Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Soup - August 16

Sunday Soup is... Summer activities, a contemporary hit-list, and a dash of Outlander debrief.

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week...
Last Sunday's Soup was pre-empted by a very hot, very dusty day at the local Renaissance festival.  Although we don't go all out with costume and accessories and fake accents, as a family we make it a point to go every year, have a bottle of sarsaparilla soda, buy a trinket or two, and watch the spectacles.

I've also been doing a bit of handyman stuff around our house this summer-- painting rooms and installing dimmer switches and new outlets.  Stuff like that.  I'm feeling very pleased with myself, but the blog has been part of the time tradeoff there.

I've also been in the midst of changing some things up personally, nothing bad, but it's had me unsettled and distracted.  All of which is not to be defensive about not posting more, but just chatting about what I've been doing instead.

What I'm reading
There is a lot to catch up on, given my negligent posting, but I think the theme for this week's reading is FABULOUS CONTEMPS! Some really good stuff here:
Currently in the middle of Skinny Dipping, from Connie Brockway's backlist.  So funny. I wish she had done (or would do) more contemporaries.

If I Stay, by Tamara Morgan. I got this one from Carina Press at RT.  I think I saw a mention of the author on Twitter, and that was enough to tip me into trying out the title, and I'm really glad I did.  I'm always interested in finding new contemporary authors, and I really loved this one.  The style reminds me a little bit of Kristan Higgins, without the dogs.  I'll absolutely be reading more from Morgan.

When I heard Victoria Dahl's latest Jackson Hole title, Looking for Trouble, was out, I hit it like it owed me money (or something like that.)  Dahl's contemporaries are getting hotter and hotter and this one scorches.  I love how she takes a near-fantasy encounter for both of them and pushes it into a Happily Ever After.

I picked up Beauty from Pain by Georgia Cates, based entirely on the title (make of that what you will).  Well, that and the freebie pricing, I suppose.  It turned out to be not quite what I expected.  Overall I didn't love it, but it had some good moments.  It had a cliff-hanger ending which annoyed me, a la 50SoG, and I probably won't pick up the follow-up.

In non-contemp reading...

The Sekhmet Bed, by L.M. Ironside. I picked this up because a friend of mine knows the author, and told me, "she writes your kind of books."  I was sort of expecting a romance, which this wasn't, exactly, but I did like it quite a lot.  There are three more books in the series, but this one chronicles the marriage and rise to power of a particular Pharoah's wife.  I am not at all an expert on Egyptology, but the author writes convincingly of everyday life in 1500 BC Egypt. 

Beyond Addiction. Kit Rocha delivers again.  I can't say enough good things about this series.  If I gave ratings, I'd give the whole series six out of five stars.

Outlander Watch... Och. Jamie and Claire onscreen-- it's here, it's here!!
Would you laugh at me if I told you that part of my home-improvement spate this summer is about getting the TV room into a condition that I can stand, so that I could watch this show?  Well, go ahead and laugh. ;-)

I've fixed up the lighting, cleaned up a mess of accumulated junk, done a long-overdue update/swap of our cable boxes, added a console table behind the sofa (because the configuration of the room doesn't really allow for a coffee table, and bought a rug. We have a wire storage shelf in the room with a collection of things with no better home, and I very cleverly attached a pretty shower curtain all around the edges with S-hooks.  It sort of looks like we have a shower stall in the corner of the room now, but at least the junk is hidden.  Also I stole the matching ottoman back out of my husband's office. Next up, is a good scrub of the floor, adding in the rug pad (it arrived 4 days after the rug), and putting up some art on the wall.

I'm finding that I don't really need to dissect and analyze and share about watching this show.  I'm enjoying it tremendously.  I'm glad I re-read the book last month and I think the casting and the chemistry is amazing.  I don't want to dissect it and nitpick it. I don't want to argue with people who aren't enjoying it; I'm sure there are faults to be found, but DON'T CARE. I'm not interested in rational, measured discussion and really, I'm not particularly interested in OMG SQUEEEE DON'T YOU LOVE IT TOO!?

So if you've been wondering what I think of the show, now you know.  And you know where I'll be at 9:00 pm on Saturdays for the next few weeks.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Soup - July 27

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week...
I've been on vacation in small-town mid-America, and it's been a low-tech kind of week.  I know that a huge chunk of my book community is at RWA but I have not been following  much of the goings-on, except:

Carolyn Crane won a RITA!  I'm so happy for her.  She was one of the first book bloggers to befriend me and Alpha Heroes when I got started, and I will never stop laughing at The Unfeasibly Tall Greek Billionaire's Blackmailed Martyr-Complex Secretary Mistress Bride. Her fiction is still characterized by that same quirky humor and fresh imagination.

If you are a lover of 80s pop culture, you might enjoy Tiffany Reisz's latest freebie: Erotic Charles In Charge fan-fic. When you stop giggling, you should read it and bring ice.

What I'm reading

My big project this week was a re-read of Outlander.  Although I consider myself a fan, and regularly list this title as one of my all-time favorite books, I've never been much of a re-reader and this was only my second time through it. I have to say it holds up as well as anything I've ever read.  I remember when it came out, it wasn't always easy to find it in the bookstore -- I have seen it shelved in romance, sci-fi-fantasy, and general fiction.  And I feel that's really true: it defies genre conventions.  What struck me the most about it was the precarious position they found themselves in at the end of the book -- truly a "happily for now".   After turning the last page and taking a few deep breaths, I remembered that there are another nearly 7000 pages published of Jamie and Claire's story (setting aside the Lord John books and other shorter works), and felt reassured, but in the midst of this story, even knowing that things eventually turn out more or less ok, I was completely immersed in the ups and downs of this roller-coaster book. I loved it all over again.

A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin, by Sophie Jordan (ARC). Releases this Tuesday; a solid Regency for which I owe a real review. A nicely constructed situation, likeable characters, and good chemistry. I loved the erotic tension and the villainy was kicked up a notch in a good way. My one nitpick is that the language sometimes sounded too contemporary to my ear, especially one of the key secondary characters.

Going Under by Jeffe Kennedy. Absolutely loved the premise here and the heroine. This is an erotic romance and they do get up to some fetishy hijinks; you may want to kick the air conditioning up before you dig into this one.  I sort of felt that the ending was a bit rushed and that she forgave him a bit too easily, but I really loved the tech element here. (Kennedy's inspiration was a true story that made a huge impression on me as well when it broke). You'll have to decide if a ginger-flavored Tom Hiddleston-esque hero is a plus for you.

Wild Card, by Moira Rogers - this was a quick paranormal read, fairly hot, though I personally wouldn't peg it as erotica. In a post-apocalyptic future that resembles the nineteenth century west with wolf shifters, a lone female rancher finally meets her match.  I liked it and will probably read on in the series.

Razing Kayne, by Julianne Reeves. I went to this contemp cop-romance as a "something completely different" follow-up to Outlander. So it had a tough act to follow.  I'm not really sure what made me pick this one up-- random Twitter mention? Kindle freebie? Something like that. I have mixed reactions - I thought the suspense plot was really good - tight, unusual, a couple of crazy twists; and I liked the love scenes too.  Characterization wasn't quite up to par, IMO; there was just a real lot internal angsty descriptive narrative to tell me what was going on with the main characters.  Still, this is the sort of thing that can get better as a writer gains experience, so I might pick up another title.  The small (ish) town had an interesting population of secondary characters, too.  Has promise.

That's all for this week's soup.  Hope you're having a delightful summer.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Soup - July 13

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week...
A lot of interesting links about the ongoing Hachette vs. Amazon battle and where the author and reader interests lie. There is a ton of rhetoric out there about who is the bigger monster, and I cannot claim to understand all the nuances.  But the most compelling article I've read lately on the topic is this one from Joe Konrath. In particular, the information he exposes around one reason that Hachette *may* be digging in on terms is the issue of retail discounting:
If you want to understand what a party is doing in a negotiation, a good place to start is with their public statements. In this case, we know exactly what Hachette was planning to do in this negotiation because they published their strategy. In a letter to the federal court in the ebook antitrust case, believe it or not. When the proposed final judgment for Apple was announced, it included a provision that prohibited Apple from entering into agreements that would limit its ability to offer retail discounts.
The Big 5 are saying that as soon as the two year "cooling off" period is over, they want to get rid of retail discounting. Literally their only objection to the Apple settlement is that it will leave one ebook retailer who must maintain the ability to discount. The Big 5 have been waiting for two years for a chance to get rid of retail discounting. And take special note of that word "unilaterally". That means that the Big 5 each have to negotiate independently with their retailers.
I don't know about you guys, but I really like being able to bargain shop occasionally for e-books.  I do pay full price on release day for some authors that I love, but I also am more likely to try an unknown author for 99 cents than I am for $7.99.

I am not lovin' Bloglovin. I've followed links to several blog posts lately that were somehow(?) syndicated with this app, and it pops up a large header that consumes about 20% of my available vertical reading space.  Presumably this would go away if only I would sign in to a service I know nothing about and cannot find out about unless I log in. I'm feeling cranky about the sheer number of services/apps I need to log into lately and I am not automatically creating accounts for everything.  So if you are using this service, be aware that it is an obstacle for cranky people like myself.

And while I'm at it, those of you who use jumps in your articles are putting up another barrier for me.  I read most of my blogs in a feedreader (Feedly), and I only click through maybe 5% of the articles that I get a teaser for.  I know you have your reasons for doing that -- ad revenue and clicks are one -- but that is a big reason I love the feedreader. I get all those annoying flashy-blinky-scrolling ads filtered. Just so you know.

What I'm reading

I have been loving the Kit Rocha series so much, I don't know why it didn't occur to me until recently to check out the books by the same team under their other nom de plume, Moira Rogers. I picked up Crux early last week and positively devoured it. I'm pacing myself on new purchases, considering the staggering size of my TBR pile, but that series just jumped high up on the list. Absolutely loved it.  

This review at Herding Cats and Burning Soup (great name!) caught my eye, and I've added The Bottom Line to my "to be acquired" list. I'm always on the lookout for a good contemp author to try. (disclosure: link goes to the original blogger's affiliate link, seems only fair.)

I bent my "no review copies" policy for Memory Zero by Keri Arthur. This is book one of a new series and I totally loved it. It does bear a strong resemblance to the Riley Jenson series in pacing and pattern, which in my mind is all to the good. The heroine is a tough police detective with latent paranormal abilities, and after attending a couple of sessions at RT14 with Diana Rowland, whose bio includes similar police work and also writes UF, and I couldn't help kind of picturing her as the heroine, Sam Ryan. It is available for pre-order, and if you liked Riley, you'll be a fan of this series as well.

I was on such a good roll with paranormals that I decided to pick up a physical book that had been gathering dust on my shelf: The Last Mermaid from Shana Abe. I love Abe's writing soooo much. It's been a bit slower read, partly I think I just read physical books more slowly than e-books, and partly because the language is worth lingering over.

Outlander Watch... Och. I canna wait for Jamie and Claire onscreen.

With the premiere of the TV show less than a month away, the buzz is really heating up. First up, the scoop about when and where from Entertainment Weekly. Next, a very nice photo gallery from Yahoo TV (although I was a little disappointed in the lack of really new images). Finally, an interview with Starz' CEO, who is hardly impartial, but it's nice to see that kind of excitement.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday Soup - July 6

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  this week I'm dishing about Seattle bookstores...

So my big book news of the week was the Diana Gabaldon signing that happened in Seattle.  Over 600 people attended. She was an absolutely delightful speaker, and the Forest Park Third Place Books did a wonderful job accommodating a HUGE number of fans on an unseasonably hot day. If you have a chance to hear her speak I highly recommend it-- but only if you like hearing slightly off-color stories about Scotsmen in (and out) of kilts. I am so looking forward to the Starz production of Outlander this August, and getting a chance at a fan-girl moment was a great way to increase the anticipation:

On a side note, Third Place Books has an extensive Romance collection, easily rivaling the local Barnes & Noble stores and my late lamented Redmond Borders {moment of silence, please}.  If you've been reading along at Alpha Heroes since the very beginning, you may remember this very early rant about indie bookstores and romance, specifically Elliott Bay Books, the best-known Seattle indie.

I had this brief interaction on Twitter recently, and decided to give EBB another chance:

Promising, right?

So yesterday, the kids and I made an outing of it, and hit Elliott Bay Books along with other nearby destinations: Molly Moon ice cream, Everyday Music, and the Ghost Gallery.  My kids found plenty of books to tempt them in the huge children and young adult sections, but the romance section was a bit less prominent.  Here's what the Fiction section looks like:

Nice space, isn't it? It's beautiful, really, a lovely place for a bibliophile to hang out in.  I compressed the photo (and it was already a little hazy, the lighting was tricky), but if you have a very sharp eye you might see placards directing you to Fiction, Science Fiction, and Mystery, but where's the romance?

Oh. Here it is.

Oh, not that WHOLE case, silly.  Just the bottom three shelves. The two shelves above it are erotic romance.  There are two more shelves above THAT for, I believe, fiction overrun/overstocks. No placard.  At a generous guess, I'd say half the titles were classic romances from the 90s. Crusie, Garfield, Devereaux, McNaught.  Good picks, but not exactly current. The other half were recent releases, across a fair spectrum of historical and contemporary. So, um, "growing." OK. It's bigger than it was in 2008, when it was ZERO. So... sure.  That's growth.  However, I'd say there's a long way to go before Elliott Bay Books convinces me that it wants my business.  In the meantime, I'll be at Barnes & Noble.  Or Amazon. Or Third Place Books.

What I'm reading

Downloaded and devoured The Saint, by Tiffany Reisz. I really enjoyed the story, as I do most all of Reisz' work, but I will say -- a lot of the material has already been told from other points of view, I think mostly from The Mistress (don't quote me though, they're starting to blur.)  The flashbacks to Nora and Soren's early days are interspersed with a present-day lover that has a bit of a squick factor.  It mostly didn't bother me, because fiction, but I could've done without it. It feels like Nora cannot relate to anyone unless she's banging them, and that's starting to feel kind of icky. Not to be overly critical though -- there was plenty to like. I particularly liked Nora and Soren's discussions of sex and theology. I think Reisz managed to show the electric connection between the 15-year-old Eleanor and the 29-year-old priest without making it ugly, and that is not easy. Reisz does witty, innuendo-laden banter very well, and I loved how that worked with the cold, serious, uber-self-controlled Soren.

I finished The Windflower, and I'm hoping to post some thoughts on it later this week.

The Bastard, by Inez Kelley. I picked this up after a random tweet from Mandi, and liked it quite a bit. It's the first in a paranormal series about angels and their fight with Satan himself for supremacy.  The world-building is quite complex, and involves super-good-guys from the historical rolls, but also -- unexpectedly -- some super-bad guys too, who are fighting for personal redemption as well as all of humankind. The theory is that when you've got to fight some ultimate evil, it couldn't hurt to have some warriors who aren't above getting down and dirty.  I will say that my eyebrows went up a little bit on learning who these "heroes" were, and I felt like their human sins were sort of waved away with a bit of "hey, that was then, and I'm really sorry," and also, "oh, you know how history exaggerates," but I'm willing to wait and see how their individual stories go.

Heavy Metal Heart, by Nico Rosso. This was another author I wanted to stalk, er, I mean, familiarize myself with before RT.  While I won't say this novella blew me away completely, I did like the world setup and the author's description of the actual magic that is created by the characters' music was incredible. Book 2 came out in March, and I might just pick it up. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a satyr rock star.

Outlander Watch... Och. I canna wait for Jamie and Claire onscreen.

Watch the latest trailer (for Australian TV) here: Den of Geek

And a bit of a behind the scenes video at Cinema Blend

That's it for this week -- hope you had a spectacular 4th, if you go in for that sort of thing, and that one way or another, your July is off to a good start.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hate to Love You, by Elise Alden - Review

Title: Hate to Love You
Author: Elise Alden
Publisher:  Carina Press
Release Date: June 2, 2014
Reviewing: ebook, complimentary at RT14.
Reason for reading: a fair amount of buzz.

The Short Answer 
At the risk of being overly cutesy: I hated to love it.  And I mean that.

The Blurb (from Amazon)
Despite my slutty reputation, I was technically a virgin at eighteen. But it turns out all those sex-ed teachers aren't just trying to scare you. The faint positive on a budget pregnancy test sent me spinning, moments before meeting my sister's snooty new fiancé.

Shaking hands with upper-crusty James was like downing a triple shot of vodka. Dizzy with desire, confused by my body's reaction, and shocked by the possessiveness flashing in his eyes, I deceived him that night and told the world at their wedding reception.

The truth?

I slept with my sister's fiancé. Hot and sweaty, all night long in a room so dark he couldn't tell I wasn't her.

The lie?

Said fiancé is the father of my child. The one I signed over my rights to just before he was born.

That was seven years ago.

It's time to come clean.

The Whole Scoop
This book started out pretty much totally unlikeable for me. I thought the premise was gimmicky and the heroine is a train wreck, with a crude vocabulary and a cruder life.  I almost gave up on it in the first chapter when Paisley found it necessary to explain to me about her extraordinary nipples:
I've got to tell you about those little suckers.  I am cursed with the longest nipples in the world.  Even Marcia says so, and she's seen them in all shapes and sizes at the hospital. Mine are ginormously freakish. They sit on a large circle of dark pink and just wait for me to brush against something or get cold or...

I looked at James.

I don't know if this was supposed to be funny or what, but I found it off-putting. In fact, I found Paisley's whole character off-putting.

But then it turned out, that was kind of the point.  I got just enough of a glimpse of Paisley's vulnerability to keep me engaged through the serious train wreck of Part 1. Similarly, James was snide and condescending and generally awful, but then he would do or say something with a genuine kindness that made me willing to stay on for just a few more pages.

OK, so then part 2 seems promising -- Paisley has managed to get her act together; gotten away from her toxic family and carved out a profession for herself. She's back in London, and wants to be a part of her son's life.

And then I have another headbanging moment, where she applies for a job at James' place of work, under a different name, and, just, SERIOUSLY WHO DOES THAT? AUUGGHH.  I didn't like this plan at all.

But somewhere in here, the story and characters started to turn around for me. It is partly because the author feeds us Paisley's backstory in just the right way that it doesn't feel like excuse-making, but it feels like a maturation, for us as readers, in the same way that Paisley matures and begins to cope with it. But even more so, I think it was the kindness in James than anything else, and I know I've said that before. But when Paisley came back and had her act mostly cleaned up, it was easier for him to be kind to her.  And for all the crudeness and wrongness of their first hook-up, their chemistry is ELECTRIC, to mix a metaphor, and the author pulls off the lightning-strike magnitude of their attraction. 

The best thing about this romance is that we have some of the most imperfect non-vampire characters EVAR, with shipping-container-sized baggage, and they work through it. And win.

And that is a well-earned Happily Ever After.

Around the Blogosphere
Dear Author (oo, Jane does not agree with me at all)
Maryse's Book Blog
Harlequin Junkie
Britt's Book & Life Blog

PS: Okay, I just cannot NOT say this, even though it doesn't fit anywhere in the flow of the review.  PAISLEY IS A MIND READER.  That's right. If she can look you in the eyes, she can READ YOUR MIND. Except when she can't, which happened at times with James, for no apparent reason. (Also, HE CAN READ HER MIND TOO. It was not clear whether he could read everyone's mind, or just hers.)  This element of the book was, in my humble opinion, COMPLETELY STUPID AND THE WORST THING. If I gave starred ratings, I would knock off an entire star because this is so stupid. It made it much much harder to take the story seriously. Please don't let this ever happen again. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Soup - June 29

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  book people are talking about..
Changing the focus of this a little - other book people out there do a much better job than I do of reporting the kerfuffles, so this will just be my little editorial corner. Links that caught my eye, and what I think about them, stuff like that... 

The Convoluted Calculus of Rating Books My initial reaction to this article was to go all kitty-butt-faced on this and think HOW VERY WRONG it would be to rate books in such ways. It then occurred to me that perhaps this was a tongue-in-cheek article and meant to be funny.  Or possibly both -- ie, the author perhaps does give a book 5 stars if:

“My friend loves this book and if she happens to see my rating, I want her to think I loved it, too, even though maybe under normal circumstances I would’ve given it three stars. Because she cares what I think, obviously, and it super matters that we have exactly the same feelings about everything all the time.”

... and thinks it's a really funny truth about book blogging.  I see comments that are laughing and agreeing. I don't know, maybe I'm having an Asperger moment, but I don't see the humor in it at all.  Of course, it's one of the reasons I don't rate books; I find myself unable to be that objective or consistent.  But I've been thinking about a system that would be something like this:

5- Strong recommend to any fan of the genre, auto-buy author
4- Loved it, will seek out this author again
3- OK, might read this author again but would not go out of my way.
2- Would actively avoid this author.
1- DNF, would recommend everyone avoid this author. (it would be pretty rare for me to say this about a book, but it seems like maybe a useful boundary.)

I feel like this is a scale I could use pretty consistently. I dunno.  I'm in the "musing" phase.

I absolutely loved this article about the social and evolutionary value of storytelling.  The neuroscience in there is fascinating, too:  "a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience."

This came out a couple of weeks ago, but I'm behind, and it's the first time in a long time that an article about romance novels has given me an itch to read up on ancient Greek philosophy: Argue for Your Wonk -- so it needs to be included here.  Will I read Aristotle this summer? I just might!

A new to me blog with a nice rundown of some favorite UF series -- everything that's on here that I've tried, I've really liked, so I'm going to have to check out the rest of them, obviously.

What I'm reading
The Windflower, by Laura London. You may recall that I went to a certain effort to snag this paperback at RT. I'm three-quarters or more through it as of now, and enjoying it very much. There's nothing at all subtle about this writing; it's just drenched in sexual imagery and tension from page one.  There is a level of descriptive detail in this book that I haven't seen in ages, and I am really loving it. It does make for a slower read, but it adds to my ability to imagine myself inside the story.  Another thing that I love about "old skool" romance-- and this book in particular does it really well-- is the development of complex secondary characters.

Having Her, by Jackie Ashenden. I really enjoyed this quirky couple, particularly the heroine. While I'm not a fan of the "desperate to lose my V-card" trope, that was probably the only negative for me. There's a BDSM element in the story, and refreshingly, it doesn't overwhelm the characters or the relationship they build -- it's well-done but it's not the focus.  Kara is a comic book artist, with candy-colored hair, facial piercings, and combat boots, while Vin is overbearing and overburdened. In a tiny way that I didn't care to think about too hard, Kara reminded me a little of my teenaged daughter and her interests and choices of self-expression, and I thought it was nice to see that population represented in romance.

Elemental Pleasure, by Lila Dubois. I think this one came on the thumb drive from RT14. It is very hard to keep all of those straight! An interesting fusion of menage and Illuminati-style conspiracy theory, the premise is that a very powerful secret society dictates three-way marriages among its members, using its influence and power to convince really smart and high-potential young individuals to join up.  It's not totally convincing, but I liked the characters and I'd give another book in the series a whirl for the fun of it.

Own the Wind, by Kristen Ashley. With Jessica's recent review in the back of my mind, as well as some recs from my book-club ladies, I grabbed this up from my RT14 stack (mass market format). In spite of their current popularity, I think this is the first "MC" (motorcycle club) romance I've read, too.  I liked it OK, and I didn't mind the level of detail that Jessica mentions. The oddest thing that struck me was the structure of the story - brief vignettes from the hero's point of view over the course of several years, until their adult interactions really start, and then most of it from the heroine's point of view, still with jumps in time of weeks and months. Overall, I don't mind Ashley's style, but I don't think I'm up for any more of her MC books. I don't really like the way women are portrayed in this "lifestyle."

That seems to be about it for this week... (let's just assume there are a tidy conclusionary couple of sentences here.  I don't seem to be able to come up with anything right at the moment.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Vixen in Velvet, by Loretta Chase - Review

Title: Vixen in Velvet
Author: Loretta Chase
Publisher:  Avon
Series: The Dressmakers
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Reviewing: Advance e-copy
Reason for reading: Received a copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Also, I adore Loretta Chase.

The Short Answer 
Strongly recommend!  The characters are sharply drawn, with individual quirks, and the unfolding story is very much about the two of them finding their way to each other.  I especially love the way Lisburne's growing feelings are shown through his observations about Leonie. For example:
Dressmakers always had sharp things about them -- scissors, needles, pins. He had an odd sensation of having wandered inadvertently into danger.
And another one, just for fun:
He was, however, distracted by the stormy picture Leonie Noirot made, in a maniacally feminine concoction of white muslin: the swoosh of the billowing sleeves and the way the overdress-- robe -- whatever it was -- lifted and fell against the dress underneath and the agitated flutter of lace.  Her bosom rose and fell, the embroidery and lace like white-capped waves on a tumultuous sea. 

It was only a woman in a pet, by no means an unfamiliar sight.  all the same, he had to take a moment to slow his breathing to normal and drag his wits out from the dark seas into which they were sinking.

The Whole Scoop
Although this is the third in a trilogy, it stands alone, with no series plot arcs at all. Former characters get an occasional mention, but nothing that went before has a bearing on this story.

It is sometimes hard for me to find new things to say about a favorite author. Sometimes I prefer to just purchase my own copy of the book and read it purely for pleasure, without worrying about how I might review it.  In this case though, I was overcome by temptation and accepted the review copy.

As I expect from Chase, the characters are the main delight; the dialog sparkles; the trademark humor, offset by human frailties is there. So what can I say about this book, in particular, that I haven’t said about Chase’s work before?  A perfectly objective reader might find the plotting a bit weak. There are a few somewhat muddled threads about a society makeover, a poet, a charity, a scandal, and a bet. But the interactions between Leonie and Lisburne upstage these at every turn. The way they notice each other. The way they learn each other. It’s lovely and entirely romantic, and it totally works for me.

What underpins all these moving pieces, I think, is a story about beauty: what it means, how it is perceived, and how it is valued.  When the couple meets, it is at a viewing of a beautiful painting by Botticelli, and the hero and heroine are described as similar to the subjects of the painting.  The makeover thread is about changing society’s perception of a young woman from lackluster and clumsy to regal and desirable.  The poet in the story has been eviscerated by critics, yet his work is tremendously popular with the young women of the season – perception and value. And of course, Leonie's livelihood depends on making women feel, and be perceived as, beautiful.  I have many bits and pieces highlighted in the story supporting this idea, but one of my favorites is when Lisburne, in his pursuit to understand Leonie, discovers the Noirot sisters' charitable efforts to train young women (with otherwise dismal chances) at the sewing professions. Leonie shows him the wares that the girls have sewn and are offered up for sale:
[Lisburne speaking]  "Look at them. Little hearts and flowers and curlicues and lilies of the valley and lace.  Made by girls who've known mainly deprivation and squalor and violence." 

She considered the pincushions and watch guards and mittens and handkerchiefs. "They don't have Botticelli paintings to look at," she said. "If they want beauty in their lives, they have to make it."

"Madame," he said, "is it necessary to break my heart completely?"
In discussing the trilogy with friend, she was troubled by the nobleman-shopkeeper pairing.  Historically speaking, a shopkeeper is an entirely different matter than a governess, or a gently-reared girl fallen on hard times, or most of the variations on Cinderella tropes found in Regency romance.  I will say that this is pretty easy for me to suspend, but possibly not for everyone. What I see in this trilogy is the effort that Chase goes to to elevate the Noirot sisters from shopkeepers to artists.  From seamstress to couturier. To make the readers feel that these dresses, and the entire wardrobes, are indeed, works of beautiful art.

In the way of our beloved romance genre, these threads about beauty come to happy endings: the scandal mitigated, the ugly duckling has her transformation, and even the poet gets his girl.

The Bottom Line
If you need a plot-driven, fast-paced, action-oriented story, this might not be for you. But if you are interested in an exploration of character,  in watching attraction bloom gradually, with a bit of social commentary as a backdrop, there is no better author to bring that to you than Loretta Chase.

Around the Blogosphere
Long and Short Reviews
Addicted to Romance
Feminist Fairy Tale Reviews
Love Saves the World (she picked my favorite quote too!)


  © Blogger template Coozie by 2008

Back to TOP