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Review: Viscount Vagabond

Viscount Vagabond is a Regency romance by Loretta Chase, who is usually a must-read author for me.  I’m honestly not sure if Vagabond and its sequel, The Devil’s Delilah, are simply so old that Chase hasn’t developed the style that makes me love (the majority of) her books, or if I’m just cynical enough lately that they fall flat for me.  They’re not bad books, by any means, but I just can’t find many nice things to say about them.  Perhaps they’re simply too formulaic, typical bland Regency fodder.  Perhaps I need a break from historicals and should go find a nice paranormal or cyberpunk romance to read instead.Viscount Vagabond cover

Hrm.

Anyway, back to the book review.

Our Vagabond Viscount in question is Clarence Something Maximilian Demowery (there might be two Somethings in there instead of just the one), Viscount Rand.  Insert lame joke here about Lord Rand being v randy.  Raised as the younger son of the Earl of St. Denys, Max was v upset when he was dragged back from America like a recalcitrant schoolboy because his older brother died and he was now his father’s heir.  There was also something vague about his father ‘buying off’ the American lady Max wanted to marry so he had no excuse not to come home.  Given six months of ‘freedom’ before he is expected to settle down and be all respectable, Max seems to have spent most of that time living in the Regency equivalent of a slum and being all debauched and disreputable.

Our heroine, Catherine Pelliston/Pennyman/Pettigrew (no relation to Wormtail, I assume) ran away from home to avoid an unwanted marriage while her abusive alcoholic father and brand-new stepmother were away on their honeymoon.  Catherine’s brilliant plan was to throw herself unannounced at the feet of her former governess and beg for shelter, or something, but instead she finds herself falling for the time-honoured ‘tricking an unwilling girl into being a prostitute, because heavens know there aren’t enough women who would whore willingly to put food on the table’ scheme.

Fortunately for Catherine, her very first customer is none other than our randy Viscount, who she somehow manages to persuade that she’s really not there willingly.  He eventually agrees to help her escape, and pays Granny Grendle, the brothel’s madame (Beowulf, anyone?  Though Angelina Jolie was much hotter than this lady sounds) the shocking sum of fifty pounds for Catherine and all of her belongings.  He still thinks she’s a whore, though, and takes her home, where he proceeds to not-ravish her.  Possibly because he passed out drunk, the book was a little hazy about that since the scene was from Catherine’s view and she was hiding in the bedsheets at the time.

Now that Max finally believes she’s not a whore – or that if she is a whore, she’s not putting out for him – the next day he takes Catherine to the school where her former governess is teaching.  Or was teaching, rather, since she appears to have eloped with another teacher (I think?  They didn’t really say who he was) and is currently in Ireland or Scotland or somewhere else inconsiderately too far away to be of use to Catherine.

Since she wasn’t putting out earlier but he for some reason feels guilty about abandoning her, this time Max takes Miss Pettigrew, as she’s told him her name is, to visit his sister, Lady Andover, who for some reason we must know is childless but would be an excellent mother (ten bucks says Lady Andover is pregnant by the end of the book).  Catherine eventually runs away from there, too, with a ridiculous plan to sell her hair to a wig-maker to get money to go back home and resign herself to marry the man she ran away to London to escape marrying in the first place.

Luckily for both Catherine and the obvious romantic pairing, she gets lost on the way to the wig-maker’s, not knowing London at all, and is manipulated by a small streetwise boy by the name of Jemmy into taking a position as a seamstress for Madame Germaine.  While she is AWOL, Lady Andover’s husband admits that he thinks she’s some kind of second or third cousin of his, and not Miss Pettigrew at all.  So Max enlists the aid of his valet (I think) to track down the elusive Miss not-Pettigrew, who they find working in Madame Germaine’s shop as Miss Pennyman.

Then make room for another ridiculous plan, as Max attempts to convince Madame Germaine that Catherine has lost her memory and needs to get home because her family is worried about her.  Or something.  I’m not quite sure whether Madame actually believes that nonsense, or just wants Max to go away, but eventually she acts convinced enough to make Catherine leave with Max, who promptly dumps her back at Lord and Lady Andover’s.  Lady Andover has apparently decided that they should give Catherine the London Season she’s never had, and somebody – I think Lord Andover – wrote to Catherine’s father and managed to gain his blessing and the end of the unwanted engagement.

Cue developing feelings between Our Naive Heroine and Our Debauched Hero, ODH’s insistence of courting another lady, Diana Glencove, despite his developing feelings, some blackmail when the jilted fiance finds out about the whole brothel thing, and Diana running off with her childhood sweetheart after getting engaged to ODH.  And some kidnapping, since that was about the only trope that hadn’t been used yet.

For all that we’re told Catherine is a bluestocking and an intellectual, she has next to no common sense and to me, doesn’t seem that smart or knowledgeable.  Frankly, she’s a bit of an idiot, which I coud happily excuse if she were not constantly called an intellectual bluestocking by practically every character.  It’s definitely lacking the ‘show’ and with too much ‘tell’.

Despite her not-a-ravishing-beauty appearance in the beginning, Catherine quickly ‘blossoms’ into the typical bland attractive romance heroine once she has some decent clothes.  Oh, and she has a ‘tinkling laugh’ taken to ridiculous excess:

He heard a faint tinkling sound: Miss Pestilence was giggling!

Isn’t that charming, he’s given her her very own insulting, unflattering nickname!

Max, Lord Rand, is pretty much a generic Regency hero.  He has a Bad Boy Past, resents his position in Society and the accompanying edicts to Not Be Scandalous, and all the ladies have the hots for him.  I loved him in the beginning of the book, when he was being all disreputable and depraved, but by the middle he was just blandly stereotypical and seems to have lost that unique edge.  His insistence on courting Diana despite his growing feelings for Catherine make him seem to me like a bit of a jerk, and the hot/cold/rude ways his feelings and thoughts so only solidify that opinion.

I liked Lousia, Lady Andover – and would have won that bet about her getting pregnant – and Jack Langdon, one of Catherine’s Inevitably Disappointed beau, but they were really the only good parts in the book.  The sub-plot about Diana Glencove’s romance with that other guy whose name wasn’t important enough to remember seemed tacked-on and unnecessary – we’ve already established the hero is a debauched rakehell jerk, breaking off an engagement wouldn’t shock too many people.

The scenes with Jemmy were superfluous and he seemed to simply exist as a miniature deus ex machina or to demonstrate how Socially Aware and Kind To Those Less Fortunate Catherine and Max are (I say put your money where your mouth is and adopt the kid, but of course he’s still a servant by the end of the book).

Honestly, while overall it’s not a bad book, it’s not a terribly good book, either.  It’s a light read, and others might enjoy it, but I can’t say I did.  Not recommended.

Review: A Rake’s Guide to Seduction

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction is the third book in Caroline Linden‘s series about the Reece family.  I haven’t read the earlier books yet, but after finishing Rake I fully intend to do so, funds permitting.  I was fortunate to receive an old ARC of this book from the lovely Ms. Linden, so any differences between the review and the published version are probably due to that.  I’m not senile quite yet.
A Rake's Guide to Seduction cover
Lady Celia Reece, is the daughter of the late Duke of Exeter and the younger sister of Marcus and David Reece from What a Gentleman Wants and What a Rogue Desires respectively.  Mr. Anthony Hamilton is a notorious rake and the infamously outcast son of the Earl of Lyndley.  As an old school friend of David Reece, Anthony has known Celia for most of her life, though they’ve never been noticeably close due to the age gap and the patent dislike Rosalind, Celia’s mother, holds for Anthony.

A chance encounter on a balcony and a rescue from the Worst Proposal Ever™ awaken Anthony to the fact that Celia is all grown up and no longer the eight-year-old who wanted to tag along fishing.  So much so, in fact, that he can’t stop thinking about her, even with the lovely Lady Drummond to keep him company.

Sadly, it seems that Anthony is the only one who has been so affected; by the time he drums up the courage to ask Marcus for permission to pay court to Celia, the lady in question has already given her heart and hand to Lord Andrew Bertram.  The marriage does not go well for Celia or Bertram, and four years later a widowed Celia is dragged back by her mother returns from Bertram’s family estate in Cumberland a shadow of her former self.

After a brief visit to the Exeter house in London and the promise of tonnish delights fail to raise Celia’s spirits, her mother organises a house party at the Exeter estate in Kent.  Though David and Anthony have drifted apart over the years of Celia’s marriage, Anthony is included in the guest list at David’s behest, much to Rosalind’s displeasure.  An anonymous attempt to lighten Celia’s melancholy quickly leads to candid revelations, and perhaps something more…

I have to say, freebie aside, I enjoyed this story immensely.  It is a fun, lighthearted romance without any extended Dramatic Plot Lines and with some nicely hot sex scenes and a feel-good ending.

Celia begins the story as a rather selfish, immature debutante afraid of admitting her mistakes, and over the course of the story grows into a mature woman who is not afraid to face her family’s disapproval to keep the happiness that she’s finally found.  I very much liked that Celia did not immediately rush into the oft-seen trap that marriage is The Answer To All Life’s Problems, at least the second time around, and that she learnt enough from her earlier mistakes to be wary of repeating them.

Anthony was an overall sympathetic character, with just enough rakish charm that the appeal is obvious without having to read chapter and verse about all the young ladies fluttering over him.  I enjoyed the gossiping about his notorious past and torrid love-life, though it might have been nice to see a little more of that first-hand while Celia was out of the picture.  The Misunderstood Hero probably has its own page on TvTropes by now, but I felt that overall it was handled well in this case, and Anthony certainly didn’t lament his wicked reputation.

It was also refreshing to see a character who is not the infamous Virgin Widow that seems to exist in every Silhouette, Harlequin or Mills and Boon historical romance featuring a widowed heroine.

The time-jump between Celia’s first marriage and her return to her family was handled quite nicely with smattering of entries from Celia’s diary during her marriage to Bertram.  If it’s a mechanism I’ve come across before then it didn’t have sufficient impact for me to remember it.  I suspect if the ‘diary entries’ had been any less succinct, it would have gotten annoying, but as it stands I prefer this to trying to fit all of the missing back-story into the first few pages after the jump forward.

Did I mention the sex scenes were hot?

The Dramatic Plot at the end of the story felt a little tacked-on, as it didn’t really tie into anything that had happened earlier – in fact, I didn’t even connect Ms. F’s name to her first appearance at first despite reading the book in one sitting over a few hours – but it was neatly wrapped up without too much overdone drama or Tragic Misunderstandings and did serve to add a little spice to what might have been an overlong Happily Ever After otherwise.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book, and would happily – perhaps even heartily – recommend it.

today’s entry is brought to you by the letter A

Japanese Bridge by TOTGStock

That would be A for Awesome.

Count yourselves fortunate.  I have had The Day From Hell, and on my way finally-heading-home I was planning a ranting entry today, instead of the linkspam and beef stew crockpot recipe that I had originally planned.

But!  I arrived home to find my second set of plans awry, because I am just Too Damn Excited to write the rant.

The lovely Caroline Linden had agreed to send me an old ARC of her 2008 novel A Rake’s Guide to Seduction, which was sitting in the mailbox when I got home, much to my excitement.  So now my plans for the remainder of the afternoon are to sit down with a cup of orange pekoe and start in on Rake while the stew happily simmers away in the crockpot… Mmm.

But worry not.  I will probably rant tomorrow instead.

Review: Raven’s Strike

Raven’s Strike is the second book in Patricia Briggs‘ rather wonderful Raven Duology.  I reviewed the first book, Raven’s Shadow, here after reading the pair over the weekend; it seemed only right to continue straight onto the second and concluding book of this series.

Raven's Strike original cover

Raven’s Strike picks up soon after the end of Raven’s Shadow; Tier, Seraph, Jes, Lehl, and Hennea have collected Rinnie and returned to the farm near Redern following the events of Raven’s Shadow. Their hard-earned peace is soon interrupted by the arrival of Phoran, a friend of Tier’s and an ally from Raven’s Shadow, with some bad news. Another Epic Quest™ ensues, this time with the whole family along for the ride. And anyone else they pick up along the way, or so it seems.

This second book in the series actually has more of an Epic Quest™ tradition than its predecessor, which I enjoyed. It’s tough to find a good traditional epic quest storyline these days, and between the two books I was rather reminded of David Eddings’ Belgariad. I enjoyed the questing itself, but felt the resolution to be a little flat and I do have some unanswered questions. I suppose it doesn’t help that it turned out that I’d (correctly) guessed the identity of the current Big Bad in the first book, so the Big Reveal™ was pretty wasted on me.

In Raven’s Strike we got to see some areas of the Empire mentioned in the previous installment but never visited, and learned more about the history of the Travelers, the Nameless King and the Wizards of Colossae. The story of Colossae and the origin of the Traveler Orders was a part I particularly enjoyed reading about; as I think I mentioned before, the world is well-built and well-detailed.

Raven's Strike new cover

Familiar faces returned from Raven’s Shadow, and were further developed and fleshed out. Phoran made the step from being an important secondary character in the first book to one of the main characters in this, and I enjoyed seeing the continuation of the growing up and maturing he began in Raven’s Shadow. It’s a shame that I won’t be able to find out how he continues to mature and establish himself going forward (which I know is vague, but I’m trying not to give specific or too many spoilers).

The relationship between Seraph and Tier had some lovely intimate moments, and I greatly enjoyed the development of the not-a-romance between Jes and Hennea. Thankfully, Briggs does not seem inclined to commit the cardinal sin of having to pair up every main or important secondary character over the age of 16, and these were the only real romantic relationships.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal, and would love to see either a continuation of the existing stories or an unrelated tale set in the same world. My chances of that are slim to none, but a girl can hope. This is is definitely a recommended read, though you will need to read Raven’s Shadow first; this book borrows heavily from its predecessor, and would not stand well on its own.

For anyone who is interested, Patricia Briggs has some author commentary and supplementary artwork and author’s comments available on her website. The new covers for the books are pretty, but I actually prefer the older artwork. YMMV.

Review: Raven’s Shadow

With feeling like crap the past few days I’ve done a bit more reading than usual for the first part of the week, and managed to get through both Raven’s Shadow and Raven’s Strike (the review for which will follow probably some time later this week), amongst a couple of category and historical romances (which I’m sure will also be reviewed eventually).

Raven’s Shadow is the first book in Patricia Briggs‘ Raven Duology.  The books are a Quest tale set in the (as far as I can tell) unnamed Empire, a typical high fantasy medieval world with horses, palaces, and men who wander around with swords.

Raven's Shadow original cover

And magic, of course.

There are two kinds of magic in the Empire: traditional fantasy ritual magic and spellbooks used by ‘wizards’ and their ilk (solsenti sorcery, according to Seraph), and the innate magic of the Travelers.

The Travelers are a rather gypsy-esque group, who, as the name suggests, travel around rather than settling in one home.  Like in the real-world, these gypsy clans are disliked and persecuted by much of the Empire.  The magic of the Travelers is broken down into six Orders, Raven (mage), Falcon (hunter), Lark (healer), Owl (bard), Cormorant (weather) and Eagle (guardian).  The people with these particular magic Orders (Order-bearers) are relatively rare even amongst the Travelers, and Travelers who aren’t Order-bearers can (I think) still be mageborn enough to use wizardry, if they were so inclined.

I’ll try not to give away too many spoilers for the plot, but just recount the basics of the first couple of chapters that constitute Part One (which are mainly story-setting) and a general overview of the remainder.

Our story begins with the first meeting of our two main characters: Seraph, Raven of the Traveler Clan of Isolde the Silent, and Tieragan of Redern, a baker-turned-soldier returning to his mountain village home.  At the start of our tale Seraph’s older brother Ushireh, the only other member of her Clan, has been burned at the literal stake for the crime of… well, being a Traveler.  Tier rescues Seraph from a Fate Worse Than Death (essential slavery) and she journeys with him to Redern.  Things happen, and the pair of them end up married and most definitely not in love.

Raven's Shadow new cover

At this point we hit Part Two of the story, and jump forward 20 years. Tier and Seraph are married, farmers living just outside of Redern, and now have three children; Jes, who is Eagle, Lehl, who is Falcon, and Rinnie, who is Cormorant.  Tier is missing, presumed dead, but actually kidnapped by Evil Wizards™ and taken to the Empire’s capital city of Taela. The Quest ensues and Seraph, her two sons, and Seraph’s fellow Raven Hennea set off an Epic Journey to rescue him.

While I added both ‘fantasy’ and ‘romance’ tags to this, it isn’t a paranormal romance novel by any stretch – but it does follow a married couple, Tier and Seraph, who are clearly in love even if they don’t verbally admit it until almost the end of this book.  As a romance reader as well as a fantasy reader, I enjoyed the relationship between them; even though they spent most of the book apart, they were never far from each other’s thoughts, which is something I can relate to in my own marriage.  The side-tale with Jes’ developing feelings for Hennea was sweet and touching, and every bit as awkward as I remember my first romance being.

The overall interaction and relationships between the character was extremely well-written, and the world they were set in was detailed and interesting.  While some secondary characters felt like name placeholders, the more important and frequently-seen were well fleshed-out and engaging.

Though part of a duology, this book stands perfectly well on its own with a well-resolved ending.  I would definitely recommend this as a high fantasy sword-and-sorcery tale, and look forward to working through the rest of my Briggs books.

Review: Baby Bonanza

Cover for 'Baby Bonanza'

Baby Bonanza by Maureen Child is a Silhouette Desire book.  I downloaded this as a free ebook for the Kindle from Amazon.com.  Free is my favourite price, and this story is worth every penny spent!

The plot of the story is rather stereotypical – Nice Normal Girl had a smokin’ hot affair with a Rich Playboy Bachelor who intends to never settle down.  The relationship implodes, for whatever reason, and soon after the fact NNG finds out that she’s pregnant with RPB’s Sekkrit Baby™.  Cue attempted reconciliations, yadda yadda.

This book definitely followed the traditional storyline, and handled the back-story with Nick and Jenna’s failed past relationship well, providing enough details that my small amount of curiosity was sated, without needing an excessive flash-back scene or three to slow down the narrative.

My main quibble with this story is that it was very short – as the various Silhouette lines tend to be – and the characters’ emotions seemed to be a lot more ‘tell’ than ‘show’.  The story takes place over a short period of time – I think a week, maaaaybe two at the outside – and I didn’t really get the impression that Jenna and Nick spent any of that time getting to know each other.  I would have liked to see more interaction with Jenna’s sister, who seemed to solely be there to babysit in the beginning of the story.  The majority of the secondary characters felt completely superfluous; I get the impression that if the cruise setting didn’t necessitate other people around, they wouldn’t exist at all.

The Amazon blurb for this story was, I felt, not very accurate.  The story I read was not the story that I thought I had downloaded.  Much more of the book is about Nick’a reluctance to accept possible fatherhood than it is about Nick and Jenna’s attempts to Work Things Out and get to the Happily Ever After.  Because of this, the ending feels quite abrupt.

It also bothers me that the man and babies on the cover image look nothing like the man and babies described in the story.  And there seems to be something wrong with his jawline.

Despite the stereotypical storyline and the sometimes abrupt pace of events (and emotions), the ending of this left me with warm fuzzies and immediately compelled me to come write a review.  Would recommend to anyone who likes modern-setting romance and who likes (or at least doesn’t mind) the Sekkrit Baby™ plotline.

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