Lightning Round: November 2012

A couple in formalwear dancing in a grand hall surrounded by antiques and opulent furnishings.The Petrov Proposal
by Maisey Yates

One day on Twitter, I was talking to Jane from DA about Harlequin’s new Kiss line, which debuts next year. I said that “if they’re like HP’s with non-asshole heroes and grown-up heroines, I’ll be in heaven.” That basically describes The Petrov Proposal to a T.

The hero is commitment-averse, but so is the heroine. He’s never arrogant or overbearing and she’s never overmatched or passive. She’s sexually inexperienced, sure, but she’s no naive ingenue. She’s a grown woman with an adult’s understanding of sexuality. There’s verbal sparring, hot makeouts, hotter sex, endearing vulnerable moments and a heartwrenching climax. If it didn’t have that worthless epilogue and that unnecessary Grand Gesture, it’d have been a grade A book.

Still, this one was really, really good. B+

+++

A woman in a long orange dress made of a bunched up satin material stands off to the right side, pressing her hands against the wall, showing her back to the camera and looking at the viewer over her right shoulder.Midnight Scandals
by Carolyn Jewel, Courtney Milan and Sherry Thomas

This was the rare anthology where all the stories were great. The Milan story was the weakest, and I’d still call it an above average read. Carolyn Jewel’s story was my favorite, as the longing and regret was off the charts.

The anthology features three stories centered around the same country home – Doyle’s Grange – set in three different time periods. Jewel’s story is an angsty second chances story set during the regency. The hero returns to the area after reluctantly parting with her when they were teenagers a decade ago. Wanting a home of her own after her brother comes home with a new wife, the heroine has accepted a local gentleman’s marriage proposal. Of course the hero and heroine discover that time hasn’t exactly dulled their attraction or chemistry at all, which is fun. There’s lots of longing here. Though they may still want each other, they have some heavy stuff in their shared history. B+

Milan set her domestic abuse-themed story in the early Victorian period. After fleeing her father’s house in the wake of an embezzlement scandal, the heroine’s working as a companion to the current lady of the house at Doyle’s Grange. Determined to recover the money her father stole from him, the hero has finally tracked her down. Though he’s certain she’s covering up for her father, he also starts to suspect that she’s not exactly safe at Doyle’s Grange and may not be the villain of the situation. I liked this one, but the romance took a back seat to all the other plot machinations. B-

Thomas’ late-Victorian entry surprised me. Let’s be honest here: the set up is fucking ridiculous. There are meet cutes, and then there’s the heroine mistakenly making out with the hero because he’s a dead ringer for the married man she’s in love with. If that’s not enough, the hero and her obsession are both named Fitz. Don’t tell me. I know. Somehow, I ended up liking the story anyway. It probably helps that I have not read the books these characters are from. It also helps that everyone in the story, heroine included, thinks this set up is ridiculous. There was too much Past Protagonist in this one, but otherwise was a good story of moving beyond first impressions. B-

+++

Closeup of a couple kissing.Beautiful Mess
by Lucy V. Morgan

Clocking in somewhere between a short story and a novella, this vignette started strong then fizzled out. The narrator’s voice is wicked and funny and oozes youthfulness, but the story was incomplete and unsatisfying. The characters also use a lot of language in the “casual bigotry” category – referring to large pumps as being in “tranny sizes,” calling things “retarded,” and so on – which mirrors how most 24 year olds speak to each other, but some readers might want to give it a wide berth because of it.

I’d read another book by this author because I found her voice fresh and contemporary, but I wanted more from this story than I got. C

+++

Shirtless guy with a tanned, waxed torso, wearing jeans and a Santa hat. Has a candy cane in his pocket, though he may also be happy to see you.Room at the Inn
by Ruthie Knox

I only read the Knox novella. The O’Keefe story is a teaser prequel that lacks an HEA/ending, and the Sloane story is a fluffy historical. I’m not interested in either right now.

I loved Room at the Inn a lot… until the ending. I think Grand Gestures are cheap and lazy as a rule, but this one felt even weaker tacked onto the end of such a thoughtful and emotional story. How does staging a humiliating, public scene in a church during Christmas Eve services strike anyone as romantic? How does a narcissistic, emotionally manipulative stunt like a public proposal atone for 16 years of narcissism and emotional abuse? It spoiled what had been a top notch story. The hero’s redemption/change of heart was believable and accounted for, and I could see their HEA, but the church stunt was BS. I’ve mentally edited it to give the story a more satisfying ending with 100% less self-centered manipulation. C

+++

top half: a man embraces a woman from behind. bottom half: a lone rider on a horse is silhouetted by a cloudy sunset.Broken Vows
by Delynn Royer

A marriage of convenience where a heroine promises a retired bounty hunter $20,000 to marry her then divorce her after six months so she can inherit her family’s ranch? Sign me up! To sweeten the deal, the heroine’s a total bitch who has to work on her attitude to win the hero. It’s like it was written just for me.

I do have to warn that the author wrote about the Latino characters totally offensively – “half-breed” is so not an acceptable term – but it was thoughtlessly done, not malicious, and only comes up a few times early in the novel when she’s describing a few side characters. I chose to roll my eyes at the author and keep reading, but other people might want to set the book on fine.

Once I got past that stuff in the early chapters, I really enjoyed the story. Their bickering and bantering is hilarious, and the sexual tension was spicy. Not bad for a $2.99 impulse buy on Amazon. B-

+++

A closeup of a fireman's face. He's wearing a blue helmet with the number 14 on itAfter the Fire
by Kathryn Shay

This is marketed as romance, but it sure didn’t read like one. Rather than focus on a couple as they fall in love, this book follows three firefighter siblings – Mitch, Jenn and Zach – as they deal with the fallout after a particularly destructive fire. All three decide to make changes in their lives: Mitch swears to do something about his dysfunctional marriage, Jenn is determined to become a mother and Zach wants to stop his destructive behavior that’s left him divorced.

I’m really not sure what compelled me to finish this one. The writing was dry and plagued with info dumps about firefighting. I got totally lost spending equal amounts of time in five characters’ heads watching two pairs of them get HEAs and the odd one out get therapy. Mitch’s wife was a cartoonishly one-dimensional villain (a bad mother! a rich girl unsatisfied with middle-class life! takes pride in her appearance!) and I needed more time spent on Jenn’s romance to buy an HEA after she’d already been divorced twice before. And Zach was just shameless sequel bait. Seriously. Not at all interested in the rest of the series. D

+++

.Saga, Volume 1
by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist)

When a book opens with a childbirth scene and the first line is the mother yelling, “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” how could I not read on?

This is mostly a prologue, like many volume 1 comic trades are, but I’m hooked. From the kickass Alana to her laid-back husband Marko to the ethically-complex bounty hunter The Will and his sidekick Lying Cat (a cat that says only “Lying” when someone isn’t speaking the truth) to the wide variety of side characters, I want to see more of this universe caught up in a war between Alana’s home planet and the moon Marko is from.

That a copy of a romance novel, complete with clinch-style cover, looks to play a role in the effort to hunt down Alana and Marko only sweetens the deal.B

+++

the bent legs of a woman lying on her back, wearing black garters and stockings.Owning Wednesday
by Annabel Joseph

This was a frustrating read for me. On the one hand, you’ve got moments like this:

But just before she came, the man fucking stopped.

She actually sobbed then. “Daniel, no! Please! Please don’t do this to me. You’ll kill me.”

“Kill you? ‘Here lies Wednesday, total drama queen.’ I’ll visit every week and leave butt plugs on your grave.”

Just about the only thing rarer than a negative pregnancy test in romance is humor and playfulness in BDSM scenes, and I loved that this book went there. It was a unique D/s relationship between two individuals. It even eschewed the collar. Instead, Wednesday wore garters and stockings when their D/s dynamic was “on.”

But, on the other hand, the book is 90% sex scene and 10% Wednesday and Daniel hurting each other with their actions. I like sex as much as the next girl, but if it’s not advancing the plot, I’m bored rather quickly. A lot of it felt gratuitous. And Wednesday and Daniel? While I appreciated that she had a backbone and stood up to Daniel’s obsessive, controlling behaviors, I never felt that the problems were ever resolved. By the end, they still appeared to me as two insecure people mindfucking each other.

So, this one was a mixed bag. I’m being generous by rating it as average, I think. It’s a case of great idea, poor execution. C

+++

A woman in a pink tank top smiles at the camera while leaning a hockey stick against her shoulder.Offside
by Juliana Stone

This was a strange little book. While I enjoyed reading about a heroine who’s a serious hockey player, and the sexual tension was expertly paced, the book was exceedingly over the top. Everything in it is turned up to 11. The sexist backlash over her joining the men’s beer league, her dementia-addled father pointing a shotgun at the hero while her grandfather’s drawers fall down, the triplet sisters being named Billie-Jo, Bobbi-Jo and Betty-Jo, the prodigal triplet returning just in time to toss a drama bomb – all of these moments felt scripted. It was like the author was poking me in the ribs and saying “ISN’T THAT JUST ZANY?”

I started off entertained, then I was being indulgent, but by the end I was rolling my eyes at the blatant manipulation. It’s a fun book if you don’t try to pin real world logic onto it, but the ending was just a stunt too far for me. C

One thought on “Lightning Round: November 2012

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