30 December, 2010

Review: The Lady Most Likely... by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway

If there is one romance cliche I am utterly, heartily, completely sick of it is the homosexual ex-husband. (I'm going to be honest and admit that I am reviewing this book without finishing it. I may or may not finish it tonight. Really, it bothers me that much.) If you consider the above statement a spoiler, please stop reading now. You've been spoiled. Otherwise, read on.

The basic set up of The Lady Most Likely is that Hugh has spent so much time in his stables that he's failed to find a wife. After a near death experience, he asks his sister for assistance. This leads to a house party, which leads to romance. There is a bit too much story to deal with in The Lady Most Likely. Each of the couples have enough backstory to fill a book of their own, leaving the reader reluctant to move on to the next. (As a connected series, I think this would have been a stronger read.) I'd still recommend it - better too much investment in the characters than too little. Then the cliche kicks in. One of the ladies loves fashion. She loves fashion so much that when it came time to marry she sought out a man who loves fashion. A soft, faded, delicate sort of man with a small endowment and a vicious wit. The sort of man who likes to sit in corners and speak critically of those about him, but in the kindest of ways, and who ultimately eroded his wife's self image while doing so. The sort of man who dies young with his sobbing valet by his side.

Is this 2010? Nearly 2011? Can we end this particular homophobic trope? Even when the gay character is not a villain, it still screams "How Gay Folks Are, God Love 'Em".  I went from enjoying the book to tolerating it. By the time the valet's tear stained face is revealed I moved from tolerating the book to wanting to get away from it. Yes, I recognize that I am a small subset of the reading population but a love of fashion does not a homosexual make. A mean temperament does not a homosexual make. A slight build and a small (to borrow the author's words) "pump handle" does not a homosexual make. Roll all of those together, however, and you can make a tired homosexual side character cliche appear. (Hugh, obsessed with horses and unconcerned with women, makes a much more natural homosexual character than the deceased husband.)

Do homosexual men who fit this mold exist? Absolutely. While I have no idea what Christian Siriano looks like naked, I could picture him as the ex in question. The problem is that for so long ONLY this homosexual man has existed in romance. He is the Uncle Tom of the homosexual regency character. He is the racist cliche. To use him is to invite all the baggage of his past uses, to use him without other homosexual characters to counter him is to embrace that baggage. As a reader, encountering this minstrel show alongside the ever popular "It's so big, it won't fit!" sequence, I lose all interest in staying for more.

It is a shame, that this character tainted the read for me in a way I was unable to overcome by the book's end. The overall voice of the book is well done, the events are tied together nicely, the concept is strong. I would suggest The Lady Most Likely to anyone who finds the homosexual issue less aggravating than I do.

27 December, 2010

Review: Storming The Castle by Eloisa James

You need to read this short. You really do. In fact, this short was the first thing I read on my brand spanking new iPad and I left the iPad alone long enough to come tell you about it. Ok, maybe I waited a day (or two) but still! The point remains! I am not currently hiding in a corner with my shiny new iPad. (Did I mention it was a Very Apple Christmas? And that I got an iPad? Have we covered that? Yes?)

I enjoyed A Kiss At Midnight but didn't expect very much from Storming The Castle. I anticipated a quick look at all the characters from the prior book in their new settled lives, a cute sequence or two - you know, what you usually get in a short. Sort of an after-dinner-mint of a book. Not the selection-from-the-pastry-chef's-sampling-tray event that Storming The Castle delivers. Take this bit -

"... it wasn't until Miss Philippa Damson gave her virginity to her betrothed, the future Sir Rodney Durfey, Baronet, that she realized exactly what she wanted from life: 

Never to be near Rodney again."

Tell me you don't want to read that story. (You're lying.) The absolute best part about Storming The Castle isn't Philippa realizing she'd rather not do that again, it's the complete lack of villains. There is not a single letter hiding, mustache twirling, abusive, cheating, nefarious scoundrel about. Not a single one. Not even Rodney. Poor, dear, clueless Rodney. His life has just gone to hell and he hasn't the first clue. (There's nothing like the morning after to make a girl reevaluate.)

Look, you can do a lot worse for $2. I'm completely ready for another selection. Storming The Castle gets almost as much love from me as my currently unnamed iPad. (I may just acknowledge it as my overlord and leave it at that.)

21 December, 2010

Enid And Her E-Reading

While I have been woefully behind with my own media consumption, Enid has taken the plunge. She's left her Sony behind and purchased an iPad. You can see that it's a little big for her to comfortably handle. (She seems to have picked up some absolutely dreadful habits since we last saw her!)

My own foray into iPad reading will have to wait until Santa (or the FedEx man) shows up. I do thank Apple for the $100 price drop on refurbished units. It's enablers like that which keep the economy going.  The search goes on for the perfect relationship. I admit that most recently I've been carrying on quite shamelessly with Kleenex Ultra Soft. It's sort of a December tradition - we go everywhere together for the holidays.

09 December, 2010

Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

A Matter of Class suffers from some truly cracktastic e-book pricing. The paperback just released for $6.99 USD but good luck finding an e-book remotely close to that price. I've seen it as high as $15.99. Making things even worse, this is a novella. While I certainly recommend A Matter of Class and would rank it among Balogh's best, I don't suggest purchasing it at full price, much less cracktastic pricing.

Mary Balogh is one of my favorite authors. If books were female stereotypes she'd be the quiet, conservatively clad woman in the corner. Not the one that whips her glasses off, pops her buttons and dances on the table. The one that passes a quiet hour with someone over a cup of strong tea and never raises her voice. She might have a silent tear roll down her cheek, if the topic turns tragic. While others have wandered off bored, you end the hour calmer and somehow rested. In A Matter of Class Balogh forgoes the silent tear. This isn't an angst laden read. It's a bit traditional, a bit of a class study, a sliver of a tale with a few light twists.

Taking the traditional threads of class difference, social ruin and forced marriage Balogh weaves a short tale as satisfying as a full length book. Anna, expected to marry the required older friend of her father's, has ruined herself with a servant. Needing a husband, and needing one quickly, her family procures a groom from a wealthy coal miner looking to buy his gambler son some respectability. Anna and Reggie move to make the best of it while facing the obvious disappointment their parents feel at the ruin of their beloved children's lives. Balogh is a careful with her words, she is one of the very rare authors I re-read to see what I missed while I was watching the plot. Take the common event of people in awkward situations discussing the weather. Reggie and Anna's parents meet to cement the previously unthinkable course of their children's lives. What else is there for them to discuss but the weather? The uncontrollable, unknowable weather.

"Which was a good thing since everyone wanted different weather for different reasons and might end up fighting wars over it if they were able to control it. As if there were not enough things already to fight wars over."


03 December, 2010

Review: The Francesca Cahill Novels by Brenda Joyce

I am ridiculously excited about the return of Francesca Cahill. HQN is rereleasing the last two books in the series for readers who missed it the first time (and there are far too many of you) so they can get excited as well. I used to say that the Cahill series was for people who think they don't like Brenda Joyce. Until the Cahill series began I was a reluctant fan of Brenda Joyce. I read her books but I didn't respect myself afterward. (In fact, some of the most scathing reviews I've ever written are of Brenda Joyce books.) Then came Francesca.

Oh Francesca, how do I love you? Let me count the ways.  In love with a married man? In love with his brother? Befriending lesbians? (One of whom was your fiance's lover!) Taking street waifs under your wing? Hoping your socialite brother will stop his wandering ways to settle down with that nice Irish laundress? Standing over dead bodies while fighting for women's rights? Wondering how to hide street urchins from your mother while sneaking off to college? Wandering through the wreckage of your sister's marriage? Francesca, what don't you have going on? Although you use 'sleuthing' more frequently than anyone can tolerate and have a bit of the Mary Sue about you, I always regret closing the book and leaving you behind. It's not the murders that matter, it's your wonderfully convoluted life. You make Sookie Stackhouse look like an underachiever. When you left us I had to break up with Brenda Joyce. She made a triumphant return to the past while I longed for your future.

But now you're coming back, Francesca!! Will you (wisely) marry Calder despite his decadent orgies? Does he want you for yourself or because his brother Rick can't have you - tied as Rick is to the beautiful yet tragically crippled Leigh Ann? Or is there yet another brother in the wings? Perhaps a man we haven't yet met is waiting to step out of the shadows and capture your heart. Someone will be murdered. You'll throw yourself into danger as you always do. Stopping in at a dinner party to pacify your mother, knocking your brother's opium out a window, you'll arrive at the crime scene with a sweep of your skirts and a sniff of disdain. After all who better than you, society's darling, to handle the cases the corrupt New York police cannot?

Let's just start casting the films already. Are you Anne Hathaway or Taylor Swift? Is your arch self assurance born of innate skill or naive overconfidence? I think you've already grown a fair amount from that young ingenue who looked into Rick Bragg's eyes and mistook his shallow disdain for romantic depth. I can't wait to see where you go, and I can't wait to complain about how you get there.

02 December, 2010

Missed Review: Taken by Desire by Lavinia Kent

Don't buy this e-book.

That's the short version. I'd like to apologize to Lavinia Kent, because my advice to avoid this title has nothing at all to do with her. In fact, I'd selected her as one of my Agency titles to buy this month. Often I buy no Agency priced titles, but it's the holidays so I decided to treat myself. I used to buy Avon's (and a few other imprints) complete monthly run. It was automatic. Now I pick and choose. I scour reviews. I look at smaller publishing houses first. I consider what I have in non fiction, I watch obscure dvds.

The ebook version of Taken by Desire is priced $2 above the paper version. Not $2 above what the paper version can routinely be had for - $2 above the suggested retail price of the book. Effectively, this makes the title (in USD) over twice as expensive in a DRM restricted version than it is in a paper version. Or, you can steal it for free. I wish that you would not. I wish that you would simply join me in not reading this title, in finding another publisher to purchase from.

I am beginning to feel like the Agency authors are in an abusive relationship. I know they want me to buy their books. I want to buy their books. The editors want me to buy their books. But someone higher up than all of us has a different plan. When that someone holds you close at night and whispers that it's not him who drove us away, that he's only protecting you from the pirates, that we just didn't try hard enough? Don't believe him. What we had was real, but I won't be treated this way. You shouldn't be either. We're better than that.

Edited to add - It is my understanding that the price of this e-book has now been lowered to match the MSRP (if not the prevailing cost) of the paper book. Make your choices as you will!