeth for coming on the blog today to answer some questions about her newest release.  As those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I’m a bit of a fan, and I clapped my hands like a little girl when I found out I had the opportunity to host an interview with her on the blog and offer a giveaway of her current series.  (Seriously… I was in public when I read the email… my husband was pretty embarrassed.)

1.  RwA: Is there any historical example for the Ghost of St. Giles, a real-life vigilante?  

Hoyt: I don’t know of any real-life examples (there are of course plenty of fictional ones.) I do know about an example of a historical urban legend that worked kind of like the rumors that swirl around the Ghost. In the late nineteenth century several newspapers reported on a figure called Spring-Heeled Jack, a sort of satanic figure with glowing red eyes who popped up and scared people. He was supposed to make inhuman leaps, hence his name.

2.  RwA: When I read this book, I noticed some parallels (possibly of my own imagination) between the individual ghosts and some modern vigilante archetypes.  Did my imagination get away from me, or are there parallels?

Hoyt: You mean fictional characters? My Ghost was definitely influenced by the modern Batman films, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche, and an obscure 1970s Disney film, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarcrow.

3.  RwA: What illness did Clara St. John have?

Hoyt: LOL! No one has ever asked me that. I think she had some type of cancer or tuberculosis.

4.  RwA: Is it difficult to bridge the gap between a modern audience’s understanding of medical matters and a historical setting wherein many medical matters are unknown and mysterious (and in which the practice of medicine bears almost no resemblance to modern procedures)?

Hoyt: Actually, yes. It’s hard because we all know about germ theory and the importance of hygiene, especially around wounds, but really they had no idea back then. A lot of “medicine” consisted of wine or other spirits and herbs that might have no effect at all. But, oddly enough, people did survive horrific wounds that by all rights should’ve killed them either outright or by infection.

I did quite a bit of research into Godric’s arm injury in Lord of Darkness and the bulky, awkward splint the doctor uses is historically accurate—as is the fear of being crippled for life from a simple break. Bonesetting was an important art.

5.  RwA: During this book, some of the male characters have a discussion about a law attempting to regulate the flow of gin in St. Giles.  What is the significance of this law?

Hoyt: Overall there were seven gin acts put into law over twenty years trying to control gin in London during this time—most of which either didn’t have any effect or actually made matters worse. The act the characters are talking about in Lord of Darkness had to do with trying to arrest unlicensed gin sellers. Unfortunately, the act resulted in a lot of poor people who were selling gin out of wheelbarrows and carts getting arrested. It didn’t stop the bigger sellers (who paid bribes) or the overall distribution of gin. And there were several bloody riots with informers being lynched.

6.  RwA: Most readers of historical romance have a familiarity with Regency England as a historical setting. What are some of the cultural differences between the Georgian period in which you set your books and the later Regency period?

Hoyt: The Georgian period is more earthy, more opulent, and slightly freer. Also, lady’s underwear hadn’t been invented yet. 😉

 7.  RwA: Lady Penelope is a delightfully awful character.  Is there any chance that she’ll get to star in her own story?  (I have my fingers crossed… she’s one of my favorite characters.)

No, but never fear, she does get her own happy ending. 😉

Thank you for having me on Reading with Analysis! Readers can learn more about my Maiden Lane series and Lord of Darkness at my website: You can also chat with me on Twitter (, Facebook (, Goodreads (, and Pinterest (

Giveaway epicness!

FOREVER Romance has generously agreed to host this epic giveaway and will send one print copy of all five books in the Maiden Lane series (Wicked Intentions, Notorious PleasuresScandalous Desires, Thief of Shadows, and Lord of Darkness) to one lucky commenter, chosen at random (thank you,  There are, of course, some rules:

  1. This giveaway is limited to US residents only (sorry!).
  2. You must be 13 years of age or older to enter.
  3. You must comment on this post in order to qualify.  Don’t worry, I’ll give you a topic.
  4. You must be willing to provide your mailing address in order to receive your copy of the book.
  5. The giveaway will run through 11:59 PM pacific time on Thursday, March 14.  I will announce the super lucky winner on Friday, March 15.

Please leave a comment about vigilantism in literature (including comics), movies, and/or real life.  Many of us enjoy stories about dashing heroes taking justice into their own hands, but would you really want to meet one?  What is the draw?  Feel free to ignore my arbitrarily chosen topic in favor of one that is more interesting to you. 🙂

Lord of Darkness was released on February 26, 2013 as a mass market and e-book from Forever.

* FTC Disclaimer – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. *

Reading with Analysis’s Birthday!

This blog’s first blogiversary is tomorrow, actually, and I want to celebrate a few things.  This year has been remarkable for me in a whole bunch of ways.  For starters, I came out of the romance-reading closet, and I discovered that a heck of a lot of truly brilliant women (and some amazing men) happily read that genre and find intellectual fulfillment in it.  I am not alone.  I know that, now.  In fact, I made friends!  (Anyone who knows me well will understand how big a thing it is for me to make a friend; it’s difficult for me… I’m way too neurotic for most people.)  I have had so much fun talking about books on this blog, on others’ blogs, on Goodreads, and on Twitter with other people who love books (especially love stories in their various forms) just as much as I do.

Anyway, who cares, right?  Let’s get to the good stuff.  I have assembled a somewhat random giveaway (why be boring?) to thank everyone who follows this blog and helps make this whole blogging thing rather an exciting experience for me.

First up is Simon the Fox, squshie extraordinaire.  I love these squshies… they are small felt plush animals (also, dinosaurs and monsters) with vaguely square shapes (hence the name: square plushies = squshies), which is awesome in itself, but my favorite thing about the squshies is that each animal has a totally random story.  Kiki the Tiger, for example, is an encyclopedia-reading cheerleader, and Jasper the Bear loves food on a stick.  For this giveaway, I selected Simon the Fox, who loves to make up stories and wants to write a mystery novel.  (To learn more about squshies, visit

Simon the Fox

Next up are the book prizes.  I agonized about whether I should give away specific books or just offer gift cards for quite a while… And (somewhat obviously) I decided to do specific books.  These books have really knocked my socks off, and I want to give other people the chance to read them (even folk who don’t normally read romance or erotica.  Trust me, these books are good, sexy times notwithstanding.).  Rest assured, winners will have the opportunity to choose their prize, on a first come, first served basis.

1.  The Courtney Milan starter pack, e-book only, available in Kindle or .epub format.  This starter pack includes the novella The Governess Affair and the full-length novel The Duchess War.

Cover image, the Duchess War

Cover image, the Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

2.  The Tiffany Reisz starter pack, e-book or paperback (you choose), includes one copy of The Siren, the first book in Reisz’s Original Sinners series.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

3.  My favorite Elizabeth Hoyt book, paperback or e-book (you choose).  Includes one copy of The Raven Prince.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

That’s great, Kel, how do we win these prizes?  Funny you should ask!  Here’s them rules:

  1. Leave a comment and answer any (or all) of the following arbitrarily-chosen questions: (1) What are you reading right now? (2) What’s the best book you’ve ever read? (3) How do you go about discussing the books you’ve read?  Are you lucky enough to have an in-person discussion network, or do you primarily conduct any discussions online?  (4) Do you ever read romance or erotica novels?  (5) Do you have a genre that you just can’t like (i.e., I have a tough time reading books set in space… for some reason, I’m just predisposed to dislike ’em.)?
  2. This giveaway is limited to folk who follow my blog.  If you want on this crazy train, just enter your email address in that little box on the sidebar; if you have a WordPress site, just click the follow button.
  3. You need to be willing to provide an email and/or postal address (if you want a real, paper book — or a Simon the Fox — to hold in your grubby hands) in order to claim your prize.

The giveaway will run through Thursday, February 21 at 11:59 p.m.  I’ll announce the 4 winners at some point on Friday, February 21.  My giveaways have traditionally been… less than stellar.  If fewer than four people sign up to participate in this one, I’ll let y’all duke it out to decide who wins what.  I’m flexible.

Thanks, y’all!  This year’s been a blast, and I’m looking forward to another year full of reading and analyzing.

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane Series (Book 3)

This post is seriously overdue.  I read these books in August!  Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about the first two books in this series, and now I’m finally attempting to catch up.  My thoughts on book 4 are still to come (I know, right? Bated breath.).  If you’re one of those weird people (oh, you weird people) who cares about things like plot spoilers and surprise reveals, and you’re actually planning on reading these books, I suggest you stop reading this post and get to (but keep in mind that you ought not be put off by book 1 – it’s annoying, but the other books are quite good.  If annoying isn’t your speed: skip book 1 entirely.).

If you’re still reading, I’m just going to assume that you, like yours truly, don’t give two hoots or a holler about surprise reveals with dramatic music.  Or, well, not much.

A publisher’s blurb might actually be helpful here.  From Goodreads:

Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.

When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.

After telling Silence Hollingbrook’s back story over the course of the first two novels of this series, Hoyt finally gave Silence her own story.  She is married at the beginning of the series and just loves her husband all to pieces but feels vaguely disappointed in herself all the time.  She burns dinner and feels awful about it.  She wants fun sexy sexy times with her husband, but he’s somewhat reserved about that sort of thing (only in the dark, dear… Let’s think of England…), and she feels ashamed of her desire.  When her husband’s life and career are threatened after the notorious river pirate steals all the cargo from the ship he (the husband) captains, Silence goes to the pirate’s lair to ask that he return the loot (naive much?).  He agrees, with one stipulation: she must spend the night with him–talking–and must depart on foot the next morning in a disheveled state.  While it appears that she spent the night selling herself in exchange for her husband’s cargo, she didn’t.  Silence naively expects that her husband will believe her when she tells the truth about what happened, but, of course, he doesn’t.  No one does.  Instead, she becomes a ‘fallen woman,’ and her husband, ashamed of himself for not protecting his wife, ashamed of his wife for being defiled and for seeking to protect him (such a reversal of gender roles, that), leaves without ever resolving the issue.  Eventually he dies.

He had to die, right?  If they had experienced a healthy sexual relationship before he left, it might have been interesting to have him do the Angel Clare transformation (I know, I know… Tess of the d’Urbervilles, again?! Yes.  Much as I hated that book, it is an appropriate foil for many romances…) and come back to earn his wife’s trust, once freely given.  But they didn’t, and it wouldn’t be just, in a romance novel world, to  reward an interesting character with unsatisfying sex for the rest of her life.  In the interest of justice, then, Silence gets Mickey O’Connor.

Initially, I loved this book for being an entertaining, quick, and enjoyable read.  Silence’s blend of vulnerability and strength is engaging, and I enjoyed her bond with and attachment to Mary Darling, possibly because I have a child about Mary’s age and possibly because Mary Darling is a very well-written character, for a toddler.  Mickey O’Connor is a fairly solid anti-hero-turned-good-guy, and I thought he had a pretty good back story.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I liked Mickey O’Connor.  If I met someone like him in person, I’m fairly certain I’d take an instant dislike to him, but in what is essentially a fantasy novel, it’s safe to be drawn to personalities you’d normally despise, or, perhaps Mickey just reminds me a bit of myself.  Mickey self-represents as a Machiavellian dickhead, but he’s charming, and he’s a heck of a lot more interesting than Silence’s late husband.   While I expected the chemistry between these two characters to be a source of irritation to me, considering the harm Mickey did Silence in the previous books, I appreciated Hoyt’s take on the situation: her insistence that Mickey did not really harm Silence at all (and he didn’t).  In fact, it was Silence’s untrusting husband, family, society, etc. that actually harmed her.  In other words, all the people who had sworn to love and protect Silence ended up being the ones doing her harm with all their victim shaming.

Months after finishing the book, when I sat down to write a post about it, I discovered a giant pile of ambivalence had replaced my original, unconsidered “yup, I liked it.” response to the book.  I find that I am not completely content that Silence ended up with the man who was the architect of her betrayal.  Mickey acted in a remarkably selfish manner, and Silence ended up hurt.  It’s true that it was her husband and family who actually hurt her, but Mickey, bothered by Silence’s contentment with a life that was somewhat beneath her, acted to test that contentment, and Silence paid the price.  By giving Silence an HEA with Mickey, Hoyt forces me to ask some squirrelly questions about justice that don’t have any clear answers.  Was it really wrong for Mickey to test Silence’s husband’s love?  After all, if the husband had come up to snuff, had actually loved Silence (rather than an idea of ‘wife’), it would all be moot, a non-issue.  But he didn’t come up to snuff, and I’m tempted to blame Mickey for everything that came after, and that’s not right either.  Mickey poked at society’s view towards women, and it’s awful that he did so knowing how it would go, knowing that Silence would be unjustly punished and shamed by everyone, but shouldn’t my ruffled feathers and blame, as a reader, be directed against that society that shames victims and cares more about its wounded sensibilities than it cares about victims and what they might need?

If Silence’s story went a different direction, if she either continued on by herself (a respectable option, I think) or found someone else to love, it would be so easy to look back on Mickey O’Connor and consider him the true villain of the piece.  Instead, Silence finds happiness with Mickey (and he finds happiness with her), and the question of whether Mickey was right or wrong (or a mixture of the two) is forced to the forefront.  Maybe I liked this book so much because I enjoy uncomfortable conversations about difficult topics.  The more difficult and awkward the subject is, the more I want to talk about it, the more I think we need to talk about it.  But I digress.

I like adventures, stories with dastardly villains, and stories with the misunderstood hero trope (especially when he’s misunderstood by himself), and this book has all three.  That last is a bit of a conundrum, because I don’t tend to like stories where the heroine ‘saves’ the hero from his own dastardly self (he can change, ladies: keep the dream alive.); however, I want a hero character to go on a bit of an internal journey during the story, and an easy way to achieve that is to have the hero start out kind of a douche and, over the course of the story, discover that there is a value to changing his behavior.  Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough.  The point is, I like this book, even though I thought the ending was way too convenient (no consequences for a lifetime of crime? Really?) and even though I had to work through my own ruffled feathers in order to like it.

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.

Recommended for you: “The Damsel, the Duke and the Debacle”

I have a hard time finding new books to read.  Maybe you do too.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve used your Amazon account to purchase weird things: wiffle balls, magnetic puzzles, children’s toys, cat calendars, etc., and now Amazon has no idea what to make of your taste.  My Amazon recommendation list looks like this: an obscure french novel, another obscure french novel, yet another version of one of Sophocles’ plays that I already own in the Loeb Classical Library edition and have no interest in replacing, a Florence & the Machine album, a Deathcab for Cutie album, another obscure french novel, a romance novel that has something to do with a Duke (‘Dealing with the Duke’ or ‘The Dastardly Duke’ or ‘Touch Not the Duke’ or some other such nonsense… I don’t get Amazon’s Duke fetish, but whatever), more wiffle balls–because it’s not enough that I already bought 100… obviously I need more–gift tissue in ugly colors, etc….  So I don’t use Amazon to find new books to read.

I have a Nook, so I often shop for books through Barnes and Noble.  Unfortunately, my recent purchases seem to have convinced Barnes and Noble that I have a thing for bad writing and/or characters with serious psychological issues.  I suppose I must, but I hate having to admit that fact to myself.

Here’s a recap of my more messed-up reading over the past 6 weeks, some of these I’ve already discussed in other posts:

In One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl, Lancaster, the main male character, was seriously abused in his late teens, and Cynthia, the main female character, was pretty much raped… you get those two together, and you’ve got a whole lot of issues and baggage.  In To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt, both the male and female main characters are carting around a hefty amount of emotional baggage.  In To Beguile a Beast, also by Elizabeth Hoyt, it’s the male main character who’s got the issues, having been tortured during a past event.  Reynaud from To Desire a Devil has a nasty case of PTSD from being held captive and repeatedly tortured for a period of seven years.  Frankly, Ian from The Duke’s Captive  by Adele Ashworth (he’s the Duke, by the way) also suffers from PTSD, and Viola, the female main character, doesn’t fare much better.  Colin from A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare watched his parents die when he was young from a violent carriage accident that he alone survived (that’ll mess you up).  Finally, Nicholas from Love’s Magic by Traci Hall was captured, drugged, and sexually abused for over a year before the story starts.

Is an intervention needed?  I mean, I pretty much read romance novels because (1) they are very easy reading, (2) I adore love stories, (3) I have a very hard time expressing my own emotions, but I recognize the need to feel them, and romance novels help me to vicariously lead an emotional life (does that make any sense at all?), and (4) they’re frequently funny, and I like funny.  But my recent crop of romance reading has tended more towards the very serious (Well, not A Week to be Wicked… I snorty-laughed all through that book…), with all these big, weighty emotional problems, and I’m a mite concerned about the idea that I find both entertainment and catharsis in these stories.  Then again, in addition to the 7 books I mentioned above, I’ve read at least 15 others in the past 6 weeks that are the more standard romance fare (or are just straight up terrible, come to think of it).  And, hey, at least I’m not into The Bachelor, right?

Maybe Amazon’s not totally wrong about me…I would totally buy and read “Touch Not the Duke,” if such a book existed.  Just saying.

Armchair BEA 2012: Best of 2012

Hello folks!  It’s day 2 of the Book Expo America in NYC, and I am, once again, participating virtually via Armchair BEA.  I’m not in an armchair, though.  I do all my blogging perched atop a giant blue bouncy ball.  It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re bouncing like a little girl.

My “chair” and messy desk

Today’s topic for participation is: “Share some of your favorite books so far this year, and/or the the books being promoted at BEA that you hope will end up among your favorites for the year!”  I’m going to interpret that to mean any books I’ve read this year, regardless of their date of publication.

I should have kept a better account of what I have read so far this year.  By going through my Nook library (and trying to recall the few paper copy books I read this year), I’ve come up with 59 books read so far, but I might be missing a few, and I’m not counting in that number any of the nonsense I had to read for school or any of the re-reads that I did.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I have posted a few times–here and here and here–about Elizabeth Hoyt and how very good her books are.  My favorite is The Raven Prince, probably because it is the one that I arbitrarily chose to read first.  (A friend once told me that one’s favorite Tom Robbins book is whichever book of his one read first.  So my favorite is Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, and that friend’s favorite is Still Life with Woodpecker.)  The Raven Prince is a delightful blend of whimsical fairy tale and earthy love story, and I loved every bit of it, even the parts that made me blush.  In fact, I loved it so much that I’m reading it again now, even though I just read it a month ago.  It’s just that good (and my memory sucks that much).

Cover image, A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare

I love to laugh, and I really dig it when a book makes me laugh out loud.  There are books that are designed to make you laugh (I can’t read Laurie Notaro’s books in public…  That stuff is ‘privacy of my own home’ reading to me.  There’s just too great a chance that I’ll laugh until I drool or pee on myself…) and there are books that are not exactly humorous books but are hilarious regardless as a byproduct of great writing.  Catch-22 is one of these, and so is A Week to be Wicked.  Romance novels are often funny (unintentionally), but this one has sparkly dialogue and wit that are a perfect balance to the emotionally compelling aspects of the story.

Cover image, Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

I participated in a workplace book club in February and March of this year at the same time that I was finishing up school and starting this blog.  It was a great experience all around, but mostly I was appreciative of the opportunity to read a book that I would never have picked up on my own.  To read more of my thoughts about the book, check out my posts here and here.  My favorite thing about Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock is that it did not insist on a happy ending.  In southern California, where I live, race relations are generally pretty good (comparatively), but that’s not really the case across the entire country.  I loved that Margolick had the moxie to tell the real story, not the story that we all wanted to read.

So that’s my shortlist of favorites for 2012 (so far).  I’m looking forward to reading some more great books through the second half of the year, and I’m looking forward to the terrible ones as well.

This week in reading

Cover image, To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt

I mentioned in my last reading post that I have been somewhat obsessed with Elizabeth Hoyt of late.  After finishing the Prince series, I snatched up books 2-4 (not sure why I didn’t grab book 1… perhaps the blurb didn’t quite capture my attention) of the Legend of the Four Soldiers series to read on my road trip (I didn’t drive, somewhat obviously).  Unlike the Prince books, these four books are closely knit together by the harrowing event that connects all four of the male characters and by the reading, translating, transcribing, and binding of a book of fairy tales (the Legend of the Four Soldiers), all of which connects each of the female characters.  In addition, each book weaves the story of its hero and heroine with one of the legends from the book of fairy tales.  The result is an interesting, multifaceted series that is superbly constructed.  Elizabeth Hoyt could write anything, I’m convinced, but I’m so glad that she devotes her considerable skills to the romance genre.  There are so many terrible romance novels out there in the world, and it’s fantastic to be able to read a book from my favorite (definitely guilty pleasure) genre and know that I’m actually reading a genuinely good book.  At some point, I’ll pick up the first book in the series so I can have a better understanding of how it all begins, but these books really do stand alone quite well, despite all the interweaving legends and the overarching plot line.

To Seduce a Sinner tells the story of two believable, messed-up people who marry fairly early in the book and then muddle through their relationship.  There is a whole sub-genre of romance novels devoted to the notion of marrying a stranger (not sure what that says about the women who read them, but I can’t judge: I have some of those books myself), and most of them are either creepy or lame.  This book manages to be neither because it relies on the strength of its characters.  What does it mean to trust someone (or, more importantly, to trust yourself)?  How do you build trust?  What is the difference between a person’s true self and the self he/she presents to the world?  These are not the sorts of questions one would expect to encounter in a romance novel, but this one is full of the meat of interpersonal relationships and all their messy glory.  As an added bonus, the secondary characters are fabulous as well.

Cover image, To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

This book, already rich with interesting characters, clever plot points, well-written children, and POV from multiple characters and bolstered by a fascinating legend, draws upon the familiar beauty and the beast story to great effect.  I’ve always had a soft spot for beauty and the beast stories.  They represent women rather well, right?  The beauty, far from being repulsed by the beast, nurtures and heals him, restoring him to his proper self.  That is a very positive representation of the feminine.  This book merges certain qualities of the beauty and the beast archetypes into fully fleshed characters whose backgrounds and motivations go far beyond what one would expect from a retelling of a popular fairy tale.

Cover image, To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt

Back story… it can be necessary to a book, especially one that references a past event in its major plot, but it’s very difficult to manage.  Isn’t it annoying to read a book that spends more time catching you up to the characters than it does advancing their story (the one you’re actually interested in reading)?  My favorite thing about To Desire a Devil is that the back story is delivered in such a clever way.  The other two books in the series delve a bit into the past – that harrowing event that I mentioned in my discussion of To Seduce a Sinner – but the events of the past are more important to the development of the hero’s character in To Desire a Devil, so there’s even more of a need to share the events that helped shape him into the man he is when the heroine meets him.  Hoyt manages it in a truly lovely way through believable dialogue delivered here and there throughout the book.  Think how lame it could have been: Reynaud thought back to his time as a captive – how horrifying it was.  He shuddered, thinking about the frigid winter, the lack of food, the fear of imminent and ignoble death.  That’s how most romance authors would have handled that bit of exposition, but Hoyt lets Reynaud tell Beatrice, the heroine, and you the reader what he experienced during his seven years of captivity.  What is particularly interesting is that his telling of the tale is absolutely believable coming from a male.  There’s no mention of feelings, no shuddering in horror, no dwelling on how awful it was.  Instead, he tells just the facts and leaves it to Beatrice and the reader to figure out (because women must) what the emotional cost of all of that horror must have been.  Brilliant.

 So… have I convinced anyone to check out any of these books?

Last week in reading…

It was another week of romance novels, but I’m sure you’re used to that by now.

Cover image, A Question of Trust by Angeline Fortin

Everyone who reads and reviews this book seems to say the same thing: it would have been a fantastic book if only Fortin had hired an editor.  I’ve got to say, I pretty much agree with the peanut gallery, but I also could have done with a lot less random description of clothing.  If I had followed through on my 10-year-old-girl goals to become a world-class fashionista (those who know me know how I far I fell short of that goal throughout my life…), maybe I would care to read details about pin-tucking and embroidery and overskirts and underskirts.  But I just don’t give two hoots or a holler about any of that.  It’s nice to know that the characters in books have clothes on, but don’t you kind of assume that, as a reader?  There were some cases where the seemingly endless clothing descriptions made a wee bit of sense, when the clothing choices moved along the character development, but the rest of the time, I just skipped ahead.

Now here’s something interesting: it ain’t often that you have a romance novel deal with a weighty topic like spousal abuse and not be lame about it.  A lot of romance authors imbue their characters with the mannerisms of folks who have been badly abused but then when it comes time for them to give an accounting of the actual abuse the character received (to explain all that funky behavior), it’s so mild that their behavior doesn’t make any sense.  Sometimes people treat each other very badly, and I was happy to come across a book that wasn’t afraid to delve into all of that.  Well done, Fortin.  But, next time, hire a damn editor, because it’s really annoying to read a book that’s got stupid errors – dropped words, typos, mistaken words (i.e. interesting rather than interested…), etc.

Cover image, The Leopard Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’ve sort of fallen in love with Elizabeth Hoyt.  This woman writes beautiful books that seamlessly blend interesting stories about complicated characters with these lovely little fairy tales.  I wrote about The Raven Prince a few weeks ago, which is the first book in the Prince series, followed by The Leopard Prince and then The Serpent Prince.  All three books in that series are excellent, and I’m so glad I read them.  Seriously, if you can stand to read romance novels and are tolerant of quite steamy sex sequences, you should really read these books.  The books are beautifully constructed with just enough plot movement not to be boring and with all the character development that a girl like me could possibly want.  Trust me: that’s a lot of character development!  I’m a sucker for fairy tales, so my favorite part of each of the Prince books was the fairy tale and how perfectly it dovetailed the main story line/character line.

In the romance genre, it’s fairly typical to start each chapter with some sort of excerpt, whether from an established work of literature, some fictional work that is mentioned within the book, or bits of letters penned by one or more of the characters of the book.  I’m not quite sure why it’s so popular in romance fiction, but there’s some sort of chapter introduction in about 75% of the romance novels I’ve read in the past five years.  Clearly, it’s become part of the genre.  Most of the time, I don’t bother reading the little introductions, because they tend to take away from the pacing of the story and often fail to add anything substantive to it.  However, when Hoyt writes these little chapter introductions, they provide another layer of meaning for the characters.  How brilliant for Hoyt to take a stupid quirk of the genre and make it beautiful.

Cover image, The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I have one more thought about the Prince series, and then I’ll be done.  Series books are usually really annoying.  Often, when an author writes a series, she’s actually just rewriting the first book with different character names.  As an example, I point to Stephanie Laurens, who wrote the wildly successful Cynster series.  Now, I’m a sucker for romance novels, so I’ve read every single one of those books (sucker indeed).  They’re all exactly the same.  The male hero character is jaded and starting to feel a certain restlessness with his life.  Enter the heroine, whom the male character immediately fixes upon as an object of his possession.  The hero decides that they will marry, but the heroine refuses to consent until she can be certain that he loves her.  He is reticent to give such an assurance, and so they have a conflict.  Since that conflict alone would make for horribly boring books, Laurens throws each of her hero/heroine pairs into some sort of mortal peril (a murderer on the loose, etc.) that, in its resolution, forces the hero character to examine and communicate his feelings, after which recitation the heroine relents, and they marry, happily ever after.  Laurens has written 20+ versions of the same book, and idiots like me keep flocking up to purchase them at $7.99 a pop.  Did I mention I’m a sucker?

Hoyt writes series books with marginally connected characters, but each book is distinct.  She doesn’t seem to possess a pattern card for ideal male or female behavior.  Rather, her characters receive individual attention and a great deal of thought.  As a reader, I don’t have to feel like an utter moron for spending another $8 for the dubious pleasure of reading a story I’ve already read.  Instead, I can spend $4 or $6 on a lovely story that makes me happy and makes me think.  I just don’t have anything bad to say about any of these books by Elizabeth Hoyt, and that’s a rare thing!

Cover image, Listening Hearts by Suzanne G. Farnham, Joseph P. Gill, R. Taylor McLean & Susan M. Ward

In addition to all those romance novels, I’m also reading Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community.  I’m starting the process of writing a profile document for my church, and a friend of mine suggested that I read this book to help get me in the right frame of mind for discernment.  Having gone to Azusa Pacific University, I’m a bit leery of religious writing, but I’m really enjoying this book.  Not everything that has to do with religion is cheesy and fake.  Anyway, I’m just on the first chapter, but it deserves a mention in my week of reading recap.

These books are all last week’s reading.  I just got back from an eight-day road trip from southern California to southern Idaho, and I didn’t get any writing done for the blog while I was gone.  Stay tuned for some upcoming posts about the road trip, this week’s reading, and a relatively recent wine tasting trip.