Friday, April 4, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-03-22 through 2014-03-28

Another week of binge reading and love stories, this time because I was sick. I didn't have time to be sick, but here I am, sick. It always happens that way. I get too much on my plate, I push too hard, I stress out huge, and then a germ of some kind gets within 50 miles of me and I contract the plague.

Gosh, you'd think stress and fatigue have an adverse effect on the immune system or something. . .

Lord of Darkness, by Elizabeth Hoyt
WHEN STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT

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

BECOME LOVERS. . .

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

DESIRE IS THE ULTIMATE DANGER

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

Continuing on in the binge reading of Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, I really enjoyed this fifth installment as well. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, since I'd thought from the description that Megs had turned into some kind of badass vigilante hunter and the story was going to be all about them sparring and trying to outwit each other.

Instead I got a book about a marriage of convenience that gets inconvenient when the woman decides it's time to make babies, with the whole masked man angle just sort of piled on top. Seemed like a little bit of bait and switch advertising to me, so be warned if you haven't read the book yet and you're looking for a masks-for-everyone, vengeance-all-around type of story.

That said, I did still find this story very enjoyable. Megs and Godric have some really great moments together. There was a lot of emotion built into this pair, as they're both still mourning dead lovers, and I liked seeing them let go of their grief and fall for each other.

I'd also like to point out that I'm really loving how Hoyt isn't spending most of the novel with the men lying and the women feeling like they're cheating with these Ghost of St. Giles stories. That's usually how it goes with secret identity stories and I'm glad to not have to deal with the extra baggage a contrived complication like that creates. In both this story and Thief of Shadows before it, the women figure out who their men are very quickly and the tension then comes not from a pack of (ultimately) unnecessary lies, but from the two figuring out how to keep the secret together.


Duke of Midnight, by Elizabeth Hoyt
WHEN A MASKED MAN. . .

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

MEETS HIS MATCH. . .

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

DESIRE IGNITES A DANGEROUS PASSION

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


So, yeah, this is a book about Batman. So much Batman. You've got the masked vigilante angle built in, sure, but we've had that for the last two books in this series and neither of those were Batman stories. (Okay, fine, one was a Zorro story. . . )

But here our hero is a rich high society noble by day and a masked vigilante by night. Who witnessed his parents being killed when he was young. By a thief in an alley after a night at the theater, for Pete's sake. And the only one who knows his secret is a very stoic older manservant. (Sadly named Craven and not Alfred.) And he's got a freaking Batcave. An actual cave, right there under his mansion, where he trains and changes clothes and such, complete with a tunnel he uses to get in and out of his house unseen.

So, yeah, the Duke of Wakefield is Batman.

But that's okay, because I like Batman. Especially a nice cynical brooding one. Yum!

That said, he's pretty much also an asshole. Which isn't bad, necessarily, because he's been in the series for a while now and he's been an asshole the whole time. So I'm actually glad Hoyt stuck with that, instead of making him go all gummy at the first sight of our heroine. Remember a few weeks ago when I was complaining about a heroine who got "blanded by sex"? I don't like it anymore when it happens to heroes, so I'm glad Hoyt didn't go there with Maximus. And I'm cool with him being an asshole because assholes are people too and sometimes other people love them. Besides, he's got his reasons and he's pretty convinced they're good ones. I can respect that.

Artemis doesn't waste time trying to tame him or reform him, by the way. She just handles him. I love her. She doesn't try to seduce him or trap him or any of the usual machinations for the time period. Nope, she just flat out blackmails him. In fact, every time he tries to make her do things his way, or lays down some dictate based on society and/or expectations that she doesn't agree with, she just does her own thing anyway. It's not that she doesn't respect him. She does. She just respects herself too.

I also really love how she responds to her lot in life. This era is pretty much defined by stations and classes and she's at the very bottom of hers. She could be meek and depressed, but she's actually downright defiant about it. Her cousin might be using her as a servant, but she's found ways to adapt to her new life and use it to her advantage. She takes pride in how well she disappears and she never gets passive about her situation. Every glimpse we've gotten of Artemis in the previous books has shown sparks of her strength being used in quiet ways, most clearly in her well-times note intervening on Winter Makepeace's behalf in Thief of Shadows. She's not cowed; she's been biding her time.

Also, can I just say that the scene at the end on the boat was so freaking great? Because it was totally great. I'm not going to be to spoilery here, but the dialogue between Winter and Godric was priceless. So completely priceless. :-)


After the Scandal, by Elizabeth Essex
CAN AN INDECENT PROPOSAL

When Lady Claire Jellicoe agreed to a walk in the moonlight, she never imagined her titled companion might have brutal motives. Nor could she have dreamed up such a brave rescue by the most unexpected savior of all: an inscrutable nobleman with a daring plan of escape--and a deliciously tempting embrace. . .

LEAD TO EVERLASTING LOVE?

Timothy Evans, the Duke of Fenmore, has palmed more treasures than he can count. Even for a man who grew up thieving in London's stews, a stolen bride should be beyond the pale. But Fenmore won't let scandal ruin the spirited beauty's reputation. And now that she's stolen his heart, how can he ever let her go. . . ?

I hate writing bad reviews. I'm trying to be a brave little toaster here and make these posts more than just gushy fangirling. I want the people who come here (assuming people come here) to know that they're going to get my real opinions, which are hard to express if I try to claim I absolutely adored everything I ever read. I read a lot of books and of course I'm not going to like all of them or even like everything about the ones I do enjoy. At the same time, I feel like writing a negative review is going to come back and bite me someday. Every time I write one of these, it scares me to death.

*deep breath* Here goes.

I had very high hopes for this book. I read and enjoyed the previous six books in these series and I enjoyed both Tanner and Claire in the stories where they made appearances. I was intrigued by the idea of putting them together, and I was just generally interested in how Tanner turned out, since we hadn't seen him in a while.

Alas, I was pretty bored here. The murder mystery was okay, and it kept moving right along, but there was enough foreshadowing in the beginning that I figured it out well before the characters. I'm really good at figuring mysteries out though (just ask Long-Suffering Husband how hard it is to surprise me) so I wouldn't hold that against an author. Besides, this is a romance novel; the mystery isn't what brought me in the door.

Perhaps, though, the characters would have figured out what was going on sooner if they hadn't been so busy having the same series of thoughts over and over and over again. It always comes back to the character for me and I am sad to report that I was really disappointed in the characters in this book.

I can sort of excuse the repetition for Claire. She might think she's mischievous and adventurous, but the fact of the matter is she's been rich and very sheltered her whole life. So I can accept her being struck by the poverty and crime and violence repeatedly because she's just flat out not used to it and one day isn't going to make her used to it. The other side of Tanner's life should constantly surprise her. I don't think it was portrayed as well as it could have been, but I could go with it.

But the book drove me absolutely nuts every time the POV switched to Tanner. Every time we were in his head, it was all, "wow, I've always loved her so much and it's great--and such a shocker--that it turns out she's smart and funny in addition to being beautiful!" For pages and pages and pages. Which was doubly annoying because he's solving a mystery here and his "great leaps of logic" just get dumped into the dialogue without us seeing any of that thinking.

Never mind that this sentiment is shallow and incredibly insulting, it's also completely unbelievable for this character. The point is made repeatedly that he's a very observant guy, that he had to learn how to size people up and keep track of everything about them at a very early age in order to survive and he's very, very good at it. Even now that he's all grown up and a duke, he still keeps his hand in. And he's apparently been obsessed with Claire for years. So shouldn't he have noticed before that she's clever? The scenes with Claire in the previous books certainly don't make a secret of her sense of humor or intelligence, so how in the world, if he was focusing all of his supposed shrewd intelligence and limitless attention to detail on her for all this time, did it escape his notice?

And related note, I don't think I've ever before thought a love scene was too long. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if it had been more active, but mostly it seemed like they were just kissing and thinking. Endlessly thinking the same thoughts over and over and over again.

All in all, I feel like there was potential for a good story here but that it was stretched too far. In my opinion, most of the internal monologueing could have been cut out and this would have made a very good novella.


Suddenly Royal, by Nichole Chase
Samantha Rousseau is used to getting her hands dirty. Working toward a master's degree in wildlife biology while helping take care of her sick father, she has no time for celebrity gossip, designer clothes, or lazy vacations. So when a duchess from the small country of Lilaria invites her to dinner, Samantha assumes it's to discuss a donation for the program. The truth will change the course of her life in ways she never dreamed.

Alex D'Lynsal is trying to keep his name clean. As crown prince of Lilaria, he's had his share of scandalous headlines, but the latest pictures have sent him packing to America and forced him to swear off women--especially women in the public eye. That is, until he meets Samantha Rousseau. She's stubborn, feisty, and incredibly sexy. Not to mention heiress to an estate in his country, which makes her everyone's front-page news.

While Sam tries to navigate the new world of politics and wealth, she will also have to dodge her growing feelings for Alex. Giving in to them means more than just falling in love; it would mean accepting the weight of an entire country on her shoulders.

I was looking for something light and fun to read as a pick me up and I'm glad I went with this. I enjoyed watching Sam's transition from "normal" life to royalty. I think Chase did an excellent job of showing the challenges and the perks.

And I am completely in love with Alex. He's smart and funny. He knows he attractive and he makes no secret of the fact that he's attracted to Sam. He's assertive without being aggressive. He understands that his life is hugely different from hers and he's more than willing to do whatever he can to help her through the transition. He's just an incredible man and he takes Prince Charming to a whole new level.

I did feel the timeline at the beginning was a little rushed. I didn't really understand why she needed to pack up and move within a couple of days and I felt like, given how serious a character she is, she wouldn't have gone with that. I understand that the story doesn't really start until she decides to accept her title and that dragging out the decision would have been boring, but it still felt very abrupt to me and I couldn't quite believe it.

Aside from that minor detail though, I loved this book. Lots of great humor and strong characters, plus a really well-written romance.


Recklessly Royal, by Nichole Chase
Catherine has spent her life being the perfect princess. She's kept her hands clean, her head down, and most importantly--men at arm's length. After all, most men are after only one thing, and for Cathy there's a lot more at stake than her bed; she has to worry about the fate of an entire nation. But at the rate she's going, Cathy is afraid she'll give the Virgin Queen a run for her money. She is tired of waiting for someone good enough to come along. She has a plan, and it all hinges on seducing the one man who seems utterly unimpressed by all things royal. The one man she is tempted by more than any other. . .

When David arrives at the royal wedding of his friend, the newly ordained Duchess Samantha Rousseau, he expected to feel uncomfortable and out of his element, but he wasn't prepared to be targeted by Prince Alex's gorgeous younger sister. With Cathy's giant blue eyes, killer figure, and sense of humor, it won't take long before he gives in. But when he finds out just how innocent the crown princess really is, will he play the part of knight in shining armor or the dashing rogue?

I enjoyed the first book in this series so much, I went ahead and downloaded the second book right away and stayed up most of the night reading them. One of my kids was sick and this was a nice distraction in between trips down the hall to her room. This series is just. . .  fun. Light and funny and sexy and altogether enjoyable reading.

That said, I didn't like this book quite as much as I did Suddenly Royal. The whole I've-been-careful-and-discerning-my-whole-life-and-now-I've-just-gotta-get-laid-hey-that-guy-is-hawt-I-gonna-go-screw-his-brains-out idea just doesn't do much for me. It never seems to ring true.

It's like the internal character monologue is running something like this: This is so important to me and I've been careful for so long and I'm frustrated but I don't want to make a mista--SQUIRREL!

(Except maybe substitute in another word there, one related to the male anatomy, for squirrel.)

But, as I said at the beginning of this review, I did enjoy this book. It was fun and light and David was an awesome character. He was charming and careful and supportive, and I felt like he was exactly what Cathy needed. He certainly handled the transition into close-to-royalty life with a bit more grace than Sam did in Suddenly Royal. Or course, being Sam's best friend, he did have her experience to prepare him there.

Overall it was a great little romance to let me escape from my mundane stresses for a little while.


Night Broken, by Patricia Briggs
An unexpected phone call heralds a new challenge for Mercy. Her mate Adam's ex-wife is in trouble, on the run from a stalker. Adam isn't the kind of man to turn away a person in need--and Mercy knows it. But with Christy holed up in Adam's house, Mercy can't shake the feeling that something about the situation isn't right.

Soon, her suspicions are confirmed when she learns that Christy has the farthest thing from good intentions. She wants Adam back and she's willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen, including turning Adam's pack against Mercy.

Mercy isn't about to step down without a fight, but there's a more dangerous threat circling. Christy's stalker is more than a bad man--in fact, he may not be human at all. As the bodies start piling up, Mercy must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart.

I really loved the first few books in this series and I had been less than impressed by the more recent entries. This book is a step back up for me. I didn't love it as much as some of the earlier Mercy books, but it was certainly better than its immediate predecessors. Good action, great snark, and I really enjoy the relationship between Adam and Mercy.

I've read a lot of reviews that have complained about Adam's behavior in this book. I didn't have any problem with him here. I wrote a big spoilery bit about why, but then I deleted it. Because it was really long and got rambly. Bottom line: I'm fine with Adam and Mercy. I like the fact that he's a slightly atypical Alpha in that he's not all "Rawr, this my woman. I demand you obey and love her unconditionally." He loves Mercy and respects her and if Christy wants to tangle with her, he's confident enough in her to let her handle it her way.

And I really loved that we got more of Coyote in this book. I'm enjoying the way the mythology is building there and I'm very interested in seeing what happens with Gary Laughingdog in the future.

I was surprised to see so little of the fae and the vampires in this installment though. They've been such a fixture in this series and while they were there, sort of, they seemed more like cameo appearances. There are so many different types of magic running around the Mercy Thompson series, though, so I can't really fault Briggs for playing up one and letting the others slip to side for a moment. Even if I do miss Stefan.


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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