Friday, March 21, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-03-08 through 2014-03-14

It was a very eclectic reading week around here. A little romance, some dystopian adventure, a couple of unhappy ghosts. . .

The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

Widowed Anna Wren is having a wretched day. After an arrogant male on horseback nearly squashes her, she arrives home to learn that she is in dire financial straits. What is a gently bred lady to do?


The Earl of Swartingham is in a quandary. Having frightened off two secretaries, Edward de Raaf needs someone who can withstand his bad temper and boorish behavior. Dammit! How hard can it be to find a decent secretary?


When Anna becomes the earl's secretary, both their problems are solved. Then she discovers he plans to visit the most notorious brothel in London for his "manly" needs. Well! Anna sees red--and decides to assuage her "womanly" desires. . . with the earl as her unknowing lover.

Reading The Serpent Prince last week made me all nostalgic for the earlier books in the series, so I figured a little rereading couldn't hurt. I remembered that I enjoyed this book, but I'd forgotten how much.

Even the second time through I felt like the bit with the brothel was a little silly. I'm all for women owning their sexuality, and the idea of the heroine going to a brothel to secretly have sex with the hero was all well and good, but I don't get how he doesn't recognize her. Also, that's one heck of a secure mask, I guess. But Hoyt made it work somehow. Probably by writing some very hot sex to distract me from all the logic. ;-)

I really loved the characters in this book. They were complex and simple at the same time. Poor Edward with his grief and insecurity, but also his almost ridiculous confidence in everything else. I'm sure he thought deep down it would be his scars or his temper that tripped him up someday. He just wasn't ready for a woman like Anna. Speaking of Anna, what a great heroine. She's smart and confident and once she decides to be independent, man, she just really goes for it.

And I'd forgotten how intriguing the Coral character was. Talk about smart and confident, and damn near brittle without being overdone. You just know there's so much more there than you're seeing. I was happy to discover she eventually got her own book. (More on that later.)

The Leopard Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

Wealthy Lady Georgina Maitland doesn't want a husband, though she could use a good steward to run her estates. One look at Harry Pye, and Georgina knows she's not just dealing with a servant, but a man.


Harry has known many aristocrats--including one particular nobleman who is his sworn enemy. But Harry has never met a beautiful lady so independent, uninhibited, and eager to be in his arms.


Still, it's impossible to conduct a discreet liaison when poisoned sheep, murdered villagers, and an enraged magistrate have the county in an uproar. The locals blame Harry for everything. Soon it's all Georgina can do to keep her head above water and Harry's out of the noose. . . without missing another night of love.

This was another reread for me, as I mentioned in the review of The Raven Prince, and I found again that I enjoyed reading this book just as much the second time. Very well written characters, very hot sexytimes, and lots of great humor to keep everything nice and light.

There are an awful lot of crazy people running about this particular bit of the countryside, but I suppose that's to be expected, what with everyone pretty much being related to everyone else. (Seriously, just about every character we meet is related to either Harry or George. This person is her sister, that person is his brother, and they're also half-brothers to this other person, and all that is before George's three brothers come riding into town. . . I suppose I should just deal with it and be thankful Harry and George aren't related to one another.) No one gets angry like family, I guess, and with everyone and their brother carrying a grudge, all the random poisoning and arson didn't really surprise me.

Crazy villagers bearing hemlock aside, the story was good. And I love the way Hoyt used the conventions of society as reasonable obstacles for her lovers, rather than getting them stuck on really stupid non-issues. She used Violet marvelously to showcase the distinction. Violet is such a snob and her objections to the very idea of Harry as a serious suitor for her sister are presented as utter ridiculousness. Seeing all the real problems Harry and George have in navigating their relationship, we get to just roll our eyes at the notion of something like not knowing the proper fork being something worth anyone's time or attention. Harry and George are from different classes and that impacts their relationship. Nothing more, nothing less. It was very nicely done.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she love. . . or it might destroy her.

I will confess, this book did not catch my eye at first. I'm not a huge fan of dystopians in general. But when I set my reading goals for the year, I decided I wanted to read more young adult, more science fiction, more new-to-me authors, and I also challenged myself to read more NYT bestsellers for some reason. Divergent hit all of those with one book, so that's just good time management.

When I first started it, I was more than a little concerned. Not only was this dystopian, it was also in present tense. I hate present tense. I know it's the thing right now, but it just rubs me the wrong way. The point, I think, is to get the reader feeling a sense of immediacy about the story, because this is happening now. For me, it just throws me out of the story at the wrong moments and kills my momentum. I have a hard time getting lost in a present tense novel and that makes it hard for me to really enjoy them.

But I did enjoy this one. For one thing, Roth writes action really well and the challenges Tris faces, both in terms of the literal physical challenges and of the more character-development variety, were constantly changing. That kind of thing can go horribly awry if done poorly, but in Divergent it kept me on my toes, wondering what was going to happen next.

I was left at the end of the novel with a number of lingering questions about the worldbuilding, particularly with regard to the economics of it, but I don't consider that a fault of the novel. It would make no sense, after all, for a sheltered sixteen-year-old to have that information or to be interested in finding it out, given everything else that's going on. If you're young and scared and people are throwing knives at your head or threatening to push you off cliffs, you're not going to be thinking about the resource management approach of the general society. Getting bogged down in that kind of detail would have been a disservice to the character and the story. Still, I'm hoping Roth found a way to include more details in the future books.

Because, yes, I will be reading the future books. I've already got Insurgent on hold at the library. I'm something like 75th in line, so it might be a while, but I'll get there eventually. In spite of my lack of love for dystopians and present tense, I find I need to know more about these characters and what happens next. Which is, for me, the best possible thing to feel at the end of the first book in a series. :-)

The Ghosts of Bourbon Street, by Seanan McGuire
Verity Price and Dominic De Luca are currently putting their relationship through what can only be termed the ultimate stress-test: they're traveling from one side of the country to the other in a rented U-Haul, accompanied only by Verity's colony of Aeslin mice and the contents of her iPod. (Dominic is receiving a crash course in modern dance and pop music.)

But what's a road trip without a hidden purpose? Verity knows she's driving Dominic toward the biggest confrontation of his life--her parents--and that means she needs to start easing him in gently. What better way than with a stop in New Orleans to drink layered cocktails and meet her fun-loving Aunt Rose, who just happens to be a Predeceased American?

Poor Dominic didn't set out to become part of a ghost story, but it looks like that's exactly what's happening, as the old, new, and undead collide all over Bourbon Street.

This was a fun little short that Seanan McGuire posted for free on her website. (There are quite a few of them there, by the way, featuring different characters in the Incryptid universe. Click the title link above for them all.) As I mentioned in my post last week, I really enjoyed reading about Verity and Dominic in the first two books in the Incryptid series, so it was nice to go back to them for a bit.

Poor Dominic. He's so out of his depth with Verity most of the time. It's fun to watch him try to cover up his flailing in that dignified broody manner of his. And Verity must enjoy that as well, because she always calls him on it. They're adorable.

I loved Rose. All the women in this series are tough and smart and strong and Rose is no exception. I've preordered her book, Sparrow Hill Road, which comes out May 6th. I understand the story was already published as a series of shorts a few years ago, but that was before I discovered McGuire's writing, so I missed it. Yay for second chances!

The story is just a quick glimpse, a little mini-adventure in New Orleans. It was a good mix of humor and darkness, with really fascinating details about the ghosts. I love the way McGuire layers in her worldbuilding, giving you just enough to ground the story with enough unsaid to capture your imagination and leave you sort of wishing she would write a whole series about everything just so you could know more.

The Ice Princess, by Elizabeth Hoyt

As the madam of Aphrodite's Grotto, the most infamous brothel in London, Coral Smythe knows everything possible about men's needs and desires. Yet she's never experienced the love of a single man--not even that of Captain Isaac Wargate whose hawk-like eyes stare at her with both condemnation. . . and lust.


Captain Wargate heartily disapproves of the sensuous madam who always wears a golden mask. She lures his officers from both his ship and their duty. But when Coral herself is offered up as the prize in a game of chance, Wargate impulsively enters. . . and wins.


Now the puritanical navy captain has just seven nights to learn everything he can about the mysterious madam and what she knows of a man's desires. But when Coral is threatened by the new owner of Aphrodite's Grotto, will Wargate take a chance on the woman beneath the mask. . . and on love?

Sometimes when you're intrigued by a side character and you find out they got their own book later in the series, it's smiles all around and a big win for reading. They turn out just as interesting as you thought they'd be and the new book becomes one of your favorites.

Other times, there is this.

I'm not saying this story was a bad one. But it was just kinda. . .  meh. The loves scenes were steamy and all, but we don't really learn anything new about Coral in The Ice Princess and that's what I was really hoping for. Both Coral and Isaac grow quite a bit as characters by the end of the story, though that didn't really seem to happen on the page, so it rang a little false for me.

But, as I said earlier, I think the story was fine and the love scenes were good. Isaac is a good character and I liked reading about him. It wasn't what I was looking for, but this novella was still a nice little story to read while decompressing after a particularly rough day with my kids.

So that's a couple of rereads, one story I didn't expect to like and really did, one I expected to really enjoy and didn't, and a short story that ended up being a teaser for a new book I now can't wait to get my grubby little hands on. Not a bad week for me.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Read anything else lately that you feel like sharing with the class?

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