Friday, January 30, 2009

Rejected! No Grad Studies for Me

The University of British Columbia got back to me today by e-mail - "They regret me to inform me...."

Yeah, I got rejected. I know I can write on my own. I know I don't need a Master's Degree to write wonderful novels. But, well, I really was keen on the idea of learning how to edit magazines and write a novel as a thesis. Really, though, I was keener on the idea of postponing real life for another two years. For two years, I wouldn't have to worry about getting a job that would stick. I wouldn't have to worry about moving out, or doing my own taxes, or worrying about medical insurance.

Now I have to worry about all that. In my fantasy mind, in those two years I would finish my novel and become crazy wealthy and never have to get a real job again. I know in my head that would never happen, but it's easier to face the future when it's two years away than when it ends in March.

I just really wish I'd gotten in. I feel lousy - I keep wondering about all the things I must have done wrong with my application - should I have given them three samples instead of my two best? Should I have gone over my online application to look more carefully for mistakes? I really don't know.

Vancouver, I'm sure, is a lovely city and British Columbia is a lovely province, but for now, for today, they can suck it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I'm done the first draft of my romance novel, The Duke of Snow and Apples! AHAHAHA! And in under three months (I started this for NaNoWriMo), WITH a full-time job, which doesn't seem too shabby for a first draft, eh?

Now comes the hard, er, easier, er, different part: historical research. My novel doesn't take place in Regency England per se, but rather a fantasy world that is modelled and based on Regency England, so I want to know the stuff. I didn't do the research before I started writing because the fear of getting something wrong was paralysing me and keeping me from writing the story I had in my head and that's just dumb. So I wrote my story with surface knowledge I gleaned from reading other Regency novels and one history book (What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew), and I'll fix it up and rewrite it in my second and third drafts.

Right now, it would never be published. A lot of it is spoonfed exposition, gibberish, wrong words, mispelled words, made-up words that sound like the right words, etc. But, unlike my only other finished novel (The Shining Empress), I actually think I can make this into a good, readable, publishable novel. I finished The Shining Empress after a year and a half of writing it during classes I should have been paying attention to (but I got good grades in anyway, nyaa nyaa), and I finished it to say that I finished it and then tucked it away and gave up on it.

Not The Duke of Snow and Apples. I got plans for this baby. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Lord of Scoundrels," by Loretta Chase

Alternate Title: Just Shoot Him!

The Chick: Jessica Trent. While she's managed to maintain a nice income for herself through the acquisition and sale of antiques, her so-stupid-he-rides-the-short-bus brother is beggaring the rest of the family funds by hanging out with the disreputable Marquess of Dain. Jessica figures it's up to her to fish her brother out.
The Rub: Every voice in her head tells her that the Marquess of Dain is a nasty, nasty boy - but the voice coming from elsewhere on her person thinks he's nasty in all the right ways.
Dream Casting: Morena Baccarin.

The Dude: Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, Marquess of Dain. Big, dark, and mean, he's made a name for himself by being the Biggest, Darkest, Meanest person around. While he's attracted to Jessica Trent, he has no idea why - she's too smart, sharp, and domineering for his tastes, which tend towards the voluptuous, vapid, and paid for. Plus, she's a lady, and that means she must be working some kind of angle - those sneaky, wiley womens always are.
The Rub: He has serious mommy issues which lead him to distrust all women - especially ones who seem to be attracted to him, because that's just impossible - he's a Big Dark Mean Machine! With a beaky nose! How is that possible?
Dream Casting: Richard Armitage.

The Plot:
Jessica: You leave my gullible, slightly challenged brother alone, you Scoundrel! *secretly attracted*

Dain: Shut up and get back in the kitchen, woman! *secretly horny*

Dain and Jessica: *public grope* *caught!*

General Public: You've got to marry her!

Dain: Oh no I don't.

Jessica: Oh yes you do. *shoots him*

Dain's Friends: Damn, the bitch is a gangsta!

Dain and Jessica: *married*

Jessica: I love you, but you're so immature!

Dain: I love you, but you have ovaries, so naturally you must be some kind of lying, deceitful skank running a con on me!

Jessica: You know, things would go a lot easier if you just obeyed me.

Dain: Yeah, right. *adopts son* *stops being a whiner* *forgives mummy* I stand corrected!

Jessica: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Case of Mommy-Issues-Inspired Misogyny
1 Shotgun (er, I mean Dueling Pistol) Wedding

1 Secret Love Child

2 Very Bad Parents

1 Not Quite So Bad But Still Fairly Negligent Parent

1 Horny Grandma

2 Sleazy Frenemies

1 Idiot Brother

Several Whores and Tarts of Varying Stages of Cleanliness

1 Falsely Crippled Limb

The Word: As I was discussing with Anonymous Commenter my review for Scandalous By Night, AC mentioned how dark, cruel, and even vengeful heroes could be enjoyed if written well (the point being that, as in SbN's case, Everod, being poorly-written, came off as an Asshole of Epic Proportions). That never became more clear to me when I finally buckled down and read Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels.

This book has had the living daylights hyped out of it - it's considered by many to be Chase's masterpiece, and one of the historical romance genre's timeless gems. I enjoyed myself thoroughly while reading it - but once I was outlining what to put in my review, I thought - "Wait, doesn't this book essentially have the same plot as Celeste Bradley's The Duke Next Door, a book I despised as being contrived and cheesy?"

Here, I finally get to show a good example of how excellent writing can elevate a familiar idea into classic territory. Let's compare Scoundrels with Duke. Both books have a hero who is considered a Beast, who invokes terror in the populace, particularly with the feminine set. Both heroes mistrust women, particularly pretty women, thanks to their tarnished pasts. Both novels involve a marriage settled through unconventional means, in which husband and wife devote themselves to fighting each other for the upper hand. Both heroes even have demonically unruly children they sired upon women they hated, that they want nothing to do with, until the heroines instill in them the responsibilities of fatherhood. And yet, I loved Lord of Scoundrels! How is that possible?

Let's buckle down to Lord of Scoundrels' particulars, shall we? Jessica Trent, our heroine, arrives in Paris to dig her Ralph-Wiggum-esque brother Bertie out of the financial pit he's landed himself in by cavorting with dastardly fellows led by the Marquess of Dain. Bertie introduces Dain to Jessica in an antiques shop, and sparks fly immediately - Dain, in particular, is so inexplicably attracted to Jessica that she's able to buy a grimy portrait out from under his nose that turns out to be a pricelessly rare religious icon of the Madonna and Child.

Dain's discovery of this fact sends his Towering Male Ego into overdrive - he's outraged by the fact that a woman managed to get the better of him. Part of him wants the icon just to recover his own pride - while the other part of him wants the Madonna because it reminds him of his Unresolved Mommy Issues (although, really, his mother was no Virgin Mary and his only similarity to Jesus is that he hangs out with a bunch of whores). He demands that Jessica sell him the icon - Jessica refuses, but offers to give him the icon for free if he severs all ties with Bertie. But Dain is MAN! Big! Strong! Capable! Feared! He does not Barter with Silly Women! Dain's adult male equivalent of a temper tantrum sets in motion a heated battle of the sexes.

Dain is, on paper, an appalling example of a human being. First of all, he hates women. He really hates women. He's a guy who relies exclusively on prostitutes for female entertainment because he suspects that all women are whores and at least the harlots on his lap are upfront about it. Really, he thinks, why waste the time and effort to court some snooty rich bitch when, for a few coins, he can get exactly what he wants, when he wants, without all the fuss and emotional manipulation? They're all the same below the waist, right? His helpless attraction to Jessica frightens and angers him - he despises the idea of being weaker than, subject to, or controlled by a woman, and his increasingly ga-ga feelings for Jessica render him precisely that.

So why was I able to tolerate him? Two main reasons - the first being, Loretta Chase's superb characterization. Chase provides a backstory, as well as the running commentary in Dain's mind, that both explain the very human side to his distrust of women. His mother abandoned him when he was eight, he had a sense of his own ugliness (literally) beaten into him, and he endured several run-ins with women who did try to manipulate him to their own ends. Consequently, he instinctively distrusts women who show him kindness - in his own mind, no woman in her right mind would find him attractive, therefore, any woman who doesn't run screaming in the other direction must be lying in order to further her own agenda.

Dain is a man who thrives on controlling every aspect of his life - which is why he prefers consorting with prostitutes, who are paid to do only what he tells them to with a minimum of backtalk, to real relationships, that pose too many risks. While his life isn't exactly happy, at least it's a type of unhappiness that he's responsible for. The last time he allowed himself to be controlled by a woman, it was his mother, who ran off to the West Indies and left him alone, and in his mind, any other agony is preferable to the soul-searing pain of that experience.

However, sad backstories don't necessarily render a hero palatable (just read To Sin with a Stranger, or better yet, don't). Jessica, our heroine, is the second reason I bought Dain as a romantic hero. She. Does. Not. Take. Shit. From ANYONE. Unlike The Duke Next Door's Deirdre, who struck me as a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum because Hubby Dearest wouldn't buy her sparklies anymore, Jessica never comes off as less than Dain's equal, in both intellect and attitude. She and Dain throw themselves into some epic battles with each other, but even though she's, like, two feet shorter and a hundred pounds lighter, she always manages to hold her own.

Part of my enjoyment of the book came from reading of the lengths to which Jessica goes to stay on top. Dain's manoeuvres are straight out of the Alpha Male handbook (#1: Give direct order. #2: Act befuddled when woman inexplicably defies direct order...), but Jessica finds some really hilarious ways of obtaining the upper hand. One of my favourite scenes with Jessica comes right after she and Dain are caught canoodling by a bunch of giggling French aristocrats. Dain immediately jumps to the conclusion that Jessica engineered her compromisation on purpose to snare him (to be fair - this had happened to him before), and promptly abandons her to re-fasten her bodice and witness the destruction of her reputation by herself.

Jessica's revenge? She hunts him down, shoots the motherfucker with a pistol at close range, and then hires a lawyer to sue his ass! Hot DAMN! But she doesn't only retaliate - a lot of the romance springs from Jessica's pitbull-like tenacity to hold on to her relationship with Dain, no matter how many times he tries to drive her away or assume the worst about her or wield his authority. And slowly, Dain cracks - he's spent his life assuming women are conniving, deceitful, and manipulative, and are only bound to use him and lose him just like his slutty ol' mom did. And here is Jessica, who defies him, nags him, seduces him, drives him absolutely crazy - but doesn't leave him. Who never leaves him or betrays him. She never pulls any eleventh-hour bullshit like hiding a secret from him or running off in a huff to give the book an extra climax. And he surrenders, slowly, so slowly, by delicious-to-read inches.

That being said, Jessica isn't perfect - there's one scene where Dain becomes upset on seeing his mother's portrait and she starts preaching that his mother was just a misunderstood, abused child, and I thought Jessica came off as really thoughtless and inappropriate. She's a confident character who, having babysat a lot of male cousins, thinks she knows all men, and there are times when she overgeneralizes Dain and has to find out the hard way that, hey, he has facets and quirks.

But that's why I loved Lord of Scoundrels. We have a hero and heroine who are both intelligent but human, whose flaws are realistically motivated. When they duke it out, they don't fight because of a hatred for or a desire to hurt the other, but more to protect the emotional territory they've won because they're both afraid of surrendering everything. Both characters begin the book as controlling, dominant characters who have everything in their lives numbered, catalogued and organized - and as they fight to keep their independence and control, they eventually reach their HEA by surrendering - both of them. Even Jessica learns that sometimes she has to go with the flow and fly under the radar to turn Dain around to her way of thinking - that not everything has to be a bare-knuckle brawl, and she can't keep Dain on a leash and train him.

Even with this positive review, my first grade for the book was going to be a B+. Why only that? Well, when you read romance, sometimes you have an emotional grade and a practical grade. Practically, this book was an A because it was well-written and realistically motivated and had great characters and was well-paced. But emotionally, it didn't give me as much of the Warm Fuzzies as other A grade books have. But, well, reading this review and going over some of the scenes reminded me of some of the Warm Fuzzy moments I must have missed. Most of these involve Dain - he's such a rock-hard, take-no-prisoners character that his rare moments when he's complete emotional jello in Jessica's hand are that much sweeter. A-.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Scandalous by Night," by Barbara Pierce

Alternative Title: Stalker, London Rager
The Chick: Maura Keighly. Twelve years ago, when she caught her aunt and her stepson knockin' boots, she lied about what really happened to protect her aunt, even though the stepson wasn't at fault. Now, she and her family are in London, and the stepson (Lord Everod) returns to settle the score - with seduction, preferably.
The Rub: Even though she knows now what really happened twelve years ago, Maura still loves her Aunt Georgette. She also still likes Everod, even though he makes it clear that he plans to ruin her.
Dream Casting: Gemma Arterton.

The Dude: Townsend Lidsaw, Viscount Everod. When he was but a lad of sixteen, his stepmother seduced him. When they were caught, the stepmum cried rape and her niece Maura supported her side of the story. Thanks to them, Everod was maimed and banished from the family.
The Rub: Now that the family's in London (his turf), he means to get his revenge. But - but Maura's just so pretty! What will he do?
Dream Casting: Tom Hardy.

The Plot:
Aunt Georgette, Evil MILF: Now it's time for a London season, Maura!

Maura: Hurray!

Everod: *pops in* Psst, Maura...I know what do you did last summer, uh, I mean, last summer twelve years ago.

Maura: Eek! I am terrified, but strangely attracted to him!

Georgette: Stay away, he's a rake!

Everod's Friends' Wives: Stay away, he's a rake!

Everod himself: Stay away, I'm a rake!

Maura: Oh, but surely despite his words, deeds, and reputation, he must be a good person inside!

Everod's Friends Wives: You're a moron.

Everod: Good enough for me!

Everod and Maura: *sexx0r*


Maura: *humiliated*

Everod's Friends Wives: Butler! Our gelding knives!

Everod: SHIT - Maura, will you marry me?

Maura: Sure, fine.

Everod: Hurray!

Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Evil MILF
1 Fake Rape

1 Evil Brother

3 Sensible Wives

1 Use of Bondage

1 Unhygenic Use of Food for Erotic Purposes

1 Bludgeoned Confession

1 Drunken Confession

1 Big Misunderstanding

The Word: Okay, my readers know I hated on the prologue of this book pretty hardcore, so when I saw this book at the library, I thought it was my responsibility to read it and see if it was as bad as I thought it was going to be. The good news is that what I found icky in the prologue was mostly taken out of context and makes more sense in the long run. The bad news is that this book found a myriad other ways to be terrible.

In the ghastly prologue which turned me off before, Townsend Lidsaw, Viscount Everod, is booted out of the family mansion while still recovering from the hideous throat wound his father gave him in a fit of rage when he caught his son having sex with his new wife - Everod's stepmother, Evil MILF Extraordinaire, Georgette. While Everod was a willing participant in their lovemaking, he was pretty young when it happened, so his purply-written wrath at Maura, the evil MILF's 10-year-old niece who supported Georgette's story that it was rape, not adultery, is pretty justified for a boy at that age who's just been through what he's been through.

Twelve years pass, and in the first couple of chapters, my expectations were lifted significantly as many things appeared to be better off than I thought they would be. After twelve years, the Evil MILF and Everod's dad the Earl are still in what appears to be a very happy, amorous relationship. Maura and Georgette also share a fond, loose mother-daughter bond - even though Maura now realizes that Georgette had manipulated her in the whole Everodgate scandal, Georgette still had a hand in raising her instead of her absent-minded scientist parents, and didn't do that terrible of a job. Wh-whaaat? You cry. A villain who's a good mother figure? You don't say!

However, now that they are in London, Everod means to get his revenge. While reading the backcover blurb and the prologue, I was creeped out that Everod wanted to avenge himself sexually on a woman who'd committed her betrayal when she was ten. However, in the first couple of chapters, the author reveals Everod's motives are somewhat less narrow than that. While he hates the Evil MILF with the fire of a thousand suns, he's also harboured a burning anger against his whole family, because they all chose to believe the stepmother over their own flesh and blood.

He sees seducing Maura as the big-ass stone that will bring down all three birds - firstly, Georgette, who cares for Maura dearly and wants to see her satisfactorily married; secondly, his family, who will be humiliated to have their dearest virginal lamb shorn by their supposedly rape-happy black sheep; and thirdly, Maura herself, who lied in her testimony and whom, Everod assumes, cannot have been raised by Georgette these last twelve years without turning into a Deceitful Lying Whore herself, so he's doing the world a favour.

Maura, while remaining loyal to Georgette, still feels guilty over what Everod went through thanks to her, so when he corners her in a bookstore when she gets to London, she wants to give him a chance, even though she's heard terrible stories about Everod's rakehell ways with his buddies, who all form a group called les sauvages nobles.

And now the book starts taking a downturn. While she wants to rekindle a friendship with Everod, Maura wants to tread carefully because she knows her family would be very distressed to learn she's been hanging with the Black Sheep. Yeah, um, Everod doesn't want to do things carefully.

Everod was a real problem for me in his seduction of Maura. With so many huge obstacles set between him and Maura's maidenhead (family history, old hurts, propriety, and the fact that he pretty much tells her every fifth page that he's a minute away from pasting "PROPERTY OF EVEROD" on her ass with his LabelMaker), I expected him to use cunning or charm or wit to snare Maura's affections. Nope - charm and cunning are for sissies, scoffs Everod, not me, an Alpha Male! Seriously, this dude makes the average Lisa Kleypas hero look like a shy country gentleman.

For me, however, that wasn't a turn on. It actually made him more creepy and threatening. First off - he essentially stalks Maura. After meeting her in the bookstore, he sends her gifts intentionally chosen to remind her of the day she betrayed him (like a page turner in the shape of the blade that sliced his neck, for instance). When she sends them back, he has his secret paid spies who are staffed in her own house replace the items in her bedroom. He also shows an unsettling finesse for breaking into the house and the grounds without ever getting caught. He apparently possesses the ability to teleport because nearly all of his scenes begin with him popping up behind Maura when she least expects it, after eavesdropping on her conversations for a few minutes.

Secondly, whenever he's actually with Maura, his seduction methods are physically forceful and aggressive. While he never irrevocably crosses the line between "forceful seduction" and "flat-out rape, y'all", he dances around it too often to be attractive. Instead of plying her with words, more often he applies physical force on her - restraining her wrists, forcing his way into her carriage, trapping her against columns and walls, forcing his mouth on hers, etc, and he always disregards her discomfort and attempts to resist. And she does resist - in the first half of the novel she physically and verbally makes it very clear that his actions are unwelcome, even as her treacherous girly heart is all a-twitter.

When we see things from Everod's point of view, it's just as creepy - he labels her struggles as "charming," convinces himself her heart consents even if her mouth and body don't, and proceeds to ignore everything she says until he gives her an orgasm. Once he has her, he's also violently jealous and possessive - towards her, as well as other guys. To me, his sense of possession over Maura sounded less like, "You're mine, beloved, you belong to me," and more like "You're mine, sugar tits, deal with it." Now, I know that this type of seduction is a point of contention in romance circles, ultimately coming down to taste. Me, I don't like it. I don't like it, Sam I Am, I do not like Rape Eggs and Ham.

And all of this serves to make Maura look like a doormat. Given that everyone and his dog tells her that Everod's out to steal her virginity out of spite, and that he's repeatedly shown that he's unwilling to respect the barrier of her consent, I couldn't understand why she continually contrived to be alone with him. Even Everod's close personal friends are warning her away from him, and yet she still doesn't listen. At one point in the novel, she wonders whether she should judge what people say about Everod or whether should she judge Everod's own actions, and I wanted to scream: "Sure! Pay attention to his actions! Like how he sneaks into your room! Like how he spies on you! Like how he treats you like an object! Like how he disregards everything you say!"

Ultimately, when the time came for Maura and Everod to get down to business (lady business, awright), I just couldn't believe her motivations. Desire, in my mind, is not enough of an excuse or a motivator to relinquish your virginity to a man who's told you point-blank barely a chapter before that he has no intention of marrying you, oh, and that he borderline hates you and everyone you hold dear and thinks "no" means "yes."

And Georgette. Oh, Georgette, you despicable Evil MILF. She was a continual disappointment, mostly because whenever I thought Barbara Pierce might be making her into a three-dimensional character something comes up that reveals, nope, I was right the first time, she's just plan eeeeeevil. First - there's the fact that at the novel's start, her husband still adores her after twelve years of marriage. That kind of affection over that length of time isn't achieved through lust alone - surely she must be doing something right. Second, she's shown to have an interest in herbs, and has made lots of medicines that she uses to help her staff. Really? You mean she has actual skills and interests that lie outside hatching evil schemes? Third, she cares for Maura and wants to see her safely married, and at least some of her fears at Everod's return concern Maura's reputation as well as her own.

But it doesn't take too long before we're shown she still fucks everyone with a penis (you know how dem evil womens luv the secks), she's using her herbs to poison people, and she wants to marry Maura to Everod's brother Rowan (whom she's planning to fuck herself on the sly). Cue massive eye-rolling. Okay, so she still cares a bit about Maura, but the novel never spends a lot of time exploring this, preferring to make her the eviliest person she can possibly be because that means the ending can be more pat.

And oh God, don't even get me started on the ending. I've encountered conclusions I've felt have gone on a little too long, but I've never encountered one that happened too soon. This one gave me a bare page to enjoy an HEA (however contrived) before END SCENE. I felt the ending came out of nowhere, way before the hero and heroine properly recovered from a huge relationship dust-up only a chapter before. It was based on a split-second decision, and never resolved one of the book's biggest conflicts - namely, a reconciliation between between Everod and his family, particularly his father. I don't care if I'm spoiling this, because if anyone wants to read this book wanting to find out what happens when the truth comes out, I'm saving you 306 pages.

There's such a massive build-up of bad blood between Everod, his father and his brother thanks to Georgette's lies, that I simply couldn't imagine the book would never deal with this.When Everod (literally) chokes the truth out of Georgette, Daddy Dearest's unconscious and Little Bro's in Scotland vomiting up his own deus ex machina confession to Maura. So on top of a terrible plot, we don't even get a resolved terrible plot! Three-quarters of the way through the novel, the one thing that kept me eagerly reading was the expectation of the scene where Everod's father and brother would have the chance to react to the truth about Georgette, and come to terms with the fact that they exiled a loved one while cherishing a viper in their midst. This never happens. It's not even that they don't try to forgive Everod - it's that the book ends before they can. What the HELL?

For the more nitpicky things I disliked about the novel - have I mentioned how I hate it whenever Everod's man-team name les sauvages nobles comes up? The French-immersion-taught child in me screams at the grammatical error - it's nobles sauvages! Not sauvages nobles! Quel dommage! Also, while the historical setting is for the most part solid, a few words stuck out - were children described as "kids" way back when? As in "she wants to have a dozen kids"?

And as for the sex scenes - there's a particular one that I'm sure the author thought was steaming hot but I just thought was gross. Not in the raunchy way, though. In one scene, the hero, being the creative bloke he is, ties Maura up and applies strawberry jam to a particularly sensitive part of her feminine anatomy - this didn't make me think, "ooooh, tasty." It made me think, "Ew! Seeds! SEEDS!" and of that one episode of House where the patient comes in with a nasty yeast infection because she mistook strawberry jelly for prophylactic jelly.

Now, on to the things that I did like about the novel - it's obvious that this is the latest book in a series, because a great deal of the secondary characters show up, dragging their backstories behind them. However, instead of finding them grating, they were rather charming. Particularly the wives of the other sauvage nobles. Everod made it pretty clear to just about everyone what his dastardly plans for Maura were, and while his male BFFs hemmed and hawed and shook their fingers disapprovingly at him, the wives refused to deal with Everod's bullshit and teamed up to properly warn Maura. It wasn't their fault Maura was a besotted doormat with a "kick-me" sign on her back. Also, when Everod makes his Big Mistake near the end of the novel, none of the wives are willing to brook his excuses, and justifiably treat him like shit, which I admired. It almost wants to make me read their respective books.


So, yeah, the novel wasn't about a guy who gets off on choking ten-year-old girls. Hurray! Sadly, it is about a man who manipulates and bullies a pliant, gullible, and waaaay too trusting woman into a sexual relationship in order to revenge himself on his family. The characters were poorly motivated, unpleasant, and the plot was unevenly structured - the final chapters squeezed in far too many left-field developments (including a secret villain) only to end abruptly. This was Everod's book - was it too much to ask that his entire story be told? C-.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Putting My, Library Card Where My Mouth Is

As regular readers may know, I had a blog post a month ago about the difference between idea and execution, talking about how a couple of books that I thought had really terrible ideas were getting good press. I reviewed one of those books (To Sin with a Stranger), and, was terrible. The other book I talked about was Barbara Pierce's Scandalous By Night, in which I read the excerpt of the prologue and saw a man lusting after a ten-year-old while simultaneously vowing revenge on her whiny, Jonas-Brother-loving ass. Well, I'm a cheap woman, and my TBR pile is huge enough as it is, but when I passed a copy of SBN while at a different branch of my public library, I thought it only fair to give it a shot and see if it's as bad as I thought it was. So I'll be reviewing that after I'm done with The Best American Fantasy 2008, instead of Lord of Scoundrels, as originally planned.

"Duchess in Love," by Eloisa James

Alternate Title: Desperate House(Party)Wives
The Chick: Ambrogina "Gina" Serrard, Duchess of Girton. Raised by the wife of her aristocratic father but actually illegitimate, she was married off at age eleven to the Duke of Girton's heir, Camden (then aged 18), to protect her reputation. Said heir quickly took himself off to the continent the day afterward, and she's been running the estate ever since.
The Rub: While she and Cam are on friendly terms, she decides that after 12 years enough is enough - she wants an annulment, and fast, so that she may marry her beau the Marquess of Bonningtion.
Dream Casting: Christina Hendricks.

The Dude: Camden William Serrard, Duke of Girton. He and his father were never on the best of terms, and after being forcibly married to an eleven-year-old, he severed nearly all ties to England and has spent the last twelve years as a sculptor in Greece.
The Rub: ...Nearly all ties - he's exchanged letters with Gina for years, and when he returns to grant her an annulment, he discovers she's grown up a good deal. As attracted to her as he is, he can't touch her - for her virginity is what will ultimately grant them an annulment.
Dream Casting: A younger Patrick Dempsey.

The Plot:

Esme, Gina's Slutty Friend: I hate my husband - he's in love with his mistress!

Esme's Biological Clock: ...tick tick tick tick....

Esme: Never mind!

Carola, Gina's Fat Friend: I hate my husband, because he thinks I'm too fat!

Carola's Husband: ...I never actually said that...

Carola: Never mind!

Gina: I actually like my husband. But that's beside the point - I want an annulment!

Camden, Gina's Husband: Really? *sexy puppy eyes*

Gina: Oh, all right - never mind!

Romance Convention Checklist:

2 Virgin Wives

1 Slutty Best Friend

1 Lacklustre (and Virginal!) Romantic Rival

1 Secondary Romance Between Aforementioned Slutty Best Friend and Rival

1 Curvy Character with Self-Esteem Issues

1 Secret Illegitimate Sibling

1 Blackmail Letter

2 Duplicitous Solicitors

3 Marital Reconciliations

1 Unfortunate Death

1 Bout of Hot Tub Sex, er, I mean Plunge Bath Sex

The Word: This is my second Eloisa James book - my first was Duchess by Night. While the stories are fundamentally different, the two novels do share some significant similarities - both have a large cast of (often unhappily married) characters and the majority of events take place at a large, riotous house party.

Gina, Duchess of Girton, is attending the party with her friends Esme and Carola. All three are married in theory but not in practice. Esme's husband is very publically in love with his mistress, Carola split with her husband after a disastrous wedding night and has since been too embarassed to attempt a reconciliation, and Gina's husband left for Greece without consummating the marriage the day after their wedding.

This, in case you haven't guessed, is a good thing: Gina was all of eleven when she and Camden, Duke of Girton, were married. While raised by her father and his wife, she is actually the product of an adulterous union with a scandalous French countess. When her family was threatened with a blackmailer, her adoptive mother and Camden's father arranged a quickie marriage between the two to protect Gina's reputation in society.

Few people know the truth of Gina's heritage, and her soon-to-be fiance, the Marquess of Bonnington, is one of them. Gina respects him for his steadfastness, loyalty, and impeccable manners. While their relationship at the moment is strained thanks to the Marquess' rigid adherence to the laws of propriety (read: he disdains showing affection or passion because it is indecent, and doesn't bother to hide his rabid dislike of Gina's scandalous friend Esme), she knows he promises a better marriage than the one she's had with Camden for the last twelve years. Which is why she's written to Camden to request an annulment.

Camden, since running away from home at eighteen, has led a thoroughly enjoyable and easy life as a sculptor in Greece. He bathes in the Meditterranean, makes a living by sculpting naked women out of pink marble, and, aside from exchanging some letters with Gina, has taken absolutely no responsibility for his wife or his estate. That's what estate managers and solicitors are for! While he's perfectly amenable to an annulment, his family solicitor urges him to wrinkle out the details in person, the better to spare Gina's reputation.

The two meet for the first time in twelve years, and sparks quickly fly as the house party keeps the two in close proximity. However, the looming matter of the annulment forces them to restrain their feelings as much as possible. The main element that supports the annulment is Gina's virginity, and as much as she grows to care for Camden, she suspects he's still a bit of an irresponsible dolt and does not like the idea of being permanently trapped in a marriage to someone who could very well peck her on the cheek and zip off to Greece for another twelve years. Camden, meanwhile, knows he's still a bit of an irresponsible dolt, and is mildly irritating and amusing, both, at the start of the novel as he tries to come up with ways to enjoy his marital benefits without being forced to endure a lifetime of marital responsibilities.

Eloisa James earns points from me for creating characters that sound downright annoying in theory but are actually pretty tolerable to read about. Camden is the prime example: while his wife personally handled all of his estates' paperwork for twelve years (while wistfully yearning for a family of her own), he spent that time chiselling marble tits and getting a tan. Camden is a guy who shirks responsibility at every turn, yet still tries to slip his wife a pinch and a tickle without really thinking about how she'll feel once he abandons her for Greece again.

At least at first. Somehow, however, this is adorable - and it only gets funnier once his playful "Gina's mine for now, might as well get my money's worth" mindset gradually morphs into the genuine Alpha Male "Gina's MINE - OTHER DUDES, HANDS OFF! GGGRRR!" - a claim to exclusive, permanent possession of Gina that finally takes into account the other elements that come with the Gina Serrard Package - that is, joining her in England, taking responsibility for his tenants and lands, and giving her the family she's longed for.

Carola is another character who threatened to be terribly gooey and contrived - the so-called "fat friend" freaked out when sex hurt the first time around and scalded her husband with a vitriolic and biologically inaccurate rant blaming it on him, and now sobs that she's too fat and proud to try and win him back by direct manoeuvres so she has to resort to emotional manipulation. She also cries at the drop of a hat. However, she isn't nearly as dippy and manipulative as I was expecting her to be, mainly because most of her attempts to whore for attention fail spectacularly.

Getting into this novel was a bit of a slow thing, however. There wasn't anything about this novel I disliked, but I never really felt emotionally engaged until past the halfway point. Similar to how I reacted to Duchess By Night, for the first several chapters I felt like I was dumped into a conversation halfway through - I was immediately made aware of the large number of characters and their intricate web of personal relations and had to wade through a sea of dialogue and set-up, looking for the few strands or details that would remain relevant throughout the rest of the novel. It mades for a pleasant atmospheric read, but I guess I just prefer the stories that establish a definite focus early on, go for the jugular, and hold on until the end. B+.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's a very special day today!


And, uh - also mine.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Many people have pets in their lives - cats, dogs, goldfish. They're fun to have around, hug, and take care of.

But readers, truly voracious readers, have a very special creature all their own, a creature that provides much happiness, hope, and anticipation, but must be carefully tended with healthy reading and some financial restraint.

It's called the TBR Pile - the To Be Read pile. Most readers first acquire one after they've been reading for a while, or after they catch on to an interesting book blog. They start out so cute and loveable. Here's my little TBR from way back in 2007.
Awww....isn't it adorable? So small and warm and snug on its single self! Look how cute it is! Who's the cutest pile of unread books in the whole world? You are! You are!

But a great deal of care is needed. TBR piles are a bit like Gremlins - you can't feed them too much or at the wrong time or else they can grow into quite a handful! Here's my adolescent TBR pile back in June 2008 (JQ stands for Julia Quinn, EJ for Eloisa James).
See, this TBR pile is a little overgrown. Someone couldn't stay out of the bargain hardcover bookstore and the used book store, and overfed their pile. TBR piles can gain weight pretty quickly - and you don't want them outgrowing their shelf, do you?

It's a sad truth of the world, however, that many readers shamelessly spoil their TBR piles, feeding it on a near constant basis. This can be hazardous - when overfed, TBR piles can become large and aggressive! LOOK OUT! NOOOO!

Please readers, let this be a lesson - curb your book buying or risk being devoured by books! Although, now that I think about it, what a way to go!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

TBR Piles and Other Bloggers

My birthday's in a week, but I've already used some of my gift money to buy more books for my TBR pile, which is swelling to gargantuan proportions since I just found out that the Book Smugglers' Smugglivus pole wuvs me very much. Yippee!

As it is, I still went out and bought new books, because I am a bookwhore. One of the books is at the suggestion of the aforementioned Book Smugglers, who have invited me to do a Guest Dare on their site in the upcoming months. Basically, I tell them a romance genre with which I am either a) uncomfortable with or b) unfamiliar with and they suggest the best possible example of it, and then I review it on their site. I'm not going to spoil it by saying the title of the book they suggested, but I'll give a hint - the hero thinks:

Also, I caved, Kristie J! DO YOU HEAR ME? UNCLE UNCLE UNCLE! I finally went out and got it:

I'll be reviewing that later, too. I also thought I'd add a bit of a warning - I'll still be reviewing romance novels as soon as I'm finishing reading them, but my output might be a little slower for a while. I got a package of fantasy novels from The Green Man Review to review for their site, so I'm going to be doing a "one for me, one for them" reading order for the next month or so.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Looking for my review of It happened One Night?

Blogger's dumb - scroll down - the posting date is January 1st.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Year in Review - My Best and Worst of 2008

Well, I've been reading the other blogs, and I realized I've been remiss in not having a Best and Worst of 2008 for my blog. The reason I never came up with the idea myself was because I figured my reading this year was too eclectic, all over the place - I reviewed a lot of books (about thirty-seven) this year, and as I read, my standards and reviewing practices changed, and I didn't always read the newest books that were just out, but books I just felt like reading - ones I picked up at libraries and used book stores as well as the ones hot off the presses.

But as I searched my archives, I realized 2008 was the year I really came into my own as a romance reviewer. My blog's existed for four years, but I've only really reviewed romance in a consistent fashion for about a year. So, to celebrate finishing a year of solid romantic reviewing, here is Gossamer Obsessions' Top Five Best and Worst Books of 2008:

Top Five Best Books of 2008:
#5: Not Quite a Lady, by Loretta Chase
Grade: A
Alternate Prize: The Best Use of a Secret Baby Award
Why It Was Awesome: The characterization's what blew me away with this one - no one was really a villain in this book. The heroine and hero's romance is mainly imperiled by their own secrets and personal problems, which their relationship helps them overcome. Even the romantic rival was such a decent guy you wanted him to have a novel of his own! Plus, this is my first Loretta Chase novel - of course it's going to get an A!

#4: And Then He Kissed Her, by Laura Lee Guhrke
Grade: A
Alternate Prize: The Best Romance Title Award
Why It Was Awesome: My favourite reason for liking this book is the development of the romance - I've encountered so many "love at first glance" stories in romance that it was enchanting to read about two people who'd known each other in a completely asexual way for years, only for the heroine to suddenly grow a spine and the hero to fall in love with it.

#3: An Offer from a Gentleman, by Julia Quinn
Grade: A
Alternate Prize: The Best Book You'll Ever Read Once You're No Longer Doubled Over With Pain In a Hospital Waiting Room Award
Why It Was Awesome: This was a book that definitely improved from a second reading, in context with the other books of the Bridgerton series. It's the ultimate proof that romance authors do not need to pack the cliches in with a crowbar to provide romantic drama that people want to read about. We have a hero who isn't dark, doesn't brood particularly frequently, and isn't conflicted with daddy issues - and yet he's still sexy. Yes, somehow this works.

#2: Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Crusie
Grade: A+
Alternate Prize: The Biggest Commercial Plug for Dove Bars Award
Why It Was Awesome: This was kind of the opposite of The Secret Pearl - while Pearl was a subtle, moving, and for the most part, sexless romance, Welcome to Temptation was a hilarious jam-packed slapstick soapy murder mystery sex romp with a wildly varied cast of characters and a roller-coaster of a plot. Blending winsome humour and a well-realized small-town setting, Welcome to Temptation was just plain fun.

#1: The Secret Pearl, by Mary Balogh
Grade: A+
Alternate Prize: The Least Sexy Deflowering Scene Award
Why It Was Awesome: After reading a lot of oversexed romance, The Secret Pearl floored me by exploring a beautiful and moving romance between two people who didn't have much sex at all - in fact, the hero and heroine barely touched. The heroine actually had to fight a physical revulsion for the hero for much of the book. Still, I believed the passion these two shared and cheered when these two people got their HEA after surmounting near-impossible obstacles.

And now, the best of the worst:

Top Five Worst Novels of 2008

#5: The Runaway Duke, by Julie Anne Long
Grade: C-
Alternate Prize: The Romance That Really, Really Made Me Hate Redheads Award
Why It Sucked: Despite a genuinely enjoyable writing style, Julie Anne Long's protagonists were some of the most annoying characters I'd ever read. Critics lauded the heroine particularly - something I couldn't come to grips with, as she took her attitude cues from the colour of her hair (red, of course!), had all the common sense of an orphaned baby duck, and wanted to be a doctor in 1820s England, for fuck's sake! Plus the hero had a corny fake Irish accent, a poor regard for responsibility, a disturbing age gap with the heroine, and continued to call the heroine by the nickname she had when she was twelve ("Wee Becca") even after they started having sex. Ick. No thanks.

#4: An Order of Protection, by Kathleen Creighton
Grade: D+
Alternate Prize: The What Did You Expect From a Book You Picked Out At Random From A Garbage Bag? Award
Why It Sucked: This book was just poorly, poorly written. The author gives us a heroine who's a space case and is continually compared (by the author's terrible grasp of metaphor) to small, cute, helpless baby things (kittens especially), only for the author to tell us fifty pages in that this character is 42 years old. Not to mention the heroine is emotionally manipulative, selfish, possibly slightly mentally disabled, and "adorably" "Southern". Oh, and she solves crimes better than the FBI and the police department put together!

#3: The Duke Next Door, by Celeste Bradley
Grade: D
Alternate Prize: The Stop Bitching At Each Other and Have Sex Already Award
Why It Sucked: The characters in this story seemed too stupid to be true - none of their actions made any sense, and I couldn't really see any real person in their situation doing the same thing. We have a man who tells neither his wife that he has a daughter, nor his daughter that he's married, until the two girls meet each other face to face. We have a heroine who decides that annoying the everlasting shit out of her husband is the way to his heart. We have a hero who bonds with his daughter by letting her point a loaded gun at an inn full of drunken louts. Could someone explain to me the part of this novel that was supposed to make sense?

#2: Gilding the Lady, by Nicole Byrd
Grade: D-
Alternate Prize: The Regency Scooby-Doo Award
Why It Sucked: Hmmmm, let's see - the plot's ridiculously contrived, the historical setting is pure tacky wallpaper, the plotting was simplistic and for the most part nonsensical (an evil fake Belgian dancing-master thief???), and the characters shallowly drawn. This pretty much embodies the historical romance that the ignorant public assumes historical romances to be like. Basically, the author seemed to have a poor understanding of the period, of character building, and of the romance genre as a whole!

#1: Sweet Trouble, by Susan Mallery
Grade: F
Alternate Award: The Biggest Douchebag in the History of Time Award
Why It Sucked: This is an interesting Worst Novel for me - there were parts of this novel I genuinely liked (the female characters and the heroine, for one thing). But this novel happened to come burdened with the absolute WORST HERO OF ALL TIME. I've read romances where I didn't really believe the chemistry, where I was kind of m'eh about the happily ever after, but this was the first romance novel I read where I didn't want the hero to get an HEA. At all. I would rather the heroine have dated, had sex with, fallen in love with anyone else. A janitor. A recently released sex offender. A dog from a Jennifer Crusie novel. The mere presence of the hero demeaned and cheapened the heroine. When she tells him she's pregnant, he dumps her after calling her a slut. When he finds out about his kid five years later, he sues for custody for revenge, planning to dump the kid he really couldn't care less about at a boarding school or with a nanny. When his nefarious plans to sue for custody are found out, he wins the heroine back in fewer than ten pages by buying her expensive presents. Believe me girls, nothing says "sorry for trying to steal your kid" like a diamond tennis bracelet. Uglier still, the whole novel seems to buy into the hero's belief that the real reason he never got to spend time with his son was because his girlfriend had too much of a slutty past - after all, if she hadn't been a total skankwhore party girl before they'd met, he'd have believed her when she told him the kid was his. Right? RIGHT?

Also, before I sign out here - I the only one who notices the common colours of purple and pink in all of the Worst of 2008 covers? Is that a weird coincidence or what?

"It Happened One Night," by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, and Candice Hern

Alternate Title: Holy Crap, A LOT Can Happen in One Night

This is my first review of a romance anthology, so hurrah! Every story gets their own little entry and review! Mary Balogh explains in an introduction that the four authors of this anthology decided to trash the myth that romance novels "all have the same story so they're boring" - by each writing a story based around the same idea to show how they are all different! Technically, the basic plot of each story is the same: a man and a woman who shared a romantic relationship but haven't seen each other for ten years meet up again at the same inn. For the most part, I really enjoyed this anthology - the romance in the shorter format generally meant the stories had to keep to the good stuff, and eliminate the petty drama derails that can often cripple a full novel.

The Fall of Rogue Gerrard, by Stephanie Laurens
The Chick:
Lydia Makepeace. When her radical feminist sister's radical feminist career is threatened by an incriminating letter, Lydia's determined to retrieve the letter by any means necessary - even if it means enlisting the help of her childhood sweetheart, Rogue.
The Rub: The incriminating letter is to be found at the house of a rakehell notorious for his orgies - what's a virgin spinster to do?
Dream Casting: Yvonne Strahovski.

The Dude: Robert "Rogue" Gerrard. He fell for Lydia ten years ago, but was frightened by the intensity of his emotions and ran away to become the greatest rake the ton has ever seen. Even as a libertine, however, he can't deny a request from an old flame.
The Rub: For the last six years, his terrible reputation has been a smokescreen to hide his philanthropic exploits.
Dream Casting: Joseph Fiennes.

The Plot:
Lydia: Hurry up and help me retrieve my sister's letter!

Rogue: Okay.

Lydia: Hurry up and make love to me on this notorious rakehell's heirloom desk!

Rogue: Okay.

Lydia: Hurry up and forget this ever happened!

Rogue: How whipped do you think I am? My turn: marry me.

Lydia: Okay.

Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Virgin Spinster

1 Fake Rake

1 Incriminating Letter

1 Naughtily-Designed Dress

The Word: My first foray into the magical world that is the Stephanie Laurens romance. I've been told if I like this one she has a few other books in print, so I should give them a try. Robert "Rogue" Gerrard arrives at an inn in the middle of a February rainstorm, soaked to the skin. Conveniently, in the parlour he runs into Lydia Makepeace after he's (conveeeeniently) stripped himself half naked to dry off.

Lydia Makepeace's sister Tabitha made a name for herself as a marriage-rejecting feminist bluestocking, but not before she wrote a dithering, gushy, and detailed love letter to an idiot when she was seventeen. If the letter becomes public, her feminist career will be ruined, and it just so happens that the letter's made its way into the hands of a kinky libertine who hates Tabitha but conveniently holds orgies in a manor just down the block.

Rogue knows an orgy's no place for a virgin spinster like Lydia and agrees to accompany her, claiming that his own rake rep serves as a permanent all-access pass to sex-parties like this.

This story has a funny topsy-turvy element to it - we have a rakehell who really wants to settle down and get married (preferably to Lydia) versus a virgin spinster who's just looking for an opportunity for consequence-free sex (preferably with Rogue), which results in a delightfully backward virgin's seduction followed by the rake's proposal. Rogue and Lydia have nice chemistry, and the writing is lush and detailed, but with such a short-format story I could have done with maybe one fewer sex scene. B+.

Spellbound, by Mary Balogh
The Chick: Nora Ryder. Penniless after quitting her position as a lady's maid, she finds herself stranded in a nearby village when the stagecoach she paid for crashes into a gentleman's curricle.
The Rub: With no money, she has no hope of getting a room for the night - until she's offered one by the owner of the curricle, who just so happens to be the very man she unsuccessfully eloped with ten years ago!
Dream Casting: Pride and Prejudice's Susannah Harker.

The Dude: Richard Kemp, Lord Bourne. When he runs into Nora at the inn, he tells the innkeeper she'll be sharing his room since she's his wife. Funny thing is, this could very well be true, even though Nora's relatives went to extreme lengths to hide the circumstances of their quickie marriage.
The Rub: His half-lie takes on a life of its own when he and Nora find themselves in the midst of May Day celebrations, so to spare her reputation he plays the part of the doting husband - and finds himself enjoying the role more than he expected.
Dream Casting: Jim Caviezel.

The Plot:
Curricle and Stagecoach: *tremendous crash!*

Nora: How am I going to get a room for the night?

Richard: How about as my wife?

Nora: Are we really married?

Richard: Damned if I know!

Nora and Richard: *May Day Partying*

Richard: Nora ... you might as well stay with me, since you're my wife and all.

Nora: Really?

Richard: Yes! ......but let's get married again, just to be safe.

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Head-On Collision Between Two Horse-Drawn Vehicles

1 May Pole

1 Very Bad Parent

1 Big Misunderstanding

The Word: I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this story - I loved the two Mary Balogh novels I read, but they were long and pretty wordy. I wasn't sure how her particularly charming style would work with a short format, but any doubts I might have had quickly vanished once I started reading. Like her novels, this book was profound and beautiful, but rather like a tiny, perfect jewel box of spectacularly intricate design - small, yes, but dazzling.

Nora Ryder has recently quit her job as a lady's companion to a crone who never bothered to pay her during her six-month employment. But Nora's a survivor, and she uses the majority of her remaining savings to purchase a stagecoach ticket to London to find more employment. Unfortunately, she arrives in the nearby village to discover the stagecoach has been delayed, thanks to a disastrous collision with a curricle. She barely has change enough for a cup of tea, much less a room at the inn, but she receives the surprise of her life when she runs into Richard Kemp, who tersely informs the innkeeper Nora will be sleeping in his room ... as his wife.

This is not a lie, not exactly. A decade ago, Nora was a pampered aristocrat's daughter and Richard her father's secretary, who together eloped to Scotland only to be caught by Nora's father and forcibly separated, the evidence of their nuptials obscured and destroyed. Now, of course, their positions have been humiliatingly reversed: not long after their botched elopement, Nora's fortune was beggared by her father's gambling addiction, and Richard came into a wealthy title.

While Richard does Nora this favour out of pity, he's not prepared to trust Nora, and the feeling is mutual. Each blames the other for the failure of their elopement, for the ten long years of hardship and loneliness each experienced believing the other had abandoned them. However, they both agree to celebrate the village's May Day celebrations together in order to support Richard's falsehood, and as the innocent joy of the day slowly thaws the walls they've built around themselves, they begin to truly communicate for the first time in ten years and finally discover what actually happened all those years ago to drive them apart. Mary Balogh demonstrates her particular gift for turning her readers into emotional taffy pulls - creating an exquisitely painful tug-of-war between reawakening love and insurmountable (?) tragedy. A.

Only You, by Jacquie D'Alessandro
The Chick:
Cassandra "Cassie" Heywood. Raised by cold and uncaring aristocrat parents, she formed one true lasting friendship with stable boy Ethan Baxter - a friendship that ended when he abruptly left right before she was to marry an Earl.
The Rub: Ten years and one horribly abusive marriage later, the now-widowed Cassie decides to stop at the inn Ethan now owns, before she returns to her parents' estate.
Dream Casting: Katherine Heigl.

The Dude: Ethan Baxter. He carried a torch for Cassandra for years, until he forced himself to leave because he couldn't bear to watch her marry another man. He joined the army, no longer caring whether he lived or died, and eventually bought an inn.
The Rub: He's overjoyed when Cassie arrives at his inn, still beautiful and no longer married to boot, but even the last ten years can't erase the fact that she is a Countess, and he only a commoner.
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.

The Plot:

Cassie: Hi, Ethan! How ya been!

Ethan: *blatantly lying* AWESOME! Yourself?

Cassie: *lying through her teeth* SPECTACULAR! So how have you been, really?

Ethan: I tried to kill myself by joining the army - but they gave me medals instead. You?

Cassie: My husband cheated on me and slapped me silly when I couldn't have children. But now he's dead!

Ethan: HAWT.

Ethan and Cassie: *sexx0r*

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Very Bad Husband (deceased)

2 Very Bad Parents (still alive, unfortunately)

1 Noticeable but Still Sexy Facial Scar

1 Orgasmless Widow

1 Interclass Romance

The Word: Cassandra Heyworth, traveling back to her parents' estate to live with them after her husband has died, decides to make a pit stop by the Blue Seas Inn, an establishment owned by Ethan Baxter, an old childhood friend Cassie had a crush on. Unfortunately, she was the daughter of peers and he was the son of the stable master, and to top it all off he left with barely a note right before she was set to marry an Earl.

Ethan, when he sees her, is both overjoyed and appalled. He's loved with her a consuming passion for all these years, and her appearance in the inn he now owns brings back all the good (and bad) memories. He tries to keep his cool, and although he suspects she's hiding a private misery he assumes it's grief over her deceased husband. Through all the years he put himself through hardship to forget her, he kept himself sane with the assumption that while he was fighting the Napoleonic wars and working his fingers to the bone, she was living the high life with the wealthy, titled husband she deserved. Not long into their visit, however, Cassie explains the truth: her husband was a monster who, when she never conceived after three years of marriage, beat her and kept her a prisoner on his country estate while he shacked up with hordes of other women.

While there was nothing egregiously wrong or offensive with this story, I finished this tale with an overwhelming sense of "m'eh." Nothing in this story seemed original - every seemingly romantic gesture or phrase sounded identical to a million others I'd read before. Kisses that leave people wanting more, burning passions, the love that can never be, orgasmless widow, all that jazz. There was nothing particularly inspiring or unique about any of it. C+

From This Moment On, Candice Hern
The Chick: Wilhemina, Duchess of Hertford, a.k.a. Wilhemina Grant, a.k.a. Wilma Jepp. She arrives at an inn and unexpectedly runs into her first love, Captain Sam Pellow, a man she hasn't seen for ten years, and hasn't really dealt with for about twenty-five.The Rub: While they were lovers as teenagers, he vanished at sea and she, taking him for dead, embarked on a lifestyle that eventually made her one of London's premier courtesans. And then Sam came back. Awkward.
Dream Casting: Nicole Kidman.

The Dude: Captain Samuel Pellow. Years ago, he was press-ganged into Navy service, and when he returned to England to find out his childhood sweetheart was a courtesan, he reacted badly, then and on the various other brief times they crossed paths. Now, of course, he's matured and realizes he still carries a torch for his first love.
The Rub: He's only stopping at the inn for a bite to eat before he carries on to the estate of the proper young woman he's planning on proposing to. Awkward.
Dream Casting: Clive Owen.

The Plot:

Willie: Good God, Sam! How long's it been?

Sam: Why, nearly ten years, I should think! It's great to see you!

Willie: Staying the night?

Sam: Nope.

Smeaton, Willie's unscrupulous manservant: *sabotages Sam's curricle*

Sam: Guess I am, then!

Sam and Willie: *sexx0r*

Sam: Stay with me?

Willie: I don't think so.

Sam: *sabotages Willie's horse*

Willie: Guess I will, then!

Romance Convention Checklist:
3 Acts of Romantic Sabotage

1 Chequered Past

1 Roll in the Hay (and 1 Failed Attempt at a Roll in the Hay)

1 Naughty Duchess

The Word: This was quite a sweet story, by an author I'm not familiar with (whose novel covers, however, look gorgeous), so I'm thinking I'm going to have to give Candice Hern's novels a try, the next chance I get.

Navy Captain Samuel Pellow is enjoying a pint in the taproom of a local inn, and waiting out a torrential rainstorm when a grand figure arrives and demands a room. It's not just any grand figure, but Her Grace, Wilhemina, Duchess of Hertford. Sam knew her when she was simply Wilma Jepp, the girl he lost his virginity to in the small Cornish fishing village they grew up in. They greet each other cordially and settle down for a amiable chat before Sam has to continue on to his destination. Both of them on the wrong side of forty (Sam has a grown son in the Navy), twenty-five years ago they were fumbling teen lovers driven apart by fate who gravitated towards different social circles, meeting each other only intermittently, the last time about ten years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, when Sam mysteriously vanished at sea and was presumed dead, "Willie" was kicked out of her rigidly Methodist household and took up with an artist, and gradually used his influence to gain more powerful and influential protectors, until she became one of London's most exclusive courtesans. However, it turned out Sam was only press-ganged into naval service and when he found her again, her profession horrified him. They met only a few times after that, each having acquired their own lives - Sam got himself a wife and child and status in the military, and Willie eventually married the Duke of Hertford.

Now, of course, both are widowed, and mature enough to look back on their juvenile exploits with rose-tinted fondness. There's no backbiting or bitching in their conversations with each other, only memories, both pleasant and painful. Each still loves the other, but guards their heart against possible rejection: Sam fears he's too low for the likes of a duchess and famed courtesan, while Willie's convinced her scandalous (and largely unrepented) past will forever pose an obstacle. However, both are quite willing to spend the night together and see what happens. This was altogether a tender and loving story about a second chance at romance that I really enjoyed. Quite lovely and entertaining, and also a good palate cleanser for the cloying, rehashed drama of Only You. A-