Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Importance of Being Wicked – by Victoria Alexander

I wanted to like this based on the title alone “The Importance of Being Wicked”… a play on one of my favorite plays about a guy named Earnest. Alas it was not to be.

Victoria Alexander fails to draw me in or create a story that I can invest in. The concept is charming enough, it just doesn’t go anywhere. It is hindered greatly by awkward conversations and a generally pedantic feel to the writing.

And then there is the word “wicked”… I was ready to scream every time I read it by the middle of the book. At times it seemed as if the author had no other descriptive word to use. And in using “wicked” so much it seems to lose any meaning or impact at all. It becomes a silly throw away word.

Our erstwhile lovers are Miranda and Winfield. Neither one ends up being overly compelling and since there is no dangerous situation or shadowy intrigue to form the plot this is a problem. There is no compelling dynamic between them.

Winfield spends most of the book coming across as a pompous misogynist who appears clueless the majority of the time.

Miranda seems to be 2 different people and not in the choosing to show 2 different sides kind of way. It honestly feels at times like she was perhaps 2 different characters combined into 1 for some unknown reason. The idea that a woman who can create detailed and well done plans for houses including new modern plumbing and electricity would somehow be completely clueless as to the financial situation of her business but still have the foresight to put aside money for her employees – it just doesn’t ring true.

There just seemed to be no there there.

 

I was provided a free copy for review.

The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa

Usually I really hate starting a series in the middle or anywhere other than with the first book, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I started The Lost Prince. This is book 5 in a series. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this did not keep me from enjoying the book at all.

Julie Kagawa does a wonderful job creating a story that can stand on its own, but still feels like it belongs in a larger whole. That is difficult to do. Perhaps it was made easier because this book starts the story of a different character than the other 4 books. Whatever it is – it works.

There have been a multitude of faerie (fairy) books in the last few years – some of them have been really great – the majority have been rather weak. It is hard to take was is essentially a well-known concept that everyone has some knowledge of (though very few actually know any detail about) and make it fresh and new without bastardizing it. Kagawa has managed to do just that.

Ethan is an imminently relatable character. Yes he is supposed to be a loner, outsider and all of that – but the reasons why he is such are what make him someone we all can relate to. He has a deep compassion and goodness that speaks to anyone. And the difficulty fitting in and worry about hurting others is something most have felt.

The faerie worlds created seem vivid and real. I would like to know more about them and the history and such, but I understand that is one of the problems coming into a series anywhere other than the first. I will just have to go back and read the rest of the books to get my backstory. Which is as it should be.

The prose of the book is excellent. It has a very modern feel and moves very quickly. The new takes on some familiar characters is fun and quirky. Overall the entire book has a fresh feel with a hint of darkness. It contains elements of some of the most popular genres without being cookie cutter. There are hints of steampunk and vampire, but on the whole it is a unique and fully created world.

 

I was provided a copy of the book for review.

A Most Scandalous Proposal by Ashlyn Macnamara

If you like a light historical romance that is charming but not too substantial this should suit.

You know everything will turn out ok, so you are never too worried.

The sisters who are at the center of the story are sweet and lovely, but we get no sense of why they are who they are. The same can be said of the men they eventually marry. And I am still pondering how the sisters made it to their respective ages having never been kissed, just not believable.

The plot is straightforward and plays out as you would expect. My main complaint would be that it all plays out rather quickly and without much nuance or sense of a reason for it happening.

I wanted more detail, more background and more of a motivation for the things that happened and choices that were made.

As an example – the new Earl of Clivesden – there are hints of his horrible character and dastardly deeds but nothing is ever revealed. Other than being pompous and rather mean spirited there is never anything to justify the rumors hinted at through the book.

Ashlyn Macnamara missed the chance to add dimension and depth to what is a sweet but ultimately forgettable story.A Most

Highlander Most Wanted by Maya Banks

I had no idea who Maya Banks was before reading this. I was expecting a light historical romance that would divert me, but not tax my brain over much. That is not what I got.

Highlander Most Wanted had tears in my eyes on multiple occasions. My husband looked at me oddly as I blotted my eyes with my t-shirt while reading. The heroine she has created is marvelous. I was not expecting to feel such sadness and anger or to empathize with a character so deeply and so quickly (within the first chapters).

This is not the standard light hearted nothing really bad can happen historical romance. Not that I have anything against those – I happen to delight in them. This book is different.

Banks chooses to explore the way in which a woman might cope with perhaps one of the most horrendous things that can be done to her. And for the great majority of the book she does extremely well.

As a reader my heart went out to Genevieve. I wanted to help her. I wanted to punish those who hurt her and I literally cried for her. And I admired her.

I had no trouble believing that Bowen, the warrior hero, would want to protect and help her. I wanted to.

My only issue with how this ended up playing out was when Bowen and Genevieve consummate their love. After having such a real and visceral accounting of what Genevieve had endured it is impossible to believe this scene. As much as I would want to believe in the magic of love and that it can instantly heal all – I just couldn’t believe this.

Ms. Banks wrote too well and realistically of the tribulations our heroine faced up until that point to idealize that moment and make it more fairytale than reality.

The backdrop to all of this is well chosen and described. The supporting characters well developed.

I will certainly look to read more of her work in the future. And I hope that she will not shortchange her readers by sanitizing or stepping back from her natural talent at creating a very real emotional response in her readers with touchingly more realistic characters than are often found in this genre.

The Culling by Steven dos Santos

Thanks to the success of the Hunger Games young adult dystopian fiction is seeing an influx of similar storylines. The Culling is one of these. The plot and its evolution are remarkable similar. A teenage boy has to fight against other kids in a government sponsored contest in a post-apocalyptic world with his younger brother’s life in the balance.

Steven dos Santos does a credible job creating the world for the reader and providing some interesting characters and back stories. The main problem is that much of it feels very familiar. Granted, in this crowded genre it is hard to find something completely new to add, but this isn’t even a truly fresh take on the ideas.

The lead character, Lucian “Lucky” Sparks, is the typical teen quasi-hero who also happens to be gay. A large part of the plot deals with his former and current love interests. Unfortunately neither seems really plausible or believable. The first, who has already gone through this ritual and won, is now a part of the government. And although he hasn’t seen Lucky in 2 years supposedly is still so jealous and possessive that in a matter of a few hours he develops a plot to destroy his life. Then there is the new guy. Supposedly they never spoke at school, have never seen each other outside of school – ever and basically have had no interaction at all – ever. But, we are supposed to believe that he is so in love with Lucky that he would give his own life for him.

Interesting ideas but they are not realized. As a reader I do not believe any of these feelings or scenarios are real. In a real odd twist some of the supporting characters are much more sympathetic and believable. Gideon and Cypress are very complex characters that actually brought tears to my eyes in some scenes. I wish I had felt as much for the main character.

In this very dark world very bad things happen, sometimes without any real purpose. I was left with the feeling that some of the explicit horror was there only for shock value. In dystopian fiction it is quite natural to have brutal circumstances and extremes, however there has to be some logical through line and basis for us to buy into the way things are done. It just isn’t present in this book. While the history of some of the individual characters is fascinating it does not come together to create a cohesive larger story.  More information on how society reached the state it is in might be helpful in creating the back drop for the tale.

There is an amazing creativity shown in the actual descriptions and scenarios. With a little guidance and work there is a lot of potential here. I would be interested to see Steven dos Santos’ next effort.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman

thepeculiar 

So, I just did one of those things I will end up kicking myself for.

I went to B&N and read a brand new book from an author I’ve never heard of before in what is hopefully a new series. I say hopefully because if this is just a standalone book then Mr. Bachman is one seriously mean author who like to toy with his readers heads.

The Peculiar is the title. And it is a rather peculiar book – in the best way. The book takes place in Bath, England. But not the Bath of current time or even a particular historic Bath. Rather it is a Bath that exists in an England where the faerie world has collided with ours and now most faerie are subjugated citizens of the realm. There is an element of the oh so popular steampunk aesthetic in that this Britain is full of clockwork men and mechanical birds and such.

The story centers around young Bartholomew. He is a changeling (part human part faerie) boy in the faerie slum of Bath. I love that phrase “faerie slum of Bath”… it conjures such a vivid picture in my mind. And this book is full of such word imagery. Bachman seems to be a genius at giving just enough description to set your imagination awhirl without becoming pedantic or sounding like a catalogue description. Really excellent skill for a writer.

The co-hero of this book is a man named Arthur Jelliby. Not the most inspiring of names for a man who has never tried to aspire to anything. That he finds himself the unlikely hero and savior is perhaps more surprising to him than to the reader. By the end of the book he had changed from a rather boring stuffy bureaucrat into quite the dashing hero in my mind’s eye.

The story is original and intriguing. It draws on elements many of us think we are quite familiar with and twists them into a new reality that holds glimpses of our knowledge – but then expounds on it in ways I know I had never imagined.

I am trying desperately not to give away too much because this is a story that deserves to be enjoyed as the author has laid it out. While it is sometimes frustrating as a reader to be denied knowledge within a story that you want, I can promise than in this case it is worth the wait. Bachman does a masterful job of  leading us where he wishes without making it seem forced.

Beautiful language. It is always delightful to find an author who has a firm knowledge of the English language and the confidence to play with it successfully.

Now, as to why I am kicking myself – I both love to find new series and hate it. Love because , well, I’ve found an excellent new series and author. Hate because now I am in that reader’s hell of wanting desperately to read the next book and having to wait for it!

Checkmate, My Lord By Tracey Devlyn

Take the intrigue and drama of a modern spy flick and then stick it in Regency England with all of the accompanying social rules and strictures.

That is essentially what Tracey Devlyn has done. Sebastian is the head of a covert spy group in England and Catherine is the wife of a now deceased operative of that group – but of course she knows nothing about that. The entire story is set againt the idea of everyone playing at cross purposes.

What Devlyn does rather well though is add a truly sinister and dark element to this story in her villain. One scene in particular involving the sleeping child of our  leading lady will disturb you – and yet there is nothing graphic about it. It is written simply and that makes the chilling scene all the more effective.

The actual love scenes are a bit over the top, but that is par for the course in these books. The rest of the tome is well written and quite enjoyable.

 

I was provided a free copy for the purpose of review.

Lady Eve’s Indiscretion By Grace Burrowes

Grace Burrowes tells a tale that differs slightly from the norm – in that the heroine is not the virginal bride we usually get in these stories. As suggested by the title there has been an indiscretion. 

Lady Eve – a not so subtle reference to the biblical Eve – is a young woman who is afraid of marriage but finds herself in one with Lucas, a Marquis.

I do like that there is already a history between these two characters. This helps to make it more believable when there is love blossoming so quickly between them. The details of Lady Eve’s past are revealed slowly through out the story and it is sad and riveting. The details of her family help to make the entire story more compelling. Unlike many romance writers Burrowes has chosen to have a more realistic family background in which loss has played a prominent role. I found the family dynamics in this book to feel more real than in many others.

Where it gets heavy handed is in the way Eve berates and treats herself over the indiscretion in her past. It doesn’t feel real. There is too much self flagellation and recrimination. The fear makes sense and works but the other does not.

The marquis is a dashing hero – but I promise that at the end of the book you will find yourself wondering why he didn’t just say something sooner – it doesn’t seem like a realistic choice – and it made everything harder for no reason. I’m still questioning that writing choice.

 

I was provided a free copy of this book for review.

The Reluctant Countess by Wendy Vella

As historical romances go this one is not too shabby.

Wendy Vella creates an interesting story with enough layers to keep you interested. Unlike some authors everything is not so predictable as to be given away in the first chapter. It is a self-described Cinderella story – but it does not follow that formula exactly.

The leading lady, Sophie, is slightly more complex than is often found. She has personality and a believable character. Two things which help to make the book an enjoyable read. Her love interest and erstwhile Prince Charming is Patrick who happens to be an Earl not a prince – but Sophie manages to fall in love anyway.

As with many books in this genre one of the weakest elements is the beginning of the romance betwixt the leads. The intense interest and passion suddenly felt with no basis is always hard to believe. While one might be able to accept that there could be an intense purely physical attraction – it is nigh on impossible to believe that with merely a glance at an attractive woman a man feels not only a physical attraction but a soul stirring passion and interest – all the time.

Perhaps that is the problem. Within each book it is supposed to be an amazing event – but as a reader it has been done so many times that it feels trite and overdone before it has really even happened.

Aside from that it was a decent read. Some credible villians add spice and drama in the right places.

I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of reviewing this book.

 

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