Wednesday, 16 July 2014

#CBR6 Book 76: "The Suffragette Scandal" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 281 pages
Rating: 6 stars, yeah, you read that correctly

Disclaimer! I got an ARC of this through NetGalley, in return for a fair and unbiased review. I would also like to point out that I pre-ordered this book as soon as I could, so all the ARC did was save me another four interminable days of waiting to read the book. As for unbiased, I don't know if I can ever be unbiased where it comes to Courtney Milan, because I love her writing so much it occasionally actually hurts. With that in mind, here is my feeble attempt at capturing why you should drop everything you're doing, acquiring this book and reading it right this minute.

Frederica "Free" Marshall used the money she inherited from a reclusive aunt to put herself through college and establish a newspaper "by women, for women, about women". Her first story was an expose of the horrible conditions in a naval lock hospital, an asylum of sorts where they kept prostitutes suspected of venereal disease. She bravely and stubbornly continues to employ women and publish her paper, even though she receives offensive letters, abuse and death treats on a weekly basis. Recently, it's become clear that someone has access to the articles before they are published, and is making it look like the Women's Free Press is just copying from other male-run publications. Someone is determined to ruin Free's life's work.

Enter, Edward Clark, liar, forger, blackmailer and scoundrel extraordinaire. He offers to help Free, claiming he wants revenge on the man who's out to destroy her. What Free doesn't know is that the man who is behind the plot to discredit her and her newspaper is Edward's younger brother, and that Edward Clark was in fact born Edward Delacey, and now that his father is dead, he is actually Viscount Claridge. His brother is none to happy to see him return, as Edward's been gone for nearly seven years, just long enough to have him declared dead, so James can become the Viscount instead. Edward promises that his brother can have the title, he just wants to make sure that Stepehen Shaughnessy, his childhood friend, isn't ruined along with Miss Marshall's newspaper. Of course, Edward's father and younger brother both left him for dead in a war-torn France nine years ago, so Edward feels absolutely no loyalty or connection to them. The Shaughnessy brothers, however, his oldest friends, and Miss Marshall, who is quickly worming her way into his affections, he is willing to use all his devious and underhanded ways to help.

As Edward and Free work together to foil James Delacey's plots against her, they naturally grow closer, and Free discovers that while Edward may lie, cheat, be an expert forger and blackmailer, he's also a genuinely good man deep down, but has been mistreated by the world for the longest time, and believes himself not only incapable of love but wholly undeserving of being loved or even trusted. Of course, Edward knows that if Free ever discovered who he really is, and who his brother is, she will no longer great him with a beaming smile, but hate him forever.

I love Courtney Milan. This is no secret. I rate her book Unraveled among the best romances I've ever read. Well, that book has just been knocked off its top spot, because as far as I'm concerned, The Suffragette Scandal is her crowning achievement. As anyone who has been following my blog, or checked out my Goodreads ratings, I've never rated a Milan-book or novella lower than three stars. This book makes me want to break the ratings system, because it deserves six. All the other books of hers that I've rated five stars have little things that niggle and annoy me. This book is flawless. There is a secondary romance involving Free's best friend, Lady Amanda, the niece of Violet from The Countess Conspiracy which is so subtly and cleverly done that I was honestly wondering if I was reading too much into things to begin with, and whether my mind was creating a romance where there was none. I don't want to spoil anything, but bits involving Lady Amanda had me sobbing on a public bus because I was so moved, and I cheered out loud when the story finally reached its very satisfying conclusion.

Frederica Marshall is Oliver Marshall's little sister and in previous books in the series, she struck me as rather abrasive and annoying. Of course, that Free was an opinionated teenager. This Free is twenty-seven, college educated and tempered by the massive challenges of being a progressive woman in a society that wants women to be seen as ornaments and help meets, not heard and given equal say or footing as men. All grown up, Free Marshall is a force to be reckoned with. I wish she'd be my friend, even though she'd be a bit too outspoken and keep frustratingly thrusting herself into danger for my tastes. She's not flawless, she knows that she's bossy and opinionated, and speaking rashly without thinking can hurt the people she loves dearly. She doesn't publish her newspaper solely to convince men that they are wrong about women, she's doing it to inform and empower women.

Love is too small a word for what I feel for Edward. I'm not sure there are words in any of the languages I speak (English, Swedish, Norwegian and a smattering of German, if anyone was interested) to describe how I feel about Edward. He's so guarded, and cynical and has been beaten down so much by the world and the cruelty of men that he has trouble believing in anyone or anything. He sees the world in terms of how he can take advantage of it, and gain as much as possible for himself. Free sees the world in terms of how she can improve it for the most people and make it a better place in future. They are so different, yet both so sharp and clever and lonely. Their banter is absolutely divine. Their second meeting involves Edward trying to blackmail Free, only to have her turn around and blackmail him more successfully. Their romance is seemingly impossible, but of course they find a happy ending, and the romantic gesture from Edward at the end had me in tears, again.

This book made me laugh, and cry, and swoon, and ruined me so much for other books that instead of being able to read anything else, I just had to start re-reading this book again, only more slowly, so I could properly savour the plot, characters and writing. I don't think there's a single chapter where I haven't highlighted at least one section or quote or small dialogue exchange. I was lucky enough to get an ARC, so I could read the book four days early. That means I've now been fortunate enough to read the book twice, only a day after it's released. Courtney Milan self-publishes, so consider buying her book if you can. Otherwise, find it at your local library or just read it in a book store, and rate it honestly on all forms of social media. Get the word out if you like it. If I haven't convinced you by now that you want to read this book, you are clearly a person who doesn't like good writing. Courtney Milan is not a romance writer, she is an excellent writer who just happens to be writing in the romance genre. Please give this book a try!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 75: "Grave Mercy" by Robin LaFevers

Page count: 549 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Ismae's mother went to a herb witch to expel her from the womb, but Ismae survived. The poison marked her with red all the way down her side, and proved to the community that she is one of Death's daughters. When her abusive father marries her to the local pig farmer, she is convinced he's going to beat her to death once he discovers her dark secret. But the itinerant priest who performed the service spirits her away with the help of the local herb witch and she ends up at the convent of St. Mortain, who used to be worshipped as the God of Death himself. At the convent, she learns that she has a number of gifts, including a complete immunity to poison and an advanced healing ability. She's offered sanctuary at the convent, if she agrees to be a handmaiden of Death - an assassin working for the old gods of Brittany.

Ismae, who has never known a kind word or touch from anyone in her life, doesn't take long to agree. She is trained in all manner of deadly arts, and by the time she is seventeen, she is ready to complete her training. She isn't too happy with her graduating assignment, though, having to pose as the mistress of Gavriel Duval, half-brother to the Duchess of Brittany and her most trusted advisor. The Abbess of St. Mortain and the Duchess' Grand Chancellor know that there is at least one traitor at court, trying to deliver Brittany and its young Duchess to the French, and they'd like nothing more than for Ismae to prove that Duval is said traitor.

To begin with, Duval and Ismae can barely stand each other. He feels that she trusts too blindly in the orders she receives, she thinks that he is arrogant and conceited and has no wish to be dependent on any man, even as a ruse. Of course the two grow closer, and it becomes readily apparent that Ismae is going to have to learn to trust her instincts and intuition, not just the orders her convent sends her.

A young adult book set in Medieval Brittany, about assassin nuns, with romantic elements, seemed to be right up my alley. I do, after all, have a degree in European Medieaval history, and I love all things YA and romantic. And who doesn't like a good assassin story? There's a lot of potential in this book, but it's too long, and far too much time is spent on things that weren't all that interesting. The story could absolutely have been tighter and more action-packed.

Pretty much all of the training Ismae goes through at the convent is conveniently skipped, and then far too many chapters are spent on her getting settled at court. I have to agree with Duval that she is far too innocent and trusting in her superiors, but that's not really surprising in a farm girl elevated to assassin nun. I doubt any convent is big on training their acolytes in independent thought, critical thinking and questioning their elders. Young women who are sent out to assassinate on behalf of the old gods are not the sort of people you want branching out on their own and going independent. Certainly not if they're immune to poison, like Ismae is. Still, she was a bit dense at times, and it got on my nerves.

The romance springs a bit out of nowhere. Ismae is falling in love with Duval before she's really even spent all that much time with him. As it turns out, he's a pretty great guy, loyal to his young sister and willing to risk his life to make sure she finds happiness in a good marriage and doesn't have her duchy invaded by the French. But Ismae is already madly in love with him by the time we find out all these things.

It was pretty obvious to me who the traitor was long before it was revealed, and the deus ex ending that means Ismae might be looking at her HEA was a bit too convenient for my tastes. Too much of this book was boring day to day court life, and too little of it was assassination, romance and intrigue. Still, I have heard that the sequel is better, so I will probably keep going. After all, medieaval assassin nuns, right?

#CBR6 Book 74: "Rumor Has It" by Jill Shalvis

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 304 pages

Summary from Goodreads, cause I'm lazy: 

He’ll help unleash the new woman in her...

Special Ops soldier Griffin Reid doesn’t exactly have happy memories of growing up in Sunshine, Idaho. He’s only come back to recover from a war injury, and while he refuses to admit he’s in a weakened state, he finds comfort in the last person he’d expect.

Kate Evans teaches fourth grade science in Sunshine, the place she’s always called home. Dreaming of graduate school and a happily-ever-after, she’s desperate to break out of the monotony of Sunshine. Luckily, a certain sexy man has just come back into her life.

To Griffin, Kate has always been his little sister’s best friend, but now he’s finding her to be so much more. As both attempt to forge their paths, they must decide if their passionate connection can turn into something lasting…

This is my first ever Jill Shalvis contemporary, and I signed up for the RITA Reader Challenge specifically because I’d been curious about her writing. I generally read a LOT more historicals than contemporaries, Julie James and Jennifer Crusie, as well as Lisa Kleypas’ Travis-trilogy being the only notable exceptions. Still, I like to diversify my reading, and have read so many complimentary things about Shalvis on various review sites, that this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

I did enjoy the book a lot. I figured out from checking out the blurbs of the previous books in the series that Holly and Adam, who are about to get married in this book, as well as some of the other couples who are mentioned repeatedly, find their HEAs in the earlier books. Holly is Griffin’s little sister and Adam is his best friend. He returns to Sunshine only a few days before the wedding, not really telling anyone about the reason he’s been discharged permanently from the military.

An engineer working with bomb disposal, he only barely survived a close encounter with an explosion, having managed to get the rest of his troop safe before the explosion went off. Now he’s suffering from crippling migraines, sudden bouts of nausea, light sensitivity, horrible nightmares and is generally not in a good state. Of course, being a big, tough soldier guy, he’s reluctant to admit weakness or vulnerability to anyone, and keeps his scar hidden under a baseball cap most of the time.

The first person Griffin runs into upon his return is Kate, Holly’s best friend, who’s had a crush on him pretty much forever. She’s fallen on her ass in the snow in front of him, and is naturally quite mortified. He helps her up, and notices just how attractive she is. Even though he is warned off her in the strongest possible terms by his sister – Griff has a reputation for loving and leaving women, Kate is inexperienced and vulnerable – Griffin can’t forget about her.

Kate is bending over backwards to help everyone around her. As well as being the ideal teacher for each and every fourth grader she teaches, she spends much of every day taking care of her widowed, slightly hapless father, bratty teenage drama queen sister and geeky, off-beat little brother. She feeds the homeless guy in the park and brings her ex-boyfriend coffee every morning when they drive to work together (her ex is the school principal). For three years in a row, Kate has been offered a prestigious graduate position at UCSD, with a full scholarship, but every year, she’s turned it down to take care of those around her. Now the deadline to accept is less than two weeks away, and she desperately wants to send in her acceptance e-mail, but is worried her family will fall apart without her.

She decides that she’s sick of always being the good girl, and wants some fun, crazy adventure in her life. She sets out to seduce Griffin at the wedding, and though he tries his best to heed his little sister’s warnings and be a gentleman, he can only resist Kate’s increasingly determined efforts to throw herself at him for so long. He’s also surprised to discover that Kate seems perfectly fine with them having a one-night-stand, while he wants to spend more time with her.

Kate is one of the first people in Sunshine to discover his injuries, and insists on taking care of him when she finds him having an especially bad migraine attack. Having only been back in Sunshine for a short while, Griffin has nonetheless discovered how much time Kate spends caring for others, without anyone really ever being there one hundred per cent for her.

As I said, I really liked this book, but it was by no means perfect, and there were a few things that annoyed me about it. There’s a minor subplot about someone possibly stalking Kate when she’s out running, which felt out of place in an otherwise quite light-hearted book.

There’s also the fact that Kate is so gosh-darned perfect! Really, barring the “doesn’t realize how attractive she is even after several different guys hit on her at a party” and the fact that she appears to be completely unable to actually ASK her family whether they’ll be ok if she goes away to graduate school for a year, just assuming that everything will fall apart if she’s not there mothering them. She’s so perfect, I almost expected to discover that birds ate out of her hand and small rodents and forest creatures braided her hair as if she was a Disney princess. I would have liked her to have some flaws, she felt unrealistically flawless, good-hearted and kind.

I also didn’t really care about Griffin’s conflict with his father. I understand why it was there, and that it was an important reason as to why he never felt at home in Sunshine, where pretty much everyone else obviously thrives, but I just didn’t engage me.

I enjoyed the various family relationships in the book, though; even though Kate’s younger siblings occasionally veered a bit too far into stereotypical bratty teenage girl and geeky weird kid plot moppet territory. I will absolutely be checking out more of the Animal Magnetism series, as well as Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor books, which I’ve also heard many good things about. I just hope the protagonists in her other books are more fully rounded as humans, not Mary Sues.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 73: "Landline" by Rainbow Rowell

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 5 stars

I don't actually have the words to properly summarise the plot for this book, because I have so many feelings about it. Formulating them is going to be difficult enough. So I'm going to take the easy way out, and rely on the blurb:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it's been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply - but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point. 

Two days before they're supposed to visit Neal's family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can't go. She's a TV-writer, and something's come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her - Neal is always a little upset with Georgie - but she doesn't expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her. 

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she's finally done it. If she's ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It's not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she's been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts...

Is that what she's supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

It's not secret to anyone who reads my reviews that I love Rainbow Rowell's writing. So to say that my expectations for this book were high, is a gross understatement. There are certain authors where I clear my entire schedule for their new books. I was lucky enough that this book came out during the summer holidays, the best time of the year to be a teacher. No lesson planning, no grading, no endless essay correction - just long days of indulgent reading. So I was able to devote myself properly to reading the book. I was a bit wary, because having read the blurb as soon as it was available, it was clear that this was going to be a more serious book, with a fairly painful subject. Eleanor & Park nearly broke my heart because I felt so strongly for the characters. A novel about a marriage in real trouble didn't exactly sound like a fun read.

Let's just say that I'm so glad I didn't read this book about three and a bit years ago, when my own marriage was going through a serious rough patch. This book would have destroyed me utterly. In this book, we get to see Georgie's present, but also how she and Neal met, and little glimpses into their married life together. As Rowell does so brilliantly, she shows us how they gradually fall in love, and how they ended up married, despite being vastly different people, with different goals and aspirations. Because Rowell writes such achingly realistic characters, we share her concerns and worries. We are given a chance to understand why she so desperately wants her new television show, and is willing to possibly risk her marriage to stay in Los Angeles to write scripts to show the network exec. We see how her writing partner and best friend is hugely important to her life, but that Neal is clearly the cornerstone who grounds and fuels her.

Being fully aware of your own flaws, and feeling like you are constantly disappointing and possibly even hurting the person you love most in your life is a terrible thing. Thinking that that person may, in fact, be better off without you, that their hopes and dreams and aspirations might be better fulfilled if you hadn't dragged them into the life they share with you now. It's all there in this book, Georgie is nothing if not honest with herself. She can rarely make herself go back to her big empty house after working on her show, so stays with her mother and stepfather instead. In her old room, on a old-fashioned, bright yellow rotary phone, she appears to be able to call a different Neal in Omaha, one who is home for Christmas after a brief break-up they had in college. At the end of a week apart way back then, Neal showed up on Georgie's doorstep and proposed. Now Georgie is wondering if she should try to convince Neal that he's better off without her instead.

I met my own husband when I was at University in Scotland. He was 19, I was 21. In November of this year, we'll have been together for fourteen years. We recently celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. I've spent more than a third of my life with this man, and while I am clearly much more the Neal in our relationship, the one that takes care of the practical, everyday matters, who is the less creative, pragmatic and grounded one - I so understood and recognised Georgie's doubts, guilt, fear and pain. When we were having trouble, because moving in with and then marrying your first boyfriend/girlfriend doesn't come without it's fair share of complications as well, so much of what goes through Georgie's head, went through my own.

In Attachments, the e-mails that Beth and Jennifer constantly send each other at work reminded me so strongly of my friendship with my best friend Lydia, who I got to know through letters. In Fangirl, I recognised so much of my own social anxiety, fear and difficulty to adjust during my first year away at University, being far away from home for the first time, in my case, in a foreign country, suddenly having to re-shape myself to fit into a vastly different education system from what I was used to. In this, I can see so much of what my husband and I went through before we came through our troubles stronger, better and much better at communicating and respecting each other. I suspect one of the reasons I adore Rowell's writing so much is that it seems to speak directly to me. I'm clearly not alone in loving her. I don't think a single Cannonball reviewer who has read her books rates any of them under 4 stars, and we're a wildly diverse bunch with extremely differing tastes. So she seems to have a fairly universal appeal, which fills me with joy. I gift her books to all my friends, hoping to share the awesome.

I haven't even said anything about the amazing way Rowell has with words, and the many quotes I highlighted and wanted to read out loud to myself. The way the book, as with all her others, sucked me in and made me feel as I was actually living and breathing with the characters. It made me feel all the feels, from giddy joy to heart-wrenching anguish. I was angry with Georgie, but also deeply sympathetic to her. I felt her frustration when she couldn't get Neal on his mobile, instead talking to her little girls who didn't seem all that bothered that their Mum was far away, full of doubt and guilt and insecurities. I loved Georgie's little sister, who has her own romantic dilemmas, and Georgie's Mum and stepfather are wonderfully realised supporting characters, as are Seth and Scotty, Georgie's colleagues. Really, I don't have the words to fully express how much I loved the book. Immediately upon finishing the book, I wasn't sure if I could rate it a full five stars, because I have some doubts about the ending and as she frequently does, Rowell leaves a LOT open to interpretation, which frustrates me every time. Yet I chose to remain hopeful for Neal and Georgie, and having thought so much about the book and discussed it with others, I can't give it any less than top marks.
If you haven't read any Rainbow Rowell yet, what are you waiting for?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 72: "The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet" by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

On the 30th of April 2012, internet geek goddess Felicia Day recommended a new YouTube series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on her YouTube-series The Flog. As a huge fan of most things Austen (I just can't with Mansfield Park, it's so boring), and as someone very interested in modern adaptations of classical works, not to mention willing to trust Felicia Day as I monthly tune in to her Vaginal Fantasy book club, I decided to check this thing out. I didn't really have a lot of experience with vlogs as a medium. With the exception of Ms. Day's own Flog, I hadn't really watched any. But I do know my Pride and Prejudice, and the concept intrigued me.

Having now pinpointed the date when Ms. Day first recommended the series, I can conclude that I started watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries with episode 8: Charlotte's Back! I got hooked really early on. At first, there were two episodes a week, and I quickly grew to wait with bated breath for each one. Then I discovered that the creators weren't just doing videos, there were fictional accounts for most of the major characters on Twitter and Tumblr, Pinterest and other social media sites. Vivacious youngest sister Lydia Bennet started making her own video blog, so I got more content. Occasionally, there would be a Q & A video. If I was really lucky, I'd get up to FOUR videos in one week. Mondays and Tuesdays were seriously the best days of my week, because I'd get a new short video showing me the further adventures of Lizzie, Jane and Lydia Bennet, as well as Charlotte Lu. It didn't matter that I knew the source material. The creators, Hank Green and Bernie Su, twisted and adapted the story in such creative ways, turning Mary Bennet into the Bennet's Goth cousin, and Kitty became Lydia's cat. All of the parental characters and non-core cast were portrayed through costume theatre. This made it even more exciting every time a new actor actually appeared in the videos.

By the time they actually showed Darcy in person, with video 60(!), I would probably have given up a limb or at least a digit if that was what was required to keep watching the videos. The show lasted for more than a year, and I watched faithfully for most of it, so delightful with almost all the changes they made to the story. Giving Charlotte a much more prominent role, the way the story arc developed for Lydia - SO much better than in Austen's original. I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and am now the proud owner of the full DVD box set. There was no way I wasn't going to buy this book, and because I loved all the characters, I was unlikely to dislike it.

With The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, Bernie Su, the creator of the show, and Kate Rorick, one of the main writers of the YouTube-series, who also writes romance novels as Kate Noble, are able to adapt and modernise the bits of Pride and Prejudice that they just weren't able to fit into the videos. They can show the Bennet parents' reactions to Lizzie turning down Mr. Collins' lucrative job offer, they can relate the awkward first meeting between Lizzie and Darcy at the Gibson wedding. Fans are able to read Darcy's letter to Lizzie after he declares his feelings for her, and she furiously rejects him. As a companion to the YouTube series, this book really gives rabid Austen-fans the full modernisation.

If you're not at least a fan of the YouTube-series already, or you're not all that happy about all sorts of fan ficcy interpretations of Jane Austen's works, then this book is not for you. The main reason I'm not rating the book a full five stars is that some of the scenes I'd sort of hoped to get Lizzie's more in-depth take on (as this is her personal diary, after all), namely episode 60 (where Darcy first appears and declares his love for her) and episode 98. In the story, it's also perfectly understandable that Lizzie may not actually have been able to write down her full feelings about the two events. And the videos are there for all to see. If I were Lizzie, I certainly wouldn't have prioritised writing in my diary after the events of episode 98 - but I'm not her. I'm a rabid fangirl, and I want details! Still, these are minor nitpicks, and I really did enjoy the book. If this whole thing was a bit to TL, DR for you, in conclusion, I would highly recommend The Lizzie Bennet Diaries with all the spin-off videos (all available for free on YouTube) and if you like those, this book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

#CBR6 Book 71: "Indigo" by Beverly Jenkins

Page count: 372 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Hester Wyatt was born as a slave, because her father, originally a free man, sold himself into slavery to be with her mother. When she was born, her mother severed part of her finger to make her more easy to identify, and Hester was found and taken in by her aunt Katherine, who taught her to read and write and raised her as her own. Now she lives in her dead aunt's house, a valuable member of Michigan's Underground Railroad. One night, she's asked to hide a badly injured man. She discovers that he is "the Black Daniel", one of the most wanted members of the Underground Railroad. To hide him could put her in danger, and yet she doesn't hesitate.

"The Black Daniel" is actually Galen Vachon, a member of one of the free black families in New Orleans. He doesn't deal well with being hurt and having to stay hidden during his convalescence, and Hester finds him rude and deeply disagreeable at first. She also refuses to believe him when he claims to have been betrayed by someone in her little town. As Vachon recovers, his mood improves, not to mention his behaviour towards Hester. He's amused by her primness and innocence and her steadfast faithfulness to her fiancee, even though she admits their relationship is purely platonic. When he leaves, having recovered enough, Hester doesn't think she'll ever see him again.

She's wrong, of course. Galen, unable to forget the formidable little woman who tended him at his lowest, buys a big house in Whittaker, the town Hester lives in, and proceeds to try to win her heart. His quest is made easier by the fact that her platonic fiancee returns from England already married and seemingly madly in love with his young bride. He keeps lavishing Hester with gifts and attention, while trying to root out who the traitor in the area is.

I'd never read any Beverly Jenkins, but had heard the name when one of her books was selected as the monthly book club read at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and then this book came highly recommended from my online romance partner, Mrs. Julien. I can see why she rated it so highly, it's an amazing book.

Hester is a lovely character, independent and opinionated, yet not anachronistically so. She tries to always do the appropriate thing, and Vachon has so much fun tempting her into accepting more and more of his gifts, and luring her further into sensuality and giving into her desires. She's clearly an important member of the Whittaker community and has many valued friends. Her hands and feet are permanently stained with the indigo dyes she was forced to work with as a slave, and she's convinced they render her deeply unattractive. She's perfectly content to settle for a marriage of convenience with a man whose intellectual interests she shares, and is completely unprepared for the passion that Vachon awakens in her.

Vachon is a rake and a scoundrel of the first order, and has rejected his family to help as many slaves from the South gain their freedom as possible. His vicious old grandmother is clearly a nasty piece of business, manipulating everyone around her, and treated Vachon horribly until he came of age and into the money his parents left him. He turned his inheritance into a vast fortune, and uses his resources to help others, but clearly also loves a life of luxury. Once they're married, Hester keeps being uncomfortable being waited on, though Vachon's servants are clearly extremely well treated, and seem to love their jobs. She's shocked at the dressing rooms full of clothes he's gotten her, and the jewelry he gives her.  I'm also deeply grateful that while he is Creole, the number of French/Cajun endearments used in the book are at a minimum. I hate that sort of thing.

Not everything is smooth sailing in the book. There's a vicious slave catcher in the area, who sets his mind on proving that Hester is an escaped slave. The missions that Vachon go on are clearly dangerous. There's a nice blend of quiet moments and action in the book.

I enjoyed the book a lot. The main reason I can't give the book a full five stars is the subplot involving Hester's former fiancee's new wife, and the way they both treat Hester, and the development of that whole story line plays out. I can see why Jenkins needed to find a way to free Hester from her former commitment, but I really didn't like the way that all played out. I don't want to spoil things, and will therefore not go into detail. This is mostly a very excellent romance, though, and I've already bought a few more Beverly Jenkins books that I am looking forward to reading.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

#CBR6 Book 70: "Somewhere I'll Find You" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 1.5 stars

WARNING! This review WILL contain fairly specific plot spoilers, but it's an awful book, so you don't want to read it anyway, and should thank me for explaining in detail why you should avoid it.

Jessica Wentworth is probably the most successful actress in London, but she's hiding a deep dark secret. Her real name is Julia Hargate and she's been married to the Marquess of Savage since they were both children. Julia ran away from home and has been disowned, she only wants her independence and to become famous on the stage. Her husband, Damon, Lord Savage (yeah, I can't even begin about that name) has been searching for her for years, eager to obtain an annulment. With the dowry his family got from the arrangement, the sensible and super-serious Lord Savage has restored the family fortunes that his wastrel father gambled away, fixed up the family estate and in general, he's the responsible brother, whilst his younger brother takes after dear ol' dad.

By happy coincidence, because this is clearly that sort of book, Damon and Julia have actually met once, in passing at a country fair, but didn't know each other's true identities. After invading Julia's personal space, Damon kisses her, then they part ways again, until they meet again at a party, three years later. Damon, ever the arrogant alpha douchebag, recognizes the girl he kissed and promises Julia's employer, the theatre owner, 5000 pounds if she'll come to dinner with him - all platonic like. He already has a very demanding mistress, but wants to woo the famous Mrs. Wentworth. It doesn't take many days before he discovers that the most celebrated actress on the London stage is his long lost wife, and suddenly, Damon's no longer all that keen on an annulment. Julia, on the other hand, seems to have a terrible time figuring out what she really wants, pushing him away one second and falling into his arms the next, asking him to ravish her.

She doesn't want to give up her career, and he acts like a possessive bastard and tries to control her every move. He wants her to take her rightful place as his soon to be duchess. They both seem to fall in love after three short encounters, but still act absolutely appallingly to one another. There's a whole bunch of not really complications thrown in their way.

This book was so dumb, you guys. It's without a shadow of a doubt the worst romance I've read since Edenbrooke, which is the worst book I read in 2012 and among the worst romances I've ever had the misfortunes of reading. Still, this book fit into my Monthly Keyword Challenge and allowed me to cross another Lisa Kleypas book off my TBR list. I kept hoping that it was going to get better, because Lisa Kleypas is after all, one of the grand masters of romance, and it baffled me that something this boring and dumb was written by the same woman who wrote Tempt Me at TwilightDevil in Winter and Dreaming of You. The info-dumping in the first few chapters is extremely heavy-handed, the characterisation of EVERY single person in the book is so lazy - most of the principal cast have only one or two significant character traits, if that.

I'm not sure on what basis Julia and Damon fall in love, except that they are both described as very physically attractive, and they were forced into a probably extremely illegal marriage alliance by their unscrupulous fathers while they were still children. This is apparently enough that they love each other after a few meetings, and Julia goes from telling Damon to leave her alone forever to throwing herself into his arms and asking him to deflower her because she "doesn't want to be alone anymore" the next. Like in the same scene, I swear. She changes her mind completely from one second to the next.

When Damon discovers that Julia has reconciled with her father and got the means to have their marriage annulled, and decided that she's going to marry her boss in a platonic marriage of convenience to further both their careers (don't ask, it's just one of the myriad oh so dumb things in this book), his way of winning her back is to get thugs to kidnap her from back stage, bind and gag her and bring her to his carriage. Because nothing says "I love you, don't marry that other guy" like forced abduction and coercion. They're both such wretched characters that I couldn't even care.

The only reason this book is getting half a star more than Edenbrooke is that at least the writing was vaguely competent in certain parts, and at no point did characters start to fight a duel inside a crowded inn! Not even rabid Kleypas-completeists should read this book. It'll only make you sad. It's a bad, dumb book and it is a waste of your time. Trust me here.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.