Books books books

Read Bramble and Blood and really enjoyed it– the first chapter is pretty clunky, but by chapter two the writing is smooth.  The world building was really neat.  I liked it so much that I immediately bought Birdsong and Bone which was also excellent.  Then I bought Shadows and Souls.  These were a nice break from the maybe too predictable stuff I’d been reading lately.  (Note:  The third book had a completely unnecessary Pathos death.  Disappointing, given the second one made a different choice about another potential Pathos death.)

I returned Destiny’s Embrace unfinished because ugh… the hero force kisses the heroine who his mother has employed as his housekeeper on the first day that she meets him after they get into a verbal argument.  I am just OVER “heroes” kissing women they barely know without consent, and doubly over “heroes” kissing the heroines they employ.  Kissing strangers is not normal and kissing employees is harassment.  The book didn’t get better after that, so I gave up.  Which is a shame because the set-up was interesting.  (I’m willing to give some leeway for the hero and heroine being in a working relationship while falling in love if the author can make it work in a way that’s not squicky– not the case here.)

Chance of a Lifetime by Jayne Ann Krentz was similarly terrible, by which I mean the hero force kissed the heroine he has employed as his housekeeper on the second day she meets him after they get into a verbal argument.  I wish the first goodreads review had been on amazon– I wouldn’t have bought it!  I’m considering recycling the used copy I have instead of passing it on.  I need to be better about checking all reviews, though in fairness I thought this was from 1994 (Krentz was mostly better by then, so long as it wasn’t a Stephanie James reissue), but it’s actually 1987.

Merry Inkmas was similarly irritating though not quite as bad.  I did finish it, but I deleted it off my kindle.

Lady Osbaldestone’s Plum Puddings was better than the second in the series (which I do not regret reading and have not deleted, but definitely dragged a bit) but not quite as good as the first.

Death Beside the Seaside was another fun Lady Hardcastle.

A Delicate Deception was a nice meandering book, though the ending seemed kind of abrupt.  It would have done well with a five years later epilogue, though I know that sort of goes against the message of the book.  Still… life does go on, and it’s nice to get a peek into the happily ever after.  I assume they’ll show up in a future book as minor characters but by then I’ll have completely forgotten who they were.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was pretty good except for the heroines losing each other for no good reason.  I hate it when the drama has to be achieved by sensible characters not talking things out.  The end was a bit wishful, but still nice.

I liked the novella One Bed for Christmas.  IIRC this also had some stupidity drama, but it was resolved much more quickly, and in a way that’s more realistic– sensible characters had sensible friends who told them to stop being dumb.

The Magician’s Angel was a good library read but I didn’t feel the need to buy– very much a novella.

I reread Lord Perfect and decided to buy it.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t the first time around.  (Maybe because it’s overpriced for an older kindle book and we were on half salary at 2x expenses at the time?)

I impulse bought My Fake Rake and wish I hadn’t.  It took all my favorite tropes… and then was just kind of dumb.  It would have been an ok library read if I didn’t have better stuff, but I think I may have deleted it off my kindle.

Devil Take me was a great selection of m/m short stories.  Some of them were astonishingly good.

I bought a series of four super silly m/m novellas by Jordan Castillo Price.  They probably weren’t worth what I paid for them, but they hit a silliness spot that I needed.

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk was fun.  I find most of Hawk’s books just really easy to read, even though they’re not entirely predictable.  I’m hoping for more omnibuses to be available in the future.  You can already get some of their series in omnibus form, like SPECTR, the complete first series, which is a steal at $4.99.  Did I say that in the last books post?   Must not have– it’s been a long time since the last one of these posts!

Charmed and Dangerous was fine, but not as good as Devil Take Me, even though many of the authors were the same across the two anthologies.

I can’t remember what I thought about the Duke I tempted by Scarlett Peckham.  Obviously this feature needs to be done more frequently.  I think it had some unnecessary angst, but… I can’t actually remember.

I do remember that A Rogue by Night and Night of the Scoundrel, both in the Devils of Dover series were delightful, though I do think there was more that could have been done with the hero in Night of the Scoundrel– usually the mysterious King in these books is given a full novel finale rather than a short novella with a Mary Sue heroine, but that’s an interesting direction to take the trope.

Gilded Cage by K J Charles was wonderful!!!  Not anywhere near the mindflip as the first book in the series, but I think the simpler nature of this book nicely parallels the differences between the two different Lilywhite boys featured as heroes in the two books.  There’s also some nice followup to the characters in the rat catcher’s daughter short, which is an excellent read.

Flowers in the Storm by Laura Kinsale was Gawdawful.  Just don’t.

I think I liked Lady Isabella’s Ogre by Emily Larkin.  I read it way back in October though!  I bought it before I read a huge dud of hers, and haven’t bought anything else from her.  I wish the library had more of her stuff so I could try before buying.

What are you reading?  Anything you recommend?

What are we reading? Mostly mixed-quality romance.

All Night Long was dark and (tw: spoiler) turned out to have child rape in it.  Not the usual Krentz/Quick/Castle fare.  Do not recommend.  (Then right after I tried When All the Girls Were Gone, which, while less graphic, is about tracking down a rapist.)  I think I’m now out of Krentz/Quick/Castle books that I can borrow online from Big City Library, though the library in the next town does have a ton more in paper that I have not yet read.  And in a few months our local library will be open again!)  The library also had an old Krentz called “Lady’s Choice” which wasn’t that bad even though it was originally published in 1989 and neither the hero nor the heroine were particularly likable.  It was kind of fun in that it turned the hero seeks out the heroine for revenge on her family trope on its head (this is not a spoiler) and it is the first book that I’ve read that starts mid-orgasm.  Probably not worth rereading though.  I also liked a trio of early Castles that have floral women’s names.  They’re set in a world that is similar to but different than the Harmony books– the key differences being that, 1st,  people with powers either have the powers or they can help someone with powers focus their talent, so it takes a pair to do anything substantially paranormal, 2nd, there are no dustbunnies.  But they’re fun nonetheless.  In other Krentz novels, Eye of the beholder was a great (non-paranormal) mystery, and I think I like the Coppersmith books enough that I will have to eventually buy them.  I wonder what it would take for Krentz to write a novella with the gay brother, Nick, as the main character, since the two sisters have gotten full novels.  And what Coppersmith family member would he eventually pair up with?  Oh man, that would be so great.  Krentz was an early romance novelist to add LGBT characters to her novels, and LGBT characters as completely normal people not sassy best friends.  (Nick, in this case is a super sexy thief with paranormal powers.  Just crying for him to pair up with some hunky Coppersmith guy.  Especially since SHE SETS THAT UP in the second, and final, book.)  Sadly she last visited this group in 2013, so it’s probably not going to happen.  :(  If I were super rich, I’d totally talk to her agent to see if I could commission one.  (Update:  I’m fairly sure he would pair up with a guy from the family that is in competition with the Coppersmiths.  Like, it’s all there, just ready to be written.)

I’ve been having trouble getting through Unfit to Print by KJ Charles because although it is high quality, it is also dark and sordid and has child prostitution (not a spoiler because that’s pretty up front), and though it’s never graphic about it it is still disturbing.  The quality of her work taking on these dark subjects is unmistakable, but I so much prefer her (equally high quality, IMO) lighter fare.  Where children aren’t getting abused and family members aren’t betraying each other.   And I guess that’s literally the definition to the plot of Any Old Diamonds, but the children are grown and the abuse is off screen and some of the betrayal is deserved unapologetic revenge betraying.  Speaking of Any Old Diamonds, it is amazingly good– extremely well-plotted (at the end, I texted #2 to tell her it was “splendid”).  You can read it as a one-off, but I think it gains something extra if you read it after reading An Unsuitable Heir, as it is set place in the same world a couple decades later.  If you’re into rereading, then I might suggest reading this one first, then reading the entire sins of the cities series (which is dark and Victorian– I like the third book best… the people in it, even the more minor characters are amazing), then rereading this one to maximize pleasure (reading the first time for the plot which is riveting, the second time to indulge).

Last night with the earl by Kelly Bowen was pretty meh, and the Grace Burrows novella at the end was But Faaaaaaaamily and magical thinking.

I deleted A rake never changes his spots by Samantha Holt.  It was ok, but not worth ever reading again.  Maybe worth a library read if you have a lot of free time and need something brainless.  I mean, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t very good either.  I’m a bit mystified by the high reviews.

Salt magic skin magic by Lee Welch was ok, I guess.  I’m really not into that particular supernatural trope, which I can’t tell you about because the book is a big mystery leading up to the unveiling of that particular trope, but I figured it out pretty early because I feel like I’ve read this book before but without a M/M romance and without the main character being a jerk.  Usually it’s a daughter in the trope.  And the mom is always dead dead dead.  (Usually there’s a “or is she” attached.)  Aside from the trope, the writing was good, one of the two leads was great, but the romance wasn’t really believable given the other dude.  There’s a long inner monologue in which the great lead thinks about how great the other guy is…how different from other aristocrats… and the things he’s saying are at odds with what’s actually shown in the book.  Maybe worth trying this author again, I dunno.

I got so many amazing books for my birthday this year!  The kids and I loved Lupin Leaps In.  There’s a lot more substance to this one than to the first Breaking Cat News compendium.  Squirrel Girl continues to be unbeatable!

A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert was wonderfully soothing.  More than worth the $2.99 it cost on Kindle.  I need to get the rest of her books now.

House of Cads by Elizabeth Kingston was fun! Part grand sophy, part farce. It has the irrepressible French woman trope but manages not to be obnoxious.

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure was pretty good.  Definitely a novella.  And I think the first aging septuagenarian F/F romance in which the couple are the main characters and not minor characters (in which one invariably the heroine’s aunt… in this case, the aunt was aunt to a horrible nephew).

I was excited to see a Cat Sebastian book in the new books section at the library!  Previously the library had been 0/(all of them) for LGBT romances.  I already own this one, of course, because I get all her books when they come out, but I’m so glad that our town has purchased at least this one.

What should I read next, Grumpeteers?

What are we reading?

Boxing Day is for reading books!  Here’s a fantastic list of good books, if you don’t have enough to read.

I don’t usually like rehashes of Pride and Prejudice, but Lady Bridget’s Diary: Keeping Up with the Cavendishes by Maya Rodale isn’t really a rehash of the book so much as a splicing of a bunch of Colin Firth media together (the P&P is definitely the BBC miniseries version, complete with fully-clothed dousing). She even names her hero Colin Fitzwilliam Wright Darcy. It’s very tongue and cheek and definitely not historically accurate. A library check-out, but I think probably not a purchase. It’s hard to say. Silly and enjoyable.  The rest of the books in the series were ok but not great.

(Another book is Pride, by Ibi Zoboi, along the same lines.)

Other Maya Rodale books were not worth even trying.  The Tattooed Duke was terrible.  Bad in the #metoo movement, repetitive, unlikable main characters, nobody realizing that a married woman doesn’t own her own property except the dumb villain… so much that doesn’t make sense.  The entire writing girls series also terrible… boring, TSTL, at least one unlikable main character in each.  A great idea with a terrible execution.

In contrast, I’m in the middle of Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh which is another take on the female gossip columnist (here she owns the entire gossip sheet), and so far 27% in it has been enjoyable… meandering but I’m in the mood for a little meandering.  (Though I am going to skip the second in that series because the amazon reviews says the hero is a creepy stalker who doesn’t take no for an answer, which, ugh.)

I liked In Love with a Wicked Man by Liz Carlyle enough to buy my own copy (though it was only $1.99, so no real hardship).  It’s a nice take on the hardened hero gets amnesia in a near-death accident while the heroine nurses him back to health trope.

If you can handle a Christmas novella after Christmas, A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews was lovely.  Soothing.  Sadly, the book the library had available, The Lost Letter, was one of those where if the Hero and Heroine ever talked with each other instead of constantly jumping to conclusions and then running off the book would be 3 pages long.  You’d think after it happened once they’d have you know, figured it out.  I’m curious about her other books, but not enough to pay to try them given that they’re mostly tropes I’m not crazy about.  (I did buy A Holiday by Gaslight before reading it which was a total impulse purchase, and I am glad I did.)

Note to self:  stop trying to read Balogh reissues.  They are ALL full of rape.  Just stop.  The new stuff is good but make sure it is genuinely new.  (Most recent indiscreet)

#2 really liked Not Even Bones, by Rebecca Schaeffer.  It’s too violent for #1 to read, though.

I (#2) would also like to recommend the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal.  The first one is The Calculating Stars and the second one is The Fated Sky.  The third one is in progress, dunno the expected pub date.

I also recommend The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe.  First in a contemporary series about the mythical Tufa people, who live and keep to themselves in Tennessee.  Until 20-year-old Bronwyn Hyatt becomes an accidental war hero in Iraq and returns to her hometown with all the pomp she never wanted.  I think I would call this speculative fiction.  I’m waiting on the second one from the library.

I recently liked Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang, but I can’t remember if I talked about it on here already or not.  I think I didn’t.  It’s weird and has a happy ending.

What have you been reading, Grumpeteers?

What are we reading in romance?

A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen was good!  Not perfect, but good.  I think with some editing and if it were maybe a bit longer it would have been great.

Only one of the Sally MacKenzies I read is worth reading (and not worth owning), and yet I almost read them all (the library didn’t have two of the spinster house books).  I guess that can happen when books are easily available as library ebooks.  Two of them have attempted rape as a plot point (and with a third both the hero and the villain force themselves on the heroine, but it’s somehow ok when the hero does it).  And in The Naked Duke, the bad guy rapes and murders a woman onscreen pretty graphically.  Unnecessary.  Naked king has rape as a backstory. That aside, the author has a small grab-bag of plot-like things to choose from and just randomly pulls for each book.  So much repetition across books.  In case you’re wondering, the only one that wasn’t a drag and actually had some plot was Surprising Lord Jack.  Bonus points on that one for having a hero who respects “no” and isn’t a douche.  It did have a mass murderer who targeted prostitutes and women with bad reputations though, so not completely misogyny trope-free.

Oooh, ooh.  Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles.  We love her.  This improves upon the original.

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope.  It’s a fantasy adventure that feels a lot like a romance (I believe the author has written romance novels before).  I think there’s a sequel out soon, but to me this felt like a complete book that didn’t need one.  Give it a try.

Read a bunch of Sabrina Jeffries.  None worth owning so far.  Lots of the hero kissing the heroine after he’s been told no.  The pleasures of passion starts out with rape as a macguffin.  Yuck.  (That one so far is the only one I quit in the middle– it was just all around not good.  I assume the macguffin’s romance is also in that series, so that’s probably got rape as a backstory which means I won’t even pick it up.)  Update– quit a bunch more in the School for Heiresses series, which has a great premise, but turns out to be chock full of horribleness.  (Brooding jerky kidnapping heroes, ginormous age differences between 17 year old heiresses and the heroes, lots of focus on “innocent but eager” and girls wanting to explore what they read about in a harem book but being soooo innocent, lots of sex after meeting the hero for the second time ever, usually when he turns up someplace super creepy like the heroine’s bedroom in the middle of the night etc., supposedly intelligent but also TSTL heroines and heroes making bizarre choices…, sex as a tool of manipulation except during sex they fall in love etc.)  So… I guess her Duke’s Men series is worth reading and her Hellions of Hallstead Hall series is readable, but not ownable and the rest shouldn’t be bothered with.  Or if you’re just looking at covers:  If there’s a bare female back or a bare male chest, pick it up from the library, otherwise give it a miss.  (I’m guessing that this is probably a date of publication thing– the series that have more skin on the covers also have more feminism inside.)

After a slow start (by which I mean the hero seemed not that great at first), enjoyed A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase enough to put it on my amazon list.  It really felt like the second in a series, but turns out it is the first.  I’m curious about the other two dukes and the aunt, but one of them has the “troubled married couple” trope and the other dude is an alcoholic who doesn’t seem all that bright, but maybe he also has hidden depths that will become apparent.  Or maybe he’ll be the B-story in a book with the aunt and this guy’s uncle as the A-story.

Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James had a promising start but then kind of petered out into stupidity.  Worth a library read, possibly.  But I really do want to read the next in the series!

The Doctor’s Discretion by EE Ottoman turned up on a couple of “you must read” lists, so I gave it a spin for $3.99 on kindle.  It starts out really clunky… definitely an early novel in need of professional editing.   But it was on those lists, so I persisted… and it did get much better and was well worth getting through the clunky opening.  Is it worth buying?  I dunno.  It’s definitely not perfect, but it became an enjoyable read.

Amanda Quick’s Deception made me laugh out loud several times and I had to explain why I was laughing to DH.  It is different!  And I love the heroine and her relationship with the hero.  A++ will read again.

What are we reading: Romance edition.

#1 skipped large middle chunks of Patricia Bray then deleted on kindle.  Waste of a dollar.

I enjoyed Poetic Justice by Alicia Rasley enough to purchase it.  There’s no onscreen sex, if that’s important.  It’s a fun caper where the protagonists fall in love over books.  The end is a bit rushed, but there’s also no unnecessary angst.  (The best part though is a glimpse the love affair of the long-dead parents!)  The first in the series is free on Amazon but I haven’t read it yet (update: it was ok, but not worth paying for).  I also haven’t read the second in the series, but plan to…

I tried a couple of Patricia Rice regencies, but I don’t like how the heroes take away the heroine’s agency, even when having agency is a big deal for the heroine and it seems like the resolution should include the hero giving in on that.  We’re talking about things like, I dunno, secretly marrying the women against their will in Scotland where the marriage rules are different and not telling them they’ve been married until months later when circumstances have made it far too late for an annulment.  Or, you know, not stopping sex when the woman is in pain because of his “need”.  UGH.  Or forcing the heroine to have sex as a transaction in a situation where she doesn’t want to, but feels that she has to in order to save someone else.  Not cool.  Her Genius series is a modern set of romances… the amazon reviews complain about it having a liberal agenda, but there are too many uncomfortable racial and homosexual “jokes” for it to truly be liberal… or maybe it just shows how far we’ve come in the past 20-30 years in terms of what’s not cool to say about minorities.  I won’t purchase it, but I think I’ll try the second in the genius series, and later books seem to get higher reviews.  So I dunno… it felt like the books could be really good if they were just updated and the bad parts that used to be more common in this literature were removed.  It’s possible that, like Mary Balogh, her more recent books are less icky because the entire genre has moved away from icky.

Genuinely enjoyed The Heiress Companion, which is an old fashioned (and clean) regency novella by Madeline Robins.  It is no The Grand Sophy, but a pleasant read nonetheless.  Lady John and My Dear Jenny were also pretty good.  Spanish Marriage and Althea were both pretty awful, though in different ways.

Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith was also worth buying.  An old-fashioned style regency, if that makes sense.  (Not a bodice-ripper, older than that– more Austen-style.)  Not perfect, but soothing.

We both love love LOVED KJ Charles’ latest, Spectred Isle. The adopted son of Simon Feximal is in it!  SOOOOO GOOOOOOD.  Neither of us can wait for the next one.

In the modern world, #2 read and liked Attachments, which was Rainbow Rowell’s first book. Can you fall in love with someone via email? (Of course.) I think I’ve already mentioned Carry On somewhere on this blog.

Finally, we love books. I loved the little book, Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Writing letters to books is a neat idea and maybe I’ll try it sometime.

Get to reading, Grumpeteers! Tell us what’s good in romance.