Monday, 19 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 22: "The Sins of Lord Lockwood" by Meredith Duran

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

William "Liam" Devaliant, the fifth Earl of Lockwood, is overpowered and kidnapped on his wedding night in Scotland, taken south and chained onto a prison hulk on its way to Australia. No one believes his mad story about being an earl, or if they do, they don't care. Four years later, he's back in London, a very changed man, determined to enact his revenge on the man behind the plot to have him abducted, his own cousin. All the male retainers in his household are basically former convicts who survived along with them. In the eight months since his return to London, he's become famous for his lavish entertainments. Lockwood had not expected the arrival from Scotland of his headstrong and very angry wife, who believes he abandoned her all those years ago and has now come back mainly to spend her money irresponsibly and recklessly.

Anna Winslow, Countess of Forth and a Scottish heiress in her own right, wasn't planning on falling for the handsome, yet penniless Earl of Lockwood, yet his charm and easygoing nature was irresistible to her. Orphaned at a young age, and passed around her many relatives, Anna became used to taking care of herself. While she suggested a marriage of convenience with Lockwood (she needed a husband to get ownership of an island, he needed money for his estates), she'd started believing that he cared for her as she had begun to do for him. She certainly didn't expect him to abscond with a large sum of money before they'd even had a chance to consummate the marriage. When news greets her that her husband's been in London for the past eight months, spending her money on all manner of extravagances, she shows up to confront him.

The happy and carefree man she met four years ago is gone. The current Lockwood, while he tries to feign nonchalance is clearly also trying to get Anna to return to Scotland as quickly as possible, and she can tell there's a lot of rage just under the surface of his carefully controlled temper. When Lockwood is suddenly taken ill, possibly poisoned, Anna finally discovers why her husband disappeared and begins to learn the extent to his scars, both physically and emotionally. She comes to understand just how wrong she's been in her anger against him and how much time has been stolen from both of them, and wants vengeance against the man who wronged them just as much as her husband does. She's also determined to prove to her husband that while he's been through hell while he was away, his scars don't make him any less of a man, rather the opposite. She loves her husband and will fight for her marriage, no matter what it takes.

While I don't remember all that much about it, as I read the book way back in 2009, the Earl of Lockwood shows up as a supporting character in Meredith Duran's debut novel, The Duke of Shadows. It seems some Duran fans have been waiting for her to tell Lockwood's story since 2008, when the book first came out. As far as I could tell, some of the plots of these two books run concurrently, so I may have to revisit the book just to see exactly at what points they intersect. Last year's A Lady's Code of Misconduct can be seen as a prequel of sorts to this, set somewhat earlier, where the plot against Lockwood is actually discovered.

This book starts with Lockwood onboard the prison hulk and alternates between telling the story of his and Anna's courtship, with the sections set four years later, when Lockwood is working on his revenge. Meredith Duran does not write fluffy, amusing, easy to digest romances. She tends to have a fair amount to a whole lot of angst in her books, with tormented and frequently deeply flawed characters trying their best to find some semblance of happiness. While the sections of the book dealing with the courtship are lovely enough, there's a lot of pain and darkness in the rest of the book and Lockwood has some serious PTSD to work through, which is difficult in this day and age, let alone in a time where men were not supposed to feel or show weakness, loss of control or vulnerability. The years spent in Australia were hell on Earth for Lockwood and his men, and he suffers from occasional panic attacks without knowing what they are or how to properly deal with them.

Anna is a great heroine and while there's the occasional trope in romance that the hero will demand an heir, here it is the lady who is in need of legitimate offspring. Due to strange family superstition, the island that Anna loves so dearly can only be in the possession of a married woman, which is why she needs a husband in the first place. While her English holdings and much of her money is controlled by her husband after their marriage, she still retains control of her Scottish properties and requires an heir to keep them. She has no intention of passing them down to some cousin. While she is heartbroken and bitter at the beginning of the book, believing her husband left her to travel the world for three years, merrily spending her money, she still demands her dues from him. Lockwood doesn't want her to see how broken he really is and certainly doesn't want her involved in his revenge scheme, so is quite happy to have her continue believing he is a heartless, opportunistic cad, as the story of how he disappeared sounds too preposterous to be believed. It's only when he's unconscious, and she sees the scars all over his body that he's worked so hard to hide that she begins to understand that he might not have been lying when he initially (making it sound like a tall tale) told her where he'd been since their wedding night.

While I loved the interplay between Lockwood and Anna, I thought the villain of the piece was rather uninspiring and the parts later in the novel, dealing with his comeuppance were less interesting to me than the couple finding their way back together. The Count of Monte Christo this ain't. Duran continues to be a reliable romance author whose books I enjoy. I'll be interested to see what she writes next.

Judging a book by its cover: Lovely as the colours on this cover are, and big thumbs up for having a cover model with the correct hair colour, this silk concoction just does not seem like anything the very pragmatic and practical Anna would ever wear. Frankly, I'm not entirely sure if she's wearing a dress or has just draped herself in emerald green sheets. Then again, having the cover model wearing sensible tweed or grey wool probably wouldn't sell as many books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 21: "My Once and Future Duke" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Sophie Graham is twelve when she is orphaned and left in the care of her arrogant grandfather, the Viscount Makepeace. Her father, his second son, eloped with an opera singer (Sophie's mother) and was summarily disowned. Sophie spent her childhood travelling through Europe with her parents. When both her parents die from illness, there is no one left for Sophie. Her grandfather sends her to boarding school, where she befriends Miss Eliza Cross, the daughter of an industrialist, and Lady Georgiana Lucas. Sophie's grandfather pays her tuition until she is 18, then she has to make her own way in the world. Working as a ladies' companion for a while, Sophie is left 300 pounds in the widow's will, and uses the money to set her "grand plan" in motion. Inventing a dead husband, so she is now Mrs. Campbell, Sophie uses the gambling skills and her gift for card counting to slowly amass a nest egg for herself, gambling at the Vega Club in London. She wants to continue until she's set aside ten thousand pounds, and then either find herself a nice husband or retire to the country and live on the interest of her money.

Having managed to save up about four thousand pounds, Sophie is still a long way off her goal when she encounters Jack Lindeville, the Duke of Ware. The duke has come to the Vega Club, forced to pay off the gambling debts of his reckless younger brother, Philip, and is determined to make the man stop throwing his money away without any care of consequences. When the duke sees his brother, who only earlier that day swore he would no longer visit the club, gambling with an attractive woman, he challenges said woman, Sophie, to a game instead. Sophie discovers that the duke is not much of a gambler, and is quite happy to keep taking his money, until the duke makes a rather extravagant wager. If she wins, Sophie gets five thousand pounds. If she loses, she is to spend the next week with the duke. As this is a romance novel, of course Sophie loses, and Jack, determined to teach his brother a lesson, spirits Sophie away right there and then. While she protests, he takes her to his country home a bit outside London, where they end up trapped for several days because of the rain turning all the roads back to London to mud.

Jack desires Sophie, but regrets his impulsive actions almost immediately. Sophie, in turn, really does not need her reputation to be tarnished any further than it already has been. She already makes her living from gambling, but otherwise makes sure her reputation is spotless. If society believes her to be the duke's mistress, she'll no longer be allowed to see her friends, Eliza and Georgiana, and she'll lose any chance at a decent marriage. Nevertheless, they can't travel for a few days, and Sophie tries to figure out why the duke acted so rashly and what makes him tick. Soon they are starting to become friends, but are also aware of the attraction simmering between them. The dukes of Ware never marry for love or on impulse, and Sophie is perfectly aware that she's far from the suitable wife for a duke. Their relationship can't really go anywhere, can it?

The dedication of this book is for Miranda Neville, in memory of her, to be exact. I hadn't even realised that she had passed away, but some quick googling gave me additional details. Back in 2015, during Cannonball 7, I read The Wild Quartet, the best of which was absolutely The Duke of Dark Desires, but I enjoyed all four. I had always planned to check out more of Ms. Neville's books, both from her back catalogue and newer ones. It seems Ms. Neville died in October of last year, after battling cancer, so it seems extra appropriate to be reviewing this book, dedicated to her memory for CBR. We are all about the F*CK cancer, after all.

I discovered Caroline Linden as an author a few years ago, with her series The Truth About the Duke. All the books in that series were very enjoyable and well-written, and I keep reading her books, hoping that she'll once again write something of the same quality. She keeps being favourably reviewed on romance review sites, but I tend to find her books mediocre at best, and rarely memorable for very long. The books are perfectly fine as I read them, and then I can't remember a thing about them about a week later. Very disposable entertainment. I do remember more of this book, but mostly just the bits that annoyed me.

What I disliked:
- What is the Duke of Ware's full name? I refuse to believe his given name is actually Jack, which seems far too informal a name for someone with a title that lofty.
- For all her insistence on not tarnishing her reputation, it takes less than three days for Sophie to jump into bed (or a sofa in the library, as the case may be) with the duke. She's rather bad at guarding her own virtue.
- There is something of the insta-love aspect to this book. Jack and Sophie spend very little time together before they fall head over heels. Yes, they actually initiate an affair and keep furtively meeting for what seems like weeks, but both have clearly fallen for the other before they pack up and leave the cosy country mansion to return to London.
- The dowager duchess was tiresome in the extreme, and her complete inability to see anything inappropriate in her younger son's behaviour and lifestyle choices was rather implausible.
- The third-act complication keeping the lovers apart - and how it needed to be resolved. There's a lot of needless drama to keep the couple apart for longer than is necessary, which felt like it just dragged the story out.

What I did like:
- Sophie's plan is a very sensible one, and it's nice to see someone making their own way in the world with mathematical skills and playing the odds. Until the duke of Ware dangles five thousand pounds in her face, she never seems to take foolish risks, preferring to spend a bit longer saving up to secure her future.
- Once he's corrected on his judgmental preconceptions about Sophie and her lifestyle, Jack very quickly comes to admire Sophie as much as she deserves.
- The friendship between Sophie, Eliza and Georgiana was nice, even though I would have liked some more time spent on their meetings. Eliza's clearly going to be the heroine of the next book.

As so many romances I read these days, this was a perfectly ok read, with nothing too objectionable to make me upset, but also nothing much to make me want to re-read it any time soon or remember it come next month.

Judging a book by its cover: See, here the cover designer has clearly had some idea of the contents of the book. The cover model has the same hair colour as our heroine, and she's wearing a red dress (obviously showing way more skin than any respectable Regency woman ever would, but such is the ways of romance covers), just as Sophie is in the scene where she first meets the Duke of Ware. They've even given her a playing card to hold, with additional cards on her lap. It's not great, but I'll take it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 20: "Fire Falling" by Elise Kova

Page count: 380 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 2 in a series, and as such, the review will contain some spoilers for the plot of book 1. If you want to remain unspoiled, start at the beginning with Air Awakens.

Left no choice after her trial and sentencing, Vhalla Yarl, former librarian apprentice is marching to war for the Solaris empire. She's considered property of the empire and has to use her new and unfamiliar Windwalker powers to help the Emperor and his forces win their conquest of the rebellious north. Two of her new friends from the Tower of Sorcery, her mentor Larel and the cheerful Tower librarian Fritz, have joined the army to help train her and keep her company in the battles to come. Both the younger prince, Baldair, and Crown Prince Aldrik feel responsible for Vhalla, and do their best to help train her, in both magical and mundane fighting, as the army marches towards their destination.

Vhalla is still struggling with nightmares after the attack on the capital, which led to her arrest and keeps seeing her dead friend's face in her dreams. She's unsure exactly what is expected of her in battle, but pretty sure that the majority of senators wouldn't care at all if she's killed, no matter how useful her Windwalker powers might prove to the empire. She's also confused about her developing feelings for the Crown Prince, and his mercurial treatment of her. Sometimes he completely ignores her, while at other times, he appears to return her feelings. Not that it would matter if he did love her, as how could the heir to the empire ever have a future with a lowly commoner, indentured by the Crown?

In many ways, Fire Falling has even more structural problems than Air Awakens. While Vhalla's friendships with Larel and Fritz (I like these characters and both friendships are done really well), as well as non-magical characters Daniel and The Other One? (I'm sorry, I can't remember the names of absolutely everyone, and The Other One was pretty damn non-descript) are developing, and she's being trained in both normal combat and her magical powers, sometimes in a group, other times alone in Aldrik's tent, there's also huge stretches of marching and not much happening. We get hints of another love triangle, because Aldrik has a magically powered lady friend who he's spending a lot of time with, and who's clearly very jealous of Vhalla, but it sort of fizzles out to nothing and again, mostly serves to make me roll my eyes at its being included at all. Then, suddenly, in about the last third of the novel, there's a sudden burst of action and danger, changing the status quo again and leading to a tense finale - before the book literally ends on a cliffhanger.

Impossible as the love affair between a crown prince of the empire and a commoner former library apprentice may be, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that because I've read a whole bunch of books, the end game of the series, no doubt after much of the introduced cast members so far have been killed off so that Vhalla and/or Adrik can be sad and suffer some more, and all sorts of angst and horrible war has taken place, is the two of them ending up together. After a lot of back and forth and "OMG, he could never love me!", they do declare their feelings for one another, and it's all rather sweet for a short while, before everything goes to hell again.

Having now read two books, I'm not entirely sure I can stick with this series. There are too many sections of the books where nothing happens, followed by sections of just a ridiculous amount of action, killing off a supporting character, and then the plot veers off somewhere entirely unexpected for the last third - and what does happen seems to be about the ruthless emperor, the concerned, possibly jealous younger prince, Vhalla and Aldrik's impossible love and one or more really rather forced love triangles. I can already see the outlines of another one all ready for book 3, but I'm not sure I can take the melodrama. I'm going to take a break for now, certainly.

Judging a book by its cover: None of the people on this cover appear to have limbs going the wrong way unless you look at the cover carefully, as was the case with Air Awakens. We still get the same anime style, and in the acknowledgements, the author makes it clear that she absolutely adores the covers. I think the lighting could have been better, and would have liked to see the armour on the characters more clearly. Also, not at all how I picture Aldrik and Vhalla (my mental image is pretty much Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, as their Star Wars characters.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 19: "Air Awakens" by Elise Kova

Page count: 342 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Vhalla Yarl is a librarian apprentice living in the huge central library in the capital of the Solaris empire. The empire has been at war for ages, trying to conquer the lands in the north and through this conquest uniting the whole continent under one power. One evening, there's a state of emergency declared, one of the princes has been injured, and all the librarians are needed to help research a possible cure. Remembering how the younger, charming prince, known colloquially as "The Heartbreak Prince", once saved her when she was falling off a shelf in the library, Vhalla works tirelessly through the night to find as many texts as possible, taking copious notes.

Shortly after, she finds herself abducted and taken to the Tower of Sorcerers. It seems Vhalla has latent magical powers, and they showed themselves in the notes she wrote about possible cures. The injured prince in question also wasn't the younger one, but the older, aloof Crown Prince, himself gifted with magical powers. Like most common folk, Vhalla has grown up on stories of how terrifying the sorcerers of the land are, and rejects any possibility that she might herself have magic. She insists on returning to her position in the library, but keeps seeing strange things, and starts a correspondence with someone leaving sarcastic notes in the books she reads in secret while stacking the shelves. Soon, she's researching magic and sorcery and learning that her prejudices were probably wrong. Unsurprisingly, her mystery mentor turns out to be the Crown Prince himself, who has rather unorthodox views on how to get Vhalla's power to manifest once and for all.

Even after the rather startling event that triggers her powers fully (or possibly because of it), Vhalla is still reluctant to commit to becoming a sorcerer. There is a ceremony where she could eradicate her magic instead, and she wants a month to decide which choice to make. Everything suggests that Vhalla may be a Windwalker, however, the first such to manifest in over a hundred and fifty years. The sorcerers in the Tower and Crown Prince Aldrik would really prefer it if she chose magic, rather than stay an anonymous librarian.

So while I had at least one Elise Kova book on my TBR-shelf (thanks again, random e-book sale where a book that someone recommended cost $2.99 or less), I had never actually read anything by her when this book was selected as the February 2018 pick for Vaginal Fantasy. It seemed like a quick read, the book was on sale on Kindle, so I got it and glommed it. Librarian heroine, elemental magic and a dark broody sorcerer prince who's most likely going to end up being the love interest? I can work with that.

This is the first book in a series of five, and while some people have rated each book in the series highly, glancing through the reviews, the latter books in the series may or may not go a bit off the rails and some people seem to have rage-quit the series later on. While I didn't love this book, I also didn't hate it, and there was a lot of interesting potential here, but there may be a bit too much set-up for the books to come.

The names of the characters might have been created in a "YA fantasy name generator". There's a lot of strange ones here. Because apparently you can't write YA without it, there are hints of a love triangle, of course, and I rolled my eyes both at the presence of it, and the third part - one of Vhalla's childhood friends at the library, who obviously has loved her for ever, but doesn't really start mentioning it until the Crown Prince starts showing his interest in Vhalla, and is extremely "nice guy" and rather emotionally manipulative about the whole situation - no, thank you. That we then sort of get a second love triangle of sorts, because of course Vhalla's other childhood friend at the library has always fancied whats-his-douche, but hasn't wanted to say anything because she was happy to sacrifice herself and pine in silence if Vhalla liked him back - yeah, too much drama drama for me. That whole thing did not read well.

Then the story takes an incredibly sharp turn into something a lot more serious and gory in the last third, and there's such a rapid tonal shift that I initially thought my book was missing a chapter or two. As this series is apparently pitched as Avatar: the Last Airbender (which I've never watched, but I know deals with elemental powers meets Throne of Glass, I guess the last third is where the author felt the need to get it to the latter influence in a hurry - heroine with unusual powers forced to use them in aid of the crown.

The world building in the book is promising and I liked most of the characters enough that I'll most likely check out at least the next book in the series, mainly to see if the central romance goes anywhere interesting and Vhalla's powers develop in a cool way.

Judging a book by its cover: See, while I like the anime style cover, this drawing also gives me a headache. When I look at it more closely, it's obvious that the girl is wearing a shirt with long, trumpety sleeves, and it's not that her elbow has somehow dislocated and her arm is hanging limp and twisted down the side of her body. Also, she's wearing some kind of hood or cloak that's whirling in the wind. See, our protagonist has wind powers, and the way the wind is blowing her hair and shirt is clearly meant to be represented on the cover - but I think it's done n a very messy way, and I'm not sure what direction the wind is supposed to be coming from, as her hair is blowing one way and her clothes appear to be swirling in different directions. It's not great. I'm also pretty sure Vhalla is supposed to have darker hair than this girl has.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 12 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 18: "Hello Stranger" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Doctor Garrett Gibson is the only female physician in England, trained in France and licenced before they got around to changing the rules so other women couldn't follow her example. She has a good job, working as a staff physician at Winterborne's department store. She also does pro bono work in the poorer parts of town, and it's on her way home from one of these jobs that she finds herself accosted by three thugs. While she's been trained in self defence, things start take a turn for the serious until Ethan Ransom shows up to lend a hand. The former Scotland Yard detective has been keeping an eye on Garrett, worried that someone would indeed attack her and overwhelm her. He clams her defencive moves are far too mannered, and offers to teach her to fight dirty, so she can properly defend herself in future.

Ethan Ransom has been attracted to the intelligent Dr. Gibson for months, but working in a secret branch of the government, he can't allow himself to get attached to anyone - his job is too dangerous. Yet he can't really stay away from her, and when he ends up in a near-death situation, Dr Gibson needs to use all of her skills to patch him back together again. Ethan also needs to swallow his resentment of his Ravenel relatives, so he and Garrett have somewhere to lay low while the people who want him dead are brought to justice.

I was so excited when it was announced that Lisa Kleypas was returning to historicals, and yet with each book, I get a bit more disappointed, because her stories just aren't up to the standards of her earlier historicals. I had high hopes for Dr Gibson's book, mainly because she's been such an interesting supporting character in two of the other books in the series. I wasn't as thrilled by the prospect of Ethan Ransom (clearly related to the Ravenels in some way, as he has the tell-tale eyes of most of the family members) being the hero, as his presence in the latter half of Devil in Spring suggested that it would involve shady government conspiracies (that part being my least favourite subplot of said book) of some sort, and I wasn't wrong. Ethan is basically working for an early version of the Secret Service, but some of his superiors are corrupt (seriously, the villain in this book isn't described as having an elaborate moustache he can twirl, but he might has well have had), and since Ethan wants to blow the whistle on them, he needs to be killed. SPOILER - he doesn't die.

What didn't work for me in this book:
- The stupid government conspiracy subplot and the nefarious scheme to have Ethan killed
- Ethan's "Irish brogue" - despite the fact that he was born and raised in London. I don't care how Irish his mother was, he would not have had a full-on Irish lilt, so that was just dumb
- The complete lack of time spent developing Ethan and Garrett's relationship. They've only met a couple of times before the start of this book. Then it's established that Ethan has pretty much been stalking Dr. Gibson every Monday when she does her charity work in the rough parts of town, because he fancies her, but considers her way too good for him (for reasons). Then they have one sparring session and go on one date, before they have a one-night-stand and suddenly they love each other passionately. Not very satisfying at all, in what is supposed to be a ROMANCE.
- The stupid villain. He was way over the top.
- Ethan's "Oriental" training, both in martial arts and those of the bedroom - in India. Elyse over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books says it much better than I ever could. Thankfully, Lisa Kleypas apologised very eloquently and I suspect she will do better in future.

What I did like:
- Doctor Gibson's medical expertise. Kleypas has clearly done her research here and the bits where Garrett gets to ply her trade are excellent.
- West Ravenel - charming, funny and very likable supporting character. To me, he improved every scene he was in, and I desperately hope that his book (the next one coming up) is better. It won't take much.

I don't see myself completely abandoning this series. Lisa Kleypas has written so many good novels in the past that I'll keep reading these books in the hopes that she'll strike gold once more with one of them. I really hope Avon hires a better cover designer, though.

Judging a book by its cover: I have ranted before about the awfulness of the covers for Lisa Kleypas' Ravenel series, but I think we may have hit a new low. There is NOTHING period appropriate about this contemporary monstrosity of a ball gown. It shows WAY too much skin for anything worn by anyone respectable in the 19th Century. Then there's the incredibly lurid pink background - I just can't with this cover. I saw a theory online that the reason they're using the wholly period-inappropriate dresses are to trick Kleypas' contemporary fans into picking the books up - well, they're going to be disappointed when they find themselves reading a Victorian historical.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 17: "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virue" by Mackenzi Lee

Page count: 528 pages
Audio book length: 10 hrs 47 mins
Rating: 2.5 stars

Henry "Monty" Montague is a young bisexual lord sent off on a grand tour of Europe, accompanied by his best friend, Percy (who Monty has a massive crush on) and Felicity, Monty's younger sister. For the first part of their journey, they are accompanied by an elderly tutor, but once they leave Paris, hijinks really ensue due to very poor decisions made on Monty's part and soon the three young people are left to fend for themselves, on a crazy adventure through much of Europe - involving highwaymen, pirates, alchemy and more.

This book appeared on SO many "Best of 2017" lists. I read so many favourable reviews of it, on a number of websites. The premise is so promising. Young, handsome queer nobleman travels through 18th Century Europe with his biracial best friend and feminist younger sister, having all sorts of adventures. It literally took me six months to finish the book. To be fair, for much of those six months, I simply wasn't reading (or listening, as the case may be), because I didn't actually care enough to pick the book back up again.

I can see why this is a book that was loved by many. I really liked Percy and Felicity. A lot of important issues are dealt with over the course of a book that really does have a lot of plot twists and adventure. You'd not necessarily expect a romantic historical romp to have a queer main character or deal with matters of parental abuse, racism, the treatment of the mentally ill, feminism and so forth. I just really couldn't with Monty. I get that for all that he is white and privileged and rather spoiled, he also doesn't have the easiest time of it. His father is clearly the worst. Being bisexual in the 18th Century - not great. But for all of his legitimate complaints, he's also a self-centred, impulsive idiot who gets his companions into a lot of trouble time and time again and pretty much without fail makes every situation all about himself - even though both Percy and Felicity have a lot more they could complain about. Being black or female in the 18th Century - less great than being a rich, white, cis-gendered male. I kept hoping Monty was going to learn some sort of lesson and improve, and he does, eventually, but to me, it was just too little, too late.

In the end, I did finish the book, but I also returned the audio book to Audible for a refund of a credit, because there is absolutely NO way that I will want to revisit this book again. It seems that Mackenzi Lee has a sequel coming out later this year, all about Felicity, which I may give a try, because I liked her a lot. I just hope Monty stays far away from the main narrative, because I have had it with that guy.

Judging a book by its cover: "A dizzying, dazzling and roguishly romantic romp" says the cover quote. Sadly the main romantic plot of the book could be said to be Monty's love of himself (yes, he fancies Percy, but so much more page space in the book seems focused on how much he fancies himself). I will give the cover designer kudos for picking a cover model who looks as spoiled and entitled as Monty acts for much of the book. The drawn on title and little doodles (a sailing ship, a violin, playing cards - all things that appear in the story) add whimsy.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 16: "Buns" by Alice Clayton

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Clara Morgan is legendary in the hospitality business for her ability to turn around pretty much any struggling hotel or guest house. When she's not busy rebranding hotels, she runs marathons and other endurance races. What she rarely, if ever, does is stay in one place for very long. She has an apartment in Manhattan, but travels both domestically and abroad so often that she hardly ever has time to spend there. She never puts down roots anywhere and is careful not to get herself too attached to anyone or anything. Her childhood growing up in the foster care system, being handed from family to family taught her that that's a recipe for disaster. While her friends are all finding partners and getting settled, establishing relationships and traditions of their own, Clara is perfectly happy focusing on her career. Or is she?

Clara's current assignment could lead to her becoming partner, if she pulls it off successfully. The prestigious Bryant Mountain House in Hudson Valley is in desperate need of a face-lift and makeover and Clara is just the woman for the job. She just needs to convince Archie Bryant, fifth generation Bryant and soon to be current owner and manager (when his father retires shortly) that while the hotel is a gem, they're spending far too much money keeping up traditions that no one is very interested in and that they'll be going out of business if they don't renew and update and attract new customers. Archie's not going to give up on a hundred and fifty years of tradition and doesn't want social media stars in his family's hotel anyway. However, he doesn't want to lose his family business altogether either and if that means taking some advice from Ms. Morgan - he may just have to swallow his pride and accept the help.

Buns is the concluding volume in Alice Clayton's Hudson Valley series and features a lot of things that are normally total catnip for me. You have the "enemies to lovers" plot trope - Clara and Archie pretty much hate each other on sight and keep arguing vehemently, until they basically can't keep their hands off one another. There's the "competence porn" aspect - with both Clara and Archie being consummate professionals, very good at their jobs. There's a section where one of the couple nurses the other one back to health (I have no idea why this is a trope that works for me, it just does) There's the larger supporting cast of these novels, the inhabitants of the little town of Bailey Falls and the couples from the previous two novels, all of whom I like - and yet, the book failed to entirely wow me.

While Clara is extremely good at her job, and her reluctance to establish roots and crippling fear of abandonment due to her childhood seems perfectly natural, I never entirely understood why her two very supportive friends, who really seem to know the extent to how bad it was for her growing up, never convinced her to see a therapist. As it's obvious that Clara is deeply private and rarely shares the extent to her lonely and sad childhood with people, I can see why her boss or colleagues never mention it to her - but Roxie and Natalie, her two besties, and heroines of the previous two novels in the series, really should have done her a solid and insisted she get some professional help to process her traumas. This would have been a very different book if that were the case.

Archie's fine, if a bit stuffy and set in his ways. A widower for some years, he has issues of his own to work through, having been with only one other woman, who he'd known since childhood, before meeting and falling for Clara. In a lot of romances, the complications are due to faults of both sides of the couple, but here it's pretty much all on Clara when the relationship falters in the third section of the novel and it's pretty much all due to her crippling fear of abandonment. There's the requisite grand gesture towards the end where she wants to prove her love to Archie, and will say it was pretty spectacular.

With the four books I've read by her so far, Alice Clayton continues to be one of those authors who's books are perfectly fine, but nothing extraordinary and where I struggle to entirely remember the plot a week or two after finishing the novel. Not bad by any means, but she continues to be on my "buy on sale" list and won't graduate any higher based on this book.

Judging a book by its cover: This is another example of the cover designer clearly just having been given a vague idea of the contents of the book. There's a shirtless guy and buns in both the literal and metaphorical sense. See what they did there? Yet the model looks nothing like Archie is described (also, I'm unsure if he ever actually wears jeans over the course of the novel), and the baked goods in question that are mentioned at several points are hot cross buns, not at all what we're seeing in the forefront on this cover. How hard is it to get these little details right, people?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.