Book I read this week: Vol 29, July 29

Book I read this week: Vol 29, July 29

The Duke

Author: Kerrigan Byrne

Series: Victorian Rebels #4

Tags: historical romance, Victorian romance, dukes!, painter, barmaid, nurse, prostitute, widow, nice old dead husband, military man, spy, nursed back to health, mistaken identity, serial killer, rapey, physically scarred, amputee

Format: audiobook

Rating: meh.

 

First of all, lolz to the audiobook cover. They look like the kind of people who make loud noises and hog the machines at LA Fitness. They probably are. That straightened bleach blonde hair! Those manicured manbrows!

Love it.

 

Oh, Kerrigan Byrne.

The first line of the first review you see on GoodReads starts with “This guy’s a dick.”

Well, duh. It’s Kerrigan Byrne! You have had three novels to acquaint yourself with ultra-tortured, ultra-masculine, not-so-consenty, abused and abusive assholes that grace the pages of the of the Victorian Rebels series.

By comparison, the Duke was kind of nice.

He also has had the cushiest life of the other rebels. He grew up rich and loved, missed his parents when they died, and only was tortured for a couple years of his life.

 

The premise:

Our hero, the Duke, tups a prostitute before going out to war and falls in love with her. Little does he know that she is a) in disguise b) NOT a prostitute but a barmaid (I always get those confused!) c) a virgin (well, until after…) d) also a nurse e) the nurse that nurses him back to health later f) the sexy social climbing widow next door to his estate three years after he met her.

For a barmaid/nurse/prostitute and a Duke, this seems to one too many accidental run ins.

 

There are a LOT of things going on this book. Possibly for length? Why did she have to have two jobs, and two accidental run-ins with the Duke?

Oh yeah! And she’s also a painter! And he’s a spy!

Jeez, I keep thinking of more tags as I write this.

 

Most of what the Duke does doesn’t make sense. He searches for a prostitute all over the world, only knowing her first name. He wants to marry the prostitute, but also looks down upon the woman who married an old fogey and now lives next door…?

But who cares!

Because it is sensationalist. Turn the Drama (angst!) volume, the Sexy (explicit sex scenes) volume, the Cringe Factor (torture, rape situations) volume up to 10, and let’s get cracking!

 

Yeah, I knew what I was getting into. So when the Duke is stomping around his estate with anger-lust, or is almost-kinda-sorta raping her, I was like, “ah, yes. Carry on.”

 

There were a couple of parts that were just too ridiculous. Much like other Byrne heroes, he had a huge chip on his shoulder. Unlike the rest of them, he doesn’t have that much to complain about.

The Duke therefore threw his amputeeness in everyone’s face.

“Oh, me? I’m privileged?! What about this?!”

*slams his prosthetic hand on the counter*

“I gave more than enough to my country! I gave this!?”

*slams his prosthetic hand on the counter*

 

Yeah, Duke, you are privileged. You have the highest title in the land below King, you are hella rich, had a pretty okay childhood, traveled the world, and did cool spy shit for your country. Also, you have a superfancy gizmoed out prosthetic hand, so yeah, your situation is not that terrible.

Please go talk to your friend Argent (the hero from The Hunter) who grew up in a prison, watched his mother being raped and killed in front of him, was repeatedly abused and raped as a child until he could start fighting for himself, and then spent the rest of his life killing people for a living.

Yeah.

That’s not fun.

But yeah, you guys are pretty much alike.

 

(Argent slept in a closet — A CLOSET — in his big empty mansion because he wasn’t used to big open spaces from growing up in a prison! Sad puppy face!)

 

Also, he was so mad when he finds out that she lied to him. Doesn’t he — a virtual stranger, much higher in rank, and hostile towards her, besides — deserve to know that she was once a prostitute and had sex with him once?

Oh yeah, that’s right. You don’t.

Stick to what you’re good at and go back to complaining about the no hand thing, hun.

 

Now, I like angsty heroes. Something about their vulnerability, their need to and dependence on being loved that hits all the right buttons for me: the sympathy button, the savior complex button, the “someone needs a hug” button…

I just want to give them a blanket and a mug of hot chocolate, rub their back while they tell their sad tale, and then tell them that they will be unconditionally loved from now on.

I mean, it’s a problem I can solve. Can I kill anyone? Probably not. Do I have money or resources enough to fix a problem? No. Can I repair mental damage? Nuh uh. But how easy is it to love someone unconditionally? So easy. I could do it in my sleep.

 

Unfortunately, there is no section in the DSM that says:

Illness: Angst

Treatment: Unconditional love.

Hell, it’s not even on WebMD.

 

Meanwhile, in romance novels, love cures all ails: trauma, mental disorders, depression, epilepsy, hair palms…

 

Angst is one of those things that sound really great on paper, but would make people raging assholes in real life. Like possessiveness. If angst and assholery were x and y axes on a graph, it would be a diagonal line going up. Because the more “angsty” a character is, the more the isolation is self imposed, until he’s caught in his own echo chamber. There’s no room for anyone else if you are constantly asking “Why MEEE?”

I don’t want to date that.

 

So yeah, Byrne’s characters are assholes. Like, assholes in the romance world, which is saying a lot, because most all heroes have the chance to redeem themselves in inner monologues, at least. Just giant, hulking, yelling, angry, stomping, killing, stealing, swearing, terse, rude, kind of rapey assholes.

I think there is a theory in the romance world that the bigger the angst, or the grosser the tortured past is, the bigger the savior complex payoff. I mean, your vajayjay must be REAL GOOD if you can bring him back from the edge of that.

I do not adhere to that theory. Byrne’s a 9 in the Angst in Traditional Romance Novels scale. I’m like a 6. Yes, angst: love it, bring it. Let’s just leave out the rape, why don’t we?

 

So why did I read it? Because it’s still fun. Also, variety. Also, the sex scenes are pretty steamy.

 

I’ll probably read the next one whenever it comes out on audiobook.


 

Full On Squee: Ilona Andrews

Have I told you lately that I love Ilona Andrews?

There’s so much to love. So much. I can’t even…

 

Okay, so I’m going to nip this in the bud and have one entire post dedicated to Ilona Andrews. Then I can just refer everyone to that and move on.

 

Did you know that…?

Ilona Andrews is Actually a Married Couple

How fucking cute is that?!

I wonder how much of what I like about their writing is because it is two people. Maybe the ideas solidify better because you are forced to talk it out with your cowriter.

Also George Andrews is the first male author I’ve liked since forever.

 

Kick Ass World Building

Imaginative, immersive, fascinating, surprising.

I love that each world they build feels like they fucking own it. You know that feeling when you start reading a new fantasy book or series, and it feels like the author is making it up as it goes along? Some of the physics don’t make sense, the history is iffy, lots of things are trite or boring… That doesn’t happen here.

I love starting an Ilona Andrews knowing that I won’t be constantly fighting the world building. And the sudden prevalence of magic usually has a reason. Urban fantasies sometimes plop down a mystical character for no reason, with the backstory “welp, vampires were always just hidden” and leave it at that.

I mean, that’s fine, most of the time. But man, it feels good to have an interesting backstory.

In the Kate Daniels series, the world is either ruled by magic or technology. We have come too far in technology, that the world has begun to change back to magic. There are waves of magic the wipe out tall buildings, fancy tech, stop cars, create mystical creatures, etc.

The Edge series is about a class of magical people that live in the weird halfway magical world between a fully magical dimension and a fully nonmagical (real life) dimension.

The Innkeeper series is about an inn that serves as a rest stop for interdimensional travellers.

In the Hidden Legacy series, the ruling class is made up of family “houses” that took a magical serum 100 years ago, and have been cultivating their magical genes ever since.

How fucking cool are those?!

I love that magic itself is a character, and it’s a good character! A better character than some of the main characters I’ve read, let me tell ya.

 

Truly Kick Ass Heroines

Don’t you miss the 90’s? I’m not talking about Tamagotchis.

Buffy. Leeloo. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Carmen Sandiego. Captain Janeway. Pocahontas. Trinity.

So many morrrrrre!

What happened? Argg, I miss those bitches.

I have a theory that women make THE BEST superheroes because only women (in this current day and age in heteronormative culture #patriarchy) can be portrayed as both strong AND vulnerable.

Now that I think of it, maybe 90’s Strong Female Characters were a reaction to the 80’s Arnold Schwarzenegger types. All bulge and brawn and indomitable nature. Who wants to read about about an infallible character?

Bor-ring.

Ilona Andrews female characters are the best of 90’s Strong Female Characters. They are strong physically and mentally, and are tested past their limit every day. They are have some weak spots, some very vulnerable moments. Both strong and vulnerable are not forced.

On top of that, they are sarcastic AF. Very lively personalities.

And who doesn’t love a woman actually, physically kicking ass?

They are not whiners. They have shit to do!

I was a little gay for Cerise in Bayou Moon just for that scene where she is practicing swordplay with her blue lightning sword. Man, excellently written fight scenes.

 

They Have Morals

I don’t know how many times I have silently yelled at the heroines for getting sidetracked by flirting with some goddamn male. You know you have a world to save, right? Like, an actual world. But sure, 7.4 billion people can wait while you play footsie with some dumb vampire. (*ahem* Beautiful Ashes)

Yes, it’s a romance. Yes, there are love scenes. But I start to lose interest in the story when it looks like the romance part is overtaking and impeding all other goals, to the point that I worry about them morally. I mean, at the beginning of a relationship, you can’t even make the argument that you are fighting for your man yet. You don’t even know that dude.

On the other hand, I like it when a character struggles between immediate desires and their long term goals. They think logically, weigh it against their belief system, and choose a plan of action.

Most all female characters in Ilona Andrews books struggle against burgeoning desire for the male protagonist. But they avoid them like the plague. Why? Because they know the price of growing an attachment. They know their limitations when it comes to something casual. Furthermore, they have values that keep them steady: keeping their family safe, saving the world, etc.

I love that they are not just lust, passion and angst personified. They love their friends and family. They value human life. And they will fight to the death for both of them.

 

Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes

First of all, family. <3 <3 <3

They love each other sooo hard!

Secondly, Andrews books are really good about going beyond the family nucleus to show a variety of people in from different ages and backgrounds with lasting friendships.

I’m consistently surprised that the children are interesting, and not just some plot device. Most side characters are interesting, and they feel like they have a purpose and a place in the main character’s lives.

Platonic friendship is valued. Kate and an 18 year old guy werewolf are friends. Kate is friends with an former coworker who is hot, male, and they’ve never had a romantic run in. They are just friends. Friends! Not some weird backup boyfriend at which to cast longing glances. Not some love triangle you know she’s not going to follow through with. Not some sad fuck that is unrequited in love with her, while she leads him on.

JUST.

FRIENDS.

All the alternatives that you see in other novels are great plot devices but ultimately make the protagonist petty and selfish. They are just using these so called friends so that they can add some more drama in my life. I have known some people IRL who use these tactics and let me tell you, it is NOT flattering.

 

Bechdeling the Fuck Out of This Bitch

So much Bechdel Test succeeding! Women are doing shit, planning things, saving the world, kicking ass and taking names. And men are right along there with them doing the same thing. NOT hiding the women away in a corner. NOT objectifying the women. Women can be friends. They don’t see each other as competition (unless for specific reasons). Generations of women come together to save the fucking world. It’s so great!

 

Just a Whole Barrel of Goddamn Fun

So much imagination! Humor! Action! Quippy banter! Fun side characters! Under dogs winning! Sizzling romance! Cool ass powers!

A Kate Daniels book feels more like an episode of your favorite superhero show, rather than a book.

 

And So Much More

I will probably add more as I go.

 

What I’ve read so far, in bold:

KATE DANIELS SERIES

 

ON THE EDGE SERIES

 

INNKEEPER CHRONICLES SERIES

  • 1 Clean Sweep
  • 2 Sweep in Peace
  • 3 One Fell Sweep

 

HIDDEN LEGACY SERIES:

  • Burn for Me
  • White Hot

There are also a few random books and a whole set of books from Curran’s POV under the name George Andrews that I haven’t even touched yet!

Books I read this week: Vol. 28, June 22

Books I read this week: Vol. 28, June 22

How to Capture a Countess

Author: Karen Hawkins

Series: The Duchess Diaries

Tags: historical romance, regency romance, earl, girlhood crush, previously ruined, bet, revenge

Format: audiobook

Rating: yay!

 

Aw, cute. Light, airy, mildly funny.

 

Young debutante steals a kiss from our rakish hero, and ensues a scandal that makes the earl a laughing stock. He vows to seek vengence, but she disappears for seven years. The earl’s aunt hatches a plan to get him to marry by putting him in a situation where he is near her all the time.

Country party! Shenanigans! Archery! Silly bets! Meddling aunts! Pugs! 

Both heroine and hero are fiercely competitive, and end up challenging each other to all sorts of bets.

Basically it is that episode of Arrested Development where Will Arnet and Amy Poehler marry purely out of one-up-manship.

 

There is a lot of slapstick in this. Some people hate slapstick in books. I understand. It gets a bit weird reading it instead of seeing it. But I thought it was cute. Every encounter had him leaving with another bruise or scrape. Poor guy.

Most notable of these was the first scene where the heroine accidentally pushes the earl into a fountain. Not only is he soaked, he ends up with a lily pad on his head and a fish in his breast pocket. Oh, the hijinks! *Titters behind fan.*

 

Also, the aunt was pretty delightful. She has seven pugs, and connives constantly. Her companion knows the exact moment she has devised a plan by the look in her eyes. Those two and her butler are the comedic side characters of the story.

 

I’d say it was pretty humorous.

 


 

Ready Set Rogue

Author: Manda Collins

Series: Studies in Scandal #1

Tags: historical romance, regency romance, marquis, bluestockings, game, unusual inheritance, dying wish, murder mystery, shelter in a storm, ruined, nebulous Victorian autism

Format: audiobook

Rating: Yay!

 

Fun!

It felt kind of like a dinner party murder mystery. Five girls and a guy are invited to a house to figure out the murder of an eccentric, beloved maiden aunt.

It reminded me of The Westing Game. Not that it was particularly like The Westing Game, but wasn’t The Westing Game fun? 

 

Four bluestockings, each masters of a particular field of study (painting, math (or “maths” as they say), archaeology, and classical studies) have to live in the estate of a recently departed scholarly spinster for a year, working on their field of study. At the end of the year, they will compete with the fruit of their labors against each other to finally receive the estate permanently.

In come the relatives: a somewhat morose widow, a blustering marquis, and a duke that has more charm that what’s good for him.

And then they all die in a fire. JUST KIDDING! They fall in love with each other and become best friends.

Duh.

 

This book focuses on the blustery, serious marquis and the classical studies woman. They run into each other in a tavern, and instantly hate each other. Not 24 hours later, they are doing it in a shepard’s cabin while caught in a thunderstorm.

*Cough cough* SLUT.

Just kidding (again). Slut shaming is not at all cool. But they do hop into the sack pretty damn quickly.

I like a liiiittle bit more backstory before they do the nasty, you know what I’m saying? If she were like, “Virginity is a dumb myth. Let’s do this shizz,” I’d be all about it. But they just kind of fall in bed together.

I mean, storm, shepherd’s cabin, naked under rough wool blankets, cuddling together for warmth?

Who can say no?

 

He’s not at all that bright either. Overwhelming desire to “do what’s right” + bluestocking (and virgin OBVIOUSLY) definitely equals “shit, I just deflowered her, let’s go get a special license.”

 

Well, it’s not terribly smart, but it’s definitely fun. Before and after and in between their love affair there are a rag tag team of misfit characters, a murder mystery they have to go Nancy Drew on, gypsies! Palms read! Near deaths by shooting! Secret caves! Surprise love affair! Shenanigans!

 

I’m not sure what the next books will be about because that murder is definitely solved.

The next two characters that are up for the parson’s trap are the oh so smooth talking duke, and the possibly autism spectrum maths bluestocking. She is already endearing and I’m interested to see what happens between the two. Already in this book she has proposed a love affair with the duke. He went red and ran out of the room. 

Daphne keeps on saying, “I don’t want to marry him, I just want to fu—” until she’s cut off.

Lol.

 

And after two whole weeks, the hero and heroine are in deep, everlasting love with each other. 

*Rolls eyes.*

 


 

RR: Lord of Scoundrels

Author: Loretta Chase

Series:  Scoundrels #3

Tags: Historical romance, regency romance, marquess, growly, forthright female, frenemies, antique collector, ne’er do well brother

Format: audiobook

Rating:  Super yay!

 

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

 

That’s my giggle of girlish glee, if you didn’t know.

 

This was a reread. It was just recently added to the OverDrive collection of my library, so I had to try it out again, since I remembered vaguely that I loved it. I loved it again!

I loved both of the characters equally. They are 100% what I most like to see.

Our hero is a big, scary, dark fellow, with a reputation as an incurable reprobate. Little does the ton know that his graham cracker crust can be cracked open to find so much gooey! Gooey for days! The kind of gooey that keeps oozing and oozing, like warm marshmallow fluff mixed with molasses, and it gets all over your hands and never comes off and it’s delicious.

He hasn’t been hugged since his mama ran away, and he DOESN’T NEED HUGS ANYWAY AT ALL, OKAY?

Omg, the blustering of an 8 year old turned 33 year old rake.

He’s also super big and Italian looking with dark skin and a hawkish nose. So obviously he thinks he’s hideous. Equally obvious, he is actually super hot.

 

The heroine is rather forthright, original, has raised ten brothers and cousins, and has an eccentric and sexually liberated grandmother. She takes one look at him and wants his D. She recognizes it, is very self aware, and attempts to eradicate it. The marquess is also instantly attracted, is not self aware at all, and nevertheless tries to eradicate the feeling under animosity. Since they are both passionate, combative, and competitive, it does not go well for either of them.

 

Ooh, the sexual tension between them sizzles, until it explodes. They are at odds from the beginning because Jessica’s twat of a brother is being lured into dissipation by Daine (what else are ne’er-do-well brothers good for, really?). Miscommunication, animosity, and someone’s *cough cough DAINE* towering insecurities has them clawing at each other into they burst with desire.

 

They get married, but it’s not the ending, because someone needs to get over their enormous issues of abandonment, love, and women in general. Jessica approaches these problems calmly and systematically, until they once again find themselves in an impasse.

 

I love their back and forth, a sexually charged ongoing challenge between the two. The most calamitous events happen immediately after one says to the other one, “I’d like to see you try.”

 

I love that Jessica is just so very adult about it. She’s a virgin, true, but she’s also 27, with an open minded grandmother as a mentor. They talk openly about her attraction to him.

Sometimes audiobooks add something to the story, and in this case it was most enjoyable to hear The Whine. Jessica is talking to her grandmother about how rude and arrogant and conceited and debauched Daine is, and then says, “and the worst part is…” wavering whine “I like himmmmm.” *Gusty sigh*

I feel like the narrator got that line pretty on point.

 

They are both so irreverent and prickly, yet honest and surprisingly touching. Jessica has no qualms about recognizing that her brother is not the sharpest tool in the shed, yet she does care for him and hopes to at least keep him alive.

There’s this great part where she hears a shot, and is instantly sure that her brother was dead because “if Bertie is standing near a ditch, he would fall into it. If Berties is standing near an open window, he would fall out of it. She had no doubt that if a gun went off in Bertie’s vacinity, he would find a way to throw himself in front of it.”

 

Sigh. So delightful. The other books of the series don’t look as engaging, though. Wamp wamp.

I’ve explored a few Loretta Chases and her books are so thick I invariably lose interest in the end. Dukes Prefer Blondes was another I read. I enjoyed it, but ended up skimming the end. That makes me pause in searching for other Chases. Also, this book is a fan favorite. It has been reprinted several times.

 

If you love Mr. Thornton from North and South, if you love witty, dry banter and snappy back and forths, you should check out this book.

It is de-light-ful.

Books I read this week: Vol 27, July 15

Books I read this week: Vol 27, July 15

RR: Potent Pleasures

Author: Eloisa James

Series: Pleasures #1

Tags: Historical Romance, regency romance, ruined woman, artist, twin, white hair, Earl, divorced, masquerade, mistaken identity, impotence

Format: audiobook

Rating: yay!

 

This should really be called Not Actually Impotent Pleasures.

 

Our heroine meets the hero at a masquerade ball and accidentally has sex with him (woops! I slipped!). Years later, they meet again. He is called the Ineligible Earl because his wife annulled him on the grounds of impotence. Which is of course a falsehood; he just really needed to get out of that relationship. He starts courting her, and she is not really worried about the impotence thing, but mostly mad that he doesn’t remember her.

All the while every person around them is like:

“Does his dick work?”

“It’s a shame his dick doesn’t work.”

“Should we tell her? Does she know?? She probably doesn’t know what it means when his dick doesn’t work.”

Hilarious euphemisms like “floppy poppy” are used.

 

It reminds me of that time in Downton Abbey when Matthew was handicapped from an accident and everyone would clap him on the back and ask,

“Soooo…. are you feeling… better?”

Meaning,

“So, does your dick work yet?”

 

Oh, primogeniture. Always making awkward British people talk about each other’s dicks.

 

This was an accidental reread. I’m now up to J in Overdrive, so I came across Eloisa James again.

 

Now, I know that I told you, dear reader, that I broke up with James after that hellishly tedious Seven Minutes in Heaven. Buuuuut…. You know how I hate not to finish things. I thought maaybe if I avoided her Desperate Duchesses series (all 18 bajillion of them) then I would enjoy her again because I did like a few of her stories, mainly the fairy tale ones. I chose the Pleasures series.

I didn’t realize that it was something I’ve read before until I got a couple chapters in, and by that time I was enjoying it. It was on the list of my Vaguely Remembered Romances (“what was that one about a twin… with black and white hair… and something about impotence?”), so I decided to stick through it.

 

I’m not exactly sure what irks me so much about Eloisa James, but in this one it was that all conflicts were run into the ground. So he said that he was impotent to get out of a marriage. So he didn’t remember her from a bajillion years ago.

LET’S MOVE ON.

Charlotte, our heroine, was grasping at straws by the end. Does she really begrudge him for not recognizing her from seven years ago, when they shared a tryst in a dark garden, she had her hair powdered, and she was wearing a mask? And if she cared so much, why didn’t she bring it up? I confess to tuning out towards the end, but I’m pretty sure, no I’m positive, that she never told him.

And the Garden Girl this, the Garden Girl that. That’s all our hero wants to talk about. One night, and about .5 seconds in her veejay and suddenly she’s The One That Got Away.

 

Meh.

I liked it, it was fun, if a bit tedious, again. At the beginning I was thinking about continuing the Pleasures series, even though it looks like I’ve read all those, too. By the end, I had changed my mind.

Moving on!

 

Oh, and fuck you, Duke of Villers. He wasn’t in this one (thank the gods of romance novels), but I still fucking hate that guy.


 

Till We Have Faces

Author: C.S. Lewis

Series: N/A

Tags: classic literature, mythology, Christian, preachy

Format: first ebook, then paper book, then audiobook because I could just not deal with this thing

Rating: A long, cold cry of anguish in an empty, black, echoing chamber.

 

What the ever-loving fuck is this novel.

Just… what.

 

OMFG, this book felt like a slow walk through an increasingly worse nightmare. This was the book for my (IRL) book club and I have no idea why we chose it. Perhaps the thought was “Narnia! Talking lions! Jesus! Jesus is a nice fellow, right? Let’s try Lewis’s adult stuff.”

 

Pain, misery, sadness, pettiness, cruelty, unloved, self-doubting, insane. Oh, and let’s not forget patronizing, sexist, boring, tedious, and downright confusing.

 

This was clogging up my To Read pile because I put aside everything else to read this book, and yet still couldn’t get myself to read it. I was, however, determined to finish it. You will not defeat me, cruel devil!

So you can thank this book for only having finished two books this week, and the vitriol that is about to spill forth.

Shall we begin?

 

The Myth

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid (or Eros). Quick recap: Psyche is super hot. Cupid falls in love. He has sex with her in the dark. She is forbidden to see his face. She looks at him anyway (evil, petty, envious sisters convince her) while he is sleeping and is cursed. Venus (or Aphrodite) makes her go on all these impossible quests, and when she completes them all, she wins back Cupid and they get married. Hooray for them.

Lewis’s story is told by the ugly sister, who tries to save her from what she believes is madness, fails, and then just does some stuff as a queen for a while. She writes the story, and has a bunch of theological epiphanies, dies and goes off to her friends like Rose and Jack at the end of Titanic.

 

It’s amazing how fiction (a media completely made up in the mind) has the ability to ask the question, “is God real?” and then unequivocally answer, “actually, yes. Here he is.”

Yep. That’s proof right there. In fiction.

 

Orual

So, fun times ahead, if you are a woman, because 100% of every woman’s worth is how pretty they are. Our narrator, Orual, is ugly. We don’t know how or why. Possibly a disfigurement? We never know. Fun things happen like:

  • Her father hits her, calls her Goblin, forces her to look at herself in the mirror, praises her when she hides herself in a veil.
  • Her friend, protector, and unrequited love repeatedly tells her she would be a good wife if she wasn’t so ugly, gives her her only solace by teaching her how to fight, and effectively desexing her.
  • Her older sister and nursemaid make fun of her.

When not abused, she is simply neglected, and develops an unhealthy attachment to her youngest sister and her Greek philosopher slave, both of which are so wrapped up in their own thoughts, they hardly think of her.

Her life is pretty much fucked from beginning to end. 

Lots of situations that just happen to be my personal nightmares become part of her life, such as:

  • Never being loved
  • Not being worthy of love
  • Being too ugly to love
  • Being too ugly to be a woman
  • Being desexed, neither man nor woman
  • Being without a family
  • Loving someone too hard, who does not love you back
  • Being loved as a Thing, an Idea, not a whole complete person, as I am
  • Friendships held back by some construct of who I am, be it appearance, gender, station, etc.
  • No true friendships
  • Seeing someone you love die
  • Seeing someone you love being torn apart with disease or mental illness
  • Abuse from a loved one
  • Having your worst fears realized with bald language
  • Loneliness.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Unrequited love
  • Facing the love of your unrequited love

Yep. That pretty much covers it. I mean, spiders don’t scare me. If I were to have a bogart it would be the embodiment of the life of Orual.

I found it incredibly difficult to live in her narration, feel what she feels, and still continue to read. And yet, I think we were supposed to take it in stride?!? Were we not supposed to sympathize with her?? Because it just kept going and going, and each layer of debasement (desexing, always wearing a veil) was offered almost as a triumph.

I suppose she can count as an ironic character because though I wanted to sympathize with her, she was petty, selfish, and self-centered. When Psyche was in the throws of her delusion, all Orual could think of was, what about me? This wrongs me!

Not that Psyche is much of a peach either.

 

Psyche

Yep, more of that It Sucks to be a Woman crap.

Basically, their choices as women are to be married off for political reasons to a stranger, or to be useless burden for your family patriarch.

Pretty standard. But in watching their childhood, you realize what sort of dreams can these girls have? To marry someone not so abusive? To never marry at all?

That pretty much hangs over each sister’s head while you learn about them and start to get a feel of their personalities.

I feel pretty confident in saying that all in Orual is mortal, and all in Psyche is divine. 

Orual is petty, selfish, base, ugly, she loves but in a selfish way, she has expectations for the love back, she feels deeply and unrequitedly, she wrestles with faith constantly, rebels against the gods, she makes mistakes, has pride, treats her loved ones wrongly at times.

Psyche is kind, sweet, demure, endlessly obedient, dreamily philosophical, one with nature, trusting, with unwavering faith (without real cause), and an abject, disinterested kind of love for her loved ones that is wholly unsatisfying to Orual.

Now that I’ve explained her, don’t you kinda hate that bitch?

I mean, Jesus. Every woman should hate this girl because she is not a girl. She is not human. She is this weird thing someone made up that is the philosophical equivalent of Dove commercials telling women their armpits aren’t smooth enough.

Oh yes! Let’s be like Psyche! Please drug me and tie me to a tree to be sacrificed so that I will have a mass delusion that I’m married to a god, when in reality some homeless dude is sneaking in and out of a cave at night to have sex with me.

 

Oh, and did I mention she’s beautiful? Like, really beautiful? So beautiful peasants started revering her as a god? I think I need to mention that she’s beautiful. Every (she’s beautiful) Other (she’s beautiful) Word (btw, she’s beautiful).

Her beauty and her dreamy loose grasp of the material world are the only two things that define this girl, and only one (guess which one) is any catalyst to the story.

So, Orual’s a butterface (I hate that word, but I feel like if this book were written in modern times, they’d say that, or fugly), and her life sucks because of her lack of beauty. But guess what else is punished?

Oh yeah.

Beauty.

Psyche is revered and then sacrificed because she’s so beautiful.

So that’s fun.

 

The Fox, Ravenil, that general guy, his wife, the nursemaid, and everyone else

Can go fuck themselves. Seriously. They all suck. 

Especially, you The Fox. Your psuedo-socratic ramblings meant to help me reach enlightenment are dumb.

 

The Palace Scene

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes is the reason Lewis wrote it: the palace scene.

Orual goes back up to the mountain where Psyche was tied up and left to die for a sacrifice. Psyche is alive, whole, and well, not hurt, not starved, deliriously happy. They have a good talk and Psyche reveals that she is sleeping with a god, “her husband” that she’s never seen. Also, he had taken her to his godly palace with wine, and food, and rich, spacious decorations. She says they are sitting in it right now. Orual sees or experiences nothing but the outdoors around her.

 

Let me first say that I get what Lewis is doing here. The ability to believe her, even when you see nothing, the doubt of what is reality, the test of science against religion, the ultimately unanswerable quest for truth.

Yep yep yep.

 

As a person with FEELINGS, however, as someone who empathizes with characters, this was incredibly horrific. Here she is, finding her sister alive and whole at last, only to find that not only will she not come back, she deludes herself into thinking she is married to a god.

And I don’t believe for a second that it’s a real god. No. Orual might struggle with it, she might have confirmed it in the end, but I don’t believe it at all. Her sister is wandering around the woods of a mountain, pretending water is wine, that she’s living in a palace, and some dude is having sex with her.

 

My heart broke for Orual, who has to watch her sister descend abruptly into madness with no way to help her. My heart broke for Psyche, who was so upset when her sister didn’t believe her, when she said that she yearned for death, and that death was the best possible outcome of her future.

I hated Psyche when she said she was her husband’s (who she has never seen) property. I hated Orual when she said she would rather kill Psyche than allow her to sleep with someone beneath her.

 

Bardia’s funeral

Almost as stressful was when Bardia (the general guy) died and Orual and Bardia’s wife have a big confrontation. OUT OF THE BLUE, Orual decides Bardia was her great unrequited love, and pretty much challenges the wife on who had his love the most.

Pretty, uh, selfish to do at his funeral, right?

By this time, Orual’s been fighting alongside Bardia for a couple decades, and she thinks she has a greater right to Bardia than a woman who is his “play-thing” his “whore.”

WHOA. Not so subtle shade on the importance of wives, there, Lewis.

They duke it out and come out pretty much even in their grief, each deserving a piece of him, but not the whole. Both grieving his loss. 

The whole thing is very depressing and I ultimately feel sad for both, but especially for the wife. That there was a contest at all. Her whole darn life was dedicated to this man, after all, and she gets his love piecemeal?

 

Fuck.

This.

Book.

 

Conclusion

Believe me, there is more I could say about this weird-ass, sexist book, but I just need to stop. In general, I feel like Lewis didn’t have a very high opinion of humans, because pretty much every character was a horrible human being. There was pettiness, selfishness, lots of jealousy, outright malice, and thoughtless cruelty.

I also don’t have any faith at all in the characters he puts on a pedestal. Both Psyche and The Fox are godly in a selfish way, too much in their heads, too self sacrificing.

The real meat of human existence, I believe, is completely missed throughout this book, as if it doesn’t exist.

Connection. Truly caring for another. Sympathy. Empathy. Community. Kindness for kindness’s sake. Truly knowing that people exist outside your own inner world.

These don’t exist here.

They have moments, but each characters are so mired in their own self-doubt, selfishness, and high thoughts for them to make a difference.

Is this what he is getting at? A cruel existence or God?

 

Whatever he’s selling, I’m not buying it. And, also, the fact that he’s selling. Just all around icky connotations from most angles.

I seem to have differing opinions with Lewis on many fronts, such as, to pick a few: that the soul is not stationary, damned or not damned, that people are a product of their environment, that people are basically good, that women are humans, that humans (or women–they are mutually exclusive) are not defined by their appearance, that all people are deserving of love…

 

So, I guess I won’t be reading the Chronicles of Narnia ever in my life now.

 

I’ve never read the books, but when I told my sister Katy about a few of the particularly sexist parts in Till We Have Faces, she said, 

“I’m not surprised. There’s that part in the last books of Narnia where one of the kids doesn’t get to go to Narnia (and therefore heaven) because ‘she discovered lipstick and boys.'”

Fan-fucking-tastic.

 

Whoo.

I’m glad that’s over with.

 

The next book I’m reading starts with a duke falling into a fountain! He ends up with a lily pad on his head!

Books I read this week: Vol 26, July 8

Books I read this week: Vol 26, July 8

Heavens to Betsy! Only TWO books!

Several possible reasons for that.

A) Work has been crazy, and I’ve needed my whole brain for most projects.

B) I’m starting not one but TWO 30 day challenges! I am committed to doing yoga every day, and writing every day. What am I writing, you ask? A romance novel of course! Silly hypothetical person! As if there was any doubt!

C) I’ve started several reading with eyes books, which take longer, as well as a book club book I have been avoiding.

D) All the above, and more. Step up off! Get out of my business!

 

I also finished Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews, but that is my podcast book club pick, so you will have to wait for my thoughts till the next recording.


 

The Leopard Prince

Author: Elizabeth Hoyt

Series: Princes Trilogy #2

Tags: historical romance, pre-regency romance, estate manager, woman of independent means, murder, wrongly accused, commoner man, flibbertigibbet, Yorkshire

Format: ebook

Rating: yay!

 

I’ve successfully completed Hoyt’s Princes trilogy all by reading with my eyes!

That doesn’t sound like an accomplishment. It probably is not. But I hereby cross it off my list!

 

Loved it. Of course. Hoyt is my ringer. When in doubt, go to Hoyt.

 

Our heroine is a flibbertigibbet! Turns out the word is more fitting than I imagined. I looked it up, and it has Yorkshire origins.

She’s flighty, silly, whimsical, witty, and sharp. She asks him a whole bunch of inappropriate questions and goes off on tangents, yet you know she also is a lot smarter than she seems.

She’s the spinster owner of a Yorkshire estate. Our hero is her estate manager.

Uh oh! Workplace drama!

He is, by contrast, correct, proper, laconic, serious, and kinda scary. He’s had a hard life, and has pulled himself up from nothing. His past is entwined with the neighborhood estate; it catches up with him, and he ends up in hot water for it.

 

Authors like Hoyt make me wonder if regency romance is secretly a subversive medium. I mean, on the outside looking in, one might assume that all these books are about women fainting and fawning over big brutish men. And some are. But some are about women of power, women with spunk, women trying to survive in a hopelessly patriarchal society. And then a hot dude comes along, and he’s like:

“I just love you, I’ll just do whatever you want to do.”

Excellent.

Contemporary romance is usually much more bound by the heteronormative restrictions of today’s society. It’s usually why I can’t stomach them. You wouldn’t find a story about a woman and her male subordinate, unless it’s just straight up erotica. Whereas, the other way around…

There’s something great about having such obvious forces against the female class. You know who your enemy is. The struggle is external, rather than internal. Women in contemporary romance typically battle their own insecurities: “I’m so clumsy, I’m so shy, I don’t deserve a normal guy” yadda yadda. Thank God a guy comes along to save her from herself.

I’m so over that. I am not interested in spending time in the mind of a woman degrading herself. 

I want to spend time in the mind of a woman who is too big and shines too bright for the world she lives in.

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson

 

Rawr. I’m feeling pumped today.

 

Anywho, the book was fun. Granted, it’s an unlikely story, but what part of historical romance is in fact likely? Hoyt does a good job weaving in the characters’s personalities with the possibly emasculating endgame, and I found myself loving them both. It was a delight, and I would read it again.

 

Sidenote: I love that Hoyt sometimes writes about men with chest hair. I mean, thousands of white dudes as dukes and vampires and ex-cops and assassins… They can’t all be baby smooth like a Twilight: New Moon werewolf pack.

I tried to look up Hoyt’s husband to see if perhaps she is inspired by life, but couldn’t find a picture of him.

Darn.


 

With This Ring

Author: Celeste Bradley

Series: Wicked Worthingtons #2

Tags: Regency, Historical Romance, mistaken identity, kidnapped!, husband hunt, switcheroo, wrongly accused, scandalous past

Format: paper book!

Rating: yay!

 

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Bradley, so I had to turn my mind back two years and hundreds of books to remember what I have read. Bradley was at the beginning of my latest Great Obsession with Romance Novels, where I started reading more than one book a week, and cleaning out the paperback romance section in the library from A to Z.

Isn’t it always the way that a library has only SOME of the books of any given series, but not all? I was so glad to find this book and continue the series.

I may have hyped up this series a teensy bit in my memory. My feelings for this book didn’t much pass lukewarm.

 

The series centers on a large, kooky aristocratic family. Each book focuses on a sibling, and the rest flit in and out, helping each other, creating crazy antics. Your typical family sitcom. This one has towers of books everywhere, a hawk in the observatory, parents that quote Shakespeare, and much more. Bradley likes to write children into her stories, and the best character is their littlest sister, who’s smart and weird and runs around half wild creating hijinks.

The hero comes upon her seriously somersaulting down the hall. He asks her what she is doing. 

“I’m trying to determine the slope of this hall. I believe it is 3 degrees.”

Next scene opens with the heroine finding our hero somersaulting with her.

 

Large kooky families are one of the most common historical romance novel series devices. I would say, in order of commonality, the list would be:

  1. Unlikely friends who banded together while at Eton
  2. Partners in a gaming hell
  3. A large, kooky (mysterious? notorious?) family with a long list of unwed siblings
  4. A secret club or band of spies
  5. Women who work together in a scandalous profession (writers! Scandalous!)
  6. A curse on a group of people or town
  7. Female boarding school chums

Do you agree? Did I leave anything out?

 

In looking at the Worthington series, I wish I had rather read When She Said I Do, the first one of the series, because it sounds like a Beauty and the Beast redux. And I love those.

Also, I’m super excited about what I’m sure will be a future book: the love story for the emotionally scarred war hero who is having a hard time getting back into society. We did a bit of character development on him here, and I’m SO READY.

However, this book… meh.

 

Elektra is not my favorite. She is a petulant, officious middle child, the only one in her crazy family to be concerned with reputation. She devises a plan to save her family from social and monetary ruin: marry someone rich. Elektra methodically works towards her goal, arranging her own season, and writing a list of eligible bachelors to hunt down. She finds the one at the top of her list, Aaron, by happenstance while staying at an inn. She tries to kidnap him as a way to ruin herself.

Aaron avoids the scandal by pretending to be his servant… Then, hijinks! Carriage mishaps, cuddling together for warmth, mad races from the country to London and back, a few heroic savings, a couple of makeovers, servant-master switcheroo, a comely tavern wench, and a very bad cold.

Aaron is one of those Not Quite a Rake characters. He has a scandalous reputation that is completely unwarranted (and the readers sigh in relief), and is in fact a noble upstanding future-Duke.

 

Not Quite a Rakes can be a let down for me. Yeah, I understand that the Rake Reformed trope is a remarkably stupid plot line based in nothing more than fantasy, but hey, it’s fantasy. I’d much rather go all the way than set up a rake, only to magically sweep away his rakish past to the delight of every heroine and reader who realize it’s not such a great idea to marry someone promiscuous. It’s creative back-peddling.

Either make a rake or an upstanding citizen/recluse. Don’t be three-staring it.

 

Even though Elektra’s drive (you go get that season, girl!) should have endeared her to me, I found her character lacking. Same with Aaron. I found a lot of the story a bit too fantastical to allow. Would forthright, goal oriented really fall in love with a servant? I mean, really? And why the heck is a servant sitting at Worthingtons’s dinner table?

On the other hand, I like how Elektra realizes she’s in love, reassesses her goals, comes to terms with her feelings, and then goes out to do something about it. So, I’m going to marry a servant. Okay. Let’s go do that.

 

Overall, I would read more Celeste Bradley. Kooky large families that help each other out are like a literary hug. You just can’t say no to that.

Books I read this week: Vol 25, July 1

Books I read this week: Vol 25, July 1

Born of Night

Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Series: The League #1

Tags: SciFi Romance, space opera, assassins, princess, dancer, secret identity, tortured past, ragtag team

Format: audiobook

Rating: yay!

 

OoOoOoOoOo! Space Romance!!!

 

It’s surprising that out of all of the OverDrive audiobooks I have read, the only other one about space is that dumb one by Jacquelyn Frank: Seduce Me in Dreams. Dumbest title ever, by the way. It feels grammatically wrong. I keep on wanting to say Seduce Me In My Dreams.

So bad.

 

But this one was good!

It was a lot of fun.

 

When I first started reading and I got the gist of the hero’s character, I said out loud excitedly, “He’s The Duke!”

To myself.

Alone.

And by Duke, I don’t mean the vast sea of dukes from regency romances (can’t you see them all, bobbing in the ocean? They are chagrined!). I mean the Iron Duke from Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke.

Our hero is a hybrid of two humanoid species, despised by both, super strong with almost super powers, an assassin, with a long history of being abused, and has risen to the top of his profession to where he is untouchable…until some girl steals his heart.

Yep, that’s our duke.

 

Not that it’s terribly original. You can find a version of The Dangerous One in some form or another.

And what’s with all the child abuse? My God, it’s like it’s the only backstory out there. If romance characters were real, I bet there would be a support group for them. Can’t you just imagine all those dukes and vampires and aliens and shape shifters and billionaires and firemen and ex-cops and tattoo artists and rock stars, sitting in a circle, letting all their feelings out?

 

The book was enjoyable. High on the melodrama, but the hero was so sweet, awwwww. Poor guy. It’s hard to be a kickass assassin sometimes. The heroine got annoying. She was one of those girly girls. Ugh. Not interested.

 

Major Obvious Plot Device was when she was wandering around his house, and found a box of videos marked “private.”

Oh. So, that’s porn.

 

Actually not. It was video surveillance from his childhood and adulthood that just happened to have all the significant moments in his life laid out for easy viewing. That time he was beaten for talking to a girl? Got it. The moment when his brother turns on him and shows his true colors? That one too. The moment right after sex where his lover rejects him? Yep yep and yep.

 

What is that? Why does he have it? Where did it come from? Why it is so easy to view? Why is it marked “private” if no one visits his house anyway? You’re telling me that a guy who doesn’t like to even think about his past managed to keep/make curated video archives of the top ten worst times of his life?

It should have had “Heroine Bait” written on the top of the lid because YOU KNOW she fell in love with him solely because she watched that. It helps too that the box exists. He never would have divulged that much information himself.

 

It was weird also that a few of those stories were repeated in their entirety. She watched it, and then he tells her about it later. A little too much.

It felt a little long, and the Heroine Bait was weird, but other than that it was a fun ride. Ragtag team! I think the next one will about his smooth talking friend!


 

RR: Twice Tempted by a Rogue

Author: Tessa Dare

Series: Stud Club #2

Tags: Historical Romance, regency romance, big fella, hardened soldier, the moors, smugglers, tavern owner, woman business owner, widow, kickass heroine, childhood friends

Format: ebook

Rating: super yay!

 

Reread.

 

Usually I designate the Kickass Heroine tag to ladies with some sort of combat training, but the opening scene is her breaking up a bar scene by breaking a bottle over one of the guy’s head.

 

Oh, man.

I love this.

 

Let’s start with the guy.

Our hero is the reluctant lord of a lemon of a Yorkshire estate. He got involved with those crazy dudes in the Stud Club by chance. Throughout the entirety of the first of the series, he follows the other two around, tossing out irreverent comments, offering to pound people, and taking naps at a spare moment. He grew up in an abusive home (let’s get that support group going) and has since been on a mission to kill himself by running into fight or war he could find. So far, it hasn’t worked, so he has come to the conclusion that Fate will not allow him to die. Despite it all, he’s no great dramatist. He’s not full of angst. He kind of shrugs it off with wry humor.

He’s one of those guys I endearingly term as Big Fellas, tall and broad and hard and scarred. He’s stiff from old injuries, not pretty. He’s not a charmer, hasn’t been with many women.

 

Enter the heroine.

She’s the owner of a tavern, flinty, hard like him, and used to relying on herself. She gets shit done for the survival of herself, her loved ones, and the town and doesn’t complain. She has a firm grasp on who she is and what she wants.

She also has been in love with our hero forever, since she was a girl. She is convinced he won’t stay in town, and she’s determined to get her chance at sleeping with him before he leaves.

 

He decides, in a moment, that he wants to marry her. They struggle together, him pushing marriage, her trying openly to seduce him, and it’s delightful.

In the mix, we have talk of ghosts, a secret smuggling ring, a mystery on the moors, a dark past uncovered, multiple murder attempts, and the over arching mystery that spans the Stud Club series.

 

LOVE.

IT.

 

Rogues and rakes are all well and good, but I have a special place in my heart for the misfits, the recluses, the rough ones, the ones that aren’t smooth talkers, that aren’t particularly promiscuous. I’ve got a whole list of books with these guys if you do, too.

 

The thing I love about Rhys is that he’s that, but he’s also self assured. He’s got an easy manner to him, despite his hard life, and bad luck. That takes some character, to survive all that.

And our heroine ain’t no slouch neither.

 

I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to reread the third of the series. The dude from it is annoying and SUPER angsty. But, y’all know how I love to complete my lists…


 

Pleasures of Passion

Author: Sabrina Jeffries

Series: Sinful Suitors #4

Tags: Historical romance, regency romance, Earl, widow, broken engagement, duel, gambling, counterfeiter, spy

Format: audiobook

Rating: meh.

 

I liked this one a lot more than The Art of Sinning, but I honestly can’t remember much about it.

It was good.

*Shrugs*

 

When this showed up in my checked out line, after waiting weeks with it on hold, I was really hoping it was the second in the series. I really wanted to hear Barlow’s story: stick-in-the-mud automaton inventor saves family friend from stalker with marriage of convenience!

Apparently that one’s called The Study of Seduction, and it’s only available in ebook.

Harrumph.

 

Oh, well. Next on my list is a Highlander novel!!!


 

Taming a Wild Scot

Author: Rowan Keats

Series: Claimed by the Highlander #1

Tags: Historical romance, Highlanders!, witch, magic, bastard, secret ops, healer, burned at the stake, fake marriage

Format: audiobook

Rating: meh.

 

Let’s please take a moment to bask in the glory that is this cover photo.

 

WHAT is she doing.

Is she playing the drums?

Is she counting his six pack by touch?

Is she giving him a breast examine, and slipped?

I think she is doing that game where one person puts their arms behind their back, and the other slips their arms through the gap below their armpits, and then pretends that their arms are the first person’s arms, and waves them around a lot…

“Helloooo! Look at me! I’m a Highlander! I love bannocks and haggis! I once saw the Loch Ness Monster and she was THIISSS BIIIG!”

 

Onto the book.

It was fun.

It’s kind of in between Lynsay Sands and Donna Gabaldon in Highlander seriousness (respectively, low to high). Not inundated with historical references, thank God. There’s lots of mentions of Gaelic terms that I can’t fucking find because I only heard them pronounced, and the Gaelic language is spelled in ridiculous ways.

The one I did find was leine (pronounced lay-nah). Our hero is always taking it off and putting it back on, and I’m like WHAT am I supposed to be imagining here??

It’s a tunic. One of those long formless tunics you picture in the Medieval times.

 I’m pretty much imagining him in Dobby’s pillow case now. 

Also, fun link about how Braveheart makes historians weep.

 

He’s so manly. (Meh.) He’s always shoving her places, giving her orders, kissing her hard, fucking her hard…

 

She has fancy witch healing powers, so she’s about to be burned at the stake in a hot minute.

He has a task to steal back some jewels from a baron, and blackmails her into pretending to be his wife, so that he has access to the keep. So, they fall for each other. Because that’s what you do if someone blackmails you. And they’re hot.

 

The hero is pretty opaque as a character, not a lot to him, so I am a little wary of testing more of Keats’s novels, but if another comes my way, why not?